I have often wondered what would happen if I was able to meet the matriarchs and patriarchs of Jewish food in one place. In my mind, I imagine a council of dignified cooks, cookbook authors, culinary historians and restaurant critics, some donning aprons and carrying wooden spoons, others carrying historic Jewish cookbooks, all passionately debating the best Jewish food. In this dream, there’s smorgasbord of global Jewish food.
In reality, when five of the major thinkers in Jewish food gathered to speak at the Roger Smith Hotel Cookbook Conference’s panel “Eat and Be Satisfied: Jewish Cookbooks, Past Present and Future” last Friday the situation wasn’t terribly different from what I had imagined — minus the smorgasbord and aprons. Cookbook authors Gil Marks and Joan Nathan were joined by historian Jenna Weissman Joselit and James Beard Foundation VP, Mitchell Davis for a series of mini-lectures moderated by food historian and writer Cara De Silva.
When I was growing up, southern food represented Gentile culture in my imagination. Movies and books depicted church lunches spread out on trestle tables under magnolia trees. Piles of hot biscuits, barbeque ribs, fried chicken, green beans cooked for hours with a lump of bacon, chicken and dumplings cooked in milk and butter. It all seemed mysterious and vaguely disquieting. So much pork!
When I was ten, a song came out on the radio: “Bread and Butter,” sung in a rough falsetto by a trio called The Newbeats. It was great rock and roll with quirky lyrics. A man who loves plain bread and butter comes home early one day to find “Baby” eating chicken and dumplings — with another man. I didn’t understand the implications when I was little, but now it still tickles me somehow. And the song made me curious about this chicken and dumplings dish. What’s so voluptuous about it that the faithless girl would naturally share it with her partner in crime?
On Thursday, Trader Joe’s signed a Fair Food Agreement with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, guaranteeing that they will only buy from growers who have signed a Code of Conduct in their fields and ensuring a penny per pound wage increase for the tomato pickers. The Code of Conduct enshrines the rights of workers to shade and water, enforces zero-tolerance policies for violence, wage theft, and sexual harassment, and prevents the conditions that lead to slavery and human trafficking. Trader Joe’s becomes only the second grocery store chain to sign an Agreement, joining Whole Foods, many major fast food chains (such as Taco Bell and Burger King), and major food services companies like Aramark.
I wrote about the CIW for the Jew and the Carrot back in October, and as luck would have it, was in Immokalee last week, taking another group of “tomato rabbis” to meet with the workers and become inspired to take action along with their congregations. As trip participant Rabbi Robert Dobrusin described, “We saw the destitute conditions many of these workers live in. We heard the stories of the hard, backbreaking work and stood in the parking lot in the middle of the town at 6 a.m. as workers boarded old school buses to take them out to the fields. And, we learned of the efforts that are starting to make real changes in the lives of the workers because of the dedication of the leaders of the coalition and volunteers who have come to their aid.”
If you can imagine a Dean & Deluca for the kosher set, then you’ll get the gist of Prime Butcher Baker, the new marketplace from Joey Allaham — owner of Prime Grill, Prime KO and Solo — which opens on Manhattan’s Upper East Side this Wednesday.
The 3,000-square-foot gourmet food market has a sleek and modern décor and will sell both prepared foods and high quality artisanal ingredients.
Allaham — a trained butcher — is most excited about the meat, which will be front and center thanks to a dry-aged beef window that’s visible from the street. Much of the wide meat selection will be grass-fed, something that is still catching on in the kosher world. “People don’t realize that the quality of meat depends so much on how an animal was treated while it was alive. It’s important what they eat, how much they sleep, everything,” he said.
Taim, our favorite falafel shop in New York, is getting a second location. [Grubstreet
A how to guide for how to make Montreal-style smoked meat. Mmmm, our mouths are watering. [Serious Eats]
A restaurant in Lviv, Ukraine touts itself as a “Jewish themed” dinning experiences where hats with peyes are given to its guests, chopped liver is served and diners are asked to haggle over the price. This is perhaps the strangest and one of the more disturbing interpretations of Jewish food we’ve heard about. [Tablet]
The 10 best egg creams in New York. [The Daily Meal]
Jachnun is a show of human ingenuity — simple ingredients turned into a delicacy that can be served hot on Shabbat, given the limitations of poverty and Jewish religious law. It’s also an immigrant success story, but like many immigrants, it succeeded in its adopted homeland by coming far from its roots — a hearty meal that soared to popularity by transforming itself into a pastry.
For the uninitiated, jachnun is flaky, caramelized rolls of dough, baked for hours at a low temperature in a sealed container and served alongside hard-boiled eggs, grated tomato and spicy, cilantro-heavy skhug. This is traditional Yemenite Shabbat food. Stick it into the oven on a Friday afternoon, and the following day you have a warm, decadent meal that can be served without violating the prohibition against cooking on Shabbat. jachnun is immensely popular in Israel, where Jews of all stripes buy it premade and just do the final baking themselves, eat it as snacks at rest stops and order it around the clock at restaurants.
New York’s food world has been abuzz with the opening of Kutsher’s, an American Jewish bistro named for the iconic Borscht Belt resort. Can Jewish food “go gourmet”? And, should it? Both questions have been asked perhaps exhaustively amongst passionate foodies lately.
Yesterday, we got some answers from the powers that be, some of the city’s biggest food critics. In unison, The New York Times, New York magazine and Time Out New York dished out their opinions on the new restaurant. Here’s what they had to say:
In Israel, goulash has become one of the many adopted comfort foods that make up the patchwork quilt of Israeli cuisine. It can be found in Tel Aviv’s Yemenite quarter, at many of the workingman-style eateries surrounding Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda market, and in people’s homes. But I have come to realize that in Israel goulash is simply the generic name for any manner of simple beef soup or stew, perfect for surviving the winter.
Goulash is typically associated with Hungary — and rightly so. “There is only one goulash soup and this is the Hungarian one,” explains Ofer Vardi author of “Going Paprikash”. Traditional Hungarian goulash is a simple but flavorful soup of beef, onions, tomatoes, peppers, beef broth, and paprika that is simmered until the beef is fall-apart tender. It is hearty and comforting, full of rich beef flavor.
It’s Saturday morning. OK, let’s be honest, it’s probably already early afternoon. My husband and I drag ourselves out of bed and head straight for the kitchen. It’s our Shabbat ritual — we wake up, spend hours preparing dish after dish and then sit down to a leisurely, luxurious lunch. Eggs of some sort, lots of salads, coffee, baked goods and good bread. Good bread is a must.
This is what we do on weekends. Friday mornings and afternoons are frenetic. The streets of Tel Aviv are full of people, and staying home — or worse, sleeping late — makes you feel left out of the action, like life is passing you by. It doesn’t really matter what you do outside the house — go to the corner hardware store, cram into the health food shop to buy last-minute ingredients for the Shabbat meal (even though enough grocery stores are open 24 hours), or sit at a restaurant, preferably over brunch at an outdoor table — the point is to get out. Sometimes we stay home and clean, but it’s a frenetic cleaning, in the spirit of the city’s energy; through our patio windows, we look out on the traffic jams and packed cafes.
In cities across the globe this month, Jewish communities are celebrating Tu B’Shvat. One of the types of celebrations is the mystical Tu B’Shvat seder. It started in the 16th century, by Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, who took the New Year of the Trees and gave it an other-worldly spin. Through the ritual of the Tu B’Shvat seder, the Jew celebrates the fecundity and blooming of the trees as a totem for spiritual perfection. Basically, the seder is a ritual that leads the Jew through four divine worlds culminating in the world of emanation—the world of the spirit which is perfect and holy. Here we eat fruits that are fleshy and without pits, teaching that in the world of emanation, all is perfect and sweet. It’s lovely and spiritual, and totally backwards. Let me explain.
The problem with the totemic thinking of Tu B’Shvat is that it ignores the underlying structure of the human-eco balance on which this day relies. Luria’s seder is a ritual journey that elevates the soul up and away from the physical to the metaphysical, from the body to the spirit, from this world to the world beyond. Notice, the subtext: the world we live in is nothing but a beginning—a way station to the real world of God’s essence felt in the undiminished mystical union. Understood this way, the purpose of the seder is to elevate ourselves away from the physical, turning our backs on this world, and on our responsibility for it, for a chance at a mystical union with God.
It seems like a daunting task, choosing a bottle of wine. What variety? Which region? What food to pair with your choice? And can you get something good for a reasonable price?
Buying kosher wine makes all of this even more complicated, as many stores have a limited selection and lack knowledge of quality kosher wines. Kosher wines tend to be expensive, especially from Israel where land and water are pricy, most equipment is imported and extra staff is hired to ensure that the wine is kosher.
I love to enjoy expensive kosher wines at tasting but it’s not really realistic to buy these bottles on a regular basis. (Hey, a girl can dream!) But there are still plenty of great bottles of red, white and sparkling kosher wine under $20. Here are some favorites from around the globe and what to pair with them.
Schwartz’s Charcuterie Hebraique de Montreal Inc. — “Schwartz’s Hebrew Delicatessen of Montreal” — has been one of the few constants on mercurial Boulevard St-Laurent, the storied street whose low-slung storefronts loom large in Montreal’s Jewish-immigrant history. The oldest deli in Canada, Schwartz’s has evolved from a heymish neighborhood haunt to a bona fide destination whose devotees include food adventurer Anthony Bourdain.
But change is finally coming to Schwartz’s, according to the Montreal Gazette. Owner Hy Diamond, who took over the iconic 84-year-old deli in 1990, is set to sell the place to a group of investors headed by Montreal restaurateur Paul Nakis, the money behind several local dining chains. Rene Angelil, otherwise known as Mr. Celine Dion, is reported to be one of the investment partners.
A Jew, a Muslim and a Buddhist walk into a Congressman’s office… No, it’s not a joke; it happened last week in Boulder, Colorado, at an interfaith roundtable on food and sustainability, co-hosted by Hazon.
Joining clergy from the local Modern Orthodox, Conservative and Reform Jewish communities were leaders from the local Muslim, Second Baptist, Buddhist and yoga communities, as well as the director for the Colorado chapter of Interfaith Power & Light. Twelve of us came together to share our concerns about food issues with our elected representative and two of his staff, to build relationships among ourselves, and to explore the potential for collaboration.
“It takes a diverse group to make change. An interfaith initiative speaking out on food issues is critical to giving moral authority for changes to occur at the national level,” stated Congressman Jared Polis, strongly encouraging continued convenings and collaboration. Polis, a member of local synagogue Congregation Har HaShem, is deeply concerned about food issues. He serves on the Congressional Organic Caucus and convenes a Food Advisory Task Force of local experts to keep him apprised of critical issues and how legislation can be used to effect positive change.
Behind every great chef are diligent commis, or assistant chefs. For Chef Richard Rosendale, the chef who won last week’s Bocuse D’Or USA competition, his commis was Corey Siegel, a 21-year-old Jewish trainee chef who works with him at the Greenbrier resort in White Sulphur Springs, West Virginia.
The Bocuse D’Or competition is considered the Olympics of cooking, and the USA segment qualifies American competitors for the global contest in Lyon, France next year. Rosendale and Siegel will compete against teams of chefs from around the world.
No American has ever placed better than sixth; but some food insiders think Rosendale and Siegel may change that. “Rosendale was preternaturally calm during the competition, and his kitchen was astonishingly clean throughout. His food was stunning and, based on the morsel I was lucky enough to taste after plating, delicious,” wrote Andrew Friedman, editor of kitchen-insider site Toqueland.
Over the last decade, the concept of mindful eating has spread through communities across the country. Most Americans now understand that there is an ethical way to eat, and that our food choices have a wide-ranging impact. And with a farmer’s market offering local, sustainable, cruelty-free foodstuffs seemingly on every doorstep, it’s easier than ever to eat the “right” way. For many Jews, keeping kosher doesn’t seem as important as making responsible choices. Does kashrut still have relevance for us in the era of sustainability?
For my family, what keeping kosher really boils down to is this: the limitation of and sanctification of eating meat as part of the Jewish emphasis on the celebration of life. The kashrut laws are designed to make us aware of the enormous responsibility that we hold as caretakers of animals and of the earth. We venerate life through the practice of kashrut every time we prepare and consume food.
From Tu B’Shvat (Jewish Arbor Day), we may develop a clearer understanding that the well being of trees is intimately connected to the well being of all creation. From the point of view of practical Jewish philosophy and everyday living, the “Tree of Life” symbolizes the wisdom of the Torah: “Man is like a tree in the field (Deut. 20:19).” By extension, there is a remarkable degree of similarity between a person’s physical development — even his/her spiritual development, and that of a tree. We, too, have roots, which are the equivalent of our spiritual selves that one can’t see, possess a trunk as the body manifested in our physical selves, and produce fruit- our children.
Traditionally, Kabbalists, the ancient mystic Rabbis who deciphered the esoteric teachings of Judaism, use the tree metaphor to understand God’s relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. According to Kabbalist thought, we attain a state of wholeness only when — like a tree — we bear fruit that affects our friends and neighbors in such a manner that they, too, are inspired to fulfill the purpose of their creation.
Headed to the Super Bowl this weekend? We’re jealous! While you’re there, check out the giant kosher tailgate party being hosted by Chabad. [Chabad.org]
Downtown Manhattan just got a little slice of Israel. A new Aroma Espresso bar opened near Wall Street (and the Forward!). [Midtown Lunch]
Adam Berman, founder of Urban Adamah chats about Jewish farming. [Grist]
Food in Art: the Jewish Museum looks at the artistic side of Tu B’Shvat, from the 1940s to the present. [Jewish Museum Blog]
I’ll admit it: I have no idea what teams are playing in the Super Bowl. My Sundays are normally spent eating brunch and baking cookies… basically avoiding all the places that might be crowded with fans watching a football game. Admittedly, I would care if my hometown team (the Chicago Bears) was in the running, but usually I assume they’re not and sadly I am usually right (…I think).
Everything I know about football I learned by watching my high school team from the marching band section of the bleachers, which doesn’t amount to much knowledge of the sport. Yet every year I make it a point to block off the latter part of Super Bowl Sunday to go to a friend’s Super Bowl party. During the game, I do not watch football: I fill the void of pigs in blankets that was left open when the Bar Mitzvah era of my life ended.
The date palm is tall and majestic. The olive tree locks oil in its plentiful fruit that anoints kings. The bountiful orange trees were the crown jewels of early Zionism. Yet it is the humble almond tree that grabs our attention when we celebrate the new year of the trees, Tu B’Shvat.
According to the Jewish calendar, the new year for trees begins on the 15th of the month of Av, or February 8th this year. Harkening back to the roots of Judaism which were tied to the agricultural cycles of the land of Israel, the holiday comes just as winter in the land of Israel looses its hold. Winter, with the heavy rains and the shortened days, can feel dreary and relentless. But early in the spring, the extraordinary white and pink blossoms of the almond tree dot the landscape, announcing the beginning of a new season, making almonds the perfect food to eat on Tu B’Shvat.
Chefs from the White House, the Kremlin, the Elysee Palace and the Chancellery of Germany are touring Israel and will cook a gala dinner for peace.
The delegation from the the group Club des Chefs des Chefs, or Chefs of the Heads of State, arrived Wednesday in Israel at the invitation of Shalom Kadosh, executive chef of the Fattal Hotel Group. The elite chefs will travel throughout the country, meet local chefs and cook a gala dinner called “Cooking for Peace” at the Herods Hotel in Tel Aviv.
Each chef will prepare a dish that is representative of their local kitchen with Israeli and Palestinian chefs. Proceeds from the dinner will be donated to the Peres Center for Peace in Tel Aviv-Jaffa to support its youth programs.