The Jew And The Carrot

Veselka's Legendary Borscht

By Devra Ferst

If your bubbe or your great-bubbe or even your great-great-great-bubbe came from Eastern Europe, she probably crossed the Atlantic with a borscht recipe memorized. The soup is served from Russia to Ukraine to the Czech Republic, with each region and cook putting their own spin on it.

In New York, there’s perhaps no better place to tuck into a bowl of deep ruby red borscht than Ukrainian restaurant Veselka. According to the New Yorker, for the past 30 years, “there’s been just one woman behind Veselka’s renowned borscht: Malgorcata Sibilski. Five thousand gallons are served to customers annually, and Sibilski makes her borscht in enormous batches, twice a week.”

Take a tour of her kitchen as she makes one of her legendary batches.

If the video leaves you hankering for some borscht, try this recipe.

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Cooking the Balaboosta Cookbook

By Alix Wall

“Would You Make This?” is a sporadic column where personal chef Alix Wall evaluates a cookbook by making some of its recipes, sharing them with friends and asking what they think of the results.

“Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to Feed the People You Love” is a funny name for a cookbook from a chef who is 100 % Sephardic, but never mind (it means the perfect housewife in Yiddish). Written by Einat Admony, the Israeli-transplant chef who owns a restaurant and two falafel bars in New York, learned how to cook by standing at the elbow of her Persian mother. She defines the modern-day Balaboosta as follows: “She can be anyone — young or old, male or female, religious or not — who lives life with gusto, shuns fear, and relies on instinct over precision” and one who expresses “emotion… through food. Not exactly my great-grandmother’s definition of a perfect housewife, but a balaboosta all the same.”

The book, which is lovingly photographed by Quentin Bacon, has a good mix of dinner-party worthy dishes (chicken tagine), romantic dishes (lamb chops with Persian lime sauce), recipes from Israel (Eggplant salad), barbecue (harissa and honey hot wings), and even items to feed your kids (chicken littles). And that’s only some of the categories, there are more.

While Israeli recipes abound (shakshuka, falafel, sabich, hamin), so do lots of Moroccan and Persian flavors, this is not solely an Israeli or even Middle Eastern book. One could be forgiven for wondering what oysters with watermelon granita or Spanish-style shrimp are doing in here.

The cookbook came out in the fall, so I thought it was high time I took it for a test drive in the kitchen. I cooked three of the recipes for a small group of friends: Kibbeh Soup, which Einat loosely defines as an Iraqi borscht, Dorit’s Cabbage Salad, and My Homemade KitKat.

The kibbeh soup is a simple beet broth that looks like borscht, but doesn’t have the same complexity. That is, until you add the meatballs. Ground beef is mixed with onions, cumin and cinnamon and then wrapped in a semolina and rice flour dough to make dumplings, which are then simmered in the soup.

Einat has you grind jasmine rice yourself, and I wondered why I couldn’t just use rice flour, but I did as she said, using my spice grinder. I’m not sure what happened, but the dough didn’t work for us. From the beginning, it was too watery, and we needed to add more semolina and rice flour to get it to stick together. When we finally got it, it was a strange texture, in fact, resembling matzo balls, and most guests ended up picking the meatballs out of the dough, to eat them by themselves.

With that ringing endorsement, I would understand if you were saying to yourself “then why are you including this recipe?” I am doing so because the soup and meatballs were so delicious, that we didn’t care about the failed dumpling dough.

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Mile End Deli's Vegetarian Borscht

By Rae Bernamoff

Mile End Cookbook

Reprinted with permission from “The Mile End Cookbook.”

Author Rae Bernamoff: What I love about our updated version of this peasant soup is that it’s based on an actual beet broth—not beef stock, as in a lot of Russian borschts, and not even vegetable stock to which beets have been added. This is a really beet-y, and surprisingly hearty, borscht. And it’s completely vegetarian.

For the beet stock:
6 cups water
1 large onion, chopped
1 pound beets (about 2 medium beets), peeled and grated
1 medium carrot, peeled and grated
4 stalks of celery, trimmed and chopped
2 Beefsteak or Jersey tomatoes, chopped
3 whole allspice berries
2 teaspoons dill seeds
1 fresh bay leaf
2 or 3 sprigs of parsley
2 or 3 sprigs of dill
1 sprig of thyme

For the soup:
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 bunch Tuscan kale or chard, thick stems removed, cut into ribbons
1 carrot, grated
¼ head of green cabbage, trimmed and thinly sliced
Diamond Crystal kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, for serving
Crème fraîche, for serving

Make the beet stock: Combine all the stock ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil; reduce the heat and simmer, covered, for 1½ to 2 hours. When the stock is cool enough to handle, strain it through a fine mesh sieve, pressing down on the mixture to extract all the liquid. Discard the solids and set the stock aside; it can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Make the Soup: Pour the oil into a large pot; place it over medium heat and add the kale, carrot, and cabbage. Cook, stirring frequently, until the kale and cabbage are al dente. Pour the reserved stock into the pot and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve the borscht hot; finish each bowl with a squeeze of lemon juice and a little crème fraîche.

Serves 6

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The Next Generation of Ratner's Comes to Brooklyn

By Lucy Cohen Blatter

Forward Archives
Old School: Ratners dairy restaurant was a staple of the New York Jewish scene for nearly 100 years.

When he opens Peck’s Specialty Foods in Brooklyn this fall, Theo Peck will be continuing a family tradition that started over 100 years ago.

Peck’s great grandfather was the founder of Ratner’s, the Lower East Side dairy restaurant (and kosher institution), which opened in 1905 and closed its doors in 2004.

“I grew up at Ratner’s,” says Peck. “I distinctly remember going there after school on Fridays, and eating pierogies and potato pancakes in the bar room off the side of the restaurant. My relatives — who all worked there — would sit around drinking whiskey, smoking cigarettes and talking about their friends and family members’ upcoming surgeries.”

In 1996, Peck returned to the family business, opening The Lansky Lounge, a speakeasy-style bar attached to Ratner’s. (“We were the only nightclub in New York City that was closed on Friday nights,” he says.)

After leaving the lounge, Peck went to culinary school. He planned to open his own restaurant in 2008, but his funds were lost in the Bernie Madoff ponzi scheme.

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Six Soups To Cool Down With This Week

By Devra Ferst

Leah Koenig
Farmers’ Market Schav: The lemony-flavored sorrel, a spinach look-alike, serves as the base for a largely forgotten, and delicious, soup called schav.

If you’ve looked at a thermometer lately, watched weather on the ones or stepped outside you’ve probably noticed that much of the country is in a heat wave. Never one to ditch my favorite hobby just because it’s getting a little hot in the kitchen, I’ve taken to preparing cold soups and so have many of my friends. So I asked around for everyone’s favorite cold soup recipes and was offered so many delicious recipes, I don’t know which to make first. These six are perfect for Shabbat or lunch during the week.

What’s your favorite cold soup? Tell us about it in the comments.

1) This red pepper soup is the “perfect summer soup,” says my friend Ari. “It wasn’t as complicated as many Ottolenghi recipes are, but had just the right amount of spice and herbs to make it an Ottolenghi classic.” [Yotam Ottolenghi’s Chilled Red Pepper Soup]

2) Monte Mathews who runs the food site Chewing the Fat offers his take on a classic vichyssoise. While the recipe calls for chicken stock, vegetable stock will work just fine. [Not My Mother’s Vichyssoise]

3) Fresh off of her honeymoon, my colleague Abigail Jones tried her hand in the kitchen to make this watermelon gazpacho. “It’s fast, easy and fresh. It’s also fool proof: drop a tomato, some watermelon and a few other veggies into a blender, then, you know, blend. And it’s delicious: a cold burst of fresh summer flavors, plus that great taste of feta mixed in. The best part? Chunks of watermelon you add to the soup before serving.” [Tyler Florence’s Watermelon Gazpacho]

4) Ingredients columnist Leah Koenig is one of my go to recipe gurus. She swears by this green gazpacho that’s made with greens (of course), walnuts and Greek yogurt. [Green Gazpacho from Leite’s Culinaria].

5) For a taste of the old world, try Leah’s own farmers’ market schav. It cooled down Jews on the Lower East Side long before the days of air conditioning. [Market Schav]

6) What would a roundup of cold soups on a Jewish site be without borscht? Every family seems to have their own take on the classic dish, but if you want to try something different, give this chunky borscht topped with avocado a try. [Chunky Borscht]

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Winter Recipes: Borscht with Matzo Balls

By Forward Staff

Even if your bubbe lives far away, you can still have a taste of the Old World. This priceless video by the team at the Forverts shows you how to make borscht with matzo balls. It’s perfect for this time of year. Check out the video below and share your borscht memories with us in the comments.

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A Summertime Cold Borscht

By Lisa Amand

Lisa Amand

There I was, like a character out of a Nora Ephron film, standing in the middle of Zabar’s, asking anyone within earshot the difference between their two beet soups. The bustling Manhattan store’s two versions of borscht boast the same color, almost the same ingredients. Scrutinizing the two containers, I hold them up to the sage pastrami-slicer behind the deli counter, asking him how the two vary. Can I eat either cold? He shrugs, smiles and nods.

A few days later, shopping at my favorite Eastern European food emporium, M & I International in Brighton Beach, I spy a big pot of ruby-red borcsht labeled red borscht. But when I say want to eat it cold, the woman immediately turns her back and strides over to the fridge, pointing to another pot covered with plastic wrap. As I pay $6 for the tall tub of pink soup, the friendly Russian explains with great urgency that the cold version boasts sour cream and yogurt and should never ever be heated. If you enjoy pairing cold borscht with bread, buy or bake dark, old-world, farmer’s rye.

The pleasant dilemma is that there are as many versions of cold borscht as there are countries in the Olympics. Even the name and spelling changes with its place of origin depending on whether you’re concocting Latvian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian or Belarusian borscht.

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CSA Unboxed: Beets

By Elisheva Margulies

Courtesy of Hazon

Beets — most people either love them or hate them. It’s amusing listening to other CSA members pick up beets with the consistent refrains of yippee or oh-no. They really are a polarizing vegetable. This is unfortunate, in my opinion, given their availability for much of the growing season and their ability to keep well beyond many other vegetables. They are one of the crops that does very well from early summer all the way through the season, so you might find them now at the markets starting, with the beautiful (edible) leaves still attached. The beets are smaller in early summer, with delicious, sweet flavor, so grab them up while you can!

Here you’ll find some tips on using and cooking with beets, plus a recipe for the all-time Jewish favorite, borscht.

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Mixing Bowl: A Borscht Comeback; Redesigning the Food Label

By Devra Ferst

iStock

As we reported (and mourned) recently, H&H Bagels is stopping its ovens. So who makes the best bagel in New York? The Underground Gourmet shares its thoughts and recommendations.

Gold’s borscht, once a mainstay of the Jewish food scene has slipped in popularity in recent years. The owners are hoping to make a comeback says the Wall Street Journal.

Masbia, a kosher soup kitchen with four locations in New York City, is struggling to feed a growing community that cannot afford to feed itself, reports the New York Daily News.

The Jerusalem Post explores Israel’s beer renaissance.

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Mixing Bowl: How Do You Take Your Matzo?; For the Love of Borscht; Bagel Debates

By Devra Ferst

For Sarah Karnasiewicz of the LA Times, borscht is “my family’s edible valentine,” she shares her ode to the dish and several recipes for varieties including spiced mushroom borscht and a white borscht.

Gearing up for Passover, Epicurious wants to know, is “Matzoh, Better Plain or Dressed Up?”

In Florida noted chef Michael Baum is remaking himself and the knish with his gourmet interpretations of the classic Jewish snack, writes the Miami Herald.

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The Perfect Borscht

By Miriam Krule

Miriam Krule

“The perfect borscht is what life should be but never is,” writes Alexandar Hemon in The New Yorker food issue this past November. Until recently, I simply figured I’d never tasted “the perfect borscht.” My first impression of the Eastern European delicacy was the purple liquid my father would buy once a year on Passover. On the second or third day, after having his share of matzoh, he would take out the glass Manischewitz bottle of purple borscht and mix it with just a bit too much sour cream. While he always offered us a taste, my siblings and I would politely decline.

Yet, when my mother and I found ourselves in Moscow and Kiev last month, I decided to give it a second chance, this time fresh from a simmering soup pot instead of the jar. Borscht in Yiddish or bohrshch in Russian (there are many spellings – it’s the food equivalent of the word Hanukkah), loosely translates to a soup with a beet base. In Moment magazine, cookbook author Joan Nathan explains that in the 18th century, before potatoes were the food of the masses in Russia and Ukraine, red beets made up much of the local diet.

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