For many of us, Jewish mothers are synonymous with home cooking. In advance of Mother’s Day, we asked you, our readers, to describe your Jewish mothers in just six words. Not surprisingly, sprinkled throughout the submissions were many entries dedicated to moms as the ultimate cooks. Sure, there was the requisite Jewish mom joke: “Sad? Eat! Tired? Eat! Test? Eat!” but other entries surprised us with their creativity and proved just how tight the link between Jewish moms and food really is.
Below are some of our favorite entries dedicated to our moms who cooked for us, forced us to eat gefilte fish and proved that you can cook kugel and be a skilled lawmaker.
Balaboosta, The kitchen wizard and genie.
— Elliot Lewis, 34, Albuquerque, about Sonia Gottlieb
Makes best chopped liver; will travel.
— Bryna Siegel Finer, 36, Pittsburgh, about Marcia Siegel
Has more balls than matzoh balls.
— Lauren Rosen, 42, New York City, about Doris Rosen
Forced me to eat gefilte fish
— Lauren Rosen, 42, New York City, about Doris Rosen
Candidate Mom serves kugel creates laws
— Francine Graff, 49, Culver City, Calif., about Loretta Weinberg
This post first appeared on J. Weekly
I first came across Rebecca Katz’s cookbooks in culinary school. My program had a health-centric curriculum, and cooking for cancer patients was part of it.
I used her first book, “One Bite at a Time,” to make a polenta pie with sautéed greens and puttanesca sauce for a client with throat cancer who later claimed my food helped her cancer go into remission. I also was able to bring joy to a dying woman by making her whole-grain chocolate chip cookies without any refined sugar.
However, when Katz was cooking for her father when he had throat cancer in 2000, there was no such resource. Using her background as a natural foods chef and nutritionist, Katz made up recipes she thought her father — with his taste buds compromised from radiation — would enjoy, and that’s how her first book came about. Then came a second, “The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen.”
Every Jewish cook has their Passover mainstays, which are usually divided down a line: Ashkenazi or Sephardic, depending on their family’s country of origin. On a recent Tuesday morning we decided to cross over and try our hands at making traditional Syrian Passover foods.
Our teacher was Jennifer Abadi, author of “A Fistful of Lentils: Syrian-Jewish Recipes from Grandma Fritzie’s Kitchen,” private chef and teacher of culinary classes all over Manhattan. Abadi recently launched a new blog, Too Good to Passover, which she’s hoping to grow into a book about Sephardic Passover foods, encompassing foods from many different Middle Eastern cultures.
She promised to keep it simple, and she did. We started our cooking class with macaroons. Forget the canned coconut variety you’re used to… these are made of pistachios. Abadi used salted and unsalted pistachios to get a salty-sweet combination that’s popular in Syrian cooking. The sugar and pistachios were pulsed together in a food processor and egg whites and rose water added later (technically, the recipe calls for orange blossom water, but that’s harder to find).
Before we get to the food (and believe us, we’ll get to the food), we’d be remiss if we didn’t point out how much of a rock star Newark mayor Cory Booker was at the seventh annual Man-O-Manischewitz Kosher Cook-Off on Thursday.
After posing with star-struck guests, Booker took the stage to praise Manischewitz for moving its headquarters to Newark, congratulate the finalists and practice his Yiddish. He described his feelings at the event as “nachas” and added that, as mayor, his ribbon cutting skills have gotten so strong he “could be a mohel.”
At the end of his speech, which was peppered with applause, Booker said, “Baruch Hashem for Manischewitz,” and finally, “Yasher Koach.”
Okay, now back to the food competition at hand. The event — held for the first time at the plant, where just next door, the year’s last batch of Passover matzos were being completed — brought together five finalists, whose recipes were chosen from thousands of entries.
Manischewitz’s marketing staff, along with research and development specialists, had the task of culling through the entries. “We’re always looking for something different,” said Alain Bankier, co-CEO of Manischewitz. “We’re not interested in your mom’s brisket.”
With Passover looming ever closer, now might be a good time to brush up on your kitchen skills.
Luckily there are classes around the country that focus on Jewish and kosher cooking, many of which are taught by well-known restaurant chefs like Michael Solomonov of Zahav and cookbook authors like Joan Nathan.
Here’s a round up of some of the best — both Ashkenazi- and Sephardic-style — that are guaranteed to have you cooking gourmet meals in no time.
The Stone Barns Center for Food & Agriculture is home to a farm, a farmers’ market and one of the country’s best farm-to-table restaurants, the high end Blue Hill at Stone Barnes captained by chef Dan Barber. On Saturday, March 9th from 1 to 2:30 p.m. famed Jewish cooking expert and prolific cookbook author Joan Nathan will teach Grow Your Own: Passover Seder which will feature her take on the traditional meal complete with seasonality and a touch of the farm ($36 for members, $40 for nonmembers).
In 1432 a Venetian captain, Pietro Querini, returned home after surviving a terrible shipwreck off the Northern coast of Norway, and described for the first time the stocfisi (dried salt cod) he had tasted in the remote islands where he’d been nursed back to health. His description probably went largely unnoticed at the time, given the abundance of fresh fish in the waters of the lagoon.
Baccalà (stockfish) is a particularly tough kind of dried salt cod, sold by the slab. It became such a staple in Europe in the Middle Ages that it supported the expansion of trade routes with the New World; soon it was popping up in the traditional dishes of areas as diverse as Northern Europe, the Mediterranean, West Africa, the Caribbean and Brazil.
However, it wasn’t until the 1500s that Venice becomes its main point of distribution. The Council of Trento (1555), prohibiting meat to Christians on Fridays, probably gave it a little push; so did the Spanish Portuguese Jews and conversos who settled in Venice after the expulsion, and were already accustomed to eating it. As a matter of fact, for a while it was considered (like pickled fish) a “Jewish food,” which could draw the unwelcome attention of the Inquisition.
Although carrots often play a supporting role in the culinary world, I’ve long appreciated them in their own right. As a baby I turned a subtle hue of orange from consuming so much carrot puree, and as a child I happily mimicked my favorite cartoon character, Bugs Bunny, by chomping on carrots every chance I got. Apparently the world has caught up, since a recent New York Times article declared carrots the new Brussels sprouts.
Carrots probably originated in Afghanistan from a purple variety thousands of years ago, and have been enjoyed for their culinary and medicinal purposes ever since. Today they’re more popular than ever, with the average American eating nearly 10 pounds per year, according to a USDA report on the subject.
Though they have a long history, carrots don’t appear alongside the seven species of the Old Testament, and Gil Marks points out in The Encyclopedia of Jewish Cooking that “The carrot, never mentioned in the Talmud or Midrash, was a rather late arrival to the Middle East and Jewish cookery.”
When I talked to cookbook author Susie Fishbein in September, she was at home in Livingston, New Jersey poised to whip up her mother’s recipe of peach cake with soy milk for Shabbat dinner.
The 44-year-old mother of four (her youngest child is 10, the oldest 18) is proudly awaiting publication of her eighth cookbook in a series that has motivated Jewish cooks since its inception in 2003. “Kosher by Design Cooking Coach: Recipes, Tips and Techniques To Make Anyone a Better Cook” hits the shelves October 23rd.
Not one to kick back resting on accolades, Fishbein travels often for inspiration or to make store, TV and food festival appearances.
Chatting with her, she’s completely forthcoming about her lack of culinary training and it’s immediately clear that family comes first and accomplishments are a team effort. Even after selling more than 450,000 books, Fishbein sounds enthusiastic, approachable and genuinely thrilled that the “KBD” series has resonated with people from so many different countries and backgrounds.
My sous chef tosses the salad and some of it ends up on the floor. He sticks his hand into the bowl, picks out his favorite ingredients and eats them. He takes a bite of a carrot, declares it “too hard” and returns the teeth-marked carrot to the bowl.
Despite the mess, I think he does a wonderful job. Of course I do: my sous chef is two-years-old. He’s my son Noah.
Research confirms the importance of eating together as a family. Families that eat dinner together are more likely to have healthier meals, the children are less likely to be overweight or obese, or to smoke, or use drugs or alcohol, and the children are more likely to talk to their parents. As if this wasn’t enough, research also shows that eating together as a family leads to less tension in the home.
Sometimes in Nashville, keeping kosher is about more than just the haksher (kosher symbol) on the packaging, it’s about finding the ingredients to begin with.
Last week, I was tasked with making a Tu B’Shvat treat with my Sunday School class. I had also promised the class that we’d make a dessert. I’m sure they had cake in mind, but I’m not one to settle for something as simple as cake. Besides, cake takes more than 40 minutes to make, and that’s all I get each week with the kids. That time is either spent in the kitchen, in the Shul’s garden (from which the mint for this recipe was picked), or doing crafts; next week we’re making decorations for the Shul’s fundraiser in March, “Shtetl Home Companion.” In and of itself, making a dessert is no big deal.
Generally, I give the Cantor my ingredient list, and he buys whatever is kosher and available. I frequently give him alternative ingredients, which is great, since I’m a “throw-a-little-of-this-or-that-in-there” kind of cook. Not being great at following recipes, it is fun to see what the Cantor is able to come up with on the fly. Barring that, it’s fun to get phone calls from him as he’s trying to describe what part of the grocery store he’s checking for my items.
A decade ago, living in New York City, I met the woman who became my wife. During our courtship, she invited me to fly out to California to meet her family, and she warned me about “Baking Day.” For generations, all the women of her family have gathered together on a Sunday during the winter holiday season to bake. They get up before dawn and set to work mixing the various amounts of eggs, sugar, flour, and yeast to make enough breads, pastries, and cookies for all of the extended family members as gifts. My wife informed me that Baking Day is the most important day of the year and not to be missed, and once I caught a glimpse of what Baking Day really was, I knew why.
When I walked past the kitchen door, I could spy the women scurrying about between powdery clouds of flour that hung low in the air like some kind of baker’s fog, sisters and wives arguing over rye seeds and chocolate chips, all over the clamor of the mixer. I heard grandmothers and daughters analyzing the stiffness of egg white peaks like doctors over an x-ray. Yet somewhere between focaccia and snickerdoodles, all basking in the heat of the oven, these matriarchs spoke of the most important things: memories of the past and plans for the future, loves lost and gained. It was almost as if wisdom itself were punched right down that day into the mounds of rising dough.
Recipes can be like a blind date: the ingredients sound intriguing, expectations run high but the finished product is not always as advertised. If the date doesn’t pan out, it’s one evening. But when a recipe that dirties a big pot has the nerve to fall flat?
This deserves the Yiddish thumbs-down “doss hot mayn bobes tam” (“It tastes like my grandmother used to make it”).
Sounds like a back-handed compliment, but cooks of a certain age recognize the expression as swift criticism of food short on taste or flavor.
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