Photograph by Katarzyna Bialasiewicz/Thinkstock
As Jews around the world gathered to celebrate Hanukkah last month, traditional foods such as latkes, sufganiyot, sfinge and other deep-fried delicacies lined our dinner tables. Today, modern Jewish food is celebrated as more than just the krepelach and pickled herring from Eastern European kitchens. It is recognized as a rich cuisine of diverse cultures from a wide array of countries.
Spices and recipes from Morocco, Tunisia, Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Eastern Europe have produced a multi-ethnic mish-mash of tastes that make up Jewish cuisine and tell the story of a wandering and displaced people. More than anything, Jewish food has become part and parcel of Jewish tradition, in both secular and religious homes throughout the world on holidays and other special occasions. Shabbat cholent or Passover charoset or Zadie’s gefilte fish have turned festivities into events for both the stomach and the soul.
But there’s another Jewish connection to food that’s associated with something darker, which has yet to be turned into a best-selling book by Janna Gur or Einat Admony. Israeli gastronomes rarely discuss it, though it’s a significant aspect of Jewish food culture that strengthens Jews around the world in their greatest times of need: the connection Jewish food has to death and mourning.
Illustration by Kurt Hoffman
It was on a trip to Madrid, about four years ago, that I finally understood the paradox of opposites: that there’s no such thing as opposites, really, and that what you get when you try to run as hard as you can in the opposite direction to your upbringing is, well, something quite a lot like where you started.
I’d been eating treyf for about six years before that. I’d grown up frum, in an Orthodox — though not closed or uneducated — community. I’d separated meat from dairy, I’d only bought from kosher butchers, I’d kept myself clean of the impure flesh of the pig. I’d drunk only kosher wine, eaten only cheese made with vegetable rennet, bought only bread baked by Jewish hands. All of that. For a long time. And then it seemed time for it to be over. And slowly, one by one, I started to eat the forbidden foods.
Inside Kosherfest 2014. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein
The first food that jumped out at me yesterday when I walked into the vast Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus, New Jersey, for Kosherfest 2014 was the gluten-free granola. The latest offering from Foodman’s Original Matzolah, the cranberry-and-orange flavored product is wheat- and nut-free. Its prominent placement (Matzolah is distributed by Streit’s, whose matzo is a key ingredient) heralded what seemed to me to be the trend of the show: foods that not only follow the laws of kashrut but also specifically address other dietary restrictions, whether they involve gluten intolerance, veganism, or avoidance of dairy.
Among the gluten-free highlights at Kosherfest — the largest business-to-business trade show for the kosher industry — were new matzo ball mixes from Streit’s and the Manischewitcz Company, which also offered a gluten-free brownie mix.
Mile End’s Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich Kit. Photograph courtesy of FoodyDirect.
Now, FoodyDirect’s Jewish quotient is getting upped again. Brooklyn’s own Mile End Deli has launched a meaty presence on the site, shipping kits and platters themed around its massively popular Montreal-inspired menu. The perfect no-hassle way to break the fast, perhaps?
For $99 — plus shipping of $10-$30, depending on your location — you can fress on a Montreal Smoked Meat Sandwich kit that includes two pounds of Mile End’s luscious dry-cured and house-smoked smoked meat, a half loaf of sliced rye, eight ounces of deli mustard and a quart of McClure’s whole garlic-dill pickles.
Michael Harlan Turkell
As a kid growing up on New York’s Upper East Side, I had appetizing envy. My West Side friends had Zabar’s, Murray’s Sturgeon Shop, and Barney Greengrass.
Downtown, of course, there was Russ & Daughters.
Sure, there were a few Jewish delis like P.J. Bernstein’s, and eventually fancier shops like Sable’s, but we didn’t have the kind of legendary appetizing establishments that other, luckier, neighborhoods had.
Finally, the Upper East Side has arrived. (And alas, I’ve long since moved to another appetizing wasteland, West Harlem.)
Russ & Daughters, which has occupied the same space on East Houston Street for 100 years, yesterday announced a partnership with the Jewish Museum on Fifth Avenue and 92nd Street, where it will open a 75-seat, sit-down kosher café and take-out retail counter in the Museum’s lower level.
It’s a great shidduch,” said Niki Russ Federman, 4th Generation owner of Russ & Daughters.
“We’re delighted to bring a unique and authentic piece of New York City’s cultural and culinary heritage and history from the Lower East Side to the Upper East Side,” added Josh Russ Tupper, 4th Generation owner of Russ & Daughters.
No doubt Upper East Siders are equally delighted. The café and shop are scheduled to open in early 2015.
Pho-chicken soup with kreplach dumplings / Vered Guttman
You could always tell the time of year by looking at my Polish grandmother Rachel’s chicken soup: If it was served with bubelach (egg pancakes) or home made lokshen (she used to fry dozens of thin omelets and slice them, very very slowly, to thin lokshen) you knew it was Passover. Kneidlach were served on just any Shabbat, and kreplach, chicken liver filled dumplings, were saved for the high holidays.
Kreplach involve a lot of work, kneading and rolling the dough, making the stuffing and shaping each dumpling. My grandmother did not believe in short-cuts and the kreplach were served only a few times a year. “We’ve been waiting for this a whole year!” she used to say in her almost perfect Hebrew.
But I’m lazy. I do make kibbeh soups, but kreplach seemed too much. Then I found the wonton wrappers, which are available in every Asian grocery store across the U.S. These come in a square or round shape, just the right size for kreplach. They’re easy to fold, fill and shape, and the wrappers are thin and let the filling take the lead.
To match the Chinese theme of the kreplach-dumplings I made a pho-inspired chicken soup. Pho is a wonderful aromatic Vietnamese soup; it is beef-based and spiced with star anise and cinnamon. The version below is a nod to the Vietnamese soup and the Polish tradition.
Pho-chicken soup with kreplach dumplings
You can make the soup up to three days in advance, and the dumplings a day in advance.
Wonton wrappers (dumpling wrappers) are available in the fridge or freezers of any Asian supermarket.
For the dried mushroom you can use any variety, including those found in the Asian markets (do not use porcini though, their strong flavor will overpower the soup).
Star anise is available in some health supermarkets, and in any Asian market.
It was almost too good to be true. My son, from the moment he started eating solids, seemed willing to eat pretty much anything. I remember it being a few months before his second birthday when my husband and I marveled at the fact that he had a more versatile palate than most of the children we knew, many of whom were years older. In fact, on one occasion, after dining out with a couple whose sons wrote the book on pickiness, we actually had the gall to (privately) criticize our friends for letting their children get away with eating nothing but macaroni and cheese most nights during the week.
Yes, we certainly were spoiled back then. And naive.
Now that he’s lost his place in politics, Anthony Weiner has taken up… cooking?
The disgraced former Democratic Congressman from New York City is lending his support to Rockaway Restoration Kitchen, a new non-profit restaurant and job training center, according to the Rockaway Times.
The new eatery will serve up healthy nosh and offer food service training for disadvantaged residents of Rockaway, a neighborhood in New York City devastated by Hurricane Sandy.
Down on his luck politically, Weiner is now trying to give a leg up to struggling New Yorkers. The non-profit plans to train up to 150 unemployed residents each year who struggle to keep jobs because of jail time, health problems, or drug abuse, according to its website.
Though Weiner is not publicly associated with the restaurant, he has apparently been working behind the scenes to find the eatery a space to call home.
The non-profit restaurant is also seeking an executive director, though Weiner does not appear to have taken that job.
Weiner resigned from Congress in 2011 after it became known that he was sending sexually-explicit photos and messages to younger women online. He later attempted a political comeback in the 2013 New York City mayoral race, but was forced to eat crow after further explicit messages came to light.
The restauranteur streak seems to run in the family — Weiner’s brother owns two restaurants in New York City – though this seems to be Weiner’s first attempt in the food service industry.
But others have tried to yoke his name to food before. An Illinois hot dog company announcedin August 2013 that it would begin selling a new brand of hot dogs called “Carlos Danger Weiners,” named after the alias Weiner used in his online escapades.
No word yet on whether Weiner’s new restaurant will be serving frankfurters.
Dan Peretz // Haaretz
(Haaretz) — Danny Phillips’ knafeh place was supposed to satisfy practically every sector in this postmodern world of multiple identities and conflicts. There’s a menu based almost entirely on knafeh – one of the best loved of local foods – put together after extensive research, that gives pride of place to an ancient recipe. He uses local ingredients, including kadaif noodles made by a small local producer from the Nazareth area and cheeses from small boutique dairies. Prices are reasonable (“Knafeh is a food that makes people happy, so everyone should be able to afford to buy it,” declares the optimistic entrepreneur). And there are special items for vegans or customers with special health needs.
But there are those for whom the knafeh place Phillips opened in Jaffa’s Noga neighborhood exemplifies the bourgeois Jewish influx that is pushing some Arab residents out of the mixed city. And there is his audacity: Only an Englishman (Phillips was born in London in 1971) could come up with such completely unorthodox, savory versions of knafeh. Two dishes – knafeh with shakshouka (a nest of kadaif filled with Circassian cheese, tomatoes and egg yolks) and knafeh with spinach (a bed of noodles holds a mixture of feta cheese and spinach seasoned with sumac, lemon zest and cashew nuts) – aroused the ire of Hanin Majadala, a teacher of Arabic and an activist who lives in Jaffa.
The status she posted on her Facebook page on June 27 refers to both the Jewish-Arab and the Ashkenazi-Mizrahi conflicts, to the terrible crimes, in her view, being committed against the traditional dessert: “A post about how incredibly shameless Ashkenazim are. Knafeh. An Arab dessert. Not Mediterranean, not Mediterranean basin… Arab, asli, baladi, rasmi… the audacity and chutzpah have gone up yet another notch. Brace yourselves for Ashkenazi knafeh in Jaffa. The nerve, to open places selling Arab food and Arab desserts but with a Western twist. On the menu: Shakshuka on a bed of knafeh – so disgusting. No Arab would open a restaurant serving Ashkenazi food with an Arab twist, because we have self-respect first of all and respect for others, which you all are lacking. Nor are we lacking for good food, so we have no need to go out and adopt and steal the foods of others. And your food doesn’t taste good anyway.”
The status got 376 likes, 150 comments and 46 shares, and – whether for its bluntness or for how it underscored some painful issues – aroused a lot of stormy online discussion. The arguments that she and others raised related to socioeconomic matters, but also – as with the fierce debate over hummus and other Middle Eastern foods that are becoming part of Israeli cuisine – to issues of belonging and appropriation.
Smoked fish platter at People’s Eatery // Photo by Adrian Ravinsky
Now, you can add Jewish-Chinese to the mix. Just-opened Peoples Eatery is drawing on the divergent food culture of Spadina Avenue — once the heart of Jewish Toronto, now a main artery through Chinatown — for its menu, according to partner Adrian Ravinsky.
“The past is the Jewish part of it. We’re resurrecting what Spadina once was with deli and appetizer cultures represented on the menu,” he said. “The present is the Chinese and East Asian food. The future is where anything goes, culturally, and the menu does that too.”
Think oversized platters of Peking Duck or smoked fish, small plates of potato knish, whitefish salad, and “General Tso-Fu” soy, with watermelon salad, dosa, and sabich thrown in for good measure. “It’s definitely an oddball selection,” Ravinsky said. “But it’s never fusion. Those elements never make it onto the same plate. They’re placed alongside one another.”
Good news for New York Jews and tourists hankering for kosher street meat!
The Dog House, which set up shop on Governors Island last weekend, Grill on Wheels, Schnitzi, Taim Mobile Truck, Quick Stop, and the larger mobile kosher world in providing kosher fare for the hungry masses.
The Dog House is the second food truck affiliated with Great Performances, a NYC-based catering company.
Great Performances’ CEO and co-founder Liz Neumark, said, “The Dog House is the perfect next step in expanding our participation in the New York mobile food scene.”
The Dog House also offers two more hot dogs in addition to the kosher dog: the Sausage Dog, made with lamb merguez sausage topped with green garlic yogurt, pickled red cabbage and vegetable relish, and the Vegan Dog, which comes with kale pesto, pickled shallots and spiced sunflower seeds.
The New York Dog (the only kosher hotdog) is served with spiced tomato jam and thunder pickle relish, made at Great Performances’ organic farm in the Hudson Valley.
This year, and for the first time, Governors Island will offer food services seven days a week. The Dog House will be open on the weekend from 11-7 p.m.
(Reuters) — The New York City delicatessen Katz’s has won a legal battle to force a Florida restaurant to change its name, according to court documents made public on Monday.
Katz’s Delicatessen, founded in 1888, sued Katz’s Deli of Deerfield Beach in June, claiming that the Florida restaurant had blatantly infringed on its trademark rights and tried to profit illegally from its name and reputation.
Both establishments sell Jewish and Kosher-style deli food.
Katz’s Delicatessen of Deerfield agreed to change its name in the settlement, which was signed in Manhattan federal court last week.
The Deerfield Beach restaurant owner, Charles Re, said he agreed to the change because keeping the name was not worth the legal troubles.
“It wasn’t something that we needed to have to sustain ourselves,” Re said.
Re, who is originally from the New York City borough of the Bronx, said he would change the name of his restaurant to Zak’s Deli.
Katz’s Delicatessen in Manhattan’s Lower East Side has been seen in a several movies including and in television shows such as “Law & Order” and shows on Food Network and Travel Channel.
Its best-known screen appearance may be in the 1989 romantic comedy “When Harry Met Sally,” with the character played by Meg Ryan faking an orgasm during a meal with Billy Crystal’s character.
The second semester of my freshman year of college, I was lucky enough to study abroad at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Although I’d been to Israel before on school, family, and youth group trips, my study abroad experience gave me a deeper experience of, and as a result, commitment to, the country than I’d ever had before. I got to explore the places that don’t usually appear on tourist itineraries and make friends with both native Israelis and Palestinians. Because I was so young when I studied abroad, it also happened that I learned how to do my own grocery shopping in the Israeli shuk. As anyone who’s been to Israel knows, the shuk is loud, colorful, and bustling - a far cry from the tidy fluorescent-lit Costco aisles I was used to commanding with my mother on Thursday afternoons.
President Obama visited Canter’s Deli today, an old favorite of Jews in Los Angeles. Over the course of the meal, he sat with a teacher, a wounded veteran, and two women entering the job market, according to Mark Knoller, CBS’s White House correspondent.
Pres Obama discussing basketball and free-throw abilities with customers at Canter's restaurant in Los Angeles. pic.twitter.com/EQVITBHuuO— Stephen Crowley (@Stcrow) July 24, 2014
Canter’s opened in 1931, and has always been a family-owned business dedicated to providing classic Jewish deli foods for the L.A. area.
Let’s hope the President had the good sense to order the matzo ball soup. Goodness knows he’ll probably need some comfort food to go with everyone’s kvetching.
Workmen’s Circle poster advertising the Taste of Jewish Culture street fair // Facebook
New York’s got so many hip new delis that it may be as easy to find gefilte fish and borscht as it was in 1892, when The Workmen’s Circle held its first meeting on the Lower East Side.
So it’s no small irony that the social-justice organization is hosting the city’s first street fair aimed at showcasing smart new iterations of traditional Jewish cuisine.
The Workmen’s Circle Taste of Jewish Culture, set for July 27 on Manhattan’s Madison Avenue, is actually the organization’s sixth outdoor festival, but the first focused on food.
“The fair has always featured klezmer and social-justice-themed music,” executive director Ann Toback told the Forward by e-mail from a tour bus in Poland, where she’s researching Ashkenazi culture. “But we’ve also been experimenting with it as a chance to connect with larger audiences.”
Sharing Jewish food “is about as authentic a Jewish experience as you can get,” she said. “And selling Jewish-inspired foods via a street experience is quintessentially Jewish. It’s a perfect place to share our cultural heritage with a wide swath of New Yorkers.”
To corral the right mix of vendors, Toback tapped Noah Arenstein, the peripatetic lawyer-cum-foodie whose most recent venture, pop-up eatery Scharf & Zoyer, offered over-the-top novelties like kugel sandwiches.
Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya cooks an eggplant and okra dish in his New Orleans restaurant.
Nearly 300 years after Louis the XIV’s “Code Noir” ordered all Jews out of Louisiana, Israeli-born chef Alon Shaya set up shop in New Orleans.
Shaya’s restaurant, Domenica, opened as a traditional Italian restaurant in 2009. Slowly but surely, however, Israeli flavors started to seep into his menu. The result? Italian staples like slow-roasted goat shoulder and broccoli rabe find themselves folded into shakshuka.
“When you’re Israeli, food is a huge part of your culture,” Shaya said. “There’s no like ‘Oh, I’m not into that.’”
Born in Bat Yam, a coastal town in Israel, Shaya moved with his family to Philadelphia when he was 4 years old. As the head of a struggling immigrant family, his mother worked two jobs to make ends meet. As a result, Shaya would often cook dinner for the family. His meals started off simple: a microwaved potato with cheese. But on those rare special occasions when his Israeli grandparents would come to visit, the kitchen would fill with the comforting smells of roasting vegetables, infused with the flavors of his Savta’s Bulgarian ancestry.
“I fell in love with food because my grandmother would come from Israel every year,” Shaya explained. “I would never know when she was arriving so when I would open the door and smell peppers roasting on an open flame, it was like ‘Oh my God, Savta’s here!’ That started creating a connection between the smell of food and family.”
The next few years were tumultuous to say the least. By his own admission, Shaya was “a shitty little kid” who fell in with “the wrong crowd.” He was constantly getting kicked out of class. His salvation came in the form of a Home Economics teacher who would put him to work chopping onions when others teachers booted him out.
“She really was the turning point for me to get serious about something. She got me my first restaurant job, she drove me there, she checked up on me that I was showing up on time.”
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America, Shaya spent some time cooking at the Rio Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas and Antonio’s Ristorante in St. Louis.
He spent 2007 in Italy to soak up the techniques he would need to open Domenica.
With the restaurant established, he was surprised to find himself introducing Israeli dishes into his repertoire. He started small: a dish of tahini here, an Israeli bottle of wine there. The customers went wild.
“We were selling more Israeli wine here than anywhere in the state of Louisiana,” Shaya laughed.
Today, Shaya hosts Passover and Hannukah meals at the restaurant, serving dishes like zaa’tar buttermilk biscuits with babaganoush, latkes with a side of creole-cream-cheese-stuffed deviled eggs topped with salmon roe, and Sicilian sea-salt matzo with olives and rosemary. The Passover menu can draw in up to 400 people.
Shaya is the first to say that he’s “fallen head over heels” for New Orleans. His kitchen is well-stocked with locally sourced Southern ingredients — and he often blends them with Israeli flavors.
Though Shaya says there have been “many failed experiments,” his fire-roasted eggplant stuffed with okra and drizzled with tahini is not one of them. Each spoonful was a surprising fusion of Tel Aviv and the Big Easy. The chef pointed out that the eggplant and okra are grown in nearby farms — and to him, that’s important.
“Food doesn’t have to be fried chicken for it to be Southern,” Shaya explained. “It just has to be from the South.”
Alon Shaya shared his recipe for okra-stuffed coal-roasted eggplant with the Forward. Try it for yourself at home!
Thursday May 15 is National Hummus Day. If you’ve been paying attention to Jewish food trends, you might also be aware that 2014 has been declared “The Year of the Hummus.”
That’s a lot of chickpeas.
To celebrate, Sabra (the official dips sponsor to the NFL!) has written a (not-so) handy guide to teach hummus philistines about Israel’s national dip. Here are just some of the things we learned from “Hummus for Dummies”:
1. How to pronounce “hummus”
Do you end in Oos, in Iss, in Uss? According to “Hummus for Dummies,” hummus is a “fun word,” yet difficult to pronounce. Pretty straightforward so far. Then it gets weird:
Some people will tell you that it starts with a “choo” sound made toward the back of your throat (less “choo-choo train” — more “achtung baby”).
If in doubt, you can always just call it “yummus.”
2. Hummus can be fruity
We are told that hummus is a “rich, smooth, creamy dip” made from chickpeas, tahini, garlic, spices, oils, vegetables — and fruits? Mango in your hummus, really?
If that’s not enough to satisfy your sweet tooth, the guide also offers recipes for hummus-based desserts like “Chocolate Hummus Truffles,” and “Chocolate, Coconut and Caramel Hummus Pastries.”
3. “Chickpeas are sometimes confused with nuts.”
Are they? Why? A section called “Browsing through interesting hummus facts” explains that because you can roast and season chickpeas, innocent bystanders could taste the crunchy — and yes, granted — slightly nutty legume and get confused. So once again, just in case you missed that class: Chickpeas are not nuts.
4. Hummus “loves you back.”
Any fan of the veggie-tray can tell you that it’s the dip that packs on the pounds. But now, you can enjoy those fresh carrot and celery sticks the way God intended you to — ”hummus can be the fresh flavorful answer to the prayers at the center of your vegetable tray.” Glad we cleared that one up.
Just kidding Sabra. We love hummus too.
Turns out, James Deen has hobbies. And those hobbies include food.
The Jewish porn star is now the face of a culinary web series, aptly named “James Deen Loves Food.” Produced by Woodrocket.com (a porn/comedy site that is definitey NSFW), past episodes have shown Deen coming up with the world’ most expensive burrito, ordering the entire menu at his local Burger King, and testing which brand makes the superior Ketchup. Oh, and he also sampled various serial killers’ last meals.
“I am a Jew! Of course I love food,” he told Heeb magazine in a recent Q&A. “I am pretty sure if you don’t, they stop inviting you to the meetings and drop your credit score.”
So, with Passover coming up, it’s fitting that Deen’s latest culinary venture has a Jewish theme: Ramen Matzo Ball soup.
According to the chef, the final product was “pretty good. It was definitely more on the ramen side. But the extra sodium added some flavor that normal Jewish cuisine lacks.”
If you have tickets for the Super Bowl at the MetLife Stadium this Sunday, and you’re planning to munch on some kosher snacks while watching the battle between the Seattle Seahawks and the Denver Broncos, you’d better bring some extra cash: This stuff’s not cheap.
As the Forward reported, this year’s event is likely to be the most kosher Super Bowl ever. A significant number of the ticket holders for the 82,000 seats are expected to be Jewish; the stadium features a praying area — and a solid selection of kosher food.
But it comes at a hefty price: The kosher caterers charge $13 for a turkey or chicken wrap, $13 for chicken wings and $11 for a hot dog with chips (Hebrew National, of course). And don’t forget to tip! If you want to save money, we recommend a knish: The dough snacks go for $6 per piece.
After shelling out $1,000 (at the very least) for a ticket, $13 for a wrap might actually seem a bargain. If not, you could always bring your own food.
Sherryl Betesh’s Kibbe Nabelsieh: Meat-Filled Bulgur Shells
1 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
2 1/2 pounds ground beef
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground allspice
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3 cups fine bulgur wheat
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus more for frying
Lemon wedges, for serving