The costumes line the streets and Purim is in the air. It’s really one of my favorite holidays, made more so by the preparations for our community’s traditional English-speakers Tzfat Purim shpiel. I excitedly anticipate the unique mishloach manot (gift packages) that my Sepharadi neighbors send – their homemade Moroccan Purim challahs, Djerbian orange-flavored donuts, Tunisian muffletot and Iraqi Sambusks are a highlight of the holiday. I make my own strawberry jam, since spring is strawberry-time in Israel (wash and crush 2 kilos of strawberries, add a tiny bit of sugar and let it simmer for several hours on the stove till it turns into a jam) so that I can present my neighbors with strawberry hamantashen.
From the destruction of Sandy, a Far Rockaway bagel shop rises. [Eatocracy]
A look at Katz’s through the years. [EV Grieve]
It’s almost Purim. Check out this guide to hamantaschen in NYC. [Village Voice]
10 beautiful and edible gifts to give Purim. [Food 52]
Which brisket was crowned king? [Serious Eats]
Head to Mile End when you feel like Montreal-Jewish-Sichuan. [Bon Appetit]
“I stood willingly and gladly in the characters of everything - other people, trees, clouds. And this is what I learned, that the world’s otherness is antidote to confusion - that standing within this otherness - the beauty and the mystery of the world, out in the fields or deep inside books - can re-dignify the worst-stung heart.” – Mary Oliver
Sometimes I marvel at how hard it can be just to be myself, to be the person I expect of myself, to be the version of myself that others probably expect, too. I end up staring off into space, dreamily fixed elsewhere, thinking abstractly about where I’ve been and how far I still have to go in a world that paints me flat. Sometimes my friends privately settle on the word ‘melancholy’ after they’ve known me for a few months. They present the word to me carefully, like a confession of their judgment, holding it by its edges, setting it carefully into my hands. Melancholy. It’s as if the word itself, a little gift, might capture and hold my disquietude, the parts of me that clamor against patters, expectations, what’s tried and true, and if I hear it, perhaps – poof! – fulfillment and happiness! Thinking of this, I don’t want to write another ‘perfect’ or, even, the ‘best’ hamantaschen recipe, the tried and true the ones we all love, and know. And what we all expect. I want something else today.
On Purim, we celebrate Jewish survival and redemption. It is one of the most popular Jewish holidays because it is built on hope. Purim is a reminder that no matter how bad the circumstances, or whatever we fear around the corner, things will turn out well in the end. It’s greatly loved for the merriment to be had celebrating Esther’s victory with the king, her great success, not to mention her great skill and tact. It is with this in mind that Jews observe Purim. The day before Purim is a fast day, followed by two days of celebration: dancing, merrymaking, feasting. Jews will linger in temple into the early morning hours, drinking and masquerading, dressed in full costumes – drunkenly assuming new identities.
I love eating meat. While I am aware of how harmful conventional industrial meat production is to the environment and to our health, to say nothing of the issues of cruelty to animals and fair treatment of workers, I cannot imagine going without meat entirely. I even tried being vegetarian a couple of times, but always fell off the wagon rather quickly. By now, in the wake of the scandals at Agriprocessors, most of us know that kosher meat is not necessarily ethically superior to its non-kosher counterparts.
Some have suggested eating meat only on special occasions like Shabbat and holidays. While this practice puts healthy limits on one’s consumption of meat, and makes the consumption a meat part of the celebration and sanctification of religious occasions rather than a simple hedonistic indulgence, in some ways it seems backwards: if I think that the meat I’m eating is so morally problematic, is it really appropriate to reserve its consumption for holy occasions like the Sabbath or other holidays? If I’m going to eat meat whose production involve mistreatment of animals and workers, and degradation of the environment, it might be better to save that meat-eating for ordinary weekdays, and make more ethical (and therefore more holy), food choices on Shabbat and holidays
In the fall of 2008, we re-launched the food bank at my synagogue, Valley Beth Shalom. The economy had started to crash, and the synagogue responded, in part, by reinvesting in this project to help San Fernando Valley residents who needed a hand. Little did I know that within a few weeks, our little food bank would grow to reach hundreds of families a month–including members of my own community. During the Great Recession and subsequent (albeit slow) recovery, I spoke with congregants who told me their stories: Before the recession, they were successful in business and had “done everything right,” but the bank later took their home. They needed a little extra food each month to bridge the gap between their paycheck and bills.
It’s times of social and economic upheaval when we recognize our own vulnerability, despite our hard work and planning. One day we have it all, and the next–perhaps, nothing.
For our children, Purim is the silliest day of the Jewish year. In fact, it also celebrates life’s unpredictability. The Book of Esther, for example, showcases sudden reversals of fortune: At one moment, the Jewish community faces annihilation by genocide, and the next—the King of Persia executes our would-be killers. Or in the words of the Megillah, our lives were “turned inside out from sorrow to joy, and from mourning to a day of celebration.” (Esther 9:22)
Since being aurally haunted by hundreds of toy noise makers during one Purim celebration in my childhood, Purim has been banned from my top 10 list of favorite holidays (making way for more quiet and civilized holidays where you soberly eat matzo ball soup with your family). In my wimpy eyes its only point of redemption is hamantaschen. This year, I have reinterpreted the triangle cookies two ways — one sweet and Asian inspired and the other savory and filled with delicious rich cheese.
My favorite varieties of classic hamantaschen can be found at a few hidden deli counters in New York and in care packages from the mother of a dear college friend, Brian. When we were in college, Brian’s apartment was good for three things: throwing wild patio parties, eating spray can cheese, and hosting impromptu hamantaschen eating parties as soon as his Purim care package arrived. His mother’s hamantaschen were soft, doughy, slightly smashed from the shipping process, and swimming in powdered sugar (perfect for the morning after those legendary patio parties). So when I decided to make hamantaschen this year — with a personal twist — the obvious starting point was tapping Brian’s mom for her recipe.
One of these recipes draws on my Asian heritage and uses black sesame seeds in place of the traditional poppy seed filling. Black sesames are common in Asian cooking and have a smokier and nuttier flavor than their white counterparts. The other is an homage to my cheese and spinach obsessions and is as perfect for an appetizer or party hors d’oeuvre as it is sacrilege.
One of my favorite things about Jewish holidays is their vivid food symbolism. On Purim, this typically translates into triangular foods, like hamantaschen and kreplach, which represent Haman’s hat, pockets or ears, depending on who you ask. And, while Purim the is one of the few Jewish holidays that encourages drinking, that symbolism has yet to make its way into beverages. So this year, I’m getting in the spirit by concocting some holiday-inspired cocktails to serve up to my friends.
There are varying interpretations on exactly how drunk one should get on Purim, but the general idea is to get drunk enough that you cannot tell the difference between the hero Mordechai and his nemesis Haman. The Book of Esther even commences with a 180-day drinking festival. The biblical drink of choice would be wine, but it’s high time that Purim swills got a modern facelift.
Since Queen Esther is the heroine of the Purim tale, I wanted to invent a cocktail in her honor. The Esther Cocktail starts with pomegranate juice, since the arils of the fruit are reminiscent of the jewels in Esther’s crown. I added rose water, a common Persian ingredient, as an homage to the setting of the tale. Finally, a date honey and poppy seed rim makes for a nod to hamantaschen, as well as a dramatic presentation.
This year it seemed that even the Sugar Maple Trees at Isabella Freedman Retreat Center in Falls Village, CT celebrated Purim. We’ve been tapping about 30 trees over the last three weeks, during this short late-winter maple syrup tapping season. On the day before Purim, unlike any other day until now, some of the buckets were bone dry. Maybe the trees were reminding me to fast? Purim night, conditions were terrible for sap flow; the temperature stayed above freezing all night and by nine in the morning it was already over fifty degrees. The trees flow best when it dips below freezing at night and reaches forty degrees during the day, so I would never have predicted that by eleven o’clock on Thursday morning most of the buckets would be full to the brim with cool sweet sap.
Appropriately, on the night of Purim the trees couldn’t tell the difference between good conditions and bad conditions. Thursday morning, I did a mad dash to collect all the sap before the buckets overflowed.
Living in a small Brazilian village an hour’s drive from the northeastern city of Recife, it’s easy to forget the rhythms of the outside world. We had barely finished cleaning up from the revelry of Carnival, when an email arrived to remind me of the onset of Purim and that the costume wearing, drinking in the streets, and sweet treats, were yet to be over. Purim, at the back end of Carnival, seemed a perfect fit for my adopted Brazilian community. And just like that I was making hamantashen, the signature, three-cornered holiday cookie.
Now, it’s true that Recife was the first Jewish community in the New World, where Sephardic Jews found refuge when the area was a Dutch colony between 1630 and 1654. But if Jews ever stepped foot in my little shtetl, Paudalho, 22 miles inland, their presence is lost to the mists of history. Today — more than 350 years after the Recife Jews fled the conquering Portuguese for another Dutch colonial backwater, New Amsterdam — the Jewish population of Paudalho stands at exactly one. I am also the only American and the singular graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.
Purim might be over but you can still savor some hamantaschen out in Midwood, Brooklyn. [Serious Eats]
Or, feast like the Persians with a homemade feast. [Haaretz]
The Gefilteria, which will sell sustainably sourced gefilte fish and DIY gefilte fish kits, along with other updated Jewish classics will launch this weekend. [Grub Street]
Legendary cheese monger, Anne Saxelby, provides her picks for great places to eat on the Lower East Side, including some great Jewish classics like Kossar’s Bialy’s. [Edible Manhattan]
I have often wondered, during yet another endless Yom Kippur service, why we couldn’t do something more engaging of our full selves. Emulate, say, some Native American traditions and have a peyote ritual. Something sweaty, visceral, more likely to have me encounter the Divine than an endless repetition of blood spattering in the Temple. Put the “high” in High Holidays, if you will.
And yet I’m drawn to Jewish tradition. I find myself looking to contextualize new, powerful experiences in the language of Judaism, to ritualize them through the religion of my ancestors. I love deep fried food, hence “Deep Fried Shabbat” has become a staple event in our house for Shabbos Hanukkah.
Purim’s always been the rebel, the James Dean of Jewish Holidays — you get drunk, dress up, get to go trick-or treating (ok, not really but that’s what you told yourself in yeshiva when your mom wouldn’t let you out of the house with so much as a decoder ring on October 31). So it was the natural place for me to create a new ritual, born of something utterly secular and fascinating.
It’s been over two decades since Zohar Zohar, the dark-haired, soft-spoken owner of Zucker Bakery, a new Israeli pastry shop and café in the East Village that serves Jewish delights, has lived on Kibbutz Sarid in northern Israel. She grew up there with her grandparents and parents (most of her extended family lived in Czechoslovakia and died in the Holocaust), running around the grounds with playmates as a child and working in the kitchen, cooking rice and chicken for the thousand person community, as an adult. Her most vivid memories were visiting her grandparents, relaxing in their living room and eating homemade cookies. “I think there is something special about the way you feel when you go to your grandparents,” she says. “And that’s the way I remember it.”
Although Zohar, who left the Kibbutz when she was 21, has lived in New York City for 17 years, finished culinary school, worked 90-hour weeks at prestigious restaurants such as Daniel and Bouley and raised two kids, she still craves those moments of being at her grandmother’s house on the kibbutz. With Zucker Bakery, which she opened in September, she’s on a mission to recreate them with treats like rugelach and babka, along with Israeli treats like honey almond fingers, each of which has a personal story behind it.
Growing up, I remember assembling shalach manot baskets with my mom as part of our synagogue’s Sisterhood tradition. After months of baking, and then freezing, thousands of hamentaschen, we would spend the week leading up to Purim assembling shalach manot packages for families in the synagogue. The shalach manot packages were always the same: two or three brittle, dry hamentaschen, some all-too-salty trail mix, super processed chips or pretzels, and a bottle of grape juice all packaged in a little box that wished people a happy Purim. Though the gestures of these were certainly nice, I have always felt that these mass-produced shalach manot were neither healthy, nor sustainable.
Many people observe the mitzvah of giving shalach manot to friends, family, and neighbors on Purim. This tradition is rooted in Megillah Esther, which tells people to observe the fourteenth and fifteenth days of Adar by “[making] them days of feasting and gladness, and of sending portions one to another, and gifts to the poor (Esther 9:22).” This practice ensures that everyone has food provided for the Purim feast, regardless of economic standing, and serves to contrast Haman’s accusation that strife exists among Jews. Traditionally, shalach manot should be given to at least two people and should include at least two different food items, one of which you should prepare. This removes the burden of preparing food if someone is unable to do so.
In taking care of those around us, we must also be aware of the world around us. Sending shalach manot provides the opportunity to increase the sustainability of your Purim celebration. From packing your shalach manot, to what to put inside, Hazon offers the following tips (and more!) to make your Purim celebration healthier and more sustainable.
Now commonly seen – at least in America and Europe — as a sweet and innocent event for the enjoyment of children, in the past Purim was once quite different. For the Jews of 16th and 17th century Italy, the holiday was a quite an extravagant affair, celebrated (in the wealthier homes) with close to 30 course dinners accompanied with profuse quantities of wine. Dinner guests donned costumes and masks, inspiring the modern tradition of children playing dress up for the holiday. Several historians cite the celebrations of Carnival, the days up to lent which take place around the same time as Purim, as inspiration for these fests of gluttony.
Wearing costumes and masks while intoxicated was obviously bound to encourage all kinds of inappropriate behaviors, from promiscuous contact with non-Jews to episodes of violence. Still, some prominent rabbis of the time viewed all the wine and merrymaking as central to the spirit of the holiday, and went as far as to allow normally “taboo” activities, even mixed dancing.
TGI Shabbat: Check out this lovely challah recipe. [Food 52]
Kosher, vegan restaurant mini-chain, Blossom expands into the world of baking with their first bakery. [Diner’s Journal]
Incase you missed it, this Monday was Occupy Our Food Supply Day. Check out some essays on the day over at Grist.
Yiddish Cooking: Learn to make two types of hamantaschen with the Forverts cooking video (with English subtitles). [Forverts]
As a devoted, dessert-first, dentally-challenged lover of sweets I have often been disappointed by the hamantaschen. This iconic Purim cookie seems to me like a baked good whose main concern is its shape. The sweet center hardly ever extends itself past its expected core of apricot, prune, or poppy seed. The cookie crust that encloses its traditional center is often pale and plain in flavor and crumb, leaving nothing much to excited about beyond the triangle. I am calling for a hamentaschen makeover, because, really, a cookie is a terrible thing to waste.
Instead of using this Purim as an opportunity to try out chocolate fancies and other sweet ‘n creamy curiosities, I am dedicating it to the pursuit of delicious and different hamantaschen. I am devising a Purim baking plan. My goal is to come up with 3 or 4 uncommon, completely delicious, and totally fresh three-cornered holiday treats.
Come Purim, I know what my friends are expecting from me. They want to find a bottle of home-made limoncello or coffee liqueur nestled among the hamentaschen in their Mishlochei Manot, Purim care-packages and I’m happy to oblige. Limoncello’s bright lemon taste is true to the fruit, while the coffee liqueur releases a wonderful hit of intense coffee flavor in the mouth. Neither are over-sweet nor artificially cloying, which is one reason they’re so popular, but they are also simply a beautiful, flavorful and unique holiday gift to give to friends.
I’ve been an avid home-brewer for 15 years, but compared to making wine, making these liqueurs is child’s play. There’s no fermentation involved here, the base is vodka and all you have to do is infuse it — which is phenomenally simple. Well, you do have to strain the solids from the liquids, then bottle your liqueur. Which takes about 10 minutes. And of course, your bottles will need labels, which can be hand-written or worked out with some fancy font on your printer. My labels bear my name and a Happy Purim message.
“What Are Your Favorite Sustainable Food Stories in America?” Serious Eats asks, for The Perennial Plate, a video series that will tour the country to tell the story of sustainable foodies, farmers and chefs.
Not only is Sunday but it’s macaron day as well. And no, not the type we eat for Passover, but the French sandwich cookies that come in almost any flavor imaginable. If you’re looking for some high quality cookies of either variety, check out Tablet’s recent post.
Late night guy Larry King opens his West Coast Original Brooklyn Water Bagel Co. in Beverly Hills today, where he’ll manufacture the signature Brooklyn water, which reportedly gives New York bagels their taste and texture, Daily Dish reports.
Just like the elements of the seder plate or oil fried latkes, most Jewish holiday foods recall the story of the holiday. Purim is no different — we feast on hamantaschen that represent Haman’s hat (or pockets, or ears, depending upon which story you buy). But one of the central themes of Purim, hippuch or sudden reversal, is often left out of our celebratory food for the holiday. By adding dishes that include an element of reversal we can recall the story of the holiday at our own banquet. This year, I will serve Shirin Polo, a traditional Persian rice dish, which is served upside down to tell the Purim story through food.
Throughout the Megillah, things are reversed and turned upside down, over and over. Haman holds a great deal of power, until in a split second during a banquet, Esther changes everything, and his plot to annihilate the Jews is foiled. The very gallows Haman built to hang Mordechai was used to hang himself. Finally, fact that Esther, a Jew (even in hiding) was the queen of Persia is a reversal of expectations and norms of the time. So it seems only fitting to eat meals of foods that incorporate the idea of hippuch.
Of the many unusual ingredients in Persian cuisine, rose water, which tastes like flower petals, may be the most exotic. Persians, according to Reyna Simnegar, the Jewish, Venezuelan-born author of the new cookbook “Persian Food From the Non-Persian Bride, and other Kosher Sephardic Recipes You will Love!,” consume rose water in order to carry on “the enchantment and mystery, the passion and romance that are characteristic of their people and their culture.”
Such personal reflections on the Persian ethos permeate the book, and the author’s friendly voice guides the reader through this lavish book of over 100 recipes. The text, devoted to the subject of Persian recipes — both specifically Jewish as well as other popular foods of Iran — is as much an education about Persian culture as it is a tutorial on Persian culinary practices. Being half Persian myself — my father grew up in Iran — and a devotee of the cuisine’s healthy seasonality and sweet-and-sour flavor profile, I got excited when this handsome tome appeared in my mailbox.
As the title suggests, Simnegar is married to a Persian, and the book is peppered with anecdotes about quirky Persian customs. She recalls being shocked when her father-in-law tore pieces of challah on shabbat, and threw one at each guest; throwing it, she later discovered, signifies that the bread is not the bread of mourners. Despite the often goofy tone of the writing, the book is nevertheless a thorough primer on Persian food as well as a guide for kosher cooks who wish to prepare a Persian meal for Shabbat or a holiday.