The falafel stand was a key stop on the “tour” of Israel. Organized within my son’s active imagination, the imaginary tour was inspired by a Happy Birthday Israel program at our synagogue. This trip was special because it included a participatory component beyond a float in the Dead Sea, a dip in the Mediterranean, a stop at the Western Wall, or, for that matter, visiting a falafel stand. The extra component was helping to “prepare” a special (birthday) meal for Israel–on a kibbutz no less. The menu, as arranged by our youthful tour guide (age 4), included falafel, pita bread, hummus and Israeli salad along with tahini. We had a wonderful time “preparing” the meal and enjoying it. Our son beamed as his satiated parents expressed their appreciation for his culinary creativity. It added a different dimension to the trip.
Growing up, the only thing that Lag Ba’Omer signified was a time for bonfires. In the New York suburbs the closet we got was barbeques, which for me meant an opportunity to eat watermelon. Barbeques were never particularly exciting to me, and when I got older and became a vegetarian, they held even less appeal. Furthermore, the holiday of Lag Ba’Omer also never fully made sense to me. Why were bonfires the hallmark of a celebration for ending of the plague killing Rabbi Akiva’s students?
Like many other confusing cultural phenomena, I put this aside and continued to care little about the holiday and the inevitable celebration of meat, knowing that while the appearance of veggie burgers could never be counted on since the number of vegetarians is consistently underestimated, my trusty watermelon would undercut these issues.
There is a sad truth about Passover: Its dessert always falls short. Hanukkah has donuts, Purim has hamantaschen and Rosh Hashanah has honey cake. Poor Passover has no signature sweet.
Perhaps you’ve put in the extra effort to make a kosher for Passover cake for your Seders past, but if you’re like me, you’ve never found one you love enough to sacrifice sweet brisket-braising time to make it each year. But as Julia Child said, “A party without cake is just a meeting.” So, this spring I set out to create a kosher for Passover cake that wouldn’t compromise even a crumb’s worth of quality.
I pulled my copy of Dan Cohen’s cookbook, “The Macaroon Bible,” down from my shelf and got started. Cohen’s recipes call for small batches that produce rich and chewy macaroons that come in flavors like rice pudding and salted caramel. Each recipe highlights the thick coconut shreds and sweet condensed milk that make up its base. His recipes have made macaroons a year-round treat in my home — passing the test of something that’s conveniently kosher for Passover but not designed for it.
This cake batter borrows from Cohen’s recipe and enhances the celebratory qualities of a macaroon. It takes a traditional Passover dessert and morphs it into a beautiful, festive and delicious centerpiece. It’s a Passover cake for all seasons.
Homemade babka is a pure delight, filling your home with the smell of yeasty bread, cinnamon and chocolate. This video breaks the whole recipe down.
Photos by Molly Yeh
I love a good fried chicken. I love schnitzel, I love katsu, I love anything fatty and breaded and crispy. If my Valentine presented me with a heart-shaped schnitzel on the 14th, I think I’d propose right then and there.
The problem is, I also love feeling good and fitting into the cute Valentine’s Day outfit that I’ve had picked out for weeks. In other words, I want my Valentine’s Day dinner to be as yummy as a schnitzel but much healthier than one.
Oven frying (baking a breaded cutlet, rather than deep frying it) is an obvious answer but I’ve never been a fan of it. With the fake fried food experience, I feel sad and cheated, and cheated is the last thing anyone wants to feel on Valentine’s Day. So… Za’atar to the rescue! It’s one of my favorite spice blends and I am a firm believer that za’atar, like chocolate, can make anything better.
Let’s also not forget that Valentine’s day falls on Shabbat this year. The amazing earthy flavor of za’atar with the crunchiness of panko on this chicken is a beautiful thing, and it is bound please a crowd for your Friday night dinner or a special date without an overwhelming amount of prep. This dish will leave you feeling great, and you may even gain a whole new respect for oven fried chicken like I did. It’s breaded without being heavy or oily and it’s paired with a sweet balsamic date chutney, to add a little extra sweetness to your night.
When I came across the Zurückgeben grant, which supports creative projects of Jewish women living in Germany, I decided to present a documentary proposal on a Jewish topic. I worked hard to get the figures; concept and team together, but in the last minute the main character of the story desisted on taking part of the film. There was only a week left for the deadline, and no story… In parallel, I was working in another idea that linked migration, with motherhood and food. I mixed up both projects and that is how the documentary “Each Flavour is a Journey” was born (no typos…just British spelling). It was the perfect mix of everything I am interested in: filming, cooking, migration, life stories and Jewish culture.
The film was done with an extremely low budget and a very talented team, who devoted their time and expertise to bring the film into shape. During the production I met a remarkable group of human beings, who opened my eyes to new worlds, which were so far, almost unknown to me. I grew up in Chile, and my childhood flavors melt between the local kitchen of empanadas, pastel de choclo (corn pie) and alfajores, with the taste of the Besarabian Jews, who carry a traditional Ashkenazi cuisine, with a Mediterranean twist. For me the definition of Jewish food was fried gefilte fish with smoked eggplant puree.
In the afternoon you become somewhat hungry and restless, and can’t find anything to revive yourself. Lunch has been consumed and forgotten, and you haven’t started preparing supper, so you open the refrigerator or the pantry, but find only vegetables and canned food that don’t meet your growing need to bite into something tasty and meaningful.
It’s important not to skip the meal that on kibbutz was called aruhat arba (literally, “the four o’clock meal”), which the British call afternoon tea and which features tea or coffee and a cucumber sandwich or cake. There’s something about those afternoon meals that sometimes makes them more important than all the others.
All at once the hustle and bustle of the day ceases, the problems of the workday are forgotten and set aside. The ceremony of the light meal symbolizes the start of a relaxed afternoon with the family or an evening stroll in the park, or even a short twilight snooze in the armchair on the balcony. The remainder of the day gets a second chance if the first part was stressful or tiring.
For those along the Mediterranean coastline there is no food more suitable than a terrine to mark the onset of the free afternoon hours. This baked dish, which took its name from the traditional pan in which it is baked in France, is no more than a perfectly compressed gel of meat or fish or vegetables in a batter, which is sliced like a cake and served on thin pieces of toast with hot peppers or sweet jam. On the one hand, the flavors are as deep and full as in a whole meal. On the other hand, an entire meal is condensed into that one slice, which expresses attention to detail but leaves room for supper.
Read more and get a recipe at Haaretz.com.
For once I have not stopped to ponder all the ups and downs of the last year, which is something I tend to do monthly, if not weekly. So the fact that I’ve forgotten to do this in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah is a minor victory for the semi-neurotic.
Frankly speaking, the last year was a long one that rode in on an even worse one. So when I began to bake and write about my baking through a life-affirming lens, I forced myself to focus on the very positive, and the very now. It occurred to me that with all that’s wrong here and all over the world, looking straight ahead was hard enough – forget looking forward and forget looking backward.
I got to sit down with Stephanie Botvin, winner of the 2013 Challah Contest at the Rocky Mountain Food Festival, who was already convinced from the start that she made the best challah in Denver. After having tasted her challah, it was no surprise why she won.
With a unique cake-like consistency, the use of honey, tofu (replacing eggs), and whole-wheat flour, this challah definitely sets itself apart from the rest. Stephanie told me how her challah baking brings her into the Shabbat spirit, how her participation in the food festival helped her shed new light on Jewish food issues, and how her transition to Denver from the East Coast inspired her to make this award-winning challah in the first place. She generously gave me a loaf to take home, which was finished off that afternoon.
After 10 delicious and extraordinary days of eating Israel’s best hummus, shawarma, and halva, with 40 of my new best friends, one amazing memory from my Birthright trip stands out — an afternoon at Israel’s Shvil Hasalat (“Salad Trail”) farm. Deep in the desert, right near the Gaza strip, the Shvil Hasalat grows everything from San Marzano tomatoes to strawberries to lemon basil using an intricate temperature and bee-controlled greenhouse system.
Running around these houses, tasting anything we pleased, was comparable to a real-life Willy Wonka Factory. I had my first chocolate tomato, some amazing rosemary… and when some mischievous boys went searching for the Khat in the herb house, I may or may not have followed them.
After the tasting, we entered into a Chopped-inspired competition, where we divided into four teams and were challenged to create three dishes centered on a secret ingredient, using pita, tahini, olive oil, and whatever we could find in the greenhouses. I was on team Purple Carrot, which was headed by one of the Israelis in our group, who also happens to be a chef at Tel Aviv’s new hip restaurant, Popina. Just my luck!
I grew up avoiding garlic. Pesto did not exist in my house, garlic bread was unique to summer camp, and dishes would begin with plain cooked onions. My family was the antithesis of everything culinary ethnography told me was Jewish.
Apparently, we are “the people of garlic,” but if you had spent any time in my childhood home, you would think we were vampires. Spending two weeks at Yiddish Farm harvesting garlic scapes and embracing this bulb was a very different and fragrant experience.
Shortly after leaving Egypt, Goshen, and the burdens of slavery, the Jewish people yearned for the garlic and onions they had enjoyed in Egypt (Bamidbar 11:5). In a handful of places in the Talmud, we are referred to as garlic eaters. Throughout the Ashkenazi experience in Europe, Jews were notorious for their alliumic odor (for more on this, read Maria Diemling’s article in Food and Judaism). And now, this is the largest crop of the new, Jewish, organic-certified farm in the Catskills.
A Greek-American friend of mine told me about Artopolis bakery in Astoria. This bakery is the real deal; there are both savory and sweet pastries of all varities – from spanakopita, to biscuits, to cakes, to tarts. Once I knew of its existence, I found myself going out of my way to stop by Astoria and load up on their treats. I immediately fell in love with a cookie called melamakarona. These honey soaked biscuits were kept in a tray behind glass, which added to the allure. They looked so precious; their golden-brown color, glistening with honey and topped with chopped walnuts. The aroma is fragrant, with hints of clove and cinnamon. The texture of the cookie is baklava-esque, as it’s soft from the honey bath it sits in.
Cross posted from KosherEye.com
So, what do you know about coconut milk? Or coconuts for that matter? Yes, coconuts do grow on palm trees. They are considered a fruit and not a nut. They are oval shaped and can weigh up to 3 pounds at maturity and are covered with a husk. Under the husk is a hard shell, which is sphere shaped, and within that inner shell is the seed. It is from the seed that we derive the delicious white edible coconut meat. And no, the liquid that is in the core of the coconut is not coconut milk but coconut water — a delicious and hydrating drink popular throughout parts of South America.
Coconuts are a prehistoric plant that are believed to have originated somewhere in the South Pacific — there are differing opinions on this so don’t quote us. They are water resistant and can stay afloat, so who knows where they have traveled from or to. Just like the Jewish people, they have been disbursed around the globe.
Simply stated, coconut milk is the end product of steeping fresh grated coconut meat and water, which is then strained to produce the coconut milk.
Passover, though one of my favorite Jewish holidays, is also one of the most challenging for me. As a vegetarian and Ashkenazic Jew, major staples in my diet such as beans, tofu, tempeh, seitan, and brown rice are suddenly banned. I have met some vegetarians/vegans who “go Sephardic” for Pesach so that they have more food options, even going as far as consulting and getting permission from their rabbis to do so. But bringing kitniyot (foods such as: rice, corn, soy beans, string beans, peas, lentils, mustard, sesame seeds and poppy seeds that are not allowed to be consumed during Pesach under Ashkenazic custom) into my home would be a big no-no, and personally I wouldn’t feel comfortable observing the holiday differently. I’ve had 11+ years to figure out and fine-tune the ins and outs of a vegetarian Pesach and I’m here to share some of my must-have foods, while still following Ashkenazic tradition and staying healthy.
Let me preface my suggestions by explaining a little bit about my background and how I observe Passover. I was raised in a Conservative kosher home, where the only foods that enter our kitchen for the holiday are ones that bear a Kosher for Passover (K for P) symbol. Even though there are so many vegetarian/vegan packaged goods that I love and are chametz-free, they will not be coming into my home without the K for P symbol. For some readers, this may be stricter than you’re used to. Ultimately, you have to do what you feel comfortable with on this holiday. As a result, I tend to cook nearly all my meals from scratch. Cooking in bulk and not minding repeat meals is helpful, as is finding a grocery store (or online kosher shop) that carries a variety of products, which thankfully gets easier every year with the ever-expanding selection of Passover foods on the market.
I recently had the opportunity to chat with Leslie about her newest cookbook, “Gluten-Free Recipes for the Conscious Cook” and the benefits of a gluten-free diet, and the importance of eating sustainably for both the mind and body.
While considering the culinary prospects for Passover 2012, strangely, the words “matzo brei” keep coming up. This is strange, because I don’t even like matzo brei; my memories of this dish feature a matzah-egg mush served to us on white plates with faded pink strawberries along the rim. Neither eggs nor matzo are imbued with any kind of assertive flavors; both elements beg to be enlivened by a second party of flavor. So for me matzo brei was mainly about the absence of flavor. Which is why I’d internally roll my eyes every time someone waxed poetic about the humble joys of matzo brei. Whenever culinary machers like Ruth Reichel would dreamily expound on the simple pleasures of this dish, I wondered what was I missing? The answer was “flavor.”
In modern times, Passover has become a holiday where a lot of the foods prepared, rely on processed items, like matzo meal, making one feel shackled down by the weight of those carb bombs. However in keeping with Chag Ha Aviv, it’s more appropriate for seasonal produce to shine. Of the many dishes I am preparing for Passover, one is a Cauliflower and Leek Soup, which serves as an edible illustration to inculcate the story of Passover. This seasonal vegetable soup symbolizes the many meanings of Passover, with an emphasis on the newness of spring, where we have the potential as a nation to always renew ourselves.
And then comes Friday night, the beginning of Shabbat. The wind up to observing the Sabbath is at times chaotic, because while that sun sets Friday night, no matter what, Shabbat doesn’t make itself. In Hebrew, to observe Shabbat is to be shomer Shabbat, a “guardian” of the Sabbath. I always thought it sounded like Shabbat was prone to attack, or would wander off alone if not for your protective skills. Not so far from the reality.
Tuesday I invite guests before they get a better offer, Wednesday I’m digging in the freezer for that London broil I bought on special, Thursday I buy and clean the vegetables, and if I’m motivated, bake challah. Friday night those candles are lit, and after the blessing, we’re done doing, making, creating and a whole long list of other things, which includes cooking.
I don’t know when it happened, but one day I started liking a little spice in my food. It started slowly, little by little, and before I knew it, I found myself sprinkling red pepper flakes or squirting Sriracha on many of my meals. Not to say that I don’t appreciate non-spicy cuisine. On the contrary, I love simple roasted vegetables with the perfect sprinkle of sea salt, or a sun-warmed summer tomato with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil. But I also love reaching for hot sauce to give certain dishes a kick. Not one for Tabasco-style sauces (no flaming XXX bottles here), I started experimenting with more complex chili sauces. After a recent affair with North African cuisine inspired by picking up a few recipes from a friend’s Jewish Moroccan mother, I have been enjoying harissa, a blended hot pepper condiment. Most people think Jewish food is quite tame in the spice department, but not so! This fiery condiment is a testament the diversity of Jewish culinary roots, and our love of flavor. If you’ve ever asked for your falafel “spicy” — then you, too, have had harissa.
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.