The Jew And The Carrot

Is Amaranth the New Quinoa — and Is It Kosher?

By Tami Ganeles-Weiser

Photograph by Tami Ganeles-Weiser/The Weiser Kitchen

Move over, quinoa? Amaranth, its kissing cousin, is technically kosher for Passover… maybe. Or maybe not.

Amaranth is actually a category of about 60 different plant species that grow between five and eight feet tall, produce vibrantly colorful ornamental flowers, sprout copious amounts of wildly colored edible leaves and contain tens of thousand of nutritious, edible seeds. A member of the chard and spinach family, its cooked leaves taste like those other soft, leafy greens. Amaranth seeds, neither a grain nor a cereal, can be ground into flour. Amaranth has been widely used in traditional diets in parts of Mexico and throughout the Americas for centuries.

Amaranth has gone by many names through history: amaranto, ataco, coyolito, quihuicha sangorache and huauti. The seeds, as well as the greens, were a vital part of Aztec life in what is now Mexico, and the plants were domesticated long before the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés arrived in the New World.

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‘The Community Table’ Karpas Salad

By The Community Table

Photograph by John Tavares

The three authors of JCC Manhattan’s new cookbook, Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl and Lisa Rotmi, dubbed this their karpas salad, named after the spring herbs and bitter greens served at a Passover Seder, but they make it all year-round. It also features dates, pine nuts, pomegranate seeds and a bright lemon dressing — a terrific mix.

Serves 8 as a side

For the salad
½ cup pine nuts
6 ounces baby arugula
Leaves from 2 bunches fresh flat-leaf parsley (about 4 cups)
Leaves from 1 bunch cilantro (about 2 cups)
½ cup fresh chives cut into 1/8-inch lengths
3/4 cup dried pitted dates, thinly sliced
1½ cups pomegranate seeds (about 2 pomegranates)
Fresh dill to garnish

For the dressing
2 to 3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

1) In a small skillet, toast the pine nuts over low heat, watching carefully and stirring often, until golden, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and let cool.

2) In a large bowl, combine the arugula, parsley, cilantro and chives. Add the pine nuts and dates and toss.

3) To make the dressing, whisk the lemon juice (to taste) and olive oil together in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Just before serving, toss the salad with the dressing. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds, adjust the seasoning and serve.

The authors discuss the salad recipe.

Recipe reprinted with permission from “The Community Table” ©2015 JCC Manhattan, Grand Central Books.

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A Seder Meal That Celebrates Its Sources

By Hedai Offaim

Sea fish with spinach and green garlic. Photographs by Dan Peretz

Ohad Levy’s restaurant sits atop a ridge, above lush green slopes. Below, a narrow, dusty road stretches away past some low houses, olive and banana groves and a few scattered fish ponds. Then comes another road that stretches down to the sea. The restaurant, Oratorio, is situated next to a new hotel that was formerly a workers’ retreat designed by the late architect Yaakov Rechter in Zichron Ya’akov.

Each morning, Levy gathers plants that grow around him, on the ridge and below it, and leaves his signature on everything he cooks, always remaining faithful to his sources. When you dine at his table, you can feel how his food began to take shape long before it was served. As in art, it begins with the thought or the inspiration, and then evolves and grows and is trimmed and revised, so that only the final story reaches the public.

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New Cookbook Offers Fresh Take on Holiday Food

By Jean Hanks

“‘The New Passover Menu’ has arrived in order to set you free,” Paula Shoyer tells readers in the introduction of her newest cookbook, published by Sterling Epicure. That promise, from the author of “The Holiday Kosher Baker,” intrigued me. From what would we be liberated? What I found was that the assortment of recipes in this book allows for two types of culinary freedom. For one, many of the dishes require everyday ingredients and are easy to prepare. This is a blessing for those who tend to get stressed out about how much time it takes to pull together a Passover Seder.

The second way the book offers liberation is through the absence of any recipes one might consider traditional for Passover. Instead, it offers creative variations on dishes like kugel, chicken soup and charoset. The kugel is asparagus, zucchini and leeks and the chicken soup includes chicken meatballs and zucchini spaghetti.

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Banana Charoset (No Kidding)

By Paula Shoyer

An audacious twist on a Passover staple. Photograph by Michael Bennett Kress

Charoset is the element on the Seder plate that represents the mortar used by the Israelite slaves to build bricks.

Growing up, I had Seders almost exclusively at my parents’ house or at a handful of other relatives’ homes, and everyone made the same charoset: walnuts, apples and sweet wine all smooshed together.

It was only when I began hosting my own Seders that I discovered a wide variety of charoset recipes from every corner of the world where Jews have ever resided.

This recipe comes from my friend Melissa Arking, who is a fabulous cook. I added chopped walnuts at the end for some texture.

Makes 3 cups (Serves 25 for Seder)

Prep time: 10 minutes
Advanced prep: May be made 3 days in advance
Equipment: Cutting board • Knives • Measuring cups and spoons • Food processor • Box grater • Silicone spatula • Small serving bowl

3 large ripe bananas
2 cups ground walnuts
2 tablespoons sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons sweet kosher wine
2 apples, shredded on the large holes of a box grater
1 cup walnut halves, chopped into 1/3-inch pieces

1) In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade, place the bananas, ground walnuts, sugar, cinnamon and wine. Process until the mixture comes together.

2) Transfer to a small bowl, add the apples and chopped walnuts, and stir to combine.

Note: You can buy nuts already ground, with the skin or without. I have a coffee grinder dedicated to grinding nuts. You can also use a food processor, as long as it can reduce the nuts to a fine grind, almost like a powder, when you need almond flour for baking. If you grind nuts for too long, you will end up with nut butter.

Reprinted with permission from New Passover Menu ©2015 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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Crunchy Quinoa With Sweet Potatoes

By Paula Shoyer

Photograph by Michael Bennett Kress

Quinoa is the greatest new addition to the Passover pantry. It finally received definitive rabbinic approval for Passover in 2014, after a rabbi was dispatched to Peru and Bolivia to see how quinoa is grown.

He learned that quinoa grows at very high altitudes, while the grains that are prohibited on Passover are grown much farther below it. The authorities concluded that there was no risk of intermingling. My husband, Andy, eats quinoa with blueberries for breakfast all Passover long. This dish is a great combination of color and texture.

Serves 6–8

Prep time: 10 minutes; 30 minutes for quinoa to cool
Cook time: 30 minutes
Advance prep: Quinoa may be cooked or salad assembled 2 days in advance
Equipment: Measuring cups and spoons • Cutting board • Knives • Small saucepan • Roasting pan • Spatula • Small frying pan • Small bowl • Whisk • Large bowl

1 cup quinoa
2 cups water
1 medium sweet potato, peeled and cut into ½-inch cubes
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon honey
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon black pepper
1/3 cup pine nuts, toasted
1/3 cup dried cranberries
3 scallions, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices

1) Preheat oven to 400° F.

2) To prepare the quinoa, place it in a small saucepan with the water. Bring to a boil and then reduce heat and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, or until the water has evaporated. Turn off the heat and let the quinoa sit, covered, for at least half an hour. The quinoa may be cooked 2 days in advance and stored covered in the fridge.

3) Place the sweet potato cubes in a roasting pan and toss with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Roast for 25 minutes, or until the cubes can be pierced with a fork. Set aside.

4) To prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons oil with the vinegar, honey, cumin, cinnamon, salt and pepper.

5) To assemble the dish, use a whisk to break apart any clumps of quinoa that may have formed as it cooled and transfer it to a large bowl. Add the dressing, and whisk well. Add the sweet potatoes, pine nuts, cranberries and scallions, and mix gently. Serve at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from New Passover Menu ©2015 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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Sephardic Poached Fish in Pepper Sauce

By Paula Shoyer

Photograph by Michael Bennett Kress

This recipe is versatile and can be made with any type of white fish or salmon. You can really kick up the spice factor by adding a tablespoon of store-bought harissa or some more chili powder, hot paprika or red pepper flakes. This dish also can be served as a main course for lunch over the holiday.

Serves 6–8

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Advanced prep: May be made 3 days in advance
Equipment: Cutting board • Knives • Measuring cups and spoons • Large frying pan with 2-inch sides • Silicone spatula

3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 medium onions, cut in half and thinly sliced
1 red pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1 orange pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
1 yellow pepper, cored, seeded and thinly sliced
¼ teaspoon paprika
¾ teaspoon kosher salt
Black pepper
¼–½ teaspoon chili powder, hot paprika or crushed red pepper flakes
1½ cups water
2 pounds white fish (such as tilapia, halibut or flounder) or salmon
2/3 cup loosely packed fresh cilantro leaves, chopped

1) Cut fish into 2-by-5-inch long pieces, or fillets may be cut lengthwise in half. Set aside. Heat the oil in a large frying pan with 2-inch sides over medium-low heat. Add the garlic and onions, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the red, orange and yellow peppers, and cook for another 4 minutes. Stir in the paprika, salt and black pepper to taste. Stir in the chili powder. Add the water, increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil.

2) Reduce the heat to low, place the fish slices on top of the garlic, onions and peppers, cover and cook for 5 minutes. Use a fork to pick up some of the peppers and onions and place them on top of the fish slices. Cover and cook for another 5 minutes. Taste the sauce and add more salt if necessary. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Reprinted with permission from New Passover Menu ©2015 by Paula Shoyer, Sterling Publishing Co., Inc.

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Cooking for Passover Like a 5-Star Kosher Chef

By Marcy Oster

Inbal Hotel Jerusalem, where the chef offered an online how-to on holiday cooking. Courtesy Inbal Hotel.

(JTA) - At this time of year I always ask around to my friends and neighbors for new and creative Passover recipes — and if I can stand upright after chasing after crumbs of chametz, helping my kids prepare Torah commentary for the seder and changing over my kitchen to kosher for Passover, I even try one or two of them.

I never thought I would have the chance to get Passover recipes directly from the executive chef of a 5-star kosher hotel restaurant, however. And I am sure ready to eat restaurant-style food from the comfort of my own home.

Inbal Jerusalem Hotel executive chef Nir Elkayam showed me and anyone else who wanted to watch, how to make new and interesting dishes for the upcoming holiday in a live online demonstration, accompanied by a live chat where you could ask him all your Passover cooking questions.

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A Perfectly Modern Passover

By Alix Wall

This is an occasional column in which the writer evaluates a cookbook by making some of its recipes, sharing the dishes with friends and asking those friends what they think of the results. For Passover, the writer cooked her way through “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen,” by Forward writer and contributing editor Leah Koenig.

In the introduction to “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen” (Chronicle Books), Leah Koenig writes that she felt a certain kind of freedom when she began hosting Sabbath dinners in her 20s.

Her grandmother had died before she was born, she writes, and as a teenager she showed no interest in how her mom made her “legendary latkes.”

“Because I had not inherited specific recipes, I felt free from any pressure to simply copy what I was taught, and free to improvise and add my own personality,” Koenig writes. “I was creating my Jewish repertoire from scratch, and doing it in my twenty-first century kitchen filled with vegetables from the farmers’ market and a sauce-splattered laptop that played music while I chopped. There, I could incorporate ingredients that fell outside the Eastern European repertoire I inherited, and cook in a way that felt true to my life.”

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Red Wine and Honey Brisket

By Leah Koenig

Photograph by Sang An

For many people, brisket is the Proustian madeleine of Jewish cooking. The rich, savory scent of caramelizing meat that perfumes the house as it cooks seems to stir people into a nostalgia-fueled fervor. There is no question that the brisket your bubbe made was the best ever, and you cannot compete with the layers of memories that flavor her version in your mind. That’s okay, because you have a few tricks of your own up your sleeve. This version slow-cooks the meat in a sweet and tangy mixture of honey and red wine until it sighs and falls apart at the touch of a fork. I included the red wine as a nod to stracotto, the Roman Jewish take on brisket, which simmers beef in wine and spices.

Brisket’s flavor and texture improve with age, so while you can certainly serve it right away, it will taste best if you make it a day in advance. Once the brisket has chilled in the refrigerator overnight, spoon off and discard any excess fat congealed at the top and transfer the meat to a cutting board. Thinly slice the brisket against the grain (meat is easier to slice when it’s cold), then place the slices back into the Dutch oven or roasting pan, spooning some of the saucy onion mixture over the top. Warm in a 300° F oven until hot and bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Note: This recipe calls for second-cut brisket, which is sometimes referred to as deckle. It can be difficult to find second-cut brisket packaged in the grocery store, so ask your butcher about it. While you’re asking for things, see if the butcher will trim off any excess fat, too. If you have first-cut brisket on hand, go ahead and use it — the dish will still be delicious.

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A Yemenite Meal in NYC With an Israeli Food Star

By Liza Schoenfein

The meal on offer includes a traditional Yemenite beef soup called marak basar Teimani (top left), and kubaneh, a yeast-risen bread (on the square plate). Photographs by Adeena Sussman.

Gil Hovav, Israel’s biggest food celebrity and an unofficial ambassador of the country’s cuisine, will be in New York next week to host a series of Yemenite dinners with New York-based food writer, cookbook author and Israeli food expert Adeena Sussman. Hovav is half Yeminite and Sussman is an avid fan and student of the cuisine, having written about it for Gourmet and other publications.

“Gil and I have a shared love of this cuisine, and he’s eaten some of my interpretations and I’ve eaten his,” she said. “It’s really soul-satisfying, delicious, simple food, celebrating one of Israel’s many great ethnic cuisines.”

Sussman, who has written about food for the Forward, explained that she and Hovav threw a small EatWith dinner in her home back in December 2014, which sold out immediately. “So there was interest in us reprising this event,” she said.

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A Healthy Meal Between Holidays

By Liza Schoenfein

Roasted wild salmon over lentils. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein.

I’m always aware that the period between Thanksgiving and New Year’s is a high-calorie danger zone, so I tend to be fairly mindful. I just realized that I’m usually less conscious — and therefore less careful — between Purim and Passover. But here we are, sandwiched between the bookends of boozy parties and heavy holiday dinners. This year, I intend to lighten it up so that I don’t head into the warmer months feeling like I need to wear a muumuu.

This recipe takes little more than half an hour start to finish. It can easily be doubled (or reduced) depending on the number of people you’re serving. For a fancier dinner I like to roast individual pieces of salmon so everyone gets a neat presentation. For a more casual meal, I serve family style, mounding the lentils on a platter and placing one big fillet on top.

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Chocolate Hamantaschen Filled With Serious Fun

By Tami Ganeles-Weiser

The author wondered why chocolate was usually left out of the dough of a classic Purim treat. Photograph by Tami Ganeles/Weiser/The Weiser Kitchen.

Chocolate is in many ways the quintessential example of a food that is both Old and New World. Cacao, the bean from which chocolate is derived, was well known to both the Aztec and the Mayan peoples. It was a bitter powder ground from pods and prized for its alleged aphrodisiac properties.

The Spanish Conquistadors took cocoa back to Europe with them, where they concocted a wildly popular drink with the addition of sugar (also a New World food) and copious amounts of milk or cream. There you have it: the invention of the hot chocolate we would likely recognize today.

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Housewarming Harissa Chili, the Recipe

By Gayle L. Squires

What better way to break in new digs than by inviting friends for a warm bowl of homey goodness? Photograph by Gayle L. Squires.

This recipe is adapted from the spicy chili in Einat Admony’s “Balaboosta.” To make my life easier, I used cans where I could: canned kidney beans instead of dried; canned tomatoes instead of fresh. I also replaced merguez sausage with ground lamb because it’s easier to find.

The heat in the chili comes from the North African spice paste harissa. Since the spiciness of harissa can vary, use a light touch initially — you can always add more later. I like to serve this on top of wheat berries, but you can use brown rice, barley, farro or your favorite grain.*

Serves 4-6

1 pound ground beef
½ pound ground lamb
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
1½ cups finely chopped yellow onion (about 2 medium)
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 teaspoon sugar
1 28-ounce can of chopped peeled tomatoes
-2-3 tablespoons harissa (depending on how spicy it is)
1 teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon chipotle powder
About 4 cups water
2 15.5-ounce cans kidney beans, rinsed well and drained
4 scallions, thinly sliced on the diagonal

1) Sauté. Heat a large heavy-bottom pot over high heat (no oil) — it’s ready when you drop a small piece of meat in and it sizzles very loudly. If the pot isn’t hot enough, you’ll end up boiling your meat instead of sautéing. Add the beef and lamb to the hot pot and sauté until browned. Season with a pinch of salt and a few grinds of pepper. Drain off any excess liquid, but leave all the good browned bits. Remove the meat and set aside.

2) Sauté again. Heat the olive oil in the emptied pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and sauté until golden brown, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute, making sure not to burn it. Stir in the tomato paste and sugar. Add the tomatoes and cook for another 5 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of harissa (you can add more later), cumin, chipotle, 2 tablespoons salt, ¼ teaspoon pepper and water.

3) Simmer. Add the beans and bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to very low, cover the pot and simmer for 2½ to 3 hours. After the first 30 minutes, taste for spice, stirring in extra harissa if you’d like more of a kick. Check the chili periodically, and if it looks dry, add some more water.

4) Serve. Scoop into bowls and sprinkle with sliced scallion.

Gayle Squires is a food writer, recipe developer and photographer. Her path to the culinary world is paved with tap shoes, a medical degree, business consulting and travel. She has a knack for convincing chefs to give up their secret recipes. Her blog is KosherCamembert.

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Basic Roast Chicken, the Recipe

By Liza Schoenfein

Roast chicken with za’atar, lemons and shallots. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein.

I offer this recipe as a guideline, not a dictate. There are a few basic steps, the details of which can vary. Season with the za’atar suggested here, or with other herbs and spices — or just with salt and pepper. Stuff with the lemons and shallots in my recipe, or with garlic and fresh herbs such as thyme and rosemary.

Place on a bed of leeks and lemon slices like I do, or on a mixture of eggplant rounds and bell pepper chunks, or on a variety of root vegetables (carrots, parsnips, potatoes and/or beets) — or forget the vegetable bed entirely and sit your chickens on a roasting rack.

Make two chickens like I do, because then nobody fights over the legs and you have built-in leftovers. Or make just one if that’s your preference.

The point is, you can hardly go wrong. Watch our how-to video for inspiration, then try it.

2 whole chickens, approximately 4 pounds each, preferably organic
2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
4 teaspoons za’atar (optional; see note below)
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 lemons, one quartered; the other cut into ¼-inch rounds
1 shallot, peeled and cut into large pieces
2 leeks (white and light green parts only), cut into ½-inch rounds (or a few shallots or onions)

1) Preheat oven to 424 degrees F.

2) Pat chickens dry with paper towels and drizzle with 1 tablespoon of the olive oil.

3) In a small bowl, combine za’atar (if using) with salt and pepper. Sprinkle all over chickens. Place 2 lemon quarters and half the shallots into the birds’ cavities.

4) Drizzle roasting pan with remaining tablespoon of oil. Scatter leeks and lemon rounds in roasting pan. Place chickens on top, breast side up. Roast on middle rack of oven for 1½ hours or until chicken is cooked through (juices run clear when area between leg and thigh is pricked with a knife).

5) Remove chickens to a large cutting board and let rest for about 10 minutes before carving. Serve with roasted lemons and leeks on the side.

Note: Za’atar is a Middle-Eastern spice mixture of sumac, thyme or oregano, and sesame seeds. It’s available at La Boite, a New York shop owned by Israeli and spice master Lior Lev Sercarz, Penzey’s and Kalustyan’s. For a simple and delicious dinner, sprinkle it on chicken pieces or fish fillets that you’ve drizzled with a little olive oil, then roast.

Liza Schoenfein is the food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.

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Recipes From My Argentine Grandmother

By Daniela Blei

The recipe notebook of Lola Blei, the author’s grandmother, who was known as Loly. Photograph by Daniela Blei.

If there was ever a doubt that cooking is more than just a means of providing sustenance, the evidence lies in my grandmother’s cursive. Her recipes fill a wire-bound notebook, its brittle pages a testament to butter and the passage of time.

Toiling in the kitchen of apartment 15A, in a leafy Buenos Aires neighborhood, my grandmother reaffirmed who she was: Jewish, European and Argentine. She was also a good cook, though not an exceptional one, with a knack for baking cakes named for Habsburg monarchs. Today, her recipe notebook lives in a drawer in my San Francisco home. Between the covers are glimpses of the 20th century: stories of loss, exile and nostalgia.

Like many Jews of her generation, my grandmother’s voyage to the New World happened more by accident than design. It began on a freezing February day in 1948, when Klement Gottwald, an ardent revolutionary and a drunk, stepped onto a balcony in Prague to proclaim a communist republic. For my Sovietophobic grandfather, whose wartime travails brought him unbearably close to the Red Army, it was time to run. Having escaped the drudgery of forced labor in Hungary, he saved himself by finding work in the Soviet Union, putting to use his polyglot education as a translator for Soviet troops. His experience left him terrified of communism’s march across the continent.

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Tu B’Shvat Chocolate Bark

By Debbie Prinz

Photograph by Mark Hurvitz

Tu B’Shvat brings the opportunity, and the excuse, to create a chocolate bark using fruits and nuts connected to the land of Israel. Stay with the fruits of the traditional Sheva Minim, the Seven Species of fruits and grains mentioned as special to the land of Israel in the Bible, such as pomegranate, fig, date and raisin.

Or, celebrate any of the other fruit delights available in Israel today — papaya, mango, apple, peach, pear, citrus. Make your selection anticipating the colors decorating the bark. For this version, I used figs, dates, pistachios and slivered almonds, with a base of dark chocolate.

Chocolate Bark with Fruits of Israel

About 16 ounces quality dark chocolate (or milk, if preferred)
4 figs, roughly chopped
4 dates, roughly chopped
A handful of raisins and nuts

1) Oil a 7” x 9” baking pan with a rim and then line it with waxed paper so the paper extends about an inch at two ends.

2) In a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water, stir the chocolate until melted.

3) Remove the chocolate from the heat and smooth it into the pan to the thickness desired for your bark. Decorate the bark with your mix of dried fruit and nut toppings. Cool on the baking sheet until hardened. (Place into the refrigerator to quicken the hardening.) Break or cut into slabs and store in a cool place in a covered container.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz lectures about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao”, was published in 2013 by Jewish Lights and is in its second printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings. Prinz writes for The Huffington Post, On the Chocolate Trail, Reform Judaism, Jew and the Carrot and elsewhere.

Free download: Lesson plans for use in schools on chocolate related topics such as Sephardi North American Colonial traders, Hanukkah, Passover, Jewish history, blessings and more.

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Going Wild with Avocados

By Hedai Offaim (Haaretz)

Avocado and Roast Beef Salad. Photograph by Dan Peretz.

I spy avocados lying in a crate in the market and am instantly diverted from my original purpose. I pick one up, cradle it in my hands and think about the beautiful tree that has yielded this fruit. Then I pick out a few more, wrap them in paper, take them home and let them continue ripening in a bowl on the kitchen counter. The avocado does not ripen on the tree. It is picked from the orchard when it has become fat enough but is still bright-skinned and firm, and finishes ripening in the kitchens of avocado lovers.

If you’re lucky, at the market you may find some that have already begun to soften a bit, so that you can peel and spread them on some fresh bread that very day. For this reason, I always carry a little paring knife with me, just in case it’s my lucky day. When you come upon that perfectly ripe avocado, you must buy some fresh bread, sit down in a nearby park or just on the curb if need be, spread the avocado on the bread, sprinkle on a little salt and blissfully devour it.

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Banana-Walnut Pancakes as Penicillin

By Liza Schoenfein

Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

The flu came on so suddenly, I didn’t have time to make my own chicken soup. Thankfully, Zabar’s is right around the corner from the pediatrician, where my husband, Mark, and I both accompanied the ailing 11-year-old, all 104 degrees of him.

A quick march to the back of the store for the Jewish penicillin, four fluffy matzo balls on the side, and I was out of there. When the acetaminophen finally kicked in and our boy’s appetite made a brief, wan appearance, that’s what he ate. Half a bowl; better than nothing.

Sunday morning the fever was fiercer. On the phone, the pediatrician assured me that it was probably worse for the parents than the child. Acetaminophen plus ibuprofen. Cold compresses. Hot pink cheeks and shivers. Water and gatorade.

And suddenly, midday, he was back to almost normal, at least for a blessed three and a half hours. The older brother, neglected, asked for pancakes. What a good idea, I thought. I make these hearty, delicious ones that are so much better for my kids than they realize. They involve oatmeal and protein-rich Greek yogurt and only a bit of flour (gluten free, for me) along with walnuts for texture and additional protein and bananas for sweetness and potassium. Bathed in dark, sticky maple syrup, they go down easy and offer all kinds of nutrition.

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A Borscht to Beat Winter’s Bite

By Liza Schoenfein

Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

So much for eating light — it’s cold outside. Single-digit temperatures, as far as I’m concerned, call for heavy sustenance. This morning I woke up with a yen for borscht. Not the thin, creamy pink-liquid variety, mind you, but the chunky, assertive, sweet-and-sour, dill-spiked beef, potato and cabbage-laden one — the one that feels like vigor in a bowl.

So I made it, drawing from the Red Russian Soup in Barbara Kafka’s glorious “Soup: A Way of Life” (Artisan, 1998) and from my own variations from over the years. (My late mom made Barbara’s for me a couple of times, and since I adore both women, this is a pretty significant soup for me.) This time I added sunchokes — Jerusalem artichokes — because I couldn’t resist the immediate sense of warmth the name imparted as I scanned the parsnips, turnips, and other nobby things at the market. And I simplified things, throwing all the long-cooking ingredients into the pot at once and then, when that was about half done, adding the rest.

The key to this dish — which is really almost a stew — is the balance of flavors: the sweetness of the beets and honey; the sourness of the vinegar; the mellow savoriness of the meat; and the earthiness of all the root vegetables, all brought together through low, slow cooking. (I’ve thrown the whole mess — minus the garnishes — into the slow cooker and turned it on high for six hours with brilliant results, if that happens to interest you. Longer on low would undoubtedly work too, but my problem with slow cookers is that impatience is one of my strongest, um, virtues.)

In any case, this soup won’t be the quickest recipe in your file, but it’s easy, somewhat meditative work — to me, anyway — and it holds the promise of warmth, strength, and even delight.

Liza Schoenfein is food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com and follow her on Twitter @LifeDeathDinner. Her personal blog is Life, Death & Dinner.

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