At the end of a winding road through a cul-de-sac in Columbus, Ohio, lived my maternal grandparents, Lillian and Marty. They were always there when we pulled up, smiling through the screened door.
My grandmother was always cooking. I don’t think I ever saw her without her apron on. I remember her mostly from behind; skinny legs protruding from sweat pants, stirring something delicious smelling in an enormous metal pot. They had raised my mother on gefilte fish, chicken paprikash, and boiled cow tongue; recipes passed down from the generations that came before them. Though she was born and raised in Columbus, she had a knack for cooking traditional Eastern European food so authentic you’d think you were dining in the shtetl.
The home she lived in with my grandfather, smelled perpetually of brisket and other stewing meats. Chopped liver was a fixture at the table; it sat in a glass bowl as casually as salt. Her meals began with chicken soup and culminated in mountains of homemade mandlebrot. I was resolute in my distaste of her plat du jours, like roasted chicken and slow cooked meats, but I held tight, pushing food around with a fork in case her famous lemon meringue pie might make an appearance. The truth was, I loved her foods but I didn’t like them. By 15, I was a hard fast vegetarian who preferred kale to kreplach. But I was so endeared by her commitment to her meals; she lived to please us and feeding us was the best way she knew how.
Photograph by Vered Guttman
Of all the Jewish culinary traditions, Shabbat overnight dishes are the ones that ignite my imagination time and again. From the stories of the communal ovens in Eastern European shtetls, Moroccan villages or Jerusalem’s Old City up to today’s families who keep this tradition going, there’s always something very homey and romantic about it.
And although the many cholent variations, chamin, tbeet, kubaneh and other traditional Shabbat dishes from around the Jewish diaspora are all perfect (as with many tried and tested recipes that existed for centuries), I’m always curious to try new combinations and ingredients and see how overnight cooking affects their texture and flavor.
This time it’s a vegan Shabbat stew, which is really comprised of three different dishes that work well together to make a whole meal: beans and chickpeas with dried sweet peppers; potato, chestnut and dates; and stuffed Swiss chard leaves with rice and tamarind.
The beans and chickpeas become almost creamy when cooked overnight, which comes as no surprise, since it was tried by Northern African and Eastern European Jews for generations. The chestnuts are soft and creamy as well and the potatoes become sweet. The stuffed Swiss chard leaves become sticky almost and full of flavor thanks to the tamarind. Best of all is the nice aroma that fills the house on Shabbat morning.
The first time I saw my Granny putting ice in her hamburger mixture, I thought she was crazy, but it’s something she did nearly every Friday night when I visited as a child. She would prepare her specialties — meatloaf or hamburgers, salad with extra garlicy dressing, and icebox cake for dessert — in her Manhattan kitchen. There’s nothing Jewish about burgers and cake for Shabbat, but it was my favorite and each dish’s recipe involved a special family custom.
Adding ice cubes to raw hamburgers is an old family tradition: an inexplicable one. “But why ice cubes?” I probed Granny. She told me there was no real reason except that her mother, grandmother, and so on had done it. “Maybe we do it to keep the meat cool until it’s ready to be cooked,” she answered to my persistent questioning. (A little later research revealed that ice can help well-done burgers stay juicier, but I’m sticking to Granny’s theory.)
I recently moved across the country to a place where many daily parts of my life suddenly feel unfamiliar. To make home feel a little less far away, I’ve been practicing traditional family eating habits. In true ‘next generation’ form, I’ve added my own twists to these practices. Last Shabbat I had a successful experiment adding a dash of heavy cream to the family salad dressing to make a more luscious consistency. In the interest of making things a bit healthier, I substituted full-fat coconut milk in place of traditional dairy for Granny’s famed icebox cake. These are the family traditions I’m happy to continue, while others seem as ridiculous as ice cubes in hamburgers.
I’ll admit it — I’ve always wanted to be a Sephardi Jew.
When the thought of handmade couscous excites you more than the prospect of a Lady Gaga and Rihanna world tour, when you take desperate and unsuccessful measures to work on your tan despite your freckly fare skin and when schug (Yemenite hot sauce) is in tow at all times — you’re a Sephardi wannabe.
With roots in Belarus and Polish shtetls I easily could have grown up with Yentl Mendle’s crew. However, since early childhood, my Shabbat dinners, holidays and sometimes even entire summer vacations were spent exclusively with Sephardi and Mizrahi Jews. This, perhaps, explains my blatant obsession with Sephardi food and culture. Raised by Askenazi-Israeli parents in the U.S., our adoptive family was made up of other Israeli immigrants who took us in when we moved to the suburbs of Philadelphia.
My mother, a true master in the kitchen, quickly adapted her famous chicken soup with matzo balls and secret gefilte fish recipe to make room for delectable Sephardi goodies. Israeli food, she would explain, is the product of diverse cultures. “The food I make is a combination of Mizrahi, Sephardi, Ashkenazi and Arab elements and styles of cooking, where kreplach is served alongside chraima (North-African red braised fish) and Tunisian carrot salad is plated beside chopped liver.” She would go on to tell me that the Jews of the Diaspora brought their far-flung cuisines to the table and incorporated additional ingredients and ideas from regional Arab and Middle Eastern cuisines.
Every family has that one dish. The one that makes your stomach grumble in anticipation, that brings up childhood memories of crowded Shabbat dinners and cozy one-on-one gabfests with bubbe (or Mamie, as I call my grandmom).
In my family, that dish is boulettes aux petits pois (meatballs with green peas). Like any comfort food, it soothes, satisfies and cajoles the stomach into submission. Moroccan cuisine isn’t lacking in amazing dishes. Couscous royal piled high with dried fruits dripping with honey, nuts, vegetables and fall-off-the-bone tender lamb is also pretty high on my list. But there is something about this simple meatball and green pea stew that makes me salivate.
More than any other, it’s a dish that symbolizes home. Far from its origins in northern Morocco, it the recipe traveled with my grandmother to Montreal. It has since traveled from her kitchen to places near and far: 770 miles east to Halifax via plane where my brother fed his entire dorm at Dalhousie University; west to Ottawa, where my cousins rushed towards the sounds of Mamie clattering in the kitchen during a visit; south to New York, where I smuggled frozen Tupperware filled with thick, gooey goodness past airport security (sorry TSA) in order to hold on to one last taste of family.
Last March I visited a good friend studying in Spain. Being early spring, I packed scarves, boots, and jeans for our trip to Valencia. My friend and I arrived at the hostel in a full sweat, annoyed at just how inaccurate the weatherman had been. Tired and hot, I checked out the forlorn hostel kitchen. There was no way I was standing over, or even near, a stove. On top of our poor packing and grimy choice in residence, it looked like our plans to make a home-cooked Shabbat meal had fallen through.
We headed into Valencia in search of food. Tapas in the inner city was wildly over-priced, so we decided a homemade meal would have to suffice. By the luck of the travel gods, we stumbled upon Mercado Central, Valencia’s largest indoor food market, with hundreds of purveyor stalls brimming with cheese, cured meats, olives, bread, pastries, vegetables, fresh fish, and gelato. Every grocery and provision looked so perfect and delectable in its natural state, we suddenly felt inspired to ‘make’ our own meal. A block of Manchego cheese from one vendor, a chunk of chorizo from another, a fresh loaf of bread (sadly, no challah to be found), a little tin of caper berries and olives, and we were ready for to feast.
We think the name Hakodosh BBQ is fitting for an amazing kosher pop up. But not everyone in the kosher community agrees. Some are fighting to change the name. [Yeah That’s Kosher]
Here’s summer Shabbat dessert that you can make after work — and still impress your guests with. Seven steps to the perfect galette. [Food 52]
Veggie burgers are tricky beasts — they’re often bland and brown. This sweet and smoky beet burger recipe couldn’t be further from those frozen slabs of “grains.” [Food 52]
Lower Manhattan is getting a Coffee Bean and Tea Leaf — and it’s kosher to boot! [Yeah That’s Kosher]
Friend of JCarrot Louisa Shafia shares the five essential ingredients you need to make excellent Persian food. [Food 52]
Check out Gil Marks’s new column on cakes over at the History Kitchen. His strawberry shortcake makes a perfect summer Shabbat dessert. [History Kitchen]
10 Great kosher picnic dishes to know. [Food 52]
Headed to London soon? Check out the city’s newest kosher restaurant. [Yeah That’s Kosher]
Solo Restaurant is going dairy! Get read for pizzas galore. [Yeah That’s Kosher]
I was in New York last week so I know firsthand what sort of spring the east coast has had. I was more than happy to shed my winter wardrobe and return to the balmy warmth of Israel, where spring has fully sprung. Since the growing seasons here tend to be a bit ahead of the States, I have a preview of what will be hitting American farmer’s markets any day now: artichokes, fava beans, asparagus, and the like.
I wanted to make a Shabbat meal that would celebrate springtime, a promise of what’s to come for those still shivering and seeking comfort food. So I came up with a light, healthy, clean meal bursting with the flavors of the season that can be served warm, room temperature, or even made ahead and served cold. The entire menu is parve and gluten free, so it can accommodate a variety of diets.
There are few things healthier than simple poached fish, nor easier to make. It takes about 3 minutes of prep and 5 minutes of cooking and you have perfectly cooked fish. Firm-fleshed salmon is an excellent choice for this cooking method, but halibut or cod would also work well.
After more than 15 years of marriage to his Jewish wife, chef Todd Gray considers himself something of an authority on Jewish food. But the James Beard Award-nominated chef of Equinox Restaurant in Washington, D.C. is quick to point out that he didn’t always know the difference between kreplach and kneidlach.
“I had no exposure to Jewish food prior to meeting Ellen,” Gray said, referring to his wife Kassoff Gray, who co-owns the restaurant. Together the couple has written The New Jewish Table: Modern Seasonal Recipes, which appeared in stores this month.
Gray hails from Fredericksburg, Va., where “the number of Jewish people could be counted on one hand,” he said. When he attended the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, NY, he began trekking south into the city for tastes of bagels and pastrami sandwiches. But it wasn’t until he met Ellen — and soon afterwards, her Jewish family — that he gained a deeper understanding of the ingredients and traditions behind Eastern European-style Jewish food.
Take a walking tour of Jewish food in San Francisco with the guys from Wise Sons Deli. Yum. [Serious Eats]
Saveur.com suggests adding white chocolate to your smoky baba ghannouj. An interesting idea. [Saveur]
Passover baking might go down easier if we all tried these chocolate raspberry macaroons. [Serious Eats]
This might be the best veggie Shabbat dinner recipe we’ve heard of in a while — Dan Barber’s cauliflower steak. [Food 52]
But, if you prefer chicken, here’s an excellent tutuorial on how to know when your bird is done. [Food 52]
I was, quite literally, born to cook traditional Shabbat dinners for large groups of hungry guests. Named for two of my great-grandmothers, I grew up being regaled with tales of their culinary abilities. My maternal great-grandmother, Pesha, was known for her Shabbat challahs, pastries and cookies. Even as adults, all of her children visited her on Friday afternoons to pick up that week’s batch of Shabbat sundries.
According to family lore, my other namesake Malya was renowned throughout 1930s Brooklyn as a hostess and entertainer. Her son and daughter-in-law, my grandparents, repeatedly told me that several women met their husbands-to-be around Malya’s dining room table. When I got married, my friends compiled a cookbook for my bridal shower, and my grandmother contributed Malya’s famous homemade blintzes, often discussed, but only once, to my recollection, reverently produced by my father in an extravaganza of oil and butter that lasted into the wee morning hours.
Last week, I impulsively decided to host my first Shabbat diner. Like buying a far too expensive pair of black patent leather pumps, I had hastily decided to embark on this meal on a gutsy whim with little foresight into the physical and emotional ramifications. One cab ride after being defeated by four bags of Trader Joes groceries, four (or more) glasses of wine, and several dishwasher loads later, I am here to tell my tale.
Shabbat dinners in my twenties have been the perfect way to catch up with friends while providing an excuse to go through multiple bottles of wines. More intimate than a house party and with far better food, these meals have produced the funniest and richest conversations about jobs, families, relationships — and, most importantly, which character on Girls we each most resemble (I’m a cross between Hannah’s lack of professional commitment and Shoshanna’s innocent neuroticism, in case you were wondering).
I relish these evenings, so when I moved into my first apartment, hosting a Shabbat dinner was one of my first goals. But the limited space and number of chairs (five) in my humble abode, as well as my fear of cooking stymied my Shabbat meal plans. I love reading food blogs, watching cooking shows, and playing sous-chefs to my friends in the kitchen. But, I have an intense, panic attack-inducing fear that if I cook on my own for others, my food will be so bad, they will starve to death before my very eyes.
People love to ask, “what did you grow up eating?” Having a professional food writer for a mother makes this a particularly complicated question to answer. Yes, I grew up eating amazing homemade food. I have fond memories of ox tail stews and fresh pasta with sauce made of vegetables from our garden. I was undoubtedly a spoiled child when it came to food. I had the palate of a mature adult, requesting escargot on my 6th birthday. But, after all the lavish multi-coursed dinners, and made-from-scratch snacks that I was so lucky to grow up with, my most profound childhood food memory is one of the simplest dishes: roast chicken.
Every Shabbat, for as long as I can remember, roast chicken had a place at my family’s dinner table. People might have expected my mother to be kneading challah dough all day, or basting a brisket, but instead she opted for chicken every time.
Maybe she chose it because Shabbat came at the end to a very long week of taking care of two young, constantly bickering little girls. Maybe she chose it because she knew she could make an entire dinner, adding whatever vegetables or potatoes were around, in the same pan. Or maybe she chose it because not even the pickiest of eaters can resist the comfort of perfectly roasted chicken.
Growing up in a small Jewish community in the Northwest, Shabbat in my family was celebrated with Kiddush, an occasional family dinner and a loaf of challah if we were not too late stopping by a local bakery that knew what this braided treat was. My experience bared little resemblance to the Shabbats of my counterparts in larger Jewish centers in the States.
So, it wasn’t until I moved to Israel earlier this year that I truly understood why so many describe as being “home” on Shabbat. There’s a certain ambiance and feeling when you’re in Israel that cannot be duplicated. Whether you are in Jerusalem or Tel Aviv on a Friday, the rush and excitement throughout the city as it prepares for the holiday is palpable. From the fragrant smelling shuk on Friday morning, to the overflowing tables of challot in the many bakeries, to the bus driver wishing you a “Shabbat shalom,” that makes Shabbat un-ignorable and meaningful.
On Fridays, you don’t have to go far before someone is inquiring about your Shabbat plans. “What are you doing for Shabbat?” I’m often asked. Before responding, I’m bombarded with an invitation: “You’re coming over to our house,” they say. Striking up a conversation on the bus or in a shop, it’s not unlikely that you will be invited to random stranger’s home for a Shabbat meal.
The secret to feeding a picky child? Matzo brei says Ruth Reichl. [Gilt Taste]
Serious Eats hung out with one of our favorite chefs, Israeli-New Yorker Einat Admony. Check out their great Q and A. [Serious Eats]
To Market, To Market. Take a tour of a Schwartz’s Kosher Supermarket in Williamsburg and see what Old World gems you find. [Serious Eats]
Jewish food porn ahead: Mile End’s cookbook trailer. Yum. [Youtube]
Shabbat cooking: give this Senegalese chicken and onion dish a try for your next Shabbat dinner. [Saveur]
Most of the Shabbat dinners at my home are seasonal. Usually this means relying on what I find fresh in the market to inspire the menu that I make. This week however, I’m taking my inspiration from the seasons of the Torah. In the story of Noah, this week’s Torah part, the tale of the Tower of Babel is told in nine short lines, which provided the inspiration for my Friday night menu with dishes from around the globe.
In the story, the people of Shinar, you might recall, got it into their minds to build a tower so high that it would reach into the heavens. They were trying to make a name for themselves, but clearly this was not what God had in mind. As the tower grew in stature the people found that they could no longer understand each other, having each been bestowed with the ability to speak a unique language. The project was abandoned and the people scattered. The name given to the tower, Babel, shares a root with the Hebrew word for confusion and the English word babbling. The story’s message is simple: many languages leads to confusion and breaks down our ability to connect.
If you’ve always dreamed of having dinner with the president, this is your chance. CBS reports that Obama’s campaign is raffling off four tickets to have dinner and talk policy with the Pres. Any donation of $5 or more enters you to win.
The seltzer deliver business may be dwindling but a fountain soda drink with ice cream is just as refreshing as ever during the summer months. Check out Food 52’s contest for the best recipe.
It’s no surprise to anyone that many of America’s fruits and vegetables are all too often laden with pesticides. So what are the cleanest and dirties options at your grocery store? Marion Nestle tells the Atlantic.
Plans for the Soho restaurant off shoot of Kutcher’s — a 3000 sq foot hip kosher restaurant — are on track, says Fork in the Road. Check back on JCarrot for more on their upcoming plans and pre-paid Shabbat dinners.