Illustration by Kurt Hoffman
It was on a trip to Madrid, about four years ago, that I finally understood the paradox of opposites: that there’s no such thing as opposites, really, and that what you get when you try to run as hard as you can in the opposite direction to your upbringing is, well, something quite a lot like where you started.
I’d been eating treyf for about six years before that. I’d grown up frum, in an Orthodox — though not closed or uneducated — community. I’d separated meat from dairy, I’d only bought from kosher butchers, I’d kept myself clean of the impure flesh of the pig. I’d drunk only kosher wine, eaten only cheese made with vegetable rennet, bought only bread baked by Jewish hands. All of that. For a long time. And then it seemed time for it to be over. And slowly, one by one, I started to eat the forbidden foods.
Photograph by MollyJade via Flickr
Growing up, there was nothing like waking up on Shabbat morning to the unmistakable smell of cholent cooking in my mother’s extra-large stock pot. Held down by a massive weight (which my mother used to call “the cholent maker,” leading me to believe there was an actual devise that magically worked to churn beef, beans, potatoes and barley into a perfectly cohesive stew), the pot would often threaten to bubble over, spilling drops of rich cholent goodness down the sides.
At times, the smell would be overwhelming, both for better and for worse. But the hardest part was the hour before lunch time, when the anticipation of that perfect amalgamation of spices and substance would take over and my mother’s otherwise reasonably well-behaved children would turn into unrecognizable monsters begging for food.
When WhiskyFest announced in 2011 that it would move to a weekend format, the Forward noted that it would be abandoning traditionally-observant Jews who made up a significant proportion of the attendees.
Into the breach stepped Whisky Jewbilee — from the founders of Single Cask Nation — providing a non-Sabbath, kosher-keeping option for Jewish whisky drinkers of which The New York Times assures us there are many.
After two highly successful Jewbilees (in 2012 and 2013), WhiskyFest has decided to move to Wednesday night October 29 for its 2014 New York event. That’s two weeks after Sukkot, for those keeping track. This sensitivity to its clientele is limited to New York — Chicago WhiskyFest will be on a Friday night and San Francisco WhiskyFest will be held on Friday night, Kol Nidre.
John Hansell, editor and publisher of Whisky Advocate — the organizer of WhiskyFest — noted that the “primary reason” for the switch:
Is that we want the New York seminar day to be the best whisky event anywhere. To achieve this, we need to have substantial quantities of incredibly rare whiskies procured for an audience of several hundred whisky enthusiasts; this is extremely difficult to accomplish on an annual basis.
Apparently the world’s premier whisky event can’t manage a two-day seminar every year without the Jews.
So WhiskyFest wants the Jews back, but will the Scotch-quaffing Heebs go back to WhiskyFest? Joshua Hatton from Whisky Jewbilee thinks the jury is out.
We’ve been here for the kosher-keeping, whisky-loving, Jewish community and, while we wish WhiskyFest all the success in the world, we hope that our community will remember us and will stick with us or go to both events.
He assures the Forward that, though the 2014 date for Whisky Jewbilee is yet to be set, it is definitely going ahead. The kosher food will be there, the cigar options will expand and the opportunities for schmoozing will be greater than ever.
Based on Smitten Kitchen’s lentil soup with sausage, chard, and garlic
1/4 c olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
A pinch of chili pepper flakes
Salt and pepper to taste
4 turkey or chicken Italian sausages (not pre-cooked), with the casings removed
1 28-oz can whole peeled tomatoes
6 c chicken or vegetable broth
1 c dried lentils
2 heaping handfuls of Kale, chopped into 1-2 inch pieces
In a large pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and cook until soft, 5-7 minutes. Add garlic, chili flakes, salt and pepper, and cook for 2 more minutes.
Add the sausage and break up into small pieces with a spoon. Heat until cooked through.
Open the can of tomatoes and chop them into roughly 1/2-inch chunks. An easy way to do this is by cutting them with a pair of kitchen scissors while they’re still in the can. Add the tomatoes (with their juices) and the broth to the pot.
When the soup boils, rinse and add the lentils. Simmer for about 30 minutes, until the lentils are cooked. Add the kale and simmer for 5 more minutes.
In August, I left Brooklyn and moved to the North Dakota-Minnesota border where my boyfriend, Nick, is a fifth-generation farmer. I arrived just in time for harvest, so with Nick’s 14-hour tractor shifts, our Shabbat meals have been improvised, eaten out of Thermoses, and rustic. (“Rustic” is just my glorified way of saying that bits of soil from the field may or may not have made their way onto our utensils by the time we ate.)
What the locals don’t specify when you’re warned about the brutal winters here is that soup weather arrives much earlier than it does in Brooklyn. Which is something to celebrate; you take what you can when the tales of -40 degree temperatures start circulating. And so my favorite Shabbat meal thus far was a few weeks ago during navy bean harvest. It consisted of a simple but filling soup, shared with Nick during a very bumpy chisel-plowing ride.
The soup is a lentil soup, and it’s one that I made nearly every week during soup weather when I lived in Brooklyn. I’d add kale from the Grand Army Plaza greenmarket and sausage from Fleischer’s; this time I added kale from the farmstead garden and sausage from a local turkey farm. Both renditions were amazing.
Perched up on our little tractor seats, two spoons and one Thermos, our first bites instantly brought us back to Brooklyn in the fall. It was the kind of nostalgia that you really only get from a warm comforting dish, and it came on like a strong drink on an empty stomach. As the sun went down, we gobbled up that soup, and I peered out the tractor window where the crops stretched into the horizon. It wasn’t a traditional Shabbat, and admittedly it wasn’t totally restful either, but it was indeed memorable, beautiful, and delicious.
Click here for Molly Yeh’s recipe for lentil, sausage and kale soup to warm those cold Shabbat nights.
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.
Imagine your regular Shabbat dinner. Now extend the table and summon several more chairs. And a few more. OK, now add about a hundred more seats. Your table is still not likely to be even half the size of the record-setting Shabbat dinner that was recently on display in the Israeli city of Bnei Brak.
A 197 feet long table, with room for more the 300 participants, was assembled by the Bnei Brak-based Coca Cola Israel company, in what is said to be the longest Shabbat dinner setting ever. Arranged on it was the traditional Shabbat fixings, including china plates, crystal goblets, Kiddush wine, challa bread, and, of course, dozens of Coca Cola bottles. Several hundred members of the Bnei Brak community took part in a pre-Shabbat meal around the long table, in which traditional meat, fish and cholent dishes circulated in the unique setting.
The Israeli news outlet Ynet reported that the initiative is expected to be recognized by the Guinness Book of World Records. And, while the folks from Guinness have yet to confirm whether the table will be recognized as a world record, Coca Cola’s has already declared the event a success.
Who will one up this Shabbat table? Several years ago, when a group of Israelis prepared the largest hummus bowl ever weighing in at 8992.5 pounds, chefs from Lebanon united and created an even bigger serving of the chickpea dish weighing 23,042 pounds.
While it is highly unlikely that Bnei Brak’s record would ever be challenged by anyone from Lebanon, maybe someone in Brooklyn would like to take on the challenge? If so, please save us a seat at the table!
World Fair Trade Day is May 11, and thousands of people around the world will be celebrating the positive impact that Fair Trade has made on the lives of farmers and artisans. Fair Trade principles embody key Jewish values - Osek - prohibition about oppressing workers, B’Tzelem Elohim - honoring the humanity of each person, Bal Tashchit - do not waste or destroy natural resources, and Tzedek - creating a life of justice for everyone.
We often treat ourselves to special foods as we celebrate our Shabbat. Here are some recipes for special Shabbat treats using Fair Trade ingredients, so we know that the people who grew our food were treated with Jewish values. Here is a list of Fair Trade and Kosher chocolate, coffee and tea.
I’ve never visited my ancestral hometown. Mashad is located at the north-eastern part of Iran. It is a holy site for Shi’ite Muslims, a famous destination for pilgrims who visit the golden shrine of Emam Reza, resting place of the eight Imam of Shia. The history of the Jews of Mashad is unique and intense: In the spring of 1839, a few days before Passover, a pogrom occurred, in which dozens of Jews lost their lives. The surviving Jews were presented with a cruel choice: death or forcible conversion to Islam.
This started a long period of “hidden Jewishness.” We (the story was always told to me in the first-person-plural) took on Muslim names and appearance, prayed at the mosque, bought non-kosher meat (later throwing it to the dogs) and fresh bread during the seven days of Passover (secretly feeding it to the birds). Prayers were held in secret and Shabbat candles lit in basements. Some of the more affluent men were expected by their non-Jewish neighbors to perform the Islamic custom of Haj (pilgrimage to Mecca) which they did, wearing miniature Tefillin under their robes and sometimes stopping in Jerusalem — to pray at the Western Wall and establish synagogues, orphanages and poor-houses — on their way back home, to their double life in Mashad.
Even in hiding, families preserved the recipe for the traditional Mashadi Shabbat dinner, Cholow Nokhodow, a hearty beef and bean stew, rich with chopped fresh herbs and wedges of kohlrabi. We treat our signature Friday night dish with affection, it is unique to our cooking culture and not served by other Persian Jewish communities. For me, it is the taste of Shabbat.
Nothing brings a smile to a child’s face like the tinkling melodies of an ice cream truck rounding the corner. Unless it’s a Saturday afternoon and that child is standing in front of an orthodox synagogue.
About six years ago, Anshe Sholom B’nai Israel Congregation, based in Chicago’s Lakeview community, was faced with an ice cream dilemma. One sunny Shabbat, as families were milling around the sidewalk before going home, an ice cream truck pulled up. Some families had money on them and were able to buy ice cream for their kids, but kids from more traditionally observant families couldn’t have any. What’s a rabbi to do? Rabbi Asher Lopatin didn’t want kids “to feel that Shabbat is depriving them of anything.” Lopatin and his wife, Rachel Tessler Lopatin, started talking about solutions: What could they do so people could get ice cream on Shabbat (somewhere a distinctly Yiddish voice is muttering, “We should all have such problems!”)? And so, the concept of a Shabbat ice cream account was born.
Around the corner from the synagogue sits Windy City Sweets, a small mom-and-pop candy, fudge, and ice cream shop. Their relationship with Anshe Sholom extends much farther back than the ice cream truck debacle. Over the years the store, which is owned by non-Jews, has made efforts to get kosher supervision for their candies and ice creams (all of their ice creams are now kosher, with the notable and tragic exception of Rocky Road). John Manchester, the current owner, sees it as a perfect fit, “We’re part of a community and they [the synagogue members] are a big part of it. It was a great match.”
In this week’s edition of the Forward, Ingredients columnist Leah Koenig writes about the Shabbat traditions of the Ethiopian Jewish community. Savor the recipes below.
The use of spice is very subjective in Ethiopian cuisine, so add or subtract to your liking. You can find berbere at specialty food shops, and order a kosher-certified blend online at teenytinyspice.com.
1/4 cup olive or vegetable oil
2 medium red onions, finely chopped
6–7 garlic cloves, grated
1 piece (2-inch) fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 ½ pounds chicken legs or thighs (or a combination), skin removed
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon berbere
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1) Place eggs in a medium saucepan and add enough cold water to cover by 1 inch. Bring water to a boil over high heat; turn off heat; cover and let stand 20 minutes. Rinse eggs under cold water, peel them and set aside.
2) Meanwhile, add the oil, onions, garlic and ginger to a Dutch oven or large pot set over medium-low heat and cook, stirring occasionally, until just beginning to soften, about 5 minutes. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover pot with lid and let cook until very soft, 5–6 minutes.
3) Add the chicken and about 2 cups of water; raise heat to medium. Stir in the tomato paste and spices, and season generously with salt and pepper. Bring mixture to a simmer; cover and cook until sauce thickens, about 35 minutes. If mixture begins to look dry, add more water as needed.
4) Add peeled eggs to pot, and continue to cook until chicken is fully cooked through, an additional 10–15 minutes. Taste and adjust seasonings; arrange chicken on a piece of injera, or divide onto plates, and spoon sauce over top.
New Yorkers no longer have to go to Tel Aviv for Uri Scheft’s extraordinary bread, his shop has come to Union Square. [Grub Street]
Apparently, an addiction to hummus is a thing — and Kate Moss is suffering from it. Sorry, Kate. [Grub Street]
Three months after Sandy, Eater stops by several restaurants that were hit by the storm to see how they’re doing. [Eater]
Max Sussman has left the building! One half of our favorite brotherly cooking duo has left his post at Brooklyn pizzeria Roberta’s. Where will he go next? [Grub Street]
During the hot summer months my mother had a few standard Shabbat-lunch salads. There was a Carrot Pineapple salad made with crunchy sweet carrots cut into matchsticks and mixed together with a syrupy can of crushed pineapple. Also in her repertoire; a leafy green salad with chopped chicken and a dressing that I swear tasted like lemonade. Looking back on it I can’t blame her for her haphazard combinations, she just wanted to get back to her beloved rest-day ritual of devouring a good book or two.
Like Mom, I recognize the merits of a thrown together Shabbat salad. For me it is a celebration of non- cooking, an opportunity for creative re-assigning, and an invitation to experiment. This summer of Saturday Salads began with a Southwestern Chicken Tortilla Salad, which featured leftover cornmeal crusted chicken strips on a bed of shredded lettuce, a scattering of minced chili peppers, cubed avocado and diced tomato and topped off with crushed tortilla chips. It was flavorful and full of texture, but not so impressive on the “lite ‘n healthy” scale.
My sous chef tosses the salad and some of it ends up on the floor. He sticks his hand into the bowl, picks out his favorite ingredients and eats them. He takes a bite of a carrot, declares it “too hard” and returns the teeth-marked carrot to the bowl.
Despite the mess, I think he does a wonderful job. Of course I do: my sous chef is two-years-old. He’s my son Noah.
Research confirms the importance of eating together as a family. Families that eat dinner together are more likely to have healthier meals, the children are less likely to be overweight or obese, or to smoke, or use drugs or alcohol, and the children are more likely to talk to their parents. As if this wasn’t enough, research also shows that eating together as a family leads to less tension in the home.
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.
Through my study of anthropology, I have found one area particularly compelling: the relation of food and culture. For instance, the well-known anthropologist Sidney Mintz has devoted his research to find the cultural implications of certain foods, specifically the link between the taste of sweetness and the power divisions it inspires. Mintz argues, “The foods of different peoples, shaped by habitat and by our history, would become a vivid marker of difference, symbols both of belonging and of being excluded.” For me, my interest in food and culture began as an innocent observation of a particular phenomenon: the attraction of Jewish college students to any event that promised free meat. I witnessed friends flock to any event that offered kosher meat, and even celebrate the opportunity to eat meat on Shabbat. And although I first noticed this in college, in fact this phenomenon is deeply ingrained in every Jewish community to which I’ve belonged. My curiosity peaked. I wondered, what was the cultural connection between Jews and meat?
In her modest, shack-like home in southern Israel, my great aunt Toya served some of the best food I’ve ever tasted.
After my Iraqi grandmother, Rachel, passed away, her cousin Toya (Victoria) Levy took it upon herself to fill void in our hearts and in our bellies. One of her duties was to prepare tbeet for us on shabbat.
Tbeet is the Iraqi version of a Shabbat overnight stew. A chicken is stuffed with a mixture made of its inner parts, rice and spices, then covered with more rice, topped with hard boiled eggs and cooked overnight. The rice comes out moist and flavorful, the chicken so soft you can literally chew the bones.
The tradition of the Shabbat overnight stews grew from the desire to serve a hot meal on Shabbat, while keeping the Jewish law that prohibited lighting fire on the holy day. Women prepared the dish on Friday and baked it overnight, usually in a communal bakery, so it was ready at lunch time the next day when the men came back from synagogue.
Many people are familiar with the Ashkenazi (Eastern-European) Shabbat stew, the cholent, that is made of beans, potatoes and meat.
But Shabbat stews developed all over the Diaspora, and each community had its own version, using some of the local spices and ingredient that were available to them.
For more, go to Haaretz.com
In the Northeast, as winter creeps upon us and the weather seems to only get colder and brisker, one food seems to continually pop into my appetite: soup. As a self-proclaimed soup aficionado, I frequently find myself preparing new soup recipes, testing them out at Shabbat meals. Since my lentil soup proved a pre-fast hit on Yom Kippur, I’ve been searching for the perfect winter soup to serve to my Shabbat meal guests. Perhaps most strikingly, chicken soup will be absent from my winter soup repertoire. I inherited my mother’s excellent knack for making chicken soup, always adding the most important ingredient of love, but this skill is all for naught since I began eating vegetarian this past summer. Sure, I can make vegetarian chicken soup, but I’d rather take advantage of the wonderful, seasonal offerings to make a winter soup.
One of the many wonderful things I learned last year had nothing to do with my studies in school, and more to do with cooking. I learned that soup, much like any other dish, didn’t need a recipe to turn out delicious. I had to trust my instincts, and my taste buds, to prepare creative meals. I loved the idea of cooking without recipes, as I have always been one to throw away instruction manuals and directions, and through a joint effort, my roommate and I began an almost weekly tradition of soup and homemade artisan bread. Our soups nursed us through our winter midterms, and a great pot of soup would last us a week, meaning less time we had to spend preparing meals as we got increasingly busy. Below are a few guidelines that will help you to prepare the perfect seasonal soup, leaving plenty of flexibility to make the soup uniquely yours.
Not all desserts have milk or dairy products in them. But let’s be honest: the good ones do! And being health and environmentally conscious, I wasn’t about to jump on the margarine and soy-milk bandwagon to make creamy things with fake cream. So I’ve gradually adopted two strategies to address this conundrum:
While Sabbath is a day of rest, some prefer unrest. Dan Sieradski, a new media activist, organized a Shabbat dinner last Friday amid the hubbub of the Occupy Wall Street protest taking place in Lower Manhattan.
Around 20 gathered in a corner of Zuccotti Park to welcome Shabbat, not far from the din of protestors and the soft “ommmm” of a few people meditating.
A couple of hours before Shabbat, Sieradski, 32, sent messages on Facebook and tweeted: “This is what shabbocracy looks like,” inviting Jews and non-Jews to join him.