Recipes: The essence of Ashkenazic cuisine


A spate of Jewish cookbooks have hit the marketplace in recent years to address various niches and interests in diasporic cuisine. The recently published “The Gefilte Manifesto” is arguably the most hamish with its focus on reviving Ashkenazic foods that industrialized production denigrated — and Borscht Belt humor sometimes mocked. 

As the title suggests, “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern is part polemic, part how-to manual that reintroduces time-honored cooking, baking and food-preserving. The philosophy and recipes resonate for pickling-crazed millennials or bubbes who were taught to jettison the ways of the Old Country under the sacrosanct banner of modern convenience.

It all is presented with a mixture of tradition and contemporary twists that seems to fit the needs of Chanukah and other holidays.

“Rather than attempting to preserve old recipes or soon-to-be-forgotten ingredients, we’re presenting an old approach to a new way of eating. Or is it a new approach to an old way of eating?” Alpern asks in “Manifesto’s” introduction.

Alpern and Yoskowitz were recently in Los Angeles to discuss their new book, show off their artisinal Gefilteria product line and participate in some local Jewish charity events in a pre-Chanukah run-up. 

Among their events in Los Angeles was a tasting and talk about Jewish food, history and identity at the Rustic Canyon home of food writer Amelia Saltsman. For the November gathering, Saltsman and the two visiting cooks prepared noshes to benefit Netiya, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that addresses the intersection of faith work and food justice. (Disclosure: I’m on the Netiya board of directors.)

While on the L.A. leg of their tour to promote “The Gefilte Manifesto,” Alpern and Yoskowitz, both 32, also joined forces with East Side Jews and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ NuRoots initiative for food and drink events. 

Their time on the Westside included the requisite trip to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market with Saltsman. “You’re very lucky to live in a city where you get this amazing produce all year,” Alpern told the gathering in Rustic Canyon. The audience already had been converted to Gefilteria’s culinary view of the world via the Cauliflower and Mushroom Kugel served that evening hipster-DIY-style in Mason jars. Cholent deviled eggs, smoked whitefish terrine with carrot-citrus horseradish relish and pickled shallots, autumn kale salad, and roasted red beet and dark chocolate ice cream helped seal the deal. 

With third business partner Jackie Lilinshtein, Gefilteria (ROOT VEGETABLE LATKES

– 4 russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled
– 1 medium parsnip, peeled
– 1 medium turnip, peeled
– 1 small onion
– 4 scallions, finely chopped
– 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup bread crumbs or matzo meal
– Schmaltz or peanut, canola or grapeseed oil, for frying
– Apple-Pear Sauce for serving (Recipe below)
– Sour cream for serving

Shred the potatoes, parsnip, turnip and onion on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor using the shredder plate. Place the grated vegetables in a large bowl and add cold water to cover. Let sit for about 5 minutes. 

Drain the vegetables in a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the shreds into a bowl. It’s helpful to take cheesecloth or a clean thin kitchen towel, drape in an empty bowl, then pour in the shredded vegetables. Wrap the cheesecloth or towel around the vegetables and squeeze tightly in the bowl. Repeat until as much liquid as possible has been removed. White potato starch will collect at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully drain off the water, leaving the potato starch. Set aside. 

Place the drained vegetable shreds in a large bowl. Add the scallions, eggs, salt, pepper, flour, bread crumbs and the reserved potato starch. Mix well, preferably using your hands. 

In a 9-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet, heat a layer of schmaltz or oil, about 1/8 inch deep, over medium heat. Form the latke batter into thin patties, using about 2 tablespoons for each. As you form the patties, squeeze out and discard any excess liquid. Carefully slip the patties, about 4 at a time, into the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Take care to flip them only once to avoid excess oil absorption. If the pan begins to smoke at all, add more schmaltz or oil and let it heat up again before frying another batch of latkes. 

Remove the latkes from the pan and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain the excess fat. Latkes are best and crispiest when served right away. If serving later, transfer to a separate casserole dish or baking sheet and place in the oven at 200 F to keep warm until serving. Serve hot, topped with Apple-Pear Sauce and/or sour cream.

Makes 18 to 22 latkes.

APPLE-PEAR SAUCE

– 2 pounds baking apples (about 6 medium), such as McIntosh, peeled, cored and quartered 
– 2 pounds sweet pears (about 5 medium), such as Bartlett, peeled, cored and quartered 
– 1/2 cup apple juice, apple cider or water 
– 2 cinnamon sticks 
– 1 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar (optional) 
– 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the apple and pear quarters, apple juice and cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes. The apples will soften and puff up a bit as the heat draws out their liquid. When you can smush the fruit by pressing on it with a spoon, it has finished cooking.

Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon sticks. Mash the mixture with a potato masher or an improvised masher (an empty jar works well). For a smooth applesauce, puree using an immersion blender or food processor. 

If you’d like your sauce sweeter, stir in the maple syrup or sugar (start with 1 tablespoon and add more if needed). Stir in the lemon juice, if using, which adds a bit of tartness to balance out the sweetness. Let the sauce cool. 

Serve at room temperature. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about a month. If storing for later use, transfer to an airtight container and freeze.

Makes 5 to 6 cups of sauce.

OLD COUNTRY SOUR CREAM

– 1 cup heavy cream 
– 1/4 cup store-bought cultured buttermilk 

Pour the heavy cream and buttermilk into a clean pint- or quart-size glass jar with a lid. 

Seal tightly and shake vigorously for about 1 minute. Let the jar sit on the countertop at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 24 to 48 hours. The longer it sits, the sourer it will become. You may notice liquid separation occurring. It’s hard to judge from the looks of your sour cream when it’s ready, so taste to see if it’s at a sour level you’re comfortable with within the 24- to 48-hour window. The warmer it is, the faster it will sour. If the mixture becomes yellow or chunky, which could occur if the temperature in the room is too hot, toss it out and try again. 

Place the jar of sour cream in the fridge and enjoy for up to a week. Shake before each use to reincorporate any liquid that has separated.

Makes 1 1/2 cups sour cream.

CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM KUGEL

– 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets
– 1/4 cup vegetable oil or unsalted butter, plus more as needed
– 1 medium onion, diced
– 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (porcinis, shiitakes and wild forest mushroom varieties are ideal, but any variety from the store is fine)
– 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 4 large eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
– 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, store-bought or homemade
– 4 shallots, for topping (optional)
– About 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, for frying the shallots (optional)
– Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
– Six 8-ounce ramekins or a 9-inch glass baking dish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and boil until the florets are tender but not mushy, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the cauliflower thoroughly. Place it in a food processor.

In a medium pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent and lightly golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, undisturbed, for at least 1 minute to help the mushrooms darken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned and their liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Transfer the mushrooms and onion (and any extra oil from the pan) to the food processor with the cauliflower. Add the eggs and egg yolks and process until the mixture has a smooth consistency with minimal clumps. (If you do not have a food processor, mash the vegetables, eggs, and yolks together with a large fork or spoon until the mixture is as smooth as possible.) Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, stir in the bread crumbs, and mix well.

Grease six 8-ounce ramekins or a 9-inch glass baking dish. Fill with the cauliflower mixture. Each ramekin should hold a little under 1 cup of the filling. Tap the bottoms of the ramekins or baking dish against the counter so that the top of the kugel flattens out and you’ve released any air bubbles. If using individual ramekins, place them in a roasting pan with at least 3-inch-high sides. Pour boiling water into the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this will ensure that the kugel stays moist). Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. The kugel is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the kugel is lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven carefully, remove the ramekins from the water, and let cool slightly.

If using shallots, while the kugel is baking, slice them as thin as possible (if you have a mandoline, use it here on the thinnest setting). In a small nonstick pan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat. Immerse the shallots in the oil and fry them, stirring frequently, until they are crispy, crunchy, shrunken and dark in color, 15 to 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside until serving.

Garnish the kugel with the fried shallots (if using) and the chopped parsley. Store any leftover fried shallots in an airtight container.

Makes about six 8-ounce servings.


Excerpted from the “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern. Copyright  2016 by Gefilte Manifesto LLC. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.