Huevos Haminados Con Spinaci. Photo by Gabriela Herman

Passover recipes from ‘King Solomon’s Table’ by Joan Nathan


HUEVOS HAMINADOS CON SPINACI

Long-Cooked Hard-Boiled Eggs with Spinach

Yield: 12 to 16 servings

– 12 to 16 large eggs, preferably fresh from a farmers’ market
– 4 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 large red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped (1 1/2 cups)
– 1 tablespoon sea salt
– 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 1 1/2 pounds spinach, fresh or frozen (thawed and drained if frozen)

Put the eggs in a cooking pot and add water to cover by about 2 inches. Then add the olive oil, onions, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes. Cool and remove the eggs with a slotted spoon. Tap the eggs gently against the counter and peel under cold running water, keeping them as whole as possible.

Return the peeled eggs to the pot with the seasoned water and simmer very slowly uncovered for at least 2 hours, or until the water is almost evaporated and the onions almost dissolved. The eggs will become dark and creamy as the cooking water evaporates and they absorb all the flavoring.

Remove the eggs carefully to a bowl, rubbing into the cooking liquid any of the cream that forms on the outside. Heat the remaining cooking liquid over medium heat, bring to a simmer, and add the spinach. Cook the spinach until most of the liquid is reduced, stirring occasionally with a wooden spoon, about 30 minutes, or until the spinach is creamy and well cooked. Serve a dollop of spinach with a hard-boiled egg on top as the first part of the Seder meal or as a first course of any meal.

NOTE: To see if the eggs are really boiled, remove one egg from the water and spin it on a flat cutting board. If it twirls in one place, it is hard-boiled. If it wobbles all over the board, it is not cooked yet and the weight isn’t distributed evenly. The easiest way of peeling a hot hard-boiled egg is to put it under cold water between your hands and rub it quickly until it cracks, then peel under the running water.

To prepare the symbolic egg for the Passover Seder plate, boil the egg in its shell, dry it, and then light a match underneath to char it.

KEFTES GARAZ

Syrian Meatballs with Cherries and Tamarind

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

pas-Syrian-MeatballsMeatballs

– 1/2 cup pine nuts
– 1 large sweet onion, diced (about 1 1/2 cups)
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 pounds ground beef
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/4 teaspoon ground Aleppo or Marash pepper
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
– 1 teaspoon ground allspice
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
– Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
– 2 large eggs
– 1 teaspoon tamarind concentrate
– 2 teaspoons tomato paste or ketchup
– 1/2 cup breadcrumbs, fresh

Sauce

– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 1 1/2 onions, diced (1 1/3 cups)
– 1 1/2 tablespoons tamarind concentrate
– 2 cups pitted sour cherries or frozen dark red cherries
– 2 cups dried cherries
– Juice of 2 lemons
– 1 1/2 teaspoons ground allspice
– Salt and pepper
– 1 1/2 cups beef stock
– 1 1/2 cups red wine
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley or cilantro

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees and toast the pine nuts by stirring often, in a small dry skillet over medium heat, until lightly brown, about 5 to 10 minutes. Remove to a medium bowl.

To make the meatballs: Sauté the onions in the oil in a nonstick frying pan until lightly caramelized, about 20 to 30 minutes.

Add the onions to the pine nuts, then add the ground beef, garlic, Aleppo or Marash pepper, cumin, allspice, cinnamon, salt and pepper. Break the eggs into the bowl and stir in the tamarind and tomato paste or ketchup, mixing gently with your hands until just combined, then add just enough breadcrumbs for the meat to become clammy.

Take about 1 1/2 tablespoons of meat and slap the beef several times into the center of the palm of your hand to emulsify. Shape into small meatballs, about 1 1/4 inches in diameter. Put on two rimmed baking sheets and bake for about 20 minutes, or until done but still juicy. You should get about 36 meatballs.

While the meatballs are baking, make the sauce: Heat the oil in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat. Add the onions and sauté until transparent, then add the tamarind, pitted sour or frozen cherries, dried cherries, lemon juice, allspice, salt, pepper, beef stock and wine. Simmer together for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the sauce is slightly thickened.

Mix the meatballs with the sauce and serve, sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro, over rice.

NOTE: You can make this dish ahead and freeze if you like. Defrost in the refrigerator overnight, then reheat in a pan, covered, over medium heat until warm.

Excerpted from “King Solomon’s Table” by Joan Nathan. Copyright © 2017 by Random House. Excerpted by permission of Alfred A. Knopf, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.

Australia’s Jewish cooking club


In the cookbook collection of nearly every Jewish family sits a sincere yet amateur plastic-ring-bound volume of recipes. A group of women known as the Monday Morning Cooking Club has adopted this tried-and-true sisterhood tradition of culinary anthropology and recipe collecting and brought it into contemporary food culture, via Sydney, Australia. 

Professional food styling and graphic design, plus the backing of a major publishing house, do nothing to diminish the spirit of their debut cookbook, “Monday Morning Cooking Club: The Food, The Stories, The Sisterhood.” Initially self-published in Australia, the paperback has been available in the United States since last month. The group recently passed through New York City and Los Angeles as part of a brief promotional tour.  

Lisa Goldberg, Natanya Eskin and Merelyn Frank Chalmers held court for a few hours at Joan’s on Third recently, where owner Joan McNamara’s endorsement was enough to bring in a steady stream of book buyers. A handful of Aussies — some known to the visitors, some not — came out of the woodwork to get a dose of life back home and hear about how their modern-day sisterhood has influenced current food culture. 

Then Dana Slatkin, a chef, culinary educator and founder of the Beverly Hills Farmers Market, who is also known as the Beverly Hills Farmgirl, hosted the three in her home for a social morning of cooking (or observing, technically) and eating. 

Goldberg explained that the Monday Morning Cooking Club eventually wanted “to create a cookbook that could sit next to any cookbook in the world.” (In other words: No plastic ring binders.) To get started, they began getting together on Monday mornings in 2006. All friends — mothers with flexible schedules that enabled them to meet during the week — they reached out to their community to create a book that would serve as a repository of recipes from Sydney’s best cooks. All the better if they got their hands on recipes that had been passed down among generations. 

For these women, who also include Jacqui Israel, Paula Horwitz, and Lauren Fink, Monday mornings became dedicated to cooking and testing the material that they gathered from friends and relatives, and that came in thanks to word of mouth through Australia’s Jewish community. Given the breadth of the Diaspora (the nation received significant numbers of Jews following the Holocaust, and immigration into the continent still continues, particularly among South African Jews), the collection reflects the diverse influences present in Australian kitchens. Australia’s Jewish population is currently estimated at 100,000. 

The book is essentially “an anthology of 65 cooks” vetted by the six core members, Chalmers said. The recipes, which in sum have a heavily Jewish slant, capture the traditions of previous generations while also reflecting today’s sensibilities. “We don’t necessarily cook Jewish food. It’s food Jewish people in Sydney cook at this time. It’s a snapshot,” she clarified. 

Each contributor’s section features an introduction with personal and family history, and nearly every recipe includes a specific story about that dish. The result is a collective account of the Jewish community throughout Australia, with accessible recipes and plenty of inspiring, gorgeous photos. A second volume is currently in progress; according to Goldberg, when complete, the set will cover almost all the classics of Ashkenazi Jewish cooking, plus recipes that originate in far-flung locales such as Iraq, India, Israel and Burma. 

As Slatkin and the MMCC women — or “girls,” as they refer to themselves — demonstrated a few dishes to constitute an elegant, seasonal, light lunch befitting this particular demographic, their humor and warmth radiated through. Nor do they shy away from healthy disagreements about all things related to cooking. “We love arguing,” Goldberg said. 

Eskin retorted, “Six women together in a kitchen. Can you imagine?”

Eskin touched on some of the research methods and fieldwork involved, noting that with certain women, “every week it would be a different-sized handful” of ingredients. After years of amassing information, “We’ve preserved their recipes forever. It brings tears to my eyes. It’s such a beautiful thing to have.” Most recipes were handed over willingly, but others required persistence. 

All profits from the book and other kitchen items sold on the Web site go to charity, including organizations such as OzHarvest, a food distribution network, and various Jewish causes. In keeping with the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s mission and spirit of generosity, Slatkin donated a portion of the Los Angeles class and book sale proceeds to the SOVA Community Food and Resource Program. 

When the demonstration wrapped up and the participants milled about to get their books signed and eat lunch, Slatkin pointed to one of the Monday Morning Cooking Club’s best, if not necessarily deliberate, accomplishments. “I feel like we’ve bridged generations and oceans with this class.”

One of the recipes Slatkin asked the trio to prepare reflects the reach of the Monday Morning Cooking Club. Maxine Pacanowski’s cinnamon apple pie “is one you could really play with,” Chalmers noted. A pile of sliced apples topped with an egg, flour, oil and sugar mixture and baked in a springform pan, this dessert, which is more of a cake than a pie in the American sense, found a certain notable fan. Cookbook author and TV personality Nigella Lawson learned of the Monday Morning Cooking Club when she was in Australia, ordered a copy of the book back in London, and wrote on her Web site about how she had adapted the cinnamon and apple pie recipe to her own particular tastes. 

Both in reference to the recipe’s overall utility and its celebrity follower, “It’s a superstar cake now,” Goldberg proudly said. Try it and find out for yourself.. 


MAXINE PACANOWSKI’S CINNAMON AND APPLE PIE

  • 6 to 8 Granny Smith apples, peeled and sliced
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups light olive or vegetable oil
  • 3 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (or experiment with alternative flours, such as spelt)
  • Extra cinnamon-sugar (optional), for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease and line the base and side of a springform cake pan.

Layer the apple slices in the prepared pan so they come about two-thirds of the way up the side. Sprinkle the cinnamon-sugar over the apples.

Make a batter by beating the eggs and sugar until light and fluffy. Add the oil and vanilla and beat well; then stir in the flour. Spoon the batter on top of the apples and sprinkle with the extra cinnamon-sugar if desired. 

Bake for 1 hour 20 minutes, or until a skewer inserted into the cake comes out clean. Cool in the pan. Serve warm with whipped cream or ice cream.

Serves 10


TALIA GOLDBERG’S SALMON WITH A SESAME AND GINGER CRUST

  • 1 heaping tablespoon grated fresh ginger
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/4 cup sherry
  • 2 teaspoons sesame oil
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
  • 1 bunch scallions (approximately 12 stems), finely sliced
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
  • 4 salmon fillets, skinned and boned

Preheat the oven’s broiler to its maximum temperature. Cover a flat oven tray with aluminum foil.

Mix the ginger and garlic in a small bowl, then add the sherry, sesame oil, sesame seeds, scallions and salt. Stir to combine.

Place the salmon fillets on the tray and spoon a thick layer of the sesame mixture on top. You may cook the salmon immediately or cover and refrigerate until you wish to cook it — up to 24 hours.

Place the tray under the hot broiler (on the second to top or top shelf) for 7-10 minutes, or until the fish is cooked to your liking and the topping has blackened a little. 

Serves 4.


CABBAGE SALAD

  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup white vinegar
  • 1/4 vegetable oil
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • Half small Savoy or half red cabbage (or a mixture), shredded
  • 1/2 cup whole toasted almonds, roughly chopped
  • 1 heaped tablespoons toasted sesame seeds

To make the dressing, put the sugar and vinegar in a saucepan and place over  low heat. Add a drop of water and stir to dissolve the sugar. Allow the vinegar mixture to cool, then place in a large jar with the oil and soy sauce, and shake to combine.

Place the cabbage in a serving bowl and add the almonds and sesame seeds. Pour the dressing over the cabbage and toss to combine.

Serves 6.

Food flight: Perusing American Jewry’s past and present


Two relatively new books tell the story of American Jewry, weaving together its past and present by examining tradition and making it relevant to today’s reader.

Where Sue Fishkoff’s “Kosher Nation: Why More and More of America’s Food Answers to a Higher Authority” (Schocken, 2010) is robust and detailed, Leah Koenig’s “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook: Daily Meals for the Contemporary Jewish Kitchen” (Universe, 2011) is spacious and adaptable.

With the “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” Hadassah, The Women’s Zionist Organization of America has attempted to free itself from the matzah ball-and-chain and community cookbooks of its nearly 90-year past and plunge itself into the present-day reality of America’s Jewish kitchen.

An increased interest in local and healthy food, and the amplified availability of kosher-certified products—with an assist from popular television shows—have created a market of ever-more sophisticated American Jewish consumers, and Koenig doesn’t shy away from using trendy food items such as quinoa, miso and pomegranate.

Food is an important part of the Jewish home during Shabbat and holidays, but Jewish sensibilities don’t always kick in on the days and weeks between. “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” attempts to fill in the gap.

The recipes are simple and fast—no six-hour braising times or intimidating French techniques. The book is meant to be used, and through its use will continue the story of American Jewish cooking. The recipes are kosher, of course, and Koenig’s tone throughout is clear, concise and friendly. She informs the reader immediately that she is not a chef, and that a more experienced cook should “think of these recipes as flavors and ideas to riff off of.”

Some of its best recipes are among the more unusual. Honey-Glazed Carrots with Za’atar presents a synchronicity of the unexpected sweetness of carrots and honey and the zing of za’atar, a dried spice mixture common in Middle Eastern cooking, and lemon zest. Sweet Potato Kale Soup with White Beans and Caramelized Vegetable Soup utilizes familiar flavors in updated ways.

“Jewish” and Israeli foods make an appearance in the form of Cheesecake in a Jar, an attractive dessert inspired by a classic Jewish sweet; Quick(er) Borscht, a 30-minute remedy to an Eastern European comfort food; and Sabich, a fried eggplant sandwich commonly on the menu at falafel joints.

Generally the recipes in “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” are global and health conscious, and more often than not vegetarian, reflecting an increased consumer consciousness of non-meat alternatives.

“Kosher Nation” contextualizes how it is that American Jewry got to a point where Walnut Pesto and Portobello Burgers, two foods not at all associated with traditional Jewish cuisine, appear in Koenig’s Jewish cookbook published by a major Jewish organization.

Written with the probing voice of a journalist like the JTA’s Fishkoff, “Kosher Nation” is a series of vignettes: the mashgiach in China hopping from factory to factory; the kosher winemaker experimenting in Napa; the Reform rabbi negotiating kashrut with a conflicted congregation.

Connecting these stories are data and history lessons on the building of today’s behemoth kosher infrastructure that shows no signs of slowing its growth.

“Today one third to one half of the food for sale in the typical American supermarket is kosher,” Fishkoff informs the reader in her opening chapter.

This means that most people who buy kosher products are not even aware of what the small symbol on the label implies, but that many manufacturers see kosher as a hot food trend and kosher often is associated with cleaner, superior food in the American mind.

Kosher can even be connected with “hip”: The popular television series “The Office” in a recent episode had a character slap a “K” on bottles of pesto made by his mother without actually having the product certified. In his defense he remarks, “I meant like, it’s cool, it’s kosher, it’s all good.”

Fishkoff’s book helps make sense of that kind of pop culture reference.

It wasn’t always this way. Until only several decades ago, meat was the primary concern of kosher authorities and strictly kosher food in general was relevant to only a small number of observant Jews. Many Jews kept some form of kosher, refraining from pork or the practice of “eating out,” but American Jews often rejected dietary laws in an attempt to assimilate into the dominant culture.

With an increase in the number of baalei teshuvah, newly observant Jews, who refuse to settle for syrupy wine or processed cheese, combined with the increasing appeal of the kosher symbol to celiacs, vegetarians and many other demographics, the kosher industry has become relevant to manufacturers as far away as Thailand.

Fishkoff explains the rules of kashrut to the layperson, from biblical to Talmudic injunctions to modern-day stringencies that wouldn’t have been an issue even a generation ago. She breaks down the kosher industry, from “The Big Four” certifying agencies to slaughterhouses to kosher caterers, and brings the reader up to date on some of the most relevant issues facing today’s kosher consumer. They include the ethics involved in the scandal at the Agriprocessers meat plant in Postville, Iowa, and the burgeoning New Jewish Food Movement.

Throughout “Kosher Nation,” Fishkoff regards her subjects with objectivity. Even the most zealous figures—like the Chasid on a one-woman campaign to prevent Jews from ingesting insects—become sympathetic and even relatable. It is clear that Fishkoff was fascinated by the subject; the reader cannot help but be fascinated, too.

For anyone who remembers when Oreos became kosher, notices when sushi is served at an Orthodox wedding or simply wants to take a bite out of Jewish Americana, “Kosher Nation” offers a readable, in-depth exploration into the cultural shifts and subtleties surrounding the rise of an industry.

Paired with “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook,” readers have a chance to re-examine food traditions far beyond the holiday table.

Dipping back into the origins of the kosher industry in America and then cooking recipes that reflect a contemporary kosher reality prove a filling and fulfilling experience.

The Joan Nathan book party


The first time I ever spoke to Joan Nathan, it was by telephone, and I wrote out for myself what I wanted to say to her: “Hello, Ms. Nathan, this is Rob Eshman with The Jewish Journal in Los Angeles, and I want to speak with you about your new cookbook. I think you should know that ‘Jewish Holiday Kitchen’ is my Bible.”

I don’t normally do that — I don’t usually write my phone introductions down like a telemarketer’s script. But after Joan’s publicist agreed to the interview, I got nervous. For years I’d pored over her cookbooks. When people said I made good matzah balls, latkes, cholent or challah, they were crediting Joan. My grandmother and mom made some of these dishes, and theirs were delicious, but I didn’t know the recipes. Joan did. She researched them, she tested them, she drew out the stories behind them, and she wrote the best ones down. I used them over and over. I didn’t feed my family and friends. Joan Nathan did.

Again, you have to understand: In our home, my wife, the rabbi, has shelves of holy books, volumes of Jewish texts, a Talmud set handed down to her from her father. I have seven shelves of cookbooks. If you ask me where I keep my Richard Olney, or my Marcella Hazan, or my Nathan, I will find it for you. Then one day, about 10 years ago, I found myself talking with her.

Joan Nathan, bigger than life before I called her, turned out to be warm, and friendly, and interested, and then, eventually, part of my life.

She was due out to Los Angeles on a book tour. I picked her up at the Bel Age Hotel and took her to Uzbekistan, a now-defunct restaurant on Sunset and La Brea that was owned by Jews.

Story continues after the video.

“Manti!” Joan exclaimed when her eyes ran over the menu.

Manti are dumplings. Joan quickly explained how manti and kreplach share peasant roots; they’re the wontons of the steppes. The waiter asked if we wanted vodka. It was lunchtime, on a Wednesday.

“This food really needs vodka,” Joan said. That was a great lunch.

We’ve eaten many more meals together. Joan lives in Washington, D.C., where her husband, Allan Gerson, specializes in international law (he is the one who sued Libya over the Lockerbie bombing — and won). But her work for The New York Times food section, as well as her own books, have often brought her West, and when she’s come I’ve always spent more time than I ever let on figuring out the best places to take her: a tour through Elat Market in Pico-Robertson, City Spa’s cafe for its Russian/Persian food and Koreatown.

Once we drove an hour north to the Herzog kosher winery in Oxnard, where we ate at Tierra Sur, one of the world’s best kosher restaurants. Chef Todd Aarons (who now blogs at jewishjournal.com) saw Joan and came to our table.

“My wife always makes our challah,” he told Joan. “I just realized it’s your recipe.”

His eyes grew soft. For a second I thought he was tearing up. “Every Shabbas she makes your challah.”

Joan, who can be very unsentimental about her work, nodded understandingly.

“That’s a great recipe,” she said.

In October, Knopf published Joan’s 10th cookbook, “Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France.” Don’t let the somewhat kitschy title fool you: This is a serious, deeply researched, but accessible work. Like all of Joan’s books, it is as much anthropology, history and journalism as it is cookbook. The more accurate, though maybe less Food Network-friendly, title would have been “French Jewish Cuisine.”

I threw a book party for Joan over Chanukah. For a woman who had given me so much, it was so the least I could do. A hard-and-fast dinner party rule is never cook anything new. But I resolved to make only recipes from the new book, things I’d never made before: Choucroute garnie with homemade sauerkraut; a fennel salad with celery, cucumber, lemon and pomegranate; Tunisian winter squash with coriander and harissa; North African brik with tuna and cilantro, and an Alsatian Chanukah fruit bread called Hutzel Wecken.

Joan came early, and we cooked together. She told me how she’d traveled through France to find Jewish recipes but along the way discovered how much French cuisine owes to centuries of Jewish migration and innovation — how it was the Jews who brought chocolate and many other New World foods to France, as well as foie gras.

The house filled up with family and friends. Joan’s invite list kept bringing surprises through the door. When Joan introduced me to Anne Willan, whose cookbooks I also revere, I think I blurted out, “You’re here?” The food writer Jonathan Gold and his wife, editor Laurie Ochoa, came in — Jonathan Gold eating my food. If the pomegranate vodka I’d made hadn’t by then taken effect, I would have been a mass of nerves — I would have had to write down what I’d always wanted to say to Jonathan.

But the fireplace was crackling, the food came out fine, we went through a lot of pomegranate vodka — and a lot of wine. They say one secret to happiness is the ability to show gratitude. It must be true, because that night I was very, very happy.

Find recipes and watch a video of Rob and Joan Nathan cooking for the book party at jewishjournal.com/foodaism.

Loving your veggies can lighten the seder


Faye Levy doesn’t look like anyone who’s ever had a problem with her weight. The prolific cookbook author stands at 4-foot-10, and weighs about 100 pounds.

But somewhere in the mid-1980s, just as she was working on “Chocolate Sensations” and “Dessert Sensations,” she realized that testing those recipes, on top of six years at cooking school in Paris — and following every enticing smell into street markets and cafes — had added a lot of weight to her tiny frame.

“For many years, I thought that since I love food so much, there is no way I can ever be at the right weight for my height. I was just going to be chubby and that’s it,” Levy said recently over a cup of coffee in Woodland Hills, where she lives with her husband, Yakir.

Good thing her next book focused on vegetables.

“I found out that you can have good meals from mostly vegetables. If you have vegetables and a legume, and maybe a little lean protein, whole grain rice or whole grain bread — but just a little — you can lose weight,” said Levy, 56, an award-winning author of around 20 cookbooks, including “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000) and “Feast From the Middle East” (William Morrow, 2003).

She’s translated that knowledge into her new book, “Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home: 200 Recipes for Eating Well on Holidays and Every Day,” (William Morrow, $29.95). Unlike her low-fat books of the late 1990s, this one focuses not on what to cut, but on the wide variety and interesting ways to prepare components of a nutritious diet.

Written for foodies and novices alike, the book offers recipes with adventurous spice blends that perk up vegetables and healthy alternatives to traditional favorites. Passover is the perfect time to take some courageous leaps with vegetables and put colorful organics at the center of meals that might otherwise be laden with fatty meats, dense matzah and ubiquitous potatoes.

In fact, Levy and her husband once experimented with an all-vegetable diet. They managed on only vegetables for three weeks — it was all the chopping and preparing that eventually got to them — and then slowly added fruit, legumes and then finally small amounts of vegetarian protein and whole grains.

Now, they have a more moderate diet. She and Yakir enjoy all varieties of meats, grains and legumes, but she throws double vegetables into everything. And, she still leaves room for the things she loves too much to swear away, like homemade pasta with creme fraiche and ganache (two ingredients: really good chocolate and cream).

Talking to Levy, it became clear just how much she loves food — and not just because she kept saying so. The emotion poured from her eyes and smiling voice as she told stories that wandered from Jerusalem to Santa Monica to Istanbul, of meandering through the new markets she is always discovering, of the friends she loves to eat with and the people — family, neighbors and professionals — who taught about cooking.

Her new book is something like that, too, full of tales of how she developed these recipes, the people she met along the way, and her many experiences at cooking school and in teaching cooking classes. In her recipe introductions, she offers tips and explanations that are just as valuable as the recipes themselves. It’s worth sitting down with this book to get to know Levy when you’re not frantically trying to craft your own impressive menu.

Her recipes blend a variety of traditions — her childhood in a kosher, Ashkenazi home; her husband’s Yemenite traditions; her training in French cooking; and her love for Chinese and Italian food. Levy uses tons of fresh ingredients — herbs and lemon juice are everywhere, and she seems to have a real affinity for ginger and jalapeño peppers, often in the same recipes.

Some of my favorite recipes in the book are not usable for Passover: baked barley with chard and garlic pesto; a cabbage and carrot salad with peanut sauce; a simple blend of bulgur wheat, fresh garlic and ginger.

But there is a lot to choose from for Passover. Levy’s Passover section includes twists on the traditional, like whole-wheat matzah balls floating in chicken soup with asparagus or sopping up flavor in a chicken and vegetable stew.

But leaf through the other sections to explore the bounty of vegetable recipes — it’s just the thing to offset the potatoes, eggs and meats that usually make Passover eating anything but healthy.

Braised Calabaza Squash with Chiles and Ginger
12-pound piece calabaza squash (or butternut or Japanese kabocha squash)
1 tablespoon canola oil or other vegetable oil
2 onions, chopped
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped peeled ginger
1 or 2 poblano chilis (called pasilla in California), seeds discarded, cut into strips
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander

Cut squash into pieces and cut off peel with a heavy, sharp knife. Remove any seeds or stringy flesh. Cut flesh into about 1-inch cubes.

Heat oil in a stew pan. Add onions, cover and sautÃ(c) over medium-low heat, stirring often, for five minutes. Add ginger and chili strips and saute for five more minutes. Add squash pieces and a little salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat for 10 minutes. Add 3 tablespoons water, cover and cook for 15 more minutes or until tender, stirring from time to time and adding water by tablespoons if necessary. Stir in coriander. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot or warm.

Makes three to four servings.

Cucumber, Jicama and Orange Salad with Black Olives
1 small jicama (12 ounces)

‘Kitchen’ Lets Kid Chefs Cook Up Fun


Before I had a chance to flip through Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher by Design: Kids in the Kitchen,” my 9-year-old, Yair, had swiped the hardcover off the pile of mail and bookmarked the recipes he wanted to try.

And try — and succeed — he did.

In “Kids in the Kitchen,” best-selling author Fishbein has translated into kids lingo her formula for great cook books: interesting recipes that tweak the traditional, with points for presentation and originality. The full-color photos and cutesy thematics in this book are as bright as her others (her “Kosher by Design Entertains” is known universally as “The Pink Book”), with a few more smiley faces.

But what’s really nice about this book is that the recipes aren’t for silly foods that let kids patschke (mess) around but don’t actually get them cooking. As Fishbein says in her introduction, no gummy worms crawling out of cookie crumbs in this book.

Rather, she includes recipes for kid-friendly real food like burritos and meatballs and breaded cauliflower and lots of desserts. What makes this book for kids is that the recipes are written in a way that any beginner — even a latecomer adult — can easily understand and follow.

Fishbein has an intro for parents and one for kids, and each recipe is rated with one to three chefs’ hats to show the level of difficulty. She gives great advice — like read through the whole recipe before you start, set out your tools and pre-measure your ingredients. She has a pictorial glossary of kitchen gadgets and basic safety and kashrut rules, and starts every recipe with an equipment list.

So when Yair set about making alphabet vegetable soup for Shabbat, he needed only hovering supervision from me. While an adult recipe might read, “one onion, diced,” she starts off with “on the cutting board, use the sharp knife to chop the onions into small pieces.”

In no time, Yair and his helpers, Ezra, 7, and Neima, 4, were chopping, sautéing, measuring and simmering, all with an eye on the timer so as not to overcook the creation.

The soup was fantastic, as was the chocolate cake Yair made for dessert. But what was even better was his newfound confidence in the kitchen. And my favorite part: He did his best to follow Fishbein’s “clean as you go” rule, and took to heart her advice that “leaving your kitchen clean is key if you want to be invited back into it to cook.”

Carrot Muffins

Level of Difficulty: One Chef’s Hat

Equipment list

Measuring cups and spoons
Medium mixing bowl
Small silicone spatula or spoon
Electric mixer
Paper muffin cups
Cupcake or muffin tray
Toothpick

Ingredient list

1 cup sugar
1 cup all-purpose flour
3/4 cup canola oil
12 ounces baby food carrots (usually 3 jars)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place the sugar, flour and oil into a medium mixing bowl. Add the baby food carrots, using your small spatula or spoon to get all of the baby food out of the jar.

Add the baking soda, cinnamon and eggs.

Mix with an electric mixer at medium speed for three minutes, until the batter is smooth.

Place the paper muffin cups into a muffin or cupcake tray.

If your bowl has a spout, pour the batter from the bowl into the muffin cups; if not, use a large spoon. Fill the muffin cups almost to the top.

Place the tray into the oven and bake for 30 minutes.

Open the oven and carefully pull out the muffin tray. Stick a toothpick into the center of a muffin; it should come out clean. If it comes out gooey, return the muffins to the oven for another two to three minutes. When the muffins are done, remove from the oven and allow the muffins to cool.

Makes 12-14 muffins.

 

A Jewish Spin On Gift-Giving


Everyone has the same shopping countdown this year: Dec. 25th is also the first night of Chanukah. With holiday-season commercialism rising exponentially each year, the plethora of items for purchase can be blindingly confusing for even the savviest shopper. Whether it’s finding something for your non-Jewish co-worker or your husband’s Tanta Miriam, the pressure’s on.

Easing the strain of finding the perfect gift for everyone on your list, however, are products like The Box of Questions. These boxes come in four varieties — Thanksgiving, Shabbat, Christmas and Chanukah — and are attractively decorated to suit their respective themes. Each contains a set of 35 thought-provoking questions about its event, like, “What does the Christmas spirit mean to you?” and “If you could invite anyone in the world to your home for Shabbat, who would it be?” There are also little prizes, such as a dreidel, thrown in.

The boxes come with instructions, but these are more like suggestions on how to facilitate the discussion.

The ladies behind the boxes, Heidi Haddad and Cece Feiler, were searching for a way to entertain their families during an indelibly long wait for their orders to arrive. They came up with round after round of challenging questions about what makes family so important or what values people cherish the most and why. The activity was a big hit, so Cece and Heidi decided to share their method for having great family discussions by taking the trivial out of the pursuit.

Now known as The Box Girls, Haddad and Feiler donate all proceeds from the sale of the boxes to various charities. The boxes are sold at high-end retailers, such as Saks and Fred Segal’s, for $19.95 and are also available online, at www.theboxgirls.com. — Staff Report

The martini on the cover of “The Hanukkah Lounge: Instrumental Jew Age Music” (Craig N’ Co, $14.98) should give you some idea of what to expect from the songs inside — it has a blue olive with a Star of David toothpick sticking out of it.

The entire CD should help turn any Chanukah party into the most swinging event of the season. Craig Taubman’s version of “Maoz Tsur” is as smooth as a gob of sour cream on a latke, with a drumbeat and clarinet background that will definitely get your head moving.

The chimes in Scott Leader’s “Hanukkah o Hanukkah” make the song sound like something one might hear at a day spa during a massage. Don’t be surprised if your guests get up and dance a little salsa to the Afro-Semitic Experience’s “Descarga Ocho Kandelikas.” Even the simplistic “I Have a Little Dreidl” gets a grown-up treatment — it sounds almost dreamlike. And, of course, what Chanukah CD would be complete without the candle blessing?

The collection is part of the Celebrate Series (” target=”_blank”>www.sarahdavid.com. — SL

Nathan Takes a Bite Out of Boring Fare


“The New American Cooking” by Joan Nathan (Knopf, $35).

A tempeh Reuben sandwich and guacamole made with mayonnaise may sound like sacrilege to food purists, but not to food journalist Joan Nathan. The author of 10 cookbooks, including the award-winning “Jewish Cooking in America” (Knopf, 1994), Nathan’s latest is “The New American Cooking,” which offers recipes for the way Americans eat today.

“I never think of food as something that’s stationary,” Nathan said on a recent book tour stop in Los Angeles. “Things change, neighborhoods change, food changes, we get new ingredients, people get ideas. And when you come to a country you adapt what you knew to that country.”

Nathan makes no judgments on those adaptations, what matters to her is how it tastes. Her openness is expressed through the variety of the 280 recipes she includes in the book, which contains many cross-cultural meldings. She offers up four dishes for public consumption, some new and some old, at a special dinner at the Skirball Cultural Center this week. The diverse menu will include Roasted Squash Soup With Coconut Milk; Georgian Spinach Salad With Pomegranates; Horseradish-Crusted Bass With Borscht Broth, Garlic Mashed Potatoes and Ragout of Wild Mushrooms With Shallots and Thyme; and a Chocolate Torte for dessert. For fans of Nathan, what is perhaps most striking about her newest book is that the word “Jewish” does not appear in the title.

Nathan was raised in Providence, R.I., and after getting her master’s degree in French literature from Harvard, she went to work as foreign press officer to Jerusalem Mayor Teddy Kollek. The experience inspired her to write her first cookbook, “The Flavor of Jerusalem,” and today she is mostly known for her Jewish recipes, with eight of her previous collections focusing on Jewish or Israeli cuisine.

Although this new, broader American focus might seem like a departure for her, Nathan sees it more as a logical extension of her previous work, specifically “An American Folklife Cookbook” (Schocken, 1984) (her only other non-Jewish title) and “Jewish Cooking in America.”

“The Jewish cookbook was one ethnic group, but within that one ethnic group there is so much diversification,” she said. “Look at the Persian Jews here and the Sephardic Jews and the Israeli Jews. There are all kinds within the Jewish population, and it probably made me more aware of other people around America. And I’m American, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the whole country.”

What she was looking for in particular, she said, were the changes American cooking has undergone in the last 40 years.

She found her answers through the recipes of a range of professional and home kitchens across America, from food stands and restaurants to heirloom family favorites.

The dishes are coupled with stories about their origins, so that what emerges is a sort of travel book and cookbook in one, a text that is as much about who Americans are, as it is about what they eat.

Nathan sees America today as a country changed by technological advances like the Cuisinart, the growth of organics and sustainable agriculture, the integration of ethnic foods and ingredients into the somewhat bland American palate of her 1950s youth, and the rise of the celebrity chef.

But Nathan is aware that not everything in today’s American cuisine is positive.

“I’m not sort of Polyanna-ish,” she said. “I know that supermarkets all over the country have all processed food and apples that look like each other and terrible tomatoes. But I’m not looking at that. I’m looking at what people are doing to make changes. I’m looking at farmers markets, at individuals, and I think these small individuals will get bigger.”

Many of the small individuals Nathan mentions in her book are Jewish, including two trailblazing Southern California women. Along with a recipe for Pomegranate, Mango, and Papaya Fruit Salad with Lime, she includes the story of Lynda Resnick, creator of the pomegranate and pomegranate juice company POM Wonderful. Alongside a recipe for Sugar Snap Peas with Red Pepper, Nathan pays tribute to Frieda Caplan, creator of the company Frieda’s Finest, who first brought kiwis and sugar snap peas to the American public.

And her new American cooking is also still influenced by Jewish recipes, like challah and matzah balls and dishes like the Cuban Jewish casserole Plantains with Picadillo.

Nathan said the number of Jewish contributions in her book has little to do with her own roots. She said Jews play a huge role in the food industry.

But it’s not only that.

“There are a lot of good home-cooked recipes in a lot of Jewish families, especially ethnic ones,” Nathan said, “like that Plantains Picadillo, and the date and nut cake with orange. That’s delicious.”

Joan Nathan hosts “Dinner With Joan Nathan: Jewish Cooking in America,” on Thursday, Dec. 15 at 7:30 p.m. $65-$85 (ticket sales end Dec. 12). Book signing follows. Skirball Cultural Center, 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. (866) 468-3399.

 

Shabbat – Prepare a Meal, Preserve a Memory


In our family, Shabbat is always a potluck. Three generations bustle about very different kitchens, recreating recipes passed down l’dor v’dor, from generation to generation. And while I consider myself a fairly accomplished cook, I find myself regularly calling mom: “How come my brisket is so dry?” “Why is my kugel so temperamental?” “Why doesn’t my tsimmes taste like yours?” And as much as I like asking the questions, she loves answering them.

As our family gets older and the thought of losing them looms large, it’s a rewarding pleasure to spend time recording sweet moments, including favorite family recipes.

Instead of scrapbooking, think of it as cookbooking. Include recorded impromptu conversations in the kitchen, family photos and stories.

Pamela Hensley Vincent’s “Jewish-Sicilian Cookbook” (Overlook Press, 2004) pays tribute to her family, preserving memories through recipes and family photos.

“When you sit down to write about people you love, it just flows out of you,” Hensley Vincent said. “I visited haunts both magical and sorrowful, and as I went along, I recognized the cookbook was a scrapbook locked away all these years.”

As Hensley Vincent began gathering and trying to recreate her family’s recipes, she realized that when she cooked their dishes it was as if they were in the kitchen helping her.

“My father, Jack, could cook anything,” she said. “When he came home from work he couldn’t wait to get in the kitchen. When you grow up around that, you can’t help but love cooking.”

One vivid family memory straight out of my mother’s own recipe box happened one year, just before Thanksgiving, when my parents had been perusing their favorite farmer’s market and impulsively bought a giant bag of pecans. “I didn’t know what to do with all those nuts,” she said.

She opened the Herald-Examiner and there she found a recipe for pecan pie from her favorite columnist. My mom said, “I figured I listened to Dear Abby about other things, why not this?”

Jack’s Roast Chicken With Giblet Stuffing

Adapted from “The Jewish-Sicilian Cookbook.”

1 4- to 5-pound chicken

Coarse salt and pepper to taste

2 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for rubbing on bird

Paprika to taste

1 celery stalk, with leaves, coarsely chopped

1 to 2 cremini mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 medium-sized onion, coarsely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped

1 14-ounce can of chicken broth

2 cups Pepperidge Farm Seasoned Bread Crumb Stuffing Mix

Preheat oven to 450 F. Remove chicken livers and giblets; thoroughly clean inside of cavity under cold, running water. Pat inside and outside dry with a paper towel. Place bird on a rack in a shallow roasting pan. Lightly sprinkle cavity with salt and pepper. Rub outside with olive oil and paprika. Place bird in refrigerator until ready to stuff.

In a saucepan, heat olive oil. Lightly brown giblets and liver for one to two minutes. Remove from saucepan and set aside. In same saucepan sauté celery, mushrooms, onions and garlic. When they start to soften and clarify, return giblets to pan, but reserve the liver. Pour chicken broth over vegetables and giblets; bring to a simmer. Cover saucepan and simmer for 30 minutes. Add liver to pan for last two minutes. Remove liver and giblets from pan and allow them to cool. Chop coarsely.

Put 2 cups of stuffing mix into a bowl. Add chopped liver, giblets, vegetables; toss together. Remove chicken from refrigerator and place stuffing loosely inside. Secure with two pins and string on each end. Place in oven. Immediately reduce heat to 350 F. Cook 20 minutes per pound. When finished, remove from oven. Let chicken cool for five minutes before carving.

Serves four to six.

Dear Abby’s Pecan Pie

This recipe appeared in Dear Abby’s advice column every year at Thanksgiving. The original recipe called for 1 cup each of corn syrup and sugar. My mother, Celia Levitt, adapted the recipe to make it less sweet, thinking it would be a bit healthier. Sometimes she used far less sugar than this.

3/4 cup light corn syrup

3/4 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

3 eggs, slightly beaten

1/3 cup butter, melted

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 9-inch unbaked pie crust

1 heaping cup pecan halves

Preheat oven to 350 F. In a large bowl, combine corn syrup, sugar, eggs, butter, salt and vanilla; mix well. Pour filling into unbaked pie crust and sprinkle pecan halves over top. Bake 45-50 minutes or until center is set (toothpick inserted in center will come out clean when pie is done). If pie or crust appears to be getting too brown on top, cover with foil for the remaining baking time. Remove from oven and cool.

Serves eight to 10.

 

Think Global, Cook Local


“The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the
World” by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95).

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, “The Jewish Kitchen,” is
alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities,
bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed
through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting
eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

“The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because
I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the
Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the
Jewish experience,” Hyman said.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come
pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner
Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known
Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a
brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him
— what? Hyman said “fatal small cakes.”

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he
would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for
the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

“One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story,
20 different tales,” Hyman said. “It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish
food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour
cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat.”

 

PineappleIe Fritters a La Celeseine

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and

thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously
with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and
salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat
them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into
the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350
F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on
both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

Hazelnut Rugelach

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the
superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold
together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa,
cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half
to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a
thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but
it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut
the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then
sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap
and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the
outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on
a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle
with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes
until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling
rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach. Â


Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Melting Pot Memories”
and can be found on the Web at

Think Global, Cook Local


"The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World" by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95)

Clarissa Hyman’s new cookbook, "The Jewish Kitchen," is alive with miracles — stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities, bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

"The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the Jewish experience," Hyman said.

Hyman’s nine months’ work on the book — "research, traveling, writing, testing, a miracle in itself," she said — took her to such places as Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Caribbean.

No Jewish cookbook would be complete without latkes, and Hyman’s recipe is her own. But Chanukah is about the oil, not the potato.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him — what? Hyman said "fatal small cakes."

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

"One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story, 20 different tales," Hyman said. "It’s one of the wonderful things about Jewish food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat."

PINEAPPLE FRITTERS A LA CELESTINE

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350 F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

HAZELNUT RUGELACH

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach.

Getting Stuffed on Sukkot


“Have you ever noticed how plump autumn foods are?” asked my 9-year-old daughter two decades ago as we passed a sukkah, a leafy hut, locked behind the gate of a Manhattan synagogue.

“You mean the peppers, pumpkins, eggplants, apples and squash?” I said, staring at a farmers market worth of produce dangling from the sukkah’s flimsy walls.

Outside the synagogue’s iron bars, we looked from afar but could not touch or smell the year’s final harvest, a sight more brilliant than fall foliage in New England. Dwarfed by high rises in a city lined with concrete, we were still attached to Judaism’s agrarian roots.

This scene was a far cry from what I recalled from my childhood. During the 1950s, the sukkah at my suburban synagogue was open all day to people who wanted to step inside. Each evening, the sisterhood women carried steaming pans of stuffed peppers, squash and eggplants to the backyard sukkah, where members of the congregation shared a communal meal. Many of the dishes they prepared entailed stuffing one plump vegetable inside another. Were these women merely paying homage to the garden’s last blast of the season, or was there a deeper, perhaps unconscious meaning to the traditional Sukkot fare they prepared year after year?

“The most common Sukkot dishes are filled foods, particularly stuffed vegetables and pastries, symbolizing the bounty of the harvest,” wrote chef Rabbi Gil Marks in his cookbook, “The World of Jewish Entertaining” (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Over the centuries, Jewish cooks have gutted and chopped nearly every edible plant species, mixing the pulp with onions, breadcrumbs, matzah meal, meat, spices and assorted vegetables and fruit. They then stuffed these aromatic concoctions inside the vegetables’ cavities, roasting them to create heavenly results.

During the weeklong celebration of Sukkot, people eat their meals in a sukkah, or temporary hut, and holiday recipes call for seasonal produce.

Often migrating throughout their history, Jews both shared and borrowed cooking techniques from local people wherever they settled.

“In the Hellenistic world of Greek and Roman dominance, stuffed foods were prominent features at banquets,” said Corrie Norman, chair of the department of religion and director of the Rome Program at Converse College in Spartanburg, S.C. Filling an already full-looking food, such as a fig, was a double way of indicating celebration and abundance. A common sweet throughout the Sephardic Middle East is a nut-filled date.

“Jews picked up on and advanced the significance and artistry of celebratory stuffed foods,” Norman said. “For example in modern Rome, stuffed fried vegetables are associated with Jewish origins.”

This group of recipes is called alla Giudia (in the Jewish style). While this vegetable-stuffing technique has fused with Roman cuisine, its name credits its Jewish origin.

A former “semiprofessional” cook, Norman is currently combining her enduring passion for food with her studies in religion and history. As an affiliate of the Harvard Pluralism Project, she coordinates student research on food, meaning and gender.

“Fruits, vegetables and their harvest are the realities of fertility,” Norman said. “Roundness or fullness also signify fertility, which also means life.”

Throughout time, there has been a link between agriculture and fertility, the harvest and birth. Stuffing one food inside another at the end of the growing season underscores this point.

“Stuffed squash is full and round,” Norman said. “It is full of mysterious, wonderful ingredients, hidden initially but eventually bursting forth.”

She explains that whether most people are aware of it or not, they understand the significance of a symbolic food, such as stuffed cabbage, by its taste and its presence — or absence — on the Sukkot table. They may associate that sweet apple strudel of their youth with their mother or grandmother.

“That form of embodied knowing — often not rational or conscious — is key to sustaining symbolic meaning,” Norman said.

This is one reason why many people continue to prepare family recipes on holidays, when they could more easily order the entire menu from a deli or restaurant, Norman explained.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if a Jewish grandmother, making her stuffed eggplant from scratch, felt that going to all that trouble in a day of convenience foods somehow helped make Sukkot special for her family,” she said. No doubt, after she is gone, her family will savor their memories of her and the special eggplant dish that she prepared, which connects them to their Jewish ancestry and the mystery of the harvest.

This must be why when the season’s first chill penetrates my sweaters, I reach for a booklet of holiday recipes that my grandmother gave me in desperate hope that I’d keep a Jewish home. That autumn of 1968, I was a 20-year-old in miniskirts, indifferent to her concern. I must have hurt her feelings when I left that booklet on her coffee table. But undeterred, she mailed it to me anyway.

Today as withered leaves blow across the sidewalks of New York, I think of my grandmother as I head to the nearest Korean market, where at Sukkot, the onions are their most pungent, the squash bulging and beautiful and the cabbage ranging in color from green to purple. I wish she were still alive so I could tell her that I make the stuffed cabbage and squash recipes from that booklet, which is now wrinkled and yellowing with age.

I remember her as a portly woman with a kind heart who urged her family to eat more than they cared to. Spiritually connected to Sukkot, she was a good Jewish grandmother who insisted that her loved ones leave the table completely satisfied, if not a little stuffed.

Holishkes: Stuffed Cabbage

1 large cabbage

Freeze cabbage overnight. Defrost completely (about 4 hours). Gently pull off leaves from half of the cabbage, about 12. (Save remaining cabbage for soup or other recipes.) Don’t worry if leaves tear. Cut away their course center spines and discard. Cut larger, outer leaves in half.

Sauce:

2 15-ounce cans tomato sauce

Juice of 2 lemons

2 tablespoons white vinegar

1 1/2 cups honey

1 cup red wine

4 cloves garlic, minced fine

Salt and pepper to taste

2/3 cup raisins

Place all of the sauce ingredients, except the raisins, in a saucepan and bring to a simmer on a medium flame.

Remove from heat and stir in raisins. Reserve.

Meat Stuffing:

1/3 cup raw rice

1 pound chopped beef

1 egg, beaten

1 tablespoon dill, minced

Toothpicks

No-stick spray

Prepare rice according to directions on package.

Combine first four ingredients in a bowl, mixing well.

Place a heaping tablespoon of meat mixture on cabbage leaves, selecting a spot away from tears and where it nestles well.

Gently roll leaves around stuffing, tucking in edges and sides. Fasten with toothpicks in strategic places.

If stuffing mixture remains, roll it into meatballs.

Coat a large roasting pan with no-stick spray. Place cabbage rolls and meatballs inside, layering if necessary. Pour sauce over the top, making sure it dribbles between all cabbage rolls. Simmer on a low flame for 90 minutes, until sauce thickens slightly and meat is well done. Serve hot. Recipe can be prepared ahead and reheated on a low flame.

About 12 entree-sized portions, plus several meatballs.

Vegetable Curry Stuffed Peppers

2 potatoes, peeled

1 cup walnuts, chopped

8 peppers: Select ones with flat bottoms so they don’t topple during cooking. For eye appeal, choose red, yellow, green and orange peppers.

3 tablespoons cooking oil

3 large onions, diced

8 cloves garlic, minced

19-ounce can Cannellini (white kidney beans), drained in colander

4 tomatoes, seeds removed and diced

4 tablespoons parsley, minced

3 teaspoons curry powder

2 teaspoons cumin

3/4 teaspoon turmeric

Salt and pepper to taste

no-stick cooking spray

15-ounce can vegetable broth

1/2 cup white wine

Cut potatoes into chunks and boil until soft. Drain.

Roast walnuts at 350 F until light brown, about two to three minutes.

With a knife, cut a circle around pepper stems, large enough to insert stuffing. Discard stems. Cut away interior fibers. Rinse with cold water to flush out seeds. Place upside down to drain. Dry skins with paper towels.

In a large pot, heat oil on medium flame. Sauté onions and garlic for one minute. Mix in potatoes, walnuts, beans, tomatoes, parsley and spices. Stir for three minutes.

Coat an ovenproof pan with cooking spray. Preheat oven to 350 F.

Spoon enough vegetable mixture inside peppers so it bulges into a dome over their tops. Arrange peppers in pan. Gently pour broth and wine into pan, surrounding but not saturating peppers.

Roast for 45-60 minutes, until peppers soften and pucker and vegetables on top turn golden brown. Serve hot or at room temperature.

8 servings.

Autumn Harvest Acorn Squash

No-stick spray

2 1/2 pounds acorn squash

5 carrots, peeled and coarsely diced

1/3 cup chopped pecans, toasted for 2 minutes until brown

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon cardamom

1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/3 cup dried cherries

3/4 teaspoon salt or to taste

1/4 cup brown sugar

Preheat oven to 350 F. Spray Pyrex baking pan with no-stick spray.

Cut squash in half along one of the grooves on its skin. Remove and discard seeds. Place squash in pan flesh side down and skin side up. Pour water into pan 1/2 inch deep. Bake for 40-45 minutes, or until flesh is soft. (While baking, check water level and add more if too much evaporates.)

Meanwhile, steam carrots until soft, about three to five minutes.

When squash is ready, cool for five minutes and remove from pan. Gently scoop out flesh with a spoon, being careful not to rip skin. Place in a bowl. Add remaining ingredients, mixing well.

Spoon mixture into squash shells and serve immediately.

6-8 servings.

Cooking Middle Eastern Memories


"A Fistful of Lentils" by Jennifer Felicia Abadi (Harvard Common Press, 2002).

Reading "A Fistful of Lentils" is like wandering through a family album. Instead of food photos you find dozens of family portraits, touching stories and the fascinating history of a rich and unique culture. In this engaging new cookbook, first-time author Jennifer Felicia Abadi tells the fascinating story of her Syrian Jewish family and reveals the secrets of their little known cuisine.

In 1924, her great-grandmother, Esther (called Steta in Arabic), left Aleppo for America on the crest of a wave of Syrian immigration as the Ottoman Empire crumbled. She brought with her cherished family recipes, passed down from mother to daughter, from the communal kitchens back home, where Arab and Jewish women gathered daily, as they had for centuries, to bake sambussaks (savory-filled pastries) and exchange gossip.

In the 1970s, Esther’s grandchildren (Abadi’s mother and aunt) decided to observe their Steta in the kitchen and carefully recorded her recipes for the family. Thirty years later, Abadi embarked on a project of her own — trying to fill in the gaps by observing her own grandma, Fritzie — and in the process learned as much about her family’s history as she did about their cooking.

Numbering a mere 150,000 worldwide, Syrian Jews descend from a blending of the Spanish Jewish population that fled to Syria to escape the Inquisition and the Mizrahi (Eastern) Jews they found there who had made Syria their home for 2,000 years.

Those who think Middle Eastern cuisine is all falafel and hummus will delight in the exotic tastes and smells of the Syrian kitchen. But what distinguishes the foods of Syria from other Middle Eastern cuisine?

"Syrian cuisine has a strong flavor," Abadi explained, "but as compared to, say, Indian, we don’t use a lot of different spices. We use mainly cinnamon and allspice in tandem together and lots of cumin. And whereas Moroccans, Algerians and Tunisians use couscous, we use bulgur wheat. We love rice, too, but bulgur wheat is our favorite grain."

Although rice was plentiful in Persia, Abadi noted, it was brought into Syria later through the trade routes. Originally reserved for the upper classes, the traditional riz (basic Syrian rice) is now considered a staple on the Syrian table. "Basic it is; plain it is not," Abadi writes.

Onions are first sautéed in oil and then combined with soaked and drained long-grain white rice, the mixture boiled and topped with toasted pine nuts. The favorite part of the rice is the prized a’hata, the brown crust scraped from the bottom of the pot, achieved by slowly cooking (and watching) the rice for 50-60 minutes over low heat.

Whereas Moroccans use dates, Syrians prefer mish mosh (dried apricots) in a variety of dishes, from Meh’shi Sfeehah b’Dja’jeh (Stuffed Baby Eggplant with Roasted Chicken) to the colorful and refreshing Mish Mosh m’Fis’dok (Cold Rose Water Syrup With Apricots and Pistachios).

"Many recipes call for rose water or orange water, and that separates us from other Mediterraneans, like the Greeks, who use honey," Abadi continued. "But I think probably our use of tamarind most distinguishes Syrian cuisine from others in the Middle East."

The rich tamarind sauce called ooh, a staple in the Syrian kitchen, is made from the pods of the tamarind tree. It is dark in color and lends a unique tart-sweet flavor to such dishes as Dja’jeh Mish Mosh (Sweet-and-Tart Chicken With Apricots) and Meh’shi Kusa (Stuffed Squash With Sweet-and-Sour Tomato Sauce). Presentation is key to the Syrian table.

"We’re definitely concerned with how the table looks and that all the food is presented colorfully," she said. "What’s nice is to have many little tastings, not just have one thing, and we like to have plenty. There will usually be several main dishes, on the average at least three or four, with a rice and a vegetable stuffed dish and maybe a noodle dish. The maazeh [appetizers] are colorful and done on little plates with lots of different shapes and sizes."

Most Syrian dishes, Abadi said, are easy to prepare.

"It’s peasant food, a home-cooking thing. The dishes are long cooking, but, except perhaps for the pastries, which require more time and skill, they are not that difficult to do."

Case in point, Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey), a perfect choice for Rosh Hashanah.

"We use prunes, as well as apricots and dates, not only for their sweetness," Abadi notes, "but because they are round, they represent the cycle of life."

Tired of the same old honey cake? Try the more exotic Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze), rich with tahini and sesame seeds, which, Abadi tells us, are used on Rosh Hashanah along with poppy seeds to represent an abundance of good deeds.

Dja’jeh b’Ah’sal (Chicken With Prunes and Honey Sauce)

2 cups pitted prunes, soaked in 1 cup cold water for 15 minutes

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chicken

5 to 5 1/2 pounds chicken pieces (white and dark meat), skinned

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three 3-inch cinnamon sticks

2 cups cold water

To Serve

1 cup blanched whole almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden

Prepare the sauce. Place the prunes and soaking water in a small saucepan. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Add the honey and cinnamon. Mix well and simmer until the prunes absorb some water and soften (they should be soft yet retain most of their shape), about five more minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Prepare the chicken. Rinse the chicken under cold running water and pat dry with paper towels. Place on a plate.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat and cook the onions, stirring, until golden and soft, three to four minutes. Add the chicken pieces and brown, cooking for two to three minutes on each side. Add the salt, pepper, cinnamon sticks and water, stir well, and bring to a slow boil over medium-high heat. Pour the sauce over the chicken. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, covered, for one hour.

Uncover the skillet and cook until some of the excess liquid cooks off and the sauce has thickened to a gravy-like texture, an additional 20-30 minutes.

Serve on large platter, garnished with toasted almonds.

Ka’ikeh b’Ah’sal (Honey Cake With Sesame Glaze)

Cake

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Glaze

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare the cake. Combine the beaten eggs, tahini, honey and vanilla in a large bowl until smooth.

In a medium-size bowl, combine the flour and baking powder. Add to the wet mixture and mix well.

Pour the batter into a greased 9-by-13-inch baking pan or 9-inch Springform pan and bake until a toothpick or knife inserted into the center comes out clean, 25-35 minutes.

When the cake is ready, remove from the oven and allow to cool for about 45 minutes. With a knife, loosen the edges of the cake. Place a large plate on top of the cake pan and flip the pan upside down.

Prepare the glaze. Combine the honey and tahini in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until blended to a smooth consistency, four to five minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well.

Remove from the heat and immediately pour the hot glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for 30 minutes.

Cut into diamond shapes about two inches long and 1-inch wide and serve at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.

The Great Falafel Question


The last time you bit into a falafel sandwich you were probably thinking about nothing more than the warm spice and crunch of the chickpea fritters and the way they played against the soft bread, crisp vegetables and nutty tahini sauce.

Unless you’re Palestinian, in which case you may have had weightier culinary issues on your mind.

Many Palestinians believe that Israelis have stolen falafel, a traditional Arab food, and passed it off as what postcards at tourist kiosks all over Israel call "Israel’s National Snack."

"We always sort of look at each other and roll our eyeballs when we pass a restaurant that says ‘Israeli falafel,’" said Rashid Khalidi, a Palestinian American and a professor of Middle Eastern history at the University of Chicago.

Some do more than roll eyeballs. Aziz Shihab, a Palestinian American and the author of the cookbook, "A Taste of Palestine," once picked an argument with the owners of an Israeli restaurant in Dallas that served falafel. "This is my mother’s food," he said. "This is my grandfather’s food. What do you mean you’re serving it as your food?"

It’s nice to think that sharing a cherished food brings enemies together, easing tension and misunderstanding. But the world’s rawest conflicts can include disagreements over common foodstuffs. Irish Catholics and Protestants have lightly bickered over whiskey. Turks and Greeks have feuded over coffee. And Jews and Arabs argue about falafel in a way that reflects the wider conflict, touching on debates over territory and history. "Food always migrates according to immigration and commerce," said Yael Raviv, an Israeli student at New York University who wrote her doctorate on Israeli nationalism and cuisine. "But because of the political situation, falafel has taken on enormous significance."

"Every Israeli tourist brochure has a shot of falafel," Raviv continued. "And every Israeli cookbook has a falafel recipe."

Jewish and Israeli attitudes toward the falafel debate range from defiance to ambivalence to outright shame — just as they do toward the conflict at large. Some Jews point out that no single group can own a method for frying a mush of legumes; they say that falafel is generically Middle Eastern, having originated in Egypt and found its way as far as Morocco and Saudi Arabia.

"Have we stolen pasta from the Italians?" asked Geoffrey Weill, who does public relations for Israel’s Ministry of Tourism. "What kind of nonsense is that?"

Hagay Nagar, the Israeli co-owner of Hoomoos Asli in New York, says that falafel is now "an international food, like a hamburger." (Nevertheless, his restaurant has an Arabic name: "Asli," a word adopted by Israeli slang, means "original" in Arabic.)

Some argue that there is some historical precedent. Joan Nathan, author of "The Foods of Israel Today," said: "Falafel is a biblical food. The ingredients are as old as you’re going to get. These are the foods of the land, and the land goes back to the Bible. There have been Jews and Arabs in the Middle East forever, and the idea that Jews stole it doesn’t hold any water."

Claudia Roden, born in Egypt and the author of "The Book of Jewish Food," confirmed that while falafel was never specifically a Jewish dish, it was certainly eaten by Jews in Egypt and Syria.

Other Jews and Israelis are less comfortable with the Israelization of falafel. Take Orna Agmon, a co-owner of the Falafel Queens, a set of upscale falafel restaurants in Israel. Agmon and her business partner, Ella Shein, were so ambivalent about the issue, she said, that "it took us many years to actually have the courage to open a falafel restaurant — we were afraid this act would be misunderstood."

Agmon and Shein polished their falafel-making skills under the tutelage of Palestinian women, she said, "who make the best falafel you can imagine," and who volunteered their knowledge without asking for compensation. "It was three years ago; it was a different period," Agmon said, referring to the relative calm that preceded the current violence. "It is still something that’s hard for us to think about now."

As surprising as it may sound, given the bloodiness and acrimony of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Zionism has always been perfumed by a whiff of romance with Arab culture. The Eastern European Jews who flocked to Palestine in the late 19th and early 20th centuries rejected their Continental pasts in favor of a return to their ancient roots. "The Jewish settlers were looking for new ways to connect with their biblical pasts," Raviv said, "and Arabs were the perfect role models."

Some Jewish settlers in Palestine referred to themselves as "Hebrew Bedouins" and donned kaffiyehs (Arab headdresses). "Politically, the Zionists ignored the Arabs, but culturally, they romanticized and tried to imitate them," said Yael Zerubavel, a scholar of Israeli culture at Rutgers. This imitation didn’t seem like theft, Zerubavel said, "but localization, a process of putting roots in soil."

The newly arrived Jews needed a cuisine to suit their new identities and surroundings. "Their native food was inappropriate for the weather and the produce," Roden said. Not surprisingly, they were enchanted by the smoky eggplant dips, rustic breads and aromatic spice mixtures of Palestinian cuisine. As Najwa al-Qattan, a Palestinian American and a professor of Middle Eastern history at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles, put it, "If you were given the choice between falafel and gefilte fish, which would you choose?"

These Zionists, by and large socialists, loved humble street foods like falafel, Roden said. They showed little interest in the primary jewels of Palestinian cuisine, like musakhan, a sumptuous ovenful of chicken, onions, sumac and pine nuts layered with fresh bread. Still, it wasn’t until hundreds of thousands of Jews from Arab countries immigrated to Israel in the 1950s that falafel truly became an Israeli emblem.

"And We Have Falafel," a popular Israeli song written in 1958, included such lyrics as: "It used to be when a Jew came to Israel he kissed the ground and gave thanks/Now as soon as he gets off the plane he has a falafel." It also has the line "only we have falafel," adding "because this is the national food of Israel."

In particular, Jews from Yemen got into the falafel business, opening up concession stands. These immigrants, Zerubavel said, "made it possible to incorporate elements like falafel without referring to them as Palestinian." Raviv of New York University added that falafel’s lack of history as a specifically Jewish food speeded its adoption in the Jewish state, whose diverse residents could unite around a local dish that would be, she said, "valid to everyone."

Agmon compared falafel’s history to that of the sabra, the local prickly fruit that Palestinians ate for centuries before Israelis started using the word as a nickname for a native-born Israeli. Similarly, Ammiel Alcalay, a Jewish professor of Middle Eastern culture at Queens College, believes that "it’s total appropriation, and that it’s linked to very concrete things like land and sustenance." Alcalay said that Israelis have claimed falafel in the same way that they have Jaffa oranges and the spice mixture zaatar. (Zaatar usually consists of some combination of wild oregano, thyme, sumac and sesame seeds.)

But with time, Israelis have become quicker to acknowledge falafel’s provenance. Throughout the mid-1990s, during the shaky peace, Israeli tourists flocked to Jordan, and then to Palestinian villages inside Israel. Dan Almagor, who wrote the lyrics to "And We Have Falafel," said he would write the same song today — but with a line about the dish’s Arab origins.

And the falafel itself keeps changing. The original Egyptian dish was made with fava beans; as falafel moved northward, cooks substituted chickpeas. Until recently, Israel’s most notable contribution to its evolution has been to cram novel accompaniments, from shredded beets to French fries, into falafel sandwiches.

But the Falafel Queens have developed two new varieties: red falafel (flavored with jalapeños and served with roasted peppers, tomatoes and spicy yogurt sauce) and orange falafel (made with sweet potatoes and accompanied by cabbage, honey and ginger tahini). "Israelis love to think that falafel is their own," Agmon said. "But it’s something we adopted. For me, falafel is an Arab food with a long history and amazing versatility, to which we tried to contribute a new variation."

And perhaps Palestinians will grow more tolerant of Israeli enthusiasm for falafel. Shihab, who once quibbled with Jewish restaurateurs over it, claimed that his views have softened. "It’s a regional food, not a people food," he said. "The more I think and the more I pray for peace, the more I think it’s a silly argument."

Falafel

Time: 1 hour 15 minutes, plus 24 hours for refrigerating chickpeas

11¼ cups dried chickpeas
1¼ cup bulgur wheat
2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
4 scallions, roughly chopped
3 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon lemon juice
11¼ teaspoons salt
1¼ teaspoon baking soda
Freshly ground black pepper
Vegetable oil, for deep frying.

1. Place chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with cold water. Refrigerate for 24 hours.
2. Rinse bulgur in a fine-meshed sieve and transfer to a bowl. Cover and let stand for 20 minutes.
3. Drain chickpeas. In a food processor, combine chickpeas, bulgur, garlic, scallions and parsley. Add coriander, cumin, cayenne, lemon juice, salt and baking soda. Season with black pepper to taste. Process until ground to a coarse paste-like consistency. Cover and let stand for 30 minutes.
4. With moistened hands, shape rounded tablespoons of the mixture into meatball-size balls. Heat oil for deep frying to 375 F, or until a cube of bread turns golden in one minute. Deep-fry six or seven falafel at a time, turning to brown evenly, about five minutes. (To check if falafel is cooked, cut one in half. The color should be even through to the middle. If not even, increase cooking time by one minute.) Drain on paper towels.

Yield: About 30 fritters.

The Many Layers of ‘Cake’


Journalism 101, Rule No. 1: The interview is about the interviewee, not about you. Ask a question, then shut up and listen. Obviously, the instructor never met Sharon Boorstin, who is as interested in you as you are in her. No, really. My list of questions goes out the window.

With Boorstin you bond.

The noted restaurant critic and food writer is already collecting food memories and recipes for a sequel to "Let Us Eat Cake: Adventures in Food and Friendship" (Regan Books/Harper Collins, $24.95), her tantalizing memoir, recipes included, of food, family and friendship, and we’re invited to share.

"I’m fascinated by women and their relationships with their mothers and grandmothers and where they came from," she says. "I grew up in a family obsessed with food. With women’s lib, everything changed, and I wanted to explore how women’s attitudes toward cooking and food changed as well."

She shows me a loose-leaf bulging with recipes, some handwritten, some on yellowed newsprint, dating back three decades to her newlywed days. The discovery of that long-forgotten notebook and the memories it recalled were the catalyst behind "Let Us Eat Cake."

Every recipe told a story: the brandied stuffed chicken legs she and friend Laurie slaved over to woo two brothers, a doctor and a lawyer (they never called back); the signature Canlis salad from Seattle’s best restaurant; her Yiddish-speaking grandmother’s blintzes, and her mom’s legendary egg-bread stuffing.

"Food is actually a really good bonding thing. Everyone has it in common, and women talk about it easily," says Boorstin. "And I have the most fun talking to Jewish women, because they get it right away. They have all these stories and light up when they talk about their grandmothers."

Despite the differences in our backgrounds — Boorstin grew up in the "boonies" outside of Seattle, where she and her sisters were the only Jewish kids in class; I was raised in a Jewish "ghetto" in a New York suburb — I found myself saying "me, too!" on almost every page. Growing up in the 1950s. The angst about boys, the love-hate relationship with food and obsession with dieting. The deep emotional connection with women friends and the ease of friendship in our 50s.

"You have what you’ve gone through together, what you have in common, and let go of old resentments," she says. "Life is precious, and you don’t want to be petty."

OK, Boorstin’s mom wore Revlon’s Fire and Ice, while mine wore Cherries in the Snow, but we shared the same "longing" as we downed our Preludin diet pills, willingly dispensed by our family doctors, to squeeze ourselves into our Merry Widows.

In the 1950s, you learned cooking to catch a man, she observes. The book’s grand finale, "Husband-Catcher Cake," came from friend Mary Lou, whose college roommate’s grandmother had advised, "Men can get sex from any woman, but not a good chocolate cake. And this one is good enough to get you a husband."

Readers of any age will relate to the connections Boorstin celebrates with the women in her life and share a giggle at her often hilarious food memories: the "salmon dowry" wrapped in newspaper that she presents to her future in-laws (her dad was vice president of a fish company), mushrooms stuffed with marijuana that fellow teacher Sue procures from a student, gourmet potato pancakes fried by Suzy Gershman (of "Born to Shop" fame) in her muggy Paris apartment wearing panties and an apron (photo included).

Neither does Boorstin hold back the painful episodes in her life: her broken engagement (his therapist delivers the news), her sister’s mental illness, the death of a soulmate, friendships extinguished and rekindled.

"Women bond over food the way men do over sports," she asserts as she cooks her way through life’s triumphs and challenges. "On the afternoon of Sept. 11, I was so upset, I was crying and started making blintzes. I was sort of re-attaching to my roots. It was very comforting."

When daughter Julia goes off to college, a puffy-eyed Boorstin seeks the solace of friend Joyce, who must know Boorstin well. "We’ll have a glass of wine, we’ll cook. You’ll feel better," she tells her.

Scattered throughout are delicious vignettes starring famous foodie friends: Barbara Fairchild, editor-in-chief of Bon Appétit; La Brea Bakery’s Nancy Silverton; Barbara Lazaroff, Wolfgang Puck’s partner and wife; Mary Sue Milliken and Susan Feniger, the Two Hot Tamales; Paul Newman’s daughter, Nell. Even Julia Child makes an appearance.

In the tradition of her mother and grandmother, Boorstin is a self-described shiterein cook. That’s Yiddish for why measure? You just throw something in, and a wonderful dish emerges. Far from haphazard, it’s a style borne of confidence, instinct and skill. With "Let Us Eat Cake" the ebullient Boorstin has shitereined a delightful and tasty friendship stew.

Mom’s Egg-Bread Stuffing

Enough for a 20-pound turkey with some left over to bake in a casserole.

This is a recipe that cries out for improvisation, because you can toss in just about anything that adds crunch and perhaps a bit of sweetness, and it will taste good. Just be sure you use egg bread as your base. It is also a recipe for which it is difficult to give precise measurements. Taste and adjust the ingredients and seasonings for flavor and texture.

  • 4 to 5 loaves egg bread, sliced, crusts removed
  • 3 to 4 big onions, chopped
  • 1 stick margarine
  • 1 bunch celery, chopped
  • 2 cups chopped mushrooms
  • 1 each turkey giblet, heart and liver, chopped
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons poultry seasoning
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons salt
  • pepper to taste
  • 1 to 11¼2 cups sliced water chestnuts, well drained
  • 2 to 3 Pippin or Granny Smith apples, chopped
  • 1 to 11¼2 cups dried cranberries or chopped dried apricots
  • 2 carrots, chopped (optional)
  • 1 cup sunflower seeds or chopped walnuts or almonds (optional)
  • 4 eggs, beaten
  • 3 to 4 cups chicken broth, at room temperature

1. Cut the bread into cubes about 11¼2 inches square. Set aside for a day or two so that they dry out, tossing occasionally, or toast them lightly in a 350F oven until they are crisp but not brown.

2. In a large, heavy pan over medium heat, sauté the onions in the margarine until they are soft, about 10 to 15 minutes. Stir frequently and be sure the onions do not burn. Add the celery, mushrooms, giblet, heart, liver and seasonings, and cook over medium-high heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring often, until the turkey parts are cooked. Remove from the heat and let cool completely.

3. In a large pot, in batches, add the cooled onion giblet mixture and about three-quarters of the bread cubes. Toss gently. (You may need to do this with two wooden spoons or with your hands.) In batches, add the water chestnuts, apples, dried fruit and any optional ingredients, tossing gently after each addition.

4. In a separate dish, whisk the eggs with three cups of the broth, and gradually add the liquid to the stuffing mixture, blending gently. Add more broth-egg mixture and the remaining bread cubes if needed. You do not want the stuffing to be soggy, but it shouldn’t be dry either. Adjust the poultry seasoning, salt and pepper to taste.

5. Just before roasting the turkey, stuff it loosely — do not pack it in. Bake the remaining stuffing in a greased casserole, covered lightly with foil, at 350 F for approximately an hour, until brown on top.

If Memory Serves…


Jewish-themed cookbooks appear in a frenzy about a month before Passover, then die off by May. Mainstream cookbooks also try to cash in on the warming weather’s ability to make us imagine nectarine tarts and heirloom tomato salads, long before winter comes to the Chilean tomato export market.

Oddly enough, there’s a subtext to most of these books, and it has little to do with cooking. Many of them are only partly about good recipes; rather, they are more about good memories. They set about re-creating lost moments of a Jewish past, and found the most compelling way to do so was by writing about food. The People of the Book evidently does not live by words alone.

* In “A Drizzle of Honey” (St. Martin’s, $29.95), authors David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson use diaries and other historical texts to uncover the traditions and recipes of 15th- and 16th-century Spain’s Crypto-Jews — Jews forced to convert to Catholicism who nevertheless preserved their Jewish traditions. The result is more fascinating as cultural history than it is useful as a cookbook, but the stories poignantly reveal how, by keeping food traditions alive, these Jews maintained their identity.