Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken. Photos by Chaya Rappoport

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken


I didn’t grow up with tzimmes, so the idea of stewed, mushy vegetables with dried fruit has never much appealed to me. I say “idea” because I am pretty sure I have never actually tasted tzimmes. The dish always seemed too sweet to be appealing, even if sweet foods are traditionally enjoyed for the New Year.

But recently, while thinking of new ways to reinvent a few classic Rosh Hashanah dishes, I began thinking about tzimmes. And perhaps with a couple of very liberal (and namely savory) changes, who’s to say it couldn’t become something newer, grander and much more enticing for a palate like mine?

My experimentation has produced a colorful, show-stopping and nontraditional chicken dish.

Wonderfully savory chicken now complements the sweet tzimmes of yore, which I have updated by swapping fresh, juicy plums and apricots for their dry, pruney counterparts, adding sweetly swirled candy cane beets (you can also use red or golden beets); switching out regular carrots for vivid, tricolored ones; and tossing in a handful of golden raisins to be plumped up with aromatic pan juices. Alongside the requisite onion, aromatic rosemary and heady cloves of garlic, the striking fruit-and-vegetable mixture roasts in a cinnamon, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and spiked date honey sauce.

Once the fruits and vegetables have softened a bit, they are topped by the chicken and doused in a saffron-infused white wine mixture, which saturates the entire dish as its components roast together in happy, fragrant harmony.

Now we have a delicious dish with tender fruits and vegetables, bronzed chicken and a saffron-and-white-wine-flavored gravy that puddles at the bottom of the pan and would be splendid spooned over fluffy couscous. Serve this holiday-worthy chicken with even more wine and with shreds of fresh green parsley, then watch as even the most vehement tzimmes haters come slowly, then speedily around.

Ingredients:
For the fruits and vegetables:
2 bunches small colored candy cane beets, tops removed, scrubbed and sliced
1 bunch colorful young carrots, scrubbed and thicker ones sliced in half
4 apricots, halved, some quartered
4 big purple plums, halved and some sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
chopped parsley, for serving

Some of the fruits and vegetables that go in a newfangled tzimmes dish.

 

For the chicken, sauce and saffron white wine marinade:
4 chicken bottoms, cleaned
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups good white wine
3 tablespoons date honey (silan)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rub the chicken bottoms with the sea salt and the 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary.

2. Toast the saffron threads in a small pan over low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until they are slightly toasty and fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat, add the 1/4 cup of water and let it sit and turn yellow as the saffron infuses its flavor into the water.

3. Combine the cooled saffron water, of which you should have 1/4 cup, with the white wine. Mix and set aside until needed.

4. Make the marinade: Whisk the date honey, oil, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and ras el hanout in a large bowl.

5. Add the chicken pieces, carrots, onion, cardamom pods, garlic, apricots, plums, carrots, beets, golden raisins and rosemary to the large bowl and toss to combine.

6. Remove the chicken and set aside in a clean, baking paper-lined pan until needed. Spread the fruits and vegetables on a baking paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.

7. Pour half of the saffron/white wine mixture on the chicken and half on the vegetables. Cover the vegetables tightly with foil. Roast 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove and discard the cardamom.

8.  Remove foil, lower the heat to 400 F. and top the vegetables with the chicken and the rest of the saffron/white wine mix.

9. Continue to roast until the beets and carrots are tender, the chicken is golden brown and the whole mixture smells divine, around 40 minutes to 1 hour. (If the fruits and vegetables get too dark, you can remove the sheet tray from the oven, place the chicken in another pan and return that pan to the oven until the chicken is nice and golden, leaving out the vegetables.)

10. When the chicken and vegetables are done, transfer chicken mixture to serving platter. Pour pan juices over. Top with shredded parsley before serving.

Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a pastry sous chef at a Brooklyn bakery, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Traveler.


The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.

Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, center, bicycling with retired cycling champions Ivan Basso and Alberto Contador in Jerusalem. Photo courtesy of the Giro.

Israel gears up to host prestigious Italian cycling race


Stressing the chance to show off Israel to the world, Israeli officials joined with their Italian counterparts in announcing Monday that three stages of the prestigious Giro d’Italia cycling race will be held in the country, starting in Jerusalem.

It will mark the first time that any leg of cycling’s Grand Tour races — the Giro, the Tour de France and the Spanish Vuelta — will take place outside of Europe, and just the 12th time the Giro had gone outside of Italy in its 101-year history.

Israeli officials said the race will be the biggest sporting event ever held in their country and touted it as an opportunity to showcase the Jewish state — and its capital — to the world.

“Hundreds of millions of viewers around the globe will watch as the world’s best cyclists ride alongside the walls of Jerusalem’s ancient Old City and our other historic sites,” Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said at the hotel gathering. “Our message to the world is clear: Jerusalem is open to all.”

The race will bring more than 175 of the world’s best cyclists to Israel along with tens of thousands of tourists and cycling enthusiasts.

Culture Minister Miri Regev called on “everyone who loves the Giro to come here to Israel.”

“This bike race across the Holy Land will be a fascinating journey through time covering thousands of years,” she said. “I’m sure it will be a thrilling experience for everyone.”

Israel will host the first three stages of the Giro, or “the Big Start,” on consecutive days from May 4 to 6. Stage 1 will be a 6.3-mile individual time trial in Jerusalem, passing the Knesset and ending near the walls of the Old City. Stage 2, in the North, will start in Haifa with riders pedaling 103.8 miles down the Mediterranean coast to the Tel Aviv beach. Stage 3, in the South, will cover 140.4 miles through the arid Negev from Beersheba to Eilat on the Red Sea.

Italian officials told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz earlier this month that they were being careful to avoid crossing into politically sensitive areas, like the West Bank or eastern Jerusalem, which they feared could spark protests. An official map of the Stage 1 route shows it approaching but not entering the Old City, which is located in eastern Jerusalem — where much of the world, but not the Israeli government, envisions a future Palestinian capital.

According to the Italian daily Corriere della Sera, the route will pass the Yad Vashem Holocaust memorial as part of a tribute to Gino Bartali, an Italian cycling champion credited with saving hundreds of Jews during the Holocaust. While ostensibly training in the Italian countryside, Bartali, who won the Giro four times and the Tour de France twice, would carry forged papers in the frame and handlebars of his bicycle to Jews hiding in houses and convents. He also hid a Jewish family in his cellar.

In 2013, years after his death in 2000, he was recognized as a Righteous Among the Nations by Israel’s Holocaust authority, Yad Vashem.

Alberto Contador, left, and Ivan Basso, right, former winners of the Giro d’Italia, with race and Israeli officials including Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat, fourth from right. (Courtesy of the Giro)

Italian Sports Minister Luca Lotti said Monday that the race would celebrate Bartali’s memory. In addition to being a great sports champion, he said, Bartali “was also an extraordinary champion of life, and a man of heroic virtues, and this needs to be commemorated, and shared, especially with the young generations — never to be forgotten.”

Retired Giro champions Alberto Contador of Italy and Ivan Basso of Spain, both two-time winners, also were on hand for the Jerusalem announcement.

Sylvan Adams, a Canadian real estate magnate and philanthropist who recently immigrated to Israel, helped bring the Giro to Israel and will serve as its honorary president. Adams said he was motivated by love of cycling and a desire to help his adopted country.

“I would call this the antidote to BDS,” he told JTA, referring to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel. “The media sometimes portrays our country in a negative way, and this is a way to bypass the media and go straight into the living rooms of 800 million people. They’ll see our country exactly as it is, and my experience is people almost universally have positive experiences when they encounter Israel.”

The Giro is just part of Adams’ larger plan to make Israel a cycling powerhouse. A co-owner of the Israel Cycling Academy, Israel’s first professional cycling team founded in 2014, he is building the first velodrome in the Middle East in Tel Aviv to be finished in time for the race.

“My plan is to bring Israeli athletes to the highest level of the sport,” he said.

Ran Margaliot, an Israeli former professional cyclist and the general manager of the Israel Cycling Academy, said the team has applied to compete in the Giro and will find out if it qualified in December. It is among 32 second division teams jockeying for a wild card spot, but he is hopeful.

“I certainly think we deserve an invitation,” Margaliot told JTA. “No one can tell me we’re not good enough, and we work as hard as the Europeans, even harder.”

Margaliot said that while he failed to achieve his ambition of becoming the first Israeli to race in a Grand Tour, the next best thing would be for an Israeli member of his international team to do it.

“You can imagine what it would mean for an Israeli rider to be racing in his own country, passing near his home and friends and family,” he said before catching himself. “But we have a lot of work to do to get ready.”


Photo by Deposit Photos.

Oh baby, baby: Five options for dealing with babies on the High Holy Days


New parents have a lot to figure out: how to get their baby to sleep through the night; when to introduce food; how to binge-watch Netflix while being sleep deprived. The High Holy Days present one more thing for new parents to figure out: how to atone for your sins while taking care of your baby.    

While most synagogues offer a plethora of childcare options for children who can walk and talk, most new parents are trying to decide what the best option may be for their babies. Here are just a few helpful suggestions for new parents to consider.

Find services made for young families

Many synagogues offer High Holy Days services specifically designed for young families during which crying, nursing and screaming not only are tolerated, but expected. These services are often under an hour and free. For instance, Temple Judea in Tarzana offers a “Tot High Holiday” service where clergy appear in costume and put on “a fun and wild show,” according to Ellen Franklin, Judea’s executive director. “It’s entertaining but with some traditional prayers.”

At Sinai Temple, there is a 45-minute volunteer-organized “Shofar Blast” service that is “by kids, for kids,” according to Rabbi Nicole Guzik. The service features a “highlight reel” of prayers including Avinu Malkeinu and the mourner’s Kaddish and leads into the synagogue’s “Torah-in-the-Round” family-friendly service for those who choose to stay for a fuller High Holy Day experience.

During Shofar Blast, “you’ll get a message from the rabbi and a puppet show,” said Guzik, who noted that the service is not designed for parents to chitchat but really to connect to their kids and to the spirit of the holiday.

Be there but be flexible: Go to adult services

For many parents with babies, attending regular adult services is still an option. While some synagogues explicitly discourage babies from adult-only High Holy Days programming, others are fine with infants so long as parents follow the implicit rules of High Holy Days decorum.

When Betsy Uhrman’s children were babies, she would transport them in a carrier and follow her synagogue’s  “unspoken etiquette” of sitting in the back or near an exit.  If her baby started making noise, Uhrman simply stepped out, which happened often. “I was happy to have them there but I wasn’t actively present in services,” she said.

This year IKAR, the spiritual community located in Mid-City, is setting up a “Pray-ground” with toys for children younger than 4 in the balcony overlooking the space where their main services are being held. There will be a closed-circuit feed for parents to hear the full service, including the sermon. 

“We are trying to create space that makes parents feel part of the service even if they are not in the room,” IKAR Executive Director Melissa Balaban told the Journal.

It takes a village: Attend services with family and friends

Childcare doesn’t need to be a one- or two-person task during the High Holy Days. Many new parents choose to attend services with their support networks to divide the childcare responsibilities.

Last year, Tova Leibovic Douglas, a rabbinic student at the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, wanted to spend some of her time in services actually praying — not just watching over her 18-month-old daughter, Eve.

For the High Holy Days, Tova and her husband, Austin, split their time between their home shul and the synagogue where Tova’s extended family was attending services.

“It made it easier for us,” she said. “Instead of Austin or me being the ones to have to watch Evie, we got to split the responsibility among ourselves, my parents and my sisters.” Austin added that in addition to being helpful, “going to services with my in-laws was a good opportunity for them to spend time with Evie,” adding that “it made services more enjoyable for everyone.”

Stephanie Steingold Bressler’s village of support wasn’t family members but other congregants at her synagogue. “When my kids were too young to go to official child care, I let rebellious teens, who were already in the lobby, take turns hanging with my kids,” she said.

Parents’ night out: Get a baby sitter

For some parents, the important work of accounting of the soul is more easily done when the kids are not around at all, so they choose to hire a baby sitter. 

Betsy Uhrman, who does attend most services with her children, always hires a baby sitter on Kol Nidre. “It is really rare that my husband and I carve out time for our own spiritual reckoning,” Uhrman told the Journal, “so on Kol Nidre, it’s important that we are both present.”

Uhrman chose Kol Nidre as the time for a baby sitter because of how “powerful” the service tends to be as well as for the importance of maintaining bedtime for her kids.

Synagogues on occasion make accommodations for baby-sitting young children. Wilshire Boulevard Temple offers baby-sitting to member families that preregister for children at least 3 months old, and at Sinai Temple families can request caregiver passes — which enables nannies to enter the building to watch over children without having to purchase tickets.

Bowing out: Staying home

For some new parents, the right answer for their High Holy Days experience is to stay home with their children and observe the holidays in other ways.

For Jenny Platt, taking her 16-month-old son, Sawyer, to services last year was going to be too big of an ordeal.

“I read Rosh Hashanah books with him and he watched a video of shofar blowing on the computer,” she said. An unconventional solution, but Platt said she was grateful that she could still celebrate the holiday with her son.

For some parents with young kids, staying home feels like the only option. “When you have an infant and a 2-year-old that wants to run around and there is no programming for them, you stay home,” according to Tamar Raucher, whose husband, Noam, is the head Rabbi at Pasadena Jewish Temple & Center. When her kids were too young for formal programming, she said, “the day became about celebrating with friends afterward at Rosh Hashanah lunch.”

Cast-Iron Peach Crisp. Photo by Jessica Ritz

Rosh Hashanah recipes from Chef Ari Kolender


Chef Ari Kolendar has a few favorite, hearty fall dishes his maternal grandmother used to make at Rosh Hashanah for their large family in Charleston, S.C. “Now that I’m in the field,” he said, “I’ve mastered her recipes.”

[MORE: Chef Ari Kolender branches out with new café]

Here, he’s adapted them, mixing just the right amount of nostalgia with ingredients to satisfy contemporary tastes.

NOODLE KUGEL

– 8 ounces packaged egg noodles
– 3 eggs, beaten
– 4 ounces unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 8 ounces pineapple, diced small
– 2 apples, diced small

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.
Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.

Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SQUASH CASSEROLE

– 3 pounds fresh yellow squash
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, if available
– 1 yellow onion, diced small
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 4 ounces melted unsalted butter, plus some cold butter for the Pyrex dish
– 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the squash in half, then season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

Once cool, chop the squash and place into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Place into a buttered Pyrex dish and cover with seasoned bread crumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHERRY TOMATO CRISP

– 6 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 pints cherry tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon yellow onion, diced small
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 cup matzo meal
– 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Lightly coat a shallow baking dish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add tomatoes to pan.

In a medium bowl, add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and tomatoes are tender.

Makes 6-8 servings.

DERBY PIE

– Store-bought pie shell
– 3/4 stick melted unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3/4 cup white corn syrup
– 3 eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips
– Whipped cream for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake the pie shell for 12 minutes. Let cool and reserve.

Using a standing mixer or a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the syrup, eggs and vanilla slowly. Once incorporated, stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.

Pour into the pie shell and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAST-IRON PEACH CRISP

– Peach Crisp Topping (recipe follows)
– 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter for preparing the pan
– 2 pounds firm peaches (about 5 medium), cut into half-inch width slices
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup white sugar
– 5 ounces pecans, toasted and chopped
– 3/4 teaspoon garam masala spice mix, if available
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– 1/3 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare the Peach Crisp Topping; set aside.

Smear the sides and bottom of a cast iron pan with the cold butter.

In a bowl, mix the peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, pecans, spice mix, lemon juice and salt. Place into the pan and finish by scattering the Topping on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The topping should be golden brown.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TOPPING

– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1/3 cup all purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– Pinch of sea salt

Melt the butter and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix together. Add the room temperature butter and mix until fully incorporated. Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit in the pan.

Supreme chocolate babka from Lilly’s Baking Co. Photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher

Brooklyn Brands’ babka bound for the big time


On the corner of 62nd Street and Ninth Avenue in southwest Brooklyn, just a stone’s throw from Sandy Koufax’s childhood stomping grounds, an irrepressible scent of chocolate swirls in the air.

It’s coming from Brooklyn Brands, an old-school-meets-new-school bakery that turns out Ashkenazi Jewish classics such as babka, marble cake, hamantashen, rugelach and some of the best black-and-white cookies New York City has to offer.

Each day, some 250 people clock in at the bustling, multiroom commercial bakery, whose products have spread across the country, including to Los Angeles. In one room, a team of workers decorates the black-and-whites by hand, dipping spatulas into oversized saucepans of icing and smoothing them over each cookie’s surface. Nearby, other staffers braid fat ropes of yeasted challah dough into loaves, and chocolate-filled strands of babka are coiled and tucked into baking pans. 

Brooklyn Brands was founded in 2015, but its history stretches back to the early 1940s, when Renee Schick opened a small, kosher challah and pastry business that grew into the locally beloved Schick’s Gourmet Bakery. Today, Schick’s is one of five Brooklyn-based kosher bakeries housed under the Brooklyn Brands line. The others include Lilly’s Baking Company, Mezonos Maven, Smilowitz Bakery and Mehadrin. 

Co-directors Seth Zalkin and Mickey Klein, longtime friends and business partners, believe in the power of numbers. So when they acquired the bakeries, which had been consolidated by the previous owner, they began to imagine what it would look like for a slice of Brooklyn’s Jewish culinary heritage to reach across the country, even the globe.

“We saw a brand that was undermarketed and underdeveloped, but the quality of baked goods being produced was consistently high,” Klein said. “We grew up with these products and realized they could have wider appeal.”

“These companies were selling primarily to local yeshivas and kosher groceries,” Zalkin added. “We wanted them to be in places like Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Publix, Costco and Kroger.”

Today, the company’s products are sold in more than 10,000 supermarkets across the United States and online. Customers in far-flung locales, from Louisiana to California, who almost certainly would not have stumbled across authentic Brooklyn babka or rugelach in their supermarkets, are smitten with these Jewish sweets. In Los Angeles, Whole Foods sells them under the Lilly’s or Schick’s brand, and they long ago started appearing around the Southland at other gourmet retailers.

One customer’s recent Amazon review of Lilly’s cinnamon babka is particularly representative: “On a lark I ordered ‘babka’ because I had heard about it on Seinfeld. It is delicious!”

“We thank Seinfeld every day,” said Klein, referring to the episode in which Jerry and Elaine attempt to order the pastry at a Manhattan bakery.

Zalkin and Klein are smitten too. Maybe it’s the draw of being part of such a vibrant baking community, or maybe it’s just the siren call of yeast, jam and chocolate. But while they remain active partners at their global advisory firm, Astor Group, Klein said he and Zalkin now spend 99 percent of their time at Brooklyn Brands. 

Klein, who immigrated to New York from the Soviet Union as a child, is fluent in Hebrew and Yiddish. The latter language goes an especially long way when working with traditional kosher bakeries and Chasidic clients in Brooklyn. Zalkin, meanwhile, has an impressive if unusual familial connection to kosher baking. His grandmother, Hattie Zalkin, helped persuade the Girl Scouts to remove lard from their cookie recipes and get kosher certification.

Under Brooklyn Brands, the five bakeries continue to function primarily as they always have, without much top-down disruption, although they are now all under the same roof instead of in separate locations. All of the baked goods are currently pareve (the company plans to add a dairy line in 2018) and maintain a homey, Jewish quality.

Products from Mezonos Maven, Smilowitz, and Mehadrin are sold primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, while Lilly’s and, to some extent, Schick’s, are scaling up and beyond. 

To that end, a few significant changes have been made. The first is ensuring that the Brooklyn Brands’ products, many of which have been made with the same recipes for decades, remain high quality. “Our feeling was, if we can’t make a product we are proud of, let’s not do it anymore,” Zalkin said. 

Seth Zalkin, left, and Mickey Klein, owners of Brooklyn Brands. Photo by Nicholas Lau

 

Today, the products’ ingredient lists are noticeably more wholesome than those on most commercially produced baked goods — think unbleached flour, cocoa powder, and orange juice rather than hydrogenated cottonseed oil and artificial flavorings. The team recently developed a rainbow cookie colored with food dyes made from pigment-rich plants rather than from chemicals — red from beets, yellow from turmeric, and green from alfalfa. The goal is to be completely free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by next year.

“We’re making stuff that my wife and I feel OK feeding to our kids,” Zalkin said.

Of course, babka and marble cake aren’t exactly health foods. But for those looking for “intentional indulgences,” as Klein called them, his bakeries provide a better option. 

The second big change is packaging, which up until recently had a decidedly old-fashioned and ad hoc look. “There was not a lot of branding consistency. The products were called by different names in different places,” Zalkin said.

They worked with a design team to create modern logos and boxes that would appeal to a wider audience while staying recognizable to longtime customers. The packages also tout the pastries’ various health claims, such as vegan or gluten-free.

Brooklyn Brands is in the final stages of opening a second baking facility in the South Bronx that Zalkin described as “bigger, fancier and more fun.” The expansion will allow scaled-up production to meet growing demand, but Zalkin said the hand-crafted approach to baking will remain.

When it comes to growth, the team is open to expanding the product line, so long as new baked goods capture the same spirit of Old World, ethnic Brooklyn baking. So, Italian almond horn cookies? Perhaps. Croissants? Probably not.

Most important, Zalkin said, they want Brooklyn Brands’ baked goods to continue reaching new corners of the country and world. They would love to see hamantashen and macaroons served at church picnics and at family reunions as well as on synagogue Kiddush tables. Their honey cakes already are a year-round staple, although production spikes during the High Holy Days.

The two entrepreneurs envision single-serve packages of their black-and-whites and other cookies in places like 7-Eleven and at Starbucks.

“There is no reason our products should not be mainstream American brands,” Zalkin said. “We are not just an Orthodox Jewish bakery. We are a fantastic bakery.”


Leah Koenig is the author of “Little Book of Jewish Appetizers” and “Modern Jewish Cooking.”

Fresh Fig-Nut Loaf With Streusel Topping. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

Figs add richness to holiday sweets


Traditionally during Rosh Hashanah, foods sweetened with honey are eaten to symbolize the wish for a sweet and happy year ahead. But at my family’s holiday dinner, we like to supplement them with something equally nectarous: fresh figs.

One of the seven species of fruits and grains named in the Bible, figs offer distinctive sweetness to many recipes and fit perfectly into the New Year’s menu. California dried figs are plentiful all year round, but fresh figs also are available at this time of the year. (I like to get mine from a tree in my son Zeke’s backyard.) They add a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are versatile enough to try in salads, main courses and desserts. 

These four recipes are easy to make, and each is a little different from the way you may have enjoyed figs previously. Delicious, fresh fig bread can be whipped up in a few minutes, and it has a nice chewy texture. Served in thin slices, it is especially good with fruit or cheese. Serve for breakfast topped with orange marmalade.

Israeli-style stuffed figs with a chocolate-nut filling are a gourmet delight and they can take the place of a tray of pastries. Make a few extra to give to dinner guests to take home, or wrap them in a box or basket to bring when you are invited to dinner on Rosh Hashanah.

The Italian Fig Cake is inspired by the famous panforte, a delicious confection that originated in Siena, Italy. Rich, dense and chewy, the ingredients include dried figs, nuts, honey, spices and an assortment of other dried fruits. It keeps well in tins and is another good choice to bring as a gift from your kitchen.

As a bonus, serve fresh figs with homemade ricotta cheese and honey. The recipe for fresh ricotta takes just a short time to make — as long as it takes to boil milk — and much longer to enjoy!

FRESH FIG-NUT LOAF WITH STREUSEL TOPPING

– Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup finely ground walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces
– 2 cups toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups (about 8 large figs) peeled and mashed fresh figs
– 4 eggs
– 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare Streusel Topping; set aside.

Brush 4 3-by-7-by-2-inch loaf pans generously with melted butter; sprinkle them with ground nuts and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and blend until crumbly. Add the chopped walnuts and mix well. 

In a medium bowl, beat the figs, eggs and milk together. Pour the fig mixture into the flour mixture all at once. Stir gently just until all the dry ingredients are moistened; do not over-stir.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans. Sprinkle each loaf with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Streusel Topping. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the loaves begin to come away from the sides of the pans.

Makes 4 loaves.

STREUSEL TOPPING

– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup flour
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup unsalted butter
– 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

In a food processor or large bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter just until crumbly; do not over-mix. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Cover and set aside.

Makes about 1 cup. 

ITALIAN FIG CAKE (PANFORTE)

– 8 ounces dried figs
– 1 cup golden raisins
– 1 cup dried apples
– Grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1/4 cup cocoa
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon mace
– 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
– 3/4 cup honey
– 1/2 cup sugar
– Juice of 1 orange
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted almonds
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted filberts
– 1/2 cup powdered sugar

 Preheat oven to 300 F.

Place figs, raisins, dried apples, orange and lemon peel in a food processor and blend until finely chopped, or place in chopping bowl and chop until fine. Transfer fruit mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, mace and pepper. Add to dried fruit mixture and mix well.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the honey, sugar and orange juice until sugar dissolves. Carefully pour hot liquid into dried fruit mixture. Add nuts and stir well.

Line  an 8- or 9-inch round baking pan with parchment or wax paper and spoon in mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until cake browns around the edges and paper comes away from the pan. (Cake will be sticky on top.)

Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Dust a 12-inch square of foil with 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Turn cake upside down onto prepared foil. Peel off paper used to line pan and invert onto cake plate. Before serving, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

Makes about 10 servings.

ISRAELI STUFFED FIGS

– 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated
– 1 cup ground almonds
– 24 large dried California figs
– 24 toasted whole almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine chocolate and ground almonds; set aside.

Using scissors or a knife, remove the stems from the figs. Make a deep depression  in each fig with your finger or a small spoon. Stuff each fig with the chocolate mixture. Pinch each opening together firmly.

Place the stuffed figs, stem side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn figs over and bake another 5 minutes or until the bottoms begin to brown. Press a whole almond into each fig and reseal.

Makes 24 stuffed figs.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE

Homemade ricotta cheese

 

– 1/2 gallon whole milk
– 1 cup cream
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 6 tablespoons lemon juice
– Honey, for garnish

Heat the milk, cream and salt over medium heat until it is about to boil. Add the lemon juice, stir a few times and when mixture begins to curdle, remove from the heat. Let curds rest for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey. 

Makes about 1/2 pound.


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Nic Adler. Photo by Lisa Johnson

Nic Adler weds music festivals with delicious food


On Day One of Arroyo Seco Weekend, a massive music festival held recently on the grounds outside of the Rose Bowl in Pasadena, culinary stars were competing with such stage performers as Jeff Goldblum, Alabama Shakes and Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers.

“Oh yeah, there’s music here, too,” my friend said as we ate vegan ramen from chef Ilan Hall’s Ramen Hood, soft serve ice cream from the NoMad Truck, lobster rolls from Slapfish and other stellar eats made by some of Los Angeles’ best restaurants and food makers.

The person behind this SoCal music/food festival phenomenon is Nic Adler, whose upbringing has all the hallmarks of a classic Hollywood tale. He was raised by famous parents — music producer Lou Adler and actress Britt Ekland — in an environment soaked in the sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll scenes of Los Angeles in the 1970s and ’80s. Needless to say, it wasn’t a typical childhood. Now 44, Adler is calm and deliberate, the father of an infant and a 4-year-old, and a Westside resident who jokes about living in a boring neighborhood.

His primary role now is Culinary Curator of Goldenvoice, a concert promotion company that grew out of the L.A. punk scene decades ago and mounts large events such as the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival every spring in Indio and the recent Arroyo Seco Weekend.

“Whenever I tell a story about somewhere I’ve been or something in my life, I instantly pair it with food,” he said.

It all started with the after-school-to-evening hours he spent at The Roxy Theatre and the Rainbow Bar & Grill, his father’s venues on the Sunset Strip, where the music and food connection became “ingrained in me.” “I’d get hungry, grab some food, get bored, go see the band, then go back and hang out in the kitchen,” he recalled.

Adler came back to the Roxy as an adult, spending 15 years running it and getting involved with other entertainment ventures.

About four years ago, a conversation with Goldenvoice President and CEO Paul Tollett at the Rose Bowl proved to be life-altering. Adler’s cumulative experiences as a music and food festival producer and attendee, and as a vegan with limited food choices, gave him a distinct perspective. Tollett was receptive to hearing about how and why the food options at Goldenvoice’s major events, specifically Coachella, could benefit from a major upgrade. The annual Outside Lands festival in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park already was making food and drink an integral part of its programming, too, so Adler suggested it was time for SoCal events to step up.

“We had both grown up around the Roxy in the ’90s music scene. There was this kind of community with all the bands,” Adler said. “I saw something similar happening with all the breweries, and it was happening in the food world.”

Adler started producing food festivals while he still was immersed in the club and live music business but still saw the two as somewhat separate realms.

His work with Goldenvoice to make Coachella’s food and drink scene as much of a draw as its music and art was a game-changer. In that environment, “there are hundreds of thousands of people, and there’s a discovery mode,” Adler said.

He noticed another parallel, in part a result of heavily food-populated social media feeds. Much as “bands were moving away from albums and singles, I saw that a little bit in the food world,” he said.

Adler invited chefs, restaurants and smaller-scale purveyors to serve versions of their greatest hits on-site at Coachella. Also part of the festival roster is Outstanding in the Field, a sit-down restaurant venue serving four-course (and pricey) meals from different chefs.

The offerings have changed the image of typical crowd-pleasing food. There are still pizza, hot dogs and burgers. But new choices include Micah Wexler’s pastrami, wines from Jill Bernheimer’s Domaine LA shop and Broken Spanish’s ceviche. Adler focuses on added value, too, such as small environmental and design details, and special collaborations among chefs and food producers.

“I’m trying to create a storyline at these festivals that food and beverage are part of your experiences,” he said. “The more I can pack into that, the more of that kind of texture that I can put around the conversation around food, the better it tastes.”

The Vegan Beer & Food Festival, now called Eat Drink Vegan, is  another Adler project also held at the Rose Bowl. Recently, one of his six younger brothers from his father’s subsequent relationships, Cisco, opened the Malibu Burger Co. restaurant in their native neighborhood, and Nic curated the beer list.

Meanwhile, Adler’s father — who has attended the last five Coachella festivals — remains a constant inspiration and resource, spurring his son to think about crowd control and management and which food vendors will be a hit. “My dad would always look for places where there were a lot of trucks. He knew [truck drivers] traveled all across the country and they weren’t going to waste a good meal.”

Adler said his father also insisted that his kids spend time with their grandmother, Josie, whom Adler acknowledged was a stabilizing force during his unconventional childhood.

“ ‘Call your grandmother; Go see your grandmother; Go get her some matzo ball soup; Bring her some flowers.’ My dad was always pushing me to spend time with her,” Adler said. “We had a very special relationship.”

The wider Adler family worldview, he said, includes understanding how “things can be around forever and be respected and culturally relevant.

“What’s still more relevant than ‘Up in Smoke’ and ‘Rocky Horror’ and Monterey Pop and Carole King?” he said. “Those things are as important right now as they were when they came out.”

So, thanks to Nic Adler, the best live music you ever heard and some of the tastiest food you ever ate might become simultaneous experiences.

Heirloom Tomato Basil Sauce is full of lycopene. Photo by Sadie Rae Hersh

A plant-based diet can boost body and mind wellness


Over the decades, the baby boomer generation has found many ways to differentiate itself, from its role in the counterculture to the rise of feminism to, now, if my cooking classes are any indication, dietary choices in the kitchen.

They are embracing the trend of unprocessed, natural foods and other healthy eating habits. Baby boomers aren’t interested in aging as their parents did. They want to feel and look better — and live longer.

But what is healthy for one demographic might not be right for another. It turns out that baby boomers have a number of nutritional needs that require special attention. To learn more about them, I turned to my go-to health expert — also known as my sister — Dr. Tamara Horwich, attending cardiologist and associate clinical professor of medicine/cardiology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. I also reached out to Sally Kravich, my personal nutritionist who specializes in holistic nutrition and healing.

Although these two women approach health from different angles, their thoughts on the matter frequently intersected. Here’s what I came to understand, in layman’s terms: As we age, our bodies harden. We recognize this easily in our muscles, which stiffen, and in our joints, which become less flexible. It shouldn’t be surprising then that the interior fabric of our bodies — such as our arteries — also loses pliability.

It’s probably not surprising either, then, that the top killer in the United States is heart disease, according to the National Center for Health Statistics. So that’s the bad news. (Worse news, guys: The same things that cause heart disease can be the culprits behind erectile dysfunction.) The good news is that there are delicious preventative measures one can take to reduce one’s risk, such as drinking coffee and following a Mediterranean diet.

Cancer is the No. 2 killer. However, there is evidence that certain dietary measures can help thwart the growth of cancer in our cells. “Animal products are associated with risk of cancer. The more plant-based foods you eat, the lower the risk of cancer seems to be,” my sister said.

Kravich, a baby boomer herself, stressed the importance of maintaining a healthy immune system by consuming foods rich in vitamin A, such as dark orange veggies. She also encourages her clients to add ginger, garlic and turmeric to their food to further boost immune health.

Both Horwich and Kravich advise eating a rainbow of different colored fruits and vegetables, which means lots of various minerals, vitamins and antioxidants. The answer to healthy living is not in overeating one food, but in focusing on consuming a spectrum of colors. Think red tomatoes, orange squash, yellow peppers, green leafy vegetables, blue berries, pink radicchio and purple cauliflower.

For baby boomers worried about brain health and lowering the risk of dementia as they age, Kravich recommends magnesium, which can be found in dark chocolate and dark greens such as collards or kale. She also points to foods with omega-3 fatty acids — found in walnuts, fish and whole eggs — as well as blueberries and the lycopene found in tomato sauce.

Bone fragility and osteoporosis affect men and women as they get older, and not surprisingly, the key mineral for bone health is calcium. But there’s also the protein collagen, found in bones — and hence many soups.

“Old-fashioned soups strengthen the bones,” Kravich said. “Broths cooked at length made from chicken bones, beef bones and fish bones support your bones, but you have to cook them at least three to four hours if not longer. And by adding dark greens like bok choy or broccoli, you increase the calcium content.”

In order to stay healthy year-round, I’m providing one dish for each season of the year, filled with fresh ingredients that specifically target immune support for the body. Start this summer by making some pasta to go with my Heirloom Tomato Basil Sauce — it’s full of lycopene, which is great for heart, brain, bone, eye and prostate health. Everyone should have a go-to tomato sauce and this one, with its purity and simplicity, will transport you right to Italy.

When things start to cool off in the fall, boomers can fill themselves with the immune boosters in my Rainbow Roasted Root Veggies With Caramelized Onions and Sage. In the winter, Bok Choy Chicken Soup With Ginger and Garlic can provide generous doses of collagen and calcium to support bone health. And in the spring, enjoy some Quinoa Tabouli With Four Fresh Herbs filled with antioxidants and natural anti-inflammatories. Plus quinoa is a delicious plant-based protein, especially when you dress it like I do.

Healing recipes for all seasons

HEIRLOOM TOMATO BASIL SAUCE AND GREEN LENTIL PASTA

  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed with side of knife
  • 1 1/4 pounds (3 large) organic heirloom tomatoes of mixed colors, cut into 1⁄2-inch cubes
  • 3 sprigs basil leaves, totaling around 15 leaves, left on stems
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more for salting pasta water
  • 8 ounces green lentil pasta
  • 1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
  • Parmigiano Reggiano to taste, freshly grated, for serving, optional

 

Put pan over medium heat and add olive oil, followed by red pepper flakes and garlic. Let garlic infuse its flavor into the olive oil for a few minutes, until it becomes translucent and becomes slightly golden. The exact time will depend on your pan’s thickness and the heat but do not let it burn. Add tomatoes and stir, then add basil, on the stems, and stir. Let sauté for 3 minutes. Add salt and let cook for 15 to 20 minutes. When the tomatoes are soft enough, smush them with a fork or the back of a wooden spoon. Taste the sauce. If you want it to be a little thicker, cook for a few minutes longer. Set aside. (Return to medium/high heat a minute before your pasta is done cooking.)

Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil. Throw in a handful of kosher salt and the pasta and stir vigorously to separate the strands of noodles. Let cook until al dente, the moment when the crunchiness just gives over to chewiness, and drain. Do not rinse pasta.

With a vivacious flame under the sauce, add the noodles to it and toss with tongs until all of the noodles are covered in sauce and continue to toss for another 45 seconds. Top with toasted pine nuts, and Parmigiano if using, and serve immediately, or serve and pass around the cheese with a grater.

Makes 2 to 3 servings.

RAINBOW ROASTED ROOT VEGGIES WITH CARAMELIZED ONION AND SAGE

  • 1 organic medium sweet potato, unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 organic medium yam unpeeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
  • 1 medium or two small purple sweet potatoes
  • 1 fennel bulb, core and tops removed, and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 organic parsnip, unpeeled, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
  • 1 large red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 leeks, cleaned and sliced, white and light green parts only
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper (about 50 grinds)
  • 2 teaspoons dried sage

 

Place rack on lowest level of oven, and preheat oven to 425 F.

Place the vegetables on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper and drizzle with olive oil. Sprinkle with salt and grind pepper over them. Sprinkle with the sage. Use your fingers to toss all the pieces so they are evenly coated with oil and spices. Add more spices to taste. Bake for 45 minutes or until vegetables have browned. Toss and serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

BOK CHOY CHICKEN SOUP WITH GINGER AND GARLIC

  • 4 cups Chicken Broth (recipe follows)
  • 1 organic boneless, skinless chicken breast, optional
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped, plus
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped, for serving bowls
  • 4 baby bok choy, sliced horizontally in 1⁄2-inch strips
  • Grated fresh ginger to taste (up to a teaspoon per bowl/person)
  • Fresh cilantro leaves, a handful or a 1/2 cup
  • Kosher salt to taste, about 1/2 teaspoon per serving

 

Prepare Chicken Broth, then set aside.

If you want chicken in the soup, boil the chicken breast in the broth, covered, until just cooked through. Turn off heat. Remove and shred with you fingers.

In a separate medium pot, coat bottom with olive oil and place over medium heat.

Sauté onions along with the chopped garlic. When translucent, add broth and bring to a boil. Add salt to taste.
Add bok choy and boil for a minute, until cooked but still bright green. Divide the rest of the chopped garlic to taste and grated ginger in each serving bowl and pour in the soup. Top generously with fresh cilantro leaves.

Makes 4 servings.

CHICKEN BROTH

  • 3 pounds organic chicken backs, necks or wings
  • 2 yellow onions, unpeeled and left whole
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 stalks celery
  • 3 sprigs parsley
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 6 quarts water or just fill a large stock pot to cover vegetables
  • Kosher salt to taste

 

Put all the ingredients into a large stockpot and cover with water. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce heat to low and continue to cook, covered, for 4 hours. Let cool before storing in fridge or freezer.

Makes about 6 quarts.

QUINOA TABOULI WITH FOUR FRESH HERBS

  • 2 cups quinoa
  • 4 cups water
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 scant teaspoons kosher salt
  • Juice of 2 lemons
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • 1 teaspoon wheat-free tamari (or good soy sauce)
  • 1 teaspoon coconut aminos or Bragg Liquid Aminos (or another 1/2 teaspoon wheat-free tamari)
  • 1 1/4 cups finely chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh basil
  • 1/2 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • 15 cherry tomatoes, quartered

 

Cook quinoa with water in an automatic rice cooker, or follow package instructions. When done, remove lid to let cool slightly.

While still warm, add olive oil and salt and stir. Add lemon juice and lemon zest. Stir. Add tamari and coconut aminos. Stir. Add fresh herbs and and tomatoes and stir.

Let sit for 10 minutes for flavors to harmonize, then serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


ELANA HORWICH is the founder of Meal and a Spiel, a private cooking school based in Los Angeles.

Episode 43 – What is Israeli food? A conversation with Gil Hovav


Everybody who comes to Israel adores the food – it’s colorful, diverse and multi-cultured. As Israelies, we grow up eating Tunisian, Romanian, Iraqi and Italian food, and many other cuisines – sometimes all in the same week. And for us it’s quite normal. So normal, perhaps, that we rarely stop to ask ourselves: Is there even such a thing as Israeli cuisine?

To try and answer this question, Two Nice Jewish Boys called upon the master of Israeli food, Gil Hovav. Every Israeli household has been eating from Gil’s plate for over two decades. He’s starred in numerous televised cooking shows and food documentaries. He is a man of the world, an author, a lover of Hebrew (and Arabic!), the great-grandson of Ben Yehuda (the reviver of the Hebrew language) and above all – one helluva mench. Join us for a gastronomic episode.

We also played an amazing song by Hagar Levy! Check her our on Bandcamp and Facebook.

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A response to my critics


I thank my colleagues and friends Rick Jacobs and Noah Farkas, and many others, who wrote in response to my opinion piece “Why I Keep Politics Off the Pulpit” in the June 9 edition of the Jewish Journal. I offer the following points:

1. “Moral issues” are almost always “political stances I agree with” and “partisan politics” are stances with which I differ. Self-righteousness is a potent drug, and politics has enough of it without adding religion, as our Founding Fathers knew. The passion with which you hold a conviction says absolutely nothing about its correctness. Nothing. Even-handedness feels tepid and uninspiring, but for that reason it is all the more important. We demonize each other by pulpit pounding proclamations of “Torah true” positions. Using the rabbinate to promote policies is exploiting one form of authority to enforce another.

2. Every rabbi should preach values, of course. Values are not policies and not embodied in politicians. This past Shabbat, I spoke about Judaism and the sin of racism. Policies to combat racism are a more complex matter. There are studies, statistics, successes, failures — in other words, solutions best left to those who master the field and know something, and to our capacity to argue as citizens. I’ve spoken and written about immigration, war, poverty and other issues to clarify values but not to endorse policies. Congregants often know more about specific policy issues than I. Rabbinic training does not provide the gavel to judge between the economic contentions of John Kenneth Galbraith and Milton Friedman. Gun control measures, however much I may favor them, were not outlined in the story of Korach or the Book of Proverbs. Colleagues who miraculously locate the policies of their party in each week’s Torah portion are no more credible than so-called kabbalists who find in the Torah’s “codes” predictions of the future or confirmations of the past.

3. I’ve asked several correspondents a simple question and received not one satisfactory answer: What policies do you support on major questions that differ with what you would believe if you were not a religious Jew? If Judaism supports all the policies you believe anyway, can’t you be at least a little suspicious that your politics are guiding your Torah, and not your Torah leading to your politics?

4. Politics and campaigns are inherently divisive, and never more than now. If as a rabbi you have a perfectly homogenous shul, then I congratulate you on your frictionless life. But I have too often heard of people leaving shuls feeling politically disenfranchised by the rabbi’s preaching. Synagogues should not be tax-exempt campaign offices.

5. Yes, I know Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marched with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Honestly, I do. But issues like slavery and civil rights are very rare, once in a generation, and invoking them for everything from social welfare policy to Dodd-Frank to the methods of vetting immigrants is both dishonest and cheapening a great moral legacy. If you are using the march on Selma to religiously validate your views on the minimum wage, shame on you.

6. Many people privately ask about my political views and I’m happy to answer. But not from the bimah. As a rabbi, my task is to bless, to teach values and texts and ideas and rituals, to comfort, to cajole, to listen and learn, to grow in spirit along with my congregants, to usher them through the transitions of life, to create a cohesive community, to defend the people and land of Israel, and to reinforce what most matters. The great questions of life are not usually political ones. When political questions do arise, the rabbi should clarify the Jewish values involved and expect congregants to decide which candidates and policies best fulfill those values. Aren’t there enough disastrous examples in the world where clergy set public policy for us to be humble about our political wisdom?


David Wolpe is the Max Webb Senior Rabbi at Sinai Temple. His most recent book is “David: The Divided Heart” (Yale University Press).

A view of the KAM Isaiah Israel Synagogue in 2013. Photo by Raymond Boyd/Getty Images

More synagogues are phasing out mandatory dues


“Voluntary dues” may sound like an oxymoron, but the idea soon may be coming to a synagogue near you.

According to a new study by the UJA-Federation of New York, the number of non-Orthodox synagogues nationwide that have eliminated fixed annual dues has more than doubled in the past two years. Instead of charging a set membership fee, these synagogues are telling congregants to pay what they want — and they’re succeeding.

The nearly 60 Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist synagogues that have stopped charging mandatory dues are just a small percentage of the country’s 1,500 or so Conservative and Reform synagogues. But the number is more than twice the 26 synagogues that had voluntary dues as of 2015. On average, the synagogues reported increases in both membership and total revenue since they switched to the voluntary model. They join nearly 1,000 Chabad centers in North America that always have worked on the voluntary model.

According to the report, the synagogues adopted the new model due to a mix of financial and values-based reasons. Synagogue members appeared increasingly reluctant to pay mandatory dues after the 2008 financial crisis, and a pay-what-you-can system was more appealing to families with less spare cash.

In addition, the report said mandatory dues may have alienated families that want to feel unconditionally welcomed at synagogue or who may have felt uncomfortable explaining to a board why they couldn’t pay the full fee. Engaging members with voluntary dues has caused synagogues to build relationships with congregants so they feel invested in the synagogue, as opposed to feeling obligated to pay an annual bill. The model, according to the report, also drives synagogues to increase financial transparency, so members know what they’re paying for.

“The existing model is no longer really aligning with the values and culture of the synagogue,” said Adina Frydman, executive director of Synergy, a division of the New York federation that advises synagogues on strategy and produced the report. “The process of asking for a [dues] adjustment becomes all about the money, as opposed to ‘you are a member of this congregation and community.’ ”

Of the 57 synagogues included in the report, more than half are Reform, while about a third are Conservative. The remainder are either Reconstructionist or unaffiliated. None is Orthodox. Most have between 100 and 500 “member units” — families or individuals who belong.

While the synagogues don’t charge a fixed fee, many do indicate a “sustaining level” donation — the average amount the synagogue needs from each member unit to reach its goal. On average, the synagogues reported increases of 3.6 percent in total membership and 1.8 percent in dues. What that means is that more total money is coming in from more people but the average annual membership contribution has fallen.

At the Conservative Temple Israel of Sharon, Mass., in suburban Boston, which adopted the voluntary model in 2008 because of the recession, revenue and membership have remained steady. But only about 45 percent of members pay dues at or above the sustaining level — a bit above the average of 38 percent across the 57 synagogues.

“The original goals of switching to this system, creating a model that was financially welcoming and sustainable for both the synagogue and our membership, continue to be met,” Benjamin Maron, Temple Israel’s executive director, wrote in one of the report’s case studies. “In other ways, however, challenges have grown over the last few years. While our membership has grown, the overall income from our voluntary dues has not.”

The 57 synagogues are still less than 5 percent of the country’s Conservative and Reform synagogues, but Frydman believes the number will continue to grow. About 100 synagogues tuned in via livestream to a recent conference on the report.

Studies suggest that millennials are less inclined to become members of old institutions. Jack Wertheimer, a history professor at the Jewish Theological Seminary, said that free Jewish programs like Birthright — the 10-day trip to Israel for young adults — get young Jews used to the idea of no- and low-cost Jewish services.

“We’re living in a time when some Jews don’t want to pay anything to go to synagogue and benefit from synagogue,” Wertheimer said. “We’re living in a time today when institutions are held suspect and also seen as rather cold and distant. This whole idea of membership dues reinforces that point.”

Why aren’t Orthodox synagogues adopting the model?

Wertheimer and Frydman suggested that because Orthodox Jews view prayer as mandatory, the obligation carries over to synagogue membership. Even so, Frydman’s office is embarking on a study of young Orthodox Jewish professionals on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, who often bounce between a few synagogues rather than sticking to one and becoming a member of it.

One large Orthodox organization that doesn’t charge dues, however, is Chabad, whose centers worldwide rely entirely on voluntary donations. While that means the emissaries who run the Chasidic movement’s outreach efforts spend a significant amount of time fundraising, Chabad spokesman Rabbi Motti Seligson said it also removes a barrier to participation in Jewish life — and forces Chabad centers to run programs people want.

“This isn’t a technique or a model that’s devised through a focus group,” Seligson said. “This is about what’s at the [movement’s] core, which is love of Israel.”

Chabad emissary couples, he added, “are not living in an ivory tower. They’re beholden to the community that they’re serving. They need to actually be serving the community.”

While Frydman emphasized that UJA-Federation does not endorse any one dues model, she said the voluntary model is appealing to some synagogues because it ensures that the synagogue has an active relationship with its congregants.

“They’re cultivating the relationship so that people feel a connection, enough to want to be a part of something bigger,” she said. “It’s about that the synagogue should take the time to ensure that they know all the members, that they understand what people are looking for.”

How to make blintzes: A video tutorial


 

FOR THE BLINTZES:

– 1 cup flour
– 2 tbsp. sugar
– 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
– 1/2 tsp. salt
– 3 eggs
– 1 1/4 cups whole milk
– 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

FOR THE FILLING:

– 1 lb. ricotta cheese, at room temperature
– 2 tbsp sour cream or mascarpone
– 3 egg yolks
– 3 tbsp. sugar
– 1/2 tsp. lemon zest
– 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

1.  Combine crepe batter ingredients in blender or bowl and mix until smooth.  Let rest a half hour.

2.  Combine filling ingredients in mixer or bowl and blend until smooth. (Use good quality ricotta.  If very moist, drain in cheesecloth-lined colander; set inside pan for a few hours or overnight in refrigerator)

3.  Heat a non-stick crepe pan or 8 inch skillet.  Rub with oil or butter.  Add ¼ cup batter and tilt pan to spread batter thin.  Cook until set then flip.  Cook until dry, then turn out onto plate.  Repeat until all the batter is used.

4.  Spread 2 or 3 tbsp. of filling along bottom of crepe.  Roll up into a cylinder, tucking ends in before you finish rolling. Repeat until all the crepes are filled.

5.  Heat one tbsp. vegetable oil in a skillet, Add crepes 2-3 at a time and cook on each side until golden. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and fresh berries.

Makes 10–12

 

 

 

Not pictured: freezer burn. Photo by Tess Cutler

Frozen blintzes are for cowards, so here’s how to make them from scratch


Don’t get me wrong. I have at least four boxes of (Streit’s?) cheese blintzes gathering a third layer of permafrost in my freezer right now. I bought them before the glatt marts could jack up the prices because this is not my first go-round, folks. This is my life.

However! I do not expect to unpackage them this holiday. Or, perhaps, ever. That is because after making my own blintzes with the following recipe I have settled on the conclusion that frozen blintzes are for cowards. You can whip up a batch homemade so easily that to buy the little kosher hot pockets from the store would be to impugn—nay, swear off—your integrity in the kitchen.

Not to mention that the frozen kind never cook evenly and don’t taste that great to begin with. Have I ever had a positive frozen blintz experience? The short answer is no. The long answer is, has anyone? Nothing like biting into a blackened potatoey crust that you are certain is cooked all the way, only for the cool dispassion of stubborn icicles to greet you in the interior. Come on now. Let’s just make them from scratch.

First: go shopping!

Here’s what you need that you might not have: good ricotta cheese, sour cream, a lemon, and blueberries. (I take it you have vanilla.) Everything else is below:

You will need:

…for the crepes

1 cup flour
2 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp salt
3 eggs
1.25 cups whole milk
1 tbsp vegetable oil

…for the filling

1 lb ricotta cheese (get the good stuff)
3 tbsp sour cream or mascarpone
2 egg yolks
3 tbsp sugar
1/2 tsp lemon zest
1/2 tsp vanilla extract

…for the win

hella blueberries
a tablespoon (or less!) of sugar

Also get out: a big round frying pan, a saucepan, a mixing bowl, a strainer and a stick of butter to play around with.

After you have all your ingredients together, start by making the crepe batter. Take all the ingredients from the first half and whisk them together in a bowl. This should be a relatively thin liquid, thin enough to drip off the whisk when you hold it over the bowl but thick enough that it doesn’t all run off immediately. Okay, now let it sit.

[The life hack here is to double this part of the recipe and save half the batter for breakfast, when you can cook up crepes any other way you like. Thank me later.]

Next, take a look at the ricotta. Is it good and wet, dripping like a baby fresh out the bathtub? In that case, let it towel off in a colander to drain some of that excess liquid. (You can also dry it out in the fridge.) We’re not trying to make soggy blintzes. That’s what Big Kosher wants us to do.

[It’s important, here that we’re pronouncing ricotta “ree-coatt-ah.” It enhances the taste, I guarantee it. Make sure to get that double ‘t’ sound.]

When the ricotta is ready and at room temperature, combine the filling ingredients in a separate bowl and blend until smooth. You should have a nice, heavy whip going.

Okay, now you’re ready to make the crepes!

Heat a non-stick crepe pan or 8 inch skillet.  Grab that stick o’ butter and slather the pan with it. The pan should froth about it as you are merely teasing the main event. So, deep breath at this point. Next is the part where you showcase your elegance and prove your worth as a chef: pour about a quarter-cup of batter into the frying pan as you tilt the pan to spread the batter thin. You’re making broad, thin circles here, about seven or eight inches in diameter.

It should cook in a flash — no more than twenty seconds on each side if your pan is hot enough. Throw it on a plate to cool and repeat. Make a bunch of these and kill the batter, unless you wisely doubled the recipe for later, in which case kill half of it.

All set? Now take the action to the countertop. Spread a crepe out onto a flat surface (cutting board is fine), and drop a couple of tablespoons’ worth of filling into the bottom third of the crepe. Don’t worry about spreading it out—it’s easier to roll up into a lil’ burrito this way. Roll the bottom flap over the filling and tuck it under, then fold over the side leaves, then roll the whole thing forward like a sleeping bag. Honestly, just make a lil’ burrito. Repeat until all the crepes are filled.

Now heat up that pan and smother it with butter again. (Hey, diets don’t count on chag!) Throw your Hungarian blintzes on there 2-3 at a time and cook on each side until golden. Then you’re done.

Oh yeah! Blueberry sauce: take all those blueberries, throw them in a pot, and throw some sugar on top of it, and then just cook it until you get this oozing pot of succulence that looks like it does on the frozen box of Streit’s blintzes. That takes like 10 minutes? Tops.

I have no idea how many this makes because I eat them as I go. Rob, whose recipe this is, says it’s good for about a dozen. Happy Shavuot!

Edited to add: this recipe makes about eight blintzes.

My London Life


I have been spending a lot of time in London over the past year and I love it here. I am sitting in my room, looking out the window as the sun is desperate to break though, watching people walk past, and feeling very happy. This city is alive and hopeful and even though there is palpable stress and fear, my soul is at peace here. On many levels, and for many reasons, it feels like London is home.

To clarify, home is ultimately where my son is, so with him in London with me this week, it truly is home. We have had a terrific time and he feels the same way in London that I do. It is a great city, with great people, namely our friends J and S, who I have written about often, and call Victoria and David Beckham. They are wonderful human beings and we truly love them and their children.

We spent last night at the Beckham Castle and I slept like a baby. I have not slept well since I got to Engalnd because internal clock has been screwed up due to all my traveling. I went from Los Angeles, to London, to Los Angeles, to Las Vegas, to Los Angeles, to Toronto, to Los Angeles, to Melbourne, to Los Angeles, to London, all in 10 days. Sleep has been elusive, last night however, I slept like a baby.

I went to bed at 10:00 pm and was Sleeping Beauty for a divine 9 hours. I don’t worry about anything when I am there, and that peace invites sleep because I’m very comfortable and happy there. Today my son is at Wembley stadium with the oldest Beckham son, watching two football teams compete to get into the Premiere League. It makes me happy when these two young men hang out.

My son spent the past week on holiday in Greece and Italy. He went on his own and it was a great adventure. It takes courage to travel on your own and his bravery inspires me. (To be clear, it also scares the crap out of me!) I am seeing my son in a new light following his trip. He has grown up somehow and it is exciting. He is 21, and will always be my baby, but he is also an amazing man.

Tomorrow I am going to take my favorite person on the planet to Paris. We’ll spend a glorious day walking around, seeing the sights, and eating the perfection that is French cuisine. It has been over 30 years since I was last in Paris, and to take my son there for his first time is special. We’ll be there for 28 hours, so will jam pack as much as we can into our day and I hope it doesn’t rain!

I love my London life and being here has allowed me to have my son come over and see parts of the world he has wanted to visit since he was little. He always wanted to see the world and it is an honor to watch his face as tells me about what he has seen and done. He is a remarkable child and being even a small part of his dreams coming true is the greatest gift I can receive as his mother.

Israel is home because I was born there and it is where my parents met and fell in love. Canada is home because it is where I grew up and where my family is. Los Angeles is home because my son was born there and it is where he is building his life. London is home because it makes me comfortable and happy. I’m a lucky girl to feel connected to so many places. I’m grateful and keeping the faith.

Amelia Saltsman’s silan recipe for Shavuot


SILAN

Results will vary depending on how dry the dates are and the variety used. Unfortunately, deglet noor dates, the most commonly available variety, produce beet-red silan and honey dates turn purple when cooked. You can halve the amount of dates and cut your prep time, but I don’t recommend multiplying the amount unless you’ve got extra hands to help.

– 2 pounds dates, such as barhi, medjool or khadrawy
– Water

Soak: Place dates in a large bowl. Add water to the bowl to cover dates by one inch, about 6 cups for 2 pounds of dates. Cover bowl and set aside, away from direct sunlight, to soak at least 4 hours or overnight.

Cook: Lift dates out of soaking liquid and shred them with your fingers. Place them, along with the pits, into a wide pot. Stir in 4 cups fresh water. Bring to gentle boil, uncovered, over medium heat, about 10 minutes. At this point, the tan-colored mixture will start to thicken. Skim off any scum that rises to the top. Reduce heat to medium-low and cook, stirring occasionally, until most of the liquid has been absorbed and the date mixture has reduced by about one-third, is shiny, thick and jamlike, and its color has deepened to a medium brown, about 50 minutes longer. As the mixture thickens, after about 40 minutes, stir more frequently to prevent sticking. Remove date mixture from heat and cool.

Extract: Place a strainer over a large bowl and place a nut-milk or jelly bag in the strainer. Transfer some of the cooked date mixture into the bag. Drain date “juice” into the bowl, wringing the bag to extract all liquids from the date solids. Discard solids and repeat with remaining dates, working in batches. You’ll have about 4 cups of bland “date juice.”

Reduce: Place date juice and 1/2 cup fresh water in a medium pot. Starting over medium heat, bring to a good simmer; reduce heat as needed to keep liquid at a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally, until reduced by more than half to a deep brown rich-tasting syrup the consistency of honey, about 1 hour, stirring more frequently to prevent scorching as the syrup thickens. The silan is ready if it stays parted briefly when you run a spatula through the pot. (If it has thickened too much, turning almost taffy-like, stir in 1/4 cup water, and cook briefly.) Turn off the heat. The silan will continue to thicken as it cools.

Pour into clean jars, cover tightly, and store at room temperature away from sunlight. The silan will keep at least 4 to 6 weeks, although complex flavors may flatten over time and sugars crystalize. Heat silan briefly to dissolve crystals.

Makes about 2 cups silan.

TOASTED NUT AND SILAN SQUARES

Toasted nut and silan squares

These chewy bar cookies taste better the day after they’re baked and keep well for several days.

– 1 cup walnuts or pecans
– 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
– 1/2 cup all-purpose flour
– 1/2 cup (1 stick) cold butter, cut into 1/4- to 1/2 -inch pieces, plus 2 tablespoons butter, cut into small pieces
– 3 tablespoons sugar
– 1/4 tsp salt
– 1/2 cup silan
– 1 tablespoon water
– 1 teaspoon lemon juice

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Place nuts on sheet pan and toast in oven until fragrant and lightly browned, 7 to 10 minutes. Set aside to cool.

Make the crust: In a mixing bowl, toss together the flours, 1 stick of butter, sugar and salt. Using your fingers or a pastry cutter, crumble the ingredients together to the texture of coarse cornmeal. Pour mixture into 8-inch-square pan and gently press evenly over bottom and partway up the sides of the pan, giving extra attention to where the bottom meets the side of the pan to keep thickness even. Bake until light golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from oven and gently smooth the crust with the back of a soup spoon to seal any cracks, pushing gently along sides if crust has slumped during baking.

While the crust is baking, prepare filling. Place silan, remaining 2 tablespoons butter, water, lemon and pinch of salt into heatproof or microwavable bowl (I like to use a 1-quart glass liquid measuring cup). Heat in microwave just until butter melts, 30 to 45 seconds, or place bowl in a pot of simmering water just until butter melts. Stir to blend.

Chop nuts and stir them and any “nut dust” into silan mixture. Pour filling evenly over crust. Return pan to oven and bake until edges of crust are golden brown and filling is bubbling and thickened, about 20 minutes. Filling will continue to set as it cools. Cool several hours or overnight before cutting into squares. Store covered at room temperature up to four days and refrigerate up to six.

Makes 16 2-inch squares

SPICY SWEET GRILLED ROOTS AND TUBERS WITH SILAN,
HARISSA AND SHANKLISH

Spicy Sweet Grilled Roots and Tubers With Silan, Harissa and Shanklish. Photo by Tess Cutler

Use a mix of sweet potatoes, carrots and beets, or all of one kind of vegetable. Served with freekeh or rice and lentils, this makes a hearty vegetarian main course. For a vegan version, substitute tahini sauce for the shanklish. Accompany with pickled peppers, okra or onions. Note: If using red beets, keep them separate during preparation to avoid staining the other vegetables.

– 3/4 pound sweet potatoes
– 3/4 pound large carrots
– 3/4 pound tennis-ball-size beets
– 1/2 cup healthy oil, such as olive, avocado or safflower
– 1/4 cup silan
– 2 heaping tablespoons harissa
– 2 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
– 2 cups labneh
– 2 cloves garlic
– 2 tablespoons za’atar spice blend
– 1/2 to 1 teaspoon Aleppo, Maras or Urfa pepper
– Chopped parsley, cilantro or thyme leaves, optional
– Cooked freekeh or other grain, optional

Scrub or peel carrots and cut on the diagonal into largest possible oval slices, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick. Scrub sweet potatoes and cut lengthwise into 1/2-inch-thick wedges. Scrub beets and cut on diagonal into largest possible disks, 1/4- to 1/2-inch thick

Have a bowl filled with ice and water ready near the stove. Cook carrots in generously salted boiling water until their color brightens and carrots are slightly flexible, 2 minutes. Lift carrots out with a spider or slotted spoon and drop into the ice water bath to stop the cooking process and preserve color. Repeat with the sweet potato wedges. Lift carrots and potatoes out of ice bath and drain on cloth or paper towels. Repeat blanching process with beets and place on separate towel. Pat vegetables dry. Vegetables may be prepared a day ahead to this point and refrigerated covered.

Prepare the shanklish. Crush garlic through a press into the labneh and add za’atar and Aleppo pepper to taste. Stir vigorously to blend. Labneh may be prepared a day ahead and refrigerated.

Heat a gas or charcoal grill to medium. Place oil, silan, harissa and salt in a microwavable or heatproof bowl. Heat briefly in microwave oven or place bowl in a pot of simmering water to soften ingredients. Whisk to blend.

Toss silan mixture with vegetables to coat generously (toss red beets separately to prevent staining the other vegetables). Grill vegetables, reserving silan mixture, until nicely scored and tender, 4 to 6 minutes per side. Adjust heat or move vegetables to cooler part of grill as needed to avoid burning. As vegetables are done, return them to the remaining silan mixture and toss to coat.

Arrange vegetables on a platter, top with chopped herbs, if desired, and accompany with the shanklish. Vegetables may be grilled several hours ahead and served at room temperature. Serve warm or at room temperature and accompany with freekeh, if desired.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Amelia Saltsman's silan. Photo by Tess Cutler

In the land of milk and silan


The Bible drips with mentions of honey. There’s the Promised Land flowing with milk and honey; its symbolic use at Rosh Hashanah for a sweet new year; and at Shavuot, coming next week, to represent the sweetness of the gift of the Torah. And then there are those sensual lines in The Song of Songs: “Sweetness drops from your lips, O bride; honey and milk are under your tongue.”

But what sort of honey? Historians now believe that most biblical mentions of honey refer not to the golden nectar produced by bees, but to a syrup prepared from dates. This makes sense. Reducing bushels of dates — one of the revered seven biblical species — into amphorae of “honey” turns out to be a perfect preservation method. Not to mention, those long-lasting jars of the region’s first sweetener were immensely portable just in case of an expulsion, say, to Babylon.

[Recipe: Silan recipe for Shavuot]

Creating date honey, dibs in Arabic (also translated into English as date molasses or syrup), was, and is, a processing technique common to all date-growing regions of the Middle East and North Africa. For Jews, the culinary tradition is most associated with the Jews of Iraq (ah, Babylon), who spoke Judeo-Arabic. They called it silan, the term adopted into modern Hebrew.

According to Jewish food scholar Gil Marks, Iraqi silan-based charoset, halek in Judeo-Arabic, is the original “mortar,” a logical deduction, given the abundance of dates in early Jewish civilizations and the absence of apples. (The Ashkenazi apple-based version is a mere thousand or so years old.) Traditionally, silan was made once a year after the date harvest in early fall, giving dates and date honey first-fruit status at Rosh Hashanah.

Over the millennia, silan has never been out of production, whether at home or in date-syrup manufactories. (Date presses were found in the ruins at Qumran and elsewhere; modern Israeli commercial production didn’t begin until the early 1980s). The sweetener always has been highly regarded by locals for its antibacterial and antioxidant properties and thought to aid a variety of conditions, including lowering blood pressure and enhancing sexual prowess.

With today’s growing interest in Middle Eastern cuisines, silan is having a well-deserved moment. The ancient recipe is pretty much the same one used today: one ingredient plus water subjected to four basic techniques in sequence — soaking, cooking, extracting and reducing — that require no kitchen inventions beyond fire. The result is something of a miracle: silky smooth, rich brown that glows auburn when the light catches it, and complex notes of deep caramel, citrus and even coffee revealed through long, slow cooking. And, once upon a time I imagine, there were hints of smoke as the date extract slowly reduced over live embers.

I wanted in. I needed to join the ancient lineage of cooks in a process little changed by modern technology. My fascination with silan began with my paternal grandmother, Rachel Yochanan Ben-Aziz, who came from many generations in Iraq before she, my grandfather Ezekiel, and six of their seven children, among them my father, immigrated to the British Mandate of Palestine in the early 1930s. Although I learned a lot about Iraqi cooking from Safta Rachel during our visits to Israel and hers to us in Los Angeles, I somehow missed the bit about silan until after she had died.

A few years ago, my cousin told me about our safta’s delicious silan-and-toasted-pecan charoset. I immediately added it to our Passover traditions, using ready-made syrup I bought at the Iranian market in my neighborhood. Then, one day, my Aunt Hanna let slip that safta used to make her own silan. Wait, what?!?

I had little to go on. From Hanna, I knew only that my grandmother had soaked a lot of dates in water and enlisted her nephews to vigorously wring, that is, extract, the “juice.” Initial research in cookbooks and online didn’t offer much more. In fact, I discovered some pretty wild attempts to re-create silan, including the addition of copious amounts of sugar. This would have been unlikely in the original process, since, at 60- to 80-percent sugar, dates were the regional source for sugar production, not sugar cane or beets. And besides, how would my grandmother have had access to all that sugar in those early lean years in Israel? My guess is that the use of cane sugar is a modern shortcut to thick syrup, and that the missing ingredients lost through the years were a couple of steps plus time and patience.

But, the misguided sugar shortcut offers clues. Because date solids are very dense, water must be introduced to release the sugar, resulting in diluted flavor. A second step was needed — cooking the soaked pulp — to begin reconcentrating the sugars and start caramelization.

Then, using what I know about making clear caramel syrup by slowly heating, melting and reducing cane sugar with a little water to keep it liquified, I applied those principles to Safta Rachel’s extracted “date juice.” That was it; a slow reduction was the fourth and final step to gorgeous silan.

So, not exactly a recipe. Just four rudimentary techniques that ask a cook to slow down, pay attention and develop a feel for the process. Making silan never ceases to surprise me. I’ve learned something new with every batch I’ve made these past few months. I suspect it will always be thus. Perhaps by the time I will have been at it as long as my grandmother was, I’ll be OK with that.

Amelia Saltsman

Here’s what you need to know about making silan at home. It requires a lot of dates. Two pounds net a scant two cups of syrup, which is actually an ample amount of honey. Any number of date varieties will work, such as barhi, medjool, halawy or khadrawy. Each imparts its own color and flavor characteristics to the finished silan, and each particular batch of dates affects the cooking time and final yield, depending on how fibrous or dried it is. Avoid the deglet noor variety, the most commonly available cultivar; it changes color when exposed to heat and yields beet-red silan. And the honey date variety, I learned from Chef Jeremy Fox, turns purple when cooked.

Start soaking the dates the night before you want to make silan, and figure on a half day of intermittent work to finish. There’s not a lot of active work other than the extraction step; plan on puttering around the house as the dates cook, cool and reduce in turn.

Invest in a nut-milk bag to simplify the extraction step, but don’t bother to spend money on pitted dates or take time to pit them, since you’ll discard all the date solids anyway. The uncracked pits may even add flavor — there’s a traditional date-pit coffee substitute made from roasted and ground seeds.

The syrup is rather forgiving. If you’ve reduced it too far and it’s turning into taffy, stir in a little water and cook briefly to restore. After you pour the finished silan into jars, deglaze the pot with water for a small, second round of thin silan that is the cook’s reward.

And here’s what you should do with silan. Drizzle over almond butter or tahini and toast for a breakfast of champions. Spoon over thick yogurt or vanilla ice cream and top with strawberries, bananas or orange segments, and chopped nuts (a little crumbled halvah couldn’t hurt). Use silan instead of molasses or brown sugar in pies and cookies. Mix it with harissa for a spicy-sweet mop for grilled vegetables. When served with shanklish — a Lebanese way with labneh with za’atar and garlic — and the green wheat known as freekeh — “new ears parched with fire” — this main dish becomes a Shavuot homage to both milk and honey and the spring wheat harvest we’ve been so anxiously awaiting.

Ready-Made Silan

Let’s get real. Silan is too wonderful and versatile to enjoy only when you have time to make your own. Ready-made silan is a fantastic convenience condiment to have in one’s pantry — if you buy a good-quality one. Now you know to look for those that contain dates and nothing else (some ingredient lists include water; some don’t). Various brands have long been available at Middle Eastern, Iranian and Israeli markets. Silan has gone mainstream enough to show up at Whole Foods and other high-end supermarkets; Date Lady, an American brand selling imported silan, is the most commonly found. My favorite commercial Israeli brand is Kinneret Farm, the country’s largest producer of high-quality silan. It is available online at makoletonline.com and on Amazon. I haven’t yet found it on grocery shelves in the Los Angeles area.

Visiting Springfield, Illinois: The Land of Lincoln and other Americana


People have preconceived notions and prejudices that prevent them from seeing cool places and interesting things in life. I grew up in Illinois. Back in the day, at least, all the public schools brought their students around 8th grade to Springfield, Illinois – the place where Abraham Lincoln lived in the only home he ever bought, practiced law, ran for office and eventually was buried. But I went to a private school that was more concerned with us reciting La Marseilles in perfect French, than seeing a Presidential library and museum in our own state. Later, when I moved south of the Mason-Dixon Line, I saw many battlefields of the Civil War. They’re extremely popular. But for some reason, people don’t talk about visiting Springfield . . . and they’re really missing out.

Getting there: I took a very modestly priced Amtrak from Chicago’s Union Station. Chicago is a big train hub, so you’re likely to be at the beginning of a long haul trip, with classic sleeper cars, full service dining cars with freshly made food, observation decks, ladies’ lounges. Along the way, you see what others ignorantly refer to as “flyover country,” including the funny stadium for the Frontier League Joliet Slammers. Another way you can go: drive or ride. The famous Route 66 goes right through the center of town.

Where to stay: High atop “Aristocracy Hill” sits an inn — Inn at 835 — that used to serve as apartments for movers and shakers and indeed, still features long-term residences for them. After all, Springfield is Illinois’ capital; legislators from here have gone far up the political ladder. The place was conceived and designed over 100 years ago by a high-society florist. It’s still very grand! Rooms are very spacious, some with a butler’s pantry filled with books, Jacuzzi with heat lamp, four-poster bed, gorgeous antiques. Wine and cheese is left out for guests downstairs, but they bring cookies in a basket to your door at night. They provide a free shuttle from the Amtrak station until 8:30 pm.

What to do: See how Lincoln and his family actually lived at the Lincoln Home, a national historic site. He expanded the premises as his success and prosperity grew. The Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum is simply outstanding! I started out at its fantastic gift shop. The museum’s permanent exhibit takes you through life-sized recreations of his log cabin home, his law office, and political ascent. Walk through the whispering gallery of political sniping from both ends of the spectrum – just like elections today! – and nasty gossip against Mary Todd Lincoln. Feel yourself attending the play at Ford’s Theater. We all know how it ends . . . but I wasn’t prepared for the stunning majesty of the darkened recreation of the closed casket in the Representatives Hall in Springfield’s Old State Capitol. Today, we are reminded that Lincoln’s catafalque was lent by Congress for Justice Scalia’s funeral.

Of course, there’s no substitute for the real thing. President Lincoln is buried at Oak Ridge Cemetery. Also in town is his law office, which had a business-friendly location by the courthouse and right on what is now Route 66.

Edwards Place is the oldest remaining structure in Springfield. The Edwards were Illinois’ most powerful political family, with one serving as the first Governor when Illinois became a state after serving as Kentucky’s Chief Justice on the Court of Appeals. Illinois was originally settled mostly by Kentuckians and this family crossed the Ohio River with their slaves. Another Edwards was the first person born in Illinois to graduate from Yale. Their home is beautifully restored, with many interesting archeological finds.

Art and architecture enthusiasts will be fascinated with the Dana-Thomas house, an early example of Frank Lloyd Wright’s design. At the time, Wright was young and not as well known enough to totally impose his will upon homeowners, but he managed to ink some covenants. The lady of the house had enough money and social clout to include some of her Art Nouveau era preferences, so the fusion here is one-of-a-kind.

Springfield has a cute, thriving main street. There are several quality antique stores; Abe’s Old Hat has several rooms, each with its own specialty and vibe. Check out such Americana finds like feed sacks upcycled into men’s ties and cornbread scented candles.

A small town has got to consider itself sweet with two independently owned candy stores, both with Depression-era origins. Pease’s is older by a tad; their specialty is chocolates made to look like actual designer shoes! Del’s Popcorn Shop is now located next to the Lincoln-Herndon law office, with a real old-timey feel inside. They have all kinds of flavors of freshly popped corn, which feels like the perfect snack to crunch on in Illinois, plus it makes an inexpensive souvenir gift.

Where to eat: Obed & Isaac’s Microbrewery & Eatery is located in a rehabbed historic home, owned by direct descendants of neighbors of Abraham Lincoln. They brew the freshest beer in town and also have excellent locally made, fruit forward cider. Their growlers are so cute, with tributes to Lincoln and Route 66, I happily paid for plastic boxes and checked luggage to bring some cider home. They’ve got a real gastropub thing going, with highly flavorful offerings like spicy cheesy soup, an old family recipe for 15 spice chili and Scotch eggs.

D’Arcy’s Pint is an Irish pub that’s enormously popular. They serve bar food as well as the famous Springfield Horseshoe. Lots of cities have a beloved big sandwich, this is theirs. It’s generally slices of thick Texas toast, topped with meat, French fries and cheese sauce. You can get veggies or hotdogs on it . . . even Midwestern walleye!

American Harvest Eatery is a new restaurant little bit up the road from the state capital building, so it’s not quite run over by lobbyists yet. While still finding its footing when I was there, they have an admirable concept: using the foodstuffs of Illinois to re-create comfort food favorites.

I saw a Quonset in the middle of nowhere and wondered how it could be a restaurant. Well, Charlie Parker’s Diner is world-famous and has been featured on the Food Network many times! It’s a fun, 50’s party atmosphere with that kind of classic menu.

Anecdotally, I wondered in the land of farms if things like heirloom tomatoes, etc., were popular. It turns out, not so much: commercial agriculture earnings are so crucial, people aren’t playing around with specialized, small-yield crops here.

Abraham and Mary Todd Lincoln life-like figures at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Figures of the famous Lincoln-Douglas debate at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Recreation of the scene at Ford’s Theater at the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

President Abraham Lincoln’s tomb Photo by Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

 

Danny Corsun (right) leads a pre-Passover cooking class for the Cool Shul community on a recent weekend morning in Marina del Rey. Photo by Josh Marks

Danny Corsun cooks up holiday food for thought


The aromas of flour, olive oil, apples, basil, pomegranates and sun-dried tomatoes filled the kitchen as modern-day Jews, young and old, made matzo just as their ancient Israelite ancestors did in their haste out of Egypt on their journey to the Promised Land.

Members of Cool Shul, a Westside synagogue associated with the Jewish Universalism movement, participated in a recent pre-Passover cooking class in a private home in Marina del Rey, led by chef Danny Corsun from Culinary Kids Academy. In addition to matzo, the group of about 25 helped Corsun put together charoset and pesto.

“Somehow, some way, we can look at what we are being given in the Torah and use it as a guide on how to live our own lives,” Corsun explained before inviting the class to chop apples and knead dough. “So, what we do at Culinary Kids is, we take things that happened 3,500 years ago and show you that, actually, you can use this stuff today in 2017.”

Experiencing the biblical Exodus by making matzo is an example of how Culinary Kids and Cool Shul are creating a hands-on form of Judaism, what Corsun calls an attempt at making it personal.

“It’s a way for them to be involved in their Judaism where they’re not just sitting in front of a book or sitting in the sanctuary,” said Helen Nightengale, board president at Cool Shul.

Cool Shul has worked with Corsun before other holidays to use food as a teaching tool. Rabbi and Cantor Diane Rose, spiritual leader at Cool Shul, worked with Corsun during her previous stint at Beth Shir Shalom, a Reform synagogue in Santa Monica.

“We take things that happened 3,500 years ago and show you that, actually, you can do this stuff today in 2017.” — Danny Corsun, Culinary Kids Academy

“He’s the perfect way to do experiential education,” Rose said of Corsun’s cooking class. “Historically, he’s always done it with us with the kids, but there’s no reason why all the adults don’t need experiential Jewish education, as well, so it’s a really good partnership. All those adults signed up to come learn how to make matzo — it’s a Cool Shul family educational event.”

As the class began, children and adults gathered around Corsun as he demonstrated how to make matzo — take the flour; make a hole in the middle and add salt, olive oil and water; put the dough together; flatten the dough with a rolling pin; put it in a pan; stretch it, making it as flat as possible so it comes out thin and crispy; blast in a 500-degree oven for 18 minutes.

“We’re going to talk about a story today while the matzo is baking, but it’s about actually taking ownership,” Corsun said. “What we’re trying to do is make Judaism personal. I’m no longer doing it because my mother told me to. I’m no longer doing it because the rabbi tells me to. I’m doing it because I’m getting something out of it. This is actually informing my decisions on how I’m forming my life.” n

Michael Twitty eats olives in Machane Yehudah market in Jerusalem. Photo by Jacob W. Dillow

A taste of Black history and a side of Jewish culture


As an African-American Jew by choice, the esteemed author and culinary historian Michael Twitty considers Passover his favorite Jewish holiday. 

“Nothing pulls more at my heart than the songs and traditions and recipes … of the world’s oldest Emancipation ritual,” Twitty wrote on his blog, Afroculinaria. “There is also no other holiday where I feel more whole as an African-American who happens to be Jewish, thanks to the shared history of slavery leading to redemption and freedom.”

In two separate events at the Skirball Cultural Center on April 13, Twitty will share his life’s journey as well as Passover recipes that draw on his penchant for what he calls “kosher/soul.”

“It’s taking the foods of African and Jewish diasporic people and blending them together,” Twitty, 40, who lives outside of Washington, D.C., said during a recent telephone interview.

At the Skirball, he’ll whip up his West African brisket, seasoned with spices including ground ginger, paprika, cinnamon, chili powder and cayenne, then seared in olive oil before being baked atop sautéed onions.

For the seder, his hard boiled eggs are cooked in water steeped in hibiscus, accompanied by a salt water brine spiked with a touch of lavender and preserved lemon.

During seders past, Twitty has served sweet potato kugel, matzo-meal fried chicken, and an apple-rhubarb charoset.

He follows the Sephardic custom of eating legumes and rice during Passover, the latter a Carolina Gold version originally brought to the United States by enslaved Africans.

His Pesach table is graced with two distinct seder plates: one a traditional Ashkenazi version, the other influenced by African and African-American cuisine.  There is a collard green for the bitter herb maror, for example, as well as a molasses and pecan charoset.

Twitty noted that Passover often comes in April, which is the same month in 1865 that his enslaved forebears were freed after the Civil War. 

In Alabama, a great-great-grandmother was “liberated on that day from her particular labor camp called a plantation,” Twitty said.  A great-great-great-grandfather, Edward, born in 1839, had toiled on a tobacco plantation in Virginia. “One day my ancestor was hot, so he knelt by a creek and splashed some water on himself.  That’s when my Daddy saw the whip marks on his back,” Twitty said.

“For me, being Black was a great preparation for becoming Jewish,” Twitty added.  “When you are African-American, your antennae [for sensing trouble] are planted deep inside your skull.  It’s learning how to recognize and process prejudice.”

Twitty grew up in a nominally Christian home in the suburbs of Washington, D.C., where his grandparents had fled Southern racism during the Great Migration north almost a century ago.  “I didn’t like soul food, and I didn’t like being Black,” Twitty said in a 2016 TED talk of his early years.

But he slowly learned to appreciate his heritage, even as he was drawn to Judaism, first after watching the film adaptation of Chaim Potok’s novel “The Chosen” when he was 7. He promptly told his mother that he wanted to be Jewish, yet he was taken aback when she informed him that conversion would require him to have a second circumcision.

Even so, his interest in Judaism persisted, and Twitty continued to fall in love with the culture, especially through food, while hanging out with his Jewish friends’ grandmothers in the kitchen.

Years later, Twitty’s uncle, an avid genealogist, found that their family tree included distant relatives who were Jewish. A recent medical test revealed that Twitty’s own DNA features some Ukrainian Ashkenazi ancestry.

While researching Jewish cuisine for a festival in 2000 sponsored by the Smithsonian, Twitty learned to make challah from the prominent Jewish chef Joan Nathan. When he dropped by a Sephardic Orthodox synagogue in Maryland, in part to obtain recipes from the rebbitzen, a caterer, Twitty discovered a spiritual home. He converted to Judaism in an Orthodox ceremony in 2002 while he was in his early 20s.

Of why he was drawn to Judaism, Twitty said, “It’s a very realistic [spiritual] path. The Hebrew word for worship is ‘avodah,’ which is the same word for work. And prayer is actually ‘tefillah,’ which comes from the word ‘L’Hitpalel’ – to turn inside and examine yourself. It’s also a very humorous religion, where laughing at yourself is almost a 614th mitzvah,” he said, a reference to the 613 in the Torah. “Black culture,” he added, “also relies a lot on humor as a means of survival.”

As Twitty began teaching Jewish studies around Washington, however, not everyone in the community was welcoming. One fellow educator accused him of teaching his students to steal. Others told him he might be religiously Jewish, but could never be culturally Jewish.

“People often want to put me in a box,” he added of his diverse identities, which include his being gay. “But I try to be as unboxable as possible.”

Twitty’s work as a culinary historian includes research on how slaves helped to create Southern cuisine, as well as extensive interviews with Southern Jews about how their traditional recipes changed after their families settled down South (think gumbo and matzo ball soup).

A turning point for Twitty came in 2011, when he read a book, “In Memory’s Kitchen: A Legacy From the Women of Terezin,” filled with family recipes that had been written down by prisoners of the concentration camp. In doing so, the women were performing an act of defiance, preserving their heritage even while suffering.

“It dawned on me that the same thing could and should be done with the African-American connection to slavery: how we should connect to our food roots and use that as a means of preservation of our heritage and resistance against the narrative that says we should forget,” he said.

Twitty thereafter embarked upon what he tartly describes as his “Southern Discomfort Tour” to research his upcoming book, “The Cooking Gene: A Journey Through African-American Culinary History in the Old South,” due in stores in August. The book describes his odyssey retracing his African ancestors’ cuisine, including how he prepared food as slaves once did, on historic plantations and dressed in period garb; how he shared meals with both African-Americans and descendants of his family’s former slave masters; and how he taught kosher soul cooking classes at an Alabama synagogue.

Preparing historically accurate dishes on the very plantations where his ancestors had labored is another act of defiance, Twitty said.

“I wanted to reclaim those spaces for the people who were victimized and hurt there,” he said. That’s also why he believes that Auschwitz might be a good place to celebrate a bar mitzvah. “I want to look into the faces of those who would destroy, oppress, minimize and erase us and go, ‘You didn’t vaporize us — sorry,’ ” he said.

Twitty’s goal is to seek what he calls “culinary justice” for African-Americans, whose food was appropriated by white Southerners who refused to acknowledge its origin. “It’s [in part] about honoring the source,” he said. “Some [white] people who are on top may feel they have a certain amount of privilege and power, so they can freely access [African-American] culture. It’s not borrowing, it’s not quoting; it’s taking without giving credit. It’s theft and exploitation.”

Part of Twitty’s inspiration comes from the Reform, Reconstructionist and Jewish Renewal rabbis he’s known who are dedicated to social causes. “Culinary justice is a very Jewish concept to me,” he said.

MICHAEL TWITTY’S MATZO MEAL FRIED CHICKEN

This is a blend of old school, antebellum recipes with my own special kosher/soul touch.

– 1 teaspoon kosher salt
– 2 teaspoons Bell’s Poultry Seasoning
– 2 teaspoons coarse ground black pepper
– 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
– 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1 teaspoon (sweet) paprika
– 1/4 teaspoon allspice
– 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
– 2 kosher chickens, preferably fryers, cut into breast, wing, leg and thigh portions
– 4 eggs
– 3 cups matzo meal
– 3 cups per whole chicken kosher-for-Passover cooking oil or, if you are Sephardic like me, vegetable oil mixed with Crisco

Combine the salt and seasonings together in a bowl.

Wash chicken and pat dry. Season the chicken with the spice mixture and set aside for a few hours in the refrigerator.

Prepare the egg wash by beating eggs with a fork and mixing with a little water. Then prepare your station: The egg wash should be in a shallow dish and the matzo meal should be in a separate shallow dish.

Brush the chicken with the egg wash, then cover in matzo meal. Place the coated chicken pieces on a rack over a cookie sheet in the refrigerator to set. This will help keep the coating on. The chicken can sit for up to 30 minutes.

Heat the cooking oil in a frying pan until hot but not smoking, about 325 degrees or so. Follow the rules of frying chicken: Ease the pieces into the frying pan or Dutch oven. Do not crowd the pan. Remember dark pieces take a bit longer to achieve doneness. Seasoning the coating is a no-no because some herbs and spices will burn in the coating. Adding more chicken will cool the oil, so adjust accordingly.

Fry around 8 minutes each side and turn to brown all around another 4 minutes per piece. Use your best judgment — crispy and golden brown on the outside doesn’t mean done on the inside. To test, you should aim for 160 degrees or above for white meat and 175 degrees or above for dark meat. The appearance of the chicken and the doneness of the meat inside are the two factors you have to balance when frying chicken. There is no exact formula, so have oil and meat thermometers handy, and use your eyes, ears and nose to do the rest of the work. Use tongs, not a fork, to deal with the chicken.

When the pieces are done, transfer them to a clean rack over paper towels on a cookie sheet. Want to get rid of more oil? After 5 minutes, transfer to a plate or basket or bowl with paper towels, just don’t do this when they come out of the pan fresh it will affect the crust.

Makes 8 servings.

Source: afroculinaria.com

For more information about Michael Twitty’s appearances at the Skirball Cultural Center on April 13, visit skirball.org.

Recipes: Around the world on a magic charoset ride


The holiday of Passover, which celebrates the liberation of the Jews from slavery, is a time when families all over the world gather to retell the story of freedom. Customs vary, but during the Passover seder, certain ceremonial foods always are served.

One of the mainstays of the seder plate is charoset, usually a mixture of fruit, nuts, wine and spices. This mixture is chopped and ground together to resemble the mortar that was used by the Jews when they were slaves in Egypt. 

Depending on the ingredients available, it is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world. Many people are familiar with the central European version, which consists of apples, walnuts, raisins, cinnamon and wine. Israeli charoset, on the other hand, may include peanuts, bananas, apples, dates, wine and a little matzo meal.

During a recent trip to Cuba, we discovered that because the country is so poor, fruit and nuts are not easily available, but the Cuban Jews have adapted by using a simple mixture of matzo and wine for their charoset. Yemenite charoset is made with dates and dried figs and is spiced with coriander and chilies.

Many years ago, we decided to prepare a variety of charoset for our evening seder, and it has since become a tradition. In order for our guests to know what they are tasting, we serve each kind on a plate with the flag of its country of origin. As part of the fun, we also invented a California charoset, an original family recipe that combines oranges, raisins, avocado and prunes.

At the end of the meal, we serve several types of charoset for dessert. I always make extra Yemenite charoset balls and dip them in melted chocolate as a special treat. They can be made ahead, arranged on plates, covered with plastic wrap and refrigerated until ready to serve. Just make sure to have a few extra for Elijah!

YEMENITE CHAROSET

– 1 cup pitted dates, chopped
– 1/2 cup dried figs, chopped
– 1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
– 1 teaspoon ground ginger
– Pinch of coriander
– 1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced, or pinch of cayenne
– 2 tablespoons matzo meal
– 3 tablespoons sesame seeds

In a large bowl, combine the dates, figs and wine. Add the ginger, coriander, minced red chili pepper and matzo meal and blend thoroughly. Add sesame seeds and roll into 1-inch balls.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 20 balls.

GREEK CHAROSET

– 2 cups pitted dates
– 1/2 cup raisins
– 1/2 cup sweet Passover wine
– 1 cup walnuts, ground
– 1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

Place the dates and raisins in a bowl and blend with the wine. Add the walnuts and ginger and blend well. Shape into a pyramid.
Makes 2 1/2 to 3 cups.

TURKISH CHAROSET

– 1/2 cup dried apricots
– 2 cups apples, peeled, cored and sliced
– 1/2 cup pitted dates
– Juice of 1 lemon
– 1 cup walnuts, chopped

In a small saucepan, combine the apricots, apples, dates, lemon juice and enough water to cover the mixture. Cook until tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Drain and mash with a fork, blending thoroughly. Mix in the walnuts. Spoon into a serving bowl or roll into balls.

Makes about 2 cups or 24 balls.

CENTRAL EUROPEAN CHAROSET

– 2 apples, unpeeled, cored and finely chopped
– 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
– 2 tablespoons honey
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup sweet Passover wine

Combine the apples, walnuts, honey and cinnamon in a bowl and mix well. Add enough wine to bind the mixture. Serve in a bowl or roll into 1-inch balls and arrange on a serving plate.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups or about 20 balls.

ISRAELI CHAROSET

– 2 apples, peeled, cored and chopped
– 2 bananas, chopped
– Juice and zest of 1/2 lemon
– Juice and zest of 1/2 orange
– 15 dates, pitted and chopped
– 1/2 cup peanuts or pistachio nuts, ground
– 1 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup sweet Passover wine
– 5 tablespoons matzo meal

In a large bowl, combine the apples, bananas, lemon and orange juice and zests, dates and peanuts and mix well. Add the cinnamon, wine and matzo meal and blend thoroughly.

Makes 3 1/2 cups.

CALIFORNIA CHAROSET

– 1 large avocado, peeled, pit removed and diced
– Juice of 1/2 lemon
– 1/2 cup sliced almonds
– 1/3 cup raisins
– 4 seedless dates
– 2 figs or prunes
– 1 whole orange, zest and sections
– 2 tablespoons apple juice
– 2 tablespoons matzo meal

Toss the avocado and lemon juice in a bowl; set aside.

In a processor or blender, place the almonds, raisins, dates and figs. Process until coarsely chopped. Add the orange zest and orange sections and process briefly to combine. Add the avocado and process 1 or 2 seconds more. Transfer the mixture to a glass bowl and gently fold in the apple juice and matzo meal. Cover with plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator.

Makes about 3 cups.

SEPHARDIC CHAROSET
(Island of Rhodes)

– 1/2 cup dates, pitted
– 2 cups apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
– 1/2 cup dried apricots
– 1/2 cup walnuts, chopped

In medium saucepan, combine the dates, apples and dried apricots. Add enough water to cover. Over high heat, bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer until the mixture is tender enough to mash with a fork. Place the mixture in a processor and process, turning on and off the processor until the mixture is blended. Do not puree. Just before serving, fold in the walnuts.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups.

ITALIAN CHAROSET

– 2 apples, unpeeled, cored and coarsely chopped
– 6 dates, finely chopped
– 1 hard-boiled egg, finely chopped
– 1/2 cup almonds, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup walnuts, finely chopped
– 1/4 cup raisins, finely chopped
– Juice of 1 lemon
– 1 to 2 tablespoons matzo meal

In a large bowl, combine the apples, dates, egg, almonds, walnuts and raisins and blend thoroughly. Add the lemon juice and enough matzo meal to bind the mixture. Mound the charoset in a bowl or roll it into 1-inch balls and arrange on a plate.

Makes about 2 1/2 cups or 20 balls.

PERSIAN CHAROSET

– 1 pear, unpeeled, cored and finely chopped
– 1 apple, unpeeled, cored and finely chopped
– 1 cup walnuts, finely chopped
– 1 cup almonds, finely chopped
– 1 cup hazelnuts, finely chopped
– 1 cup pistachio nuts, finely chopped
– 1 cup dates, chopped
– 1 cup raisins, chopped
– 2 teaspoons ground ginger
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
– 1 to 2 tablespoons sweet Passover wine

In a large bowl, combine the pear, apple, walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachio nuts, dates and raisins. Mix well. Add the ginger, cinnamon, vinegar and enough wine to bind the mixture. Transfer to a platter, shape into a pyramid, cover with plastic wrap and chill well.

Makes 5 cups


JUDY ZEIDLER is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Group Of Friends Meeting For Lunch In Coffee Shop

What Are The Most Nutritious Foods You Could Eat?


You cannot eat everything that you want during a day. There are limitations and whoever is really serious about health and especially nutrition will be really careful to maximize the calories that are consumed every single day. Whether you want to start a tough challenge like the Ultimate one-month leg workout or you just want to lose some weight, knowing what to eat is vital. The foods below are among the most nutritious you can eat and that are widely accessible in supermarkets. Consider them to improve your nutrition.

Salmon

People always say that you should eat more fish but not all fish is actually great. Salmon is the best because of the high Omega 3 content. At the same time, there is a high amount of vitamins and vital minerals present. This includes Selenium, B-vitamins, Potassium and Magnesium. Generally, you want to cook meals with fatty fish around one time per week. Salmon is always recommended as the best choice because of the extra nutrients.

Kale

People from all around the world only now realize the advantages of consuming healthy leafy greens. Out of this group of foods, kale is the best possible option. It includes bioactive compounds, antioxidants, fibers, minerals, and vitamins. The main vitamins you get are K1, A and C, together with 3 protein grams, just 50 calories per 100 grams of kale and 2 fiber grams. According to specialists, kale is even healthier than the more popular spinach. That is mainly because of the lower oxalates content.

Seaweed

Sea vegetation is so much better than what many think at the moment. Seaweed practically includes thousands of species. Many of these are highly nutritious. They are even better than most of the vegetables you would eat on a daily basis. Minerals like Manganese, Magnesium, and Calcium are found in high quantities and the best advantage is offered in the bioactive compounds present. There are some antioxidants with really strong anti-inflammatory properties present in seaweed. To make matters even better, seaweed includes high quantities of iodine, which is lacking in many diets.

Garlic

In various cultures from around the world, we have garlic as a superfood and it is easy to understand why since it offers a taste to many dishes and is highly nutritious. We also have high quantities of B6, B1, Potassium, Selenium, manganese, and vitamin C. The nutrients present are great but the one that is particularly useful is Allicin. Studies proved that allicin can lower your blood pressure and even raise HDL levels. Garlic even has cancer-fighting qualities.

Potatoes

This is surely going to surprise you since so many say that potatoes are really bad for your health. The problem with most high carb foods like potatoes is the way in which they are cooked. One potato normally offers all the iron, manganese, copper, magnesium and potassium that you will need for a long time frame. The great thing about potatoes is that it includes small amounts of various nutrients we need to be healthy. And when you are careful with how much you eat you will be able to take advantage of this.

Perfect Oscar party appetizer recipes


So you’re inviting friends over to watch the Academy Awards on Feb. 26, and you don’t want to serve them the same old chips and dip. Not to worry — the Journal asked three local chefs to come up with Oscar-worthy hors d’oeuvres recipes. The results are not only tasty but simple to prepare — and guaranteed to impress your guests.

WINTER CITRUS CEVICHE

Recipe by Matt Sieger and Rikki Garcia Sieger of the kosher Mexican food truck Holy Frijoles!

– 1 cup orange juice
– 1 cup lemon juice
– 1/4 cup lime juice
– 2 bay leaves
– 1 pound 2 ounces white sea bass (or any firm, white local fish), cut into 1/2-inch dice
– 1/2 small red onion, diced
– 1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
– 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 2 tablespoons cilantro leaves, picked from the stem and left whole
– 4 tablespoon torn mint leaves
– 1 cup winter citrus (blood oranges, mandarins, grapefruit), cut into chunks
– Kosher salt to taste

Mix orange, lemon and lime juices together in a medium bowl. Reserve half of the liquid and save in the refrigerator. Add bay leaves to remaining juice in a medium bowl. Toss in diced fish. Marinate for 4 to 6 hours in the refrigerator.

Strain off liquid and remove bay leaves from the juice mixture with the fish; discard.
Mix together remaining ingredients. Toss in fish and salt to taste (remember chips will add some saltiness). Serve with tortilla chips.

Makes 6 servings.

TORTILLA ESPAÑOLA

food2

Recipe by Deborah Benaim, owner of dB Catering

– 3 large Yukon gold potatoes
– 1 liter extra virgin olive oil
– 1 yellow onion
– 10 large eggs
– 1 small bag potato chips, crushed by hand
– Salt and pepper to taste

Cut potatoes in half lengthwise and thinly slice them. Fry the potato slices in enough olive oil to submerge the potatoes in a nonstick frying pan over medium-high heat until golden and crispy all over, about 7 to 8 minutes. Set aside in a large bowl.

Pour out all the olive oil except for about 1/4 of a cup in the frying pan just used. Season with salt and pepper and caramelize the onion in the oil over medium heat until golden brown, about 5 to 6 minutes.

Take the bowl of potatoes and mix in the eggs, caramelized onion and hand-crushed potato chips. Season to taste with salt and leave to rest in the bowl for
an hour.

Heat a nonstick frying pan to a medium/hot heat, add a splash of olive oil and pour in the egg and potato mixture. After 3 to 4 minutes, turn the omelet. Finish cooking on the other side for about 3 to 4 minutes. Serve with homemade roasted bell pepper slices or store-bought piquillo peppers and a glass of your favorite
Tempranillo.

Makes 4 to 5 servings.

SICILIAN JEWISH CHICKEN MEATBALL BITES

Recipe by Elana Horwich of Meal and a Spiel cooking school, recipe blog and catering company

– Caramelized Onion and Fennel
– Jam (recipe follows)
– 2 pounds ground dark meat chicken
– 1 onion quartered
– 1 bunch Italian, flat-leaf parsley
– 1 1/2 cups raisins, soaked in warm water for 15 minutes
– 2 heaping tablespoons capers in salt from Sicily (Capperi di Salina or Capperi di Pantelleria)*
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
– 40-60 grinds from pepper mill

* Available in select Italian gourmet shops, such as Bay Cities Italian Deli & Bakery, or online.

Prepare Caramelized Onion and Fennel Jam; set aside.

Allow chicken to come to room temperature and place in a medium mixing bowl.

Place quartered onion in a food processor and pulse into a pulp. Add to chicken. Place parsley in food processor and pulse until finely chopped. Add to chicken.

Drain raisins, add to food processor and pulse until finely chopped and partially pureed. Add to chicken.

Rinse capers and dry. Finely chop them with a knife until some are almost a “powder” and some of them are chunkier. Add to chicken.

Add the salt and pepper and mix up the chicken with your hands until it is completely amalgamated. (You can do this in advance and refrigerate, just bring it to room temperature before cooking.)

Heat a large pan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, form 1-inch meatballs; don’t worry about making them perfectly rounded. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil to the pan and carefully drop in a first batch of meatballs, making sure they don’t touch one another. Cook on each side about 3 to 5 minutes, or until lightly cooked on the inside and well browned on the outside. Remove from pan, set on a paper towel to drain, add more oil to pan and continue to make more.

Plate the meatballs and top with a touch of Caramelized Onion and Fennel Jam.

Makes 25 meatballs.

CARAMELIZED ONION AND FENNEL JAM

– 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
– 1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced into rounds and then cut in half
– 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
– 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar

Heat a wide sauté pan over medium to medium-high heat for about 5 minutes. Add 2 tablespoons of olive oil, followed by the sliced onions. Let them cook until they get quite brown and maybe a tiny bit burnt, too — about 20 minutes, depending on the strength of your heat.

Place the sautéed onions in a food processor and add fennel seeds and balsamic vinegar; bring to a puree.

Makes 1/2 cup.

From left: Orna Banai, Sharon Elimelech, Evelin Hagoel, Einat Sarouf and Yafit Asulin co-star in “The Women’s Balcony.” Photos courtesy of IMDb.com.

Israeli comedy probes religious and gender conflicts


The Bukharim Quarter of Jerusalem, the locale for the movie “The Women’s Balcony,” was settled by Jews from Central Asia in the 1870s and ’80s.

Their synagogue was the center of their spiritual and communal life, and they and their descendants took their religion seriously, though not rigidly, making allowances for human weaknesses and personal quirks.

During the past 30 or so years, the once tolerant and easy-going neighborhood — like other parts of Jerusalem — has been changed by an influx of ultra-Orthodox Charedim, and in the Israeli film, we sense the beginning of the transition.

The demographic transformation of Israel’s capital is a weighty topic, but the message is conveyed with a great deal of humor, leavened by the always-popular topic of the war between the genders.

As the film opens, neighbors are hurrying along the cobble-stoned streets to join in a bar mitzvah celebration, with the women and their husbands carrying pots of home-cooked food — no catering at a fancy hotel in those rugged times three decades ago.

At the synagogue, the men sit downstairs, stealing occasional glances at the women up in the balcony, who enthusiastically throw candy as the bar mitzvah boy approaches the bimah.

Precisely at this happy moment, the balcony collapses, seriously injuring the rabbi’s wife and putting the rabbi himself and the building out of commission for the time being.

In these dire straits, the young charismatic Rabbi David (Aviv Alush) appears as a savior, offering the congregation temporary quarters and himself as the interim spiritual leader. But soon the congregation learns that the new rabbi’s service comes at a price. He preaches that the crashed balcony was God’s punishment for the immodest garments worn by the women and urges the men to buy scarves to cover the hair of their wives and daughters.

Tension rises when Rabbi David, who also has put himself in charge of repairing the synagogue, decides to dispense with the balcony altogether and exiles the women to a shuttered ante room, out of sight of the men.

When the women protest and go about raising their own money for a new balcony, Rabbi David underhandedly diverts the money for the purchase of new Torah scrolls. The docile men heed the rabbi’s edicts, but the women, led by the formidable Etti (Evelin Hagoel), organize a resistance movement.

They take a leaf from the women in Aristophanes’ ancient Greek comedy “Lysistrata,” who ended the endless war between Athens and Sparta by denying sex to their husbands and lovers until the men agreed to stop fighting. Though the concept of a sex strike is “not something one can say out loud in a religious community,” Emil Ben-Shimon, the film’s director, observed in a phone interview, the women achieved the same result by moving out of their houses.

Forced to choose between their wives and the unbending rabbi, the men folk finally grow a spine and bid farewell to Rabbi David.

Ben-Shimon, 41, has had a successful 15-year career in Israeli television as writer and director, but always dreamed of making a feature movie. Finally, he asked his ex-wife, Shlomit Nehama, to write the screenplay and set about finding the right neighborhood to re-create the Bukharim enclave of 30 years ago.

Ben-Shimon, who lives in Jaffa, said, “I was shocked to see that about 90 percent of the residents of the old Bukharim neighborhood were now Charedim and there were separate sidewalks for men and women. … People looked at me as if to say, ‘What are you doing here?’ ”

The director noted that “The Women’s Balcony” was last year’s biggest box-office hit in Israel and that “audiences loved it.” However, there was no feedback from the Charedi community “since its members usually don’t go to movies. … Their rabbis won’t let them,” Ben-Shimon said.

It took the director about three years to complete the film and he has started work on his next project, which probably will be set in Jaffa.

“The Women’s Balcony” opens March 3 at Laemmle’s Royal in West Los Angeles and the Town Center in Encino. 

Kosher cuisine on the go with the accent on Mexico


In the Fairfax area recently, married chefs Matthew Sieger and Rikki Garcia-Sieger were whipping up scratch-made glatt kosher Mexican vittles on their new food truck, Holy Frijoles!

At lightning speed, Sieger loaded shredded pastrami into a corn tortilla and spooned on pickled mustard seed salsa spiked with jalapeños. Next up was a smoked steelhead trout taco covered with pureed pasilla and New Mexico chile rojo sauce. Vegetarian fare included charred broccolini tacos and Nopales sopes: a masa (corn) cake topped with cactus, beans, sautéed red bell peppers, salsa verde, red onions and cilantro.

“We try to buy as much as possible from local farmers markets,” Garcia-Sieger said while serving up a braised brisket birria sope. “We smoke our own fish and house cure our own pastrami.  And all of our meat is grass-fed organic.”

The menu is a nod to Sieger’s Jewish background as well as Garcia-Sieger’s Mexican-Catholic heritage; the couple opened the truck soon after moving from the Bay Area to Los Angeles in September.

Previously Sieger, 38, was the executive chef of the now-closed Bon Marche Brasserie & Bar in San Francisco, where he cooked French classics such as coq au vin and house-made charcuterie. Garcia-Sieger, 36, was the executive pastry chef for the Mercer Restaurant Group, where she prepared everything from sweet-and-savory goat cheese balls with Meyer lemon curd and sorrel cake to a more traditional mille-feuille with berries, pastry cream and caramelized sugar.

But after Bon Marche closed, the couple decided to relocate south to start their first business. “We couldn’t do it in San Francisco, because it’s just completely unaffordable,” Sieger said. “A ton of restaurants have opened there in the last couple of years, but a ton of restaurants also have closed. San Francisco is a great food city, but it’s not a very big city, and it just can’t support what’s up there right now.”

Garcia-Sieger added, “A food truck is a small business that we could do quickly and very much on our own. It cuts out part of the overhead, the stress and also the stuffiness of a restaurant. It’s just making really good food, and interacting directly with the customers. And we don’t have to worry about having servers or fancy table cloths.”

The chefs decided to go kosher because they had an “in” with Los Angeles’ observant community through Sieger’s Modern Orthodox sister.

Just as Mexikosher in Pico-Robertson proffers sophisticated Mexican food, courtesy of Japanese-Mexican-Catholic Top Chef Katsuji Tanabe, Sieger and Garcia-Sieger bring their own honed techniques to Holy Frijoles! (holyfrijolesla.com).

“A lot of people come from the other side where they were home cooks and then want to start a food truck,” Sieger said. “But we’re the opposite. We were cooking in fine dining and we’re now trying to bring that same type of quality to a truck.”

Their broccolini tacos, for example, are topped with pickled green garlic, and their churro doughnuts were stuffed with an Arkansas black apple jam for Chanukah.

Then there is the “bubbuelita” soup, a fusion of classic Jewish matzo ball and Mexican albondigas (meatball) soups. (“Bubbe” means “grandmother” in Yiddish, while “abuelita” is the same word in Spanish.) In this version, matzo balls are flavored with chicken fat, and ground chicken meatballs are stuffed with rice, onions, cloves, cumin and coriander. They’re served up in a chicken broth infused with carrots, raw onions, cilantro and lime, with a chile rojo sauce on the side.

Sieger grew up in Lakewood and regularly attended the Conservative Temple Beth Shalom in Long Beach, Gan Israel camps and Camp Ramah, as well as United Synagogue Youth.

“We cooked classic Jewish food,” he said of his childhood home. “I was in the kitchen with my mother starting at 5 or 6.”

“My parents were big foodies,” he added, “so we used to go to the fancy restaurants [in Los Angeles] back in the ’80s and ’90s:  L’Orangerie, Patina and Rockenwagner.”  As a boy, Sieger ate braised rabbit and caviar during the family’s treks to Michelin-starred spots in Europe.

 “I remember reading Julia Child’s cookbook from cover to cover when I was 10 or 11,” said Sieger, who also avidly perused Gourmet magazine. He watched Child and chef Jacques Pepin on their PBS shows — the same programs that captivated Garcia-Sieger as a girl.

Raised in Walnut Creek, Calif., she still remembers the smells of her grandmother cooking flour tortillas early in the morning. From the age of 5, she stood on a stool in the kitchen to help the family prepare tamales for Christmas. The sopes the couple now serves remind her of those holiday endeavors.

Garcia-Sieger went on to attend the Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in San Francisco and to make her way as a pastry chef at some of that city’s esteemed restaurants. Meanwhile, the young Sieger talked his way into an entry-level position at Four Oaks restaurant in Bel Air, where he worked under the former executive chef of L’Orangerie. He eventually became a sous chef at The Village Pub in Woodside, Calif., which earned its first Michelin star under his tenure.

Sieger and Garcia-Sieger met through mutual friends in the Bay Area and married in 2012. When they moved here a few months ago, they settled in Boyle Heights, previously an iconic Jewish neighborhood that is now predominantly Latino.

They bought a 10-year-old food truck for Holy Frijoles! and earned glatt kosher certification through OK Kosher. “It was funny, because when we started the kashrut process, they were asking us what kind of prepared or canned foods we use,” Sieger said.  “And we were like, ‘We don’t use any canned or prepared foods. [Most] everything on the truck comes raw and we make it ourselves.’ ”

Since opening on Nov. 28, the Siegers have worked up to 14-hour days while serving hundreds of customers at nine locations throughout Los Angeles — not only in Jewish areas such as Pico-Robertson but also at downtown spots where their clientele is mostly non-Jewish.

“I think it was around our third day that we had a couple of Chassidic Jews come up to the truck and they never had a taco before,” Garcia-Sieger said. “That was really cool. We’re able to expose parts of the Orthodox community to a different type of cuisine, and that’s been really exciting.”

BEEF BRISKET BIRRIA

6 guajillo chilies
6 pasilla chilies
2 arbol chilies
2 quarts water
1 onion, quartered
6 cloves garlic
3 tomatoes, halved
3 1/2 tablespoons salt
1 7-pound brisket

Toast chilies in dry pan over medium high heat a few minutes on each side until slightly toasted.  Remove seeds and stems. 

In a 2-quart pot, add chilies, 1 quart of water, onion, garlic, tomatoes and salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.  Let stand for 10 minutes and then puree in a blender. Cool the puree in the refrigerator for 1 hour.  

Rub chili puree all over brisket and let marinate in the refrigerator overnight or up to 24 hours.  

Preheat oven to 300 F.  

Place brisket in braising pan and cover with remaining water. Cover tightly with lid or foil and braise for 3 to 4 hours in preheated oven until fork tender. Let cool for 1 hour. Shred meat and mix with braising liquid.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

Family cooks up an unkosher comedy


Right in the center of Williamsburg, Brooklyn — home to the Chasidic Satmar community — is a Jewish-owned restaurant called Traif. Its chef, Jason Marcus, serves mostly pork and shellfish dishes like salt-and-pepper shrimp, cornmeal-crusted soft-shell crabs, and lobster with spicy sausage. 

In the six years the restaurant has been open, it’s gained critical acclaim and accolades from customers, as well as criticism from ultra-Orthodox residents who live around it. 

“Jason got terrible publicity in the Yiddish papers,” said Lew Levy, Marcus’ uncle. “But there is no such thing as bad publicity. The bigger publications sent reporters and food critics, and lo and behold, they loved his food.”

The situation inspired Levy, along with his sons Jared and Adam, to create a comical, fictional web series based on the story of the restaurant. The first three episodes of “Traif (An Unkosher Series),” were released Dec. 23 on YouTube and Traifseries.com. 

Set in the Fairfax District of Los Angeles, the series centers around the chef’s escapades, along with a cast of characters including his ditzy hostess, an angry television producer and a network CEO. 

Lew, Adam and Jared wrote and shot the series in L.A. because that’s where they’re based. Lew is a writer and producer, Jared is an attorney at Paramount Pictures, and Adam is a technical animator at Walt Disney Animation Studios. 

“We always wanted to do something creative together as a family,” Jared said. “We put all of our combined brainpower together to figure out how we could make something work. We got a bunch of our friends together and made three episodes of our show. It was a complete family affair.”

The first three episodes are called “The Truffle Shuffle,” “The First Cut Is the Deepest” and “DaSwine Intervention.” In the pilot, “The Truffle Shuffle,” the character representing Marcus, called Jason Marco, is preparing to debut his fancy imported truffles on his cooking show, which airs on The Condiment Channel. At the same time, his guest on the show is attempting to break the world record for holding his breath the longest. Everything goes wrong when Marco realizes that his box of truffles was switched with a box containing a pair of edible panties. 

The show is reminiscent of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” in that all of the characters are eccentric, it’s shot documentary style and the audience knows something will go wrong. And, like on “Curb,” the actors improvise at certain points. 

“Our cast is so good that they have gone off the page many times,” Lew Levy said. “The characters are developing on their own.”  

According to Lew, the shooting and editing took eight months because they were on a shoestring budget. They were also all involved in the writing process, which led to some disagreements, even about the smallest of details. 

“We had a marathon phone call about our third episode, ‘DaSwine Intervention,’ ” Jared said. “Did we want to spell it like ‘DiSwine’ as in ‘Divine,’ or did we want a space between the ‘D’ and the ‘Swine,’ or did we want to call it ‘Da Swine?’ At the end, I said I couldn’t believe I just had an hourlong phone call about an opening title.” 

In the episode, Chasidic protestors threaten to shut down Traif.

Adam said the family hopes to write and shoot additional episodes together. “We absolutely want to keep making more,” he said. “It’s a way to be creative and express ourselves. Jared and I usually work for someone else. Being able to work for yourself is a pretty nice feeling.”

Still, the eventual goal is to sell it to a network. “Television and movie studios don’t want to jump on something unless it’s proven [to work],” Jared said. “Seeing how people respond is the first step and hopefully we can get some virality out of it and see where it goes.”

Though some in the Jewish community may be sensitive to the show’s title and the restaurant’s food, Lew said his wish is that people can joke about it. 

“I hope kosher-eating people look at this and say this is a funny concept,” he said. “The restaurant is now very well-accepted in Brooklyn. Jason has spoken with rabbis in the community and they peacefully coexist.” 

When Levy family members started on “Traif (An Unkosher Series),” they set out to make something entertaining — and they hope they’ve succeeded. 

“We try to push the envelope and the boundaries of what you can and can’t say,” Adam said. “We want to make people laugh and have fun.”

Main suspect in Berlin Christmas market attack killed in Italy


Italian police shot dead the main suspect in a terrorist attack that killed 12 people in Berlin, including an Israeli tourist.

Police stopped the suspect, 24-year-old Anis Amri of Tunisia, for a random inspection in a Milan suburb in the early hours of Friday morning, Reuters reported. He took out a pistol and opened fire, hitting one of the police officers in the shoulder. The officer is recovering.

Other officers returned fire, killing Amri, who German authorities believe plowed a stolen truck on Monday through a Christmas market in Berlin. Among the dead was Dalia Elyakim, who was buried Friday in Israel.

Rami Elyakim, her husband, was among 50 wounded in the attack, which the Islamic State in a statement claimed was the work of one of its “soldiers.” He did not attend his wife’s funeral in Herzliya, north of Tel Aviv, as he is undergoing treatment in Germany for serious, though not life-threatening injuries, Army Radio reported.

Amri was caught on camera by police on a regular stakeout at a mosque in Berlin’s Moabit district early Tuesday, a few hours after the attack, Germany’s RBB public broadcaster reported. He was not a suspect at that time, and when police raided the mosque Thursday morning they could not find him, RBB said.

German investigators had said they believed Amri was still lying low in Berlin because he is probably wounded and would not want to attract attention, Der Tagesspiegel reported, citing security sources.

In the early hours of Friday morning, special forces arrested two brothers from Kosovo suspected of planning an attack on a shopping mall in the city of Oberhausen, in the western state of North Rhine-Westphalia, police said in a statement.

The brothers, aged 28 and 31, were arrested in the city of Duisburg on information from security sources, the statement said.

Easiest. Rosh Hashanah dinner. Ever.


Some people take great pride and pleasure in planning their Rosh Hashanah menus for weeks or months in advance, chugging away at kugels and cakes and soup to put in the freezer. I know my grandmother and Aunt Ruth both did their High Holidays cooking all summer so they would be “ready.”

But not everyone cooks for 20 people or enjoys the toil and preparation of holiday cooking for weeks on end. And for those people, this simple menu is for you.

Traditional Jewish New Year flavors of apple and pomegranate can show up in unexpected places — like sangria, which is a perfect, easy choice for entertaining, since you can make a large batch and chill until ready to serve. And even a simple roast chicken becomes special for the holiday with an apricot mustard makeover and crispy roast potatoes.

You can keep your preparations and flavors simple while serving up a sweet, delicious and deceptively impressive spread for family and friends.

APPLE POMEGRANATE SANGRIA

Apple Pomegranate Sangria

Sangria is the perfect drink to serve for Rosh Hashanah – it’s supposed to be sweet and is perfect paired with two traditional flavors of the holiday. You can use whatever wine you have lying around, or change things up with red wine if you prefer.

Ingredients:

1 bottle white wine such as sauvignon blanc or pinot grigio (or moscato if you like very sweet wine)

1 cup pomegranate juice

4 ounces vodka (optional)

1 lemon, sliced

1 apple, cored and sliced

1 1/2 cups ginger ale or club soda

Pomegranate seeds (optional)

Directions:

Place sliced apple and lemons in a sealable container. Add 1/2 cup pomegranate juice, 1/2 cup wine and vodka (optional). Allow to sit overnight in the fridge.

When ready to serve, place fruit and liquid in a large carafe. Add remaining wine and pomegranate juice. Top with ginger ale or club soda to your liking. Serve chilled or with ice.

Optional: For an extra special presentation, make pomegranate seed ice cubes by adding a few seeds into each section of an ice cube tray. Fill with water or pomegranate juice and freeze overnight. When ready to serve, add 1 or 2 ice cubes in each guest’s glass, or all the ice cubes to the carafe of sangria.

SHEET PAN APRICOT DIJON CHICKEN WITH BRUSSELS SPROUTS AND POTATOES

Sheet Pan Apricot Dijon Chicken

Sheet pan dinners are all the rage this year and with good reason: Throw all your ingredients on one large sheet pan and then pop it in the oven. Your cleanup is reduced without sacrificing any deliciousness. This recipe can easily be doubled to feed a larger crowd.

Ingredients:

1 whole chicken

1 pound small red or Yukon gold potatoes, halved

1 pint Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved

1/4 cup apricot jam

2 tablespoons Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon brown sugar

2 tablespoons olive oil

2 tablespoons orange juice

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

6 garlic cloves

Directions:

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Cut chicken along the backside, removing spine. Flatten and lay on top of sheet pan.

In a small bowl, mix together apricot jam, mustard, brown sugar, olive oil, orange juice, salt and pepper.

Spread around three-quarters of the seasoning mixture on top of and under the skin of the chicken; reserve one quarter.

Spread potatoes on one side of the pan, brussels sprouts on the other. Drizzle potatoes and Brussels sprouts with olive oil, salt and pepper. Add whole, unpeeled garlic cloves to the tray, alongside the potatoes and brussels sprouts.

After 30 minutes, check on Brussels sprouts and, if caramelized to your liking, remove and set aside. Toss potatoes to ensure even cooking and place back into oven for another 25-30 minutes.

Remove from oven and spread remaining seasoning on top of chicken. Cut chicken into quarters and serve immediately.

PUFF PASTRY BAKED APPLES

Puff Pastry Baked Apples

Growing up, baked apples were a tradition in my house. This dessert looks impressive but is actually easy to execute. Serve with sorbet, vanilla ice cream or whipped cream for an extra sweet start to the new year.

Ingredients:

2 sheets puff pastry

4 Gala apples

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup margarine or butter

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ginger

Pinch fresh nutmeg

Pinch fresh ground cloves

1/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup raisins

1 egg, beaten

Sanding sugar (optional)

Directions:

Take puff pastry out of freezer and allow to sit at room temperature 30 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

In a medium bowl, mix together margarine (or butter), brown sugar, cinnamon, ginger, nutmeg, clove and salt. Add in raisins and mix.

Peel and core each apple, leaving apple intact but with a cavity for stuffing. Stuff sugar-margarine mixture inside each apple.

Cut each sheet of puff pastry in 2 pieces (there should be 4 pieces in total). With a rolling pin, roll each rectangle piece gently, stretching puff pastry so it is slightly larger.

Sit each stuffed apple in middle of puff pastry. Fold puff pastry up and over apple until completely covered, trimming excess pieces. (Optional: Using extra puff pastry, carve decorative small leaves to place on top.)

Brush each wrapped apple with beaten egg. Top with sanding sugar if desired.

Bake for 28-32 minutes until golden and juices are just beginning to run.

Serve warm.

Challah: Braiding our community together


Start to finish, making challah is a multisensory, multilevel process: mixing ingredients into dough, taking time to let it rise, punching it down, letting it rise some more, separating the dough into balls, stretching the balls into ropes, weaving the ropes together, tucking the ends under, glazing it with egg wash, setting it in the oven and breathing in the smell as it bakes to golden brown, tapping the bottom to make sure it’s cooked through, slicing (or tearing) the loaf and making “mmm” noises while you’re chewing.

“It tastes like cake,” someone will say, as you all sigh into the gustatory experience that links a Shabbat or holiday meal to all the Shabbat or holiday meals of the past. (Except Passover meals, of course, when we unsuccessfully pretend matzah is bread.) That’s the power of challah.

The braided — or sometimes round, as it is for the High Holy Days — bread has become a way to bring community together. These days, communities are using it to mobilize social action or as prayer for healing. For some, it is a business (see related article). But whether challah bakers are in it for the prayer, the pleasure or the profit, what they all share is passion.

Challah and Spirituality

When her friend’s daughter was battling cancer, Mushka Lightstone, a resident of Los Angeles’ Fairfax/LaBrea neighborhood, joined a group of 40 women making challah every week in honor of — and praying for — the sick child. 

Lightstone, executive producer of the 2014 documentary “Shekinah: The Intimate Life of Hasidic Women,” started researching the practice and found it to be “very powerful.”

“Every step of putting the bread together has its own significance,” she said recalling sources ranging from the Torah and Talmud to the Midrash and Kabbalah.

The primary source for challah is in Numbers (15:18-19): “When you enter the land to which I am taking you and you eat of the bread of the land, you shall set some aside as a gift to the Lord.”  Setting a small piece aside (traditionally 1/24th of the batch) has become known as “taking challah” (hafrashat challah). In Temple times, that fraction would have been given to the priests, but in our times, the piece is burned, recalling the Temple sacrifices. (Hafrashat challah is only for wheat, barley, oat, spelt or rye; challah bakers using rice, quinoa or other flour are exempt.)

As Lightstone worked her way through the challah recipe, she said, she “would have in mind each element I was putting together and meditate on the deeper aspects of each thing. I would visualize this little girl and visualize her wellness,” she said, “bringing in the unity of the whole world and the healing power and energy of the universe. 

“There are so many times when we feel so powerless and things in the world seem so crazy,” Lightstone said. “I believe all of creation is like this hologram, it’s all energy. I feel like I become a partner in that creation with Him, and work on the rectification of things. As I’m kneading the challah, I think about bringing the world back together and making it look beautiful again.”

While challah bakes to help heal the ill are primarily an Orthodox custom, some liberal Jews have adopted the practice as well, including Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, who grew up in Fountain Valley and served the Reform Congregation B’nai Tzedek as rabbi until 2011.

“Just as we set aside the Sabbath day as holy, I want to set aside my preparation as distinct and special too,” said Schorr, editor of “The Sacred Calling: Four Decades of Women in the Rabbinate.” In an email, she wrote that she collects the names of “those who are in need of blessing” from her Facebook network, which “helps me set an intention for the sacred act of baking challah.” 

“Knowing that generations of Jewish women before me have observed this particular segulah (protective charm) binds me to our past while simultaneously looking towards a better future for those who need healing,” Schorr wrote. 

Linguistically, the word “challah” shares a Hebrew root with the word “chol,” meaning “ordinary” or “secular” (think of holidays’ intermediate days — “chol hamoed” — or the word for “sand,” also “chol”).  Combining ordinary things — flour, water, oil — makes them better together, elevates them from “chol,” mundane, to “kodesh,” holy.

“By establishing this spiritual practice, the physical act is elevated to the spiritual plane,” Schorr wrote. 

Baking the World to a Better Place: Challah for Hunger

A recent report on hunger by Feeding America, the leading network of food pantries in the United States, revealed that 10 percent of food pantry clients (about 4.5 million) were students who “explicitly reported that they were forced to choose between paying for food and for their educational expenses,” according to the Challah for Hunger website. For instance, at the University of California, “2 in 5 students reported that they experienced food insecurity in the past year, and nearly 23 percent reported that they skipped meals to save money.” 

On 82 campuses in 28 states nationwide, Challah for Hunger is mobilizing thousands of students and young adults — and challahs — to solve this problem.

Challah for Hunger was founded in 2004 by then-Scripps College student Eli Winkelman. The goal was to use challah to connect students and to raise funds for social justice causes. Their first challah sale was on Oct. 1, 2004; they became a registered 501(c)(3) in 2009 and moved their headquarters to Philadelphia in 2013.

Challah sale proceeds are split 50-50 between the national hunger organization MAZON and a local hunger relief nonprofit of each chapter’s choosing.  

“This connects people with the food they need now and connecting to an advocacy group that does more long-term change on systemic issues,” said Talia Berday Sacks, Challah for Hunger’s project manager, in a phone interview.

She called the issue of hunger among college students a “new, hyper-local form of hunger” that is “quietly growing,” adding that they don’t have exact numbers because food-insecure students may find it stigmatizing to receive food assistance.

Kneading Connection: Challah Hub

Sarah Klegman baked challah with her mom in Northern Michigan “ever since I could reach the counter,” she said. From film school in Chicago, to starting a career in talent management and comedy production in L.A., and now as a writer and marketing/branding professional, she maintained her practice of baking challah.

“At the time,” she said in a phone interview, “people found it hilarious that a professional businesswoman would also bake bread from scratch at home. The reaction that people have when you march into a space presenting them with this homemade bread … they get so excited. When you see a challah that was made by hand, presented by the person who made it, it’s a very unique and personal thing.”

She met Elina Tilipman, a marketing entrepreneur originally from Germany, and the pair realized that their shared passion for braided bread — and the “weird stuff” they could put into challahs —could be a social and business opportunity.

“Challah is a long process,” Klegman said. “When you bake challah with someone, it’s four to six hours; you’re going to get to know each other.”

The pair formed Challah Hub, which started as a recipes blog, then expanded to include tasting events. Their first event featured a tasting of more than 30 different challah flavors and featured a diverse group of musicians, artists and “business types,” all socializing over challah.

Challah Hub’s modern and fun twist on an old tradition also helps them reach the millennial crowd, Klegman said, “who don’t always feel a strong connection to their heritage, and that’s a pretty cool thing to be able to do.”

In the coming months, Challah Hub will be launching the “Challah Hub Beta,” taking orders through their website (challahhub.com) and, soon after, launching a subscription-based home challah delivery service.

Challah Hub also organizes bakes at the Downtown Women’s Center. While the Women’s Center gets leftover food from other places, Klegman said providing homemade challah specifically for these women is special.

“I don’t know what I believe in,” she said, “but there’s something about having this piece of beautiful bread that took time and was made by someone who cares for you with their hands that is both physically and spiritually nourishing.”

What I wish synagogues knew about single parents


I’m not sure where to begin. I first want to say that my synagogue — and I think synagogues in general — have done a really great job of welcoming congregants who have converted, are intermarried, and are in gay and lesbian marriages. My synagogue also welcomes adopted children and Jews of color. It is still mainly an Ashkenazi population, but it quickly is becoming more diverse. The rabbi, cantor and board of trustees have worked hard and continue to work to make the synagogue inclusive.

But there is one population that seems to be left out: single parents. I think I speak for most single parents when I say we didn't marry with the intention of divorcing. Unfortunately, divorce happens for all sorts of reasons, which oftentimes are private and painful. And as welcoming as synagogues have become of non-traditional families, the one thing they have in common is they remain two-parent households. Shira may have two imas, but there are TWO parents in Shira’s house.

Many single parents have fewer financial and emotional resources than married parents and less time to volunteer. And while the divorce papers may have been signed, single parents are often dealing many years later with uncooperative ex-spouses and the shifting landscape of children’s custody.

When I was married, I was a super-volunteer at my synagogue and loved being involved. I knew well the rabbi, cantor and religious school director. When they asked me to take leadership roles in various areas of synagogue life, I was happy to contribute.

Then I divorced. My ex-husband met with the cantor to discuss his feelings about the split, so it clearly wasn’t a secret. Yet for all the time and energy I had generously devoted to the synagogue, no one called or reached out to me. The group that arranges meals and transportation for sick congregants never called to see if I wanted a few meals delivered. I had to apply for reduced dues since my ex-husband was the main breadwinner.

I was already feeling ashamed and embarrassed due to my divorce, and I felt the synagogue, my second home, was ashamed of me and my failed marriage. Instead of lifting me up when I needed the most help, the congregation let me down.

I still feel committed to Judaism and living Jewishly, but I am conflicted about Jewish institutions. I don’t feel like my synagogue has a place for people like me, and I also feel that there is little compassion or understanding for single parents. I don’t need a support group; I need support.

There is an unspoken stigma regarding divorce in the Jewish community. The failure of a marriage implies that something is “wrong”— abuse, addiction, affairs, mental illness. In addition, success in the Jewish world is almost always defined as highly educated, capable of self-support and able to maintain a functioning family. So when my marriage fell apart, it was logical that I felt like a failure.

A phone call from the rabbi or cantor acknowledging the challenges my family and I were facing would have gone a long way in easing my frustration and disillusionment. As it stands now, since I am outside the normative two-parent family, I’m not sure what or where my next steps will be.


Eliana Salzman is the pen name of a single mom of two teenagers.

Recipe: Mini almond and grape crostatas


Apples and honey around the High Holidays are certainly not the only way to ensure a sweet new year. Cuban families, like mine, have long practiced the tradition of eating grapes for good luck. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, we enjoy 12 grapes — one for each month.

According to folklore, this practice stems from Cuba’s Spanish roots. Spanish grape growers may have instituted the tradition when they were faced with an overabundance of harvest and needed to offload some grapes. With everyone in the community enjoying grapes, the grape farmers were certainly enjoying a sweet start to the new year.

While most Cubans eat their 12 grapes as they are, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of incorporating the grapes into a Rosh Hashanah dish. My Mini Almond and Grape Crostatas are the perfect solution to this puzzle, as these single-serving pastries feature 12 whole grapes.

Gluten-free and completely pareve, they are the perfect addition to any Rosh Hashanah table.

MINI ALMOND AND GRAPE CROSTATAS 
 
 
Ingredients:
 
7 ounces almond paste
1 egg, beaten
48 seedless grapes (any color)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon corn starch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons sliced almonds, divided
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional)

Directions:

 
Preheat oven to 375 F.

Divide almond paste into 4 equal parts, and between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll out into ¼-inch thick round discs. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and brush with beaten egg.

In a bowl, toss together the grapes, lemon juice, corn starch and cinnamon until the grapes are coated. Place 12 grapes on each disc, leaving a 1-inch rim and fold the rim over the grapes, pinching to crimp along the edges.

Brush the top of the almond paste with beaten egg, and add 1 teaspoon of sliced almonds to the top of each pastry.

Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and sliced almonds have started to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes.

Carefully transfer to a cooling rack or serving platter and allow to cool completely.

 
Makes 4 crostatas.


 
Jennifer Stempel is a TV development executive who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. To read more about her culinary adventures, check out: www.TheCubanReuben.com.