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.

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.”

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.”

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.

From matzo balls to footballs, two Jewish brothers recall their journey to the NFL


At 6-foot-6 and 340 pounds, veteran NFL offensive lineman Geoff Schwartz isn’t just a force of nature, but a product of good ol’ Jewish nurture.

“My size comes from a childhood that included an excess of matzo ball soup, latkes, and tons of white rice,” the 30-year-old jokes. “But of course my brother’s similar physique suggests that genetics had plenty to do with it.”

That would be his (only relatively) little brother, Mitch, 27, the Kansas City Chiefs’ newest starting right tackle, who stands 6-foot-5 and weighs in at 320 pounds.

As it happens, Geoff and Mitch Schwartz aren’t the first pair of Jewish brothers to play in the National Football League — they’re just the first to do so since 1923.

“Once we heard the stat, we realized just how rare this really is,” said Mitch, standing at the edge of the Chief’s indoor practice field after morning drills. “So we both thought it was important to share our story — for Jewish kids, and in general, about how we both wound up where we are.”

Indeed, the story of how two nice Jewish boys grew up to be a couple of “hogs” (an endearing and decidedly non-kosher nickname for offensive linemen) could fill a book.

Now it does.

Eat My Schwartz: Our Story of NFL Football, Food, Family, and Faith” lands in stores and online September 6. Co-written by the brothers, with novelist and humorist Seth Kaufman, it’s a lighthearted memoir about all the topics in the subtitle and how often they intersect. Sports fans will find plenty of insider info on the NFL and major-college football (Geoff and Mitch played for Pac-12 contenders Oregon and Cal, respectively). But from the opening pages — a scene of the brothers frying up latkes on the first night of Hanukkah, following their bubbe’s recipe — their Jewishness is front and center.

“The people who know us know that’s a big part of our identity, but I think it was important to share as much as possible in the book,” Geoff Schwartz told JTA from Detroit, where he spent the preseason as a member of the Lions. “I mean, my whole family — we’re proud to be Jewish and to be raised in the tradition and going to temple.”

Growing up in West Los Angeles — and attending Adat Shalom, a Conservative congregation — the brothers were always involved in sports. But neither started playing football until high school, in part because their parents didn’t want practices and games to interfere too much with Hebrew school.

In the book, the brothers quote their mother, attorney Olivia Goodkin, on her eventual acceptance of her sons’ football fate, given that each stood well over six feet tall at his bar mitzvah.“‘I started out worrying that they were going to get hurt — but then I realized it was the other players I should be worrying about,” she said. “‘They were like trucks hitting small cars. And I started to kind of feel like maybe this was their destiny.’”

As for their father, Lee Schwartz, a business consultant: “I just kvell,” he told Los Angeles’s Jewish Journal in 2012, on the eve of that year’s NFL Draft, in which Mitch would join his brother in the league when theCleveland Browns took him early in the second round. “It’s a surreal experience to see my kids on the field, on TV.”

Mitch credits his (slightly) bigger brother for paving his way on the field, in the kitchen and in life. Geoff was a seventh-round pick in 2008, and he’s a study of resilience: He’s endured multiple injuries and various ups and downs, from getting relegated to a practice squad, to getting cut, to getting signed to a big contract, to getting released again just before this season starts.

Meanwhile, after the Browns selected him with the 37th overall pick, Mitch started every game over four seasons in Cleveland. This spring, free agency landed him a five-year, $33-million deal with the Chiefs, making him one of the highest-paid right tackles in the league.

Whether tackling football, their faith or food, the Schwartzes write with the interested but uninitiated in mind — readers will learn the finer points of proper blocking in one chapter, find a primer on the lunar Hebrew calendar in the next. And if you’re hungry, just refer to the appendix of family recipes for step-by-step instructions on applying the perfect schmear (“Don’t overdo it; too much cream cheese will melt and run on a just-toasted bagel”).

The conversational memoir flows from one milestone to the next — personal, professional or often both. There’s October 27, 2013: “The Schwartz Bowl,” the brothers’ first and so far only on-field meeting when Geoff, then with the Chiefs, faced Mitch and the Browns in Kansas City. Then there is the weekend in 2014 when two life-changing moments coincided: Geoff’s wedding — a traditional Jewish affair on the beach at Santa Monica — happened at the height of NFL free agency frenzy.

Only hours after signing his ketubah, Geoff would sign the largest contract of his career.

The brothers also grapple with some of the compromises they’ve had to make in pursuit of their careers. “I’m very clear that when I have to, I choose football over the [high] holidays,” Geoff said. “Some people have a hard time with that concept. I don’t.”

But he does fast on Yom Kippur whenever possible, an act of atonement to which he devotes several paragraphs in the book. “Toward the end of a fast I usually feel great, like I’ve achieved something,” he writes. “I feel lighter, not physically, but mentally. I’ve endured, and I feel energized and clear.”

In the book, Mitch recalls a visit he made in the first weeks of his rookie year to the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. He encountered a group of Orthodox teens who, upon learning he was a Jewish football player, started peppering him with questions and begging for autographs. “I think it takes experiences like that to make you realize just how much bigger it is than you think it is,” he said of being one of a handful of Jewish players in the NFL.

Of course, the brothers understand the special appeal they have to Jewish fans — after all, they’re Jewish fans themselves. The book traces their own family’s fascination with Jews in sports, from Hank Greenberg andSandy Koufax to Mark Spitz and Dolph Schayes.

Mitch delves into the lesser-known history of brothers Ralph and Arnold Horween, the Harvard All-Americans and stars of the Chicago Cardinals backfield, in whose NFL footsteps the Schwartzes eventually followed. He learned that the Horweens actually played under an assumed name — McMahon — which raises questions as to whether they were guarding against anti-Semitism in football, or perhaps feared disapproval from other Jews for playing football.

Though Geoff recounts a few blatantly anti-Semitic comments, many players they meet simply don’t understand, or misunderstand, what it means to be Jewish, he said. “People think it’s more complicated than it really is,” Geoff explained. “So we let them know how not-complicated it is.”

When trying to explain their traditions to teammates who might have “never been around a Jew before,” they find that food — like latkes and matzo balls — can be a good access point, Mitch said, “especially for linemen.”

Part of the motivation for the writing the book, according to Geoff, is  for the brothers to, well, start writing their own next chapters. “You don’t know how long you’re going to play — certainly not forever,” he said shortly before the latest cut. “And there’s a lot we want to do after football.”

For Geoff, that could be a career in media or writing —  this book is only his latest foray in communications. He co-hosts his own podcast, “Block ’Em Up,” and this summer guest-wrote the popular Monday Morning Quarterback” column on SI.com that’s usually penned by National Sportswriter of the Year Peter King.

Yet, the ultimate ambition is for the Schwartz brothers is to finally team up — as co-hosts of their own cooking show.

“Cooking has become a creative outlet for both of us, something we enjoy exploring and experimenting with. We love the improvisational element of cooking, and the social element, too,” Geoff writes. “Food, which is so important to us as athletes — it fuels our work — provides the forum for us to create meals that look good and taste fantastic.”

The brothers already prepped a “sizzle reel” of them interviewing a Beverly Hills chef  and then whipping up some saffron seafood risotto at home. The book details early talks with TV execs — it’s unclear whether the Food Network or the NFL Network were more interested — but “we’re definitely still working on it,” Geoff confirmed.

Two Jewish brothers in the NFL makes for a great story. But two Jewish brothers in the NFL with their own cooking show? That’s never happened before.

Recipe: Arugula sweet potato salad


This is a perfect salad to eat for lunch on a weekday or as a first course for a brunch or even during a holiday like Rosh Hashanah. It’s especially nice when served plated individually and topped with the sweet potatoes and cashews.

Note: If you don’t have sweet potatoes you can replace them with sautéed red peppers.

This recipe is excerpted with permission from the cookbook “Kosher Taste.”

Ingredients

For the salad:

2 cups cubed and roasted sweet potatoes
2 Belgian endives, cleaned and sliced thinly
6 cups baby arugula, cleaned
1⁄3 cup dried cranberries
½ cup cooked quinoa
½ cup chopped roasted cashews

For the dressing:

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the salad ingredients except cashews.

In a small jar or bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients.

Pour dressing over salad and toss well.

Add cashews and serve.


Amy Stopnicki is a busy mother of four, an active member of her community and successful event planner. She is the author of “Kosher Taste.”

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.

Serving up a taste of New York whenever you need it


Izzy Freeman has run his namesake deli in Santa Monica for 42 years, but one of his career highlights is pure Hollywood: getting the business immortalized on camera in three episodes of Larry David’s HBO show “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” 

So how did this happen for Izzy’s Deli, which carries the motto, “Deli to the Stars”? 

Simple enough: “[A] location scout was looking for a New York deli and he liked what he saw!” Freeman explained. 

The restaurant’s “Curbed” experience has been particularly special for Freeman — and not just because a scene shot there marked the first time David and Jerry Seinfeld actually appeared together on screen after years of being close collaborators. 

The production agreed to all of Freeman’s conditions, including a chance for the owner himself to appear in the background of two of the episodes shot there. The role called for someone whose “job it is to walk up and down as the manager, talking to the people,” Freeman said. 

“Typecasting,” his wife, Marilyn, said with a laugh.

One of the episodes included a scene in which David arranges a lunch meeting at Izzy’s and pretends to be a Yiddish-speaking Orthodox Jew in hopes of courting favor with an Orthodox kidney doctor who can help his friend, Richard Lewis, move to the top of the transplant queue. (In reality, Izzy’s Deli is not kosher.) 

“When they filmed here, he was so nice,” Freeman said of David. “Between scenes he was sitting here doing crossword puzzles. It was fun.”

Freeman’s life and work reflect the American Jewish east-to-west diaspora on both national and local scales. The Santa Monica deli owner was born and raised until the age of 12 in New York City, a fact his still-strong Brooklyn accent immediately reveals. His father, who had been in the produce business in New York, opened a concession at Grand Central Market in downtown when the family relocated to Los Angeles in 1953. 

“I cried like a baby when I left New York, because [of] my Dodgers,” Freeman recalled. (The team would follow him west in 1958, and he was present at Dodger Stadium the night Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game in 1965.) 

“All Jews moved to Boyle Heights when they moved here,” Freeman, a graduate of Roosevelt High School, explained over dinner one night in the deli’s dining room, filled with images of New York, the L.A. requisite actor headshot gallery, roomy Naugahyde banquettes and other elements of unfussy, practical restaurant decor. 

Initially, through a friend of his father’s, he wound up getting into the International House of Pancakes (IHOP) franchise business, first in Whittier in 1960 when he was all of 20 years old. (“I wasn’t old enough to sign a contract at the time!”) He then left Southern California and acquired two of the chain’s restaurants in Sacramento. 

But when Freeman had a chance to swap his underperforming northern California locations for the former IHOP at Olympic Boulevard and LaPeer Drive in Beverly Hills — “a plum place,” Freeman said — he jumped at the chance to move back to L.A. 

Through his involvement with City of Hope, Freeman met a property owner who asked if he wanted to put a deli in Santa Monica. “And I said yes,” Freeman recalled. “I don’t have the word ‘no’ in my dictionary.” 

So in 1973 — far from Boyle Heights in keeping with Jewish demographic movements, and a mere 10 blocks away from Zucky’s Delicatessen, which shuttered in 1993 — Freeman opened his namesake operation at Wilshire Boulevard and 15th Street.

“We’re open 24 hours, we’ve never closed in 42 years, and that’s my history,” he said.

While recognizing that he’s not in the market of culinary innovation, Freeman said, “The food here is fabulous. Everyone loves the soups, the brisket.” 

Loyalty is a keystone of his operation, as evidenced by Izzy’s longtime employees. Many have been with him since the beginning, and have brought on their children and relatives to work at the deli. Known as “Boss,” Freeman takes pride in the fact that many of the cooks and waiters, most of whom are from Mexico, have sent kids to college and bought homes. (He will also unhesitatingly, yet respectfully, correct their English.)

Freeman, an avid, lively storyteller, also happens to be a major mensch. Community service is part of the family ethos, too. The Freemans remain involved with City of Hope, and Marilyn, who works in advertising and marketing, is active with The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles. 

“It makes you just feel good,” Marilyn said. “Sometimes it’s nice to do things just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Freeman and his wife, whom he’s inclined to call “my sweetheart,” are members of two congregations: Kehillat Israel in the Pacific Palisades, where they live, as well as Kehillat Ma’arav in Santa Monica. They have one daughter, Marissa, who works for CBS Television Distribution and recently moved back to Los Angeles after living in Philadelphia and New York City. Freeman also has three children from a previous marriage, and eight grandchildren. 

Freeman welcomes late night diners who take advantage of the restaurant’s perpetually open doors, which might include people in search of comfort food after nearby bars close, as well as staff and patients from St. John’s Health Center (hospital personnel get a discount), and firefighters and police offers on their beats. 

As is often the case in any establishment that’s a home away from home of sorts, long-term relationships form, which Freeman does not take for granted. For instance, he recently arranged to have a whole carrot cake delivered for a customer’s 95th birthday. The deli only had a slice in stock, which Freeman deemed unacceptable — so he ensured an Uber driver picked up the dignified birthday treat and brought it to Izzy’s. 

“He deserved a cake,” Freeman said. 

Eat, drink and be healthy


There is an age-old question about what’s the “perfect” diet. The idea behind this question is if we just find the perfect diet and we follow it, we can stop looking, stop worrying, stop stressing over too many carbs or sugar or meat or butter.

But what does “perfect” really mean in the realm of diet and nutrition? Perfect for whom? At what age? In what region? At what activity level? In what culture and society? With what kind of metabolism and immunity and digestion and brain function? At what stress level? 

And, perhaps most importantly, will it still allow us to eat kugel?

The answer is complicated. In the health and nutrition fields, you will find more dietary theories than you can possibly imagine. Some nutrition experts believe in looking at what our ancestors ate; others think we should look at our DNA for answers. Then there’s the idea that our blood type might have something to do with our nutritional needs. 

So many people, including health professionals, think of nutrition as pure science — as if the science will lead us to the best diet. Science has us believing that reducing food to its vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, fat, protein and calories, and consuming those in the proper balance, is the answer. 

What this approach overlooks, however, is that this “proper balance” is almost impossible to determine. After all, no two of us are exactly alike, and there are plenty of other variables: Our well-being is influenced by our thoughts and feelings, our environment, the toxins all around us and in our food supply, the health of our digestive system that determines what nutrients we absorb from the food we eat, and our life circumstances. 

This isn’t to say that you should give up. There are plenty of general guidelines for healthy eating that everyone can follow.

An easy one is to manage what’s on the end of your fork — think quality over quantity. If you eat meat, fish, eggs or poultry, buy organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range and/or wild-caught.

Stop eating processed junk foods, including regular and diet sodas, and get processed sugar out of your diet. (Also cut out fruit juices, which are high in sugar.) Instead, use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or raw organic honey — in small amounts, of course.

You should also try to consume whole food in its natural state, where all of its nutrients are fully available. This includes raw nuts and seeds, grains and beans, vegetables and fruits.

Be sure to have lots of green leafy vegetables at least twice per day, and make sure you eat good fats, daily and in moderation (coconut and olive oils, olives, avocado).

When it comes to what you drink, a good rule each day is to consume at least half  an ounce of good quality spring water for each pound you weigh. (It may sound like a lot, but check out how much your water bottle holds and do the math. You can do it!)

Finally, no matter what kind of diet you choose, make sure you eat with joy. No joke — it increases your ability to digest. When you eat under stress or anger, digestion shuts down, leading to weight gain and poor nutrient absorption.

How can it work with Jewish foods?

Don’t think that just because you’re trying to eat more healthfully that you have to give up your favorite Jewish dishes:

  • Substitute almond flour (lower in carbs than wheat) or coconut flour (contains healthy fats and is low in sugar) in breads, pastries and matzo balls. Be careful with ordinary flours, since some people have a sensitivity to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
  • Substitute carrots or yams for white potatoes or noodles in your kugel dish. This helps keep down your sugar intake.
  • Gefilte fish is often made with sugar and matzo meal, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out the following delicious recipe without these unhealthful ingredients. 

 

GEFILTE FISH

  • 1 pound white fish (e.g. Dover sole) fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 1/2 pound salmon fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

 

Directions

Cut the fish into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground; do not puree.

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Sauté diced onion over medium-low heat until soft and transparent; cool for 10 minutes.

Pulse onion, eggs, salt, pepper and lemon juice into fish mixture. Pulse in dill, carrots and parsley. Refrigerate mixture for 3 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Shape fish mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Drop balls into water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through. Place balls in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and refrigerate to cool. Serve with horseradish sauce made from horseradish root and apple cider vinegar (no added sugar) and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley.

Makes 18 fish balls.

Recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry (elanaspantry.com), the website of New York Times best-selling author Elana Amsterdam. 

Italian food that’s good for your taste buds and body


We just returned from another amazing adventure in Italy, one of many since our first visit 40 years ago. This was a short trip to see the Christo art installation “The Floating Piers” on Lake Iseo in northern Italy. It also gave us an excuse to visit our friends in Tuscany and Lake Maggiore.

One of our special, innovative lunches was at Il Cavaliere Ristorante at the Gabbiano Winery, outside of Florence. We were joined by our dear friend Bettina Rogosky, owner of the Carnasciale Winery in Tuscany, who brought a magnum of her special wine, Caberlot, to enjoy with lunch. 

Also at our table was chef Francesco Berardinelli, whom we have known for many years. He served us several dishes based on healthy, fresh ingredients and explained that they were originally part of Cucina Ebraica (“Jewish cooking” in Italian). He said the early Italian Jews adapted local produce and recipes to comply with dietary laws; for the same reason, vegetable dishes were developed to provide meatless meals. 

Chef Francesco began our meal with fresh-picked string beans from his garden. The beans, chock full of fiber and vitamins that contribute to healthy eyes and bones, were lightly steamed and tossed with a yogurt-lemon sauce, then topped with chopped mint and roasted hazelnuts.

Then he served a cold, thick Tuscan  Tomato and Bread Soup called Panzanella. The ingredients feature cancer-fighting vitamins and also included cubes of fresh mozzarella, lots of shredded fresh basil leaves (a virtually calorie-free source of Vitamin A) and extra virgin olive oil.

My favorite was Farinata, a pizza-pancake recipe made with chickpea flour, which is sold in Italian specialty shops and health food stores. Ideally, the batter — rich in fiber, protein and iron — is prepared a day in advance so it can mature before baking. 

It is interesting to note that chickpeas, also called garbanzo beans, were another food staple that the Italian Jews always served; the dishes reflected the poverty of the Jewish community, which included refugees from Sicily and Southern Italy.

Farinata is now available in downtown Los Angeles at a new restaurant, Officine Brera, where chef Angelo Auriana bakes it in his pizza oven. It is vegan, gluten-free — and delicious! 

PANZANELLA (TUSCAN TOMATO AND BREAD SOUP)

  • 1 cup dried bread
  • 2 pounds ripe tomatoes, cut in cubes
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup fresh mozzarella, cut in 1/2-inch cubes
  • Basil leaves for garnish

 

Soak bread in warm water to soften and squeeze out excess water. 

Place tomatoes in a food processor or blender and pulse to blend. Add bread, olive oil, chopped basil, salt and pepper and blend. Transfer to a bowl and mix well. Spoon onto bowls and top with mozzarella cubes and basil leaves. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GREEN BEANS WITH YOGURT-LEMON DRESSING

  • 1 pound green beans, trimmed into 1 1/2-inch lengths
  • 1/2 cup plain yogurt
  • 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon honey
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint
  • 1/2 cup roasted hazelnuts

 

Bring water to a boil in a saucepan. Drop in the beans. When the water returns to a boil, cook the beans for 4 to 5 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drop into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking.

In a large bowl, combine the yogurt, lemon juice, salt and pepper, honey and olive oil, and mix well.

Drain the beans and blot them dry on paper towels. Toss with yogurt dressing and top with mint and roasted hazelnuts. 

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

FARINATA (CHICKPEA PIZZA) 

  • 2/3 cup chickpea flour
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons finely chopped rosemary
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

 

Sift the chickpea flour with the salt into a medium-size bowl. Slowly add 1/4 cup of the water, whisking constantly to form a paste. Beat with a wooden spoon until smooth. Whisk in remaining 1/2 cup of water and, if time permits, cover with plastic wrap and let the batter stand at room temperature for 30 minutes or overnight, then stir in the chopped rosemary.

Preheat the broiler. 

Heat 1 1/2 tablespoons of olive oil in a 10- to 12-inch nonstick ovenproof skillet. Stir the batter once, and pour about 3/4 cup of it into the skillet. Cook the pancake over moderately high heat until the bottom is golden and crisp and the top is almost set, 2 to 3 minutes. Burst any large air bubbles with the tip of a knife. 

Sprinkle pepper over the top and place the skillet under the broiler and cook until the pancake is golden and crisp, 3 to 4 minutes. Slide onto a wooden board. Using a pizza cutter, cut into wedges and serve immediately. Repeat with the remaining batter. 

Makes 2 Farinata.

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

Peddling pierogies: A Jewish caterer takes on a Republican Party (convention)


Joan Rosenthal can’t make pierogies fast enough for the Republicans who have descended on Cleveland.

It’s an odd spot for a Jewish woman who started out in the restaurant business at age 12 at the city’s best-known Jewish deli, but she embraces it.

“This is so much fun!” Rosenthal, 58, told me on Wednesday afternoon, as she surveyed “Freedom Square,” the makeshift booze and nosh area just outside the Quicken Loans arena.

The eastern European dumplings are a Cleveland delicacy, and her staff say they clear a platter – 50 pierogies stuffed with potato and cheese – every five minutes in the two hours before the convention begins each evening.

Moving not as fast are tacos and shrimp and grits, both prepared in anticipation of large delegations from the southern and border states.

Republicans – like a lot of other folks – like to sample local, it turns out.

“I’m getting a lot of requests from the uninitiated,” one of her assistants, Chris Kevoriak said. “It’s a new thing for a lot of them.”

Also moving in volume: Drink. Marigold, the company Rosenthal founded 19 years ago with her mom, Judy, purchased 50,000 cans of beer, 12 thousand bottles of wine, 1,440 bottles of hard liquor, before the convention, and they expect to sell out by Thursday night.

Rosenthal founded the company in her kitchen. Her mother, now 84, still checks in multiple times a day. From a staff of 3, she’s grown to 80, and has called in another 200 or so through an association that caterers maintain nationwide to help out colleagues when, say, tens of thousands of Republican Party officials and lay members descend on your town.

She got her start in the business because when she was 12, she was tennis partner to Lenny Kaden, a founder, with Corky Kurland, of the city’s signature Jewish deli, Corky and Lenny’s. He liked the fact that she kept beating him on the court, so he hired her to bus tables.

She is steeped in the city’s Jewish culture – she runs the kitchen at Park Synagogue, in the city’s suburbs, and her mother was for much of her career a nurse employed at Menorah Park.

She does kosher and kosher style, but nothing says Cleveland, a town packed with Ukrainians and Poles, like pierogies. “Pierogies are our signature,” she said.

And now, tiny and wired, scooting among her employees inside the cramped onsite kitchen and patting their shoulders, she is happy to represent.

“My greatest joy” of the convention, she said, “was meeting Katie Couric.”

It’s not a bird – it’s SuperMeat: Israeli startup aims to grow meat without the animal


The founders of an Israeli food tech startup want you to enjoy your meat without the guilt — in fact, without the animal.

SuperMeat, which launched in December and began an online crowdfunding campaign Monday, is developing a method for bioengineering “cultured meat” from animal cells. Its tagline: “Real meat, without harming animals.”

Imagine a chicken breast without the chicken, developed in a machine from cells taken from a living bird and cultured in a nutrient-rich stock.

The company has won notice in Israel with slick marketing, celebrity endorsements and news coverage. But the increased awareness has raised tough questions for two highly principled groups of Israeli eaters: Kashrut observers and vegans.

SuperMeat’s co-founder and co-CEO, Koby Barak, himself a longtime vegan and animal rights activist, said his company’s cultured meat will be both kosher and vegan-friendly, and he has the supporters to prove it.

“I have spoken to about 10 rabbis and I don’t see any problem. It will be kosher,” Barak told JTA. “The vast majority of the vegan-vegetarian movement is very supportive, and we thank them for really supporting us.”

Among rabbis and vegan activists, though, the debate over exactly what to make of SuperMeat, and cultured meat in general, is far from resolved.

SuperMeat is not the first cultured meat company, but it is the first to focus on chicken. Others have already produced beef, and at least one is working on pork. Mark Post, who made headlines with the first cultured hamburger in 2013, told JTA he hopes to be the first to get his product, recently branded Mosa Meat, to market — in four to five years.

What SuperMeat thinks makes it unique is its patented technology, which is being developed by a company co-founder and its head of research, Yaakov Nahmias, a biomedical engineer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

Production is to work like this: Cells will be harmlessly taken from a chicken and put into a special machine that simulates the bird’s biology, allowing them to self-assemble into meat.

Barak said the process could revolutionize how the world eats, striking a major blow against environmental degradation, animal suffering and global health pandemics. Other meats could be made using more or less the same process, he said.

The Indiegogo fundraising goal is $100,000, which Barak hopes will demonstrate consumer interest to investors, from whom it will need to raise millions more.

Science aside, SuperMeat certainly stands out for its marketing. Between the videos of actors and models on the company’s Facebook page are taped testimonials by haredi Orthodox and religious Zionist rabbis.

Dov Lior, the chief rabbi of Hebron and Kiryat Arba in the West Bank, and Yuval Cherlow, a Ranaana rabbi who helped found the religious Zionist rabbinical group Tzohar, argue on video that SuperMeat will be parve. They say animal cells don’t count as meat and that SuperMeat’s process anyway transforms the cells into an entirely new substance. Based on similar logic, they say, gelatin derived from pigs is kosher – a position with which many other Orthodox rabbis disagree.

“Here, from the beginning it’s not considered meat because it’s a microscopic thing. … And even if it were really meat, because it changed its form, a ‘new face has arrived here’ and it’s not considered meat, and it’s clearly parve,” said Lior, using a Talmudic expression meaning that something that had previously been forbidden is no longer forbidden because of changing circumstances.

On the other hand Yisrael Rosen, head of the Zomet Institute, which works to reconcile Orthodox Jewish law and technology, says SuperMeat is meat and suggests it will need rabbinic supervision.

Cherlow told JTA he expects haredi Orthodox and religious Zionist rabbis to be divided on this issue. He said that’s partly because religious Zionists are willing to consider extralegal factors, like the welfare of the planet, more than haredi Orthodox rabbis would. Israel’s Chief Rabbinate will err on the side of the haredim, Cherlow predicted.

“The Rabbinate is trying to include everyone, so therefore it will go to the more extreme opinions,” he said. “But I think when there is a big need, I think most of the rabbis will say you should” accept the more lenient position.

Asked if cultured pork would be kosher, Cherlow said: “Emotionally it’s more difficult. But logically it’s the same answer.”

The New York-based Orthodox Union has yet to take a position on cultured meat. (The group doesn’t recognize pig gelatin as kosher.) But Rabbi Moshe Elefant, the chief operating officer of the OU’s kashrut department, suggested the product sounded a lot like meat. He also confirmed that the OU’s position would be based solely on Jewish law.

“We of course are very concerned about the environment, but our first consideration is always halachah,” he told JTA.

SuperMeat’s concerns are more in line with those of vegans and animal activists. After all, much of the company’s staff comes from that world. Like Barak, SuperMeat co-founder and co-CEO Ido Savir has been a vegan and animal rights activist for nearly two decades. Both men left jobs in Israel’s high-tech industry to join the company and focus full time on the cause of cultured meat.

These deep roots in Israel’s surging vegan and animal rights movement give SuperMeat street cred. Enthusiastic supporters include the vegan activist and restaurateur Ori Shavit and leaders of the Israel-based advocacy groups The Vegan North and 269.

“I’m a great admirer of the dedication of the people behind the project,” said 269 founder Sasha Boojor, who is known for having used a hot iron to brand himself with his movement’s numbers during a 2012 animal rights protest in Tel Aviv. “Of course it would be best if people decided to stop eating animals all together, but it’s not the reality we’re facing right now. And this research can address the suffering of hundreds of billions of animals who are suffering each year for no reason at all.”

Boojor added: “If people eat cultured meat, I have no problem at all. I don’t have a problem eating it myself.”

But other activists caution against being seduced by SuperMeat.

“SuperMeat is not the change of mindset that we are working on,” said Sharbel Balloutine, the founder of an Arab-Israel group called The Vegan Human, which works with Jews to promote veganism and animal rights. “We are working on compassion. We are working on justice. And that’s what really attracts me to my vegan activism.”

Anonymous, another Israeli activist group, sent JTA a statement saying: “We wish SuperMeat best of luck with the research, we welcome any initiative that can help animals. However, we must remember that as consumers, we don’t need to wait for a scientific breakthrough in order to save animals. … There is no nutritional need for meat.”

Nahmias, the scientific brain behind SuperMeat and a rare omnivore on staff, told JTA his work is motivated by his love of schnitzel, an Israeli staple that he said is becoming increasingly unsafe to eat.

“As a kid, I was eating what my mother and my grandmother were cooking. And I want my kids to be able to eat the same kind of schnitzel,” he said. “That’s the reason that I do this.”

With Wexler’s, L.A. elevates its deli ‘A-game’


Traditional deli food is enjoying a national renaissance: New York City is home to Mile End Deli and Sadelle’s. Washington, D.C., has DGS. San Franciscans continue to embrace Wise Sons, and Portland, Ore., boasts Kenny and Zuke’s. 

And with the recent opening of Wexler’s Deli on Santa Monica Boulevard between Sixth and Seventh streets, L.A. has undoubtedly caught up with other major cities when it comes to reinventing this particular cultural niche. This news is a continued step in the right direction that began when chef Micah Wexler and business partner Michael Kassar founded Wexler’s Deli in downtown’s landmark Grand Central Market in spring 2014.

It’s never wise to dwell in an urban inferiority complex, but we’ll admit it does feel good to stake our place in the nouveau deli movement, which Wexler’s Santa Monica solidly does by proving that nonindustrial, thoughtfully made deli food is cool. 

For two-plus years, loyalists queued up at the Grand Central Market counter to get their hands on sandwiches like the O.G. (pastrami), Macarthur Park (an ode to Langer’s No. 19), Boyle Heights (corned beef) and L.A. Bird (roast turkey), along with the streamlined menu’s other deli classics. 

The new Wexler’s (wexlersdeli.com) gives the chef more room — literally and figuratively — to expand but not overstretch his edited repertoire. Customers can enjoy more of what they want in an appealing room designed by Jessica Marx of J. Marx Atelier with 30 seats, including a classic counter setup. With more murals painted on white subway tile by artist Gregory Siff that reference Jewish food, local landmarks and hip-hop culture, Wexler’s Deli 2.0 is the logical evolution of what started downtown and taps into many broader food currents. 

The conventional seating arrangement and ample prep space contrast with the compact Grand Central Market counter and enable Wexler to flex his classically-trained-meets-down-home-cooking muscles. For instance, Wexler’s now can always offer matzah ball soup, partially based on his mother’s recipe. Made with Jidori chicken and topped with a delicate smattering of gribenes, or chicken cracklings, and wisps of fresh dill, it’s a deceptively simple dish and far from the sodium bombs lamentably found served on other tables around town. 

Lauded pastry chef Nicole Rucker, who works her magic with her signature doughnuts available at Cofax on Fairfax, collaborated with Wexler on recipes for babka and luscious black-and-white cookies. Then there’s the “Big Salad,” a nod to the lone healthy-ish item delis typically have offered, but with farmers market fresh gem lettuce and veggies with dill vinaigrette, instead of torn up heads of iceberg and canned ingredients blanketed with bottled dressing. 

Smoked salmon.

Deli fish fanatics will rejoice at having access to a steady supply of Wexler’s smoked fish salad, lox and sturgeon, plus smoked trout and pastrami-style lox added to the Santa Monica menu. Fish comes either served on a properly dense — but not overly so — bagel, or sold to-go by the pound. All can be washed down with a cup of coffee, chocolate phosphate, egg cream or Dr. Brown’s soda. (Customers who ask about diet sodas will be gently told Wexler’s doesn’t sell any.)

“Otherwise, everything else is the same,” said Wexler, a San Fernando Valley native. Quality is about aiming for sustainability, as well as sourcing ingredients with “no hormones, no antibiotics and as local as possible,” he added.

Regarding the particular location, “It’s kind of a changing neighborhood, lunch-wise,” Wexler said. The Santa Monica Library is across the street, and an increasing number of mixed-use residential-commercial buildings, as well as a burgeoning tech industry scene and the recently completed Expo Line Metro extension, set the local tone. Los Angeles is a city where suburban sprawl and urban density have both proved conducive to deli culture, so it’s fitting that the contemporary-retro Wexler’s is part of this urbanizing seaside town. 

With lines around the corner during opening week, Wexler’s early customers were ready and eager to nosh. Weekends have been “crazy,” the chef said, adding that “brunch business is big for the whole Westside.” Clientele has included “a lot of Jewish people in the neighborhood coming through,” from surrounding communities such as Brentwood and Pacific Palisades, and “as far as Long Beach,” he said. Wexler’s is open seven days a week, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. 

This is Wexler’s first time managing more than one kitchen and restaurant. The challenge? “Just trying to keep up with production,” he said. 

4 pro-Israel NY food co-op members suspended for disrupting 2015 BDS presentation


A popular Brooklyn cooperative grocery store that has been fighting about Israel boycott efforts for eight years reportedly suspended four pro-Israel members for interrupting a meeting more than a year ago.

According to the Brooklyn Paper, four Park Slope Food Co-op members have been suspended for a year for interrupting an April 2015 presentation by members who were calling for a boycott of SodaStream, the Israeli seltzer-machine company that at the time had a factory in a West Bank settlement.

At the 2015 meeting attended by hundreds of members, the four now-suspended members went to the front of the room and unplugged the projector that was displaying an image of an Israeli soldier and Palestinian that they believed was propagandistic.

The four were subjected to a disciplinary hearing in April and found guilty of uncooperative behavior.

In a heated and much publicized 2012 referendum, the co-op voted against boycotting Israeli products. Earlier this year, its members voted to require a supermajority of 75 percent for future boycott efforts.

Red-hot grilling tips for the Fourth of July


July Fourth begs for a magnificent grill party. It's summer, it's a great celebration of the nation's birth and everyone is outdoors and in party mode. Why hold back on July Fourth? Why not grill everything? With a couple of days' planning, you can really do something amazingly and deliciously different.

Here are four great ideas for the barbecue. There's no reason why you can't do all of the these dishes, although it does require that planning. You will have to consider how many people you're cooking for, think about how large your grill is and make plans for placing all the dishes on the grill.

Getting organized for easy grilling

There's something else many people forget when they grill, but it makes everything easier. Remember to set up a little work station next to the grill to put foods that are cooking too fast, spatulas, mitts and your drink. Even a crummy card table will do. When building your grill fire, remember to pile up the coals to one side of the grill so you also have a “cool” side to move food that is either cooking too fast or is flaring up.

Getting spicy with 'angry chicken'

You may have heard of the pasta dish called penne all'arrabbiata, angry pasta, so-called because of the use of piquant chiles. This is chicken arrabbiata. It's “angry” because it is highly spiced with cayenne pepper.

This chicken gets grilled so if you use the breasts instead of the thighs it will cook quicker. You can leave the chicken skin on or remove it. Crispy skin is delicious, but trying to get the skin crispy on a grill is tricky because of flare-ups. You'll have to grill by means of indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side.

Finding the right fish for the grill

Many people shy away from grilling whole fish for a variety of reasons. One way to make grilling fish easier is to place a rectangular cast iron griddle over a portion of the grilling grate and cook the fish on top.

If you do that, the griddle must be on the grill for at least 45 minutes to get sufficiently hot before cooking. I suggest several fish below, but it all depends on what's locally available.

Parsley-stuffed grilled porgy and mackerel are two small-fish dishes ideal for a fast grill. You may not necessarily have these two fish available, so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.

I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of the porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel. Because 50 percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these, 4 pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet.

But you can use any fish: The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus). It has delicious soft flesh.

Complementing with the right grilled sides

I think it's always nice to have grilled vegetables with any grill party. Grilled red, green and yellow peppers make a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don't have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.

Chicken Arrabbiata

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (skinless, optional)

 

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire to one side of the grill or preheat one side of a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the onion, tomato paste, olive oil, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended.

3. Flatten the chicken thighs or breasts by pounding gently with the side of a heavy cleaver or a mallet between two sheets of wax paper. Coat the chicken with the tomato paste mixture.

4. Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, and cook until the chicken is dark and springy to the touch, turning once, about 20 to 24 minutes (less time for breasts). Baste with any remaining sauce and serve.

Living off the land


When I think of the original baby boomer, I think of our friend Jay Farbstein. He is an architect specializing in the design of large government buildings, and he lives on his family’s original property off Sunset Boulevard, in a rural area of Pacific Palisades.

He grew up helping his father tend the family vegetable garden, and has maintained it for many years.

The first time we met was at a dinner where the subject was food and wine, and after meeting Jay and his wife, Bonnie, we realized that we all love to cook.

After talking about his garden that night, we were surprised when there was a knock on our door the next day, and he arrived with a care package of seasonal vegetables.

A few months later, we were invited to visit the couple and, as we drove down their driveway, the first thing we came to was the vegetable garden, which is about 2,400 square feet.

At the entrance of the garden, there is a cast aluminum memorial plaque dedicated to his father, Milton, that was installed in 2007. The area is surrounded by a fence covered with passion fruit vines, and when the first fruit is in season we often visit Jay and help with the harvest. 

Nearby is an 8-by-12-foot greenhouse that was a birthday present from Bonnie. It is stocked with seedlings that mature much faster there than in the outside garden, and they are replanted as needed.

For example, the cucumbers mature a month ahead of those planted in the outside garden, and he picks the chili peppers year-round. In the greenhouse, parsley, chives and basil are available all winter, and early tomatoes are an extra bonus.

Recently, we were invited to Jay and Bonnie’s for a dinner. We dined on dishes that featured a variety of seasonal veggies from his garden: Fresh English Pea Soup, Beet and Burrata Salad, and Stuffed Squash Blossoms.

At the root of all of this is Jay’s fantastically green thumb, and he has a number of suggestions for fellow boomers who may want to join him in his hobby — starting with the tools of the trade. There is a special gardening stool that helps avoid bending over a lot. It can be adjusted to sit close to the ground or higher — either 4 inches or 1 1/2 feet off the ground — depending on what you are doing. It has handles and can easily be turned over to flip it upside down. In the future, Jay said he will put in raised beds, to make the work even easier.

He also keeps his garden packed with lots of compost. He uses the leaves that fall off the trees for compost and adds them to the soil.
If you have a gardener, be sure to let him do the digging — your back will thank you. Still, Jay insists on doing all the planting, weeding and picking himself.

Jay plants lettuces, carrots, beets and peas in the fall to harvest during the winter and spring. Then, in the spring, he puts in his summer veggies — tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peppers — which he harvests all summer and into the fall. Which means it’s always a good time for gardening!

FRESH ENGLISH PEA SOUP

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 cups fresh peas, shelled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crème fraiche and chives for garnish

 

In a sauté pan, heat butter and sauté onion until soft. In a pot, heat vegetable stock and add peas and cook (do not overcook) until tender. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Push through a sieve into pot and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill before serving, ladle into bowls or stem glasses and garnish with crème fraiche and minced chives. 

Makes 12 servings.

BEET AND BURRATA SALAD

  • 6 fresh beets
  • 12 lettuce leaves
  • 1 pound burrata cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts for garnish

 

Place beets in a pot, add water to cover and boil until beets are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove beets, peel and cool. 

Slice beets into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange lettuce leaves on serving plates, top with a scoop of burrata cheese, arrange beet slices on top and sprinkle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and garnish with pistachio nuts. 

Makes 12 servings.

STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS 

  • 12 squash blossoms with zucchini still attached 
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Carefully open blossoms wide; remove the pistils from inside the zucchini blossom and discard. (The pistil is the fuzzy, yellow floret found in the center of the squash blossom.) Set aside blossoms (keep zucchini attached throughout).

To prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and salt and pepper until smooth. Taste the mixture; it should be highly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To fill the blossoms, the easiest way is to spoon the filling into a large pastry bag, but a small spoon also will work. Fill the clean blossoms about three-quarters full,
and gently squeeze the petals together over the top of the filling to seal. 

Brush a 10-by-14-inch baking dish with olive oil and arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the dish. Sprinkle the blossoms with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake, in preheated oven, until the cheese is puffy and the juices that run from the blossoms begin to bubble. 

Makes 12 servings. 


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

Easy and cool pasta dishes for summer


Everyone loves pasta, but during hot summer days a bowl of steaming pasta doesn't sound that appealing.

Some people make cold macaroni salads, but I think pasta is not meant to be eaten cold and besides, those macaroni salads usually have mayonnaise in them and fill you up too much. The Italians have an ideal solution. Basically it's a dish of hot pasta that cools down by virtue of being tossed with uncooked ingredients. They call it a salsa cruda. This is a raw sauce used with pasta. It's quite popular during a hot summer.

The basic idea behind a salsa cruda is that the ingredients in the sauce are not cooked and are merely warmed by the hot pasta after it's been drained.

Dressed up tuna and vegetables with bowties

In the first dish, farfalle with raw sauce, the salsa cruda is made of canned tuna, fresh tomatoes, fresh basil and garlic. It is tossed with the farfalle, a butterfly or bowtie-shaped pasta.

A first course for a meal with grilled fish

A second idea is fettuccine tossed with a melange of uncooked ingredients such as olives, capers, tomatoes, mint, lemon, parsley and garlic, which is typical of southern Italy and constitutes a raw sauce that screams “summer.” This is a nice first-course pasta before having grilled fish.

Letting your pasta cook its own sauce

In a third preparation, also perfect for a hot summer day, the salsa cruda is made with canned sardines tossed with fresh mint and parsley, and ripe tomatoes that are heated through only by virtue of the cooked and hot spaghetti. It should be lukewarm when served and is nicely accompanied by crusty bread to soak up remaining sauce.

Fettuccine with raw sauce

Prep time: 5 minutes

Cooking time: 10 minutes

Total time: 15 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 3/4 pound spaghetti
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 large garlic clove, finely chopped
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley leaves
  • 3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1 large ripe tomato, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 2 canned sardines in water, drained and broken apart
  • 2 teaspoons capers, chopped
  • Extra virgin olive oil to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Directions

1. Bring a large pot of water to a rolling boil, salt abundantly then cook the pasta, stirring occasionally, until the pasta is al dente. Drain without rinsing.

2. In a large bowl that will hold all the pasta, stir the garlic, parsley and mint together and then mix with the tomato, sardines, capers, olive oil and a pinch of salt. Transfer the pasta to the bowl and toss with the sauce and abundant black pepper and serve.

Recipe: Blast the heat for a charred vegan salad


Going vegan tastes so good when you turn up the heat on garbanzo beans and create a beautifully charred vegetable salad.

Carbon steel pans and their close cousins, cast iron pans, love heat. Turn a burner on high, place the carbon steel pan on the fire, and you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal. Used by chefs to create crispy skin fish filets and perfectly seared steaks, carbon steel pans can also be used to give vegetables a beautiful, carbonized crust that deepens their flavor.

Hot, fast and easy

Everything is faster with a carbon steel pan. Cooking is quick. And so is cleanup.

Unlike stainless steel pans that must be scrubbed clean after each use, once cured, a carbon steel pan needs only a gentle washing to remove leftover oils. After that, it can be dried on a high flame.

If you have not used a carbon steel pan, think of it as a wok cut down to frying pan size. What carbon steel pans bring to the party is the ability to create rich caramelization quickly. In a matter of minutes, the high heat chars the garbanzo beans and vegetables with a small amount of oil.

Because the temperature of a carbon steel pan can reach as high as 700 F, a blend of oils works best. Eighty percent canola manages the heat with less smoke, and 20% olive oil adds flavor.

Flash cooking adds flavor and seals in the healthy qualities of fiber-rich garbanzo beans, a good source of protein and essential minerals such as manganese and folate or B-9. Also called chickpeas, the legumes provide a starchy contrast to the vegetables.

To make a delicious salad, toss the charred garbanzo beans and vegetables with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar together with finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh leafy greens like arugula, green leaf lettuce, romaine or frisee.

Mise en place, tongs and a good over-stove exhaust fan

What restaurant chefs call mise en place is all-important when cooking with high heat. Because the dish will cook in a matter of minutes, all the ingredients must be prepped ahead of time. Peel, chop and arrange all the ingredients on the cutting board before you fire up the carbon steel pan.

Remember, the pan can get as hot as 700 F, so have a good pair of 12-inch tongs at the ready. Turn on the exhaust fan so any smoke from the pan will be pulled out of the kitchen.

Charred Vegetable Salad With Garbanzo Beans

Use any fresh vegetables you enjoy. Besides broccoli, carrots and onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, Chinese bok choy and celery are also delicious when charred.

All the vegetables must be cut into small pieces so they will cook evenly. Leafy greens can be shredded. Calculate the order in which you add the vegetables based on how long they take to cook. For example, broccoli, carrots and turnips take more time to cook than does spinach.

Because carbon steel pans are relatively nonstick, less oil is required when cooking. The recipe calls for a minimum amount of blended oil. Use more depending on taste.

Reducing balsamic vinegar creates a thicker sauce and adds sweetness, offsetting the acid.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, washed; skin, root and top removed; thin sliced
  • 1 15-ounce can cooked garbanzo beans, organic if available, drained
  • 2 cups shiitake, portabello or other brown mushrooms, dirt cleaned off, stems trimmed on the end, thin sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, each floret cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large carrot, washed, stem and root ends trimmed, peeled, finely diced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large bunches Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

 

Directions

1. In a small saucepan over a low flame, reduce the balsamic vinegar to one quarter the original volume. Set aside to cool.

2. Arrange all the prepped vegetables on a cutting board or in bowls for easy use.

3. Place a 10-, 12- or 14-inch carbon steel pan or cast iron pan on a high flame. When the pan begins to smoke, turn on the over-the-stove exhaust fan.

4. Drizzle a teaspoon of blended oil on the hot pan and immediately add the thin-sliced onions. Using tongs, toss the onions in the hot oil, turning frequently to avoid burning. When the onions are lightly browned, add drained garbanzo beans. Mix together. Add another drizzle of blended oil. Using tongs, toss frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add mushrooms. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

6. Add broccoli crowns. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

7. Add finely diced carrots. Mix well and drizzle with blended oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8. Taste a broccoli crown and carrot dice. When they are al dente, with a little crispness, remove from the flame.

9. Transfer to a bowl or large plate to cool.

10. Place the finely chopped Italian parsley into a large salad bowl. Add the room-temperature charred garbanzo beans and vegetables. Toss well. Season the salad with extra virgin olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Power salads: 5 ways to transform dinner


A large plate bursting with colorful plants and topped with a zingy vinaigrette — a big salad — has been part of my regular dinner repertoire for years. Happily, this concept is finally getting the love it deserves as a result of today's increased focus on plant-based diets. Forget the naked salads of the 1980s, cruelly deprived of dressing. Follow these five tips and get creative to make salad the star of tonight's supper.

Build your base: Salad greens, your way

Begin building your salad base. Lettuces are low in calories, so you can pile them on; their fiber and water content will help you to feel full. Greens are also loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (health-promoting plant chemicals). Ditch iceberg, which lacks the bright flavors and myriad nutrients of other greens. There are so many fabulous lettuces out there — why not give some new ones a shot?

Romaine is a good starter, but there's also spinach, arugula, mesclun, red leaf and beyond. Include cancer-fighting crucifers, too, like cabbage or kale, or fresh herbs. What's in season? What works for you? Make it your own.

Top with veggies: Go for variety, color

Select whatever vegetables you like and make it your own: the more color and variety, the better. 

You've got your salad base; now paint your palette with whatever veggies your heart desires. My salads feature whatever I have on hand: carrots, radishes, peppers, avocado, tomatoes, beets, sprouts, olives, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, onions — whatever. If you can find local veggies in season, your taste buds will thank you.

Personally, I'm obsessed with watermelon radishes and romanescu broccoli (aka, Roman cauliflower) — and don't even get me started on sugar-sweet gold cherry tomatoes, which, come August, I pop into my mouth like candy. Variety and color are key: The more varied and brilliantly hued your veggies, the more nutrients you're getting. (And, just for the record, while low-sugar veggies should appear most often on your salads, many big salads are wonderful with fresh fruits like citrus, pears, pomegranate and berries.)

Add protein power: Beans, pulses, legumes

It's time to turn to the satiating power of protein. After all, you don't want to finish your big salad still hungry and order a pizza. Most people jump to chicken, shrimp and steak to liven up their salads. As long as the meat doesn't become the leading player, perhaps that's what you'll first choose to get a big salad into your dinner repertoire.

Yet soybeans (and their products, like tofu), lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans and the like are small packages with big nutrition. They include protein, as well as fiber, B vitamins, iron, calcium and potassium. They're also low in calories and sodium — if you use canned, make sure to choose a no-salt brand — and are less pricey than animal protein.

Moreover, producing these plant foods is less taxing on our planet's precious natural resources, and many enhance soil quality through nitrogen fixation. There's a good reason it's the International Year of Pulses, and most of us don't eat the amount we should for optimal health.

Mix it up: Toss in whole grains

Mixed lettuces with quinoa, orange, walnuts, and chia seeds makes for a salad packed with vitamins and minerals.

Like pulses, whole grains are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and fiber — and even some protein — and create a pleasing texture and toothsome bite to your salad. Brown rice is a favorite of mine, especially when included with black beans for a big salad with a Tex-Mex twist. There are many different grains — think barley, quinoa, farro, oats and amaranth — to add intrigue to your salad; experiment to learn what you prefer.

Tossing whole grains into a big dinner salad is also a terrific way to use up last night's leftover rice or pasta, too. While whole grains aren't a regular addition to my salads, which tend be loaded up with veggies, beans and greens, a handful can make a tasty difference — especially if I'm having a craving for toasty homemade rye croutons.

Bring on the fat: Salad dressing and toppings

It takes only a few minutes to whisk up your own healthy salad dressing to top your big salad — use whatever vegetable oil and vinegar you prefer.

It makes me sad when I think about everyone out there still shunning salad dressing, or opting for low-fat varieties, often packed with sugar. Yes, full-fat salad dressing is energy-dense: The main ingredient is oil, which has more than double the calories compared with carbs or protein (about 9 calories per gram versus 4).

So if you need to lose weight, you'll want to keep the calorie content of dressings in mind — and save sumptuous dressings like blue cheese and green goddess for special occasions.

Even so, science has shown clearly that certain types of fats are particularly beneficial to health. Diets rich in monounsaturated fats, like olives and olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, like nuts, seeds and their oils, are both associated with decreased risk heart disease, especially when these foods supplant refined carbohydrates (like white bread, rice or pasta).

Moreover, the fat molecules in salad dressing help your body absorb the valuable (fat-soluble) nutrients in your meal. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is my go-to dressing, but whipping up a simple vinaigrette at home is a cinch — try my maple-Dijon recipe — and can feature any combination of oil and vinegar that pleases. And, if your salad calls for crunch, scattering on a few nuts or seeds can take your big salad over the top.

Dinner's ready. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and enjoy. With the first luscious vegetables of the season popping up in local farmers markets, now is the perfect time to celebrate the power of plant-based diets, your way.

A food tour of Israel’s cities


Mediterranean cuisine is consumed with gusto all over the world. While many dishes commonly enjoyed in Israel originate elsewhere, things like hummus, falafel, kibbeh, and shakshuka have been adopted into Israeli tradition with the recent advent of “foodie-ism” by chefs all over the country.

What’s more, every city in Israel has its own unique approach and local flavors. From the street food of Jerusalem to the haute cuisine of Tel Aviv, the options are endless and sure to offer a unique culinary experience for the discerning epicurean.

Jerusalem

The Holy City is best known for its hypnotic architecture, spiritual effect, and historic significance. Home to a uniquely diverse range of religions and ethnic groups, the city has birthed a composite food revolution marrying the city’s varied flavors and culinary traditions. Not surprisingly, the capital city is famous for having the best hummus in Israel, and possibly the world. Particularly lauded among the city’s hummus joints is Abu Shukri, a little hole-in-the-wall in the Muslim Quarter, for which the Wall Street Journal says: “If you are to consume only one plate of hummus in Jerusalem, this is the place to do it.”

Of course, you can’t do J-Town without visiting Mahane Yehuda, one of the busiest shuks in the country, where you’re guaranteed to get drunk on the scents of fresh bread and aromatic spices. This is your chance to marvel in freshly baked goods. Experience street food like never before with warm za’atar-coated flatbreads and potato and mushroom-stuffed bourekas. To finish on a sweet note, indulge in the dreamlike, chocolate-and-filo-dough morsels known as rugelach for dessert. Don’t forget to stop by the Halva Kingdom to sample the sweet sesame treat in over 100 different varieties, all homemade and ground by millstone.

Tel Aviv

While there’s no shortage of traditional Middle Eastern fare in Tel Aviv, this modern metropolis is home to incredibly diverse fine dining, ethnic, and experimental options. If you’re going international, The Brasserie on Kikar Rabin serves up its French delicacies 24 hours a day, while the atmosphere and Spanish tapas at Vicky Christina in Hatachana will take you to the other end of the Mediterranean. The food at Topolopompo is even more fun than its name. Enjoy an acclaimed, finely-honed menu of Asian fusion dishes. For some of the best Asian cuisine in Tel Aviv, try Taizu – that is, of course, if you can get a table.

Dizengoff has earned its reputation as a cultural mecca, so you can’t go wrong with exploring this central bustling street. The perfect balance of flavors at Sabich Frishman will make you redefine what ‘sandwich’ even means, while Keton will warm your heart with awesome traditional Ashkenazi dishes like chicken soup and chopped liver.

Then, for a sunset stroll on the Tel Aviv boardwalk, absolutely nothing in the world compares to frozen yogurt, Israeli style. Like all culinary feats, the key is to have a strong base. The secret lies in the fresh, creamy yogurt produced from the incredible dairy produced by Israeli cows. Pick from a variety of mouth-watering ingredients to create a mind-blowing frozen treat.

Eilat

If you’re doing the resort thing, Eilat is an absolute seaside gem for vacationers. And with the seaside comes incredibly fresh seafood! High among the heavy hitters is Rak Dagim, a fish joint serving fresh, locally caught treasures. Rak Dagim is also one of the oldest restaurants in Eilat and utilizes characteristic Israeli flavors on their extensive menu.

To juxtapose that, Pastori on Tarshish Street combines locally caught seafood with Italian flavors to showcase a different kind of Mediterranean food. Then, of course, there’s nothing better than ending a meal with seaside gelato.

Haifa

This northern city and cultural hub is set against the beach-lined backdrop of the Mediterranean and caters to foodies of every type and budget. Sitting adjacent to one of Haifa’s central mosques, Abu Marwan is known as the best hummus in town. Must-haves include their hummus with lamb, the mashwasha, and their spicy fries.

For a delightfully carnivorous meal, try Limousine, a famed steakhouse run by two “Israeli cowboys.” Locavores delight in the regionally raised, high-quality meat prepared in a variety of styles and accompanied by beers of both Israeli and European origins.

Go light and flavorful with breakfast the next morning at Café Louise on Mount Carmel. Serving a natural, culinary experience, the café offers both the traditional salad-and-spread ‘kibbutz-style’ breakfast as well as a ‘Western style’ brunch. Louise also boasts a variety of vegan and veggie options, as well as a whole menu of juices that are so fresh, you’ll instantly feel superhuman.

No matter where you go in Israel, the food is unforgettable. The downside? You’ll be craving that Abu Shukri hummus for months afterward.

For more information on traveling Israel, click here.

Recipe: Fennel granola is a wild breakfast treat


Granola is a marvelous vehicle for foraged seeds. When I harvested more than a quart of fennel seeds last fall, I never could have imagined that I'd have used them all by spring.

Thanks to the delicate anise cookie-like taste of fennel granola, I believe my demand for fennel seeds will always outreach my supply. Fennel granola is so delightful that even those who don't have access to wild-harvested seeds will want to make it. Store-bought fennel seeds are slightly less flavorful, but work well in this recipe.

As a forager, I find wild seeds to be fascinating, particularly in fall, when the number of other crops to pick diminishes. Every year, I work hard to collect all manner of wild seeds. Some of these, such as seeds from the mustard family, are very flavorful and can be used as spices. Others, such as lamb's-quarter and its cousin kochia, need to be processed to remove bitter components before they can be utilized as food. Other seeds, for example evening primrose, a high source of gamma-linolenic acid, are relatively flavorless but powerfully nutritious.

Seeds such as amaranth, nettle or evening primrose are easy to bring into the kitchen, requiring little more to process than simply shaking them off the plant and some minor winnowing. These seeds are a dream to harvest, but because they have little flavor, I often forget about using them over the course of the winter. In theory, they can be ground to better access their nutrition, then used atop or mixed into pretty much anything you could cook, from salad to breadcrumb toppings to dessert. In practice, these flavorless wild seeds sit unused in my kitchen. A foraging friend, Erica Marciniec, mentioned using her seeds in granola. I followed her advice and it worked brilliantly. Finally, with granola, I've found a way to use these wild seeds in a way that is convenient for me to cook, and that the whole family will enjoy.

While I really enjoyed eating my wild seeds in a typical cinnamon-flavored granola, I knew I could somehow boost the flavor.

That's when I rediscovered my quart of fennel seeds. Initially, I added only a teaspoon of fennel seeds. I discovered that I loved the taste so much that I omitted cinnamon entirely and increased the fennel to further enhance the flavor of the granola.

I ran nine test batches of fennel granola, tweaking every detail you could imagine. In the end, leaving it in the oven produced the most consistently brown and crunchy granola. The addition of the egg white helps to form clusters. Of course, it could easily be omitted if you are making granola for someone with an egg allergy.

I tried making this granola with honey, but found the flavor competed too much with the fennel. Using brown sugar as a sweetener makes this recipe budget friendly, too. If you'd prefer to use honey, substitute 2/3 cup honey, and omit the brown sugar and water.

Fennel Granola

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

Total time: 6 to 8 hours (including cooling time in the oven)

Yield: 5 cups

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups quick oats
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • ¼ cup fennel seeds, lightly ground in a spice mill
  • 2 tablespoons other wild seeds such as evening primrose (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 egg white

 

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and water, raise the heat to medium, and let it bubble for 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the two kinds of oatmeal, seeds, salt and almonds.

4. Pour the warm liquid ingredients over the dry ones, and make certain that they are mixed very thoroughly, so that all of the oatmeal appears wet.

5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with a fork until it is frothy. Add it to the oatmeal mixture, and again, stir very well.

6. Pour the granola mix onto a greased 12×17-inch baking sheet. Use a spatula to press it down and make it evenly thick. This will help to ensure that you will have big chunks once it is cooked.

7. Place the granola in the oven and bake it for 10 to 12 minutes. When that time is up, turn off the oven, and leave the granola inside until it is cool. From the time the granola goes into the oven until the oven is cool, do not open the oven door.

Recipe: Bengali lemon coconut fish


Gandhoraj Maach (Bengali lemon coconut fish)

This delicate fish dish is traditionally made with the Bengali lime, called Gandhoraj. I have adapted this recipe using lemons and Kaffir lime leaves, offering a delicate and simple dish perfect for spring and summer.

Prep time: 30 minutes

Cook time: 25 minutes

Total time: 55 minutes

Yield: Makes 4 to 6 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 cup freshly grated coconut (about 1/2 regular coconut)
  • 1 cup hot water
  • 1 piece fresh ginger, 1 1/2 inches long, peeled
  • 1 or 2 green chilies
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 3 fresh lemons
  • 2 Kaffir lime leaves, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup coconut milk
  • 1 teaspoon nigella seeds
  • 2 to 3 dried red chilies
  • 3 tablespoons plus 1 tablespoon chopped coriander
  • 2 pounds halibut or any other firm-fleshed fish
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • Banana leaves (if available) for steaming

 

Directions

Place the freshly grated coconut in a blender with the hot water and blend until smooth.

Strain the mixture through a fine-mesh sieve.

Return the coconut mixture to the blender, with the liquid strained off. Add in the ginger, green chilies and turmeric and blend until smooth. Pour the mixture into a mixing bowl.

Zest 2 of the lemons and add the zest to the coconut mixture. Cut one of the zested lemons in half, remove the seeds and squeeze in the juice. Set aside the other zested lemon and thinly slice the third lemon for garnish.

Add the Kaffir lime leaves to the coconut milk and stir well.

Stir in the nigella seeds, red chilies and coriander leaves. You should end up with a pale yellow sauce flecked with nigella and coriander. Salt the fish, then add it to the coconut milk mixture and mix well.

Heat the oven to 300 F and prepare a large baking dish with about 2 inches of water.

Line a heat-proof casserole dish with banana leaves and pour in the fish mixture.

Cover with a piece of foil and bake for about 20 to 25 minutes, until the fish is cooked through.

Cool slightly, remove and taste the sauce. It should be smooth and gently tangy. Depending on your preference, add in a little more lime juice.

Garnish with the remaining coriander and the lemon slices and serve hot, ideally with steaming rice.

5 quick, tasty and kosher ways to use leftover matzo


If you celebrate Passover, you're familiar with this scene: The closing prayers are sung, the last bite of seder brisket is a distant memory, and here you are facing the holiday's inevitable final ritual: [aside] piles of leftover matzo. This unleavened Passover staple never fails to divide the closest of kin — some claim it's the best thing before sliced bread, while others dismiss it as gastronomically inferior to sawdust.

But whether you detest the stuff or eat it straight out of the box, by the time Passover ends, you're probably less than thrilled at the idea of force-feeding yourself bland iterations of the same matzo sandwiches you've eaten for a week. Don't let the “bread of affliction” bring you down! With a little creativity, matzo can be as refreshingly versatile in the kitchen as it is divisive at the dinner table. Here are five easy and delicious ways you can enjoy (or dispense with) your matzo leftovers.

1. Matzo is technically already a “cracker,” but let's be honest, it could get much more adventurous with the term. Coat small matzo pieces in olive oil and sprinkle with any spice combination you prefer: za'atar and cumin; coriander, turmeric and paprika; dried parsley and garlic powder; or rosemary and salt are all good options. Bake in the oven until browned, then serve the newly transformed (read: yummy) chips with your favorite spreads, dips and toppings for an easy snack or hors d'oeuvre. Alternatively, skip the herbs and just add cheese for Passover-friendly “matchos” (I had to).

2. Sneak leftover matzo into your dinner and get the added bonus of releasing stress by crushing the crackers with a food processor, mortar and pestle, or your bare hands. With that you have a ready-made bread crumbs substitute. Or take it one step further and combine the crumbs with flour and egg to provide a crispy matzo crust for proteins and veggies. That cardboard-esque matzo crunchiness really comes in handy here.

3. You know what they say … when not in Rome but wishing you could be, make matzo pizza! Place matzo on a foil-lined baking sheet, using full crackers for a “pie” or small bite-sized portions for snacking. Spread a thin layer of sauce, sprinkle with your choice of cheese and toppings, and bake at 400 F until the cheese melts and the toppings are cooked. If you're willing to go the extra mile to avoid “crust” sogginess — remember, matzo is more permeable to sauce than normal pizza dough – melt a thin layer of cheese onto the matzo before adding the other ingredients on top.

4. Want to avoid being the empty-handed seder guest or need a quick treat to serve last-minute visitors? Chocolate toffee matzo bark is a quick and scrumptious solution. Line a rimmed baking sheet with foil and matzo, mix butter or margarine with brown sugar until boiling, spread the toffee over the matzo and bake at 350 F until the coating bubbles. Take it out, dump chocolate chips on top, spread the melting chocolate evenly and sprinkle with your favorite toppings (mine are sea salt and chopped pecans). Refrigerate, and voila! Your extra matzo is now the perfectly flaky, crunchy base for an addictive bite-sized dessert.

5. Brunch is a beloved meal all year round, so why neglect it at Passover just because you can't eat the leavened stuff? Matzo brei is a simple, crowd-pleasing comfort food that's perfect for any brunch table. Break the matzo into small pieces and run under hot water until it begins to soften (avoid mushiness). Beat some eggs in a bowl, season with salt and pepper and stir the matzo into the eggs. Heat oil or butter in a skillet, pour in the mixture and fry over high heat until golden. Serve with jam, cinnamon-sugar or whatever other sides you fancy and prepare yourself for that warm fuzzy feeling.

“Rhapsody in Schmaltz”: Matzah and Michael Wex


'There are those who say that God gave us cardboard so that we could describe the taste of matzoh, but taste is what matzoh is not about,” Michael Wex writes in his new book, “Rhapsody in Schmaltz: Yiddish Food and Why We Can’t Stop Eating It.” 

“Rhapsody” is Wex’s provocative meditation on the crucial role food plays in keeping Jews Jewish. At the heart of his argument lies Passover, a holiday whose central ritual revolves around a meal that is festive and reflective, concrete and symbolic.

For Wex, the matzo is the ultimate Jewish food, in its originality, its longevity and its symbolism. “An aftertaste of oppression at a feast of deliverance,” is how he describes it.

In focusing our attention not on taste or — heaven knows, flavor — the matzo is the ultimate “brain food” — it forces you to think. In the excerpt below, Wex describes the starring role matzos play at the seder table, and how a dry cracker proved crucial to shaping and maintaining a people.'


While few contemporary seders are as momentous as the first, those that follow the traditional ritual are largely devoted to reinforcing the attitudes and beliefs that that seder was there to encourage. A sacrifice designed to distinguish Israelites from Egyptians has developed into an annual all-you-can-eat, semi-open bar symposium on the Exodus and its meaning. Like any proper symposium — the word means “drinking together” in Greek — it starts off with a glass of wine, after which the chief symposiast, generally known as Dad or Zeyde — Yiddish for grandpa — points to the three matzohs stacked before him and declares, in an Aramaic that he might not understand, “This is the bread of affliction that our ancestors ate in the land of Egypt.” For the next few hours, you’re his. 

Michael Wex. Photo by Zöe Gemelli

The length of the seder depends on the leader’s frame of mind, the size of the group, and the number of timeouts needed to threaten or cajole increasingly restive children, whose levels of boredom-stoked hunger rise in proportion to the adults’ interest in reciting and discussing the text of the Hagaddah, the ritual GPS — “Raise glass here”; “Dip finger in wineglass now” — that is part program, part menu, part interpretive overview of the Exodus. Hagaddah means narrative, and the ritual that it both embodies and describes is devoted to explaining why you’re going to eat that matzoh, even as you start to despair of when. You look at it, you hold it up, you point to it and discuss its history — but it’s a long time before you get to eat it. And even then, you don’t just cram it into your mouth; if you don’t follow the proper procedure — an olive’s worth from each of the top two matzohs in the stack, eaten as you lean to your left after Dad has made the blessing — you might as well watch the hockey game. The matzoh is the climax; the endless waiting and arguing and rehearsal of minority opinions the casuistic Kama Sutra that gets you there.

The matzoh is followed by an equally obligatory appetizer of bitter herbs, anything from Romaine lettuce or arugula to the traditional, if halachically suspect, horseradish, strong enough to call forth tears, but not so potent as to raise any gorges. The chosen herb is dipped into charoses, a paste of walnuts, apples, cinnamon, and wine meant to remind us of the bricks and mortar with which the Egyptians embittered our ancestors’ lives. One final appetizer follows, a party sandwich that fulfills the commandment in Exodus 12:8 about eating matzoh and bitter herbs together. Finally — at ten, ten-thirty, or even later — the menu blossoms into a lavish, less over-determined supper that my family always started with hard-boiled eggs in salt water — a little treat for the kids — after which the second half of the Hagaddah is recited.

This primal Jewish meal has more to do with discussion than digestion; you’re meant to feed your head, not stuff your face. The real treat isn’t dinner, which is only standing in for the Paschal sacrifice that can’t be offered before the Messiah arrives; the gustatory high point is the matzoh. Tension is supposed to build, the participants are supposed to get more and more anxious, more and more involved in the story, attaining release only when the leader distributes the matzoh, recites the usual blessing over the bread and follows it up with a special, seder-only benediction, “On the eating of matzoh.” Then, and only then, does mouth meet matzoh, and longing — fulfillment.

It doesn’t matter what it tastes like, we’ve been jonesing for it, especially since matzoh is otherwise banned on the day of the seder, and bread — if you can find any — has been off-limits since midmorning. It isn’t really nourishment that we crave — we invented Yom Kippur, we know from not eating — but a Jew loves matzoh like it was sweet jelly roll:

Matzoh is forbidden all day on the eve of Passover, as our sages have told us: “He who eats matzoh on Passover eve is like a man who has sex with his fiancée in her father’s house” [Yerushalmi Pesokhim, 10:1]. Our sages have decreed that anyone who has sex with his fiancée while she is still a ward of her father is to be flogged for his willful disregard of proper standards of behavior: in displaying his lust, he shows himself lecherous and lewd, unable to restrain himself long enough to hear the Seven Blessings with her beneath the wedding canopy. So does he who eats matzoh on Passover eve display his lust and his gluttony, his inability to restrain himself and wait until nighttime and the seven blessings that must be pronounced before eating matzoh … and he is likewise to be flogged for his willfulness.

It is hard to imagine how something so lacking in the usual attributes of good eating — things like taste, texture, and aroma — could arouse such passion, but matzoh is more than mere food; it’s the essence of Judaism — what Yiddish calls dos pintele yid, the irreducible nub of Jewishness — wrapped up in a biscuit. Mordechai Yoffe, the late sixteenth/early seventeenth-century author of the passage just quoted, is expressing the standard idea that even the coarsest, most uncouth Jew can see through the fripperies of moistness and flavor to the real essence of this Diana Prince of the bake pan. Lust he might, but for the freedom of yidishkayt, of Jewishness, in all its crunchy, nutlike splendor. The matzoh-hound looks past the matzoh’s workaday exterior to the divine spark that makes it what it is; instead of the crudest imaginable cracker, he sees an edible image of his soul, a crispy, immediately tangible version of his spiritual genome, and nothing’s going to keep him from it. Without matzoh there would be no Jews, the Torah would have stayed in heaven, and no one would ever have heard of kosher. 

Michael Wex is the author of fiction and nonfiction books and a speaker on Yiddish language and culture. He lives in Toronto.

Recipe: Bengali egg curry with clingy caramelized onion sauce


In mid-April, the people of Bengal — a region straddling Bangladesh and parts of India, including my hometown in West Bengal — celebrate the Bengali New Year.

Bengalis of all religious persuasions celebrate this secular holiday with music, song and, of course, plenty of good food.

It's only appropriate to go all out, food-wise, on naba barsha, as Bengalis call the holiday. Food in Bengali is synonymous with all events and happenings. But for festivals like the one for the new year, Bengalis go the whole nine yards on the dinner table.

People also buy new clothes and other new items with the belief that something done at the beginning of the year repeats itself year-round. Bengali traders crack open fresh new account books called the haal khata on this day.

A new year ahead, with taxes behind us

Ironically, the Bengali New Year, which falls this year on April 13th, originated in the Mughal Empire, when it marked a fresh beginning after the collection of taxes.

So, celebrate the end of tax season with me by delving into this regional cuisine.

Bengal, with its west monsoon climate and proximity to rivers, offers a diet rich in fish, greens, rice and vegetables. Its seasonings are distinct and prominent with the use of mustard, poppy seeds, ginger and a Bengali Five Spice Blend consisting of mustard, cumin, nigella, fenugreek and fennel. This seasoning is called panch phoron: panch means five and phoron means tempering.

The Bengali meal ranges from light to heavy courses, with a sweet and sour chutney to cleanse the palate before dessert.

Starting the new year with a family recipe that travels well

The fact that the holiday lands midweek this year puts a wrinkle on food celebrations.

This year, however I've resurrected a well-seasoned egg dish that my grandmother used to call her “picnic dimer dalna” or picnic egg curry.

Our “picnics” consisted usually of multilayered lunch boxes, filled with puffy fried breads known as luchi and drier curries like alur dom. In our family's case, it included these eggs, since my grandmother felt that we should get our protein as growing children.

This dish travels very well, and actually improves as leftovers. My children now love this as a special breakfast treat and it can be enjoyed with toasted bread almost as much as the luchi, which can be difficult to pull off on a school-day morning. The eggs, however, can be made the night before.

This particular recipe is also known as Kosha Dimer Dalna. The word kosha in Bengali refers to slow-cooked and refers to the slow-cooked onions in the dish.

This year, if you feel that you just might need an excuse for a new beginning and an opportunity to revisit your New Year’s resolutions, join the Bengalis in celebrating our Bengali New Year.

Kosha Dimer Dalna (Egg Curry with Clingy Caramelized Onion Sauce)

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 45 to 50 minutes

Total time: 65 to 70 minutes

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

  • 4 tablespoons oil
  • 3 medium-sized onions, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon grated ginger
  • 2 to 3 cardamoms
  • 2 medium-sized tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon red cayenne pepper, or to taste
  • 8 eggs, hard-boiled and shelled
  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
  • Chopped cilantro to garnish

 

Directions

1. In a heavy-bottomed pan, heat the oil and add in the sliced onions. Cook the onions on low heat, until they gradually wilt, soften and turn golden brown. This process will take about 30 to 35 minutes, but should not be rushed.

2. Add in the ginger and stir well.

3. Add in the cardamoms, tomatoes and red cayenne pepper. Cook for about five minutes until the mixture thickens and the tomatoes begin to soften.

4. In the meantime, make slits on the sides of the eggs and rub them with the salt and the turmeric.

5. Mix the eggs into the tomato mixture and cook for about 5 minutes, until the eggs are well-coated with the onion base.

6. Sprinkle with the cilantro and serve.

Copyright 2016 Rinku Bhattacharya via Zester Daily and Reuters Media Express