Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Tasty, authentic Mexican cuisine: Chicago’s Maxwell St. Market


Though Chicago’s been in the news a lot lately — dealing with political issues, a crime wave and harsh weather — it’s still one of the great cities in the world! From its very beginnings, Chicago rose above the neighboring prairie towns in sophistication and culture. Folks came up from the Mississippi Delta and also, from around the globe.

One of the city’s historic outdoor markets — Maxwell Street Market — isn’t even on Maxwell Street anymore, but its quirky mystique follows it wherever it goes. For over 100 years, the market has been a famed melting pot of ethnic foods, flea market and back in the day, a well-known place to fence stolen goods! Unlike some of the city’s other farmer’s markets, Maxwell Street is open every Sunday, year round. I visited it on a gorgeous, unseasonably warm November day. The market was packed with neighborhood South Loop residents, as well as people the north side by way of bikes on this lovely day. Some brought their dogs, as the market seems to be dog-friendly.

These days, Maxwell Street Market’s food vendors are Mexican and other Latin street food, in all of their glory. Have you had pozole? It’s a traditional Mexican stew made with pork, hominy, spices and herbs, all slow-cooked. It felt so warming and perfect as a brunch starter on a warm-cool morning. Sitting at the pozole booth’s communal picnic table, I chatted up a couple of local fix-it guys: they felt the same way. The recipes are the real deal . . . I’m sure of it. Many of the vendors don’t speak English and my Spanish is sorely lacking.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Pozole Booth at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

As I finished up my stew, I glanced at a growing line in front of one of the vendors across the way. It was unlike anywhere in the whole market! I’ve always known that when it comes to local restaurants — even if it’s a food truck or a truck stop — the ones with huge crowds are where you want to go. The locals know what’s best!

Rubi’s Tacos

Rubi's Taco "Lengua" - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Taco “Lengua” – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos are revered by people all over Chicago. The vendor serves varieties that aren’t dumbed down for tourists. They take a while to get to your order, because everything is made of the freshest ingredients to order. I got a taco with chopped tongue, along with huitlacoche: a corn fungus known as “corn truffles”.  You can get your taco garnished with your choice of roasted spring onions, roasted chili peppers, fresh cilantro, onion, tomato and lettuce. The shell is a freshly baked soft taco. Luscious! There wasn’t a single person in the long line who was disappointed.

Rubi's Tacos at Maxwell St. Market - Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

Rubi’s Tacos at Maxwell St. Market – Tamar Alexia Fleishman, Esq.

 

RECIPE: Judy’s Passover Chicken Soup


Judy’s Passover Chicken Soup
(Click here for the full article)

3 5-pound chickens or 2 3-pound chickens, trussed

2 pounds chicken necks and gizzards, tied in cheesecloth

4 large onions, diced

1 medium leek, sliced into 1-inch pieces

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced carrots (16 small carrots, cut into 1-inch pieces)

2 to 3 cups thinly sliced celery with tops (5 stalks celery with tops, cut into 1-inch pieces)

3 medium parsnips, thinly sliced

12 sprigs fresh parsley

Salt to taste

Freshly ground black pepper, to taste

(The Fluffiest Matzah Balls recipe follows)

In a large, heavy Dutch oven or pot, place trussed chickens, necks and gizzards, onions, leek, carrots, celery, parsnips and enough water to cover. Over high heat, bring to a boil. Using a large spoon, skim off the scum that rises to the top. Cover, leaving the lid ajar, reduce heat to low and simmer for one hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Uncover and simmer 30 minutes longer.

With two large (slotted) spoons, carefully remove the chickens from the soup and transfer to a large platter. Let soup cool to room temperature, then chill. Skim off fat that hardens on the surface and discard.

Makes 12 servings.

Delivery chef unable to savor his culinary success


Crab cakes drizzled with zesty chipotle lime sauce and peppercorn brandy glazed pork loin are a few of the entrées The Fresh Diet delivers to clients. But its Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who developed most of the dishes offered on the meal-delivery program’s menu, has never actually sampled his own dishes, which have been praised by Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC’s “Today.”

While it might seem odd for a head chef to have not tasted any of his or her own creations, Yosef Schwartz can’t; he keeps kosher.

The Fresh Diet is one of about 50 meal-delivery programs nationwide that can help take the time-consuming preparation — as well as portion-control and guesswork — out of eating healthy. In the next few weeks, Miami-based Fresh Diet will start delivering to homes and offices in Los Angeles. And if there’s enough of a call for it, Schwartz is hoping to start a kosher version of Fresh Diet here after he returns to the Southland this month.

Schwartz, 27, grew up in Westwood and Mar Vista, attended Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad near Hancock Park and received his smicha in Israel. While you can call him a rabbi, he would rather be thought of as a chef.

Schwartz wanted to cook from the time he was a teenager. His rabbi father and rebbetzin mother would host 50 people for dinner each Friday night, and Schwartz says he would spend Thursdays and Fridays after school cooking with his mother. “I knew by 14 years old that I wanted to go to culinary school,” he said.

After he received his rabbinic degree in 2001, Schwartz immediately applied to California Culinary Academy to hone a variety of cooking skills.

“My parents were very supportive,” he said.

As far as working with treif ingredients like pork and shellfish at California Culinary Academy and now Fresh Diet, Schwartz says it took some getting used to.

“Once I started working with the product, I was really fine with it,” he said. “There are other senses besides taste. I like to think of myself as a food technician.”

Schwartz worked with a variety of local kosher caterers while he studied in Pasadena. And after graduating from California Culinary Academy in 2004, his high school friends encouraged him to consider joining them to start a food-delivery business based on Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet, which features 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins and 30 percent good fats.

The prices for the Fresh Diet delivery service, which currently reaches South Florida, Chicago and the New York Tri-State area, range from $35 to $60 per day. The meals are delivered in cooler bags overnight and include three entrees and two snacks.

“We’ve had people who said they’ve saved money,” he said, referring to busy clients who would tend to eat in restaurants several times each day. “It’s basically a little present at your door every morning.”

Schwartz says exercise and his own kosher version of the meal system have helped him lose weight. He weighed 300 pounds when he started the business with his friends. His shirt size has since gone from XXL to large, having dropped down to 210 pounds.

“I was thinking about doing it kosher before we even started the company,” he said, adding that it would take 30 to 50 subscribers to start a similar kosher service in the Southern California. “If there’s a demand for it, we will do it.”

L.A.’s gourmet kosher makeover


At the new Shilo’s steakhouse on Pico Boulevard, concentric circles of color surround the caviar: green onion on the outside, yellow egg yolk sprinkled on the inner rim, followed by chopped egg whites peppered with blinis and tortillas and topped ceremoniously by a mound of glistening fish eggs.

The Ikura caviar is red, which indicates that it’s kosher — culled from salmon, not the non-kosher black beluga that comes from sturgeon.

At The Prime Grill on Rodeo Drive, the short ribs are braised for 12 hours and then served with wild mushrooms and spicy mustard. The chopped Wagyu Steak Sliders look like little hamburgers but are eye-openingly delectable, made from hand chopped steak, while the Oh Toro sashimi is smooth and silvery and almost swims down the throat.

At Tierra Sur at the Baron Herzog Winery in Oxnard, venison is one of the most popular dishes, and the white bean soup is topped with “bacon” — a crisp, salty, flavorful meat that’s made from lamb so it will be kosher.

Welcome to Southern California’s new world of Gourmet Kosher.
As America has fallen in love with food over the last decade, the kosher world has not been too far behind. Kosher products and kosher gourmet ingredients abound, as do kosher cookbooks and cooking classes and a general interest in food, entertaining and all it entails. The kosher market has proved a profitable one, appealing to the religious, the newly kosher and others who may want nondairy, halal or simply food that is perceived to be cleaner.

New York, the capital of fine dining, boasts a number of established top-caliber kosher restaurants, among them Le Marais, Abigail’s, Tevere and The Prime Grill, which opened there in 2000 and has just opened in Beverly Hills, as well.

The arrival in Southern California of The Prime Grill — a trendier, classier place than its New York counterpart — and other restaurants, signifies that Los Angeles, a city that often lags foodwise behind New York, San Francisco and Chicago, might finally be catching up when it comes to kosher food.

In the second-largest U.S. Jewish city (behind New York) Los Angeles has a fair number — about 50 — kosher eateries, from bakeries to pizza stores to ethnic food and a number of fancier restaurants.

New restaurants are appearing that don’t ladle up the chicken soup and pastrami sandwiches of yesteryear, though delis with that fare still abound, more often known as “kosher style” and consumed by the non-kosher crowd in the mood for a good knish.

This gourmet kosher trend is aspiring to create a whole new world of fine dining, with chefs trained at top culinary schools (some of them do not observe kashrut themselves) who offer high-end cuisine and extensive wine lists in dining rooms designed by famous decorators.

Pricey and elegant, the hope is to bring high-quality dining to the kosher consumer and, at the same time, attract all the other food connoisseurs that vie for tables at Los Angeles’ top eateries.

But are Los Angeles’ kosher consumers ready for high-class dining? And is the mainstream “treif” world ready to patronize a kosher restaurant as a prime destination?

What does it take to be a kosher restaurant?

No. 1, of course, is adherence to the laws of kashrut, a complex system with innumerable subtleties and exceptions, but which at its most basic elements prohibits pork, shellfish and some other animals and fish and their byproducts. There are also restrictions regarding alcohol and produce and laws prohibiting mixing meat and dairy products. Any kosher restaurant must choose to be either fleishig or milchiks (the Yiddish words for meat or dairy), which means choosing between steakhouse or Italian, a deli or a pizzeria. Not both.

To be certified glatt or suitably kosher for the Orthodox (there are also some Conservative certifications), a restaurant cannot be open on Sabbath or Jewish festivals. And, further, to get a hashgachah — the outside certification provided for a fee by organizations such as the Rabbinic Council of California, Kehilla and Rabbi Yehuda Bukspan, to name a few of the top L.A. certifiers — the venue must have a mashgiach onsite — a supervisor versed in the laws who will ensure complicity.

Rabbi Yaacov Vann, director of Kashrut Services at the RCC, one of the top kosher certifiers in California, describes the need for a kosher restaurant to be a “secure system,” and he uses specific criteria to assess the risks of each establishment.

“How likely is there to be a problem?” he said.

Bakeries, like the famous Schwartz’s, for example, have a low-risk assessment, because there’s little differential between ingredients for kosher bakeries and non-kosher bakeries — flour, sugar, eggs — are all pareve. “There’s little risk to cheat,” he said.

Meat, by contrast, must come from a certified shohet, or butcher, and is more expensive than regular meat. (In September, a scandal rocked Monsey, N.Y., when a butcher was discovered selling non-kosher meat to the ultra-Orthodox community.)

All restaurants, of course, need more oversight than any bakery or pizzeria, and the bigger and busier the place, the more supervision it requires. Depending on the facility, the mashgiach may be the owner or someone who works in the store or an outsider — although the RCC is hoping to require all restaurants to have outside supervisors to minimize corruption.

All this can cost the establishment thousands of dollars a year. But the assurance of strict observance is the only way to bring in people who eat kosher.

There are no statistics on the number of Jews who keep kosher in Los Angeles, though an estimated 10 percent of the L.A. area’s roughly 600,000 are said to be Orthodox. But even those numbers don’t mean much to restauranteurs, because not all religious Jews eat out, some do but only infrequently, limited by such reasons as money, time, family values or weekends spent at home for Shabbat. Many Jews who care about kashrut will also eat at non-kosher restaurants but limit themselves to nonmeat meals, allowing themselves more flexibility on the weekends, when kosher restaurants are closed.

In other words, it’s impossible to gauge the size of the market for kosher dining, except to say that the clientele, until now, has been mostly Jews, friends of Jews or colleagues of Jews taken there for business meals. And everyone agrees, that despite many choices until now among kosher restaurants, there haven’t been enough good kosher restaurants here.

The Ultimate Taste Test


Inside Kosher World, the recent “for-the-trade” food show, you had to remind yourself you were in Anaheim. To my left, two gentlemen negotiated a deal in animated Hebrew. To my right, wine connoisseurs swirled, sniffed and sipped kosher-for-Passover premium varietals from Israel and 11 other countries. Behind me, hungry visitors, beckoned by the intoxicating aromas of smoked meat grilling, speared six varieties of kosher sausage. And at what other trade show would you find a curtained section designated “Davening Area”?

While this was the third year for Kosher World, it was the first time the show joined with the ethnic and halal markets, under the umbrella of the World Ethnic Market.

“These foods are no longer limited today to specialty suppliers or people of a particular religion or ethnicity,” said show director Phyllis Koegel. “They’re now routinely available at major food retailers, restaurants, hotels and food service operations.”

About 40 companies exhibited kosher products, ranging from wines to cheese to meat and halvah, but there also were cashews from Dan-D-Pack, a product of Vietnam; halal beef franks from Midamar, and salted lassi from Gulf & Safa Dairies of Dubai.

As usual at such shows, I sampled far too much, but what don’t you do in the name of research? My first stop was Neshama Gourmet Kosher Foods, for the best sausage I’ve ever tasted. My personal favorite is the exotic Merguez line, made from beef and lamb.

“For the first time our smoked andouille and country apple will be available kosher for Passover,” announced vice president Evelyn Baran.

I sampled salad dressing from Mistral — loved the soy ginger — and the yummiest individually wrapped Kugelettes — sure, there were Traditional Golden Raisin, but could grandma dream up Green Chile and Cheese with Salsa?

Next I visited Raphy’s booth, where samples of baba ghanoush, stuffed eggplant and a host of other delicacies, all produced in Turkey — the watermelon peel preserves are to die for — were dished up with flair.

Only fine wine could top off this “balanced meal,” so I headed for Royal Wine Corp., the world’s largest producer, importer and distributor of kosher wines. “When people hear ‘kosher’ and ‘wine’ in the same breath, they think sweet,” said Dennis Bookbinder, the company’s director of sales. “Our slogan is: ‘We produce and import premium varietal wines that happen to be kosher.’ Today you’ll find world-class kosher wines from $200 a bottle on down.”

Many of the company’s 300 wines from 12 countries regularly garner awards and top ratings from the world’s foremost wine critics and publications. And with Passover around the corner, expect a flood of new kosher wines. Petit Castel from the Judean Hills is considered the finest wine from Israel, Bookbinder said. Baron Herzog Jeunesse, as well as premium wines from Segal’s, Barkan and Carmel, are just a few he recommended to grace the seder table.

This year’s show also included the Natural Products Expo in the same building, “because people tend to associate kosher food with natural and organic,” said show director Koegel.

According to analysts, only 20 percent to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews, and this is one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. So just who is buying the rest? Muslims, Seventh-day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal. The mad cow disease scare hasn’t hurt either; because of strict cleanliness requirements and butchering procedures, there has never been a case of the disease found in kosher beef.

So, as the motto on a banner said at the first Kosher World: “Bringing kosher to mainstream and mainstream to kosher.” Truer today than ever, I’d say.

Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family” (Workman, September 2006) and can be found on the Web at

Academy Cooks Up Kosher Chefs


Where can an observant Jew learn to prepare gourmet cuisine that is not just delicious and pleasing to the eye, but 100% kosher as well?

Until last month, there was no such place. As a result, the vast majority of chefs in kosher kitchens around the world have not been Jews — at least not observant Jews. Yochanan Lambiase, a 34-year-old English-born newly observant Jew — whose father, grandfather and great-grandfather were all chefs at elegant hotels in Italy — was dismayed to find that yeshiva students weren’t choosing to become chefs. Maybe, he thought, if he created a cooking school for observant Jews, they would come.

After a year of fundraising, Lambiase opened the Kosher Culinary Academy last month. The academy — undoubtedly the first kosher cooking school in the world — is housed in Jerusalem’s Holy Land Hotel. To Lambiase’s delight, the 10-month course, which is being taught in English, has attracted 28 students ranging in age from 18 to 53; five are Israeli and the rest hail from North America, England, South Africa and Australia.

Recipes included in the curriculum range from French classics to contemporary European-Asian fusion dishes. Lambiase plans to invite chefs from around the world to demonstrate their techniques, including Jeffrey Nathan, head chef of Abigael’s kosher restaurant in Manhattan and author of “Adventures in Jewish Cooking.”

In April, the school will launch a four-month course for women — classes currently are open only to men — interested in learning catering skills or specialized menus.

“My greatest joy,” Lambiase said, “will be having the head chef of a kosher restaurant coming out to greet his guests, and everyone realizing that the guy who prepared this delicious meal was an Orthodox Jew.”

The Sabra Kosher Gourmet


In late February, I went to Israel at the invitation of the Ministry of Tourism. Having studied abroad in Jerusalem between intifadas, I thought I had seen the attractions and sites of the land, but the ministry offered a view a student on a budget never imagined: Gourmet Israel, eight days of cutting-edge kosher restaurants and winery tours. I jumped at the chance. With El Al’s help, I actually flew at the chance.

The nightly news, even before the violence became a full-blown war, kept the group small. Only three others joined our merry band of foodies in the Holy Land. With a wonderful tour guide (Judy Goldman, who co-wrote Joan Nathan’s first cookbook) and our driver, Nisso, we set a table for six.

We traveled for a taste of what Israel stands to lose most immediately. We sipped excellent local wines at fine restaurants — quiet, empty restaurants. Everyday life is disappearing from Israel. At every stop, Israelis marveled that we Americans were there at all. How brave we are. No, we told them, we’re on a fancy vacation, living better here than at home. Tell a friend, they said. Send more tourists.

In Jerusalem as across the country, strings of shops and restaurants are "closed for remodeling." Many, if not most, will neither remodel nor reopen their doors. Still, there is much to see, even for the veteran Israel tourist. Yes, the holy sites and archeological wonders will still be around (we pray) when the current round of fighting is done. But much of what I saw, the life-affirming and luxurious best of Israel, already is in danger of disappearing.

The treasures of Jerusalem go beyond the Wall and the ancient and holy sites. There is life unique to contemporary Jerusalem. Even more than the Chihuly glass sculpture exhibit last year at the Tower of David, the Davidson Visitor Center, south of the Western Wall, illuminates every cliche about Israel’s clash of the most ancient and modern wonders. In a plaza next to the remains, the Davidson center features a UCLA-designed virtual reality tour of the Second Temple’s magnificent arches and stairways and plazas.

Of course, we ate. Of many meals in varied, unique (and financially endangered) restaurants in town, my favorite was Eucalyptus, in Safra Square (next to City Hall) on Jaffa Road, walking distance from the Ben Yehuda shops. Chef-owner Moshe Basson’s passion for Israeli cuisine makes his small restaurant a must-eat destination for food lovers (see sidebar). Basson serves dishes based on the food of biblical times, made with ingredients so fresh we spent an afternoon watching him pick our meal from the Judean Hills.

A Eucalyptus meal is special; a meal you can’t get outside Israel. The tehina and date syrup dessert plate, called dibs, is a goopy-sweet liquid halvah worth a trip to Israel by itself. Eucalyptus also makes and bottles its own liqueurs, including a strong, smoky licorice arak that goes perfectly with the dibs.

You can find Eucalyptus in Israeli travel guides, but for less-traveled roads you’ll want a tour guide. Goldman, our gourmet guide, was up to the task of sniffing out the best in Israel. Not just any guide, much less a tour book, can lead you through the winding dirt and gravel roads of the Judean Hills to the extraordinary cheesemaker Shai Zeltzer.

In a cave on a goat farm on a green and boulder-strewn patch of Jerusalem hill, Zeltzer is making an international name for Israeli cheeses. With flowing robes and a long white beard, Zeltzer dresses in a Bedouin style, but his casual warmth and Yiddish-laced sense of humor show him up as a uniquely Israeli sort of hippie. Zeltzer sells his cheeses on Fridays and Saturdays only. As we sat, sipping tea and tasting a dozen of his sharp, pungent cheeses, a steady trickle of in-the-know Jerusalemites parked their cars next to the goat pen and ducked into the cool cave where Zeltzer has his counter.

Our time in Jerusalem, in February, was warm and sunny. At night, we watched the news to see where violence had struck, just as we would at home. Then we called our loved ones to let them know that life goes on in Israel; that we were safe and very well fed.

Taking our fill of cheeses and biblical cuisine, we ruefully decamped from the King David Hotel (after the breakfast buffet, of course) for a stay in the Northern Galilee.

We spent most of the next two days visiting some of Israel’s most successful wineries, which felt less like traveling 8,000 miles east, and more like 20 years back in time to the early California wine industry, when grape-loving microclimates first met the will of adventurous vintners and the capital to produce world-class drink. The family owned and operated Tishbi Winery in Binyamina, near the Carmel region, just installed a beautiful picnic-like tasting area. At the Amiad Winery, on Kibbutz Amiad in the Galilee Hills, they add new varieties seasonally to a strong collection of fruit wines and liqueurs. And our hardy group stood for a marathon tasting session at Golan Heights Winery, a massive operation with vinyards all across the country, where they produce the Yarden, Gamla, Golan and Hermon wines.

After a quick stop in Tiberias and dinner at the dramatic tented meat palace Decks, we spent our last few days in Tel Aviv. At trendy Lilit, a restaurant just off Rothschild, we met Janna Gur, editor of the Israeli gourmet magazine Al Ha Shulchan (On the Table). We talked about the Israeli wine expo her magazine would sponsor that weekend, the first ever all-Israeli wine exhibit. Thirty-five wineries would offer their spirits to the discriminating nose and lips of Israel’s aesthetes. We talked about Israel’s developing wine culture and, as we ordered dessert, Gur explained why even in the midst of rising violence, she would stake her career on gourmet food and drink. "It takes years go from a first planting to a bottle of wine," she said, "To be a winemaker, you have to be an optimist."

The waiters brought dessert, a mascarpone cheesecake. It was sweet. And it did not last long.