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.”

PASSOVER: Yemenite Flavor at the Seder


For me, Yemenite cooking is the taste of home. My parents were born in Sharab, a region in southwest Yemen. I was born in Tel Aviv, and grew up on my mother and father’s traditional cooking. The food in our home was always fresh, simple and richly spiced. On Passover, the fragrance of the traditional chicken soup, full of tumeric and cumin, filled our house, and we looked forward to eating our candy-like charoset, made from dates and walnuts.

I came to America in 1976, and opened Magic Carpet, named after the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel, in 1993. The Yemenite food we serve is a warm and constant reminder of my childhood.

Of course, now it turns out it might also be good for you — really good for you.

Yemenite Jews in Israel live longer and healthier lives than other Israelis. Over the years, many researchers have attributed the Yemenite’s good health to the simplicity of their cooking and their use of herbs and spices. Fenugreek, for example, a staple spice in our kitchens, has shown promise in research to treat diabetes and high cholesterol.

Beef, chicken, fish and vegetables require the use of hawa’age, a curry-like spice mixture that consists of turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper in proportions that vary from town to town. On top of that, we add fresh garlic, onion, tomatoes and cilantro to many of our dishes. Hilbeh, a viscuous, spicy relish made from freshly ground fenugreek, and schug, a bright green mix of cilantro and chili, are served separately and added to food according to taste. A few meals like this, and you are on your way to a healthy Yemenite life.

Below are traditional Yemenite Passover foods. Some, like chicken soup, we serve in the restaurant. For the rest, you’d have to come to my house.

Baked Eggs

Oven-baked eggs become brown and flavorful, with a creamy texture.

Just cover eggs in water at room temperature. Add salt to minimize cracking. Cover and cook in your oven at low heat (250 F) overnight or at least 12 hours. Serve hot or cold.

Charoset

This is our version of charoset, which Ashkenazim make from apples, walnuts and wine. We use charoset as jelly on matzah through the holiday.

1 pound dates, pitted and mashed
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about an hour or until the mixture is thickened to a jelly-like consistency. Serve cold.

Matzah Cereal

This was our breakfast throughout the holiday. What makes it special is the spice mixture.

Break two matzah into small pieces. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of hot milk and one tablespoon of butter, mix with the same spice mix as the charoset. Add honey to your taste.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

We would often serve this by placing broken soaked matzah in our soup bowls, then ladling the broth over it.

One 4-pound chicken cut in quarters
5 quarts water
1 large head garlic
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon of coriander
black pepper
salt

Put whole onion, garlic and tomato in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces and cook for 25 minutes. Add spices and fresh cilantro, peeled tomato and if you like, add some sliced zucchini. Salt and paper to taste. Cook for 25 more minutes.

Nili Goldstein is co-owner of the kosher Yemeni-Israeli Magic Carpet Restaurant, 8566 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-8547.

 

Taking the Schmaltz Out of Our Food


At sundown on Monday we usher in the happiest day of our calendar, Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year. For the next 10 days we’ll be called upon to reexamine our lives — to wake up and not only smell the roses, but plant them for other people to enjoy.

The Days of Awe end at sundown on the holiest day of the year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, when we’ll spend the day in temple fasting and praying. Our sundown to sundown fast brings us agony and ecstasy as we internalize how fleeting life is, promise to make amends for acts we’re not proud of, realize we have a whole new year ahead of us to make a difference.

As we hurriedly leave the temple with visions of chopped liver, lokshen kugel and our beloved cheese blintzes dancing in our heads, we know it’s just a matter of moments before we can eat.

Lately though, we’ve had to rethink this. Though it’s a beloved family tradition to break the fast with our favorite Ashkenazi dishes, we also know they contain ingredients that top the cardiologist’s list of no-no’s — red meat, schmaltz, cottage cheese, sour cream and butter. Fat, fat and more fat.

In response, creative Jewish cooks have been hard at work adapting these recipes. And, as rabbi and cookbook author Gil Marks says, with a laugh, "Healthy Jewish cooking is no longer an oxymoron."

Marks modifies traditional holiday recipes in "The World of Jewish Entertaining" (Simon & Schuster, 1998). He uses meat sparingly, as a flavoring instead of the main event. He also uses recipes from the Sephardim, who migrated to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and later to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey. Their cuisine revolved around the three main ingredients mentioned in the Bible: grains, wine and olive oil.

As for our traditional Ashkenazi delicacies, which nourish our souls more than our bodies, Marks substitutes yogurt for sour cream in blintzes, kugels and borsht, uses olive oil instead of schmaltz for chopped liver — or even eliminates liver altogether in favor of a pate of mushrooms, onions and string beans. Instead of stuffing chicken with oil-soaked bread cubes, he suggests apples and spinach, traditional ingredients for the New Year.

Marks has also gone where few men have ventured before him — perfecting a recipe for whole wheat challah, which subtracts eggs and extra fat, adding whole wheat, wheat germ and honey for moisture. He sweetens dishes with fruits instead of sugar. But, he cautions, "Be smart with substitutions. Don’t serve a dish just because it’s low fat. Experiment until you’re happy with the flavor."

Since we’re trying to modify tradition, not break it, instead of asking a Jewish matriarch for our Break the Fast menu, we went to premier Jewish chef and caterer, David Rubell, who serves the Break the Fast Meal at Temple Shalom for the Arts in Los Angeles.

Rubell learned about "food from the old country" from the closest person to him — his Nana Willner. "On Yom Kippur, she’d shine," he says. "Because she knew she’d be in shul all day, and exhausted when she got home, she developed a technique that I, as a caterer, use to this day.

"Nana was meticulously organized. The day before Yom Kippur, she’d assemble her ingredients, then slice, dice, and, in some cases, partially cook, then refrigerate the dishes. When she got home from shul, she’d finish each recipe and have it on the table — piping hot or ice cold — almost instantly. Nothing ever tasted like it had been sitting in the refrigerator all night. Everything was always delicious.

"I learned another lesson from Nana," Rubell says slyly. "Seltzer water in matzah balls. ‘Most people use fat, eggs and too much matzo meal,’ she’d scoff, in her inimitable Russian-Brooklyn accent. ‘And they handle them too much. Of course, they’re like lead.’

"Not my Nana’s," he says. "Hers were always light as a feather. I used to laugh, because when we’d eat at my other grandma’s, Nana Rubell, her matzah balls were like sinkers. We never told her our secret.

"When Nana made blintzes she’d insist on filling them with pot cheese. When she couldn’t find it, she’d substitute Farmer’s. Of course, she’d grouse every time. The mystery ingredient in her sweet blintzes was salt. Just like the infamous spoonful of sugar, ‘A pinch of salt makes us remember who we are and where we came from,’ she’d tell me. ‘Life is not all sweetness and honey. Never forget that!’ This is especially relevant on Yom Kippur, which is all about that little dose of reality," Rubell muses.

As Rubell grew older and started working as a professional chef, his beloved nana took sick with pancreatic cancer. He trudged down to Florida and cooked her all of her favorite meals. "That meant more to her than anything," he says, his eyes welling up. It made him start thinking about lightening the traditional Jewish foods he’d grown up with.

Today when he’s doing a menu, he starts with the dishes she’d taught him, then replaces them with healthier variations.

For example, Rubell replaces the customary sour cream topping for the blintzes with fresh berry compote. Instead of sweet, heavy babkas that "will lay in your stomach for the next three days," he’ll serve a fresh peach cobbler. Since tuna salad with gobs of mayo is a staple on many buffets, Rubell created savory Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad. Instead of the traditional sweet, heavy kugel, he’ll serve a vegetable frittata. According to Rubell, "We never forget our cultural traditions, but we’re reinterpreting them for today’s healthier lifestyles."

Have a happy and healthy New Year!


Recipes for taking out the Schmaltz from Jewish food

All recipes from Chef David Rubell.

Smoked Whitefish Salad (A favorite of Theodore Bikel’s)
Smoked Trout may be substituted for the whitefish.

1 smoked whitefish, approximately 2 lbs., carefully boned
1/3-1/2 cup mayonnaise (low fat or regular)
1 bunch scallions, green part only, sliced thin

Pulse all ingredients in food processor until just smooth. Refrigerate. Serve as appetizer with crackers or challah, or as first course with baby greens and tomato.

Serves 8 to 10.

Chinese Seared Ahi Tuna Salad with Mango

1/2 cup soy sauce
1 teaspoon wasabi
1 1/2 pounds, fresh ahi tuna
1/4 cup canola oil
1 One-pound package wonton skins
1 quart canola oil for frying noodles
1/2 Six-ounce package saifun or dry
bean thread noodles, broken in half
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts
1/4 cup dry roasted, salted cashews
1 head iceberg lettuce, sliced very thin
1/2 head Savoy cabbage, sliced very thin
2 bunches green onion, green part sliced diagonally
2 mangoes, peeled and sliced thin

For Dressing:
2 ounces pickled ginger
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 bunch scallions, white only
1 cup seasoned rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup Chinese sweet and sour sauce
1/2 cup soy sauce
1/2 cup toasted sesame oil

Mix together soy sauce and wasabi. Marinate tuna in mixture for 20 minutes. Sear tuna in hot, nonstick skillet with 1/4 cup oil approximately 1 minute per side. Refrigerate immediately after removing tuna from heat. Allow to cool at least 1/2 hour before slicing for salad. Slice tuna into 1 1/2 inch pieces, reserving odd sizes to incorporate into body of salad.

Slice wonton skins into very thin julienne strips. Fry noodles in very hot oil in 3 separate batches, so as not to decrease oil temperature. Cook noodles approximately 1 minute, tossing constantly. Drain on paper towels.

Bring oil back to temperature. Fry saifun noodle halves separately from each other as they expand rapidly upon hitting the oil. Turn once, remove from pot; drain on paper towel. Repeat until all noodles are fried.

For Dressing:

Place all ingredients in blender and mix for 3 minutes.

To Assemble:

Reserving small handful of wonton noodles and nuts for garnish, toss with dressing, lettuce, cabbage, green onion, nuts, saifun and wonton noodles, and odd pieces of tuna. Place on platter; arrange remaining tuna slices and mangoes decoratively around salad. Top with additional noodles and nuts.

Serves 8 to 10.

Holiday Cheese Blintzes Topped with a Trio of Fresh Berries

(This recipe is from David’s beloved Nana Willner, who told him, “With every bit of sugar, you need a pinch of salt.”)

The pancakes may be purchased ready-made in the produce section of the supermarket.

For the pancake batter:

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