Recipes from Amelia Saltsman: Falling for the flavors of Autumn


For a profile on Amelia Saltsman, visit our Hollywood Jew blog.

GREEN OLIVES WITH ZA’ATAR AND CITRUS

Photo by Staci Valentine

In late autumn, new-crop olives abound. They are often fresh-cured with their buttery flavor and meaty texture intact, making them a perfect partner to a marinade of warm olive oil, garlic, citrus peel and za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend of wild hyssop, ground sumac, sesame seeds and salt. French Lucques or bright green Sicilian Castelvetrano olives are also delicious here. (If your olives are too briny, soak them in water for 15 minutes first to remove some of the saltiness.) Olives are an evergreen option for any mezze table. In summer, use Valencia oranges and Eureka lemons; in winter, navel oranges and Meyer lemons. Be sure to have country bread or pita on hand to sop up the seasoned oil.

(pareve/vegan)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound green olives
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 large clove garlic, sliced 
1 dried árbol chili 
1 lemon
1 orange

In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat until it liquefies and shimmers. Add the olives, reduce the heat to low, and warm through. Remove from the heat, add the za’atar, garlic and chili, and toss to coat. Using a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, and working over the pan, remove the zest from the lemon and the orange in long, wide strips, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the pan. Stir to mix, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate any leftover olives. Bring to room temperature or reheat to serve. 

Makes 2 cups.

OVEN-BRAISED ROMANIAN CHICKEN 

Use the best chicken you can buy because this miraculous braise is all about the bird. There’s not much for the chicken to hide behind. My grandmother Mina added only onions and salt to the pot, although you would never believe it from the gravy that formed during the slow cooking. Everyone in my mother’s family still makes some version of this dish. Generations in Israel and the United States have variously added cumin, paprika, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves, and/or potatoes to the original. My cousins, my mother, my daughter Rebecca, and my son Adam cook this on top of the stove. My daughter Jessica and I prefer the leave-it-and-go oven method. Either way, serve it with something to sop up the juices: basic white rice, steamed potatoes, shmaltz-roasted potatoes, latkes, egg noodles or a nice challah. 

(meat)

1 chicken (4 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or 6 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
Kosher or sea salt (sel gris is nice here as a cooking salt) and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Pat the chicken very dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, wide, ovenproof pot fitted with a lid, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat and brown the chicken. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pot. Start the pieces skin side down and turn each piece once the skin is deep golden, about 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot. Add the onions and a little salt and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time and scraping up any brown bits, until the onions are pale golden, about 10 minutes. 

Scatter the bay leaves in the pot. Return the chicken, skin side up, to the pot, nestling the pieces to fit. Cover and braise in the oven until the chicken is exceptionally tender and juices at least 1 inch deep have formed in the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 hours. Check the pot from time to time. If it seems dry, add a little water to prevent sticking. You don’t want to boil the chicken; you want it to stew in its own juices. 

Serve the chicken hot with the pot juices. (The dish can be made a day or two ahead, covered, and refrigerated, then reheated on the stove or in a 350 F oven.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GVETCH: ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE

Photo by Morgan Lieberman

Every Mediterranean-influenced cuisine embraces the magical late-summer marriage of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and squash — ratatouille, caponata and now gvetch, the Romanian entry. Although Romania is most often associated with its Slavic neighbors, it was once part of the Ottoman Empire, and its cuisine has a distinct eastern Mediterranean quality to it. There are endless gvetch variations, some with meat and others with a dozen different vegetables. My family has always stuck to the classic Provençal ingredients. Paprika is a Romanian note; the cumin may have found its way into the dish during my family’s three generations in melting-pot Israel.

My aunt Sarah taught me her easy stove-top gvetch; I like my oven variation even better. Roasting the vegetables concentrates their flavors and reduces the juices to a thick, caramelized sauce. Use meaty Roma tomatoes or another Italian sauce variety, such as Costoluto Genovese, for the best results. Ten minutes of active work yields a big batch you can use in a multitude of ways, and, its flavors improve over a few days.

(pareve/vegan)

2 pounds fleshy sauce tomatoes, such as Roma or Costoluto Genovese
4 to 6 medium-size green or white (Lebanese) zucchini or marrow squash (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
3 or 4 sweet red peppers
1 or 2 onions, peeled
6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika, or a combination 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Roughly chop the tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, sweet peppers and onions into about 1-inch pieces. Transfer the vegetables to a large roasting pan (about 12 by 15 inches) along with the garlic cloves, paprika, cumin, bay leaves, a good glug of olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons), about 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper. Toss to mix, then spread the mixture in an even layer in the pan. It should be about 2 inches deep.

Roast without stirring until the vegetables are very tender and browned in places and the tomatoes have melted into a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

ARUGULA WITH FRESH GOLDEN BARHI DATES, DRIED APRICOTS, NECTARINES AND SUMAC

In date-growing regions, the harvest begins in late summer or early autumn. Barhi dates are the first variety to be brought to market, still on the stem, a beautiful shade of soft gold, and crisp. Their flavor hovers between sweet and astringent. Golden Barhis, known as “fresh” or khalal, the second of four stages of ripeness, are lovely with late-season nectarines or mangoes in a distinctive early-autumn salad. Any astringency in the fresh dates is tamed by the use of orange juice, sweet nut oil and tart sumac in the dressing. Fresh Barhi dates are available at Middle Eastern markets, California farmers markets and by mail order for a few brief weeks in the fall. They are a rare treat, but now you know what to do with them. The basic structure of this salad lends itself to many seasonal combinations of dried and fresh fruits. Try Fuyu persimmons and pears in place of the dates and nectarines, and contrast their sweetness with additional tart dried fruits and early mandarins.

(pareve/vegan)

1/2 pound crisp golden Barhi dates (about 16) 
1/2 cup moist dried apricots (about 16; 2 to 3 ounces) 
2 ripe nectarines or juicy pears (about 1/2 pound total)
1/2 pound arugula
1 to 2 tablespoons nut oil, such as walnut, pecan, almond or pistachio
1 Valencia orange
Finishing salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt
Ground sumac 

Cut the dates in half lengthwise, remove the pits, then cut each half into thin crescents and place in a salad bowl. Use kitchen scissors to snip apricots into strips and add to the bowl. Halve the nectarines or pears and pit the nectarines or core the pears. Cut into thin crescents and add to the bowl along with the arugula.

Drizzle the oil to taste over the salad and toss lightly. Using a five-hole zester, and working over the salad bowl, remove the zest from the orange in long strands, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the bowl. Give the salad a healthy squeeze of orange juice and season to taste with salt and sumac. Toss the salad and sprinkle with additional sumac for color and added tartness. 

Makes 8 servings.

KITCHEN NOTE: To quickly ripen khalal-stage Barhi dates for another use, freeze them for at least 24 hours. When thawed, they will have turned light brown and have become soft and sweet. This is the same freezing technique that works with astringent Hachiya persimmons, the oblong variety that must be meltingly ripe to be eaten.

SEMOLINA AND WALNUT OIL CAKE WITH COFFEE HAWAIJ

Coffee hawaij is a Yemenite spice blend of ginger, cardamom and cinnamon used to flavor coffee (not to be confused with savory hawaij for soups). Ground, it’s great for baking (you can create your own blend, as noted in ingredient list). Together with coarse semolina and walnut oil, it makes this blond loaf unique. Walnut oil is a key ingredient here, so use a well-crafted, untoasted one with no off flavors. Coarse semolina is available at Greek markets; regular Cream of Wheat can be substituted. To make a nut-free version of this cake, use another oil, such as avocado, and omit the walnuts. 

(pareve)

Mild oil, such as grapeseed or safflower, for the pan
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup coarse semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons coffee hawaij or 1 1/2 teaspoons each ground ginger and brown cardamom and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup untoasted walnut oil
1 cup sugar 
3 eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, semolina, baking powder, hawaij and salt. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together walnut oil and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly blended and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes total. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition just until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Bake the cake until the top is golden, springs to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife or spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert the pan onto the rack, lift off the pan, and turn the cake top side up. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes one loaf cake, 12 servings.

ROASTED AUTUMN FRUIT

Photo by Staci Valentine

This is my go-to autumn dessert, perfect for all the season’s holidays, whether served on its own or as an accompaniment to cakes or ice cream. Roasting fall fruit brings out the spicy notes we associate with desserts this time of year. And it’s very forgiving: just about any combination of seasonal fruit will do, and no special techniques, precise measuring  or timing is required. This impressive dish is naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Here’s one of my favorite combinations to get you started.

(pareve)

4 pounds mixed apples and Bosc or Anjou pears (about 6 apples and 3 or 4 large pears), including some  firm-fleshed, such as Pippin, and some melting-flesh apple varieties, such as Golden Delicious
2 Fuyu persimmons 
1 to 2 pints figs (about 3/4 pound)
2 cups Concord, Autumn Royale or wine grapes
2 ounces dried fruit, such as plums, apricots or apples, snipped into small pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup off-dry red or white wine or a muscat dessert wine, such as Beaumes de Venise
Few thyme sprigs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the apples, pears and persimmons, if desired. Halve and core them and cut into large wedges or chunks. Cut the figs in half lengthwise. Place all the fruit, including the grapes and the dried fruit, in a large ovenproof pan and use your hands to mix them gently. It’s OK if you need to mound the fruit to fit. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and wine, warm over low heat, and then pour evenly over all the fruit. Toss in the thyme sprigs, if desired. 

Roast the fruit until it is bubbly and well browned in places, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

POMEGRANATE-ORANGE GELÉE 

Photo by Staci Valentine

Gelatin desserts deserve a comeback. This easy, from-scratch gelée has a luscious silky texture and jewel-tone appeal. It is a refreshing finish to a rich meal, a beautiful autumn starter or a between-course palate cleanser. Orange tempers the more assertive flavors of pomegranate; feel free to shift the balance of juices, keeping the total amount of liquid the same. If possible, use freshly squeezed pomegranate juice available in season where the fruit is grown. Gelatin is typically a meat product. Autumn pomegranates symbolize the hope that one’s blessings in the new year will be as plentiful as its many kernels (arils). 

(meat)

3 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup strained fresh orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin 
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons orange flower water 

In a measuring pitcher, mix together the pomegranate and orange juices. If any pulp rises to the surface, skim it off. Pour 1 cup of the juice blend into a small bowl. Sprinkle in the packets of gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes to soften. 

In a medium pot, bring 1 1/2 cups of the remaining juice blend almost to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar and the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Stir in the remaining juice blend and orange flower water, mixing well. Pour into small jelly glasses. Cover and chill until set, about 4 hours. (The gelée may be made a day ahead.)

Makes 8 servings.

Celebrate Queen Esther with chocolate


Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. According to tradition, when she moved into the palace, she became quite a party girl but limited her diet to seeds, vegetables, fruits, nuts and, of course, chocolate. 

So, this year, to celebrate her special diet, I am planning to treat my family to a special array of chocolate Purim desserts. The custom of gift-giving to friends during the holiday is referred to as mishloach manot, and my favorite gift when we are invited for dinner to the home of friends is to bring a ribbon-wrapped box filled with homemade chocolates. 

There are plenty of other treats to try: I am sharing my recipe here for Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Fruit and Nut Bars and Chocolate-Covered Halvah Truffles.

And don’t forget hamantaschen, the traditional Purim pastry. The first recipe I remember for these came from my mother. Instead of making them with the yeast-based pastry that is found in most Jewish bakeries, she used cookie dough filled with poppy seed and prune preserves.

Over the years I have developed my own hamantaschen pastries. My favorite is adding chocolate and poppy seeds to the dough and stuffing them with a mixture of chocolate and chopped nuts. 

Just when your guests think all the desserts are on the table, surprise them with scoops of Chocolate Sorbet. Then you can nosh some hamantaschen! 

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED OATMEAL COOKIE FRUIT AND NUT BARS

  • Oatmeal Cookie Dough (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1 cup diced dry cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups diced dry apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup cream, warmed
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces

Prepare the Oatmeal Cookie Dough; bake as directed and set aside.

Mix the nuts and dried fruits in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked cookie dough.

Combine sugar and water in a heavy pot; cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until light brown. Remove from heat; add the cream, stirring constantly. Transfer to a large measuring cup and pour over dried fruit and nuts in baked cookie dough. Set aside to cool, then cut into bars of desired size. (See yields below.)

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water or in a microwave. With your fingertips, dip one end of each bar into melted chocolate, leaving the nuts and fruit showing and place on a wax paper-lined platter. Refrigerate until chocolate is set. 

Makes 54 bars, 2 by 2 inches each; or 108 bars, 1 by 2 inches each.

OATMEAL COOKIE DOUGH

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (do not use instant oatmeal)
  • 1 1/4 cups toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugars and butter. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each one. 

In a bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture in two to three additions, beating until just combined. Add oats in two or three additions, stirring until just combined. Stir in pecans.

Roll dough into a ball, flatten with hands, and spread evenly onto a greased, rimmed 12-by-18-inch baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. 

CHOCOLATE-COVERED HALVAH TRUFFLES


Chocolate-dipped oatmeal cookie fruit and nut bars and chocolate-covered halvah truffles.

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

In a mixing bowl, stir together the tahini and honey. In a food processor, combine the coconut, wheat germ and sunflower seeds; process until finely chopped. Stir coconut mixture, cocoa and cinnamon into tahini-honey mixture until well-blended and firm. Shape mixture by hand into l-inch balls.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. With your hands, dip each halvah ball into the melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-lined plate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. 

Makes 30 (1-inch) balls.

CHOCOLATE POPPY-SEED HAMANTASCHEN

  • Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, ground almonds, poppy seeds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in butter until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Combine water and cocoa in a small bowl; beat in the whole egg. Add to flour mixture, beating until mixture begins to form dough. Do not overmix. 

Transfer to floured board and shape into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. 

Divide dough into six portions. Flatten each with the palms of your hands; roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. 

Place 1 teaspoon Chocolate Filling in the center of each round. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in the center. Pinch edges to seal.

Place on a lightly greased foil- or Silpat-lined baking sheet and brush with lightly beaten egg white. Bake until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. 

Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk, cream or coffee
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl; blend thoroughly. 

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

CHOCOLATE SORBET

  • 3 cups unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup port or Concord grape wine

Combine cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until thick. Stir in melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 4 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place inside a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Stir until cool. Remove bowl from ice water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least 1 hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving. 

Makes about 2 quarts. 


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.

Sukkot veggie heaven


Sukkot is a wonderful time of year to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your cooking. Beets, cabbage and squash are vegetables that are especially delicious at this time of year and work well in many recipes. Sukkot also reminds me of savory sweet and sour dishes that we ate in Eastern Europe, where I was raised.

For the holidays, I like to stick with traditional family recipes, and fortunately we have many for Sukkot. Many of these recipes also freeze well, which helps with the planning and unexpected company.

Beet Salad With Ginger is a lovely way to start a Sukkot meal. It is a delicious appetizer that I like to serve at room temperature surrounded by greens lightly dressed with oil. Traditionally, beets are boiled or steamed, but I think baking gives them a much richer flavor and a gorgeous color.

It is a popular custom to make stuffed foods for Sukkot as a symbol of an abundant harvest, and Stuffed Cabbage Rolls is a perfect example of the tradition. Among the many versions of the dish is the one I feature in my cookbook “Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine.” It’s light, the cabbage rolls are small and not too filling, and it freezes well. The cookbook also includes a wonderful recipe for a vegetarian alternative, Barley Stuffed Cabbage.


BEET SALAD WITH GINGER

  • 5 medium beets
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Snipped chives, for garnish
  • Mache or other greens, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 F (you can also use a toaster oven). Line a baking pan with foil.

Wash the beets and, while still wet, wrap each one individually in foil. (Be sure to wrap them tightly, otherwise some of the juice may ooze out.) Place in the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Remove each beet from the oven as it becomes ready.

When cool, slip the skin off the beets. Cut them into 1/4-inch slices, then into 1/4-inch cubes. Add the ginger, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; combine well. Season to taste.

Serve on individual plates, garnished with chives and accompanied by mache. Makes 4 servings.

TIPS: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets to avoid staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove. For those in a hurry, you can chop the beets in a food processor, but it will give them a different texture.


STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

In Eastern Europe, stuffed cabbage rolls are traditionally served on Sukkot. This one is a favorite, as it is light and sweet and sour. Like all stuffed cabbage recipes, this is a bit time-consuming, but you can do it in stages, and because it freezes well, you can make it in advance.

CABBAGE

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 medium heads cabbage (about 3 pounds each)

FILLING

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, quartered
  • 1 baking potato, peeled and cut in large pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound veal and 1 pound beef, ground together
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley (stems removed), coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

SAUCE

  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley (stems removed), coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 6 ounces dried apricots, diced
  • 1 can (35 ounces) imported peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can (28 ounces) imported crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Cabbage leaves: Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the salt. With the point of a knife, cut out some of the hard center core of the cabbages. Remove and discard any bruised and discolored leaves. Add the cabbage to the boiling water and boil for a few minutes, turning the cabbage often. Remove the cabbage from the water by piercing the core with a large fork and lifting out the head.

To remove the leaves without damaging them, cut where they are attached at the core, then peel off. If necessary, return the cabbage to the boiling water to soften the leaves. Shred the small center leaves.

Repeat this process for the second cabbage. (You can do this earlier in the day or the night before. Place the leaves in a tightly sealed zip-top plastic bag and refrigerate until needed.)

Filling: Place the onion, garlic, potato and egg in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the meat, parsley, rice, tomato paste and soy sauce. Mix with your hands to combine well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To fill the cabbage leaves: Spread each cabbage leaf on a cutting board and cut out some of the center rib. Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center. Starting from the smaller end, roll the cabbage halfway, fold the sides toward the center, and roll tightly to the end. Continue until all the filling has been used.

To make the sauce: Peel, core and quarter the apples. Chop the apples, carrots and onions in a food processor, one at a time. (Chopping each ingredient separately preserves its distinct texture.)

Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the apples, carrots and onions, and saute for a few minutes. Remove to a large bowl and add the parsley, raisins, apricots, peeled and crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and chicken broth.

To cook the rolls: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the rolls near each other, seam side down, in an enamel-lined saucepan large enough to hold the rolls in 2 or 3 layers. Scatter the leftover shredded cabbage on top. Add the sauce. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. (If the heat is too high, the bottom will burn.)

Cover the pan with heavy foil and a tight-fitting lid. Place in the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Season the sauce to taste with additional brown sugar, salt and pepper. Makes about 3 dozen small rolls.


SWEET-AND-SOUR ACORN SQUASH

This is a pretty winter dish that goes very well with any kind of poultry or fish. 

  • 1 small acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking pan with foil and brush the foil with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Rinse and pat dry the squash. Trim the ends and discard. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and fibrous strings. Cut into 1/2-inch wedges.

Arrange the wedges in the pan. Brush the squash with the remaining oil, then the vinegar; sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the wedges are tender and the sugar has lightly caramelized. Serve warm. 

Makes 6 servings.


ZUCCHINI CAKE

This moist and delicious cake is perfect when a surprise visitor pops in and you want to serve a light snack with your tea.

  • 1/4 pound skin-on hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing pan
  • 2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Generous 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons grated zest from a navel orange
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 medium zucchini (not more than 1/2 pound), coarsely grated

Roast the hazelnuts in a toaster oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes, or until the skins are blistered. While the nuts are still hot, rub them in a dishtowel to remove most of their skin. (Some skin will remain.) Cool. Chop them in a food processor until coarse.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Dust the pan with 1 tablespoon of the flour, then invert and tap the pan to shake out any excess flour.

Place the 2 cups flour in a large bowl and add the hazelnuts, baking soda, baking powder and sugar. In a smaller bowl, whisk the 1/2 cup oil, the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, ginger and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, combine the wet ingredients with the flour mixture. Fold in the zucchini.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Run a metal spatula around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the loaf pan onto a serving plate. 

Makes 12 servings.

Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs under 40


What do the young Jewish star chefs in Los Angeles have in common? For those on the cutting edge of the city’s food scene, it’s not the laws of kashrut. Instead, for each of the 10 chefs and teams profiled here, all under age 40, the foundation of their cooking is seasonality, sustainability and a strong sense of place. Their styles and philosophy can be traced back to the temple of  Berkeley’s Alice Waters, who is not Jewish, as well as some leading local godmothers of L.A. cooking, such as Nancy Silverton, Evan Kleiman, Suzanne Tracht and Susan Feniger, who certainly are. 

Many of these younger chefs spent their formative years training with marquee names in iconic restaurants, like Campanile, Michael’s and Spago. Others have made their names via big-time reality TV food shows, while the rest have forged independent, idiosyncratic and often surprising paths. 

Most of the chefs we’ve included are Los Angeles natives who at some point left their hometown to develop their skills and knowledge in other cities, some overseas, but we’ve also highlighted a selection of transplants from the East Coast, as well as other parts of California, who’ve found inspiration and success in Los Angeles. All of these chefs benefited from supportive families, education and access, and almost all have an ownership stake in their current businesses.

They all come from Jewish families, and although mostly secular, their cultural and religious identities, along with formative food experiences, continue to influence what shows up on the tables of their popular and critically lauded restaurants. (Most of their establishments are among Jonathan Gold’s recent 101 Best Restaurants list in the Los Angeles Times.) 

And come major holidays, they might even reinterpret traditional Jewish foods in ways their bubbes never imagined.


Eric Greenspan
The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire

Equal parts extroverted, easygoing, precise and book smart, Eric Greenspan is that guy you went to Sunday school with. Come major holidays, he’s one of the local chefs who regularly puts his version of Ashkenazic favorites on the menu at The Foundry on Melrose (which is under renovation, until August). Meanwhile, Greenspan’s latke bites have proven popular enough to always be available at Foundry. His semi-regular fried chicken nights attracted regulars who shattered stereotypes of caloric decadence-fearing Angelenos.

Greenspan graduated from Calabasas High School, has degrees from UC Berkeley and Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, and was named executive chef at Patina before moving to the erstwhile Meson G on Melrose (Hatfield’s now occupies the space). Greenspan said he doesn’t actively practice the Conservative traditions he was raised with, but he said he likes “to raise the flag of Judaism as often as possible.” Last February, for instance, he teamed up with chef Roberto Treviño for El Ñosh, a Jewish-Latin fusion pop-up concept during the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami. And his haimish side really shines in his transcendent grilled cheese sandwiches, which became the inspiration for “The Melt Master: A Grilled Cheese Adventure Show,” on Tasted, a food channel show on YouTube. Now The Foundation Hospitality Group (which he formed with partner Jay Perrin and Jim Hustead, and which also operates the Beverly Hills-adjacent Roof on Wilshire, atop Hotel Wilshire) is turning a small space next to The Foundry into a sandwich emporium, dubbed Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese and slated to open in July. 

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 651-0915  –  thefoundryonmelrose.com

The Roof on Wilshire Hotel
6317 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 852-6002  –  theroofonwilshire.com


Giselle Wellman
Petrossian Café

Preparing Shabbat dinner “was the highlight of the week,” said Giselle Wellman, 28, about her early devotion as a teenager in San Diego to cooking for her extended clan. It didn’t occur to her that it was unusual for someone her age to plan her activities around preparing a large family meal on Friday nights. Nor did she automatically assume she was destined for a career commanding the stoves. 

“There are a lot of chefs in my family, but I was committed to the idea that we go to school, and we become doctors and lawyers,” the now-executive chef at the luxurious Petrossian caviar boutique and restaurant in West Hollywood explained. “Cooking was a hobby until the day my mom came home with an application for a nearby culinary school.” Not satisfied with her choices nearby, Wellman moved to Mexico City, where most of her family has been based since fleeing Eastern Europe during World War II, and she lived there with her grandmother while attending Le Cordon Bleu. Fluent in English and Spanish, Wellman speaks fondly of her family’s cultural hybrid traditions, such as adding a squeeze of lime to chicken matzah ball soup. 

A beautiful, simple salad with butter lettuce, shaved egg, mixed fresh herbs, crème fraîche dressing and a sprinkling of, yes, caviar, showcases Wellman’s deft hand when it comes to restrained indulgence. She satisfies the smoked fish fanatics and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, but Wellman also knows her way around a lamb pita sandwich. And if you’ve ever wondered what caviar tastes like atop a perfectly fried latke, Wellman is the chef to enlighten you. 

Petrossian Café
321 N. Robertson Blvd.  –  West Hollywood
(310) 271-0576  –  petrossian.com/boutique-west-hollywood-boutique-and-restaurant-6.html


Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ilan Hall
The Gorbals 

When Long Island-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained Ilan Hall came to Los Angeles from New York to invest his winnings from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” his location of choice — downtown — reflected the optimism of a new arrival. Opening a restaurant in the lower level of the once lustrous, now scrappy Alexandria Hotel in the Historic Core of the city pinned heavy hopes on the neighborhood’s renaissance. Hall’s bet paid off, and his meat-intensive, cultural mash-up cooking style has drawn customers to the increasingly vibrant intersection of Fifth and Spring streets since opening in 2009. Improvising from his Jerusalem-born mother’s heritage as well as that of his Scottish father, Hall, 31, makes food that is deeply personal. (The restaurant takes its name from Glasgow’s historically Jewish neighborhood where Hall’s father comes from.) “My mom, who doesn’t cook, made really good sandwiches. She made me a hummus and ham sandwich, and it was really marvelous. It was those two ingredients made to be together. That’s where it all began,” Hall told Orit Arfa, writing for jewishjournal.com in 2009. 

His in-your-face iconoclastic bacon-wrapped matzah balls might be what got people talking, but the Gorbals has evolved into one of the area’s staple late-night pubs, where folks can order reasonably priced dishes of welsh rarebit, homemade latkes, tongue confit, and Persian cucumbers tossed with crispy garbanzos and sumac. 

The Gorbals
501 S. Spring St.  –  Los Angeles
(213) 488-3408  –  thegorbalsla.com


Photo by Dylan Ho

Karen Hatfield
Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen

Chef Karen Hatfield and her husband, Quinn Hatfield, are as close as you get to a fabled L.A. storybook romance. Pacific Palisades-raised Karen, 37, met Quinn while working on the line at Spago, where she was a pastry chef and he was rising through the ranks of Wolfgang Puck’s legendary kitchen. Their first eponymous restaurant occupied an elegantly modest space on Beverly Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax, before they ambitiously decamped to Melrose, near Highland, in the building originally occupied by chef Alain Giraud’s nouvelle cuisine institution, Citrus. The Hatfields’ exacting style fits the site’s pedigree and history. The couple also owns The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea, a neighborhood utility player where locals drop in for coffee, sandwiches, salads and rustic pastries, including Karen’s notoriously delicious twist on an Old World treat: the salted-caramel babka roll.

Hatfield’s
6703 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977  –  hatfieldsrestaurant.com

The Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 939-0151  –  thesycamorekitchen.com


Photo by Jessica Ritz

Jessica Koslow
Sqirl 

Good thing Jessica Koslow got her alternative career plans out of the way. The Long Beach-bred master food preserver, 32, earned her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown before getting on the culinary track in Atlanta, where she started cooking at the lauded restaurant Bacchanalia under the mentorship of chef Anne Quatrano. Koslow moved to New York, and then was transferred home to Los Angeles while producing online content for “American Idol,” when she started delving more deeply into food preservation and baking. In the interim, she returned to Atlanta for a bit to help Quatrano open another restaurant. Back in L.A., Koslow began making and selling small batches of delicately flavored jams (Pakistani mulberry, Thai basil), and when her production needs exceeded capacity in the commercial kitchen space she borrowed, she found her own place on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood to create Sqirl, her micro café, which attracts diners willing to consume $5 coffee and brioche toast piled with market greens, preserved lemon and slivered beets topped with an egg while sitting on a stretch of sidewalk that can hardly be described as glamorous.

Koslow still makes the popular jams, and she constantly returns to Jewish pickling; hulking dark brown ceramic fermenting crocks full of caraway-laced sauerkraut and kosher dill pickles can always be spotted somewhere around the kitchen at Sqirl. She maintains a discerning eye for top, peak-season ingredients and zero tolerance for short cuts (current project: mastering beef tongue pastrami). “Jewish food is very comforting. I think of it in terms of the home and family,” Koslow observed. “It’s what I know, and these things resonate.” Because she’s found an ever-expanding audience, the under-construction space next door to Sqirl will contain a provisions shop. 

Sqirl
720 N. Virgil Ave.  No. 4   –  Los Angeles
(213) 394-6526  –  sqirlla.com

Ori Menashe
Bestia

The Italian-themed Bestia, located inside a converted industrial building in the downtown Arts District, has been buzzing since day one, thanks to chef Ori Menashe’s spectacular house-made, intensely flavored pastas, pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven at the right nanosecond and an extensive selection of his aromatic, expertly handled charcuterie. Salads and other vegetable-focused dishes at Bestia reflect the chef’s passion for Southern California produce, which is equal to his faith in his customers’ willingness to order grilled lamb heart with sprouted arugula. 

The Los Angeles-born, then Israel-raised Menashe, 32, comes from a mostly kosher household. He started flouting the rules upon eating his first cheeseburger when he was around 15. “That’s when I thought I could change my own direction,” he said, noting that he felt freer to explore traditions and ingredients outside of his family’s kosher home. He’s cooked in L.A. kitchens ranging from a café in Kosher Corridor, to Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, before the omnipresent restaurateur Bill Chait (also the man behind Sotto; see below) came calling. Menashe’s wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia’s acclaimed pastry chef. His Israeli upbringing, in combination with his parents’ Georgian and Moroccan roots, enriches his professional toolkit. Said Menashe: “A lot of my flavor profile is because of my dad,” who still owns a restaurant in Israel. “He’s really talented.”

Bestia
2121 E. Seventh Place  –  Los Angeles
(213) 514-5724  –  bestiala.com


Photo by Emily Hart Roth

Zoe Nathan
Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery

Westside restaurant power couple Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb met in the kitchen of Rustic Canyon, the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant Loeb founded and had named in honor of his beloved Santa Monica neighborhood. They’ve since married and had a son, Milo, all while continuing to make their mark among a receptive community. Chef Nathan, 31, who spent time at Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York and San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Bakery, keeps expanding her pastry and savory repertoires, from wood-fired pizzas at Milo & Olive to small-batch ice creams at Sweet Rose Creamery, to sandwiches at casual café Huckleberry, which she co-owns with entrepreneur Loeb. Despite this breadth, Nathan primarily identifies as a pastry chef and baker. The couple’s businesses are a natural extension of their values and worldview. “Zoe and I are much more culturally religious than actually practicing religious, but ultimately food is our religion as much as anything,” Loeb, 38, explained. During the holidays, Nathan notes that “brisket is a mainstay on the menu at Huck, and my flavors in a lot of my food are a play of salty and sweet.” Also of note: Now helming the Rustic Canyon kitchen is Executive Chef Jeremy Fox, a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2009 Bon Appetit Best Chef (and Member of the Tribe), who brings the deeply seasonal, highly refined, gorgeously composed style he developed at Manresa in Los Gatos and Ubuntu in Napa. 

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050  –  rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Huckleberry Cafe
1014 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 451-2311  –  huckleberrycafe.com

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 453-6776  –  miloandolive.com

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th St. No. 51  –  Santa Monica
(310) 260-2663  –  sweetrosecreamery.com


Photo by Sean Murphy

Zach Pollack
Sotto

Zach Pollack, 29, who along with Steve Samson, runs Sotto Italian restaurant on West Pico, near Beverly Drive, grew up “quite Reform” in Westwood. His mother was born in Germany to refugees who immigrated to the United States “in the aftermath of the Holocaust,” Pollack said. “We took Jewish cultural traditions seriously,” he noted, and religious practice less so, although he did have a bar mitzvah. 

Pollack’s formative professional conversion can be traced to his junior year abroad in Florence, Italy; after graduating from Brown University, he returned to Italy to fully develop his passion for its cooking. (Samson was raised in an interfaith family that didn’t regularly observe Jewish rituals.) The duo brings a seriousness of purpose and commitment to quality to a block not previously known for culinary accomplishment. That was until Sotto and its upstairs neighbor, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Picca Peruvian cantina, transformed their eclectic colonial townhouse building into a dining destination. At lunch and dinner, the cozy subterranean room is packed with diners sharing hearty plates of grilled meatballs with bitter greens, deliciously funky blistered pizzas, traditional Italian dishes that use quintessentially West Coast ingredients such as Fresno chilies and formidable protein dishes paired with seasonal vegetables. 

Sotto
9575 W. Pico Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(310) 277-0210  –  sottorestaurant.com


Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Microsoft

Jon Shook
Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec

Jon Shook and his business partner, Vinny Dotolo, opened their first restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District among the delis, Judaica shops and skater hangouts. But if you expect Animal to share anything in common with its next-door neighbor and landlord, the kosher icon Schwartz Bakery and Café, let us disabuse you of any such notions immediately. (Their lease agreement actually includes a non-kosher clause.) “It’s kind of random that we ended up on Fairfax,” Shook remarked, “but it’s been interesting.” Both Florida natives, Dotolo and Shook, 32, were among the city’s first ambassadors of the nose-to-tail philosophy and approach. And yet despite Shook’s love of a “Jewish-grandma-style brisket,” they’re far from being a one-trick pony extreme-meat shtick. The Shook/Dotolo brand has thrived with their seafood-focused Son of a Gun on Third Street, near La Cienega, which also happens to serve a crave-inducing fried chicken sandwich, along with the stellar petite lobster roll and raw seafood dishes infused with unexpected flavors. 

They’ve also opened Trois Mec (the name roughly translates as “three dudes”), a partnership with celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who is arguably best known for his series of highly in-demand pop-up dinners called LudoBites. This collaborative project is tucked within a former Raffalo’s strip mall pizza shop catty-corner from Silverton’s Mozza, and immediately attracted accolades for the inventive prix fixe menu that changes almost daily. The restaurant’s system, requiring advance purchase of a meal in lieu of making a traditional reservation, much like a cultural event, also got attention. Any resulting criticism hasn’t impacted the bottom line — Trois Mec’s 24 seats remain  among the hottest tickets in town. The most recent news out of the Shook/Dotolo camp is a vague plan announced via Instagram to take over the Damiano’s space on Fairfax; it helps that they own the building.  

Animal
435 N. Fairfax Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9225  –  animalrestaurant.com

Son of a Gun
8370 W. Third St.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9033  –  sonofagunrestaurant.com

Trois Mec
716 N. Highland Ave.  –  Los Angeles
troismec.com


Photo by Cathy Chaplin/GastronomyBlog.com

MICAH WEXLER
The Residency at Umamicatessen

“I didn’t set out to say I want to be the modern Jewish chef,” Micah Wexler, 30, explained at Reboot’s “Who’s Your Bubbie?” panel at the Skirball last November. “These were the flavors I grew up around, [and they] started to manifest more and more.” So it additionally stung when Wexler, who has staged in some of Europe’s most famous kitchens, was getting into the groove of revisiting the Ashkenazic culinary canon at his pan-Mediterranean Mezze restaurant on La Cienega then had to close down suddenly due to construction next door. 

Losing that venue as a home base for his Old World-meets-New, market-driven dishes, including chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda, farm egg shakshouka, soujouk sausage with muhammara and veal jus, and smoked sablefish with lebne, has by no means kept him out of the L.A. food scene, however. Wexler is currently in the midst of his second stint at Umamicatessen’s Residency project downtown, cooking multicourse dinners in an open kitchen surrounded by customers seated at his counter for a very specific experience. The configuration makes for a social, interactive Saturday night, as does the conceit. For the current “Dead Chefs” theme, continuing through July, Wexler turns to the canon to cook recipes from a different historical culinary giant for each of the 10 weeks, starting with Marie-Antoine Careme and concluding with Julia Child. 

“To Live and Dine in L.A.,” Wexler’s previous, inaugural session of the program, took a specific geographical approach, with nights dedicated to saluting the best of Pico Boulevard and exploring the diverse heritage Boyle Heights, among other communities. Wexler might have made an Israeli cheese-stuffed borek in reference to Eilat Market, but not one you’d typically expect. (Hint: Bacon was involved.)

A graduate of Milken Community High School, Wexler and his business partner (and fellow Cornell University alum) Mike Kassar, are setting their sights on settling down again, in a new locale, in the coming months.  

The Residency at Umamicatessen
852 Broadway  –  Los Angeles
(213) 413-8626 – umami.com/umamicatessen

Save the self-pity, choices abound for Passover meals


For the many who feel overwhelmed by Passover because of the demands of cooking without leaven, a word or two: That should not be an obstacle.

After all, on this most celebrated of Jewish holidays, we are allowed to eat fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits, most vegetables and fresh herbs.

All of the recipes featured here  are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and easy to prepare. They emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients, fewer complicated techniques, and stylish, elegant dishes. What more would you want for Passover?

The seder meals, when we recount the Exodus story, are the most important events of the holiday.  Most people, like myself, favor their own traditional menu. Each year I repeat the seder menu as a way to hold on to cherished family traditions.

The recipes are from the new cookbook “Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press).

BEET SOUP
With their magnificent color, delicious flavor and vitamin richness, beets are one of my favorite vegetables. In the summer I serve this soup at room temperature; in the winter I like it hot.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds (570 g) beets, plus 1 small beet for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and sliced
4 1/2 cups (1.08 liters) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Peel and slice the beets (see note below). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and apple, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beets and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the beets are tender. Cool a little.

While the soup is cooking, wrap the reserved beet tightly in foil. Bake in a toaster oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Cool, slip off the skin, and grate.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Season to taste with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with the grated beet; makes 6 servings.

Note: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets, as this avoids staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH RADICCHIO AND PINE NUTS
This is a colorful and delicious salad with an interesting mixture of textures and tastes. The currants and pine nuts add an unusual Mediterranean piquancy.

Ingredients: 
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing the chicken
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 to 2 bunches arugula, leaves torn if they are large
1/2 cup (20 g) loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preparation:

Place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a large serving bowl.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and grease with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast in the center of a piece of cling wrap and wrap it so that it is completely covered. Place the packages in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat for about 9 minutes. (The inside of the chicken should still be pale pink.) Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute.

Remove the chicken and cool, still wrapped. When cool, unwrap the chicken and cut it on the diagonal into thin strips. Place in the bowl with the onions; makes 6 servings.

SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING
Ingredients:
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts 
1/2 cup (115 g) raisins or currants
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the pine nuts and raisins and saute over low heat until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add the Marsala and vinegar.
Add the radicchio, arugula, and parsley to the chicken and onions; toss with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

MARINATED SALMON
This is a variation on the traditional pickled salmon sold in every Jewish delicatessen. The difference: The salmon is more delicate and less vinegary, and has a richer color. It makes a perfect Sabbath luncheon dish.

Ingredients:
6 skinless center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C). Grease a glass or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold the fillets in a single layer.

Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them in the dish and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cooked to your taste.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, cover with foil, and let cool completely. (The fish will continue cooking outside of the oven.)

MARINADE 
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (for Passover, replace with white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (see note below)
15 dill sprigs, snipped finely with scissors, plus 2 sprigs, snipped, for garnish

Preparation: 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour the marinade over the salmon, add the onion and sprinkle with the 15 snipped sprigs of dill.
Cover the dish with wax paper, then foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days without turning.

To serve: Bring the salmon to room temperature. Place on individual plates along with some of the marinade and onions. Garnish with the fresh snipped dill; makes 6 servings.

Note: I use a mandoline to slice the onion, as it makes the cutting easier.

CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself — one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites, and because it is so easy to make, I often serve it at Passover. I bake it in an attractive casserole, so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt 
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound (450 g) Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup (67 g) pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C). With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute; makes 4 servings.

STIR-FRIED SPINACH
This is a delicious recipe that captures the very essence of spinach. Now that prewashed spinach is available in almost every supermarket, you can prepare this dish in minutes.

Ingredients:
20 ounces (570 g) prewashed spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Break the stems off the spinach leaves and discard.

Roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are golden. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil. Add the spinach and stir quickly until it is just wilted, no more than a minute. Season with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top; makes 6 servings.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. I often serve them at Passover.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted margarine for greasing the pan
1/2 pound (225 g) blanched almonds
6 ounces (170 g) good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see notes)
1 cup (200 g) sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch (23-by-33-by-5 cm) baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in two batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine, and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out 
almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; makes 3 1/2 dozen squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with  wax paper between the layers.

Rosh Hashanah Food: All you knead for a bounty of challah


Dipping freshly baked challah in honey is a tradition observed during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This act combines the Shabbat bread with hopes for a sweet New Year.

The custom is to serve a round or spiral-shaped challah, one of the symbolic foods eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Typical is the challah baked in a circle to signify the desire for a long life, peace and universal redemption. Another type of challah is made in the shape of a crown, braided and twisted into a circle and topped by a smaller circle, symbolizing the ascent to heaven.

Middle Eastern Jews add saffron and raisins to make the bread special for the holiday. Because carrots were one of the few sweet-tasting vegetables accessible to Eastern European Jews, they became a substitute for the candied pumpkin and squash often eaten during the holiday.

Another concept is a break-apart challah. The dough is divided into several parts, shaped into small rounds and placed together in a greased round or loaf pan. Next, it is oiled lightly, left to rise, then brushed with egg and sprinkled with poppy seeds before baking. After this challah is baked, it will break apart easily and be ready to dip in honey.

A round braided challah filled with apples, pears or quince, representing the harvest, is an Italian custom and is included in the recipes that follow.

Potato challah, usually associated with times of grain shortages or a need for economy in the kitchen, was made by Russian and Polish Jews during the Jewish New Year. And for those who could not afford to bake cakes for Rosh Hashanah, there was the delicious bolas, made in Spain from sweetened challah dough, filled with candied orange peel and raisins, rolled into loaves, sliced and baked.

Although challah is easily bought at the bakery, many families are discovering the joy of making it at home. This tradition is important especially during holidays in which it has special meaning. There is pleasure and satisfaction in baking it yourself, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Be sure to reserve some dough for small individual challahs, which will be a special treat for the children. Make it a family project, and allow them to braid and bake their own. 


Rosh Hashanah round braided challah

1 package active dry yeast
1  1/2 cups warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup raisins, plumped
Cornmeal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and  sugar. Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup warm water, saffron and brandy, and blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time with salt, blending with a beater after each addition, until the dough is thick enough to work by hand. Spoon it out onto a floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually incorporating the raisins and enough additional flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Form each one into a rope about 26 inches long. Braid the ropes together and seal the ends by pinching.

Line a large heavy baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat. Oil the foil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Remove the label and wash an empty 16-ounce can; oil its outside and place it in the center of the baking sheet, open end up. Transfer the challah to the baking sheet, forming it into a ring around the can; join and pinch together the ends of the braid. Cover dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush the challah with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Serve the challah on a circular tray and set a bowl of honey in the center. Serve with sliced apples for dipping.

Makes 1 challah.

A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal


Considering the history of the Jewish people, the fact that Jews are still celebrating the High Holy Days today is a miracle in itself. Strong traditions and lasting rituals have enabled Jews to survive the most threatening periods of history. With the freedoms we have as modern American Jews, it makes sense that we use these same traditions and rituals to enjoy holidays to the fullest. As a chef and registered foodie, the best way I know to relish in the upcoming holidays is by making really delicious food. My plan for this year is to make a multi-course feast that pays homage to great Jewish eating traditions while at the same time represents me and my life as a Jewish chef in Los Angeles.

Watching friends and family nod their heads and smile as they eat the food you have prepared is unbelievably soul-satisfying. It is a great feeling to know that the meal you cooked has enriched the High Holy Day experience for those you love. Great food is part of the equation in making a great meal, but the experience is made complete when you also have time to enjoy the company of friends and family. In order to accomplish this, I turn to the motto of my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, which states, “Preparation is everything.” Creating a strategy and timeline for a feast at home for guests will enable you as the cook to make great food and eat it too. Mise en place is a cooking term that means “to put into place.” It is what every chef must learn in order to master the craft of cooking. Mise en place represents the prep work done in advance of a meal and the strategy for serving it. If you are going to make the High Holy Day meal of a lifetime and still enjoy eating it, you must first focus on making a prep plan as to when the components of the meal will be made, and a strategy for how to serve the meal. This is what I will discuss as I go through my menu for the holidays.

My first course is Olive Oil Poached Sardine Fillets and Fried Heads With Lemon and Parsley Chips. Serving the fish heads, or the “rosh,” for the holidays has traditionally been a symbol for the fact that we have reached the head of the year, and also the head of life, rather than the tail. Some Jews serve whole fish so there will be a head on the table during dinner. Using this tradition as inspiration, I decided to serve fried sardine heads along with the fillets. Even though this is the first course, it should be last in the prep schedule. Ideally, purchase the fish as close to serving the meal as possible, so that it is at its freshest. The sardines should be cleaned and cooked shortly before serving. Last, they should be eaten immediately after cooking to maximize flavor.

The next course is Chilled Honey-Cucumber Soup. My wife and I own the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles. We are coming to the end of our first summer in business, and it has been a fantastic adventure. Along with the excitement and joy of running our truck comes the fact that we have been hot since April. Between the cooking equipment and the warm California sunshine, our truck heats up. This year, while I am relaxing and enjoying our High Holy Day feast, I want to eat something cool. Cucumber is a cooling ingredient and when paired with honey in a soup takes on a familiar homey sweetness that many Jews would associate with Rosh Hashanah. Along with being tasty, this chilled soup relieves a tremendous amount of stress, because everything can be made the day before, and to serve, it is simply poured into bowls and garnished.

Most chefs begin their careers working “the line.” This refers to the line of equipment in restaurant kitchens, where cooks are divided by stations and are responsible for cooking different items on the restaurant’s menu. Typically, stations are divided by the equipment each cook is responsible for, such as grill, sauté, fry, etc. This is the training ground for all chefs. You must prepare a variety of dishes as quickly as possible, while maintaining the highest-quality standards. The only way to survive the line is with impeccable mise en place.

Approaching a family meal at home as a line cook will enable you to cook a great meal and then have time to enjoy the company of your friends and family.  For the main course, I am serving Apples and Honey Chicken along with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and a Warm Kale-and-Fennel Slaw. Braised chicken is ideal for serving large groups hot food that is tender, moist and flavorful. I prepare all of the ingredients for the chicken the day before. The day of the dinner, I begin to cook the chicken in the early afternoon and let it cook slowly until I am ready to serve it.

The ingredients for the slaw are also prepared the day before, and I create a kit for the dressing. Kitting a recipe is a pillar of the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. It means that I have the ingredients for a recipe portioned and organized so that I can quickly assemble the dish when needed. By kitting the dressing, I am able to easily prepare the slaw near the time of serving it without stress. The last component of the entrée is the smashed sweet potatoes. Mashed preparations, like potatoes or squash, can be held in a heat-resistant bowl, covered in plastic wrap on top of a double boiler for long periods of time without compromising its quality. I prepare the sweet potatoes before my family and friends arrive and hold them over a double boiler until I am ready to serve them. Limiting the number of steps I have to take after family has arrived allows me time during the meal to sit with them and enjoy the food and their company.

After a great feast, I prefer a dessert that is petite and pairs well with fine coffee and schnapps. This year I am serving Honey-Olive Oil Cookies with Thyme and Fleur de Sel. The olive oil gives the cookie a biscuit-like texture that pleasantly dries the mouth and creates a craving for something to drink. Relaxing at the end of a holiday meal with the people I love and sharing cookies and schnapps is a tradition that helps me celebrate Jewish life. I hope that you will feel empowered to continue developing your own great Jewish culinary traditions for your friends and family.

I wish you all a delicious and sweet new year. L’shanah tovah!

RECIPE: The Fluffiest Matzah Balls


The Fluffiest Matzah Balls
(Click here for the full article)

I’ve been tweaking this matzah ball recipe over the years, and I’m now satisfied that it produces the lightest matzah balls you’ve ever tasted. If you don’t want to take the time to make them, boil some Passover noodles and add to the soup instead.

3 eggs, separated

About 1/2 cup water or chicken stock

1 to 1 1/2 cups matzah meal

1/8 teaspoon salt

Pinch freshly ground black pepper

Place egg yolks in a measuring cup and add enough water or chicken stock to fill one cup. Beat with a fork until well blended. Set aside.

In a large bowl, using an electric mixer, beat egg whites until they form stiff peaks; do not overbeat. In a small bowl, combine matzah meal with salt and pepper. With a rubber spatula, gently fold the yolk mixture alternately with the matzah mixture into beaten egg whites. Use only enough matzah to make a light, soft dough. Season with additional salt and pepper to taste. Cover and let firm up for five minutes.

Bring soup to a slow boil and using a large spoon, gently drop in matzah balls. Cover, reduce heat to low and simmer for about 10 minutes (do not uncover during this cooking time).

Makes 12 servings.

 

RECIPE: Judy’s Passover Roasted Chicken


Judy’s Passover Roasted Chickens
(Click here for the full article)

3 tablespoons safflower or olive oil

2 onions, thinly sliced

2 carrots, thinly sliced

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

3 garlic cloves, sliced

2 16-ounce cans of tomatoes (diced or chopped)

2 cups dry white or red wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 chickens from the soup, whole or cut in pieces

6 sprigs fresh rosemary

In a large roaster, heat oil and sauté onions, carrots, celery and garlic until soft. Add tomatoes with juice and wine and bring to a boil. Add salt and pepper.

Arrange boiled chickens in the sauce, baste and top with sprigs of rosemary. Cover and bake in the oven until ready to serve and the sauce thickens. Transfer to a large serving platter and let guests help themselves.

Makes 24 servings.

The kreme de la kreme of kosher kooking mix it up


When Michaela Rosenthal threw some leftover gefilte fish into her potato knish recipe, she never imagined it might be worth $20,000.

“I didn’t want to waste the one piece I had left,” said the Woodland Hills housewife and mother of two grown children.

It turned out to be a good move for Rosenthal, whose whitefish and potato knishes in lemon horseradish sauce took one of two first-place spots at the Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western semifinal at the Hilton Orange County in Costa Mesa earlier this month.

The veteran of cooking challenges competed against nine other California amateur chefs at the last of three regional contests sponsored by the nation’s largest processed kosher food manufacturer.

She and co-winner Andrea Bloom of Long Beach, who earned accolades from the judges for her savory pea and fennel soup, will fly to New York in February to compete in the finals for a $20,000 grand prize package, including a GE Profile kitchen and cash.

The first-ever national kosher cook-off is intended to demonstrate to consumers the flexibility, speed and convenience of kosher cooking, while showcasing the Manischewitz label.

“When people think of kosher, they think of a slow process, like briskets,” said David Rossi, Manischewitz vice president of marketing. “We wanted to break that mold and give our core Jewish consumers new ideas about how to use our products.”

Thirty recipes were selected from more than 1,000 entries to compete in semifinals in New Jersey, Florida and Costa Mesa this fall. To qualify, recipes had to be original, kosher, limited to eight ingredients, including at least one Manischewitz product, and preparable in one hour or less. A panel of food experts, including Cooking Light magazine’s executive chef, Billy Strynkowski, selected the semifinalists.

Maintaining Manischewitz’s strict standards of kashrut for the multivenue event was no small task for the Secaucus, N.J.-based company.

“A lot goes on behind the scenes in a kosher cook-off,” Rossi said. “We essentially set up 10 kosher kitchens in the ballroom.”

“All stages of preparation for the event and the actual event itself were in accordance with traditional Jewish law,” said Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz, who supervises kashrut for Manischewitz.

Cook-off co-sponsor GE provided 10 stove-top ovens that were kashered and transported cross-country for the semifinals. New utensils and cookware were cleansed in a mikvah and labeled dairy, meat or pareve, and all ingredients were purchased and supervised by local mashgichim. Judges tasted the dairy offerings first and then the pareve and meat ones.

Inventiveness was on the menu, with offerings ranging from modern twists on traditional favorites, like almond milk-infused simcha sweet potato soup served up by Redondo Beach’s Terry Gladstone, to Mexican-influenced dishes, such as Los Angeles resident Ellen Burr’s “zesty Mexi chicken and matzah ball soup.” Organizers and judges got a literal and figurative kick out of the local zest.

“I love the spirit of the contestants and the creativity we’re seeing,” said Jeremy J. Fingerman, CEO of the R.A.B. Food Group, which owns Manischewitz. “We’re seeing different flavors out here than we saw in other parts of the country, more heat, more jalape?os. ‘Zesty Mexi chicken soup,’ you don’t see that in New York.”

Another south-of-the border-inspiration was Lowell Bernstein’s “matzah-males,” a creative take on traditional tamales. The education consultant and only male competitor developed the recipe after mastering Mexican cooking, because he was looking for something “bready” to eat at Passover.

“I substitute matzah meal for corn meal and wrap it in a banana peel, instead of a corn husk. It’s glatt kosher and kosher for Passover. It’s where a matzah ball and a taco meet.”

Bernstein’s creativity was not lost on the judges.

“Tamales made of matzah is close to brilliant,” said OCR Magazines publisher Chris Schulz.

Joining Schulz on the panel was an eclectic group of foodies and nonfoodies, both Jewish and non-Jewish, including cookbook author and Jewish Journal contributor Judy Bart Kancigor. Some, like Cooking Light magazine’s Kyle Crowner, had limited experience with kosher cuisine but were impressed.

“This food is much lighter for the most part,” Crowner said, noting the consumer trend toward flavor without added calories. The contest was further proof that kosher cooking has become mainstream, she added.

While contestants said they had been making their recipes long before they knew of the cook-off, some admitted having tweaked their ingredients to feature more Manischewitz products.

“After I saw the ad for the contest, I added the lemon horseradish sauce,” Rosenthal said. “It went ‘click’ and all fit together. I’ll be serving it with the sauce from now on.”

Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western Semifinal Winning Recipes:

Michaela Rosenthal’s Whitefish and Potato Knish

2/3 cup instant mashed potatoes
2/3 cup boiling water
4 tablespoons (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, melted
1 can (2.8 ounces) french-fried onions
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley, plus more for garnish
1 jar (24 ounces) Manischewitz whitefish, drained and patted dry
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 box (17.03 ounces) frozen puff pastry, defrosted
2 teaspoons Manischewitz fish seasoning
8 teaspoons Manischewitz creamy horseradish sauce with lemon

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Line a large, rimless cookie sheet with parchment paper or grease with butter. Place instant potatoes in a medium bowl. Add boiling water and stir to combine.

Measure two teaspoons of the melted butter and set aside. Add remaining butter to potatoes and mix well. Stir in fried onions and parsley.

Mash fish and add to potato mixture. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well.
Remove both pieces of puff pastry onto a floured board. Unfold and cut along natural folds to form six equal rectangles. Remove two rectangles for another use. With a floured rolling pin, roll remaining four rectangles slightly to flatten.

Spoon one-quarter of potato-fish mixture onto each of the four rectangles and level to within half inch of the edges. Fold edges of dough and roll each piece into a log (like a jellyroll). Pinch seam lightly to seal. Trim unfilled dough ends.

It’s Pat — South African queen of kosher cuisine


Smoked duck with papaya salsa. Wild mushroom turnovers. Chicken roulade with sun-dried tomatoes and spinach. Sushi.
Hungry yet? Good.

You keep kosher? Not a problem.

These are just a few of the elegantly presented gourmet dishes created by Pat Fine, of Pat’s Restaurant and Pat’s Catering.
In the nearly three decades since Fine started serving up her dishes in the Southland, the kosher dining landscape has changed dramatically. As David Kamp chronicles in his book, “The United States of Arugula: How We Became a Gourmet Nation,” Americans of all stripes have been tutored in fine dining by a string of successful chefs, food critics, cookbook writers and restaurateurs over the last 30 years. This phenomenon has raised the bar for kosher cooking as well, creating demand for chic kosher dining.

Fine has been — and remains — a kosher cuisine pioneer in Los Angeles. Perhaps Rabbi Meyer May, executive director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center and frequent Pat’s customer, sums it up best: “She’s the queen of kosher catering, absolutely top of the line.”

Raised in Johannesburg, South Africa, Fine was one of four daughters. Her mother had very little interest in cooking, so Fine and her sisters were given free reign in the kitchen. Her father, a man who loved to eat, proved an enthusiastic recipient of his daughters’ culinary adventures.

Although had she expressed a desire to become a professional cook, Fine is convinced that her mother “would have freaked.” Cooking was thought of as “such an ordinary job, one that simply wasn’t OK for nice Jewish girls,” Fine said.
As a concession to her parents, Fine went on to university to train and work as a pharmacist.

“I was misguided,” she said. “Someone should have said to me ‘Why don’t you go to chefs school?’ I would have loved to go to Cordon Bleu or somewhere like that. But I didn’t, and I regret that.”

Continuing to live and work in Johannesburg, Fine met her husband, Errol. They married in 1970 and soon started their own family. While Fine’s parents were traditional Jews — they lit candles on Friday nights and celebrated the holidays — her in-laws were more observant.

“They kept kosher, so of course when I married I began to [keep kosher] as well,” Fine said.

As massive riots broke out in Soweto near Johannesburg in 1976, the Fines left South Africa with their three sons to start anew in California.

“I had never left the country until we emigrated; I didn’t even have a passport,” Fine said.

The Fines settled in Los Angeles, where Errol was the financial controller for a chain of men’s clothing stores. Pat was busy at home with their children, but still loved learning about food and creating new recipes, so she spent a lot of time “reading and experimenting on my own.”

Over time, more and more of Fine’s friends asked her to prepare food for celebrations and events.

“I was cooking out of my house. I was doing everything myself — the shopping, cooking, delivery, serving. It became too much,” she said.

Since large trucks were prohibited from frequenting her residential neighborhood, Fine would sometimes send deliveries to her children’s school and then transport items with her own car.

Fine expanded her catering with the purchase of a deli on Pico Boulevard in 1982, which she named Elite Cuisine. She soon opened a second Elite Cuisine deli on Beverly Boulevard near Hancock Park. (Although Fine has since sold both delis, the new owner of the Hancock Park location has kept the name.)

As Fine remembers, “When we started out, there were just places like Nosh and Rye. There was nothing else — just some falafel places, kosher hot dogs, deli food. I would tell people that we’ve got pasta salad and they’d say ‘macaroni salad?’ because that was all they knew.”

When she sold the last of her delis about 15 years ago, Fine consolidated her business, opened the fleishig (meat) Pat’s Restaurant on Pico Boulevard near Doheny Drive and expanded the catering operations. Around the same time, Fine said, she offered her accountant husband a job.

With Errol Fine running the business side — from managing 50 employees to handling details for events as far away as in San Francisco — Pat Fine is free to spend her time focused on food.

“He has a lot of charisma, so he meets with people. I prefer to be in the kitchen,” she said.

“It’s a very good partnership,” she added.

As kosher cooking has become increasingly sophisticated and customer’s palettes have become more refined, Fine said she endeavors to stay ahead of the curve. Inspired by her customers’ knowledge and by other creative chefs, Fine said, “Whatever they’re doing out there, say at Spago’s, we’re doing, but kosher.”

Despite her ongoing love for fine food, one shouldn’t expect an invitation for a home-cooked meal at the Fine residence any time soon. At the end of the workday, her home kitchen is the last place Pat Fine wants to be.

She warned, “If you ask me to make coffee at home it’s a big deal — you’re on your own. The most you’ll get in my house is a bagel and cottage cheese.”

‘Moishe Houses’ provide post-Hillel hangout for 20-somethings


Say you’re a few years out of college, living with friends and working in a low-paying job for some do-good organization. You don’t go to synagogue, but you miss the camaraderie of your college Hillel, and you like to invite people over for Shabbat meals.

Imagine if someone was willing to pay you to keep doing it?
 
That’s what’s offered by Moishe House, a fast-growing network of subsidized homes for 20-something Jews committed to building Jewish community for themselves and their peers.
The project was launched less than a year ago by The Forest Foundation, a Santa Barbara-based philanthropy. The foundation’s executive director, David Cygielman, 25, says the goal was to give young activist Jews the financial freedom to focus on creative programming designed to reach other young, unaffiliated Jews.

To the people living in these houses, it’s a terrific gift.
 
“We were already having Shabbat dinners three or four times a month and then they came along and said, ‘We’re looking for people doing what you’re doing. Keep it up, and we’ll support you,'” said Jonathan Herzog, 29, who lives in the Seattle house with his sister Norah and two friends.
 
The project is a validation of these young Jews’ efforts to create a Jewish home for an age group they feel gets lost in the communal shuffle.
 
“After college there’s no more Hillel, and they don’t join the Jewish community until they have families,” Cygielman noted.
 
The first Moishe House opened last December in San Francisco. Seattle was next in February, joined quickly by houses in Boston and Los Angeles.
 
New ones are to open in October in Oakland, Washington, Uruguay and Nigeria, and the plan is to have 12 houses up and running by next year.
 
Except for the Nigerian house, which is a one-man outreach operation, they all follow the same formula: Three or four Jews in their 20s receive a rent subsidy of up to $2,500 a month, along with $500 for programming, and are expected to become a communal hub for young Jews by hosting Shabbat meals, card games, Yiddish lessons, film nights, book discussions, neighborhood clean-ups and other social, intellectual and civic-minded activities.
 
Residents say the formula works because it lets young people organize events they themselves would want to attend, rather than having something imposed from above by a synagogue or JCC.
In many ways, it’s the bayit of the 21st century. But unlike those communal Jewish homes of the 1970s and ’80s, which usually were sponsored by Zionist youth groups, residents of Moishe Houses don’t subscribe to a particular ideology.
 
The focus varies according to residents’ interests: The houses in Seattle, Los Angeles and San Francisco host a lot of poker parties and film nights, while the Boston house is more involved in social action.
 
Houses have great freedom, Cygielman says, so long as they meet the minimum requirements: hosting eight to 12 events a month, making weekly reports, maintaining a Web site and reaching out to young people. Funding can be withdrawn if a house doesn’t perform.
 
“I won’t tell them what’s a wrong program or a right program,” Cygielman said. “I don’t care, so long as they’re building community and lots of people are coming.”
 
Maia Ipp, 24, moved into the San Francisco house in June. She runs a women’s group and a cooking club that is working its way alphabetically through the world’s cuisines.
 
Her parents once lived in a bayit sponsored by Habonim, a Labor Zionist youth group, but Ipp prefers the Moishe House model.
 
“We’re not affiliated with a movement that has a belief system, which frees us to do new, fresh work and engage young adults in ways other movements and campus groups can’t,” she said.
 
One recent evening, the four young residents of the San Francisco house got together for their weekly meeting. They sat around the large table in the dining room, which opens onto a large patio they use for Shabbat dinners and holiday parties.
 
David Persyko, 25, started hanging out at the house soon after it opened.
 
“I found myself really attached to being part of a Jewish community again,” he said. “Some of my fondest memories growing up were from Camp Swig, and coming here, I felt that rush of support I hadn’t felt in 10 years.”
 
He moved in in June and now runs poker night, which draws a group of guys every three weeks to “vent about the women in our lives,” Persyko said.
 
Aaron Gilbert, 24, runs a book club. The books aren’t Jewish, but the participants are, and talking about the books leads to talking about other things.
 
“It’s really intimate. We hang out, catch up on each others’ lives,” he said.
 
The house holds a big Shabbat dinner once a month and sponsors a softball team called the Matzah Ballstars. But the events and programs are secondary to the real draw.
 
“At our core, we’re four people who live in a house and we’re inviting people over. That’s appealing to people like us. It’s not institutional,” said Isaac Zones, 24, national director of the Moishe House network and a founding member of the San Francisco house.
 
On a table in the corner is a silver-toned bust of Zones’ grandfather, a man who founded his business empire with money he won playing poker. Zones makes sure the statue is always there during games.
 
The Moishe House concept is still in its early stages, and some things need to be tweaked. For example, the Los Angeles and Seattle houses are trying to beef up their social action component, while the Boston house is being encouraged to offer more “fun events,” Cygielman said.
 
It’s all part of figuring out what constitutes a Jewish community, or even a Jewish event. Must it be something devoted purely to a Jewish ritual or Zionist goal? Or is it enough to bring together a bunch of Jewish people to shmooze and eat?

A healthy hut — lighter side of Sukkot cooking


As you look forward to Sukkot, you may have a few lingering thoughts from the reflection and retrospection of the High Holidays. Perhaps you promised to treat your body to more healthful, nutritious food. Or maybe your new goal is to take time out to observe Jewish holidays, or to just relax with friends over a good meal.

This can be a frustrating set of goals, since it often seems as though celebrating the Jewish holidays through food while still eating healthfully are irreconcilable endeavors. Cheesy blintzes, creamy kugel and schmaltz are hardly lean cuisine. However, a growing number of new cookbooks are oriented towards the more health conscious Jewish cook. One such book is Nechama Cohen’s “Enlitened Kosher Cooking,” published just this year.

Founder of the Jewish Diabetes Association, Cohen took her personal plight of cooking Jewish food as a diabetic and extended it through the work of her organization, whose goal is “to educate and guide individuals facing the challenges of managing diabetes within the framework of a Jewish lifestyle.”

To this end, her book not only contains hundreds of recipes that meet low-carb, low-sugar and low-fat dietary needs, but also contains a useful set of appendices with health reference information, and a holiday-by-holiday guide to her recipes.

This Sukkot, try her Etrog Compote. Or, if you would rather make a dessert with the etrog’s (citron’s) modern counterpart, I recommend the Luscious Lemon Ice Cream. At once tangy and creamy, its refreshing taste is sure to please anyone you have welcomed into your sukkah.

Another great dish is the Baked Spinach-Cheese Delight.
Due to the recent FDA warning, I used 3/4 cups frozen spinach instead of fresh. A healthier carb alternative to quiche crust, the triangles of bread also give the dish some textural variety. I used challah for a dash of Jewishness. Don’t fill the dish with much bread — it expands considerably while baking. I also halved the amount of cheese to make it even healthier, sprinkling it on the top where it is the most flavorful. As with the kugel, I recommend adding herbs to taste; this time I used dill, basil, and some ground pepper.

With both healthier versions of traditional Jewish dishes and other healthy recipes of non-Jewish food, this book appeals to a wide range of Jewish (and non Jewish) palates. While sometimes Cohen’s aim for simplicity and accessibility leaves dishes slightly unseasoned, this book is certainly a worthy primer for the cook uninitiated into the ways of more healthful cooking
(For the main course, one of the dishes Cohen suggested was the “Enlitened Mock Noodle Kugel.” Made with spaghetti squash to reduce the carbs and calories, this dish lacks the unmistakable toothsome quality of traditional kugels, but is quite tasty nonetheless.)

The more experienced cook can use the recipes as a jumping-off point for experimentation. You might just find a few dishes even your bubbe would have enjoyed, and a few others that the rest of us could learn to cherish as much as their less lean counterparts. What better way to welcome people into your sukkah than with some healthy new favorites?

Baked spinach-cheese delight

Nonstick cooking spray
2 whole eggs
2 egg whites
3/4 cup 1 percent milk or low-fat, low-carb soymilk
3 slices day-old light bread, cut into small triangles
1 cup fresh spinach, finely chopped, or 3/4 cup frozen spinach
1/2 cup shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line bottom of an 8-inch Springform pan with baking paper and spray with non-stick cooking spray.

In a medium bowl, whisk the eggs and egg whites until frothy.

Add the milk, spinach and cheese. Stir to blend.

Pour into the prepared pan.

Immerse the dried bread triangles in the mixture. After they are coated with the mixture, raise one point of each piece with a fork so that they peek out at the top.

Bake uncovered until lightly browned, about 20-30 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool.
Loosen the edges by cutting around the outside with a knife. Remove from the pan and place on a heatproof plate.

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes six servings.

Luscious lemon ice creamam

1 (4 ounce) container light whipped topping
4 egg whites
2 eggs, separated
Sugar substitute equal to 1 cup sugar, divided
1/4 cup lemon juice

Beat whipped topping until stiff.
In a separated bowl, beat egg whites together with half of sugar substitute. In another bowl, beat egg yolk with other half of sugar substitute. When thick, fold in lemon juice. Fold all three mixtures together until well blended.

Freeze.

Pistachio variation:

For a delectable pistachio-flavored ice cream, omit the lemon juice and add 1 teaspoon almond extract, 1/3 cup chopped pistachios and two to three drops of green food coloring.

Makes eight servings.

Meat meets lemon — brisket gone wild!


One day last month, my husband returned from Trader Joe’s carrying a large slab of brisket.

“I invited our neighbors for dinner,” he announced, “and they’re kosher.” I can cook, but my only attempt at a nice bubbie-style brisket took two days and was a memorable disaster. I’m sure it was digestible, it just wasn’t chewable. I have suffered brisket-phobia ever since.

I had about five hours to get something suitably special on the table. So, I abandoned all my brisket preconceptions, took a deep breath and thought, “Do what you love, do what you know.”

The result was extraordinary.

What I know is how to combine the cooking techniques of my family–Swedish (non-Jewish) Americans given to light but hearty flavors — with all the Mediterranean flavors that have become part of any serious California cook’s repertoire: olives, olive oil, fennel and preserved lemons.

Preserved lemons and brisket? Yes, those salty tart gems are crucial to this dish. I use homemade, but you’ll need three to four weeks advanced preparation for my recipe (Paula Wolfert offers a one-week version in her book, “Couscous and Other Good Food From Morocco”). You can also buy preserved lemons at specialty Middle Eastern markets and at Surfas in Culver City.

Couscous and a little green salad with oranges are all you’ll need to complete the meal. For our dessert, I stuffed halved nectarines with a mixture of crumbled store-bought amaretti cookies, chopped almonds and honey.

The honey makes this an ideal Rosh Hashanah meal. And the amaretti cookies were, of course, kosher and pareve. Amazing how fast a Swedish American can catch on to these things.

Brisket with Fennel and Olives

1 3-pound brisket (I use a point cut)
2 large fennel bulbs, cored, trimmed and very thinly sliced. Include any nice fronds.
1 very large Vidalia, Walla Walla or other sweet onion, sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 cup mixed green and black olives (Greek, kalamata, etc.)
3 preserved lemons, diced, and a couple tablespoons of their juice
1/2 cup water or a mixture of water and dry white wine
Extra virgin olive oil
Chopped Italian parsley

Choose your heaviest dutch oven, or use enameled cast iron. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees. On the stovetop, bring the pan to a medium high heat, add 1 tablespoon olive oil, and brown the brisket on both sides, not more than five to seven minutes in total. Remove the meat, and toss the fennel and onions in the pan, adding a little olive oil if necessary. Put the lid on and let them sweat a little. When the vegetables soften, stir in half the olives and one of the diced lemons. Nestle the meat in the mixture and add the 1/2 cup of liquid. Cover tightly, and bake for three to three and a half hours. Add the rest of the lemons, their juice and the olives, return to oven 30 minutes or so.

When ready to serve, remove meat and slice across the grain. Serve on a pla
tter surrounded with the vegetables and drizzle the pan juices over all. Garnish with chopped parsley.

Preserved Lemons
Kosher salt
Lemons to preserve, as thin skinned as possible
Additional lemons for juice

Cut the lemons in quarters from the tip to the stem end without cutting all the way through. Pack the quarters with salt, rubbing it in and close them back up. Place tightly together in a crock or wide mouthed glass jar. Cover with fresh lemon juice and seal tightly, leaving it in a cool dry place for 3-4 weeks. Check every few days to be sure the lemon juice still covers the lemons completely, and top it off if you need to. When ready, remove anything objectionable from the top of the lemon juice and refrigerate.

Stuffed Nectarines a la Chez Panisse
4 ripe nectarines
1 cup pareve amaretti cookies, crumbled
1/2 cup chopped almonds
3 tablespoon (approx.) honey.
Kosher dessert wine (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking pan with cooking parchment or lightly oil.

Halve nectarines and remove pits. Mix almonds and amaretti cookies together, add honey to moisten mixture. Stuff into cavity of each nectarine, place in pan and drizzle with a little dessert wine, if desired.

Bake at 375 degrees for 25 minutes or so, then slip the fruits out of their skins before serving. These are good warm or cold.

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

‘Design’-ing Woman Comes to Town


“Kosher by Design,” (ArtScroll/Mesorah Publications, $32.99) “Kosher by Design Entertains” ($34.99) and “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” ($22.99) by Susie Fishbein.

With the frenzied anticipation generally reserved for the appearance of a rock star — or at the very least, Oprah — the Orthodox community of Los Angeles is abuzz with excitement: Susie is coming!

“Susie” is Susie Fishbein, the effervescent author of the “Kosher by Design” cookbooks, who has turned kosher cooking on its proverbial ear. And no wonder she bubbles over. According to Gedaliah Zlotowitz, Mesorah’s vice-president of sales and marketing, more than 160,000 copies have sold with no end in sight.

Fishbein will be making three exclusive appearances this month in Los Angeles (see box), and those lucky enough to get a reservation will watch, kvell and sample as their idol cooks.

“Susie Fishbein has done for Jewish cooking what [rabbi and author] Aryeh Kaplan did for beginning Judaism,” said Rabbi Shimon Kraft of the 613 Mitzvah Store on Pico Boulevard. “They’re buying her cookbooks en masse. She’s a genius at editing and putting everything all together.”

“Our patrons are meshugah for her books,” echoed Abigail Yasgur, director of the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles. “We have over 30,000 resources here, and the most precious part of our collection is Jewish cookbooks. Hers circulate so robustly. They’re fabulous.”

Just what is this revolution in kosher cooking that Fishbein has spawned? As food columnist, cooking instructor and dinnerware designer Debby Segura explained, “Lots of people used to feel tied to a few kosher cookbooks, but so much has happened in kosher food over the last 20 years that just wasn’t being reflected, and if it was, it was too complicated. Susie gives you food styling, kosher tips, kitchen tips. But the big deal about Susie’s recipes is they work.”

Risa Moskowitz, who chairs the event for Emek, added, “When I booked the event, everyone said, ‘Oh my gosh, I live by her cookbooks!’ There wasn’t one person who said ‘Who?’ People who aren’t kosher don’t realize what’s possible for us now, the variety of foods and the way to prepare them. They think kosher means dried-out, salted meat. Her books have had a tremendous impact.”

Toras Emes chair Sara Leah Beinstock agreed: “These are the ultimate kosher cookbooks. There’s nothing close to them on the market. Her recipes are easy to follow, and the food is appetizing and delicious. It’s very exciting to have gourmet Jewish cookbooks.”

Fishbein, an Orthodox Jew and mother of four children ages 3 to 11, understands that today’s observant Jews want to prepare many of the same exciting dishes found on restaurant menus and serve them with style. Those who grew up on Grandma’s Shabbos brisket now embrace her Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce.

“Kosher food doesn’t have to be simple or bland,” noted Fishbein by phone from her New Jersey home. “Just about every ingredient is available out there kosher.”

The luscious table settings and presentation ideas that party planner Renee Erreich and Fishbein created for these books — and that photographer John Uher shot — fairly leap off the pages. But everything is doable.

“The food looks intimidating, but the recipes are not,” Fishbein said. “It’s not about putting on a show. These are recipes the family will want to eat over and over.” And they do. So popular are these dishes that guests recognize them on each other’s Shabbat tables.

Routinely dubbed the Jewish Martha Stewart, Fishbein squirms at the comparison.

“I’m flattered, but it’s not really accurate,” she said. “Martha Stewart is all about a lifestyle. If you want beautiful flowers, you plant them and this is how you do it. We’re busy. We have kids. We have jobs. We’re in and out of the kitchen trying to make fabulous meals. I take shortcuts she would never take. I’m about cutting to the chase to accomplish our goals.”

Beloria Fink, whose sister will be driving from San Diego to join her for the Emek event, observed, “Susie can take a simple recipe and it looks extravagant and elegant, like you’ve really knocked yourself out. She’s taken the bland, traditional Shabbos meal and turned it into elegant cuisine. She shows you how to set a beautiful table for each holiday so you can create a legacy for your own children.”

“Kosher by Design” marries food to holiday traditions in new ways that resonate with those seeking a deeper Jewish experience for their families.

“When I think back to Passover in my childhood,” Fishbein reflected, “I remember my cousin Jeff scrubbing the maror, my aunt cutting sheets of egg noodles and Grandma Mollie making chremslach, because 10 minutes shouldn’t go by without her feeding us something. These memories are like yesterday. It’s a happy place for me. I want that for my kids.”

To accomplish this Fishbein went way beyond “It’s Rosh Hashanah, let’s have honey.” Case in point: Pomegranate Chicken. “I tell my kids, ‘You know why I made this dish, you guys? Pomegranate has 613 seeds corresponding to the 613 mitzvot in the Torah.’ Maybe it’s not my grandmother’s chicken, but it’s incredibly appropriate.”

Similarly, envelope-shaped Won Ton Wrapped Chicken appetizers for Purim are edible reminders of the lots (purim) Haman drew to select the date for the Jews’ extinction.

For Simchat Torah she incorporates the tradition of eating rolled foods to mimic Torah scrolls.

“I thought stuffed cabbage was overdone,” Fishbein noted, “but I’ve got this awesome Chicken Negemaki. Chicken is rolled around scallion and red pepper strips and tied like a scroll with a blanched scallion. True, God never told us to eat Chicken Negemaki, but he didn’t tell us to eat stuffed cabbage either.”

With “Kosher by Design Entertains,” Fishbein moved on to celebrations — a housewarming, dinner for two, an engagement party — nine in all, with spectacular menus and extravagant serving ideas along with the simple, yet elegant recipes she had become famous for.

Now “Kosher by Design Kids in the Kitchen” offers the dishes kids like to eat — and cook — clearly explained, beautifully photographed and coded for difficulty with one, two or three chefs hats (see story p. 49).

How does Fishbein herself explain the hoopla surrounding her books?

“I think I hit a nerve in the community,” she said. “People clearly have had a creative passion in them that was waiting to be unleashed. I’ve unleashed their inner cook.”

Rack of Lamb with Fig-Port-Shallot Sauce

From “Kosher by Design” by Susie Fishbein.

4 tablespoons olive oil, divided
2 teaspoons dried rosemary
2 teaspoons dried minced thyme
2 shallots
2 racks of baby lamb chops, 8-9 chops per rack; have butcher French the bones
1 cup port wine, divided
8 fresh Mission figs or 6 dried figs, cut into quarters
1/2 cup chicken stock

Preheat oven to 450 F. In a food processor fitted with a metal blade, process 2 tablespoons olive oil, rosemary, thyme, and shallots 30-45 seconds or until thick paste forms. Rub herb paste into lamb.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a medium oven-proof skillet. Add lamb, fat side down, and cook over high heat 5 minutes. Turn lamb and cook an additional minute so that both sides are brown.

Add 1/2 cup port to skillet. Place skillet in the oven and roast 18 minutes.

Remove skillet from oven. Place lamb on a platter; cover with foil to keep warm. Add remaining 1/2 cup port and figs to skillet. Bring to a simmer. Use a spatula to loosen brown bits from pan. Add stock and simmer 3-4 minutes. Sauce will thicken to a nice amber color. Pour sauce over lamb and serve.

Makes four servings.

Additional recipes can be found at ” target=”_blank”>www.cookingjewish.com.

Susie Fishbein will appear in private homes on:

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Nathan Takes a Bite Out of Boring Fare


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not only that.

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

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

 

Cooking Up a Meaningful Plot


“To make really great falafel, crunchy on the outside and smooth and light on the inside, you must use only Bulgarian chickpeas,” British playwright Robin Soans said. “Next, you soak them in water for eight hours.”

Soans, who talks in the sonorous tones of the veteran Shakespearean actor he is, knows whereof he speaks.

He is, after all, the author of the play “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook,” whose characters spend a good deal of stage time preparing a feast’s worth of delicacies, including falafel, humus, gefilte fish, and a dish that combines stuffed zucchini and stuffed vine leaves with chicken.

Despite its title and the food, the play at The Met Theatre employs culinary arts not as an end, but a means to explore the complex and emotional Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“I didn’t want to write an agitprop or political play, but talk about the human condition of everyday people,” Soans said.

Soans developed his storyline shortly after he was approached by two London directors, one Jewish and the other Arab, who were aiming for a different play about the Middle East conflict.

The directors started making contacts in Israel and the Palestinian territories, and last year Soans traveled to the region for five weeks of intensive interviews.

“Both Jews and Arabs are passionate about food,” Soans said. “They have that in common. I thought if I started out talking to them about their love of cooking, I could find out about the daily lives, without getting right away into their hostilities and grievances.”

“I did about four interviews a day and talked to about 80 people, purposely avoiding extremists and politicians,” Soans said. “I never used a tape recorder — it puts people off — and took notes sparingly.”

Blessed with a retentive memory, Soans recreated the conversations and shaped them into a “verbatim play,” a technique he used in his previous works.

The same approach marks his current London play, “Talking to Terrorists,” in which terrorists, hostages and politicians of different nationalities explore what it is that transforms an ordinary man into a mass killer.

“Cookbook” proved a critical success in Britain. The current American premiere is directed by Louis Fantasia, who has staged plays in at least 10 countries.

My cooking skills and interests extend to boiled eggs and barbecued hot dogs, but this drama was still deeply engaging. Without downplaying antagonisms and grievances, the play focuses on the preoccupations of daily life amidst a constant, back-of-the-mind danger and fear of death.

In 10 scenes, nine actors represent 40 characters, with the Arab-Jewish-Anglo-Iranian-Australian cast alternately playing Jewish and Arab men and women.

Partisans of both Israel and the Palestinians will find different segments to affirm or reject.

In one scene, Yaacov (Ric Borelli), a Jerusalem bus driver, notes the incessant strain of sizing up each bus passenger as a potential killer and recalls how a suicide bomber blew up the bus driven by a close friend in front of his eyes.

At another point, an elderly Arab graphically describes the stench, poverty and hopelessness of a refugee camp that holds 15,000 people. In the next scene, the same excellent actor, Ismail Abou-El-Kanater, plays a Jewish guest lifting up his glass in a “l’chayim” at a Rosh Hashanah dinner.

Often, the uncertainty of life is brought home by an off-hand comment. A Palestinian woman proudly shows off her vegetable garden, then points casually to a front gate with 18 bullet holes.

Providing a much-appreciated feisty humor is Rena (Jill Holden), a middle-aged American immigrant, who views the situation through the eyes of an insider-outsider.

“We try to live a normal life on the surface, but underneath there are cracks,” she muses.

Asked why she is not returning to America after her husband’s death, Rena explains that in Israel she has found the profound, deep friendships she never formed in New York.

Soans’ play shows perspectives from both sides of the Green Line, but he acknowledged that the British are not always so even-handed.

“We are a liberal country and tend to side with the perceived underdog, in this case the Palestinians,” he said. “Perhaps we need to be more sophisticated about our sympathies.”

Performances of “The Arab-Israeli Cookbook” are Thursdays-Sundays through June 26 at The Met Theatre, 1089 N. Oxford Ave. (near Santa Monica Boulevard and Western Avenue). Thursday performances are followed by discussion between cast and audience. $15-$20. (323) 957-1152. For additional information, including detailed recipes for dishes prepared on stage: www.TheArab-IsraeliCookbook-LA.com.

 

New ‘Design’ Adds Flair to the Holidays


 

“Kosher By Design Entertains” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah Publications, $34.99).

It’s probably already too late. Dishes from Susie Fishbein’s new “Kosher By Design Entertains” are probably gracing Shabbat tables and brunches all over the country. Recipes from her first two books, “The Kosher Palette” and “Kosher by Design,” became ubiquitous, and I fear that when I proudly escort my Glazed Chicken Breasts with Strawberry Salsa to the table, someone will inevitably say, “Oh, page 124, I tried that last week.”

But if you are willing to forego the glow of originality, this fresh and fearless cookbook — which includes a guide for how to make the recipes kosher for Passover — can turn your borscht into Yellow Tomato Basil Bisque.

With flavorful and fun recipes that use ingredients and combinations far from what used to be considered traditional Jewish cooking — think Juniper Berry and Peppercorn Crusted Skirt Steak with Spiced Onions — this book can add flare to a tired repertoire for both connoisseurs and amateurs.

The first “Kosher By Design” (Mesorah 2003), which sold more than 70,000 copies, centered around holiday and Shabbat menus, while “Entertains” tackles lifecycle events or other entertaining opportunities, such as a romantic dinner for two or a housewarming party.

Entertains is a confection of a cookbook, from its frilly fuchsia dust jacket to the polka dots and floral brocades and masculine plaids that frame many of the pages. Flip through the pages of nine sample parties and feel the crisp air at an autumnal picnic spread on a patchwork quilt, or hear the cooing and giggling at a pastel dessert buffet to welcome a new baby, where 4-foot-tall martini glasses filled with jelly beans frolic across the table.

The book is organized by courses or types of food — appetizers to desserts — which makes it easy to use. In between each section are a menu, party plan and set up for different occasions. As always, Fishbein is as concerned with presentation as with taste, so she takes several pages and lots of pictures to describe her techniques for things like creating an heirloom anniversary tablecloth using silk fabric and old photos converted into irons-ons.

While you may not have the time to use colorful clothes pins to clip your Coconut Chicken Strips to disposable wine cups filled with mango and apricot dipping sauces, the selection of recipes offers a wide variety of doable, contemporary dishes that will impress your guests both with the taste and with how great they look on the plate.

Fishbein, a mother of four, has clearly spent a lot of time in a family kitchen, and while some of the recipes are a little involved, enough of them meet my acceptable patschkie (messing around) level, with only three or four steps per recipe. She also favors some time-saving ingredients, like prepared dressing packets or frozen vegetables.

Fishbein also throws in a resource guide that includes Web sites or 800 numbers for unusual kosher ingredients or kitchen tools; a buying guide for the housewares on the book’s tables; a Passover conversion table; and suggested holiday and Shabbat menus using recipes from this book and her previous one.

But you better work fast. I can already smell that Caramelized Apple Cheesecake baking — in my neighbor’s oven.

Cornish Hen With Pistachio Paste
4 (1 pound) baby Cornish hens, butterflied, backbone removed, pressed flat with your palm
2 cups shelled raw unsalted pistachio nuts, finely chopped, divided salt and pepper
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
6 shallots
2 tablespoons fresh thyme or 2 teaspoons dried
12 ounces chicken stock, plus a little extra
4 basil or other brightly colored flat leaves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Stuff 1/4 cup of the chopped pistachio nuts under the skin of each of the hens. Massage the nuts under the skin to help spread them out evenly. Salt and pepper both sides of each hen.
Heat the olive oil in two large sauté pans (or plan to sear in batches). Sear the hens, skin side down until golden brown. Remove the hens from the pan and place in roasting pans in a single layer. Set aside. Add the shallots to the pan with the hen drippings. Sauté six to seven minutes. Sprinkle in the thyme. Deglaze pan with the chicken stock, use a wooden spoon to unstick any nuts.
Meanwhile, place the hens, uncovered, in the oven. Roast for 30 minutes or until done.
Prepare the pistachio paste. In a deep container, or in the bowl of a food processor, place 1/2 cup chopped pistachio nuts. Add the shallots and pan drippings. Using an immersion blender or food processor blend into a paste. Thin with a little stock if needed.
Dollop 1 or 2 tablespoons of the pistachio paste on a basil or other flat lettuce leaf, place on the side of the hen. Sprinkle all with the remaining chopped pistachios.

Makes four servings.

Balsamic Braised Brisket with Shallots and Potatoes
1 3-pound beef brisket
Sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
10 cloves garlic, peeled, divided
3 tablespoons margarine, divided
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
6 whole shallots, peeled
1/4 cup balsamic vinegar
1/4 cup red wine
1 14-1/2 ounce can crushed tomatoes

Preheat oven to 400 F.
Season the brisket on both sides with salt and pepper. Using the tip of a sharp knife, make sliver cuts all along the brisket. Cut five of the garlic gloves in half. Place a piece of garlic into each slit. Place 2 tablespoons of the margarine and the oil into a large skillet or pot set over medium heat. When the margarine is melted and hot, add the meat. You should hear it sear on contact. Let it cook for eight minutes, don’t move it around. After eight minutes, lift the meat up, add 1 tablespoon of margarine to the pan and turn the meat over. Sear on the second side for eight minutes. Remove the brisket to a baking pan. Surround the brisket with the potatoes, shallots and five whole garlic cloves.
Add balsamic vinegar and wine to the skillet or pan. Add the tomatoes. Turn the heat down to medium and cook for five minutes stirring to combine. While the mixture cooks down, scrape up the browned bits from the pan; a wooden spoon works well here. Pour balsamic mixture over the brisket and vegetables. Add water to just cover the brisket.
Place in the oven and bake for two to two and a half hours, covered. Allow to cool before slicing.

Makes six to eight servings.

Sweet Potato Wedges With Vanilla Rum Sauce
6 medium sweet potatoes, unpeeled
1/2 cup margarine or butter
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
1 tablespoon kosher for Passover vanilla extract
1 tablespoon dark rum

Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Cover a large jelly roll pan with parchment paper.
Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise. Cut each half in half again lengthwise. You will have long wedges. Place in a bowl.
In a small saucepan melt the margarine or butter and brown sugar. Stir in the vanilla and rum. Simmer for one minute. Pour over the sweet potatoes and toss to combine.
Arrange the wedges in a single layer on the prepared pan.
Bake, uncovered, for 45 minutes to one hour, checking at the 45-minute mark, until potatoes are soft and caramelized.

Makes eight to 10 servings.

 

Make Your Seder an Affair to Remember


 

Many Passover hostesses feel enslaved by the amount of effort that goes into making an elegant seder table. On the holiday of freedom, the only thing to which you should be enslaved is your creativity. By using your imagination and listening to the tried-and-true advice of the experts, you can create a stylish and sophisticated Passover seder that will have your guests wishing for another invitation next year.

The Setting
An unordinary setting can have a dramatic effect. Elie Neuman, program coordinator of Pesach with the Chevrah in Rancho Mirage, often has special requests to prepare private seder tables overlooking the hotel’s gardens.

“A beautiful backdrop transforms the seder’s look,” he said.

This year, weather permitting, think outside of your dining room and set up a seder table in your backyard. Hang Chinese lanterns and Christmas lights for a dazzling effect. Play with the lighting by positioning standing lamps from your living room at the ends of a long table, contrasting the look of the outdoors with a homey feel.

The Menu
With the kosher-for-Passover dietary restrictions, choosing a menu can be intimidating. Levana Kirschenbaum, cookbook author and cooking instructor known by her first name, suggests preparing dishes such as roasted asparagus, grilled fish, and seasonal soups you are certain will work.

Susie Fishbein, author of the “Kosher By Design” series (see story page 38), said that food should not prevent the hostess from enjoying the seder. “Instead of making seven different courses, prepare simple dishes that show you put in time and effort,” she said. “Don’t feel like you have to make meat, chicken and fish.”

The Centerpieces
Since the Passover table is generally crammed with wine bottles and glasses, the seder plate and boxes of matzah, centerpieces can be tricky.

“With everything on the table, you don’t want the flowers to be overpowering,” said Joel Katz of Prestige Catering, who caters Passover meals in hotels throughout Florida and upstate New York. Instead, he scatters small arrangements of flowers that add color to an already busy table.

Fishbein suggested using topiaries because they provide height without obstructing the view. Since topiaries do not die, only the fruits and flowers decorating them need to be replenished. “You can start by having white roses in the topiary for the seders and switch to lemons or strawberries for the end of the holiday,” Fishbein said.

Levana explains how every hostess can easily prepare a beautiful table within her budget. “Instead of making extravagant floral arrangements, I like to bring out specific colors and textures,” she said.

Levana recommended using a vibrant colored tablecloth with a patterned texture and choosing flowers within variations of two colors that contrast with the tablecloth. As long as the flowers are in the color scheme, inexpensive ones will do the trick.

During a recent demonstration at her Manhattan-based cooking school, Levana presented a stunning arrangement of four-dozen orange-red tulips assembled in a low vase. “No one will care if you use one type of flower, as long as you do a good job,” she said, noting that this arrangement only cost her $30.

Personal Touches
The personal touch is the main component that turns an average seder into an affair guests will remember long after the holiday is over. Throughout the year, Fishbein shops for special touches. One year she found stretchy plastic frogs to use as napkin holders while another year she found glass swizzle sticks with decorative frogs, which she placed in each goblet.

Neuman suggested placing individual seder plates at each setting. This way, guests have the essentials while additional plates of marror or charoset can be passed.

Neuman also recommended anticipating what guests will need ahead of time in order to make them feel comfortable. Besides providing a large selection of wine and matzah, find out if your guests have dietary restrictions. If a guest is allergic to wheat, special order spelt or oat matzah.

Creative place cards that double as mementoes will further personalize the table. By cutting cardboard strips; gluing fabric, ribbon and beads; and labeling them with each guest’s name, you can create individual bookmarks. Place the bookmarks in a haggadah at every place setting in order for guests to know where they are sitting.

Bringing It All Together
Levana and Fishbein both stress the necessity of the hostess feeling relaxed on the night of the seder. That way the hostess can join in the seder, and with everyone else, celebrate our people’s freedom.

Felisa Billet, a freelance writer from Forest Hills, N.Y., is at work on a cookbook, a fusion of Mexican and Jewish cuisine.

 

Let My Old Passover Programming Go


 

Why is this night different from all other nights?

For one thing, it’s the food — or, rather, the food that’s featured on television. But there’s also plenty of food for thought in the form of Passover-related travel and Jewish news features.

Food for Filling Up

Get Passover cooking with some fresh ideas from the Food Network’s “Essence of Emeril,” “Wolfgang Puck” and “Sweet Dreams.”

On “Sweet Dreams: Passover Favorites,” host Gale Gend and chef Ina Pinkey showcase recipes that are heavy on matzah meal and potato starch to achieve a consistency more like regular desserts. They make apple tea cake muffins from matzah meal, a savory alternative to plain matzah for breakfast. Their practically solid chocolate cake looks rich, while the untraditional Passover cobbler makes for a lighter alternative. The Food Network, April 19, 9:30 a.m.

In “Wolfgang’s Passover Feast,” viewers get a backstage pass into the celebrity chef’s kitchen as he leads a seder at one of his restaurants. The show features commentary on the holiday from Rabbi Arnie Rachlis of the University Synagogue in Irvine. Puck’s contributions are not especially user friendly, though. He fails to give precise measurements for ingredients in his recipes, while also using cooking equipment not found in noncelebrity kitchens. Some of his concoctions are kosher and some not — he shows how to make a not kosher for Passover but tasty-looking matzah with herbs in the dough. Watch Puck for entertainment or concepts, but not specific recipes. The Food Network, April 20, 10 a.m.

Kick your seder up a notch with a Passover segment of Emeril Laggase’s “The Essence of Emeril.” He may be out of his element when pronouncing Jewish foods such as charoset as “ha-ro-SET” instead of “cha-ROH-set.” Or when he tries to explain the seder plate. But he’s the expert when it comes to cooking. In his charoset, he uses practically a whole bottle of Manischewitz, when his own recipe only calls for two tablespoons. I guess good chefs really don’t measure. His matzah farfel kugel looks delish — with plenty of his signature essence. He also does a flavorful recipe for brisket, stuffing garlic cloves in the meat, and coating it with chili sauce and onions. The Food Network, April 21, 2 p.m. All Food Network Passover recipes can be found at foodtv.com.

Food for Thought

While digesting all these new treats you’ve just cooked, continue the Passover theme with Jewish Television Network’s (www.jewishtvnetwork.com) one-hour specials: “Exodus to Freedom” and “A Passover Celebration.”

The thought-provoking tone of “Exodus to Freedom,” hosted by Dick Cavett, would appeal more to adults and older children. It examines the lives of eight extraordinary individuals who overcame oppression. These stories aren’t just about the Jewish experience, but about the universal experience of exodus. Liz Murray grew up homeless with two drug-addicted parents, but turned her life around, eventually attending Harvard (her story was told in a 2003 Lifetime movie, “Homeless to Harvard”). Azar Nafasi led an English literature-reading group in Iran during a time of extreme Islamic fundamentalism. Francis Bok, a Sudanese man, was captured and sold as a slave, before escaping and later immigrating to the United States. Hungarian Holocaust survivor Tom Lantos worked in a forced labor camp during World War II, and now is a Democratic congressman representing the San Mateo area. Airs April 26, 10 p.m. on KVCR 24 in the Inland Empire; Channel 55 in desert cities.

“A Passover Celebration,” hosted by Jeffrey Tambor (“Arrested Development”) embodies a lighter tone. The St. Luke’s Chamber Ensemble and New York Concert Singers sing Passover songs from “Chad Gadya” and “Dayenu” to Sephardic and Ashkenazic renditions of “Adir Hu.” Irwin Kula of “Simple Wisdom” narrates Passover tales, as well personal anecdotes of his family’s emigration from Poland to the United States. On the craftier side, TLC host and Jewish Journal singles columnist Teresa Strasser shows how to make various colorful Passover creations. These include a matzah box centerpiece, a clay encased Elijah cup and a reverse-decoupage seder plate to brighten up the Passover table. For the little ones, there’s an “Aleph, Bet Blastoff” segment featuring Dom DeLuise as a comic pharaoh, with a kid-friendly amount of menace. The final segment, a mouth-watering chocolate matzah creation by chef Jeff Nathan, looks simple enough even for the cooking averse. Airs April 24 on KLCS. Check klcs.org for scheduled times.

Kids Meal

The Rugrats get locked in the attic with Grandpa Boris, and he narrates the Passover story as seen through the eyes of 3-year-old Angelica (who takes on the role of a pharaoh who won’t “Let My Babies Go”). “The Rugrats Passover Special” airs April 24, 7:30 a.m. on Nickelodeon. For more information, visit www.nickelodeon.com.

Food to Go

Among other thrills, experience a hot-air balloon ride over the pyramids. (Consider them, in Cecil B. DeMille terms, a testament to the Jewish work ethic.) “Globe Trekker: Egypt,” hosted by Megan McCormick, airs April 21, 8 p.m. on KCET. For more information, visit www.kcet.org.

Yesterday we were slaves in Egypt; today we are free to choose our Passover programming.

 

Latkes Without End, Amen


 

It’s 1991, and I am in the basement kitchen of Temple Mishkon Tephilo in Venice. I don’t know what it looks like now, but back then, many years ago, the place had an Army hospital feel about it: beige cupboards that didn’t sit quite flush on their hinges; floor-level shelves stuffed with mismatched sheet pans, clouded plastic bowls and skillets the size of UFOs; dull counters scratched and scrubbed and scoured by generations of helpful women; and a giant industrial stove — I want to say a Wolf — six or eight sensationally powerful commercial grade burners girded by iron and stainless steel, its pilot lights burning like eternal flames.

My wife, Naomi Levy, was the synagogue’s rabbi at the time. She ruled the upstairs sanctuary and classroom. But I was most comfortable down below, by that inferno of a stove.

Out of college, I had supported a writing habit by cooking and catering. Nothing edible was strange to me. So I prided myself on being able to command any kitchen, from that of the A-list half-Jewish actress in whose Palisades home I’d catered a Christmas dinner of ham and brisket, to Mishkon, where I liked to slip out of services early and help Jesus set up for Kiddush. (At Mishkon, the janitor was a Mexican immigrant named Jesus, the security guard was an Arab immigrant named, no kidding, Mohammed.)

If some congregants were perturbed by a female rabbi who couldn’t cook an egg and a male rebbetzin who hung out in the kitchen, they didn’t let on. They took a sow’s ear and turned it into a kosher meal. Soon I was teaching Passover cooking classes for the synagogue’s adult-ed department, and very soon after Naomi and I started dating, someone asked me to take charge of cooking the latkes for the annual Chanukah party.

Most synagogues have Chanukah parties, and all Chanukah parties have latkes. Not dozens, but hundreds, or thousands. Somehow I suspected that if Rabbi Levy and I were to become an item, I would find myself volunteering or volunteered for such duties. After all, at a homey 200-family shul like Mishkon, everyone has to pitch in, and it wasn’t as if I could teach Mishna. I was no Torah expert, but I did know latkes.

What did I know, and how did I know it?

First of all, anybody who has ever considered a career in food has given serious thought to the potato. When I applied to be a sous chef at a San Francisco restaurant several years earlier, the chef asked me to make an omelet. Then he asked me how I would make a tomato sauce. Then he asked me to peel and cut potatoes. I set out a bowl of cold water, found a good peeler, and proceeded to make short work of it. Every kitchen job I ever had involved pounds and pounds of potatoes, and I grew to understand and respect them so much — this homely, earth-bound lump, transformed into something light and soft or crisp and delectable — that I have never been able to bring myself to calling them “spuds.” I hate that word.

Latkes are a simple form of potato preparation, as potato dishes go. But simplicity in cooking, as the food writer Richard Olney wrote, is a complex thing. I have had rubbery latkes, starchy latkes, undercooked latkes and latkes so greasy that two of them could run a diesel engine for a week.

I learned the basics from my mother, and Joan Nathan. My mother makes superb latkes, but evidently this is not unusual. When I told people I was writing this essay, they all had the same response: that their mother made the perfect latke.

The varieties of latke experience varied among these people’s mothers. The ingredients hardly change: potatoes, eggs, salt, pepper and a binder, either flour or potato starch or matzah meal. But some people mash the potatoes, some grate them finely, some coarsely. Some use onion. Some use more eggs, some less.

Some fry their latkes in a lot of oil, turning them into little rafts on a roiling sea of grease. Others sauté them in nonstick skillets with a tablespoon of canola. The skinless breast meat/egg white crowd, acolytes of la cuisine Lipitor, go one step further, waving a can of PAM over a cookie sheet and baking their pancakes in a hot oven. If your mother does that, and you think she makes the best latkes in Jewish history, good for you, and good for your arteries.

Most of us consider the recipe we were raised on as the best, be it for brisket, fesenjan, kubaneh or latkes. Your search for the perfect latke, then, was over before it began, unless you are like me and have a restless hunger, a belief that with a slight change, a different oil, a coarser grate, maybe a hotter flame, the ideal can be made even better.

Anyway, your mother’s going to die one day. So unless she has taken you to her side and shown you her technique — and latkes are 90 percent technique — you will have to discover the perfect latke for yourself.

This is a bigger problem than the high priests of Jewish continuity care to admit. While they wring their hands over whether the next generation will know Torah and Jewish history and carry Israel close to its heart, who is worried whether young Jews will learn how to skim the fat off a chicken soup or shape a perfect Moroccan cigar? Our food ways do not define us — they are neither the point of being Jewish nor even close to the richest part of our culture. Foodaism is no substitute for Judaism. But the recipes of our foremothers are, if not our operating system, then some critical software. They provide a sense memory of tradition, a source of potent symbolism, a connection to the past and a link to the future. And they taste good, too.

Most Jewish women I know can’t cook like their grandmothers. The men can’t cook like their grandmothers, either. In some cases their own mothers can cook, but didn’t pass the skills along. That’s not to say these people don’t let their marble countertops and DCS ranges lay fallow. Their menus read like the sides of a shampoo bottle: Grill chicken breasts. Broil salmon. Rinse. Repeat. They can empty a bag of mesclun into a bowl, and given time, a pricey measuring beaker and a recipe, they may make a vinaigrette to dress it. If Emeril makes a Yorkshire pudding, they may soil their Sur la Table-ware doing one of those, too. But do they know gribenes? Can they make kreplach? If grandma was Persian, how’s the crust on their chelou? And if the answers are, no, no and soft, what about their children? I suppose there are warm and wonderful Jewish homes that have never known a pot of homemade chicken soup simmering on the stove, but they’d be even warmer and more wonderful with it.

I’m not an out-and-out alarmist about these things. Even a dish like latkes is not an immutable part of Jewish culture. As with so many traditional Jewish foods, its origins can be found in a blend of cultures. Bagels, challah, falafel, hummus, lox — we can say we popularized them, but we cannot with a straight face say we invented them.

Chanukah tradition dictates that foods be cooked in oil, to symbolize the one-day supply of oil that burned for a miraculous eight days in the rededicated Temple. Italian Jews cooked fried chicken on Chanukah and Iraqi Jews zalabia, or fried dough.

Potato pancakes, being cheap and easy and delicious, fit into the concept, and became a staple of Ashkenizic tradition. As for the latke, Yiddish for “potato pancake,” it is common in Eastern European and Germanic cuisine, a Christmas staple served with goose at Ukrainian tables where Jews no doubt adapted the tradition to their own needs. Potatoes didn’t arrive in Europe from their native Peru until the 1500s, so for more than a millennia we managed to keep the holiday alive without them. According to cookbook writer Joan Nathan, before latkes, fried buckwheat cakes were the European Chanukah staple. Yum.

These days, Chanukah flirts with the temptation of capitalist excess that has turned Christmas into a retail orgy. But as long as it features the latke it will retain an obdurate hominess. Designer latkes — made with yams or zucchini or taro or hand-pulled Korean noodles — are invariably a disappointment. Put your great-aunt in a miniskirt and call her a supermodel, it changes nothing. Gussy the holiday up with presents, fuse it with Christmas and Kwanzaa, give it its own feature film and TV special, there’s no getting around the fact that we’re not talking Handel’s Messiah and gingerbread houses. We’re talking three-note songs and fried potatoes. Christmas perfumes the house, Chanukah clings to the drapes: live with it.

Which brings me back to Mishkon Tephilo, circa 1991. We are a crew of men dedicated to providing enough latkes to the synagogue’s annual party. A couple of hours before the congregants arrive, we gather around the dirty tubers. We set up buckets of cool water and start peeling, plopping the potatoes into their bath. I’ve bought eggs by the flatload from Smart & Final, and crack them into a bathtub-sized stainless steel bowl, beat them with salt and pepper, then grate the potatoes, give them a squeeze, and toss them into the eggs. Finally I throw in some grated onion and matzah meal or flour — I don’t remember which and it doesn’t matter. I make latkes like Tommy plays pinball, by feel, and you should, too.

If the batter doesn’t remind you of the sand and seawater you turned into drip castles as a child, it’s not right.

We press every skillet in that overused, under-refurbished kitchen into service, and fill each one with a quarter inch of peanut oil. Then we fire them up.

Rule No. 1 of latke preparation is you can never make enough latkes. If they are good, they will disappear. Everybody has room for one more. Make as many as you can and when they run out they run out (But plan on three per person).

Rule No. 2 is kids are not allowed. Hot oil and children don’t mix. Hot oil and most adults isn’t even a great match, but what can you do?

Rule No. 3 is you may get burned. It happens, and most times it’s not serious.

Rule No. 4 is water is the enemy. Joan Nathan told me to always press as much moisture as possible out of the shredded potatoes. Let the water settle, collect the starch at the bottom and ladle it back into the potato mixture.

Furthermore, while frying latkes, or anything for that matter, if a drop of water lands in the boiling oil, stand way back. It will hiss violently then explode like a bottle rocket, and someone will get hurt.

Rule No. 5 is enjoy yourself. Latkes are among the more forgiving of Jewish foods. Even bad ones are usually edible, especially when heaped with the traditional toppings of applesauce or sour cream.

That’s what I did cooking those latkes in the synagogue basement — I enjoyed myself. I remember the next few hours of my life as a happy moment in time. I insisted that hot latkes just out of the oil were better than frozen and reheated latkes or latkes kept warm in the oven, and they are. So we worked furiously to turn out latkes as people began arriving, and we worked even harder to keep up with demand as the temple basement filled with hungry children, seniors and parents. I didn’t hear a word as my wife led the congregation in blessing the candles or singing “Rock of Ages.” She was in her element, I in mine.

As fast as we loaded the platters with pancakes they disappeared. Sweat soaked our shirts and slicked our faces. If we slacked off for a moment, we faced an impatient mob. We used every last potato, every last bit of batter. There are famous photos of the men who stoke the wood-fired bread ovens of Paris stripped to their waists, torsos glistening as they wrestled with fire to create their perfect loaves, and I think if someone had been there with a camera we were a kind of Ashkenazic variation on the ovens of Poilane. But we kept our shirts on.

Then it was over. Many people said the latkes were perfect. Many more said they were good, but not as good as the ones their mother made. The latkes were as they should be — crispy around the edges, a bit soft in the center, not greasy, 99 percent potato, 1 percent egg. But the experience of making them in the basement of my wife’s synagogue, that was perfect.

And to cap it off, someone — I suspect Danny Brookman — brought the cold beers that appeared in the fridge once we were finished.

Talk about the miracle of Chanukah.

 

It’s All About the Olive Oil


 

“I like to have fun in the kitchen,” said Susie Fishbein, a stay-at-home mother of four — three girls and a boy — who became an overnight success with the publication of her cookbook, “Kosher by Design: Picture-perfect food for the holidays & every day” (Mesorah, 2003).

While some food writers automatically push the same old latke and brisket menu at Chanukah, Fishbein offers a lighter touch by mixing in Mediterranean fare. And although she tweaks culinary tradition, she honors it. Fishbein believes in presenting beautiful food in unique ways.

Because Fishbein never attended culinary school, she has empathy for the home cook who is working blindly from a stranger’s instructions and, maybe, a picture. Her recipes are easy to follow; even novices can achieve professional results.

Although she is playful and adventurous, Fishbein is serious about finding inspiration.

She talks to lots of people, asking them about their favorite foods. She reads restaurant menus the way some people study the stock market. She’s never just eating; she’s figuring out what ingredients she’s tasting and which flavors compliment each other. Her aim is to keep ahead of the kosher curve.

“Creating recipes is my forte,” she said. To invent novel ways of preparing food, she spends huge amounts of time experimenting in the kitchen. She asks her husband and children to test her creations.

“Through trial and error, I attempted a new dish several months ago,” she said with a laugh. “It went through three phases before my family said: ‘Give it up! It just isn’t any good.'”

With a bubbly personality, Fishbein describes a recent December when a Hadassah chapter on Long Island invited her to demonstrate how to make beignets, a type of French fritter.

“Beignets are fresh and exciting at Chanukah,” she said. “A change of pace from jelly doughnuts.”

Because she expected 200 Hadassah women at the demonstration, Fishbein asked her mother for assistance.

“Ironically, I don’t come from a long line of good cooks,” she said. “My ancestors were amazing women, bold beyond their time. But we gagged on their food.”

Watching Fishbein whipping up the beignet batter and frying fritters, her mother said: “Those aren’t beignets, they’re punchkis!” She then claimed that Fishbein’s grandmother used to make an Ashkenazi rendition of this French confection. “It’s the one thing that Bubbe made well!”

Fishbein found this hiliarious, because she had searched long and hard for this upscale idea. Then, through a series of missteps followed by corrections, she perfected her version of the recipe, only to find something similar had been in the family for decades.

Every Chanukah, Fishbein throws a block party and includes all of her neighbors. Inviting 18 adults and 14 children, she serves many of the recipes from “Kosher by Design,” especially the ones calling for olive oil.

Olive oil, a precious commodity in Jerusalem during the Second Temple period, is at the heart of Chanukah cooking. After the Maccabees prevailed in a series of bitter battles, there was only a 24-hour supply of oil left to light the Temple menorah.

This created a crisis, because it took eight days to replenish lamp oil. But, miracle of miracles, one day’s worth of oil lasted eight days. Paying homage to this joyous event, no Chanukah menu would be complete without food fried in oil.

True to this theme, Fishbein serves family and friends Rigatoni ala Norma, a scrumptious Italian dish made with red sauce riddled with fried eggplant and basil. Her Parmesan Crusted Grouper is a remarkably easy recipe that yields amazingly delicious results.

A perennial favorite, Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza is surrounded by phyllo dough and layered with fried veggies and ricotta and mozzarella cheeses. Fishbein likes these two dairy recipes because of the role cheese plays in the Chanukah story.

Aware that food is mightier than the sword, Judith, an unsung heroine, entertained an enemy general and plied him with salty cheese. To quench his thirst, he consumed far too much wine. After he fell asleep from the wine, Judith cut off his head with his sword, helping her people prevail against the enemy forces.

Today, the Festival of Lights remains a joyous occasion. In accordance with the holiday’s spirit, there’s a photo of a glittering table flooded with glowing candles and blue and gold accouterments in the Chanukah chapter of “Kosher by Design.”

Fishbein knows how to turn an ordinary dining room into a dazzling scene that impresses guests. She has become the doyenne of Jewish entertaining. As a matter of fact, she’s publishing “Kosher by Design Entertains” in time for Passover.

No matter what your home looks like, Fishbein suggests firing up your imagination when setting holiday tables (see page 50). Last Chanukah, her house was under construction. “We had bare walls down to the studs,” she said. “The place was a disaster zone.” Yet at her annual Chanukah party, she overshadowed chaos with extravagance.

“Would you believe the photo from my cookbook was actually my table — taken during the demolition,” she said. “It goes to show, you can create ambiance anywhere.”

But how do the creatively challenged get started? Fishbein suggests beginning with the best food. Yet, she says, it’s not only what you serve, but how you serve it.

A simple garnish creating contrast, an offbeat tablecloth such as a quilt, an Oriental pot filled with flowering plants — these things elevate the mundane to the magnificent. Search your house for lovely objects long forgotten. Mix and match things representing different styles and adapt them when you entertain.

“Above all, enjoy yourself,” Fishbein said. “Let each meal be a wonderful journey — the sharing of something special with people you care about and love.”

Rigatoni Ala Norma

6 medium Asian eggplants, unpeeled and cut into 1/2-inch thick slices crosswise

Salt to taste

1 1/4 cups or more olive oil

Freshly ground pepper to taste

4 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped

2 (28-ounce or 32-ounce) cans whole plum tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon sugar

3-4 fresh basil leaves, chopped, plus ex

tra for garnishing

1 pound rigatoni, uncooked

Paper towels

Lay eggplant slices in a single layer. Lightly salt both sides. Cover with paper towels. Let sit for 20 minutes. Press on paper towels occasionally to soak up water that will come from eggplants.

In a large frying pan, heat 1 cup, or more, of olive oil over medium high heat. Make sure you have at least an inch of oil, so it will cover the slices and eliminate the need for flipping each piece over. When oil is hot, carefully add the eggplant in batches and fry until golden on both sides. Add more oil, if necessary. Transfer to clean paper towels and drain. Season generously with salt and black pepper.

Place 1/4 cup olive oil in a large pot. Add the garlic and sauté until golden. Add the tomatoes and any accumulated juices. Add the sugar and simmer about 15 minutes. The sauce will thicken. Add the chopped basil leaves and simmer three to four minutes longer.

While the sauce simmers, prepare the pasta according to package directions until al dente (chewy). Drain, reserving one cup of the pasta water in case sauce needs thinning.

Toss the pasta with the eggplant and sauce. Garnish with fresh basil leaves.

Makes six to eight servings.

Greek Tomato-Spinach Pizza

1/4 cup olive oil

2 cups chopped onion

3 garlic cloves, minced

3 (10-ounce) boxes frozen chopped

spinach, thawed and squeezed dry

2 teaspoons dry oregano

1/2 cup chopped fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

15 ounces ricotta cheese

10 sheets frozen phyllo dough, thawed

1/4 cup butter, melted

4-6 fresh tomatoes, evenly sliced

1 1/2 cups grated mozzarella cheese

Preheat oven to 400 F.

In a skillet, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic. Sauté about five minutes, or until onion is transparent.

Add spinach and saute until all excess moisture has evaporated. Add oregano, basil and pepper. Mix well. Remove from heat. Mix in ricotta cheese. Set aside.

Grease a large jelly roll pan (the kind with a small rim). Lay one sheet of phyllo in it. The phyllo may be just a little bigger than the pan. Brush phyllo with melted butter. Top with a second phyllo sheet and brush with melted butter.

Repeat process until all ten sheets are buttered. Roll the ends of phyllo into themselves to form the “pizza crust.” NOTE: Phyllo dough dries out quickly, so keep sheets covered with a damp cloth until use.

Using a spatula, spread the spinach ricotta mixture in an even layer over the phyllo. Arrange tomatoes over this layer. Sprinkle with mozzarella. Bake 25-30 minutes or until golden brown. When cool enough to handle, cut into squares.

Makes 12 servings.

Parmesan Crusted Grouper

1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese

1/3 cup butter, softened but not melted

2 tablespoons mayonnaise

2 scallions, thinly sliced

4 small (1-inch thick) grouper fillets

1 lemon

Freshly ground pepper to taste

Preheat broiler to high.

In a small bowl, combine Parmesan, butter, mayonnaise and scallions. Reserve.

Place grouper fillets on a lightly greased boiler pan. Squeeze juice from lemon over fillets. Sprinkle with black pepper.

Broil 6 inches from heat for 10 minutes. Remove from oven. Spread tops of the fillets with cheese mixture. Return to oven and broil for two minutes longer, or until topping is lightly browned and bubbly. Remove fillets to platter.

Makes four servings.

Beignets

4-6 cups vegetable oil

1 cup milk

1 cup water

1 large egg

3 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons sugar

confectioners’ sugar

Pour oil into a deep pot to a depth of 3-4 inches. Heat oil to 370 F.

In a large bowl with the mixer at medium-high speed, combine the milk, water and egg. Add the flour, baking powder, salt and sugar. Mix until batter is smooth.

Using a 1/8 cup measure, drop the batter into the hot oil and fry about 3-4 minutes. Don’t make them much bigger or the inside won’t cook properly. The beignets will float to the surface. Turn them a few times, until the beignets are golden on both sides. Remove and drain on paper towels. Use a strainer to sprinkle confectioners’ sugar on all sides. Serve hot.

Makes 20-24 beignets.

Recipes from “Kosher by Design: Picture Perfect Food for the Holidays & Every Day,” by Susie Fishbein (Mesorah).

 

Applesauce Warms Holiday Celebration


 

By the time Chanukah rolls around, I’ll have spent the last three to four weeks cleaning and cooking up a storm for a Thanksgiving feast; planning, decorating, and baking for my daughter’s birthday party; volunteering and baking some more for several school holiday celebrations; shopping, preparing and delivering gifts for family and friends; and, of course, working full time. Usually, as I take the menorah out of the cabinet, I am fighting off a cold and longing to the celebrating to end, so I can sleep.

But as a single mom, I have no choice but to dig deep, and find one more layer of energy, and holiday joy, to share with my daughter as she excitedly waits to open gifts, play dreidel, light candles and eat latkes.

I have this wonderful old book, “A Treasury of Jewish Holidays, History, Legends, Traditions” by Hyman E. Goldin. My father must have bought it at one of his cherished used book sale haunts, because on the title page, next to where my mom wrote her name, is the price, written in pencil: 35 cents.

Inside it starts with a 20-year calendar of Jewish festivals and fasts, from 1951/52 to 1970/71. Each holiday section begins with vintage pen-and-ink drawings of observant men in prayer; women preparing food; families at a festival meal; men and boys seated and dressed in slacks, shirts, and ties; women and girls standing, wearing perfectly pressed dresses, and holding platters of food and a smile.

I don’t use this book as a factual resource so much as for a cultural one, because even the choice of words, as well as their meaning, reflect the standards of another generation. Under the Chanukah chapter I found sentences such as, “Returning from the synagogue after Maariv [evening] service, the master of the house finds the Chanukah lamp all prepared for the occasion. A holiday spirit pervades the house and all is cheerful and gay.” Or, “During Chanukah, after the evening meal, people usually indulge in playing such games as checkers, chess, dominoes, card and one special game known as Kautowes … arithmetic riddles and puzzles.

I am intrigued by the quaint orderliness of the books’ words and pictures, however one Chanukah as my throat burned and my body’s center of gravity pushed me down, I found particular relevance in the very first sentence in the Chanukah chapter. It asks, “What is Chanukah?” and answers, “In Hebrew, Chanukah means dedication.”

Although the term refers to the rededication of the Temple by the Jews after they defeated the Greeks, I think it is a perfectly modern description for many of us who celebrate the holiday today. Since Chanukah falls during such a busy time of year, celebrating requires a special dedication. Like the Maccabees who were outnumbered, outsupplied and certainly low on energy, we must also work with what we have left to keep this holiday alive.

On the day preceding the first night of Chanukah, I was too tired to make yet another trip to the grocery store for latke fixings, so we had warm bowls of soup, lit the Chanukah candles, and without much fanfare, my daughter opened her first present. But on the second day, I re-entered my kitchen and found one box of instant latke mix and a refrigerator drawer full of apples.

I set a dozen apples on the kitchen table so we could sit while my daughter peeled, and I sliced and cored. We added into the mix a couple of ripe pears and some delicious dried Turkish apricots. Soon three pots holding three different version of applesauce simmered on the stove. My daughter loved the cinnamon smell, and I couldn’t wait to feel the warm applesauce on my raw throat.

When we sat down to our latke dinner, late on the second night, three colorful candles were lit on the menorah, the gifts were lined up on an old bookshelf, a bowl of shiny chocolate gelt was on the table, I was wearing wrinkled corduroy overalls and my daughter was in her sparkly embroidered blue jeans. We ate together — my daughter thrilled with the latkes and excited for the coming dreidel game, and me soothed by the warm applesauce and our modern picture of Chanukah dedication.

Chunky Applesauce

Since Granny Smith apples are firmer, they add the chunks to this mixed applesauce as well as a nice tart contrast to the sweeter sauce.

3 Granny Smith apples

2 Jonagold apples

1/4 teaspoon cinnamon

1 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

Peel, core and cut apples in 3/4-inch chunks. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, cinnamon, lemon juice, and 1/4 cup of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until some apples softened into sauce and some are chunky. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.

Makes six servings.

Pear Applesauce

My daughter loves pears, so I thought this might be a nice combination. It is sweeter, softer, and darker in color and extra soothing warmed.

2 Jonagold apples

1 Granny Smith apple

2 Bartlett Pears, ripe

1 teaspoon cinnamon

Pinch ground clove

1/4 teaspoon lemon juice, fresh

Peel, core and cut apples into chunks and pears into slices. In medium saucepan over medium-high heat, bring apples, pears, cinnamon, clove, lemon juice and 2 tablespoons of water to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer covered, mashing and stirring every few minutes. Uncover the last few minutes so excess water cooks off. Cook approximately 15 minutes or until apples and pears are soft and saucy. Serve warm or chilled with latkes.

Makes six servings.

Lisa Solomon writes food articles for several publications, including The Atlanta Journal Constitution, Washington Jewish Week and The Canadian Jewish News.

 

Not Your Grandma’s Honey Cake


It wouldn’t be the second night of Rosh Hashanah if our friends didn’t come for dinner, contributing a cornucopia of dishes, especially divine desserts. There are enough pastries covering the buffet to keep judges at the Pillsbury Bake-Off Contest busy for a week.

I always bake a chocolate and yellow swirl bundt cake, my daughter’s favorite dessert. One year, a friend came with an apple pie and a plum torte, which she placed on the buffet next to my cake. A towering pyramid of brownies vied for attention with white chocolate chip cookies and a plate of lemon squares. The intoxicating smell of a warm pear crisp tempted people who were piling their plates with pastries. When they reached the homemade honey cake, though, they made bee-lines back to their seats. Feeling embarrassed for Alice, who’d baked this wallflower, I moved the honey cake to a more prominent position and cut it into slices. Still there were no takers.

“I told you not to bring it,” Alice’s 8-year-old daughter cried. “Honey cake is boring. Nobody wants it.”

To be kind, I took a couple of slices. But Alice’s daughter was right. The cake tasted overbaked. I had been warned that dryness is a problem with honey cake, which is why I never attempted to make one. Yet I felt guilty shunning the only Rosh Hashanah dessert on the buffet. I realized honey cake had become the dowager of New Year’s celebrations, revered but seldom consumed.

“A dry honey cake will send people away for years,” said Marcy Goldman, author of “Jewish Holiday Baking” (Broadway Books, 2004). Conventional wisdom on the subject maintains that if honey cakes are removed from the oven at exactly the right time –whatever that is — the dreaded dryness will be avoided. But Goldman disagrees, explaining that many recipes call for only one-quarter cup of oil, which is not nearly enough fat to yield chewy, moist texture.

And so she began experimenting with different honey cake recipes. First, she upped the fat content. Then she realized that she had to add some sugar; using enough honey to sufficiently sweeten the cake can make it too sticky to rise. Later she addressed flavorings, adjusting their levels depending on which type of honey cake she was baking.

“If I make one honey cake, then I have to make 10 different kinds,” she said. Among her repertoire, Goldman has developed a Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake, an Eastern European Bee Sting Tart and a Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake.

The whole honey cake hullabaloo started because Goldman is fussy about honey and will not buy just any kind. In recent years, she has enlisted Elmer, a retired stockbroker-turned-beekeeper, to fill her honey needs. Elmer produces a nonpasteurized kosher honey, known to taste exquisite.

“Most honey is just sweet; it lacks rich honey flavor,” Goldman said.

Honey comes in thousands of varieties. There are more than 300 such varieties in the United States alone. They range in color from pale blond to dark walnut, and in flavor from mild and floral to herbal and robust.

The taste of this natural sweetener depends on the types of flowers its black-and-yellow creators frequent. In the United States, the most common floral destination for bees is clover, but the possibilities are endless, depending on climate and growing conditions. Like wine, honey is a truly local product that varies from region to region.

Equally enthralled by the range of honey flavors, food writer Jayne Cohen takes her family on vacation every August with a mission. As a segue between the carefree days of summer and the fall holidays to follow, they spend their vacations searching market after market for honey.

“We always bring a fragrant honey back from every trip,” said Cohen, who, along with Lorie Weinrott, is co-author of “The Ultimate Bar/Bat Mitzvah Celebration Book” (Clarkson Potter, 2004). She joyfully describes creamed lavender honey from Provence, wild blueberry honey from Maine, chestnut honey from Italy and honey scented with hibiscus and frangipane from Bermuda.

“Every year, we open a lovely new honey, and that has become our Rosh Hashanah tradition,” she said.

Last year her family vacationed in Sicily, where they found the most marvelous honey carrying the aroma of pistachio flowers.

“I prepared an elaborate Rosh Hashanah dinner for family and friends,” Cohen said. “But nobody could stop dipping apples and challah in that pistachio honey.”

It was so popular that three of her friends later visited Sicily and returned with jars of honey of their own.

While in Sicily, Cohen’s daughter, Alex, purchased a three-pack of honeys: chestnut, wild flower and thyme. Attending college in California, Alex couldn’t come home for Rosh Hashanah. Instead she bought a challah and went to a farmer’s market for tart apples. Inviting friends to her dorm room, they dipped the challah and apples into the three Sicilian honeys.

“Alex liked the idea of beginning the school and Jewish year wishing for sweetness,” Cohen said. “It was nice to see her repeating our family tradition.”

Honey has long been important to the Jewish people. Since biblical times, honey has been a symbol of abundance. Addressing Moses from the burning bush, God announced his plan to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt to a land flowing with “milk and honey.”

Back then, “milk and honey” were dietary staples, so in essence God was saying that Canaan would be a promising place to settle. In fact, the land was teeming with goats and swarming bees abounded. Canaan’s fertile soil supported grapevines and date trees, which produced a syrup also known as honey. Date syrup is similar in viscosity and texture to honey, and is equally sweet.

This abundant land offered prosperity and sweetness, which have come to represent Rosh Hashanah ideals.

During her career, Cohen has specialized in tweaking traditional Jewish recipes to create marvelous alternatives. With Rosh Hashanah in mind, she developed Honeyed Cigars with Date-Pomegranate Filling, a phyllo pastry with a Sephardi influence.

“Besides being a traditional Rosh Hashanah fruit, pomegranates have a tart taste,” said Cohen, adding that you don’t truly appreciate sweetness without contrast. For that reason, Jews from some Sephardi cultures mix pomegranates with honey. Cohen’s recipe calls for pomegranate molasses, which can be found in Middle Eastern, specialty-food and gourmet markets.

Cohen highly recommends baking with a quality honey, preferably one that carries a flavor you find pleasing. Look for honeys such as orange blossom or lime blossom at farmer’s markets. At specialty stores, you can sometimes find Greek thyme honey or lavender honey.

If you can’t locate fragranced honey, mix flavors you like into commercial honey. Almond extract or a small amount of strawberry jam work well, also.

While the Rosh Hashanah dessert course should be the moment for honey to shine, it has lost out to Blondies and Mississippi Mud Pie over recent decades. There was a time when Ashkenazi Jews eagerly anticipated the holiday because it promised honey cakes galore. Every family had a bubbe or aunt who baked them. Yet a dwindling number of people recall this distant memory.

Now, just in time for Rosh Hashanah,
“I love baking,” Goldman said. “But even better than that, I love it when someone else derives pleasure from repeating my recipes, because with Jewish cooking and baking, you’re talking about more than just a recipe. You’re passing on your whole culture.”

Along with the chocolate desserts people crave, this Rosh Hashanah try baking a pastry so full of nectar that even the most ardent honey cake haters will have to admit they’re wrong.

For more tempting Rosh Hashanah baking ideas, visit Cohen’s Web site, www.ultimatebarbatmitzvah.com, which features Apple Challah Bread Pudding, along with other seasonal pastries.

Goldman revives honey cakes and other holiday confections on her Web site: www.betterbaking.com.

Marcy Goldman’s Definitive Moist and Majestic Honey Cake

3 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

4 teaspoons baking powder

3/4 teaspoons baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

4 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

11/2 cups granulated sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

4 eggs

1 teaspoon vanilla

1 cup warm coffee or strong tea or Coca-Cola

1/2 cup fresh orange juice

1/4 cup rye or whiskey (or substitute orange juice or coffee)

1/2 cup slivered almonds

This cake is best baked in a 9-inch angel food cake pan, but you can also make it in one 9- or 10-inch tube or bundt cake pan, a 9-by-13-inch sheet cake, or two 5-inch loaf pans.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease pan(s). For tube and angel food pans, line the bottom with lightly greased parchment paper, cut to fit. Have ready doubled up baking sheets with a piece of parchment on top

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, cloves and allspice.

Make a well in the center. Add oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar, eggs, vanilla, coffee, tea or cola, orange juice and rye or whiskey.

Using a strong wire whisk or in an electric mixer on slow speed, stir together well to make a thick, well-blended batter, making sure that no ingredients are stuck to the bottom.

Spoon batter into prepared pan(s). Sprinkle top of cake(s) evenly with almonds. Place cake pan(s) on two baking sheets stacked together. (This will ensure that cakes bake properly.)

Bake until cake springs back when you gently touch the cake center. For angel and tube cake pans, 60-80 minutes; loaf pans, about 45-55 minutes. For sheet-style cakes, baking time is 40-45 minutes.

Let cake stand 20 minutes before removing from pan.

Marcy Goldman’s Chocolate Velvet Honey Cake

2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 cup cocoa

1 tablespoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 to 2 teaspoons cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon cloves

1 cup vegetable oil

1 cup honey

1 cup white sugar

1/2 cup brown sugar

3 eggs

2 teaspoons pure vanilla

1 cup Coca-Cola

1/2 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate

1/3 cup slivered almonds

Preheat oven to 350F. Generously spray a 9- or 10-inch tube pan or angel food cake pan with cooking spray. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper and set aside.

In a large bowl, whisk together flour, cocoa, baking powder, baking soda, salt, cinnamon and cloves.

In a food processor, add in the oil, honey, white sugar, brown sugar. Blend well about 30 seconds. Add in the eggs, vanilla, and Coca-Cola. Blend well for another minute.

Fold in the dry ingredients and blend for about two minutes, until smooth, stopping the machine once or twice to ensure that ingredients are all blended and not stuck at the bottom.

Fold in chocolate chips. Spoon or pour batter into prepared pan. Sprinkle with almonds. Place cake on baking sheet and bake until done, about 60-75 minutes, until cake springs back when gently pressed with fingertips.

Cool 10 minutes before unmolding from pan.

Dust cake with confectioner’s sugar, or cocoa. Or, drizzle on melted, semi-sweet chocolate.

Garnish with confectioner’s sugar, cocoa, drizzled melted semi-sweet chocolate, or the decadent Microwave Ganache Glaze (recipe below).

Microwave Ganache Glaze

1/2 cup water or heavy cream

1 cup coarsely chopped, semi-sweet chocolate (the best quality you can find)

1 tablespoon honey

Place water or cream in a microwavable bowl and heat on high until bubbly.

Remove from microwave and whisk in the chocolate and honey, blending until smooth and glossy.

Refrigerate about two to three hours until it has thickened but is still spreadable. If it is quite stiff, warm it slightly until you can drizzle it on the cake. You can also add one-two tablespoons of unsalted butter or margarine to make it more pliable.

Jayne Cohen’s Honeyed Cigars With Date-Pomegranate Filling

Pastry:

About 12 sheets of frozen phyllo, plus several extra to allow for tearing

1/2 cup light, fragrant honey

1/2 cup avocado, sunflower, walnut, or other mild oil

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Filling:

1 1/2 cups (tightly packed) Medjool or other soft, moist dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

3 tablespoons avocado, sunflower, walnut, or other mild oil

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

1 tablespoon hot water

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 pinch of salt

1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped, plus extra for sprinkling

Additional honey to brush on after baking

Thaw phyllo sheets slowly in the refrigerator overnight. Remove the unopened package from the refrigerator two hours before you begin the recipe to allow sheets to come to room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350F. Line a large cookie sheet with parchment.

In a small saucepan, warm 1/2 cup honey. Slowly add 1/2 cup oil, stirring until well incorporated. Stir in cinnamon. Remove pan from heat.

Prepare the filling. In a food processor fitted with a steel blade, blend dates, oil, pomegranate molasses, hot water, cinnamon, and salt to a smooth paste. Add walnuts, and pulse until just combined. Transfer to a bowl.

Remove phyllo sheets from the package and carefully unroll them on a damp kitchen towel. Using kitchen scissors or a sharp knife, cut the stack of sheets in half from short end to short end, forming rectangles approximately 6-by-17-inches (exact size will depend on brand of phyllo used). Immediately cover the cut phyllo sheets with a large piece of plastic wrap and another damp towel to prevent them from drying out.

Work with one sheet at a time, keeping the rest covered with the plastic wrap and a towel. Remove one sheet from the stack and brush it lightly and quickly with the honey-oil mixture. Carefully fold the sheet in half, bringing the short ends together and pressing down gently. Brush the new surface, now exposed, with the honey-oil.

Scoop a heaping tablespoon of the filling, roll it into a little sausage, and place it along the short bottom edge of the phyllo, leaving a one-inch border at the sides. Fold the bottom edge toward the center so that it just covers the filling, then fold the sides in, so the filling won’t ooze out. Brush the new phyllo surface that is exposed with more honey-oil, and continue to roll, jelly-roll fashion, brushing each new, dry phyllo surface with more honey-oil as you go.

Brush the finished cigars lightly over all surfaces with the honey-oil and place seam-side down on the prepared cookie sheet. Sprinkle lightly with chopped walnuts. Keep the cookie sheet lightly covered with plastic wrap as you work.

Continue making cigars with more phyllo and filling, stirring the honey-oil mixture when necessary if it separates. (You can refrigerate the unbaked cigars at this point, well wrapped, up to one day before baking.)

Bake the cigars for about 20 minutes, or until golden and crisp. While still hot, brush them very generously with honey. Let cool. Serve as is or cut each cigar on the diagonal into thirds.

Yield: 20-24 cigars, or if cut, three times as many bite-sized pieces.

7 Days In Arts


Saturday

Interact Theater Company takes “Our Town” beyond the school play, with a rare professional production, playing this weekend only. See Thornton Wilder’s classic all grown up, brought to you by the University of Judaism’s performing arts department.
8 p.m. (Saturday), 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. (Sunday). $32-$38. 15600 Mulholland Drive, Bel Air. (310) 440-1547.

Sunday

Chick rock it’s not. But tonight’s “Kolot Hanasheem – Voices of Women” concert honors women of a different genre who’ve earned it all the same. Los Angeles Jewish Symphony’s Noreen Green conducts the program featuring works by six contemporary female Jewish composers, including Maria Newman’s “The Book of Esther,” and excerpts from Andrea Clearfield’s “Women of Valor.” Performers will include actress Laraine Newman, soprano Hila Plitmann, mezzo-soprano Diana Tash and the Valley Beth Shalom Congregational Choir.
7 p.m. $10-$36. Valley Beth Shalom, 17539 Ventura Blvd., Encino. (310) 478-9311.

Monday

It’s a fine line between the fluffy pareve kosher-for-Passover dessert and a gritty leftover even the dog won’t eat. Students doing their own seders for the first time, as well as adults who learned their lesson the hard way, find the wisdom they desperately seek today, as UCLA’s Yitzhak Rabin Hillel Center for Jewish Life presents a class in Passover confections. Godspeed.
7-9:30 p.m. $5 (UCLA students), $55 (general). 574 Hilgard Ave., Westwood. R.S.V.P., (310) 208-3081, ext. 100.

Tuesday

Political and gastronomic enthusiasts find book signings to suit their niches today. For Bush bashing, head to Sherman Oaks for the last in Valley Cities JCC’s Provocative Speaker Series, where Robert Scheer will discuss and sign his latest book, “The Five Biggest Lies Bush Told Us About Iraq.” Those who prefer to save their appetites head to the Jewish Community Library, where sisters and co-authors Phyllis and Miriyam Glazer present and sign their recent cookbook, “The Essential Book of Jewish Cooking: 200 Seasonal Holiday Recipes and Their Traditions.”
Robert Scheer: 7:30-9 p.m. $20-$25. 13164 Burbank Blvd., Sherman Oaks. (818) 786-6310. Miriyam Glazer: 7:30 p.m. 6505 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 761-8648.

Wednesday

Circle Elephant Art’s “Joel Hoyer: An Exquisite Surface” exhibition continues this week. Moving beyond the medium’s tradition as a purely decorative art, Hoyer’s pieces remain the sort of thing you’d want hanging in your living room, while provoking thought and imagination.
Runs March 5-27. Noon-6 p.m. (Wed.-Sat.). 4634 Hollywood Blvd., Los Angeles. (323) 662-3279.

Thursday

A senator, a rabbi and some leading medical authorities walk into Temple Beth Am. Rather than the start of a bad joke, however, they’re hoping it’ll be the start of a healthcare revolution. Tonight, various Jewish organizations co-sponsor a forum on healthcare titled “Zay Gezunt: The Jewish Coalition for Healthcare for All Californians.” State Sen. Sheila Kuehl, Rabbi William Cutter as well as medical authorities discuss the hows and whys of universal healthcare.
7 p.m. Temple Beth Am, 1039 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 552-2007.

Friday

The Skirball turns comedy lounge tonight for another session of “Say the Word,” a showcase of writing and comic talents in Los Angeles, complete with the requisite cocktails and snacks. Tonight’s show for the 21-and-over crowd features George Meyer (“The Simpsons”), Rob Cohen (“The Ben Stiller Show”), Gary Janettie (“Will & Grace”) and Merrill Markoe (“It’s My F—ing Birthday: A Novel”).
8 pm. $8-$15. 2701 N. Sepulveda Blvd., Los Angeles. R.S.V.P., (323) 655-8587.

Mizrachi Options to Liven the New Year


While apples and honey are de rigueur among Ashkenazim for celebrating the New Year, Middle Easterners turn to the more exotic, like dates, quinces or pomegranates during the High Holidays. So if you’re looking for some unique recipes this High Holiday season, you might want to turn to Faye Levy’s latest cookbook, "Feast from the Mideast: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible" (HarperCollins, $29.95).

Levy lived in Israel for nearly 12 years, where she met and married her husband, Yakir. A cooking novice until her mother-in-law took her in hand, she soon developed a love for the varied, bold flavors of her adopted home. She went on to train at the renowned La Varenne in Paris and to produce more than 20 cookbooks and writes with authority and passion on the cuisine of the Middle East.

"It is amazing how all these people who can’t get along eat the same things," observed Levy, whose cookbook highlights cuisines of over ten countries.

"Eating together and discussing food and recipes is a great way to bring people closer," Levy continues. "Arabs and Jews share a lot of the same food. The Islamic rules of halal are similar to our laws of kashrut. We both don’t eat pork. Arabs do eat shellfish, and they don’t have a problem mixing milk and meat, but they hardly ever do it.

While the book explores the foods of all faiths and nationalities of the region, so many of the dishes are perfect for Rosh Hashanah because of the Middle Eastern fondness for incorporating local fruits, a perfect way to wish guests a sweet New Year.

"Sephardic Jews begin the Rosh Hashanah meal with dates, just as we do with apples and honey," Levy noted. "And in Greece, Turkey and Morocco, all around the Mediterranean really, quinces are really important for Rosh Hashanah. Moroccan Jews do dip apples in honey, then dip them in sesame seeds, symbolizing our wish that our people be numerous. Pomegranate seeds are traditional for the same reason."

Chicken in Pomegranate Walnut Sauce, a classic dish of the Persian kitchen, is appropriate for the holiday, Levy said.

"Pomegranate juice and paste are available in Middle Eastern and gourmet markets, because a lot of American chefs, like Bobby Flay, have suddenly become very excited about them. It has become trendy," she said.

If you can’t find either, Levy advises using pomegranate juice, now readily available in supermarkets, and adding less water.

Traditional holiday foods vary from country to country and from family to family. Some people avoid sour tastes for the holiday, like lemons and vinegar.

Persians, however, favor tart over sweet and love a splash of lemon juice on many dishes, Levy noted.

"In fact, I have a friend from northern Iran who says that the pomegranate paste available in this country is too sweet, so he asks his relatives from Iran to bring some from home when they visit." Some people avoid black ingredients for the New Year, so they use golden raisins instead of dark and do not serve eggplant. Since the word for leeks in Hebrew means "destroyed," many serve leeks to convey the wish that our enemies be destroyed.

Some people will not eat walnuts, but will use almonds; others eliminate nuts altogether.

"In our family we always have rice with toasted almonds and dried fruit for Rosh Hashanah," Levy said. "Middle Eastern cooks have so many delicious ways to do rice, and some, like Almond Apricot Basmati Rice, are so good you could consider them a dessert, a side dish or a main course.

"Sweetness for Rosh Hashanah is more of an Ashkenazi thing," she said, "though certain Middle Eastern Jews do it, too. Moroccans often serve vegetables sprinkled with sugar, but sometimes instead of making food sweeter, they might just tone down the spiciness."

For example, fish is traditional for Rosh Hashanah, particularly served with the head.

Moroccans might make Foil Baked Trout with Red Pepper and Garlic, but omit the jalapeño and lemon for Rosh Hashanah.

"It really depends on your family’s tradition," Levy said.

For Ashkenazim, Rosh Hashanah would not be complete without honey cake, but Sephardim of the Mediterranean may choose Citrus and Spice Quinces with Cranberries or Date Pinwheel Cookies. Honey isn’t found necessarily in desserts in the Middle East, Levy said, though some might use it as syrup on cake. Fruit with Honey, Figs and Dates will appeal to both camps as a sweet ending to the Rosh Hashanah dinner.

"It’s perfect for the season and really easy. And it goes well as a topping for traditional honey cake, too."

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

Sauce:

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

1/4 cup honey

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Chicken:

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

1/4 cup olive oil

1 cup finely chopped yellow onions

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Three 3-inch-long cinnamon sticks

2 cups cold water

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

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

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

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

Serve on large platter, garnished with one cup blanched whole almonds, toasted in a dry skillet over medium heat until golden.

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

4 large eggs, lightly beaten

1/3 cup tahini (sesame paste)

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

Glaze:

2/3 cup honey

1 tablespoon tahini

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

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

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

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

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

Prepare the glaze. Combine the honey and tahini in a small saucepan and cook over low heat until blended to a smooth consistency, four to five minutes. Add the sesame seeds and mix well. Remove from the heat and immediately pour the hot glaze over the top of the cake, allowing the glaze to soak in. Let cool for 30 minutes.

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

Faye Levy will be signing "Feast from the Mideast" at the Jewish Community Library of Los Angeles on Tuesday, Oct. 21 at 7 p.m.

For more information or to R.S.V.P., call (323) 761-8648.

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

Tasty ‘Adventures’


"Adventures of Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson/Potter Publishers, $32.50)

When Jeffrey Nathan auditioned for his first job cooking for the captain of a Navy destroyer somewhere in the middle of the Pacific and substituted vanilla for Worchester sauce in the meatloaf, little did he know his destiny was a 375-seat upscale kosher restaurant in Manhattan’s garment district named Abigael’s.

Twenty-five years, one James Beard nomination for Best National Cooking Series for the PBS show, "New Jewish Cuisine," and a critically acclaimed new book, "Adventures of Jewish Cooking," later, Nathan is still a bit overwhelmed.

It’s a blustery Friday in October as we approach Abigael’s and find the solicitous chef waiting by the door. He’s just returned from Los Angeles, filming his cooking show at the Jewish Television Network, with a brief stop at Kosherfest in Meadowlands, N.J., and a few television appearances in Florida.

Nathan is under strict mandate from his wife and his partners to relax. As he talks about ideas for Chanukah, his eyes dart around the room. Is the Thai-Crusted Chicken at table eight succulent enough? Is the Bison Chili too spicy?

"I can’t help it, I’m excited," says Nathan, sipping a cup of hot coffee, then chasing it with cold water. We’re seated at a corner table of the crowded restaurant, where the burly, immaculately dressed executive chef is co-owner and chief worrier. Nathan is as animated as he is on television.

"It was great! I felt like the kosher Emeril," Nathan enthuses about the reception he got at Kosherfest for his book. When you redefine a cooking style that hasn’t always been billed as haute cuisine, you’re bound to turn a few heads.

"There’s no such thing as strictly Jewish food. Since the Inquisition, Jews have migrated all over the world. They took their traditions with them; they also ate the food indigenous to the area. If we were in Palermo right now, we’d follow Jewish law, but we’d be eating fresh mozzarella, vine-ripened tomatoes and robust olive oil — but probably not with latkes," he says with a laugh.

He plays down the difficulties of the myriad dietary rules and restrictions taken from the Torah, including the necessity for a full time mashgiach (a certified kosher supervisor) in the kitchen.

"I know how hard it is," said executive chef Don Pintabona, of Tribeca Grill in Manhattan. "I went to Israel during the Peace Accord with Chefs for Peace. I had to cook a sauce the kosher way — it took me a day and a night. The mashgiach almost threw me out of the kitchen. Jeff makes it look so easy. He’s the type of chef, if you look at a plate of his food, you see his personality. It’s classic cuisine; it’s also comfort food."

Nathan’s most comforting dish just might be latkes. Not only will he serve all manner of the potato pancake with a variety of toppings at Abigael’s during Chanukah, he has fried and flipped the transcendent Jewish treat at The James Beard Foundation’s Latke Lovers Cook-off and Chanukah dinner for the last several years.

So latkes are partially responsible for Nathan’s success? "I’m not proud," he jokes. "You smell a latke, you’ll buy anything. Who could say no to something that tastes that good?"

Nathan relaxes a minute as he muses about Chanukahs past, then shifts into high gear and brainstorms accessories for the holiday’s shining star — a compote of seasonal fruit and a Latin chimichurri sauce of tangy herbs and spices. "The spiciness of the chimichurri is the perfect foil for latkes," he said. "Then you add the opposite flavor of sweetness from the compote. Sweet, savory and untraditional."

"I keep the latkes simple. Everybody thinks they have to throw in everything but the kitchen sink. I use a combination of Russets for strength, Yukon Golds for richness and sweetness. And a few ingredients to bring out the flavor, not disguise it. A perfect latke is light, crispy, cooked all the way through, and above all, delicious."

He laughs good-naturedly. "I love what I do. And the best part, it’s brought me back to my roots. Even when I achieved notoriety as a wild-game chef or when I was invited to cook at The James Beard House, I was the same shlepper as everyone else. Now I’ve achieved everything a chef dreams of. There’s got to be a reason for this."

He pauses, taking it all in. "You don’t think it has just a tiny bit to do with God"?

Comfort Food for Rosh Hashana


For Rosh Hashana this year, I am sharing three chicken dishes that you can prepare for your family holiday meal. Every family has their own recipe for roast chicken, but if you’re looking for something new and different to serve on Rosh Hashana, try one of these.

Two of the recipes I have selected came from unexpected sources — one via chef Jonathan Waxman, who recently opened Washington Park Restaurant in New York, and the second from Neela Paniz, who owns The Bombay Cafe in Los Angeles.

But, let’s start with one of my favorites. I remember when I was growing up, I looked forward to my mother’s Shabbat dinner. It always consisted of chicken, roasted in a tomato sauce with potatoes and lots of vegetables. The potatoes are cooked in the sauce with the chicken — a very old technique in Eastern European kitchens, and it gives them a wonderful flavor. On special occasions, she would stuff the whole chicken with her famous vegetable stuffing, and fill the neck of the chicken with the same mixture, to be served separately.

So when we started our family, on Friday night and special Jewish holidays, the highlight was roasted chicken. I began experimenting with ways to update my mother’s recipe, and one of our family favorite dishes became roast chicken breasts flattened, then stuffed in the center with finely chopped sautéed vegetables, rolled up like a sausage and tied with string. Any leftover stuffing (that didn’t fit in the chicken breasts) is baked in an oiled loaf pan. This is an easy dish to serve, since no carving is necessary, and the cooking technique allows the breasts to stay very juicy.

When Waxman worked in Los Angeles, he demonstrated his version of Chicken in the Pot as a guest chef on my television program, "Judy’s Kitchen." I had never tasted chicken prepared like this before; it practically bursts with flavor.

His recipe combines chicken and vegetables; it is a spinoff of his grilled chicken and vegetable dish that became one of Waxman’s signature dishes. The chicken and vegetables are served in a shallow bowl with a mustard sauce.

If your family enjoys curry, you will love Paniz’s Authentic Chicken Curry recipe. Don’t let the number of ingredients in this dish frighten you. It’s really easy to prepare and well worth the effort. If you like it spicy, just add more cayenne. Since Rosh Hashana begins at sundown on Friday, this dish could be your answer to the traditional Shabbat cholent, which is prepared before the Sabbath and kept warm for the Saturday meal.

These three dishes are perfect for Rosh Hashana; the only decision you must make is which of them to serve. Whatever recipe you choose, make enough so your family can have a cold chicken lunch on Saturday when they come home from the synagogue, or serve the leftovers in the evening as an interesting chicken salad.

Dessert should be simple and refreshing. Serve a fruit salad topped with a scoop of fruit sorbet and your favorite honey cake.

Chicken Breasts Stuffed with Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing

Chicken Breasts

  • 8 chicken breasts (4 whole, boned and
  • cut in half)
  • 1¼4 cup oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 carrots, thinly sliced
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1¼4 cup dry white wine

Place a chicken breast, skin side down, on a sheet of wax paper. Cover with another sheet of wax paper and using a mallet or tenderizer, gently pound the breast until desired thickness.

Spoon prepared stuffing in the center and roll up the chicken breast, encasing the stuffing and tie with string. Repeat with remaining chicken breasts.

Line a baking pan with foil, brush with oil and arrange onions and carrots on top. Place stuffed chicken breasts on top, brush with oil and season with salt and pepper. Add stock and wine and bake at 375 F for 20 minutes, then increase the heat to 425 F and bake about five minutes more, or until chicken breasts are tender and crisp. Transfer to a cutting board and slice on the bias. To serve, arrange sliced chicken breasts on plates and spoon any juices from pan that remain. Serves 8.

Molly’s Vegetable Stuffing

  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in 1 cup
  • Concord grape wine
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • 3 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced
  • 4 stalks celery, finely diced
  • 6 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and grated
  • 2 medium zucchini, unpeeled and grated
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 2-3 tablespoons flour
  • 2-3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • 2-3 tablespoons oatmeal
  • 1/4 cup dry red wine
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a large, heavy skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until soft, about three minutes. Add the celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini, and toss well. Cook for five minutes until the vegetables begin to soften. Drain the raisins and add them to the vegetables with the parsley. Stir in 1 tablespoon each of the matzah meal, matzah cake meal and potato starch. Add the red wine and mix well. Stir in the remaining dry ingredients, a little at a time, until the stuffing is moist and soft but firm in texture. Season with salt and pepper. Cool. Makes about 12 cups.

Authentic Chicken Curry

  • 1 piece (1 1¼2 inches) of ginger, peeled
  • 5-6 garlic cloves
  • 2 serranos
  • 1¼3 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 small Spanish yellow onions,
  • finely chopped
  • Hot water
  • 2 black cardamom pods (see note)
  • or 2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 2-3 pieces cassia or cinnamon sticks
  • 5 bay leaves
  • 4-5 cloves
  • 5-6 whole black peppercorns
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1¼4 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1¼4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 small chicken, skin removed and
  • cut into 8 pieces (1 1¼2 pounds)
  • 1 1¼2 teaspoons salt, or to taste
  • 1 cup cilantro leaves, for garnish

Mince the ginger, garlic and serranos in a food processor and set aside. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and brown until they turn a deep red-brown color, about five minutes. Add the ginger mixture and sauté for one minute. Add 1-2 tablespoons hot water to stop the browning of the onions and mix into a paste. Add the cardamom, cassia, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, coriander, cumin, turmeric and cayenne. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons hot water. Brown for two to three minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook over high heat until the oil is separated from the paste, about two minutes. (May be prepared one or two days in advance.)

Add the chicken and cook over medium heat until golden brown. Add the salt and 1¼2 cup hot water.

Cover and simmer for 30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through and almost falls off the bone when pierced with a fork. To serve, garnish with chopped cilantro. Serves 4.

Chicken in the Pot

  • 1 jalapeño chili, roasted and seeded
  • 1 Anaheim chili, roasted and seeded
  • 1 roasting chicken (4-5 pounds),
  • trussed with string
  • 2 medium onions
  • 3 shallots
  • 1 head garlic, cloves separated, unpeeled
  • 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  • 2 bay leaves, crumbled
  • 6 small red or white new potatoes, unpeeled
  • 4 fresh shiitake mushrooms
  • 4 small turnips, peeled
  • 2 parsnips, peeled
  • 4 small carrots, peeled
  • 2 stalks fennel or celery, cut into chunks
  • 8 radishes, stems removed
  • 1 large leek (white and green parts),
  • cut in half and soaked in warm water
  • 1 small bunch fresh parsley,
  • tied with a string
  • 1 small bunch fresh tarragon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 medium roasted red bell pepper
  • 1¼2 cup whole-grain mustard
  • 1 French baguette, thinly sliced and toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Peel onions, place them in a baking pan lined with aluminum foil, and roast until golden brown, about 30 minutes.

In a large pot or Dutch oven, place chicken, roasted onions, shallots, garlic cloves, peppercorns, bay leaves and roasted chilies. Add enough water to cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes, partially covered. Add potatoes and continue cooking 15 minutes. Add mushrooms, turnips, parsnips, carrots, fennel, radishes, leek, parsley, tarragon and 1¼2 teaspoon of the salt. Continue cooking until chicken is tender when pierced with fork, about 30 minutes.

Remove cooked chicken to a platter and keep hot. Transfer vegetables to a large bowl and keep warm in 2 cups of the broth. Strain the remaining broth into a saucepan, reserving garlic cloves. Bring both to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes, partially covered.

In a blender or food processor, blend the roasted red pepper, mustard, eight of the garlic cloves from the soup, 1¼2 cup of the broth, and the remaining 1¼2 teaspoon salt. Pour into a bowl.

Cut chicken into serving pieces; arrange in large individual heated soup bowls, surrounded by broth and vegetables. Serve with the toasted baguette slices and the mustard sauce. Serves 8.

The Circuit


A Hungry Mob

It was a moment that the members of Women’s Department of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ Business and Professional Division will never forget: a kitchen full of young women learning about and noshing on the Sicilian culinary stylings of chef Henry Hill.

Yes, that Henry Hill — the former Mafioso who entered the FBI’s witness protection program and helped the Feds root out organized crime.

By night’s end, there was red liquid splattered all over the kitchen. Thankfully, it was just leftover marinara sauce on empty plates from quickly devoured homemade Italian delicacies: chicken marsala with mushrooms, grilled eggplant rollatine, piping hot penne pasta — all kosher.

It was slightly surreal to find a former “wiseguy” giving cooking tips to 50 upstanding young Jewish women, mostly in their 30s. But there’s more to the story. Hill — best known for his Howard Stern appearances and being portrayed by Ray Liotta in Martin Scorcese’s “Goodfellas” — has been struggling to put his underworld past behind him. For 2 1/2 years, Hill, 58, has been a Beit T’Shuvah rehab resident, trying to kick his alcoholism. Hill told the room that he was proudly sober, despite a setback 10 months ago in the progress of his recovery.

The evening’s hostess, Janis Black Goldman, generously opened up her Beverly Hills home for this unique experience.

“You can be here for a good cause and meet old and new friends in a comfortable environment,” said Goldman, the daughter of philanthropists Stanley and Joyce Black. Goldman had suggested Hill to the Women’s Department after she had met the ex-mobster at a Beit T’Shuvah Shabbat event, where she enjoyed a firsthand encounter with his formidable cooking prowess.

“He’s someone in recovery that made a success in his life,” said Goldman’s sister, Jill Zalben. “People today want to see that. He’s teaching us that we can have a life and you can move on.”

Hill told The Circuit of cooking’s therapeutic nature. “It relaxes me where a psychiatrist doesn’t excite me.” His cookbook will be released by Penguin Books in October.

Hill and The Circuit notwithstanding, there was only one other XY-chromosomed guest present — Black family friend Jono Kohan.

Kohan himself comes from a Jewishly active family. His mother, the lively Rhea Kohan, emcees Jewish galas with her dazzling wit. His brother, David Kohan, co-created NBC’s hit sitcom, “Will & Grace.”

“There’s a lot of female energy in the room tonight. I find it very positive to be around,” said Kohan, obviously enjoying this most fortuitous male-to-female ratio.

Also contributing to that female energy: Michele Sackheim, division chair; Harriet Rossetto, Beit T’Shuvah director; Laurie Konhiem, The Federation’s Women’s Campaign chair; Sharon Janks, vice chair liaison; outreach committee members Cynthia Baseman, Andrea Corsun, Sara Essner, Marilyn Sonners, Galia Nitzan and Barbara Zolla; Bobbi Asimow, Women’s Campaign director, and Jody Moss, Women’s Campaign professional staff.

“I couldn’t have done this event without Henry,” said Greer Sanders, division outreach chair. “He planned the whole thing from soup to nuts.”From salad to spumoni is more like it. But you get the picture.

For information on Women’s Business and Professional Division, which will hold its annual banquet at the Four Seasons on May 8, call (323) 761-8275.

Helping Hands

More than 500 people honored Abraham Spiegel and Fred Kort at the American Society for Yad Vashem’s first West Coast Tribute Dinner at the Regent Beverly Wilshire in Beverly Hills. For more than 30 years, Spiegel has been instrumental in helping expand Yad Vashem in Jerusalem, the world’s leading Holocaust artifact repository and research center. Holocaust survivor Kort has also contributed greatly to Yad Vashem’s cause. The evening, where “The Young and the Restless” star Eric Braeden was master of ceremonies, featured a message from Jerusalem Mayor Ehud Omert and raised nearly $500,000 for Yad Vashem.

A Dozen Good Eggs

Twelve University of Judaism second-year students took part of the Sid B. Levine Service Learning Program over winter break, working with the elderly, the homeless, the disabled and adults with autism.

A Taste of the Best

Journal food writers Judy Zeidler and Judy Bart Kancigor signed their cookbooks at the delectable Food Fare, sponsored by Planned Parenthood Los Angeles. Fifty of Los Angeles’ best chefs, restaurants, caterers and wineries gave out tasty samplings of their work, while everything from cookbooks, personal trainers and symphony tickets were bid on during a silent auction. Organizers said that the annual fundraiser, which took place in the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium, raised more than the $400,000 the event brought in last year.

Generation to Generation

Second-generation Holocaust survivor Ricci Zuckerman visited the students of Hebrew Academy High School in Huntington Beach. The Second Generation group founder responded to an invitation by the school’s Jewish history teacher Helen Kern.