Cast-Iron Peach Crisp. Photo by Jessica Ritz

Rosh Hashanah recipes from Chef Ari Kolender


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

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

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

NOODLE KUGEL

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

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SQUASH CASSEROLE

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHERRY TOMATO CRISP

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

Preheat oven to 425 F.

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

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

Makes 6-8 servings.

DERBY PIE

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAST-IRON PEACH CRISP

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare the Peach Crisp Topping; set aside.

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TOPPING

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

Melt the butter and set aside.

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

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

Figs add richness to holiday sweets


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

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

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

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

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

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

FRESH FIG-NUT LOAF WITH STREUSEL TOPPING

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare Streusel Topping; set aside.

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

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

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

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

Makes 4 loaves.

STREUSEL TOPPING

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

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

Makes about 1 cup. 

ITALIAN FIG CAKE (PANFORTE)

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

 Preheat oven to 300 F.

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

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

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

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

Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

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

Makes about 10 servings.

ISRAELI STUFFED FIGS

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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

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

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

Makes 24 stuffed figs.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE

Homemade ricotta cheese

 

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

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

Makes about 1/2 pound.


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

How to make blintzes: A video tutorial


 

FOR THE BLINTZES:

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

FOR THE FILLING:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 10–12

 

 

 

Amelia Saltsman’s silan recipe for Shavuot


SILAN

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes about 2 cups silan.

TOASTED NUT AND SILAN SQUARES

Toasted nut and silan squares

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

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

Preheat oven to 350 F.

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

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

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

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

Makes 16 2-inch squares

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Amelia Saltsman's silan. Photo by Tess Cutler

In the land of milk and silan


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

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

[Recipe: Silan recipe for Shavuot]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Amelia Saltsman

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

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

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

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

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

Ready-Made Silan

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

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

A taste of Black history and a side of Jewish culture


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MICHAEL TWITTY’S MATZO MEAL FRIED CHICKEN

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

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

Combine the salt and seasonings together in a bowl.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 8 servings.

Source: afroculinaria.com

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

Family cooks up an unkosher comedy


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Blintzes and beyond for Shavuot


The holiday of Shavuot marks the receiving of the Ten Commandments by Moses, but it’s also a kind of Jewish Thanksgiving, when farm bounty and grains — “first fruits” — were brought to the temple. These often included wheat, barley, grapes, figs and dates.

In modern times, Shavuot is a holiday that inspires the preparation of many delicious and traditional recipes that usually feature a variety of vegetarian and dairy foods. Milk, eggs and cheeses of all kinds are used in abundance. 

Blintzes are the most popular of the Shavuot foods. They may be served as a side dish, dessert or main course. They are thin pancakes or crepes that are filled with an assortment of dairy or vegetable mixtures. I have adapted a basic blintz recipe to include a spinach-ricotta combination; served with yogurt or sour cream, it adds a perfect dairy accent.

The Vegetarian Lentil Soup is a family favorite. All the ingredients can be sautéed, blended in a food processor and served immediately, or prepared and stored in the refrigerator for two to three days.

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls are another flexible choice for your Shavuot lunch, brunch or dinner. Thin slices of eggplant are rolled around a three-cheese filling that is combined with lightly beaten egg whites. The spicy, garlicky herbed tomato sauce is a perfect accompaniment.

And don’t forget about dessert. One of my special treats for the holiday is an Apricot Cheesecake, along with bowls of fruit, dates and nuts. Together, they are sure to please!

SHAVUOT BLINTZES

  • Ricotta and Spinach Filling (recipe follows) 
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups milk
  • 3 tablespoons melted, unsalted margarine
  • 1 cup flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • Sour cream

 

Prepare Ricotta and Spinach Filling; refrigerate. 

In a large bowl, blend the eggs, milk and 1 tablespoon margarine. Add flour and salt, blending until smooth. (If any lumps remain, pour through a fine strainer, pressing any lumps of flour through; mix well.) Cover and set aside for 1 hour.

Lightly grease a 6-inch nonstick skillet. Place over medium heat until hot. Pour in about 1/8 cup batter at a time, tilting pan and swirling to make a thin pancake. When lightly browned, gently loosen edges and turn out of pan onto towel or plate. Repeat with remaining batter. Cool.

Place 1 to 2 tablespoons of Ricotta and Spinach Filling in center of browned side of each blintz. Fold lower portion over filling. Tuck in ends then roll to form flat rectangle. Place on larger platter and cover with plastic wrap until ready to cook.

In a large skillet, place remaining 2 tablespoons melted margarine. Cook blintzes about 2 to 3 minutes on each side until lightly browned. Transfer to serving plates and serve with sour cream.

Makes about 20 blintzes.

RICOTTA AND SPINACH FILLING

  • 2 bunches fresh spinach
  • 2 cups ricotta cheese
  • 2 cups freshly grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 egg yolks
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Rinse spinach; remove and discard stems. Place leaves in boiling salted boiling water; boil 10 minutes. Drain and cool, then squeeze dry. Chop finely.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine spinach, ricotta, Parmesan cheese, egg yolks, parsley and basil. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until needed.

Makes 5 to 6 cups.

VEGETARIAN LENTIL SOUP

  • 1 1/2 cups dried lentils
  • 2 1/2 cups warm vegetable broth or water
  • 2 bay leaves, crushed
  • 1/4 cup unsalted margarine
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 4 carrots, peeled and finely chopped
  • 1 parsnip, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary or 1 teaspoon dried
  • 4 large tomatoes, finely chopped
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Red wine vinegar to taste
  • Plain yogurt or grated Parmesan cheese for garnish

 

Soak lentils in 4 cups of water 6 hours or overnight. Drain and place in a large, heavy pot with vegetable broth and bay leaves. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that forms. Reduce heat, cover partially, and simmer 15 to 20 minutes or until lentils are tender.

In a large skillet, heat margarine and olive oil. Add garlic, carrots, parsnips, onion, celery and parsley. Sauté 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add rosemary and tomatoes, and simmer 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt, pepper and vinegar. Remove 2 cups of the cooked lentils and 1/2 cup of the liquid; puree in a processor or blender. Return the puree and sautéed vegetable mixture to the soup pot. Mix well. Bring to boil over medium heat, then reduce heat and simmer, covered, until thick, 30 to 40 minutes. Ladle soup into warm bowls and garnish with yogurt or grated cheese. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

STUFFED EGGPLANT ROLLS

  • Tomato-Basil Sauce (recipe follows)
  • 1 pound ricotta or hoop cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 3 tablespoons minced fresh or dried basil
  • 2 eggs, separated
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8 ounces mozzarella cheese
  • 2 medium eggplants
  • Flour
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Fresh basil leaves for garnish

 

Prepare Tomato-Basil Sauce; refrigerate. 

In a bowl, combine ricotta, Parmesan, parsley, basil and egg yolks.

In a separate bowl, beat egg whites until stiff but not dry. Fold into cheese mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Chill.

Slice mozzarella cheese into 2-inch-by-1/2-inch sticks. Set aside.

Trim stem end from eggplants and slice lengthwise 1/8 to 1/4 inch thick. Dredge in flour seasoned to taste with salt and pepper. Shake off excess.

In a large, heavy skillet, heat oil over medium heat. Add eggplant slices and sauté on both sides until soft and lightly browned. Drain on paper towels. Cool.

Place 2 tablespoons cheese filling across narrow end of each eggplant slice. Press stick of mozzarella into filling. Roll up eggplant tightly around filling. Place rolls, seam-side down, in greased baking dish. Cover with foil and refrigerate 1 to 2 hours. (Do not freeze.)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Spoon some of Tomato-Basil Sauce over each roll. Bake for 15 minutes or until hot and bubbling. With metal spatula, carefully place one or two eggplant rolls on each plate. Garnish with basil leaves. Serve immediately. 

Makes about 16 rolls.

TOMATO-BASIL SAUCE

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 onion, peeled and finely chopped 
  • 1 (28-ounce) can crushed tomatoes with liquid
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh or dried basil
  • 2 tablespoons minced fresh parsley
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a skillet, heat oil. Add garlic and onion, and sauté until onions are transparent. Add tomatoes, wine, basil, parsley and sugar. Bring to a boil and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until thick, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until well blended. Transfer to bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. 

Makes about 4 cups.

APRICOT CHEESECAKE

 

  • 1 (6-ounce) package dried apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups apple juice
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • Crumbled Sugar-Cookie Crust (recipe follows)
  • Sour Cream Topping (recipe follows)
  • 3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese
  • 4 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a small saucepan, combine apricots, apple juice and 1/2 cup sugar. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer until tender, about 5 minutes. Cool. Transfer to a food processor or blender and process until pureed. Set aside. Reserve 1/2 cup apricot puree for cookie crust.

Prepare the Crumbled Sugar-Cookie Crust and Sour Cream Topping; set both aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, beat cream cheese and remaining 1 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Add eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in vanilla and 1/2 cup of the apricot puree. Beat 2 or 3 minutes until light. Pour into crust that has been spread with a thin layer of apricot puree. 

Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes or until center is set and top is golden. Remove from oven and spread with Sour Cream Topping. Return to oven 5 minutes. Cool. Remove from springform pan and garnish with remaining apricot puree. Chill before serving.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

CRUMBLED SUGAR-COOKIE CRUST

  • 1 1/2 cups crumbled sugar cookies
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine

 

In a large mixing bowl, food processor or blender, thoroughly blend the cookie crumbs and margarine. Spoon the mixture evenly into a 9-inch springform pan and press down firmly to make an even layer on bottom of pan. Spread with a thin layer of the apricot puree. Refrigerate at least 15 minutes.

SOUR CREAM TOPPING

  • 1 pint sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla

 

In a small bowl, beat the sour cream, sugar and vanilla until well blended. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Makes 2 cups.


Judy Zeidler is a cooking instructor and the author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Passover in the age of paleo


I'm not on a diet and I eat what I want, but without realizing it, I've slowly become one of those quasi-hipster people who favors making soup with turnips over noodles, and roasting squash rather than breaking bread.

I can still rip into a pizza or burger as easily as the next guy. It's just that years of accommodating gluten-free family members and paleo friends has turned me into a kind of pro at problem eating — and no other time of the year places such an extended dietary constraint over a person than does Passover.

For me, Passover meal-planning, which used to be a daunting dilemma, and later became a creative challenge, has now morphed into a task like any other night of the week. As a result, the holiday is no longer about the “no's”: no bread, no cookies, no grains. Rather, it's become about the things I do eat: unctuous matzah ball soup and cheesy matzah lasagna, for instance, and those horrible, nostalgia-igniting jelled fruit snacks, without which no family Seder would be complete.

I love that this unexpected shift in my daily eating habits is turning Passover — already my favorite Jewish holiday — from a week of prolonged dietary abstinence into a personal observance of plenty. Some might say this defeats the point; the Exodus from Egypt is all about being (a little) uncomfortably aware of our collective ancient hardships. I take the opposite view. Switching plates and making favorite Passover foods keeps me just as mindful of my observance, minus the resentful tum.

8 tips for a fuller you

Keeping Passover isn't so easy-breezy for most people outside of these dietary bubbles, particularly when everyday meals are built on a foundation of cereal and oatmeal, sandwiches and wraps, and sides of rice or bread. Transitioning from that daily diet is hard. It takes work.

Luckily, there's a lot that every-day consumers of chametz can learn from people with paleo diets (and others that refrain from eating grains and beans) about staying happy, full, and connected, rather than irritable and unfulfilled. (The paleo diet is pretty extensive. I’m personally all for dairy, especially during Pesach.)

1. Eat real food: Packaged grain-y substitutes that hope to emulate the food you’re trying not to eat is counter-productive (for me, at least.) Building meals out of fresh produce tastes better anyway.

2. Find food that fills you: Mushrooms and eggplant balm the belly. The same goes for hard-boiled or fried eggs, bananas, avocados, and walnuts. Almond butter is a great Passover-safe pinch-hitter for peanut butter if you’re cutting out legumes (you may want to sprinkle in a tiny bit of salt.)

3. Befriend tubers and squashes: 24/7 potatoes are boring. Roasting or mashing some kabocha or butternut squash, or sweet potatoes adds a lot more excitement to the mix. Ditto for roasted turnips, rutabaga, beets, kohlrabi, and daikon radish. They work great in soups, salads, and as simple sides.

4. Double up on veggies: Nobody wants to eat leaves for a week. Or zucchini. Or anything. But if you vary your veg — say one portion of stir-fried veggie medley and and one pile of mixed greens — your taste buds won’t lose interest and you’ll wind up fuller than you might guess. Don’t forget to dress them up (see #5)!

5. Soups, soups, soups: The secret of dieters everywhere. A big bowl of broth tricks your stomach into thinking it’s full. I love making a hearty vegetable-rich soup packed with thick-cut produce and one of those starchier spuds from #3. Extra credit: put an egg on it!

6. Sauces and spice: Homemade pestos, chile, and plenty of spices can give your food a lot more pizzaz. On Pesach especially, that goes a long way. Sesame-based tahini is a no-no if you follow the Ashkenazi dictum for kitniyot, but is a great option for adding heft and flavor if you hew to Sephardi standards.

7. Plan ahead: Snack times are the worst, because everything seems to be bread-based when you’re staring at the vending machine. Some serious meal planning ahead of time nips it in the bud. No need to enslave yourself to a spreadsheet, but at least you’ll have stuff on-hand to nibble.

8: Know where to go out: If you’re comfortable eating out during Passover, scout out a few spots that offer enough options for you to get excited about. These are places with interesting salads and veggie sides, grilled mains, and a healthy attitude toward substitutions.

Sink your teeth into this

Here’s what I’m eating this Passover. It isn’t a full meal matrix by any means, but these are some of the foods I’m going to be making — and eating — this season.

Breakfast

Hard-boiled eggs, fruit salad
Matzah with soft cheese, honey, black pepper
Spicy veggie soup (because I love soup for breakfast.)

Main meals (could include lunchy leftovers)

Roasted chicken thighs with oregano and paprika
Lamb and sweet potato tagine
Shepherd's Pie
Grilled salmon salad with arugula, red onion, hazelnuts, roasted squash or beets, etc.

Sides

Roasted or stir-fried veggies (nearly any kind)
Mashed sweet potatoes or squash
Salads (e.g. Israeli salad, carrot/beet slaw)

Snacks

Dates with almonds or walnuts
Celery with almond butter

Desserts

Chocolate pudding (egg-thickened)
Caramelized bananas with hand-whipped cream
Baked apple with cheesecake -filling topper

There are hundreds of recipes and ideas out there, and if you’re tired of the usual Passover fare, try dipping into paleo recipes. You may just find a new filling favorite.

The Cask serves up kosher wines for connoisseurs


In the past, trying to put together a kosher wine tasting was a challenge because it seemed the major stores offered so few choices. A quick look at the inventory of some of the more sympathetic non-kosher wine shops around Los Angeles reveals a mere page of choices, but if you look a little further, there are only a couple each of Merlot or Cabernet Sauvignon, or whatever varietal you choose. It’s like they looked at the broad spectrum of wine and decided it was better if they had one kosher selection of each varietal and left it at that. Look further still, and you’ll see only a couple of options that cost more than $30. On the one hand, the frugal oenophile may see this as a plus, but I see it as a kind of dismissal that implies kosher wines probably aren’t that good, so why go to the trouble of putting any of the more expensive juice on the shelf?

This lack of choice and of higher-end titles is self-perpetuating — you don’t get very good selections, or much of a selection at all, and it reinforces the sense that kosher wine overall — and Israeli wines in particular — aren’t very good. Well, there’s a case to be made that they weren’t very good for a very long time, but that the tide has turned, and a new crop of more artisanal winemakers has come into their own over the past several years. 

Winemaking has been part of Jewish history from the very beginning (Noah gets drunk and passes out naked in Genesis 9:21) and from the very earliest references to Israel. However, for generations in modern times, the landscape was completely dominated by Manischewitz, about which I will not write another word in the name of common decency.

Of course, making better wine is one thing, but selling it is another. Enter Michael Bernstein and The Cask on Pico. With a selection of nearly 500 wine titles, it is the largest and best all-kosher wine and spirits shop on the West Coast. 

Bernstein, 34, was looking for a “recession-proof” business and saw a void in the market for selling kosher wine to an evolving, increasingly sophisticated market. Four years later, and he’s loving it. “This is one of the best times I’ve ever had in terms of business. You meet very interesting people, whether it’s the winemakers or the customers. There’s a great camaraderie in the business. I can’t think of another industry that’s more fun.” 

Admittedly more of a “Scotch guy,” Bernstein (and his staff) has tasted every title in the store, and he’s developed his palate in the process. Although he prides himself on service and selection (he sells almost every bottle himself), Bernstein sees himself as equal parts educator and salesman. “People like to compare one bottle or vintage to another,” he said. His approach is to broaden the consumer’s horizons: “I love to get people to try more exciting things. If you liked that, you should really try this.”

The Cask’s refrigerated wine cellar behind the main sales floor holds some of the rarest and most expensive selections, including older vintages of Domaine du Castel (Judean Hills, Israel), Pontet Canet (Pauillac, Bordeaux) and Covenant (Napa Valley). Most bottles in this chilly little sanctuary sell for more than $65. The most expensive bottle it has sold? A 2003 Valandraud from St. Emilion in Bordeaux for $550. 

Best-selling title? Bartenura Moscato at $13.95, a title that has caught fire, in part, because its distinctive blue bottle was prominently featured in a video of the song “Do It Now” by half-Jewish rapper Drake. Evidently, Moscato rhymes with bravo, model and bottle. 

As for Manischewitz: Bernstein doesn’t carry it. “I’m a fan of tradition, but this,” he said, waving his hand at the handsome display of dozens of hand-picked bottles that adorn the walls in dark wood cabinetry that runs from floor to ceiling, “isn’t about that.”

What wine to pair with gefilte fish? “Who eats gefilte fish?” If you absolutely had to? “I hope I don’t have to.”

There is a full selection of every kind of spirit imaginable, including a wall of Scotch whiskeys — some of which do not carry a kosher designation on the label and the reason his store does not carry a kosher hechsher. “I’ve done my own research,” he says about the “disputed” titles, mostly having to do with a bit of arcana surrounding the kind of casks used for aging.

Bernstein is perhaps the greatest champion of kosher wine and spirits in Los Angeles. A back room is host to tastings with visiting winemakers and privately catered parties. Last month, he hosted a Scotch tasting at the SLS Hotel attended by more than 150 enthusiasts nibbling on kosher hors d’oeuvres and smoking presumably kosher cigars, part of an ongoing series of off-site events. “You get people’s honest opinions,” he says of comparative tastings. What’s the Yiddish expression for “In vino veritas”?

Here are some of Michael Bernstein’s Passover picks: 

Rose du Castel 2013 (Israel), $39.95

Capcanes Peraj Petita Rosat, $29.95

Barkan Pinotage 2011 (Israel), $70

Adir “Plato” Cabernet Sauvignon 2011, $70

Psagot Cabernet Sauvignon 2010 (Napa Valley), $40

Hajdu Syrah 2012, $40

Malartic La Graviere Bordeaux 2005, $100

The Cask, 8616 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 205-9008.


Jeff Smith is the founder of Van Nuys-based Carte du Vin Wine Cellar Management and the author of “The Best Cellar.” He was formerly known as J.D. Smith. 

Raspberry swirl chocolate torte with pecan crust


Passover desserts can really be the worst. Canned macaroons. Dry cake. And while I know many people who love it, super rich flourless chocolate cake is just not my thing. I don’t enjoy how dense it is, even if i love chocolate. And I do love chocolate.

Instead of the traditional, flourless chocolate cake, I wanted to create a chocolate dessert that was a bit lighter, while still remaining rich and chocolaty. The raspberry jam adds a slight tang to the torte, and pecan crust lends a nice crunch. I literally could not stop eating this, and so I gave it to my neighbors to eat instead. Suckers.

Note: After you bake the pecan crust it might look a little funny, like it didn’t work – almost a little too bubbly. I was also worried when I made it, but it is totally fine. I would also recommend topping your torte with fresh raspberries and even a few sprigs of mint for an extra beautiful presentation.

Raspberry swirl chocolate torte with pecan crust

Ingredients

For the crust:

  • ¼ cup margarine or butter
  • ½ cup pecans
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • ½ tsp salt
  • For the filling:
  • 8 oz dark or semi-sweet chocolate chips
  • ½ cup margarine or butter (1 stick)
  • 1 tsp instant espresso
  • ¼ cup cocoa powder
  • 1 tsp vanilla
  • 5 eggs
  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup strawberry or raspberry jam
  • Powdered sugar for dusting (optional)

 

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

To make the crust: melt the ¼ cup margarine or butter in the microwave at 20 second intervals.

Place the pecans, salt and sugar in a food processor fitted with blade attachment and pulse until you have course looking crumbs. Add melted margarine/butter and pulse 1-2 more times.

Press mixture into an 8 or 9 inch springform pan. Bake 7-8 minutes. The crust may look a little funny, bubbly or like it is ruined. But this is totally fine. Set aside.

To make the filling: Place the chocolate chips and margarine in medium saucepan over low heat until smooth. Whisk in cocoa and espresso. Cool 10 minutes.

Using electric mixer, beat eggs and sugar in large bowl on high speed until thick, about 6 minutes. Fold in chocolate mixture slowly. Then fold in raspberry jam, but don’t mix too much. Pour batter into prepared crust.

Bake torte until dry and cracked on top and tester inserted into center comes out with some moist batter attached, about 35-40 minutes. Cool in pan on rack 1 hour (center will fall).

Using an offset spatula or butter knife, carefully separate torte from sides of pan. Remove outer ring of springform pan.

Dust with powdered sugar if desired or serve with fresh raspberries and mint on top.

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Make your Chanukah party one for the ages with these recipes


Chanukah is not just for children, but usually they have most of the fun. They open presents, light candles during the eight days of the holiday and get more than their share of cookies and potato latkes. Our Chanukah party will be shared by four generations this year because our two great-granddaughters will be joining us. 

In planning a Chanukah dinner for the entire family, I always try to remember who likes, or doesn’t like, certain foods and to make sure that there are always enough vegetables for those who don’t eat meat. It’s usually a good idea to keep the menu simple, with an emphasis on food that can be prepared in advance and won’t be ruined if some of the guests are a little late.

Fried foods are always eaten during Chanukah, which begins the evening of Dec. 16 and commemorates the miracle of the oil that burned for eight days in the Temple. Our appetizers will consist of foods fried in olive oil, like Mini Potato Latkes served with bowls of Tomato Salsa, salmon caviar and our family’s traditional Glazed Apple Slices.

We’ll feature a special Olive Oil Cake for dessert, a recipe from Dario Cecchini, one of Italy’s best-known food personalities. He features this cake at his restaurant Solociccia in Tuscany.

There will be plates of fresh and dried fruits, and — because everyone in our family loves chocolate — my delicious Chocolate-Cinnamon Snaps. It is a tradition in our home to wrap some of these cookies in silver foil, representing the Chanukah gelt (money) given to the children during the holiday — just another reason for them to smile.

MINI POTATO LATKES

  • 4 large potatoes, grated
  • 1 onion, grated
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 1/3 cup flour 
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a large bowl, combine potatoes, onion, eggs and 1 tablespoon oil. Add flour, baking powder and salt and pepper to taste.

In a large heavy skillet or nonstick frying pan, heat 1/4 inch of oil. With a teaspoon, carefully spoon batter into hot oil; flatten each spoonful to make small, thin latkes. Cook for about 2 minutes per side, turning only once, until golden brown, and adding more oil if necessary. Drain well on paper towels. Serve with Tomato Salsa, salmon caviar or Glazed Apple Slices.

Makes about 6 dozen mini latkes.

TOMATO SALSA 

  • 4 ripe, firm tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 serrano chili, stems and  seeds removed, finely minced (optional)
  • 1 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
  • Salt to taste

 

In a glass bowl, combine all ingredients. Serve immediately or cover with plastic wrap and chill. 

Makes 2 to 3 cups.

GLAZED APPLE SLICES

This versatile recipe offers an elegant change from old-fashioned applesauce for Chanukah. It makes a great light dessert for informal meals or a special treat for family breakfasts. The translucent slices can be used as a pie filling, or in open-faced tarts. Or just drain the slices, add nuts and raisins and voila! instant strudel filling.

  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange marmalade
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 6 large golden delicious apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • Juice and grated zest of 1 lemon

 

In a large, heavy skillet, combine sugar, marmalade and orange juice. Cook over medium heat, stirring, until sugar and marmalade have dissolved. Bring this syrup to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer 3 to 4 minutes, just until it begins to thicken.

In a large bowl, toss apple slices with lemon juice and zest (this will prevent apple from turning dark). Then add apple slices, lemon juice and zest to syrup in skillet; toss gently to coat apples. Simmer, covered, 10 to 15 minutes, until apple slices are soft. Transfer to a glass bowl; cool to room temperature. Cover with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator. 

Makes 3 to 4 cups.

DARIO’S OLIVE OIL CAKE

From “Italy Cooks,”by Judy Zeidler. 

  • 1/2 cup plus 5 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1/4 cup ground almonds 
  • 5 eggs
  • 2 cups plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 oranges, finely chopped (use pulp and peel)
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/2 cup raisins, plumped in Vin Santo wine to cover (and slightly drained)
  • 1/2 cup toasted pine nuts

 

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Brush a 10- or 12-inch springform pan with 3 tablespoons olive oil; dust pan with ground almonds.

In bowl of electric mixer, beat eggs with sugar. Add orange peel and pulp; blend well. Slowly add 1/2 cup olive oil alternately with flour and baking powder; mix until smooth. 

Let rest 10 minutes, stirring from time to time. The oil is light but tends to separate from the batter; mix well. Stir in raisins.

Spoon batter into prepared pan, level it, and sprinkle with remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, remaining 2 tablespoons oil and pine nuts. Bake in preheated oven 35 to 40 minutes. 

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

CHOCOLATE-CINNAMON SNAPS

  • 1 3/4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2/3 cup unsalted margarine
  • 1 1/4 cups sugar
  • 1 egg
  • 3/4 cup semisweet chocolate chips, melted and cooled
  • 1/4 cup light corn syrup

 

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine flour, baking soda, cinnamon and salt; set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream together margarine and 1/2 cup sugar until light and fluffy. Blend in egg. Add melted chocolate and corn syrup; blend well. Blend in flour mixture. Refrigerate 1 hour for easier handling.

Using 1 tablespoon of dough at a time, shape into balls. Roll balls in remaining 3/4 cup sugar. Place about 2 inches apart on foiled-lined baking sheets. Bake for 10 to 12 minutes. Cool on racks. 

Makes 3 dozen cookies.


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

A reminder: Don’t pass over the post-seder meals


Planning Passover meals is always a wonderful challenge. For the seders, most of us focus on traditional family recipes because they are tried and proven, and because everyone likes them (and often asks for these favorites dishes).

But what about the remaining six days of meals? They must be considered.

Once the big seder meals are done, it’s nice to be able to eat healthy, simple and flavorful meals for the rest of the week. An abundance of vegetables, fruits, poultry, meat, fish and fresh herbs can be incorporated into cooking on Passover.

Here are some recipes that I make on Passover because they are easy to prepare and provide flexibility as to when they can be served — not to mention they are quite delicious.


CARROT-GINGER SOUP
Makes 8 servings

The apple and the ginger give this creamy soup, which is made without any cream, a bit of a bite. The ingredients are always available, so you can serve it in any season at any temperature — hot, cold or room. I must confess, though, that I love it best when the weather is warm.

Ingredients:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, quartered
1 3/4 pounds carrots, peeled and sliced, plus 1 extra carrot for garnish
1 small Granny Smith apple, peeled and sliced
1-inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
5 1/2 cups vegetable broth
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic, carrots, apple and ginger, and saute for 3 minutes. Add the broth and bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, about 30 minutes, until the carrots are tender.

Cool a little. Puree the soup in a blender, in batches, until smooth. Return it to the saucepan.

Season to taste with lemon juice, salt and pepper.

To prepare the garnish: Steam the remaining carrot until just tender and grate. Before serving, sprinkle each bowl with the grated carrot.


HALIBUT CEVICHE
Makes 4 servings

Ceviche is a refreshing appetizer that I make with fresh fish marinated in lime juice. The juice “cooks” the fish in a very short time, allowing it to turn opaque and firm. It can be served on a bed of butter lettuce with slices of avocado. It’s a wonderful alternative to gefilte fish for an appetizer or makes a nice, light lunch.

Ingredients:
1 pound skinless halibut cut into 1/4 inch cubes
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/3 cup lime juice, plus 2 tablespoons
2 jalapeno peppers, seeded, finely chopped
2 scallions, including the green part, thinly sliced
1/4 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves
Freshly ground black pepper
Butter lettuce
Slices of avocado

Preparation:
Place fish in a nonreactive bowl and season with salt. Pour juice over fish and press down so the fish is submerged in the juice. Cover and refrigerate for 1 hour or until fish is opaque and firm.

Drain off and discard the lime juice. Add peppers, scallions and cilantro to the fish. Just before serving add the remaining 2 tablespoons lime juice and season to taste with salt and pepper.


CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
Makes 4 servings

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. 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 freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. 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 of 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.


ROASTED CAULIFLOWER
Makes 4 servings

Roasting is an easy and delicious way to transform this reliable standby into a wonderful dish.

Ingredients:
1 medium head cauliflower (about 2 pounds)
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 400. Line a baking pan with foil.

Cut the stalk and leaves off the cauliflower and discard. Cut the head into small florets. Place the garlic in the baking pan. Arrange the florets on top; drizzle with the oil and season to taste with salt and pepper. Bake for 20 minutes, or until tender.


CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
Makes 3 1/2 dozen squares

These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. They can be presented as cookies or cut into individual squares and served with either sorbet or fresh fruit on the side.

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

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 350. Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in 2 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 eight 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 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.

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.

Lies, silence surround flouting of Poland’s kosher slaughter ban


After a Polish court tossed out a government regulation permitting kosher slaughter in 2012, Poland’s $500 million ritual slaughter industry was expected to be brought to its knees.

Evidence shows, however, that not only was kosher slaughter still being performed in Poland as recently as this month, but also that kosher meat producers had help in skirting the law from a high-ranking official in the office of Polish Chief Rabbi Michael Schudrich.

JTA has obtained two letters signed by Michael Alper, a top aide to Schudrich, informing Polish officials that several hundred cattle would be slaughtered after being stunned with electric current — a requirement of Polish law that is inconsistent with kosher slaughter, which mandates that animals be killed without prior stunning.

Meat from the slaughterhouse where Alper said stunning would be used was subsequently certified  as kosher by the Israeli Chief Rabbinate and several European certifiers before being exported abroad. The European certifiers declined JTA’s request for comment, but several knowledgeable insiders confirmed that the animals were not in fact stunned and that the meat was indeed kosher.

“If there were a kosher concern regarding one of our labels, we would have acted,” Maor Ziv, a spokesman for the Israeli Chief Rabbinate, told JTA.

Under a 2002 amendment to the 1997 law on animal welfare, Poland required that all animals be stunned prior to slaughter. The law appeared to conflict with another measure passed that year guaranteeing religious minorities the right to perform ritual slaughter.

In 2004, the government issued a regulation that aimed to resolve the apparent conflict by exempting Jews and Muslims from the animal welfare law. But in 2012, a constitutional court scrapped the 2004 exemption, effectively banning what had been a $500 million ritual slaughter industry.

Several businesses registered heavy losses and laid off employees as they scrambled to convert their operations or reconfigure themselves as middlemen, purchasing kosher meat produced outside Poland and reselling it for export. But the Alper letters show that some businesses continued to produce kosher meat in Poland and had assistance from inside Schudrich’s office in concealing the operation from authorities.

Schudrich has denied prior knowledge of Alper’s activities and suspended his aide. Alper declined to comment.

In July, Alper sent a letter to a district veterinary inspector requesting permission to slaughter 250 heads of cattle after stunning them with electric current, a formality meant to inform authorities of slaughter activities. A second letter in November requested permission to slaughter an additional 310 cows. The letter is signed “rabbinate coordinator for kosher products in Poland.”

“I am writing to request to carry out the slaughter of 310 heads of cattle on Nov. 24, 2013, with use of electric current to render the animals unconscious,” Alper wrote in the November letter.

The animals mentioned in Alper’s letters were killed at the Biernacki slaughterhouse in Jarocin, 150 miles west of Warsaw. The slaughterhouse, which was one of Poland’s main facilities for kosher meat, included living quarters for the rabbis who performed the actual slaughter cuts.

Several sources who spoke to JTA on condition of anonymity said kosher slaughter was taking place at Biernacki as recently as this month. A spokesman for the slaughterhouse declined to respond to JTA’s inquiries, but emphasized that the facility adheres to Polish and European law.

Only cows are slaughtered at Biernacki, while some labels carrying kosher certification from prominent rabbis are for kosher chicken produced in Poland last year. The labels do not carry the names of the slaughterhouses where the birds were slaughtered, but a well-placed source named two poultry meat producers, Brynek and Grzegorz Tuz, neither of which responded to repeated requests for comment.

Schudrich would not confirm whether commercial kosher slaughter continued in Poland after January 2013, but he called Alper’s letter “a very serious mistake.”

Schudrich also disputed the idea that an actual ban on ritual slaughter is in place, noting that a constitutional court has been reviewing a petition by Jews and Muslims arguing that the two 1997 laws are in conflict.

“The court’s ruling in 2012 is not a ban,” Schudrich said. “It is a case of conflicting legislation that is being reviewed by the Constitutional Tribunal.”

But some fear such nuances will be lost on the general public when Poland’s Channel 1 airs the results of its own investigation next month into the kosher slaughter in Poland. The report will harm efforts to resolve the matter and and become grist for the mill of anti-Semites, according to Rabbi Haim Dov Beliak of Beit Polska, a national umbrella organization for Polish Reform and Progressive congregations.

“Clearly, there has not been a cessation of kosher slaughter,” Beliak told JTA. “Manipulation of the issue of kosher-halal slaughter for political purposes by Polish politicians or Jewish community officials or by various business interests reduces the respect that the practice of keeping kosher deserves. Lying about it erodes the community’s credibility and is quite simply playing with fire.”

Beliak said he fears the report will create the impression that Jews don’t respect Polish law, though he added that kosher slaughter could not have continued without Polish officials looking the other way.

“Ritual slaughter is too big a business for Poland to simply walk away from it,” he said.

Renata Kania, a press officer for Poland’s Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development, said her office had no immediate comment.

New law mandates proper labeling for kosher foods going to pantries


Kosher and halal meals going to food pantries must be tracked and labeled as such under a new federal law.

An amendment to the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act enacted last week mandates the tracking and labeling by the Department of Agriculture.

The department currently purchases kosher and halal foods but does not make a deliberate effort to label them as such, making it difficult to ensure that the meals end up in pantries and communities where they are most needed.

“We must take steps to help the neediest observant families and children get access to nutritious food during these difficult times,” U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.) said in a statement.

Gillibrand and U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.) initiated the amendment.

Rabbi Abba Cohen, the Agudath Israel of America’s vice president for federal government affairs and the Washington director for the Orthodox group, said in a statement that the legislation is “a vital step forward for addressing the needs of the Jewish poor.”

David Frankel, CEO and executive director of the Metropolitan Council on Jewish Poverty in New York, noted, “More than one-half million Jewish New Yorkers struggle with food insecurity each and every day.”

Yeshiva boy to barbecue sauce master


On a Saturday evening in downtown Los Angeles, as the somewhat surreal hush started to descend on Broadway following the weekend daytime hustle, diners gathered around an open kitchen at Umamicatessen, the flagship outpost of the reigning champ of nouveau burger chains. 

For a few months this year, the counter at the rear of the retro-modern space housed a program dubbed “The Residency,” a rotation of guest chefs. Or, in current foodie lingo, pop-up dinners.  On this night, Sharone Hakman, smiling and full of confidence, was running the show for a multicourse, grilled food-intensive meal dubbed BBQ Elevated. Neither a restaurant chef nor a member of the ranks of the many well-established catering machines in this town, Hakman falls somewhere in the range of food entrepreneur and media personality. He’s been a contestant on Fox’s “MasterChef” amateur cooking competition show and has parlayed this exposure into other TV appearances. Most notably, his barbecue sauces — the line is produced in Southern California — are stocked on the shelves in both niche specialty shops and major grocery stores in almost all 50 states. Hakman’s model-quality good looks and social ease certainly help bolster his brand, too. 

Not exactly the course this former financial planner and yeshiva student had in mind, but at this point, the U.S.-born Hakman can’t imagine anything different. “I had my moments when I was wearing tefillin, and I had my moments when I was eating bacon cheeseburgers,” he recalls of straddling the Orthodox and mainstream secular worlds while growing up in L.A.’s Mid-City, where he still lives. Hakman’s grandparents are Holocaust survivors from Poland, and his parents are from Israel, where he spent every summer as a child. 

While in the trenches of  the financial world, which was “not my passion,” Hakman, 32, would “come home from work stressed out. I’d start cooking in the kitchen, and it started growing on me.” He sensed this particular skill set might be the beginning of something more serious than a hobby. So, in 2009, Hakman took a leave of absence from his job and made arrangements to spend several months in Israel, followed by a stint in Italy apprenticing in restaurant kitchens to develop his culinary skills. The pending arrival of his first child (he and his wife now have a 3 1/2-year-old and a 1-year-old) scrambled some of those plans, but Hakman nevertheless took the time off as an opportunity for a reboot. 

After a month in Israel, Hakman officially resigned from his job at the beginning of 2010. He began to mine “an entrepreneurial spirit that I never tapped into” and got to work on business plans related to food, while reflecting on a continual source of inspiration — his grandmother. 

“She was that bubbe who never left the kitchen,” he said. As for his favorite family traditions, “Shabbat was always special. There was something about my grandmother making the gefilte fish from scratch, and smelling the matzah ball soup, and feeling that comfort.” Comfort, he believes, is a quality too often missing from restaurant dining experiences in Los Angeles. “So many restaurants are cutting edge, but I never want to come back,” he said. “What’s that X-factor as to why? It all comes down to comfort. It’s what you want to come back to. That was the best lesson my grandmother taught me.”

Now, with TV gigs and a growing barbecue sauce empire to manage, Hakman also operates a catering service on the side, all while thinking about next steps and opportunities. His “MasterChef” performance helped convince him that leaving the safety of his corporate job was the right move, further proving to himself that “I have what it takes” to work professionally in food. 

Hakman hasn’t set his sights on creating a restaurant yet, but says, “Pop-ups are a great way for me to have fun with what I want to do at that moment.” At his Umamicatessen diners, his twist on barbecue ranged from subtle touches to assertive textures and bold flavors. The meal progressed from a delicate salad combining watermelon, feta, grilled haloumi cheese, radish and Thai basil, building to a grand finale of a formidable, succulent beef rib that had been smoked for more than eight hours and paired with one of his signature Hak’s BBQ sauces. Dessert was his made-from-scratch riff on s’mores. 

When it comes to Thanksgivukkah — the Chanukah/Thanksgiving overlap that has portmanteau fans all abuzz and which won’t occur again until the year 79811, Hakman has big plans for his L.A.-based family. If you’re looking for ways to combine meat from a large bird with fried carb-based casings, try Hakman’s turkey balls, rolled in Japanese-style Panko breadcrumbs and served with purple potatoes, shiitake mushrooms and Kiddush-wine jus. While latkes and mashed potatoes might duke it out for a place on the table or peacefully coexist, Hakman suggests another alternative — his roasted carrot puree recipe. 

So what does Hakman most look forward to? “Safta’s sufganiyot,” he says of his grandmother’s jelly doughnuts. “She makes them from scratch and fries them à la minute. They are dangerous.” 

Sounds like holiday temptation and reward of the best kind. 


PANKO-CRUSTED TURKEY BALLS WITH PURPLE POTATOES, SHIITAKE MUSHROOMS AND KIDDUSH-WINE JUS

This is a great way to use your Thanksgivukkah leftovers for the next seven nights of Chanukah.

1 cup turkey drippings (refrigerate so the fat
separates and hardens, and then remove)
1 cup sweet Kiddush wine
Salt and pepper
1 pound shredded or pulled turkey (dark meat)
1 1/2 cups flour
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup Panko breadcrumbs
1 cup small shiitake mushrooms
4 to 5 purple potatoes, quartered
4 cups grapeseed oil for deep-frying
Rosemary sprigs (for garnish)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Heat turkey drippings on low and allow to reduce by half.  Do the same for the wine.  Once both have reduced, combine the two liquids and allow to reduce by a quarter.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Roll  the pulled turkey meat into 3/4-inch. Place on a baking sheet and refrigerate for about an hour so they firm up and are easier to work with.  

Coat the turkey balls with the flour, then the beaten egg, then the breadcrumbs. Place in refrigerator again until the coating adheres. 

Toss mushrooms and potatoes in small amount of oil and season with salt and pepper. Bake in oven for 30 minutes or until tender. 

Deep-fry turkey balls in oil heated to 350 F until golden brown. Add salt and pepper to taste. 

Arrange turkey balls on a platter with mushrooms and potatoes. Drizzle with the wine jus and garnish with rosemary sprigs. 

Makes 4 servings. 


CARROT AND CHAMOMILE PURÉE

4 cups sliced carrots
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
1 tablespoon sugar
1 cup broth
2 chamomile teabags

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Toss carrots in olive oil; add salt, pepper and sugar. Roast in preheated oven for about 30 minutes or until tender. Don’t allow carrots to brown too much.  

Heat broth, add teabags, and simmer for at least an hour. 

Transfer carrots and tea-infused broth into a food processor or blender. Process until mixture reaches an airy consistency. Adjust seasonings to taste. 

Makes 4 servings.

Eight chefs’ new Chanukah delights, one for each night


This year, Chanukah and Thanksgiving coincide: Chanukah is celebrated for eight days by candle-lighting, gift exchanges and eating foods fried in oil, an ancient custom, commemorating a miraculous event at the Temple in Jerusalem, while the Thanksgiving meal reminds us of our American heritage. Both offer a special time to reflect on our traditions and enjoy a family meal. 

Of course, the favorite Chanukah food is latkes, most often made from grated potatoes and served with sour cream, preserves or applesauce.

This year I decided to interview some well-known chefs and restaurateurs for some new and different ideas. The result was more than I bargained for. I never dreamed there could be so many sensational new recipes, and an added bonus was the delicious new sauces these food experts provided to serve with the latkes.  

I am featuring eight chefs and their recipes, one for each night of the holiday. Our family is also celebrating Thanksgiving a day early, on the first night of Chanukah, since our family is traveling from Northern California as well as Washington and Oregon to be together for this special celebration.     

Michel Richard, who was the chef/owner of Citrus while in Los Angeles, has just opened his new bakery, Pomme Palais, and restaurant, Villard Michel Richard, at the Palace Hotel in New York. Always looking for ways to reduce the use of butter and cream, he developed wafer-thin, super-crisp Oven-Fried Potato Latkes, which have absolutely no resemblance to the old-fashioned, heavier and more caloric ones. They are also a perfect dish to serve with your Thanksgiving turkey meal.

Bruce Marder, the innovative chef of Capo and the Brentwood Restaurant in West L.A., came up with Two-Tone Potato Latkes, made without eggs, which he serves with salmon caviar to celebrate Chanukah and Thanksgiving . 

Chef Jonathan Waxman’s restaurant, Barbuto, in New York City’s West Village section, serves Italian-inspired cuisine. Several years ago he shared this Red Pepper and Corn Latkes recipe, served with a creamy corn sauce, which has become a staple for our Chanukah menu.   

Michel Ohayon, chef/owner of  Koutoubia in West L.A., offers another substantial main course for Chanukah: Moroccan Ground Beef and Potato Latkes, which he suggests should be served with harissa, a spicy-hot chili pepper sauce that can be found in most Middle Eastern markets.

When your guests arrive, offer them a large bowl filled with thin home-fried potato chips that our foodie friend, home cook Luigi (Lou) Liuzzi created. It is one of his many innovative food experiments that we continue to enjoy.

Chef Brett Swartzman is a chef with passion. Originally a native of Chicago, he is creating his second Chanukah celebration at the Brentwood Country Club.  They love his Potato Latkes With Granny Smith Applesauce, and this year he is going to surprise them with Sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts).  

Chef Robert Bell, owner-chef of Chez Melange and Mama Terano, both in the South Bay, prepared an unusual potato latke recipe on my TV show “Judy’s Kitchen” many years ago. Thinly sliced russet potatoes are arranged in layers in a skillet to resemble the pedals of a flower, then baked in olive oil until crisp. It’s always a tasty dish to serve during the holiday. 

Josiah Citrin, chef-owner of Melisse in Santa Monica, serves his family’s traditional potato latkes, using a special French cheese. This is a recipe that his French grandmother, Simone, prepared for Chanukah, and she always served it with fig compote.

With these eight exciting latke recipes, it is a perfect time to plan a festive latke party for your family and friends. Keep the menu simple — after all, the latkes are the real stars, and a hearty soup or salad may be the only addition needed. If your latkes are served for dessert, invite guests to drop in after dinner for latkes, tea and coffee.

Preparation can be made easy by using your food processor or blender, and remember, many batters may be made in advance, then fried at the last moment. In planning your Chanukah party, don’t forget to include the traditional songs, the custom of giving Chanukah gelt (foil-wrapped chocolate coins) to the children and exchanging small gifts.


MICHEL RICHARD’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES 

1 pound (about 4 medium) potatoes, peeled
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Sour cream and diced cucumbers

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cut the potatoes into long, thin strips, about 1/8-inch wide, by hand or using your food processor’s julienne or shredder blade. Place potato strips in a bowl of water to cover. Before cooking, drain potatoes, then dry well in a lettuce spinner or with a clean kitchen towel. 

Place a heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Add 3 tablespoons olive oil and heat. Add the potatoes and stir-fry until tender, about five minutes. Turn the potatoes out onto a baking sheet and push the strips together to form a rectangle or triangle, about 1/4-inch thick. Roll using a rolling pin to flatten further.  

Oil a large baking sheet. Cut into the flattened potatoes by pressing down on a fluted cookie cutter, creating 2 1/2- to 3-inch rounds.  Using a spatula, transfer the latkes to the prepared baking sheet. (This can be done in advance.) 

Before baking, season potatoes with salt and pepper. Bake in the preheated oven until crisp and brown on both sides, about 30 minutes, turning the latkes halfway through. Transfer them to a serving platter, using a metal spatula. Serve with sour cream and diced cucumbers. 

Makes about 8 servings


BRUCE MARDER’S TWO-TONE POTATO LATKES

1 large russet potato, peeled
1 large sweet potato, peeled
Salt and pepper
Olive oil for frying
Salmon caviar

Julienne potatoes lengthwise into long matchsticks, either with a knife, food processor with julienne attachment or mandoline.  Place in large bowl, add salt and pepper to taste, and mix well.

In a cast iron skillet or on a griddle, heat olive oil. Shape potato mixture to form pancakes about 2 inches in diameter. Fry on one side until brown, then, using a metal spatula, carefully turn and flatten with the back of the spatula and brown on the other side.

Place latkes on heated plates and serve immediately with salmon caviar.

Makes about 12 latkes.


JONATHAN WAXMAN’S RED PEPPER AND CORN LATKES

Creamy Corn Sauce (recipe follows)
1 red bell pepper
3 eggs, separated
1/2 cup milk
1/4 cup corn kernels, fresh or frozen
1/2 cup flour
Olive oil for frying
Salt and pepper
Salmon caviar (optional)

Prepare Creamy Corn Sauce; set aside.

Roast red pepper in a 375 F oven for 40 minutes, turning once.  Skin will puff and brown. Peel off the skin, remove the stem, and discard seeds. Puree in blender or food processor. 

In a large bowl, combine the red pepper puree, egg yolks, milk and corn kernels; mix well. Blend in the flour. Beat egg whites until soft peaks form. Fold egg whites into red pepper mixture. Season to taste with salt and pepper.  

In nonstick or heavy skillet, heat 1 to 2 tablespoons oil.  For each latke, spoon 2 tablespoons batter into the hot oil and fry on both sides until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Repeat until all batter has been used, adding more oil to skillet as needed to keep latkes from sticking 

Serve with Creamy Corn Sauce and top with salmon caviar, if desired.  

Makes about 24 latkes.    


CREAMY CORN SAUCE

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/4 cup corn kernels
1/2 red bell pepper, finely diced
1 cup vegetable broth
1 cup cream
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons minced chives

Heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet and saute corn kernels until tender, about 2 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Heat remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil and saute diced red bell pepper until tender, about 2 minutes. Set aside.

In a saucepan, heat vegetable broth and simmer until reduced to about 1/2 cup. Add sauteed corn and bell pepper.  Blend in cream and simmer until thickened.  Season to taste with salt and pepper, and stir in chives. Serve warm.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.


MICHEL OHAYON’S MOROCCAN GROUND BEEF AND POTATO LATKES

2 pounds potatoes
Oil for frying
1 medium onion, diced
Salt and pepper
1 pound ground beef
1 tablespoon minced onion
1/2 teaspoon each minced fresh parsley and fresh cilantro
Pinch nutmeg
Pinch mace (optional)
Pinch saffron (optional)
1 egg
Harissa

In a pot, boil potatoes for 45 minutes; peel and mash. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a skillet and saute diced onion until soft.  Add to potatoes with salt and pepper to taste. Cool.

In a skillet, brown ground beef, minced onion, parsley, cilantro, nutmeg, mace and saffron, until no juice remains. Cool mixture and transfer to a food processor. 

Using the knife blade of a food processor, blend meat mixture with egg. 

Using a heaping tablespoon of mashed potato mixture, place in palm of hand and place a teaspoon of ground beef mixture in center. Roll potato mixture around meat mixture.  Flatten between the palms of your hands.       

Fry in oil in nonstick skillet, or deep-fry until brown and crisp. (These can be prepared in advance and warmed in the oven, or served cold. ) Serve with harissa.  

Makes about 10 latkes.    


LUIGI’S POTATO CHIPS

4 russet potatoes
3 to 4 cups olive, peanut or canola oil for frying
1 tablespoon salt

Peel the potatoes and slice them very thin using a mandoline or a sharp knife. Places the sliced potatoes in a bowl of cold water. Pour oil into fryer or large pot and heat to 375 F.

Dry the potato slices between two clean kitchen towels and place some into the not oil. Do not overload.

Fry for five minutes, or until golden brown. Transfer the chips to a large cookie sheet lined with paper towels and sprinkle salt onto the chips. Continue in batches until all the chips are cooked. Place the chips carefully into serving bowl — do not dump them from cookie sheet, as you do not want pour the excess salt from the sheet into the bowl. 

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


BRETT SWARTZMAN’S SUFGANIYOT (JELLY DOUGHNUTS)

2 tablespoons active dry yeast

1/2 cup warm water (100 to 110 F)
1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar, plus more for rolling
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, at room temperature
1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
2 teaspoons salt
3 cups vegetable oil, plus more for bowl
1 cup seedless raspberry jam

In a small bowl, combine yeast, warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar. Set aside until foamy, about 10 minutes.

Place 2 1/2 cups flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center; add eggs, yeast mixture, remaining 1/4 cup sugar, margarine, nutmeg and salt. Using a wooden spoon, stir until a sticky dough forms. On a well-floured work surface, knead until dough is smooth, soft and bounces back when poked with a finger, about 8 minutes (add more flour if necessary). Place in an oiled bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Set in a warm place to rise until doubled, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

On a lightly floured work surface, roll dough to 1/4-inch thickness. Using a 2 1/2-inch-round cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut 20 rounds. Cover with plastic wrap; let rise 15 minutes.

In medium saucepan over medium heat, heat 3 cups oil until a deep-frying thermometer registers 370 F. Using a slotted spoon, carefully slip 4 rounds into oil. Fry until golden, about 40 seconds. Turn doughnuts over; fry until golden on other side, another 40 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, transfer to a paper-towel-lined baking sheet. Roll in sugar while warm. Fry all dough, and roll in sugar.

Fill a pastry bag fitted with a No. 4 tip with jam. Using a wooden skewer or toothpick, make a hole in the side of each doughnut. Fit the pastry tip into a hole, pipe about 2 teaspoons jam into doughnut. Repeat with remaining doughnuts. 

Makes about 24 doughnuts.


ROBERT BELL’S OVEN-FRIED POTATO LATKES

4 russet potatoes, scrubbed and thinly sliced
8 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 375 F. 

Brush a nonstick skillet with a small amount of olive oil and arrange the potato slices in a ring, overlapping until the entire surface is covered. Pour a thin stream of olive oil over the potato slices until completed coated (use most of the 8 tablespoons). Repeat with another layer, brush with remaining olive oil, and fry on medium heat for 5 to 10 minutes.

Transfer to the oven and bake for 20 to 30 minutes until potatoes are cooked through. Using a metal spatula, transfer potatoes to a cutting board and cut into triangles. Repeat with the remaining potato slices.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


JOSIAH CITRIN’S POTATO AND TOMME REBALAISE CHEESE LATKES

2 pounds Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and grated
1 medium sweet onion, peeled and grated
1/2 pound Tomme Rabelais, grated (Salers or a firm Tomme de Savoie can be substituted)
1 large egg
2 teaspoons sea salt
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground white pepper
Olive oil for frying

Place small batches of grated potatoes in the center of dishtowels, and wring excess liquid from the potatoes. Transfer potatoes to a large bowl and repeat the process with the remaining potatoes. Add the onion, cheese, egg, salt and pepper to the potatoes and mix well to combine.

Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a heavy 12-inch skillet (cast iron works best). Add the potato mixture by 1/4-cupfuls to the hot oil. Lightly flatten with a spoon, and cook until golden, about 5 minutes. Turn the latkes over and cook until golden and cooked through, about 5 minutes longer. Transfer to a baking sheet lined with paper towels. Repeat process until all of the potato mixture is used. Serve warm.  

Makes about 24 latkes.


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

Food trucks: Have kosher, will travel


Finding space to move inside the tiny kitchen of The Kosher Palate food truck is tough, but that hasn’t stopped owner Michele Grant from using it to cook up plenty of creative meals for her menu.

“Who doesn’t like tater tots?” asked Grant recently, as she showed off one of her favorite dishes, Shakki Tots — tater tots with shakshuka and quail egg, which came with added zest when dipped in sumac.

As students from the University of Southern California (USC) stopped for lunch between classes on what was a rare rainy day, Grant gave samples to newbies who hadn’t yet tried her modern kosher cuisine.

“We love giving out noshes. It’s our thing,” Grant said as she handed out portions of her Portuguese kale stew. “We can’t be a Jewish truck without being able to give out noshes.” 

On this October day, just three miles northeast of The Kosher Palate’s parking spot at the corner of Jefferson Boulevard and Hoover Street on USC’s campus, sat what may be the only other full-time kosher food truck in Los Angeles, The Holy Grill, which opened up about three months ago.

Owned and operated by Adiel Nahmias, a 28-year-old native of Afula, Israel, and his partner, Dvir Botach, The Holy Grill’s truck — well, cart, really — was parked in the Fashion District on 15th Street between Los Angeles and Main streets, where it could cater to the Israeli and Persian Jews working downtown. Nahmias learned his trade as a chef in Israel and as a manager at Bibi’s Bakery and Café here in Los Angeles.

The most popular item among Nahmias’ patrons is the shawarma, but that’s not all that’s on his more traditional menu.

“The new schnitzel is doing — baruch Hashem — very good,” Nahmias said as he ran from the back of the cart, where he slices meat and vegetables, to the register at the front to take orders. Adjacent to the grill, Nahmias has set up seating and tables under a tent for patrons who want to take a bit of an extended lunch break.

The Holy Grill’s biggest costs are parking — for the location downtown and the nearby indoor overnight spot. Add in labor, food and the cost of kosher certification, and it’s no wonder that so few full-time kosher food-mobiles exist in Los Angeles. (Several have popped up in the past, only to fold later.)

At The Holy Grill, Nahmias’ day begins every morning around 7 a.m., when he drives to the Western Kosher market on Pico Boulevard to pick up fresh cuts of meat before opening for business at 9 a.m. When he and his four employees aren’t dealing with hungry customers, who usually come for an early afternoon lunch, they’re busy cleaning and preparing food. 

Although The Holy Grill (facebook.com/holygrillonwheels) closes every weekday at 5 p.m. (early for Shabbat), Nahmias said that on recent nights he has sometimes been out much later, scouting other possible locations that include Pico-Robertson and USC, and looking into purchasing additional carts. 

As for Grant — a former partner in the popular Grilled Cheese Truck — she’s brought her Kosher Palate truck (facebook.com/thekosherpalate) all over the city, debuting at the Celebrate Israel Festival in April in Rancho Park, and operating as far out as Tujunga, Chatsworth and West Covina. 

Sitting by a table about 30 feet from the truck, she excitedly described another unique menu item, the Mamalawach, which is malawach (a fried Yemini bread), with pepper steak, skhug (a Middle Eastern hot sauce), hummus with black-eyed peas, jachnun (a Yemenite Jewish pastry) and shaved tomato — all sautéed with honey and lemon pepper.

“If somebody tries our food, they are buying our food,” she said confidently.

The Kosher Palate started parking at USC in early October, setting up shop there every Tuesday (11 a.m. to 2 p.m.) and Wednesday (11 a.m. to 5 p.m.).  According to Grant, the USC Office of Religious Life has been instrumental in bringing The Kosher Palate to campus, encouraging its presence and even helping to pay for a parking spot in an effort to provide kosher alternatives.

 “It’s really exciting to have more kosher options by campus,” said senior Avital Shoomer, as she walked away with the Jacob’s Ladder, Grant’s spinoff of the hamburger — topped with tater tots, a fried onion ring and a quail egg. 

“It’s such a nice change from the classic burger,” she added. “I eat kosher meat only, so I’m usually a vegetarian when I eat at the campus center — so it’s really nice to have some meat options.”

Stuffed: Thanksgiving on Hope Street


Last Sunday, my job was to make stuffing for 400 people. I said I’d do it because there’s a part of me that prefers to forget that it’s been 25 years since I was a caterer, and I assumed it would be as easy now as it was then.

Every year for the past nine years, Nashuva, the spiritual community led by my wife, Rabbi Naomi Levy, hosts a Thanksgiving meal at Hope Street Family Center downtown. Hope Street provides childcare, counseling and other social services to thousands of at-risk families. About 100 Nashuva volunteers from the Westside, the Valley and Silver Lake provide a turkey dinner with all the trimmings, along with arts-and-crafts projects for the children and care packages to take home. 

So, on the prior Thursday evening, I went to Costco and bought 20 pounds of onions and 15 pounds each of carrots and celery. I filled my car with enough croutons to stuff a twin-sized mattress. At home, I reached far into our storage closet to find the industrial-sized pot I last used to photograph our infant son in, with his head poking over the rim. He’s 20 now.

Things started simply enough. I chopped the vegetables, sautéed them over two burners in two quarts of canola oil, added seasoning and broth. The kitchen smelled good, like Thanksgiving.

I tossed the croutons with some chopped chestnuts, then portioned it all out in large foil banquet pans. I ladled the hot broth over the croutons and began to mix. I used a big spatula, and the boiling-hot stuffing lifted up and — onto my hands. I screamed. The glutinous mass attached the heat to my skin like culinary napalm. I jumped away — and the whole tray tumbled onto the floor, splattered my ankles. I screamed again. I lurched for the sink, my feet slid in a mound of stuffing, and down I went.

I lay on the floor, burned, bruised. My dogs wandered in to lick the turkey dressing off my wrists, like jackals on the battlefield.

Eventually, I cleaned up, cut my losses and assembled the remaining pans. On Sunday morning, I cooked them, and by lunch they were beside the turkeys in the buffet line, just like I’d planned it.

Hundreds of moms, dads and kids came to the center at Hope Street, just south of Pico, that day. People sat down with their food and began to eat. Tania Benacerraf, director of the family preservation program at Hope Street, spoke about all the things the organization does, day in and day out, to help people raise their children in health and safety. 

Over the years, as Nashuva and Hope Street collaborated on many projects, I’ve listened to the stories — of women escaping abuse; of fathers overcoming addiction; of people working two, or even three jobs to make a life for their children. I’m a very lucky person to be able to complain about my mishaps making stuffing. 

We ate together at long tables in a large function room. On a patio outside, the children created spin-art and decorated picture frames. 

Around this time of year, countless Americans stand where I stood that day: helping to serve Thanksgiving dinners in a homeless shelter, a halfway house or a soup kitchen, doing something small, even symbolic, to share this country’s enormous bounty with those less fortunate.

Nashuva’s Thanksgiving meals with Hope Street have spawned deeper ties between the two organizations. But there can be no pretending that by serving turkey and gravy we are somehow righting deep systemic wrongs. The morning after we volunteered, Congress is still debating a Farm Bill that plans to cut $40 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — a program so many of the hard-working moms and dads at Hope Street depend upon to feed their kids and help lift their families out of poverty. The morning after, Washington, D.C., is still treating the right to decent health care as a political game, rather than a national priority. The morning after, these people are still struggling, and I have a funny anecdote about stuffing.

But while the debates in D.C. all seem to diminish us as a nation, shared moments can still lift us up. We reach out to help some others, and they are kind enough to accept our need to help. 

Perhaps we need to help because we know from experience that ours is a nation of enormous, almost unbelievable wealth. We have seen with our own eyes that we waste more food than those we serve can ever eat. We have been in private homes larger than all of Hope Street. We need to serve because something needs to change.

Just as the families of Hope Street were settling into the meal, my wife stood and offered a blessing in English, as Julie Drucker, a Nashuva member and organizer of the event together with Carol Taubman, translated Naomi’s prayer into Spanish.

“Sometimes life can be very difficult,” Naomi said. “And we struggle to make a living and take care of our families. Thanksgiving is a time to take hope in the future and to know that together we can help each other to make a better life. And we take a moment to give thanks to God for our lives, for our friends, for the gift of community and for being together here today.”

Amen — and Happy Thanksgiving.


Rob Eshman is publisher and editor-in-chief of TRIBE Media Corp./Jewish Journal. E-mail him at robe@jewishjournal.com. You can follow him on Twitter @foodaism.

After-school kosher kitchen nourishes body and soul


It was Stephanie Levi’s first time with her two sons enjoying an early dinner at the new after-school kosher kitchen in Pico-Robertson. She plans on coming back for more. 

“It’s really helpful to fit it into the routine after school,” said Levi, whose children go to school around the corner from the kitchen, which is located at Tiferet Teman, a Sephardic synagogue on Pico Boulevard.

Created to serve children of families experiencing financial hardship, the kitchen, which opened on Aug. 26, serves free, hot meals to any Jewish children who come, and to the parents, siblings or guardians who bring them. The kitchen is open from 4:30 to 7 p.m. Monday through Thursday, and offerings include schnitzel, meatballs, chicken, potatoes, matzah ball soup, tilapia and pastries.

“We are happy to accept anybody from a Jewish family,” said Ifat Shlomi, one of the kitchen’s lead organizers. “Whoever needs it can come and enjoy the food.”

The kitchen was opened by Shlomi, Sharon On of Bazilikum Catering and Rabbi Moshe Yazdi, who lives in Jerusalem and runs two similar kitchens in Israel. He also leads American Friends of Amude Hashalom, a nonprofit group based in Los Angeles that serves those in need in the Jewish community.

On a recent Thursday, about 15 parents and children filtered into the synagogue to fill their plates with food. They sat down to eat dinner as a family, and even played with the dozens of toys that the kitchen provides.

One of Levi’s children, Yosef, came over from playing with his brother to shyly discuss his food of choice on his inaugural visit to the kitchen: “the soup.”

The food is prepared daily by On, the caterer, just around the corner at Temple Beth Am’s Pressman Academy. She cooks food for about 400 children daily for school lunches, and now also for the roughly 30 children that have shown up most days at Tiferet Teman.

“I want to come up to 100 kids every day and give them homemade food and fresh food,” On said.

One mother, who asked that her name not be used, said that the new kosher kitchen saves her significant time every day preparing dinner for her six children.

“I work in the morning, and then I go to pick up my kids, so you don’t have a chance to prepare the dinner,” she said.

Another mother, who also asked that her name not be used, said that her youngest daughter prefers the taste of the food at Tiferet Teman to the food at home.

“She eats very good [here]. At home she doesn’t,” the mother said. “I’m a single mother, and it’s a lot of help.”

Yazdi, speaking over the phone from Israel, said he envisions this project eventually extending beyond only providing meals, including providing things like cookware and clothing to those who need.

“It doesn’t end with the food,” Yazdi said. “We see these kids as our own kids. We want to take care of them from A to Z.”

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.

High Holy Days food: How sweet it is


Honey adds special touch to Jewish New Year

Brownies

Honey Chocolate Fudge Bars. Photos by Dan Kacvinski. Food coordinated by Judy Zeidler

The use of honey for Rosh Hashanah symbolizes a sweet year and dates back to biblical times, when refined sugar was unknown. Its sweetness adds a distinctive flavor to a variety of dishes in addition to dessert: It can be used as a glaze for everything from carrots to broiled chicken, adds a special flavor to salad dressing and can even be used in fish recipes. Or you can simply dip sliced apples in it.

When fermented, honey produces a sweet wine called mead.

Many different types of honey are now available. Examples are lavender, chestnut, orange blossom, sage, avocado and wildflower. They can be found in most food stores or from venders at farmers markets.

Cooking with honey as a sweetener is not difficult, and you may want to substitute it for sugar in your favorite recipes. This can be done without any drastic change in the ingredients. I find that cakes and cookies made with honey seem to stay fresh longer, too.

When we gather at home for Rosh Hashanah or break the fast on Yom Kippur, we often surprise our family with some new dishes. One of these new dishes this year will include eggplant. The eggplant is sliced, soaked in milk overnight and then fried in a small amount of oil. The consistency becomes similar to a soufflé and, when drizzled with honey, it is awesome.

In the last few months, carrots of all descriptions seem to be the “in” vegetable on the menus of many restaurants. This year, I am including a recipe for Honey-Roasted Carrots to serve during the holiday.

A fresh fruit salad enhanced with honey and orange juice can be prepared in advance. It makes a perfect first course when family and friends arrive home from the Rosh Hashanah service.

For chocolate lovers, serve Honey Chocolate Fudge Bars, and don’t forget to include Sesame-Honey Thins, a family favorite. You may not want to overdo the taste of honey in every dish, but select several of these recipes for your Rosh Hashanah menu, and save the rest for Yom Kippur. 

From our family to yours, we wish you “Shanah tovah” — a very healthy and happy New Year!


FRIED EGGPLANT WITH HONEY AND ROSEMARY

∗ 1 medium eggplant
∗ 2 cups whole milk
∗ 1/2 cup vegetable oil
∗ 1 cup all-purpose flour
∗ Kosher salt to taste
∗ 1/4 cup honey
∗ 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped

A day before serving, cut the tops and bottoms off the eggplant, and peel with a vegetable peeler or knife. Slice the eggplant into rounds that are 1/2-inch thick. You should get about 12 slices from 1 medium-sized eggplant. Place eggplant slices into a large container or bowl with enough milk to cover. You will likely have to weigh the eggplant down with a plate to keep it submerged in the milk. Soak overnight in the refrigerator.

In a large frying pan, heat vegetable oil to about 350 F or until a drop of water sizzles. Remove eggplant slices from milk, dredge them in the flour, and tap off excess flour. Drop carefully into hot oil in a single layer (don’t crowd the pan) and fry until golden brown, about 2-3 minutes. Flip the eggplant slices during cooking for even browning. Repeat until all slices have been browned. 

Sprinkle each eggplant slice with a pinch of kosher salt as it comes out of the pan. Drain on wire rack. Drizzle some honey onto each eggplant slice while it’s on the wire rack. Top slices with chopped rosemary. Serve immediately.

Makes 4 servings. 


HONEY-ROASTED CARROTS

Carrots

Honey-Roasted Carrots

∗ 8 carrots, peeled
∗ 3 tablespoons olive oil
∗ 1/4 cup honey
∗ Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 350 F

Place whole carrots in a baking dish; drizzle with olive oil. Mix until carrots are completely coated with oil. Pour honey over carrots, season to taste with salt and pepper, and mix until evenly coated.

Bake until just tender, or to desired doneness, about 40 minutes.

Makes 4 servings.


FRESH FRUIT SALAD WITH HONEY-ORANGE DRESSING 

Honey-Orange Dressing (recipe follows)

∗ 1 apple, cored and diced
∗ 1 banana, peeled and sliced
∗ 1 avocado, peeled and sliced
∗ 1 orange, peeled and diced
∗ Juice from 1 lemon
∗ Romaine lettuce leaves
∗ 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds 

Prepare the Honey-Orange Dressing; set aside.

In a large bowl, toss apple, banana, avocado and diced orange with lemon juice to prevent the fruit from turning brown. Add dressing and stir gently. Serve on a bed of lettuce leaves, sprinkled with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 4 servings. 



HONEY-ORANGE DRESSING

∗ 1/3 cup honey
∗ 1/4 cup orange juice
∗ 1/4 cup olive oil or canola oil
∗ 1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
∗ 1/4 teaspoon salt
∗ 1/4 teaspoon prepared mustard

Combine all ingredients in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Cover and shake well.

Makes about 1 cup.


HONEY CHOCOLATE FUDGE BARS

∗ 1/2 cup unsalted margarine
∗ 1/2 cup finely ground walnuts
∗ 4 ounces unsweetened chocolate
∗ 4 eggs
∗ 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
∗ 1 cup sugar
∗ 1 cup honey
∗ 1 cup plus 2 tablespoons flour
∗ 1/2 teaspoon salt
∗ 1 cup coarsely chopped walnuts
∗ 1/2 cup diced candied orange peel or candied ginger

Preheat oven to 325 F. 

Melt 1/4 cup margarine and brush it onto bottom and sides of a 9-inch-square cake pan. Sprinkle with finely ground walnuts. Set pan aside.

Place chocolate and remaining 1/4 cup margarine in the top of a double boiler over hot water on medium heat or in a heavy saucepan over low heat, stirring occasionally until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and set aside. (Chocolate and margarine may also be melted in microwave oven.)

In bowl of an electric mixer, beat eggs with vanilla and sugar until very pale and thick. Gradually add honey, then the chocolate-butter mixture, and mix well. Add flour and salt, scraping bowl with a rubber spatula and beating only until each addition is incorporated. Stir in coarsely chopped walnuts and candied orange peel.

Turn into prepared pan; smooth the top. Bake for 1 hour or until a toothpick inserted in center of cake comes out just barely clean and dry. Cool in pan on a rack until cake reaches room temperature.

Using a metal spatula, loosen cake from sides and bottom of pan. Invert onto a rack, cover with a cake platter, and invert the cake right-side up. Before serving, transfer to a cutting board; brush with additional honey. Cut the cake into quarters and then cut each quarter in half.

Makes 16 bars.


SESAME-HONEY THINS

∗ 3/4 cup unsalted margarine, cut into pieces
∗ 1 1/3 cups dark brown sugar, finely packed
∗ 1/3 cup honey
∗ 1 teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
∗ 1 egg
∗ 1/2 cup sesame seeds
∗ 1 cup flour
∗ 1/4 teaspoon salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the margarine. Add brown sugar, honey and vanilla; beat until light and fluffy. Blend in egg and sesame seeds. Add flour and salt; beat until smooth. 

Spoon marble-size mounds of dough 2 inches apart onto a foil-lined baking sheet or a silicone baking mat. Bake 5 minutes or until cookies begin to brown around the edges. Cool on baking sheet. When cookies harden, remove from baking sheet.

Makes about 8 dozen.


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

A kosher kitchen compromise


My boyfriend of four years and I finally decided to move in together. But there was one problem: What to do about the kitchen.

Dov was raised in a Conservative Jewish household in Los Angeles where milk and meat never mixed. I grew up in a Reform home in New York where chicken kebabs were marinated in yogurt and saffron. When we spent our weekends apartment hunting in Manhattan, we looked not at the brownstones before us but stood stuck on the sidewalk debating whether our new kitchen would include my great-grandmother’s Descoware Dutch oven.

“Well, the pot is not kosher because it’s been passed down through non-kosher homes,” Dov said.

“Does it matter?” I argued. “It belonged to my great-grandmother. I’ll store it in a separate area of our kitchen.”

“But then our kitchen wouldn’t be kosher,” he said sadly.

I had imagined that moving in with my boyfriend might include the delightfully self-indulgent arguments from romantic comedies. I pictured purging outfits from my closet to make room for “his stuff” and paring down the nine perfume bottles that adorned my vanity. But I found the one boyfriend who wanted me to clean out my kitchen cabinets.

Before I met Dov in my mid-20s, my interaction with kosher food was limited to Hebrew National all-beef hot dogs. My Iranian mother, the daughter of a Presbyterian minister, converted to Judaism when she married my dad. My parents spent their weekends shimmying past one another in the kitchen as herbs and beef sauteed on one burner and rice steamed on another. Although we mostly ate Persian food, my parents could cook anything.

Sure, we ate traditional Jewish foods around the holidays, but my feelings toward those dishes were somewhat similar to the way Nora Ephron described her tzimmes recipe: the medley of sweet potatoes, carrots and dried fruit “is delicious with a pork roast.” In our home, tzimmes was served alongside roast beef and Yorkshire pudding during our traditional Christmas Eve dinner with our longtime Jewish friends.

I had started cooking as a teenager, making chicken cutlets stuffed with prosciutto and spinach-and-meat-and-cheese lasagna. Giada De Laurentiis and Mario Batali were like my surrogate Italian aunt and uncle, and I browned and broiled my way enthusiastically through their Food Network shows.

But when I met Dov, I realized that even though our interests aligned on nearly everything, I lamented that he would never be able to try my specialty — chicken parmesan.

“Well, you can make it with non-dairy cheese,” he said brightly.

Milk and meat lived so harmoniously in my kitchen — and my stomach — that the thought of separating the two rattled my belief system more than I would have anticipated. Could  I embrace kashrut for Dov? After all, he knew that I would never be one to keep Shabbat, so he’d altered his lifestyle from keeping the tradition. He also moved to New York City to be with me, despite his love for living in California. So maybe I could bend, too.  There was a chance I might even enjoy it.

No such luck. A year into our relationship, I roasted my first-ever chicken — a kosher one — in my inaugural attempt into treating meat and milk like separate lovers. I turned to Ina Garten’s perfect roast chicken recipe for guidance. I followed the directions so closely that without thinking twice, I threw a half stick of butter on the stove to melt. I stood over my beautifully stuffed kosher chicken holding a spoonful of culinary liquid gold.  Then I saw the flying cow image on the Horizon Organic butter wrapper and I panicked: Until that moment, I’d never considered butter dairy, but a class unto itself, like tofu. Separating these two food groups felt deeply unnatural; it was like seasoning a dish with just salt and not pepper.

Still, despite those disasters, Dov still wanted to share a home with separate sets of everything — pots, pans, plates and silverware. I understood that kashrut was key to Dov’s Judaism. But eating kebabs with rice and yogurt was key to mine. Granted, I didn’t have the Talmud behind me, but I had the “Barefoot Contessa Cookbook.” And even though keeping kosher was consistent throughout generations of Dov’s family, why didn’t the recipes and cookware that were passed down through my family — major aspects of my heritage as a multicultural Jew — carry the same weight?

So we did what most stubborn 20-somethings would do: We compromised on a “kosher-ish” kitchen. No separate sets of dishware, and my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven would be grandfathered into our new home. We would use glass plates (a kosher get-out-of-jail-free card, if you will, as they don’t “absorb” meat or dairy). No shrimp or pork in the house, which I could accept, since these are the only forbidden foods I admire but am particularly unskilled at preparing.

But it was still the fundamental request that made me almost lose my appetite.

“Could we please avoid mixing meat and dairy?” Dov asked. “I’m just too uncomfortable combining the two. Could we keep all the recipes that have been in your family that don’t combine meat and milk, since there are so many?”

I fell in love with Dov for reasons that had little to do with religion. He was brilliant, thoughtful and a stellar guitar player who already traded in his rock star aspirations for law school applications by the time we met. But I also admired his respect for tradition. If I cooked yogurt-marinated kebabs in our shared kitchen, he wouldn’t eat them.  I wasn’t moving in with my boyfriend to eat dinner alone.

Regardless, I found it tremendously difficult to hold myself to the standard that I was expecting of Dov.

“He can live with one set of glass dishes, but I need to round out the flavors in my Bolognese sauce with two tablespoons of butter,” I thought to myself, simultaneously committed to my rationale and yet embarrassed by my childish obstinance.

“We can try,” I said. And as we unpacked all our stuff — my nine perfume bottles spread out untouched across the vanity, our new glass dishes in the kitchen next to my great-grandmother’s Dutch oven — I understood that it was compromise, not kashrut, that we would have to work on: to be less like the families we came from and more like the family we would create together.

Baking bread as a meetup


The steamy kitchen was filled with the heady scent of baking bread, while giddy young Jewish professionals stood around in pristine white aprons, drinking from tumblers full of rosy pink pomegranate lemonade. 

Some seemed at ease among the electric mixers and cutting boards, while others were more bewildered by the menagerie of ingredients and tools. But what mattered for people like Jeffrey Melnick was that they were out having fun with other Jews their age.

“I chose to do this because I like cooking, and I wanted to meet some other young Jewish adults,” said Melnick, who lives in the San Fernando Valley. “I had searched for things to do on the Internet, found the YALA [Young Adults of Los Angeles] Web site, saw the cooking class, and so I joined it.”

YALA — The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ programming arm for young adults — helped organize the Aug. 28 Rosh Hashanah cooking class at Sur La Table at the Farmers Market in Los Angeles, along with Federation’s JCC Without Walls initiative.

Rabbi Alyson Solomon, vice president of special projects at Federation, helps coordinate JCC Without Walls. Its mission is to create Jewish activities for young couples in their 20s and 30s, as well as families with young children, where they live, work and play. In this case, organizers tried to do that by bringing together food, Judaism and culture.

“People are very interested in this sort of thing, and it lets people get in touch with their heritage and spirituality in a more hands-on way than simply going to services,” Solomon said.

The evening commenced with a timely honey tasting with sliced apples. In fact, each participant went home with a jar of artisanal honey, along with a packet of recipes from the class.

Chef Marissa Ayala led the group through the steps of cooking a four-course holiday meal, and demonstrated the baking technique for a rosemary-currant challah as well. The menu included roasted sweet potatoes with fresh figs, baby spinach salad with dates and almonds, pistachio-crusted sea bass and, finally, chocolate and cherry gelato.

Despite the relatively small cooking quarters in Sur La Table’s back room, everyone seemed to work well together — delegating various cooking tasks while chatting about life and food.

Jocelyn Orloff, senior director of YALA, a group focused on young professionals ages 25-40, said the hope was to appeal to a generation looking for something different at this time of year.

“We partnered with JCC Without Walls for this event knowing that there are young adults looking for High Holy Days experiences that are out of the box,” she said. “Finding a way to use cooking and food as an opportunity to learn within the community is great.”

Although this was the first Rosh Hashanah cooking class hosted by JCC Without Walls, it wasn’t the first time it’s drawn people to the kitchen. The group hosted Passover classes at Sur La Table over the past two years.

This particular evening drew 28 people, each of whom signed up early and paid $50 for the class. Participants were a mishmash of area natives and newcomers, including a former Jewish organizational leader from the Bay Area, and a military veteran who recently transplanted to Los Angeles.

“I think the turnout tonight is great,” Solomon said. “I’m excited that we have such a full group of folks. Personally, I’m really interested in where these people are coming from and where are they going after this. Like, how will this be part of their journey? And hopefully, it will maybe inspire them to try something new or think about something differently.”

High Holy Days Food: Welcoming new breaking-the-fast traditions


On Yom Kippur, after the day’s hard spiritual work is done, the break-the-fast meal poses its own challenges. An upside: No one is terribly picky about what they’re taking in after 24 hours of fasting. Preparing a tantalizing spread can be almost an act of cruelty; better to keep the fare simple. But then again, why not have something delicious and special to look forward to?

My husband and I faced a particularly daunting and unusual break-the-fast predicament when our youngest son was born in late September 2009. We got home from the hospital, both of us enshrouded in the shared postpartum haze, and counted out the calendar days to figure out when the bris would take place. 

We landed on Yom Kippur, of all dates. “Can you even have a bris on Yom Kippur?” I asked, stunned. Bringing home a newborn and facing the bris is stressful enough; I almost became unglued thinking through another layer of logistics required to do the right thing as a Jew. Would our mohel of choice, who had performed the bris of our first child, be around? And perhaps most importantly, should a mohel who’s been fasting report for duty on Yom Kippur?

As my husband likes to say, it turned out we were dealt the highest hand in Jewish poker. The bris practically trumps all else. So it should absolutely happen on Yom Kippur. We settled on an early evening start time, so that the event could double as a break-the-fast. (The mohel assured us he had made a special exception and had a bite so he’d be in the right condition to perform the task.) 

Not wanting to repeat the same event we had for our eldest, I scrambled to come up with an alternative food plan, something a bit out of the norm, and to find a caterer who was oriented toward market-driven and seasonal cooking. Plus, I didn’t want to disappoint anyone who harbors certain demographic clichés about young Jewish families living between Hollywood and downtown Los Angeles.

Through Sunday wine tastings at Silverlake Wine, one of our favorite local spots, we knew of Matthew Poley, who with Tara Maxey was then starting up his now very popular Heirloom LA operation. He made for us a memorable spread (and politely listened to my rough explanation of the ritual), including descriptions of all the handmade food items carefully written out for our guests on a blackboard. Very rustic chic, indeed. 

After taking the collective sigh of relief, we feasted on butter lettuce wraps with farmers market veggies, confit of wild sturgeon and other savory fillings, plus flatbreads paired with various Mediterranean-inspired spreads, and Heirloom LA’s signature single-serving lasagna “cupcakes.” The mohel himself couldn’t have been more thrilled. “Oy, you wouldn’t believe how sick of deli I am,” he commented as he dug into an expertly piled plate. (We still had bagels on hand to satisfy some people’s expectations and traditions.) 

This year, with the High Holy Days taking place during the late summer/early fall, the timing also works in Southern Californians’ favor, food-wise. These holy days coincide with the harvest, with produce such as luscious pomegranates and robust squash being appropriately symbolic. Lucky for us, however, we also have access to stellar berries, tomatoes, lettuces and other items that hang around farmers markets while folks further east are already facing endless months of root vegetables. 

Following are suggestions from a few Los Angeles-area chefs of various Jewish backgrounds who, much like the aforementioned mohel, might appreciate a good quality deli-based break-the-fast, but who also relish the prospect of merging tradition with something a little different, more in tune with the times and with the season. 


MARYN SILVERBERG

After the Yom Kippur fast and observance, caterer and culinary instructor Maryn Silverberg’s family believes in “rewarding ourselves,” she said, “which means kicking off the night with a beverage. My mom created the Orange Blossom Cocktail.”

ORANGE BLOSSOM COCKTAIL

  • 10 tablespoons fresh orange juice
  • 10 tablespoons orange liqueur, chilled
  • 10 tablespoons mandarin-orange flavored
  • vodka, chilled
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water
  • 5 cups champagne or sparkling wine, chilled
  • 10 orange peel strips

Pour 1 tablespoon orange juice, 1 tablespoon orange liqueur and 1 tablespoon vodka into each of 10 champagne flutes.

For each drink, stir in 1/4 teaspoon orange blossom water; fill with 1/2 cup champagne.

Garnish each drink with an orange peel strip.

Makes 10 cocktails


CHICKS WITH KNIVES

Rachael Narins, an educator, writer and chef who, under the brand Chicks With Knives, also hosts underground supper club dinners, is a certified Master Food Preserver. Meaning Narins believes in the power of pickles. Since the best break-the-fast foods need to be prepped in advance, Narins’ Master Pickle Brine recipe is ideal. She advises that this simple combination is best for cucumbers, cauliflower, red bell peppers, red or green tomatoes, onions, asparagus, beets and okra. Or whatever strikes your fancy, really. Have some fun with it. Plus, “Pickles are eaten by all cultures and are a great way to perk up the palate,” Narins noted. Her Chilled Beet Soup recipe is also simple, fresh and practical. 

chickswithknives.com

MASTER PICKLE BRINE 

  • 1 cup water      
  • 2/3 cup white vinegar      
  • 1/2 cup sugar   
  • 2 tablespoons salt   
  • 1 tablespoon pickling spice   
  • 2 garlic cloves, smashed      
  • 1/2 onion, minced  

Combine all the ingredients in a nonreactive saucepan. Simmer until sugar and salt are dissolved. Add vegetables; simmer until just cooked through.   

Let cool completely, cover, and refrigerate. 

Makes approximately 2 cups brine, plus the added vegetables.

CHILLED BEET SOUP, AKA NOT YOUR BUBBE’S BORSCHT

  • 4 large red beets, roasted, peeled and cooled
  • 2 teaspoons cider vinegar
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and seeded
  • 1/4 red onion
  • 1/8 teaspoon dill seeds
  • 1 red bell pepper, seeded
  • 1/2 cup water
  • Olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 4 tablespoons sour cream
  • Fresh dill sprigs

Coarsely chop the peeled and cooled beets.

In a blender, combine beets, vinegar, cucumber, red onion, dill seeds, bell pepper and water. Blend on low speed, then increase speed to purée. Slowly drizzle in 2 tablespoons olive oil, allowing it to emulsify and thicken. 

Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Let the soup rest for five minutes, then pour through a fine mesh strainer.

Chill until ready to serve. If it separates, reblend before serving.

Divide the soup among four chilled bowls; top each with 1 tablespoon of sour cream and a dill sprig

Makes 4 servings.


ALLUMETTE 

Chef Miles Thompson might have been building a reputation for the astonishingly avant-garde cuisine he’s been presenting at Allumette restaurant in Echo Park (recently included on Bon Appetit magazine’s 50 Best New Restaurants list), but when it comes to breaking the fast, his routine growing up was fairly straightforward. “My family would always break fast at our friends’ house,” the self-taught Thompson said, adding “we always had bagels and lox and whitefish salad.” Thompson’s recipe below is a delicious, light treat, as well as a clever twist on the tradition of layering dairy with seafood on a carbohydrate base. Each bite is bright and tangy, with a rich interplay of textures. We promise your guests will never have seen anything like it. 

allumettela.com

bonappetit.com/uncategorized/article/top-50-new-restaurants-allumette

POTATO CHIPS WITH FRESH SALMON ROE AND YUZU CRÈME FRAÎCHE  

Miles Thompson’s Potato Chips With Fresh Salmon Roe and Yuzu Crème Fraîche. Photo by Jessica Ritz

YUZU CRÈME FRAÎCHE

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons yuzu
  • (Japanese citrus) juice
  • 1 cup Bellwether Farms crème fraîche
  • Salt to taste

Whip the yuzu juice and crème fraîche to stiff peaks with a whisk. Season generously with salt. Reserve in an airtight container in the refrigerator until ready to use.

MARINATED ROE

  • 1/2 cup shiro dashi (available at Asian grocery stores and some Whole Foods locations)
  • 1 cup fresh coconut water
  • 1/4 pound fresh salmon roe, cleaned

Combine the shiro dashi and coconut water in a bowl. Add the salmon roe and gently stir as not to damage the roe. Place in an airtight container and allow to marinate in the refrigerator for at least 24 hours prior to use.

POTATO CHIPS

  • 2 medium-sized German Butterball Potatoes, sliced 1/16th-inch thin on a mandoline and held in water*
  • Rice bran oil for frying
  • Salt

Vigorously rinse the sliced potatoes in several changes of water until they no longer release starch; the water will be clear. Pour off the clear water and cover with ice water.

Stir the potato sliced through the ice water and allow to sit for 30 minutes, stirring well every 10 minutes to ensure that all of the potato chips curl.

Using a pot that is taller than it is wide, fill less than halfway with rice bran oil. On stovetop, heat the oil to 275 F. Cover each of three sheet trays with two layers of paper towels to drain the chips.

Drain the potatoes well and place 15 slices at a time into the oil; do not overcrowd the pan. Constantly stir the potatoes with spider strainer, folding them into the oil as they fry. The potato chips are finished when the bubbling has totally subsided and the chips are golden. At this point, immediately remove the chips with the strainer and gently shake the oil from the chips.

Spill the chips onto the first prepared sheet tray and gently roll them to release oil. Season with salt. Move the chips to the second sheet tray and gently toss with your hands to remove extra oil. Transfer to final tray. No oil should remain on the paper towels of the final tray.

Allow the chips to fully cool before packing in a dry airtight container lined with a paper towel. Chips can be stored at room temperature for two days.

Assemble each chip with a modest amount of the Yuzu Crème Fraîche and Marinated Roe. If desired, finish with a light garnish, such as diced chives over the roe. 

Makes about 2 dozen chips.

*Dirty Brand Potato Chips are a good substitute, but nothing is like homemade.


COLONIAL WINE BAR

Alex Reznik is known for having been a contestant on “Top Chef” as well as helming the kitchens at L.A. restaurants, including the high-end kosher La Siene on La Cienega, and Cafe Was in Hollywood. The Brooklyn native is currently cooking a series of weekend dinners at Colonial Wine Bar on Melrose Avenue in homage to his native Brooklyn. For break the fast, he offers a practical and (relatively) healthy approach featuring a mélange of farmers market greens. “Kale was used as the garnish at cheap buffets, [but] now we have realized that not only is it nutritious, but it’s delicious,” Reznik said. This tough green also can “stand up to bold flavors that most lettuce can’t. You can cut the kale and make the dressing before and just toss them together before you are ready to eat.” If you can’t find all three kales specified in the recipe, then most varieties will still do. 

colonialwinebar.com

3X KALE CAESAR SALAD

  • 1/4 cup Dressing (recipe below)
  • 1 bunch Russian kale
  • 1 bunch red kale
  • 1 bunch curly kale
  • 1 cup assorted toasted bagel chips
  • 2 tablespoons shaved Parmesan cheese
  • 1 teaspoon capers sautéed lightly
  • in small amount of oil, drained
  • 1 teaspoon toasted pine nuts
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Prepare Dressing; set aside.

Remove stems from kale. Chop kale into thin slices. Toss with Dressing.

Garnish salad with bagel chips, Parmesan, capers, pine nuts and black pepper.

DRESSING 

  • 1 egg
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
  • Juice of 1 lemon (4 tablespoons fresh lemon juice)
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 tablespoon capers
  • 1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
  • 2/3 cup virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup Parmesan cheese, grated

Combine first 6 ingredients in metal bowl. Slowly add the oil and finish with cheese.


GERTLER’S WURST

“My style is tried and true,” said L.A.-based chef Adam Gertler, a Food Network regular and founder of Gertler’s Wurst sausage company. “It usually involves a scooped everything bagel — a New York bagel preferred — spread with smoked whitefish salad on one half, and on the other, scallion cream cheese. I then layer soft scrambled eggs, Muenster cheese, lox, thinly sliced tomato and red onion.” That’s a fairly ambitious bite to build. For the whitefish salad component, this Long Island native recommends the following method, which incorporates some updated flavors to give this classic mainstay a contemporary, fresher boost. Then see how much you can pile on a bagel. 

adamgertler.com

SMOKED WHITEFISH SALAD

  • 1 pound smoked whitefish, pulled from whole fish
  • 3/4 cup Extra Virgin Mayo (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup chopped chives
  • 1/4 cup chopped dill
  • 6 tablespoons diced celery
  • 6 tablespoons diced fennel bulb
  • 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar
  • Combine all ingredients, mashing only slightly to leave some nice chunks for texture.
  • Garnish with additional chives and lemon zest.

Combine all ingredients, mashing only slightly to leave some nice chunks for texture.

Garnish with additional chives and lemon zest.

EXTRA VIRGIN MAYO

  • 1 egg yolk
  • 1 tablespoon whole grain dijon mustard
  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
  • Zest of half a lemon
  • 1 garlic clove, smashed
  • Pinch salt (a little light on salt here because smoked fish is salty)
  • 1 cup extra virgin olive oil

Whisk together all ingredients except for oil. Starting with a few drops, slowly whisk in oil, building to a steady stream to form a nice, thick dressing.


WHOA NELLY! CATERING

Call it the anti-rubber chicken school. With farmers market-driven menus, Whoa Nelly! Catering shatters stereotypes associated with wedding and special event food. This hearty main dish from chef Elizabeth Griffiths, an alum of Suzanne Goin’s AOC restaurant, is easily made in advance and provides a perfect taste of fall. If you choose to cook the gratin the day before, save the final step in the broiler for when you’re ready to serve this rich squash and potato combo. 

whoanellycatering.com

BUTTERNUT SQUASH AND YUKON GOLD POTATO GRATIN

Butternut squash at the West Hollywood Farmers Market. Photo by Jessica Ritz

1/4 cup butter
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon white or black pepper
2 1/2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup shredded fontina cheese
1 large butternut squash, peeled and cut thin slices (mandoline-thin if possible, no more than 1/4 inch)
2 each Yukon Gold Potatoes, peeled and cut thin slices (mandoline-thin if possible, no more than 1/4 inch)
1/2 cup breadcrumbs

Position racks in upper and lower third of oven. Preheat oven to 375 F.

Heat butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring frequently, until very soft and light brown, 5 to 8 minutes. Add flour, salt and pepper; cook, stirring, for 1 minute more. Add cream and continue to stir, scraping up any browned bits. 

Cook, stirring, until the sauce bubbles and thickens enough to coat the back of a spoon, about 4 minutes. Add fontina to sauce; stir to melt. Remove from heat. 

Toss squash and potato slices in cream mixture. Layer half of squash and potato slices in bottom of gratin dish. Pour half of sauce over, until slices are submerged; repeat layers with remaining slices and sauce. Sprinkle breadcrumb mixture over the gratin. 

Place under the broiler and broil, watching closely, until the gratin is bubbling and beginning to brown on top, 1 to 5 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Has the era of the kosher cheeseburger arrived?


When the world’s first lab-grown burger was introduced and taste-tested on Monday, the event seemed full of promise for environmentalists, animal lovers and vegetarians.

Another group that had good reason to be excited? Kosher consumers.

The burger was created by harvesting stem cells from a portion of cow shoulder muscle that were multiplied in petri dishes to form tiny strips of muscle fiber. About 20,000 of the strips were needed to create the five-ounce burger, which was financed partially by Google founder Sergey Brin and unveiled by Mark Post of Maastricht University in the Netherlands.

PETA hailed the event as a “first step” toward humanely producing meat products. A University of Amsterdam study shows that lab-grown meat could significantly reduce the environmental impact of beef production.

For kosher-observant Jews, the “cultured” burgers could open the door to radical dietary changes — namely, the birth of the kosher cheeseburger.

That’s because meat produced through this process could be considered parve – neither meat nor dairy — according to Rabbi Menachem Genack, CEO of the Orthodox Union’s kosher division. Thus under traditional Jewish law, the burger could be paired with dairy products.

Several key conditions would have to be met to create kosher, parve cultured beef. The tissue samples would have to come from an animal that had been slaughtered according to kosher rules, not from a biopsy from a live animal, Genack said.

The principle underlying this theory is much like the status of gelatin in Jewish law: Though it is derived from an animal, it is not meat (the OU certifies some bovine-derived gelatin as parve).

Genack noted another source for viewing cultured meat as parve: a 19th century Vilna-born scholar known as the Heshek Shlomo wrote that the meat of an animal conjured up in a magical incantation could be considered parve. It may not be too much of a stretch, then, to apply the same logic to modern genetic wizardry.

But kosher chefs aren’t heating up the parve griddles just yet.

The lab-born burger, which cost $325,000 and took two years to make, is still a long way from market viability, kosher or otherwise. If mass produced, it could still cost $30 per pound, researchers said.

“I’ll believe it when I see it,” said Jeff Nathan, the executive chef at Abigael’s on Broadway, a kosher restaurant in Manhattan. “Until it’s in my hands and I can touch it, smell it and taste it, I don’t believe it.”

Even if cultured beef became commonplace, consumers still might not be interested, said Elie Rosenfeld, a spokesman for Empire Kosher, the nation’s largest kosher poultry producer.

“Parve burgers made of tofu and vegetables have been on the market for years,” Rosenfeld said. “But customers are still looking for the real deal, a product that’s wholesome and genuine.”

Nevertheless, Nathan sounded an enthusiastic note about the potential for parve meat.

“I’m all for experimentation and science,” he said. “Let’s see what it tastes like!”

Give Polish Jewry a kosher choice


Remember “Had Gadya”? What satisfaction when, onto the scene of carnage, walks the Holy One of Blessing, and destroys the angel of death that slew the butcher that killed the ox that drank the water that quenched the fire that burned the stick that beat the dog that bit the cat that ate the kid. And what relief! But only momentarily. For where are we in this lineup of violence? It is forever, for us, the question of what am I, now, an angel of death or the little white kid that daddy bought for two zuzim? And can I be both? And do I have to be either?

To be human is to be aware of one’s own morality. To be able to act morally, we must have the freedom to choose to do or not to do so, which demands we have the freedom to reject morality. Without that freedom, we are but tools in other people’s hands. 

In the recent debate on the Polish government’s decree de-legalizing shechitah, or kosher ritual slaughter, we hear strident voices from many sides. Some say the only motivation for the decision was to prevent needless animal suffering. Other voices argue that skillfully performed shechitah causes the animal less pain than all the other feasible methods of killing it. Others still express discontent, outrage or fear, due to the fact that discontinuing kosher slaughter effectively makes it impossible for observant Polish Jews to eat meat altogether.

I do not know which is worse: a shochet’s knife to the throat, or a killing machine in a meat plant. I know that, kosher or not, slaughterhouses are cruel places, where overworked butchers have to do their quota of killing, and helpless animals experience horror and pain. While I realize that Poland cannot, for reasons of its largely agriculture-based economy, its traditions and customs, opt out of mass production and consumption of meat, I would like government experts to conduct an inquiry into all killing of animals — not just the preparation of kosher meat — to ensure that animals’ deaths can become less traumatic than they are now. As important is an inquiry into how these animals live before they find their deaths in Polish slaughterhouses. I imagine a national commission, made up of Muslim leaders, Progressive Jewish leadership, Orthodox rabbinate, philosophers and ethicists, as well as animal behaviorists and farm engineers, working together to design ways to lessen the severity of pain we inflict on livestock as it is reared, handled and killed. 

Once a viable system is designed and a door is opened about kosher (and halal) slaughter, it may be easier to open it for all slaughter. So what I imagine as a solution now is a law that would keep wholesale butchering for export markets outlawed, but would ensure that Polish faith communities that require kosher (or halal) meat are enabled to butcher the chickens, the calves, the cows and the kids whose meat they want to eat. In other words, I want a law that, while keeping the ban on mass killing for foreign markets, would ensure the existence in Poland of slaughterhouses producing meats for local communities and provide for this meat’s fair distribution. 

My current choices don’t really give me a choice. Could the sages of our government work with our rabbis to devise a law that would return to Polish Jews the freedom currently enjoyed, at least potentially, by non-Jewish Poles, of pondering in meat shops the decision of whether to participate, with just a flick of my credit card, the animal hecatomb people have carried on since Noah and the flood, or refusing to do it? For Jews to be able to exercise such a choice, the meat bought or rejected must be kosher meat. 

We are a complex people. We embrace our diversity. Given the freedom to choose, some of us will want to go and butcher that kid that they can buy for two zuzim. Some will let it live. Some will focus on whether the kid can live a life where it is treated with care and regard for its needs, and whether it dies as painless and humane a death as possible. Some will flicker between choices, depending on a myriad of reasons why. Even though I hold with one of these choices only, I respect them all. After all, only the Knower of Secrets, the Holy One of Blessing, knows what lies deep at the root of our choices and how we arrive at our decisions. And it is only when He, the final player in the “Had Gadya” we sing here on Earth, says so, will the world break up the cycle of violence. In the meantime, each Polish Jew should be granted the freedom to choose for herself or himself whether they will or will not become, by virtue of buying their meat or refusing it, the halef — an instrument that transforms life into death.


Dr. Joanna Auron is a new board member of Beit Polska, the Poland-wide Progressive Jewish umbrella organization of Jews affiliated with the European Union for Progressive Judaism and the World Union for Progressive Judaism. She lives and works in Poland.

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

Blending Persian, Jewish cuisine


Chef Louisa Shafia has been crossing culinary borders and bridging gastronomic gaps all her life. Shafia’s father, a Muslim from Iran, and her mother, an Askenazi Jew, raised a family around a very full dinner table laden with traditional Persian dishes right alongside the Jewish ones. Last month, she staged a sold-out pop-up restaurant at Cortez in Echo Park, which, along with the release of her new cookbook, “The New Persian Kitchen,” demonstrated how Shafia has rediscovered her Persian and Jewish roots — to delicious effect. 

“I grew up with a very diverse food background,” Shafia said. “My mom came from an Ashkenazi Jewish background; her repertoire was matzah brei and borscht — traditional Ashkenazi food.” 

Her father brought to their home an array of Persian ingredients and flavors. “Not that he was cooking them himself,” Shafia said. “My mom would cook saffron rice, lamb kabob, yogurt with dill and mint and cucumber. … My mom was a gourmet cook. Her idols were James Beard and Julia Child. At the same time, she was cooking Iranian and Jewish food.”

Shafia returned to her family’s roots to research “The New Persian Kitchen.” Born in Philadelphia and now residing in Brooklyn, N.Y., the 43-year-old Shafia said she came to Los Angeles for the better part of her research for the book, to be with her father’s Persian family. 

“There’s a huge Shafia tribe out here,” she said in an interview, and from them she learned traditional preparation of various dishes, as well as the best places to source Persian ingredients, and cultural protocol for serving the food. She arrived in Los Angeles on New Year’s Eve 2010 to begin her research. 

“Ironically, the only thing that was open that night was Canter’s Deli. So I started out the trip with a big bowl of matzah ball soup.” 

Conducting her research in Los Angeles was a critical part of developing the book, as Los Angeles is a nexus for both Persian and Jewish cuisine. 

Shafia said she found inspiration in places like Elat Market on Pico Boulevard. 

“You can get as many kosher Iranian ingredients as you want! I found my favorite Persian gaz candies there, and I could send them off to my Jewish family who keep kosher,” she said.  

“Reprinted with permission from The New Persian Kitchen, by Louisa Shafia, copyright © 2013. Published by Ten Speed Press, a division of Random House, Inc.” Photo credit: Sara Remington © 2013

This fully cross-cultural experience is indicative of how she approaches her craft as a chef, and her understanding of the food she makes. 

“When I started researching Persian food, it was important that I search out the Jewish contribution. It’s part of my heritage,” she said. 

Iran continues to be home to one of the oldest populations of Jews outside of Israel. Estimates vary on the size of the community in Iran today. It is believed to be between 10,000 and 20,000 — vastly diminished since the 1979 revolution — yet the Jewish population there continues to be one of the largest in the Muslim Middle East. 

“Even though Jews have struggled — like other minority groups since the revolution — there’s so much love and loyalty to the country,” Shafia said. “Their contributions to the cuisine are hard to parse out because Iranian Jews feel like other Iranians. Their food is indistinguishable.”

Almost indistinguishable, that is. With some interesting exceptions. A Persian matzah ball soup calls for chickpea flour and ground chicken to make the matzah balls. There’s sweet and tangy Persian charoset with pomegranate molasses and cardamom, and date-and-walnut-filled cookies for Purim: the Persian hamentashen. 

These are the dishes Shafia remembers from her youth. Her family celebrated Jewish holidays but always with Iranian dishes on the dinner table. 

“We always had my dad’s rice cooked with lentils and dill. Still, to this day, that’s what he makes for Passover, Thanksgiving … every holiday,” she said. 

“My dad was raised Iranian and Muslim, but he wasn’t practicing,” she said, citing this as the reason he ended up marrying her mother, a practicing Jew. Shafia and her sister grew up as Reform Jews, and that cultural identity has manifested in different ways over the generations. “My sister has gone on to have a very full Jewish life. Her children are bar and bat mitzvah,” Shafia said. 

Shafia said she can’t wait to build on the success of the pop-up event at Cortez. For just one night, she took over the restaurant’s kitchen, and with the help of Cortez’s skilled staff and thoughtful approach to sourcing ingredients, presented a unique Persian menu for 60 guests. Shafia is planning similar events for this fall. And with the release of “The New Persian Cookbook,” she’s also auditioned for the Jewish Book Network, an event in New York that helps Jewish authors connect with representatives from Jewish community centers and synagogues nationally for potential book events around the country. 

Shafia said she wants her message to extend beyond just cooking: “I think that food can be a way to embrace differences and find commonality, because it’s something that brings everyone so much joy. Sometimes Jews that have left Iran have felt they’ve been faced with a choice they must leave behind everything they loved about Iran in order to be a good Jew,” she said. “There is a Jewish-Iranian identity, and a wonderful way to embrace it is to appreciate the food.”

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