How I learned to make latkes


 

Chanukah has meant different things to me at different stages of my life. When I was little, it was about nightly presents and making candy dreidels in school, using marshmallows, red vines, Hershey’s Kisses and icing.

As I got older, it was about lighting the chanukiyah with my family and reading the prayers from my father’s prayer book. In college, it was about convening my friends in our dorm to light the Chanukah menorah together, and since then it’s been so meaningful to come home from work, light the chanukiyah in my kitchen and place it in the window of my apartment in view of the street.

This year, though, Chanukah took a different turn. I decided to learn how to cook latkes, the potato pancakes we eat to commemorate how oil, enough for only one day, lasted eight nights following the Maccabee victory.

The best way to learn, I figured, was to visit with Rob Eshman, Journal publisher, editor-in-chief and Foodaism blogger.

Rob is a foodie. He once brought a sugar cane to an editorial meeting and began chopping away at it with a knife so we could all taste fresh sugar. He’s kept goats and chickens in his backyard and grows many of the vegetables, fruits and herbs he cooks with in his garden. He’s genuinely offended when the office orders Domino’s.

Given that I’d never made latkes before, it helped that Rob was prepared. He had all the ingredients ready: the potatoes, an onion, salt, pepper, eggs and oil. There aren’t a lot of ingredients to latkes, Rob explained. The secret to success, he said, is in the technique.

He immediately put me to work peeling potatoes. I cook my own meals most nights, but it turns out there’s plenty left to learn. Like, how to use a potato peeler. Rob’s peels flew off the potato like sparks. Mine took their time. Rob looked over.

“Oh, we’re starting from there,” he said.

After some instruction, I sliced away at the potato skin, then, per his instructions, placed the potato in a bowl of water. Rob explained we keep the potato in water so as to prevent it from turning brown, or oxidizing. That was technique No. 1.

Then came technique No. 2. To make sure the grated potatoes didn’t turn brown, we alternated grating them with an onion. The onion was strong. I cried; Rob did too.

The third technique, Rob said, was crucial. We took handfuls of the potato/onion mixture and squeezed it out into a bowl to remove as much liquid as possible. The more liquid, Rob explained, the soggier the latke — and no one likes a soggy latke.

A white, wet goo settled at the bottom of the drained liquid. This was potato starch, and the basis for technique No. 4. Once the starch settled at the bottom of the bowl, we drained off the liquid, scooped up the starch and mixed it in with the potatoes. That would help bind the latkes and erase the need to add flour or matzo meal, which can make for heavier pancakes.

I cracked a couple of eggs and mixed those in as well, then sprinkled salt and pepper over the batter. Afterward, I poured a generous amount of cooking oil into a pan, spooned the latke batter into the pan and let it fry into latkes.

Latkes frying in oil.

The latkes turned out perfectly. Crisp, light and potato-y. Rob even made a special few using a Middle Eastern strained yogurt called labneh, smoked salmon, and dill fetched from Rob’s garden.

The real test, however, was cooking latkes on my own. A few days later, I went to Ralphs and purchased two potatoes and an onion. I also got a grater and a potato peeler, since I had neither.

At home, I did exactly what I’d learned, following the techniques step by step. Eventually I wound up with about 12 latkes. I ate them with sour cream. They weren’t as good as the ones I’d cooked with Rob, but they were edible. Most importantly, I’d cooked them myself.

Later, my friend Esther came over with applesauce and tried one of my homemade latkes. I explained that the latkes seemed a little dry and didn’t hold together well. Esther asked me if I used eggs. Nope — forgot. Esther made me feel better, pointing out I’d just made vegan, gluten-free latkes.

I plan to cook latkes at my family Chanukah party this year, to put my new skill to use and wow my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and nephew with my culinary abilities. I just hope I remember all the ingredients.

Recipes from Amelia Saltsman: Falling for the flavors of Autumn


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

GREEN OLIVES WITH ZA’ATAR AND CITRUS

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

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

Makes 2 cups.

OVEN-BRAISED ROMANIAN CHICKEN 

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

(meat)

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GVETCH: ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE

Photo by Morgan Lieberman

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

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

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

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

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

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

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

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

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

Makes 8 servings.

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

SEMOLINA AND WALNUT OIL CAKE WITH COFFEE HAWAIJ

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

(pareve)

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

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

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

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

Makes one loaf cake, 12 servings.

ROASTED AUTUMN FRUIT

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(pareve)

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

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

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

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

POMEGRANATE-ORANGE GELÉE 

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(meat)

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

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

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

Makes 8 servings.

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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Deconstructing the latke: A user’s guide


Latkes, doughnuts and fritters — in Jewish homes, everyone’s frying this month, much as we have been for the last 2,000 years or so. Frankly, you’ve got to love a religion that actually encourages you to eat deep-fried foods — especially with sour cream!

All Jewish festivals have a culinary dimension, and Hanukkah (which this year begins at sundown Dec. 16) is no exception. In fact, it’s at the very heart of the event, although it’s the oil that is the important thing. In other words, the frying rather than the fried. Jewish traditions encompass both the sweet and savory, but the Ashkenazi latke is arguably in pole position in the Hanukkah festival food repertoire.

Let me be clear. I am talking dirty. I am not dealing here with “latkes-lite,” baked in the oven rather than fried in the pan. To my mind, the former has lost sight of its meaning and origin in the story of the Maccabees and the miracle of the menorah in the temple. It’s also lost a lot of its taste.

Back in the day, in the Jewish shtetls of Eastern Europe, the run-up to Hanukkah was also the time for fattening poultry — “Hanukkah is coming and the geese are getting fat” — as the old Hyman family saying went. Cooking oil was hard to obtain, and the main source of kosher solid fat for meat cookery came from chickens, ducks and geese. Schmaltz is still a delicious substitute in which to fry your latkes instead of oil, although the health police would say it’s like choosing between a heart attack and, er, a heart attack.

Potatoes, an essential latke ingredient

It should also be remembered that potatoes — that other essential component of the latke — didn’t arrive in Europe until the 16th century, and were not widely cultivated throughout Russia, Poland, Lithuania and the Ukraine until the early to mid-19th century. Once they became a staple, however, Hanukkah in the shtetls was never the same. Potatoes and goose fat were an obvious combination to create a pancake that was quickly fried — and just as quickly consumed. Indeed, the potato latke was probably directly responsible for generations of generous Jewish hips.

Quantity is all very well. Indeed, it is a hallowed Jewish tradition, but we’ve become a little more discriminating since potato first met oil. The designer latke is everywhere. Theoretically, and indeed gastronomically, there is nothing wrong in this. As the essence of the festival is in the oil and the frying, latkes can be made with any vegetable from beetroot to zucchini. However, for traditionalists, the potato will always be at the heart of things. Speaking personally, a latke without the potato is like fancy without the schmancy.

Making latkes is a serious business, responsible for blood, sweat and tears in probably equal proportions. In order to be prepared for the ordeal ahead, I offer this simple (hah!) guide. Study, take Prozac and GO FRY.


Getting ready to make latkes. Photos by Clarissa Hyman

Deconstructing the latke

Variety

You have to have the right potato. They should be floury not waxy.

Peeling or skin on?

This is where the trouble starts. Some leave the skin on, unless the potatoes are particularly coarse. Most insist peeled are best.

Soaking

There are two routes to go: whole-soak or shredded-soak.

With the first, you peel and soak the whole potatoes in cold water for between 30 minutes and 24 hours.

With the second, you grate the potatoes and soak in cold water for at least half an hour, rinsing in a few changes of clean, cold water. Some use lightly salted water for soaking.

Most authorities agree that if you are not going to soak, grating should be done only about 15 minutes before cooking or the potatoes will turn brown.

Grating vs. shredding

In other words, short, stubby bits vs. long, thin bits. Or fine grate vs. coarse grate.

If you go for a fine grate, you have to make sure it does not become a gluey pulp.

One technique is to coarsely shred the potato and onion (we’ll come to the latter, shortly) in a processor, then pulse briefly before adding the eggs (we’ll come to those later as well).

Hand grater vs. processor

In many homes, men were traditionally given the job of grating, while the women hovered over the frying pan — but gender role appropriation aside, the big question is, do you grate by hand or with a food processor.

Some swear that only grating by hand gives the right chunky texture; they also swear a lot when the blood from their knuckles flavors the latke mix.

If using a processor, the issue is the grating disc vs. pulsing. It depends whether you want a crunchy latke or one with a smoother consistency.

One writer uses the medium shredding blade and lays the potatoes horizontally in the feed tube to maximize the length of the strands.

Another of my acquaintances uses the processor to separately grate the potato and onion. She then combines half the potato in the processor with the onion, egg, bindings and seasoning and whirls to combine. She then mixes in the rest of the shredded potatoes.

Onion

To use or not to use, that is the question. This is a subject that can be cited as grounds for divorce.

Some onion users grate it together with the potato, others separately. Some say the onion juice helps the potatoes to stop turning brown.

Some do not grate the onion but cut it into small chunks.

Some finely chop the onion by hand.

Some alternately grate some of the onions on the large holes of the grater and some of the potatoes on the smallest holes.

Some of us start to cry.


Making latkes for Hanukkah.

Straining

We are now getting into advanced territory.

Once the potatoes and onion are ready, then everyone agrees they must be strained but should they be strained separately or together? Does it matter?

And what do you strain them in?

One writer places the potatoes in a colander, sprinkles them with salt, adds a layer of paper towels and tops with a heavy object.

Another lines a bowl with cheesecloth rather than using a colander. She holds this briefly under running water and squeezes it again thoroughly to remove excess moisture.

Many wring the grated potatoes and onions in a tea towel.

One poor soul cuts both the potatoes and onions into small dice, which she then grinds and drains. After adding eggs, seasoning and flour, she then drains again.

A subsection to this stage concerns the starch from the drained potato. You can collect the starch by straining the potato over a bowl, then pour off the liquid, leaving behind the potato starch/sediment. Do you use it or not?

Some swear by it. Others say it makes the latke go soggy. The Vilna Gaon does not pronounce on the issue.

Proportions

Good cooking, as everyone knows, is about balance, which is always difficult in high heels.

Everyone has their own secret formula although one pound of potatoes to one large onion to two large beaten eggs works pretty well. One daring soul has been known to add an extra egg yolk.

Binding

This does not mean tying yourself to the kitchen table. It is a serious issue. One must debate the different merits of matzo meal vs. flour or a half-and-half mixture of both. Plain vs. self-rising flour? And if so, how much?

One authority makes his batter firm enough to scoop up with his hands, so he can pat it into a pancake leaving a few straggly strands along the edge. For others, this is simply too solid a mix.

A minority caucus votes for potato flour: This has the merit of making the latkes more compact, firmer and easier to handle but, honestly, they are just not as lovely to eat.

Other ingredients

Salt and pepper seems straightforward but my mother always insisted on white pepper, and who am I to disagree?

Lemon juice, sugar and caraway seeds have also made an appearance in the kitchens of those who should know better.

Size

Now we’re really getting to the heavy stuff (perhaps that’s not the right word).

How large should a latke be? One or two tablespoon size? Do you flatten with the back of the spoon or a spatula?

Should they be thin or thick, what should be the surface to interior ratio, what about the crispy/creamy ratio?

Generally, the flatter they are, the crispier they will be — although if that’s how you like them, you probably live with someone who prefers thicker ones with a soft interior.


Fried latkes

Oil

It should be olive oil, although not necessarily your best extra virgin. Many people, however, use vegetable oil.

More complicated is the question of whether to deep or shallow fry. If the latter, how deep should the oil be in the pan? Half an inch? Or should the oil just “film” the bottom? Should you use a nonstick pan? Are you losing the will to live?

Temperature

This is crucial. If the temperature of the oil is not hot enough, the latkes go very greasy and stodgy. If the oil is too hot, then the outside burns before the inside is cooked.

Good hints: Preheat the empty pan before adding the oil; bring the raw mixture to room temperature before cooking; listen for the sizzle when the latkes hit the pan; don’t crowd the pan, or they become soggy.

Freezing

Freezing is possible, although purists insist they do lose a little je ne sais quoi. Frozen latkes should be fried from frozen or reheated in a hot oven on a wire rack to allow the hot air to circulate around the entire surface.

The X factor or the returnability factor

Ancient animosities aside, as all latkologists know, the test of a good latke is the returnability factor — are they so good you would return for more?

Conclusion

One batch is never enough. It takes several attempts to get it right — and apart from anything else, you have to keep testing the batch to see if it is up to standard.

But, at the end of the day, how can you ever judge a latke? It’s not just a question of shape, color, texture and taste but of emotional resonance, psychic energy, Jungian dreams and tribal loyalties. Not to mention hunger. Perhaps it’s simply a small miracle — which is why we’re frying now.


Zester Daily contributor Clarissa Hyman is an award-winning food and travel writer. She is twice winner of the prestigious Glenfiddich award among others. A former television producer, she now contributes to a wide range of publications and has written four books: “Cucina Siciliana,” “The Jewish Kitchen,” “The Spanish Kitchen” and “Oranges: A Global History.” She is based in Manchester, England, and is the vice president of the UK Guild of Food Writers.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Oh, it’s (latke) frying time again—but it doesn’t have to be


Gone are the days when the Chanukah holiday meant an eight-day binge fest of all things fried.

The Festival of Lights, which commemorates the Maccabean revolt against the Greeks, has a longstanding tradition of oily foods such as latkes and donuts in remembrance of the miracle of the temple oil, which lasted eight days instead of the expected one. But for some, the holiday has become an excuse to inhale fried potato pancakes and custard-filled pastry.

“People have a misconception of the tradition to fry on Chanukah,” Yosef Silver, the author of the popular blog This American Bite, told JTA. “The concept is to remember the oil, but that doesn’t necessarily mean frying. We’ve gotten so wrapped up with frying, but there are ways to make Chanukah food, like latkes, just using oil.”

These days, with everyone from the first lady on down drawing attention to our widening waistlines, Jewish foodies have plenty of options for consuming traditional holiday fare without packing on the pounds.

Silver was raised on the old way — frying everything. But now he prefers to bake latkes rather than fry them.

“If you prefer to use the traditional potato latke recipe, the best way to make it healthy would be to pan fry it with an oil substitute like Pam,” Silver said. “If you want to incorporate oil, add only a tablespoon and lightly pan-fry it.”

For those who prefer a fried taste, Silver suggests swapping potatoes for healthier vegetables that provide vitamins and nutrition as opposed to starch. 

“My favorite latke variety to make is my variation using rutabaga and turnip,” Silver said. “Rutabaga is a starchy vegetable, but it’s not actually a carb. It gives a similar consistency to potatoes and is delicious.”  

Shaya Klechevsky, a personal chef from Brooklyn who writes the kosher cuisine blog At Your Palate, says there are ways to make healthier donuts, or sufganiyot — also a traditional Chanukah food though one generally more popular in Israel than the United States. But Klechevsky warns about playing too much with recipes. 

“When making the batter, you can use a little bit of whole wheat if you want to veer away from white flour, but you need to be careful because too much whole wheat will turn your donuts into bricks,” Klechevsky said. “You can also substitute sugar with honey.”

Rather than altering the recipe for the dough, Klechevsky says the best way to make healthy donuts is to use healthy fillings, like sugar-free jams, nuts, fruit and granola.

“The best option is to bake donuts rather than fry them,” Klechevsky said. “The taste won't be the same, but it will be close. You can buy little round molds and fill them with batter.”

Erica Lokshin, a wellness dietitian at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York, points out that baked donuts have half the calories and one-third the fat of fried.

“Chanukah foods loaded in oil are high in cholesterol, which can be really bad for your heart, and eating them for eight says straight increases risks,” Lokshin said.

Lokshin says that when serving toppings to go with latkes, reduced-fat sour cream and unsweeted applesauce are the best options. And since no one wants to feel deprived around the holidays, she suggests picking one night to indulge.

“It’s better to designate which night of the holiday you will enjoy latkes and donuts, and stick to your regular eating routine on the other nights,” Lokshin said. “Otherwise, you’re picking at a donut here and a latke there, and over an eight-day period you will probably consume more than you hoped you had and it will throw off your eating routine in the long run.

Below are a couple of healthier latkes recipes.

ROASTED GINGERED CARROT LATKES
(Shaya Klechevsky)

Ingredients:
6 cups coarsely grated peeled carrots
3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
7 teaspoons finely grated peeled fresh ginger
3 large eggs, beaten to blend
Blended olive oil (for frying)

Preparation:
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and spray with olive oil, or take a pastry brush dipped in olive oil and lightly coat the foil. Place grated carrots in a large bowl; press with paper towels to absorb any moisture. In another bowl, combine flours, salt, baking powder and pepper, and blend together. Add carrots, ginger and eggs to the flour mixture and combine. Mixture shouldn’t be too wet or too dry. When forming patties, the mixture should stick to itself and not come apart. If it’s too wet, add a little bit more flour; if it’s too dry, add more beaten egg. Allow to stand for 10-12 minutes for ingredients to absorb into each other. Place patties, about 3 1/2-inch rounds, onto the greased baking sheet. Leave a little room around each one. Place tray into middle rack of oven and roast for 10-12 minutes per side, or until golden brown.

Makes about 15 latkes.


RUTABAGA AND TURNIP LATKE
(Yosef Silver)

Ingredients:
2 rutabaga, shredded
2 turnips, shredded
1 large onion, shredded
1 egg, plus one egg white
1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon of freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Mix all the ingredients, then shape the latkes so they are approximately the size of your palm and about 1/4-inch thick. Grease a cookie sheet with olive oil if you want to keep with tradition, or substitute coconut oil for a lighter alternative. Place the latkes on the cookie sheet with space between them. Once the oven has heated, bake the latkes until golden brown.

Recipe for marijuana cholent


Now that the states of Colorado and Washington have legalized the recreational use and commercial sale of marijuana for its residents 21 years or older, there are all sorts of way to get creative in incorporating the new legal substance with Jewish edibles. Here's a recipe for “Happy Cholent” that one seasoned “cook” shared with the JTA — he guarantees it will uplift your Shabbat spirits.

HAPPY CHOLENT

Ingredients:
3 1/2 grams dried marijuana
1/2 cup olice oil
1 onion
3 cloves fresh garlic
3 potatoes
2 sweet potatoes
1 cup barley
1 can baked beans
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon paprika
3 tablespoons Frank's hot sauce
1/4 cup ketchup
1 piece flanken with bones
2 cups water
 
Preparation:
Heat oil over low flame. Grind marijuana by sprinkling with hand or by using grinder. Add to oil, keep on low flame for 20 minutes or until weed turns light brown. Pour content through sifter, throw out weed residue, and pour oil into bottom of crock pot, put on high high setting. Saute onion into oil, add rest of ingredients, cook on low setting overnight. Serves 8-10; side effects will take 20-30 minutes to kick in if served hot.

A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The kreme de la kreme of kosher kooking mix it up


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bernstein’s creativity was not lost on the judges.

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

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

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

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

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

Simply Manischewitz Cook-Off Western Semifinal Winning Recipes:

Michaela Rosenthal’s Whitefish and Potato Knish

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

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

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

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

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

A healthy hut — lighter side of Sukkot cooking


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Baked spinach-cheese delight

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

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

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

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

Pour into the prepared pan.

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

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

Serve hot or at room temperature.

Makes six servings.

Luscious lemon ice creamam

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

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

Freeze.

Pistachio variation:

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

Makes eight servings.

Not a Minute’s Rest for Min the Dynamo


Here in Tinseltown it can be difficult to find people who help without expecting a moment in the limelight; a “15 minutes” of philanthropic adoration. Good deeds are supposed to be their own reward, and this new Lifecycles feature will profile those unsung senior tzadikim whose continued volunteer efforts impact numerous lives in immeasurable ways. Know someone who should be featured? Contact Associate Editor Adam Wills at adamw@jewishjournal.com.

Minerva “Min” Leonard doesn’t have time for breakfast. She’s too busy shopping for ingredients and preparing a salad bar luncheon for 80 people at Adat Ari El Sisterhood’s weekly Multi-Interest Day. Or making 10 lokshen kugels for her friend’s daughter’s bat mitzvah. Or baking “I can’t even begin to tell you how many” batches of cranberry and chocolate-chip mandelbread to bestow on friends, neighbors and an appreciative Jewish Journal reporter.

At 90, this diminutive North Hollywood resident, who was married to her husband, Phil, for 53 years and who raised three children, is showing scant evidence of slowing down. True, she no longer makes 1,000 latkes from scratch for the synagogue preschool’s Chanukah celebration. But she fries up 500 for the senior citizens group that meets at Valley Cities Jewish Community Center and another 500 to distribute as gifts.

But mostly, as Adat Ari El’s unofficial chef, Leonard devotes chunks out of four weekdays to preparing the sisterhood salad bar, which she has single-handedly assembled for at least a quarter century, getting help only with chauffeuring, because she has never driven.

The lunch features pasta salad, tuna salad (Leonard’s special recipe with sweet relish and grated hard-boiled eggs), green salad, Tostitos and four kinds of cakes, with chocolate and lemon poppy seed in high demand.

Leonard charges $4 per person for the lunch to cover costs. But she shops so conscientiously — personally picking out her peppers, lettuces and tomatoes at a local farmers market and buying her other ingredients at Costco, the 99 Cents Only Store or on sale at Albertsons — that she donates $2,000 back to the sisterhood each year.

Leonard has loved to cook since she was a little girl, helping her mother in the kitchen of a one-bathroom house in Jersey City, N.J., that she shared with 14 extended family members.

“I could clean, pluck and quarter a chicken by the time I was 11,” she explained.

But Leonard’s knowledge extends beyond the kitchen. She received a bachelor of science degree in psychology and education from Long Island University, and only because of a three-year bout with tuberculosis, which struck at age 21, was she deterred from entering dental school.

“I’ve never been sick in bed since,” she said.

She’s also savvy about Judaism. She presented the monthly Jewish education report at sisterhood board meetings for many years, privately published by her friends in a booklet titled, “Min’s Food for Thought,” and studied to become a bat Torah as an adult.

Last February, the Adat Ari El Sisterhood honored Leonard at a luncheon on her 90th birthday. Even then, she insisted on preparing 50 pounds of pickled herring and 10 kugels for the event.

“She’s the most giving person you could ever find,” said Marsha Fink, a friend and sisterhood past president.

At home, where she lives alone, Leonard does all her own housework and laundry. “I hate ironing,” she admitted but feels fortunate that she doesn’t have to heat up flatirons and mix her own starch, as her mother did. She also colors and cuts her own hair.

When she’s not cooking or cleaning, preparing lunch for her monthly havurah meeting of “nine old ladies” or serving as “Jewish grandmother” to neighborhood children, Leonard listens to the radio or books on tape, currently enjoying “Tears of the Giraffe” by Alexander McCall Smith. But while she’s listening, she’s also twisting swatches of fabric into “yo-yo squares” to fashion into a quilt.

“Resting is not for me,” Leonard said. Not even in what she calls her “wonderful old age.”

Min’s Noodle Kugel (Dairy)

From “California Kosher” (Wimmer Cookbooks, 1991)

8 ounces wide noodles
4 ounces butter or margarine
6 eggs
1 cup sour cream
1 cup cottage cheese
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup milk
1/2 cup golden raisins, optional
1/2 pound dried apricots, optional

Topping:

1 cup cornflake crumbs
1 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup butter or margarine, melted

Cook noodles in boiling salted water until tender. Drain and add butter. Set aside. Beat together eggs, sour cream, cottage cheese, sugar and milk. Add raisins or apricots or both. Add mixture to noodles. Pour into buttered 8-by-12-inch baking dish. Mix together topping ingredients and sprinkle over kugel. Bake at 350 F. for one hour.

Makes 10-12 servings.

 

Bar/Bat Mitzvah – B’nai Mitzvah Menu Dishes Up Bonuses


With the flurry that surrounds a b’nai mitzvah celebration, we often lose sight that this day — this passage from childhood to adulthood — will be one of the most meaningful memories of his or her life.

The memories will not be of the buffet table that boasted an ice sculpture replicating a Torah or a humungous Jewish Star comprised entirely of chopped liver. And the noisy dance floor crowded with unfamiliar gussied-up guests will become a blur lost to time.

What we want a bar or bat mitzvah to remember most is the outpouring of love from those who watched as the child read from the Torah and listened to the positive intentions he or she outlined for their life. And most of all, we want a child to re-live the sense of accomplishment that results from this achievement.

Then why do we feel compelled to host a no-holds-barred celebration that, to quote Rabbi Gil Marks, “is often all bar and no mitzvah?”

To challenge this trend of pleasing business acquaintances and long-lost cousins, rather than honoring the bar or bat mitzvah, many parents are planning the Saturday night party with, rather than for, their child, so that it is more personal, more creative and more reflective of what will make him or her the happiest.

Whether the child wants a noisy bash with a DJ at the synagogue, a make-their-own-pizza party in the family room or a casual beach party roasting kosher dogs and burgers with friends, let it be filled with an abundance of amusement but a fraction of the flash.

But for the Oneg Shabbat, give your child the unique experience of creating a unique menu built around favorite foods. A few rules: no burgers, no kosher dogs, no pizza — and no deli.

Otherwise, the sky’s the limit. But, because I am the proverbial Jewish mother, here’s one very delicious suggestion: What child doesn’t covet lamb chops?

If you’re worried that lamb chops for a crowd of hungry b’nai mitzvah-goers might get expensive, consider sandwiches of boned, butterflied and marinated leg of lamb, sliced thin and then piled between pieces of rosemary or olive bread spread with Dijon mustard and accompanied by arugula.

Choose a variety of his favorite salads, some cold asparagus sticks and, for dessert, strawberry tarts.

For colorful, healthful side dishes, let your child select favorite cut-up vegetables among carrots, celery, jicima sticks, tricolored bell peppers, mushrooms, cucumbers, baby corn, broccoli and cauliflower. To accentuate their flavor, offer dressings of Thousand Island and vinaigrette and dips of olive tapenade, hummus or baba ganoush.

For a sweet life, set out platters of fresh fruit — sliced melons, pineapple, kiwi, papaya, mango and bowls of berries. And include a favorite after-school treat of sliced apples, pears and bananas with peanut butter and honey.

With your child, test the proposed recipes — from salads to dessert. Then when you’re both pleased, type up the recipes and invite your friends to play a special role in the Oneg Shabbat.

You are role-modeling friendship, generosity and a sense of community — qualities better shown than spoken. As a bonus, you are strengthening bonds, proving the paradigm, “It does take a village to raise a child.”

Given the opportunity — and a little guidance — your child can experience yet another accomplishment. Let your bar or bat mitzvah take the first step into adulthood with a healthy, delicious menu that has been specially created for his or her guests.

Baby Greens With Pansies and Blood Orange Vinaigrette

Edible flowers are grown specifically with no pesticide or dangerous chemicals. Be sure to use only flowers cultivated in this way.

Vinaigrette

1 1/2 cups freshly squeezed blood-red orange juice
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, red wine vinegar
1/3 cup, plus 2 teaspoons, cold water
1/3 cup dry mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper to taste
1 1/2 cups nut oil (hazelnut, walnut or pecan)
3/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon orange zest

Place all ingredients, except oils and zest, in blender. Blend for 30 seconds. Remove mixture, stir in oils and zest, whisk to form a smooth emulsion.

Salad

3 pounds field lettuce or baby greens
3/4 cup fresh mint, torn into bite-sized pieces
3/4 cup fresh basil, torn into bite-sized pieces
1 1/2 cup pansies or other edible flowers
3/4 cup toasted sunflower seeds
1 1/2 cups croutons (optional)

Place greens, mint, basil, sunflower seeds and croutons, if desired, in bowl; toss with dressing and sprinkle with pansies.

Makes 24 servings.

Butterfly of Lamb Sandwiches on Rosemary Bread

Remove all sinews and visible fat from lamb. Place lamb and marinade in large Ziploc bag. Let sit for at least four hours or overnight.

Let meat come to room temperature before grilling. Place lamb on grill about six inches from coals. Cover grill, let lamb cook for 15 minutes. Turn lamb over, cook until desired degree of doneness. The internal temperature should read 140 F to 145 F.

Remove to carving board. Cover with foil; let rest for five minutes before carving.

Marinade

3/4 cup sherry or Madeira
2 1/4 cups orange juice
3 tablespoons soy sauce
2 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons fresh ginger, grated
12 cloves garlic, finely chopped or more to taste
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
12 pounds leg of lamb, boned and butterflied

Combine marinade ingredients and pour into saucepan. Heat on low flame until flavors are thoroughly blended, about 45 seconds. Allow marinade to cool.

Rosemary Bread

2 packages dry yeast
2 cups tepid water (90 F)
2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
5 1/2 cups unbleached white flour
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/4 cup olive oil
1 tablespoon rosemary needles
1 tablespoon kosher salt

In electric mixer bowl, dissolve yeast in water until it starts to work.

Add sugar, oils, salt, three cups flour; process for 10 minutes on medium speed, until dough leaves sides of bowl. Using either bread hook or your hands, knead in remaining flour until dough is smooth. Allow it to double in size and then punch it down. Divide in half and roll out each section to half-inch thick.

Combine garlic and olive oil; paint top of dough generously. Sprinkle on rosemary and salt. Roll into a jelly roll, pinching down sides. Put into two greased loaf pans. Let them rise until they double in size. Bake at 375 F for 40 minutes. When it’s sliced, it should look a pinwheel.

Makes two loaves.

Sandwich Garnish Suggestions:

2 cups arugula, well washed and dried
Fresh mint, chopped fine
Thinly sliced red or yellow tomatoes
Thinly sliced Bermuda or other sweet onions
Thinly sliced cucumbers
1 quart mayonnaise
1 pint Dijon mustard
Mango chutney
Horseradish
Mint jelly

To make sandwiches, slice bread thin and pile it artistically on a platter. Provide bowls of mayonnaise mustard, mustard, horseradish, chutney, chopped mint, mint jelly and platters of cucumbers, sweet onions, tomatoes and arugula.

Guests will be creative with which spreads they choose and which vegetables they select to accessorize their sandwiches. You or your child can demonstrate ideas of delicious combinations, such as: Spread lightly with mayonnaise and Dijon mustard. Place a piece of arugula, lamb a few garnishes and then another piece of arugula.

Makes 24 servings.

Crisp Asparagus Sticks

Spring asparagus is so tasty it needs little accompaniment.

3 pounds baby asparagus, with spears peeled and tough ends trimmed
1 1/2 cups lemon juice
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste (optional)
3 tablespoons olive oil (optional)

Fill a large skillet with salted water to within an inch of the top. Bring to boil; add asparagus. Simmer uncovered four to five minutes until firm tender. Pierce with point of paring knife to determine doneness. Plunge immediately into ice water to stop cooking.

Dry on paper towel; toss with lemon juice, salt, pepper and olive oil, if desired. Keep at room temperature until ready to use. It will stay fresh for several hours.

Makes 24 servings.

Strawberry Brown Butter Tartlettes

Adapted from “The World of Jewish Entertaining” by Gil Marks (Simon & Schuster, 1998).

Shell (Pate Sablée)

2 1/4 cups (4 1/2 sticks) margarine, softened
1 cup sugar
3 large eggs or 6 egg yolks
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
6 cups all-purpose flour
Ice water as needed

Filling

6 eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
12 tablespoons flour
12 ounces margarine

Strawberries

6 pints strawberries, stemmed but left whole

Glaze

3/4 cup currant jelly
3 tablespoons sugar

Garnish, Optional

3 cups mint sprigs, stem removed

To make the pastry: Beat margarine and sugar until smooth and creamy. Add egg and salt.

Gradually blend in the flour. (The dough should have the consistency of a sugar cookie. If it is too stiff, add a little ice water.) Form the dough into a ball and flatten into a disk. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to one week.

On a lightly floured piece of wax paper, roll out the dough to a one-eighth-inch thick round about two inches larger than an 11-inch round tart pan.

Fit dough into tart pan and run a rolling pin over top to trim edges. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour. (The shell can be refrigerated for up to four days or frozen for up to three months.)

Preheat oven to 375 F. Line bottom and sides of shell with aluminum foil, shiny side down, and fill with pie weights, pressing against the sides. Bake until pastry is set, about 10 minutes.

Remove weights and foil and bake until pastry is lightly browned, about 10 minutes more. Let cool on a rack. (The tart shell can be prepared a day ahead, covered, and stored at room temperature.)

For filling: Mix together eggs, sugar and flour in bowl. In saucepan, brown butter, stirring with whisk until golden and smells nutty (do not burn). Whisk into flour mixture. Spoon into tart pans; smooth it over. Decorate tart with strawberries in circular pattern. Top with glaze.

For glaze: Place jelly and sugar in saucepan. Cook on high heat stirring with wire whisk until jelly breaks down and turns into syrup, about two minutes. While glaze is still warm, paint strawberries with soft-bristled pastry brush. Garnish with fresh mint, if desired.

Makes three 11-inch tarts.

 

Shopping for Jews? Clean Up on Aisle 5


Anyone who walked into Albertsons in Los Altos on a recent Sunday would have run right into Margie Pomerantz’s Passover table.

There she sat, next to the kosher food display right inside the supermarket’s front entrance. A big handwritten sign reading “Passover in the Aisles” hung down from her table, on which lay piles of Passover recipe books, haggadahs and other holiday resources.

Pomerantz and her fellow volunteers from Congregation Beth David, a nearby Conservative synagogue, were out looking for Jews. In a supermarket. Unaffiliated Jews, if possible, but they weren’t being picky.

They handed out information and collected names. Someone from the synagogue will call later with an invitation to a Shabbat service or other Jewish program.

Scenes like this, with a nonaggressive method of doing outreach, are being repeated across the United States this week and next, in dozens of communities.

It’s all part of Passover in the Aisles, an initiative conceived of by the Jewish Outreach Institute (JOI).

Some Jewish groups have been doing this kind of outreach for a decade or more, but the biggest push seems to have come in the past three to five years.

It is based on the idea of “public space Judaism” — taking programs out to where people are instead of waiting for them to walk into a synagogue or JCC.

“If we wait for people to come to programs within the four walls of our communal institutions, we’ll be waiting a long time,” says Rabbi Kerry Olitzky, executive director of the JOI, which provides guidance for such programs.

Passover is a particularly good time for this kind of outreach, Olitzky says, both because it is one of the most widely celebrated holidays among all Jews, even the unaffiliated, and because it requires people to go to the grocery store to buy matzah and other Passover products.

Olitzky says his outreach model has a lot in common with Chabad’s street outreach, which he admires. But he says, what “makes ours different is we are less intrusive, less discriminating. We don’t ask, are you Jewish?”

“It’s important that Judaism be shared passionately in public spaces,” Olitzky says. “That’s what Chabad does, and that’s what we do.”

Beth David’s assistant rabbi, Aaron Schonbrun, went to a JOI conference last year and says he was astounded at the concept of liberal Jews doing this kind of outreach. It wasn’t what he learned in rabbinical seminary.

“We learned at the conference that you can’t expect people to just write that check to the federation, especially not my generation,” the 29-year-old rabbi says. “We talked about how to engage Jews in Judaism, not Reform or Conservative or Orthodox, but Judaism.”

This is the second year Beth David has done Passover in the Aisles. By 3 p.m. on Sunday, after three hours in the store, there are just nine cards filled out at the Los Altos Albertsons, an hour south of San Francisco. But the volunteers have talked to dozens of shoppers.

One young woman who filled out a card was Galit Azulay, newly arrived from Israel with her husband, who is studying for his doctorate in the area.

“We’re here to buy food for the seder,” she says, adding that the couple aren’t affiliated and don’t plan to be.

She didn’t pick up any of the information, but entered the raffle for a seder plate.

Carol Greenberg also stopped by the table. A member of a local Reform congregation, she congratulated the Beth David volunteers on their outreach efforts. “I’m so excited to see you here,” she exclaims. Greenberg picked up a copy of their recipe book.

“I find that congregations’ recipes are much better than books,” she says. She also took one of the children’s haggadahs, which she plans to give to her newborn niece. “It’ll be a nice gift from her aunt, her first haggadah.”

Store manager Aide Garcia says she couldn’t be happier to host the event. “It increases our business a lot,” she confides. “It’s a way to promote our kosher food.”

The JCC in Columbus, Ohio did its first Passover outreach in a Wild Oats supermarket in 2003. They chose a new neighborhood in the northwest part of the city, an area where young, professional Jews have been moving, to improve their chances of reaching the unaffiliated.

“In the core community, we have an affiliation rate of 90 percent, versus 20 percent in the northwest, where most of the growth is happening,” says Lindsay Folkerth, outreach director for the JCC’s J-Link project. J-Link is a community outreach program created two years ago by the local federation following a demographic study of the Columbus Jewish community by JOI.

Seattle Rabbi Dov Gartenberg says his congregants “thought it was a little strange” when he set up a Passover outreach table in a local supermarket more than 10 years ago. That was before he heard about the JOI program.

He now runs food booths at a Whole Foods store before Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and has teamed up with a popular local chef to offer tastes of Jewish holiday foods. This month they’re offering a different charoset each week, along with recipes.

Gartenberg uses the tastings as a teaching opportunity. “As they taste, I say, this is what this food symbolizes, and it becomes a basis for conversation.”

 

PASSOVER FOOD: Treats to Leaven Desire for Dessert


Passover desserts are a challenge to the cook because so many ingredients are forbidden, among them flour, grain, cornstarch, baking powder or baking soda. So we substitute matzah meal, potato starch and versatile fresh egg whites to bake all of those traditional favorites — and lots of new ones, too.

The good news is that it is not difficult — all of these carefully tested delicacies are fairly simple to prepare and will be a welcome addition to your seder dinner, as well as for family meals during Passover.

For all the chocolate lovers, the food processor Cocoa-Pecan Cookies will become a favorite. Just prepare the dough and have the children or grandchildren help by dropping them by the spoonful onto the baking sheets. The batter can be kept in the refrigerator and a fresh batch of cookies can be baked each day.

Something new for the holiday, use the charoset ingredients to make a Passover Fruit Cake filled with nuts and dried fruit that offers a tasty and a crunchy treat. It is similar to the Italian delicacy known as Panforte that originated in Sienna. The mixture is tossed together in a large bowl, spooned into parchment-lined baking pans, and baked for an hour and a half. The good news is that these loaves will easily keep for the eight days of the holiday.

During Passover last year we were invited to the home of Alice and Nahum Lainer, who love to entertain. Alice served a delicious Apricot Torte, and I persuaded her to share her recipe for this wonderful pastry. Because some Jewish households do not use matzah meal or cake meal, the combination of egg whites, apricot puree, spices and a topping of apricot jam make an ideal dessert. It is the perfect after-dinner pastry to serve your guests, accompanied by a glass of sweet wine or hot tea.

For another sweet treat, pass a plate of Rocky Road Clusters, everyone’s favorite. They are made with only three ingredients, chocolate, marshmallows and pecans. Simply melt the chocolate, add marshmallows and nuts, and fill small paper cups with the mixture. This is another great project to do with the children.

Bring a platter of the Cocoa Pecan Cookies or Rocky Road Clusters as an edible gift to share with friends and family at the Passover seder meal.

Alice’s Apricot Torte

1 1/2 cups blanched whole almonds, plus 1/4 cup sliced for garnish
1/4 cup melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine for pan (one-quarter)
1 cup sugar, plus more for pan
1 1/2 cups diced dried apricots
Zest and juice of 1 small lemon
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
8 large eggs, separated
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup apricot jam
Passover powdered sugar (recipe follows, optional)

Preheat the oven to 325 F. Place whole nuts in a single layer on a foil-lined baking sheet and sliced nuts in a single layer on another baking sheet. Toast nuts until golden and aromatic, five to eight minutes. Shake the pans halfway through toasting to make sure nuts brown evenly. Set aside to cool.

Brush a 10-inch spring form pan with melted butter or margarine, sprinkle with sugar and tap out excess. Set aside.

Place 1/4 cup sugar, whole almonds and apricots in the bowl of a food processor; process until finely chopped, one to two minutes. Add lemon zest, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves and pulse to blend. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, whisk egg yolks and 1/2 cup of the sugar on high speed until light and fluffy. Transfer to a large bowl. Set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the whisk attachment, beat egg whites with salt and lemon juice until frothy. Slowly add 1/4 cup sugar, and continue whisking until peaks are stiff but not dry. Fold beaten whites into egg yolks. Add apricot and almond mixture, and fold in until just combined. Pour batter into prepared pan, and bake for about 50 to 60 minutes, until golden brown and a wooden pick inserted into the middle of the cake comes out clean. If necessary, cover torte lightly with foil to avoid burning. Transfer to a wire rack to cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the torte, and release from pan. Allow to cool completely on wire rack.

Place apricot jam in a small saucepan over medium heat, and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, and strain. Brush onto cooked torte. Sprinkle with sliced almonds and powdered sugar.

Makes one 10-inch torte.

Passover Powdered Sugar

1 tablespoon Passover potato starch
1 cup sugar

In the bowl of a food processor, combine potato starch and sugar. Process until very powdery and resembles powdered sugar, about two minutes. Let sugar settle for about one minute before removing processor cover.

Makes about 1 cup.

Passover Fruit Cake

2 tablespoons melted unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
2 cups pitted dates, thinly sliced
2 cups dried apricots, quartered
1 cup golden raisins
1 1/2 cups toasted whole almonds
1 1/2 cups toasted walnuts pieces
3/4 cup coarsely chopped semi-sweet chocolate, optional
3/4 cup matzah cake meal
1 tablespoon potato starch
3/4 cup sugar
3 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla or orange juice

Heat the oven to 300 F. Brush one (5-by-9 inch) loaf pan or two (3-by-7 inch) loaf pans with melted unsalted butter or non-dairy margarine and line with parchment paper.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the dates, apricots, raisins, almonds, walnuts and chocolate, if using. Combine the matzah cake meal, potato starch and sugar and mix well. Add to fruit mixture and mix evenly. Beat eggs and vanilla to blend. Using a rubber spatula or hands, stir into fruit mixture until well blended. Spoon batter into prepared loaf pan and spread evenly, press into corners of pan.

Bake until golden brown, about 1 1/2 hours. Cool in pan on rack for 10 minutes, then turn out of pan. Peel off paper and let cool on rack.

Wrap in plastic wrap and foil. Chill at least one day or up to two months. To serve, place cake on a wooden board, and using a sharp knife, cut in thin slices.

Cocoa-Pecan Cookies

1 1/2 cups toasted chopped pecans
2 cups sugar
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
1/4 cup matzah cake meal
1/4 cup potato starch
5 large egg whites
1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup chopped semisweet chocolate

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.

Combine pecans, 1 1/2 cups of sugar, cocoa powder, matzah cake meal and potato starch in a food processor and pulse on and off until nuts are finely grated. Add 1/2 cup of egg whites and pulse to blend.

Transfer batter to a large bowl and stir in the nuts and chocolate. In a separate bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer, beat the remaining egg whites until soft peaks form, add the remaining sugar and beat until a stiff meringue forms. Using a rubber spatula, mix half of the meringue into the pecan/chocolate mixture and then fold in the remaining meringue.

Drop batter by well-rounded teaspoonfuls onto prepared cookie sheets, leaving 1 inch between cookies.

Bake for eight minutes. Cookies should be dull, but very soft. If not dull, bake for one more minute. Transfer parchment to a rack to cool, before removing.

Makes about two- or three-dozen cookies.

Rocky Road Clusters

1 cup toasted pecans, coarsely chopped
1 cup miniature marshmallows or large marshmallows cut in quarters
1/2 pound semisweet chocolate, melted

Place small paper candy cups on top of a large tray and set aside.

In a large bowl, toss pecans and marshmallows together. Add melted chocolate and mix well. Spoon chocolate mixture into the candy cups and refrigerate for several hours until firm. Store in refrigerator.

Makes about 24.

 

Holiday Celebration of Arts and Eats


The year-to-year tradition of celebrating Chanukah doesn’t change at our home. It always includes lighting candles, playing dreidel, eating latkes and having the children open gifts. But, the highlight of Chanukah for me is having all of our family together at the same time. It is one of the few holidays when our children and grandchildren arrive from everywhere, so we can celebrate and spend time with each other.

But, for the past 15 years, the festivities have included our special friends, artist Peter Shire and his wife, Donna. It all began when we invited Peter to visit the Skirball Museum, which was then located on the campus of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, next to USC. We toured the collection of Judaica in the basement of the museum, and when Peter saw the menorahs, he was intrigued by their design and how the artists had adapted the local culture and architecture into their creations.

Several days later we called Peter and asked if he would be interested in a commission to create a chanukiah for our family, and he was delighted with the idea. He combined contemporary shapes, cactus, the local mountains, and included many colorful symbols that depicted a Southern California theme.

Peter’s chanukiah has a permanent place in our art collection, and is similar to the one that he later created for the Israel Museum and the Skirball. He recently designed several more, some contemporary, with simple architecture elements, others made in the shape of birds or plants.

During the holiday, Peter always lights the candles on his California-inspired Chanukiah at our home. After they are lit, it is time to eat the first batch of crisp and hot latkes, which have been fried in olive oil to commemorate the story of the one-day supply of oil that burned for eight days. I still remember the family Chanukah celebrations from when I was young, consisting of our extended family of uncles, aunts and cousins. This was a special time when everyone eagerly awaited the latkes, and later all commented on who had eaten the most.

Of course, while the latkes are served, the children are looking over the wrapped Chanukah gifts, eager to open them, but they have to wait until after dinner when we return to the living room.

The Chanukah meal this year begins with a salad composed of chopped chicken livers, placed on a bed of baby greens and garnished with pomegranate seeds. The main course, ground chicken loaf, everyone’s favorite comfort food, is baked in a tomato-wine sauce and served with homemade cooked apple slices.

For dessert we have a cookie exchange and ask everyone to bring his or her favorite ones to go with the Chocolate Sorbet that I have made. This supersmooth sorbet, made without milk, cream, or eggs, tastes as rich and creamy as ice cream, and I think the addition of Concord grape wine really enhances the sorbet’s intense chocolate flavor. At the end of the evening there are always bags of cookies for the children to take home as a Chanukah treat.

Award-Winning Perfect Potato Latkes

This latke recipe was chosen as one of the top 10 recipes of 1998 by the Los Angeles Times. “The best we’ve ever eaten,” said their test kitchen and food editors.

4 baking potatoes, peeled

1 large yellow onion, peeled and grated

1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

4 extra-large eggs

3 tablespoons unbleached all-purpose flour

Pinch of baking soda

1 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Olive oil, for frying

Grate the potatoes, using a food processor or fine shredder. Immediately transfer the potatoes to a large bowl and add the onion, lemon juice, eggs, flour, baking soda and salt and pepper. Mix well.

Heat 1/8-inch of oil in a nonstick skillet over medium heat. Pour the batter into the hot oil with a large spoon and flatten with the back of the spoon to make 4-inch latkes. Cook on one side until golden brown, three to five minutes; then turn and cook on the other side, about two minutes. (Turn once only.) Drain well on paper towels and serve immediately, plain or with topping.

Makes 12 latkes/four servings.

Chocolate Sorbet (nondairy)

3 cups unsweetened cocoa powder

2 cups sugar

12 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted

1 cup Concord grape Wine

Combine the cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add 4 cups of water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with a wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil and boil for five to 10 minutes, or until thick. Stir in the melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil and simmer for about four minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place in a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Mix until cool. Remove bowl from ice. 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 one hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving.

Makes about two quarts.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Nathan Takes a Bite Out of Boring Fare


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But it’s not only that.

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

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

 

Paint Colorful Table With Italian Dishes


While Crostini di Spuma di Tonno, Zuppa di Pesce Passato, Dolce di Tagliatelle might not sound like Jewish food, Italian Jews have long enjoyed these dishes.

Joyce Goldstein made her first trip to Italy in 1957 and instantly became what she calls a “fanatic Italophile.” The former chef-owner of San Francisco’s Square One and daughter of Russian immigrants, Goldstein threw herself into Italian art, architecture, language, culture and food.

Out of her travels and study came “Cucina Ebraica: Flavors of the Italian Jewish Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, $19.95). Newly released in paperback, the book is a beautifully photographed homage to a cuisine that dates back to Roman times.

It’s not exactly the first place you’d think to look for a Rosh Hashanah menu. But the Jews of Italy can trace their roots to the second century B.C.E., making it one of the oldest Jewish communities in the world, Goldstein said.

As in every corner of the Diaspora, Jewish cooks throughout the ages have used their creativity to wed regional cuisine to the laws of kashrut. Sometimes a clue lies in what is missing — no besciamella (cream) sauce or cheese on meat, for instance. The names of recipes may contain a tell-tale ending, “alla Guidia” or “alla Mosaica,” denoting “Jewish style,” “per Sabato” for Sabbath dishes or “per Pesach.”

“These are very regional Italian recipes,” Goldstein said, “and often you can tell just by looking at them where the Jews lived. Sometimes what makes these recipes Jewish is the name, like Scaloppini di Tacchino Rebecca or Minestra di Esau, but a lot of times you can’t tell, unless you see margarine or oil where they might have used butter.”

While the book is thoroughly researched, Goldstein never sacrifices flavor for authenticity. Where she finds a recipe bland, she adjusts the seasoning. “Our palates today are not used to things simple and good; they’re a little more stimulated. We’re used to eating all kinds of food here, so the ante is up and we want a little bit more flavor.”

She also admits to adjusting cooking times, as many of the oldest recipes were overcooked by today’s standards. “These are people who lived without ovens. They brought things to the baker to be cooked and picked up later, and some things were cooked a very long time. Vegetables — in those days you never got a crunch in your life,” she said.

Trained and educated as an artist, in Goldstein’s capable hands food and art blend. “When you cook you are organizing flavors and appearance, colors, smells, tastes. To me that’s like organizing a canvas when you’re painting, like the composition, choice of textures and colors. With art you don’t have smell and taste, so maybe food has an advantage, although art lasts and food gets eaten up. But both make use of creative energy.”

She is equally passionate about using locally grown ingredients. “The raw materials of the region are fabulous: Italian eggs with red yolks; flavorful, fresh chickens; vegetables that are picked one minute and served the next. Italians are totally driven by the quality of their ingredients; whereas if I go to the supermarket, when was it picked? When was it put out? When did I cook it? Three days maybe have lapsed, and it’s not as flavorful.”

Many of the ingredients traditionally used in Italian cuisine — tomatoes, peppers, potatoes, corn, pumpkin — were New World foods brought by the explorers to Spain and Portugal, where Jews, relegated to making their livelihood in trade and import, introduced them to the community at large. They were then transplanted to Italy by Sephardim who found refuge there during the Inquisition.

For Rosh Hashanah, try Stufadin di Zuca Zala (Braised Meat with Butternut Squash), reminiscent of Ashkenazic tzimmes. And no wonder. Many Ashkenazim immigrated to the Veneto, where this Venetian stew became popular. Here squash and Marsala add a touch of sweetness, bringing a wish for a sweet new year to your Rosh Hashanah table.

Traditionally for the holiday new fruits are served, and it is customary in Italy to poach quinces both for Rosh Hashanah and to break the fast for Yom Kippur. With an infusion of cloves and cinnamon, Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe (Quince in Syrup) brings a sweet, aromatic finale to your holiday feast.

Stufadin di Zuca Zala

(Braised Meat With Butternut Squash)

4 tablespoons olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tablespoon chopped fresh rosemary

2 pounds cubed veal for stew

Salt to taste

1 cup Marsala or other sweet wine

1 butternut squash, about 1 pound, halved, seeds and fibers removed, peeled, cut into 1/2-inch cubes, and parboiled in salted water for 5 minutes

1 1/2 cups meat or chicken broth, or as needed

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Warm two tablespoons of the olive oil in a sauté pan over low heat. Add onions, garlic, and rosemary and sauté until tender and translucent, about eight minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

Warm the remaining two tablespoons olive oil in a heavy pot over high heat. Add meat and brown well on all sides, sprinkling with a little salt after it has browned. Add wine and let it bubble up. Add sautéed onions, butternut squash, and broth to cover and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to low, and simmer gently until meat is tender and squash has formed a puree, one to one-and-a-quarter hours. Season with salt and pepper before serving.

Variation: You can use three-quarters of a pound carrots, peeled and grated, in place of the squash.

Makes four to six servings.

Mele Cotogne in Giulebbe

(Quince in Syrup)

2 pounds quinces

2 cups sugar

1 cup water, or as needed

2 whole cloves

2 cinnamon sticks

In a large saucepan, combine quinces with water to cover. Bring to a boil over high heat and cook, uncovered, until barely tender, 10 to 15 minutes. Drain quinces and when cool enough to handle, peel, halve, core, and cut into slices.

In a saucepan large enough to accommodate the sliced quinces, combine sugar, 1 cup water, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Place over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring to dissolve sugar. Add quinces and additional water if needed to cover. Simmer five minutes. Then over the course of 12 hours, bring quince slices to a boil in the syrup three times, boiling them for five minutes each time. This helps to bring up the rich red color of the fruit and allows them to absorb the syrup over time.

Transfer to a serving dish and refrigerate. Serve chilled.

Makes six servings.

Judy Bart Kancigor, the author of “Melting Pot Memories” (Jan Bart Publications, $19.95), can be found on the Web at

Let Your Tasteless Chicken Go


 

For many years, my daughter and I were lucky to be invited out for Passover. Besides joining a big group of people, and sampling a variety of Passover foods, I relished the added benefit of not having to plan, shop and cook for the daunting seder (first and second night) meals. Unfortunately, this also meant no leftovers, no matzah kugel in the refrigerator, no beef and vegetable tzimmes to reheat in the microwave or even charoset to sweeten the lone box of matzah sitting on my kitchen counter.

My daughter was just fine with this arrangement — except for matzah ball soup, she is not a fan of Passover fare. One year, she unintentionally lost weight by avoiding all matzah-related dishes, and living off hard-boiled eggs, fruit and cheese.

So, this year I asked myself how I could create a midweek Passover meal she would enjoy, but I could prepare easily with ingredients on hand, still keeping all bread, pasta and pizza out of sight for the required eight days.

The four questions in the haggadah, intended for the youngest person present to read aloud, begins with: “Why is this night different from all other nights?” and continues with, “On all other nights we eat either leavened bread or unleavened (matzah); on this night why only unleavened bread?” And, “On all other nights we eat herbs of any kind; why on this night only bitter herbs?” These questions, posed by children but listened to by all, bring into focus the Passover food rituals and their significance.

Somehow, these not-so-easy changes in diet are meant to convey a story — of Jewish slavery in Egypt, of the bitter trials of oppression, the unleavened bread eaten by the Jews as they hurriedly fled their oppressors, and, finally, of the fruitful and brave adaptations leading toward freedom.

For my growing daughter and I, a delicious, moist, homemade chicken meal would be different from all other nights. Because on all other nights of the year, we buy our chicken—fried, roasted or baked—from the store. On all other nights, unless immersed quickly and safely into soup, my chicken ends up dry, undercooked, overcooked or tasteless.

Determined to prepare this simple Passover meal, all I needed to buy was potato starch to replace corn thickeners. The menu: Moist Baked Chicken, New Red Potatoes, Creamed Spinach and a One-Apple Charoset.

When I began the chicken recipe, I was filled with images of past failures and anxious about wasting pounds of poultry, let alone my time. But when we sat down to our colorful meal — with orange carrots, green spinach and seasoned red potatoes surrounding truly tasty chicken — watching my daughter eat two hearty portions made all my trepidation worthwhile. I even started talking about other scary chicken dishes I might attempt.

Like the Passover haggadah emphasizes, important changes do not come about without sacrifice, and often they begin by asking a question.

Moist Baked Chicken With New Potatoes
These are the chicken parts I had in the house, but you can use all legs or breast sections, whatever you prefer. The simple ingredients will deeply flavor and moisten each bite, and it is impossible to mess up.

2 1/4 pounds chicken legs (approximately three chickens)
1 1/2 pounds skinless, boneless thighs
1/4 cup margarine
7 gloves garlic, cut in half
8 new red potatoes, washed, cut in half
8 baby carrots, washed
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika

Preheat oven to 425 F.
In large roasting pan, melt margarine. Scatter garlic and carrots in melted margarine. Arrange chicken, skin side down, and potatoes skin side up, in roasting pan. Sprinkle, salt, pepper and paprika evenly over chicken and potatoes.
Bake 30 minutes. Turn the chicken and baste before baking 15-20 minutes more, or until chicken is fork tender.
Serves eight.

Creamed Spinach
I am not a fan of creamed vegetables. But for Passover, I found a version of this recipe in an old synagogue cookbook and decided a little creaminess during a holiday minus soft bread is a good thing.

1 pound chopped, frozen spinach, thawed
1 1/2 tablespoons margarine
1 glove garlic
1/2 small onion, minced
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon pepper
1/2 cup soy milk
1 tablespoon potato starch

In a medium saucepan, sauté onion and garlic in margarine until the onion is tender. Remove garlic. In a small bowl, mix soy milk with potato starch. Stir in salt and pepper.
Over low heat, gradually add milk mixture to sautéed onions, stirring continually as sauce thickens. Stir in drained spinach, heat through and serve immediately.
Serves six.

One-Apple Charoset
This simple mixture reminds me of the one my mother serves. She uses raisins instead of dates. It would be fun to try different dried fruits and nuts, whatever you have in the house. You can double or triple this recipe as needed, but for a midweek matzah spread, this quantity is quick and perfect.

1 apple, peeled
1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 cup crushed pecans
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon sugar
3 medjool dates, chopped small
1 tablespoon kosher-for-Passover red wine

Coarsely grate apple. In small bowl, mix apple and remaining ingredients until mixture is smooth and moist.
Serves four.

 

Fritter Away Your Time for Chanukah


 

We just returned from a trip to Italy, concentrating on the provinces of Puglia and Campania close to Naples. It is a region that we enjoy because of the diversity of the foods and wines available.

We visited several new places but returned to one of our favorites, La Caveja, a country restaurant with eight rooms, in the village of Pietravairano. It is owned by Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo. They hosted us two years ago, when we had a remarkable experience that lasted past midnight, observing just-picked olives being crushed into olive oil.

However, since our last visit, they have remodeled their farmhouse into a wonderful villa. It is a bed and breakfast, and includes six additional rooms. In Italy, it is called an agri-turismo.

We enjoyed a delicious dinner that they cooked in their newly restored kitchen, and for dessert, Antonietta served us honey-glazed fritters fried in olive oil. She called them Scavatelle and said they were made from a traditional recipe that was handed down from her grandmother.

I couldn’t help but think how perfect these fritters fried in olive oil and dipped in a honey syrup would be to serve for our Chanukah celebration. She was happy to share the recipe with me, when I told her that I would like to serve them to our family.

This pastry is easy to make, and it is a project that you can share with your children or grandchildren. Baking helps teach children to follow directions, how to measure and weigh ingredients, tell time and other useful skills. So, let them help in the shaping and dipping of these delicacies.

The dough can be rolled out several hours in advance and covered with a dry towel. Fry and dip in the honey syrup just before serving, so they will be warm and crisp.

Remember, Chanukah begins at sundown on Tuesday, Dec. 7. Happy Chanukah!

Scavatelle (Fried Pastries)

Adapted by Judy Zeidler from Antonietta Rotondo at La Caveja.

Antonietta said that these pastries are traditionally served on a large lemon leaf.

1 cup, plus 2 tablespoons water

1 cinnamon stick

1 tablespoon olive oil

Peel from 1/2 of a lemon

1 tablespoon sugar

Pinch of salt

1 cup flour

Syrup

1/4 cup honey

1 tablespoon sugar

Peel of 1/2 a lemon

1 tablespoon water

Olive oil for frying

In a saucepan, place water, cinnamon stick, olive oil, lemon zest, sugar and salt. Boil for two or three minutes. Remove zest and cinnamon stick. Add flour all at once, and using a wooden spoon, mix until dough comes together. It will be lumpy.

Spoon dough onto a floured board, punch down and knead into a flat disk to remove lumps. Pull off pieces of dough and roll out into thin ropes.

Cut into 6-inch ropes and working with one rope, bring one end of rope around to form a loop, crossing over the other end (leaving 1/2-inch ends) and pinching to resemble a bow tie. Place on paper towels and cover with a dry dish towel.

In a saucepan, place honey, sugar, lemon peel and water. Mix well and simmer over low heat.

In a deep fryer or heavy saucepan, heat oil and fry pastries until browned. Dip in honey syrup and serve at once.

Makes about four dozen.

Antonietta Rotondo and Berardino Lombardo can be contacted at:
La Camere della Locando
La Stalla della Caveja
Via s.s. Annunziata
Pietravairano (ce), Italy
Telephone (0823) 984824, fax (0823) 982977.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Cookbooks, 1988) and “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” (Morrow, 1999). Her Web site is members.aol.com/jzkitchen.

 

Latkes Without End, Amen


 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Talk about the miracle of Chanukah.

 

Holiday Breads Worth the Calories


With the no-carb craze sweeping the nation, Atkins Diet adherents make sure to avoid pasta and potatoes, but when the High Holidays roll around, even purists are tempted by succulent Jewish breads.

What would Rosh Hashanah be, after all, without huge round challahs? Or Yom Kippur without bagels to break the fast? Not to mention Bukharan bread, za’atar pita and the wide variety of breads that Sephardim adore.

Atkins converts aside, bread has historically been among the most important staples in the Jewish diet. We even eat matzah at Passover — a holiday that revolves around shunning luscious, lofty loaves.

Indeed, bread was once considered a complete meal, and until recently was the mainstay of many people’s daily calorie intakes. In the Bible, bread is a symbol representing food.

"Jewish law said that if bread is served, you have a meal; without it, you are having a snack," wrote Maggie Glezer in her upcoming book, "A Blessing of Bread: Jewish Bread Baking Around the World" (Artisan).

Bread is central to Jewish celebrations. Ideally before each meal, and certainly before holiday meals, a blessing is recited, thanking God for bringing forth bread, and by implication all food, from the earth.

"At Rosh Hashanah, my family likes the same breads each year," said Glezer, an Atlanta mother of two children who bakes huge batches of sweet honey challahs and freezes them. She serves some of these airy challahs at Rosh Hashanah and the rest at Yom Kippur. But her family breaks the fast with her homemade honey cake — which Glezer considers bread.

Knowing that challah braiding is a dying art, what inspired Glezer to write a book about baking Jewish bread?

"I’m a bread fanatic and a Jew — that’s how I came to this," she said, adding that she’s been seriously studying bread baking for 15 years. An American Institute of Baking-certified baker, Glezer specializes in teaching bread techniques to both amateurs and professionals. This is her second book about bread, and she writes on the subject for culinary magazines.

"’A Blessing of Bread’ is accessible to less experienced bakers," she said.

Because Glezer empathizes with beginners relying on recipes and a picture to produce unfamiliar breads, she gives readers numerous guidelines, conveying exactly what the dough looks like at each step. Her recipes are often long, but for novices it’s like having a professional baker at their side.

With more than 60 recipes in her cookbook, Glezer encourages people to stray from the usual babkas, bagels and deli rye to try new delicacies like Turkish coffee-cake rings or Hungarian walnut sticks.

Glezer’s goal was not to include every bread recipe in the Jewish repertoire — which would take two lifetimes. Her aim was to give readers a thumbnail sketch by highlighting some recipes from Sephardi, North African, Near Eastern and Ashkenazi cultures.

To assemble this impressive collection, she spoke to and baked with people from many backgrounds. She also included lively oral histories, anecdotes and passages from folk tales.

While the book features international holiday baking, Glezer has a special place in her Ashkenzi heart for sweet challah. At Rosh Hashanah, people often drizzle honey and raisins into challah, hoping for a sweet year. Instead of the oval-shaped, braided variety, the Rosh Hashanah challah is spiraled to represent the cycle of life and the completeness of the world.

"Rosh Hashanah is apple season," said Glezer, explaining that while apples have been a symbol of sweetness for centuries, this treasured fruit has recently begun to appear in American challah recipes. Calling for huge chunks of apples, Glezer’s spin on this new genre produces delightfully moist results. Her step-by-step instructions yield a coffee cake or a sweet bread to serve with dinner.

"While my Apple Challah can be prepared in a loaf pan or a circular cake pan, at Rosh Hashanah, I prefer the cake pan for its round theme," she said.

"One of the best parts of the Holidays is Sephardic pumpkin bread," said Glezer, explaining that her recipe was inspired by one from Gilda Angel, author of "Sephardic Home Cooking."

Angel explains that among Separdi Jews, pumpkin is popular at Rosh Hashanah because it expresses "the hope that as this vegetable has been protected by a thick covering, God will protect us and gird us with strength."

While pumpkin gives the bread an appealing color, it derives its aromatic flavor from cardamom and ginger, popular Sephardi spices. Glezer suggests either fresh or canned pumpkin.

"My favorite part of writing ‘A Blessing of Bread’ was listening to bakers and others talk about their lives," she said. "Their stories are the fabric of Jewish life; their recipes the carriers of our tradition."

Hearing her rhapsodize about her favorite subject is like being with an energetic bubbie who has burned her fingers in ovens a thousand times but still exudes the enthusiasm to taste the unfamiliar, learn from strangers and share amazing recipes for a never-ending basket of Jewish breads.

Apple Challah

2 envelopes instant yeast

5 cups unbleached bread flour

1 cup warm water

3 large eggs

6 tablespoons vegetable oil, plus extra for the pan and dough

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 cup granulated sugar, plus extra for sprinkling

3 large baking apples (Braeburn preferred)

In a large bowl, whisk together the yeast and 1 cup of the flour. Then whisk in the warm water until yeast mixture is smooth. Let it ferment uncovered for 10-20 minutes, or until it begins to puff up slightly.

Whisk the eggs, oil, salt and sugar into the puffed-yeast slurry. When eggs are well incorporated and the salt and sugar have dissolved, stir in the remaining 4 cups of flour all at once with your hands. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it out onto work surface and knead it until it is smooth and firm, no more than 10 minutes. Soak your mixing bowl in hot water to clean and warm it. If the dough is too firm to easily knead, add a tablespoon or two of water. If the dough is too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. The dough should feel smooth, soft and only slightly sticky.

Place dough in the clean, warmed bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let the dough ferment for one hour, or until just slightly puffy.

While the dough ferments, peel, quarter and core the apples. Cut each quarter in half lengthwise. Then cut each slice across into three pieces. End up with large, squarish apple chunks. Measure 4 1/2 heaping cups of the chunks. Reserve them in a covered container.

After initial ferment, sprinkle dough and work surface with flour. Pull out the dough. Cut dough in half into two equal pieces, keeping one piece covered while working with the other. Roll out the dough into a 1/8-inch-thick, 16-inch-long square. Scatter 1 heaping cup of apples over the center third of dough. Fold up the bottom third to cover it.

Press dough into apples to seal it around them. Scatter another heaping cup over the lower half of dough — onto the second layer of dough — and fold the top of dough over both layers to create a very stuffed letter fold. Press down on the dough to push out air pockets and to seal dough around apples. Roll dough into a bowl. Move dough in bowl so that the smooth side — without a seam — faces up. Cover with plastic wrap. Repeat with other piece of dough, using another bowl. Continue fermenting both doughs for about an hour, or until they have risen slightly and are very soft.

Oil two 8-inch round cake pans. Using as much dusting flour as needed, pat each dough half into a rough round shape. Try keeping smooth side intact on top. You won’t be able to deflate dough much now because of the apples. Slip dough into pans smooth side up and cover them well with plastic wrap. Let loaves proof for about 30 minutes, until they have crested their containers.

Immediately after shaping the breads, arrange an oven rack on the lower third position and preheat oven to 350F.

When loaves have risen over the edge of the container and won’t push back when gently pressed with a finger but remain indented, brush each with a generous tablespoon of oil. Sprinkle them with a few tablespoons of sugar. Bake for 45-55 minutes total. After the first 40 minutes, switch the pans from side to side. Bake 5-15 minutes more. When loaves are well browned, remove them from oven, unmold and cool on a rack.

Pan de Calabaza (Sephardic

Pumpkin Bread)

1/2 cup canned pumpkin puree

1 envelope instant yeast

1/3 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

About 3 3/4 cups bread flour, divided

2/3 cup warm water

1/3 cup granulated sugar

1 3/4 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup vegetable oil

2 large eggs

In a large bowl, whisk together yeast, cardamom, ginger and 3/4 cup of the flour. Whisk in warm water until yeast slurry is smooth. Ferment for 10-20 minutes, or until slurry begins to puff up slightly.

Whisk sugar, salt, oil, one egg and pumpkin puree into puffed yeast slurry. When mixture is well combined, stir in remaining 3 cups flour with your hands. When mixture is a shaggy ball, scrape it onto your work surface. Knead it until well mixed, fairly smooth and firm. Soak mixing bowl in hot water to clean and warm it for fermenting dough. If dough is too firm, add a tablespoon or two of water. If dough is too wet, add a few tablespoons of flour. Dough should be light orange, firm, easy to knead and not at all sticky.

When dough is fully kneaded, set it in the cleaned, warmed bowl. Cover with plastic wrap. Let dough ferment about two to three hours, until it has tripled in size.

Oil two baking sheets. Divide the dough into two loaves of equal size, placing each on a baking sheet. Tent them well with plastic wrap.

Let loaves proof 60-90 minutes, until triple in size.

Thirty minutes before baking, arrange an oven rack in the upper third position. Remove racks above it. If both baking sheets won’t fit on one rack, place a rack below it, leaving room for bread to rise. Preheat oven to 350F. Beat the remaining egg with a pinch of salt to use as a glaze.

When loaves have tripled and don’t push back when gently pressed with a finger but remain indented, brush them with egg glaze. Bake loaves on individual baking sheets for 35-40 minutes. After the first 20 minutes of baking, switch the pans from top to bottom or from front to back so that breads brown evenly. Bake 15-20 minutes more. When loaves are very well browned, remove them from oven and cool on a rack.

Kick Off the Year Rolling in Dough


As most people know, challah is the braided egg-rich loaf of bread that we traditionally eat on the Sabbath and holidays — two loaves of challah at each of the three Shabbat meals. They help commemorate the miracles that the Jewish people experienced during their 40 years of wandering in the desert. While on weekdays they received one portion of manna from heaven, Friday God sent two portions.

Challah — especially homemade — is wonderful every week, but it resonates with deeper meaning at Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, when it is an age-old custom to dip it (at least the first piece) in honey after reciting the appropriate blessing to beseech God to grant us a sweet year.

For Rosh Hashanah, challah is often shaped into a crown or a turban, and raisins are often added to make it even sweeter. Throughout the whole holiday period — through Sukkot — many people follow the custom of preparing or buying round loaves instead of the traditional long, braided ones: a reminder of the cycle of the seasons. Some very ambitious people add a braid in the center in the shape of a ladder, in the fervent hope that we merit both physical and spiritual uplift during the coming year.

The round challah custom is ideal for yours truly: I confess to being braid-impaired. While every preschool child in Israel seems to know how to form beautiful, even braids, I never learned this in Minnesota. Even my three-part braids (I have rarely attempted anything like six or more braids) leave much to be desired in the evenly braided department.

My solution? Round challahs — they always come out nice, look impressive, and no one can believe how easy they are to make. You can either make one long braid and then roll it up, or use the following recipe and baking method. The smell is indescribable. For more details on challah — actually on all aspects of bread baking, see any Jewish cookbook: all the myriad details won’t fit into this article. The mitzvah of separation of challah must be observed along with Jewish law — ask your local rabbi for more information.

Challah should be allowed to cool completely before being well-wrapped for storage. Well-sealed challah can be stored for a day or so on the shelf, or frozen. It defrosts well, and no one can tell that it’s not freshly baked. You can even freeze the ready-to-bake dough. This is good to know in the busy preholiday period.

May this be a sweet year for the entire Jewish people.

Sweet Round Challah

2 tablespoons instant dry yeast

1/2 cup sugar

1/2 cup oil

Approximately 9 cups of flour (divided), sifted

1 tablespoon salt

5 eggs (divided)

2 cups warm water

1/2 cup golden raisins (optional)

Sesame seeds

Poppy seeds

Combine yeast, sugar and oil in a large bowl. Stir in about 3 cups of flour; combine well. Add salt and four well-beaten eggs, one at a time. Add water and mix in well. Sift in enough flour, 2 cups at a time, to form a dough for kneading, beating well after each addition. Add raisins, if desired.

Knead for eight to 10 minutes, adding a bit more flour if necessary. Place dough in a greased bowl and turn to grease all sides. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rise in a warm place until double in bulk-about one and a half to two hours.

Punch down, fold in sides, cover and allow to rise for about another half hour. Punch down. Divide dough in half. Coat two 8- or 9-inch diameter pans (look for pans that are at least 3-inches high) with nonstick cooking spray. Form a ball of dough about 3 1/2 inches in diameter and place in center of pan. Divide rest of dough into eight even portions, forming eight balls of dough, and surround center ball of dough. Repeat with remaining half of dough.

Cover pans and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Brush with beaten egg. Sprinkle both sesame and poppy seeds on the two middle balls. Sprinkle sesame and poppy seeds alternately on each of the outside balls of each challah. Bake in a preheated 350 F oven for 35-40 minutes until golden brown and challah sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove from pans immediately and cool on a rack.

Makes two round challahs.

Noshin’ Beyond Hamantashen


Our family celebrates all of the Jewish holidays together, but Purim seems to be everyone’s favorite. How can you not love a holiday that tells you to dress up in costume, forget your troubles, enjoy delicious food and drink a lot of wine?

Several of our children spend days making Purim costumes for our grandkids. The girls want to be Queen Esther, and the boys identify with brave Mordecai or King Ahasuerus — no one wants to be the evil Haman!

They arrive at our house for dinner dressed in their costumes, ready to act the parts of the characters in the Purim story. As we retell the story at the table, everyone selects a gragger (noisemaker) from our collection, to twirl each time Haman’s name is mentioned.

By far, the best-known Purim dessert is hamantashen. It is said that the triangular shape of pastries represent Haman’s hat, or his pockets. Whatever the origin, they are delicious. Every family has their favorite recipe, usually it is a sugar cookie or yeast dough, rolled out, and filled with a poppy seed or fruit filling.

Over the years I have developed some wonderful poppy seed desserts inspired by these traditional pastries. One of them is the recipe for Purim Seed Crisps. They are the thinnest, most crisp cookies and were adapted from a recipe given to me by my friend Bernie Bubman. He enjoys attending cooking classes in Europe, and he brought this recipe back from France. These cookies are a novel and a delicious Purim dessert.

If your kids love Fig Newtons, they’ll love these poppy seed-filled pastries for Purim. It is a copy-cat version of the famous old-fashioned confection, only better. Roman, the chef at the Broadway Deli in Santa Monica, makes these poppy seed goodies daily, and was kind enough to share his recipe.

Make extra Poppy Seed Newtons or Purim Seed Crisps for the family to give away as gifts to those less fortunate. This is known as shalach manot and is the custom during the Purim holiday.


Purim Seed Crisps

These cookies spread out as they cook, so a small amount of dough goes further than you might think. Bake as many as you like, cover the remaining dough with plastic wrap and refrigerate for up to one week.

5 tablespoons unsalted butter

5 tablespoons sugar

2 tablespoons Karo syrup

2 tablespoons whole milk

1/2 cup sesame seeds

2 tablespoons poppy seeds

2 tablespoons millet seeds

(available in most supermarkets

and health food stores)

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

In a medium skillet, over medium heat, cook the butter, sugar, Karo syrup and milk, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Mix in the seeds. Transfer to a glass bowl. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about five minutes.

Line a baking sheet with foil and shape the batter into 1-inch rounds the size of a nickel (the cookies spread a lot while cooking). Place the rounds 2 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. Bake for 10 minutes, or until golden brown. (Watch closely, they brown quickly.) Let cool and then carefully peel off the foil.

Makes about five dozen cookies.

The batter can be refrigerated for up to three days and stored in the freezer for one month, so bake only as many as you like, and have them hot from the oven any time you like.

Purim Poppy Seed

"Newtons"

3 tablespoons melted unsalted butter

1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy

margarine, room temperature

1/2 cup powdered sugar

1 egg

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 3/4 cups flour

1/4 teaspoon salt

2 (8-ounce) cans poppy seed filling

1 egg, lightly beaten

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line a baking sheet with foil and brush with butter.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, cream the butter and sugar until fluffy. Blend in the egg and vanilla. Add the flour and salt and blend until dough comes together. Transfer to a floured board and knead until smooth, adding additional flour if needed. Sprinkle a large sheet of wax paper with flour and roll out pieces of dough 4-inches wide, 12-inches long and about 1/4 inch thick.

Fit a pastry bag with a 1/2-inch tube and fill it with the poppy seed filling. Pipe the filling lengthwise down the middle of the dough, 1/2 inch from the ends. (If you prefer, spoon on the filling.) Gently lift up one side of the dough and pull it over the filling. Then lift the other side and lap over the first. Lightly press the ends to seal. Cut into 1 1/2-inch bars, place on prepared baking sheet, seam-side down, and brush with lightly beaten egg.

Bake for about 20 minutes, or until golden brown.

Makes about five dozen.

Return of the Real Thing


It’s that time of year, when Coca-Cola substitutes sugar for high-fructose corn syrup to guarantee that “Coke is it” at Ashkenazi seders. This special batch is deliverance from the bitter anguish of Aspartame-sweetened soft drinks at the Passover table and a trip into the past for Coke fans born before the 1980s.

Coke switched from sugar to the more cost-effective corn syrup during the 1985 New Coke debacle and kept the new sweetener when they reintroduced the tried-and-true recipe of Coca-Cola Classic. But Coca-Cola splurges for Jews who abstain from products that leaven, like corn, during Pesach, and whips up a incredibly tastier old-school batch with sugar that typically hits stores mid-March.

Kosher-for-Passover Coke cans are marked this year with “P01CRC” in a black triangle near the bar code, while the 2-liter bottles have a yellow cap with a tiny Orthodox Union mark on the top and an “OU-P” printed on the seal ring. (Bottles with yellow caps featuring a Nascar contest are not kosher for Passover.)

Ironically, Coke is still made with sugar outside of the United States, and the American kosher version uses the international labeling that cites “corn syrup and/or sucrose” in the ingredients; but rest assured that only sugar has been used.

To highlight the flavor difference, a blind taste-test challenge was recently conducted at The Jewish Journal’s offices. Kosher-for-Passover Coke was pitted against its corn syrup-laden sibling.

Out of 10 Jewish Journal staffers, seven preferred the taste of kosher Coke. One staffer remarked that she could taste a spicy, cinnamon flavor in the kosher version; another said the taste difference was “dramatic.” The three who picked Coke with corn syrup did so because it was either “richer,” “sharper” or “familiar.”

Locally, kosher-for-Passover Coke can be found at kosher markets, like Kosher Club and Kotlar’s Pico Market, and some major supermarkets.

A Purim SOS


Two weeks ago I got an actual SOS from a ship. Tova and Rabbi Zvi Dershowitz, en route to the Philippines on the Holland America cruise ship M.S. Rotterdam, were requesting a Persian Purim menu and recipes for the ship’s executive chef.

Queen Esther was a vegetarian, so the foods associated with the holiday are mainly vegetables, rice, nuts and fruits. I responded to their call by rushing menu ideas and recipes via e-mail, hoping the ship stores and the marketplaces at the ports of call would be able to provide the necessary ingredients. From what I understand, they did. The rabbi and friends made hamentaschen in the ship’s galley.


Cabbage Strudel

1 package filo dough
1 pound unsalted butter, melted
2 cups fine bread crumbs

Cabbage Filling (recipe follows)
Sour Cream Dill Sauce (recipe follows)
Sprigs of dill for garnish

Fold the filo leaves in half and unfold one page. Brush with melted butter and sprinkle lightly with bread crumbs. Continue turning the pages of filo, brushing with the butter and crumbs until you come to the last page. Brush with butter and sprinkle with crumbs.

Spread two heaping spoonfuls of the cabbage filling crosswise on the last page, 2 inches from the edge closest to you and 1 inch from the sides. Cover the filling with the closest edge, and fold the sides over. Brush the sides with butter and continue rolling up the filo.

Cover a baking sheet with foil and brush with butter. Place the strudel on the foil, seam side down, and brush with butter. Refrigerate, uncovered, 15 to 20 minutes. Continue with the remaining filo and cabbage filling.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 45 minutes, or until golden brown. Slice immediately. Serve hot with Sour Cream Dill Sauce and garnish with sprigs of dill.


Cabbage Filling

1/2 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1/4 cup flour
2 tbs. paprika
3 cups finely chopped onions
4 quarts shredded cabbage
1/2 cup dark brown sugar, firmly packed
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Melt the butter in a large, heavy saucepan over medium heat. Add the flour and stir until dissolved. Add the paprika and mix well. Add the onions and continue cooking for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Add the cabbage, brown sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer, partially covered, for one hour or until golden brown. Stir occasionally. Remove from the heat and cool.


Sour Cream and Dill Sauce

2 cups sour cream or non-dairy sour cream
1/8 cup snipped fresh dill

In a bowl, combine the sour cream and dill. Cover and chill.

Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook,” “The 30-Minute Kosher Cook” and “Master Chefs Cook Kosher.” Her Web site is member.aol.com/jzkitchen/.

Ask Wendy


Wendy Belzberg is as comfortable swapping brisket recipes as she is discussing quantum physics. However, because of her strong Jewish background, many – but by no means all – of the questions she receives tend to have some Jewish content. Don’t expect a traditional response; she can be extremely controversial and, on more than one occasion, has had to write from a safe house to hide out from irate rabbis.

Belzberg hails from the Canadian prairies, received an Ivy League education and spent the first 20 years of her career as a television and print journalist. She has experience with parents (having had two of her own and having become one herself), siblings and husbands, marriages and divorce, serious illness and robust health. She is equally adept discussing boardroom and birthday party politics and, despite her success, still doles out free advice to the many friends who seek her counsel. She never misses an opportunity to offer an opinion, whether solicited or not. Most of her sentences begin with her signature demurral: “Nobody asked my opinion, but…” She has been giving advice since before she wore braces and is finally getting paid for it (though not enough to cover her children’s orthodonture bills). Giving advice is her destiny.

Do Unto Others

Dear Wendy:
I grew up in a very Jewish household, my views and opinions tend to reflect that upbringing, and most of my friends are Jewish. My best friend just got engaged to a non-Jew. I feel uncomfortable around her and her fiance I constantly feel as though I have to be on my guard and censor my thoughts before I speak them. I’m afraid that I might say something that he will find offensive.
Worried Friend

Do you routinely refer to gentiles as goyim? Do you refer to your friend’s fiance as a shaygetz? Have you told your friend to beware that one day, in the heat of a nasty argument, her husband is likely to call her a dirty Jew? If you said yes to any of the above questions, or even faltered for a moment before answering, a little censorship in your case may not be such a bad thing. Generally speaking.The tie between best friends often comes undone when one marries someone the other doesn’t like. If this fiance only crime, however, is that he is not Jewish, you must ask yourself if that is a good enough reason to sacrifice the friendship. That you are drawn to others with whom you share a common background is natural. But there is a difference between selection and discrimination. No one knows that better than a Jew. With your background, you are surely familiar with the saying “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.” Why not do something madcap and keep an open mind?

Best of Both Worlds

Dear Wendy:
My husband and I have hit a rough patch in our marriage, and we both agree that we need help. I suggested we go see a couples’ therapist. He insists we go talk to our rabbi instead. What would you recommend?
Confused

Congratulations. Not only have you discovered a brand new topic to fight about, you have avoided getting into counseling. Keep up the good work and you’ll be sitting on opposite sides of a lawyer’s conference table.
Couples therapy is about chemistry and qualifications, in that order. Choose someone whose style and approach you like, or it will be difficult to do the work. Accommodate each other by interviewing both the rabbi and the therapist. Rabbis are underconsulted; they have expert skills beyond their ability to manage capital campaigns. Consider the rabbi’s qualifications, his ability to make a long-term commitment (are sessions bumped for funerals, brises and community emergencies?) and his past success rates. Then go into therapy with a couples’ therapist. Would you go to a general practitioner if you were diagnosed with breast cancer? Therapists are specifically trained to treat couples in crisis. Your marriage is in trouble. Don’t take any chances; seek help from the very best. (The queen of England didn’t take chances when it came to Charles’ circumcision. She hired a mohel.)

Religious POW

Dear Wendy:
My ex-wife was not Jewish but we agreed to raise our daughter as a Jew, and she was converted at birth. Now that we are divorced, my ex has informed me that she is planning on baptizing my daughter and “reconverting” her to Catholicism. Can she do this?
Concerned Father

If your daughter was converted according to Jewish law and dipped in the mikvah at birth, she is Jewish and nothing your ex-wife can do will undo that. Even if your daughter grows up to be a nun, she will be a Jewish nun (and not the first, I might add).

You are way off base, however, if your only question after hearing of your ex-wife’s intentions is whether your daughter is still Jewish. Your daughter sounds like she is a prisoner of war. Religion is not the first thing that would come to my mind in a hostage situation. Your daughter needs unconditional love, support and reassurance through what is clearly a bitter divorce. Spend more time thinking about your daughter’s needs and emotions and less about your own.

Wendy Belzberg is a nationally syndicated advice columnist. Write to “Ask Wendy” at askwendy@jewishjournal.com or at 954 Lexington Ave., ‘189, New York, NY.10021