Celebrating Sukkot, remembering Africa


There’s a certain bittersweetness to the festival of Sukkot. On the one hand, it’s z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing: In ancient Israel, it marked the end of the harvest season, the time when the storehouses were full of sustenance for the coming agricultural year, the time of thanksgiving. We celebrate that today with wonderful meals for friends and family in our own sukkahs — a time of warmth, conviviality, plenty.

On the other hand, the end of Sukkot is (in Israel as well as right here in Southern California) also the end of the dry season. For our ancestors, as they made their way back from the Temple in Jerusalem to their villages and farms, there must have been an undercurrent of anxiety as well, an anxiety no different from the one that haunts farmers today in the drought-stricken regions of this country. Would enough rain fall in the coming winter, so that there would be a harvest next year as well?

Thinking about the ambivalence as we approach the final days of Sukkot reminded me of a conversation I had in August.

I was one of 17 American rabbis from across the denominations to travel with an American Jewish World Service (AJWS) delegation to a very, very poor part of Ghana — Sankor, a village on the coast that was rife with child trafficking; for as little as $50, poverty-stricken parents have sold their children to work as slaves on fishing boats on Lake Volta.

But Sankor is also the site of Challenging Heights (CH). A long-term recipient of AJWS’ support, CH was created by a former child slave, James Kofi Annan, to save other children from his fate. The organization rescues trafficked children, rehabilitates them in a special center, counsels and works with the parents, and helps to set the family on their economic feet through microloans and support. Most of all, CH is focused on the children’s education, so that they, and other poor children from Sankor, will have the tools to overcome poverty in the future.

A week before I left on that AJWS Rabbis’ Delegation to Challenging Heights, this is what I packed in my duffel bag:

work clothes (required)

a wide-brimmed hat and wide-mouthed water bottle (required)

a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt (urged by AJWS for visits with traditional villagers)

a mosquito net (absolutely required!)

sunscreen (required)

and — at the last minute, just in case,  I — who have always regarded myself as super-healthy and quite hardy — stuffed in bottles/jars/tubes of ibuprofen, anti-itch cream, anti-diarrheal medication, acid controller, Beanaid, and — you never know — protein bars, fruit and nut bars, energy bars, and … hmm … a few of those newfangled bags of tuna — which in ordinary circumstances I’d never buy.

Even more than those ordinarily never-used over-the-counter medications I brought, it was my urge to pack extra food that betrayed the anxiety I felt about this Ghana trip. In such a poor country, in such a bare-bones place, would there be enough to eat?

So we rabbis arrived at Challenging Heights, both to build and, truly, to be “rebuilt”: to work on construction projects at CH in the mornings and to learn in the afternoons — about CH, as well as the connections among issues of poverty, hunger and human rights abuses around the world, issues inextricable from our own consumption habits as Americans and our country’s foreign aid and food policies. Who suffered when we Westerners did not buy only Fair Trade commodities? What was the human cost of our not holding multinational corporations accountable
for the labor conditions and wages paid to their workers in poor countries? How did our Farm Bill affect faraway small farms in Africa and Asia?

How much and what did we Americans —among the most affluent people on the planet — actually need?

One day, as we wrapped up our construction project and washed our hands in preparation for lunch, a young girl named Juliette asked one of the rabbis where he was going now.

“To eat lunch,” he said.

“May you have food tomorrow,” she responded softly.

Juliette’s words echoed in our ears throughout the rest of our stay. Perhaps it was the overwhelming gratitude we felt for our own sense of plenty; perhaps it was the humility we felt in the presence of these profoundly modest people who were dedicating all their energy to healing the terrible wounds of their society. Perhaps it was a new understanding of “need.”

I began to pay more and more attention to the beauty of the food made for us by Charles Quansah, the cook at Challenging Heights. Although he had a modest budget and a limited array of local ingredients, he succeeded in preparing the most delicious, expertly spiced, vegetarian versions of traditional Ghanaian meals. How foolish and fearful bringing all those bars and bags of tuna felt.

I asked Mr. Quansah for his recipes, determined to bring home the tastes of Challenging Heights.

Sukkot, a time of thanksgiving for our harvest and our full storehouses, a time when we share meals with friends and family in our fragile sukkahs, a time when we rejoice in plenty and yet remember the reality of scarcity, seems to me the perfect time to include the foods of a culture far away from us geographically but with so much to teach us spiritually.

May we savor these recipes I brought back from Challenging Heights and Ghana today, and may we, and all the peoples of the world, have food tomorrow as well.

Soups are super for the sukkah


Cold or hot, soup is ideal for the sukkah.

What better way to warm up on a chilly night or cool off on a warm afternoon?

“In The Essential Book of Jewish Festival Cooking,” Phyllis and Miryom Glazer write that the Jews of Russia and Poland served borscht on Sukkot as a “hot and nourishing meal-in-a-bowl” soup made with beets—a mainstay of the diet of Russian, Lithuanian, Ukrainian and Polish Jews—with cabbage and sometimes a piece of meat.

Claudia Roden writes in “The Book of Jewish Food” that kreplach, the triangular filled dumpling in chicken soup, is traditional for Ashkenazim on the last day of Sukkot.

“This soup symbolizes the covering up of God’s stringency with loving kindness,” Roden says.

Edda Servi Machlin, an author of Italian cookbooks, says that a traditional Italian Jewish menu for Sukkot might include vegetable soup or vegetable cream soup.

Roden also relates that while couscous is a popular dish for North African Jews, sweet potatoes and raisins are added to the soup made during Sukkot and is poured over the couscous.

The sages declared it a mitzvah to eat 14 meals in the sukkah, and in keeping with the holiday’s agricultural meaning, gratefulness is expressed to God after the harvest through the eating of autumn fruits and vegetables.

Here are a variety of recipes to make use of harvest vegetables.

ZUCCHINI BISQUE
A bisque is a thick, cream soup with vegetables.

Ingredients:

1/4 cup pareve salty margarine
2 chopped onions
2 cups sliced carrots
8 cups diced zucchini
3 1/2 cups pareve chicken soup or made with pareve chicken soup powder and water
1/2 teaspoon marjoram
1/2 cup whipping cream
Ground nutmeg
Chopped parsley

Preparation:

1. In a soup pot, melt margarine. Add onions, carrots and zucchini and cook until onion is transparent.

2. Add chicken soup and marjoram. Cover, bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 20 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

3. Whirl vegetables in blender in batches and return to soup pot. Add whipping cream. To serve, ladle into bowls, sprinkle with nutmeg and parsley.

Makes 8 servings


SWEET POTATO SOUP

Ingredients:

5 peeled and quartered sweet potatoes
1/2 cup sliced onions
2 cored and quartered apples
4 cups water
4 teaspoons pareve chicken soup powder
2 crushed bay leaves
1 teaspoon thyme
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1 tablespoon lemon juice
2 cups milk or soy milk
2 tablespoons pareve margarine
1/4 cup bourbon
Lemon slices

Preparation:

1. In a soup pot, place sweet potatoes, onions, apples, and chicken soup. Add bay leaves, thyme, nutmeg, cinnamon and lemon juice. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until vegetables are tender.

2. Puree vegetables in batches and return to soup pot. Add milk, margarine and bourbon. To serve, pour into soup bowls and garnish with lemon slices.

Makes 8 servings


MOM’S SWEET AND SOUR CABBAGE SOUP

Ingredients:

2 small cut up heads of cabbage
2 pounds of short ribs
10 cups water
4 teaspoons beef soup powder
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/8 cup white sugar
2 cut-up onions
2 cups tomato sauce
2 teaspoons lemon juice

Preparation:

1. Place cabbage, meat, water and beef soup powder in a soup pot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 30 minutes.

2. Add brown sugar, white sugar, onions, tomato sauce and lemon juice. Continue cooking 2 hours or until meat falls off the bones.

Makes 8 servings


CREAM OF PUMPKIN SOUP

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1/2 pound sliced onions
1 1/2 teaspoons flour
1 1/4 cups pareve chicken soup
2 cups pumpkin
2 cups milk
1 cup whipping cream
1 teaspoon salt
Dash white pepper
1/4 teaspoon ginger
Dash cinnamon
Dash nutmeg

Preparation:

1. Melt butter or margarine in a soup pot. Add onions and cook for 10 minutes.

2. Stir in flour and chicken soup. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes.

3. Pour into blender in batches, blend a few seconds and return to pot. Add pumpkin, milk, 1/2 cup whipping cream, salt, pepper, ginger, cinnamon and nutmeg. Heat soup and simmer 15 minutes.

4. Beat remaining 1/2 cup whipping cream in a bowl. To serve, ladle soup into soup bowls and spoon whipped cream on top.

Makes 6 servings

Thinking Outside the Matzah Ball Box


When the Israelites rushed out of Egypt, Pharaoh’s men on their heels, they hurriedly bundled their belongings, food included, to carry as much as they could on their backs and donkeys. Seeking to nourish themselves throughout their desert journey to the Promised Land, they rolled together unleavened bread crumbs, eggs and oil to create a round, nutritious finger food. They heated these in water jugs, along with chicken bone scraps, to preserve them and give them flavor. And that’s how matzah ball soup was born.

At least that’s how the matzah ball legend should read. The round dumpling traditionally made of matzah meal, eggs, and some kind of fat is so entrenched in Jewish tradition that its history seems to date back to the Torah itself. The icon of Jewish pop culture, the staple of deli menus, the culinary gem of bubbies worldwide, matzah ball soup is the unofficial symbol of Jewish cuisine, the soup of the one God.

But like many dishes generally regarded as “Jewish foods,” like gefilte fish and cholent, matzah ball soup originated in Eastern Europe. The Yiddish word for matzah balls, “knaidelach,” comes from the German word for dumpling, “knödel.” The matzah ball may very well have been the vanguard Jewish food of its time, an adaptation of the gentile dumpling suited to Passover restrictions and pantries, invented by the Martha Stewart of the shtetl, her (or his?) name now lost in obscurity.

Since then few Jewish chefs, professional and amateur, have dared to tamper with the matzah ball. In that sense, the matzah ball is the “ultra-Orthodox” Jewish food. The most popular recipe for many home cooks today may very well be the one on the matzah meal box. But with the growing sophistication and cross-fertilization of many types of cuisines, that’s changing.

“I think traditional cooks are breaking out; they’re more sophisticated,” said Adeena Sussman, a recipe developer, food writer and cooking instructor based in New York. “Everyone is traveling more and interested in ethnic cuisine. There are a lot of kosher Web sites where you can get kosher gourmet products. Actually, I think Jews who keep Passover strictly are those who are seeking the most innovative ideas because they are those who follow the laws for eight days and are trying to keep their families well-fed and interested for eight days.”

One of the most popular maverick matzah ball soup recipes has been Susie Fishbein’s tri-color matzah ball soup, as featured years ago in her popular “Kosher by Design Entertains” cookbook (Mesorah Publications, 2005) and on “The Today Show” with Katie Couric. The recipe calls for a green maztah ball made with pureed spinach, a yellow matzah ball made with turmeric and a red matzah ball made with tomato paste. 

“It was a funky spin on something traditional, and that’s what I do,” said Fishbein from her home in New Jersey. She sought a matzah ball soup that wasn’t only flavorful, but visually appealing and healthful, especially for the children. “I’ve had mothers come up to me in shul and say ‘I only make the green ones, and they’re called ‘Shrek matzah balls,’ and my boys love them.’”

Matzah balls are like a “blank canvas,” ripe with possibilities for adding flavor and color. Last year Sussman developed a “dill-infused chicken soup with herbed matzah ball gnocchi” recipe featuring matzah balls shaped like the Italian potato dumpling and rolled with spinach, parsley and dill. Green herbs are intuitive additives, because they often compliment the flavor of the chicken soup and also reflect the spirit of spring. Sussman recommends ground chicken, ground beef and horseradish as other nontraditional additives.

But not every ingredient works. “There were definitely things that were not winners,” said Fishbein, recalling her own experimentation. “Blueberry matzah balls are hideous. Carrot matzah balls covered with carrot juice were hideous.”

Like the Torah, matzah balls are open to a variety of interpretations and subject to intense debate. Surprisingly, some of Southern California’s top chefs believe the matzah ball is sacred. 

“I don’t want to recreate the matzah ball; I think it tastes fine how it is, as long as it has a light texture,” said Suzanne Tracht, executive chef at LA’s Jar chophouse on Beverly Boulevard. “They shouldn’t be too hard. You shouldn’t use them for weapons….The most important part of the matzah ball, since it’s basically a dumpling, is the broth — that’s where it comes out.”

Every year, Tracht holds a Passover seder at her restaurant, and this year she’s making a consommé with lemongrass, galangal and ginger. “We make it so intense that we clarify the broth, as well, so that it has a more rich and intense flavor.”

Todd Aarons, executive chef at the gourmet kosher restaurant Tierra Sur at the Herzog Wine Cellars in Oxnard puts his “stock” in the broth, as well. “I’m a purist. I would play around with the broth first, and I’d probably keep the matzah ball intact.” For his own matzah ball soup, Aarons likes to use duck and chicken bones for a deeper flavor. “When I eat it, though, it doesn’t remind me of my mom’s, which is okay.”

He became convinced of the powerful absorption properties of the matzah ball after his Yemenite wife served regular matzah balls with her Yemenite soup, traditionally made with chicken, beef and exotic herbs, including hawaij, a Yemenite spice mix consisting of cumin, coriander, pepper, cardamom, cloves and turmeric. He likens matzah balls to bread used for dipping. “Every culture has a chicken soup. You can explore all different kinds of chicken soup and throw a matzah ball in, and it would work.”

In fact, the matzah ball is the only Ashkenazi food that has been warmly embraced by Sephardic traditions, especially in Israel. “Sephardic cooking is much more popular in Israel now than Ashkenazi cooking — Israel is a warm country, the ingredients are more suitable for Middle Eastern food,” said Janna Gur, editor-in-chief of Israel’s leading gastronomic magazine, Al HaShulchan, and author of “The Book of New Israeli Food” (Schocken, 2008). “Many recipes make the crossover to Ashkenazi households, but not vice versa, except for matzah ball soup.”

Another (chicken or beef?) bone of contention among chefs and cooks relates to texture: dense or light and fluffy?

Cookbook author and food writer Judy Zeidler, also a bubbe of seven, prefers fluffy matzah balls, hands down. “When I got married, my mother-in-law always made sinkers — matzah balls so hard they sink to the bottom of the pot. I grew up with my mother’s matzah balls. Like clouds, they floated to the top of the soup. My husband thought they were ridiculous, but he thought they were so much easier to eat and so much more flavorful.”

To make matzah balls as fluffy as her mother’s, she recommends separating the yolk and whites and then folding the yolk and matzah meal into egg whites beaten into soft peaks. Seltzer is recommended instead of water to increase fluffiness, and chilling matzah balls plays an important part in determining texture.

“Chilling will make it much easier to roll so you can manipulate them,” said Fishbein. “If you can roll them right at the outset you have a lot of matzah meal in them, and they probably won’t be very fluffy.”

Sussman is the only one interviewed for this article who prefers dense matzah balls, or, as she likes to call them, “matzah balls al dente”, an Italian term to describe pasta that is firm but not overcooked.

But home cooks shouldn’t feel discouraged if they can’t think out of the matzah meal box. “My mother used to make matzah balls from scratch,” said Sussman, “but one year we actually tried the mix and found that it worked quite well and started making them from the mix, not because we couldn’t make it from scratch, but because we liked them.”

Roll Away Hunger


Yom Kippur’s break the fast is the most anticipated meal of the year. Of course, it’s because we’re starving; we’ve been fantasizing about that first bite for the last 25 hours.

As soon as the sun goes down and the shofar is blown for the last time, our thoughts invariably turn to: How fast can we get to that buffet table?

But as delicious as our traditional dairy delicacies are, they don’t respect the fact that our stomachs have been on hiatus for over a day.

Instead, consider cold Avocado-Cucumber Soup and Sushi.

Sushi chef Tracy Griffith’s recipes are easy to digest and high in water content — exactly what our bodies need after a day with no sustenance.

Griffith of Rika Restaurant and Diamond Lounge on Sunset believes her signature cuisine is the perfect meal for after a fast. It’s not only easy on our digestive systems, but it’s also a treat to our weary eyes. The talented chef and accomplished artist said, "We eat first with our eyes."

And what’s more inspiring than white rice wrapped in black nori with glistening fish accented by exotic fruits and emerald vegetables? A golden brown challah, ruby-colored wine, a dessert of summer melons colored red, orange and green. This bountiful table of edible art will be a peaceful, harmonious culmination of the most holy day of the year.

Griffith was greatly influenced by Freddie Samuels, her Jewish stepfather whose artistic endeavors included the innovative window displays at Macy’s in New York.

"He has such a high sense of aesthetics. He taught me to appreciate beauty in everything, from how a table should look — set with candles and flowers — to how good food should taste. He loves to cook and owned a wonderful Italian restaurant in New York," she said.

"Lottie [Samuels’ mother] was always cooking this amazing Jewish food — delicious brisket and rugelach. She made us eat until we were sick," Griffith recalled. "And she’d insist we take the rest home. She was so nurturing, always worrying about everybody else — the epitome of the Jewish mother. I loved her."

Combining her talents and background, and buoyed by Samuels, her mother, Nanita ,and her actress sister, Melanie Griffith, Tracy attended the California Sushi Academy in Venice, and became the school’s first female graduate.

While working as a sushi chef at Tsunami in Beverly Hills, Griffith began experimenting with everyday ingredients, creating unusual combinations. She has put her ideas into "Sushi American Style," a cookbook recently published by Clarkson Potter. "I dive into the fusion aspect of sushi, using nontraditional ingredients that are appealing, easy to find and work with," she said.

In the book, Griffith features suggestions, not only for a dairy meal, but also a meat meal, such as the Opal Roll, an inside-out roll made with prime grilled sirloin, red onion, arugula and pink peppercorns served with jalapeno soy sauce.

You might bump into Griffith at a Jewish wedding or bar mitzvah; she’s been catering a lot lately. As is the appeal at Yom Kippur — sushi is healthy, light and easy to make kosher, to say nothing of being delicious.

Avocado-Cucumber Soup

Make this soup the day before Yom Kippur. The flavors will meld and actually taste better the next day. Make sure the vegetables are very fresh and of superb quality.

1 large hothouse cucumber, peeled

1 large avocado, peeled and pitted

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt

2 to 3 tablespoons homemade vegetable stock or water

1¼2 teaspoon mild curry powder such as Madras

1¼2 teaspoon cumin

2 tablespoons lemon juice

1¼8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Salt and freshly ground pepper

1 tablespoon chives, snipped into 1¼2-inch pieces

1 package edible flowers (optional)

White truffle oil for garnish (optional)

In a blender puree cucumber, avocado, yogurt, vegetable stock or water, lemon juice, and cayenne pepper until smooth. Season with salt and pepper; refrigerate. Pour into individual bowls; garnish each serving with a few chive sprigs, edible flowers, if desired, and a swirl of truffle oil.

Makes 4 servings.

L’Chaim (To Life) Roll

The day before Yom Kippur, cut whitefish and apple, soak apple in citrus water. Trimmed chives should be soaking in citrus water also. At the break the fast meal, set out ingredients; demonstrate how to make the hand rolls, and then let the guests do their own.

4 ounces ginger-flavored kosher whitefish caviar

1/2 cup crème fraiche

1 cup sushi rice

1¼2 pound of smoked whitefish, cut in

1¼2 -x-4 inch strips

6 to 8 half-sheets roasted nori

1 green apple, cut into 1¼4-inch matchsticks

2 to 3 ounces pickled ginger

1 bunch fresh chives, trimmed to 4 inches

Gently mix the caviar with the crème fraiche.

How to Assemble a Cylinder Hand Roll: Spread 2 tablespoons sushi rice on nori sheet. Place nori vertically on rolling mat. Wet hands; spread about 2 tablespoons sushi rice on nori sheet, leaving a 1-inch border at the top. Lay in 2 strips of whitefish, 3 sticks of apple, a few pieces of pickled ginger and 3 to 4 chive sprigs. Crimp over the bottom edge (not up and over the ingredients) and roll up like a sleeping bag into a cylinder. Dollop a heaping teaspoon of crème fraiche-caviar mixture on top of each roll. Pass a small pitcher of soy sauce to pour into rolls. Serve with cocktail napkins in small fluted or shot glass or lay sideways on a plate.

Makes 6 to 8 hand rolls.

"Watermelon" Sushi

The day before Yom Kippur cut cucumber, combine ahi tuna and spicy mayonnaise, and make Mayonnaise and Dipping Sauce. Keep everything in refrigerator. When you get home from temple you and your guests can assemble this easy, colorful sushi.

1 unpeeled hothouse or English cucumber at least 11¼2 inches in diameter

3¼4 cup minced sushi-grade Ahi tuna

2 teaspoons spicy mayonnaise

1¼2 cup prepared Sushi Rice

1 teaspoon black sesame seeds

1¼2 cup Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce

Cut cucumber into 10 to 121¼2 inch rounds. Using a 11¼2 inch round canapé cutter with a scalloped edge, cut out the center of the cucumber. Reserve centers for garnish. In small glass mixing bowl, mix tuna with mayonnaise. Firmly press 1 teaspoon of rice into each cucumber circle to fill it halfway. Top rice with 1 teaspoon of the spicy tuna. Sprinkle tuna with a few scattered black sesame seeds to resemble watermelon seeds. Serve with Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce.

Makes 10 to 12 pieces.

Sushi Rice With Rice Dressing

From "Sushi American Style" by Griffith (Clarkson Potter, 2004). If you think you’ll make sushi more than once, Griffith emphasizes the importance of purchasing a rice cooker. Makes about 6 cups cooked rice.

3 cups short-grain white sushi rice

3 to 31¼2 cups of water

Pour rice into a freestanding wire-mesh sieve. Under cold water gently swish rice around with your fingers until water runs almost clear, about 1 minute. To dry, fan rice up and around sides of colander, exposing it to the air. Let sit until completely dry, about 30 minutes. (This step may be done in the morning before temple so that when you get home you can begin cooking rice immediately)

Cook rice in your rice cooker according to directions for Sushi Rice.With a rice paddle, scoop hot rice from cooker insert and spread out evenly over bottom of a large shallow wooden bowl or a large glass baking dish. Holding paddle perpendicularly over rice, drizzle rice dressing over back of paddle, evenly covering rice’s surface. Fold dressing through the rice until grains are coated and glossy.

Place dressed Sushi Rice back into cooker; cover with a clean, damp kitchen towel to keep in moisture. Click cooker button onto the warmer setting. Sushi rice is easier to handle when it’s warm; it also tastes better.

Rice Dressing

The sweet vinegar dressing used on Sushi Rice is called sushi-zu and is the secret to its glossiness and sticking power.

1¼2 cup rice wine vinegar

3 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

In a small saucepan, stir vinegar, sugar, and salt over low heat until sugar and salt dissolve. Do not let mixture boil. Stir to dissolve. Set aside to cool and store in a screw-top jar. When ready to make sushi, add 1 tablespoon of dressing per every cup of cooked rice. Adjust the sweetness to taste. This dressing may be made be made ahead of time and kept in the refrigerator for weeks.

Makes 1¼2 cup.

Spicy Mayonnaise

1¼2 cup mayonnaise

1 teaspoon Sriracha (Korean) chili sauce

In a small bowl, mix together ingredients with a fork. For more fire add more chili sauce.

Makes 1¼2 cup

Citrus Soy Dipping Sauce

3¼4 cup soy sauce

5 tablespoons lemon juice, strained

3 teaspoons orange juice, strained

Combine ingredients in a glass jar. Shake vigorously. Keeps in refrigerator up to 4 weeks.

Makes about 11¼2 cups.

Have a Ball With Your Soup


The woman who brought to the Shabbat table dishes such as
sweet pea kreplach and honey-and-pecan-crusted chicken with apricot chutney is
tampering with tradition again, just in time for Passover.

Sue Fishbein, author of “Kosher by Design” (Mesorah
Publications, 2003) has released a new recipe for tri-colored Maverick Matzah
Balls, which joins her repertoire of other variegated victuals, including
salmon/dill/traditional gefilte fish, chocolate lovers truffle brownies and
two-tone sweet pea and carrot soup served in a pumpkin shell bowl.

As she has done in many recipes, Fishbein adds a modern
flair to traditional fare with these matzah balls, and does so without upping
the patchke factor (messing around in the kitchen) by too much.

Fishbein uses matzah ball mix from the package, than adds
puréed spinach for green, turmeric for yellow and tomato paste for orange.

“Kosher by Design’s” Passover section already has a recipe
for stuffed matzah balls, and in addition to Passover recipes such as tzimmes
soufflé, lemon meringues and flourless chocolate torte, Fishbein includes a
two-page list of adjustments and substitutions to make other recipes comply
with Passover restrictions.

Concerned as much with presentation as with taste (see above
for her tri-color fetish) Fishbein’s Passover section also includes ideas for
the seder table and a sample menu.

Maverick Matzah Balls

 

 Spinach Matzah Balls

2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white

2 tablespoons olive oil

4 ounces fresh baby spinach leaves

1/2 cup matzah ball mix (usually 1 bag out of a box)

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with a metal blade,
process the spinach until pureed.

Add 10 tablespoons of the puree into the egg mixture. Whisk
to incorporate.

Sprinkle in the matzah ball mix. Stir in with a fork, mixing
as little as possible. Don’t overwork it.

Chill in refrigerator for 20 minutes.

Meanwhile bring a pot of water or chicken stock to a boil. 

Wet your hands in a bowl of cold water. Using your hand, and
manipulating as little as possible, scoop out a pingpong ball size of the
mixture. Form it into a ball with your fingertips, using no real pressure. Turn
the water down to a simmer. Drop the balls into the water. Cover the pot and
simmer for 20 minutes.

Makes six large matzah balls.

 

Tumeric Matzah Balls

2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 cup matzah ball mix (usually one bag out of a box)

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil.

Add the turmeric into the egg mixture. Whisk to incorporate
to an even yellow color.

Sprinkle in the matzah ball mix. Stir in with a fork, mixing
as little as possible. Don’t overwork it.

Complete recipe as above.

Makes six large matzah balls.

Tomato Matzah Balls

2 large eggs, plus 1 egg white

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 tablespoons tomato paste

1/2 cup matzah ball mix (usually 1 bag out of a box)

In a medium bowl whisk the eggs and the oil.

Add the tomato paste into the egg mixture.  Whisk fully to
incorporate.

Sprinkle in the matzah ball mix. Stir in with a fork, mixing
as little as possible.  Don’t overwork it.

Complete recipe as above.

Makes six large matzah balls.  

When Everything Goes to Pot


In America, the land of excess calories, boiled chicken has a bad reputation. People much prefer their chicken fried, barbecued or sautéed.

But although they may joke about boiled chicken because of its anemic skin and bland personality, on erev Yom Kippur, it graces many a table.

Despite the jokes, my husband and I love this tender poultry almost as much as we love each other. Picture us standing side by side in front of the stove pulling lusciously moist — but barely cooled — chicken breasts from rich golden broth. We peel off weak skin and drop it into the trash. We return large chunks of chicken to the soup. With greasy fingers, we snack on the most tender morsels, the bits sticking to bones.

As much as I adore the taste of boiled chicken fresh from broth, I can’t bear the sight of it on a dinner plate. Next to side dishes, boiled chicken parts look pale, pathetic and shriveled. The best way to eat boiled chicken, before Yom Kippur or anytime, is in the precious broth that gushes from chunky vegetables, chopped herbs and chicken after they’ve steeped together for hours.

I recommend adding rice to the soup. Like boiled chicken, boiled rice is an erev Yom Kippur tradition. Scholars speculate that rice may have become a chosen food on the eve of atonement because its white color is associated with purity.

The custom of eating boiled chicken on Yom Kippur Eve is connected to the kaparos redemption ceremony, a ritual in which a person symbolically transfers sins by holding a fowl in his or her right hand and swinging it three times while reciting: “This is my change; this is my redemption. This rooster or hen shall be killed, while I shall be admitted and allowed a long, happy and peaceful life.” The fowl is never wasted; it is cooked and eaten by the person’s family or given to the poor.

The kaparos ritual is not mentioned in the Talmud. Evidence indicates that it may have begun among Jews of Babylonia. Kaparos is referred to by ninth-century scholars and became widespread in the 10th century. Today, kaparos is still practiced by some religious Jews, however, many of them use coins instead of fowl.

Ironically, even Jews with no knowledge of the kaparos ritual partake in boiled chicken on erev Yom Kippur, possibly by force of habit no longer linked to its origin. I think people instinctively gravitate to this traditional dish because there’s nothing like a homemade bowl of steaming chicken soup, glistening with goodness. Chicken soup is not only healthful, but contributes to a smooth fast because it is satisfying, nourishing and light. Brimming with vegetables and herbs, it is an entire meal in a bowl, especially if you include a carbohydrate. Salt can be reduced or eliminated to minimize thirst the following day.

Before fasting, it is tempting to indulge in delicacies, and plenty of them, to stuff yourself before deprivation. But overeating not only undermines atonement, but often causes indigestion. Junk foods, whether they be sweet or savory, lack the nutrients to fortify the body for hours of prayer and introspection.

Jews the world over are famous for chicken soup recipes, probably because they shun insipid, watery soups. Sephardic Jews in many Middle Eastern countries savor Shorbah, a chicken soup featuring cardamom and so much finely boiled rice that the broth appears creamed. In the Ashkenazi world, the broth is brimming with matzah balls, lokshen (noodles), even kreplach.

Chicken soup is one of God’s divine gifts. If you take a deep breath as the broth simmers, the scent filling the kitchen is as close to heaven as anyone on earth will get. More sustaining than the heartwarming stories in the widely read “Chicken Soup for the Jewish Soul,” one sip of broth nourishes both body and spirit.

While some people may worry that a mere bowl of soup, no matter how filling, cannot provide enough energy on an ordinary day, let alone the most demanding one of the year, this humble entree need not stand alone.

Jewish holiday meals, erev Yom Kippur included, traditionally begin with a fish course. Among Askhenazic Jews, gefilte fish is customary and can be homemade — or purchased frozen or in jars. However, Sephardic cuisine offers more alternatives. Nearly every Sephardic country features a signature fish dish. Delicious recipes, such as Egyptian ground fish balls with tomato and cumin and Syrian baked fish fillets with tahini sauce, abound in Jewish cookbooks.

After the fish appetizer, I suggest serving generous amounts of challah with the main soup course. There’s nothing like the marriage of chicken soup and challah; it’s the ultimate comfort food combination. Whenever I’m sick or in need of solace, I eat the two together. No matter what, it makes me feel better.

Since the chicken soup recipe below is Ashkenazic style, it compliments pickled beets and cucumber salad, dishes typical of Central and Eastern Europe. Cap the meal off with something simple, such as baked apples. The entire menu can be prepared two days in advance, relieving stress for people who are serving dinner and rushing to Kol Nidre services.

The Ultimate Chicken Soup

3 split chicken breasts (6 pieces)

including bones

6 carrots, diced

6 celery stalks, diced

2 large onions, diced

3 parsnips, diced

1 can artichoke hearts, drained

and flaked; remove hairy centers

1 large zucchini, diced

1 large summer (yellow) squash, diced

1¼4 pound string beans,

cut into 1-inch pieces

3 chicken bouillon cubes,

plus one (4 in all)

Salt to taste (optional)

1¼4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)

3 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped

3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped

1¼3 cup raw rice

1. Place all ingredients, except rice and one bouillon cube, into a large pot. Add enough water to cover ingredients by 3 inches. (Water level should be at least 3 inches below top of pot to avoid bubbling over.) Place lid on pot. Boil on a medium flame for about two hours, stirring occasionally to check that broth doesn’t boil away. Soup is ready when broth yellows and chicken falls off bones. Add salt, if needed.

2. Cool soup to room temperature. Remove and discard skin and bones from breasts. Cut chicken into bite-sized pieces and return to broth. Refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Skim and discard chicken fat that has risen to the top.

3. Prepare rice according to package instructions.

4. Boil fourth bouillon cube in 2 cups of water, stirring until it dissolves.

5. Cool rice to room temperature. Add bouillon water. Cover pot for 30 minutes. Rice will swell and absorb the water. If water remains, drain rice in a sieve.

6. Place rice in soup. Heat and serve immediately or refrigerate and serve the following day. Soup freezes well.

Yield: 8 servings.

Quick Cucumber Salad

1 English (seedless) cucumber

1/4 cup dill, stems removed

2 teaspoons sugar

1/2 cup white vinegar

1. Cut cucumber horizontally into circles so thin, they are translucent. Place in a large, nonmetallic mixing bowl.

2. Mince dill fine and add to cucumbers.

3. In another bowl, add sugar to vinegar, stirring until dissolved. Add to cucumbers.

4. Gently toss ingredients until well blended. Cover and refrigerate for 24-48 hours. Serve cold or at room temperature. Yield: 8 servings.

Pickled Beet Salad

6 medium-sized beets, peeled and

sliced into 1¼4-inch circles

1 1¼2 cups dry vermouth

1 1¼2 cups apple cider vinegar

1 cup white vinegar

1 cup sugar

2 garlic cloves, peeled

1 large onion, peeled, sliced, and

separated into rings

1 bay leaf

2 teaspoons pickling spice

10 peppercorns

1 teaspoons salt

1. Place all ingredients in a large pot. Bring to a boil and lower flame. Simmer for 1 1¼4 hours, or until beets are soft when pierced with a knife point.

2. Cool to room temperature. Remove to a nonmetallic bowl and cover. Refrigerate for 24-72 hours before serving cold or at room temperature. Yield: 8 servings.

The Market Approach to Soup

Here are some ways — more reliable than playing the stock market — to make your chicken stock or broth as rich as the liquid gold known since the time of Maimonides as a magical elixir, and more recently as Jewish penicillin.

Basic Stock: Similar to balanced stock portfolios, high flavor yields from a wide variety of sources. To make rich soup stock, place diced carrots, celery, onions and your favorite vegetables with chicken, or even turkey, parts.

Cover ingredients with 2 inches of water and boil for at least one hour, being careful that broth does not boil away. Cool to room temperature. Line a colander with wet cheesecloth. Pour broth through to filter out solids. Instead of water, start your soup with this golden nectar. When you prepare soup from stock rather than water, the broth is deeper and more decadent, too.

Future Stock: Get ahead of the game by making quantities of chicken stock and freezing them in batches for future soups. Defrost stock before adding additional ingredients to pot.

Quick Stock: When pressed for time, add a couple of bouillon cubes to the water, chicken and ingredients. Or instead of water, use canned chicken broth. Either way, season soup with less salt because bouillon and canned broth are salty.

Double Earnings: After consuming a chicken for dinner, either freeze the carcass for a future soup or make soup immediately by placing the carcass in a pot with fresh chicken, onion and vegetables.

Stock Split: While cleaning a chicken to roast for dinner, throw necks, backs, gizzards and wing tips into a plastic bag and freeze for future soup. Do not save chicken livers, because they become bitter when boiled extensively.

Stock Merger: For depth of color and flavor, add beef bones to chicken soup. Better yet, roast bones at 350 F for 15 minutes, and then steep with soup ingredients.

Liquid Assets: Save broth each time you steam or boil vegetables. Freeze and collect enough broth to add in place of water when you make soup. Although in weak solution, vegetable broth adds more flavor and nutrients than water.

Stock Market: Almost any vegetable is tasty in chicken soup, although broccoli florets completely fall apart. When making chicken soup, search your refrigerator for lettuce or other fresh vegetables that are past their prime. Use cooked vegetables, too, even if they were sautéed or made with sauces. Yesterday’s noodles, starchy beans, pasta, potatoes, couscous and corn are welcome, but should be added at the end. Divine chicken soup springs from inspiration and is completely foolproof. Everything you add to the pot contributes a seasoning spin. Some combinations will taste so outrageous, you’ll wish you could recreate them — if only you had those exact leftovers again. — Linda Morel, Jewish Telegraphic Agency