Recipe: Blast the heat for a charred vegan salad

Going vegan tastes so good when you turn up the heat on garbanzo beans and create a beautifully charred vegetable salad.

Carbon steel pans and their close cousins, cast iron pans, love heat. Turn a burner on high, place the carbon steel pan on the fire, and you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal. Used by chefs to create crispy skin fish filets and perfectly seared steaks, carbon steel pans can also be used to give vegetables a beautiful, carbonized crust that deepens their flavor.

Hot, fast and easy

Everything is faster with a carbon steel pan. Cooking is quick. And so is cleanup.

Unlike stainless steel pans that must be scrubbed clean after each use, once cured, a carbon steel pan needs only a gentle washing to remove leftover oils. After that, it can be dried on a high flame.

If you have not used a carbon steel pan, think of it as a wok cut down to frying pan size. What carbon steel pans bring to the party is the ability to create rich caramelization quickly. In a matter of minutes, the high heat chars the garbanzo beans and vegetables with a small amount of oil.

Because the temperature of a carbon steel pan can reach as high as 700 F, a blend of oils works best. Eighty percent canola manages the heat with less smoke, and 20% olive oil adds flavor.

Flash cooking adds flavor and seals in the healthy qualities of fiber-rich garbanzo beans, a good source of protein and essential minerals such as manganese and folate or B-9. Also called chickpeas, the legumes provide a starchy contrast to the vegetables.

To make a delicious salad, toss the charred garbanzo beans and vegetables with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar together with finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh leafy greens like arugula, green leaf lettuce, romaine or frisee.

Mise en place, tongs and a good over-stove exhaust fan

What restaurant chefs call mise en place is all-important when cooking with high heat. Because the dish will cook in a matter of minutes, all the ingredients must be prepped ahead of time. Peel, chop and arrange all the ingredients on the cutting board before you fire up the carbon steel pan.

Remember, the pan can get as hot as 700 F, so have a good pair of 12-inch tongs at the ready. Turn on the exhaust fan so any smoke from the pan will be pulled out of the kitchen.

Charred Vegetable Salad With Garbanzo Beans

Use any fresh vegetables you enjoy. Besides broccoli, carrots and onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, Chinese bok choy and celery are also delicious when charred.

All the vegetables must be cut into small pieces so they will cook evenly. Leafy greens can be shredded. Calculate the order in which you add the vegetables based on how long they take to cook. For example, broccoli, carrots and turnips take more time to cook than does spinach.

Because carbon steel pans are relatively nonstick, less oil is required when cooking. The recipe calls for a minimum amount of blended oil. Use more depending on taste.

Reducing balsamic vinegar creates a thicker sauce and adds sweetness, offsetting the acid.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings


  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, washed; skin, root and top removed; thin sliced
  • 1 15-ounce can cooked garbanzo beans, organic if available, drained
  • 2 cups shiitake, portabello or other brown mushrooms, dirt cleaned off, stems trimmed on the end, thin sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, each floret cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large carrot, washed, stem and root ends trimmed, peeled, finely diced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large bunches Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil



1. In a small saucepan over a low flame, reduce the balsamic vinegar to one quarter the original volume. Set aside to cool.

2. Arrange all the prepped vegetables on a cutting board or in bowls for easy use.

3. Place a 10-, 12- or 14-inch carbon steel pan or cast iron pan on a high flame. When the pan begins to smoke, turn on the over-the-stove exhaust fan.

4. Drizzle a teaspoon of blended oil on the hot pan and immediately add the thin-sliced onions. Using tongs, toss the onions in the hot oil, turning frequently to avoid burning. When the onions are lightly browned, add drained garbanzo beans. Mix together. Add another drizzle of blended oil. Using tongs, toss frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add mushrooms. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

6. Add broccoli crowns. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

7. Add finely diced carrots. Mix well and drizzle with blended oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8. Taste a broccoli crown and carrot dice. When they are al dente, with a little crispness, remove from the flame.

9. Transfer to a bowl or large plate to cool.

10. Place the finely chopped Italian parsley into a large salad bowl. Add the room-temperature charred garbanzo beans and vegetables. Toss well. Season the salad with extra virgin olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Thanksgiving: Vegan and vegetarian dishes

In some ways, I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my family’s Thanksgiving Day meal: I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food for the holiday. 

Who doesn’t enjoy a handsome bronzed turkey with lots of stuffing, an appealing array of relishes and a lavish dessert buffet? We pour apple cider for the children, a robust red wine for the grown-ups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast. 

It should be noted, though, that not everyone is interested in the traditional turkey. Quite a few guests these days are either vegetarian or vegan, and so we always try to have a menu that will fill their plates and satisfy their appetites. That is why the side dishes are so important.

Our Thanksgiving dinner will begin with bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with my homemade salsa and served with toasted pumpkin bread. My vegan grandson, Zane, loves my Carrot-Parsnip Slaw so much he can almost eat the whole batch, so it will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu in a double portion.

It’s never a bad idea to serve a seasonal veggie, and  because there is always a colorful selection of squash at the local farmers market, it offers the perfect solution. Just cut it into cubes and sauté with onions and tomatoes. For my husband, Marvin, it is his favorite holiday dish.

For dessert this year, I will give our daughter-in-law, Amy, the baker in our family, a recipe for a Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake to make. I also hope to surprise everyone with scoops of homemade Nondairy Coconut Gelato to serve on the side — and offer them one more reason to give thanks!


  • Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


Prepare Salsa. Set aside.

In a small stock pot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked squash and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the mashed garlic and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with Salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup minced fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste


In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and mix well.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  

Makes about 3 cups.


  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegan substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped in grape juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste


In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, parsnips and raisins. Add the mayonnaise mixture and toss until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.


  • 3 pounds assorted squash (zucchini, yellow neck, summer squash)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds


Cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. In a frying pan, add oil and sauté onion until soft. Add squash, tomato and basil, and continue to sauté until desired texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, transfer to a heated bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


  • 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract


Shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers that form in the can. Pour 1/2 cup of coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low to warm heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the remaining coconut milk into a large pot, add maple syrup and salt, and warm the coconut milk on medium-low heat, stirring until the maple syrup completely dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. Heat until the gelato mixture is thick. Pour into a large bowl, and mix in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. 

Makes about 6 cups.


  • Maple Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar


Prepare Maple Glaze. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Oil and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut oil, almond milk, vanilla extract and vinegar. Add to dry ingredients, whisking just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Drizzle Maple Glaze over completely cooled cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.


  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 2 teaspoons cold water


Whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon. If it is too thick to drizzle over the cake, add 1/2 teaspoon cold water at a time.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

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

Kislev: Rainbows, oil and salt

During the month of Kislev, which begins later this week, we celebrate Chanukah. The most obvious food of this holiday and month is oil, the miracle ingredient.  During Chanukah, some women recite the story of Judith, a heroine who used salt as a weapon. “Legend has it that Judith fed the enemy general Holofernes salty foods to make him thirsty for wine. As he lay in a drunken stupor she was able to slay him, thus saving Jerusalem from siege.”

A symbol of Kislev is keshet (rainbow). During Kislev, when the flood waters receded, a rainbow appeared in the sky and God told Noah, “I will keep my covenant with you and your descendants…and never again will a flood destroy all life. . . . I have put my rainbow in the clouds, and it will be the sign of the covenant between Myself and the world. “

The recipe I created for Kislev uses lots of salt and olive oil but it is not another recipe for latkes! Since Kislev is celebrated during a dark, cold time of year, I offer a dish whose brightness will counter the damp weather and provide lots of nourishing ingredients. It is a salty and oily salad made with an array of bright foods, symbolic of the rainbow, with pieces cut into arches.

Indeed, eating a rainbow of foods is not only good for one’s health, but critical for sustainable agriculture. As part of our covenant with God, we are required to protect Creation. We can be inspired byNoah, the first seed saver and protector of biodiversity. Our agricultural practices–what and how we grow–are critical to environmental sustainability. Indeed, monocropping, lack of biodiversity in seeds, and use of chemicals and fertilizers endanger our food supplies and environment. Such practices remove critical nutrients from soil, leave crops vulnerable to disease (think of the Irish potato famine) and undermines the genetic diversity of our food supply.

Kislev: Oil and Salt Rainbow Salad


  • 1 head of lettuce, washed and torn
  • 10 pitted olives, chopped into pieces
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 1 tbsp roasted and salted sunflower seeds
  • 1 persimmon, chopped into quarters
  • 1/2 orange, peeled and chopped into quarters
  • 3 pieces of stale bread
  • 5-6 tbsp olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional: sea salt
  • optional: juice of remaining half of orange


1. Wash the lettuce and tear into pieces.

2. Soak in olive oil (about 3-4 tbsp total) and then cut into pieces. Place on tray in toaster oven at 375 degrees. Bake until crispy, approximately 10 minutes. Remove from oven to cool.

3. In a serving bowl, add 2 tbsp olive oil to the bottom. (I just learned this tip to help better coat the lettuce in oil.) Add lettuce and mix well with oil. Add olives, capers, permission, orange, sunflower seeds and bread pieces to lettuce. Mix well.

4. Add freshly ground pepper. Taste to decide if salt should be added. Option to add the juice of the remaining half orange. Mix well and serve.


PS: If you are interested in my other Chanukah recipe and articles, please click here and here.

Honey isn’t vegan: Cruelty-free Rosh Hashanah

When Madeline Karpel was growing up in Westwood in the 1950s, her Russian immigrant grandmother spent days preparing the family’s erev Rosh Hashanah dinner: chopped liver, matzah ball soup, brisket and, of course, apples to be dipped in honey. 

“It was always served in the dining room with her best china,” said Karpel, 62, a Mommy and Me teacher at Valley Beth Shalom who lives in Northridge. “I inherited her dining room set, so now when we do the holidays, we eat at the same table that I ate at as a child, with the same china and the same crystal.”

But not the same food.

Ten years ago, Karpel went vegan — eschewing all animal products — after one of her daughters showed her videos of animals on the way to the slaughter. So her Rosh Hashanah table now excludes meat and dairy as well as a traditional staple that might be surprising to some nonvegan Jews: honey, which for centuries has been symbolic of the Jewish wish for a sweet new year.   

The reason, she said, is that the industrial harvesting of honey is not so sweet for the humble insect. For Karpel, it’s a matter of caring for creatures both great and small.

“I had been part of inflicting suffering on other beings in my Jewish celebrations,” said the vegan, who now uses maple syrup to sweeten her High Holy Day apples. “But it’s joyous to celebrate Rosh Hashanah or to break my fast with food that doesn’t involve any pain or suffering.” 

For hard-line vegans, honey — along with beeswax and bee pollen — has been off limits since Donald Watson founded the first Vegan Society in 1944. Some activists call honey production cruel and harmful to the environment.

In most large-scale commercial enterprises, bees are crammed into hives that resemble file cabinets, said Jodi Minion, a wildlife biologist who works with People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals. Honeybees are “manipulated with smoke and prevented from choosing by instinct flowers and plants to pollinate,” Minion wrote in an email. “Beekeepers seek unreasonable control over their hives … by killing queen bees, which not only is cruel but causes immense distress to worker bees.”

All of these stressful conditions make bees subject to “blood-sucking mites, intestinal parasites and disease (e.g. foulbrood disease, which attacks and kills larvae) [and] causes slow, horrible deaths to the bees and can spread to other colonies and native species,” Minion added. “Infected animals are killed, typically via gassing or fumigation, and their hives and bodies are burned.” 

Colony Collapse Disorder is another phenomenon associated with farming bees, in which colonies die off or worker bees abandon the hive, Minion said. This problem facing honeybees — which are also used to pollinate some 100 crops around the nation, from broccoli to alfalfa — has threatened the food supply in recent years, according to Rowan Jacobsen, the author of “Fruitless Fall: The Collapse of the Honeybee and the Coming Agricultural Crisis.” 

Representatives of the California State Beekeepers Association, however, said things are not as bad as Minion would make them seem. Patti Johnson, a board member from Hughson, Calif., said beekeepers’ hives provide adequate space for their residents — otherwise, the bees would swarm or simply not return. And while smoke is used to sedate the bees, it prevents them from stinging, which kills the insects. 

The bottom line, according to the association’s secretary-treasurer, Carlen Jupe of Salida, Calif., is that beekeepers have a vested interest in keeping their charges happy, in order to stay in business.

Even so, local Jewish vegans interviewed by the Journal suggested a variety of agreeable honey substitutes to use on Rosh Hashanah. Tani Demain, a business consultant who lives in Chatsworth, has dipped her apples in agave nectar and other options; Karpel is considering sweetening her desserts this year with a product made from apples, lemon and beet juice, and Heather Shenkman, a cardiologist in Burbank as well as a member of the advisory council of the Jewish Vegetarians of North America (JVNA), skips any kind of sweetener and eats her apples plain. Jeffrey Cohan, JVNA executive director, makes his own date syrup at his Pittsburgh home by pureeing the fruit with water in a blender. 

It was on Rosh Hashanah eight years ago that Cohan and his wife became vegetarians after listening to the Torah reader chant Genesis 1:29, in which God tells Adam and Eve: “I give you every seed-bearing plant that is upon all the earth, and every tree that has seed-bearing fruit; they shall be yours for food.” 

“We looked at each other and said, ‘Guess we’re meant to be vegetarians,’ ” Cohan recalled.

His choice to serve date syrup on Rosh Hashanah also comes from the Bible, specifically Deuteronomy chapter 8, in which God lists the seven sacred foods associated with the land of Israel. One of them is dvash, or dibs, which traditionally has been translated as “honey” but in many modern commentaries is thought to mean date juice, he said.

Although Cohan views avoiding honey as one of the last steps on the road to veganism, “The general principal is that whenever any kind of animal is treated as an economic commodity, the vast majority of the time it turns out very badly for the animal,” he said. “And bees are no exception.”

So, if bees are used for so many crops in the agricultural industry, why can vegans in good conscience eat those plants? 

“The reality is, we can’t completely eliminate animal suffering in our lifestyle,” Cohan said. “So the best you can do is the best you can do.”

That means not forgetting to be an advocate of the little guy. 

“Part of vegan philosophy is that nothing is ‘just’ an animal or a bee; that’s a completely arbitrary distinction,” said Mayim Bialik, an actress who appears on CBS’ “The Big Bang Theory” and who is also the author of a vegan cookbook and a founding member of the Shamayim V’Aretz Institute, which fosters animal welfare practices among Jews. “You could make the same argument about a lot of kashrut.

“There’s a Jewish notion and history of caring for animals and minimizing their suffering that’s important to me as a Jewish vegan in particular,” she added.

For Rosh Hashanah, Bialik uses agave to sweeten her carrots, squash soup and water challah with cinnamon and raisins. It makes the new year just as sweet, she said.

“I’ve taught my sons some of the holiday songs I learned as a kid, and the most common one was ‘Apples Dipped in Honey,’ ” Bialik
said.  “So, now we sing it as ‘Apples Dipped in Agave.’ ” 

How vegans do Passover

Holidays like Passover are a difficult time for Jewish vegans and animal activists, a time of mixed emotions. As much as we love and find relevance in the meaning of the holiday, it’s difficult to be confronted by a table full of the body parts of animals that we love and fight for daily. Some vegans forgo Passover entirely, and some who celebrate with their families feel pressured to defend their ethical choices, or pressured to eat things that conflict with their values. Some are no longer invited to their family’s tables at all.

Last year, my wife and I decided to start a new Passover tradition for our friends: a “veder,” or vegan seder. All of the traditional dishes were served — matzah brie, brisket, gefilte fish, potato latkes, matzah ball soup, kugel and macaroons — in veganized versions without meat, dairy or eggs. Though not all the dishes are appropriate for Passover, the meaning of the holiday and the traditional foods serve to reconnect us to our Jewish roots.

This year was different. One of our guests, 5-year-old Felix, has been vegan her entire life. She did a great job reading the Four Questions. Yes, not exactly traditional, but the tradition that we are creating is our own.

Not only did we add some interesting new dishes like veganized deviled eggs, cashew-based artisan cheese and a couple of vanilla cakes, my wife and I added two new family members to our tribe: two beagles who were liberated from an animal testing lab in Spain. Frederick and Douglass, named after the former slave and abolitionist leader, were rescued last Thanksgiving by Beagle Freedom Project (  The nonprofit organization works to find homes for former laboratory animals.

Like our ancestors whose story we retell every year about their liberation from Egypt, Frederick and Douglass were liberated from enslavement, too. Hundreds of millions of nonhuman animals suffer in private and university laboratories all over the world as test subjects whose rights and dignity are taken away from them.

Douglass finding the afikomen

Freddie and Douglass’ story is an important story to tell at our veder, because theirs is unique. Most animals in vivisection labs never make it out alive. Most are killed during testing. The ones that survive experiments are killed because they are no longer useful to labs and have no monetary value.

Our veder is really not much different than most others except that as vegans and animal rights activists, we see animals as fellow innocent victims. We decide to include and remember the 10 billion animals who are killed for food each year in the United States, the hundreds of millions in vivisection laboratories, the animals enslaved in zoos, circuses, racetracks and water parks for human entertainment, and the millions killed for fur, leather, wool and silk.

Although being vegan is still outside the mainstream, it is in no way a rejection of the values we grew up with. In fact, the very teachings of Judaism encourage us to question authority, protect those who are most vulnerable, and take action against oppression and injustice — qualities that are common, if not necessary, to vegans and animal activists.

After retelling the Passover story, much food was eaten, and much wine was drunk. As the night was winding down, we noticed Douglass running through the dining room. He found the afikomen before our friend’s daughter! Yet another new tradition at our veder is born.

The mouth is the window to the soul

If you want to start a business, Magal Nagar says, don’t rely on other people.

Nagar learned that lesson the hard way. When she had the idea two years ago to open a vegan cafe, Nagar didn’t know the first thing about starting a business. Neither did her friend and partner, Kinzie Oppenheim. 

“We had no knowledge, just the courage,” Nagar said.

So they hired professionals to teach them, which turned out to be a big waste of money. They ended up having to do everything themselves.

The whole process took a year — finding a space, designing a menu, starting a Web site — but today, Juicy Ladies is an established Woodland Hills eatery, and growing in popularity every day. They were named KCOP 13’s 2010 “Best of L.A.” winner in the organic food category.

But there is more to Juicy Ladies than veggie burgers, gluten-free wraps and almond-milk smoothies. Nagar and Oppenheim’s mission is as much spiritual as it is nutritional.

Nagar, an Israeli born in New York, and Oppenheim, who is in the process of converting to Judaism, met while Nagar was running a private therapy clinic in Woodland Hills. Using a technique called channeling — “getting information about someone through spiritual guidance,” she explained — Nagar said she worked with people to improve their lives. Nagar calls this her gift.

It was channeling, Nagar said, that gave her the idea for Juicy Ladies. A longtime believer in the spiritual power of food to cleanse the body, Nagar found an ideal partner in Oppenheim, a certified nutritionist. Together, they set out to find a way to “connect body, mind and soul,” Nagar said.

Eating organic, they believe, is a way to detoxify the body and make it more receptive to healing.

“When you clean your body,” Nagar said, “you can hear your body more.”

Nagar and Oppenheim see Juicy Ladies as much more than just a lunch stop for vegan eaters. They run detoxification programs, host spiritual retreats and reach out to schools in an effort to educate the community on nutrition and its ties to emotional health.

Given the name, you might think Juicy Ladies caters mostly to women. At first, that was the case, but Nagar said men are “becoming more courageous.” She recently served a truckload of firemen who stopped by for a bite. Now, Nagar and her 15 employees serve a wide range of people, from newcomers interested in trying something different to regulars who say they won’t eat anywhere else.

Nagar feels that she’s touching people in a whole new way.

“I love touching people’s core,” she said. “And nutrition supports your core.” 

Check out Juicy Ladies at

Food Rules

Among the major gifts of the Jews to humanity — the idea of one God, the Bible and Ten Commandments, individual rights and human equality — there is also this: finicky eating.

Nowadays, we take for granted the idea that when we sit with others to eat, someone is going to announce what he can or can’t put on his plate. There’s the “I don’t eat red meat” announcement, the more specific “I only eat fish and chicken,” the au courant “I don’t do wheat” and the flip-all-the-cards, pass-the-salad “I’m a vegan.”

Jews started this. The laws of kashrut, the specific set of dietary restrictions set forth in Leviticus, ensured that Jews couldn’t just eat what’s on the menu. While their neighbors gorged uninhibitedly on porky forcemeats, Jews refused. For Jew haters, what their dinner guests didn’t eat became their defining characteristic.

“This disdain for pork and even more so for lard exacerbates the hatred of their neighbors, who consider it a desire to denigrate what is for them the most desirable and precious part of the animal,” writes the anthropologist Claudine Fabre-Vassas in, “The Singular Beast: Jews, Christians and the Pig.” The derogatory word for Jews who pretend to be Christian, Fabre-Vassas points out, was marrano, which literally means “young pig.”

What was once cause for persecution is now a trend. Thank the Jews for pioneering the right of dinner guests to freely and loudly proclaim what foods are anathema to them. Every host has to cook his or her way through a minefield of special diets, and every guest feels duty bound to announce what particular dish is forbidden on moral, political, physiological or nutritional grounds.
Oddly enough, the surest conversation starter at a dinner party is to discuss what people won’t eat.

All this seems to weaken one of food’s sacred powers: to bring people together. Breaking bread breaks so many other barriers as well. It awakens us to our common humanity: Seeing others enjoy the same foods we do has to lead to some degree of empathy.

If the joy of a good meal is the best way to bring friends and strangers together, why do the laws of kashrut make it so difficult? Many years ago, I was at a high-level meeting between local Jewish leaders and officials from the Syrian government. The hotel wasn’t kosher. Syrians ate Chilean sea bass with olives and crusty bread; the rabbis ordered in a prewrapped fruit salad. No bread was broken, no wine glasses raised. The meeting did not end well.

It is all so problematic, these walls we erect at the dinner table. You might think the solution is to do away with them, to ridicule or force people into eating what the majority eats. But here the realm of food starts to sound a lot like the world of politics, where it is neither realistic nor desirable for everyone to think the same. There’s something useful in having the vegan remind us we can make
it through life without hamburger, or the Pollanistas force us to remember that the Chilean sea bass we’re wolfing down may, in fact, be the last, or the kosher-observant Jew remind us that even our appetites must answer to a Higher Authority. It’s a burden any decent chef can gladly bear — I do by making sure at least one substantial dish at every dinner party or Shabbat meal is not just vegan, but really good. People who won’t permit themselves a roast chicken once in a while have suffered enough.

That’s the host’s responsibility. What about the finicky guest? I was a vegetarian for 14 years — no fish, no chicken — so I have some experience here. Rule No. 1: Communicate. A cook wants to please his guests; if I invited you, I want you to leave happy. So don’t wait until the meal is on the table to tell me you’ll just be having the seltzer. 2: Don’t keep saying over and over, “Please don’t make a fuss; it’s no big deal.” If it’s no big deal, eat what’s in front of you. Otherwise, let the cook decide how big a deal it is. 3: If you’re kosher, don’t expect miracles. If a non-Jew is cooking for you — and by non-Jew, I guess I include many Jews — give them clear guidelines and hope for the best.

That last point is bound to upset some people. Am I saying a kosher-observant Jew should occasionally eat something made with the right intention but perhaps the wrong utensil? Is it ever permissible to break the kosher rules for the sake of social harmony? Is it ever OK to be a little less kosher and little more convivial? I’m saying: Keep an open mind. And when in doubt, remember Levi Eshkol, the prime minister who guided Israel through the Six-Day War.

In his new book, “The Prime Ministers,” the former aide Yehuda Avner relates how, just after the war, Eshkol visited President Lyndon Johnson’s Texas ranch, trying, for the sake of his nation’s survival, to procure American fighter jets to counteract the massive rearmament of the Arab nations. It was a hard sell. At the evening meal, Johnson decided to honor his guests by serving birds he had shot that morning. When Lady Bird Johnson saw the Israeli contingent push the main course aside, she was visibly perturbed. She told Avner that her chief of protocol had assured her birds were kosher. An Israeli guest politely explained the intricacies of kosher slaughter.

“But,” said the First Lady, “your prime minister is eating them.”

The Israeli answered that the prime minister must have made an exception to the ancient laws because the First Family’s food was too delicious to resist.

Crisis averted. Israel got the planes, and Avner got a lesson on when to keep kosher, and when to eat crow.