fbpx
Sunday, August 9, 2020

Channeling Safta — Schmaltz and All

Enjoying this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

I’ve always been fascinated by the nature-versus-nurture debate. How many of our personality traits are we born with and how many are learned?

When it comes to cooking, my family tells me that I am the clone of my paternal grandmother, Safta Ernestina. Although I loved her and well remember her legendary warmth, I was quite young when my parents immigrated to America, and I never had the opportunity to spend time with her in the kitchen.

Yet, on a recent trip home to Israel for my aunt’s funeral, I found a photograph of my grandmother that made a strong case for the nature side of the debate. There she was, behind the counter of a café, wearing an apron.  Although we didn’t have much of a physical resemblance, I recognized myself immediately in her eyes and in her informal chef’s attire. Like her, I have always shunned the chef’s white coat, opting instead for a short-sleeved shirt and white apron.

Since I run an American embassy cafeteria, imagine my surprise at finding out that my safta ran a cafeteria on the first floor of an office building on Pinsker and Allenby streets in Tel Aviv.

After grilling my family about the photo, I found out that, after my grandparents left Bulgaria for Israel shortly after the end of World War II, they opened a business selling soups, sandwiches and coffee. When my grandfather died a few years later, my grandmother continued to run the small cafeteria to support my father, who was then a young high school student.  She had an incredibly close relationship with her sister —  Tante Becca, as she’s known in our family — who lived in the adjoining flat. My father describes coming home from school while his mother was at work, cleaning up and doing his homework. When he got hungry, he would call out and Tante Becca would reach down from the window above and hand him a plate of food.

Life was tough in Israel in those days, and my grandmother didn’t have it easy, but she was fun-loving all the same. She loved to cook and entertain, even though her little apartment had a tiny kitchen. Rumor had it that even if the pantry at her house looked bare as could be, she could whip out a feast in no time.

On the other hand, my maternal grandmother, Safta Jana, was the butt of many of my father’s jokes over the years. According to him, since he came from a family full of great cooks, it was agony to eat in a house where you couldn’t tell the difference between the mashed potatoes and the rice.

Much like Safta Ernestina, I work hard for a living. Working in a professional kitchen every day is a thrill, but the stress can be crippling. That’s why you may think I’m crazy for cooking on my days off when it seems that I should want to put my feet up and relax.  But chefs and their families have to eat, too, and while it’s a privilege to cook and nourish others for a living, we are regularly advised to put on our own oxygen masks first.

On Sundays, when I’m not working, I tend to raid the freezer for little packages of things I’ve stashed away at some time when I was coherent enough to think ahead.  This food needs to be fast, and it needs to be comforting.

Inevitably, this is when I make ktzitzot, an Israeli Sephardic meat patty made with or without vegetables. They are great eaten hot or cold with ketchup in a sandwich — hey, I’m an American, too — or with some tahini and a fresh green salad or cut-up vegetables. It’s the Jewish version of meatballs, but unlike the Italian version, ktzitzot usually are flat instead of round. This is straightforward family cooking, the kind that is restful and easy and produces great leftovers for future meals.

Usually, I have a bit of ground beef in the fridge and some lonely and sad looking leftover vegetables in the rotter, I mean, crisper.  Rather than using bread, I’ve found that a carrot, zucchini and onion grated on a cheese grater makes a perfect substitute and makes ktzitzot soft and fluffy.  Make note, gluten-free folks.

I then take a page out of my family ktzitza playbook and throw the meat, seasoning and vegetables into a Ziploc bag, remove air from the bag (trust me), and then throw it onto my kitchen counter about 10 times.  This incredible trick magically mixes all your ingredients evenly, as well as tenderizes the meat.  I then let the bag sit in the fridge for a bit to marry the flavors.

When I’m ready to fry the meat patties, I let the bag sit on the counter for an hour or so to take the chill off. I like to fry my ktzitzot in chicken fat that I keep in the fridge in a jar.  Chicken fat (or schmaltz, as it’s called in Yiddish) is one of the culinary wonders of the world. It has a high smoke point, a savory flavor, and anything you fry in it automatically becomes more delicious. I don’t use much, only a tablespoon or two, but that’s usually enough to fry up about 20 small ktzitzot.

If you don’t feel good about frying in chicken fat, use some avocado oil, refined coconut oil, or any other oil with a high smoke point.

What’s best is that, right now, on top of my stove, is a loosely covered bowl of leftover ktzitzot waiting for someone to walk by, grab one, and eat it standing up over the sink like my father probably used to do at my safta’s house.

ISRAELI KTZITZOT
(MEAT PATTIES)
1/2 large carrot
1 medium-size zucchini
1 medium-size yellow onion
1 pound ground beef (or whatever
meat you like)
1/4 cup fresh parsley, chopped
1/8 cup olive oil (more if your meat is lean)
2 eggs
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon stock powder or 1 stock cube
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 pinch sugar
Oil or schmaltz for frying

Grate carrot, zucchini and onion on a cheese grater and place pulp in a colander with a few pinches of salt to remove the water. After 15 minutes, put vegetables in a clean tea towel and squeeze out all the excess water. Add to a Ziploc bag with remaining ingredients and remove air before sealing bag. Throw bag on the counter about 10 times to mix ingredients and put in the fridge to marry flavors for at least an hour or overnight.

When you are ready to fry your ktzitzot, heat a tablespoon of oil or schmaltz in a large pan and make one tiny meat patty so you can taste it. Cook until dark brown on both sides and taste. Adjust your seasonings to your liking by adding salt or pepper to the mix. When your patties taste good to you, fry them up in batches — about 3 inches in diameter each — turning them over until they are evenly browned on both sides, about 5 minutes on each side. They will puff up a little from the eggs and baking soda. Don’t overcrowd the pan so that they can brown without sweating. Eat hot, warm or cold.

Makes about 20 patties.

Enjoyed this article?

You'll love our roundtable.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

Latest Articles

Lebanese Information Minister Resigns Amid Unrest Following Beirut Disaster

The decision was made as a “response to the public will for change,” minister says • Hezbollah chief, Lebanese leaders hanged in effigy in Beirut protests.

Trump’s Germany Ambassador Pick Under Fire from Jewish Groups for Statements on Immigrants and Nazi History

The nomination of Douglas Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran who now frequently appears on Fox News, made headlines this week after CNN’s K File unearthed a long history of the retired colonel’s comments.

Israeli Cabinet Meeting Canceled Amid Ongoing State Budget Dispute

Likud Party: Blue and White is blocking a $2.5 billion economic aid program. Blue and White: Likud is refusing to honor the coalition agreement.

Israel File Appendix: Early August Polls

The early August polls continue the July trends. Likud is the largest party with just over 30 projected seats. Yesh Atid is the second...

David Goldfein, Jewish US Air Force Chief, Is Stepping Down

Gen. David Goldfein, who for a time was in line to become the first Jewish chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has retired as Air Force chief.

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

A Jewish Guide to Joe Biden’s VP Short List

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is expected to name his running mate in the next two weeks, and while the list of contenders has changed constantly for months, most reports have now whittled the group of front-runners down to Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Susan Rice, Karen Bass, Tammy Duckworth and Keisha Lance Bottoms.

To Shrink Classes Amid COVID-19, Israel Needs to Hire 15,000 Teachers

The hiring spree will begin in earnest only next week, in hopes of delivering half of the needed educators to classrooms by January — five months into the school year.

The Life and Legacy of Torah Scholar and Prolific Author Adin Even-Israel Steinsaltz

Steinsaltz was perhaps best known for his groundbreaking commentary of the  Babylonian Talmud, which is credited with making the ancient Jewish texts more accessible.

The Bagel Report: An American Pickle? Sounds Crazy, No?

Erin and Esther dive right into the barrel and pickle their minds in the majestic, artisanal brine that is Seth Rogen's "An American Pickle,"...

Culture

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Virtual Theater: ‘Fugu’ Tells Little-Known Holocaust Story

"Fugu" is based on the little-known history of how Japan sheltered 6,000 Lithuanian Jewish refugees in the city of Kobe, to protect them from the Nazis.

‘A League of Their Own’ Gets TV Remake Starring Abbi Jacobson, D’Arcy Carden

Amazon Studios is turning “A League of Their Own” into an hour-long series from creator and star Abbi Jacobson who will executive produce with Will Graham.

5 Budget-Friendly Decorating Necessities for At-Home Schooling

Here are some great décor additions that will make your online classroom setup more efficient — and even fun.

‘Nazi Menace’ Serves as Timely History Lesson

Hett usefully observes that by studying history, perhaps we are not condemned to repeat it.

Latest Articles
Latest

Lebanese Information Minister Resigns Amid Unrest Following Beirut Disaster

The decision was made as a “response to the public will for change,” minister says • Hezbollah chief, Lebanese leaders hanged in effigy in Beirut protests.

Trump’s Germany Ambassador Pick Under Fire from Jewish Groups for Statements on Immigrants and Nazi History

The nomination of Douglas Macgregor, a decorated combat veteran who now frequently appears on Fox News, made headlines this week after CNN’s K File unearthed a long history of the retired colonel’s comments.

Israeli Cabinet Meeting Canceled Amid Ongoing State Budget Dispute

Likud Party: Blue and White is blocking a $2.5 billion economic aid program. Blue and White: Likud is refusing to honor the coalition agreement.

Israel File Appendix: Early August Polls

The early August polls continue the July trends. Likud is the largest party with just over 30 projected seats. Yesh Atid is the second...

David Goldfein, Jewish US Air Force Chief, Is Stepping Down

Gen. David Goldfein, who for a time was in line to become the first Jewish chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff, has retired as Air Force chief.

Hollywood

‘Dirty Dancing’ Sequel Starring Jennifer Grey Announced

It’s official: A “Dirty Dancing” sequel is coming, and it’s starring Jewish actress Jennifer Grey, who played Frances “Baby” Houseman in the 1987 original.

Roy Moore’s Lawsuit Against Sacha Baron Cohen Over Being Pranked Can Proceed, Judge Rules

By the time the episode aired, it was widely known that Cohen was punking public figures.

Podcasts

The Bagel Report: An American Pickle? Sounds Crazy, No?

Erin and Esther dive right into the barrel and pickle their minds in the majestic, artisanal brine that is Seth Rogen's "An American Pickle,"...

Shlomo Fischer: The Jerusalem Protests

Shlomo Fischer and Shmuel Rosner discuss the almost daily protests aking place in Jerusalem. Who are the protesters? Why are they protesting? And how...

More news and opinions than at a Shabbat dinner, right in your inbox.


By submitting this form, you are consenting to receive marketing emails from: Jewish Journal, 3250 Wilshire Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA, 90010, http://www.jewishjournal.com. You can revoke your consent to receive emails at any time by using the SafeUnsubscribe® link, found at the bottom of every email. Emails are serviced by Constant Contact

x