Rye bread is a beloved foodstuff with a rich history. To author Michaele Weissman, it’s so much more.
“What do you do if you’re a writer, married to a guy who was born in Latvia, is obsessed with Latvian rye bread and stays obsessed through [all] decades of your lives,” Weissman told the Journal.
One day, she woke up and told her husband, “My next book is going to be called ‘The Rye Bread Marriage.’”
Weissman’s literary memoir intertwines the bread’s history along with their personal journeys. It’s an honest account, filled with humor, heart and rye bread. “The Rye Bread Marriage” was recently named as one of the ten best memoirs of 2023 by Zibby Owens.
Weissman has published four books and hundreds of articles. Her previous book, “God in A Cup,” is about the specialty coffee industry.
“I had followed some young coffee buyers around the world and had many, many adventures,” Weissman said.
For “The Rye Bread Marriage,” she decided, they would go traveling in Eastern Europe. This time, Weissman’s husband, John Melngailis, would take center stage. Melngailis is a retired professor of electrical engineering and the owner of Black Rooster Food, a small company marketing Latvian rye bread.
“Long before I fell in love with rye bread, but when I had fallen in love with John, I used to say I married him because I knew with him I’d never go hungry,” she said. “We share a common love of food and food shared … with loved ones; that’s a huge bond between us.”
When Weissman entertains at home, she prepares three courses. She is a champion if the first course being composed salads. Her composed beet salad recipe is below.
“I don’t want to jump up after five minutes and change the soup bowls,” she said. “I want my guests, even though it’s the first course, to begin to get to know each other, to be relaxed and leisurely.”
Weissman has found that a big, beautiful, composed salad, filled with beets, pomegranate seeds, maybe a little fennel, oranges, walnuts and cheese, is not a lot of work.
“The secret is that if you serve such a thing as the first course, people will take seconds and they might even take thirds and yet they’re not too full to eat the rest of your dinner,” she said. “And I love that because the dinner starts immediately, the conviviality starts immediately.”
Weissman says that while many things change as you age, the joy of getting to know a new friend or spending time with an old one, while feeding them something delicious, nourishing them, endures.
“I always think that [the best] families are often about something,” Weissman said. “Some are about classical music, some about hiking and kayaking; our family is about this.”
Literally breaking bread.
“It’s about gathering friends at our table and sharing what we love,” she said. “Frankly, I can’t think of a better thing to build a life about around.”
Learn more about Michaele Weissman and The Rye Bread Marriage at MichaeleWeissmanWrites.com.
For the full conversation, listen to the podcast:
Composed Beet Salad
A composed salad is one where you layer the ingredients, one on top of the other, instead of throwing the ingredients together in a bowl and tossing them with the dressing. When you are ready to serve, carefully pour the dressing over the top, making sure it drips down into the nooks and crannies.
Serves 8 or 10 as a first course,
4 to 6 cups lettuce or bitter greens for the base of the salad. (I prefer bitter greens such as radicchio, endive or frisee, but you can use any kind of fresh greens.)
4 large (but not huge) red or golden beets, or both. (approximately 4 cups after slicing). Make these a day or two before serving. Roast the beets in tin foil in a 375 oven for 40 to 60 minutes, depending on their size. Then wash and peel (after roasting the skins will fall away). Slice them and store in the refrigerator for several days. You can dress the beets ahead of time, as soon as you make the vinaigrette dressing (below). They will absorb the flavors of the vinaigrette without breaking down.
Optional: 1 or 2 large fennel bulbs, stalks discarded, cores discarded, sliced thin. (4 cups)
2 or 3 oranges, peeled, sliced and cut into small pieces (2 to 3 cups). When you cut them up, get rid of as much of the pith as you reasonably can and save the runoff juice for the vinaigrette.
3/4 cup or more pomegranate seeds (fresh, if available). Whole Foods and other stores sell pomegranates already seeded, if the idea of seeding them is daunting. To seed a pomegranate, cut the whole fruit in half and then slice the halves along the white pithy. Cut in this way, the seeds pop right out their casing.
3/4 cup toasted walnuts. I always toast them, but you really don’t have to
1 – 1 1/2 cups high quality Roquefort cheese, broken in small pieces. Use the best Roquefort you can afford, quality in this instance makes a difference. If cost is an issue, skip the fennel.
Makes 1 1/2 cups
Note: I always use honey and Dijon mustard in the dressing for salads that contain fruit. These two ingredients make the olive oil and vinegar “jump together,” avoiding a lot of arduous whisking.
1 1/2 tablespoons chopped shallot
grated zest from one orange (approximately 1/2 teaspoon)
1 1/2 tablespoons dijon mustard
2 tablespoons of honey to taste. (You can add more to the finished product if you like, but don’t overdo)
1 cup or slightly less high quality olive oil
1 tablespoon orange juice (from cut up oranges)
2 teaspoons red balsamic vinegar or pomegranate syrup, if you have it
1 teaspoon or less red wine vinegar or white champagne vinegar
fresh ground pepper (I use half a teaspoon, but you can use less)
salt to taste
Add all the ingredients (except the olive oil and vinegars) to a small bowl and whisk together.
Slowly add the olive oil and vinegar, while whisking all the ingredients together. You will be amazed how easily the vinaigrette emulsifies.
Putting it Together
Artfully lay out the salad on a large flat platter, one ingredient at a time. See photo above.
The presentation looks amazing, but it is easy to do.
Serve as a first course with (ideally) Black Rooster Baltic Rye Bread, The sweet/acidic/sour of the vinaigrette and the sweet/acidic sour of the fruit partners beautifully with an earthy 100 percent sourdough rye. A crusty baguette goes well too.