February 20, 2019

Valentine’s Dessert: The Passionate Pavlova

According to polls, 40 percent of Americans have negative feelings about Valentine’s Day. The El Paso Zoo announced “Quit Bugging Me” for the holiday, in which patrons can name a cockroach after their ex and watch as it’s fed to a meerkat. The event proved so popular that the zoo added monkeys to the list of animals being fed. The Bronx Zoo has the same program, which calls it an “eternal and timeless gift.”

Each year in the U.S., billions of dollars are spent on greeting cards, and a few million roses are imported from South America. For a society obsessed with saving trees and lowering carbon emissions, this hardly seems loving (not the planet, anyway). 

In the restaurant industry, holidays like New Year’s Eve and Valentine’s Day are known as amateur nights, when obligatory clichés are on the menu. That doesn’t feel so … well, romantic. For one thing, chefs, bakers and other kitchen staffers rarely get to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It’s one of the busiest nights of the year for restaurants, which means the staff and chefs aren’t with their special someone and sometimes resent being at work. The evening is fraught with pressure — expectations, proposals that could go wrong, or tables for couples who want to eat and run in order to get to the “main event.”

Ask chefs what their idea of a perfect Valentine’s Day is, and most probably would say it’s a night off, avoiding the expensive prix fixe menus, roses and hoopla, and staying home, watching a movie and enjoying a bottle of bubbly and a bed picnic with their lovers. 

“Find your passion; chase it as Anna Pavlova did.”

Not that chefs aren’t romantics. I’d think most people who are passionate about food are romantic by nature. But what about singles? What about widows? Perhaps what we should celebrate on Valentine’s Day is passion. After all, what’s sexier than a person with purpose and passion, whatever the passion is? True love for one’s passion, be it a passion for cooking, teaching, music or architecture — that’s worth celebrating. And when two people bring together their passions — and nurture the passions of one another, the effect is a magical connection.

Take, for example, Russian dancer Anna Pavlova, considered the most influential ballerina of the early 20th century. After seeing the ballet “Sleeping Beauty” when she was 8, Pavlova decided she would become a dancer. At age 18 she was already a prima ballerina, touring all over the world and impressing audiences with her vivid facial expressions and her body’s fluidity.

Pavlova’s passion for dancing was boundless; her natural talent and incredible work ethic live on in the dance companies and schools named after her — even in one of the world’s most famous desserts. Legend has it that a diner in Australia proclaimed their dessert — crisp meringue with a fluffy marshmallow interior topped with lightly sweetened cream and fruit — to be “light like Pavlova.”

Find your passion; chase it as Pavlova did. You don’t need grand gestures to show you care; sometimes the simplest embrace can be the most romantic. If you don’t have a special someone in your life on the “official” day of love — but you have passion — love could be lurking around the corner. 

In the meantime — sweet consolation — more Pavlova for you.

VALENTINE’S DAY PAVLOVA

For the meringue:
5 ounces egg whites (about 5 eggs worth, cold)
1 cup baker’s sugar (fine sugar)
1 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon white vinegar

For the cream:
1 1/2 cups heavy whipping cream, chilled (or 1 can coconut cream chilled)
1/2 cup confectioners’ sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla paste (or extract)
1/2 teaspoon rosewater or orange flower water (optional)

Passion fruit gelée:
1 cup passion fruit pulp
1/8 cup cold water
3/4 teaspoon powdered gelatin

Topping:
2 cups fruit of choice (berries, sliced nectarines, peaches, bananas, pomegranates, figs, nuts, chocolate shavings, honey)

Preheat oven to 340 F.

Separate egg whites from yolks while eggs are cold, then allow them to come to room temperature. 

Using a clean, oil-free mixing bowl and beaters (or a stand mixer), beat whites until soft peaks form. Add sugar 1 tablespoon at a time and beat until thick and glossy or until a bit of meringue rubbed between your fingers doesn’t feel gritty (about 5 minutes.)

When the mixture is smooth, add cornstarch and vinegar and work in by hand until mixed through. 

Tracing around a cake pan, draw an 8-inch circle on a piece of baking paper. Turn over the paper onto a flat baking tray, dabbing a bit of meringue in corners of the paper to make it stick to the pan. Coax half the meringue mixture into a circle with a spatula and then pile the other half on top of the base coat, leaving it no more than 2 inches high with a dome top and edges sloping in. 

Gently transfer the pan into the oven and immediately turn down temperature to 240 F. Bake for 1 1/2 hours without opening the oven door (jarring the over door could collapse the meringue).

After baking, turn off the oven but leave the Pavlova in the oven to cool completely. You can do this the night before and leave the meringue in the oven overnight. Or store cooled meringue in an airtight container on your counter; don’t refrigerate.

To make the passion fruit gelee: Sprinkle gelatin on top of 1/8 cup cold water until powder absorbs. Then stir into passion fruit puree.

Microwave (or stovetop) for 1 minute until gelatin is dissolved. Pour into a small flat container to gel. When hardened, cut into cubes to decorate the top of dessert.

For whipped topping: Place cold heavy whipping cream or chilled coconut cream into a cold bowl. Using cold beaters, whip gently until thickened, then add in confectioners’ sugar and extracts, if using. Whip until soft peaks form, taking care not to overbeat. 

Assemble the dessert right before serving. Carefully loosen meringue from paper with a knife and place on a cake stand. If there are cracks, hide them with the cream.

Pile cream in the center leaving a border so meringue shows.

Carefully top with fruit and passion fruit gelée cubes. 

Serves 6 to 8. 


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Chef Lior Hillel Puts Openness, Hospitality on Menu

Chef Lior Hillel is the successful co-owner of several popular restaurants. He and his partners, Robert and Danny Kronfli, recently renovated and updated their old restaurant, Bacaro LA, reopening it as Bacari West Adams. Although he’s been openly gay for years, Hillel struggled with coming out, and his experiences in restaurant kitchens were not always positive. Because he doesn’t want others to go through similar challenges, he ensures that his restaurants foster an environment of acceptance and nondiscrimination. Born and raised in Israel, Hillel has a well-regarded, established culinary presence in Los Angeles.

JewishJournal: You moved from Israel to the United States is 2005. Was that for professional reasons?

Lior Hillel: Partially. At the time, being gay in Israel was somewhat difficult. My dad was sick and the decision was made not to let him know — to keep it under wraps. So, part of the decision to move was to advance my career, but also so that I could live life to the fullest. 

JJ: How was the culinary experience different here?

LH: It’s less restrictive. It was a dream of mine to go to Le Cordon Bleu in Pasadena and work with ingredients that didn’t have kosher dietary restrictions. It was profound to my development as a chef. 

JJ: How difficult was it to adjust to living in America?

LH: It did not feel natural at first. As an Israeli, I was used to being around family. Family is your safety net and they keep you from falling through the cracks. I had parents, siblings and other family back in Israel. But I had one brother in Pasadena, and I wouldn’t have moved here if he wasn’t here. The transition was difficult and challenging. 

JJ: When did you decide to be more open with your family about your sexuality?

LH: The secret was buried in 2009 when my father died. I confessed over an open grave right before they put the soil on. I confessed and completely buried that secret. I knew that I didn’t bring any shame to my family. 

JJ: You got married in Israel. What was that like?

LH: It was beautiful. My brother was a little apprehensive at first, but he melted a little when he saw the ceremony. He knew it was special. It was intimate and full of love. It embodied the Jewish traditions that I connect with, such as respect for others and having good values. From that foundation, you can do whatever you want, but you need to have that basic human decency. 

“It did not feel natural at first. As an Israeli, I was used to being around family. Family is your safety net and they keep you from falling through the cracks.”

JJ: Did you consciously decide to become an advocate for LGBTQ people in the restaurant industry?

LH: It’s something that evolved over time. I got involved in the ROI community (an international network of Jewish change makers/innovators/entrepreneurs in their 20s and 30s). I wasn’t always treated well throughout my career in kitchens. I was humiliated, put down. There were times when my work was sabotaged. When I got into a position of power or privilege, I knew I wanted to offer a place to work that accommodates the needs of others. If I can make someone’s life easier or smoother, I will definitely do so. Also, part of being Jewish is providing for others, just like some people did for me on some occasions. 

Interior of Bacari W. 3rd

JJ: What role does your Judaism play in your life?

LH: I’ve been questioning the religion part because we’ve lost a lot of family members due to cancer. I’ve been wondering why God is allowing this to happen. But I don’t question the values or culture. I embrace the traditions and values fully. My husband, Zachary, is not Jewish, so we have discussed how we will handle having kids. 

JJ: What type of food do you serve at your new restaurant?

LH: The food is Mediterranean. When I joined the restaurant group in 2008, I put more of my imprint on the menu. What we have today is an emphasis on fresh, small plates. It’s almost like we’re taking people on a Mediterranean tour. We also have some American dishes. We’re known for using fresh, mostly local ingredients that are full of flavor. I like well-rounded dishes with an acid component, spices, crunch and colors. 

JJ: Your business partners are Lebanese. What commonalities do you have that make it a good partnership?

LH: It’s interesting, because we eat the same foods, like the same flavors and have the same type of cooking. We were also raised in many similar ways — things like respecting your elders and having a strict upbringing. 

JJ: What kind of experience can guests expect at your restaurant?

LH: They will be treated with great hospitality. This applies to everything from the food to customer service. We treat our guests like they walked into our house. This is a part of Mediterranean hospitality. 


Allison Futterman is a writer based in North Carolina.

Less Politics, More Dumplings

As I bit into the soup dumpling, warm stock shot out of it and onto the face of the stern-looking older woman across from me. The liquid dribbled a tear down her cheek, leaving a trail across her makeup.

Oops!

I quickly grabbed a tissue and dabbed her face, as if I were her mother, which prompted us both to burst out laughing.

This funny, life-affirming moment occurred in a midtown Manhattan restaurant where I was taking a soup-dumpling workshop with other devotees of the famous Shanghai Xiao Long Bao.

One of the great joys I find in traveling is learning about a culture through its cuisine. I like to take as many cooking classes as possible while on a sojourn. I often know how to make the dish being taught, but I still learn something.

I’ve learned how to make risotto in Milan — stirring only clockwise to evenly cook the grains; pommes frites in France — always double-fry; croissants in London — they take more patience than skill; pad thai in Bangkok — don’t cook the noodles first; and perogies on Manhattan’s Lower East Side — don’t overfill them. 

Why would a professional chef want to take a class alongside home cooks? First, it’s extremely difficult to find a professional-level course while traveling that I don’t have to commit to for days or even months. Second, in each of my workshops around the world I’ve been in the delightful company of men and women who like to be around food, who like to learn new things, and who just want to learn to make their favorite dish. Some, like me, just want to absorb the delights of a kitchen that’s not theirs. Food is fun and engrossing, and even if you don’t cook in your day-to-day life, cooking classes are are a pressure-free zone where you can learn some words in another language, use your hands, eat tasty morsels and then leave without having to do the dishes.

The soup-dumpling class where I made my big splash was given by the China Institute, a cultural center in New York that was founded in 1926, and whose mission is, according to its website, “to advance a deeper understanding of China through programs in education, culture, art, and business.” The China Institute is the go-to resource on China — it offers films, language and art classes, and classes about the rapidly shifting Chinese business culture. I must have been looking into a film at the institute because I received an email asking if I wanted to participate in its first cooking workshop. 

Xiao Long Bao has long been considered by dumpling aficionados to be the king of dumplings. A xiao long is a bamboo steamer and a bao is a steamed bun. I fell in love with them while eating plenty in Hong Kong and all over Asia. The filling is made of minced beef or chicken (generally pork and crab roe in China) that is seasoned with scallions, ginger, soy sauce and a touch of sesame oil. But what makes them legendary are the gelatinized broth cubes that are mixed with the filling so that when the dumplings are steamed, the rich stock melts and creates a soup inside the bun. Although I had made them many times at home, I had never seen them made by a Chinese master chef — as promised in the course description.

I was intrigued. 

I signed up for the class, but as the date got closer I wondered what I had gotten myself into. Oddly, I’d never taken a cooking class in the United States and didn’t know what to expect of fellow enrollees. In the current political climate, where vitriol plays such a large part in our day-to-day reality, I began to worry that I would have to listen to politically correct banter or politically incorrect bravado from a bunch of strangers. I worried about this a lot in the days leading up to the class.

Amid the chaotic, ratings-driven greed of many media corporations and the fearmongering coming out of our nation’s’ capital, it seems our relationships and conversations are getting more strained. And our friendships — the ultimate gift to the soul — can be impacted. I’ve had more than one uncomfortable conversation with friends about politics, and watching television in the U.S. (I don’t have a TV in my home in Uganda) feels like being stuck in a minefield of annoyance. 

But I needn’t have worried. It was a snowy day when I stepped into the warmth of that midtown Chinese restaurant with at least 50 other soup-dumpling fans. About five people were seated at each table, which was decked out with small dough balls (the dumpling wrapper), a few long and thin Chinese rolling pins, a bowl of filling and, of course, the requisite pot of Jasmine tea and miniature cups.

As I initially took a seat at a table, alone, I was immediately and enthusiastically greeted by the guests at an adjacent table — a banker, an advertising executive and an interior designer. My table quickly filled up with a Chinese-speaking American graduate student; his pretty friend, herself a student; and a Chinese woman who spoke very little English.

We introduced ourselves, but rather than talking about my least favorite and dreaded subject, we started to talk about dumplings — where we had eaten them, which NYC restaurants had the best ones, what we did for a living, where we had recently traveled and where we lived. All the while, an old dumpling master, Chef Wu, and a female sous chef — neither of whom spoke English — demonstrated the signature bao rolling and pleating technique. 

As we lightly floured our work surfaces, rolled the wrappers with the pins, filled them and pleated them, not one negative word was spoken — not about anything going on in the nation’s capital, not about Cheetos or the state of Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ wardrobe, nothing about anti-Semitism or women’s marches or any of the hundred other topics we expect to hear about at every social occasion or family get-together.

It was blissful.

For over two hours, life was like it was before, when we were unaware of strangers’ (and many friends’) political affiliations. Other than snapping pictures of our slightly misshapen, sticky, round balls of dough, perfecting pleats was the only thing on our minds. We all watched in rapt attention as the dumpling master chef pleated baos with two hands and then, mind-bendingly, with only one hand. We were not Republicans or Democrats or even Independents. For that afternoon, in that cozy, fragrant, midtown Chinese restaurant, we were all just foodies, united in our love of a good Shanghai-style soup dumpling.

To my friends, many of whom are regular readers of this column, you are on notice. I’m not going to let a lifetime of memories get chipped away by a difference of opinion about a political candidate or about something as important as national security or climate change. Fundamentally, without the support and love that are part and parcel of life-sustaining friendships, the environment is not worth saving anyway. We may not always agree, but luckily for you, I’m now quite a master soup-dumpling maker.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

A Recipe to Savor Every Minute

My birthday is this month, and while I’m thrilled to have made it through another year relatively unscathed, in February my mind always turns to a little review of the past 12 months.

I suppose it’s a natural impulse to want to press rewind and recognize some mistakes and victories in order to brace yourself for what’s to come. As the years have gone by, I’ve realized I have fewer minutes to waste. Time takes on more meaning when you have less time ahead of you than the time you’ve spent.

The good news is that each year of life presents us with 525,600 minutes for change. We’re told that even the smallest change in thought and action can have a profound impact on our happiness potential each day. Even if about 150,000 of those minutes are spent sleeping, we still have more than 375,000 minutes to fill with positive intentions and action.  

And so … “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!”

Sorry to startle you. That’s the shouted mantra I always hear from the ripped, microphoned drill sergeant who leads the early morning spin class I take when I’m in New York City. Recently, as she repeatedly hammered us with that phrase throughout the 50-minute session, it occured to me how much of human experience is shared. As much as we think we are special individuals and our problems are exceptional, most of us fall prey to the same drives, desires and routines. What makes us unique is how we choose to parse and process the information that impacts our lives.

Isaac Asimov, one of the most prolific science fiction writers, once wrote: “If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster.” While writers may spend more of their time living in their heads, allowing them to feel sheltered in the little worlds they create, the pursuit of happiness for most of us may boil down to living in the moment as often as possible and learning to appreciate the struggle.

If you think about it — the 100 relatively effortless minutes you spend baking these beauties will make at least a few hundred other minutes enjoyable to the loved ones with whom you share them.

If only we could just buy happiness. Actually, if there’s anything a decade in Africa has taught me, it’s that it’s very possible to have all your needs satisfied on a material level and still be unhappy; some of the poorest people I’ve met here are some of the most joyful.

While most people on the planet desire a life full of meaning and purpose, it seems like a cultural imperative for Jews. After all, from childhood we are taught to ponder the unthinkable — all the Jewish lives that were denied their full existence. We learn how much audacity went into creating a country like Israel, an unreasonable dream and a downright miracle of obstinance and chutzpah. My maternal grandparents struggled beyond belief to make sure their children survived the war. I think I best honor their memory by creating as much joy in the world as I can and by appreciating the fact that, because of them, I have the opportunity to struggle through life’s ups and downs. After all, if I was born with the DNA of people who faced the ultimate hardships and still persevered to make a life in a country like Israel was in her infancy, well, I won the lottery. 

Although I’m hardly a planner, this year I broke down my minutes so I could try to figure out how to spend them wisely. The results are surprising. If I spend about 110,000 minutes cooking; 45,000 minutes writing about cooking; 22,000 minutes exercising; 22,000 minutes eating (to offset the exercising); about 5,000 minutes making plans; 10,000 minutes traveling; 50,000 minutes with family and friends; 22,000 minutes shopping, cleaning, primping, doing chores, paying bills, filling out spreadsheets and slogging through miscellaneous drudgery; I’m left with almost 90,000 minutes to spare. (As a chef, I’m fortunate that many of my cooking minutes are folded into my work minutes, so I don’t need to pick between working and cooking. This was intentional.)

I want to spend those 90,000 minutes helping people, training, tutoring, volunteering, taking cooking classes, reading, listening to music, watching movies, making new friends, nurturing old relationships, sinking into time-honored Jewish rituals and — if I haven’t already — consistently challenging myself.

I’m hoping, for your sake, that you spare some time to enjoy these remarkable roasted beet galettes, a recipe from Eva Barnett, chef/owner of the wonderful Café Adella Dori in the Catskills and the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors.  I can hardly think of a better way to use 100 of your minutes, precious as they are. 

If you think about it — the 100 relatively effortless minutes you spend baking these beauties will make at least a few hundred other minutes enjoyable to the loved ones with whom you share them.

Oh, and while you’re baking these … “GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD!”  

Eva Barnett’s Roasted Beet Galettes

For the dough:
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting work surface
1 teaspoon kosher salt
¼ cup fresh rosemary, finely chopped
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, cut into 1/4-inch cubes and chilled until very cold
½ cup ice water

For the filling:
1 ½ pounds raw beets, peeled and cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 ½ teaspoon kosher salt
½ teaspoon black pepper
½ cup extra virgin olive oil + 1/8 of a cup for brushing
1 cup feta or goat cheese (I prefer goat cheese to feta in cooked preparations)
1/8 cup chopped fresh herbs — thyme, rosemary, sage or a combination

Preheat oven to 400 F. To make the dough, put flour, salt and rosemary in a food processor. Pulse to combine. Add very cold butter cubes to the processor and pulse until dough forms pea-sized clumps. Add ice water ¼ cup at a time and pulse just until the dough is combined. Do not over-process or dough will be tough. Turn out dough onto work surface and knead gently into a smooth disk, working quickly so as not to melt the butter. Cover disk with plastic wrap and chill in the refrigerator while you cook the beets (about 1 hour — I prefer to do this a day ahead.)

Peel and clean beets. Slice each in half, and with the flat side down on a cutting board, cut into ¼-inch slices. Toss with ½-cup olive oil, salt and pepper until thoroughly coated. Spread beets out in a single layer on a baking tray and roast until tender — about 40 minutes. 

When beets are completely cool (room temperature) take the chilled dough out of the refrigerator.  Divide dough into 6 equal portions and roll each portion into a ball (this may take some gentle kneading but do not overwork the dough.) On a lightly floured work surface, use a rolling pin to roll out each ball into a flat circle until approximately 1/8-inch thick and 6 inches in diameter. Transfer each disk onto a parchment-lined baking sheet (you may need two) and pop back into refrigerator or freezer to chill for 10 minutes. After 10 minutes, remove dough from refrigerator and fill the center of each disk with beets, leaving a 1 inch border uncovered. Brush beets with remaining olive oil and crumble cheese over top. Fold in the sides of the circles to partially cover the beets, leaving them uncovered in the center. Sprinkle with chopped fresh herbs. Bake for 40–45 minutes or until crust is golden brown.

Makes six, 6-inch galettes.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Soy Vay: Teriyaki and the Magic of the Unexpected

Like almost every Jew I know, I seem to have a microchip installed somewhere in my body that is programmed to a default factory setting that considers fatty fish, beef, chicken or tofu covered with a heavy shellac of salt and sugar and served over rice or noodles to be, for lack of a better term, the bomb.

Just the word “teriyaki,” for example, conjures up fond memories of Chun King mini egg rolls that are still sold in the frozen food section (but rarely seen at parties anymore) and the packets of sweet chili sauce or Chinese mustard “included” in the box. If you grew up a Jewish kid in the suburbs, eating in restaurants close to your cul-de-sac that served pupu platters with flaming blue gel in the center and Mai Tais (with orange slices, maraschino cherries and paper umbrellas), or if your Christmas tradition involves Chinese food and a movie, this is your soul food!

Teriyaki is a simple Japanese technique for meat that’s been around since the 17th century and produces a gorgeous piece of protein. In Japanese, “teri” means “to glaze” and “yaki” translates to “grill”; but in America, teriyaki is a flavor profile borne out of decades of immigrants adapting to cheap and plentiful local ingredients. Although the Japanese developed the concept of umami (the savory fifth taste), Asian cooks tend to let the freshness of the ingredients shine through and use sugar, salt, soy sauce and spices to their advantage, not to overpower a food. But American teriyaki is defined by excess — overly sweet, overly salty, boldly flavored. It’s an overt and direct attack on the taste buds, and we’ve come to really like it that way.

Modern Japanese, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean food in the U.S. has come a long way from the days when fried rice and orange-colored sweet-and-sour pineapple chicken were the go-to orders for restaurant patrons. But there is something remarkable and nostalgic about a flavor profile like teriyaki, and it has little to do with its origins. Certain foods have infiltrated Americana through chain restaurants and fast-food establishments to become part of our national taste memory. Like lasagna and tacos, these American staples bear just enough resemblance to their origins to make them recognizable; but they are, first and foremost, a perfect example of an adaptation of immigrants to their environment. Teriyaki, for example, was brought to Hawaii by Japanese sugar cane workers in the mid-1800s, but ingredients for the simple-to-prepare sauce — soy sauce and mirin (a sweet rice wine) — were quickly modified to save money. Soon, the sweet mirin was replaced entirely by cane sugar (which makes sense on a sugar plantation), and by the 1920s ginger, garlic and green onion were added — most likely an influence brought by the influx of Chinese immigrants to Hawaii. 

Teriyaki really got interesting after World War II. American GI’s serving overseas became obsessed with all things Polynesian.

But teriyaki really got interesting after World War II. American GI’s serving overseas became obsessed with all things Polynesian. By the 1960s, cheap wheat to make soy sauce and mega sugar cane production created a perfect storm in which the flavors of the East slowly infiltrated restaurant menus, home décor and party food. Egg rolls, rumaki and crab rangoon became all the rage, but teriyaki sauce was the gateway drug — salty, sweet, sticky, simple to prepare and not too exotic as to intimidate. We knew these flavors and they became part of us. 

Today, most American households have a bottle of teriyaki sauce in the fridge, and what’s more incredible is that teriyaki has completely changed from a description of a Japanese cooking technique to a pourable sauce, marinade and food category. Kikkoman’s original teriyaki sauce is the best-seller on the market today and is considered “best in its class,” boasting the sugary, pineapple flavors of Hawaii and the salty authenticity of a Japanese brand. But it shouldn’t surprise you to know that Soy Vay’s Veri Veri Teriyaki, the brainchild of a Jewish and Chinese-American couple, comes in a solid second. Soy Vay adds more Chinese ingredients to the sauce: ginger, garlic, onion, sesame seeds and sesame oil. Soy Vay managed to produce an entirely new (and kosher) teriyaki by building on the suburban Jews’ Chinese restaurant flavor profile in an authenticity-obsessed foodie landscape. And Soy Vay did this unashamedly by moving further away from the original Japanese soy sauce and mirin formula, and without being “authentic” about it in any way.

The result — one of the many ironies of modern-day cooking — is that now when I make teriyaki chicken, salmon or meatballs in my café, I have to adapt the original technique and recipe to the American palate, which unexpectedly merged to form a whole other thing. We’ve distilled the abundance of flavors, methods and ingredients from centuries of other cultures into some of our own, and what we’ve come up with is magically delicious and quintessentially American. 

Here is my version of Soy Vay, just in case you don’t like soy as the first ingredient in your food and sugar as the second. But don’t worry. It still tastes like what you remember from your teenage years — that favorite strip-mall Chinese restaurant with tiki torches lighting up the corners.

YAMIT’S “AMERICAN” TERIYAKI GLAZE
2 parts tamari (tamari is gluten-free, but low-sodium soy sauce is fine)
2 parts sake (Japanese rice wine)
2 parts mirin (Japanese cooking win similar to sake but with a higher sugar content)
1 part rice vinegar or white vinegar
1 part white or brown sugar or sugar substitute (I use an erythritol-based sugar substitute called Sukrin)
1 part juice of freshly grated ginger (grate and then squeeze out the juice)
1 part juice of freshly grated garlic (optional but I use it)
1/4 teaspoon toasted sesame oil (optional)
1/4 teaspoon white pepper (optional)

Ingredients are listed as a ratio so cooks can scale up or down accordingly. It keeps in the fridge in a clean glass jar for at least a month. Use in the last moments of cooking to glaze fish, poultry, steaks, tofu or vegetables. You can also use it as a dipping sauce or add it to hamburger meat to create a fantastic teriyaki burger. 

Note: Don’t marinate food in teriyaki; it pulls the juices out of the meat and you don’t want to start caramelizing the sugar in the sauce until you have crisped up its exterior.

Combine all ingredients (except for sesame oil) in a saucepan and cook over medium heat until a drizzle of sauce is thin enough to run down a plate but thick enough to stick.

The sauce thickens upon cooling. After it thickens, whisk in a drop or two of sesame oil and store the glaze in a jar until you want to use it.

You can use any unit of measurement, from tablespoons to cups. The only exception is sesame oil. Sesame oil needs to be subtle or it overpowers.  Its taste should barely be discernible here. I never use more than a teaspoon even for a big quantity of sauce. 

Trust me, make extra.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Ply Them With Schnitzel

In Israel, when you are a child, you pretty much live on schnitzel with mashed potatoes, with fries, as a sandwich, in a pita with hummus or just by themselves, eaten cold after school. It’s a very popular food that was introduced by Ashkenazic Jews, mostly of German origin, when they immigrated from Europe. During the early years of Israel, because veal was not obtainable and pork is not a kosher option, chicken was the meat of choice; it’s tasty and inexpensive.

In Israel, there are entire frozen food sections devoted to schnitzel, in case you don’t or can’t make your own. These tasty cutlets usually are made from processed chicken or turkey with skin and organ meat included — kind of like McNuggets — not that there’s anything wrong with that. I don’t think I ever met a kid (or a man) who doesn’t love these and can’t eat them by the plateful right out of the frying pan. 

On my last trip to see my maternal grandmother, she asked me if I still like schnitzel. She was 90 years old and in an assisted-living facility but still had her own kitchen. I watched as she gingerly floured, egged and breaded the schnitzel and then fried them with her grandmotherly hands so I could enjoy my childhood snack. Her eyesight was not very good at that point and I think she put about twice the salt in them than she should have but they were more delicious for it and I have since always generously salted my schnitzel. 

My favorite way to eat schnitzel, though, is cold, on a soft bun smeared with mayo and a bit of ketchup, preferably on my way to or from the beach. This is pure memory food. My auntie or cousin used to pack us a lunch for a day at the beach; we could never wait until lunchtime and would gobble them up in the car on the way. The delectable nature of a schnitzel sandwich is almost too much to believe and hard to hold out for. When I make them, I always make two per person because even fussy eaters love them. I’ve noticed that the people who eat your schnitzel sandwich will always be the ones who claimed not to want one in the first place. Don’t fall for that trick. Make them one anyway!

The delectable nature of a schnitzel sandwich is almost too much to believe and hard to hold out for.

I had some hungry kids over recently and, much like when I make this in the café, I served my schnitzel with sweet red cabbage, mashed potatoes and lots of gravy, but for kids, all you really need is some fresh buns and some ketchup and they couldn’t be happier. As much as I love every single component of this meal, the red cabbage is such a big star here. It’s by no means dietetic, and I don’t even try to make it so because I’m from the “go all-in once in a while” school of thought. I sauté onions and red cabbage low and slow until they are melting and soft in olive oil. I add chopped sour apples, salt, sugar, freshly ground pepper and apple cider vinegar and I let the whole mass just barely caramelize in its own juice. I think it cuts the richness of the schnitzel and gravy beautifully.

All around, if you have some calories to spare, this dish has definite “last meal before prison” status in my book and it goes without saying that if there are little people in your life who are in need some good cheer, you’d do right by them to ply them with schnitzel. They will love you until the end of time.

CHICKEN SCHNITZEL

2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken breasts
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
2 tablespoons paprika
1 tablespoon garlic powder
1 1/2 cups bread crumbs or matzo meal
2 large eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon mustard
Water
Vegetable oil for frying (canola, grape seed, peanut, avocado but not olive oil)
Lemon wedges for serving
Fresh buns (if serving to kids)
Ketchup for dipping or a combination of equal parts ketchup and mayonnaise 

Butterfly chicken breasts by using a sharp knife to cut each breast in half lengthwise. Place a long strip of plastic wrap on your kitchen counter and place one half of one breast down. Lay another piece of plastic wrap on top and, using a meat mallet or a rolling pin, gently flatten the meat between the two pieces of plastic wrap until it is 1/4-inch thick and even. If the piece is too thick when flattened, then cut it in half again.

Set up a frying station with three flat bowls. Combine half the salt, black pepper, white pepper, paprika and garlic powder in the bowl with flour, and the other half of the spices into the bowl with breadcrumbs. In the third bowl, place beaten eggs mixed with mustard and a few tablespoons of water to thin. Place a flat sheet pan or plate nearby where you will place your coated schnitzels.

Pour 1/2 inch of oil into a frying pan and heat over medium. Place a small corner of bread into the oil; when oil is ready, the bread will begin to fry and sizzle. While you are waiting for oil to heat, begin coating the chicken breasts. Start with seasoned flour, dip into egg mixture and then into breadcrumbs, making sure to coat each part of the surface area in crumbs.

Set up a paper towel-lined plate to hold your cooked schnitzels. They should take 3-4 minutes per side to cook. Fry only a few at a time without crowding the pan so that the oil temperature doesn’t drop because that leads to oily schnitzel. Ideally, the frying temperature should stay at 375 degrees, so let the oil reheat between batches.

Sprinkle schnitzel with additional salt to taste, if desired, and serve with lemon wedges or with ketchup and mayonnaise on fresh buns for kids. 

Serves 4 adults or 8 kids.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Jewish Journal City Guide 2019

Need to know what’s happening around the Greater Los Angeles Jewish community? Fear not, The Journal has compiled everything you need to know right here (just click the magnifying glass).

 

 

Table of Contents:

Community

 

 

Summer Camp

 

 

Education

 

 

Religious Life

 

 

Goods & Services

 

Heaven-Scented Hamin: Slow Food for Warm Souls

There are some dishes that require a few chefy techniques to come out well, although I maintain those are few and far between. Then there are classics, like chicken soup, that once you know the tricks, they require no more measuring or tinkering to be consistently pleasing.

Then there is a hamin or a cholent, depending on where in the world your people came from, which like all good peasant food requires very little in terms of technique, rather some tips passed down through the generations. 

A cholent, a uniquely Jewish food, is a Shabbat dish that was born out of its observance. It is prepared on Friday afternoon before sundown and cooked overnight at a very low oven temperature, then eaten Saturday for lunch after returning from services. This provides a hot, hearty meal without violating the commandment against cooking on the Sabbath. In Israel, there are still whole communities in Jerusalem that cook their cholent communally, usually in a town baker’s wood-fired oven; a revival of dish’s popularity in Tel Aviv has many restaurants selling it made to order by the pot.

Food historians attribute the word cholent to the French chaud lent, meaning “to warm slowly.” Food journalist and cookbook author Joan Nathan theorizes the dish likely originated in ancient Israel and migrated to France and then to the rest of Europe. Apparently, when the Spanish Inquisition forced the Jews out of Spain and into Eastern Europe the dish’s ingredients changed from lamb and chickpeas to beef, beans, barley and potatoes. 

For the Jews who escaped Spain and fled to northwestern Africa across the Strait of Gibraltar, the ingredients of the hamin evolved according to what was available locally, and called a dafina, which means “covered” in Arabic. The dish traditionally was buried in a pit and covered with hot ashes on the eve of Shabbat, with household residents picking up their cooked treasure on their way home from synagogue. Although the recipe for a Moroccan dafina varies from city to city and from family to family, every Jewish house was distinguished by its dafina, and legend has it that the noble rabbis could sense the peace and holiness of the house from the smell of the Shabbat stew. While the spices of an Eastern European cholent usually are restricted to salt, pepper and paprika, a Moroccan dafina usually includes sweet potatoes, honey, cinnamon, cumin and dates. 

Sephardic Jews tend to include packages of rice and brown eggs called haminados in their hamin but Ashkenazi Jews tend to use root vegetables and kishke, a sausage made of shmaltz, flour and vegetables. The Jews of France adopted a version of this stew and called it schalet. Jewish food historian Gil Marks said all three versions — hamin, schalet and cholent — consisting of beans and meat, seasoned with onions and slow-cooked overnight, were the basis for the iconic southern French cassoulet, and that there is a good chance the medieval dish had its roots in Judaism.

Because Jews have been scattered all over the world for centuries, there are as many recipes for a hamin as there are cooks. In Israel, I once sampled an exquisite hamin prepared by an Argentine cook who slow cooked duck breasts stuffed with pasta and stewed with prunes. The long tradition of hamin, distinguished by region and imbued with the flavors of many cultures, is also one of extended family and even neighbors. After all, one cannot make a cholent for two; by definition, it is an experience of communal eating. And although you must plan ahead to make it, soaking the beans and grains overnight is hardly cause for concern. From there, it is a straightforward and meditative one-pot wonder that hardly involves the interference of the cook except for the very beginning of the process. 

While I prefer to cook my cholent in the oven, I know there are many who use a countertop slow cooker, a tool that can be turned on and forgotten about until the next day. I also don’t, as many do, add ketchup, cola or honey to my cholent; rather I employ some techniques using caramelized sugar, onion skins and a tea bag to deepen the signature brown color of the dish.

Cholent enthusiasts are divided over whether to pre-sear the meat but I am adamant in searing it although it’s an extra step.

In addition, I also always include chicken thighs and homemade chicken stock in my cholent. The reasons for this are obvious: Shmaltz imbues the flavor of beans and everything it touches with a savory quality that cannot be replaced, and the gelatin produced by the chicken bones in the stock creates a “protein crust” and a viscosity that is otherwise impossible to achieve without it.

Even though I tend to identify with my Sephardic side, certainly when it comes to my food tastes, this is one case where I move more toward my Ashkenazic side. I prefer kishke over rice and white beans over chickpeas. I don’t use any Middle Eastern spices, opting for the more traditional paprika, salt and pepper only. The nod to my Sephardic side ends with the insistence on adding haminados in the pot. I tend to serve my cholent with a variety of fresh salads and pickles. I find the acidity in the dressing necessary to cut the richness of the stew.

As for leftovers, this is one stew that guests are happy to take home but if not, it makes a wonderful soup the next day, thinned with some extra broth and served with toasted bread. It’s almost like another dish entirely.

As we enter the darkness and chill of winter, it doesn’t matter what you call it — cholent or hamin, dafina or schalet — as it always has been, this is one dish that will perfume the houses of Jews on Shabbat until the end of time. 

YAMIT’S CHOLENT
2 tablespoons oil or chicken fat
4 large kosher chicken thighs (skin on)
2 pounds fatty, kosher beef-brisket, flanken or short rib, chopped into 2-inch pieces
2 large yellow onions, cleaned and chopped (reserve skins)
5 cloves garlic, peeled and left whole
1 pound russet potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 pound sweet potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large marrow bones, soaked in salted water until very white
1/2 pound dried white beans or cannellini beans, soaked overnight
1/2 cup pearl barley (or wheat berries or freekeh), soaked overnight
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 tablespoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon sugar, caramelized in a pan until brown
1 quart (or to cover) strong chicken stock
1/2 pound kishke, plastic casing removed
6 large eggs, boiled for 3 minutes and drained
1 black tea bag

In a large, 10-quart, heavy-bottomed pot with a tightly fitting lid, brown the chicken thighs and beef in oil. Remove the meat, set aside and fry the onions until soft. Add the garlic and fry until the aroma rises.

Add half the potatoes and sweet potatoes to the pot, add the marrow bones and arrange the beef, chicken, drained beans and barley on top, and then the other half of the potatoes sprinkling each layer with salt, pepper and paprika as you go. Add the caramelized sugar.

Cover with stock. Steep teabag in a cup of boiling water or stock and add the liquid to the pot. Add onion skins. Bring pot to a boil. Remove any scum that rises. Arrange kishke on top and then the eggs. Make sure all items are submerged at least 3/4 of the way in liquid and then put the lid on and transfer to the lowest-temperature oven (200 degrees F.) overnight.

Check on it in the morning and add boiling water should the stew look dry. Cook for at least 14 hours and up to 18 hours before serving.

Serves 12.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at
the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Reuben Tots With Russian Dressing, Rye Toast Crumble

As featured at Festival of the Holidays at Disney California Adventure Park
By Pam Brandon

Russian Dressing
½ cup mayonnaise
1 ½ tablespoons ketchup
⅛ teaspoon Worcestershire
½ teaspoon prepared horseradish
1 ½ teaspoon dill pickle relish
1 ½ teaspoon chopped parsley
1 ½ teaspoon chopped onion
¼ teaspoon ground chipotle pepper
½ teaspoon coarse salt
¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Blend all ingredients in a blender. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Rye Crumble
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 cloves garlic, chopped
½ teaspoon salt
2 slices rye bread, cut into ½-inch cubes

Preheat oven to 300 F. Melt butter and garlic in small saucepan over low heat. Add salt. Toss rye cubes in butter and place on baking sheet. Bake for eight minutes, stir bread crumbs and bake additional five to eight minutes, until toasted. Cool for 20 minutes. Pulse in food processor to make coarse crumble.

Reuben Tots
1 pound tater tots, cooked according to package directions
¼ pound corned beef, diced
½ cup sauerkraut
1 bunch chives, chopped

Divide tater tots evenly among four dishes. Top with corned beef and sauerkraut. Drizzle Russian dressing on top. Sprinkle rye crumbles and chives on top of dressing.

Serves four as an appetizer.

Challah and Sufganiyot in the Clouds

Winston Churchill was so impressed by Uganda during his 1907 safari that he wrote a book about it titled “My African Journey.” Published in 1908, Churchill wrote of the then-British Protectorate: “For magnificence, for variety of form and color, for profusion of brilliant life — bird, insect, reptile, beast — for vast scale — Uganda is truly the Pearl of Africa.” 

Churchill’s arduous journey took him from Mombasa and Kisumu in Kenya, across Lake Victoria and into Entebbe and Jinja in Uganda. 

Upon reaching Ripon Falls, he left “modernity” behind, walking, bicycling and canoeing until he reached Murchison Falls, the world’s most powerful waterfall. Although he continued by boat along the Nile through Uganda into Sudan to Khartoum, it was Uganda that he fell in love with. Most visitors to Uganda still do, only now, much more comfortably than Churchill did and enjoying much better food than was available in 1907.

Indeed, after living in Uganda for over a decade and having traversed the continent, I’m left breathless every time I venture outside its lively cities. A two-hour drive outside the capital Kampala’s perimeter delivers nature’s full bounty with plentiful wildlife and endless swamps of papyrus, forests and vast African plains. As a chef and founder of two of Kampala’s first Western restaurants, I’m often asked to train to various lodge staffs around the country, some with remote bush kitchens, little more than tin shacks without running water or sometimes even electricity. 

Last week, I was elated to have a four-day Thanksgiving holiday weekend free and an invitation to southwest Uganda to a remarkable award-winning lodge called Clouds, part of a five-star franchise of safari lodges in isolated locations around the country. Wildplaces camps are remote, luxurious throwbacks to a more glamorous era with personal butler service, spas, gourmet food and some of the world’s most stunning views. The brainchild of Montreal-born Pamela Kertland and her British husband, Jonathan Wright, I’d been to some other of their properties, and they never disappointed in a single detail. 

Clouds, Uganda’s highest-elevation lodge, is located near the Nkuringo trailhead, ideal for gorilla tracking. It sits on a mountaintop at an elevation of 7,000 feet overlooking the Bwindi Impenetrable Forest and is ringed by active volcanoes that glow red in the night sky. It is also a UNESCO World Heritage Site and home to almost half of the remaining endangered mountain gorilla populations, making it a “bucket list” destination for international tourists who buy tracking permits for a few hours of up close and personal time with these mesmerizing behemoths.

I left Kampala at daybreak on Thanksgiving and was driven seven hours until the fully paved roads gave way to gravel trails that hugged the side of the steep mountain for another two hours until I reached Clouds. 

We arrive in the afternoon under heavy black clouds hanging above the volcanoes into a breathtaking, warehouse-sized reception hall with a ceiling rimmed in Swiss chalet-style beams of wood. There is no mistake, though, that this is Africa in between the wooden sculptures and masks, I recognize the works of the most famous Ugandan painters and photographers in frames on the walls. 

I’m greeted by the young resident manager, chef Annabelle Wright, daughter of the lodge owners and a graduate of the London’s Michelin-starred Hambleton Hall and the revered Bocca di Lupo. My job is to teach her staff some American favorites in the form of bagels and doughnuts, challah for French toast and New York-style pizza dough recipe. 

That evening, dinner is eaten by candlelight and we all inhale Wright’s fresh butternut squash ravioli dressed simply in browned butter and sage from the vast garden behind the property.

The next morning, I spend the day in the kitchen with Wright hand mixing challah dough, teaching her the blessing as I braid it, and then how I turn it into sufganiyot or Hanukkah doughnuts. We decide to make a crème patisserie and, while it’s chilling in the refrigerator, I shape the remaining half of the challah dough into balls for sufganiyot. While they are rising, I paint the now-risen challah with egg wash and place it into a charcoal stove for baking (there is no thermometer-regulated oven in the kitchen). I push in the loaf and hope for the best.

After frying the sufganiyot, letting them cool and filling them with pastry cream, we garnish them with fresh borage flowers from the garden. We present them on a bed of coarse sugar to an American couple drinking champagne in the lodge. I explain the meaning of Hanukkah and the eight-day tradition of eating food fried in oil, and they proceed to taste them.

Their eyes widen at first bite. “We can’t believe we came to Uganda to eat the best doughnut we’ve ever tasted!” they exclaim. 

I bet that’s exactly what Winston Churchill would have said.

CHALLAH SUFGANIYOT
1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
2 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/4 cup sugar
2 large eggs, beaten
1 egg yolk, beaten
1/4 cup vegetable oil, plus 4 1/4 cups for frying
4 to 4 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
1 cup seedless jam or jelly, any flavor or pastry cream
Powdered sugar for garnish

To make the dough, put lukewarm water in the bowl of stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar, and stir to combine. Let the yeast mixture rest for 5 minutes.

Add the beaten eggs and egg yolk, along with 1/4 cup of oil, to the bowl and stir to combine.

While the mixer is running slowly, add the flour, salt and nutmeg, and mix until the dough comes together. Mix for 5 minutes to knead the dough well. Turn off mixer and let the dough sit in the bowl of the mixer for 15 minutes.

After the rest period, turn the dough out into a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate the dough for at least 8 hours — preferably overnight.

When ready to form sufganiyot, remove dough from the fridge and portion into about 1 1/2- to 2-ounce balls, resting each on a baking paper-lined sheet tray.

Cover the doughnuts with lightly greased cling film or a cloth kitchen towel and let them rise in a warm part of the kitchen until doubled in size, or about one hour. 

To fry the doughnuts, heat the remaining vegetable oil in a pot or wok until the oil reaches 360 F on a thermometer. Carefully add a few doughnuts to the hot oil and fry until golden brown, about 1 minute per side. Use a slotted spoon to remove the doughnuts from the hot oil and place them on paper towels to absorb extra oil. 

Let the doughnuts cool completely. To fill, place filling of your choice in a plastic bag or piping bag. Using a chopstick, make a hole in the top or side of doughnut. Remove chopstick and insert the tip of the piping bag. Pipe in 2 or 3 teaspoons of jam or cream into the center of each doughnut. Sprinkle with powdered sugar if desired.

Makes about 20 sufganiyot.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef
at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Thanksgiving: The After Party

After making hundreds of cakes and pies, pounds of stuffing, zillions of biscuits and rolls and gallons of gravy for customers for Thanksgiving in my cafe, I am extremely grateful to have a four-day weekend when the embassy where I work is closed.

I also usually host Thanksgiving at my house, so when the day after the holiday rolls around, it’s time to relax with my feet up. My tradition most weekends, but particularly during the days after Thanksgiving, is that I don’t cook. Rather, I assemble a few salads and spreads that get better over time as flavors marry. It’s so pleasurable to have a sofa or veranda picnic with friends and family — high-flavor foods you can eat while drinking a Bloody Mary or champagne. It’s made even more delightful when you don’t come back to a messy kitchen and dishes to do.

After Thanksgiving is over, there is something liberating about a casual meal that isn’t made up of leftovers. You have the whole week ahead of you for turkey salad sandwiches (I have a great recipe) but in my house, tradition dictates a break from the leftovers.

My parents and I do something similar each time I visit: We go to the store and we each pick a few of our favorite things. Once home, we don’t even bother to use dishes. We just take our precious finds and throw them onto a cutting board or large plate with only knives or some good crusty bread to use in place of forks. It’s such a fortifying ritual and I try to re-create it as often as I can.

I won’t even be slightly judgmental if you just pick up a few baguettes or fresh pita from your favorite bakery for this lazy extravaganza, but I want to teach you how to make a No-Knead Focaccia that will take you mere moments to put together right before you go to bed after the Thanksgiving meal. All you do is throw the ingredients into a bowl, stir them, cover the bowl and let time work its magic on your counter.

The next morning, just spread the now puffy dough on a baking sheet, cover it in extra virgin olive oil and herbs and watch as it puffs up in your oven. I like to douse it in more olive oil after it comes out of the oven, scatter some fresh basil atop it and once cooled, transfer it to a wooden board surrounded by some fresh and simple salads and dips.

By all means, go for any of your family-favorite dips or salads, but I’ve included a shortcut version of one of my all-time favorite Israeli-Moroccan salads, the flavorful madbucha, also known as a Salade Cuite, a warm salad similar to an Italian tapenade, made with peppers, tomatoes and garlic. Also, a spectacular chickpea salad recipe that takes about five minutes to prepare but somehow manages to be infinitely superior to the sum of its humble ingredients.

You’d be hard pressed to find a punchier, more savory dip than the Bulgarian version of Taramasalata called Ikra, made with caviar or roe and ready in seconds.

If you can motivate yourself to spend a few minutes mingling some flour, water and olive oil, even if it’s midnight Thanksgiving night and you’re tired, you will be rewarded immeasurably the next morning when your kitchen fills with the aroma of a Tuscan farmhouse. And if you’re still in your pajamas at 3 in the afternoon, a bottle of bubbly by your side surrounded by your favorite people or even just one special person, giggling and eating the afternoon away, I think you won’t be able to help but feel the gratitude.

NO-KNEAD FOCACCIA
8 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
3 cups room temperature water
1 1/2 tablespoons flaky sea salt, plus more for sprinkling
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons for drizzling
1 tablespoon fresh or dried minced herbs, rosemary and thyme
A handful of fresh basil leaves (optional)

In a large glass bowl, mix together the flour, water and yeast with a chopstick or fork until you get a shaggy dough. Add salt and olive oil and stir until a soft dough forms. Oil a piece of plastic wrap, place on top of the bowl and leave on the kitchen counter in a warm place or a turned off oven for 12 hours to rise.

After dough has doubled in size and is very bubbly, preheat oven to 450 F. Using oiled hands, gently lift the dough (it will be sticky) out of the bowl and onto an oiled full sheet pan. Spread it evenly, creating dimples on the entire surface of the dough (don’t worry if you tear it.) Drizzle the top with olive oil, rosemary and thyme (if using) and some extra flaky sea salt and
bake for 20-25 minutes until golden brown on top.

After it has cooled, scatter fresh basil leaves on top and cut into irregular triangular or square pieces. Serves 10.

QUICKIE VERSION OF MADBUCHA (SALADA CUITE)
Usually, this warm salad is made with roasted peppers but this quicker version will get you there without roasting and peeling peppers.
1/4 cup neutral vegetable oil (corn oil is traditional)
2 pounds ripe tomatoes, skins removed, chopped
1/2 pound green bell peppers, seeded and chopped
1/2 pound red peppers, seeded and chopped
2 jalapeno or Cubanelle peppers, seeded and deveined, chopped
4 garlic cloves, sliced thin
1 /4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Heat oil in a pan and place tomatoes, peppers, garlic and seasonings into the pan and sauté over low heat, stirring frequently until all liquid has evaporated, about 1 hour. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6.

CHICKPEA SALAD
2 15-ounce cans garbanzo beans (chickpeas), drained and rinsed
1/2 cup grated Parmesan
2 cloves garlic minced
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
1 teaspoon grated lemon rind
1/8 cup extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine all ingredients in a bowl and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serves 6.

IKRA
8 tablespoons smoked (or unsmoked) carp or cod roe
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup olive oil (not extra virgin)
1 tablespoon onion, finely grated
Paprika for garnish

Put all ingredients, except paprika in a tall cup that fits your immersion blender head. Put your immersion blender into the cup and pulse for 20 seconds or until all ingredients are well incorporated and spread thickens to a mayonnaise consistency. Thin with a tablespoon of water if too thick.

Serve in a bowl garnished with paprika and a drizzle of olive oil. Serves 6.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive
chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Wrestling with Food Traditions: A Thanksgiving D’rash

Jewish and partaking in a Thanksgiving meal this year? It’s time to wrestle with the impact of participating in the most food-centric American holiday.

Many if not most Jews in the US have come to celebrate Thanksgiving as a secular holiday with secular origins since its proclamation as a national holiday in 1863. Influenced by the food traditions that have emerged since that time (which reflect few, if any, of the actual ingredients the original pilgrims would have had available), Jewish Thanksgiving tables mirror their fellow Americans’ in featuring the requisite cranberry sauce, stuffing, and—most of all— a turkey.

At the Jewish Initiative for Animals, we’ve worked for several years to help Jewish communities understand why, of all factory farmed animals, broiler birds—that is, intensively hybridized chickens and turkeys bred and raised for meat—suffer the most egregious abuses of any land animal we raise for food. The Los Angeles Times featured an article in 2016 explaining why the Broad Breasted White, which is essentially the only type of turkey Americans eat anymore, endures an especially horrendous life. As articles like these surface and enlighten the broader public, Jewish communities are taking action. Earlier this year, our partners at Hazon committed to no longer serving conventional turkey at their central campus retreat center, because the product does not align with their religious and ethical values. In addition, they committed to incrementally transitioning their poultry to kosher heritage chicken—chickens raised from healthy genetic lines outside of the factory farming system.

Heritage turkeys are available, too, but not yet in the kosher market. So what is a kosher-keeping Jew to do for Thanksgiving?

The Torah portion that coincides with Thanksgiving this year imparts some relevant wisdom. Parshat Vayishlach includes the seminal scene in which Jacob wrestles with an unnamed “man” in an evening-long struggle. Finally, Jacob triumphs over the angelic being and receives a new name: Israel, a compound title meaning “to struggle with God. ” That scene births the Jewish archetype for wrestling with the biggest questions of faith, identity, and tradition. The narrative conveys to us the need for introspection to become who we are, and that process can be challenging, if not painful. Curiously, the story ends with our first ever negative commandment in the Torah: a dietary restriction. During the encounter, Jacob sustains an injury to his hip. The text introduces a law in commemoration, prohibiting people from consuming the sciatic nerve in bovids (e.g., cattle and sheep), which runs along the lower back into the hindquarters (Genesis 32:33). Kosher meat companies and kashrut-observant Jews abide by the rule to this day. And as with the rest of kosher food preparation, we have little reason to investigate the practice ourselves—with farms out of sight and out of mind, we rely on kosher certifiers to ensure that an animal is slaughtered and processed in accordance with Jewish law. We trust the system.

But in a time when halacha doesn’t necessarily mean that animals were spared awful treatment in industrial hatcheries and farms, how do we make an informed, values-based decision about the meat we eat? Even if slaughter was carried out to the letter of kashrut, can we, as the People of Israel, consume factory-raised turkey in good conscience?

As a ritual to which we have no particular religious ties, Thanksgiving may be the perfect opportunity for considering the impacts of our food traditions. Maybe, in taking a more honest inventory of our participation in the holiday, in addition to the animal welfare implications, we could also examine how we respectfully take part in a day that is rife with trauma for other minority communities. For many indigenous peoples, the holiday is a somber reminder of surviving genocide. One of the ways indigenous peoples continually practice cultural reclamation also happens to be through food: native food educators and chefs research and promote “decolonizing” indigenous diets by uncovering and reinstating a food heritage that relies on original native ingredients. This process involves eschewing what has become a typical westernized US diet, high in animal protein and processed grains and sugars. Importantly, decolonizing food is about restoring a more respectful relationship between humans and the plants and animals we use for sustenance. Perhaps the extreme suppression of that very impulse—to live in a state of reverence towards nature and other living beings—is what allowed, and allows, people to mutate, torture, and consume en masse the Broad-Breasted White turkey.

Jewish author Jonathan Safran Foer highlights the Thanksgiving turkey as the quintessential paradox of eating animals today: what we do with their carcasses may feel right and enjoyable, but how we breed, confine, and ultimately kill turkeys paves an evil-strewn path towards the relatively short-lived pleasure of human consumption. Toward  the end of the book, Foer contemplates:

And what would happen if there were no turkey… Is the holiday undermined? Is Thanksgiving no longer Thanksgiving?

Or would Thanksgiving be enhanced? Would the choice not to eat turkey be a more active way of celebrating how thankful we feel? Try to imagine the conversation that would take place. This is why our family celebrates this way. Would such a conversation feel disappointing or inspiring? Would fewer or more values be transmitted? Would the joy be lessened by the hunger to eat that particular animal? Imagine your family’s Thanksgivings after you are gone, when the question is no longer “Why don’t we eat this?” but the more obvious one: “Why did they ever?”

Most Jewish people have a plethora of choices for creating a healthy, delicious, and often less pricey vegetarian or vegan meals. It only takes a quick Google search to find an array of plant-based recipes compiled by Martha Stewart, The Food Network, and countless food bloggers. Some Jewish people and institutions can afford to spend more on a kosher heritage chicken or 100% kosher grass-fed beef, instead of conventional kosher meat. But most of all, all of us have the ability to consider alternatives to a food system that, animal treatment aside, continues to devastate our natural ecosystems, heightens the threat of climate change, and disproportionately burdens lower-income communities of color.

Perhaps before Thanksgiving this year—in the same spirit as a Passover seder, where we hold up each food and consider its significance to the holiday and to us as people—we will consider the turkey, and wrestle with its meaning. Maybe we will question what it is to have a more gracious, harmonious relationship with animals, nature, and other people, and how that should be reflected in all of our meals. Perhaps, just like Jacob, we will emerge from that intellectual and physical struggle with a new sense of self and purpose that defines our tradition—and our dietary choices—for generations to come.

A Food Pyramid for Stir-Crazy Kids

I’ve loved being in the kitchen since childhood. I had a slew of aunts who cooked and a mother who always had something pickling, simmering or baking. In an extreme case of foreshadowing, my favorite toy as a child was my Easy-Bake Oven. I vividly remember watching my cakes bake, which took a long time considering the oven’s only heat source was a small light bulb. Because I was an only child, I’d gather my stuffed animals and serve them tea and cake and fuss over them much like I do now over my customers in my cafe. 

I’m now that “auntie” with whom parents are slightly reluctant to leave their kids. The weekends my friends have let me entertain their offspring, the kids are returned sugar-rushed, overly excited, sleep-deprived little monsters covered in flour or chocolate — usually both. I have a special weakness for children, and I like to get them into the kitchen (preferably their parents’ kitchen) and let them go wild. Food fights ensue, singing and dancing always figure into it, and crazy lava-like experimentations occur. Usually, I’m the one who gets the stern looks and the worried pleas to “please just don’t blow anything up.” In all fairness to me, that happened only once but parents have such long memories.

No sooner than the pesky adults are out the door, utter mayhem ensues. Even introverted children can be brought out of their shells by spending some time in the kitchen. It’s almost miraculous to see the transformation in a child during a no-holds-barred cooking session.

“Even introverted children can be brought out of their shells by  spending some time in the kitchen.”

Sometimes, if I sense a child is distracted or losing interest, I’ll take something gooey and I’ll just lob it over to them or smear it on their faces. I live for their expressions of shock as they return the favor, watching them realize that they can have a food fight with an adult without fear of penalty. There’s only one rule in my kitchen time with kids — no phones, iPads or computers of any kind — unless it’s a music device. After all, disconnecting children from electronic baby-sitters and screens for a few hours just can’t be a bad thing.

Even surly teenagers enjoy kitchen time, especially when the result is mastery of something they love to eat, such as pizza or quesadillas. I’ve had the deepest conversations with teens while cooking with them — sometimes they will even confide in me about something that is bothering them and ask my opinion about it. It’s so soul filling when a child opens up and tells you their hopes or fears. Bonding with kids in this way, besides being one of life’s supreme joys, invariably cements their affection for life.

The kitchen is one part of a home that is a sacred space where most of us feel safe. Positive connections and feelings that are associated with it can stick in a child’s mind well into adulthood. Rather than associating stepping into the kitchen as a chore, like many adults do, the simple act of baking, letting the house fill with the aromas of cinnamon and vanilla is magical and apt to leave an impression that never goes away.

This is the time of year in Israel when the weather gets chilly, the sweet shops begin selling sufganiyot for Hanukkah, and it’s when the ultimate kid sweet comes out: Krembo. Krembo, an Israeli confection that consists of a delicate dome of marshmallow-type fluff that sits atop a round biscuit base covered in a thin coating of cheap, waxy chocolate. It isn’t sold during summertime because it melts easily.   

In Uganda where I live, there’s no Krembo, and most times I can’t even find decent marshmallows, so I’ve made do with a cake that approximates the heavenly Krembo combination and is a fun project to make with kids. It’s more of an assembly project and requires no baking and very little kitchen equipment — only a hand mixer, although a wire whisk will do in a pinch. I’ve made it when I have last-minute dinner guests because it’s elegant enough to serve to adults and can be ready in under an hour. It’s a lovely cake my aunt used to make called a pyramida (pyramid), and I dare you to find a kid who will not love you for it, not only for teaching them how to make it, but for letting them eat it for breakfast or in place of dinner. 

Pyramid Cake
1 package vanilla-flavored instant pudding
5 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups whipping cream
1 3/4 cups whole or 2-percent milk
1 cup mascarpone cheese
42 Petit Beurre cookies (2 inches by 3 inches)
4 1/2 ounces bittersweet chocolate
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee
1 teaspoon honey
4 tablespoons white chocolate shavings or sprinkles (optional)

For the filling, place pudding mix, sugar, 1 cup whipping cream, 1 cup milk and cheese in a medium-sized bowl and whip with a hand mixer until thick and stiff peaks form. Refrigerate cream while you prepare the base.

On a countertop, put 2 layers of extra heavy aluminum foil (or wax paper) down on top of each other. Pour 3/4 cup milk in a bowl and proceed to briefly dip each cookie in the milk and lay them down in 3 rows, side by side — vertically. You should end up with a rectangle of cookies that is 3 rows wide and 7 rows long. 

Remove cream from refrigerator and spread a bit more than half the cream on top of the biscuits evenly until the surface area of the cookies is covered. Add another layer of cookies on top of the cream — but this time, the middle row of cookies should be placed vertically while the 2 outer rows of cookies should be laid down horizontally. This will make a pyramid shape. With a spoon, put remaining cream only on the center row of cookies. Don’t spread the cream onto the outer biscuits.

Using both arms, slip hands and forearms underneath each length of the foil and gently bring hands together, pressing the two flaps together to form the pointed top of the pyramid. Peel back foil, and using an offset spatula or knife, neaten up the cream and remove excess. Wrap the cake in the foil it’s on but be sure to close both ends well so as not to dry out the cream. Place in the freezer for at least 30 minutes. 

After the cake has hardened, make the ganache. Break or chop chocolate into smaller pieces, add to remaining 1/2 cup of cream and instant coffee in a microwave-safe bowl. Microwave for 1 minute. Let mixture sit for 1 minute, add honey and whisk until chocolate is melted and ganache is shiny and homogenous.

Remove cake from freezer, unwrap and evenly pour ganache on top of pyramid, taking care to cover all the cookies in chocolate. Decorate with white chocolate or sprinkles before the ganache hardens and return it to freezer or refrigerator to set for at least 1 hour.

After cake has set, slide a spatula under the base and transfer to a long serving dish, discard the foil and slice into 1-inch wide triangles for serving.

Serves 10.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

Time’s Running Out on Uganda’s Poor ‘Rolex’ Vendors

One of the best ways to get insight into a culture is through its street food. And currently here in Kampala, Uganda, what you discover can leave a bad taste in your mouth.

Food here is eaten sitting down rather than on the go, and roughly 95 percent of the local fare is based on cheap, nutrient-deficient carbohydrates such as cassava or posho, a finely ground maize flour cooked into a thick, white paste and eaten with peas or beans. Even Uganda’s national food, matoke, a variety of banana cooked in its own leaves over charcoal and then mashed and served with a sauce made from ground peanuts (called “gnuts”), is rarely served with protein, although sometimes you can get it with a small amount of bony meat cooked in a watery stew. But there is one notable exception to this rule: the Rolex. While the Swiss watch of that name may be a status symbol for the rich and powerful in the West, a Rolex here is a decidedly different thing. 

Rolex, translated from the local language, means “rolled eggs.” It is essentially an omelet rolled up in a chapati, an Indian flatbread that, when made correctly, has flakey layers like a croissant. The Rolex was the brainchild of a resourceful entrepreneur who set up a stand to feed hungry students at Makerere University, also known as the “Harvard of East Africa.” Until recently — more on that later — you could easily pull up to one of the thousands of Rolex carts that lined every thoroughfare and watch as a nimble-fingered Rolex man (only men make Rolex for some reason) cracked two eggs into a plastic mug and cut in shredded cabbage, tomato and red onion with a rusty knife. He would then cook the omelet on a charcoal stove with an iron plate resting precariously on top. When the omelet had browned on both sides, he would roll it up in the chapati like a burrito before depositing it in a small plastic bag for the ravenous customer — all for a mere 1,500 Ugandan shillings (less than 40 cents).

It may not sound like much, but to the tens of thousands of students on a meager budget, or the expats­­ with nary a fast-food option for miles, the Rolex is the hot, fresh and filling snack that dreams are made of. Its simple concept in this city’s protein-deprived, carbohydrate-laden street food landscape caught on like wildfire.

“It may not sound like much, but to the tens of thousands of students on a meager budget, or the expats­­ with nary a fast-food option for miles, the Rolex is the hot, fresh and filling snack that dreams are made of.”

Kampala, like most other sub-Saharan African cities, has grown exponentially over the past few decades with little to no infrastructure improvements to bear the load. As the middle class has swelled, so has the number of cars and traffic. During the rainy season, the potholed and weathered roads are reduced to rivers of terra-cotta-colored mud and rushing waters. Navigating your car in those conditions — between the reckless boda boda mopeds and the old matatus van “buses” that are rolling deathtraps — is akin to driving in a video game. Add to that mix the fact that most people buy their drivers licenses rather than sit for an examination or pay hefty fees for a legitimate driving school, and you end up with traffic jams that make Los Angeles rush hours seem like moments to put the top down and let the wind blow through your hair. 

Enter government bureaucracy in the form of the Kampala Capital City Authority (KCCA), which recently decided to take the estimated 10,000 Rolex and other street vendors and arrest them for operating without licenses. As a result, thousands of these vendors shut down almost overnight rather than risk being arrested for operating an illegal stand and possibly going to jail. Unlucky vendors could lose not only their stock and carts, but they could also be on the hook to pay a minimum fine of 100,000 Ugandan shillings (about $27), which may as well be $10,000 to a cart owner barely eking out a marginal living from 12-hour workdays. To make matters worse, if the corrupt Ugandan police want to put the squeeze on a particular vendor who is unable to pay their fine (or bribe) on the spot, that vendor can be thrown in jail. A Ugandan jail shares greater similarities with a Third World dog kennel than it does with a place fit for humans.

Consequently, weary vendors can either take their chances at operating an illegal stand or pursue the nearly impossible option of obtaining an extremely expensive KCCA license — which still doesn’t guarantee they won’t be harassed by police. While the logic behind regulating food carts, and the fees charged to vendors to license them may have some merits, the uprooting of thousands of food cart owners in Kampala has contributed to yet another sad downward spiral of poverty and joblessness.

By the way, I still frequent my favorite Rolex vendor as often as I can — when I can find him. These days he’s always moving around to avoid the police.

I fear the writing is on the wall: As Kampala’s skyline continues to expand, its food cart entrepreneurs will soon disappear — perhaps to be replaced by fancy, solar-powered stands run by companies making “legalized” carts. The costs of those units will be well out of reach of any of the original stand owners who support their families on their meager, hard-earned profits. The new model will also create another potential revenue stream for Uganda’s already bloated government officials. 

While some could argue that the government’s action is progress — after all, the legal carts won’t require charcoal, so they won’t pollute the environment; and customers of the carts will benefit from the “health and hygiene” mandate of the city council — I’m reminded that in much of Africa, the story of progress usually spells disaster for those who can least afford it.

Most of the current vendors are as likely to come up with the money to buy a compliant cart as they are to purchase an actual Rolex watch. 

Yes, you can tell a lot about a culture by its street food. For the vendors, their families and their customers in Kampala, the probable demise of the Rolex carts will be hard to swallow.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co. 

With Special-Needs Education, One Menu Doesn’t Fit All

Photo by CHLOE.

I recently saw an advertisement for The Lemon Tree Kids and Family Restaurant in Koreatown. Intrigued, I Googled it, to see if “family friendly” meant a play space, pizza and sugar, and indeed it didbut with a twist. The main menu consists of authentic Korean food; the pizzas and paninis are alternatives.

Ever the education-analogy-geek, I wondered about this as a model of inclusion. If you’re in Koreatown for Korean food and you have kids, and/or pizza loving friends, or if you’re looking for a place to have a quiet meal while your kids empty the contents of the ball pit, this is for you. People with differing taste buds can dine together, having their mozzarella or spicy noodles and eating them too.

This, the food court model of different classes for different needs, does not  – yet – exist in Jewish day schools in Los Angeles. Instead, we aspire to include students with needs in our mainstream set-up. Sure, they may be pulled out for resource, but there is no “special day class.”  Ideally, as Dr. Bruce Powell suggested in a recent interview with the Jewish Journal, we should include everyone, and not just accommodate, but “replace the word ‘accommodate’ with ‘embrace’:

‘If you’re coming to my home and you tell me you’re a vegetarian, I accommodate you,” he said by way of explanation. “You’re the other, [but] if I’m going to really embrace you, I’m going plan a meal that looks the same. And nobody [will know] which one is meat and which one is vegetarian.’”

“What if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?”

Rather than be embarrassed with an obviously special meal, you can blend into the gathering. This may be manageable with guests in the home, but what if you have 20 students in a classroom and five of them need accommodations, or in Powell’s terms, embracings? Is it possible?

You might stay up all night adding secret ingredients to make a lesson palatable for Sam, Molly, Jacob and Annabelle, but you’ll be exhausted – maybe resentful – when it comes to serving it up. And believe me, the kids you’re struggling to embrace will pick up on your mood. Children with special needs sometimes have the cognitive and/ or sensory equivalent of allergies that give them rashes, or that exclude them from activities in which they long to participate. This can cause them to hide under tables, hit, scream, or run from the room. How can a teacher simultaneously embrace students with “big feelings” and students with their, or their parents’, big academic dreams?

When you’re at a restaurant in Los Angeles, you often hear customers ask for adaptations to a dish. Maybe you do it yourself. Sometimes it’s because you just have a preference for a mixture of two different dishes. That’s child-centered education. Sometimes it’s because you have a health condition that makes a dish with nuts or butter a no-no. That’s a series of meetings and carefully drafted goals for a child with special needs, otherwise known as an IEP (Individualized Education Program).

No matter how much you try to make your accommodations, or embracings, subtle and well-meaning, the mainstream is the mainstream, with its focus on language skills. We Jews prioritize language. Not just because of the way education is designed, but because of the very underpinnings of the Jewish tradition. We talk; we question; we opine. And it’s divine. After all, didn’t God create the world with words? Didn’t the commentators have at their fingertips every verse of Torah? What does that mean for a child with a language disorder?

The Lemon Tree is unusual. Usually, if you walk into an Italian restaurant wanting Korean food, you’ll be sent away. If you’re lucky, you’ll be pointed in the direction of a really good Korean place right around the corner.

Most of us wouldn’t think of going into a Korean restaurant and demanding fish and chips. If we own an Italian restaurant, we wouldn’t think twice about gently sending away a customer asking for spicy noodles. So why do we do this in education? Why do we seat, and keep seated, students we cannot feed, because even if we embrace them in our hearts we don’t have the resources to provide a dish that will nourish them? If they want a different menu and it’s elsewhere, let’s direct them with compassion to the appropriate establishment. And let’s become familiar with, and talk to, the establishments in our extended community, so that we know where to send the students we just cannot keep.

As Jewish institutions, we might worry that by denying our children kosher sustenance, we’re sending them into the abyss of an un-hechshered establishment. This is why the model to which we should aspire is perhaps a hechshered Lemon Tree. If you can handle the main menu, that’s great. If you want an alternative, something that’s familiar to you, it’s here— with chefs on staff who know how to prepare it. And when it comes to the jungle gym at the heart of the restaurant, we can all hang together.


Orley Garber is the founder of Builder Bees.

Boosting the Israeli flavors, Balaboosta is back!

Chef Einat Admony

As steam rises from multiple dishes that are being prepped to go out to their waiting diners, it’s apparent that the real-life Balaboosta, Chef Einat Admony, is the embodiment of the name she chose for her recently reopened restaurant. In what just might be the city’s fastest comeback, Balaboosta is now located in the West Village right between Chef Einat’s first restaurant, Taim Falafel, and her latest, Kish-Kash.

View this post on Instagram

Oh Yes She Can! 💪🏼 and she did! @ChefEinat re-opend @BalaboostaNYC and it is fierce! . Now located at 611 Hudson St. this place is the hottest place in town! . Einat Admony is chef and owner of the
@Balaboostanyc, @KishKashNYC @TaimFalafel restaurants in New York City and author of
Balaboosta: Bold Mediterranean Recipes to
Feed the People You Love. . Her life has been an adventure. After growing up in Tel Aviv, she secured illicit rations for her kitchen as a cook in the Israeli Army, walked away from college
after two months, traipsed around Germany as a gypsy, then packed up her life to move to New York City and work at “a million venerable kitchens around the city,” according to The New Yorker. Then things got interesting. . Inspired by the street food of her native Tel Aviv,
Einat opened the falafel joint Taïm (tah·eem) in Manhattan’s West Village in 2005. In 2010, she launched Balaboosta where the manner of cooking is not so much Middle Eastern as Mediterranean. In 2018 she opened her third restaurant Kish-Kash, a West Village moroccan couscous bar-eatery named after one of the kitchen utensils used in order to hand roll couscous. . Her way with ingredients has been lauded repeatedly by The New Yorker, The New York Times, and New York Magazine, among many others, and her way with people was noted by The New York Times’ critic Sam Sifton: “Admony…runs Balaboosta exactly as if she’d invited a room full of strangers for dinner, then told her family to be nice to them.” . Einat is married to Stefan Nafziger. Together they own and operate Balaboosta, Kish Kash, and Taïm. . They live in Brooklyn with their two young children, Liam and Mika. When Einat is not at the restaurant she can be found at home, cooking for the crowd of family and friends continually gathered around her
dining table. . 📸: Maya&Michelle creative

A post shared by Jews of NY (@jews_of_ny) on

Taim Falafel opened in the Village in 2005 and has since become a chain of four locations in the city that is now expanding out of state with the assistance of new management formerly from mexican fast-food chain Chipotle.

“We are extremely excited and ready for our new chapter in TAIM, working on our fifth location in NYC and a new one that is outside of NY. My husband Stéfan and our director of operations Bethany Strong are running the show like wizards.” Admony said.

Most recently, Chef Einat reopened Balaboosta, her take on modern Israeli cuisine. The new menu features all-time favorite dishes such as the cauliflower with lemon, currants, pine nuts, parsley and crushed Bamba (the famous Israeli peanut snack), and Fried Olives with labne cheese and harissa oil.

But new creations like the Short Rib Zabzi with hand-rolled couscous, herbs, and almonds, and a Red Snapper dish with pickled okra tempura and sour Fresno chili in chraime sauce.

And of course you can’t miss their scrumptious desserts of Malabi and Halva Creme Brulee.

It’s been well over a decade that Chef Einat has been a major part of introducing Israeli, Mediterranean and Middle-Eastern cuisine to New York. For many years now it’s been her dream to create a place that serves homemade, authentic couscous, and she made that dream come true in Kish-Kash, New York’s first ever couscous bar.

Named after the sieve traditionally used to make couscous, the casual dining eatery specializes in hand-rolled, hand-sieved Moroccan couscous and authentic North African Jewish cuisine. You’re invited to the dinner table to enjoy slow cooked dishes such as Mafrum, a Libyan dish of spiced ground meat in a tomato sauce, Chef Einat’s Tbecha B’salk, a short rib, Swiss chard and white bean stew, and there are chicken tagine, lamb, fish and vegetarian options to choose from as well.

Of the Balaboosta reopening process, Chef Einat said, “It’s been fun to explore fresh ideas too – riffing on homespun Israeli and Middle-Eastern classics while continuing to innovate and play with the ingredients, flavors, and techniques that make my beloved Israeli cuisine among the most exciting in the world. I can’t wait to introduce a few new, interesting and delicious dishes such as Lamb Neck with preserved lemon, dates and sun-choke and more.”

Chef Einat and partner (and husband) Stéfan Nafziger worked with designer Silvia Zofio of SZProjects to design the new Balaboosta in the space that was formerly Bar Bolonat.

“The interior design of the new Balaboosta location is bright, airy, and the Mediterranean feeling is evoked through the color scheme, banquette fabric pattern and Middle Eastern inspired glass pendants.” Zofio said. “The centerpiece of the room is a nostalgic black and white mural designed in a playful way with its narrow blue stripes being repeated as a pattern on the concrete floor.”

The new Balaboosta is definitely a cosy, hip and delicious option for those long and cold NYC nights. They are open for dinner form 5:30-10:30pm and will soon be open for brunch and lunch as well. And don’t worry, we got a personal promise from Chef Einat that she will be reintroducing the infamous Balaboosta shakshuka to the brunch menu.

Hummus Is the Peacemaker. Who Knew?

All cooks have their pet peeves. I have only one such gripe: bad hummus. Really, chefs, hummus is not hard to make. I don’t want it runny or flavorless or chunky or red or green or covered with goji berries. When it comes to hummus — please, for all that is holy and good in this world — if you have hummus on your menu, learn how to make it. 

I can’t begin to tell you how many times in the past few months in New York City, of all places, I’ve had bad hummus. Bad hummus is an affront to good hummus and to all that is good about Middle Eastern food. I even had bad hummus at an Israeli restaurant — a highly rated one. I’ve had bad hummus at a Turkish and Lebanese restaurant, and I’ve had bad hummus out of a container by a “good” Israeli brand (don’t call yourself Sabra). It’s almost insulting. And it doesn’t have to be this way. 

Like all simple food of the Mediterranean variety, hummus is greater than the sum of its parts, and its parts are few but flavorful; chickpeas, tahini, salt, lemon juice, garlic, a glug or two of olive oil to serve. Good — scratch that — great hummus is humble and unpretentious, but you must follow a few simple rules. After the chickpeas are cooked — and I’m not a bit opposed to canned chickpeas — you are about eight minutes away from fantastic hummus. 

I’ve often wondered why this superfood is so difficult for people to make well. After all, I’ve been to many parties where it was served, and I’m shocked by what people think hummus is. Hummus (pronounced who-moose not hum-us) is a very common food in the Middle East and all over the Levant. 

One can argue where hummus came from, but this is not something we argue about in Israel. Unsurprisingly, the oldest and most popular hummus places in Israel (such as Khalil in Ramle, Said and Issa in Acre, Lina in Jerusalem) are run by generations of Arab Israelis. In Israel, we smoke the peace pipe over hummus, and if you ask an Israeli where to find the best hummus, most will tell you it’s an Arab joint. 

In the early 2000s, hummus became all the rage in the United States, spreading its vegan appeal until it became a billion-dollar industry. It can be found in roughly 30 percent of all refrigerators around the country. Still, due to its highly perishable nature, hummus makers have to use preservatives to give their hummus a longer shelf life. They try to cover up those unnatural tastes with strongly flavored additives like jalapenos or red pepper, hot sauce or, in some cases, even chipotle, pesto or sun-dried tomato.

Don’t misunderstand, I don’t have anything against the flavored hummus industry. It’s just that I am convinced it is one of the reasons consumers’ palates in the U.S. don’t understand what, for lack of a better word, “real” hummus is supposed to taste like.

Israeli- and Arab-style hummus is an exercise in humble simplicity and balance. What differentiates great hummus from one that is not so great can be summarized as follows:

Texture — We want our hummus smooth and fluffy unless it’s “msabbaha” (which means swimming in), a version of deconstructed hummus where the chickpeas are left whole and cooked for 24 hours and served warm, swimming in a pool of the tahini they were cooked in.

“Rather than argue over the origins of hummus, Israelis prefer to argue over
who makes it best.”

Appearance — Hummus should be light in color and more toward the creamy, light off-white — not brown — unless it’s topped with ful (fava beans), or you’ve ordered a “meshulash” (a triple), which contains hummus topped with whole hummus and ful.

Tahini — In Israel, hummus is made with a lot of tahini, a paste made of ground sesame seeds (tahana is the Arabic word for “to grind”) and a good quality one, not over-roasted, bitter tahini.

Lemon juice — Fresh lemon juice is used in Israel – not the kind of juice that comes out of a plastic lemon-shaped container. 

Toppings — All hummus gets a handsome sheen of olive oil in Israel and sometimes whole beans, parsley or paprika, cumin or schug (spicy Yemenite chile sauce). It is not adulterated by guacamole or carrots or pine nuts. That said, many eat hummus with a hard-boiled egg on top.

Temperature — Good, fresh hummus in Israel is, by definition, warm. The best places in Israel make a huge batch in the morning and close when it runs out. In my café, I serve hummus cold because this is the way Americans have learned to eat hummus, but I advise customers to let it come to room temperature before they eat it.

Sides — In Israel we “wipe” hummus with fresh, chewy pita, of course, but that tends to get a bit heavy on the stomach. We also use white onions as little scoops to eat our hummus. Onion breath notwithstanding — the flavor combo is nothing short of miraculous.

In Israel, where hummus is eaten almost daily, there is no shortage of competition in the hummus arena, but rather than argue over the origins of hummus, Israelis prefer to argue over who makes it best. 

Here is my recipe and technique for making hummus at home, the recipe I use in the café or would whip up for company and gladly eat every day of the week if it wasn’t so darn caloric (25 calories per tablespoon without the accompanying pita!)

ISRAELI STYLE HUMMUS WITH TAHINI

1 cup dried chickpeas (the smaller, the better; pea sized is best, and the
Bulgarian variety is excellent)
Or 3 28-ounce cans of chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 bay leaf
5 tablespoons lemon juice, freshly squeezed
4 large garlic cloves, unpeeled
4 tablespoons ice water
1 cup light-roast tahini (In the U.S.,
Soom is best)
1 1/4 teaspoons sea salt (or to taste)
1/4 cup ice cubes
8 tablespoons good quality olive oil (to serve)
Parsley, paprika or cumin, to serve (optional)

Soak chickpeas overnight in a large bowl covered in double their volume of cold water. The next day, drain the chickpeas in two changes of water place, and place in pot. Add bay leaf, baking soda and water to cover. Stir and remove any foam that rises and bring water to the boil.

If chickpeas are fresh, they may need to cook for approximately 30 minutes, if older, up to an hour. The chickpeas are cooked when you can press one between your fingers, and it breaks easily. If using canned chickpeas, wash and drain them but still boil them with a bay leaf and baking soda until they are soft. This will get rid of the “can” taste. Drain the chickpeas well and discard the bay leaf (there should be about 3 cups.)

In a food processor or Vitamix blender, process the lemon juice and unpeeled garlic cloves for 30 seconds. Let sit for 2 minutes and then strain out garlic, putting the garlic infused juice into the blender.

Add the still hot, well-drained chickpeas and process until smooth. Add a few tablespoons of cold water, tahini and salt, and process a few more minutes. Add the ice cubes and process until hummus is very light in color and perfectly smooth. Taste and adjust for salt or lemon or thin out with another tablespoon of cold water at a time until the consistency of a thick milkshake. This takes a full 5 minutes.

Serve warm, or room temperature on plates drizzled with olive oil and dusted with parsley and paprika or cumin.

Makes about 4 servings.  


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

‘Lost Bread’ and Found Wanderers

Why are Israelis so happy? Why does the United Nation’s World Happiness Report consistently rank Israel above the United States and parts of Europe on the happiness scale? Despite wars, insecurity and economic hardship, Israel, it appears, seems to be a very good place to live. 

I got a little insight into “Israeli happiness” while eating the best French toast I’ve ever had, at Kirsh Bakery and Kitchen in New York City last week. 

Anat and Dan Kirsh took one look at each other 20 years ago in Tel Aviv, where they were employed at Café Basel, she as a waitress and he a bartender, and fell madly in love. They went on to discover that they had other things in common as well — a love of homemade-caliber food and customer service, the restaurant business and New York City. Both diehard Tel Avivites and graduates of virtually every food industry job — from dishwashing to general managers of high-end establishments from one end of Tel Aviv to the other — the pair plotted and planned and worked toward the goal of opening their own place. 

When a friend told them of a vacant carpentry shop in a historic building in Jerusalem, it was love at first site. There, in 2006, Zuni Café was born — a restaurant and 24/7 diner specializing in French and American comfort food, with a nod to Anat and Dan’s mutual obsession with New York and his mother’s European-style baking. Zuni was a huge overnight success, particularly with American ex-pats who stopped by to get a taste of home, but also with local Israelis who became obsessed with, of all things, the French toast. 

Dan took his childhood memories of his mother’s pain perdu — “lost bread” —  made with day-old bread battered and pan-fried in butter, and gave it an upgrade with mascarpone cream and mixed berries. It was an instant hit in the café.

All manner of French toast then made it onto the Zuni menu, including savory options such as lox and crème fraiche, and spinach and cheese topped with a sunnyside-up egg. Next thing you knew, Zuni became just as famous for its French toast as its brasserie-style comfort food and cocktails.

In 2012, with an experienced team in place at Zuni and two young children in tow, the pair decided to pursue their dreams in New York. At first, they considered launching a chain of kiosks specializing in French toast made with their signature milk bread and a variety of toppings, but bigger things were in store for them.  In 2016, they founded Kirsh Bakery & Kitchen, a full-service café and restaurant in the Upper West Side neighborhood they now call their New York home.

“Israel is home, and it always will be.” Anat told me, “but I live in two dimensions — here and Israel. Tel Aviv is my very favorite city in the entire world — the feeling of being home, of belonging. As much as I love New York, there is no place like Tel Aviv.”

The couple brought their two young children to New York to start their business, but they return to Tel Aviv at every opportunity, taking turns managing Zuni and Kirsh. While we talked about the distinctions between Tel Aviv and New York, and the differences and similarities between the palates of Israelis and Americans, Anat told me that her children were studying in Israel. She said her children feel comfortable in Israel and the U.S. because the family has solid friendships and communities in both countries. 

Although they plan to continue living in New York as their restaurant business grows, the Kirshes plan to continue maintaining a home in Israel. This struck me as the key to why Israel ranks so high on the happiness scale: Community — close family ties, the shared experiences of mandatory military service, and strong ties to a shared faith — tends to make the average Israeli feel a sense of belonging that leads to more satisfaction and perhaps a greater sense of security.

While Americans and Europeans often move away from family and the friends they grew up with, Israelis tend to keep in touch with them and live almost communally, where the support of loved ones is an integral part and focal point of their lives. 

At Kirsh Bakery& Kitchen, while I ate my upgraded “lost bread” and traded restaurant stories with Israelis — who, like me, have become ex-pats in another land to seek their fortune — I was filled with gratitude that we live in an age when air travel is affordable and we are able to touch base with our homeland and even straddle the two countries, something our parents weren’t able to do. It’s good to know we come from a land where happiness reigns despite obvious day-to-day struggles and worries. 

 J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem with the refrain “All that is gold does not glitter, all those who wander are not lost; The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” 

I wholeheartedly agree. It won’t take but a bite of Kirsh’s French toast to convince you that those who wander are not all lost.

So, here is its recipe.

If you happen to be in New York City, pick up a loaf of its milk bread to make this. Otherwise, I’d recommend using day-old challah cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. That’s what this Israeli is going to do when she gets back to her kitchen in Uganda, while missing both the U.S. and Israel.

ZUNI CAFÉ MASCARPONE FRENCH TOAST

For the mascarpone cream:
14 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
6 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Myers rum (optional)
16 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese

For the French toast:
6 ounces heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
8  1 1/2-inch-thick slices of one-day-old milk bread or challah
3 ounces butter, for frying
4 ounces mixed-berry confiture (or chocolate)

To make mascarpone cream, place heavy cream and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside in the refrigerator. 

In a double-boiler, place egg yolks, granulated sugar and rum. Whisk for 5 minutes without stopping, or until you have a light-yellow, fluffy foam consistency. 

Take egg mixture off the heat and fold in half the mascarpone cheese. Once incorporated, gently fold in the other half without overmixing. Do the same with the whipped cream from the refrigerator, folding half the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and then gently folding in the other half until fully combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To prepare the batter for the toast, whisk together heavy cream, egg and sugar. Place the bread slices into the batter one at a time, soaking each slice for 3 minutes while turning over in the batter until bread is soaked through. Continue with remaining slices.

Melt butter on low flame and pan-fry slices for 6 to 8 minutes each, constantly turning from side to side until each is cooked through and golden brown. Place slices on paper to soak up excess fat before serving.

Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar, chilled mascarpone cream and berry confiture. Serves 4.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

The Eating of the Jews – A Poem for Rosh Hashanah by Rick Lupert


God Wrestler: a poem for every Torah Portion by Rick LupertLos Angeles poet Rick Lupert created the Poetry Super Highway (an online publication and resource for poets), and hosted the Cobalt Cafe weekly poetry reading for almost 21 years. He’s authored 22 collections of poetry, including “God Wrestler: A Poem for Every Torah Portion“, “I’m a Jew, Are You” (Jewish themed poems) and “Feeding Holy Cats” (Poetry written while a staff member on the first Birthright Israel trip), and most recently “Beautiful Mistakes” (Rothco Press, May 2018) and edited the anthologies “A Poet’s Siddur: Shabbat Evening“,  “Ekphrastia Gone Wild”, “A Poet’s Haggadah”, and “The Night Goes on All Night.” He writes the daily web comic “Cat and Banana” with fellow Los Angeles poet Brendan Constantine. He’s widely published and reads his poetry wherever they let him.

The Sweet Torture of Kitchen Life

I’ve just come home from work. I’m covered in burns and cuts to the point where the heat from my shower stung so much I had to turn off the hot water halfway through. I have so many scars on my hands, so many broken nails, that my manicurist regularly scolds me. I’m fueled by espresso and adrenaline and haven’t eaten anything since yesterday. Did I even eat dinner last night? Despite some shockingly expensive insoles, my legs ache so much I could ice myself until tomorrow and do yoga religiously, but nothing can undo the damage of 14 straight hours on my feet. I think for most people, this might sound torturous, but for a chef, it’s just a typical day.

You may wonder why anyone would do it. What would possess a sane person to get up at 5 a.m. to pick herbs in the dark and risk a snake bite (yes, that happened), drive to work in the rain on bumpy and dangerous roads and then spend the day brutalizing her body? The best way I can describe it is as an addiction like running or smoking.

But it also seems like a requirement; like breathing and sleeping, the action of a hot kitchen with its pleasurable intensity, its flames and sparks, its relentless physical push and pull is intoxicating. When you are 20 orders deep, headphones on, smoking oil and woks in the air, backed up against continuous deadlines that come within seconds of one another, you find a place deep inside of you, a sweet torture that creates a temporary vacuum in the air and electrifies it.

Like a fly, you circle the web of your nemesis. You try to come as close as you can by stepping around an edge without falling in because the memory of the last time you got eaten alive still stings. Unfortunately, the only way around your predicament is preparation so exhaustive and precise that running a marathon seems like a walk on the beach. Add to that the fact that your fate depends on the consciousness and the physical and mental acuity of others. You can be on track with your orders, but if your co-chefs are not on their game, you will go down in flames alongside them, inevitably and cataclysmically like a Sunfish sailboat in a perfect storm.

Like your favorite lover, chefs will decant a seduction onto your plate and the better we get to know you, we will chase what you like until you catch on that you’re ours.

Then there are the sounds and smells of a professional kitchen, as musical in and of themselves as a favorite song on a repeat. “Order in!” shouts an expeditor and, like a starter’s pistol at the beginning of a race, the body reacts viscerally. You know you’re on, and for another hour or two, you will become so enmeshed, so deep in the weeds, so deliciously absorbed, you will barely feel it when you pull focaccia out of a 600-degree oven with your bare hands. When your mezzaluna falls apart, its handle still slick from olive oil, because you have so forcefully pushed it into the rosemary and garlic-scented crust, unless the sight of blood gushing forth from your hand stops you, it will barely register.

And then there are your customers. The way they look at you when you’ve remembered — without being reminded — that they hate cilantro. Or the way a child will run up to hug you with stars in their eyes because they still remember that time you presented them with a sprinkle-laden Mickey Mouse-shaped pancake. The flash of adoration you see when you watch someone take a bite of warm challah that you’ve braided and adorned with your prayers. The look that says you’ve stirred a memory — of a grandmother or a wife or an aunt far away — its innocence so pure it makes you buzz as though you’ve drunk a glass of champagne too quickly.

Absorbed in the act of icing a cake, I often look up to find my customers silently watching me, completely engrossed in my task and with looks of appreciation so intense that sometimes it makes me blush. My greatest pleasure is making customers one-bite spoon treats when I am finishing off a dessert and have leftover bits. Some cake crumbs, a swath of cream and a drizzle of dulce de leche piled onto a spoon and handed to someone having a tough day may as well be a life preserver thrown out to the drowning — so simple, yet so powerful.

In my mind there is a Rolodex: Michelle hates sweet potatoes; extra onions for Carmelita; Jenny likes her eggs soft; JoJo doesn’t want oil in her salad dressing. My only talent — that of remembering people’s likes and dislikes when it comes to food — has paid off in my kitchen life. Like typing — a skill that seemed so pointless once — has become one of my greatest advantages. Seemingly insignificant details about hundreds of people’s preferences flash through my mind all day, and along with those details, a connection to that person that remains long after they have gone. Not adding chile to Meghan’s food but making Kevin’s food extra spicy may not seem like a very big deal in the scheme of life but it’s the very essence and language of a kitchen.

Somehow, all the bruises and failures of kitchen life evaporate when I present someone with a cake, buttercream flowers strewn about in shades of their favorite color, and they burst into tears of joy. People know when you are giving them a piece of yourself and when your heart is in the game. But unlike a revealing “tell” in a game of poker, in the kitchen, when you have shown your hand, you are left without the option to fold. Chefs will go all in every single time. Like your favorite lover, we will decant a seduction onto your plate and the better we get to know you, we will chase what you like until you catch on that you’re ours.

The seemingly relentless disappointments that go hand in hand with the pursuit of anything this demanding is not for the easily discouraged. Since life naturally ebbs and flows in swirls of sorrow, delight and impermanence, one solution to disheartenment is to try to catch a wave of joy and ride it as far as you can.

Like the fly, it’s instinctual for us to try to avoid the web. But in the kitchen, as in life, perhaps the only thing that may keep us from the silky clutches of the spider is a fierce trajectory toward our passion.

Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Weekend of Faith

This weekend marks an important time for people of many faiths.  It is Passover and also Good Friday and Easter Sunday.  I am someone whose life is made easier with faith. I’m also one that does not judge people based on faith. The way I see it, faith allows us to lean on something bigger than ourselves, and if it gives us peace, then how we view the higher power doesn’t matter. Faith is a beautiful and powerful thing. It does not need to always be about religion.

I hope those who celebrate the holidays of this weekend will find peace within their faith.  For me, the weekend is about prayer.  Prayers of thanks for my Jewish life, prayers of thanks for my blessed life, and prayers of thanks for the health and happiness of my family and friends. I’m counting my blessings, embracing the history of my people, and taking comfort in the power of so many human beings on the planet praying at the exact same time. It is quite beautiful.

Take time this weekend to be kind to a stranger. Share blessings with people in need and let your faith inspire you to bring light to someone in the dark. Listen to a child laugh, reach out to someone you miss, ease someone’s sorrow, know struggles will pass, make a new plan, love someone, be aware, be happy, be brave, cry tears of joy, hug like you mean it, and enjoy the delicious holiday food. Enjoy the weekend. Celebrate, reflect, and keep the faith.

 

Are you looking for the Best Meals in Park City, Utah?

Are you looking for the Best Meals in Park City, Utah?Tupelo

Carl, Heather and I agree with Emily Summers from Deer Valley Resort and highly recommend the hot Buttermilk biscuits with honey butter at Tupelo! We cannot wait to eat them and everything else again!

Carl and Heather raved about the Beef with Barley made with Nirman Ranch Sirloin which they both said was nearly like risotto! They loved it. I had the tasty Mary’s Airline Chicken which had great spices and was so juicy. This chicken is cooked by Sous-vide which uses hot water immersion to cook food slowly over a long period and then you have succulent and tender meat.

Next time we are eating the tempting desserts FIRST!

Thank you to Chef Matthew Harris, the entire team and especially our server, Sean O.

Are you looking for the Best Meals in Park City, Utah?Waldorf Astoria Park City

After skiing all day, are you wondering where to dine?

Heather, Carl and I loved POWDER at the Waldorf Astoria Park CityThe Red bicycle wheat and beer batter bread with black Hawaiian sea salt and Wisconsin butter was a delicious beginning. I loved the carrot ginger citrus bisque!

We shared the simple artisan greens and the wood grilled cauliflower. It was hard for me to share a taste of my buttermilk fried organic chicken, because it is so outrageously good! Heather loved the guajilli rubbed buffalo tenderloin and Carl highly recommended his unique Ora king salmon from Tasman, New Zealand. See more photos on Facebook.

Thank you to Chef Michael Zachman, Nick, Ryan and of course, Danielle!

“Powder is the ideal location to gather for breakfast, lunch, après, dinner and drinks with unique fresh and flavorful menu offerings for the entire family. We offer indoor private dining and additional outdoor season seating with views of the pool and scenic outdoor courtyard.”

Congrats Waldorf Astoria Park City

They have been voted the United States’ Best Ski Hotel and Top Three World’s Best Ski Hotel 2017 at the World Ski Awards™ ceremony in Kitzbühel, Austria. The World Ski Awards™ is the only global initiative to recognize, reward and celebrate excellence in ski tourism. This year, a record number of votes were cast by ski consumers from across the globe – over 1.5 million!

Are you looking for the Best Meals in Park City, Utah?HIGH WEST DISTILLERY 

People often ask me, “Can you drink in Utah?” YES YOU CAN!

At High West, you can have Whiskey that is distilled in Utah and was named Whiskey Distiller of the Year in 2016! They make craft spirits which you can find in 49 states and internationally but it might be best if you come in and taste them yourself with some fantastic food. I love that for Pioneer Day they make the historic Mormon whiskey recipe! YES! Mormons used to drink and have their own whiskey recipe.

Carl and Heather loved the smoked cheddar, bacon and jalapeno mac but my favorite was the warm corn and pepper salad.  What else to eat? The Bison Burger with caramelized onions and the chicken schnitzel. YUM! Oh and try the pretzels too!

HighWest FACTS:

2006 High West Becomes Utah’s First Legal Distillery since 1870. Yippee Ki-Yay!

2009 High West Saloon in Park City opens

2015 High West Distillery on Blue Sky opens - Marks the beginning of a new High West era.

2016 High West is Named Distiller of the Year by Whisky Advocate

Are you looking for the Best Meals in Park City, Utah?

FIREWOOD

 Whether you live near Main Street, Park City, Utah or you are in town to ski and celebrate, I can promise the food, service and company will be fantastic at Firewood Park City. We chose to go there to celebrate my very first art sale at Artworks Park City. Carl, Heather and I were ready to enjoy our evening but were unprepared for the great lengths the team would go to accomodate us. I have several food challenges which were no problem at Firewood. We dined on incredible food and even tasted new things that quickly became favorites.

 

Wondering about some of my other favorites? Read my article about Amazing Meals, my story in Trivago and watch my Park City videos.

More about my skiing adventures with National Ability Center in

Ski Utah

Sierra Magazine

USA Today 10 best

Deer Valley

We loved skiing at DEER VALLEY RESORT!

First published on We Said Go Travel 

Passover: Liberating God’s Food

Jewish rituals are very much about what we can’t do. We can’t eat on Yom Kippur, we can’t work on Shabbat, we can’t eat bread during Passover, and so on.

The prohibitions on Passover are especially detailed. Every year, rabbinic authorities and food companies spend an enormous amount of energy determining how to make thousands of supermarket items “kosher for Passover.” I’ve seen very observant Jews go nuts on this holiday. Some are careful not to put water on their matzot because any moisture might “leaven” the matzah.

But here’s the really crazy part — the holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision whatsoever and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

These are the foods that come straight from God and straight from the earth, foods like beets, bananas, Swiss chard, carrots, tomatoes, cucumbers, watermelon, apples, persimmons, tangerines, spinach, red peppers, kiwi, strawberries, asparagus, Brussels sprouts, zucchini, celery, endive and mangoes.

Ask Picasso to design 20 fruit and vegetables and I’m not sure he can do better than what’s on that list. Ask any nutrition expert and they’ll tell you that fresh and natural produce are the best way to nourish your body. Ask any great chef and they’ll tell you that fruit and vegetables offer the most imaginative possibilities for great recipes.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from
overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything.

And yet, we still have a tendency to treat vegetables as merely the “side dish” to the main meat dish. The age-old tradition, for those who are not vegan or vegetarian, is that meat is the hero and everything else is the supporting cast.

Passover offers us a unique opportunity to turn the tables.

At our seder tables this year, we can turn God’s earthy foods into the main dish. We can liberate ourselves from overly processed foods, from too much meat, too much sugar, too much of everything. Even for carnivores, we can use this season to celebrate the best, holiest foods on earth.

Are you up for it? I hope so, because this special Passover Food issue is loaded with amazing non-dairy vegetarian recipes such as Herb-Stuffed Mushrooms With Arugula, Bulgarian-Style Ratatouille, Eggplant Chopped “Liver,” Raw Zucchini Roll-ups With Smoky Eggplant and Gold Beets and Nectarines With Hazelnuts and Oregano.

Our Food editor, Yamit Behar Wood, who has shared plenty of great meat recipes in the past, has gotten into the real- food Passover spirit with a story titled, “Can Passover Food Liberate Us? Vegetable Dishes That Steal the Seder.”

She writes: “The seder is a perfect time to re-evaluate priorities and to detoxify our environment in the hopes of gaining a better way forward in all aspects of our lives. And what better way to start anew spiritually than to begin to rethink not only what comes in and out of our lives but what physically goes into our bodies?”

You’ll find four pages in this week’s issue of Wood’s celebration of some of her favorite vegetable dishes.

In “An Eight-Day Love Affair With Vegetables,” Wendy Paris writes:

“This spring-cleaning holiday, this festival of liberation is the perfect time to free ourselves from what can be mindless, unhealthy eating habits — the chewy granola bars in the car, the Cinnabon at the airport. Eating more vegetables is a way to care for our bodies, a mitzvah itself. Cramming ourselves with chocolate-covered potato chips and processed products with names like “Smokey Flavor Xtra Long Snack” is not a mitzvah, even when they’re kosher for Passover.”

The holiest and most spectacular food items in the world require no rabbinic supervision and are “kosher for Passover” all year long.

For her story, Paris interviewed local chef Jeremy Fox, who is a master of farmers market cooking and the author of the recently released ode to things that grow, “On Vegetables: Modern Recipes for the Home Kitchen.”

Paris writes: “For your own vegetable-based Passover dinner, Fox advises thinking in terms of a mezze-style meal of many small plates. … Include a variety of textures, and consider the flow of flavors across the whole evening.”

One of the things I love about the Jewish tradition is that we can inject our own personal meaning into the Jewish holidays. If Passover is about not eating leavened products, why can’t it also be about eating real foods?

So feel free to get into the spirit. Although we do have some terrific recipes in this issue, you can create your own. The point is to use this time of year to free ourselves from the things that harm us and embrace the things that nourish us, spiritually as well as physically.

It’s amazing to think that we can come out of this year’s Passover holiday with a renewed appreciation for the foods that best nourish and sustain our bodies. Talk about liberation.

See you all at the farmers market.

Passover Meal Prep: Leek and Beef Patties

I certainly won the Parent lottery, and I don’t think it’s an accident that I was given the ones I got. I also was exceptionally fortunate that part of my winnings came with a few stand-in mothers in the form of aunts. Although I feel the heavens showed terrible judgment when they decided not to make me a mom, I was able to channel the nurturing aspect of my personality into professional cooking. I often think that most chefs are parents in sheep’s clothing because most of us simply want to make our customers happy by feeding them well.

This year, I missed my annual early morning birthday phone call from my Aunt Dora, who died six months ago. I found myself waiting to hear her voice all day, my heart sinking a bit every hour that passed without her good wishes and blessings.

Dora’s birthday falls this week, marking the time of year that, in the past, she would have started to prepare and freeze her most iconic dish for Passover. I can’t think of a better way to honor her memory than to pass along her recipe for the most emblematic of all my childhood foods: ktzitzot prasa. Meat and leek patties are a typical food of Rosh Hashanah and Passover throughout the Jewish Sephardic world, particularly in the Balkans. Omit the meat for a vegetarian version but double the amount of potato so they hold together better.

The Bulgarian Jews, from which my father’s side of the family hails, have a vibrant tradition of foods deriving from their Spanish roots. All of my aunts prepare this dish  because it’s a must on our table for Passover. Dora taught my mother to make these and by extension taught me. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s the favorite dish across all generations of our family.
These leek and beef patties aren’t difficult to make, but if each ingredient isn’t handled correctly, the whole dish will be inedible. Leeks tend to hold a lot of sand, so clean them thoroughly by slicing them lengthwise, then wash them in many changes of water. You don’t want gritty patties. Been there, done that.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say it’s the favorite dish across all generations of our family.

You also must cook the leeks so that they are soft and don’t result in a patty that is fibrous, but not so soft that they are mushy. Done that, too. Next, grind the cooked leeks and squeeze as much water out of them as possible, so they will hold together when fried. Also, season them well. Otherwise, they’ll be bland. Dora taught me to do a test patty and adjust seasonings before cooking the rest of the batch. Then, if you’ve done all of that right, the patties must be fried in oil that is just hot enough, so they brown and don’t come out oily, but not so hot that their outsides burn before their insides cook.

Fortunately, Dora taught us all how to break up these steps so that these patties wouldn’t be too time-consuming for holidays when there were sometimes 30 or more people around her Passover table.

She would chop, clean and grind the leeks weeks in advance, straining them in the refrigerator overnight with a heavy plate on them to squeeze out liquid. The next day, she would mix them with the meat and seasonings and fry them, storing them in containers ready for the freezer.  The night before the holiday, she would transfer them to the fridge to thaw.

This Passover is the first in most of our lives without Dora, and it will be a difficult one for her family. Although I won’t be with my cousins in Israel, my parents and I will hold her in our thoughts as surely as we will squeeze lemon wedges on the
ktzitzot prasa before our first bite.

I still have some burning questions I would have liked to ask her about our culinary traditions, but it’s comforting to think that her great-grandchildren will be able to capture her essence through the soul food she so lovingly passed along.

BULGARIAN LEEK AND BEEF PATTIES
3 1/2 pounds leeks, only white and light- green parts, cut into 1-inch segments
1 medium-size potato, boiled and mashed
1/2 pound ground beef
2 eggs
2 tablespoons matzo meal (optional; if you are gluten-free, add more potato)
2 teaspoons salt or to taste
3/4 teaspoon black pepper or to taste
Vegetable oil for shallow frying (don’t use extra-virgin olive oil)
1 cup chicken stock for reheating
Lemon wedges for serving

Place clean, cut leeks in a large pot and cover with cold water, bringing to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to simmer, cover pot and cook until leeks are soft, about 15 minutes.

Put the leeks in a strainer and press with your hands until they are dry as possible.

Transfer the leeks to a food processor and gently pulse to grind, taking care to not over grind. Combine the leeks, mashed potato, ground beef, eggs, matzo meal, salt and pepper in a bowl and mix thoroughly. Let the mixture rest, covered in the refrigerator for 30 minutes.

When ready to cook, heat 1/8 inch of neutral-tasting vegetable oil in a shallow frying pan on medium heat.  Take a golf ball-size scoop of mixture in damp hands, flattening it gently into a patty, about 3 inches in diameter. Fill the
entire pan with patties but leave space between them.

Fry until cooked through and brown on both sides. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate. Serve immediately, refrigerate or freeze for future use.

To reheat, we use a method called “papiado” in Ladino, the Judeo-Spanish version of Yiddish. Papiado-style cooking calls for evaporating excess liquid in food in an uncovered dish in the oven. Modeling on this method, we place the patties in one layer in the pan on a burner and then pour over them a small amount of chicken stock, no more than a 1/2 cup. The patties are then cooked on medium-low heat until the liquid is absorbed, and they are a bit puffy and warmed through.

Serve hot or at room temperature with lemon wedges.

Makes about 40 small ktzitzot.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive
chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Behind the Scenes at “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate – The Exhibition”

Jewish refugee and immigrant stories highlight chocolate as a migrant food in “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” currently on display at Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica in New York City. Now in its 20th year, the mission of the Bernard Museum is to examine and engage with the intersections of Jewish history, culture, and identity.

The exhibit invites visitors to partake in this first-ever visual journey into the mysteries, opportunities, and resilience of the Jewish chocolate story. It focuses on the surprising chocolate businesses and skills of Jews that cross cultures, countries, and continents. Jews jumped onto the chocolate trail in the early phases of European interaction with the New World drink. Later, 20th-century Jewish emigrants transferred their businesses of eating chocolate to new locations.

Some books are optioned into films. My book, On the Chocolate Trail, developed into this museum exhibit. Truthfully, creating this exhibit was the fulfillment of a dream. As I had researched chocolate and religions for On the Chocolate Trail, I had come across many charming artifacts, unusual pieces of decorative arts, and elegant archival documents. Understandably, only a handful could be included in the publication. All the while, I mused about the many items that amplify the narratives and potentially could comprise a delightful display about the little- known history of Jews and chocolate.

“Semi[te] Sweet” started with a serendipitous encounter in 2016 when I randomly sat next to an Israeli colleague at a Women’s Rabbinic Network dinner in Jerusalem. She happened to work at Museum of the Jewish People or Beit Hatefuzot. The rabbi took a copy of On the Chocolate Trail at the end of the evening. Almost a year later, when Gady Levy, the director of Temple Emanu-El’s Streicker Center in New York, NY, met with her in Jerusalem, she handed him On the Chocolate Trail. Within weeks, Levy and I met with Warren Klein, the Bernard’s curator, in New York, and a year later we mounted the show.

Of course, I had no idea about the complexities of such an enterprise: locating and borrowing the articles, designing the space, coordinating the labels. The expertise, professionalism, and creativity of Klein, who has been the museum’s curator since 2013, and his team were essential. We often juggled wishes with availability, vision with budget, aesthetics with content. Some manuscripts could only be provided in facsimile since the originals were deemed too fragile to travel.

Using On the Chocolate Trail as a foundation, we sought relevant objects. We reached out to institutions that had supported my research such as The Jacob Rader Marcus Center of the American Jewish Archives, the American Jewish Historical Society, the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion Klau Library, and the Newport Historical Society.

When we decided to portray early chocolate usage, I turned to social media to locate pieces. As a result, eclectic loans included a family chocolate cup from Mexico lent by Reverend Susan Sica, whom I had met on an interfaith clergy trip to Israel. Michael Laiskonis, a chocolate expert at the Chocolate Lab at Institute of Culinary Education provided his metate stone for the grinding of chocolate by hand. A rabbinic colleague’s wife furnished a silver chocolate pot that had been in her family for three generations. The Leo Baeck Institute in New York City worked closely with Klein to bring Albert Einstein’s childhood chocolate cup back from loan in Germany. The Barton’s Bonbonniere founder’s son generously lent company memorabilia as did a member of the Barricini Family.

Although I could not imagine how it would all come together, Klein coordinated with a designer, a graphic artist, a painter, and an installer to be sure everything fit in a balanced confection of an installation. Its elegant and smart look entranced 800 attendees at the chocolate suffused opening and many more since. The evening happily coincided with the publication of the second edition of the book. On the Chocolate Trail then served as the catalog for the exhibit.

Guests from around the world – Argentina, Australia, Canada China, England, Israel, and Poland – have written sweet comments in the guest book. Tour groups have enjoyed specially themed Elite milk chocolate bars. Florence Fabricant in the New York Times noted that the exhibit demonstrates that “The connection between Jews and chocolate goes beyond Hanukkah ​gelt.” In response to inquiries from across the country, “Semi[te] Sweet” will be available to travel to museums and galleries beginning in April. After all, from generation to generation, l’dor vador, the Jewish love of chocolate should be shared.

“Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” will be traveling around the country beginning in April, 2018. For further information, please contact me.

Cross posted from ReformJudaism.org.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. The newly released second edition of her book, On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao, (Jewish Lights) contains 25 historical and contemporary recipes. She is co-curator of the exhibit, “Semi[te] Sweet: On Jews and Chocolate” at Temple Emanu-El’s Herbert and Eileen Bernard Museum of Judaica, NYC, on display through February 25, 2018. She blogs at the Forward, onthechocolatetrail.org, and elsewhere. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings.

Thanksgiving With More Joy and Less Oy

Photo by Lynn Pelkey

I have an important message about the Thanksgiving meal for all you moms, dads, bubbes and holiday feast-makers out there: It’s not about the food.

There, I said it.

The truth is, holiday meals are never about the food. They are about family traditions, friends who are family, lively discussions, screaming kids and ranting in-laws. They are about making memories and laughter and having enough leftover turkey to make sandwiches the next day.

No matter how creamy your mashed potatoes are or how many Michelin stars your meal might earn, the fact is, no one is going to remember the food. What they will remember is your radiance, your happiness, your warmth and maybe even your dance moves.

So please, if you are preparing for the upcoming Thanksgiving meal, give yourself permission to take some shortcuts. If your meal is five-star but your face says “I just want to crawl back into bed,” you have lost. This year, commit to not being that frazzled person who is too stressed to be grateful on the official day of gratitude.

This year, commit to not being that frazzled person who is too stressed to be grateful on the official day of gratitude.

I speak from experience. For many years, I’ve prepared the Thanksgiving meal for almost 200 Foreign Service Officers at the U.S. Embassy in Uganda. Not only do I have the added pressure of cooking for people who would rather be home for the holiday, but I have to start well before Thanksgiving arrives — after all, I’d end up in a straitjacket if I woke up Wednesday morning still needing to make hundreds of pies and peel 200 pounds of potatoes.

Yet, many home cooks do just that sort of thing before big meals. This Thanksgiving, take it from a person who cooks for a living: Follow this schedule I’ve put together to take some anxiety out of the holiday.

Monday, Nov. 20: Do your shopping
Nothing spells heartbreak faster than running to 20 stores on Thanksgiving morning in search of croutons — or cranberry sauce or pumpkin pie filling. Don’t forget extra herbs and seasonings, salt, butter (or schmaltz or oil), flour, cream, milk, coffee, tea, sugar and large, disposable foil containers. Also, buy a meat thermometer with a pop-up timer. They cost next to nothing, and you will need to know when your turkey is cooked.

Tuesday, Nov. 21: Start preparing
Today is the day to make dough and desserts, and to prep the veggies, the frozen turkey and the fridge.

Apple pies can be made in advance and frozen unbaked. Pumpkin and pecan pies can be made today, and they will sit happily in your fridge until Thursday.

Figure out the challah/roll/biscuit situation and deal with that. You can make the dough and shape it in advance, then put it in the freezer to pop into the oven on Thursday.

This is also the day to peel regular and sweet potatoes and cover them with cold water. Trim the ends off string beans, blanch them in salted water and freeze in bags.

For the stuffing, prepare croutons, celery, onions and garlic before storing them in the fridge in Ziploc bags.

Clear out your fridge to make as much room as you can. Be brutal: Throw away those jars of condiments you’ve had in there since 1986. Then — and this is critical — if your turkey is frozen, put it in the fridge to thaw. Many Turkey Days have been ruined by underestimating how long it takes to thaw a big bird.

Wednesday, Nov. 22: Side dish day
Make the stuffing, the mashed and sweet potatoes, the green bean casserole, rice, couscous or whatever dishes your traditions dictate. Grease those disposable foil containers, put side dishes in them, cover them with foil and throw them in the fridge, ready to go into the oven the next day.

And if you bought a kosher turkey, you have even more to be grateful for. You can skip all that messy brining because kosher turkeys have already been brined.

Thursday, Nov. 23: Thanksgiving
While everyone else is trudging to the store looking for cranberries, here’s all that’s left for you to do this morning:

Preheat your oven and remove the side dishes and turkey from the fridge, so they come to room temperature. Rinse your turkey well with plenty of cool water, dry it with paper towels and let it sit on the counter for about an hour.

If you need to bake a pie or rolls/challah/biscuits, now is the time. While those are baking, set the table. Go all out. This is the most fun part of entertaining, and if you have mismatched plates and platters, all the better. If you’re like me and almost each one of your serving dishes tells a story, recalls a place you’ve been or reminds you of a relative you miss, this is a great chance to remember.

When the bread and pies are out of the oven, turn up the temperature to 500 F. Put your meat thermometer in the deepest part of the turkey’s thigh — where it meets the breast — and rub oil all over the bird. Season the inside and outside with your choice of herbs and spices. In the roasting pan, pour a few cups of wine or water and add the giblets and neck you reserved.

Pop the turkey into the oven for 30 minutes to brown all over. Then remove the turkey from the oven and lower the temperature to 350 F. Cover the breast meat with a small piece of foil and put the turkey back in the oven until your timer goes off or your thermometer reads 165 F.  An unstuffed turkey will take about 9 minutes per pound.

Basting is unnecessary, and opening the oven door will just increase the cooking time. Let your cooked bird rest for at least 30 minutes or longer. This allows the juices to redistribute and make the meat moist and flavorful. Avoid covering the turkey during the resting period to prevent rubbery skin.

While the turkey is resting, put the foil-covered side dishes in the oven to warm.

Before getting showered and dressed, take a few minutes to remove the pan drippings from your resting-turkey pan, discard the giblets and neck, and prepare the gravy. If you want to be a super chef, pour the gravy into microwave-safe gravy boats to be warmed for 2 minutes before serving.

At this point, you’ll probably be remembering frantic meals of holidays past and wondering why you’re done already — without even breaking a sweat. Keep the good times rolling: Talk someone else into carving the turkey and browning the tops of the side dishes before transferring them to serving platters. Then kick back and enjoy a pre-dinner Thanksgiving l’chaim!


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Channeling Safta — Schmaltz and All

Israeli Ktzitzot

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.

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken. Photos by Chaya Rappoport

I didn’t grow up with tzimmes, so the idea of stewed, mushy vegetables with dried fruit has never much appealed to me. I say “idea” because I am pretty sure I have never actually tasted tzimmes. The dish always seemed too sweet to be appealing, even if sweet foods are traditionally enjoyed for the New Year.

But recently, while thinking of new ways to reinvent a few classic Rosh Hashanah dishes, I began thinking about tzimmes. And perhaps with a couple of very liberal (and namely savory) changes, who’s to say it couldn’t become something newer, grander and much more enticing for a palate like mine?

My experimentation has produced a colorful, show-stopping and nontraditional chicken dish.

Wonderfully savory chicken now complements the sweet tzimmes of yore, which I have updated by swapping fresh, juicy plums and apricots for their dry, pruney counterparts, adding sweetly swirled candy cane beets (you can also use red or golden beets); switching out regular carrots for vivid, tricolored ones; and tossing in a handful of golden raisins to be plumped up with aromatic pan juices. Alongside the requisite onion, aromatic rosemary and heady cloves of garlic, the striking fruit-and-vegetable mixture roasts in a cinnamon, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and spiked date honey sauce.

Once the fruits and vegetables have softened a bit, they are topped by the chicken and doused in a saffron-infused white wine mixture, which saturates the entire dish as its components roast together in happy, fragrant harmony.

Now we have a delicious dish with tender fruits and vegetables, bronzed chicken and a saffron-and-white-wine-flavored gravy that puddles at the bottom of the pan and would be splendid spooned over fluffy couscous. Serve this holiday-worthy chicken with even more wine and with shreds of fresh green parsley, then watch as even the most vehement tzimmes haters come slowly, then speedily around.

Ingredients:
For the fruits and vegetables:
2 bunches small colored candy cane beets, tops removed, scrubbed and sliced
1 bunch colorful young carrots, scrubbed and thicker ones sliced in half
4 apricots, halved, some quartered
4 big purple plums, halved and some sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
chopped parsley, for serving

Some of the fruits and vegetables that go in a newfangled tzimmes dish.

 

For the chicken, sauce and saffron white wine marinade:
4 chicken bottoms, cleaned
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups good white wine
3 tablespoons date honey (silan)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rub the chicken bottoms with the sea salt and the 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary.

2. Toast the saffron threads in a small pan over low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until they are slightly toasty and fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat, add the 1/4 cup of water and let it sit and turn yellow as the saffron infuses its flavor into the water.

3. Combine the cooled saffron water, of which you should have 1/4 cup, with the white wine. Mix and set aside until needed.

4. Make the marinade: Whisk the date honey, oil, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and ras el hanout in a large bowl.

5. Add the chicken pieces, carrots, onion, cardamom pods, garlic, apricots, plums, carrots, beets, golden raisins and rosemary to the large bowl and toss to combine.

6. Remove the chicken and set aside in a clean, baking paper-lined pan until needed. Spread the fruits and vegetables on a baking paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.

7. Pour half of the saffron/white wine mixture on the chicken and half on the vegetables. Cover the vegetables tightly with foil. Roast 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove and discard the cardamom.

8.  Remove foil, lower the heat to 400 F. and top the vegetables with the chicken and the rest of the saffron/white wine mix.

9. Continue to roast until the beets and carrots are tender, the chicken is golden brown and the whole mixture smells divine, around 40 minutes to 1 hour. (If the fruits and vegetables get too dark, you can remove the sheet tray from the oven, place the chicken in another pan and return that pan to the oven until the chicken is nice and golden, leaving out the vegetables.)

10. When the chicken and vegetables are done, transfer chicken mixture to serving platter. Pour pan juices over. Top with shredded parsley before serving.

Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a pastry sous chef at a Brooklyn bakery, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Traveler.


The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.

Rosh Hashanah recipes from Chef Ari Kolender

Cast-Iron Peach Crisp. Photo by Jessica Ritz

Chef Ari Kolendar has a few favorite, hearty fall dishes his maternal grandmother used to make at Rosh Hashanah for their large family in Charleston, S.C. “Now that I’m in the field,” he said, “I’ve mastered her recipes.”

[MORE: Chef Ari Kolender branches out with new café]

Here, he’s adapted them, mixing just the right amount of nostalgia with ingredients to satisfy contemporary tastes.

NOODLE KUGEL

– 8 ounces packaged egg noodles
– 3 eggs, beaten
– 4 ounces unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 8 ounces pineapple, diced small
– 2 apples, diced small

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.
Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.

Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SQUASH CASSEROLE

– 3 pounds fresh yellow squash
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, if available
– 1 yellow onion, diced small
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 4 ounces melted unsalted butter, plus some cold butter for the Pyrex dish
– 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the squash in half, then season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

Once cool, chop the squash and place into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Place into a buttered Pyrex dish and cover with seasoned bread crumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHERRY TOMATO CRISP

– 6 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 pints cherry tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon yellow onion, diced small
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 cup matzo meal
– 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Lightly coat a shallow baking dish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add tomatoes to pan.

In a medium bowl, add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and tomatoes are tender.

Makes 6-8 servings.

DERBY PIE

– Store-bought pie shell
– 3/4 stick melted unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3/4 cup white corn syrup
– 3 eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips
– Whipped cream for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake the pie shell for 12 minutes. Let cool and reserve.

Using a standing mixer or a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the syrup, eggs and vanilla slowly. Once incorporated, stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.

Pour into the pie shell and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAST-IRON PEACH CRISP

– Peach Crisp Topping (recipe follows)
– 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter for preparing the pan
– 2 pounds firm peaches (about 5 medium), cut into half-inch width slices
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup white sugar
– 5 ounces pecans, toasted and chopped
– 3/4 teaspoon garam masala spice mix, if available
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– 1/3 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare the Peach Crisp Topping; set aside.

Smear the sides and bottom of a cast iron pan with the cold butter.

In a bowl, mix the peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, pecans, spice mix, lemon juice and salt. Place into the pan and finish by scattering the Topping on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The topping should be golden brown.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TOPPING

– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1/3 cup all purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– Pinch of sea salt

Melt the butter and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix together. Add the room temperature butter and mix until fully incorporated. Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit in the pan.

Brooklyn Brands’ babka bound for the big time

Supreme chocolate babka from Lilly’s Baking Co. Photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher

On the corner of 62nd Street and Ninth Avenue in southwest Brooklyn, just a stone’s throw from Sandy Koufax’s childhood stomping grounds, an irrepressible scent of chocolate swirls in the air.

It’s coming from Brooklyn Brands, an old-school-meets-new-school bakery that turns out Ashkenazi Jewish classics such as babka, marble cake, hamantashen, rugelach and some of the best black-and-white cookies New York City has to offer.

Each day, some 250 people clock in at the bustling, multiroom commercial bakery, whose products have spread across the country, including to Los Angeles. In one room, a team of workers decorates the black-and-whites by hand, dipping spatulas into oversized saucepans of icing and smoothing them over each cookie’s surface. Nearby, other staffers braid fat ropes of yeasted challah dough into loaves, and chocolate-filled strands of babka are coiled and tucked into baking pans. 

Brooklyn Brands was founded in 2015, but its history stretches back to the early 1940s, when Renee Schick opened a small, kosher challah and pastry business that grew into the locally beloved Schick’s Gourmet Bakery. Today, Schick’s is one of five Brooklyn-based kosher bakeries housed under the Brooklyn Brands line. The others include Lilly’s Baking Company, Mezonos Maven, Smilowitz Bakery and Mehadrin. 

Co-directors Seth Zalkin and Mickey Klein, longtime friends and business partners, believe in the power of numbers. So when they acquired the bakeries, which had been consolidated by the previous owner, they began to imagine what it would look like for a slice of Brooklyn’s Jewish culinary heritage to reach across the country, even the globe.

“We saw a brand that was undermarketed and underdeveloped, but the quality of baked goods being produced was consistently high,” Klein said. “We grew up with these products and realized they could have wider appeal.”

“These companies were selling primarily to local yeshivas and kosher groceries,” Zalkin added. “We wanted them to be in places like Whole Foods, Stop & Shop, Publix, Costco and Kroger.”

Today, the company’s products are sold in more than 10,000 supermarkets across the United States and online. Customers in far-flung locales, from Louisiana to California, who almost certainly would not have stumbled across authentic Brooklyn babka or rugelach in their supermarkets, are smitten with these Jewish sweets. In Los Angeles, Whole Foods sells them under the Lilly’s or Schick’s brand, and they long ago started appearing around the Southland at other gourmet retailers.

One customer’s recent Amazon review of Lilly’s cinnamon babka is particularly representative: “On a lark I ordered ‘babka’ because I had heard about it on Seinfeld. It is delicious!”

“We thank Seinfeld every day,” said Klein, referring to the episode in which Jerry and Elaine attempt to order the pastry at a Manhattan bakery.

Zalkin and Klein are smitten too. Maybe it’s the draw of being part of such a vibrant baking community, or maybe it’s just the siren call of yeast, jam and chocolate. But while they remain active partners at their global advisory firm, Astor Group, Klein said he and Zalkin now spend 99 percent of their time at Brooklyn Brands. 

Klein, who immigrated to New York from the Soviet Union as a child, is fluent in Hebrew and Yiddish. The latter language goes an especially long way when working with traditional kosher bakeries and Chasidic clients in Brooklyn. Zalkin, meanwhile, has an impressive if unusual familial connection to kosher baking. His grandmother, Hattie Zalkin, helped persuade the Girl Scouts to remove lard from their cookie recipes and get kosher certification.

Under Brooklyn Brands, the five bakeries continue to function primarily as they always have, without much top-down disruption, although they are now all under the same roof instead of in separate locations. All of the baked goods are currently pareve (the company plans to add a dairy line in 2018) and maintain a homey, Jewish quality.

Products from Mezonos Maven, Smilowitz, and Mehadrin are sold primarily in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, while Lilly’s and, to some extent, Schick’s, are scaling up and beyond. 

To that end, a few significant changes have been made. The first is ensuring that the Brooklyn Brands’ products, many of which have been made with the same recipes for decades, remain high quality. “Our feeling was, if we can’t make a product we are proud of, let’s not do it anymore,” Zalkin said. 

Seth Zalkin, left, and Mickey Klein, owners of Brooklyn Brands. Photo by Nicholas Lau

 

Today, the products’ ingredient lists are noticeably more wholesome than those on most commercially produced baked goods — think unbleached flour, cocoa powder, and orange juice rather than hydrogenated cottonseed oil and artificial flavorings. The team recently developed a rainbow cookie colored with food dyes made from pigment-rich plants rather than from chemicals — red from beets, yellow from turmeric, and green from alfalfa. The goal is to be completely free of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) by next year.

“We’re making stuff that my wife and I feel OK feeding to our kids,” Zalkin said.

Of course, babka and marble cake aren’t exactly health foods. But for those looking for “intentional indulgences,” as Klein called them, his bakeries provide a better option. 

The second big change is packaging, which up until recently had a decidedly old-fashioned and ad hoc look. “There was not a lot of branding consistency. The products were called by different names in different places,” Zalkin said.

They worked with a design team to create modern logos and boxes that would appeal to a wider audience while staying recognizable to longtime customers. The packages also tout the pastries’ various health claims, such as vegan or gluten-free.

Brooklyn Brands is in the final stages of opening a second baking facility in the South Bronx that Zalkin described as “bigger, fancier and more fun.” The expansion will allow scaled-up production to meet growing demand, but Zalkin said the hand-crafted approach to baking will remain.

When it comes to growth, the team is open to expanding the product line, so long as new baked goods capture the same spirit of Old World, ethnic Brooklyn baking. So, Italian almond horn cookies? Perhaps. Croissants? Probably not.

Most important, Zalkin said, they want Brooklyn Brands’ baked goods to continue reaching new corners of the country and world. They would love to see hamantashen and macaroons served at church picnics and at family reunions as well as on synagogue Kiddush tables. Their honey cakes already are a year-round staple, although production spikes during the High Holy Days.

The two entrepreneurs envision single-serve packages of their black-and-whites and other cookies in places like 7-Eleven and at Starbucks.

“There is no reason our products should not be mainstream American brands,” Zalkin said. “We are not just an Orthodox Jewish bakery. We are a fantastic bakery.”


Leah Koenig is the author of “Little Book of Jewish Appetizers” and “Modern Jewish Cooking.”