July 18, 2019

Local Mom Launches Kosher Delivery Service

A Kitch’N Giggles homemade meal; Photo courtesy of Yael Friedman

Chef, wife and mother of three Yael Friedman worked long hours at some of Los Angeles’ top high-end restaurants including Thomas Keller’s Bouchon in Beverly Hills and Sang Yoon’s Asian fusion restaurant Lukshon in Culver City. But making meals at work and at home became a difficult juggling act for her and her husband, who also worked full time.

“I was trying to make dinner while my kids were home, and it was the worst timing,” Friedman, who lives in Carthay Circle, told the Journal. Everyone is tired, cranky and low on patience. You’re trying really hard to make dinner and your kids are trying really hard to distract you from it. And then you’re like, ‘Fine, we’ll just order pizza.’ ”

While Friedman wanted to make her three children, ages 6, 4 and 2, healthy dinners and spend quality time with them, she just couldn’t make it work. So she quit her restaurant job in 2017 and studied nutrition education, where she learned that the best way to teach preschool kids about nutrition and cooking healthfully is to give them hands-on experience and exposure. Not long after, she came up with the idea of creating a meal kit that would enable parents and young children to cook dinner together. 

And so, Kitch’N Giggles was born. Friedman launched the vegetarian meal kit delivery service last month, and it is certified by Kosher LA. Each meal kit is designed to encourage kids ages 3-6 to get in the kitchen and help cook. They can follow along with their parents by looking at colorful illustrated recipes, and help create meals like spaghetti and meat-free meatballs; sliders made from black beans, lentils, eggs and quinoa with homemade French fries and ketchup, tofu tenders and grilled cheese sandwiches. 

“Just getting children used to new foods through the meal kits is one of her goals.” 

Each meal kit costs $34.99, feeds a family of four, and an additional portion can be added on for $5.99. Delivery is $8.50 or subscribers can pick up the meals in the Pico-Robertson neighborhood. Currently, delivery is available within a four-mile radius of Pico-Robertson. The kits are nutritionally balanced with proteins, carbs and fats, and the “meat” mixtures are made with all-natural ingredients like lentils and quinoa. 

Even though the family is not vegetarian, Friedman said she decided to make the kits vegetarian because, “As a mom, having kids work with raw meat sounds really bad to me. For health reasons, it’s just better. There are health and environmental implications of eating too much red meat,” which is why all Kitch’N Giggles packaging is compostable. 

Friedman currently has six subscribers since launching the company and she prepares all the meals herself at the recently koshered Fred’s Bakery on Robertson Boulevard. She also delivers all the meals herself.

With Kitch’N Giggles, Friedman hopes that parents will have less of a struggle getting their children to try new foods and the meals will encourage them to eat well. She said she comes across parents who say their kids want to eat only peanut butter or macaroni and cheese every day, and they don’t want to waste their time making meals their kids won’t touch. Just getting children used to new foods through the meal kits is one of her goals. 

“That exposure is important,” she said, “so that kids say they are willing to try something new.”

Friedman also wants to help parents make meal prep a fun and productive process for them. “My real hope is that parents find dinnertime to be less stressful and they look forward to coming together,” she said. “Making a healthy meal does not have to be an excruciating process. Eating together is very valuable. It helps families grow and become stronger.”  

The King of Treif Goes Kosher

A celebrity chef who shuns celebrity, Yoram Nitzan has been a reluctant icon of Tel Aviv’s culinary scene for decades. His ruddy, youthful face and bashful expression belies his status as one of Israeli haute cuisine’s founding fathers. 

Since the mid-1990s, the 55-year-old has been at the helm of renowned treif Tel Aviv restaurants Bindella and Mul Yam, so when he resurfaced this past winter as the head chef at the David Intercontinental’s new upscale — and decidedly kosher — restaurant, nomi, in Tel Aviv, it sent shockwaves through the culinary classes. 

“People asked how on earth did the King of Shrimps get to cooking kosher?” Nitzan said, laughing. But the chef thrives on finding creative workarounds for buttery risotto (Jerusalem artichoke cream) and asparagus tempura without the heads (which, according to his kashrut supervisor, are bug-ridden). He also loves that a whole new audience can now enjoy his food. 

“In the past, I’d feed prime ministers and now the supervisor might tell me there’s a really big rabbi at [a] table.” And, he adds, the benefits of cooking in a 550-room hotel far outweigh any kosher considerations. Nitzan isn’t limited to the quality and price of the ingredients he orders because the costs get swallowed up in the hotel’s own orders. It’s a luxury that not many chefs can afford these days. 

Nitzan comes from a family where celebrations and holidays always involved a family get-together, either at a restaurant or at his mother’s house. To this day, Nitzan, his children and grandchildren and all their cousins gather every week at his mother’s house in northern Israel on Friday night. At 84, she still cooks up a perfect storm. 

Although Nitzan never cooked with her when he was young, he inherited her attention to detail — the result of her yekkeh roots. He learned to cook while serving in the Israeli air force and living on his own.

After finishing his military service, Nitzan enrolled in a year’s preparatory course at Haifa’s prestigious Technion. He was accepted into the university to study mechanical engineering but his heart just wasn’t in it. “I didn’t have the passion of the other students. I felt like an outsider,” he said. It was his then-girlfriend (who later became his wife) who “saved” him by encouraging him to go to culinary school. After finishing his studies, Nitzan worked at a high-end Italian restaurant in Tel Aviv. Famed chefs Jonathan Roshfeld and Israel Aharoni poached Nitzan for their acclaimed restaurant, Tapuah Zahav. Roshfeld eventually took Nitzan with him to Mul Yam. During his time as head chef, Nitzan traveled once a year for apprenticeships in Michelin-starred restaurants all over the world.

“People asked how on earth did the King of Shrimps get to cooking kosher?”

Mul Yam famously marked the end of its illustrious run after it was destroyed in a fire in 2015,  but Nitzan recalls there were plenty of adrenalin-filled escapades before then. He said on more than one occasion, the electricity went out — to the delight of the diners and the horror of the kitchen staff. Candles were hastily lit, handwritten ticket orders were squinted at, and meal prep was MacGyvered by harried sous chefs in a kitchen illuminated by the headlights of Nitzan’s car.

Yet even when things run smoothly, Nitzan says he’s still filled with trepidation before a service. “Think about it this way. A sculptor makes a sculpture, reaches his peak and that’s it,” he said. “I need to reach my peak every afternoon and every evening.”

Carnivore-Approved Vegan Barbecue for July Fourth

Every Fourth of July while the whole country is grilling hunks of meat, I’m reminded of my 15 years as a vegetarian when my options consisted of eating the side dishes (many of which are no healthier) or those bland, highly processed meat substitute hot dogs and burgers. While I’m no longer a vegetarian, and meat substitutes have certainly gotten tastier, I have a fair share of vegan and vegetarian customers and friends and I don’t like them to feel left out of the festivities. A few years ago, while prepping for our annual July Fourth extravaganza at the American embassy, I realized the solution could be found in, of all places, my garden. 

If you’ve visited Southeast Asian markets, you’ve seen a Tyrannosaurus-sized green pebble-skinned fruit known as Jackfruit, a tree species related to figs, mulberry and breadfruit. The largest tree-borne fruit in the world (some of the fruits weigh up to 100 pounds,) jackfruit trees originated in southwest India and spread to tropical countries in Southeast Asia — Thailand, the Philippines, Malaysia and Indonesia. The nutritious fruit has been eaten for centuries and it’s thought that even as early as 1000 B.C.E., a Jewish colony in Kerala, in India’s southwestern Malabar coastal region, had an established trade route with the ancient cities of Mesopotamia. 

Jackfruit is also popular in Brazil and subtropical Africa, where a single tree can produce up to 200 fruits a year, or upward of three tons of food, providing sustainable nutrition from the flesh as well as the seeds, which are boiled and roasted or even ground into flour and used for baking. In India, the young leaves are used to fatten up cattle and livestock and the heated latex made from the milky sap is often used as household glue for mending china and earthenware pots.

All over the world and increasingly in the U.S., vegan communities have discovered the benefits of cooking with plant-based meat alternatives, but unlike soy or it’s highly processed byproducts like tempeh and tofu or seitan — a popular meat substitute made from wheat gluten (an allergenic to a percentage of the population) — jackfruit is virtually unprocessed. Even when canned, most commonly in a saltwater brine, jackfruit is a nutritional powerhouse, full of fiber and packed with vitamins C and A, as well as minerals like magnesium, potassium and manganese.

Because I have a jackfruit tree in my backyard in Uganda, I’ve experimented with many recipes for barbecue sandwiches and tacos, but because of the size of the unwieldy fruit, it’s a fairly laborious process to separate the flesh and remove the seeds from its stringy womblike interior. It’s like doing battle with the fruit, using slippery oiled fingers to prevent the latex sap from sticking to every imaginable surface, including hands and nails. A far simpler alternative is to buy canned jackfruit sold at Whole Foods or readily available in Asian, Indian and Caribbean grocery stores or even online. Then it’s just a matter of sautéing the jackfruit with aromatics and roasting it in the oven with your favorite barbecue sauce. 

When shopping for canned jackfruit to make into a savory dish, like the recipe for pulled barbcue “meat” below, make sure you check the label carefully. Only buy cans with labels that read “young and green jackfruit packed in brine” or “young jackfruit in water.” Do not buy ripe jackfruit packed in syrup for this application.

When I did a side-by-side taste test of “pulled jackfruit” and pulled brisket, it was nearly impossible for even avowed meat eaters to differentiate between the two.

When I did a side-by-side taste test of “pulled jackfruit” and pulled brisket, it was nearly impossible for even avowed meat eaters to differentiate between the two. Both had the same chewy texture and unctuous bite, and because I used the same sauce and spice mixture, they were virtually undiscernible from each other. I served it in a whole wheat toasted bun with oven-baked parsley and Parmesan fries and crudito — a tart pickled mayo-free coleslaw made from cabbage and carrots. It would be wonderful to ramp up the nutritional content of this meatless meal with a side of baked beans since jackfruit doesn’t supply nearly as much protein as meat. 

This Fourth of July weekend, try this dish and introduce your carnivorous and vegetarian friends to the most exotic barbecue of their lives. Not only will you stun them when you admit that this flavorful meaty-tasting sandwich is made from jackfruit, you may even find a new staple for the summer grilling season without ever having to visit the butcher or strike a match.

Vegan Pulled Meat Barbecue
2 (20 oz.) cans “young, green jackfruit” packed in saltwater or brine*
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large yellow onion, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon sea salt

*Do not use ripe fresh jackfruit or canned jackfruit in syrup for this recipe.

Barbecue sauce ingredients:
3 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce,
chopped — plus 2 tablespoons of the sauce they are canned with
1 cup no-sugar-added ketchup
1/2 cup apple cider vinegar
2 teaspoons prepared Dijon mustard
1 teaspoon smoked paprika or 1 tablespoon sweet paprika plus 1 teaspoon of liquid smoke
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1 tablespoon molasses
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup water (more as needed)

Drain and rinse the jackfruit, breaking up any large pieces of fruit with your fingers, then dry the fruit well and set aside.

Heat oil on medium heat and add onion, garlic and salt, and sauté until onion is soft and begins to caramelize. Add reserved jackfruit and then all barbecue sauce ingredients along with 1/2 cup of water and cook until mixture is bubbling. Turn down the heat to medium low, stir well and cover pot. Continue to cook for 20-30 minutes, stirring occasionally to prevent ingredients from catching on the bottom of pan. Add more water if necessary, to prevent burning.

Preheat oven to 400 F and line a large baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove jackfruit from pot — it should be tender and sauce should be thick. Pull pieces of jackfruit apart with two forks or your fingers to resemble pulled meat and spread on prepared baking tray in an even layer.

Roast in oven for about 15 minutes or until water is evaporated, jackfruit looks darker and caramelized and is held together by a thick, reddish sauce. Make sure to taste and adjust salt, sugar and spice level to your preferences. 

You can skip the barbecue sauce ingredients section and instead simmer jackfruit, onions and garlic in 1 1/2 cups of your favorite store-bought barbecue sauce combined with 1/2 cup of water.

Serve in toasted buns or corn tortillas and top with coleslaw or pickled vegetables.

Serves 6 on buns or makes filling for about 12 tacos.


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.

18 Fun, Healthy and/or Kosher Brands From The 2019 Summer Fancy Food Show

Photo by Chloe Mata Crane

The Summer Fancy Food Show, which ran from June 23 through June 25 at New York City’s Jacob Javits Center, promised at least six football fields worth of specialty foods, including chocolate, cheese and olive oil to name a few. 

The largest specialty food industry event in North America, the Fancy Food Show is known to showcase its field’s best products and newest innovations. As presented by the membership-based Specialty Food Association — founded in 1952 — attendees come from all walks of life, and over 34,000 people appear to have attended the 2018 Summer Fancy Food Show.

As getting through well over 1,000 booths — in addition to dozens of scheduled events and presentations — ought to be very challenging, I decided to make it easier for readers of Jewish Journal who could not attend this year’s Summer Fancy Food Show.

In turn, below are 18 –  chai – must-try, recommended brands that exhibited this year at the Javits Center.

 

From The Ground Up
From The Ground Up is a Sofi Award-winning line of delicious cauliflower-based, and now butternut squash-based, pretzels and crackers that are made from real veggies. The snacks are Non-GMO Project Verified, gluten-free certified and made with vegan ingredients. The brand’s snacks are a fun and tasty way to sneak in some nutrition at snack time, and these better-for-you alternatives rival the mainstream versions. The Cauliflower Tortilla Chips are especially worth your time and taste buds.

Photo courtesy of Shawnna Hall-Enoch

Saffron Road
Saffron Road’s global journey began with a core belief that traditionally pure foods can be a safe medium to compassionately inspire and inclusively connect diverse cultures together. Regardless of language, religion, or culture, everyone loves authentically delicious, wholesome foods. Saffron Road debuted nationally in July 2010 in Whole Foods Market as the world’s first Halal-certified, antibiotic free and humanely raised frozen entrée. It has also since become the fastest-growing natural frozen food brand. Its latest frozen meal offerings include Thai Style Green Curry, Vegetable Biryani, and a Shoyu Ramen Bowl. Those seeking sweet yet savory snacks cannot go wrong with the (chocolate covered) Dark Chocolate Chai Crunchy Chickpeas.

 

Mutti
Mutti is Italy’s #1 tomato brand and one of the fastest-growing brands of shelf-stable tomatoes in the United States. Mutti recently launched its newest line of Mutti Sauces for Pizza, as developed with high-quality ingredients and distinct flavor profiles. Each of these sauces pay tribute to three Italian cities famous for their distinct style of pizza: Positano, Napoli and Parma. The Positano variety is my favorite, as boosted with garlic and oregano.

Dolcezza gelato; Photo by Chloe Mata Crane

Dolcezza
Earlier this month Dolcezza announced the national launch of its small-batch gelato as being available in Whole Foods Market stores nationwide. Founded in 2004 by husband-and-wife duo Violeta Edelman and Robb Duncan, Dolcezza handcrafts gelato from its Washington D.C. factory, as made with the seasonal and local produce and dairy sourced from grass-grazed cows in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. My favorite of the seven Dolcezza flavors, you ask? The Stracciatella with the Roasted Strawberry as a distant second. After opening up a pint of Dolcezza, it is nearly impossible for me not to finish it within the same sitting.

Runamok Maple
Runamok Maple is a maker of all-natural, organic maple syrup. At the Summer Fancy Food Show, the team showed off a new maple syrup flavor, Coffee Infused. It is a divine variation of their maple syrup and will serve as an ideal topper for a vanilla ice cream sundae, the ideal centerpiece for a classic Rhode Island-style Coffee Milk, and/or a superb ingredient for a cocktail like a White Russian. With a rich flavor infusion from Vermont Artisan Coffee and Tea Company’s organic coffee beans, this unique maple syrup is as addictive as your morning “cup of joe.” Husband and wife team Eric and Laura Sorkin notably produce Runamok Maple amongst over 1,000 acres of land in northern Vermont, managing 100,000 taps to bring their pure maple syrup to consumers near and far.

 

Belletoile
Henri Hutin and his family began making artisanal cheese on their farm in the North of Meuse, France in the early 1900s. After the war in 1922, Henri expanded the family business into a full-on fromagerie in Lacroix-Sur-Meuse and established himself across the region as a “Master Cheese Maker.” The brand’s Triple Cream Belletoile is well-known in the U.S. and can be bought in almost all of the famous supermarkets out there, Trader Joe’s included. Belletoile’s Creamy Slices are sliced with wafer-thin precision and offer both unique texture and an incredibly creamy mouthfeel. The Belletoile Spreads with Goat Milk make for a versatile cheese that can be served on any occasion.

 

Happi Foodi
With Happi Foodi, it’s easy to enjoy delicious, innovative dishes right at home. The team works to nourish souls through easily accessible meals that list all ingredients on the package front, allowing people to quickly understand the quality ingredients used in each dish. At last year’s show, Happi Foodi unveiled a new frozen meal brand set. This year, the company launched Cauliflower Wings with Sriracha Hot Sauce, a Bacon Pear & Feta Flatbread, Cuban Egg Rolls, Buffalo Chicken Avocado Egg Rolls, Tequila Lime Chicken, Barbacoa Mac & Cheese, and range of Street Tacos (Brisket, Carnitas, Southwestern and Al Pastor Chicken). To quote the great David Lee Roth, nothin’ but yeah.

 

Loacker chocolates; Photo courtesy of Brooke Miller

Loacker
Loacker is a global leader when it comes to high-quality wafer, patisserie and chocolate specialties. Loacker’s products are made with a cream filling and contain no added flavorings, colorings, preservatives, or hydrogenated fats, making them better-for-you indulgences when hunger strikes. Loacker’s Quadratinis are my favorite of the company’s offerings, as they are light and crispy wafers enveloping four layers of smooth cream in a vast assortment of irresistible flavors, including Hazelnut, Chocolate, Vanilla, and Lemon.

 

Andre’s Confiserie Suisse
André’s is a family-owned business that for three generations has been pouring passion into each and every one of its creations. Rooted in tradition, yet relentlessly inspired to create an unparalleled taste experience, André’s produces innovative yet classic Swiss-style confections that will delight your taste buds. New to Andre’s line of products is its Extra Dark Chocolate Almonds. Made with single original 80 percent chocolate, expect the right amount of sweetness beyond the usual Andre’s-level of quality. Also available for sampling at the Summer Fancy Food Show were Fleur de Sel Caramels and Mint Leaves. Furthermore, Andre’s packaging honors Swiss tradition, featuring custom-designed Scherenschnitte, which is the detailed art of continuous paper-cutting.

 

Render Food
Render is the first company to partner with award-winning chefs to bring the inspiration out of some of America’s best restaurants and onto grocery store shelves. Render is a single brand partnering with chefs to create impressive food and beverage products that are accessible and make an easy upgrade to your snack, meal, or drink. Its State Bird Crunch, Render’s first product, is a savory, crunchy snack made of puffed quinoa, spices and seeds, as developed through a collaboration with James Beard award-winning, Michelin-starred chefs Stuart Brioza and Nicole Krasinksi of State Bird Provisions in San Francisco. On the beverage end, Bryner is a savory, vegetable drink developed with James Beard award-winning author and chef Nicolaus Balla of San Francisco spot Duna, which is famed for producing house-made versions of everything from pickles to paprika. Meanwhile, Weyla is a sparkling fruity beverage developed with internationally-acclaimed chef and James Beard award-winning author of the “Bar Tartine” cookbook Cortney Burns. Smart and delicious.

 

Beveri
Beveri is one of America’s fastest-growing organic health. The company unveiled its new line of retail packaging at the Summer Fancy Food Show, which continues the tradition of its products being organic, gluten-free and kosher. The new packaging brings a whole new level of sophistication to the Beveri product line. The new designs are clean, bright and colorful and signify Beveri’s growth and transformation from being a regional brand into a national player. 

 

Sabine’s Collections
Snack happy and guilt-free, Baguette Bites are part of the newest generation of bread snacks from artisan bread snack brand Sabine’s Collections, a division of Bäckerhaus Veit. The new snack alternative is available in three delicious flavors: Olive Oil and Rosemary, Jalapeno and Cheddar, and Roasted Garlic and Chives. All of these varieties are vegan-certified and kosher, while also free of artificial flavors and colors, cholesterol, MSG, ADAs, PHOs, saturated fats and trans fats. My favorite of the Baguette Bites batch is the spicy and savory Jalapeno and Cheddar.

 

WASA
Operating since 1919, WASA is the biggest crispbread baker in the world. Selling its products in 40 different countries from Scandinavia to America in 1999 WASA became part of the Barilla Group alongside Mulino Bianco, Harry’s and Pavesi. WASA is currently celebrating its 100th anniversary, and attendees of the Summer Fancy Food Show had the opportunity to try the new WASA Thin Rye crispbread crackers with Executive Chef Kelvin Fernandez Forbes Best Chef in America for 3 years in a row in tow. WASA crackers integrate into recipes yet are also great for snacking on their own.

 

The Al Dente Pasta Company
It’s been only one year since Al Dente Pasta Company — long considered one of America’s premiere brands of specialty pastas —formed a strategic partnership with Alb-Gold, a pasta manufacturer located in the Swabian Alps of Southern Germany. Together these two families of pasta makers successfully introduced six innovative and trend-setting pastas. The first of the new products were a line of little pasta shapes. Collectively named Piccolo Pasta they are made by rolling out egg noodles which are cut and formed into three unique shapes: egg bonnetti (little bonnets), turmeric pinchetti (little pinches) and spinach farfalletti (little butterflies). Made with fresh cage-free eggs and wheat sourced directly from local farmers, all ingredients are GMO-free, kosher and cook in just five minutes. Also recently introduced are three exciting plant-based pastas. Each unique flavor combination includes only two clean, nutritious ingredients: chickpea turmeric, green pea wild garlic, red lentil sweet potato. These gluten-free pastas are also organic, vegan, non-GMO and high-protein.

Wooden Table Baking Co.
Argentinians are lucky to have a sharing culture. Wooden Table Baking Co. is an Oakland-based bakery dedicated to crafting the finest Argentinian treats. The brand has been making our alfajores and bonbons from scratch with high-quality, all-natural ingredients since 2011. It uses locally-sourced ingredients whenever possible and its flour, granulated sugar, cornstarch, chocolate, potato starch and tapioca starch are all non-GMO. Especially worth checking out are those Alfajores, which are two shortbread cookies joined with dulce de leche. 16 cookies come in each box, weighing in around two pounds in total.

 

Sardinia’s Pecorino PDOs
The autonomous region of Sardinia had several varieties of excellent pecorino cheese on display at this year’s Summer Fancy Food Soup. The Pecorino Romando PDO, Pecorino Sardo PDO and Fiore Sardo PDO are all 100 percent sourced from fresh milk. The Pecorino Romano PDO particularly matures for at least five months (for table cheese) and for eight months (for grating cheese). The Pecorino Sardo PDO cheese is partially cooked and molded into its shape. The Fiore Sardo PDO has a thin, firm, wrinkled crust that is brown or grey in color. Three very enjoyable cheeses which I hope to consume again soon.

 

Bittermilk LLC
Bittermilk LLC manufactures two brands of all-natural cocktail mixers, Bittermilk and Barcoop Bevy. Bittermilk is a line of complex, handcrafted cocktail mixers inspired by classic cocktails. Its second line, Barcoop Bevy, is a line of refreshing, balanced cocktail mixers made using a short list of real ingredients. Between the two brands, the company is the proud winner of eight sofi Awards, including the 2019 gold award for Bittermilk No.2 Tom Collins with Elderflower & Hops in the Cold Beverage category. Proprietors Joe and MariElena Raya stepped behind the bar for one lively hour for two afternoons during the Summer Fancy Food Show, mixing complex, unique variations of their proprietary cocktails using products from their two brands. A distinct presentation of a stand-out series of products, to say the least.

 

Cape Cod Sweets
Cape Cod Sweets, LLC (also known as Cape Cod Provisions) sells specialty chocolate confections under the brand names Harvest Sweets, Cape Cod Cranberry Candy, Cape Harvest, Sweet Cravings, and New England @ Heart. Founded in 1996 and acquired by Cape Cod Sweets LLC in July 2016, Cape Cod Provisions now benefits from its parent company’s extensive background in Massachusetts’ cranberry and agricultural industry through increased vertical integration and investment in new technology. Demand from specialty food retailers has led to the introduction of Chocolate Gift Sets from Cape Cod Provisions’ chocolate company. As just one of the company’s new products to be featured at the Summer Fancy Food Show, five combinations are available in the chocolatier’s best-selling flavors and brand mixes. Each gift box contains two gable boxes with delicious chocolate covered fruits and either a signature Cranberry Bog Frog or five gourmet truffles. All selections include New England native fruits, like cranberries and blueberries, making these gift boxes the perfect vacation remembrance. Furthermore, the gift boxes are cushioned with 100 percent compostable aspen wood fill material while finished with a clear cover and festive stretch loop bow.

What Do Your Cravings Really Mean?

You are a miracle. Your body maintains a temperature of 98.6 degrees Fahrenheit, your heart never misses a beat, and your lungs never miss a breathe. Notice that your body constantly adjusts to your environment to help keep you balanced and alive. Believe it or not your body’s desire to keep you balanced and alive reflects the reason for your cravings. Cravings are often viewed in a negative light, but the truth is cravings are important messages from your body to guide you into maintaining balance.

When you experience a craving, deconstruct it. Ask yourself, “What is my body trying to tell me?” 

THREE WAYS TO DECONSTRUCT YOUR CRAVINGS.

Deficiency of Nutrients
When the body is craving a specific food it could potentially mean it is craving the nutrients that are in that food. This is our body’s way of telling us what nutrients we need to maintain balance and stay alive. Craving chocolate could mean you are deficient in magnesium. A way to combat this craving is eating more magnesium- rich foods like almonds, flax seeds, chickpeas, and dark leafy greens. Craving soda could mean you are deficient in calcium. Try switching out soda for healthy caffeine alternatives like matcha or plant-based organic teas. Craving oily rich foods like french fries could mean you are deficient in healthy fats. Again, you can combat this by adding in healthy fats like avocado, walnuts, and olive oil to your diet. I highly suggest getting a blood test to check out your vitamin levels! This could be the key to conquering your cravings.

Stressful Lifestyle
Food is often used as a form of escape when you’re under stress. We often try to cope with uncomfortable emotions or lack of passion in our careers by seeking relief through food. When we start to engage in actions that bring us joy there is a great shift to a stress-free energy. Start to  take action in simple steps to help release endorphins (the feel good hormone) such as spending quality time with loved ones, engaging in your favorite exercise, or simplifying your to-do list because often less is more. Remember, quantity influences quality and sometimes we compromise on our happiness by trying to do too much. Notice how your cravings will diminish once you stop seeking balance through food and commit to a change in lifestyle.

Lack of Water
Our body is made up of 75% water. The first thing I do in the morning is drink a glass of water to flush out all toxins and rehydrate my body. Drinking a glass of water before a meal could also help reduce cravings. Hydration is critical in maintaining your electrolyte balance and providing your heart with adequate oxygenated blood. When hydration levels start to fall below what’s “healthy” you may start to crave salty foods. This is your body’s way of encouraging you to drink more fluids. If drinking water sounds bland you can try other hydrating replacements like celery juice, lemon water, or coconut water. You can also add fruits/veggies like strawberries and cucumbers into your water to help satisfy your taste buds.

When you dig deeper into the meaning of your cravings, you will solve the root of the problem. Start to take notice of what you are craving and take a blood test to see if you are deficient in any essential vitamins. Cravings often link to habit. Try to create a change by breaking a habit that is leading to your craving so that your brain does not sense the urge for that craving.


Jessica Mehraban is a Registered Nutritional Health Coach and wellness influencer. Jessica created Healthy Life by Jess as an online community for people to gain valuable and easy-to-follow tips they can use in everyday life. The Healthy Life by Jess mission is to empower people to find their healthy balance and to love and nurture themselves in their body, mind and spirit.

Follow more nutrition, wellness, & lifestyle tips follow Jessica on Instagram.

Miraculous Shirataki Noodle Pad Thai and the Lure of Asian Supermarkets

If you haven’t shopped in one of the many Costco-sized Asian supermarkets, then you’re missing the ultimate inspirational grocery shopping expeditions. H mart, Lotte and the largest, 99 Ranch Market, have sprung up all over the United States in response to a significant increase in the Asian American population (up to 6% of the total population according to the U.S. Census Bureau) and their hunger for a taste of home.

I’ve shopped at Asian markets for most of my life and it’s the only type of store my father doesn’t complain (too much) about entering. He goes for the superior exotic fruit, such as the fresh lychee and loquat (a fruit he remembers from his childhood, called shesek in Israel), crisp Asian pears and aromatic custard apples. Also, we lure my father in with promises of fresh dumplings and hand-pulled noodles, always on offer in the food stalls inside.

Browsing in one of these superstores can be overwhelming, especially to someone who can’t read the Korean, Chinese or Japanese writing on jars and plastic bags of mysterious foods. But if you have time, shopping there holds the promise of discovery for the curious cook.

These markets are most often my last stop to stock up before I return to Uganda, where it’s difficult to find some of the ingredients for the specials I like to prepare at my café. I usually return with a full suitcase of exotics; Gochujang paste, mirin and sake for teriyaki, dried chilies and mushrooms, tetra packs of silken tofu, black vinegar, inky Thai mushroom sauce, preserved daikon radish, and tamari for my gluten-free customers. I also treat myself to packets of roasted seaweed and rice paper for making summer rolls, and heaps of unusual Asian snacks and rice crackers. But a clear standout in one of the many discoveries I’ve made for my perpetual experimental food lab is shirataki noodles. 

Shirataki, a native Japanese food, is made from the gelatinous, fibrous root of a vegetable called konjac, also known as devil’s tongue or elephant yam. In Japan, noodles and blocks sold in tubular bags called konnyaku are fried with vegetables, cooked in a hot pot with meat or cut into slices and eaten uncooked, dipped into soy sauce as a filling vegan sashimi. Since they consist of 97% water and 3% fiber extract also known as glucomannan, they are almost completely calorie and carbohydrate free and have been used medicinally in Japan for the past 1,500 years. The rubbery, flavorless gel-like substance is a great diet food because it contains no sugar, fat or protein and is so high in fiber that it fills you up while cleaning out your small intestine. 

If a tasteless, Jell-O-like blob doesn’t sound appetizing, wait until you realize the potential for making delicious Asian noodle dishes with a fraction of the calories. You may have already tried konjac noodles, commonly sold under the names miracle noodles, shirataki and my favorite, tofu shirataki, and been turned off by the “fishy” smell that emanates from the bag when you opened it (the odor comes from the water the noodles are stored in that absorbs the smell of the konjac root). But once rinsed in fresh, cold water for a minute or two, the smell vanishes and leaves no distinguishing taste. 

Also, in my experience, the cooking instructions on the bags aren’t optimal. I’ve found that rather than boiling the noodles in water before cooking, as suggested, the noodles are best prepared by skipping the boiling step entirely. Simply rinse the noodles in a strainer, dry them in a clean kitchen towel and then dry roast them in a nonstick pan for a few minutes until all the water has evaporated and they make a slight squeaking sound when they’re pushed around in the pan. Then remove them from the pan, stir fry the protein, vegetables or sauce of your choice before adding back the noodles to the pan where, much like tofu, they will absorb the flavor of anything they are cooked with.

One caveat: While some don’t mind the rubber band-like texture of shirataki noodles when cooked in an Italian preparation with tomato or cream sauce, I find it unpalatable. Like rice or glass noodles, Asian preparations tend to be just the right foil for the slightly rubbery, chewy texture of these noodles, and I’ve used them as replacements in pad thai and dan-dan noodles for many friends who didn’t notice the difference until I told them. Try them with a quick peanut sauce, in any stir fry like a lo mein, a Vietnamese pho or even to replace noodles in chicken soup — for almost zero calories. 

Sound too good to be true? Here is a recipe for Shirataki Noodle Pad Thai. When I sent a sample of it to my vegetarian friend and her husband, they liked it so much they devoured it while standing in their kitchen without even heating it up. I like this version with pressed tofu but feel free to use any protein or even to leave it out. Thanks to the magic of konjac noodles, you get all the flavor and goodness of a real pad thai in under 400 calories per serving, less than half of the traditional version made with starchy rice noodles — and that’s something to celebrate.

SHIRATAKI NOODLE PAD THAI

Sauce:
3 packed tablespoons chopped palm sugar (or brown sugar)
1/4 cup tamarind concentrate
2 tablespoons fish sauce (Red Boat brand is kosher; replace with soy
sauce if vegetarian)
3 tablespoons water

Noodles:
1 packet tofu shirataki “fettuccine” (or spaghetti)
3 tablespoons neutral-tasting cooking oil, divided
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup preserved daikon radish, chopped (optional)
1 piece pressed firm tofu (optional), cut into ½ inch pieces
1/2 tsp chili flakes (optional)
2 eggs
2 cups bean sprouts, divided
1/2 cup garlic chives or scallions, cut into 1-inch pieces
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
1 lime, cut on the bias for serving

Prepare sauce by mixing together softened palm sugar (or brown sugar), tamarind, fish sauce and water. Set aside.

Prepare shirataki noodles by rinsing thoroughly in cold water. Strain and dry in a clean kitchen towel.

Heat a nonstick pan or wok and cook the noodles (no oil) until they squeak slightly and are completely dry. Set aside.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the same hot pan and add onion, garlic, preserved radish, tofu and chile flakes, if using. Cook two minutes or until the garlic becomes aromatic.

Add back the noodles and sauce into the pan with the vegetables and cook until the sauce thickens and is absorbed.

Push the noodle mixture to one side and add remaining tablespoon of oil to the other side of the pan. Crack in two eggs and scramble gently until set before stirring into the noodle mixture. 

Add 1 1/2 cups of the bean sprouts and most of the garlic chives into the pan, stir and turn off heat.

Serve with remaining fresh bean sprouts and chives and garnish with chopped peanuts and lime. Squeeze plenty of lime juice on top for optimal flavor.

Serves 2.


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. 

Ed Levine and the Passions of a Serious Eater

It was pouring rain last week when I attended a live taping of Ed Levine’s weekly “Special Sauce” podcast at the splendid Rizzoli bookstore in Manhattan. I suspect the room was packed to the rafters despite the weather because people wanted to see famed restaurateur and celebrated Shake Shack founder Danny Meyer interview Levine about his new book, “Serious Eater: A Food Lover’s Perilous Quest for Pizza and Redemption.” 

Levine achieved notoriety in 1997 when Ruth Reichl, Gourmet magazine’s food editor at the time, called him “A missionary of the delicious.” He was a freelance food writer for high-end publications but it’s the story of how he founded the popular food blog Serious Eats and the subsequent nine-year roller-coaster ride running the foodie tech startup that is captivating. 

“Serious Eater” features scrumptious anecdotes, a cache of illustrious food legends and recipes penned by legendary pie-maker Stella Parks of “BraveTart” fame. At the beginning of the book there are suggested listening for each chapter, the other passion Levine highlights. But this soulful tome will stay with you long after you’ve turned the last page and listened to Bob Marley’s “Redemption Song.” 

It’s not hard to understand how Levine managed to turn what started as a $100 blog called Ed Levine Eats (known as ELE) into one of the most influential websites about food culture, eventually selling the Serious Eats brand and scoring a James Beard Award in 2010 for being a top influencer in the process. 

His parents, like many Jews from poor backgrounds in 1930s New York, were avowed do-gooders and save-the-world types who met at a Communist Party meeting at City College. Their family dinners required the four Levine brothers to participate in discussions about politics, culture and life that reached staggering decibel levels. The house was full of passionate conversation, but the food took a back seat. His mother, a community activist and columnist for their local paper, the South Shore Record, was writing  columns about a wide variety of progressive issues but felt cooking was “counterrevolutionary.” 

Respite from his mother’s food came every Sunday, when their grandmother Ida came to cook Eastern European Jewish specialties for her grandsons. Levine’s grandmother’s blintzes, latkes, matzo brei and apple cake cemented his connection between food and love but, left to his own devices, the rest of the week he regularly overspent his allowance at his neighborhood candy store. Already a food snob and critic in grade school, Levine went out of his way to get just the right ingredients from different neighborhood purveyors: lunch meat from one place for his sandwich, and the best roll from the corner grocer. His family noted the young foodie’s fixation on ingredients early on and recognized that he was focused on eating the best of everything his allowance money could buy, and sometimes more when he managed to convince the local ice cream shop to sell to him on credit. 

But Levine’s childhood was punctuated by tragic losses. His father died prematurely, as did his mother three years later. By his senior year of high school, Levine had relocated to California with his much older brother and sister-in-law, who functioned as surrogate parents to the angry adolescent. Once he was firmly ensconced in L.A.’s food and music culture, Levine’s two life passions took root, as did his tumultuous but loving relationship with his oldest brother, who eventually became the first investor in his food blog.

At the center of the drama is the pull of Levine’s desire to be a crusader for the underdog.

Levine then blossomed at the small liberal arts college in Grinnell, Iowa, where he became the concerts chairman, bringing the who’s who of American music to perform at the school. He earned a bachelor’s degree in American music and set out to “make a difference in the jazz world.” 

New York City was the natural habitat of the budding music artist manager but, more importantly, it was where Levine met his future wife, Vicky, an Oxford University Press editor. Instantly smitten, Levine courted his future wife in some of the city’s best fine dining establishments as well as in local dives that inspired his first book, published in 1992. “New York Eats” and its follow-up, “New York Eats (More),” which was published in 1997, were guided to the city’s iconic dishes. 

Then, after eating 1,000 slices of pizza all over the country, burgers by the barrel and more hot dogs that a human should probably consume in a lifetime, Levine found himself at the center of the burgeoning obsession with food that was slowly unfurling not only in the city but in all five boroughs. By the time his third book, “Pizza: A Slice of Heaven,” was published in 2005, Levine had established himself as a  fixture and authority on the subject, pulling in essays, poems and stories about pizza from famous chefs and writers including writer Nora Ephron, cartoonist Garry Trudeau, chef Mario Batali and eminent food writer Calvin “Bud” Trillin. 

In 2006, already sporting a reputation as a connoisseur of American food culture, with more than a few disappointments in the corporate world of advertising under his belt, the then-54-year-old founded the food website Serious Eats. 

Serious Eats developed into a community featuring restaurant news, cultural food trends and interactive dialogue among users, restaurateurs and purveyors. It featured articles about chefs and had regular contributors who were experts in food-related content. It also launched the careers of several celebrity chefs, including Kenji Lopez-Alt, who was by Levine’s side from day one, eventually becoming the Serious Eats recipe czar and head scientist in its food lab. 

Although the principle story behind Serious Eats is Levine’s effort to monetize the site and make his dream job a reality without too many “suits” involved, the real story lies in his desire to chart his own course, sometimes at the expense of his most precious relationships. At the center of the drama is the pull of Levine’s desire to be a crusader for the underdog — the makers, craftsmen and even the dilettantes that sew together the fabric of the city’s food culture, juxtaposed against the harsh realities of having to “grow up” and make a living. This gap between creativity and honor, the hunger passed down from his parents to “do good” and to work with integrity, often clashed with the pressures of the cutthroat real world, where the primary driving passion is for money. 

When I asked Levine what his most unexpected discovery was after finishing the memoir, he told me a story about a fan who stood up in a Q&A session at a promotional event for the book. “Do you understand how many people’s lives you’ve changed with Serious Eats?” the fan asked. It was at that moment, struck almost speechless, that Levine said he realized that his passion for food was a metaphor for other things. His real passion, the one that kept him up at night worrying, aside from the looming sense of failure that’s part of every entrepreneur’s life, was for nurturing and mentoring young writers and then watching them take flight. “The greatest and most unexpected pleasure,” he said, “and a big part of the Serious Eats legacy is the people … knowing that I had some small role in providing a launchpad for their success.” 

Readers likely will keep mulling over this work because it is, in essence, a love story between Levine and his parents, his brother, his wife and his talented team of food writers set against a backdrop of his lifelong love affair with New York City. And what a deliciously wild ride it is.


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.

Translating the Taste of Gazpacho

When I opened the first Mexican restaurant in Uganda and hired local cooks, not only had my team never experienced any of the dishes I’d put on the menu, most of them had never even eaten at a restaurant before.

As hard as this was to fathom, I stubbornly refused to compromise on the breadth of my menu and, as a result, had to train the staff in the face of enormous hurdles. It’s difficult enough to train new staff in an American kitchen, where the line cooks can relate to the taste of the dishes, but imagine trying to transfer “taste knowledge” to someone who doesn’t recognize the flavor profile of anything on the menu. 

For months before the opening, I assembled my newly hired team of cooks, bakers and waitstaff, many of whom barely understood English, and cooked the entire menu repeatedly and fed it to them each day. While my young hires watched me cook with looks of confusion and trepidation on their faces, I too watched them as they ate, trying to determine by their expressions, which were equally puzzling to me, how my food was settling on their virgin palates.

Of the many challenges I faced during those first months — staff who barely understood me, suppliers who saw only dollar signs in the color of my skin, and the predominant sexism that made being a female boss of a kitchen a daily struggle — probably the single biggest challenge was trying to teach flavors to people who didn’t share my taste memories. I learned the hard way that my Ugandan customers may not necessarily be able to cross the boundaries set by their own cultural food norms, but I also learned to convey the taste of a food by finding the similarities present in every cuisine. Strangely, it was my first experience teaching my staff how to make an Israeli classic that illuminated my understanding of a Spanish one.

Gazpacho, the Andalusian favorite that is eaten daily by harvesters whose long summer days at work in the fields are broken up by this cooling and refreshing soup, has become a staple on menus all over the globe. When the days turn long and tomatoes are ripe in gardens and markets, you’d be hard-pressed to find a restaurant menu without gazpacho on offer. Because my father is a gazpacho aficionado, I had sips of it from his spoon many times, but it wasn’t until I tasted one of the umpteen versions in Spain that I was moved to order it myself. 

Rather than the chunky, red version I had tasted in the U.S., one that seemed akin to eating an insipid, watery salsa, the gazpacho of southern Spain is a full-bodied, orange-hued affair, balanced and nuanced in flavor, bursting with freshness and vitality. On days when you’re too hot to chew, gazpacho is Spain’s answer to a smoothie: savory and bright, not eaten with a spoon or from a fancy bowl, but from a small simple glass, sometimes nestled in ice but more often straight from the heat of the fields.

I was instantly captivated by my first taste; Spanish gazpacho seemed to be an entirely different animal from any others I’d tried, yet something about it was hauntingly familiar. The scent drove me crazy for ages, the memory snagging on the periphery of my taste buds like a melody I was unable to hum — I’d catch a whiff but then couldn’t quite place the notes.

Then one day, while teaching my new staff how to make an Israeli chopped salad, it hit me straight in the nostrils. There it was — that perfume, the scent of green pepper and onion, of ripe tomatoes and the unmistakable freshness of cucumber, each vegetable in harmony yet singing its own tune, none overpowering the other. I quickly threw the salad in the blender, bewildering the bejesus out of my crew, who must have thought their new boss had gone mental. 

I added some garlic, the soft white middles of a few bread rolls we had baked the day before, and a large glug of the olive oil and lemon juice dressing I’d just taught them to prepare. And even before I tasted it, I knew by the tint that was intensifying like a sunrise from the bottom of the blender that I’d just hit the jackpot. Gazpacho, in all its modest glory, is in its essence a liquid Israeli salad, one with the bread you use to soak up the juices at the bottom of the bowl thrown in for fortification. No wonder I was in love with it at first sip. 

I added a few spoonfuls of the pico de gallo we’d made earlier for benefit from the mild heat of jalapeno, an ice cube to thin and chill, and ran the blender another 30 seconds. I poured it into glasses and drizzled it with olive oil and a drop of red wine vinegar to approximate the taste of the more traditional sherry vinegar.

“It’s katchumbari!” my student chefs proclaimed excitedly, recognizing the taste of the common Swahili tomato, onion and chile salad/condiment served with roasted meat all over East Africa. 

How far my Israeli salad-turned-gazpacho traveled from its past, when it was only a paste of bread, salt, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, carried by Roman legions along the shores of the Mediterranean and migrating toward its Spanish grandparents. It lingered long enough to pick up tomatoes from the Andes and almonds from the Moorish influence of North Africa, producing distinct regional varieties.

Gazpacho remains exotic even as it’s become common, as humble and unpretentious as its taste is extravagant, the culinary culmination of a thousand summers spent working in the fields, a single sip able to easily translate an ancient taste memory from one culture to another.

GAZPACHO
4 slices day-old bread, crusts removed
3 ice cubes
2 cups cherry tomatoes or 5 medium-sized, ripe red tomatoes
1 small Persian cucumber (about 1 1/4 cups), peeled, chopped into large pieces
1 stalk celery
1 medium green pepper, pith and seeds removed
1 jalapeno pepper, pith and seeds removed (optional)
1/2 medium yellow onion, cut into chunks
2 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt, more to taste
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
Juice of 1 lemon
1 teaspoon red or white wine vinegar or sherry vinegar
2 pinches of sugar
1/2 cup good olive oil, preferably Spanish, plus more for drizzling
1 teaspoon balsamic reduction, optional garnish

Place the bread slices in a bowl with a bit of water to soak for a few minutes, then squeeze out excess water. Place ice cubes at the bottom of a blender and then add all remaining ingredients (except for balsamic reduction), including soaked bread. I use cherry tomatoes as they are sweeter and have thin skins. If using regular tomatoes, they must be blanched in boiling water and peeled when they’re cool enough to handle.

Taste gazpacho and adjust seasonings to your liking. Soup should be thick, almost to smoothie consistency. It can be thinned out to desired thickness with a few extra tablespoons of water. Store in refrigerator in a glass jug or bowl and stir before serving. 

Pour into chilled glasses and drizzle a bit of olive oil on top and a few optional drops of balsamic reduction.

Makes 15 small juice glass-sized portions.


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. 

Israel of the Heart

I stood on a wobbly paddleboard in the Mediterranean Sea in my pajamas, feet apart, arms at my sides, trying to balance. The water was gentle, warm and clear off the coast of Tel Aviv — far calmer than the Pacific in Los Angeles, where I live. It was my first time in Israel. I was jet-lagged but excited — or as excited as one can be after a 10-hour redeye from New York before the first cup of coffee. I’d woken at 8, slipped on my flip-flops and headed to the hotel restaurant before dressing, propelled as if by an ancient biblical force to try Israeli salad for breakfast.

Israeli salad — chopped tomatoes and cucumbers soaked in lemon — is ubiquitous in this nation of citrus and vines. It turns out it’s also awesome, or shaveh in Hebrew, as the omelet chef told me, sprinkling feta over eggs. “ ‘Shaveh’ means ‘equal,’ but also ‘awesome.’ ” Each word in Hebrew contains layers of meaning, with its three-letter root relating it to all others with the same root. Awesome connects to equal. Equal relates to beautiful, as I later learned. One cannot call something beautiful unless its inside and outside somehow match. Beauty requires a connection between the surface and the soul.

Despite being Jewish and having worked for a decade as a travel writer in my 30s, it never had occurred to me to travel to Israel before. It hadn’t seemed personally relevant or essential. Also, it sounded dangerous. But since moving to Los Angeles from New York five years ago, I’ve become increasingly moved by religion, as improbable as this may seem. Or perhaps it’s probable. SoCal is the font of so many spiritual movements; perhaps getting excited by the religion into which I was born is a natural reaction to life on the West Coast. When I was invited to join a mom’s empowerment trip to Israel in the fall, organized by AISH LA and the Jewish Women’s Renaissance Project (now called Momentum), I found myself eager to go.

I realized that first morning at the hotel that I had a lot more energy for travel back in my globe-trotting 30s. I hunched over my coffee cup in a torpor, suddenly longing to be back in my 20s or 30s, when I was perky, youthful and more beautiful on the surface; when a stranger might stop to talk to me on the street just because; when everything felt possible and new; and when a foreign trip could change my life.

“My experience also mattered.”

After salad and coffee, I felt slightly more energized. Touching the Mediterranean Sea felt like what had to happen next, even before dressing and buying walking shoes for the group trip I’d join later. I poured another cup of coffee and carried it with me through the hotel lobby, across the highway and down the stone stairs to the beach. The beachfront was hushed, serene. A group of elementary school kids played volleyball on the sand. I heard the whack of the ball and the shout of instruction in Hebrew over the quiet breeze. Tel Aviv is an urban beach with a vacation feel a little like Santa Monica or even a city in the Caribbean. But it’s also heavier. You can feel the weight of history under the light, clear air. 

A row of showerheads stood at the sand’s edge. An old man was rinsing his feet, holding onto a metal pipe for stability. He was burly and stooped, dressed in bathing trunks. A few strands of white hair were combed over his skull. Hearing the flap of my shoes, he looked up as I approached. His light-brown eyes shone from behind a sea of wrinkles. He smiled and said something in Hebrew. When I stared blankly, he stepped closer. “It’s hot,” he said, in heavily accented English.

“Oh. Yes,” I said.

“Where you are from?” he asked. His own mother was from Russia, he told me, and his father from Italy. He looked like anyone’s Jewish grandfather back in the States. He’s probably a Holocaust survivor, I thought. “Are you married?” he asked. When an older man with an intense gaze and cracked teeth asks if you’re married, there’s really only one right answer, even if you’re divorced as I am. 

“Yes,” I said.

“Kids?”

“Yes. I have one son.”

“How old?”

“He’s 10.” I smiled, thinking about my son, back home with his dad. Ten is such a great age. At 10, my son is fun, interested in everything but not too busy with his own friends to want to spend time with me. On the phone the night before, he’d looked at the map of the world in his bedroom. “Can you see Tunisia?” he’d asked.

“Ten! You are young!” The old man bent forward to kiss me on both cheeks, hands on my face, just as my Russian great-aunts, Auntie Rene and Auntie Syl, had done years ago. They’d hold my face in a two-handed grip as if I, like too many others, might slip away.

“I wanted to touch the sea. I took his blessing, and the luck, and headed toward the water. Near the shore, two women were doing yoga on paddleboards lashed to a floating dock.”

The old man brushed my hair out of my eyes, then motioned toward my hand. He turned over his own palm to show me the lines. He wanted to read my palm. I gave him my hand. He looked at my palm, his brow furrowed in confusion. “You should have two kids,” he said, touching the two parallel lines below my pinky. “See? Two kids. You should have two.”

“I know,” I said. I sighed. The weight of my own world rushed back to me. I’d been in Israel less than 12 hours and this stranger had noticed a major fact of my life I have not been able to reconcile, to settle into and feel centered about. I’d wanted two kids my whole life and assumed I’d have them, “You’re right,” I said, nodding. “I should have two.”

“What happened?”

How to explain? Two miscarriages, fertility treatments and finally, in vitro fertilization. The IVF had worked the first time and we’d had our son. We’d also had 21 embryos left, frozen, waiting to be defrosted into at least one more child. Or two, statistically speaking. We’d felt no rush. Sure, we were older, but we had so many embryos. Then, the marriage began to falter. We’d implanted a handful of the remaining embryos in the midst of the emotional chop. One had begun to develop, then stopped, aborting itself one chilly night, leaving me clutching my knees to my chest in pain and disappointment. Then, my husband and I separated. We tried again for another child with our remaining embryos — why not? Sure, we’d gotten the order wrong; usually, you have your two children first, then you divorce. But five years later, who would care which life event had preceded which?

That transfer didn’t take, either. Then there were none: no more embryos and no more husband. No more time. We’d split up when I was 46, used our remaining embryos at 47. Now, six years later, standing on the beach in Tel Aviv, I was single and over 50. I’d aged out of fertility by pretty much everyone’s estimation.

“What happened?” the stranger — or was he a distant relative? — asked again. “Did one die?”

I looked at him, this community forefather. His explanation for my tiny little family suddenly seemed like the truest one. “Yes,” I said, nodding. “That’s what happened. One died.”

He kissed me again, with the intense focus of bestowing a blessing. “You want to get coffee?”

I wanted to touch the sea. I took his blessing, and the luck, and headed toward the water. Near the shore, two women were doing yoga on paddleboards lashed to a floating dock. I loved yoga and paddle-boarding! I located the paddleboard vendor reclining in a folding chair on the sand, talking to a super-fit woman in a long-sleeved performance bathing suit. She had the thick, dark, shaveh hair that’s also ubiquitous in Israel.

“It’s 100 shekels to rent a board,” the vendor told me. “But I’ll give it to you for 50 if you just want to go for a short time.”

I hesitated, motioning down at the sleepwear I was still wearing: black, drawstring cotton pants and a pale-blue tank top.

“Pajamas are good,” the woman said in that insistent Israeli way. “You should do it.”

I pulled the wide board into the sea, climbed on top and paddled out, rocking a bit over the water. I’d paddle-boarded back home, at Marina del Rey. The ocean there is frigid and choppy, cut through with boat traffic. Snaggletooth sea lions rear up inches from your board, threatening to topple you.

The sea here was different. It was quiet, calm, and had a mystical feeling. I faced away from the land, toward Tunisia, reached up for the sky in a sun salutation, then folded over, placing my hands on the board. The water was so clear, I could see a school of small black fish curving under my board. I closed my eyes, feeling the board roll over the waves.

“This is Israel. The center of three religions, a land lanced by history, buoyed by miracles. Anything could happen. I could slip out of my reality and into another,” I thought. If any place makes you think reality might bend in a flash, it’s Israel. I could stand up into another era, a different storyline, a better life — one with two kids, a successful marriage, a better house and more love.

The board pitched and I lost my balance. I grabbed onto the board, banging my ankle as my legs slid into the sea. I scrambled back up, pajamas soaked, and lay flat for a moment, breathing heavily. Another reality could be a whole lot worse, I realized with startling clarity. Something different could be truly terrible, if you don’t get to choose.

I was aware of Israel as a haven for refugees, survivors of so many things. People suffer in the U.S., too. Back home, I’d just spent time with immigrant moms at the Adelanto Detention Center in the high desert, indefinitely incarcerated, away from their children in a private, for-profit prison because they lacked the right paperwork for legal entry into the U.S. yet couldn’t farm enough food to feed their kids in their own countries. My relatives, too, had lacked the right paperwork in country after country, century after century, and had the laws and boundaries changed on them at will. That could have been me. In Israel, it felt possible, and very dangerous, to give back what I have for a chance at another roll.

“You have to know what’s best about a place (and a person) to understand it. Then, if you feel changes must be made, you have an ideal to point toward.”

I stood up slowly and moved through another sun salutation, holding firm.

Later, I joined 200 women from around the globe for an eight-day spiritual sprint through Israel — the land and the story — organized to encourage Jewish mothers to bring more Jewish practices and values into their homes. The trip was organized and heavily subsidized by AISH and Momentum. The Israeli government recently joined as a sponsor. It’s like Birthright for Moms.

“It’s like propaganda,” said a friend in L.A., also Jewish, a woman deeply concerned with social justice and actively involved in a synagogue and immigrant rights in the U.S. She’s also concerned about nationalism and intolerance in modern Israel. “They want you to be a Zionist. I hope you’re going with a critical eye.”

“Nooo,” I’d said. “I’m going with open eyes.” This was my first time in Israel; of course, I wanted to see what those who love it had to show me. You have to know what’s best about a place (and a person) to understand it. Then, if you feel changes must be made, you have an ideal to point toward.

Forty of us from L.A. rode in a bus from the beach to Independence Hall, from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem. We spent hours sitting on padded chairs in hotel banquet rooms for lengthy lectures on Jewish values: generosity and courage, gratitude and learning, keeping a peaceful home. Two stars of the Orthodox women’s lecture circuit led these talks: Nili Couzens and Adrienne Gold — both smart, inspiring Americans-turned-Israelis. I took copious notes.

You have to thank God for your lacks, Couzens insisted from the stage. She was wearing a floor-length skirt and a modest-yet-fashionable green blouse that matched her green eyes. It’s your lacks, your deficiencies, that provide a partner with an opportunity to give. Giving to others is what brings the greatest joy.”

“Your lacks also propel you to reach toward God,” Couzens said. “Your lacks give you a reason to pray for something. God, too, wants to have a relationship with us.”

We saw the sites, trekked after tour guides and bobbed in the Dead Sea. Everyone was moved all the time. On Friday, we were in Jerusalem. We walked slowly down to the Western Wall through the narrow streets of the Old City, holding onto railings to avoid slipping over cobblestones worn smooth over the years, squeezing ourselves against buildings any time a car wanted to pass. On the huge plaza in front of the wall, a hundred teenagers in sweatshirts and tennis shoes were singing Israeli songs, jumping up and down and clapping. They waved Israeli flags, whirling about in a circle across the stones. They had their arms draped over one another’s shoulders and they shouted with an amazing freedom — the voices of being young, being safe and of being at home in Israel.

We all stopped to take videos, wiping our eyes. We moved down the sloped plaza toward the wall. The Western Wall, actually the remains of a platform on which the last temple of the ancient Israelites stood, has horizontal chinks on its face, and pigeons and doves nesting on ledges. Pale-green air plants sprout from the stone, cascading down.

Religious women wearing headscarves and long skirts were praying. Others sat on plastic chairs scattered about, with prayer books in their hands. Our group walked past to the wall itself. I found a free spot among the women and placed my hand on the stone alongside everyone else. I felt self-conscious, like a character enacting a well-worn scene, a meme. Cue the iPhone. Yet, my experience also mattered. I stood with one hand on the Western Wall and thought about my own life.

We’d been told the traditional Jewish way to pray is to praise God, ask for what you want, then thank God. Standing in Jerusalem, I thought about what to ask. What did I want, really? What would I most deeply like to change? Looking at my own life from that great distance, it looked pretty good. Pretty beautiful. Shaveh. My sunny home. My funny child. My kind co-parent to whom I’d once tried to be married. We’d adjusted our relationship to one that enables us to have a peaceful home (or homes).

If I could pray for anything and have it come true, I realized, I’d pray to hold onto what I have — to grip it in both hands and not let it slip away. I’d pray for my life to continue as is.

On my first-ever trip to Israel, standing at the Western Wall in a whirl of other women’s tears, the truest prayer I could conjure up was one of thanks for what I have.

For information about the Momentum mom’s trip to Israel (or the dad’s trip) visit the website.


Wendy Paris is a writer living in Los Angeles. She is the author of “Splitopia: Dispatches from Today’s Good Divorce and How to Part Well” and the co-author of “Buy the Change You Want to See: Use Your Purchasing Power to Make the World a Better Place.”

Chef Geoff Baumberger and Executive David Miller on the success of Restaurant Harvey & Ed’s

Photo courtesy by Harvey & Eds.

Cameron Mitchell Restaurants is an independent, privately-held restaurant group known for developing compelling dining concepts, offering outstanding cuisine complemented by genuine hospitality. Cameron Mitchell founded the company in 1993 on the powerful guest philosophy, “The answer is yes. What is the question?” Today, that commitment to delivering extraordinary guest experiences fuels 36 restaurants under 17 different concepts with locations in 13 states, including the nationally-acclaimed Ocean Prime brand, now coast-to-coast in Beverly Hills, Boston, Chicago Columbus, Dallas, Denver, Detroit, Indianapolis, Naples, New York City, Orlando, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Tampa and Washington, D.C.

Within the CMR group is Harvey & Ed’s, a classic delicatessen with an elevated modern culinary twist located in the North Shore district of Columbus, Ohio. Harvey & Ed’s pays homage to Cameron Mitchell Restaurants President David Miller and VP of Ocean Prime Mitch Miller’s father and uncle — best friends and brothers-in-law. The two could often be found at their favorite delicatessens enjoying each other’s company over a good cocktail and a plate of food.

Chef Geoff Baumberger recently joined the Harvey & Ed’s team, boasting an impressive tenure with Cameron Mitchell Restaurants and 16 years of experience working in fine-dining restaurants around the country. After a brief interlude working with Mastro’s Restaurants in Arizona, Baumberger returned to the Cameron Mitchell family at Ocean Prime New York and most recently as Executive Chef at Ocean Prime Beverly Hills.

Following a recent trip to Columbus, I had the pleasure of doing Q&A with both David Miller and Chef Geoff Baumberger; Baumberger was excited to return home to Columbus at Harvey & Ed’s as Executive Chef. More on Harvey & Ed’s can be found online.

Jewish Journal: Harvey & Ed’s is named after some people from your lineage. When in the process of starting up the restaurant did that come about?

David Miller: Harvey was my uncle, Ed was my dad and they also were best friends.

JJ: How does Columbus Jewish fare compare to that of Los Angeles or New York-style Jewish fare? Or is it all the same to you?

DM: Every market has its own twist due to the origin and density of Jewish people in the market. We just took the approach of being respectful of the history of this fare but adding our own culinary twist evolving some classic dishes.

JJ: How would you describe Harvey & Ed’s to someone who has not yet been there?

DM: A modern American restaurant inspired by the classic Jewish delicatessens across our country.

Geoff Baumberger: Harvey & Ed’s is our take on a modern American restaurant, inspired by the classic delicatessens that our namesake Harvey and Ed would frequent years ago. We have everything from a wide selection of “noshes” to start the meal, great sandwiches like the classic Reuben and Turkey Rachel, our crowd favorite Klein Grinder and Patty Melt, to comfort food favorites like the Cabbage Rolls or our Baked Spaghetti with Garlic toasted Challah Bread and the Braised Brisket Dinner with Roasted Vegetables and Sherry Reduction.

We offer a wide selection of inspired handcrafted cocktails, draft beers and wine. There is really something for everyone. Our atmosphere is warm and inviting, with a wide open dining room that has enough tables to push together for friends and family to all join one another.

JJ: Who or what initially inspired you to become a chef?

GB: My initial desire to be a chef came from cooking with my grandfather during family Holidays like Thanksgiving. He had no formal training but he enjoyed cooking and was good at it. I didn’t realize the importance at that time but seeing how food brings people together was a big inspiration that helped to kickstart my career.

JJ: Where do most of the recipes for Harvey & Ed’s come from?

GB: Most of the recipes for Harvey & Ed’s were developed by the team of chefs that opened the restaurant and a few of our regional chefs within the company. Some of the recipes were family dishes that were tweaked to use in a restaurant setting but started out as something that was passed down.

JJ: Prior to relocating to Columbus, I believe you worked in both New York and Los Angeles. What is it that you like best about the city?

GB: That is true, my two most recent stops were at our Ocean Prime locations in both New York City and L.A. Being from the area, I grew up just north of Columbus and all of my family still lives here. After spending time in quite a number of places across the country I just felt like the time was right to come back closer to home and enjoy more time with my immediate family.

JJ: How did you wind working within the Cameron Mitchell Restaurants organization?

GB: While still in school I had a former instructor who thought I should check out the company because they had heard such great things. It was close enough to home to get some experience while I was still young and Cameron was a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, which was the school I was attending.

JJ: Are there any plans for Cameron Mitchell Restaurants expand further into L.A. or to other markets?

DM: We are always looking to expand our Ocean Prime concepts nationwide.

JJ: What is your favorite item on the Harvey & Ed’s menu?

DM: Cream Herring and chopped liver.

GB: My favorite item on our menu would be the Hash & Eggs on our Brunch menu. I have so many favorite sandwiches that I couldn’t pick just one. The Hash & Eggs has pastrami and schmaltz potatoes, brussels sprouts, melted farmers cheese and eggs done anyway. It’s an easy one to enjoy and Saturday and Sunday Brunch is when our restaurant is the most lively for sure!

JJ: Finally, any last words for the kids?

GB: I was inspired to do what I enjoyed at a young age by people around me pushing me to be the best I could be. Don’t be afraid to work hard to get wherever dreams may take you. Hard work and dedication helped me get to where I wanted to be. Find a good person or mentor to help guide on the path to success!

Must-Have Recipes for a Shavuot Feast

At the end of the second PASSOVER seder, we begin the counting of
the Omer, commemorating the 49 days between leaving Egypt and receiving the Torah. As it is written in Proverbs, “The Torah is a Tree of Life.” Images of trees and flowers recall the Torah and celebrate the season we received it. We decorate our yom tov tables with leaves and flowers and all things spring-like. Grateful for the blessing of the rains we’ve had this year, here and in Israel, gardens are resplendent: There’s a bounty of fresh flowers on the hillsides, fruits on the trees and vegetables ripe for the picking.

Shavuot is a real bonanza for those of us who love a lighter cuisine, as dairy and pareve dishes traditionally rule the menu for this holiday, although this varies according to custom. I can’t help but admire the Technicolor brilliance in the produce department and thoroughly enjoy the novelty of making it the star of my holiday meals. As wonderful and traditional as meat is, I won’t even miss it as I behold the wonder of the season that I bring to my Shavuot table.

Gluten-free, dairy-free/vegan recipes are marked with an asterisk.

MULTICOLORED TOMATOES WITH MOZZARELLA CHEESE
The multicolored tomatoes in the markets right now are beautiful and flavorful. It’s tempting to use only multicolored tomatoes but I also like the way red tomatoes showcase the white cheese, so I use a box of red and a box of multicolored. Make sure that each tomato you use is firm and fresh. This salad is best made the day you serve it. Leftovers are great in an omelet. 

1 basket multicolored cherry tomatoes
1 basket red cherry or currant tomatoes
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 or 2 tablespoons balsamic or apple cider vinegar
1 8-ounce ball mozzarella cheese, cut into 1/2-inch cubes*
2 tablespoons capers, drained
1 tablespoon fresh oregano leaves, slivered, or 2 teaspoons dried oregano
Kosher salt and coarsely ground black pepper to taste

Halve the cherry tomatoes and place them in a large bowl. Add the olive oil, vinegar, mozzarella cheese cubes, capers and oregano. Season generously with salt and pepper and toss gently until well combined. Cover and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

*Vegan cheese or half a can of drained and sliced green Israeli olives can substitute for cheese. 

GREEN FATTOUSH SALAD WITH MINT VINAIGRETTE

Adapted from a recipe from Einat Admony, Wall Street Journal

This Green Fattoush Salad is amazing. The mint and the cucumbers are so refreshing, and it’s nice to see our Passover maror, Romaine lettuce, sweetened for Shavuot. I usually make double the amount of dressing because it is so good and so versatile.

Salad:

3 small Persian cucumbers, quartered, cut in 1/2-inch pieces
10 whole mint leaves, cut into julienne strips
10 cups romaine lettuce leaves, cut into 1/2-inch-wide strips
7-ounce bag of arugula
1 avocado, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
4-6 red radishes, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 cup crumbled pita chips or Ara-Z
Sangak (available at kosher stores Pico Glatt or Glatt Mart)*

Dressing:

1/3 cup lemon or lime juice
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1 tablespoon honey or agave syrup
10 whole mint leaves
1 clove garlic, minced
3/8 cup canola or safflower oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch white pepper
Kosher salt, to taste

Salad:

Not more than a day before serving, place all salad ingredients (except the avocado and chips) into a large salad bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve. Just before serving, add the avocado and chips, dress the salad and toss gently until the salad is thoroughly coated with dressing. Serve immediately.

Dressing:

Place all dressing ingredients into a food processor or blender. Process until the dressing is bright green and smooth. Add kosher salt to taste. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Allow the dressing to come to room temperature and shake well before adding to the salad.

Serves 8.

*Terra Chips can substitute for chips. 

MOROCCAN CARROT SALAD WITH ORANGES

Multicolored carrots are available at Costco, Trader Joe’s and farmer’s markets. I recommend using regular orange carrots and one each of yellow and red carrots with Cara Cara, navel and blood oranges. 

1 pound regular or multicolored carrots, peeled, cut in 1/4-inch rounds
Kosher salt
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional)
1/4 teaspoon each, ground paprika, turmeric, cumin, garlic powder and coriander
Pinch of ground chipotle chili pepper or cayenne pepper
Half a blood orange, peeled, seeded, cut into bite-sized pieces
Half a Cara Cara orange, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
Half a navel orange, peeled, cut into bite-sized pieces
Italian parsley, for garnish (optional)
Garlic chives, for garnish (optional)

In a saucepan, boil 1/2 cup water. Add in carrot slices and a teaspoon of kosher salt. Return to a boil, cover and simmer for 10-15 minutes or until just tender. Drain and reserve. 

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the olive oil, lemon or lime juice and spices. Add the reserved carrot slices and citrus slices and toss gently until well combined. Garnish with either chopped Italian parsley or garlic chives and a wedge of lemon or lime. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 6-8.

PISSALADIÈRE 

This is a dramatic main course. There are many recipes for this rustic classic that originated in southern France. Only some feature mustard and cheese, so it may be more traditional to omit them, which also works well for vegans. For people who don’t eat anchovies, which are traditional for this dish, red peppers can be substituted.

Topping, Step 1:
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 large, brown onions, trimmed, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon thyme
1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 bay leaf

Topping, Step 2:

3 tablespoons Dijon mustard (optional)
8 ounces shredded Swiss cheese* (optional)
1 tin anchovies, drained or 3 red peppers, roasted, cut into strips
Pitted ripe olives such as Kalamata
Dried oregano, for garnish (optional)
Red pepper flakes, for garnish (optional)

Crust:

1 pound prepared pizza dough** or 1 14- to 16-ounce sheet of puff pastry, thawed

Topping, Step 1:

Over medium-low heat in a large skillet, warm the 4 tablespoons of olive oil, add the onions, salt, thyme, pepper and bay leaf and cook until the onions are very soft and translucent, stirring occasionally, about 30 minutes. Reserve.

Crust: If using pizza dough, generously sprinkle a half-sheet pan or large cookie sheet with yellow cornmeal. On a well-floured surface, roll out the dough to completely and evenly fill the pan. 

If using puff pastry, line a half-sheet pan or cookie sheet with baking parchment and spray it with non-stick cooking spray. Roll out the dough on a well-floured surface until thin (about 1/8-inch thick) and the size of the pan. Carefully place it in the prepared pan. 

Topping, Step 2:

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Spread the mustard over the dough, leaving a 1/2-inch border around the diameter. For a golden finish, apply an egg wash (1 egg yolk beaten with 1 tablespoon of water) on the border. Sprinkle the mustard with the shredded cheese. Spoon reserved onions evenly over the cheese Create a lattice design over the onions with either anchovies or red pepper strips, using the olives as accents. 

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the crust is golden and the topping is bubbling. May be served hot, warm or at room temperature. Have dried oregano and red pepper flakes on the table for garnish.

Serves 10-12.

*Vegan cheese can be substituted for Swiss cheese.

**Gluten-free pizza dough can be substituted for pizza dough.

SCALLION SALMON AND GREEN GODDESS DIPPING SAUCE

This recipe features scallion greens crisped over roasted salmon. It’s a savory main course for a dairy or pareve meal. For a meat meal, it’s a nice first course that presents beautifully. It can be cooked in two fillets as in the recipe or in individual portions. 

Salmon:

10 pounds salmon, bones and skin removed, in 2 fillets
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/2 teaspoon onion powder
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
2 tablespoons honey
4 bunches of scallions, greens only, coarsely chopped (reserve the white part of the onions for sauce)

Preheat the oven to 475 F, and position a rack at the center of the oven.

Line large cookie sheet (with sides) with aluminum foil and spray with nonstick cooking spray. Place the two salmon fillets, skinned side down, side by side on the prepared pan.

In small bowl, combine remaining ingredients, except scallions, and spread evenly on the fillets. Pack chopped scallion greens onto the fillets until they are uniformly covered in green.

Roast the salmon for 7 minutes in preheated oven and then reduce the temperature to 350 F convection or 385 F conventional for 20-25 minutes more (or 15-17 minutes for salmon cut into individual serving sizes), or until the thickest part of the fillet is just firm. Remove from the oven to cool.

Serves 18-20.

Green Goddess Dipping Sauce: 

Excellent served as a dip with crudités or roasted asparagus, broccoli or zucchini, or as salad dressing. 

3 tablespoons fresh lemon (or lime) juice
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley (or 2 tablespoons dried parsley)
1/2 cup sliced green onions (use white and light green parts only)
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/2 teaspoon dried tarragon (or 10 leaves fresh tarragon)
1/2 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground white pepper
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

Add all ingredients (except olive oil) to a food processor or blender and process until pureed. In a very slow, steady stream, add the olive oil. The dressing should be creamy in texture.  Refrigerate until ready to use, for up to 3 days. As the sauce cools, it magically sets up like a soft mayonnaise. If it separates after a day or two, shake well. Serve cold.

Makes about 1 cup.

SPINACH FRITTATA

This is the mainstay of my dairy table. If you’re not having a big crowd, make two and freeze one. Because this dish relies solely on eggs and cheese, I don’t have a vegan version of this recipe.

Olive oil

1 medium-sized brown onion, coarsely chopped and sautéed until translucent
3 eggs and 4 egg whites
1 15-ounce container fat-free ricotta or cottage cheese
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon white pepper
3 16-ounce bags frozen chopped spinach, thawed, drained in a colander
4 ounces finely crumbled feta cheese
8 ounces shredded mozzarella cheese, divided
8 ounces grated Muenster cheese
2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste
Matzo meal (optional)

Sauté onions in olive oil until translucent.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Grease two 8 x 10 baking pans or one 9 1/2 x 13 1 /2 pan with olive oil and dust with matzo meal if desired. In a large mixing bowl, combine onion, eggs and egg whites, cottage cheese, spices, pepper and salt, to taste, mixing until smooth.

Fold in the thawed spinach, feta and three-quarters of the mozzarella cheese. Pour half of spinach mixture into prepared pan(s) and smooth the top.

Sprinkle most of grated mozzarella and Muenster cheeses (reserving a tablespoon or two of each) on top of spinach layer.

Spoon an even layer of the remaining spinach mixture on top of the grated cheeses and smooth the spinach. Sprinkle spinach with a tablespoon or two of matzo meal (optional) and drizzle with a tablespoon of olive oil.

Bake for 45-55 minutes. This may take longer, depending on the size and type of pan. Test to make sure that the center of the frittata is “set” and not “liquidy.”

Remove frittata from oven and cool at least 20 minutes before serving. 

Serve warm or at room temperature. Frittata can be double-wrapped tightly with foil and frozen, but it must be thawed before reheating.

Makes 2 frittatas, each serving 6-8, or 1 frittata that serves 12-16.

CLASSIC CHEESECAKE

by Glynis Gerber via Freda Small

Crust:

1 16-ounce package graham crackers, finely crushed
1 cube butter, melted

Combine crushed graham crackers with melted butter. Press the crumb mixture on the bottom and sides of a 9-inch diameter spring-form pan.

Filling:

48 ounces cream cheese
3 eggs
2 1/4 cups sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla extract

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Using an electric mixer, cream together the cream cheese and the eggs. Slowly add sugar and vanilla and continue beating 10 minutes.

Pour into the prepared pan and bake for 1 hour, 15 minutes. Turn off the oven and leave the cake inside another half hour.

Then, leaving the cake in the oven, open the oven door and allow the cake to continue cooling there for another 1/2 hour to prevent cracking.

Garnish:

A topping of a pint of sour cream can be spread over the top of the cool cake. Garnish with strawberries, blueberries or raspberries. Slice the strawberries and fan or mound them on the sour cream before serving.

A center of fresh blueberries framed with a row of raspberries also can top the sour cream layer.

For chocolate lovers, try a drizzle of hot fudge and a border of chocolate kisses. Or chocolate curls can be placed in the center of the cake.  

Serves 12-16.

Enjoy that spring produce, enjoy the colors and the textures. Enjoy the holiday.


Debby Segura lives in Los Angeles. She designs dinnerware and textiles, and teaches cooking classes. See more recipes on her website

My Kitchen Garden: Life-Changing Thai Beef Salad

When I lived in New York City, if you’d told me I’d be giving up my weekly manicure appointment and that I’d be snipping aromatic herbs out of my kitchen garden in East Africa at 5 in the morning, I’d have signed you up for a stint at the Bellevue mental hospital. After all, I was the health and beauty manager at The New York Times and I had to look the part. 

I flitted around the city like a spa junkie, teetering on cracked asphalt in precariously high-heeled Jimmy Choos. Perfectly coifed, always waxed and pedicured, I could not have been less interested in getting my hands dirty. The truth was, I was unfulfilled at work but I’d driven myself so very hard to get to that Carrie Bradshaw West Village Valhalla that I didn’t want to admit it wasn’t much fun when I had arrived. I was trapped in the illusion and cache of the venerable “Gray Lady” while trying desperately not to turn into one. 

One day, on yet another spa junket to Bangkok — restless in spirit and massaged to within an inch of my life — I came upon an ad for a cooking school in a century-old renovated mansion at the famed Blue Elephant restaurant. As a lifelong cook who had a classic Manhattan-sized postage stamp of a kitchen, the advertisement instantly triggered a jolt of excitement that my ultra-caffeinated city life hadn’t managed to deliver in quite some time. Another enticement — the class was to be taught by one of Thailand’s top five chefs, the ferociously entrepreneurial master chef Nooror Somany Steppe, widely recognized as a leading ambassador of Thai cuisine the world over. 

The next day, I found myself sitting in a whitewashed room in the second story of the restaurant, balmy breezes gently blowing through tropical wooden-slatted windows. The ceilings were tall and airy, the kitchen ingeniously mirrored from above, reflecting the skill and precision of the main attraction at the chopping block. I was a mere arm’s length from the diminutive powerhouse chef, all 5 feet of her, equal parts sweet and salty, just like the delicate balancing act of the Thai flavors she taught as an introduction to the course.

Although I had always enjoyed the sharp and bright tastes of Thai dishes, when I tasted our creations — made by plucking fresh piles of herbs sitting in water-filled pitchers like flowers in a vase, it changed my palate and the direction of my life. Somehow, the almost spiritual experience of the classic Thai five (sweet, salty, creamy, sour, spicy), zesty with lime juice, sweet and sour tamarind, creamy coconut and earthy cilantro with just enough bird’s eye chile to fascinate the tongue — this, I thought, this is living. 

A few years later, after a series of serendipitous disasters, I found myself in the tropical paradise of Uganda, as far from my perfectly manicured, high-rise lifestyle as I could possibly have traveled; the idea of a kitchen garden too irresistible to suppress a moment longer. 

I planted myself a quarter acre of herbs and edible flowers in my restaurant garden, plenty of Thai basil, mint, cilantro and chiles as far as the eye could see. The first menu item: Thai beef salad, one of many dishes I learned from the Blue Elephant Cooking Academy.

This is a cinch to make whenever you have leftover grilled steak or chicken around, like you might after a holiday barbecue. Feel free to leave out the meat — I’ve made it with tofu and even grilled vegetables. The recipe is an adaptation of the base recipe from Blue Elephant but I add mango, avocado, crispy rice noodles and peanuts to push it over the top, New York-style. This healthy and deceptively simple salad remains one of the best-selling menu items in my café at the American Embassy in Kampala, and one of my favorites to prepare. But beware, if you dare taste it with fresh herbs from your own kitchen garden, there may be no going back to your perfectly manicured life.

BLUE ELEPHANT THAI BEEF SALAD – YAM NUA

Dressing:
4 bird’s eye chiles, chopped finely (optional)
1 mild red chile
4 cloves garlic, peeled
5 tablespoons lime juice
3 tablespoons fish sauce
2 teaspoons sugar

Salad:
10 ounces grilled steak, thinly sliced
1 cucumber, quartered lengthways, seeded and thinly sliced
1/2 cup cherry tomatoes, halved
1/4 cup red onion, thinly sliced
2 spring onions (scallions), sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
2 large handfuls mixed salad leaves (arugula, romaine, cress)

Garnishes: 
1/2 small avocado, sliced
1/2 small mango, sliced
2 radishes, thinly sliced
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup mint leaves, chopped
1/4 cup roasted peanuts, chopped
Crispy fried rice noodles (optional, recipe below)
4 ounces uncooked rice vermicelli, broken into 2-inch pieces
1 cup peanut oil, for frying

To make the dressing, use a pestle to pound chiles and garlic in a mortar until crushed. Add remaining dressing ingredients and stir well to combine. Pour dressing into a large salad bowl. 

Add the thinly sliced beef, cucumbers, tomatoes and onions into the bowl and toss lightly with the dressing. Transfer to a serving dish lined with the salad leaves.

To make the crispy fried rice noodles, heat peanut oil in a small pot. To test if oil is hot enough, drop in one noodle. It should puff up in 10 seconds. Fry broken noodles in batches until they are puffy but have not changed color (about 30 seconds per batch). Remove noodles from oil with a small strainer or kitchen spider and lay on paper towels to cool and blot excess oil.

Garnish with avocado and mango slices, radishes, cilantro, mint and top with chopped peanuts and crispy rice noodles (if using).

Serves 4 as a starter, 2 as a main course.


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 Wow of Cacao: Guilt-Free Black Bean Brownies

It’s been well documented that guilt is a word often associated with food in American culture. In his book “In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto,” New York Times best-selling author Michael Pollan writes, “We showed the words ‘chocolate cake’ to a group of Americans and recorded their word associations. ‘Guilt’ was the top response. If that strikes you as unexceptional, consider the response of French eaters to the same prompt: ‘celebration.’ ” 

As a chef serving primarily American customers, I can second that sentiment. My customers generally alternate between “I love you” and “I hate you” in response to a dessert I bring out, and when they indulge too frequently, of course, who do they blame for their weight gain? Because I work in an American embassy, security clearance is a barrier to entry for customers who aren’t employed by the U.S. government. Therefore, as much as I jokingly tell diners not to blame me if their bathroom scales don’t tip in a favorable direction, I’m still acutely aware that I need to balance the apple fritter doughnuts and triple-chocolate mousse cakes with healthier options. 

I do this by providing plenty of fresh vegetable dishes, the Mediterranean fare of my Israeli upbringing and composed salads on the menu, but I also have a secret-weapon dessert that is so virtuous yet so seemingly decadent that I’ve been called a liar on more than one occasion. As a chef, this is when you know you’ve hit the culinary jackpot with a recipe: When the feedback alternates between “this cannot be made of X” and “I like this better than a real Y,” that’s when you know you have a keeper. 

Although I don’t obsess over chocolate, I know it’s the common denominator for “swoon factor” on a restaurant or café menu. There could be a biological cause for that. People crave chocolate for several reasons, some of which are cultural, but chocolate contains some healthful properties including flavonoids, antioxidants and solid doses of magnesium, iron and calcium.

The health benefits of chocolate are usually outweighed by the addition of sugar  — a substance that wreaks havoc on blood sugar levels and is associated with premature aging and chronic inflammation. But cacao in its natural form is considered by many to be a superfood. 

Cacao beans, which come from the cacao pod, the fruit of a tree cultivated by the ancient Mayans in Mexico over 1,500 years ago, have been used medicinally for centuries. In Africa, where over 70% of the world’s cacao is grown, chocolate bars and sweets are rarely eaten; farmers use the fruit as a cash crop to be exported to the West to make into a variety of confections ranging from M&Ms to high-end, hand-crafted boutique bonbons.  

The cacao beans are removed from the pod, dried and fermented, and then roasted and cracked. These cracked pieces of cacao are referred to as cacao nibs and are ground into a paste called a chocolate liquor. This liquor is then processed and transformed into chocolate bars or cocoa powder, but the nibs can also be eaten roasted or raw and are considered a powerhouse of nutrients.

Incredibly, cacao nibs contain more iron than beef, making them a great source of iron for vegetarians. Further, the bioactive compound known as epicatechin can boost blood flow and oxygen to the brain, making cacao nibs a powerful antioxidant that can protect skin health as well as cognitive function. They are also full of calcium, fiber and micronutrients that may reduce risk of diabetes, inflammation and even improve memory function. 

Cacao nibs contain more iron than beef, making them a great source of iron for vegetarians.

Before you cover yourself head to toe in Hershey’s kisses and call yourself a health nut, remember that Hershey’s and most milk chocolate brands contain only about 11% cacao. The level of cacao content of chocolate (above 70% is good, 80% to 100% is better) determines the health benefits to your body. Although portion control is crucial, the good news is that one small square of pleasantly bitter dark chocolate will satisfy most sweet cravings.

These brownies are hands down my most requested dessert recipe and, although I didn’t come up with the concept of brownies made from black beans, I’ve added seemingly incongruous ingredients such as balsamic vinegar and coffee grounds to fine tune what I think is a healthy adaptation of a favorite.

Don’t expect it to be chewy; it has more of a cake-like texture. You can omit the walnuts and the cacao nibs or even the ganache icing, but be aware that not only do these ingredients add texture, they may be the key to better heart health, lower cholesterol and improved blood sugar levels. At roughly only a tablespoon of sugar per brownie — less if you use a sugar substitute — I think you’ll be very excited about this guilt-free delicacy. But only if you don’t mind being called a liar every time you serve them.  You might not even believe it yourself.

YAMIT’S GLUTEN-FREE BLACK BEAN BROWNIES

14 ounces cooked black beans (canned is fine but weigh out 14 ounces)
3/4 cup sugar (or a sugar substitute like erythritol or xylitol)
2 large eggs
1/2 cup dark Dutch process cocoa powder
1 teaspoon olive oil (or any vegetable oil)
1 tablespoon milk (or almond milk for dairy free)
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon coffee grounds
1 teaspoon vanilla
1/2 cup roasted walnuts, crushed (optional)
3 tablespoons roasted cacao nibs (optional)

Ganache icing:

2 cups dark chocolate (at least 70% cocoa solids)
1/2 cup boiling water
Preheat oven to 350 F degrees.

Line an 8-by-8-inch brownie pan with 2 sheets of baking paper so that they overlap, leaving extra paper on the sides for pulling out the brownies easily. Carefully weigh out 14 ounces of drained black beans and put in a high-speed blender with sugar. Blend well until beans are completely mashed.

Add the remaining ingredients, except walnuts and cacao nibs, and blend until thoroughly mixed. Batter will be thick. Stir in walnuts if using, and spoon mixture into prepared pan.

Bake for approximately 25-30 minutes or until a toothpick stuck into the center of the brownies comes out clean. Remove from oven and cool to room temperature in the pan. Transfer to the freezer while you make the ganache.

For the ganache, chop chocolate, place in a glass bowl and melt in microwave at 30- second increments, stirring between heating until chocolate is melted.

Whisk in half the boiling water. Chocolate will seize at first but keep stirring and it will come together. Whisk in remaining water and stir until ganache is shiny and all lumps have melted. Ganache will thicken upon cooling, so cool to desired consistency.

Remove brownies from freezer and, lifting the exposed parchment paper on the side of the pan, place onto flat surface or plate. Using a knife or an offset spatula, ice the brownies and sprinkle on the cacao nibs.

Keep in freezer or fridge until ready to serve. Cut with a sharp knife into 16 equal squares.


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.

Avoiding a Falafel Fiasco

I don’t know why it surprised me. I should have expected it when I wrote a story some months back headlined “Hummus Is the Peacemaker.” I was swiftly barraged with accusations of culturally appropriating an Arab food. One tweet even rebuked me by saying, “Go back to Poland and stop stealing people’s cuisine!” The fact that I’m not Polish didn’t matter much to the tweeter; only the sentiment behind the comment was important: Jews who came from Eastern Europe had better skedaddle on back there and stop trying to take credit for the cuisine of the “indigenous population.” 

Clearly the idea that Jews are indigenous to the Middle East and that Judea is named after us triggers some folks, but that pesky detail is the least of my concerns. What about the fact that so many of Israel’s national foods are modern mashups of a plethora of dishes from ancient cultures far and wide?

Consider falafel, Israel’s most popular fast food — as culturally synonymous with the country as burgers and fries are with the United States. Just as hamburgers are not technically an American invention (origin: Hamburg, Germany), falafel, deep-fried balls of fava beans or chickpeas, can be traced to India, where frying fritters made of chana dal was a common cooking practice, thought to have been brought west by Turkish or Arab traders. 

Another theory about the origins of falafel is that it was invented by Egyptians using fava beans, a vegetarian alternative to meat for Egypt’s Christian population to eat during Lent. Food historians speculate that when the dish migrated toward the Levant, the fava beans were replaced by the more common chickpea, which lends credence to the notion that falafel made of chickpeas may have roots in Jewish Yemenite cuisine. 

“So many of Israel’s national foods are modern mashups of a plethora of dishes from ancient cultures far and wide.”

But what is not theory is that the modern falafel sandwich, eaten standing up and on the go with plenty of napkins on hand to catch spills, is as Israeli as “Hatikvah,” its national anthem. The messy hand-held pita stuffed with seasoned, deep-fried chickpea balls, tomato and cucumber salad, hummus, pickled vegetables and usually accompanied by some version of fried eggplant and potato, tahini and hot sauce, has all the elements of today’s multicultural Israeli society and the very essence and spirit of a diverse Jewish Diaspora. With additions as varied as Iraqi fried eggplant slivers and amba (a pickled mango condiment), German sauerkraut, pickled cucumbers, beets and turnips or the Yeminite schug (a garlic, pepper chili sauce), falafel is eaten by everyone in Israel — rich, poor, Arab, Sephardic or Ashkenazic Jew, Ethiopian, vegetarian or carnivore, resident or tourist. When folks are hungry for a cheap, quick, filling and delicious meal in Israel, they often choose falafel. 

My reply to the tweeter about my hummus story was this: “Hummus is my food and your food, and a lot of other people’s food. Food is for everyone.” But what I really wanted to say is this: Politics doesn’t belong in the kitchen. Discussions about food are always an opportunity to bond over a shared experience. What we eat not only tells a story about who we are and where we’ve been but it is, by definition, a reminder of our commonalities. Food is a primal need that illuminates our identity, but it doesn’t define us.  

Just as it’s a universally regarded cultural taboo while dining with clients to discuss business before the meal commences, fighting over the origin of a food is a zero-sum game. People have been traveling and migrating since the beginning of time, and so has food. Although you can borrow a recipe, you can never truly own it — not even if you are the one who invented it. Great food is meant to be shared, not possessed. And if you can’t find it in your heart to do so willingly, food has a way of finding its rightful place.

YAMIT’S FALAFEL 

1 pound dried chickpeas (uncooked, rinsed well and soaked overnight in cold water)
1 medium yellow or red onion (about 1 cup), finely chopped or grated
5 garlic cloves, squeezed through a garlic press
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons cumin
2 teaspoons coriander
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 tablespoon fresh ginger, finely grated
1 pinch ground cardamom
1 pinch ground nutmeg
2 tablespoons chickpea flour (chickpea flour is gluten free but all-purpose flour can be used)
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 cup fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1/2 cup fresh flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
4 cups vegetable oil (canola, grapeseed,  corn) for deep frying

Soak dried chickpeas in double their volume of cold water overnight. The next day rinse and drain well.

Place chickpeas and rest of ingredients except cilantro, parsley and oil, in food processor and pulse until a coarse mixture forms. Scrape down sides of food processor between pulses to ensure the chickpeas are evenly ground. The optimal result has a bit of texture but no large pieces of chickpeas. It’s important not to create a paste but mixture shouldn’t have chunks.

When mixture is homogenous, transfer from food processor into a bowl and, using a fork, mix in chopped parsley and cilantro. Leave in refrigerator for at least 2 hours or even overnight. This is a crucial step to give the flavors time to mingle but also so that the balls hold together better.

When ready to fry, heat oil in heavy-bottomed pan until hot (350 degrees F.)

Wet hands and form balls using two tablespoons of the mixture, or about the size of a walnut. Fry one test ball.

When balls are golden brown on one side after about 2 minutes, rotate and continue to fry another 2 minutes. Taste to adjust salt and pepper. If balls are falling apart, the chickpeas might not have been ground enough. If this happens, add 1 egg to the mixture and repeat with a test ball to see if it holds together. 

Fry remaining balls 6 at a time, making sure to leave enough space so they fry evenly and aren’t overcrowded. When golden brown on all sides, drain balls on paper towels and put on a wire rack to stay crisp. 

Serve in a pita with hummus, salads, pickles, tomatoes, cucumber, tahini and chili sauce for drizzling on the side.

Makes 35 balls.


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.

Daring to Believe: Grilled Kebab and Laffa Recipe for Yom Ha’atzmaut

It is a supreme irony that I’m writing recipes for Israeli Independence Day (Yom Ha’atzmaut) for American readers, safe in my house overlooking majestic Lake Victoria in Uganda, while my homeland, Israel, has been bombarded by rockets over the past weekend. Four Israelis were killed and dozens injured in attacks by militant terrorist groups Islamic Jihad and Hamas, which have launched more than 600 rockets and mortar shells. It was reported that 240 of these projectiles were intercepted by the Iron Dome defense system, but many fired from Gaza landed within Gaza, killing more than 20 Palestinians and injuring countless others. 

The government closed schools in most of Israel’s southern cities on May 5 and the situation is considered code red (emergency), with sirens blaring to warn of incoming rockets, traumatizing residents. Although most of my friends and family reside in Tel Aviv and its suburbs, Israelis in the south aren’t the only ones worried. Rockets fired in March landed only two streets from my best friend’s house. It demolished their neighbors’ villa, injuring all seven members. Although the house, a bit north of Tel Aviv, was struck by an unusually long-range missile, the event left my friend’s two young daughters traumatized and their parents shaken; a harsh reminder of the reality Israelis contend with.

While thousands of visitors enjoy Tel Aviv’s beaches in the run-up to the Eurovision Song Contest (planned for the past year), it’s a testament to the Israeli spirit that most of the revelers interviewed on Israeli television who are partying, eating in restaurants and enjoying the nightlife, feel safe. And this isn’t only because Israelis are inured to acts of terror, but because at the end of the day, they have no choice. They know what they need to do — they have a call list and a plan of action, bomb shelters in their basements and schools, and frequent drills. They’re alerted by Israeli telecoms with notifications of emergency code levels and instructions. 

It’s May 5 in Uganda as I write this and I’m in the same time zone as my family in Israel. No one knows if there will be a cease-fire in the run-up to Yom Ha’atzmaut. No one knows if there will be more rockets launched or how deep into Israel they will strike, and no one knows if the next text message they get from their son or nephew will be to tell them that their unit has been moved to the front lines of this conflict. Nor do they know if their husbands or sons will be called up for reserve duty (mandatory up to age 45 for males.) What they know, and what I know, is that the show must go on. In Israel, people don’t plan their daily movements around terror. If they did, they might find it difficult to get out of bed in the morning and be tempted to keep their children home from school every day.

I’ll be celebrating the holiday with other Israelis in Uganda at an event thrown by our consulate, and I’ll be nudging the universe with positive vibes by serving these kebabs at the American Embassy where I work. But at this juncture, I don’t know if I should be writing a recipe for the Bulgarian Beef and Lamb Kebabs my family eats for the Yom Ha’atzmaut festivities or handing over a recipe for charcoal-grilled rockets, as one of my cousins suggested (morbid Israeli humor), “one part metal, one part explosives, onion, salt and pepper to taste — yummy.” 

But after talking to a few of my favorite Israelis on the phone over the past few days, I bet that every backyard, beach and restaurant in the country will be full of families enjoying a traditional “al ha esh” (BBQ) session. Blame it on that crazy Israeli confidence or audacious optimism but in order to move forward every day, I, like most Israelis, need to believe that’s a pretty safe bet.

KEBAPCHETA — BULGARIAN STYLE KEBAB

1 3/4 pounds minced beef (20% fat, 80% meat)
1/4 pound minced lamb (you can use all beef, if you prefer)
2 slices of crustless bread, soaked in water until mushy (optional if gluten free)
1 egg
2 medium white onions, finely chopped or grated
1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon paprika (sweet or hot)
1 tablespoon black pepper
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar (optional, but aids in caramelization)

Mix all ingredients well. The most efficient way I’ve found to do this is to put all ingredients in a Ziploc bag with all the air removed and then throw it onto a countertop a few times until they are combined.

Refrigerate overnight (or at least 1 hour.) When ready to cook, cut a corner of the plastic bag and squeeze out 2-inch-long sausage-shaped kebabs and lay on a plate or baking sheet.

Grill over charcoal for best flavor but these can be cooked in a pan or even under the broiler. Turn kebabs every few minutes until a deep, brown color on all sides and cooked through. This should take about 6 minutes per batch depending on how hot the grill is.

Serve with Israeli salad, lettuce, pickles, pita or laffa bread (recipe below) hummus and tahini.

Makes about 30 kebabs.

LAFFA (FLATBREAD)

7 cups all-purpose flour
1 package active dry yeast (1/4 ounce)
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoon salt
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 cups warm water

Combine dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add oil and water and mix with a dough hook attachment until dough is soft, smooth and elastic, about 12 minutes.

Place dough in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap and then a tea towel. Place in a warm draft-free corner or in a microwave that’s not in use. Let dough rise for 1 hour or until doubled in size. 

Divide the dough into 12 equal-sized balls and roll on counter until smooth. Place on an oiled baking tray and cover with a damp tea towel for about 20 minutes. 

Heat a flat pan or griddle on medium heat (a cast iron pan works well for this.)

On an oiled wooden cutting board, flatten dough balls with your hands (or use a rolling pin) until they are a 12-inch circle. Place on hot surface of pan. When edges look dry and bread begins expanding, turn over and cook on the other side. This usually takes about 2 minutes per side. Immediately place laffa in a basket or on a plate and cover with clean kitchen towels to keep warm. Continue with remaining dough balls.

Makes 12 laffas.


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. 

Cooking for All the Moms in Our Family

Every Mother’s Day, our family always gets together to plan and cook dinner for me. This year, I decided to surprise them and prepare my favorite dishes for everyone to enjoy.

The dishes I am making remind me of our wonderful Italian journeys. I remember one year in Tuscany, in the spring, when all the fresh-picked fava beans filled the market place and there was a mad dash by locals to fill their baskets.

We have fava beans growing alongside our bocce court that are ready to harvest, and this is the best time to prepare Fava Beans With Pecorino Cheese. They are now available at the farmers markets. Cook them, add diced fresh pecorino cheese and olive oil for a special treat.

I love fresh asparagus in the spring. When we are in Italy during asparagus season, it is always a joy to see how many delightful ways Italians serve this vegetable. So perfect for a Mother’s Day menu.

The first time we had the amazing and simple dish Prinz Grill Asparagus and Fried Eggs was at the Prinz Grill, a restaurant in Biella, Italy, and we kept going back for more. As a matter of fact, you can find it in my cookbook “Italy Cooks.”

A trip to Barolo wine country, in the Piedmont region, was the first time we enjoyed a new way to prepare risotto. Try Barolo Wine Confetti Risotto, and you will love it as much as we do.

Homemade ricotta cheese is one of my favorite desserts. When I explain to friends that making fresh ricotta is as fast and simple as it takes to boil milk and cream, they can’t believe it. Just add lemon juice and, presto, you have fresh ricotta cheese to serve with olive oil, honey or fresh fruit.

I plan to have copies of the recipes available for my family, since so many of them love to cook.


FAVA BEANS WITH PECORINO CHEESE

This can be made with raw fava beans, as long as they are fresh. Blanching them quickly makes them much easier to peel.

3 cups shelled fresh fava beans (from about 3 pounds in the pods)
Kosher salt
1/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh pecorino cheese, shaved or coarsely grated
Freshly ground black pepper

Using fresh fava beans, cook in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 2 minutes. Drain, transfer to a colander set in a bowl of ice water. Drain and peel off outer shell of the beans.

Toss beans, olive oil and cheese in a bowl, season with salt and pepper, and spoon into small bowls.

Serves 6 to 8.

 

“When we are in Italy during asparagus season, it is always a joy to see how many delightful ways Italians serve this vegetable.”

 

PRINZ GRILL ASPARAGUS AND FRIED EGGS
48 asparagus spears, trimmed and peeled
3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 garlic clove, minced
8 eggs (or 16 quail eggs)
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
Shaved or grated Parmesan cheese

Tie the asparagus in a bundle with kitchen string and steam it standing up in a pot of simmering water. When it is tender-crisp, drain the asparagus, remove the string and place 6 spears each on 8 heated plates.

In a large skillet, melt half of the butter with half of the garlic over medium heat and fry 4 eggs sunny-side up, with the yolk slightly runny. With a metal spatula, carefully transfer the eggs and place on top of the asparagus. Repeat with the remaining eggs, and spoon the butter and garlic over all. Season with salt and pepper, and top with Parmesan cheese.

Serves 8.

 


BAROLO WINE CONFETTI RISOTTO
Sautéed Confetti Vegetables (recipe follows)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or nondairy margarine)
1 1/2 cups finely diced leeks, white and tender green parts, cleaned
2 1/2 cups Arborio rice (or short-grain pearl rice)
2 cups Barolo wine
6 to 8 cups vegetable stock
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley, for garnish 

Prepare the Sauteed Confetti Vegetables and keep warm.

In a large saucepan over medium heat, heat (melt) butter and add leeks. Cook until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the rice and stir for 1 minute to coat with butter. Add wine, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. When all the wine has been added and reduced, begin to add the stock, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Wait until each addition of stock is almost completely absorbed before adding the next cup. Continue adding stock, 3/4 cup at a time, until all of it is absorbed  (total cooking time is 18-20 minutes). Taste the risotto frequently toward the end of the cooking process (rice should be tender). Just before the risotto is done, add the sautéed vegetables, Parmesan cheese and cream, and stir gently. Add salt and pepper. Spoon the risotto into warm bowls and sprinkle parsley on top.

Serves 8 to 10.


SAUTEED CONFETTI VEGETABLES
2 tablespoons unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup chopped carrots, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 cup chopped zucchini, cut into 1/8-inch dice
1 cup chopped red bell pepper, cut into 1/8-inch dice

In a skillet, melt butter over medium heat and sauté the carrots, zucchini and bell pepper until tender but crisp, about 3-4 minutes. Keep warm.

Makes about 2 cups.


JUDY’S FRESH RICOTTA CHEESE

If you can’t travel to Panzano, Italy, to have the village cheesemaker, Signora Grazia’s ricotta, here is my simple and quick recipe that creates a smooth, velvety ricotta cheese. It is delicious with honey or olive oil for a breakfast, lunch or dinner treat.

1/2 gallon milk
1 cup cream
2 teaspoons salt
6 tablespoons lemon juice
Honey for garnish

Heat the milk, cream and salt over low heat until liquid is about to boil. Add lemon juice, stir a few times and when mixture begins to curdle, remove from the heat. Let curds rest for a couple of minutes. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey.

Makes about 1 pound. 


Judy Zeidler is a cooking teacher and cookbook author.

Tradition, Longing and ‘Not Very Good’ Cake

There are moments in life when you suddenly find yourself looking at a situation from a different perspective. It could be the tint of your glasses or the state of your hormones or maybe it’s a combination of both that drives a point home at a certain time.

During the blur of Passover and the intensity of the preparations, I phoned, as I always do, my family in Israel: one cousin, the daughter of my Aunt Dora, who had been my mother’s and my culinary mentor, told me she had just been to the cemetery where we had buried her mother almost two years before. 

She told me that she had a hard time reconciling the fact that it had been 14 years since we had buried her father (my uncle) in the cemetery that will eventually hold most of my family. I reflected on those days, the before and the after, the funerals, shivahs, the weddings and the births — all the events that had unfolded since. I suppose it’s natural during holidays to reflect on the past but there was a longing in her voice, a heavy veil that weighed down our conversation that had me lamenting both losses as though they were fresh.

We discussed the menu she was serving for our traditional family celebration on the morning after the seder, our Sephardic version of matzo brei called burmolikos and all the accompanying salads, terrines and pies, complete with Passover cakes made with layers of meringue, lemon curd, cream and fruit. The burmolikos and the Passover seder leek-and-meat patties from the night before had always been my aunt’s purview. She would begin to clean and grind the leeks weeks before and stash away plastic containers of them in the run-up to the holiday. The day before the holiday she would mix the leeks with eggs and a bit of ground beef, season and fry them. She always set them on paper towels to absorb the excess oil before putting them on the table, where they had the place of honor: our must-have food.

Then the next day she would soak and fry the matzo patties and make the traditional sugar syrup that half the family would eat with them. The rest would be eaten with salty Bulgarian feta and some (myself included) would eat them with a combination of the two. 

As if in the transference of anguish, I suddenly longed to be in Israel, back in my aunt and uncle’s sky-high apartment, which at the time looked out over the city, stealing leek patties right out of the pan. I could almost hear my aunt’s voice reprimanding me, playfully swatting my hand away from the plate. Her hands, those soft and slightly puffy hands, the hands of a cook, beautiful yet strong and weathered, supple yet slightly red from being immersed in water for so many hours of the day, were an image I couldn’t get out of my mind for days. I looked at my own hands, suddenly shocked to see that they looked very similar to my aunt’s. After having cooked for days before the holiday — the chicken soup, the fish croquettes, the spinach and zucchini pie and roasted vegetables — indeed, my hands had the telltale signs of a working woman’s — hands not even the best manicure could save. 

Even though I had so much to do and many tasks on my mind, I decided that nothing could be as important as creating a food memory with another generation. I called one of my closest friends, remembering that her 8-year-old son had been asking to cook with me since seeing photos of some of my creations in the bakery when he was playing with my phone. My friend told her son we would make something together before the seder, a busy time in any kitchen and not ideal for dessert making.

I suddenly longed to be in Israel, back in my aunt and uncle’s sky-high apartment, which at the time looked out over the city, stealing leek patties right out of the pan.

We decided to make a no-bake matzo cake, the kind you see in all the magazines and food blogs this time of year — a towering concoction of soaked matzo, chocolate ganache, cream and sprinkles. We had a rather crushing deadline, to get out of the way as quickly as possible while still creating a Passover-friendly dessert that could be kept in the freezer until we served it after the seder. 

As we were whipping the cream and melting the chocolate, my little friend was telling me stories about things he liked to eat, and the matzo brei his father made him, even on non-holiday weekends. I learned about his family recipe — they put Parmesan or aged gouda in their matzo brei — and we created our own little Passover tradition, one I hope we will continue for many years. Only this time, it’s my kitchen-weary hands that he might remember, how after we soaked the matzo layers in milk and vanilla, we laughed as he put a straw in the casserole dish that held the soaking liquid and drank it — making that sound a straw makes when it hits an unexpected air pocket. And the whole time we were stacking our cake, layer after layer, I couldn’t help but remember all the times I “helped” my aunt in the kitchen or cooked side-by-side with my mother, my cousins and my friends. 

Earlier that day — in fact, right before my arrival — my little friend’s mother got news that her grandmother had died that morning. I hugged my friend who was trying not to let her emotions get the better of her before her guests arrived at the seder, busying herself by immersing her energy in the setting of the table.

I knew that her grandmother had been an incredible cook and that my friend had memories of her mom’s food stored for a lifetime. After the seder, my cooking buddy and I served the matzo cake to much cheering and fanfare. While the guests assured us that it was beautiful and delicious, I turned to my co-chef to see what he thought. “It’s not really very good,” he said with the honesty and bluntness that can come only from a child. I took a bite and sure enough, he was entirely correct in his assessment. 

Still, I couldn’t help but recognize the beauty of the food memories we had created that day in the frantic chaos of that hot and busy pre-seder kitchen. When we lit the yahrzeit candles that night and recited the prayer, I silently promised myself that I would continue to create as many beautiful food traditions as possible, even if, like the matzo cake, they didn’t come out perfectly. I thought of a saying I’d probably been too blinded by longing to fully comprehend until now: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.” 

Amen to that, even if the memory comes in the form of a wobbly and crooked and “not really very good” matzo cake.


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 Bucket List Item No. 4: Kosher Cooking

As a child, I remember sitting on a stool in my grandmother’s kitchen, watching her prepare Jewish delicacies ranging from kishka (made from matzo meal, shmaltz and spices) to kichel (a sweet treat that resembles a scone). We were always sent home with a “packala” (large grocery bag) full of leftovers.

These memories came flooding back as I prepared to take on my Jewish bucket list kosher cooking adventure. Over the last few years, I have really gotten into cooking. I particularly enjoy making soups as well as chicken and meat dishes, but my palate was ready for some new flavors, so chef Lenny Nour of Charcoal Grill & Bar on Beverly Boulevard invited me into his fleishig kitchen to prepare some tasty kosher food. 

Billed as a “Mediterranean restaurant with a taste of Jerusalem,” the restaurant opened last summer and plays Israeli music. 

“Every dish that I make is a microcosm of my life,” said Nour, whose mother is from Italy and father is from Iran. “I was born [in Los Angeles], raised in Israel and Italy, and brought all of my experiences into my menu. Every dish mimics this pattern of where I have been and the memories I created and my love for food.” 

The first dish we made was one of Nour’s specialties: Charcoal Eggplant. This hearty vegetarian offering is one of his most iconic at this wood-burning steakhouse. 

“It’s literally fire and vegetables,” he said. “This is the one I am most proud of, because I took something like an eggplant and made it more popular than some of the meat that I have.”

We started by charring and peeling the classic Israeli vegetable before smashing it into a dish. After sprinkling it with a little bit of sea salt to bring out the flavor, we covered it in tahini (ground sesame seeds). 

“This is the classic [Israeli dish], eggplant and tahini,” Nour said. 

“A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.” — Lenny Nour

I then decorated the eggplant with a drizzle of silan (Israeli honey made from dates), then added garlic confit (garlic melted in oil), the house chimichurri (a mixture of cilantro, parsley, garlic, lemon juice, olive oil and dried red chiles), and roasted and crushed candied pecans. We topped it off with freshly cut cilantro before adding deep-fried pita chips for scooping.

“This is where we take it to the next creative level,” Nour said. “I actually woke up one morning, had this idea, and it just flowed and kept evolving until I got this.” And this particular dish, he added, is the culmination of his upbringing and travels. 

“For me, it’s important to have a connection to my heritage, to my religion, to my people, to my culture, but also express that through the creativity in my food,” he said. “I think for a long time in America kosher cooking was looked at as a limitation. But in Israel, everything is pretty much based on kosher cooking. A lot of chefs say, ‘How do you cook without butter?’ For us, it’s not an issue. Because Israeli food was designed without ever having to use milk in its meat.”

It was the most beautiful and yummy eggplant I have ever tasted. Simple and delicious. I think these are important elements not just in kosher cooking, but also in any cooking. I can’t wait to try this — or my version of this — at home.

I am still seeking items for my 2019 Jewish bucket list. Please send your ideas to deckerling@gmail.com.

Why Are Sephardic Seders Different from Ashkenazic Seders?

Sephardic Passover customs include Bibhilu, a Moroccan ritual. Photo courtesy of Rabbi Daniel Bouskila

When Rabbi Daniel Bouskila was a child, his teacher asked him to share something from his family’s seder. Bouskila sang “Chad Gadya,” in Judeo-Arabic, the way his Moroccan family did at home.

His teacher was shocked. 

“ ‘Jews speak Arabic?’ ” Bouskila recalled his instructor saying. 

Bouskila told this story as part of a talk he gave about Sephardic Passover customs on April 13 at Westwood Village Synagogue.

The Journal spoke with several community members about growing up with or incorporating Sephardic rituals and customs in their seders. 

Traditions

Sephardic Jews, originating in Spain before relocating to regions including North Africa, the Mediterranean and Southern Europe, have diverse Passover traditions. Among them are whipping one another with scallions to recall how the Egyptian taskmasters beat the Hebrew slaves.

Lesser known practices include Bibhilu, a Moroccan ritual in which the seder leader holds the seder plate over the heads of others while reciting, “In haste, we went out of Egypt with our bread of affliction and now we are free.”

Bibhilu is connected to the kabbalah’s 10 sefirot or divine attributes, Bouskila said, explaining how kabbalists say the three pieces of matzo on the plate represent “crown,” “wisdom” and discernment”’ the bone is “kindness”; the egg is “strength”; maror is “splendor”; Charoset is “eternity”; karpas is “glory”; hazeret, a bitter green, is “foundation”; and the seder plate is “kingship.” 

“The presence of God is on the seder plate,” Bouskila said. “It’s like you’re blessing them one by one.”

Another Sephardic ritual is the practice around the Ten Plagues. Instead of dipping a finger or utensil into the wine cup for each of the Ten Plagues then placing a droplet of the wine on the plate, as is Ashkenazic custom, the leader of the Sephardic seder pours wine into a bowl for each plague while another person pours water into the bowl, adding more wine and water for each additional plague.

One theory behind this practice is that the mixture of water and wine re-creates what happened when the Nile River turned red with blood from the first plague, Bouskila said.

Marcia Weingarten, a longtime member of Sephardic Temple Tifereth Israel, expanded on this ritual in an email to the Journal, noting that after the plagues are recited and the water and wine have been poured into the bowl, the women solemnly leave the house, carrying the bowl, then pour the contents onto the ground. 

“Then, in a very kabbalistic way, the plagues turn into blessings,” Weingarten said. “Each woman touches her hand to the ground that has now been covered with the liquid and says a blessing with her wishes for her family for the year to come.”

“Wherever we live and whatever community or background we’re from, we’re all telling the same story, in the same order, in the same steps, with slight variations and traditions.”

 — Marcia Weingarten 

Food

Ashkenazic charoset usually is made with chopped apples mixed with wine and walnuts, while Sephardic charoset usually includes dates, walnuts, wine and vinegar.

Ashkenazic Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University, said he became hooked on Sephardic charoset when he was in college. His medieval literature professor gave him a 14th-century recipe with dates, figs, orange rind, pine nuts, brandy and honey.

“It is amazing,” Artson said in a phone interview. “And it looks like mortar used for bricks. And so [my family] makes a big batch of that stuff and we shape it like a pyramid and put little plastic Moseses and Pharaohs around the bottom. We don’t even make the Ashkenazi charoset anymore.”

Weingarten, whose mother was one of the founding members of Sephardic Temple, is the author of the Ladino cooking and lifestyle blog “Bendichas Manos” (“Blessed Hands”). Explaining the differences between Ashkenazic and Sephardic seders, she said Sephardic Jews use celery instead of parsley for the karpas, and romaine lettuce instead of horseradish for the maror. Most Sephardim dip the karpas in vinegar rather than salt water, and they eat lamb, whereas Ashkenazic Jews merely have a shank bone on the seder plate. 

Some of these differences in cuisine are geographical, Artson said. Ashkenazic Jews eat spicy horseradish as the maror to remember the bitterness of slavery because horseradish root was available. The bitter-tasting romaine lettuce that is part of the Sephardic seder was not available in Europe at that time of year,
he said. 

“Ashkenazim like to use horseradish because their grandparents and their bubbes and zaydes used horseradish,” he said. “That’s because they came from Poland, where they didn’t have lettuce.” 

Kitniyot

During Passover, Most Sephardim are permitted to eat kitniyot, which includes grains and seeds, rice, corn and peas.

“Thank God for not making me Ashkenazic on Pesach,” Bouskila joked. In
his home, American-Jewish influences found their way into his family’s Moroccan seders because Bouskila’s parents were as committed to being American as they were to being Moroccan, he said. So on Pesach, they eat Moroccan salads along with matzo ball soup made from Manischewitz matzo meal.

The Haggadah

Weingarten, whose grandparents were from the Greek island of Rhodes, incorporates English and Hebrew as well as the Judeo-Spanish language, Ladino, into her seder. 

“Even though it is not a language we use often, the third and fourth generation are learning different passages and songs [including “Chad Gadya” and “Echad Mi Yodea”] in that language,” Weingarten said of Ladino. “It is something uniquely special to our families. It is nice to see the next generations carry those traditions on.”

At Bouskila’s home, guests sing from the haggadah rather than just read. They follow punctuation in the Sephardic hagaddah indicating where to pause in the chanting, Bouskila said. 

“If you look in an Ashkenazi haggadah, the text is punctuated according to the grammar of how you would read a paragraph. Sephardic haggadot are typically punctuated to reflect a rhythmic chanting,” he said. “There is no one person who sings. Everyone sings it together.”

Universal seder

Despite the differences between Sephardic and Ashkenazic seders, they nevertheless follow the same universal framework, Weingarten said.

“Jews everywhere are doing the same thing. We all have the same experiences. That is the beauty of the Jewish world. Wherever we live and whatever community or background we’re from, we’re all telling the same story, in the same order, in the same steps, with slight variations and traditions,” she said. “And we’ve been doing it for generations.”

Jewish Veg Holds First Vegan Seder in L.A.

Attendees could choose between chocolate peanut butter vegan cheesecake or blueberry vegan cheesecake. Photo by Aaron Bandler

Jewish Veg, the Maryland-based nonprofit that advocates for Jews to embrace veganism, held its first Los Angeles event on April 14: a vegan seder at Beth Chayim Chadashim (BCC) in Pico-Robertson.

BCC Executive Director Rabbi Jonathan Klein led the nearly 80 attendees through the seder. He began with the first blessing of the wine, pointing out that the four cups of wine are meant to parallel the four promises given to the Israelites that were enslaved in Egypt.

“For vegans, the four cups might serve to remind us of the current state of affairs, but remind us to maintain hope,” Klein said, noting that while it’s “easy for animal rights activists to lose hope in this era of factory farms and animal enslavement,” the Israelites were eventually redeemed after being enslaved for 480 years by the Egyptians.

“We lift our cups in blessing as an affirmation that our drive to overcome servitude is divinely inspired,” Klein said.

He then proceeded to the washing of the hands, explaining that it’s a requirement in Judaism to take care of the human body, and that veganism has several health benefits, including healthy heart function, lower cholesterol, lower rates of certain kinds of cancer and protection against chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes.

“As we wash our hands tonight, let us reflect on the ways in which we clean and care for our bodies and our souls,” Klein said.

The vegan seder plate consisted of the traditional parsley, Charoset and maror, but used beets and flowers in place of the lamb shank bone and roasted egg. According to the Jewish Veg Vegan Haggadah, the use of the beet “dates all the way back to the Talmud and mimics the blood of the sacrifice, without causing actual harm to any animal.” The flower symbolizes “the natural world in bloom.”

Klein pointed out that the first items that are eaten from a traditional seder plate are plants, which is a “reminder that you can survive with a plant-based diet.” 

The Four Questions part of the Vegan Haggadah asks, “How did we choose to make a commitment to vegan living and what brought us to that choice? How do we continue to reaffirm and uphold that choice?”

The Four Questions part of the Vegan Haggadah asks, “How did we choose to make a commitment to vegan living and what brought us to that choice? How do we continue to reaffirm and uphold that choice?”

Of the Four Children, the Vegan Haggadah asks, “What can we say to the wicked child, who believes that animal suffering is not their responsibility? How do we explain to the simple child, who does not understand the ways in which animal agriculture poisons the planet? And what of the wise child, who already knows all there is to learn and yet does not act?”

The Vegan Haggadah also uses each of the Ten Plagues as “a call for change.” For the first plague (blood), the Vegan Haggadah states, “The global slaughter of 60 billion farmed animals a year is the biggest source of bloodshed and violence on Earth.” For the plague of hail, the Vegan Haggadah states, “Animal agriculture is the leading cause of climate change, producing even more greenhouse gases than all forms of transportation combined.” And for the plague of the death of the firstborn, the Vegan Haggadah states, “Millions of babies are born each year without enough to eat, while more than a third of the world’s corn, soy and alfalfa are grown for and fed to livestock.”

During the meal portion of the seder, attendees were served vegan matzo ball soup, and vegan gefilte fish made out of chickpeas and seaweed. The main course was portobello pot roast; brisket braised red cabbage, and roasted vegetables with sage, thyme and rosemary. Sides were sweet potato kugel, green beans and asparagus. 

For dessert, attendees could choose between blueberry or vegan chocolate cheesecake.

Toward the end of the seder, Klein explained that the final cups of wine signify the hope that “we can overcome the evils of animal agriculture and factory farming. We pray, we hope that the healing that all of us so desperately desire will become manifest and live fully self-actualized to who we are, as Jews, as animal rights activists.” 

Attendee Paulette Gindi told the Journal that she liked how she was “finally” able to go to a Jewish event in Los Angeles where she didn’t have to question if the food came from “an unethical source. I really appreciated how [Klein] and the vegan seder that [Jewish Veg] put together really created a modern-day approach to celebrating Passover while also being cruelty-free and compassionate to animals and the environment.” 

Aaron Ferber said although he isn’t normally a vegan, he thought the event provided a “great treat” in having “a break from eating animals” and becoming healthier.

 Mmamalema Molepo, who is visiting from South Africa, said although he also isn’t a vegan, he enjoyed the food because it was still the type of food that even a meat-eater or vegetarian would eat. He also said that the seder’s focus on animal rights made it a unique event.

Jeffrey Cohan, the executive director of Jewish Veg, told the Journal that the event met the organization’s expectations.

“I was so proud to see the room packed with so many people and to see people really enjoying every aspect of it,” he said, “from the haggadah to the food and everything in between.”

A Healthy, Happy Passover

Debby Segura

Passover is truly a celebration. It’s a labor of love, but a labor nonetheless. Each year, we clean and shop and prep and cook our way to the seder. As I write out my menus and shopping lists, I make sure I have something for everyone, always blending the traditional with the new. And like every year, I’ll probably make the same classic meat and chicken dishes that most everyone loves, and watch them get eaten to the last morsel.

But this year, I’m planning a quiet shift, a move toward an especially healthy and fresh Passover filled with more vegetables, more crisp and more crunch. 

So what led me to this greener Passover? Was it all the winter rains that blessed us and our wildflowers this season? Was it learning from those vegetarian, gluten-free and low-carb guests who graced our table this year? Was it perhaps the memory of a little too much meat and matzo at seders past? Or was it maybe all of the above? 

Perhaps this move in a healthy and liberating direction is a little like the Exodus, freeing us from the weight of a heavy cuisine and leading us to a lighter and more natural way to eat. It is my goal to create a meaningful and healthful Passover for everyone, one that is rich in symbolism and yet fresher, lighter and more joyful than ever. Have a healthy, happy Passover, and live it up!

For starters, instead of using lots of little dishes and serving bowls, I’ll serve all of our symbolic seder foods artfully composed on one big board. If you don’t have a big board, a large tray or kale covered cookie sheet pan will work just fine. I’m calling this my Seder Board, not to be confused with the time-honored Seder Plate at the head of the table. This Seder Board will be my centerpiece. It will be placed in the middle of my seder table, for everyone to behold and share, according to the order of the haggadah service. Seder foods vary from one tradition to another, so please use all your favorites. 

THE SEDER BOARD

(Serves 10)

1. Karpas and hazeret (vegetables to dip): I like to include fresh Italian parsley (1 to 2 bunches, carefully cleaned), fennel (two large bulbs sliced carefully, plus one small bulb for decoration), celery (separated into stalks, fresh and clean with leaves on or off, according to preference) and dipping liquids in small glass cups: salt water (6 ounces) and Passover apple cider vinegar (6 ounces). (Dipping liquids may vary by tradition. Ashkefardically speaking, we’ll include both Ashkenazi salt water and Balkan/Ladino Sephardic vinegar.

2. Maror (bitter herbs): Romaine lettuce (two large heads of carefully cleaned whole leaves), one head of separated green endive leaves and one head of separated red endive leaves or Treviso (if you can find Treviso, it’s more dramatic). And for a huge jolt of color, include red horseradish. If you use other bitter herbs, display them beautifully, too.

3. Charoset: About 1 cup each of Turkish charoset and Lebanese charoset (recipes for each version to follow). 

4. Eggs: White and mahogany hardboiled eggs, one per person. (We eat the usual white hardboiled eggs alongside our special and dramatic-looking mahogany brown eggs that get their rich color by being slowly boiled with lots of brown onion skins.) 

Turkish and Lebanese Charoset

TURKISH CHAROSET(Adapted from “Sephardic Holiday Cooking,” by Gilda Angel) 

1 pound pitted dates, checked and       coarsely chopped
1 cup seedless black raisins, soaked and rinsed
1/2 cup pitted prunes
1/2 cup dried or fresh apricots
1/2 cup sugar (optional)
1 green apple, peeled, cored and cubed
1 orange, peeled, pitted and cubed
2 tablespoons lemon juice or 1 tablespoon Passover apple cider vinegar
2 tablespoons water
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup coarsely ground walnuts

In a saucepan, combine the dates, raisins, prunes, apricots, sugar (optional), apple and orange cubes, lemon juice or vinegar, water and cinnamon. Cook over low heat, stirring often, until the charoset is soft, about 20 minutes. Add an additional tablespoon of water here and there if necessary to prevent the charoset from sticking to the pan and burning. Remove from the heat and stir in the walnuts. Coarsely chop in a food processor to create a chunky paste (this symbolizes mortar). This may be frozen.

Garnish with a big curl of orange or lemon zest. 

Makes about 1 1/2 quarts.

LEBANESE CHAROSET
1/2 pound pitted dates, checked and coarsely chopped
1/2 pound seedless black raisins, rinsed
Water
Walnut halves or blanched almonds for garnish (optional) 

Rinse the raisins and dates thoroughly with cold water. Drain. Combine the raisins and dates in a large bowl with 2 or more cups of water, to cover. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the fruit to soak about 8 hours or overnight. 

By morning, the fruit will have absorbed all of the water. If there is excess juice, reserve it.

Place the fruit in a sauce pan and simmer until the liquid has evaporated, leaving a jam-like mixture. Cool.

Place the cooked fruit in the work bowl of a food processor and pulse until the charoset is coarsely but uniformly chopped. If the mixture seems too thick, thin with some of the reserved juice, adding a teaspoon at a time. Cover and refrigerate for at least one hour, or up to three days, before serving. Serve at room temperature.

Garnish with walnut halves or blanched almonds. This may be frozen.

Makes about 1 pint.

Pasticcio di Cavofiore

Pasticcio is about as close to kugel as we get in my Ashkephardic home. Instead of lots of eggs and margarine or oil, this kugel has no eggs and only a little olive oil. It’s low in carbohydrates, and the recipe can be doubled or tripled. The pasticcio can be frozen to be thawed and reheated later. It can be served with meat entrees such as brisket or chicken, or topped with a hearty vegetarian sauté such as shallots, cremini and shiitake mushrooms, with Italian parsley and garlic.

PASTICCIO DI CAVOFIORE (CAULIFLOWER PIE)

(Adapted from “The Classic Cuisine of the Italian Jews,” by Etta Servi Machlin)

2 large or 4 small heads of cauliflower, washed, trimmed and separated into separate florets; cut stems into 1/2-inch cubes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus oil to grease the pans
3 cloves minced garlic
Kosher salt, to taste
White or cayenne pepper, to taste
2 eggs and 2 egg whites
2 tablespoons matzo cake meal (optional, for gluten free)
2 tablespoons matzo meal (optional for gluten free)
1 tablespoon pine nuts (optional garnish)

Steam the cauliflower pieces at a simmer until tender, about 20-25 minutes, drain and reserve.

In a deep frying pan, gently heat the olive oil and add the minced garlic. Sauté until the garlic just begins to give off its fragrance, being careful not to let it color. Add the steamed cauliflower and mash it with a potato masher or fork until it forms a slightly lumpy puree. Continue cooking the puree until the liquid has evaporated and it is very thick. Season to taste with kosher salt and white or cayenne pepper.

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

Slightly beat eggs and egg whites to blend. Add the beaten eggs and matzo cake meal to the cauliflower puree and stir to combine.

Grease two pie pans with olive oil and dust with matzo meal. Spoon the cauliflower mixture into the prepared pans evenly, dimple the top with the back of a spoon and drizzle with a little olive oil. Sprinkle with matzo meal and pine nuts.

Bake in the center of the oven for about 30 minutes or until golden brown. Pies can be served immediately or reheated before serving. Pies also can be frozen, double wrapped in aluminum foil. 

Makes two 9-inch pies, which each serve 8-10.

Confetti Quinoa Pilaf

Confetti Quinoa Pilaf is a colorful and versatile choice for people who eat quinoa on Passover. One approach to this kind of pilaf is to make straight quinoa for one meal, and then for the next meal, just sauté the pilaf ingredients and add them to the leftover cooked quinoa. This quinoa can be served alone or topped with a chicken breast or a salmon steak. For a dairy meal, Confetti Quinoa Pilaf can be topped with a fried slab of Halloumi cheese.

CONFETTI QUINOA PILAF
4 cups water
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon onion soup mix (or salt)
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 cups quinoa
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 small brown onion or two shallots, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon dried or fresh thyme
1/4 teaspoon chile flakes
1/4 teaspoon minced garlic
1/2 cup dried shiitake mushrooms, rehydrated, cleaned, stems removed or 6 ounces sliced cremini mushrooms
1/2 cup Craisins or raisins
1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds
6 ounces spinach or baby kale leaves, sliced thinly
Salt and pepper, to taste

In a large saucepan, bring water, kosher salt, onion soup mix and canola oil to a boil. Add the quinoa, return to a boil, cover the pot and simmer 20 minutes. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then fluff with a fork. Reserve.

In a large Dutch oven, heat olive oil over a low flame. Add the onion or shallot slices, thyme and chile flakes. Sauté gently until the onions or shallots are translucent and fragrant.

Add the garlic and stir. Add the mushrooms, Craisins or raisins and almonds and stir. Add the cooked quinoa and spinach or kale leaves and stir just enough to heat the quinoa and distribute the spinach. Season to taste. Serve hot or at room temperature.

Serves 8-10.

Zebra Meringues

Pareve Custard Cups With Roasted Blueberries are rich little custards that are equally at home in custard cups, small plastic cups, Moroccan tea glasses or small wine glasses. Add this garnish of some roasted blueberries for some ultra-vivid color and a flavor spark. And as long as you’re making those custards, which use only egg yolks, it also makes perfect sense to me to make Zebra Meringues, which use those egg whites. 

ZEBRA MERINGUES WITH ORANGE-INFUSED BITTERSWEET CHOCOLATE SWIRLS

MERINGUE:
4 large egg whites, room temperature
1 1/4 cup superfine sugar
Pinch of salt
1/2 teaspoon almond or vanilla extract (or both)
1 teaspoon strained lemon juice or white vinegar
2 tablespoons potato starch
4 tablespoons boiling water

TOPPING:
1/4 cup chocolate chips
2 tablespoons of hot water or coffee
1 large curl of orange zest
Garnishes can include berries, sorbet, ice cream or shavings of bittersweet chocolate.

Preheat oven to 225 F.

Draw one dozen 3-inch circles on the back of a sheet of baking parchment. Flip over the baking parchment, place it on a large baking sheet. Put the parchment on the pan and spray very lightly with non-stick baking spray. 

Place all meringue ingredients into the bowl of an electric mixer and beat on high speed until mixture is very stiff and glossy, about 7-10 minutes.

While the meringue is being mixed, place the chocolate chips, orange zest and water or coffee in a small cup and microwave, covered, for 25 seconds. Allow the chocolate mixture to sit for a couple of minutes, remove the rind and whisk chocolate and water together until smooth. 

Place a tiny bit of meringue under each corner of the parchment to keep it from moving on the pan.

Working quickly, pipe or spoon 12 mounds of meringue onto prepared parchment. Lightly drizzle each mound with a small amount of the melted chocolate and swirl with a skewer or toothpick.

Bake in the center of the preheated oven for 1 hour, 15 minutes.

Completely cool the meringues and then peel them off the parchment. If placed in an airtight container, the meringues may be stored frozen for up to two weeks. 

Makes 12 individual meringues.

Vanilla Custards With Roasted Blueberries

(From a recipe on Smitten Kitchen, adapted to be pareve and kosher for Passover.)

CUSTARDS
1 1/3 cup almond milk
Seeds from 1/4 to 1/2 vanilla bean or 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
4 large egg yolks
1/4 cup granulated sugar
3 tablespoons potato starch

BERRIES
1 cup fresh blueberries
1 1/2 teaspoons granulated sugar
Juice from a wedge lemon, or to taste

In a small saucepan, combine almond milk and vanilla bean seeds (if using extract instead, don’t add it yet). Heat the mixture until it is warm, then pour it in a cup with a spout, and reserve. 

In an electric mixer, beat egg yolks and sugar vigorously, until it pales in color and a ribbon of batter falls off your whisk when you lift it from the bowl; this will take a few minutes by hand or a minute or two with an electric mixer. Whisk in the potato starch until fully incorporated.

With the mixer on low, very gradually drizzle the warm milk mixture into the egg yolk mixture. Once you’ve added about one-quarter of the milk, you can add the rest in a thin stream. Pour the custard into a saucepan.

Over medium low heat, whisk the custard constantly, until it barely begins to bubble. Turn the heat to low and continue to whisk 1-2 more minutes, until quite thick. Remove from the heat and immediately stir in vanilla extract (if using) until combined.

Press the custard through a fine-mesh strainer, pour it into a glass measuring cup and carefully press a film of plastic wrap against the top of the custard so it doesn’t form a film as it cools. Refrigerate until ready to serve. The custard will keep in fridge for up to two days.

For the topping, preheat oven to 450°F.

Place blueberries in a heatproof, shallow roasting dish and sprinkle with the sugar.

Roast for 5-6 minutes, rolling around once or twice during to ensure they roast evenly. If desired, add a squeeze of lemon juice to the berries when they come out of the oven.

Spoon the custard into small cups and top with roasted blueberries.

Makes 4 small custard cup servings. This recipe can be doubled.


Debby Segura lives in Los Angeles. She designs dinnerware and textiles, and teaches
cooking classes. See more recipes at debbysegura.com.

Matzo Mezze for Passover Brunch

When people complain about not eating bread or flour-based products during Passover week, I confess that I don’t know what they’re talking about. To me, Passover is a perfect opportunity to eat my favorite thing: finger food in the form of open-faced matzo sandwiches with Mediterranean toppings. What’s better than a crispy cracker loaded up with zingy condiments with interesting flavor combinations? And who doesn’t love a casual finger food celebration after all the formal sit-down structured meals? 

Traditions typically dictate Passover food. Most families tend to make the same thing every year — bubbe’s brisket, mom’s kugel or auntie’s tzimmes — so the rebel in me likes to get creative with the rest of the week’s meals. Each year, I try to outdo my toppings from the previous year, but this year I found a special touch: Manischewitz has come out with triangle-shaped matzo — small crackers that lend a more stable base for piling on the toppings.

It’s a perfect Passover brunch plate when there’s a house full of guests. The best part is you make all the toppings in advance and serve them on a large board or decorative plate after you’ve topped the matzo at the last moment. You can make it even easier on yourself and set out toppings in bowls and let guests make their own. It’s foolproof entertaining and a guaranteed win. I like to serve this dairy brunch with a leafy green salad dressed simply with a vinaigrette to cut the richness of the toppings, but I often feel almost obligated to serve it with an Israeli chopped salad. Then for dessert, I make my Bulgarian version of matzo brei called Burmolikos. 

I haven’t gotten too fancy this year with my toppers but the flavor combinations are tried and true (we ate them after the photo shoot). No special equipment is needed to make them except a good blender or food processor. All of these recipes are good to have in your arsenal for parties at any time of the year to serve with bread or with crackers, but beware: It’s so good you might just start a new tradition with the matzo mezze, and your friends and family will urge you make it every year. The following four toppings will serve about 10 people for brunch with salad. Figure about one triangle of each type of matzo per person or, if using regular square matzo, then two matzos per person, cut in half.

It’s foolproof entertaining and a guaranteed win.

EGGPLANT JAM – FETA –BALSAMIC FIG REDUCTION
Eggplant jam:

2 large eggplants
1 teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
1/4 cup olive oil, plus 4 tablespoons, divided
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 small yellow onion, diced
1 medium tomato, chopped
2 teaspoons paprika
1 teaspoon cumin
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
1/8 cup water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
Crumbled feta cheese (garnish)

Fig-flavored balsamic reduction (optional)

Make this jam in advance if possible because it benefits from a day or two in the fridge.

Peel strips off eggplants lengthwise using a vegetable peeler, leaving 1-inch gaps of skin between strips. Slice eggplant crosswise into 1/2-inch thick slices. Salt liberally and let stand in a colander over the sink for 1 hour to extract the bitter juices.

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Dry the eggplant slices well with paper towels and coat both sides generously in olive oil and lay in a single layer on two baking trays. Bake for about 30 minutes, flipping the slices halfway through baking until soft and golden brown.

Transfer warm eggplant to a bowl and, using a wooden spoon (contact with metal turns eggplant black), mash the eggplant into chunks. This will be cooked again so don’t worry about the size of the pieces. Set aside.

In a large skillet, pour 4 tablespoons of olive oil and add the chopped garlic, onion and tomato. Stir in the spices and cook for another minute.

When the vegetables are soft, add the mashed eggplant and cook over low heat, stirring constantly with a wooden spoon until mixture is very thick. Add water if it’s sticking to bottom of pan.

Remove from heat, add in lemon juice and chopped parsley and check for salt. Serve with crumbled feta and balsamic reduction drizzled over top.

SMOKED SALMON MOUSSE, SMOKED SALMON, SALMON ROE AND AVOCADO

5 ounces smoked salmon (Nova, Scottish orgravlax), chopped
1 cup heavy whipping cream
2 tablespoons cream cheese, room temperature
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt and pepper to taste
Rind of 1/2 lemon
5 ounces smoked salmon, thinly sliced, for draping
2 ounces salmon or trout roe, for garnish
Avocado, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped dill, for garnish

Tip 5 ounces of chopped smoked salmon into a high-speed blender or food processor and process until paste. Drizzle in the heavy cream and room-temperature cream cheese and process until cream is thick. Add the lemon juice, a grind of salt and pepper and lemon rind and process for another 10 seconds. 

Chill until serving. Alternate mousse, salmon slices, roe and avocado. Top with dill.

WARM SPINACH AND ARTICHOKE DIP

1/3 cup Greek yogurt
1/3 cup mayonnaise
4 ounces cream cheese, room temperature
1/2 cup gruyere cheese, finely grated
3/4 cup parmesan cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg (optional)
1 pinch cayenne pepper (optional)
1/2 cup chopped frozen spinach, thawed, squeezed dry
8-ounce jar artichoke hearts, drained and chopped
Salt to taste (cheeses are salty)
2 tablespoons chopped parsley, for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine yogurt, mayo and cream cheese in a bowl. Add grated cheeses, lemon juice, spices, spinach and artichoke hearts and mix until thoroughly combined. Bake in a dish greased with olive oil or butter for 20 minutes until brown and bubbly on top. Taste to adjust salt.

Make in advance and then gently warm in the microwave for 1 minute before topping matzo. 

WHIPPED RICOTTA, DRIED ZA’ATAR TOMATOES, BASIL PESTO, PRESERVED LEMON AND JALAPENO

Whipped ricotta (recipe follows)
Za’atar tomatoes (recipe follows)
4 tablespoons of prepared basil pesto
1 tablespoon preserved lemon, chopped and more for serving
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, seeded and thinly sliced
Drizzle of olive oil, for serving

For the whipped ricotta:
1 14-ounce tub Italian whole milk ricotta
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon diced preserved lemon
Salt and pepper to taste

Whip ingredients in a high-speed blender for 1 minute until light and fluffy. Refrigerate until ready to serve.

Dried za’atar tomatoes:
2 cups cherry or baby tomatoes
2 teaspoons flaky sea salt
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon za’atar
2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat oven to 500 F. 

Cut tomatoes in half lengthwise and set on a baking tray. Sprinkle with seasonings and then drizzle with olive oil. Place tray in oven and then immediately shut it off. Leave in oven overnight or at least 8 hours without opening oven door. Leftovers can be kept in olive oil and used like sun-dried tomatoes. 

Spread matzo with whipped ricotta, 1 teaspoon of basil pesto, top with dried tomatoes and a jalapeno slice and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.


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 Miserable Side of Dining Out

Dining out always has cost a lot more money than eating at home, but these days, it could cost a small fortune. I can make myself a dinner at home for about $2 or $3. At a restaurant, it might cost me $30 or more. 

Recently, I was in a vegan restaurant and ordered a buckwheat shake and cage-free melon. When I got the recycled paper check, I wanted to start eating meat again. 

For me to take my family out to dinner at an upscale kosher restaurant, I must either start a Go Fund Me page or call my broker to sell some stock. I’m waiting for the day that they tell me that the meal is over my credit card limit. 

I figured with all the money I’ve spent in kosher restaurants, I could have installed an Olympic-size pool in my backyard. That’s if I had a backyard. But I live in the Pico-Robertson area of Los Angeles, so what I have is a few blades of grass and concrete. I once timed a fly going from one end of my yard to the other. Three seconds and it wasn’t even out of breath. 

Going to restaurants has gotten so complicated. You used to walk in and a server set glasses of water on the table. But in 2015, because of the long-running drought, it became against the law for restaurants to provide diners glasses of water if they didn’t ask for them.

And now, if you ask for a plastic straw, you’re labeled a porpoise killer.

I don’t remember anyone ever dying from drinking tap water in a restaurant, but I’m sure there have been plenty of heart attacks when the bill came.

Today, if you order tap water, they make you feel like you’re drinking water out of a rat-infested sewer filled with muck, slime and bubonic plague. “Tap water? I hope you’re not planning to have more children. May I suggest some bottled water?” And of course, it’s $8 for a bottle of water; $10 if you want sparkling water. It’s cheaper to get a 2-year-old with a plastic straw to blow bubbles into your water. And you can’t take the water bottle home with you if you don’t finish it. “I’ll have a to-go cup for my water.” It sounds so cheap. 

Some of these upscale joints have a different person just for drinks. “Hi, I’m Ed. I’ll be taking your drink order.” 

“I figured with all the money I’ve spent in kosher restaurants, I could have installed an Olympic-size pool in my backyard.”

My wife might order a glass of wine. Most places used to have a “house” wine. Now, if you order the house wine, they treat you like you’re some wino derelict who doesn’t care if you destroy your liver. “Oh, the house wine? I’ll go out back into the alley and grab the bottle from the homeless guy in his tent. I’ll be right back.” 

And whatever you do, don’t ever ask them to recommend a wine. That’s like asking a dog to recommend a nice steak. Once the waiter says to you, “We have a lovely …”, the word “lovely” means expensive.

Why not just be honest with us? “We have a very, very expensive Cabernet Sauvignon, which you can get by the glass.” Which is a lie. You never get a full glass of wine. Restaurants sell it by the thimble. Maybe a third of a glass, if you’re lucky. They pour it like it’s liquid gold. This will ensure you’ll need another three ounces in the next minute and a half. 

I don’t know about your family, but when mine knows I’m paying for dinner, suddenly everyone acts as if they’ve just ended a 12-year hunger strike. They want soup and salads and appetizers. They walk around the restaurant to see what other people are having so they can order that.

Going out with my family is like going out with a family of chimpanzees. They sit with the menu in their hands, jumping up and down, making sounds. Bring on the bananas.

Then when the appetizers come, if I try to take one, they look at me as if I’ve lost my mind. I recently had to beg them for a lettuce wrap.

I get nauseous listening to them order, “I’ll have two of these and three of those” while I sit there adding up the bill in my head. By the time the waiter is ready for my order, I’ve lost my appetite.

Worst of all, when we get outside, they want me to pay for valet parking. I give up.


Mark Schiff is a comedian, actor and writer.

The Jewish Love Affair with Food

The seder plate at Spago features braised beef short ribs and homemade grated horseradish, among other symbolic foods. Photo by Maxine Picard.

Anyone who has heard a Jewish joke here and there has probably heard the one about how every Jewish holiday is the same. They tried to kill us. They failed. Let’s eat. While certainly comical in nature, there is something truthful about how intrinsic food is to Judaism.

Think about it. Panera Bread recently made waves around social media for their bread-sliced bagels. Before that, Cynthia Nixon, caused an outrage in New York when she ordered a cinnamon raisin bagel with lox, cream cheese, capers, tomato and onion (gag!). Then there’s the debate over bagel bread, bagel thins, the list goes on. Jews are very opinionated about our bagels!

As if that isn’t enough, every holiday has some sort of signature dish. Even on Yom Kippur when we are fasting, we have carefully planned out our meal to “break the fast.” Try heading over to “The Nosher,” an entire website devoted to all things Jewish and food. My favorite is the March Madness Jewish Food Bracket. What is it about Jews and food?

I thought about a lot of this lately, as I spent the month of March doing the Whole 30 diet. It is incredibly restrictive, but as someone with almost no willpower and a lifelong battle with weight, I needed to do it. The Biggest Loser competition at work was definitely a motivating factor as well. I lost fourteen pounds, but what I gained was a greater understanding of just how hard it is to be Jewish and struggle with food issues.

Not wanting to pass on the fun, I took my five-year-old daughter to communal hamantaschen and challah bakes. And did not eat either. This was the first Purim I can ever remember not having a single piece of hamantaschen. The challah is in my freezer. Potatoes were the only carbohydrates I ate during the entire month of March. Passover this year will be a breeze! I’ve already done it four times over and as of this writing, rice is the only thing I have re-introduced into my diet. Dairy and sugar are still out…for now. Sugar and various forms of it are in just about everything. For those who abstain from corn syrup for Passover, you know. I read more labels in the past month than I have in my entire life.

So what did I learn? Yeah, I learned that sugar (and various forms of it) is in just about everything. But, I also learned that as you go about your daily life in the Jewish community, it is hard to eat healthy. None of the foods on that “Bracket Challenge” are what could be called healthy. Now imagine going through the communal motions as a Jew—an oneg, a holiday celebration, a Shabbat dinner. I did it all. And I often had to eat later when I got home. Aside from the synagogue dinner for Purim where I ate a plate of very tasty roasted vegetables, the healthy options are rarely there when it comes to Jewish celebratory meals.  

Purim itself includes the Talmudic custom of drinking so much that the “person cannot distinguish between cursing Haman and blessing Mordechai” (Megillah 7b). While I have never been one to drink, I can imagine that this can be problematic for someone who struggles with alcoholism.

I am in no way trying to be the “Debbie Downer” of Jewish food. I fully recognize and appreciate the rich value that food brings to our culture. I can think of no stronger symbolism in Judaism than the upcoming Passover seder. And I was choked up when I read about how Joyce Feinberg’s z”l (one of the 11 murdered at Tree of Life in Pittsburgh) daughter-in-law still has a batch of her matzah ball soup in the freezer.  But, I also recognize and appreciate the value of inclusiveness and embracing modernity.

So, just as you might add an orange to your seder plate, I hope you will consider that Passover, like all holidays, is about more than just the food. It is about celebrating the fact that indeed, they tried to kill us and they failed. And, we eat. And drink. Whatever that might be. And be supportive of others in their own choices. As my dad reminded me, “It’s not a sprint, but a journey.” True that.


Lisa Rothstein Goldberg is a social worker and Jewish educator living in Louisville, Kentucky with her husband and their two young daughters.

Nowruz: A Time for Renewal

“And still, after all this time, The sun never says to the earth, “You owe Me.”
Look what happens with A love like that, It lights the Whole Sky.”   

These are the words of Persian poet Hafez, who extolled the joys of love and zeroed in on political and religious oppression as early as the 14th century. His books of poetry are considered the pinnacle of Persian literature and usually can be found in the homes of Persians who learn his poetry by heart and recount them as proverbs.

This is just one of the reasons that I consider myself so fortunate that there has never been a time when I haven’t had at least one Iranian family in my life, and at many times, more than one. 

I think I’d be a considerably different soul had I not been blessed to inhale the scent of a Persian home, a place where decades of cooking have permeated every surface, the perfume of saffron and turmeric and the lingering aroma of tea heavily laced with bergamot and served in a seemingly endless stream. I would have missed out on seeing elegant, manicured hands in the delicate balancing act of pinkie and forefinger around the rim of small glasses of the hot liquid, taking sip after sip with a sugar cubes poised just so — in perfectly lipsticked mouths. 

And it is during this time of the year in particular, the Persian New Year called Nowruz, when I’m most reminded of my first encounters in the homes of these mysterious people, with their colorful traditions and delightful customs, many centered around food, ones that reminded me so much of my own family, which was too far away in Israel. It’s the time of year when I remember myself as a young student, invited into the home of a Persian classmate and recognized in her mother’s kitchen a pot with a towel-wrapped lid that contained rice. Up to that point, my house was the only one in which I’d ever seen that trick used, meant to create a barrier between lid and pot so that the rice could steam perfectly without the condensation falling back into the pot. This familiarity, this connection to family and celebration of food that I found among the Persian community gave me goosebumps and added incentive to learn to re-create their incredible sabzis and khoreshts, perfect saffron rice with crispy tadiq (crust) and rose- and orange-flower water flavored sweets. With each new friend came a recipe, more lessons ranging from how to brew tea to how to use herbs and the intoxicating Persian spice mix called advieh, a blend of cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and ginger, combined in faultless proportion to highlight the taste of the herbs, vegetables and meat in the dishes. 

Iranians, Pakistanis, Afghans and many other cultures celebrate Nowruz on the first day of the spring equinox and continue the celebration for 13 days. It’s a secular holiday celebrated by Muslim and Jewish families across the world by decorating a table in their home with different foods. Much like a Passover seder, where each food symbolizes something to come in the new year, the Nowruz table, called a haftsin table, is a tradition that dates back at least 1,000 years to the ancient Zoroastrians. The haftsin means the seven S’s, and the table decoration reflects that with seven different foods that each begin with the letter S, all symbolizing the seven days of creation. 

The first ‘s’ is sabzeh: lentil, wheat and barley sprouts that are sprouted in a dish weeks before the holiday. They symbolize rebirth and renewal. Serkeh (vinegar) represents the patience that comes with age. Seeb (apples) are put on the table to represent health and beauty, and seer (garlic) for medicinal value. Samanu, a sweet brown pudding made from cooked wheat germ, represents affluence, and sumac, the bright red spice berry, represents the colors of the sunrise. Last is senjed, the dried fruit from the oleaster tree, which symbolizes love.

The word Nowruz means “new day”; it’s a time for renewal and purification. I learned from my friend Maryam, who grew up in Iran and left her family there to make a new life for herself in the United States, that it’s very important that at the exact moment that the radio or television announces the equinox, there is a countdown when all family members should be around the hafsin table so that they can kiss and hug, hold hands and pray that they may be together for the rest of the year.  

Throughout the 13 days of the Persian New Year, friends and family gather and eat traditional foods such as sabzee polo mahee, a Persian herbed rice dish with baked fish and a tangy condiment. Nowruz is the time to do spring cleaning, to let go of grudges, apologize, hug, to make up and ultimately to start all over again. 

It’s a beautiful holiday of reflection that everyone can celebrate and relate to, and if nothing else, you can never go wrong when you make a pot of aromatic tea and sit down with an inspiring book of poetry or philosophy. Take a page from my friend Taranay’s mother’s book: Make these wonderful rice cookies sprinkled with poppy seeds you might have left over from Purim. The combination of these not-too-sweet, gluten-free cookies called nane berenji with tea is traditional for Nowruz but will become a cookie staple in your arsenal for other times of the year too.

NANE BERENJI – PERSIAN RICE COOKIES

2 cups rice flour
1 1/2 cups powdered sugar
1 cup unsalted butter (soft)
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons rose water
1 teaspoon cardamom powder
1/4 cup poppy seeds for topping 

Sift the rice flour through sieve and place in bowl. In same bowl, mix all ingredients except poppy seeds with your hands until dough is smooth.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and set aside for 2 hours.

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Roll dough into walnut-sized balls and place 1 inch apart on cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Flatten the top of each ball (use a glass or make a pressed design with a cookie stamp). Sprinkle the top of the cookies with poppy seeds.

Bake for 10-12 minutes. Check the cookies at 10 minutes to make sure the bottoms aren’t burning.

Cool cookies on a rack for an hour before
serving.

Makes 2-3 dozen cookies.


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. 

Hamantashen

Flip Haman’s hat upside down
And it’s the symbol for birth
Filled with the fruit of life and yummy jam
Purim is the evil and the good
It is the whole of our names
And the more we expand, the more layers and costumes we understand,
The more the naked God is
Revealed.

Accidental Culture and Why You Should Make Your Own Yogurt

Some of the most beloved foods were created by accident. Cereal, potato chips, ice cream cones and Worcestershire sauce — all happy accidents. And one of my favorite accidents is yogurt.

Of the few things I’d find it difficult to live without — cooking, sleep, exercise and yogurt — I can live without exercise and can get by on very little sleep, but cooking and yogurt — not a chance. Yogurt is one of those staples I grew up with; something doesn’t feel quite right if I’m not eating it on a regular basis and it’s rare when my fridge doesn’t have a lineup of jars full of the stuff I’ve made. 

It’s thought that the Neolithic herdsmen inadvertently created yogurt in 6,000 B.C.E. after milking their animals and traveling around Central Asia with the liquid in animal stomachs. The natural enzymes in these makeshift milk transport vessels curdled the milk, thus creating a fermented drink with a longer shelf life and a better taste. Genghis Khan, leader of the Mongol Empire, reportedly lived on yogurt as did his vast armies.

Being half Bulgarian means that yogurt is in my blood: It was a Bulgarian scientist, Stamen Grigorov, who was the first to identify the bacteria that caused milk to ferment and turn into yogurt in 1904. After studying yogurt made in the Trun region of Bulgaria by the village women in a traditional clay pot called a rukatka, Grigorov went to study in Switzerland, taking a sample of homemade yogurt with him. After examining the fermentation process, he identified the microorganisms and named them Lactobacillus bulgaricus as a nod toward his homeland and ended up linking Bulgarians with yogurt production forever. 

By the 1920s, because of the scientific community’s interest in Grigorov’s work, Bulgarian yogurt was all the rage in health-minded communities, particularly after Russian Nobel Prize-winning zoologist Elie Metchnikoff established a link between yogurt consumption in the Rhodope Mountains of Bulgaria and the large concentration of centenarians in the villages there. Soon, news of the life-prolonging benefits of consuming yogurt spread across Europe and was introduced to much of the continent, where it remains a staple food.

“News of the life-prolonging benefits of consuming yogurt spread across Europe.”

The world’s biggest consumer of yogurt products is Russia, where it’s considered essential for weight management and healthful eating. The United States ranks second, and for that, we have a Greek-born, Sephardic Jew named Isaac Carasso to thank. 

In 1919, having immigrated to Barcelona, Spain, Carasso was the first to industrialize the production of yogurt. He named his company Danone (little Daniel) after his son, who in the 1940s took over a small yogurt factory in the Bronx, N.Y. That small company became the yogurt empire Dannon and was the first company to introduce fruit-on-the-bottom yogurt flavors after it was clear that Americans were less interested in the tart, plain yogurt eaten by Turkish immigrants to North America as early as the 1700s. Thus, the popularity of yogurt soared by the 1960s, making it one of the most important health foods ever marketed.

Today, while every supermarket seems to sell 47,000 types of yogurt ranging from Greek to goat to coconut and beyond, yogurt quality tends to differ from country to country and even store to store. Unfortunately, when you grow up on Israeli yogurt, labne and kefir, you get fussy and selective about the yogurt you consume. Not that American grocery store yogurt isn’t good, but the tang of yogurt that has been cultured in a long process rather than a product that has been thickened artificially and therefore doesn’t contain the probiotic benefits of fermentation tastes inferior to me.

Yogurt triggers vitamin B production when you consume it with the whey. Vitamins B and K are produced in our bowels when we eat yogurt, and this is thought to be protective from autoimmune and neural diseases. It’s also a must to eat yogurt when you are using antibiotics. Moreover, the lactic acid bacteria in yogurt boost your immune system. Like all fermented foods, yogurt prevents infections, gastrointestinal diseases and is even thought to prevent fluctuating blood sugar levels because it’s absorbed slowly by the bowels.

Of course, these health benefits rely on the quality of the yogurt. Only commercially available brands that are low in sugar and contain live active cultures can provide you any real benefits. While there are plenty of industrially produced yogurts on the market that are safe, there are also plenty of imposters out there, thickened with starches, containing high fructose corn syrup as well as preservatives that do not contain any active cultures. 

Yogurt is simple to make. Making yogurt at home allows you to control the ingredients, and you’ll taste the difference. 

Below is my yogurt recipe for the Instant Pot pressure cooker, which has a reliable yogurt setting. If you don’t own an Instant Pot or a yogurt maker, I’ve had great results using an oven preheated to the lowest setting and then shut off, and covering a pot wrapped in a beach towel to keep the temperature overnight a consistent 100 degrees F. Different strains of culture produce various tasting yogurts. I use a bit of my previous batch of yogurt to provide the culture but if I’ve forgotten to set some aside, I always keep a dried form of culture in my refrigerator. 

Lastly, I use ultra-pasteurized whole milk to make yogurt, which allows me to skip the boiling step. If you are using unpasteurized or raw milk, boil the milk first and then cool it to 100 degrees before adding the starter.

WHOLE MILK YOGURT IN INSTANT POT

8 cups ultra-pasteurized whole milk
1/4 cup yogurt with active cultures
(from a previous batch or a store-bought yogurt with Lactobacillus bulgaricus in it*)
*Substitute 2 tablespoons dry yogurt starter culture 

Sterilize all utensils, measuring spoons, whisk and the Instant Pot container with boiling water and let sit for 5 minutes or pour 2 cups cold water in the Instant Pot and pressure cook utensils for a few minutes to sterilize. This is an important step so as not to introduce a competing bacterium into your yogurt.

Pour 1 cup cold milk into the Instant Pot and add the 1/4 cup yogurt or the starter. Whisk well to combine. Add in the other 7 cups of milk and whisk well again.

Lock the Instant Pot lid into place and set it to yogurt normal function. I usually do this overnight before bed. I ferment yogurt for 10 hours but a time frame of 8 1/2 to 12 1/2 hours is fine, depending on how tangy you like it. The longer it’s fermented, the sourer it is.

When time is up, cover and place yogurt in the fridge to set, at least 6 hours or until thoroughly chilled, then transfer to clean glass jars. Set aside the 1/ 4 cup for the next batch. If you prefer thicker yogurt, strain in cheesecloth in the refrigerator until desired thickness. 

Makes 8 cups yogurt. 


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.

Best of 2019: Must-Have Kitchen Gear

When you grow up in a home with an inventor, you can either reject or embrace change. In our home, my father was the embracer; my mother and me the rejectors.

Dinner at our house was always a brainstorming session. Ideas floated above the dining room table like suds percolating out of a bubble machine. As my father’s inventions and gadgets gained popularity and his company grew, our family conversations became marketing-oriented, but he always was trying to get my mother and me to be more efficient in our tasks. Aside from patenting his inventions, he also designed a method for us to stack dishes, to put cutlery in the dishwasher efficiently and computerized our home before there was even a whiff of technology anywhere. 

We always had the latest: I was among the first of my friends to own a computer, use an electronic organizer, to play video games and own a cellphone. Yet, my mother and I didn’t always adopt all of my father’s time-saving strategies. 

But the desire for innovation must have subliminally taken hold because today I can’t resist buying cooking gadgets even though as I am buying them, I realize they will likely just be stuffed into my rarely opened gadget drawer. I own so much cooking equipment and gadgets that I could probably open a shop, not much smaller than Williams-Sonoma and live off the sales of my stash for a year. After all, I’ve used most of them only once.

After working at the American embassy for only a few months, one of the supervisors called me into his office and told me that I basically had a blank check to replace the 13-year-old embassy kitchen with all new and more modern equipment. “You mean I can order anything I want?” I asked with eyes as big as saucers. “Yes, within reason, feel free to order anything you’d like.”

The wild-eyed dervish who left his office that day spent the next few weeks scouring government-approved sites for kitchen equipment. This was much more difficult than I imagined, especially after it dawned on me that I was spending taxpayers’ money, not mine. I needed to choose wisely and buy only items that would get used regularly and would save time and energy during prep before a busy service. 

Here’s a list of some high- and low-tech kitchen equipment that an active home kitchen shouldn’t be without. You may own many of these items but if not, most of them are under $50. None of them will disappoint you or be seldom used. My mother’s latest acquisition recently arrived in the mail. It’s an automated grape leaf filling machine. I rest my case.

Immersion blender: This phenomenal tool will enable you to puree and blend in a pot of sauce or soup. It’s also the quickest way (30 seconds) to make homemade mayonnaise and certain dips. Some come with a whisk attachment so there’s no need to use a hand or stand mixer to whip cream. Favorite brand: Kitchen Aide five-speed with whisk attachment

Potato ricer: This may seem like a frivolous purchase but it’s the only way to ensure smooth mashed potatoes. Usually, items that can be used only for one task end up not being used often, but if you value lump-free potatoes — this is a must. Favorite brand: Chef’n FreshForce.

“I own so much cooking equipment and gadgets that I could probably open a shop.”

Magnetic knife strip: Storing your knives (even your most expensive ones) rattling around in a drawer is the surest way to ruin them and make them imbalanced and dull. An easy-to-hang magnetic knife strip will enable  you to easily store and peruse your knives without wasting valuable counter space with blocks. For everyday cooking, you’ll need a good chef’s knife, a paring knife, a serrated bread knife (which can double as a blade to cut through pineapples and tomatoes) and a knife sharpener.

High-speed blender: I love the new high-speed blenders that chop, mix, blend, whip, grind and puree for smoothies, dips, juices and soups. When you own a blender with blades that whip and grind quickly, you won’t know how you lived without one. Favorite brand: Magic Bullet

Storage containers: If you cook a lot at home at home I recommend storage containers that go from dishwasher to oven and are made of shatterproof, tempered glass. Favorite brand: Glasslock 18-piece oven safe

Salad spinner: There’s no replacing a salad spinner to dry vegetables and herbs and ensure salad greens stay dry before being dressed. Don’t settle for a pool of water at the bottom of a salad bowl. Favorite brand: OXO Stainless Steel Spinner with integrated colander

Instant pot: The most well-marketed electronic pressure cooker ever invented is a staple in many households these days and for good reason. Unlike a standard pressure cooker, which is one of the best tools ever created for busy cooks, an instant pot also steams, slow cooks, sous vides and can be used as a rice cooker. It even bakes and sautés. It’s an all-in-one that replaces a number of other kitchen items. Favorite brand: Instant Pot Smart Wifi 6 Quart

Food processor: There’s no replacement for a multipurpose food processor. It can make hummus, grate cheese, chop vegetables and even pie crust. I make scones and puff pastry in a food processor. Favorite brand: Of the many on the market, Cuisinart DFP-14BCNY stands out

Spiralizer: It may seem like a frivolous gadget but spiralizers are a versatile tool that can make ribbons and “noodles” out of a variety of vegetables. Great for salads and interesting vegetable dishes. Favorite brand: Veggetti

Digital scale: Proper baking relies on two things – proper measuring and proper oven temperature. Measuring cups can’t compete with weighing ingredients on a scale. If your baked goods and breads come out differently every time, start to bake like a professional: Get a scale. Favorite brand: The My Weigh KD-8000

Oven thermometer: Home ovens often are uncalibrated. In my bakery, we wouldn’t dream of baking something without an oven thermometer to gauge the oven’s true temperature rather than relying on the dial. Keep an inexpensive oven thermometer hanging in your oven and never over- or undercook your baked goods again. Favorite brand: CDN DOT2 ProAccurate

Bench scraper: This tool is indispensable when working with dough or pastry but also picks up excess flour or waste from countertops. It’s great for cleaning vegetable scraps and herbs and also makes a great dough cutter for rolls, pizza dough or scones. Favorite brand: Orblue pastry scraper and cutter

Mezzaluna: Italian for “half-moon,” the mezzaluna has been in use since the early 18th century, for mincing and chopping tasks, and as a pizza cutter. The big cutting surface catches all of the ingredients on your cutting board, ensuring all pieces are uniformly cut. Perfect for herbs, chocolate blocks, nuts or even lettuce. Nothing beats a vintage mezzaluna but a good one is hard to find. So go with the next best thing. Favorite brand: Wusthof Double-Handle.


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 Kosher Adventure Maker

Avicam Gitlin

Avicam Gitlin has no shortage of swashbuckling vignettes to tell about his job cooking and planning vacations for observant Jews through his work at the Kosher Culinary Travel.

Four years ago, Gitlin was sleeping on the deck of a yacht he had chartered for a family vacationing around the Greek Isles. The yacht was moored off a desert island some 40 nautical miles from the Greek coast. In the middle of the night, Gitlin awoke to shouts of ‘Help!’ coming from the island. He filled a dinghy with water and food and together with a couple of crew members rowed to the island. There, they found two Syrian refugees fleeing their war-torn homeland. Gitlin called the coast guard, which picked up the men, who eventually were able to start a new life in Europe. Back on the yacht, his clients remained asleep in their opulent cabins, completely unaware of the adventure that had transpired. 

On another occasion, Gitlin, 38, was in Tuscany, Italy, when he walked into a butcher shop owned by the legendary Dario Cecchini. Cecchini loomed over half a cow splayed open on the block, knife in hand with a crazed look in his eye. But when he noticed Gitlin’s yarmulke he dropped the knife and ran over to greet him with an ebullient “Shalom.” Over a glass of kosher wine he kept for special occasions, Cecchini told Gitlin how, as a young orphan, a Jewish family took him in and, since then, he has had an unwavering affinity for the Jewish people. During their shop-talk, Cecchini also divulged the recipe for a semolina olive oil cake, which Gitlin uses to this day. 

“I was always interested in seeing the world and this was my way of combining my passion for food and my passion for travel.”

 “My take on travel is to be immersed in as much of the local aspect as you can,” Gitlin said. That’s why his business has been designed to allow observant Jews to experience global travel without forgoing one of the paramount aspects in encountering foreign cultures: food. 

You won’t, for example, find Gitlin in Zambia boiling gefilte fish for his clientele. Wherever he is in the world — and he’s been just about everywhere — he sources local ingredients and recipes. In Tuscany, for example, Gitlin took over a restaurant for an entire week. The restaurant was owned and operated by four generations of the same family. Gitlin kept the staff and chef on, and they served a slightly modified version of the existing Tuscan menu, without the pork. He found a local liquor-maker who made the hard stuff kosher; a cheese maker who agreed to make kosher cheese; and partnered with a local, kosher organic winery.

Israeli-born but raised in Orlando, Fla., Gitlin said cooking has always been a part of his life. As a child, he clung to his mother’s skirts in the kitchen, helping her cook traditional Iraqi fare. He made aliyah in his early 20s, earned his undergraduate degree in political science, and opened a telemarketing call center before packing it all in to pursue a culinary career. 

Nearly a decade later, Gitlin has cooked up a kosher storm alongside renowned chefs in some of the world’s most famous restaurants, including  Montage in Maui; La Cabro d’Or in Provence, France; and La Taverna del Pittore in Tuscany.

 “I was always interested in seeing the world,” Gitlin said, “and this was my way of combining my passion for food and my passion for travel.”

Albert Allaham on Reserve Cut Being New York City’s Largest Kosher Steakhouse, L.A. Expansion

New York City has its fair share of world-renowned steakhouses, but only a few notable kosher steakhouses. Reserve Cut manages to be both Downtown Manhattan’s only kosher steakhouse and Manhattan’s largest kosher steakhouse overall. Located in The Setai at 40 Broad Street, the restaurant seats well over 200 people in dining rooms filled with black leather chairs and grey banquettes.

Owner Albert Allaham came to New York from Damascus, Syria in 1999 at the age of 12. He comes from a long lineage of expert butchers dating back over 200 years from Syria, with The Prime Cut in Brooklyn being an example of his family’s meat expertise.

However, fans of Reserve Cut know to expect a modern approach to kosher fare, with plenty of interesting fusion fare blended into the menu. Its A5 Grade Kosher Kuro Wagyu is one of its more popular dishes, while The Volcano — combining spicy tuna, Asian pear and avocado — is one of its surprising menu options available. While being a popular “kosher steakhouse” may be the initial hook of Reserve Cut, Allaham aims to bring in “non-kosher guests to try its superior cuisine.”

Highlights of my Q&A with Albert Allaham about Reserve Cut’s past, present and future are below.

Jewish Journal: What came first: Your idea for a kosher steakhouse, or the idea of opening up a steakhouse?

Albert Allaham: The idea of opening a kosher steakhouse was what definitely piqued my interest rather than the latter. Being that my family had always been the purveyors of kosher meats, not only was it what made the most sense, I was following my heart’s desire.

JJ: Are you the one and only kosher steakhouse in the Financial District? In Manhattan?

AA: Reserve Cut is the largest kosher steakhouse in Manhattan, and the only kosher steakhouse in the Financial District. Although there are a number of kosher steakhouses located in Manhattan, this highly-competitive industry faces us with a challenge every day to be the very best. We continuously do this by offering an amazing quality, a variety of options, and being innovative in the way we prepare our cuisine. 

JJ: For someone that isn’t concerned with food being kosher, how would you describe Reserve Cut?

AA: Reserve Cut is a contemporary steakhouse providing creative, high-quality cuisine and experiences to New Yorkers and international guests alike. Our restaurant has been described as high end, but also offering an inviting atmosphere with unique and delicious dishes that guests can’t get enough of.

Since opening in 2013, Reserve Cut remains at the helm of the fine dining scene in New York City, preparing specialties like an exclusive A5 Grade Kosher Kuro Wagyu steak, crafted signature sushi rolls, and one of the largest kosher-reserve wine menus in the country. 

JJ: You were a butcher before opening up Reserve Cut. Is there anything you miss about being a butcher?

AA: You never lose the feel of being a butcher. It’s been engrained in the family for so long. You will find me many times in the back of the kitchen decked out in chef whites and working right alongside my team of butchers. It’s such a great sense of camaraderie that you never lose.

JJ: Did anyone in your family lineage wind up in a non-meat-oriented career? Any teachers?

AA: When my family first came to the United States in the 90’s, all we knew was the meat business and we’re all still heavily involved in it. My family still owns Prime Cut in Brooklyn, and the biggest venture away from our butcher shop was the creation of Reserve Cut in 2013.

Photo courtesy of Reserve Cut

JJ: What is your favorite item on the menu at Reserve Cut?

AA: Of course everyone thinks I should say steaks, but in reality, what I love most are the dishes that reveal technique. Whether it’s the crispy Mediterranean salad with a pistachio and olive hummus, or the veal tongue carpaccio and schnitzel duo, I’m happy to move freely through our menu at any given meal.

JJ: Do you have any plans to expand Reserve Cut to Los Angeles?

AA: Brand expansion is definitely on our horizon. We’d love to expand to L.A. in the near-future to bring the West Coast elevated kosher dining that the east coast loves so much. Los Angeles is the third most popular city in the world for Jewish residents, after New York City and Jerusalem, so we’ve definitely identified a need for our brand in L.A. and look forward to serving a new region. 

JJ: Anything else you love about L.A. that you can share?

AA: I love to travel to L.A. to enjoy a peaceful retreat from New York City. The culture is so relaxed, and it’s a great change in pace from my normal day-to-day. When I’m in L.A., I love to go to all of the gorgeous beaches, jog on the boardwalk, and catch a Lakers game when I can.

JJ: When you’re not busy with the restaurant, how do you like to spend your free time?

AA: I try to get in as much family time as I can get being that the restaurant business entails such long and grueling hours. My family means the world to me and I attribute my success to them. Without them in my life, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

JJ: Are there any neighbors of Reserve Cut that you enjoy visiting for fun?

AA: I love being located in the Financial District, partly due to the great shopping options. Not exactly our neighbors, but I love going to Brookfield Place and Westfield World Trade Center for shopping for fun. I’m typically in a suit every day at work, but I actually love wearing and shopping for new sportswear. In my free time, I also try to catch every [Brooklyn] Nets game and watch a ton of basketball and soccer.

JJ: Finally, Albert, any last words for the kids?

AA: No matter how tough the going gets, keep pursuing your passion. Don’t listen to the naysayers and always surround yourself with those who are smarter than you. In order to succeed, you need to have unrelenting faith and belief in yourself. Do the things that most people don’t want to do and most of all, be disciplined.

Reserve Cut can be experienced online at www.reservecut.com, while social media die-hards can follow it through FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.