November 18, 2018

Happy New Year

I am sitting on the couch, listening to my son coughing and blowing his nose. He has a horrible cold and the poor kid is suffering. He called me yesterday and said he was feeling worse than the day before, and needed to come home. I jumped into action and made a pot of matzo ball soup. He has been here for 24 hours of eating, sleeping, coughing, and blowing his nose. I am of course sad he is sick, but I am happy he is home. It feels great to take care of him.

 

He will always be my baby and I am not ashamed to tell you I sat in his room this afternoon for 15 minutes and watched him sleep. I stared at this remarkable young man, proud of who he is, excited about who he will become, and grateful to be his mom. It warms my heart that when he got sick he immediately wanted to come home. I have made the soup, spinach and mushroom kugel, apple and honey kugel, brisket, and potatoes. (The food is a bribe for him to stay longer.)

 

I love him so much it aches that he doesn’t live with me anymore. I miss him and so while having him here is heaven, when he leaves again the silence will be deafening. We raise our kids to be productive adults, but don’t think about the fact that when it happens, they leave home. Damn it! I worked 22 years to reach this stage of life, but it is hard. I miss him. Every Rosh Hashanah I say I’m going to be brave and embrace the stage of life I’m in, but this stage is hard.

 

With each year I make resolutions and while I honestly try to make change each year, this year feels different. This is going to be a great year. My son has produced a movie that will be coming out soon. I have been dating without expectations and with a sense of humor. I’m taking care of my body and soul. I am connecting to God, embracing faith, and mastering the art of the perfect martini. Life is good and I am blessed my son lives close and still comes home.

 

I always write people need to be brave and not only follow their hearts, but not settle for the things they get because they believe they are what they deserve. It is my turn to believe and embrace my own advice. I am going into the year knowing I deserve it all. I’m going to write more, eat less, pray more, and cry less. I’m going to find my bashert. He will be strong enough to not only let me be me, but strong enough to be himself. It will be a great year for us all. #impeachment

 

I wish you all a happy and healthy new year. I hope your challenges are few, but should you hit a bump, know I am here cheering you on. Be brave. This is your life and only you can live it. Do what makes sense to you, and what feels good to you. Have some fun. Have more sex. Have really good sex. Laugh. Often and out loud. Resist. Take a knee. Make a difference. Inspire change. Speak out. Go out. Everything and anything is possible if you believe, so keep the faith.

Recipes: Rediscovered and reimagined

My family had one Jewish cookbook growing up. Apparently, Jennie Grossinger was all we needed to get us through preparing holiday meals. I also remember thumbing through my grandmother’s endearingly stained and splattered copy of the “The Settlement Cookbook,” which I looked at for quaint, socially outmoded amusement rather than indispensable kitchen instruction. 

That’s a total of only two Jewish cookbooks I saw for the first several decades of my life. 

Times have changed. I may no longer have Jewish grandmas to show me the ropes, but boy, do I have books. The jumble of Jewish-themed cookbooks in my own kitchen includes ones by Claudia Roden, Gil Marks and Yotam Ottolenghi, to name a few, and yet my collection barely scratches the surface of relevant tomes that have hit the market since I’ve had my own kitchen and a family to feed. 

Now that an artisanal deli has become a must-have attraction in any city worth its kashering salt, the publishing industry is finally catching up with trends in Jewish food. “The Mile End Cookbook” became a hit when the celebrated Brooklyn deli released its recipes in late 2012. So far, 2015 has seen intriguing new additions, with titles that pull deeply from the historical well while hewing to current sensibilities. 

These authors would rather you ditch the Lipton onion soup mix and embrace from-scratch authenticity and seasonality. So, a glance at a typical “K” index means kabocha squash, kale, karpas, kasha, kebabs and kreplach.

Food writer Leah Koenig’s fresh take and wide-ranging palate in “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen” (Chronicle Books, $35) is a personal and progressive contribution to the genre. “I wrote ‘Modern Jewish Cooking’ for the next generation of Jewish cooks,” Koenig states in the introduction. “My hope is that it makes the dishes from the past feel accessible and relevant, while leaving room for experimentation and personal expression.” 

[RECIPE: ROAST CHICKEN WITH FENNEL AND ORANGE]

The Brooklyn-based author, who regularly contributes to outlets such as the Forward and Tablet, and wrote “The Hadassah Everyday Cookbook” in 2011, embraces a heterogeneous worldview and makes broad connections throughout the book’s 11 chapters. Her miso-roasted asparagus recipe isn’t like the proverbial needle scratching the record, but rather part of a logical gastronomical gestalt. 

“Modern Jewish Cooking” is accessible and aspirational enough to be the perfect gift for Jewish millennials who want to start getting their hands dirty by making foods with memories attached, along with dishes fit for a meal at their favorite Brooklyn or Silver Lake farm-to-table restaurants. It helps that Koenig includes tips for “stocking your kitchen like a grown-up.” 

[RECIPE: CHOCOLATE CUPCAKES WITH APRICOT JAM FROSTING]

But the book might also reinspire home cooks stuck in old habits. The recipes are technically kosher, and the final chapter focuses on Jewish holidays, but Koenig doesn’t consider it a “kosher” cookbook. 

Kashrut laws notwithstanding, all these titles jettison any stubborn food purism. Koenig includes a recipe for jalapeno-shallot matzah balls, a twist that overlaps with the unconventional ingredients in “The Community Table: Recipes & Stories From the Jewish Community Center in Manhattan & Beyond” (Grand Central Publishing Life & Style, $35). Culled from members of the JCC, “The Community Table” makes the leap from the individual to a broader social and cultural network. Photos of adorable kids cooking probably won’t interest a 20-something amateur cook, but they might entice people in later stages of life. 

[RECIPE: KALE, FARRO AND CARROT SALAD]

“We are three New York women, all mothers, wives and committed cooks: one art historian, one professional chef, one organic vegetable gardener; one traditional, one Conservative, one Reform Jew,” authors Katja Goldman, Judy Bernstein Bunzl and Lisa Rotmil write. 

The recipes and beautiful photography radiate warmth and a smart melding of the old and the new. The 21st Century Whitefish Salad recipe, for instance, features Greek yogurt, salmon caviar and a serving suggestion of Belgian endive leaves in lieu of a bagel. A chart in the appendix categorizes every recipe into dairy, meat or pareve, followed by Shabbat and holiday menu suggestions, and the book’s kosher-for-Passover content. 

[RECIPE: LIGHT & CREAMY CHEESECAKE WITH NUT BRITTLE & BLUEBERRIES]

Shifting from the Northeast to the West Coast, Berkeley-based winemaker Jeff Morgan and his wife, Jodie, together have authored the lovely “The Covenant Kitchen,” which leaves this reader coveting a seat at their welcoming, abundant dinner table. 

[RECIPE: SUMMERTIME TOMATO SALAD WITH TAHINI]

“The book illustrates our life here in Northern California, where — after growing up in assimilated, secular families — we have rediscovered our Jewish heritage while making kosher wines” sold under the Covenant Wines label Jeff started with the help of Southern California-based Herzog Wine Cellars in 2003. “The Covenant Kitchen” also tells the moving story of how the Morgans came to make what are some of the most respected kosher wines in the world while deepening their connections to Jewish life and practice, as well as with Israel. 

Although former Wine Spectator magazine editor and vintner Jeff Morgan pegs his interest in food and wine to the time he lived in the south of France during his former professional life as a musician — traditional French techniques and flavors appear in many of the recipes — living in California has expanded the couple’s culinary leanings. Hence, recipes for ginger sesame noodles and lamb chops with cilantro chimichurri sauce and warm quinoa salad.

The book is oriented toward kosher households, with the caveat that “you don’t have to keep kosher to make and enjoy the dishes featured here.” Wine lovers will appreciate the special focus the Morgans give to the fruit of the vine. The chapter about wine discusses the winemaking process at Covenant, provides historical facts about Jews and wine, and outlines a basic primer that addresses a range of frequently asked questions. Suggested pairings accompany each recipe, too.

Despite including ingredients that are largely available in most grocery stores, quality and freshness matter to the couple, who spent years producing much of their own food on their Napa Valley ranch before moving to Berkeley. “The Jews of antiquity dined well for thousands of years without margarine and other processed foods. We tend to follow their lead,” they write. 

Along these lines, “The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook: Garden-Fresh Recipes Rediscovered and Adapted for Today’s Kitchen” by Fania Lewando (Schocken Books, $30) reminds us how all that was old is new again. Joan Nathan’s foreword outlines how the book came to be after she met Barbara Mazur and Wendy Waxman, a team who found the manuscript at YIVO Institute for Jewish Research in New York and were eager to get it published. 

“The Vilna Vegetarian Cookbook” reprints Eve Jochnowitz’s translations of Lewando’s terse and prolific recipes, which were originally published in 1938 and comprised Europe’s first female-authored, Yiddish language vegetarian cookbook. Jewish cuisine has always included many vegetarian recipes because of kashrut laws, but Nathan provides additional spiritual and political context about Lewando, who owned a kosher dairy restaurant in old Vilnius that doubled as a salon of sorts for creative types and visitors, such as Marc Chagall, as well as a cooking school. 

[THREE RECIPES FROM 'THE VILNA VEGETARIAN COOKBOOK]

“Lewando created a Jewish culinary palette that celebrated nature’s bounty,” Nathan writes. “In meatless meals, long viewed as indicators of hardship and sorrow, Lewando found bright flavor and the key to health and well-being.” Beautiful illustrations from vintage seed packets add another historically compelling touch (after all, Lewando worked in the era long before “food stylist” was a legitimate job title).

The book is also a primary source for the Jewish vegetarian movement that grew under the looming menace of the Holocaust. (Lewando and her husband died while escaping the Vilna ghetto about three years after it was published.) The tome is complete with platitudes about diet and health, excerpts from the guest book at Lewando’s restaurant, and a prescient chapter with “vitamin drinks” and juice recipes. 

Lewando did not embrace an abstemious philosophy, given that she wrote recipes for wine, mead and liqueurs. Why make breadcrumbs from stale rolls when you can make kvass? So, when you’re out buying summer produce, look no further than Lewando’s legacy to find arguably the most appropriate use of your haul. And, ideally, it will be fresh enough to please her discerning tastes and standards.

Caught between gefilte fish and Campbell’s soup

When I first gravitated toward writing about food and immigration to the United States as an ostensibly serious academic, colleagues asked me—and, frankly, I asked myself—the obvious question. Why food? Food perhaps lacked the gravitas and significance of subjects like political, labor or immigration history. Academics might grudgingly admit that food is fun, or, at worst, accuse me of having gone over to the realm of the “popularizers.” 

Food does indeed provide one of life’s greatest pleasures. And yet, for much of human history food also has been associated with difficulty, controversy, confusion, and conflict. Most people, for most of life on Earth, have fretted over where, or if, they would get their next meal. But the matter of food, and particularly food’s relationship to immigration, has long merited more ambitious historical treatment. Food has always functioned simultaneously as a barrier that sets one group of people apart from others and as a bridge linking people with little else in common. 

But truth be told, the subject grabbed me because of the problematic and opposite ways it spoke to my personal memories. Those recollections of my childhood as an American-born daughter of immigrant parents who came to Milwaukee in the 1940s involved, on the one hand, remembrances of great food eaten at home: potato latkes at Hanukkah smothered in sour cream and apple sauce; chicken soup every Friday night with lakes of fat floating on the surface and around which swam homemade noodles, known as lokshn; gefilte fish; and cheese blintzes at the spring holiday of Shavuot, followed by a dessert of cheesecake. My mother, a frightened newcomer to America, not only prepared all these Eastern European Jewish specialties, inspired by American abundance, but also made her own cookies, jams, pickles, rolls, noodles, soups, and some of the family’s bread. 

I remember sharply the chasm between the foods I loved—prepared by my mother, a Holocaust survivor who defined her cooking as her only real contribution to a complicated and not very happy home—and the American world of consumption. Visits to friends’ homes, families more thoroughly American than ours, meant encounters with store-bought cookies, Lorna Doones and Mallomars. In the homes of non-Jewish pals I saw boxes of Oreos, forbidden because Nabisco baked them with lard, rendering them unkosher. (Only in 1997 did Oreos remove the offending substance.) I discovered in other kids’ kitchens jars of peanut butter, laid out on their tables next to loaves of white bread in plastic wrappers, and jelly in jars, usually grape. Why, I wondered, did we not eat any of those foods and so many more like them? Some, like those Oreos, I understood not to be kosher. But it’s not as if peanut butter, canned tuna fish, Welch’s jelly, Hellmann’s mayonnaise, Kraft cheese, or Campbell’s soup violated Jewish law.

Even Thanksgiving represented something of a cultural minefield. Besides the fact that pie and cranberries could have been food from some other planet, as far as my mother was concerned, she questioned the rationality of having an enormous meal with a turkey—a slightly problematic and new food—on a Thursday. After all, we were already going to sit down as a family the next night for our typical Friday dinner of fish, chicken, soup, chopped liver, kugel (a noodle dish), and baked apples—a meal whose preparations always started the day before. While my parents loved America, viewing it as a haven for Jews, they found the Thanksgiving dinner an absurd way to express that gratitude. My father proposed having the holiday meal on Friday night as a compromise, but my sister and I dug in our American heels. Thanksgiving had to be on Thursday.

Many of my friends came from immigrant homes as well. A significant number of my classmates were the children of Jewish Holocaust survivors and had been born in displaced persons camps, coming to Milwaukee via the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society. But their parents—possibly younger, more flexible, more urbane than mine—seemed to have caught on that part of being American involved, even if they kept kosher, learning to know and love America by its foods and iconic brands.

Over time, my parents relented on some of the commercial brands made of ingredients that did not violate Jewish law, and which seemed to me so utterly American. Each little victory, whether over peanut butter or Triscuits, put me on the path toward being what I considered a normal American youngster. But father and mother always sneered at these foods, referring to them as goyish, not Jewish, and not tasty at all.

Junior high is an anxious time for many teens, and so it was for me on the food front. Seventh grade meant for the first time eating lunch at school, in the hall of horrors known as the lunchroom, packing a paper sack with whatever came out of your home kitchen, unless you were lucky enough to buy your lunch, which was never an option for me. What came out of our kitchen included home-baked hallah bread, irregularly cut, unlike the uniform slices of white bread between which my co-diners in the Steuben Junior High School cafeteria stuffed their fillings. On those days when my mother packed me a sandwich of leftover chicken, she lubricated the hallah or the rye bread with a layer of schmaltz, rendered chicken fat. The gooey yellow substance (which I now crave) would leak out of the wax paper wrapped around the sandwich to stain the brown paper bag, announcing to the world that I had brought some weird, totally alien food, which betrayed my lack of sought-after normalcy. (On more than one occasion I threw out the lunch bag because the schmaltz stain proved too much to bear.). My lunch bag also contained no store-bought cookies, but instead mandlebroit (almond cookies) or a hunk of sponge cake.

Suffice it to say that my culinary traumas became even deeper and more fraught when we girls had to take home economics, two wretched semesters of cooking. Here we learned the words, tropes, and themes of the American kitchen. Cinnamon toast, Welsh rarebit, macaroni and cheese stick in my mind as encounters with new and exotic dishes. I even learned about pizza. We were instructed to tell our mothers that when they prepared their evening meals, they should make sure that each family member ate off a plate that contained foods of various colors, though I was never exactly clear which ones, and I was not about to go home and critique the colors of mom’s cooking.

My class of Jewish girls experienced a moment of truth when our cooking teacher announced that the next week we would be cooking bacon and eggs. Some, not all, of the Jewish girls eyeballed one another. What would we do? The rules of the class mandated that you had to cook it, and you had to eat it. One girl with incredible moxie raised her hand and told the teacher that some of the girls could not eat this dish. The teacher asked why not, and the seventh grader explained, however stumblingly, the matter of kashrut, or the Jewish dietary laws. The student helpfully went on to point out that the local supermarkets carried a product, I believe made by Hebrew National or Best’s, called “kosher bacon”—no oxymoron there!—that were basically strips of kosher beef that could be fried, and resembled bacon. The teacher went into her wallet, took out some money, handed it to the brave defender of our people, and asked her to buy a few packs. Those of us who would not eat the real thing, the porky product, could sit together and keep up the faith.

These personal memories informed how I came to think, in my professional life, about immigration, religious and ethnic difference, and the ability of the dominant American culture both to accommodate difference and foster conformity. These recollections of meals eaten, thrown out, and negotiated convinced me that food is never just food. Food is about more than fun, nutrition, or even survival—it is the landscape upon which people meet each other in new places, and learn how to remain who they had been, while becoming someone new at the same time.

Hasia Diner is a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies and history and director of the Goldstein-Goren Center for American Jewish History at New York University. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a national conversation hosted by the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

Give Thanksgiving a Jewish Flavor

 

“My sister-in-law stuffs Thanksgiving turkeys with a matzah ball mixture,” says Faye Levy, food columnist and author of 14 cookbooks. “Instead of making patties and poaching them, she cooks this tasty mixture inside the turkey.”

This never struck Levy as odd, because her mother used to make noodle pudding on Thanksgiving.

“Her Thanksgiving dinners were almost like Shabbat meals,” she says.

One of Levy’s all-time favorite dishes is Thanksgiving potato kugel with asparagus. “I first tried it at the home of a friend from Colorado,” she says, explaining that it was his grandmother’s recipe.

“In his family, that dish was the essence of Thanksgiving.”

Just as Jewish cooking experienced a revolution in America when brisket discovered ketchup, and noodle kugel met Kellogg’s Corn Flakes, Jews have reinvented their recipes, giving Thanksgiving fare a Jewish accent.

Levy, author of “1,000 Jewish Recipes” (Wiley, 2000) has sprinkled Thanksgiving dishes throughout this enormous international compendium. Why did she feel the necessity to include American harvest fare in a Jewish cookbook?

“Because most Jews I know, whether they’re Orthodox or not, celebrate Thanksgiving,” Levy says. “If you think about it, Thanksgiving food is basically kosher. It’s turkey, plus a lot of vegetables and bread.”

Honoring the feast shared by Native Americans and English settlers in the Massachusetts colony so long ago, Jews are naturally drawn to a holiday that revolves around a meal.

While Levy grew up in home that was Ashkenazi and kosher, like other Americans her family always ate turkey and cranberries on Thanksgiving.

“We just skipped the creamed onions,” she says, referring to the Jewish dietary restriction that prohibits serving dairy with meat.

A child of the ’50s, Levy has memories of her mother’s candied sweet potatoes, dripping with brown sugar syrup and topped with melted marshmallows. Popular back then, this dish is still on the Thanksgiving menu in many American homes.

“I hated the marshmallows,” says Levy with a laugh. “They’re too cloyingly sweet, even as dessert.”

Recalling Thanksgivings past, Levy describes an aunt who used to mash sweet potatoes, form them into patties and fry them. Just before serving, she’d melt a marshmallow on top of each patty. Proud of this recipe, her aunt also bestowed it with a name: “Thanksgiving Latkes.”

Today, Levy — a graduate of the famed La Varenne Cooking School in Paris — prefers mixing sweet potatoes with savory spices.

“You can really taste the flavor of sweet potatoes through ginger and hot peppers, as opposed to mixing them with sugary foods.”

Her culinary training has taught Levy to avoid roasting really large turkeys — those over 18 pounds. She’s discovered that while you’re waiting for the inside to cook through, the outside often burns or dries out. You’re also more likely to have problems with bacteria. For large crowds, she recommends roasting two smaller turkeys weighing about 12 pounds each.

Levy says her spiced roasted turkey recipe was inspired by her husband’s Sephardi background.

“This aromatic turkey is seasoned with his Yemenite family’s favorite spice mixture — cumin, turmeric and black pepper,” she says.

This seasoning yields sensational aroma and flavor.

For extra kick, Levy serves this turkey with hot cumin sauce, which is tomato based and accented with spices. She feels that her exposure to her husband’s Sephardi palate has given her an appreciation of piquant flavor.

As a chef, Levy is drawn to the fruits of the season’s final harvest. She seeks Thanksgiving fare wherever she goes. In compiling her book “Feast from the Middle East: 250 Sun-Drenched Dishes from the Lands of the Bible” (HarperCollins, 2003) she included recipes such as Iranian sweet and savory rice stuffing with cranberry toasted almonds.

When it comes to Thanksgiving food, there’s no end to the possibilities one can cull from the canons of Jewish cuisine. Surprisingly, many Jewish foods are easily adapted to complement the holiday’s traditional fare.

If you have leftover challah in the freezer, try making challah stuffing, a light but savory surprise. Levy follows her mother’s custom of creating contrast by introducing peppers, mushrooms and zucchini to slices of sweet challah.

Thanksgiving tzimmes augments the taste of turkey, no matter how it’s prepared. Instead of the usual prunes, dried cranberries lend a colorful note to this saucy combination of carrots and pineapple.

With a crunchy crumb topping, pecan streusel pears are an easy-to-make dessert that is both sensational and pareve.

These days, Levy and her husband usually celebrate Thanksgiving with friends. Even when she’s invited as a guest, she roasts a turkey to have at home. Turkeys are economical to buy in late November, and it’s fun to have one to nibble on and use as an ingredient in other recipes, such as a robust vegetable soup.

“We’re kind of casual about holidays,” Levy says. “Whenever we get together with family and friends — even on Thanksgiving — we do a lot of pot luck. This way, one person isn’t stuck cooking for a lot of people.”

Sometimes this group coordinates who will prepare which dishes; sometimes they don’t. Of course one person is always designated as the turkey roaster.

“After that, you can’t serve too many side dishes, salads, and desserts,” Levy says.

While abundance is a Thanksgiving theme, Jews were already entertaining lavishly centuries before the Pilgrims discovered Plymouth Rock.

Thanksgiving Tzimmes

4 cups canned pineapple chunks

2 tablespoons cornstarch

2 pounds carrots, sliced 1/2 inch thick

3-4 tablespoons honey

1/2 cup dried cranberries

1 1/2 teaspoons ground ginger

Pinch of ground cloves

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Drain pineapple and reserve 1/4 cup juice. Mix reserved juice with the

cornstarch in a cup.

Combine carrots with 2 cups water and a pinch of salt in a large saucepan.

Bring to a boil. Cover and cook over low heat about 12 minutes, or until just tender. Remove carrots with slotted spoon.

Add honey to carrot cooking liquid and bring to a simmer, stirring.

Mix juice-cornstarch mixture to blend. Add to simmering liquid, stirring.

Cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until sauce comes to a simmer and thickens.

Stir in carrots, cranberries, pineapple, ginger and cloves. Heat until bubbling.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve hot.

Serves four.

Spiced Roasted Turkey

5 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Salt to taste, optional

One 10-12 pound fresh or thawed turkey

About 2-4 tablespoons olive oil

About 3/4 cup chicken or turkey stock or dry white wine

Preheat oven to 425 F. Remove top rack.

Mix cumin, turmeric, pepper and salt in a small bowl. Rub turkey with olive oil. Rub it inside and out with spice mixture. Truss turkey, if desired, or close it with skewers.

Put turkey on a rack in a large roasting pan. Pour 1/2 cup stock into pan.

Roast turkey 30 minutes.

Reduce oven temperature to 350 F. Roast turkey 1 1/2 hours, basting with additional olive oil or with pan juices every 30 minutes. If pan becomes dry, add 1/4 cup stock.

Cover turkey loosely with foil and continue roasting 20 to 30 minutes, or until meat thermometer inserted into thickest part of thigh registers 180 F, or until juices run clear when thickest part of thigh is pricked.

Transfer turkey carefully to a large board. Discard trussing strings or skewers.

Baste turkey once with pan juices and cover it. Reserve juices to add to Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce (below).

Let turkey sit for approx. 20 minutes

Carve turkey and arrange on a platter. Serve hot, with hot cumin-tomato sauce.

Serves six-eight.

Hot Cumin-Tomato Sauce

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

l large onion, minced

4 large cloves garlic, chopped

2 or 3 jalapeno peppers, ribs and seeds removed and minced (See note at bottom)

Three 28-oz. cans tomatoes, drained and chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2-1 cup pan juices from turkey (optional)

2 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper, plus more to taste

1/4 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes (optional)

Salt to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan. Add onion and saute over medium heat about 7 minutes, or until beginning to brown. Add garlic and jalapeno peppers and sauté 30 seconds.

Add tomatoes, tomato paste and turkey pan juices. Bring to a boil, stirring.

Add cumin, turmeric, black pepper, pepper flakes, and salt. Cook uncovered over medium-low heat 20 minutes, or until thickened to taste. Season with salt and pepper.

Note: Wear rubber gloves when handling hot peppers. If not using gloves, wash hands well after touching hot peppers.

Challah Stuffing

12 slices stale challah

6 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 medium onions, chopped

2 red or green bell peppers, chopped

8 ounces mushrooms, chopped

4 medium carrots, coarsely grated

4 medium zucchini, coarsely grated

Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

2 large eggs, beaten

Soak challah in water. Squeeze out water. Mash challah in a bowl.

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in a large skillet. Add onion, pepper and mushrooms and sauté. Stir occasionally for about 7 minutes, or until onion begins to turn golden.

Add vegetable mixture to bowl of challah and mix well. Add carrots, zucchini, salt and pepper. Adjust seasonings. Add egg and mix well. Cool completely before spooning into turkey.

Note: For safety reasons, if cooking stuffing in turkey it’s important to make sure stuffing reaches an internal temperature of 165 F by testing the center of the stuffing with thermometer.

To bake stuffing separately, preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a 9-inch square baking dish. Spoon stuffing into dish. Drizzle with remaining oil. Bake about 30 minutes, or until firm.

Serves about eight, 8-10 cups.

Pecan Struesel Pears

2 pounds pears

1 tablespoon cornstarch

1/2 cup light brown sugar, divided

1 tablespoon strained fresh lemon juice

1/4 cup all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons margarine, chilled and cut into bits

1/4 cup chopped pecans

1/2 cup rolled or quick-cooking oatmeal (not instant) — uncooked

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Peel and slice pears. Put them in a bowl. Mix cornstarch and 1/4 cup of the brown sugar in a small bowl. Add to pears. Add lemon juice and toss to combine.

Grease a shallow, square 9-inch baking dish. Spoon mixture inside.

Mix remaining 1/4 cup brown sugar with flour in a small bowl. With two knives, cut margarine into mixture until coarse crumbs form. Add pecans and oats. Stir lightly with a fork. Sprinkle mixture evenly over fruit.

Bake about 30 minutes, or until topping is golden and pears are tender. Serve warm or cool in bowls.

Serves six.

Recipes from “1,000 Jewish Recipes,” by Faye Levy.

 

Anything but Ordinary

"Adventures in Jewish Cooking" by Jeffrey Nathan (Clarkson Potter, $32.50).

When it comes to kosher fine dining, chef Jeffrey Nathan of New York’s Abigael’s restaurants wrote the book. Now, just in time for Rosh Hashana, he’s written "Adventures in Jewish Cooking," a collection of innovative recipes that redefine kosher as a world-class cuisine.

"I want our customers to think of Abigael’s not as a kosher restaurant, but as a great restaurant that happens to be kosher," says the vivacious chef whose PBS television show "New Jewish Cuisine" garnered a James Beard nomination.

And indeed they do. Jewish and non-Jewish diners alike, like Donald Trump and former New York Gov. Mario Cuomo, return for the adventuresome menu, outstanding service and elegant ambiance.

With "Adventures in Jewish Cooking," Nathan brings his imaginative, updated kosher cooking to the home chef with dishes such as Porcini-Crusted Striped Bass and Port Wine Syrup, Chicken and Veal Pate and Rack of Veal with Wild Mushroom Farfel Dressing.

"Kosher diners are more sophisticated today," he says. "A lot of people are more comfortable with the same things for Shabbat and the holidays, but when they go out to a restaurant, they don’t want Shabbat roasted chicken."

While the recipes reflect Nathan’s imaginative use of fresh ingredients and exotic influences from his travels — Thai and Vietnamese are favorites — he gives more than a nod to his ancestral roots. And rather than being restricted by the kosher laws, he soars to the challenge of updating and recreating traditional dishes.

"It’s not all about innovation," he writes. "I can derive just as much satisfaction from taking a recipe from my heritage and making it the best it can be," like Classic Chicken Soup with Matzah Balls, Sweet Noodle and Fruit Kugel, and Superb Sabbath Cholent.

Nathan grew up in a predominantly Italian neighborhood in Queens, N.Y., and loved to watch his mom cook. "Instead of watching television, I was always potchkeeing around in the kitchen," he recalls.

As a dishwasher in an Italian restaurant, he discovered a passion for cooking by watching the chefs. "They were so fast and just looked like they were having fun, but I didn’t really think of it as a career. All I knew was Julia Child on television."

In the Navy, Nathan became personal chef to the captain and officers, even cooking for Menachim Begin and Anwar Sadat. "Not only did I get to travel around the world, but when we’d pull into ports, I was given money to go out and search for ingredients and could then come back and experiment."

After the service, he attended the prestigious Culinary Institute of America under the GI Bill. "You can’t beat that. Travel the world, learn a trade, then go to school, all on Uncle Sam. That was one of the smarter things I ever did."

Nathan worked at a number of New York restaurants, including Luchow’s and New Deal, where he distinguished himself with unusual preparations of wild game and exotic meats, creating his now-legendary Venison Chili, which later, as the only kosher entry, took first place in the James Beard National Chili Cook-Off.

"It was a blind tasting, and we were up against a lot of upscale Manhattan restaurants. When the kosher one won, no one could believe it!"

After 20 years of cooking non-kosher, he opened Abigael’s with partner Harvey Reizenman. "Abigael’s was my beshert [destiny]," he writes. "I realized that I had come home, both spiritually and professionally."

"Adventures in Jewish Cooking" showcases that same passion for the new and respect for the old. "I believe in modernization of everything," he says, "but then again, there’s tradition."

Nathan’s holiday menus will inspire you to create new traditions of your own: Banana Sufganiyot Pudding for Chanukah, Savory Hamantaschen With Vegetable-Cheese Stuffing for Purim, and I can’t wait for Pesach to try Matzah Napoleon With White Chocolate Mousse.

For Rosh Hashana, he’s selected Roast Duck with Apple-Golden Raisin Sauce. "I think I may be the world’s No. 1 duck fan," says Nathan, who divulges Abigael’s double-cooking technique that guarantees a crispy skin without sacrificing moistness.

"It’s very important to have sweet for the New Year," he reminds us. "I usually keep desserts pareve, but for a dairy meal I’ll make Honey-Ginger Zabaglione Cream. It’s harder to spell than to make it!"

And how will Nathan celebrate the New Year? "I always make taiglach at home with the kids [Chad, 13, and Jaclyn, 10]," who appear in "Adventures in Jewish Cooking" clad in chef’s coats, helping their dad prepare Chocolate Mousse Flowerpots.

One People, Two Cuisines

Because my ancestors were from Eastern Europe, specifically Latvia, Lithuania and Vilna, I am Ashkenazi. Just as I thought all Jews spoke Yiddish, a language I delight in because it’s so colorful, I grew up thinking Jewish cooking was my mother’s brisket and carrot tzimmes, my Granny Fanny’s chopped liver and my Aunt Dorothy’s blintzes with sour cream. That’s not to mention the dishes my brothers and I used to giggle about because their names were so amusing — knaidlach, kreplach and knishes.

Now that we’ve all grown up, I’m not sure what was so funny. Maybe that’s the joy of childhood — you laugh at anything. Recently I’ve become fascinated by Sephardic cooking — maybe because I didn’t grow up with it, maybe because the combinations are so creative, maybe because its evolution is so interesting.

What is the difference between Ashkenazi and Sephardi cuisine?

Ashkenazi cuisine evolved in smaller, contained areas in Eastern Europe and therefore was insular and specific. It left little room for interpretation when it was presented to Jews in the United States, Canada, South America, South Africa, Palestine and the Western European countries of Belgium, England, France and Holland. According to Claudia Roden in “The Book of Jewish Food,” the Ashkenazic tradition of “poor food” — from people whose life had been filled with poverty and insecurity — greatly impacted the new communities, which embraced these life-sustaining recipes that had been passed down from generation to generation.

In contrast, the Sephardim have always encouraged those who moved from one area to another to establish a unique congregation in their new community.

When they migrated to areas as diverse as North and South Africa, the Middle East, India and later to the Mediterranean countries of Spain, Italy, Portugal, Bulgaria, Greece and Turkey, they embraced the customs and traditions of their new homes and incorporated not only the customs and cuisines of the areas they settled in, but the varied ingredients and cooking styles.

Sephardi cuisine is eclectic and regional, differing from country to country and city to city. It encompasses styles as diverse as Maghrebi Jewish — Moroccan, Tunisian, Algerian and Libyan; the Judeo-Arab cuisines of Syria, Lebanon, Iraq and Iran, and the Mediterranean. Therefore it combined sweet with sour, added nuts and fruits to meats and salads and encouraged experimentation with unusual fresh fruits and vegetables.

Because the Sephardi incorporated cooking traditions from both the economically and culturally deprived peoples in Islamic lands, as well as the aristocratic elite from Baghdad, Spain and the Ottoman world, some of the recipes are primitive and peasantlike, while others are refined and sophisticated. But even the “depressed” countries offered dishes requiring elaborate procedures, delicate flavorings and appealing presentations.

Fermenting agents such as yeast are banned, as are the five types of grain: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. Bread, cakes, biscuits and all foods containing ingredients made from these grains are chametz. The Ashkenazim also forbid rice, dried corn, dried beans, peas and lentils, although the Sephardim allow them.

Because of the demands of cooking without grain or leaven, a whole range of ingredients are used in nontraditional ways. Instead of stuffing poultry and meat with breadcrumbs, we use matzah farfel, mashed potatoes, fruits, vegetables, nuts and seeds. While Ashkenazim don’t use grains, Sephardim use cracked wheat, ground rice and a variety of other cereal seeds.

Pastries are made from ground almonds, walnuts and hazelnuts; potato flour; potato starch; matzah meal, and matzah cake flour. The favorite cookie at Passover is macaroons, made of coconut, ground almonds, sugar and egg white. Fritters are made of matzah meal. And pancakes are replaced with matzah brie, using sheets of matzah soaked in beaten eggs.

Sephardim in Morocco barbecue during the holiday to remind us that our people left Egypt in such a hurry, they grilled foods over a wood fire. A popular Sephardi dish at Passover is fava bean soup because it was a favorite of the Egyptian slaves.

Many of the following recipes are by Toribio Prado, chef/owner at Cava Restaurant in Los Angeles who hosted a Sephardic Passover Dinner for many years.

MOROCCAN PASSOVER CHICKEN SOUP

Chicken soup knows no boundaries and is equally popular with both Sephardi
and Ashkenazi. When done well it is as highly prized as a vintage wine. The
variations are endless.

2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, sliced
2 leeks, sliced thin
3 carrots, sliced into rounds
1 2-pound chicken breast, boneless and skinless, sliced
2 quarts chicken stock (see recipe)
1 cup fava beans, dried and rehydrated with hot water
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
2 cups water
1 cup white wine such as chardonnay
1 tablespoon ground coriander
Pepper to taste
1 cup cooked chickpeas
Kosher salt and white pepper to taste

Heat a large stockpot until very hot; pour oil into
pot. Add onions, leeks and carrots; heat until onions start to become
translucent. Add chicken breast to vegetable mix. When chicken is no longer
pink, add stock, fava beans, celery, water and wine. Add coriander and pepper.
Let soup come to boil; turn down to simmer. Skim soup for residue on top every
10 minutes or so, until it is clear. When vegetables are al dente add chickpeas,
salt and pepper. Serve hot. Serves six.

 

CHICKEN STOCK
8 pounds chicken bones
6 quarts cold water
1 onion, halved
2 stalks celery, halved
2 carrots, quartered
1 packet bouquet garni or
1/2 teaspoon each dried thyme, whole peppercorns, garlic and parsley stems tied in a cheesecloth.
Kosher salt to taste

Combine bones and water. Bring slowly to boil. Skim surface for coagulated residue. Simmer stock for five hours. Add onions, celery, carrots and sachet. Simmer for one hour more. Strain, cool and store in refrigerator until used. From Toribio Prado.

INDIAN SALADE COCHIN
(INDIAN TOASTED MANGO SALAD)

The simple combination of mangoes and cucumbers is at once sweet and tart, aromatic and pleasing. Regular cucumbers may be substituted if English cucumbers aren’t available.

1/4 cup fresh mint, chiffonade
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime juice
Zest of 2 limes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup walnut oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon white pepper
Kosher salt to taste
10 English cucumbers, skinned, seeded and sliced thin
3 large mangoes, peeled, sliced into 1/2-inch pieces

In a large mixing bowl add first nine ingredients. Whisk together until smooth. Add salt. Toss cucumbers with dressing. Brush mangoes with a little oil; grill until a nice brown color is achieved. Dice and add to salad. Serves six. Adapted from Toribio Prado.

T’FINA CAMOUNIA (TUNISIAN ROAST
LAMB)

This dish has a strong delicious flavor thanks to the combination of garlic, mint and sugar. The amount of garlic depends on your taste but it’s best to use sweet, young garlic. Those who love garlic call the dish “thoumia” (thoum means garlic). It takes two days to prepare so allow enough time.

1 3-pound leg of lamb, bone in, with fat trimmed
2 tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
2 tablespoons fresh rosemary, crushed
2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 tablespoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons kosher salt
1 tablespoon fresh sage, chopped
1 tablespoon fresh thyme, chopped
1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
6 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/4 cup port wine
1/4 cup olive oil

In medium bowl, mix together all ingredients. Let sit overnight. Rub spice mixture all over lamb. Place in baking dish. Cover and let stand in refrigerator overnight.

Preheat oven to 375 F. Put lamb into oven, uncovered, for 30 minutes or until meat temperature reads 100 F. Turn oven down to 325 F. Bake lamb about 1 1/2 hours more. Lamb will be medium rare when internal temperature is 135-145 F. Serves six. Adapted from Toribio Prado.

AROMATIC COUSCOUS

The most famous of North African foods, couscous is served at all celebrations — from elaborate weddings to Sabbath dinners to Passover. Unfortunately, it is virtually impossible to find the unprocessed grain outside North Africa. Try to find couscous that is commercially “rolled” but not precooked. Although grains are a familiar sight on Sephardic tables during Passover, they are forbidden among the Ashkenazi.

4 cups chicken stock
Pinch saffron threads
1 tablespoon ginger, peeled and chopped; or 1 teaspoon ground ginger
Dash of ground cloves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
Olive oil as needed
1 1/2 cups onion, diced
8 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 cups couscous
1 cup Italian parsley, coarsely chopped

Place stock and spices into large stockpot. Bring to boil. In another pan add oil, onions and garlic. Sauté until soft and browned. Add onion and garlic mixture to water. Add couscous to stock. Turn fire off. Stir a little and cover. Add parsley. Let stand until liquid is completely absorbed. Break up cous cous with fork when ready to serve. Serves 6. From Toribio Prado.

POULET AUX DATTES (CHICKEN WITH
DATES)

This Moroccan combination has roots that go back to medieval Baghdad. It is important to taste and adjust the seasonings, because the right balance of flavors is a delicate matter in this dish. It usually needs plenty of black pepper to counteract the sweetness.

6 chicken quarters
4 tablespoons peanut or sunflower oil
2 large onions, coarsely chopped
2 teaspoons cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon mace
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1 tablespoon honey
Salt and plenty of black pepper to taste
1 cup pitted dates
Juice of 1/2 to 1 lemon
A pinch of saffron
1/2 cup blanched almonds, toasted or fried

In a large pan, sauté chicken pieces in oil for a few minutes, until lightly colored, turning them over once. Remove chicken. Add onions; cook on low heat until tender. Stir in cinnamon, mace, nutmeg and honey; pour in 1 3/4 cups water.

Stir well; add chicken pieces. Bring to boil, add salt and pepper; lower flame and simmer for 25 minutes. Add dates, lemon juice and saffron; cook for another five to 10 minutes or until chicken is tender. Place on serving platter, sprinkle with almonds. Adapted from “The Book of Jewish Food” by Claudia Roden, (Knopf, 1996).

TEZPISHTL (TURKISH ALMOND-NUT TORTE) WITH FIG
TOPPING

The perfection of this dish depends on the freshness of the nuts.

Syrup
2 cups sugar
2 cups water
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Cake
5 eggs
1 cup sugar
1/4 cup corn or sunflower oil
Juice and zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 1/4 cups Passover fine matzah cake meal
1 1/4 cups almonds, blanched and finely chopped

To Make Syrup

In a saucepan mix sugar and water together; bring to boil. Add lemon juice; simmer over low heat for 10 minutes. Cool.

To Make Cake

Beat eggs until frothy; add sugar; continue to beat until golden and well mixed. Add remaining ingredients, one at a time; stir into batter. Pour into oiled and floured 13″ x 9″ x 2′ cake pan; bake at 350 F for 30 minutes. Test if it done with a toothpick. Remove cake from oven; pour cooled syrup over it. Let cake stand for two hours before serving to allow syrup to be absorbed. Makes one cake, about 18 pieces.From Toribio Prado.

HONEY AND MARINATED FIG TOPPING

1/2 pound dried white figs, washed and dried well
1 bottle port wine
1/2 cup sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
1 cup honey
Pinch of nutmeg
Pinch of cinnamon

Place figs and port wine in large bowl; marinate overnight. Drain figs; reserve wine. In large saucepan add sugar, lemon juice and honey. Simmer, being careful not to burn sugar. Raise flame to medium. Add reserved port wine, nutmeg and cinnamon. Reduce by half and add figs. Stir well. Serve with torte.

EARLY AMERICAN SEPHARDIC CHAROSET
BALLS

3 cups raisins
2 cups whole almonds, blanched
1 green apple, peeled and cored
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon or to taste

In a food grinder, coarsely grind raisins, 1 1/2 cups of the almonds, apple and cinnamon. If using a food processor, grind in quick pulses so as not to over-process. Set aside in bowl. Using your hands, press mixture into balls the size of large marbles. Press one of the remaining almonds into each charoset ball. Makes about four dozen balls. Adapted from “Jewish Cooking in America” by Joan Nathan, (Knopf, 1998).

If Memory Serves…

Jewish-themed cookbooks appear in a frenzy about a month before Passover, then die off by May. Mainstream cookbooks also try to cash in on the warming weather’s ability to make us imagine nectarine tarts and heirloom tomato salads, long before winter comes to the Chilean tomato export market.

Oddly enough, there’s a subtext to most of these books, and it has little to do with cooking. Many of them are only partly about good recipes; rather, they are more about good memories. They set about re-creating lost moments of a Jewish past, and found the most compelling way to do so was by writing about food. The People of the Book evidently does not live by words alone.

* In “A Drizzle of Honey” (St. Martin’s, $29.95), authors David M. Gitlitz and Linda Kay Davidson use diaries and other historical texts to uncover the traditions and recipes of 15th- and 16th-century Spain’s Crypto-Jews — Jews forced to convert to Catholicism who nevertheless preserved their Jewish traditions. The result is more fascinating as cultural history than it is useful as a cookbook, but the stories poignantly reveal how, by keeping food traditions alive, these Jews maintained their identity.