Archive for August, 2010
THE EAGLE HAS LANDED!
The Encyclopedia of Jewish food is here. Today is the official release date. After three intensive years of obsessively compiling and editing a world of food information, I am holding a copy of the EJF (as we have taken to calling it for short) in my hands.
My initial impression was – wow is this thing big. Nearly 700 pages with more than 650 entries. I knew it was a lot of work, but the tangible size took me by surprise. This is actually the first time I’ve seen the pages as a book. And it is some book. My previous book, Olive Trees and Honey, was 450 pages and a considerable work. But it dwarfs in comparison to EJF. But then again, it is an encyclopedia and had to be big. It is also beautiful and, in all due modesty, I feel quite proud of the accomplishment.
When I first starting writing books, about fifteen years ago with The World of Jewish Cooking, everything was in hard copy (paper). I printed out a manuscript (and still had to tear the papers apart and remove the paper strips from the side. Ink-jet printers only arrived later. Oy!) Weeks or months later, I received the hard copy back with various comments on it and Post-It notes. The hard copy went back and forth and the production people could not start laying it out until the editing process was finished. No more. The past several books have been done electronically. A miracle. I email in the manuscript, we work on the computer, email back and forth, and the production people start setting it and laying it out rather early in the process. The first time I saw an actual piece of paper is when the finished galleys of the Encyclopedia were ready for proofing. This of course saves an invaluable amount of time, effort, and money.
A writer’s life is hardly exciting — most of the time. It is solitary work. I sit in front of a computer most of the day researching, correcting, writing, rewriting. Don’t get me wrong. I love what I do. I do it in my spare time and when I’m on vacation because to me it’s fun. Like putting together a puzzle. Trying to see where foods come from and how they got there. Food carries culture and to know Jewish food is to know the Jewish community. So the Encyclopedia is the culmination of twenty years of exploring Jewish communities around the world and their foods. And only occasionally is it especially exciting, like when the book actually materializes.
And now I am holding the finished product in my hands and it is big and beautiful. My goal was to create the most complete, accurate, and readable compendium of Jewish food as possible under the size constraints. (Yes, I could have made it even larger, although that would have been impractical and required more than a single volume.) I hope you agree that I achieved my goal with EJF.
A new book is quite a way to end the year. And to start a new one.
Here are some more recipes for Rosh Hashanah:
Moroccan Date-Stuffed Baked Fish
There is an ancient custom to display the head of a fish or lamb on the Rosh Hashanah table as a sign that “we will be the rosh (head) and not the tail” (the reverse of Deuteronomy 28:44); a play on the word rosh, signifying that in the coming year, we should progress not regress. In this vein, dishes made from lamb or calves’ brains were once common Rosh Hashanah dishes. Fish and lamb also contain other meanings: Fish is a symbol of fruitfulness, the Jewish people, and the Leviathan to be served at the feast following the arrival of the messiah; lamb is a reminder of the ram substituted for Isaac as a sacrifice and of the shofar.
Alsatians enjoy carpe à la Juive aux raisins (sweet-and-sour carp), Germans prepare a similar dish characteristically flavored with gingersnaps, and Italians serve the classic pesce all’Ebraica, a sweet-and-sour fish studded with pine nuts. Turkish and Greek Jews commonly stew their holiday fish in sauces made from tomatoes, greengage plums, or prunes. Indian Jews offer versions vibrantly flavored with curry or wrapped in lettuce leaves.
Date-stuffed fish, a traditional northwest African dish, utilizes several prominent Rosh Hashanah symbols including fish, rice, and dates.
1 pound pitted dates, coarsely chopped (about 3 cups)
3 cups cooked rice
1/2 cup sugar or honey
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) margarine, melted
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
3/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 (4- to 5-pound) whole red snapper, sea bass, or grouper, or 8 brook trout, cleaned but head and tail intact
Salt to taste
Ground black pepper to taste
2 medium onions, sliced
About 1/3 cup vegetable oil or melted margarine
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Brush a large baking pan with oil or margarine.
2. Combine all of the stuffing ingredients.
3. Rinse the fish inside and out and pat dry. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Fill the cavities with the stuffing and sew up the opening or skewer with toothpicks.
4. Scatter the onions in the prepared pan. Place the fish in the pan and brush with a little oil or margarine. Cut several parallel slashes in the skin of each fish. (This prevents the skin from shrinking.)
5. Bake, brushing occasionally with oil or margarine, until the fish are tender and the flesh loses its translucency, 30 to 40 minutes. Remove the thread or toothpicks. If desired, serve with lemon wedges.
HINT – To prevent sticking when chopping dates, lightly oil the knife blade or kitchen shears.
Veal With Figs
The fig figures prominently in Jewish literature and tradition; the only fruit or vegetable mentioned more often in the Bible and Talmud is the grape. Figs are popular additions to Rosh Hashanah fare such as this dish, which is typical of the eastern European love of meats cooked with sweeteners.
1 (6 pound) boneless veal shoulder, rolled and tied with twine
1 ½ to 2 pounds fresh, dried calimyrna, or canned figs
1 cup dry white wine
1 cup water
1/2 cup honey
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon ground coriander or 1 tablespoon grated orange zest
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or 10 whole peppercorns
1 bay leaf
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
2. Place the veal and figs in a large roasting pan. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over top.
3. Bake, basting occasionally and adding more water if necessary to keep the figs moist, until the veal is tender and browned, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Remove the veal to a cutting board or platter, cover loosely with aluminum foil, and let stand for at least 15 minutes. Remove the twine and cut the veal into slices. Serve with the figs and cooking liquid.
Middle Eastern Yellow Rice
Middle Eastern Jews prepare rice in three basic ways: plain white, red (with tomatoes), and, for special occasions, yellow.
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin (optional)
2 1/2 cups long-grain white rice
5 cups chicken broth or water
About 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
1. Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the turmeric and, if desired, cumin and stir for 1 minute. Add the rice and sauté until opaque, about 3 minutes.
2. Add the broth or water and salt. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the rice is tender, about 18 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for about 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. To make a rice mold: Lightly pack the hot cooked rice into an oiled 8-cup ring mold or bowl, allow to stand for 1 minute, place a serving plate over top, then invert and lift off the mold.
The carrot is a popular eastern European Rosh Hashanah food partially due to its name: in Yiddish, mehren (“multiply” or “increase”) and in Hebrew, gezer (“tear”) which is also similar to gezayrah (“decree”), indicating that any unfavorable decrees should be torn up. In addition, the carrot’s sweetness fits in with the holiday’s theme. And carrots have an additional attribute – when sliced they resemble gold coins.
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon or grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger or nutmeg
1 cup vegetable shortening or softened margarine
1 cup brown sugar
4 large eggs
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons water
2 cups (about 12 ounces) grated carrots
1/2 cup raisins or chopped dates (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 10-inch ring mold or large loaf pan.
2. Combine the flour, baking soda, baking powder, salt, cinnamon or zest, and ginger or nutmeg. Beat together the shortening or margarine and sugar until light and fluffy. Beat in the eggs, 1 at a time. Add the lemon juice and water. Stir in the flour mixture, then the carrots and, if desired, raisins or dates.
3. Pour into the prepared pan. Place in a larger baking pan and add water to reach half way up the pan. Bake until golden brown and a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
I have to admit something -— I’m excited. After more than three years of obsessive work, my new book, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, is at last going to see the light of day. The initial release of the EJF is now only a week away. It will be available via Amazon and other online accounts and some retailers by 8/30, although the technical publication date (when it will be available everywhere) is 3 weeks later, 9/20. That means in one week, after a lengthy gestation period, I will at last hold a copy in my hands. Sorry for the birth analogies, but, in many ways, a book is like a baby. And this baby is definitely on its way. The realization of this imminence struck me after I checked with my editor at Wiley Publishing, Linda Ingroia, to confirm the release date. Linda ended the email to me with the emotion “I can’t believe the book is almost published. What a long road, for you in particular…!”
And now I’m trying to keep my mind distracted by other things as I await publication. I’ve working on the next book (I’ll tell you about that some time in the future) and working with my publicist, Carrie Bachman, to promote the book. (If you want me to speak to your group or give a cooking demo, we can make arrangements.) And I spend time with the blog and Twitter. But as each day passes, I find myself growing more and more excited.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is my fifth book and second at Wiley (which also published Olive Trees and Honey). It is (will be) more than 650 entries in nearly 700 pages. It tells the story of Jewish food.
Food is more than just sustenance. It is a reflection of a community’s history, culture, and values-—and this is especially true for the Jewish people-—a community that spans the globe. From Brooklyn to India and everywhere in between, Jewish food is represented by a fascinating array of dishes, rituals, and traditions.
Jewish cuisine is truly international. In every location where Jews settled, they brought culinary traditions with them and adopted local dishes, modifying them to fit their dietary laws, lifestyle, and tastes. Unique traditions and dishes developed within the cuisines of North Africa, Europe, Persia, Asia, and the Mediterranean, but all are recognizably Jewish.
The Encyclopedia of Jewish Food explores the foods and culinary traditions of individual communities, such as the honey-nut sfratto cookies beloved by Italian Jews in Tuscany, as well as those that unite Jews everywhere, like the key elements of the Passover Seder plate. Alphabetical book entries—from Afikomen and Almond to Yom Kippur and Za’atar—present recipes, ingredients, and holidays that are significant to the story of Jewish food, spanning three thousand years.
Even those with a well-developed knowledge of Jewish food will find plenty of new and compelling information here—dishes and ingredients they may never have heard of, surprising and delicious variations on favorite traditional recipes, and plenty of historical and cultural tidbits that explore how, when, and why Jewish foods developed into what they are today.
For anyone interested in Jewish cooking, culture, or history, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is an enlightening and engaging tour through the culinary heart and soul of a people. But I still have to wait a week for this baby.
Here are some more traditional Rosh Hashanah recipes:
(2 large or 3 medium loaves)
The large amount of egg, fat, and sugar gives this bread a rich flavor, golden color, soft crust, and tender, fine crumb. Challah for Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot is traditionally kneaded with raisins or other dried fruits, a symbol of sweetness and the harvest. Traditional Rosh Hashanah shapes include a round (symbolizing continuity with no beginning and no end), a spiral (symbolizing a persons eventual ascent to heaven), and a crown (symbolizing the King of the universe). On Rosh Hashanah, the challah is traditionally dipped in honey rather than salt, a custom that many families continue during Sukkot.
2 packages (1/4-ounce each/5 teaspoons total) active dry yeast or 1 (1-ounce/35 gram) cake fresh yeast
2 cups warm water (105 to 110 degrees for dry yeast; 80 to 85 degrees for fresh yeast)
2/3 cup sugar or honey
3 to 4 large eggs
1/2 cup vegetable oil
1 tablespoon table salt or 5 teaspoons kosher salt
About 8 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/2 cups raisins (or 3/4 cup raisins and 3/4 cup coarsely chopped dried apricots or dates)
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
About 3 tablespoons poppy or sesame seeds (optional)
1. Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup water. Add 1 teaspoon sugar or honey and let stand until foamy, 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Add the remaining water, remaining sugar or honey, eggs, oil, salt, and 3 cups flour. Stir in enough of the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until the mixture holds together.
3. Place on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Knead in the fruit. Place in a greased large bowl, turning to coat. Cover and let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours, or in the refrigerator overnight.
4. Punch down the dough and divide in half or thirds. Firmly pat the dough into rectangles, roll up jelly roll style, then shape into balls. Place on greased baking sheets and flatten slightly. Cover and let rise at room temperature until double in bulk, about 45 minutes, or in the refrigerator for up to 1 day. (Let it stand at room temperature for about 30 minutes before baking.)
5. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
6. Brush the challah with the egg wash and, if desired, sprinkle with the poppy or sesame seeds. (The egg produces a soft, shiny crust as well as helps the seeds to adhere to the surface.) Bake until golden brown and hollow sounding when tapped, about 35 minutes for medium challahs and 45 minutes for large ones. Transfer to a rack and let cool.
Sephardic Leek Soup (Sopa de Prasa)
¼ cup olive or vegetable oil
10 medium (about 2 pounds) leeks, trimmed, sliced, and well-washed
(or 5 leeks and 2 large yellow onions)
2 large baking potatoes or 3 medium carrots, peeled and grated
1 bunch parsley, chopped
8 cups chicken broth or water
About 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
About 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
Dash of grated nutmeg (optional)
1. Heat the oil in a 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add the leeks and potatoes or carrots and sauté until softened, 5 to 10 minutes.
2. Add the parsley, broth or water, salt, pepper, and, if desired, nutmeg. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until tender, about 40 minutes. Adjust the seasonings. Serve the soup as is or puree in a food processor. Serve warm or chilled.
Spinach and Fruit Salad
Spinach salads, long popular in the Mediterranean region and Near East, are ideal fare for Rosh Hashanah. The similarity between silkah, the Aramaic word for spinach and beet greens, is similar to the Hebrew silake (to remove), expressing the wish that our enemies be removed. According to tradition, each pomegranate contains 613 seeds, corresponding to the number of commandments in the Torah. Other seasonal fruits contribute additional symbolism.
20 ounces fresh spinach, torn into bite-size pieces
2 to 3 apples, cored and diced
1/2 cup pomegranate seeds
1/2 cup raisins, chopped figs, or chopped dates
Sunflower or pumpkin seeds, hulled (optional)
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice, red wine vinegar, or white vinegar
1/2 teaspoon dry mustard
About 1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon curry powder (optional)
1/2 cup olive or vegetable oil
Combine the spinach and fruit in a large bowl. Combine the lemon juice or vinegar, mustard, salt, pepper, and, if desired, curry powder. In a slow, steady stream, whisk in the oil. Drizzle over the salad, tossing to coat. If desired, sprinkle with the sunflower or pumpkin seeds.
Mumbai, India might be best known today in Jewish circles for the massacre by terrorists (yes, they were terrorists who specifically targeted Jews, despite the reluctance of certain media in stating this fact—-sorry, just ventilating a bit) at the Chabad center in November 2008. However, Mumbai (or Bombay, as it used to be known) has long been home to an ancient Jewish community.
The Bene Israel of Mumbai is the oldest and largest Indian Jewish community. (This does not count the controversial Beni Menashe, members of the Kuki tribe in northeast India and neighboring Myanmar numbering about three million, who claim to be descendents of the Israelite tribe of Menashe, some 7,200 of whom currently practice Judaism as well as some 1,500 who have moved to Israel.) According to local oral tradition, its origins date to a group of Hebrews from northern Israel fleeing Antiochus Epiphanes in 175 BCE, whereupon a storm wrecked their ship in the Indian Ocean off the Konkan coast. Only seven men and seven women managed to make it ashore. A memorial at the village of Navgaon marks the spot where they first landed. This small group gradually spread from Navgaon to more than 100 villages on the western coast, including Ashtam, Dive, Kehim, Pali, Pen, Roha, and, Wakrul, these locations later supplying surnames with the ending “kar” for the families. Members of the Bene Israel, the name taken from a favorable term in the Koran, earned their livelihoods primarily in the preparation and selling of sesame oil. Thus they acquired the name Shanwar Teli (Saturday oilmen) among their Hindu neighbors — Saturday referring to their refusal to work on the Sabbath. The Hindus always treated the Jewish minority benignly, considering them literally to be “outcaste,” forbidden to intermarry. Thus they never faced assimilation or anti-Semitism. Indeed, the first real religious prejudice experienced by the Bene Israel was when they came into contact with Middle Eastern Jews in the nineteenth century.
Around 1795, a Cochini Jew arranged for the release of a Jewish prisoner of war in the service of the British. The prisoner turned out to be a Bene Israel and, as a result, other Indian Jews and the rest of the world learned of this lost group. Having had no contact with world Jewry for nearly 2,000 years, the Bene Israel were unaware of the Talmud, rabbis, synagogues, the festival of Hanukkah, the fast of Tisha b’Av, and other ritual developments that originated after their separation. According to the Bene Israel, sometime between 1000 CE to 1400 CE an enigmatic Jewish merchant named David Rahabi, one version contends he was Moses Maimonides’ brother, David, arrived in western India and sparked a major religious revival.
Despite, or more accurately because of their alien environment, the Bene Israel managed to maintain a Jewish identity and continue to adhere to certain ancient Jewish rituals, including the Sabbath, biblical festivals, dietary laws (i.e. only eating fish with fins and scales, removing the sciatic nerve from animals, salting meat to remove the blood), and circumcision. At marriages, the groom, crowned with flowers, sings a traditional song as he approached his white sari-clad wife at her house. The prophet Elijah was invoked and the Shema recited at the performance of important rituals. Malida (a sweetened rice, coconut, and fruit dish) is served at all festive occasions accompanied by a ceremony.
They kept only one day of Rosh Hashanah (Navyacha San). On the fourth of the month of Tishri, they held the Kheercha San (pudding holiday), by eating a pudding called khir made from new grain, sugar, and coconut milk. On Yom Kippur (Darfalnicha San, literally “Closing of the Doors Holiday”), the entire community dressed in white. Originally, they remained home and fasted, but after the advent of synagogues, the men arrived there before dawn to spend the day in prayer and contemplation. The day following Yom Kippur is Shila San (Stale Holiday), an occasion to visit friends and give charity to the poor. Purim (Holicha San) coincides with the Hindu festival of Holi. On Passover (Anasi Dakacha San, “Holiday of the Jar-Closing), the Bene Israel repainted their houses white and retinned their copper utensils. However, since the neighboring rice-eating Hindus were unfamiliar with chametz, they lost this aspect of the holiday. The fast day of the Ninth of Av was called Birda cha Roja (Fast of Curried Fava Beans), because the fast was broken on a dish of birda, a Marathi word for curried fava beans (surti vaal dal) cooked in a coconut base.
Following the advent of the British in western India, many of the Bene Israel relocated from their native villages to the large cities, especially Bombay (Mumbai). Contact with Yemenites and Cochinis led to the adoption of traditions from those community, but the Bene Israel maintained many of their ancient customs. At its height in the 1950s, the Bene Israel in India numbered around 30,000. Meanwhile, Mohandas Gandhi’s liberalization of the caste system unleashed the threat of a previously imponderable assimilation. More than 12,000 of the Bene Israel immigrated to Israel during the 1950s and 1960s and the drain continued. Today the Bene Israel community in Israel numbers about 60,000, while only about 4,500 remains in India, most in a suburb of Bombay. Every year, thousands of Indian Jews flock from all over Israel to the city of Eilat for the Hoduya (Indian) Festival.
The cuisine of the Bene Israel, relatively simple fare, is drawn from their Hindu neighbors. However, the Jews use more onions and tomatoes and frequently substitute lemon juice for yogurt in cooking. Maharashta lies between the rice-eating region to the south and the wheat-eating area to the north and, therefore, the inhabitants liberally use both grains. The dishes are redolent with spices. Peanut oil and coconut oil are the basic cooking fats. Coconuts and mangoes are cooking staples. The Bene Israel eat only fish, sheep, goats, certain fowl, but no beef. Lunch and dinner generally consist of flat bread, rice and/or lentils, and vegetable or fish curries. Rice cakes called sandans are traditional fare on Simchat Torah, an early medieval holiday they learned of in the nineteenth century. From the Baghdadis, the Bene Israel picked up the custom of making hameem (stew) for Sabbath lunch. Also on the Sabbath, they enjoy a semolina and coconut milk dish called kanavili.
Here are a few more Rosh Hashanah recipes for you. These are traditional dishes from the Bene Israel community of Mumbai:
Gadjar Kari (Indian Carrot Curry)
(4 to 5 servings)
4 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1½ teaspoons yellow mustard seeds
1½ teaspoons turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cardamom
1 teaspoon curry powder
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon cayenne
1 pound carrots, sliced or cut into chunks (about 4 cups)
1 medium banana, peeled and sliced
¼ cup golden raisins
1 cup water
About 1 teaspoon salt
Ground black pepper to taste
Fresh chopped parsley or coriander for garnish
1. In a large nonreactive pan (do not use iron, copper, or brass), heat the oil over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, mustard seeds, turmeric, cardamom, curry powder, cloves, and cayenne and sauté until fragrant, about 30 seconds.
2. Add the carrots and sauté until lightly colored, 3 to 5 minutes. Stir in the bananas and raisins.
3. Add the water, salt, and pepper. Bring to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the carrots are tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
4. Uncover, increase the heat to medium, and cook, shaking the pan frequently, until most of the liquid is evaporated and the vegetables are glazed, 5 to 10 minutes. Garnish with the parsley or coriander.
Kangi (Fish Fillets in Romaine)
8 large romaine lettuce leaves
6 4-ounce firm-fleshed fish fillets such as cod, flounder,
grouper, halibut, bluefish, sea bass, or snapper
¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon cider vinegar
1 teaspoon curry powder
About 1 teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon white pepper
1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking dish.
2. Blanch the romaine in boiling water until pliable. Drain. Arrange 2 leaves in the bottom of the baking dish.
3. In a blender or food processor, puree all of the curry ingredients.
4. Spread a heaping tablespoon of the spice mixture over each fillet. Roll up the fillets in the romaine leaves. Place, seam side, down, in the baking pan. (The fish may be refrigerated for several hours until ready to cook.)
5. Bake until the fish is tender, about 30 minutes.
Appam (Mumbai Semolina and Coconut Cake)
(10 to 12 servings)
5 cups water
4 cups coconut milk
3 1/3 cups (about 17½ ounces) coarse semolina
About 1 cup jaggery or brown sugar
3 to 4 teaspoons ground cardamom
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ teaspoon salt
½ cup grated coconut (optional)
¼ to ½ cup raisins (optional)
¼ to ½ cup slivered blanched almonds or cashews (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12-inch-round baking pan or casserole or two 9-inch pie plates.
2. In a large saucepan, bring the water and coconut milk to a boil. Gradually stir in the semolina and cook, stirring frequently, until thickened, about 10 minutes. Stir in the sugar. Remove from the heat and add the cardamom, vanilla, salt, and, if using, coconut, raisins, and/or nuts.
3. Pour into the prepared pan. Bake until a tester inserted in the center comes out clean, about 30 minutes. Cut into diamond shapes.
Substitute 14 ounces coconut cream for the coconut milk, increase the water to 8 cups, and simmer until the coconut cream dissolves.
For a more intense flavor: In a dry large saucepan, stir the semolina over low heat until lightly golden, but not browned, about 5 minutes. Add 1 cup ghee or margarine and stir until deep gold, 3 to 4 minutes. Let cool. Add the remaining ingredients and, if desired, 4 lightly beaten eggs.
Shalom! It’s been an edifying week for me. My television died. It was only about six years old or so and a name brand, so it should have lasted much longer. Planned obsolescence must be getting shorter. Anyway, I walked over to a nearby electronics store hoping to purchase a relatively inexpensive replacement and was shocked by what awaited. The tvs that I was familiar with no longer exist. They are as extinct as dinosaurs and the dodo. Everything is now flat screen and rather expensive. No longer the bulky behemoths of yesteryear, they are now sleek and lightweight and expensive. What a culture shock! I had to learn about pixels and prices. I consulted with my cousin (thanks David) and searched the usual suspects on line (including Amazon, Tiger Direct, and Nextag.com). I finally ordered a flat screen on line, where they can be found for several hundred dollars less than in most stores. I’m only slowly becoming accustomed to using the internet for shopping, but I can see where it could become addictive.
I’m being dragged, not quite kicking and screaming but almost, into the 21st century. Next up is my first cell phone. Yes, I am one of those very rare people who have yet to have one. Since I work at home and generally don’t want to be bothered when I am out, I never saw the need for one. However, in the face of my upcoming book tour for my new book, Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (due out from Wiley Publishing in mid-September), I have decided to go where seemingly nearly everyone has gone before me-—the cell phone. Of course, I need to figure out which company and plan is right for me. Oy!
And I am also entering the brave new world of Twittering. Social networking is the way to be and I need to be there. Even my mother is on Facebook. I just need to come up with a good handle for Twitter. Jewishfood is already taken. (If anyone has any suggestions, let me know. Thanks!)
I’m sure that I’m not the only one who finds all these technological advances intimidating. Sure I‘ve been using a computer for decades and wrote all of my books and before that my magazine, Kosher Gourmet, on them. I do remember using a pencil back in college (when the only computer was a mysterious massive mainframe only touched by the science geeks). I recall writing and rewriting on sheet after sheet of yellow paper. (How many trees were sacrificed for all the crumpled sheets of paper?) To be sure, my father was an early advocate of computers and before most enterprises installed one in the family linen business down in Virginia. It took me a bit longer. The first computer I ever saw was when I was doing my field work for social work school at a federation in New Jersey. It filled a large air-conditioned room and had massive spool-like contraptions, like old-fashioned movie reels, and punch cards. (My current laptop has more capacity that that old massive machine. Amazing!) Then the Apple people invented the personal computer in a family garage and changed the course of history. When I started Kosher Gourmet magazine back in 1986, I purchased by first computer and taught myself how to use it. I remember the time it crashed and I lost an entire issue. (Fortunately, my brother knew how to go in the hard drive and retrieve most of it. Thanks Arthur!) Now I couldn’t imagine working without a computer. At this point, I’m addicted to it. Rare is the day I’m not using the word processor or on line. With emails, I rarely set foot in the post office. (That I consider a major blessing.)
Still I’m slow and tend to procrastinate when new technological changes arrive. In the face of all these changes and developments, I do find some comfort in tradition. And in traditional food. Rituals are reassuring, telling us that things are the same as they always were, although different. The predictable presence of Jewish foods on the table, the clear-cut repetition from week to week and from holiday to holiday, provides a new generation with steady links to the past and future as well as a security blanket for the present constructed from the sense of who we are and where we fit in a frequently unpredictable world. And even as Jewish foods are redefined and hybridized, the value and meanings invested in them endure, becoming relevant to the present generation and passed on to the next. They remain an intrinsic part of our individual and communal identity, helping us deal with change and loss and to transmit our values and hopes to the future.
Although each Jewish holiday has its own unique fare, none has developed as many symbolic foods as Rosh Hashanah. At this time of the year, the performance of symbolic acts is of special value and food plays a vital role in reflecting on the past and pondering the future.
Here are a few Rosh Hashanah recipes for you. This time I decided to offer all desserts, to start the year off on a sweet note:
(Oh, and don’t forget to follow my Jewish food information on Twitter—as soon as I settle on a handle. I’m sure you’ll find it edifying (and interesting). And tell your friends.)
(About thirty 4-inch or seventy 2½-inch cookies)
For Rosh Hashanah I like to cut these cookies into the shapes of shofars (ram’s horns), scales of justice, fish, and apples.
½ cup vegetable shortening
½ cup honey
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon ground allspice
¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1. Bring the shortening and honey to a boil over medium heat and boil for 1 minute. Let cool.
2. Sift together the flour, baking soda, salt, and spices. Stir into the honey mixture. Form into a ball, wrap in plastic, and chill until firm, at least 1 hour.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
4. Divide the dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll the dough to a 1/8-inch thickness, cut into desired shapes, and place on an ungreased baking sheet. Or shape tablespoons of the dough into balls, place on a baking sheet, and flatten with the bottom of a glass.
5. Bake until lightly colored, about 12 minutes. Let the cookies stand until firm, about 1 minute, then remove to a rack and let cool completely.
Bimuelos de Calabaza (Sephardic Pumpkin Pancakes)
(about 24 small pancakes)
The presence of pumpkin in a Mediterranean dish is frequently a sign of Sephardic cuisine. This sweet version, symbolic of fertility and the harvest is traditional on Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot among Sephardim from Turkey and Greece.
2 cups cooked mashed pumpkin or winter squash (about 22 ounces raw)
¾ cup all-purpose flour
2 large eggs
1/3 to ½ cup granulated or brown sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon grated nutmeg
Pinch of salt
Vegetable oil for frying
1. Combine the pumpkin, flour, eggs, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, and salt.
2. Heat a thin layer of oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
3. Drop the batter by tablespoonfuls into the oil to form 2-inch pancakes and fry, turning once, until golden brown on both sides, about 2 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm. The pancakes can be kept warm in a 200-degree oven for up to 1 hour. If desired, serve with yogurt or sour cream.
Versunkener Apfelkuchen (German Apple Cake)
One 10-inch Bundt cake; 8 to 10 servings
3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon double-acting baking powder
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
1¾ cups sugar
3 large eggs, separated
½ cup milk
8 medium (about 3 pounds) cooking apples, such as Golden Delicious, Granny Smith, Gravenstein, Greening, Jonathan, Macoun, Pippin, Starr, Winesap, Yellow Transparent, or any combination, cored and diced (peeling is optional)
1 cup confectioners’ sugar, or ½ cup confectioners’ sugar and ½ cup light brown sugar
½ teaspoon vanilla or almond extract
1 to 2 tablespoons milk or water
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a kugelhopf or 10-inch Bundt pan.
2. Sift together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. Beat in the egg yolks, one at a time. Stir in the flour mixture and milk.
3. Beat the egg whites on low speed until foamy, about 30 seconds. Increase the speed to high and beat until stiff but not dry. Fold one-fourth of the whites into the batter, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
4. Pour half of the batter into the prepared pan. Spread with half of the apples. Top with the remaining batter, then the remaining apples.
5. Bake until golden brown, 50 to 60 minutes. Let cool in the pan for 20 minutes, then transfer to a rack and let cool completely.
6. To make the glaze, if using: Combine all the glaze ingredients, stirring until smooth and of pouring consistency. Drizzle over the cake and let stand until set.
Spiced German Apple Cake: Sift 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon and 1 teaspoon ground allspice with the flour.
Omit the glaze. Dot the cake with 2 tablespoons butter or margarine. Combine 1 tablespoon sugar and ½ teaspoon ground cinnamon and sprinkle over the top.
Sfratti (Italian Nut-Filled “Sticks”)
About forty two 2-inch cookies
Sfratti means “sticks” in Italian, as well as “evicted,” for at one time landlords were allowed to persuade unwanted and delinquent tenants to leave by force of a rod. A similar practice was employed to chase away Jews during all-too-frequent periods of expulsion. This nut-filled cookie, a popular Italian Rosh Hashanah treat, got its name from its resemblance to a stick.
3 cups pastry or bleached all-purpose flour, sifted
1 cup sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
1/3 cup unsalted butter or margarine, chilled
About 2/3 cup sweet or dry white wine
1 cup (12 ounces) honey
2½ cups (about 12 ½ ounces) walnuts, chopped
2 teaspoons grated orange zest
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest (optional)
¾ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
1/8 to ¼ teaspoon freshly grated black pepper
Egg wash (1 large egg beaten with 1 tablespoon water)
1. To make the pastry: Combine the flour, sugar, and salt. Cut in the butter to resemble coarse crumbs. Sprinkle a little wine over a section of the flour, then mix with a fork to moisten. Push the moistened dough aside and continue adding enough wine until the dough just holds together. Divide in half. Using your fingertips, lightly press and knead into balls. Flatten into discs, wrap, and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 3 days. Let stand at room temperature until malleable but not soft.
2. To make the filling: In a medium saucepan over medium heat, bring the honey to a boil and cook for 5 minutes. Be careful; it may foam up. Add the remaining filling ingredients and cook, stirring constantly, for another 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and let stand, stirring occasionally, until the mixture is cool enough to handle but not set. Pour onto a floured surface, divide into 6 equal portions, and shape the portions into 14-inch-long sticks.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or grease.
4. On a piece of waxed paper or plastic wrap or on a lightly floured surface, roll each piece of dough into a 14- by 12-inch rectangle, then cut each rectangle lengthwise into three 14- by 4-inch rectangles. Place a nut strip near a long side of each rectangle and roll up from the filling side. Cut into 2-inch sticks. Place seam side down on the prepared baking sheets, leaving 1 inch between the cookies, and brush with the egg wash.
5. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Transfer to a rack and let cool. Wrap in aluminum foil until ready to serve. Store in an airtight container at room temperature for at up to 2 weeks.
Oil Pastry: Substitute 2/3 cup vegetable oil for the butter and combine it with the wine.
Baklava (Middle Eastern Nut-Filled Multi-Layered Pastry)
(about 36 small diamond-shaped pastries)
Blanched almonds are traditional on Rosh Hashanah to produce a light color so that the year should be dulce y aclarada (“sweet and bright”).
3 cups sugar (or 2 cups sugar and 1 cup honey)
1½ cups water
2 tablespoons lemon juice
2 tablespoons light corn syrup (optional)
2 (3-inch) sticks cinnamon or 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (optional)
4 to 6 whole cloves or ½ teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1 pound blanched almonds, pistachios, walnuts, or any combination, finely chopped or coarsely ground (about 4 cups)
¼ cup sugar
1 to 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
¼ teaspoon ground cloves or cardamom (optional)
1 pound (about 24 sheets) phyllo dough
About 1 cup (2 sticks) melted butter or vegetable oil
1. To make the syrup: Stir the sugar, water, lemon juice, if using, the corn syrup, cinnamon sticks, and/or cloves over low heat until the sugar dissolves, about 5 minutes. Stop stirring, increase the heat to medium, and cook the mixture until slightly syrupy, about 5 minutes (it will register 225 degrees on a candy thermometer). Discard the cinnamon sticks and whole cloves. Let cool.
2. To make the filling: Combine all the filling ingredients.
3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a 12- by 9-inch or 13- by 9-inch baking pan or 15- by 10-inch jelly roll pan.
4. Place a sheet of phyllo in the prepared pan and lightly brush with butter. Repeat with 7 more sheets. Spread with half of the filling. Top with 8 more sheets, brushing each with butter. Use any torn sheets in the middle layer. Spread with the remaining nut mixture and end with a top layer of 8 sheets, continuing to brush each with butter. Trim any overhanging edges.
5. Using a sharp knife, cut 6 equal lengthwise strips (about 1¾ inches wide) through the top layer of pastry. Make 1½-inch-wide diagonal cuts across the strips to form diamond shapes.
6. Just before baking, lightly sprinkle the top of the pastry with cold water. This inhibits the pastry from curling. Bake for 20 minutes. Reduce the heat to 300 degrees and bake until golden brown, about 15 additional minutes.
7. Cut through the scored lines. Drizzle the cooled syrup slowly over the hot baklava and let cool for at least 4 hours. Cover and store at room temperature for up to 1 week. If the baklava dries out while being stored, drizzle with a little additional hot syrup.
Hi! I’ve been remiss about blogging for a while. But I do have a good excuse, as I have been preoccupied for the past several months with editing and proofing my next book, the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food (due out in mid-September 1010 from Wiley Publishing).
For the past twenty five years, I amassed in my computer every relevant recipe —after trying them in my home kitchen, typically several times-— as well as every bit of food information coming my way. I had long wanted to use this data in a reference book on food, but was unsure of when or how. Then in 2007, my editor at Wiley, Linda Ingroia, and I were discussing the follow-up to our previous successful collaboration, Olive Trees and Honey (my James Beard Award-winning book about traditional Jewish vegetarian fare), and she suggested, “You’re a walking encyclopedia of food, so how about doing an actual encyclopedia?” I certainly needed no convincing. This was a dream assignment.
I ambitiously wanted the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food to be both a detailed reference source as well as a practical cookbook. My goal was to make the most comprehensive, accurate, and readable compendium possible. So three years ago, I began checking my information for accuracy (there are so many bubbe meises about food out there) and expanding and organizing it into an A- to- Z work exploring traditional foodstuffs and traditions from Jewish communities across the globe. I also researched various topics, exploring an array of Jewish foods and traditions. The most difficult part was reducing everything into a single manageable volume, while maintaining its comprehensiveness, richness, and relevancy.
The result is more than 650 entries of global scope in nearly 700 pages. A few are only brief explanations, most consist of about a page in length, while a number of important topics, like matza, challah, and Sabbath stews, cover several pages (and sometimes several entries). I was able to include entries on various Jewish holidays and rituals and their related food traditions. I could not, of course, include every traditional Jewish recipe or foodstuff. I choose those things that I consider the most representative, meaningful, and pertinent. A particular dish is included for its historical or sociological relevance and a corresponding recipe is attached to illuminate the entry —how can you properly explain hamin (Sephardic Sabbath stew) without a recipe. I strove to provide adequate space for the mosaic of Jewish communities across the globe for which I have much respect and affection. I wanted these dishes to provide a sense of an individual Jewish community and its cuisine and mindset. I spent much time reading about and discussing with individuals from various communities their perspectives and tried to envision myself a member of those groups in order to include those items held dear and of particular cultural and culinary significance. The collection of information and traditional recipes in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food, influential and integral parts of ancient and modern Jewish history and culture, tells the story of the past 2,500 years of the Jewish people.
In the future, I plan to blog on a regular basis (while I work on my next book, which I’ll tell you about at a later date). In addition to my observations and comments, I will include some of my favorite recipes. Over the next few weeks, they will pertain to Rosh Hashanah and then Sukkot. To commence, I present one of the favorite dishes of my niece Eliana (who just married Adam in June, mazal tov), Chicken with Figs, and a delicious dessert, German Plum Tart. If there are any recipes or info that you would like to know, just contact me, and I will try to accommodate you.
Ashkenazic Chicken with Figs
(3 to 4 servings)
This is typical of the Eastern European love of meats cooked with sweeteners and a few spices. The figs make this a popular Rosh Hashanah dish.
1 (2½- to 3-pound/1.12 to 1.36 kg) chicken, cut into serving pieces
12 ounces (340 grams) canned or fresh figs or soaked and drained dried figs
1 cup (240 ml) dry white wine, such as Sauvignon Blanc, or water
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon (5 ml) ground coriander seeds
About 1 teaspoon (5 ml) salt
¼ teaspoon (1.25 ml) ground black pepper
1 bay leaf (optional)
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees (190 C).
2. Place the chicken and figs in a large roasting pan. Combine the remaining ingredients and pour over the chicken.
3. Roast, basting and turning occasionally, until the chicken is tender and brown (about 1 hour).
German Plum Tart (Zwetschgenkuchen) D or P
(One 9- to 10-inch tart)
In many Alsatian and Central European families, zwetschgenkuchen is a popular Rosh Hashanah and Sukkot dessert, making use of the seasonal Italian plums.
¾ cup (1½ sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, softened
¼ cup sugar
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon grated lemon zest (optional)
¼ teaspoon ground mace (optional)
1 large egg, lightly beaten
2 cups (10 ounces) all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons lekvar (plum or apricot jam)
2 to 2½ pounds plums, preferably Italian prune plums, quartered and pitted (about 5 cups)
½ cup granulated or brown sugar
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
1½ tablespoons all-purpose flour (optional for juicy plums)
1. To make the pastry: In a medium bowl, beat the butter until smooth, about 1 minute. Gradually add the sugar and salt and beat until light and fluffy, about 4 minutes. If using, add the zest and/or mace. Beat in the egg. Gradually stir in the flour. The consistency should be that of a sugar cookie dough. If too stiff, add a little ice water or heavy cream. Form into a disc, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes or up to 1 week. Let stand at room temperature until malleable, about 40 minutes.
2. On a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap or on a lightly floured surface, roll the pastry into a 1/8-inch-thick round about 14 inches in diameter. Arrange the pastry evenly on the bottom and sides of a 10- or 11-inch flat-bottomed tart or flan pan or 9- to 10-inch round baking pan and trim the edges. If it tears, press scraps in the empty spaces. (Use any leftover dough to make cookies or tartlets.) With the tines of a fork, prick the bottom and sides of the crust at ½-inch intervals. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 1 hour or up to 2 days.
3. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
4. Brush the insides of the pastry with the lekvar. Arrange the plums, cut side up, in a rosette pattern of tight concentric circles.
5. To make the topping: Combine the sugar, cinnamon, and, if using, flour. Sprinkle over the plums.
6. Bake until the fruit is tender and bubbly and the pastry golden brown, about 40 minutes. Let the tart cool for at least 10 minutes before removing the outer rim of the pan. Serve warm or at room temperature.