“What foods other than hamantaschen are traditional for purim?!”
This is the question I asked myself (and google) this week. According to Wilshire Blvd. Temple in Los Angeles, there are quite a few of other more savory options. Among them are kreplach, filled with minced meat or vegetables to evoke the response of stopping and general noise making upon hearing ‘haman’. Some communities will also eat nuts and beans because *legend has it* Esther ate mostly these foods in the court of King Ahashuerus (he didn’t keep kosher).
So what about this year’s fun shabbat/purim combination?! Polish Egg Bread. Also known as “koyletsh” (or sometimes spelled: keylitsh, keylitch, koilitch, koylatsh) this is an extra rich challah type bread prepared for special occasions and Purim. Why Purim? Apparently the long strands for braiding are supposed to remind us of the ropes used to hang Haman. So morbid.
Why bake the same version is challah each week when it’s so easy to snaz it up?! This Shabbat, try it with some lavendar.
I started, of course, with Amiee’s faithful challah recipe. Instead of adding plain water to proof the yeast, I used a lavendar infused water.
1 3/4 cup water
3 tb dried lavendar flowers
Add the water and lavender to a small saucepan or pot and heat slowly to a simmer. Remove it from the heat and let it cool slightly for a few minutes. Strain out the lavender flowers and allow the water to continue to cool to yeast proofing temperature (slightly warm). Continue the challah recipe as normal! *You can keep the flower buds in the water for extra flavor and texture.
warming up on medium heat
straining out the flowers
beautiful lavender water
mmm... matzo ball soup
My dear friend, Krista, recently shared with me that she is battling brain cancer. After going through a wave of emotions and expressing appropriate concern, my first instinct was to make her matzo ball ball soup. While what she is dealing with is way beyond the rumored healing powers of Jewish Penicillin, and since I have no training in oncology, it seemed an appropriate way to to provide a small amount of caring and comfort while she recovers from her surgery. Also the incessant rain called for something warming and cozy. She also requested my matzo candy, and a brain tumor seemed like a pretty good reason to make an exception to my rule of only making it during Passover, but she is the only one getting it. The rest of you will have to wait until the end of March. I’ll also wait until then and let Gordon give you the history of matzo (the bread of affliction), and share my theory that the only reason we don’t eat grain during Passover is because our ancestors ran out of it by that time of year, so today I’ll focus on the soup itself.
Pretty much any Jewish cook worth her salt should be able to make matzo ball soup. It is a staple at any Jewish deli, the Passover meal, many a Shabbat dinner and basically anytime a Jewish kid shows any sign of the sniffles. The soup should be a chicken broth, possibly with some veggies like carrots or celery, and the matzo ball are made with a combination of matzo meal, oil or schmaltz and eggs. Beyond that there are a plethora of variations for what is ultimately a very simple dish. There have been long running battles over the preferredness of “sinkers vs. floater” which is usually an indication of the density of the dough, and “big vs. small”. Krista claimed to like them all, but I fall into the big, floater camp and have concluded that the key to floaters is baking powder. Others will claim using seltzer water, but I fail to see how the carbonation will continue to provide levity after 20 minutes of boiling, but many people swear by it.
Hidden among her otherwise rational and delightful qualities, Krista has a phobia of eating chicken with the bone still in, or pretty much any meat that reminds her it was once an animal. She will seriously only eat boneless breasts or cut up pieces of chicken and I have managed to scare her out of a kitchen with the sight of raw chicken thighs. I had a fleeting thought that this might have been a symptom of the brain tumor but alas… even with the cancer removed she is still clinging to this habit. So as not to risk her being unable to enjoy her soup, I am going to refrain from posting photos of making the stock and my flying chicken routine and refer you back to Gordon’s schmaltz and stock recipe. Here’s hoping she is on her way to a full recovery and “a gezunt ahf dein kop” (a Yiddish health blessing that literally translates to “good health on your head”)
One thing that Jewish women do especially well is gossip (there is a dominant gene for this running in my family), and nothing goes better with gossip than coffee, well, except for cake. It turns out this tradition of getting together for coffee, baked goods and conversation has a long history, that began somewhere in Central Europe. The Germans have a word for such a gathering, “kaffeeklatsch” which was later Americanized to coffee klatch. The Germans called the cake they served with coffee, bundkuchen and the Hungarians called it gugelhupf, but most shared the trait of being cooked in tube pans that created a hole in the center of the cake. One of the first coffee cake recipes to appear in an American cookbook was for bund kuchen in The Settlement Cookbook (speaking of, check out Gordon’s faithful recreation of schnecken from the 1931 edition) which calls for “a deep, round, fancy cake pan with a center tube”. Sometime in 1950 the women of the Minneapolis chapter of Hadassah asked a designer from Nordicware to create a pan that would allow them to recreate the cake recipes that their mothers brought over from the old world and the result was the bundt pan that served as the mold for cakes served to gossiping women and Shabbat Onegs everywhere and eventually became the best selling cake pan in America. Somewhere along the line the kutchens came to be called coffee cakes for the beverage they are served with, as most of them contain no coffee. Nowadays you cannot enter a Starbucks or Peets without a wide array of coffee cakes from bundt pans to accompany your non-fat, half-caf, chai latte, and you have a group of mid-western Jewish ladies to thank for it. I personally find coffee cakes to be a fantastic excuse to eat cake for breakfast.
I was inspired to make coffee cake by this months issue of Cook’s Illustrated which called for a regular tube pan to support an almond sugar topping on a lemon cake with a swirl of cream cheese in the center. Since cream cheese is the Jewiest of cheeses, and I love lemon cake, it seemed the perfect start to a new year of cooking. It turned out to be a complete disaster with the total collapse of the cake onto the filling. After consulting with the master cake baker, my stepmother, rather than torture myself I decided to go with the more tradition cinnamon crumb style with a some extra topping thrown in the middle, for version 2.0. I mistakenly put double the baking powder in version 2.0 and it bubbled over on itself and the topping sank to the bottom, so you are witness to version 2.1. Cake is clearly not my thing … Actually, the thought of all these cakes is making me a little verklempt, so talk amongst yourselves. I’ll give you a topic: coffee cake is neither coffee nor a cake… discuss.
as amiee put it, i am also quite *delighted* to join the heathen-jewish-foodie-blogging team!
ah, cooking. as dafna can attest, cooking and i have not always been the best of friends–i.e. trips to the supermarket spent wandering for far too long and failed recipes gathering dew in our fridge were the norm after moving out of the dorms. but after a remedial cook book crafted by momma schneider and lots of practice, it has become my go-to stress relief and secret tool for bringing together all of my favorite people. in the last year my jewish cooking has evolved quite a bit. when i moved to nyc a year and half ago my living situation lent itself to lots of recipe sharing. picture this: twelve jews picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped! okay, not that last part…but i did find myself in one of the most religious neighborhoods in brooklyn (aka: midwood) sharing food with 11 other young jewish activists with a huge array of cooking expertise. though i’ve moved a bit north to prospect heights and my overt jewish inspiration has decreased, (not to mention the quantity in which i have to cook) i nonetheless retained a diverse database of jewish food. good times.
okay, enough with introductions. shall we get cookin’?!
to honor the shabbat tradition in my crazy, over-crowded house, i want to share with you our favorite: challah french toast. yes, i am claiming this as a jewish food despite its availability at almost any nyc brunch spot. who else would have leftover challah lying around on a sunday morning? challah is asking to be french toast: it’s sweet, it’s fluffy, and it toasts wonderfully. i had the pleasure of cooking with a friend today, and she shared her favorite proportions of the ingredients you will see below…
i started with amiee’s wonderful challah recipe and changed it a bit by using whole wheat flower.
six strand style
Well the heathen chicken wagon rolls forward with entry number two. Sumac berries are the red ripe berries of the the non-poisonous variety of the sumac tree found in the Middle East. Not to be confused with its North American relative. It is widely used in Jewish and Arab cooking and almost any Arab restaurant worth its salt (from the old Roman custom of paying soldiers in salt) will have a sumac rubbed chicken on the menu. The presence of it in a Jewish establishment marks the menu as coming from the Syrian, Lebanese or Land of Israel Jewish communities. The flavor is bright, tart and reminiscent of cranberry or currant.
I found mine in a middle eastern market here in Berkeley. I am always of two minds when shopping in these places. On one hand I lived for several years in Israel, have an array of Arab friends and even spent a week eating my way through Amman. So I am tempted to ask for things with a degree of comfort and even engage with the staff about whether the Za’atar is fresh and the pita local. On the other hand by doing so I know that sooner or later I will be asked where my knowledge comes from (I do not look in any way Middle Eastern). That is usually a relationship killer. But not always, I recall the owner of a Kebab place in Kansas City who was from the West Bank. He told me he loved American Jews- they were his best customers. In the end I kept my mouth shut and bought some ground sumac, some za’atar and some fava beans. The za’atar and the fava beans are for another day of cooking however.
The other thing I should point out is that I roast my chicken butterflied. This is a technique that I use to allow for a more even cooking time (the breasts and thighs cook at the same speed) and you get a nice expanse of crisp skin as a bonus. Also it should go without saying that you should brine your chicken. I added a tsp of sumac and a tsp of smoked paprika to the brine.
Recipe after the jump
“Why the number 1?” you might ask. Well roast chicken is such an integral part of the Jewish family kitchen I am confident that the heathens will produce multiple roast chicken recipes. Roast chicken is a staple of Friday night dinners and holidays alike. This most likely has to do with the fact that kosher chicken was more readily available and cheaper than beef, and this has become the case once again as well. I tend to eschew meat and poultry that has been produced using factory or CAFO farming practices ,and given the propensity of these practices and a rash of other embarrassing scandals in the kosher slaughter business, I almost never buy kosher meat these day . That aside, kosher chicken has one distinct advantage: the salting process essentially makes it pre-brined. So if you don’t feel like going through the hassle of brining, which I believe is a must, get yourself a kosher chicken. If you want to brine your own, I suggest the Cooks Illustrated Basics of Brining guide, which is free for download.
Today I have discovered that the level of attraction between brine and my kitchen floor is intractable. For the third time in about six months I have spilled several quarts of brine, soaking my throw rugs. This may have a bit more to do with my bumblebee attention span and propensity to forget to close the jumbo zip-top bags I use for brining, before I walk away to get my meat. But a load of laundry and a second batch of brine got me back on track. One particularly handy piece of kitchen gear when roasting a chicken is (surprise) a roasting pan with a rack. You can go crazy and spend anywhere from $25 to $200 on a pan, but I think ones in the $50-75 are your best bet, giving you a good sized pan with a v-shaped rack. If you don’t have the cash to shell out for a pan you can also just make balls of aluminum foil to prop your chicken up off the bottom of the pan.
Last week I came into a large jar of local honey , my sweet tooth has yet to dissipate and my rosemary bushes went crazy this summer, so I decided to do a honey-lemon-rosemary chicken.
recipe after the jump
I too made my challah recipe today, so it appears to be a true bake-off. As soon as I began gathering my ingredients I came to the the startling realization that I have not made challah in almost 9 months, probably the longest I have ever gone. Just to differentiate from Gordon, I decided to do mine by hand, a task I have not undertaken since the magical day over five years ago when my KitchenAid stand mixer entered my life. As Gordon pointed out it is traditional at Rosh Hashana to bake your challah in rounds to symbolize the cycle of the year, but I never really mastered the spiral braid so I made some challah rolls as a smaller nod to the holiday.
shana tova! mini-round challah.
Tanned, rested and ready for dinner
Ok, first off let me say that a good challah recipe is much like a trade secret, and in that regard I am indebted to Amiee for sharing her great-grandmothers winning formula. However since I cannot leave well enough alone I started playing with it with an eye towards making it a little easier and perhaps a bit tastier. Amiee will share her version as well so you have two paths towards a bevy of compliments come Friday evening.
For those of you with a more intellectual bent, it is worth noting that Challah is not actually a style of bread. Rather it refers to the act of pulling off a small amount of the dough and allowing it to burn in the back of the oven as a sacrificial acknowledgment of God’s bounty. Depending on where you are in the Jewish world Challah could look like anything including the Caucus Mountain version that looks much like an overgrown pita. The braided version that most of us know is simply the style that was prevalent in Eastern Europe when people started coming to America. In Israel the challah sold in grocery stores isn’t braided, rather it is molded to look like it has been. If you plan on making for Rosh HaShannah you should make it in a spiral, a symbol of the continuity of creation.
Read on for details
Schmaltz, or rendered chicken fat is an Ashkanazi comfort food. My mother told me that when she was a child she would eat it smeared on bread as a snack after school. Like most of the food that came with the Jews from Eastern Europe, schmaltz is a food of poverty. Meat was very expensive for most and a real luxury (why do think that Shabbat dinners only rated chicken, and only around big holidays like Passover they splurged for brisket- a really lousy cut of meat?). The result of this condition is that no part of the bird was wasted. This is often referred to as the “snout to tail” approach to food as championed by Anthony Bourdain and others. Since I had just purchased two whole chickens and broken them down into parts for other meals I was faced with the question of what to do with the carcasses. Continue reading