Monthly Archives: September 2011

UN General Assembly Links Roundup

This entry was posted in General on by .

The 66th session of the UN General Assembly is this week in New York, and with Palestinians potentially seeking UN recognition as a state, there has been plenty of coverage from all Jewish media fronts. If you’d like to follow along with what’s going on, here are a few places to get you started:

JTA’s Capital J Blog has launched their coverage with the full video and text of President Obama’s speech, as well as footage of a small group of rabbis and pro-Israel activists arrested for protesting in the streets. Capital J should be continuing their coverage all week.

The Jerusalem Post has extensive coverage of the assembly from both UN headquarters and the reactions in Israel.

– Besides fulfilling her role as NY correspondent for the JPost, Jordana Horn is also writing for Kveller about balancing the madness of the UN with taking care of her newborn baby. Read her chronicles from Day 1 and Day 2, and follow along all week.

Posted on September 22, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Sing Along with Kveller

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Do you live in Brooklyn? Do you like music?

If the answer’s yes to the first question, then come out to Kveller’s weekly singalong in Park Slope. It’s a fun, casual venue for kids and parents. And if the answer’s no to the first question and yes to the second, then just watch this video to see 55 seconds of the most fun you can have with music and puppets.

Eagle-eyed viewers might recognize a cameo from the puppets of our Purim video, Purim with Puppets — and the folks of Yellow Sneaker Productions, who helped us make it. The next singalong is tomorrow morning, so bring your baby! Or just bring yourself! Or just stand in the corner if you’re shy and nod your head in time to the beat! We won’t think any less of you, we promise.

Posted on September 21, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

An Arrogant Revolution

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

I couldn’t seem to escape Egypt this year – though I never set foot outside New York.

For months, I worked fiendishly to finish The Arrogant Years, my memoir which takes place in Cairo and New York. But whenever I’d put the book aside, I would follow news of the revolt unfolding on Tahrir Square. The revolution was addictive – I couldn’t seem to get enough of it. I found myself constantly clicking on online news of Cairo, or tuning in to CNN. It was all so exciting.

And terrifying. Even as I witnessed the euphoria, I felt a strange sense of alienation – I couldn’t feel much joy or passion, couldn’t quite cheer the protestors as the entire rest of the world seemed to be doing.

As I noted in an essay for The Wall Street Journal this weekend, I have been feeling uneasy since the start of the uprisings. Yes, I supported calls for democracy and believed that strongman Hosni Mubarak had far outstayed his welcome. I simply thought that viewing him as the cause of all of Egypt’s woes – even as the military that had ruled the country with an iron hand for 60 years was being embraced as saviors – was bizarre and misguided.

Nine months after the protests began, Mubarak is gone, on trial, and possibly on his way to being executed — but Egypt seems no closer to democracy. Worse still, it has descended into a kind of lawlessness, marked by occasional really scary incidents – attacks on Coptic Christians, the brutal sexual assault of CBS reporter Lara Logan, and, most recently, the storming of the Israel Embassy in Cairo, which forced the departure of the Ambassador and his staff.

All of this has made me terribly sad – and brought back some awful memories to boot. Somehow I have found myself transported to an Egypt I didn’t really know, when I wasn’t even born — the Egypt of that first revolution of 1952, when King Farouk was overthrown, the military took over, and the world as my Egyptian-Jewish parents knew it turned mean and fierce. There was a certain wildness, terror to the period, I was always told. Egypt’s Jewish community, once comprised of 80,000 Jews or more, left in droves until there were only a few Jewish families, including mine, trying to hang on.

We left in 1963 and settled in New York. My parents spoke lovingly of the Egyptians they had left behind, with one exception – the dictator Gamal Abdel Nasser who was charismatic, arrogant and bombastic, and galvanized the public with a rhetoric of hate. The experience taught my family – taught all of Egyptian Jewry, I think – to be watchful and wary of revolutions and all they promise.

Hence my lack of excitement at a time everyone – even my mother-in-law – seemed to be cheering Mubarak’s ouster and the events in Tahrir Square and the promise of it all.

It is rather stunning to me how ineffectual the Egyptians have proven to be at nation-building. They were terrific protesters, the world was riveted by the daily protests and everyone raved about the “Google guy” and the “Facebook revolutionaries.” Yet none of these original leaders with their lofty promises of democracy and their slick use of the Internet has emerged to date to take the country to the next phase. Instead, the ones to watch have been the Muslim Brotherhood, who seem determined – despite their moderate patina – to take Egypt in a different and frightening direction.

This past year I could always find comfort in my book, and the very different Cairo I was conjuring up – my mother’s Cairo, the Cairo of the 1920s and 1930s, when there was genuine political debate and a tolerant society. Egypt was ruled by a monarch, yes, and yet to my mind, looking back, King Fouad seems so much more benign somehow than those military guys who came to power in 1952. The Cairo of my book is particularly striking because of the lovely status Jews enjoyed – in the same period that they faced persecution in Europe, they were rising to the top of this Arab society.

There were even Jewish Pashas, the most prestigious social title that an Egyptian could enjoy.

It seems to have been such a promising society, truly multicultural, where Jews and Moslems and Christians seemed to co-exist with a considerable degree of harmony. What I find myself wondering is why the Egyptians, as they cast about for a model of nation-building – Turkey, Iran, Hamas – don’t simply look back to this halcyon period of their own history?

Lucette Lagnado will be blogging here all week.

Posted on September 21, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Coming Home for Rosh Hashanah

This entry was posted in Holidays on by .

Ever since we had kids, I’ve started to really love the idea of coming back home. Maybe it’s to see my parents, and hope that one day my own kids will feel a similar filial pull. Maybe it’s the idea of multiple generations of Roths coming together. Nah — it’s actually because my parents love taking care of my kids. Especially the waking-up-early-with-them-so-I-don’t-have-to part.

Last year, Jeremy Moses and I met up with Jon Friedman, the host of the Rejection Show and (at the time) a writer on Jimmy Fallon, where we asked him to share a story about growing up Jewish. He told about his first time back home, visiting his parents…and how nothing would be the same again.


Posted on September 20, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Mourning My Arab Spring

This entry was posted in Israel on by .

Lucette Lagnado’s most recent book, The Arrogant Years: One Girl’s Search for Her Lost Youth, from Cairo to Brooklyn, is now available. Lucette won the 2008 Sami Rohr Prize for Jewish Literature for her memoir The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit: A Jewish Family’s Exodus from Old Cairo to the New World. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning’s Author Blog.

What is going to happen to the Arab Spring – no, not that Arab Spring but my own recent awakening and love affair with the Middle East?

I have been gripped by fear since January, watching the uprisings, not knowing how these movements would all shake out, unable to get my arms around them. Lately, fear has been replaced by sadness and melancholy. I feel as if a chapter is ending for me – the chapter of my personal Arab Spring.

In the last couple of years since my memoir, The Man in the White Sharkskin Suit, came out, I savored the opportunity to reach distant audiences, but looking back, nothing stirred me as much as my book’s popularity in Egypt.

When I first heard my book was selling briskly in Cairo, I was amazed. Why would a memoir by an Egyptian-Jew about her exiled family resonate in Egypt? Why would Egyptian Moslems or Christians even care about my story?

On a visit to Cairo and the popular Diwan bookshop, a sparkling oasis of Arabic and foreign language books complete with a coffee bar, I spoke to the owner and learned that Sharkskin was in effect a bestseller.

Its owner invited me to do a reading. I still recall the joyous, loving crowd circling around me – elegant women not in veils, debonair gentlemen who seemed to have stepped out of my father’s 1940s Cairo.

Looking out at the crowd I had my own Sally Fields-at-the-Oscars moment: They like me, they really like me, I thought.

After my lecture, young woman, a reporter, came over and said, “You are as Egyptian as I am.”

When my book was published in Arabic, I returned for another reading. This time I stood side by side with my Egyptian publisher at Diwan. I would read a passage, he would read the same passage in Arabic. I have never felt so proud – I was being read in the language of my father.

I continued to hear from Egyptians when I returned to the U.S. They managed to find me through email or Facebook, and they seemed very anxious to tell me how they felt about my book – how much they’d loved it. Many addressed me by my childhood nickname, “Loulou.” I corresponded with several of them, moved by how eager they were to befriend me. I thought of moving back to Egypt – perhaps renting an apartment for several months. That is what I mean by experiencing my own Arab Spring – a time when I felt reconciled with my own past.

I had stumbled quite by accident into an Egypt that was terribly nostalgic, that was turning to the past as one way to escape the tribulations of life. There was a longing to learn about the monarchy, and there was also a hunger to learn about Jews.

Once upon a time, Jews were all around, fully integrated members of Egyptian society. They went to school with Muslim children and later as adults they worked side by side with them, and often they socialized together. Then, suddenly they were gone – a community of 80,000 began leaving in droves, until there were only a handful of Jews left. An entire generation of Egyptians grew up without knowing Jews – only hearing about them through their parents or relatives.

Then Sharkskin came along, and Egyptians began to rediscover Jews.
Some were too young to have known any – they actually wrote to tell me that – and yet had heard stories from relatives who still remembered the days when Egypt was a cosmopolitan, multicultural, multi-ethnic society.

Those first months of the revolution, the emails and letters stopped. I felt badly – I’d always been so excited to receive them. But they’ve resumed of late, and in my Facebookpage, many of the people who reach out to me are Egyptian.
Yet it is not the same. Egypt suddenly seems like a forbidding society. There have been too many disturbing incidents, chaos reigns, as does hostility toward Jews.

And that is what I mean by the end of my Arab Spring – a sense that I really can’t go home again.

Lucette Lagnado will be blogging here all week.

Posted on September 19, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Settling a Debate in an NYC Cab

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her perfect day, her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

As a New Yorker, I brave the cracked pavement, dodge the deliverymen on bicycles and boast of my worn MetroCard. But there is one mode of transportation that, while costly, can be more than a way to get from point A to Point B. I relish my place firmly seated and belted into the back of the iconic yellow New York City cab. I proudly raise my hand, a little sweaty in the sweltering summer heat or snuggly gloved on a cold winter’s day, to hail the cabs that whiz by. I am that rare passenger who notes the driver’s name not because I am sure I will have to report him to the taxi and limousine commission, but because I want to engage him in conversation and knowing his name makes our ride more personal and relatable.

So what do we talk about? Invariably politics arises, as most of the cabbies hail from somewhere else and came to America for a better life. They are at the same time grateful for America welcoming them and vocal about the mishandling of many current issues. The typical cabbie has the radio on the entire day and their stations seem to hover on talk radio where they are inundated with political views and pundits weighing in. I find that whether they moved from West Africa to West Harlem or Jamaica in the Caribbean to Jamaica Queens, they have focused opinions and a clearer understanding of how politics function (or don’t) than they do of which route is faster and cheaper.

While I too am fascinated with current events, I find my conversation always turns to food. The intriguing accents prompt me to ask, “where are you originally from?” I have met drivers from just about every region Rand McNally can map. There is no doubt that there are a disproportionate number of drivers from Pakistan, India, and Middle Eastern countries. From kippahs to turbans, the drivers represent their region with pride. On one short ride from the Upper East Side to midtown Manhattan I had the pleasure of talking to a Jewish cabbie who immediately sensed I was Jewish as well. We talked about children and parents and then I slipped into the conversation that I had just completed writing a cookbook called The Kosher Carnivore. “Ah,” he said, “you are the perfect person to end a debate for me.”

“Happily,” I replied. He began to tell me that for years his wife would prepare kosher chicken for Shabbat. When he would offer to stop at a regular market to buy a bird, she would reply adamantly, “it needs to be a kosher bird.” “Why?” he would ask, “we’re not kosher.” “Oh,” she would reply, “what do you know? My mother tells me it’s a better bird.” He then asked me for my informed opinion.

I was in a position to settle an argument that had endured for decades. I could bring glory to the driver who was right in saying it didn’t matter or lend credence to his mother-in-law who felt it decidedly did. What to do, what to do??? I find the truth and the facts always work best, so I replied with clear conviction. “A kosher chicken is superior!”

That’s not only my professional opinion, but a conclusion reached by America’s test kitchens and published in their magazine Cooks Illustrated. After testing a number of well-known brands, they concluded without a doubt that kosher chickens are the best. It makes sense. After all, kosher birds are essentially brined as a result of the koshering process and while they can be a bit more feathered and in need of electrolysis when you get them home, they are definitely plumper and juicier.

He looked a bit dejected and sorry that he ever brought the discussion up. I told him he would need to make peace with both his wife and, more humbling, with his mother-in-law. He then shared with me that his wife had passed several years ago and his mother-in-law long before that. He now felt he owed them both an apology that was impossible to deliver. I apologized for enlightening him and ending the debate not as he hoped I would. He chuckled and said, “at least the next time I go to Scarsdale for Shabbat dinner at my daughter’s, I will be sure to tell her I can stop at the kosher butcher to pick up the chicken. She will be so impressed that I knew instinctually which bird to buy!”

Simple Spatchcocked Chicken and roasted root vegetables

Grab your dictionary and you’ll find that spatchcock is a method of splitting (butterflying) achicken. It’s a fun word, which you can use to impress your friends or win at Scrabble. If time is crunching, but you want to make a crispy, flavorful roast chicken, butterflying is a great option.

Behind the Counter
Have your butcher, butterfly the chickens. You can do this yourself by removing the backbone and pressing down on the breast till flat.

Alternate cut turkey parts(=$)
About 2 to 4 servings
Start to Finish Under 1 ½ hours

1 (3 1/2 -to-4-pound) chicken
1 to 2 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 parsnip, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 medium celery root, trimmed, peeled and cut into small dice
1 medium leek, split and rinsed, white part only
4 sprigs rosemary
4 sprigs thyme
1/2 head of garlic, unpeeled, with the top cut off
1 to 2 cups chicken stock
1/2 cup white wine
Juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon corn starch

Dry the chicken and place the bird on a paper towel-lined plate, refrigerate, uncovered for 1 hour. This can be done earlier in the day, cover the chicken if it sits longer than an hour. When ready to roast, preheat the oven to 425 degrees, and take the chicken out of the fridge. Drizzle olive oil over the chicken and season both sides with salt, pepper and paprika.

Prepare the veggies by cutting the carrots, parsnips and celery root into 1-inch thick pieces. For the celery root, remove the Medusa looking end and stand the celery root on this flat side. Using a wide knife, cut around the root, holding one hand on top of the celery root and turning it as you go. Cut off the remaining end. Cut the celery root into rounds, then into cubes.

For the leeks, remove the tough green ends. Split the leeks down the middle lengthwise, andthen cut them lengthwise again. Rinse them thoroughly under cold running water, pat dry. Donot separate the leeks into strands, they roast better when they are left intact.

Place the leeks, rosemary and thyme in the center of a roasting pan. Lay the chicken, skin side down on top of the leeks. Sprinkle the carrots, parsnips, garlic and celery root around the chicken. Drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables and season with salt and pepper. Pour 1 cup of stock into the pan.

Roast at 425 degrees, uncovered, for 20 minutes. Using tongs, turn the chicken over and continue roasting for 20 minutes longer. Position the legs so they slightly cover the breast, this will help the legs brown while preventing the breast from overcooking. Baste the chicken with the collected juices, and roast until a meat thermometer inserted in the thigh portion reads 160 to 165 degrees. Remove the chickens to a plate, and cover loosely with foil. They will gain 5 to 10 degrees while resting.

Remove the vegetables with a slotted spoon and cover to keep warm. Remove the garlic cloves and squeeze the garlic from each clove, into the roasting pan. Discard the outer skins. Take the roasting pan and place it on the stove. Skim off some of the fat, and then add the remaining stock, wine, lemon and 1 teaspoon of cornstarch. Whisk to pick up any brown bits in the pan and incorporate the ingredients, being sure to mash the garlic into the sauce. Heat the sauce until it thickens. Spoon the sauce over the chicken and vegetables and serve.

June Hersh has been blogging all week for MyJewishLearning and the Jewish Book Council’s Author Blog. Her new book is The Kosher Carnivore.

Win free cookbooks! Enter MyJewishLearning’s Rosh Hashanah Recipe Contest!

Posted on September 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Let There Be Light

This entry was posted in Beliefs on by .

This year, I’ve been obsessing about Psalm 27, the one that starts out “The Lord is my light and my salvation,” which traditional Jews recite every morning of the month of Elul. No coincidence that it’s been popping up a lot — check out this great spoken-word version of the psalm from Danny Raphael, and read Mary J. Blige’s piece on spiritual light for Jewels of Elul.

Today’s Jewel of Elul is about light, too. It’s a much different take on the topic — as you’ll see.

Jewels of Elul Web Banner - 160 x 600 pixelsThere is a great Jewish tradition to dedicate the 29 days in the month of Elul to study and prepare for the coming high holy days. The time is supposed to challenge us to use each day as an opportunity for growth and discovery. Each day, Jewels of Elul brings you a different thought.

It was dawn. My mother and I watched silently as the sun rose on a new day, the seventh day of my brother’s shiva. My brother, Nadav Elad, had been an IDF soldier in one of the elite units of the paratroopers.

We should have hated the sun, lighting up a world that seemed so broken to us now. Yet my mother gently laid her eyes on the view unfolding through the light, and with deep gratitude gave thanks for its existence. Light, she said, had witnessed Nadav’s presence in this world, as we have. And so now we are partners, holding his memory together and testifying that he had lived under the sun.

Read the rest on >>

Posted on September 16, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Share Your Rosh Hashanah Menu and Win a Cookbook

This entry was posted in Culture, Holidays on by .

Well, it’s that time of year again. The time of year when I try to figure out who I’m going to invite to Rosh Hashanah (there’s a spreadsheet!) and what I’m going to make. Actually, it was that time of year about a week and a half ago, but my kitchen only got fully assembled last night, so I’m playing catch up.

So, what am I going to make? Last year I did a breakfast themed meal with fancy breakfast foods. And I did a more traditional meal, with some Rosh Hashanah classics like matzah ball soup and an amazing apple cake. This year I am drawing a blank. I think yes for matzah ball soup. I feel strongly I should include a kugel. But what of main dishes? Fish? A vegetable medley? What about dessert? Also, this is a three day holiday, so there is a LOT of food to buy and prepare ahead of time.
[This picture is what happens when you search for "menu planning" in our stock photo service. Which reminds me--enter our Holiday Photo Contest!]

To help me figure out what to make I am rifling through some of my favorite cookbooks and clicking through the archives at some of my favorite food blogs. Which mostly is making me hungry.

So, what are you making for your Rosh Hashanah celebration? Share your menu, or the highlights of your menu, in the comments. We’ll pick the tastiest-sounding menu and send you a copy of the Enyclopedia of Jewish Food by Gil Marks. This is basically the Jewish cookbook to end all Jewish cookbooks. With information and stories about everything from Apple Cake to Zimstern.

Contest ends on Friday September 23rd at midnight, so share your menu now! Good luck and Shanah Tovah!

PS—Don’t forget to enter your photos in our holiday photo contest, too!

Posted on September 15, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

A Picture Perfect Day

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

Earlier this week, June Hersh wrote about her Jewish culinary journey and unraveled the mystery of Jewish food. She will be blogging all week for Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

I am not Martha Stewart, and I don’t have a staff of twenty to help me prepare a dish or stage a photo.  But I didn’t need her perks on a sunny August day when I was preparing to photograph my food for The Kosher Carnivore, my second book.  My first book, Recipes Remembered, featured historic and archival photos of the survivors whose stories I told.  Glossy color shots and well-set vignettes were not appropriate for a book focused on the Holocaust.  But for The Kosher Carnivore, we wanted to show the yummy food in all its glory, and that meant me and my digital camera would need to be replaced by a professional photographer.

I was not stranded on my kitchen island without some assistance.  My two supportive daughters were there to lend a hand.  Jennifer would be my enthusiastic sous chef and cleaner-upper — a skill she inherited from her very meticulous and helpful father.  Allison, would be my set designer, as she has a creative flair and an eye for photography.  But the real hero would be noted food photographer Ben Fink.  He has shot images for celebrity chefs and Food Network icons, and now he was coming to my house to film my food.

The night before I diligently enforced the three words that every chef evokes: mise en place.  In French, that translates to mean “everything in place,” and for cooks it is what stands between disaster and delicious.  Prepping ingredients, stocking my pantry, and setting a timeline were part of my late night homework.  Ziploc bags became filled with chopped onions, diced carrots and julienned leeks.  The fridge was loaded with uncorked wine, lemons waiting to be zested and meat and poultry marinating the night away.

I didn’t need a rooster to wake me as I barely closed my eyes, reviewing my notes and plotting my course.  I had the daunting task of preparing 19 separate dishes to shoot the 11 photos we had hoped to capture. I needed to be part circus juggler, part Julia Child and part Zen master as without calm the day would be a catastrophe.

With ovens preheating exactly on time, pans sizzling when they were supposed to and pots boiling in anticipation, I began my day well before the morning pundits were delivering the news.  As the beef was seasoned and speedily tucked into the oven, the first of several timers was set.  The bird was butterflied for the spatchcocked chicken and it waited its turn patiently as the roast began to brown.  If the food emerges too soon it withers while the shot is being set up. Too late and you lose precious time and natural light.  Ben and my personal assistants were terrific.  Like Rocky retreating to his corner, I was given quick shoulder rubs, short pep talks and the occasional pat on the tush with a “go get em mom” to renew my energy!

At the end of the day we had some fabulous photos and more meat lining my counter than a butcher shop the day before Passover.  I was in a veritable food coma as we devoured every dish that emerged.  We ate prime rib and Yorkshire pudding for breakfast, fried chicken and mashed potatoes for mid-morning snack and herb crusted lamb chops with creamed spinach (that’s right, without cream or butter) for lunch.  Dessert was veal Milanese topped with field greens. Our midday feeding frenzy began with sliced hanger steak followed by pasta tossed with broccoli rabe and kosher sausage.  With not much room left, we nibbled on brisket and kasha, pretzel rolled hotdogs and lamb sliders. We washed it all down with the last dish of the day, Asian chicken noodle soup.

I was happily exhausted as the sun began to set and the photos uploaded to Ben’s laptop.  My hair was tussled, my apron stained, my feet aching – no one said it would be glamorous.  But in a whirlwind 24 hours, I gained confidence – and pounds – and was completely satisfied with both.

Abundant Asian Noodle Soup

I like to think of this soup as a salad bar in a soup bowl, where everyone can add their own favorite vegetables to the sublime flavor of the sweet and sour broth.

About 4 servings

Start to Finish  Under 30 minutes

1 quart chicken stock
¾ pound bok choy, rinsed, white part chopped, leafy portion cut into strips.
½ pound Napa cabbage, leafy part only, chopped
6 ounces white mushrooms sliced very thin, caps only
1 (7-ounce) jar baby corn, drained
1 garlic clove, smashed
3 tablespoons low sodium soy sauce
1 tablespoon mirin
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
Pinch of ground ginger
1 (3-ounce) package ramen, shirataki or udon noodles, prepared as directed
2 cups shredded chicken (see pages136-137 to prepare freshly roasted breasts, or use “ bonus” chicken)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 scallions, chopped
Chili-garlic sauce, to taste

In a large soup pot add the stock and heat just until simmering. Add the white portion of the chopped bok choy, chopped Napa cabbage, sliced mushrooms, baby corn and garlic clove to the soup. In a small bowl, mix together the soy, mirin, vinegar and ginger, and then add to the soup pot.  Heat for about 15 minutes on a low flame.

While the soup cooks, prepare the noodles according to package directions, reserve.

Add the chicken pieces and strips of the bok choy leaves to the soup and cook until everything is heated through, about 5 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper and adjust the soy (for salty), mirin (for sweet) and vinegar (for sour) to balance the taste.  Evenly divide the prepared noodles into the soup bowls and ladle the hot soup over them.  Sprinkle with the chopped scallions and for those who like it spicy, top with a shot of chili-garlic sauce.


The mixture of vegetables is endless, and you can easily add more veggies to this pot, you’ll have less broth to solid ration, but that’s OK.  Straw mushrooms, water chestnuts and bamboo shoots can all be added after being drained and rinsed. Fresh vegetable options include snow peas, green peas, thinly sliced carrots, and fresh bean sprouts. Use your imagination and your family’s personal favorites to create the perfect mélange.

Check back tomorrow for June Hersh’s final post and recipe for the MJL/JBC Author Blog.


Posted on September 15, 2011

Note: The opinions expressed here are the personal views of the author. All comments on MyJewishLearning are moderated. Any comment that is offensive or inappropriate will be removed. Privacy Policy

Unraveling the Mystery of Jewish Food

This entry was posted in Culture on by .

On Monday, June Hersh gave a recipe for Moroccan lamb shanks. She is the author of The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, available this week. She will be blogging all week for the Jewish Book Council and MyJewishLearning‘s Author Blog.

As a food writer you need to be prepared to answer just about any question tossed at you during a Q&A. I like to feel I know my subject matter inside and out, and I admit to late night Googling (that sounds x-rated) to research something I am not 100% certain of. While I should be dreaming of food, I am instead trying to unravel its mysteries. My obsession with information is justified as I have been asked if a free-range chicken is happier than its caged neighbor, or whether America’s fascination with hummus is a fad or here to stay. Understanding food is my job, and the better my understanding the more clearly I can communicate the power of food through the recipes I write. No query has kept me awake more nights then a question I was asked during a radio interview: what is Jewish food? Truth is, it’s a great question with no easy answer.

In my first book, Recipes Remembered: A Celebration of Survival, I told the stories of Holocaust survivors and recreated their cherished recipes. No one would question that the kugel I tasted, the matzo ball soup I slurped and the brisket I devoured were Jewish foods. They have been eaten in every Jewish home, prepared in a myriad of ways and while ingredients and techniques vary, they definitely fall into the Jewish food arena.

My second book, The Kosher Carnivore: The Ultimate Meat and Poultry Book, was designed to be a departure from the typical Jewish cookbook, focusing on techniques and recipes that crossed borders and time-zones and appealed to both Jewish and non-Jewish cooks alike. Using a meaty cut of osso buco or a testosterone driven capon, I prepared what I consider to be eclectic but unexpected kosher food. Yet once the word kosher is involved in a book title, the perception is you are presenting Jewish food.

The real issue is how do we define Jewish food when we don’t have a specific country we can point to for culinary inspiration? It’s not as if Israeli food represents Jewish food, or that there is a country where Jewish food is the mainstay cuisine.

Consider this: we’ve been thrown out of all the best countries in the world, so we have incorporated in our cooking style the best of every culture’s culinary point of view. We have cleverly adapted or adopted cooking from regions we have found ourselves in and made those styles our own.

Additionally, we don’t have a cooking icon who defines our cuisine. Proud Americans can point to James Beard or Julia Child, Italian cooks marvel over Mario, or the British single out…OK bad example. There are many great chefs who happen to be Jewish but they are not celebrated for preparing what many consider Jewish food.

So what makes a food Jewish? Here’s my theory: I think that beef bourguignon is Jewish food when made by a woman who endured the Holocaust on the outskirts of Paris and learned to make this classic French dish for Rosh Hashanah dinner. I propose that the Sephardic meat cakes that I helped my grandmother make every Passover typify the ultimate Jewish food for my family. It is a dish I now make annually and one I hope will endure for years to come. I contend it’s watching your favorite aunt make her signature latkes and serving them every Chanukah. And isn’t that what makes a food truly Jewish? It is the process of learning to make that dish with someone you love, it is the hope that dish will find a legacy, it is the association of that food with a family gathering. It is an indefinable cuisine with tradition being the main ingredient.

Some scholars maintain that matzo is the only true Jewish food. And who with any culinary pride or pedigree would want to lay claim to that? As far as I know there are no restaurants called “Matzo and More” or “Mostly Matzo.” So, in our search for a Jewish restaurant, is our local deli the only fix for traditional Jewish fixings?

Absolutely not. You don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to detect the ubiquitous Jewish dishes disguised in many of today’s trendiest restaurants. Visit the newest three-star eatery where the decibel level is only exceeded by the number of young things stacked at the bar. Order the toasted buckwheat with farfalle and smile, because you’re eating kasha varnishkes. Try the paper-thin dumplings stuffed with beef and onions and understand they are kreplach answering to another name. Care to cool off with chilled roasted beet soup? That’s borscht in my book. And when you order biscotti for dessert, remember, twice baked mandel bread is biscotti’s Jewish cousin with less effective PR.

And what about buzz words like locavore and organic, which might seem new and flashy? Jewish cooks were organic locavores long before the terms became fashionable. They knew that if it grew in your backyard or was raised on the farm next door, it was dinner. These cooks can prepare cabbage a hundred different ways and manage to nuance sweet and sour so that your tongue delights like a choreographed dance. In writing and researching both books, it struck me that the more we move forward in our food trends the closer we get to the Jewish food our grandparents prepared. If we ate like 85-year-old Polish peasants, we could skip the occasional spin class, lighten up on the energy bars and enjoy a shot of schnapps a little more often.

Tonight when I am awake at a time I should be asleep and I am tempted to Google some obscure food, I should turn off the light, shut down the computer and be contented that I am satisfied with my answer to the question “what is Jewish food?” It is not limited by region, not constrained by ingredients, and never short on love and tradition. It might be difficult to define, hard to categorize or even digest. But, it is the food that has always nurtured and nourished us, and is happily enjoying a spirited revival in the hands of a new generation of Jewish cooks.

Mediterranean Osso Buco with zesty gremolata

This dish, which has its roots in Milan, is braised in wine and aromatics and served over saffronscented rice. Osso Buco actually translates to mean, “ hole bone”, alluding to the rich melt inyour mouth marrow contained in the center. Be sure to provide small forks or little knives tocoax out the soft delicacy. This recipe calls for a dash of balsamic vinegar and the option ofadding olives and anchovies to give the dish a little extra intrigue. The gremolata topping isoptional, but lends a vibrant note when spooned over the veal.

Behind the Counter Have your butcher cut the shanks into 2 ½ – to – 3-inch pieces (about10 ounces each). Ask your butcher to tie kitchen twine around the outside of the meat, as ifcinching the shank with a belt at the waist, so that it does not fall off the bone when cooking.Alternate cuts There is no exact substitute that will produce the same dish, but you can use thesesame ingredients and method to prepare veal spare ribs (-$) or lamb shanks (-$).

About 4 servings
Start to Finish: Under 2 ½ hours

4 veal shanks cut osso buco style
3 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup flour for dredging, seasoned with 1 teaspoon kosher salt, ½ teaspoon freshly ground blackpepper and 1 teaspoon Hungarian paprika
2 carrots, peeled and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
1 large onion, diced (about 1 cup)
2 celery ribs, cut into 1-inch pieces (about 1 cup)
4 cloves of garlic, peeled and smashed
1 cup pitted and halved Kalamata olives, optional
2 to 3 small anchovy filets, finely minced or 1 tablespoon anchovy paste, optional
¾ cup white wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
1 cup diced tomatoes, drained
2 cups chicken stock
1 bouquet garni- 1 bay leaf, 4 sprigs thyme, wrapped and tied in cheesecloth, pouch or with kitchen twine. (If you are not preparing the gremolata, then add 6 sprigs of parsley to the bouquet.)

½ cup freshly minced flat – leaf parsley
1 lemon peel, zested
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees. Heat the oil in a braising pot. Pat the veal dry, and dredge theveal in the seasoned flour. Brown the veal on both sides, over medium – high heat, until a nicebrown crust forms on each piece. Remove the veal to a plate. In the same pot, cook the carrotsand onions over medium heat, until lightly brown, about 5 minutes. Add the smashed garlic, andthe olives and anchovies if using, and cook 5 minutes longer. Pour the wine and vinegar intothe pot, scraping up any bits that collected on the bottom and cook until the liquid is reduced by
half, about 10 minutes. Place the veal back into the pot, along with any liquid that collected on the plate. Add the tomatoes and stock. The liquids shouldn’t drown the meat; the top portion ofeach shank should show. Nestle the bouquet garni in the sauce. Cover and cook at 325 degreesfor 1 ½ to 2 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Prepare the gremolata, by combining all the ingredients, reserve. When the meat is finished cooking, carefully remove the meat and vegetables from the pot with a slotted spoon. Removeand discard the bouquet garni and bring the sauce to a slow boil. To thicken the sauce, createa slurry by mixing 2 teaspoons of cornstarch with 4 teaspoons of water, stir back into the pot,heat and repeat if necessary. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Spoon the sauce over the veal(remove the string) and top each serving with a generous pinch of gremolata.

Osso Buco and rice Milanese have enjoyed a long marriage. Preparing rice Milanese is as easyas making boiled rice, with the addition of golden saffron threads, which add the mellow yellowcolor and a burst of flavor. This precious spice comes from the dried stigma of a saffron crocusand by weight is the most expensive spice in the world. You only need a pinch to impart itsdistinctive taste and distinguishing color. Prepare your white rice as directed on the package andadd a pinch of saffron to the cooking liquid. If you replace the water with chicken or vegetablestock, the flavor will be even more amplified.

Check back all week for more posts and recipes from June Hersh.

Posted on September 14, 2011

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