It’s almost the end of December, and what a delicious year we have had in 2017. Jewish food continues to thrive literally all over the world: from new cookbooks, exciting recipes and an ever-increasing number of Jewish delis and restaurants opening in even some of the most unlikely places. Hello, Jewish deli in Amsterdam and Poland!?
This past year has been an exciting, overwhelming and extraordinarily delicious year for me personally. My first cookbook Modern Jewish Baker launched in September, which offered me the true privilege to travel all over the United States talking about Jewish food, the world of Jewish digital media and my own journey as a Jewish food writer, editor and baker.
As I reflect on the past year here at The Nosher, my travels and all the delicious things we had the chance to share with all of you, our dear readers, I want to highlight some of my absolute favorites. I also want to wish you happy holidays, happy (secular) New Year and the hope for a peaceful and even more delicious 2018. Keep reading, following and noshing along with us.
The Best Halvah You’ve Ever Tasted
I’ve always been a huge fan of halvah — the sweet Middle Eastern candy made from ground sesame seeds and sugar. Even in my secular Jewish-Italian-American home, there was always a bar of chocolate-covered halvah hanging around. This year I had the chance to visit Seed & Mill in Chelsea Market, started by three female entrepreneurs in New York City who wanted to bring this Israeli treat to a new audience using the highest quality ingredients. This is seriously the best halvah I have ever eaten, and I love the range of classic and unique flavors they offer — from marble to chocolate peppermint and just about everything in between. My personal favorites are the pistachio and dark chocolate. They also offer a goat milk tahini soft serve topped with crumbled halvah and an extra drizzle of tahini. It’s incredible. You can order from them online or visit their flagship store at Chelsea Market in NYC.
Joan Nathan’s Marijuana Infused Matzah Balls
In case you missed it…Joan Nathan appeared in an episode of Viceland this year schooling us all in how to infuse classic Jewish matzah ball soup with — that’s right— weed. You can watch the video here. But Queen Joan isn’t the only one playing with the combination of marijuana and Jewish foods. There’s also “Jeff The 420 Chef” who has been infusing classic Jewish dishes like lox with weed as well. As more states move to legalize marijuana, I predict we will see more and more Jewish recipes using marijuana. And I’m not complaining.
Cheesy Boat Happiness in Queens, New York
I’ve been a huge fan of Marani restaurant in Queens, NY for the past few years. And this fall we had the chance to spend some time filming at the restaurant, which uniquely boasts a dairy and meat kitchen at its kosher restaurant in Rego Park. We started with the classic khatchapuri, a Georgian bread stuffed to the brim with a cheese blend and runny egg. And then we ventured back upstairs, where you can enjoy another Georgian classic: khinkali, which is akin to a Shanghai-style soup dumpling stuffed with spiced meat and eaten by using the “handle.” Georgian food isn’t the most readily available food; after all it’s a small-ish country with an even smaller expat community here in the United States. But it is top-notch comfort food that I want to eat again and again.
The Best Little Jewish Cookies in Texas
One of the highlights of my travel this year was spending time with Houston-based, fifth-generation Jewish bakery owner Bobby Jucker, who recounted his family’s incredible story of surviving the Holocaust and opening their family-run bakery Three Brothers Bakery in Texas. Over the course of two delightful hours, Bobby not only told me all about the bakery and his family’ history but served me an enormous assortment of Jewish treats. The beloved Texas bakery actually offers 400 different items including the best hamantaschen I have ever tasted. Ever. Bobby generously sent me off with three boxes of treats, which I shared with friends, perhaps begrudgingly. But I will admit I held onto those hamantaschen and gingerbread cookies to enjoy all myself. And I keep wondering: Will I be headed back to Houston anytime soon?
The North African Condiment Your Kitchen Needs
I’ve had a love affair with harissa, the brighty colored Moroccan condiment made from peppers and other spices, for some time. This year my affection was deepened by the introduction to NY Shuk’s harissa. NY Shuk is an artisanal foods company based in Brooklyn, NY run by husband-and-wife duo Ron and Leetal Arazi. And they aren’t just making harissa — they have a whole line of spices, preserved lemon and other items all inspired by their Sephardic Jewish heritage. We’ve been spreading their unique harissa all over chicken and roast potatoes, adding it to soup and even enjoying it in cocktails like this bloody mary. I am currently down to my last jar, which means it’s almost time to stock up. All harissas are not created equal — this one definitely stands out for its subtle, well-balanced spices and rich hue.
An Explosion of Unicorn
As 2017 comes to a close, I think we will probably stop seeing unicorn lattes, rainbow grilled cheese and other garish-colored foods. But it was fun while it lasted, and I must admit: making unicorn hamantaschen and challah was one of the most ridiculous and most wonderful things I did all year.
Jewish Breads….Other Than Challah
I might be all about the challah in my own kitchen. But I have also enjoyed some truly exceptional Jewish breads this year that weren’t challah. Yemenite kubaneh (a spongy, buttery, sometimes flaky Jewish Shabbat bread) has been creeping onto the food scene ever since American Jewish food-writing goddess Adeena Sussman and Israeli chef Gil Hovav introduced it at a NYC pop-up dinner three years ago. Since then Nur NYC is serving it up and The New York Times even featured its own recipe this year. In addition to the excitement over kubaneh, Jerusalem bagels (a flatter, thinner bagel similar in some ways to a Turkish simit) has also made some waves, appearing on both Bar Bolanat and Nur NYC ‘s menus. All I can say is, more Jewish bread please. Can we make that a hashtag for 2018?
The Best Jewish Baking Cookbook You Will Ever Buy
Ok, I might be overstating things a little bit. But I’ve got to kvell about my book baby. My book, Modern Jewish Baker, launched this year! And it was exciting, exhausting, overwhelming and everything in between. But you know what was the most delish part about the whole thing? How many beautiful pictures of baked goods people shared with me from the book, from all over the world: from friends, people I never met, people who were Jewish and a whole bunch of gentiles who just love baking challah, babka, bagels and more. And not to lay on any Jewish guilt or anything, but it’s not too late to a buy copy, nu?