Lag B’Omer Hot Dog Bar

standard Saturday May 13th, 2017 Leave a response
Photo by PROJazz Guy

Lag B’Omer marks the end of the 49-day period of counting the days between Passover and Shavuot. Historically, the counting begins on the day an omer (unit of measure) of barley was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem and ends on the day before an omer of wheat was brought to the Temple. In Israel, it is celebrated with picnics, bonfires, and barbecues. How can you combine the ancient Jewish holiday of Lag B’Omer with an all American twist? Throw a hot dog bar party!

Whether you are lighting a bonfire or cooking on your grill, here is your game plan. Set up a buffet, and let your guests express their creativity. Mix and match rolls, sausages, condiments, and crunchy chips.

Sausages:

  • Beef
  • Chicken
  • Turkey
  • Lamb
  • Venison
  • Fish
  • Vegetarian

Bread:

  • Rolls
  • An assortment of sliced breads
  • Pitas
  • Tortillas

Photo by Ms. Phoenix

Fixings:

  • Mayonnaise
  • Mustard
  • Ketchup
  • Potato chips
  • Corn chips
  • Chili
  • Guacamole
  • Pickles
  • Hot peppers
  • Sweet peppers
  • Diced onions
  • Coleslaw
  • Hummus

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Limonana: The Accidental Summer Treat

standard Wednesday May 10th, 2017 Leave a response
Photo by Bernard Gagnon

“Did you drink limonana when you were a kid?” people ask me. The answer is no. Lemonade with mint (nana in Arabic) was popular in Syria and Turkey. Israel discovered limonana serendipitously, as a byproduct of an experimental advertising campaign.

Advertisements were not placed on the sides of buses until the 1990s in Israel. The first experimental ads were for a soft drink that did not exist. The advertising agency named it Limonana. After two weeks, customers and stores started demanding the Limonana. The company had to admit that the Limonana was just a made up product.

Several enterprising restaurant proprietors identified an opportunity, and created a slushy lemonade with fresh mint. The soft drink manufacturers took notice, and started bottling limonana. Now, it is possible to find lemonade with mint, limonana slush, smoothies, yogurts, and sorbets. My favorite way to enjoy limonana is to make a slush. Nothing will cool you down faster on a hot day!

Limonana Slush

  • 1 large lemon, juiced
  • 4 tablespoons sugar (or to taste)
  • 1 bunch (one handful) fresh mint sprigs
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 3 cups ice cubes
  1. Prepare a simple syrup by cooking the sugar and water until the sugar is completely dissolved.
  2. Remove from the heat and allow to cool completely.
  3. Place the simple syrup, lemon juice, ice cubes, and mint leaves in a blender.
  4. Process until you have a smooth, slushy concoction.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Israeli Independence Day Parrillada

standard Tuesday April 25th, 2017 Leave a response
Photo by verovera78.
Photo by verovera78.

Photo by verovera78.

Israelis traditionally party on Independence Day, Yom Haatzmaut, with a mangel, or Israeli barbecue. They season their meats with traditional Middle Eastern spice mixtures. The huge aliyah of Jews from Argentina has also brought recipes from one of the best cuisines of South America to Israel, including Argentinian parrillada, or barbecue.

When the sun sets on May 1, the celebrations — and the grilling — will begin.

Argentinian Parrillada

For the meat:

  • 2 lbs. beef steak or chicken
  • whole black peppercorns
  • 1 head of garlic
  • 6 tbsp. olive oil
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • 4 tbsp. white wine
  • salt
  1. Mash everything except the meat with a mortar and pestle.
  2. Pour the sauce over the meat.
  3. Allow the meat to marinate for at least 30 minutes.
  4. Grill over medium heat.
Photo by jeffreyw.

Photo by jeffreyw.

For the Criolla Salad:

  • 1 onion
  • 1 garlic clove
  • 1 small red pepper
  • 1 small green pepper
  • 1 small yellow pepper
  • 1 tomato
  • 1 green onion
  • 1 cup cilantro, minced
  • 1 cup parsley, minced
  • 1 tbsp. wine vinegar
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  1. Cube all the vegetables.
  2. Add the cilantro and parsley.
  3. Season to taste with the olive oil, vinegar, salt and black pepper.

This recipe was adapted from Cocineros Argentinos.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Tunisian Passover Fourma

standard Thursday March 30th, 2017 Leave a response

One of the staples of the Tunisian table is the fourma, or molded noodle dish. Cooked noodles are mixed with spiced meat or vegetables. Eggs are beaten and used to bind the noodle mixture. The casserole is baked and served at any meal, hot or cold. The Jews of Tunisia have a special fourma recipe that they prepare for Passover.

Tunisian Jews eat kitniyot (grains and legumes) during Passover. The starch in the Passover fourma is rice, which has been carefully picked over and cleaned to make sure that there is no chametz in it. Those of you who don’t eat kitniyot during Passover may substitute the rice in the recipe for boiled, diced potatoes or matza farfel.

Passover Fourma
Adapted from Laurent

  • 1 cup cooked brown rice
  • 1 Lb. ground beef
  • 1 large onion, minced
  • 1 cup marinara sauce
  • 4 eggs, whisked
  • 1 bunch parsley, minced
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Salt
  • Black pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Heat the olive oil in a heavy skillet.
  3. Brown the onion.
  4. Add the ground beef.
  5. Season with ground cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  6. Mix in the parsley.
  7. Set aside and allow to cool.
  8. In a large bowl mix the rice, marinara sauce, meat, and eggs.
  9. Pour the mixture into an oiled casserole dish.
  10. Bake for about 45 minutes.
  11. Serve with harissa and a crispy green salad.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Festive Bukharan Purim Bread

standard Saturday March 4th, 2017 Leave a response
Photo by Shvann https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Shvann

Jews have lived in the Central Asian city of Bukhara since the reign of King David. One of their unique Purim specialties is an intricately decorated flatbread called Kulchi Ravghaniy. Flatbreads have been baked in Bukhara for over 12,000 years, and are described in one of the world’s oldest written stories, The Epic of Gilgamesh. In Bukhara bread symbolizes life. Jews celebrate the life of Queen Esther and the Jewish community by serving these festive loaves during the Purim feast.

Uzbek Chekich (Bread Stamps). Photo: etsy

Uzbek Chekich (Bread Stamps). Photo: etsy

Bukharan Jews prepare a rich dough for Purim, flavored with sheep’s tail fat. Sheep’s tail fat or tallow is the Bukharan equivalent of schmaltz. After the yeasty dough has risen, it is divided into balls. Each ball of dough is rolled out, and decorated with a bread stamp or chekich. These stamps perforate the dough, allowing the steam to escape from the bread as it bakes, and prevent the center of the bread from rising too much.

The bread is baked in a tandyr oven. This is like a brick pizza oven. It is built of stone or clay. Wood is burned in the central chamber of the oven. The dough is slapped onto the hot walls of the oven to bake. The bread is ready when it falls from the wall onto the floor of the oven.

Photo by Arthur Chapman

Photo by Arthur Chapman

Bukahran Tallow Flatbread: Kulchi Ravghaniy
Adapted from Classic Central Asian Jewish Cuisine and Customs by Amnun Kimyagarov

  • 3 1/3 cups flour
  • 1 cake fresh yeast
  • 2/3 cup sheep tallow
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • Sesame seeds
  • Warm water
  1. Dissolve the salt in some warm water.
  2. Place the yeast in 1 cup of warm water.
  3. Heat the tallow in a pot.
  4. Pour the flour into a bowl.
  5. Create a depression in the center, and pour the warm tallow and yeast in it.
  6. Knead the dough.
  7. Add the salt brine.
  8. Continue kneading.
  9. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise for 3 hours.
  10. Punch the dough down after every hour.
  11. Divide the dough into 2 balls.
  12. Allow them to rise for 25 minutes.
  13. Heat the oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit.
  14. Roll each ball out into a ¼ inch thick circle.
  15. Make a decorative pattern with a bread stamp or fork.
  16. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  17. Cove a cookie sheet with parchment paper, and place the bread on it.
  18. Bake for 20 minutes.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

Tu BiShvat Tagine

standard Sunday February 5th, 2017 Leave a response
Tagine Clay Pot. Photo by Serena Epstein.

In Morocco, the Jewish community would celebrate Tu BiShvat by gathering for a collective feast. Tu BiShvat is the New Year of the trees as described in the Mishna. The wealthiest family would serve a delectable slow cooked meat and dried fruit dish called a tagine. It was named after the special clay pot used to prepare the stew. Traditionally it was prepared with chicken or lamb, dried fruits, and nuts. When the feast ended, every person went home with their hat filled with a gift of various fruits.

You may celebrate with your friends and family with a taste of North African hospitality this Tu Bishvat. On February 10th, when winter is in full force in Philadelphia, serve an exotic fruity chicken tagine. Send your guests home with a care package of fresh or dried fruits, just like the parnassim of Casablanca, Tangiers, and Tetouan.

Chicken Tagine. Photo by Scottish Association of Geography Teachers.

Chicken Tagine. Photo by Scottish Association of Geography Teachers.

Chicken Tagine with Honey and Dried Fruits
Adapted from Cuisine Marocaine

Ingredients:

  • 6 chicken drumsticks
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 4 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 cup dried dates
  • 1 cup raw almonds
  • 1 cup vegetable broth
  • 4 tbsp. honey
  • 1 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 tbsp. chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. ground ginger
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • Salt and black pepper to taste

Directions:

  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Add the chicken and onions.
  3. Season with the ginger, cinnamon, saffron, salt, and pepper.
  4. Mix in the honey.
  5. Toast the almonds in a hot non-stick frying pan.
  6. Place the almonds in the pot.
  7. Add the dates, garlic, cilantro, and broth.
  8. Bring to a boil, cover the pot tightly with a lid, and lower the flame to a simmer.
  9. Cook for 30 minutes.
  10. Serve with fluffy steamed couscous.

Enjoy!

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.

A Diet of Biblical Portions

standard Saturday January 21st, 2017 Leave a response
Photo by By BerndtF https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=1022691

 

Spoiled goat milk, overcooked fruit and fried locusts were just some of the food choices in “the land of milk and honey.”

One of the first things Jewish children learn about ancient Israel is that it is referred to as “the land of milk and honey.” Beyond that evocative phrase, though, how much do we really know about what the Israelites ate, and what, if any, of their food traditions live on today?

Ancient Israel was a fertile land — a land of dates, pomegranates, figs, olives, grapes, barley and wheat. This was a land that could sustain flocks of sheep and goats. While not a cookbook, the Torah was a guide to what the Israelites were and were not permitted to eat. These ancient rules persist to this day, shaping our present diet.

While they found abundance in The Land of Israel, the Israelites were respectful of their resources — and there was no waste. All food that was not consumed fresh was preserved somehow. The yearly cycle was centered on providing for the future, so that there would be food during all the seasons of the year. While the land was blessed, they always needed to anticipate the rhythm of the seasons, and the potential for natural disaster to create shortages.

They entered a Mediterranean territory with hills, shrubs and sparse amounts of fresh water. Goats and sheep could thrive in this environment — they were nimble enough to navigate the terrain and were willing to eat plants that larger livestock would reject, such as woody shrubs, vines and weeds. Goats and sheep also require less water than other livestock. The Torah describes the flocks that were kept in Genesis 29:9, when Rachel and Jacob meet as she brings her sheep to the well, and in Exodus 2:19, when Joseph rescues Zipporah and her sisters as they give water to their father’s sheep.

Goat and sheep’s milk was a staple for Ancient Israelites. The first yogurt-like cheeses were accidentally made by shepherds around 8000 BCE, when sheep and goats were first domesticated. They kept the milk in sacks made out of goat stomachs in the warm climate. The rennet naturally found in the stomachs curdled the milk, transforming it into a yogurt-like cheese. The shepherds were not in a position to waste any food, and decided to eat the “spoiled” milk anyway. They discovered that they liked its tart flavor. This was the first labaneh.

This became an important way of preserving milk. The milk was poured into a sack made of goat leather and then hung from a wooden peg, where it was rocked back and forth so that, after about 90 minutes, the fat had separated from the other liquids. Salt was added, and the cheese was drained. Some of this cheese was eaten fresh; the rest was left in the sun until it became dry and hard. This type of cheese was called afiq, and has a strong, salty flavor. It could be stored indefinitely in this state, and was reconstituted with boiling water and then eaten. What about the water left behind in the process of cheese-making? In a culture where nothing could afford to be squandered, it became a refreshing sour drink called qom. Afiq and qom are still prepared in some traditional Bedouin households to this day.

Goats and sheep are ritually clean, since they have cloven hooves and chew their cud (Leviticus 11:3-8 and Deuteronomy 14:4-8). Their milk is therefore permitted — but the Israelites needed to find a different method to preserve milk. The laws of kashrut forbade them from mixing milk with meat (Exodus 23:19), so in order to comply with the laws of kashrut, shepherds did not keep their milk in goat skin bags, but in clay jars instead. Cheese was made by heating the milk over a fire and stirring it with a fig tree branch. The sap of the fig tree curdled the milk. This produced a cheese very similar to ricotta, made even more delicious with a drizzle of honey.

Ironically, the first inhabitants of the land of milk and honey may not have had much of the latter available in biblical times. The “honey” referred to in God’s description of the Land to Moses has traditionally been interpreted to be not honey from bees, but rather fruit honey. Fruit honey was made by slowly cooking dates, carobs, figs or grapes with water until a syrup was obtained. Date honey was the most commonly available fruit syrup in those times. It was one of the methods used for preserving fruit for year-round use.

However, the Torah specifically mentions honey from a honeycomb when describing how Samson ate honey from the carcass of a lion (Judges 14:8-9). This inspired his riddle, “Out of the eater came forth food, and out of the strong came forth sweetness” (Judges 14:14).

An archaeological excavation at Tel Rehov in Israel is challenging the notion that “honey” was not honey from bees. One hundred beehives from the First Temple period were discovered during a 2007 dig. The cylindrical hives, made from unbaked clay and stacked one on top of the other, form the only apiary in the Near East that has been unearthed from this period.

Why was bee’s honey permitted? After all, bees are unkosher insects. Honey is made from the nectar of flowers, which is processed by the bees. But the end result is not part of the bee’s body, and since it does not originate from the bees, it is kosher. Bees were valuable not just for the honey they produced, but also for pollinating many edible plants.

Not all insects in biblical Israel had such a benevolent effect on the environment, as even the land of abundance was not immune to natural disasters. One of the worst catastrophes to befall people of the ancient world was the arrival of locusts. Desert locusts would travel from Africa to the Near East, arriving in Israel by way of Egypt. There were millions of locusts in one swarm, eating every plant in their path.

Locusts are the only insects that are kosher, according to Leviticus (11:20-23): “Every flying insect that uses four legs for walking shall be avoided by you. The only flying insects with four walking legs you may eat are those with knees extending above their feet, [using these longer legs] to hop on the ground. Among these you may only eat members of the red locust family, the yellow locust family, the spotted gray locust family and the white locust family. All other flying insects with four feet [for walking] must be avoided by you.” This was probably an act of compassion for pikuach nefesh, the preservation of life.

At the first sign of locusts, a shofar was sounded to alert the community. People dropped everything in order to deal with this threat to their survival, capturing as many locusts as they could with nets. The locusts were blanched in boiling water, after which their heads, wings and legs were detached before being peeled “like the scales off a fish.” Then they were preserved with sea salt or vinegar in wooden barrels. These preserved locusts carried the people through the famine that inevitably followed the destruction inflicted by the swarm.

Yemenite Jews have retained the knowledge of identifying, preparing, and eating kosher locusts. During Israel’s last locust infestation in 2013, Israeli Yemenite men traveled to the southern border with Egypt. They captured the desert locusts with nets and brought them home alive. There, they were prepared in the traditional Yemenite way: blanched, then slow-roasted in the oven overnight. The next day, they were consumed like potato chips as a crunchy snack.

God gave the ancient Israelites a good land, which nourished them. Goats and sheep supplied milk, and dates yielded fruit honey. By being respectful of the laws of kashrut, not wasting, and providing for the future, the people of Israel persevered and survived disasters such as plagues of locusts. We celebrate God’s gifts of abundance and give thanks to this day.

Ronit Treatman, the creator of Hands-On Jewish Holidays, lives in Philadelphia. This article originally appeared in Inside Magazine, a Jewish Exponent publication.

Published in The Jewish Exponent.

Romaniote Jewish Pastitsada

standard Monday January 16th, 2017 Leave a response
Photo of pastitsada from Lazy Pasta YouTube video.

A shorthand way to differentiate between Jewish communities is to denote them as “Ashkenazi” and “Sephardi.” There are several Jewish groups that do not fit into these categories. One such community is the Romaniote Jewish community of Greece.

Romaniote Jews have lived in Greece for over 2,000 years, initially arriving after the fall of the Second Temple. Some of them were brought as slaves. The name “Romaniote” is derived from the Greek name for the Byzantine Empire, “Romaioi.” They speak Yevanic, or Judeo-Greek. Many of them settled in Corfu, one of the Ionian Islands in northwestern Greece. The majority of this community was deported to concentration camps and killed during the Holocaust. Fewer than fifty Romaniote Jews remain in Ioannina today.

First settled by the Phoenicians, Corfu was conquered by the Venetians in 1386. The Venetians ruled over Corfu for 400 years. Corfu withstood two sieges by the Ottomans, never succumbing to Ottoman rule.

The original cuisine of Corfu was Mediterranean. It mainly consisted of wine, olive oil, wheat, fish, and foraged edible weeds. During the Middle Ages, when the Venetians captured Corfu, Venice controlled the spice and sugar trade. The Venetians brought new foods to Corfu from America and the Far East. These included coffee, chocolate, tomatoes, corn, peppers, and beans.

The Jewish community adopted these foods. Pastitsada is one of the most famous recipes from Corfu. Every cook has his or her own signature mix of spices that seasons the sauce. Traditionally, pastitsada was cooked with rooster meat. Cubed beef may be substituted by the modern urban chef.

Pastitsada

Adapted from Authentic Greek Recipes

  • 2 Lbs. cubed beef
  • 1 Lb. pasta
  • ½ cup olive oil
  • 1 cup tomato, cubed
  • 4 onions, chopped
  • 1 tbsp. tomato paste
  • 1 cup red wine
  • ¼ tsp. ground chili pepper
  • 6 whole cloves
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • Salt and black pepper to taste
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot.
  2. Brown the meat, and place in a separate pot.
  3. Brown the onions, and add them to the meat.
  4. Place the pot with the meat over the fire.
  5. Stir in the wine, chili pepper, cinnamon sticks, cloves, salt, and black pepper.
  6. When the wine boils down, add the tomato paste. Stir the contents of the pot until all the meat is coated with tomato paste.
  7. Add the cup of cubed tomato.
  8. Pour in enough water to cover the meat.
  9. Bring to a boil, and then simmer for 1 ¼ hours.
  10. In a separate pot, boil water.
  11. Add salt and a few drops of olive oil.
  12. Stir in the pasta.
  13. Cook until it is al dente (about 10 minutes).
  14. Drain the pasta.
  15. Serve the pasta with some meat sauce ladled onto it.

Akara: Black-Eyed Pea Fritters

standard Saturday December 31st, 2016 Leave a response
Acaraje Baiana: A Hanukkah Food
Photo by Baiana Claudia

What should you serve when the last night of Hanukkah abuts the secular New Year’s Eve? The Yoruba tribe of West Africa offers the perfect recipe for a mash-up of traditions. It makes it possible for you to combine the American southern custom of serving black-eyed peas for good luck with the Hanukkah tradition of serving latkes. The result is akara, one of the most popular snacks in West Africa.

Akara means bread in the Yoruba language, yet it is gluten-free. It is prepared by cooking and pureeing black-eyed peas, then seasoning them with salt and onions and frying them in palm oil — but, in honor of Hanukkah, this recipe calls for olive oil. After it is cooked, akara is eaten with a spicy sauce.

Akara

  • 1 can black-eyed peas
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1/4 cup minced garlic
  • Minced chili pepper to taste
  • Salt and black pepper
  • Olive oil
  1. Process the black-eyed peas in a blender.
  2. Mix with the onion, garlic, salt, black pepper and chili pepper.
  3. Shape the batter into walnut-sized balls.
  4. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  5. Fry in the olive oil until golden-brown.
  6. Serve with hot sauce.

Adapted from African Food Recipes.

Published in The Philadelphia Jewish Voice.