The Jewish Cookbook
Jews are called the "people of the book," but if you look into most Jewish homes, you might think that book is a cookbook. Food is important to Jews the Jewish people use it in holiday celebrations, in religious rituals, and as a way to connect with family and community. Jewish food is nostalgic, rich in taste and memory, and can be as varied as Italian, French, or Chinese food.
(By the way, Jews seem to like Chinese food so much that Chinese food is simply considered "Jewish food" by many of us. However, note that few Jews actually cook any Chinese meals. Rather, it has long been a perennial favorite for take-out from a nearby restaurant. On the other hand, Jewish tastes have shifted even farther eastward in recent years: Japanese food, and sushi in particular, holds a special place for many of us, and Thai noodles were recently the popular craze in Jerusalem.)
It's Make or Bake Time
If you ask a Jew what they most like about Jewish food, they're likely to respond that either it reminds them of their childhood or that it just makes them feel Jewish. However, unless you live near New York, Los Angeles, Chicago or another major Jewish center, it's difficult to get fresh, good-tasting Jewish food. (Ted insists that his home town of Cleveland has some of the best Jewish food around.) The solution: make it yourself! Few Jewish dishes are difficult to make or require particular culinary skill.
We included several of our favorite recipes in the book; here, then are a few more for your pleasure. However, don't yell at us if we've forgotten your favorite. There are so many other great Jewish foods for example, Rugelach, Hummous, Kishka, Mandelbrodt, Tzimmes, Gefilte Fish, Corned Beef, Borscht, Brisket, smoked fish, bagels, and macaroons. You can find recipes for all of these on the Web (see Recipe Sites, below) or in one of the many Jewish cookbooks available, including Faye Levy's Jewish Cooking For Dummies and The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.
However, there's one thing we need to warn you of: When it comes to Jewish food, the phrase "eating healthy" simply means "eating less of it." We've tried to be as health-conscious as possible in these recipes (for our sake as much as yours), but the best of Eastern European Jewish food tends to be a festival of cholesterol, fat, sugar, and starch. Don't let this dissuade you. As Grandpa' Harry used to say: all things in moderation . . . including moderation!
Every ethnic cuisine has at least one dish which produces either nostalgia or nausea, depending on who it's placed in front of. The Japanese have natto, a dish of fermented soybeans which many Japanese relish, but which David counts as the foulest thing he has ever put into his mouth. Almost every cultureother than those descended from Western Europeregularly eat insects. Ashkenazi Jews have gehakte leber, or "chopped liver."
Chopped livera dense mixture of chicken liver, onions, and hard boiled eggis a heart attack waiting to happen. Nonetheless, just thinking about chopped liver makes our mouths water and reminds us of our childhoods. For those of us who grew up with it, chopped liver is nostalgia food. On the other hand, even the idea of chopped liver almost universally repulses non-Jews.
David's grandfather, Harry, made and sold chopped liver commercially for years under the name "Mama Fisher's Chopped Liver." This recipe is based on his, with a few minor modifications to our tastes.
- 1 pound of chicken livers (Avoid frozen livers; the texture is all wrong. We've heard of people making chopped liver with beef livers, but we've never tried or tasted it.)
- 1 large or 2 small onions, chopped
- 2-4 hard boiled eggs
- 1/4 cup of oil or schmaltz (rendered chicken fat)
- Salt and pepper to taste
Saute the onions in the oil until they become semi-translucent, then add livers and cook for 10 minutes, turning occasionally. Some people like to refrigerate the hard boiled eggs, and the cooked liver/onions mixture until they're chilled (for several hours or more) to give them a firmer texture. Then grind the liver and onions with the eggs (without shells, of course) together with a food grinder or food processor. If you use a food processor (like a Cuisinart®), use the pulse button to chop rather than the On button; you don't want to cream the fragile livers.
Finally, mix in salt and pepper by hand, to taste. Once you get the hang of the basic recipe, try adding other spices, too, such as paprika. Keep refrigerated, and serve slightly chilled. This mixture does not freeze well; the liver is just too fragile.
Chopped liver is a delicacy, but to be honest, we don't know that many people who eat it (at least not more than once a decade). Therefore, we include here a vegetarian version which tastes somewhat like the real thing (courtesy of Rabbi Harry Zeitlin's wife, Beth, who got it from Alan Salmanson, of Eilat Diving Supply).
- 4 hard-boiled eggs
- 2 cups walnuts
- 1 15 oz. can of green beans
- 1 15 oz. can of peas
- 2 small or medium onions
Grind the walnuts in a food processor or grinder, but be careful not to turn them to dust you want some texture. Drain the cans of green beans and peas of liquid and add to the walnuts and eggs in the food processor. Chop and sauté the onions until they're somewhat browned, then add them to the processor, too. Blend the mixture together until you like the texture (it should be well-mixed, but not too creamy). Salt and pepper to taste.
During the week of Passover (see Chapter 18), Jews traditionally don't eat any leavened bread, and instead rely on dishes made with matzah. One favorite Sunday-morning breakfast dish is matzah brei, ("fried matzah") also called "matzah eggs." (Ted never heard this title, but David grew up with it. If you knew David, you'd understand.) Of course, David says there's no reason you can't have matzah eggs anytime during the year, and so he often makes it as a special brunch dish.
True to its name, matzah eggs is little more than crumbled matzah and eggs. However, the particular ratio of matzah to eggs is up to your personal preference. Some people like it more "eggy," others like it more "matzah-y." This recipe follows the time-honored tradition of David's father, Adam. (Ted, on the other hand, uses fewer eggs in an ever-valiant effort to lower his cholesterol level.)
(Note that some Ultra-orthodox Jews won't eat matzah brei during Passover because you mix the matzah plumps when you mix it with water and cook it. That just means there's more for the rest of us!)
- 9 pieces plain matzah
- 7 eggs
- 1/4 cup milk (soy or rice milk makes this non-dairy)
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla (optional but very nice)
- 1 tablespoon butter or oil
- Cinnamon, jams, powdered sugar, and other condiments
Rinse the matzot under cold water and then crumble them into a bowl so that the largest piece is smaller than 1-inch in diameter. Beat the eggs together with the milk and salt in a separate bowl, and then fold the egg mixture into the matzah. In a wide pan (preferably nonstick), heat butter or oil and then add the mixture.
Now you've got a choice: You can stir the mixture as it cooks, as though you were making scrambled eggs, or you can let it sit in the pan and cook as though it were an omelet or a giant pancake. If you choose the former, stir until the mixture is only slightly moist and serve immediately. If you choose the latter, cook until it's slightly browned on the bottom and then place the entire pan in your oven's broiler for about 5 minutes, or until the top is browned. (Ted turns the entire matzah brei pie in the pan and cooks the other side.) Cut into pie-shaped pieces and serve hot.
Either way, one of the best parts of matzah brei is the condiments: granulated or powdered sugar, jams and preserves, cinnamon, or even apple sauce. Matzah Brie may go with just about anything. Makes 4-5 servings.
In one of David's favorite jokes, a little boy is incredibly and irrationally afraid of kreplachlittle dumplings also known as "Jewish ravioli" or "Jewish won tons"and always runs out of the room screaming "Eeek! Kreplach!" whenever his mother serves them. Finally, in desperation, the mother takes the boy to a psychiatrist ("a specialist, darling") who suggests that the mother carefully explain to the boy how she makes the kreplach; perhaps by understanding what goes into it, he will no longer be afraid of it.
Scrupulously explaining each step of the process to the boy, she makes the dough, rolls it out, and grinds the filling. "Now, that isn't scary, is it?" she asks her son. "No, of course not, Mommy," he replies. But as soon as she puts the filling into the dough and crimps the edges to finish the kreplach, he runs from the room screaming, "Eeek! Kreplach!"
Humankind may never understand why this little story is so extraordinarily funny to David. Maybe he was dropped on his head as a child. Maybe it's just that the word "kreplach" is so fun to say. But whenever he makes kreplach, you can hear him yelling in the kitchen, "eeek! Kreplach!" and bursting into laughter.
Below is the basic recipe for the dough; feel free to fill it with whatever strikes your fancy. Traditionally, kreplach contains a meat filling (perhaps a pound of yesterday's brisket ground up with onions and spices). However, these little dumplings can have almost anything in them: lentils, garlic, sundried tomatoes, mushrooms, pine nuts, spinach, feta cheese, artichokes
go wild! One warning, though: make sure the filling isn't too wet or else it'll leak out of the dough as it cooks and make a mess.
- 2 large eggs, beaten
- 1/4 tsp. salt
- 2 cups of flour
- 1/4 cup water (room temperature)
Beat the eggs, water, and salt together, then gradually fold in 1 cup of the flour until it's stiff. Knead this batter together with your hands (dust your hands and your working surface with flour), and slowly add the second cup of flour to the mixture until you get a smooth, elastic (but not sticky) dough. Roll the dough out until its about 1/16- or 1/8-inch thick (the thinner the better and less doughy the kreplach, but if it's too thin, then it's hard to handle). Now cut the dough into 2- or 3-inch wide squares or circles (depending on the shape you're aiming for).
Now the hard part: Place one or two teaspoons of filling on the dough, fold it in half, and crimp the edges. You might find it easier if you brush the edges of the dough with a mixture of an egg and 1 tsp. of water beaten together (this helps seal the edges so the filling doesn't spill out). Leave the kreplach out to dry for an hour or so, and then drop them into boiling water (add a little salt and oil to the water so the kreplach won't stick to each other). Cook for 5 minutes, or until the kreplach float. As each kreplach comes out of the water, remember to scream, "Eeek! Kreplach!" and then giggle to yourself.
You can immediately drop the finished kreplach into a soup or eat on a plate, or fry them in a little oil first. If you aren't eating them right away, place them in the refrigerator (brush with a little oil if they're going to touch each other, or else they'll become a big sticky mess), covered with a damp cloth so they don't dry out.
B'tayavon means "eat with gusto enjoy!" You can impress your friends by using this word before eating food the way you can use "L'chayim" before drinking something.
We hope that these ten recipes will pique your interest in exploring the world of Jewish cooking and Jewish eating! Jews have always been among those with a deep appreciation for the tastier aspects of life. And after testing these recipes, you'll understand why!
Links to Some Great Jewish Recipe Sites