Alana Newhouse, centre, editor of Tablet and The 100 Most Jewish Foods, is flanked by David Sax (left), author of Save the Deli, and Michael Wex, author of Rhapsody in Schmaltz. (Barbara Silverstein photo)
Shabbat Shalom! Are you making a traditional Friday night dinner with chicken soup and matzah balls and will there be challah on your Shabbat table?
These traditional foods are imbued with so much history, but could they lose their Jewish significance over time?
This issue was raised in a panel discussion with three Jewish food authors,which was held at Holy Blossom Temple in Toronto on June 24. The panelists were Alana Newhouse, editor-in- chief and founder of Tablet, and the editor of The 100 Most Jewish Foods; David Sax, the author of Save the Deli, a history of Jewish delis in North America, and humorist Michael Wex, of Born-to-Kvetch fame. He wrote Rhapsody in Schmaltz, a history/compendium of Ashkenazi-style food.
Newhouse said that while the reception of The 100 Most Jewish Foods has been positive, some people suggested that she should have written a book called “The 100 Best Jewish Foods.” She asked why there is so much emphasis on “the best.”
Sax said this trend is a sign of the times “It’s not a Jewish thing. These days everything is quantified like the five best places to eat. ‘The best’ is a generational thing.”
Cultural appropriation of food was also discussed. Newhouse said all the foods in The 100 Most Jewish Foods are culturally appropriated.
Indeed, Wex pointed out that most Jewish dishes reflect the cuisines of the various countries Jews have lived in. For instance, gefilte fish was originally a French food and pastrami has Romanian origins.
He joked that since sushi is served at so many Orthodox weddings, in 100 years it may become a Jewish food, especially if the sushi craze fades.
READ: THE PEOPLE OF THE DISH
Sax said in big cities like Toronto and New York, people don’t worry about the cultural roots of a food. For instance, Dr. Laffa is a kosher restaurant, but it attracts Muslim Iraqis because they miss eating laffa, a flat bread native to their homeland. “For them it’s: ‘Does it taste good? Who cares if it’s kosher.”
The panelists also grappled with the fate of Jewish foods. As more people assimilate and distance themselves from their heritage, Newhouse asked if the traditional foods would still be Jewish.
Wex surmised that the Jewishness of the traditional foods would wane and their Jewish origins would gradually disappear without a connection to some form of religious observance.
The recipe from The 100 Most Jewish Foods was created by Mitchell Davis. The recipe originally appeared in his book, The Mensch Chef: Or Why Delicious Jewish Food Isn’t an Oxymoron (Penguin Random House, 2002).
Food columnist and author, Bonnie Stern, one of the 60 people in attendance at the panel discussion, had high praise for Davis’ Kasha Varnishkes (Yiddish for bow-tie shaped noodles) “I made it today,” she said. “And it was really delicious.”
2 cups boiling water, stock or chicken soup
2 tbsp unsalted butter (optional)
1 tsp kosher salt
1 cup medium or course uncooked buckwheat groats
1 large egg or 2 egg whites
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
MUSHROOMS & ONIONS
4 oz unsalted butter or 1/2 cup mixed peanut oil and chicken schmaltz
2 large yellow onions, coarsely chopped
3/4 pound of mushrooms (portobello, shiitake,oyster or button mushrooms)
2 tsp kosher salt
black pepper to taste
8 oz of bowtie pasta
Freshly ground pepper
1/2 to 1 cup of vegetable, chicken or beef stock for reheating
In a small saucepan, combine the boiling water or stock, butter (if using) and salt and bring to a boil.
Meanwhile, place the groats in a wide saucepan. Add the egg or egg whites and stir to combine. Don’t worry if the groats clump together. Set the pan on medium-high heat and cook, stirring continuously until the clumps of groats break apart into individual grains and they start to give off a nutty aroma., about 5 to 7 minutes.
Pour in the hot liquid, then add the pepper. Reduce the heat to low, cover and simmer until all the liquid has been absorbed and the grains have plumped, 25 to 30 minutes. Remove the grain from the heat, fluff them with a fork and set them aside.
To make the mushrooms and onions, melt the butter or oil or schmaltz mixture in a large saucepan or skillet over medium heat until it becomes warm. Add the onions and cook, stirring now and again until the onions become translucent, about 7 to 8 minutes. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring often, until the mushrooms have released most of their water and they and the onions are soft, about 10 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. Transfer the vegetables to a large bowl and add the groats or kasha.
Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water according to the package directions. Drain and transfer the pasta to the bowl with the kasha and vegetable mixture. Toss until everything is combined, then taste and adjust seasonings if needed.
Eat the kasha varnishkes as is.
To reheat, preheat the oven to 325°F. Transfer the mixture to a 2-3 quart baking dish. Pour about half the stock for reheating over the mixture. Cover the dish with aluminum foil and bake for 25 minutes. Remove the foil. If the mixture looks dry, pour another 1/2 cup of stock over the mixture. Increase the oven temperature to 375°F. Bake 15 to 20 minutes more or until the noodles on top begin to brown.
Makes 8 servings.
Food author and columnist, Norene Gilletz, the originator of the Shabbat Table food blog, is a kasha knish aficionado. She’s a Winnipeg native and she has often shared her fondness for the kasha knishes from Gunn’s Bakery, a Winnipeg kosher institution founded in 1937.
The following recipe for Kasha Knishes can be found in Gilletz’s best selling cookbook, The New Food Processor Bible. (Whitecap 2011)
1 large onion, cut in chunks
2 to 3 tbsp oil
1 cup of Kasha or buckwheat groats
2 1/2 cups boiling
salt and freshly ground pepper
Knish Dough, 1/2 recipe
Using the food processor’s steel blade, process the onion with 3 or 4 quick on and offs, until the onion is coarsely chopped. In a wide heavy skillet, sauté the onion in the hot oil until it is golden. Add the kasha groats and stir well. Brown this mixture over medium heat, stirring often. When nicely browned, carefully add the boiling liquid to cover the mixture. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer 8 to 10 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Let the mixture cool.
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare the dough as directed. Place half the filling along 1 side, about 1 inch from the edge. Roll up the dough, turning in the ends. Do not cut. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling.
Place the knish rolls on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes or until the rolls are golden. Slice to serve.
2 eggs or 1 egg plus 2 egg whites
1/2 cup oil
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
Using the food processor’s steel blade, process the eggs, oil and water until they are mixed, about 5 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and process until they are blended, about 8 seconds. Do not over-process the dough or it will become tough. Cover the dough and let it stand while you prepare the filling.