The galleys of The Modern Jewish Cookbook arrived in the mail late last week! Aren’t they lovely? It’s such a treat to flip through the pages and get excited about the recipes all over again.
There’s also lots of work to do - finding typos, making last minute adjustments, and ensuring that everything is in its place.
I’m excited to get to work! Meanwhile, enjoy the mini preview…
Holy moly: Budapest. I spent three days there last week before shuttling off on an overnight Eurail train to Transylvania. And I’m so very glad I did.
Before arriving, I had read about the city’s beauty, its history, and its Jewish community which, at 100,000 people, is currently the largest in Central Europe. And I knew that its Jewish quarter was in the midst of a surging renaissance and had become, like many historic Jewish neighborhoods (think: the Lower East Side in New York City, Paris’ Le Marais, or Mile End in Montreal) a playground for the young and stylish.
I was not, however, expecting to be quite so taken by the city’s playful spirit or the Jewish community’s remarkable food. And yet there I was: hook, line, and smitten. Many of the country’s richest Jewish food traditions, which always mingled with the country’s broader cuisine, have been lost over time (exacerbated by the Holocaust and the Communist era that followed). But the dishes that remain and the people who are dedicated to preserving and, perhaps more importantly, innovating those dishes, are anything but faded.
Here is a tiny sample of the flavors that make Jewish Budapest vibrant right now:
Bubbly, sophisticated, and, above all, a talented pastry chef, Rachel Raj co-owns four patisseries in Budapest with her husband, Miklos Maloschick. There, she designs custom cakes and sells homemade cookies and other confections, including hamantaschen, an apple matzo cake, and her signature pastry, flódni. (More on that directly below.)
Raj has helped put this Jewish Hungarian dessert on the world map, and her version was the best I tasted in Budapest. The tri-layered stack of sweet, ground poppy seeds, chopped apple, and meaty walnut paste is finished with a midnight-colored slick of plum jam.
TEAPOT CHANDELIERS AT MACESZ HUSZAR
Don’t mind the unusual name of David Popovits’ restaurant, Macesz Huszár (it translates to “matzah soldiers”). Opened in December, 2013 in the heart of the bustling Jewish quarter, Popovits’ contemporary take on Jewish Hungarian dishes has gained wide and well-deserved acclaim. So has the homey-elegant decor, which includes these beautiful stacked teapot chandeliers crafted by his wife, designer Mária Fatér.
JEWISH STYLE EGGS
Hungarian Jews add two secret ingredients to their chopped egg salad: slowly softened onions and duck fat, which lends savory depth without overpowering the dish. At Macesz Huszár, the dish is served as an appetizer two ways (with liver, like Popovits’ grandma used to make, and without), along with a basket of poppy seed challah and other crusty breads sourced from a local bakery.
When you visit Budapest - because surely it is when and not if - do yourself a favor and have a meal at Rosenstein - first for the food, and secondly in the hopes of meeting Tibor. He’s the founder and co-owner of his namesake fine dining restaurant, which specializes in Hungarian Jewish foods along with other creative, flavorful dishes. Tibor is a born chef and supremely gracious host who derives great joy from pouring shots of his house made pálinka (fruit brandy) for diners. And at 72, he’s one of the most energetic and passionate people I have ever met. His son Robi now largely manages the restaurant, but Tibor continues to come (and cook) there every day.
Hungary’s take on the Shabbat bean and meat stew, cholent, is beloved all over Budapest, both within and beyond the Jewish community. The sophisticated version from Rosenstein (somehow, even the humblest of dishes come alive under Tibor’s watch) came adorned with smoked brisket, stuffed goose derma, and hard boiled egg. Tibor said people visit Rosenstein for the sólet alone. Understandable, but I personally recommend taking full advantage of the rest of the inventive, flavorful menu.
SWEET MATZO BALLS
This unexpected dish, shared with Tibor by a customer, transforms the Passover soup dumpling into a dessert. The matzo balls come filled with plum preserves, flavored with lemon zest, vanilla, and honey, and boiled in sugar water. They are at once humble and sophisticated (see: edible flower) - a perfect representation of Rosenstein’s style.
Here’s a wee excerpt from a article and recipe I worked on for The Kitchn. Read the whole thing, and get the recipe on their site.
Passover Recipe: Chicken Soup with Shallot-Shiitake Matzo Balls
I am all for getting creative in the kitchen. But sometimes, you just don’t want to mess around with a classic. Take chicken soup. Whether you call it “goldene yoich” (golden broth in Yiddish), “Jewish Penicillin,” or just plain old soup, not much can top the basic, soul-satisfying combination of tender chicken, carrots, celery, and onions swimming in soothing broth.
Besides, people tend to get a little particular about what foods they expect to see on the Passover table. So when the holiday rolls around, I make sure to give my friends and family what they want: pure, unadulterated, intoxicatingly fragrant chicken soup. When it comes to the matzo balls, however, I feel much more comfortable experimenting. Made from little more than eggs, matzo meal, and a little seltzer for lift, they make the perfect blank canvas for adding flavor.
What do you do when the wonderful folks at Saveur ask you to develop a contemporary Passover seder menu? You rock a little happy dance, and then you get cooking.
Check out the full menu over at Saveur.com. It features a sneak peak of a couple of recipes from The Modern Jewish Cookbook - including the sunset-colored pureed carrots with orange and ginger pictured above and my rosemary-maple roast chicken - and a few I dreamt up just for them.
Enjoy and happy Passover!
I have never been so big into birthdays. My Midwestern tendencies simply bristle at the idea of having too much attention paid my way.
But as I entered my 32nd year this weekend, whether I knew I wanted it or not, I got showered with well wishes, Facebook love, phone calls, good old fashioned birthday cards (thanks Mom), and a glorious day of brunch and massages with my sisters-in-law.
The absolute highlight was attending a dinner hosted by Noah Arenstein of the Crow Hill Supper Club, and prepared by Ron and Leetal Arazi of NY Shuk. The dinner was feast enough - a table groaning with 10 Middle Eastern-inspired salads (charred eggplant and bell pepper salad; freekeh with caramelized onions and herbs; a lima bean and garlic stew flavored with mace), homemade bread, haddock patties served in chickpea and turmeric stew, and their signature hand-rolled couscous cooked in milk and topped with chopped nuts, sour cream, and fruit preserves.
As the meal was winding down, and glasses of mint and sage tea were being passed around, Leetal came out with a stunning, chocolate-frosted poppy seed cake. My head swirled a bit as a I realized the dessert, festooned with candles and accompanied by a Moroccan take on the Happy Birthday song, was for me. (There I am above with Yoshie. He’s beaming. I’m closing my eyes for a wish - but also trying to steady myself!)
Somehow I pulled it together, blew out the candles, and focused on the task of serving impossibly soft and fudgy slices of cake to the table. That particular tradition - which obliges the birthday celebrator to cut everyone else’s cake - suits me just fine!
Yoshie and I ambled home, stuffed and chatting about our favorite dishes. Despite my tendency for embarrassment, sometimes it really does feel great to get properly celebrated.
Find out more about the dinner and NY Shuk in my article for the Forward.
Things have gotten a little out of control in hamantaschen land. The triangle-shaped cookie, which was born in Eastern Europe and is eaten on the Jewish holiday of Purim, traditionally comes filled with ground poppy seeds, prune butter, or apricot jam.
In recent years, however, bakeries and home cooks have started thinking out-of-the-box, swapping out the usual spreads for other fruit jams (strawberry, fig, blueberry, raspberry), marzipan, chocolate chips, Nutella, chopped nuts, and quince paste.
Now, I am all for creativity expressed via baked good - but sometimes things go too far. I feel comfortable asserting that there’s no defensible reason to ever put gummy bears or candy canes inside hamantaschen. (Both have happened.)
More importantly, not everything that is sweet and comes in a jar makes a good filling for hamantaschen. Like all filled cookies, it is best to start with a thicker spread that won’t ooze out in the oven, encrusting your baking sheet with piles of sticky, burnt sugar. So while lemon curd and grape jelly are delicious, they are not great candidates.
Most years, my hamantaschen strategy consists of opening the fridge and slapdash-edly pulling out a bunch of half-full jams. I might fill a row with blueberry preserves, followed by raspberry jam sprinked with white chocolate chips, or a traditional apricot or two. But this year, I thought I would do one better - combining my hamantaschen with another beloved Jewish dessert: baked apples.
I started with a jar of apple butter, which was ideal because 1. it’s super thick and 2. I happened to have some on hand. Into that flavorful base I stirred all the classic baked apple components: brown sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg, raisins, and chopped walnuts. The result was sweet and tangy - a familiar taste with just the right touch of the unexpected. They might just become a new tradition.
You can find the recipe for Cinnamon Baked Apple Hamantaschen below. But first, some helpful hamantaschen rolling and filling tips:
Rolling: A chilled dough and a floured surface are your friends when making hamantaschen. Be sure to flour both the counter you’re working on and the rolling pin, and work quickly so the dough does not get too soft.
Cutting: If you have a 3-inch round biscuit or cookie cutter, you can use it to stamp out your hamantaschen circles. My mom (and I’m pretty sure every Jewish mother and grandmother before her) used a juice glass, so that’s what I do too. Empty Bonne Maman jam jars are the perfect 3-inch size. Dip the rim in a little flour to keep it from sticking to the dough.
Filling: Scoop 1 rounded teaspoon of filling into the center of each circle. Resist the temptation to overfill, or your dough could break while folding.
Fold 1: Here’s the secret for leak-proof hamantaschen folding/pinching: Start by folding one side of the dough over the filling at a slight angle.
Fold 2: Fold the second side over at an angle, slightly overlapping the first side.
Fold 3: Fold the bottom flap up, tucking one end under the side flap to make a triangle-shaped pocket; pinch the seams firmly to seal.
See? Pretty! And certain to keep the filling tucked safely inside while they bake.
Cinnamon Baked Apple Hamantashen
Makes about 3 dozen
1/2 cup apple butter
1/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon nutmeg
1/4 cup black raisins
1/4 cup finely chopped walnuts
2 1/2-2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour**, plus more for dusting
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
1 tbsp orange juice, plus more if needed
1/4 cup vegetable oil
2/3 cup sugar
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/2 tsp lemon zest
**I strongly recommend that you use the “spoon and sweep" method for measuring your flour into cups. The "scoop and sweep" method tends to pack down the flour, giving you more than you need and can lead to a dry dough.
1. Make the filling: Stir together the apple butter, brown sugar, cinnamon, and nutmeg in a medium bowl until smooth. Fold in the raisins and walnuts, cover and chill until ready to use.
2. Make the dough: Whisk together 2 1/2 cups flour, baking powder, and salt in a medium bowl; set aside.
3. In a large bowl, whisk together the orange juice, vegetable oil, sugar, eggs, vanilla, and lemon zest until combined. Slowly stir in the flour mixture, mixing until the dough begins to come together. Turn the dough out onto a flat surface and knead it a few times with your hands until it is smooth, but not sticky. If the dough appears too dry, knead in more orange juice, 1 tsp (and no more!) at a time. If it looks too wet, knead in up to 1/4 cup more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time.
4. Gather the dough, then divide it in half and form into two flat disks. Wrap each disk tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 2 hours or up to overnight.
5. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Remove half of the dough from the fridge (keep the other half wrapped and chilled). On a floured surface, using a floured rolling pin, roll the dough to 1/8 in thickness. Use a 3-in round cookie cutter or glass to cut out as many circles as possible and carefully transfer them to a large rimmed baking sheet. Gather the dough scraps, reroll, cut out additional circles, and transfer them to the baking sheet.
6. Spoon 1 tsp of the filling of your choice into the center of each dough circle. Fold the left side over on an angle, followed by the right side. Fold the bottom flap up, tucking one end under the side flap to make a triangle-shaped pocket (the filling should still be visible in the center); pinch the seams firmly to seal. Repeat the rolling and filling process with the remaining dough.
7. Bake the cookies until lightly golden and browned at the corners, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove the cookies from the oven and let cool on the baking sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to a wire rack to cool completely. Store in an airtight container for up to three days.
Here’s just a tiny sampling of the gorgeous photos being taken this week for The Modern Jewish Cookbook (Chronicle, 2015). The top one shows my chocolate raspberry babka (homina homina!) and the bottom one is of my roasted eggplant and tahini crostini.
To say I am excited to see the rest of the photos - not to mention the final book - is an understatement. Meanwhile, I would love your feedback!
2014 is off and running, and I must say: so far, it has been downright lovely. Yoshie and I rang in the New Year together at the Hazon Food Conference. While there, I led a cooking demonstration on shakshuka and participated on a panel called Heirloom Recipes about sharing family memories and wisdom through food.
I also had the honor of assisting the inimitable Joan Nathan in her demonstration about eggplants - an experience I enjoyed greatly, despite my face in this photo. (I’m taking caption suggestions!) Here’s a better one of me and Joan with Hazon’s founder, Nigel Savage. 2014: the year of the puffy coat?
Yoshie, meanwhile, helped bring the house down on New Year’s Eve with Zion 80 - among my favorites of the 9 million bands he leads or is in. It was the best.
The following week, we flew west to Seattle to visit my best friend, her husband, and their new baby. While there, we also spent time with Yoshie’s best friend, his wife, and their their two young kids. Twas a friends-and-children tour of the Pacific Northwest with some delicious vegetarian brunch, meat-free pho, and salted caramel ice cream thrown in for good measure.
After all that vegetable-eating, I came home with burgers on the brain. Now, I know what you are thinking. Or well, I know what I am thinking: Burgers are summer food. Food to be slapped on a grill and enjoyed at a picnic, not touted on a blog in the middle of January.
Well, maybe its the arctic chill outside, but I’ve been craving summer, so burgers it is. And thanks to my cast iron grill pan - perhaps the least appreciated and most underutilized pan in the kitchen today - there is no reason to wait for warm weather to make them.
These burgers mix beef or lamb with tangy lemon zest, garlic, shallots, and a hearty dose of the Middle Eastern herb mix, za’atar. They come topped with tender, smoky grilled onions and a spoonful of mayonnaise stirred with more za’atar for good measure.
We ate them fresh from the grill pan, while spindly fingers of frost spread across our window. But something tells me that I will be making them again when grill season officially arrives.
Za’atar Burgers with Grilled Onions
Serves 2, in my house anyway
1 1/4 pounds (570 g) ground beef or lamb (or half of each)
4 tablespoons za’atar, divided
zest of half a lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced or pushed through a press
1 small shallot, finely chopped
vegetable oil, for the grill
1 onion, peeled and sliced into 1/4-inch rings
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup (70 g) mayonnaise
4 hamburger buns of choice, toasted
lettuce or salad greens of choice, for serving
1. Combine the beef or lamb, 3 tablespoons za’atar, lemon zest, garlic, and shallot in a medium bowl; mix with your hands until thoroughly combined; set aside.
2. Preheat a grill pan over medium heat and brush with about 2 teaspoons vegetable oil. Arrange the onion slices in a pie plate; drizzle with vinegar and toss to coat. Place onions on grill, cover, and cook, turning once, until softened and lightly charred, 6-8 minutes total. Transfer back to the plate.
3. Form the lamb mixture into four equal sized patties, about 1-inch thick each. Sprinkle lightly on both sides with salt and pepper and lay on the grill pan. Cook, flipping once, until medium-rare, 8-10 minutes total. Transfer cooked burgers to a plate let rest for 5 minutes.
4. Meanwhile, mix the mayonnaise with the remaining tablespoon of za’atar in a small bowl.
5. Assemble the burgers: Spread a layer of mayonnaise on the top and bottom of a bun; lay a piece of lettuce or a layer of salad greens on top, followed by a burger, a layer of grilled onion slices, and the top bun. Repeat with remaining ingredients.