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Uncategorized October 31, 2012

That’s JEWISH Food!

With all the heavy topics we’ve been covering lately, it’s definitely time for a light post.  Um, thematically, that is.

For awhile I was tortured by brisket.  Not as in heartburn, but in trying to figure out how it became a Jewish food.  I posted it on Facebook, with not much info forthcoming.  From there I wondered about rugelach, knishes, and matza ball soup.  So I hereby present to you what I have learned.  Turns out some Jewish food is seriously, spiritually Jewish; some peripherally Jewish; and some barely Jewish.  Note: this list is specific to Ashkenazic eating, since it’s what I know.  I’d love your input on Sephardic foods.  Here’s what I know, in reverse order of Jewishness:

The Barely Jewish

1.  Pickles

What’s up with the ubiquitous Kosher Pickle?  Turns out that pickling your food was a highly common practice in Eastern Europe, by Jews and non-Jews alike.  But Jews discovered a great use for the pickled cucumber and imported it to the shores of NY marketed in just that way: as a palate cleanser while eating the highly tasty (and fatty) cuts of deli meats they favored.  As such, the Jewish/”kosher” pickle became a fixture on the Lower East Side, to the point where Heinz made the marketing decision to brand their pickles kosher so they’d sell (even though pretty much all pickles are kosher).

2. Knish

Sorry, folks, there’s nothing Jewish about a knish.  It’s a Russian food that Jews – once again – imported, popularized, and marketed on the street corners of the Lower East Side.  And boy, is it good.

3. Rugelach

I could find absolutely no info about how rugelach became a Jewish food.  Ah, well.  I still highly recommend them.  Especially the ones from the shuk in Jerusalem, warm and fresh out of the oven…mmmmm.  But I digress.

4. Hummus, pita, falafel

Speaking of Israel, I am equally sorry to inform you that hummus, pita, and falafel are not Jewish at all.  More middle-Eastern.  More Lebanese, actually.  But go ahead and indulge, if it makes you happy.

The Peripherally Jewish

1. Mandelbroit

I am going to out this Jewish food right here, right now.  For those of you that haven’t yet noticed, mandelbroit is nothing more or less than Italian biscotti.  Sorry!  I know, it’s like the end of the Wizard of Oz.  Turns out Jewish travelers from Eastern Europe went traveling and discovered this pastry in Italy.  They immediately sniffed out the Jewish benefits: one, it was made without butter – and hence, was pareve – a big perk in kosher dining, especially for special occasions such as Shabbat and holidays when meat or chicken were usually served.  Secondly, and this I’m making up, they last forever.  Because, actually, they’re stale to begin with.  So they brought it back to the shtetl, called it “almond bread” – or mandelbroit in Yiddish.  Voila!  A Jewish pastry is born.

2. Farfel

This is a pasta, not dissimilar to couscous, that you will routinely find in the kosher aisle of your local grocery store.  It became customary to eat this with Shabbat dinner, since its name is similar to the Yiddish “farfallen,” which means “it’s over with, it’s fallen already.”  This was to remind ourselves that once Shabbat begins, the problems, decisions, and stresses of the week are to fall away.

3. Matza ball soup

Ah, that fixture of Jewish cooking.  First let’s talk about the matza balls.  Clearly, this custom began on Passover, when we were looking for just about anything that could be prepped with that bane of Jewish eating: the matza (also to be inexplicably found in your local grocery kosher aisle year-round, possibly due it’s always/never getting stale…see mandelbroit).  In any event, matza balls must’ve been such a hit and as such spread (no pun intended) to the rest of the year’s menu.  What about the soup it is featured in?  Let’s call it what it is: chicken soup.  It’s obvious what’s Jewish about chicken soup: chicken is kosher, so let’s start there.  Many Jews in Eastern Europe could not afford meat, but it didn’t take much in the way of finances or property to buy some chickens and let’s face it, soup is the best method to make a little go a long way.  Hence, chicken soup: a Jewish staple, and the perfect backdrop to those fluffy matza balls, also called by the Yiddish kneidlach (literally, “little kneaded things”).

4. Brisket, pastrami, and the Jewish deli

Brisket IS Jewish, after all. Here’s why: it turns out that not all cuts of beef are kosher.  Jews don’t eat the hindquarters of the animal due to the Biblical story of Jacob wrestling with the angel of Esau (yes, Jews believe in angels) and his thigh being dislocated in the process.  Thus, states the Torah, a Jew is not to partake of the animal’s hindquarter.  Brisket is from the front of the animal and as such is kosher (some are more kosher than others, cough, cough).

Pastrami on rye – Jewish?  Well, pastroma
is a Romanian/Yiddish word for salted brisket cuts – and the Jews,
again, imported and popularized this cut of meat.  They also changed the
name to “pastrami” to be similar to the Italian “salami.”  What was
Jewish about it?  It was from a kosher animal, and a kosher cut, to
boot.  Why did Jews keep delis in the first place?  There were some
kinds of foods (in the technologically simpler age) that one could buy
universally – fish, baked goods, produce – but kosher meat was not one
of them.  The Jews always had to manage that one themselves.  Hence,
Jews opened delis to provide their own meat, and it quickly became the
equivalent of the Irish pub: a place where Jews could gather, talk
Jewish talk, catch up on Jewish news, and just hang out and be Jewish. 
To this day, the “Jewish deli” is a fixture – but make sure your
kosher-style deli is not serving you ham (which is neither kosher nor
kosher-style).  As for rye, I have no idea.

5. Bagels and lox

Bagels were also a regionally Eastern European food, but became popular among the Jews for Saturday night consumption.  It was a religious tradition to cook something new for Saturday night, pursuant to the belief that an “extra soul” was given to us for Shabbat, and departed on Saturday night, and thus, both to “console” ourselves on its departure, and to “escort out” its presence, a new food was cooked and eaten.  Bagels may have become popular because it’s quicker than bread (if you prep the dough prior to Shabbat).  And maybe the extras were readily available for Sunday morning – hence Sunday morning bagels!  As for lox – again, the Jews of Eastern Europe discovered this from the Scandinavians, and considering it (and herring) came from kosher varieties of fish (salmon, carp), it instantly became a favorite.  The way it was prepared was also ideal, since it didn’t need refrigeration.  Some unknown person capped it off with a shmear of cream cheese, the immigrants made it famous in New York, and lo and behold, the bagel became synonymous with the Jew.  Frighteningly, if you google bagels and Jews, expect to be hit with a boatload of virulently anti-semitic literature.  It’s that iconic.

The Super Jewish

1. Kugel

Kugel is a really, really good food.  In High German it means “round things.”  It started as kneaded dumplings and eventually morphed into the baked [insert insufficient translation here, such as pudding and casserole].  Word has it that it is similar to the Hebrew “k’igul” which means “like a circle,” and was intended to replicate the round manna (which is described in Torah sources as “round like a coriander seed”) which we celebrate on Shabbat.  Hence, its centrality on Shabbat and holidays (and random Tuesdays when we’re in the mood…just sayin’).  Why potato kugel specifically?  No special reason other than… it was readily available in Eastern Europe.  Now you can find recipes for all kinds of avant-garde kugel such as butternut squash, broccoli, strawberry and other random items more traditionally called “dessert.”  But that’s the beauty of kugel.  Mix it, bake it round, call it a kugel, and it’s a kugel.  Check out for lots of awesome kugel ideas and recipes.

2. Gefilte fish

Guess what?  The weird jarred stuff in the jelled broth is not up to par.  But let’s discuss why it came to be Jewish.  In halacha (Jewish law), there is a rule that on Shabbat one of the creative labors we refrain from is “sorting/organizing.”  This would apply to eating fish, because you have to sort through the bones to eat the fish.  So them Jews came up with an equally creative solution: grind them bones in with the fish, and cook!  Ha ha!  Then you can pretend there aren’t any bones.  Throw in a carrot and onion, and maybe you won’t even notice them!  No sorting necessary.  Now we got a little smarter: we eliminate the bones entirely, beef it up with a little matza meal/breadcrumbs, and cook.  Me, I buy the frozen raw loaves and I actually bake it.  It’s goooooood.  And very halacha-compliant.  Bon appetit.

3. Braided challah

What makes challah challah?  The braiding, of course.  A braid has many spiritually significant themes.  Here’s one, lifted from Part of the preparation for the Shabbat is engaging in melacha,
creative activity. Braiding is creative activity. The braid is a shape
that does not appear in nature. (Ficus trees are hand-braided.) It is a
shape that is made by humans and it is representative of the human
ability to manipulate the raw material of the world. Braiding the
challah strands helps us harness our creative capacities for the purpose
of observing the Shabbat.
I love that.

4. And finally, stuffed cabbage and kreplach

While these foods aren’t inherently Jewy, but merely a regional favorite in Eastern Europe among Jews and non-Jews alike, they were incorporated into Jewish eating on special occasions such as Yom Kippur pre-fast meal; Purim dinner; and Simchat Torah, due to their “wrapped” construction.  This was significant as it symbolized God’s hidden and concealed plan on those spiritual days.

What Jewish foods are your favorites?  Do you know what’s Jewish about them?  Most importantly, are you hungry yet?

Related posts: Read about cholent!

Uncategorized May 22, 2012

What Do You Mean, You Can’t Eat in my Home??

Okay, so I shamelessly stole that awesome title from Azriela Jaffe’s book, and will pay back the favor by linking it here.  (Thanks, Azriela.)  I haven’t actually read the book but I’ve heard lotsa good things about it.

Neither have I ever dealt with this issue personally, but many of my friends have.  The thrust is that when someone decides to keep kosher, or go from “regular kosher” or “kosher style” to strictly kosher, they may be unable (unwilling?) to eat in their families’ and friends’ kitchens.  Result?  Confusion, perceived judgment, and hurt feelings.  IMHO, one of the main issues is that the parties involved become emotionally bogged down and thus unable (unwilling?) to see things objectively.

So, for the purpose of distance and illustration, let’s look at four analogous instances.  Ready?

Scenario 1:
My husband is doing a bris.  He suggests that the family serve kosher food at the bris to honor the Jewish symbolism of the occasion.  They decline.  They offer to order him a kosher meal.  Or, sometimes, they don’t.

Scenario 2:
We have guests over that are gluten-free.  It’s my first experience with gluten-free eating, so I poke around online and ask them for ideas.  “Don’t worry,” they say, “don’t put yourself out.  There are lots of things our son can eat.  Thank you!”

Scenario 3:
My friend tells me an acquaintance invited herself over for Shabbat dinner, and asked what she’d be serving.  “Brisket,” she said.

“Oh, sorry, I can’t have that.  It’s too fattening.”

Scenario 4:
At a holiday dinner, my mother-in-law brings out a number of dishes, most of which, coincidentally, contain mushrooms.  It turns out that her guest is allergic to mushrooms.

1. Is it the responsibility of the bris host to order my husband a kosher meal?  Is it reasonable for him/her to be offended if my husband can’t eat the “regular” (non-kosher) meal?

2. Is it my responsibility to make sure I have gluten-free food for my guest, or should he/she fill up on GF food prior to coming?  Should I be hurt if he/she won’t eat food that I thought, erroneously, was GF?

3. Is this guest rude?

4. Who feels worse: the guest, or my mother-in-law?

What do you think?  Have you ever been in any of the above situations?

Uncategorized May 13, 2012

Cooking Tips and Tricks

Today I am over at, blogging about cooking, per the upcoming holiday of Shavuot/Shavuos.  (Remember Shavuos?)  For those of you that know Jamie Geller, or own Quick and Kosher, her cookbook, or Meals in Minutes, her newest one, this is her site.  And it’s great.

I’m not really sure what I’m doing here.  See…(furtive glance side-to-side)…I don’t like to cook.

As a rabbi’s wife and mother of seven, though, I cook a-plenty.  But
for me it’s kind of like brushing my teeth.  I do what I need to do to
maintain my reputation as a functional adult, and if it smells good, so
much the better.

But I have tricks!  (…continue reading…)

Related posts:

Do Women Want To Be in the Kitchen?
The Food…Oy, the Food

Shabbat Dinner Menu and Recipes… My Way
Uncategorized March 15, 2012

Shabbat Dinner Menu and Recipes… My Way

Time for a food post! 
And since Shabbos/Shabbat is coming, here’s the long-ago promised Shabbos dinner menu
and recipes.  For those of you that are
regular readers, you already know I’m not a foodie, so my recipes are somewhat
laissez-faire.  That’s my one and only

My Shabbos menu is a merger of tradition and what we love –
that’s what I think Shabbos should be, in general.  We maintain the “traditional” feel  by sticking to a generally similar menu
structure, and then there are places I experiment and have fun.  So here goes.


  • Challah with spreads
  • Gefilte fish with horseradish and salads (occasionally
    salmon too if I’m feeling fancy or we’re having company)

  • Chicken soup – usually with matza balls
  • Main course is where I have fun.  My default-mode is baked chicken of all varieties,
    a grain such as couscous or rice, and usually the ever-traditional and favored
    potato kugel.  However, often we have
    meatballs (my husband’s favorite) or chicken cutlets.  The salads from the first course round out
    the main.
  • Dessert consists of pastries from the bakery – again, this
    is my husband’s favorite no matter what we make at home!  My daughters love to bake (where’d they get
    that from?) so sometimes it’s homemade treats too, or sorbet, or sometimes my
    guests bring dessert.
  • I usually make the challah, but sometimes I get lazy and
    buy it instead.  Also, my family loves “water
    challah” – eggless challah from the bakery.
  • “Spreads”: my husband loves mayo on his challah, and many of
    our guests have learned of this unfortunate trick.  We also add chummus to the offerings.  On a good week I’ve been known to make
    jalapeno dip, olive dip, and… um, that’s all.
  • Fish:  People seem
    flabbergasted that my gefilte fish is not Mrs. Adler’s in jelled broth.  But I don’t quite make it from scratch
    either, although when I lived in Israel I sure did that.  I buy a frozen loaf, unwrap it, spray it with
    a bit of olive oil cooking spray, sprinkle the top with lemon pepper, and bake
    for like an hour.   It’s so good, it
    almost doesn’t last till dinner.  Someone
    keeps coming over to cut off slivers and before you know it, half is gone.  Okay, so that someone is usually me.
  • Soup: I never called it “matza ball soup” growing up.  Firstly, I was raised calling matza balls “kneidlach”
    (the Yiddish name) and sometimes we had them; sometimes we didn’t.  The main attraction was the chicken soup,
    loaded with veggies and completely heavenly (shout out to my amazing mother
    here).  However I’ve learned that your
    average Jew calls it matza ball soup and the main attraction is by far the
    actual matza ball.  Everything else is “broth”
    – a word I never used in my childhood.
  • Challah
1 (5 lb) bag flour (regular, whole wheat, or a combination)
1 ½ c sugar
½ c honey
3 eggs
3 tablespoons dry yeast
4 c warm water
2 tablespoons salt
1 c oil
This yields 5 or 6 medium-sized loaves.  Sorry for the huge amounts but I never make
less.  You can halve this recipe
easily.  Throw it all in a mixer or mix
by hand.  Allow to rise.  There’s a special mitzvah to separate a small
piece with a special blessing and prayer (beyond the scope of this post).  Shape, braid, rise again, brush with egg
wash, sprinkle with sesame/poppy and bake for 45 min on 325.  Hide from children till Shabbos.  The challah, not yourself.   Although
that sometimes works too.
  • Potato kugel
7 potatoes (white, sweet, or combo thereof)
1 onion
¼ c oil
Salt and pepper to taste
3 eggs
Shred the potatoes and onion in a food processor.  Dump out, then put the bottom blade into the food processor and
dump everything in.  Process just till
blended.  Bake on 350 for forever.  Okay, so more like 2 hours.  Taste for a while until you’re sure it came
out good.
  • Jalapeno dip
5 fresh jalapeno peppers
1 large can of tomato sauce (whatever you think large is)
5 cloves of garlic minced – now, I never mince garlic.  That is too much work for this
non-foodie.  I buy the frozen garlic
cubes at Trader Joe’s that come from Israel. 
Each cube = one clove.
Olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste
Cut off tops of peppers and process in food processor (that’s
the hardest part).  Sautee in oil with
the garlic.  Add tomato sauce and salt
and pepper and simmer for anywhere from 20 min to an hour.  This keeps in the fridge for weeks, by the way (not that you’ll have any left over).
  • Chicken Soup
However much chicken you want – I put it in a net bag for
easy removal – place in large pot
Carrots, celery, parsnip, sweet potato, onion, squash –
however many you want
Water till the top
Seasonings: garlic powder, dill, rosemary, salt, pepper
Bring to a boil and simmer for a couple of hours.  Irresistible.
  • My favorite salad
Romaine lettuce
Lightly sautéed steak-sliced mushroom
Cherry tomatoes
Purple onion, sliced thinly
Hearts of palm
A generous squirt of ketchup.  Okay, two.
A little olive oil, or more if you don’t care about calories
Same amount of vinegar as ketchup
A little sugar, or more if you don’t care about calories
Paprika, garlic powder, salt, pepper, dry mustard.
Whisk and taste.  Add
sugar if not sweet enough or vinegar if too sweet.
Add croutons if you’re so inclined or some other crunchy
like slivered almonds.
Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom!
What are your
favorite Shabbos dishes?  Do you go more
traditional or more with your personal favorites?
Related posts:
Uncategorized December 8, 2011


Once upon a time, there was a shul Kiddush.  And at this shul Kiddush were both Orthodox
Jews and non-Orthodox Jews.  Included on
the Kiddush buffet were gefilte fish, cholent, salads, crackers and dips.  Yes, it was a very wonderful Kiddush.
Some of the Jews at the Kiddush had learned of the custom not to eat fish and meat together
Others had not.  The wise Rabbi
had not taught it, since it was a custom, and many people at the shul were
driving to shul on Shabbos and eating cheeseburgers and other more obvious
non-Orthodox habits of the sort. 
Therefore, he was very selective about which points of Jewish law he
chose to share, so as not to overburden or embarrass his constituents.
One of these Jews, unschooled in the meaning of kosher
altogether, took his fishy plate and proceeded to load up on delicious,
steaming cholent.  Another Jew, aware of
the issue, but not quite as sensitive as the Rabbi, and with truly sincere and
good intentions, maybe, honed in on said Jew and proceeded to inform him that
he must use a new plate for the cholent, as the original plate was fishy and
therefore violated the fish/meat combo custom.
The wise Rabbi, observing the debacle from afar, shook his
head in dismay.
And thus was the term “fishplating” born.
Uncategorized November 16, 2011

Dinner, Again: How I Keep My Family Fed

Sometimes I get asked: “Do you cook dinner EVERY night?”  Well.  That’s a rather personal question.  The question is predicated on the fact that I have a lot of peeps to feed, that I keep strictly kosher, and that I work. So here’s the answer, for posterity.


Here’s my system.  Please bear in mind that:

  • As confessed previously, I am not a foodie (that’s code for “I don’t like to cook”)
  • I am not a health nut, though I try to upgrade my food wherever possible, like using brown rice and Barilla plus pasta
  • I only cook things that are very, very, very easy.  
  • I also serve some kind of salad/veggie at every meal so I’m not listing that, plus the occasional soup when I’m feeling domestic.

Sunday is mac ‘n cheese.  We usually have some leftovers from Shabbat, but most of us don’t want to even look at them, including myself so I can’t even get annoyed.  We usually run around on Sunday either doing stuff with the kids, catching up on home jobs, and/or chauffeuring the kids to various activities, so it’s gotta be quick and easy.

Monday is always dairy night or pareve (neither meat nor dairy).  Since we keep kosher, the menu plan always breaks down to either meat-based or dairy-based.  I usually serve fish on Monday too, so like salmon and quiche; lasagna; tuna casserole; sushi salad (basically unrolled sushi).

Tuesday is chicken night.  Baked chicken; drumsticks in the crock pot; Asian stirfry.  Sides would be couscous, rice, quinoa, or potatoes.  I have a rice cooker.  It rocks.

Wednesday is meat night.  Usually ground beef cuz it’s cheap and everyone likes it.  I usually mix it with ground turkey (1/2 and 1/2) for health purposes, to the chagrin of my unhealthy children.  Some choices would be spaghetti and meatballs; unstuffed cabbage (the lazy girl’s way to pretend you know how to cook Hungarian); beef stirfry.  I don’t buy roasts or anything fancy, aside from a special Shabbat or holidays.

Thursday is pizza night.  Usually we order it; rarely we go out; occasionally I make it myself.  Thursday night I am already prepping for Shabbat so I go the easy route.

Friday night is… Shabbat!  I pull out all the stops.  Well, for me 🙂  I still only make things that are very, very easy, but I have lots of yummy food.  Shabbat gets its own blog post, so stay tuned.

Saturday night we are all full from all the Shabbat delicacies.  I usually retire without eating any major dinner; my kids might fix themselves grilled cheese or something, and my hubby always enjoys leftovers!

And of course there’s always the occasional night when everything is crazy.  Then either my kids fix dinner, or it’s laissez-faire dinner… which my mother never, ever did… no guilt there or anything…

Uncategorized November 11, 2011

The Food… Oy, The Food

DISCLAIMER:  I am not a foodie.

One of my healthy foodie friends asked me the following question:

“What’s up with the world of traditional Jewish food?  Why is it so slow to change?”   Do you know what she’s talking about?  I will tell you.  Potato kugel, with lots of oil (yum!).  Cholent, with red meat.  Challah, that’s really cake.  Gefilte fish and chicken soup (double yum!).  Ooh, I’m making myself hungry.  Good thing it’s Thursday.

So I do try to be healthy and eat healthy, but seriously, the definition of what that is, is consistently changing.  Dairy: good/bad?  Eggs: good/bad?  Fish: good/bad?  When I have a new Shabbat guest, here’s what I used to ask:  “Any food allergies?”  Now, I ask: “Any food allergies?  Vegetarians?  Vegans?  Do you eat fish/eggs?  Gluten-free?”  So yeah, the playing field has changed.

Does “healthy eating” mean no potato kugel?  Cuz I can use sweet potatoes, less oil and no eggs, and guess what?  It ain’t everyone’s favorite potato kugel no more.  Yeah, yeah, it’s all about moderation… it’s not either/or, it’s “and”… I know all this.  Two factors, though, make it complex.

1. I have kids.
2. I’m a big believer in (cue Tevye) “tradition!”

So firstly, my kids have, ahem, strong opinions about the foods I cook and serve.  Especially for Shabbat and holidays, which are sacrosanct.  But moreover, *I* want my kids to get a huge dollop of tradition each time we celebrate these Jewish moments.

When I used to walk in from school on Friday afternoon, the house smelled heavenly!  Like challah, roast chicken, and that awesome potato kugel.  And you know what?  My love affair with Judaism oozes from what I’ve experienced with not just my mind, but all five senses.  What Shabbat smells like, tastes like, sounds like, feels like, and looks like are extraordinarily important.  My veins flow with this stuff.  And I want it to, for my kids as well.

How much can I tamper with the favorites till it’s just not traditional any more?

I know that many of you place a much lesser emphasis on “tradition” than I… some argue that change and progress are far more important.  But to folks like me, how to balance?

Thoughts?  Input?  Tips?