White Bean Soup (Arbas un Kliskelach)

I just began reading a book about five immigrant families who lived in a tenement on the Lower East Side of New York at the turn of the century.   97 Orchard details the hardships that each group faced upon their arrival to the New World, and goes on to talk about the culinary influences that they had on the New York food scene.

The Lower East Side was one of the places that my mother took us shopping.  The streets were teeming with people going through tables piled high with merchandise, strategically placed outside of the merchants’ storefronts.  You could buy anything and everything in this relatively small area.  There were stores selling undergarments and socks, bags and luggage, silver stores filled with Kiddush cups and candelabras, and, of course, food vendors and restaurants.  Many of the signs were in Yiddish, the language of the Eastern European Jews who frequented the area around Orchard Street.  I remember having an occasional meal at Ratners, a large dairy restaurant known for their onion rolls and Kasha Varnishkes.  There was Yonah Schimmel, the tiny shop that offered a variety of knishes, beyond potato and cheese.  The Streit’s Matzoh Factory (still working on a pulley system) was on the Lower East Side as were several pickle vendors that also offered delicious pickled green tomatoes.  Of course, Russ and Sons (now Russ and Daughters) offered all kinds of dairy and smoked fish. We called it an appetizing store.  What an exciting and colorful way to spend the day.

In 97 Orchard, there is the recurring theme of assimilation, something every immigrant family faced at some point.  For me, the differences were magnified by what was waiting inside my brown lunch bag.  My lunch looked nothing like those of the “American” kids.  There it was, the unsightly wax paper folded over a substantial sandwich made with hearty rye bread, filled with sliced salami, bologna, tuna or egg salad.  The Americans would open their lunch bags and the difference was startling.  Delicate white bread sandwiches filled with just one slice of meat or cheese, maybe peanut butter and jelly, cut on a diagonal and wrapped in plastic wrap.  No strong smells, and no mess.  It is hard to believe that I could have possibly preferred eating Wonder Bread, that generic loaf that formed a doughy mass and stuck to the roof of your mouth.  It stems from the need to belong, to be accepted and welcomed in to the larger society.  At some point I realized that rye bread was earthy and hearty and delicious and that garlicky salami is superior in every way to a square slice of orange cheese.

Next month I will be in New York City and my sister and I plan to go to 97 Orchard Street, now The Tenement Museum.  We may walk over to Yonah Schimmel and have a knish with mustard, stop by the Pickle man, go to Russ and Daughters, and embrace the wonderful foods of our childhood.

This simple soup was a staple in our home.

White Bean Soup

1 lb small lima beans, soaked overnight

2 quarts water or pareve chicken stock

1 brown onion, left whole

1/2 stick butter

salt and pepper to taste (should be very peppery)

1 package small square noodles, cooked according to directions on package.

Place beans,  onion and water in large pot.  Add salt and pepper.  Cover pot, bring to a boil and then lower heat.  Cook soup for about an hour and a half or till beans are tender.  Taste and adjust seasoning.  Remove onion, and add butter and noodles to soup.  Serve hot.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene





Sweet Couscous

It was in the early 1980s when Norm and I decided to build our first Sukkah.  Neither of us had grown up with one, and so we had no family traditions to help guide us.  We had to create our own, discover our own way, and find traditions that we were comfortable with.  One year we used fresh fruit to decorate the Sukkah, fruit that began to decompose over the course of the week.  It seemed out of sync with the festive atmosphere we were trying to create, not to mention the waste, and so we switched to plastic fruits.  Over the years we experimented with the size of the Sukkah, materials, lighting, choice of plants for schach, and decorations.  It has always been a work in progress, and from year to year it changes slightly, as we do.

Each year my mother would come to our Sukkah and reminisce about her childhood in Poland, recalling how her father would insist on eating all of his meals in their Sukkah.  She said that even if it was pouring, he would sit there, the rain streaming down his face, though his beard, and into his soup.  That story was repeated to us each year and out of that shared memory a new tradition grew.  We realized that when my mother spoke of her father it was almost as if he was with us, sitting in our Sukkah.  Now, each year we go around the table and ask our guests the following question. ” If you could invite anyone to join you in the Sukkah, who would that be?”  We have had kings and politicians, musicians and celebrities, family members who have passed away and family members who are just far away.  Along with the Ushpizin, all of our guests, present and imaginary, make this holiday magical.  Chag Sameach.

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s  The Book of Jewish Food.

Sweet Couscous

Prepare 1 lb. of couscous by placing grain in a large bowl.  Using a total of about 2 1/2 cups of warm water, add a few tablespoons of water at a time and let it absorb into the couscous.  Using your fingers, plump up couscous, breaking up any lumps. Repeat till couscous is soft but not wet. Couscous will double in bulk.

To this basic recipe add:

1 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes,  and chopped up.

1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

1/2  cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/4 cup sugar combined with cinnamon to taste

Shape couscous into a cone and decorate with lines of cinnamon mixed with sugar.

Enjoy,

Irene

Macaroni and Cheese

We get together for so many communal holiday meals and still we plan one more.  At the end of Yom Kippur, after a long and difficult day we have this desire to share another ritual with our friends, breaking the fast.  One would think that people would want to go to their respective homes to drink their coffee and eat their bagels in solitude.  I am not sure I understand it, and I can’t explain it, but I am grateful for it.  Grateful to have friends who host it each year, and grateful to be included.

Gmar Hatimah Tovah!

This is the second year that my contribution to the break-fast will be macaroni and cheese.  What could be more inviting than   hot noodles smothered in gooey cheese and covered by a crunchy topping.

Macaroni and Cheese

1 lb elbow macaroni

6 Tbsp sweet butter

1/2 cup flour

1 quart milk

salt and pepper to taste

2 cups sharp cheddar cheese, shredded

4 cups mixed cheeses, shredded ( I used Gruyère, Monterey Jack and Mozzarella)

5 dashes Tabasco sauce

Panko crumbs or grated day-old challah

1 – 2 Tbs softened butter

In a large pot of boiling water cook macaroni following instructions on package.  Melt butter in a heavy saucepan and slowly whisk in flour, stirring for 2-3 minutes.  In the meantime, heat the milk until hot (but not boiling) and slowly add to flour mixture.  Cook for another 2 minutes until you have a smooth, thickened sauce.  Remove from heat and add shredded cheese.  Stir till cheese has melted into sauce.  Season with salt and pepper to taste, and add Tabasco sauce.  Combine sauce with cooked noodles and place in a 9 x 13 baking dish.  Top macaroni and cheese with panko crumbs or grate a piece of challah over the top. Dot with butter.  Bake at 375 degrees for about 45 minutes or till bubbly and golden.

Enjoy,

Irene

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

Growing up, all of my parents’ friends were Polish Jews.  As immigrants, they wanted to surround themselves with people who had similar experiences and backgrounds, people who shared common customs, language, and food.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I met Jews who looked different, spoke Hebrew or Ladino (as opposed to Yiddish), and ate foods that I had never heard of, prepared with spices that had exotic names like turmeric, cardamom and fennel.

My children had a completely different experience growing up in Los Angeles.  A city with a strong Persian presence, Persian food was introduced into their diet early on.  They also have Jewish friends and acquaintances whose families were originally from Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco.  Our family has eaten Aloo-m-Kalla in the Sukkah of a friend who is from India, watched an Egyptian friend prepare Bamia, and have eaten many meals in my friend Rachel’s house, whose family immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan.  I am so proud of the fact that my daughter just prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana dinner for her friends, but I love knowing that she can just as easily make Tabit or Shakshuka.

A great cook, my friend Rachel’s food is full of flavor, but her appetizers and salads are particularly outstanding.  Here is a recipe that she shared after returning from her most recent trip to Israel.

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

2 eggplants, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small green chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 small red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

Italian parsley

Take diced eggplant and toss with  3 Tbs of the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven till tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  In a large pot, combine 2 Tbs olive oil, green and red chilis, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar.  Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add prepared eggplant and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes over a low flame.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a handful of chopped parsley on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Kahk

It’s the Sunday morning before Rosh Hashana and Norm and I have been busy in the kitchen all morning.  Norm is baking bagels and baguettes, experimenting with new recipes.  Schav borscht is cooking on the stove, just because there is still so much sorrel in the garden.  I have dough rising for challot, and I just made a batch of Kahk.  Yesterday I spent the morning looking through three of my favorite Jewish cookbooks.  I loved reading about the Sephardic traditions for incorporating specific foods into the Rosh Hashana meal, mainly fruits and vegetables filled with seeds, a symbol of fertility and abundance.  Inspired, I decided to make Kahk, a dry, savory, biscuit topped with sesame seeds.  Here is to a bountiful New Year!

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food.

1 Tbs instant yeast

1 cup warm water

pinch of sugar

3 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp salt

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

1 Tbs anise seed

1/2 cup plus 1 Tbs vegetable oil

1 egg, lightly beaten

sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place parchment paper on two cookie sheets.

Proof yeast in about 1/3 of cup of warm water with the pinch of sugar.  In a large bowl, combine flour with salt, cumin, and anise seed.  Add the oil and blend into flour.  Add yeast mixture and remaining water to flour and knead till you are able to form a ball. Add additional water a little at a time, as needed.  Knead for several minutes and then place in oiled bowl, cover and allow to rise for about one hour.  Punch down dough. Take a walnut size piece of dough and roll between the palm of your hands till you have a 4″ strand.  Form a circle and pinch ends together. Repeat till you use all the dough.  Brush kahk with a beaten egg and dip into a bowl of sesame seeds.  Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes or till golden.

Yield 30 Kahk

Enjoy,

Irene

Rosh Hashana Apple Cake

My memory is of the general flurry of activity that took place before every Rosh Hashana.  The purchase of new clothing and shoes for the New Year.  The smell of chicken soup cooking on the stove, and round challas baking in the oven of my mother’s kitchen.  My mother standing over mounds of dough that she rolled and cut into various shaped noodles.  I remember her taking the noodles and tossing them into the air, like confetti.  They would separate and land on the large wooden board, left there to air dry for hours.  Little square noodles for soup, and long thin noodles for kugels or a dairy meal.  The wonderful aroma of apples and cinnamon baking inside a cake.  The live carp swimming in the bathtub, yes like in the children’s book, and yes I played with it.  The less pleasant memory of my mother stunning the carp with her rolling-pin and making it into gefilte fish.  The beautiful Limoges China that she bought in France and brought with her to the United States, china that only came out for Rosh Hashana.  Sweet memories for a sweet year.

To all of you, Shana Tovah  U’Metukah.

Note: This is from notes that I once took as I watched my mother make her apple cake.  The measurements are not exact as she never used a recipe.

Manya’s Apple Cake

4 cups flour

2 tsp baking powder

pinch of salt

2 eggs

1 1/2 cups sugar

2 sticks  butter or pareve margarine

1 tsp vanilla

1/4 cup orange juice ( added as needed when rolling dough out)

Cream butter and sugar till smooth and light.  Add eggs and vanilla and mix well.  In a second bowl sift flour, baking soda, and salt. Add to egg mixture and stir till well combined. Divide dough into two equal portions.

Filling

3 lbs. apples, peeled and cut into chunks.

4 Tbs. sugar (or more if apples are tart)

1 tsp cinnamon (or more to taste)

1/2 cup nuts (optional)

1 Tbs. lemon juice

1 Tbs. matzoh meal

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit for about ten minutes.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease 9 x 13 pan.

Take half the dough, roll out as much as possible (dough is crumbly)  and pat down inside greased baking dish. Add apple mixture. Top with remaining dough.  Brush top of cake with oil and sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar.  Take a sharp knife and cut through dough, creating squares of about 2″ by 2″.  Bake for about 45 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene