Gefilte Manifesto makes Ashkenazi foods cool

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria, photo by Lauren Volo

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern of The Gefilteria, photo by Lauren Volo

About five years ago I went to a program about sustainable food at Detroit’s Isaac Agree Downtown Synagogue and met Jeffrey Yoskowitz, a young man visiting from New York who was about to open a company called the Gefilteria.

He and his partners, Liz Alpern and Jackie Lilinshtein, loved Ashkenazi cuisine – the foods invented, passed one and immortalized by the Jewish communities of Central and Eastern Europe.

In the last 50 years or so, Ashkenazi food has fallen out of favor. Too heavy, people say; too bland, too much fat, too much salt, not enough fresh produce.

Reclaiming gefilte fish

The Gefilteria aimed to reclaim gefilte fish and other typical Ashkenazi Jewish foods for the 21st century. As the founders explain on their website, “Jewish delis were closing. Our grandparents were getting too old to cook. Ashkenazi cuisine was perceived as a thing of the past, if perceived as a cuisine at all. We were friends in our 20s and we heard the call. It felt like something big was at stake. We came together with a fresh approach – to create a culinary laboratory where Ashkenazi stories and culinary wisdom from the Old World could be explored and brought into the New. So, we wrote a manifesto and launched The Gefilteria.”

The “Gefile Manifesto” tells what they’re about – and what they’re not. “Gefilte is not just about your bubbe. It is not about kitsch or a foodie revolution,” says the manifesto. “Gefilte is about serving a dish with pride, not simply out of deference to hollow convention. It is about taking food traditions seriously and reclaiming the glory of Ashkenazi food – what it has been and what it can be.”

The Wall Street Journal raved about the product: “Founders Elizabeth Alpern, Jackie Lilinshtein and Jeffrey Yoskowitz have crafted an elegant terrine-like gefilte from whitefish and pike, topped with a pale-pink layer of salmon and steelhead trout, and blast-frozen to preserve the dish’s delicate texture and flavor. It makes for an attractive and festive plate, all the more so garnished with Gefilteria’s own jewel-toned horseradish, in sweet beet and zesty carrot-citrus varieties.”

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern making horseradish relish for gefilte fish. Photo by Lauren Volo.

Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern making horseradish relish for gefilte fish. Photo by Lauren Volo.

Fish and more

Once the trio mastered the art of gefilte fish, which they sold via local stores (you can buy a loaf of Gefilteria Gefilte as part of a “Jewish Food Essentials” gift package available at The Challah Connection), they branched out to pickles, horseradish relish, borscht, black-and-white cookies (a New York staple) and other foods. They’ve developed a thriving catering business and like doing pop-up dinners.

Now Yoskowitz and Alpern have collected 100 Ashkenazi recipes into a beautiful cookbook, The Gefilte Manifesto, named after their founding statement of purpose.

Interspersed with the recipes are short essays by Yoskowitz an Alpern explaining the background of the foods, giving some insight into the food based on their personal experience, or giving some family background about the recipe.

The book deftly combines the old and the new, relying on the Ashkenazi culinary traditions of seasonality and practicality even when introducing a recipe that would probably have shocked the authors’ shtetl forebears (roasted beet and dark chocolate ice cream, anyone?).

There’s a nice section about pickling, and along with the old-time “Classic Sour Dills”  there’s a trendy “Cardamom Pickled Grapes.” Right after the recipes for classic gefilte fish, there’s one for “Smoked Whitefish Gefilte Terrine.” There are instructions for pickling corned beef and pastrami at home. There’s a section on European Jewish breads, with a recipe for bagels and one for challah that includes illustrations showing how to braid the Sabbath loaves.

A recipe for the Jewish New Year

This week, we in the Jewish community are getting ready for Rosh Hashanah, which starts at sundown on Sunday, October 2.

It’s traditional to eat sweet foods as an indication of our wish for a sweet year to come, and to eat fall harvest foods, such as apples.

Here is a lovely recipe from The Gefilte Manifesto which they call “Ruth’s Apple Strudel.” Yoskowitz says it’s identical to the recipe he wrote down as a boy while trailing his grandmother, Ruth, in the kitchen.

To me it isn’t really a strudel, which I think of as very thin pastry spread with a filling, rolled up and baked, then cut into slices. This is more of a thin-crust, rectangular pie, but I know it’s a traditional Jewish dessert because my neighborhood bakery sells something similar. And it looks like a great recipe for the holiday!

Ruth's Apple Strudel

Ruth's Apple Strudel

Ingredients

    For the dough:
  • ½ cup vegetable oil, plus more for greasing pan
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
  • ½ cup sugar
  • 2 Tsp. baking powder
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • For the filling:
  • 3 lb. McIntosh apples (or Braeburn, Cortland, or Granny Smith), peeled, cored and thinly sliced
  • 1 Tbs. sugar
  • 2 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2/3 cup strawberry jam
  • 2 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
  • 2 tsp. matzo meal or cornstarch

Instructions

  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.
  2. Grease a 9 x 13-inch baking pan with oil.
  3. In a large bowl, gently stir together the flour, sugar and baking powder. Stir in the half-cut oil, eggs and warm water to form a dough. Set aside.
  4. In a large bowl, coat the apple slices with the sugar, cinnamon, jam, lemon juice and matzo meal or cornstarch.
  5. Divid the dough into two equal parts. On a floured surface, roll each ball of dough until it is approximately ¼-inch thick.
  6. Press one sheet of dough against the bottom and up the sides of the prepared baking pan and fill with the apple mixture. Place the second layer of dough on top of the apples, tucking the dough into the pan. Poke holes in the top of the dough with a fork to vent steam while baking.
  7. Bake for 50 minutes to 1 hour, or until fully browned on top. Serve warm or preferably at room temperature. The strudel can be stored in an airtight container at room temperature for a few days or in the fridge for up to a week.
https://www.readthespirit.com/feed-the-spirit/gefilte-manifesto/

 

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Categories: Desserts

A seder and a symbolic carrot salad for Rosh Hashanah

Rosh Hashanah seder foods; photo by Alona Lerman via Flickr Creative Commons

Rosh Hashanah seder foods; photo by Alona Lerman via Flickr Creative Commons

Rabbi Sasson Natan is getting ready for his family’s seder.

Hold on a minute, you’re probably saying. Even if you’re not Jewish, you know that Passover is in the spring. Even the lesser-known Tu b’Shevat seder, which I wrote about last year in Feed the Spirit, isn’t until February.

Ah yes, but the rabbi, spiritual leader of Keter Torah Synagogue in suburban Detroit, is preparing for the Jewish year’s third seder, the Rosh Hashanah seder, a custom widely practiced by Mizrachi and Sephardi Jews.

Bet you thought the main groups of Jews were Orthodox, Conservative and Reform. There’s one other big dividing line, and it goes back to the 1400s and even earlier.

A capsule Jewish geography

After Rome completely conquered Judea (what is now Israel) in the year 72 CE, Jews scattered throughout the Middle East and beyond. Those who stayed in the Middle East–Palestine (as the Romans renamed Judea, and where there has always been a Jewish presence), Turkey, Syria, Iran, Iraq, Yemen, India–became known as “Mizrachi” Jews, meaning from the East. A large number of Jews settled in Spain, where they flourished for hundreds of years until Ferdinand and Isabella expelled them all in 1492. This group were known as Sephardi Jews, from the Hebrew word for Spain, Sepharad. After the expulsion, many went to North Africa, joining well established Jewish communities.

Rosh Hashanah seder foods, photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons

Rosh Hashanah seder foods, photo by Susie Lubell via Flickr Creative Commons

Most American Jews are of Ashkenazi heritage, whose ancestors settled in central and eastern Europe. The word comes from the Hebrew word for Germany, Ashkenaz.

Although each country’s Jewish community had its unique customs, those of the Mizrachi and Sephardi communities are similar in many ways, as are those of Ashkenazi Jews, and the differences between Sephardi and Ashkenazi practices are often striking. Even though they say the same prayers, Sephardi synagogue services sound very different from Ashkenazi services because they use different chants and tunes.

Many Orthodox Ashkenazi Jews also eat symbolic foods at Rosh Hashanah, but I’ve never heard anyone call it a “seder” before.

The practice comes from the Talmud, the collection of Jewish laws and traditions said Rabbi Sasson, a native of Iraq who likes to be called by his first name. On both nights of Rosh Hashanah, after the blessings over wine and bread but before the festive meal, celebrants eat a variety of foods to symbolize their hopes for a good new year.

Seder means “order”

Seder simply means “order;” it’s a way of celebrating a holiday using specific foods with an associated, ritual meaning. Different Sephardi and Mizrachi communities follow different orders and may eat slightly different foods.

In the Jewish calendar, Rosh Hashanah is the Day of Judgment. God reviews everything we’ve done in the past year and decides our fate; the decree is sealed 10 days later on Yom Kippur.

At the heart of the Rosh Hashanah seder, said the rabbi, are wishes we request God to grant us in the coming year.

“On Erev Rosh Hashanah (the evening, when the holiday starts), we know that the next day we will go to court before God the judge, and our enemies will come to the court with files and files against us,” said Rabbi Sasson. We use various foods to symbolize our pleas for our enemies to be vanquished and for us to have blessings, he said.

The seeds of the pomegranate remind us of God's commandments (photo by dingoshoes via Flickr Creative Commons).

The seeds of the pomegranate remind us of God’s commandments (photo by dingoshoes via Flickr Creative Commons).

The eight Rosh Hashanah seder foods are  called simanim – symbols – because the Hebrew, Aramaic or Arabic word for that food is associated with another Hebrew word that can extend into a wish for the new year. These include:

  • Dates, with a wish that our enemies will be consumed.
  • Beets, with a wish that our enemies will run away.
  • Leeks, with a wish that our enemies be chopped up.
  • Long green beans, called “rubia” in Arabic–Rabbi Sasson uses black-eyed peas–with a wish that our merits increase.
  • Zucchini or similar squash, with a wish that any evil verdicts against us be ripped up and that our merits be announced before God.
  • Pomegranate, with a wish that we be filled with mitzvot (God’s commandments) like a pomegranate is filled with seeds. (Some say the number of seeds in a pomegranate equals the number of mitzvot in the Torah: 613.)
  • A fish head or sheep’s head, with a wish that God will make us like the head and not the tail. (If a sheep’s head is used, it also reminds us of the binding of Isaac, which we read about on Rosh Hashanah.)
  • Apple and honey, with a wish that God will renew for us a good and sweet year.

The basis for delicious dishes

Often the foods are made into delicious salads or other dishes that serve as appetizers to the main meal. Rabbi Sasson says for the beet portion of the seder, his wife stuffs beet leaves with minced meat, a dish similar to stuffed grape leaves.

The seder leader holds each food in the right hand while explaining the meaning of the food and reciting the blessing for the food and the wish associated with it. The entire ceremony takes only about 15 or 20 minutes, said the rabbi.

Almost all Jews, even those who don’t do a seder ceremony, eat apples and honey as a way of wishing for a good and sweet year to come. Here is a link to a more detailed article about the Rosh Hashanah seder by a woman who was born in Calcutta.

Food puns as symbols

Ants on a log -- raisins stuck to celery with peanut butter -- symbolize a wish for a "raise in salary" (photo by kjmhanley via Flickr Creative Commons).

Ants on a log — raisins stuck to celery with peanut butter — symbolize a wish for a “raise in salary” (photo by kjmhanley via Flickr Creative Commons).

Some have adopted the idea of simanim using languages other than Hebrew and Arabic. Many Ashkenazi Jews eat carrots in place of black-eyed peas, because in Yiddish (for centuries the language of the Ashkenazi Jews) the word for “carrots”–mehren–sounds a lot like the Yiddish word for “more”–mehr.

In fact, says Bessie Krapfman in an article about Rosh Hashanah foods, it’s even better for simanim to be puns from one’s native language. “My sister-in-law is very strict to make certain that there is a stick of celery and some raisins on the table,” says Krapfman. “She always takes the celery together with the raisins and loudly requests of God that he give us all a ‘raise in our salary.’ That is always good for a few laughs, but this is really what we are supposed to do, laughs aside.”

In addition to the raisins and celery (glued together with peanut butter), my son-in-law recently started serving dried fruits wrapped in toilet paper, as a wish that his guests will be “fruitful and multi-ply” (appropriate for those still building their families). I suggested that they might want to puree some cooked peas and serve them with a wish for “whirled peas” (world peace, get it?) Even better, top the peas with a dollop of grits and ask for “whirled peas and hominy.”

What kind of puns can you think of involving food and good wishes?

For your gustatory delight, I offer this recipe for an Israeli carrot, pomegranate and parsley salad, which uses two simanim, carrots and pomegranate. It’s a bit of a bother to pull the leaves off the parsley and get the seeds out of the pomegranate, but after that, it’s a snap to make, and it’s oh-so-pretty as well as tasty. (Helpful hint: quarter the pomegranate and then put the pieces into a large bowl of water before breaking them apart. The seeds will sink to the bottom of the bowl and the pith will float to the top. Skim off the pith, and then drain the seeds in a strainer or colander.)

Israeli Carrot and Pomegranate Salad

Israeli Carrot and Pomegranate Salad

Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 bunch stemmed flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 pound carrots, peeled
  • 2 Tbs. lemon juice
  • 2 Tbs. orange juice
  • 4 Tbs. extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup golden raisins
  • Seeds of 1 pomegranate

Instructions

  1. Place the garlic and all but 2 Tbs. of the parsley in the bowl of a food processor and chop well.
  2. Add the carrots, lemon juice, orange juice, olive oil, salt and pepper.
  3. Pulse until the carrots are chopped into small pieces but not pureed.
  4. Mix with raisins and pomegranate seeds and sprinkle with reserved parsley.
https://www.readthespirit.com/feed-the-spirit/a-seder-and-a-symbolic-carrot-salad-for-rosh-hashanah/

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Categories: Salads