The Chosen Vegetables – The Awl

ThecuisineoftheAshkenazicJewsiskindofawful。

Thisisnotthefaultofmypeople;theytriedtheirbest,theyreallydid。

Buttheclimate,socioeconomicstruggles,andrawmaterialstheyhadtoworkwithleftthemwithsomeprettyroughdishes。

Worst,inmymind,isthatthereareafewbigJewishfeastsinthelatesummerandearlyfall?

—?

thebesttimeofyearforproduce?

—?

andAshkenazicJewishfooddoesn’ttakeadvantageofthat。

SoIwouldliketoproposeawaytomakethefeastsofearlyfall?

—?

RoshHashanahandthebreakingofthefastafterYomKippur?

—?

alittlemorevegetable-friendly:Wemustunitethecuisinesofthe?

Jews。

First,somehistory:Amidstlotsofwars,largewavesofJewsleftIsraelaroundthefourthcenturyA。

D。

settlingmostlyintheMediterraneanclimatesofItaly,France,Spain,andMorocco。

Overthenextthousandyearsorso,theyexperiencedvaryingdegreesofhostilityintheseplacesatvarioustimes,andmostwereeventuallybootedtothecoldlandsoftheRussianEmpire。

Somedidokayinthecities,butotherswerestuckinghettoes,whichwereoccasionallyburneddown;sometimestheywereimprisonedorchasedaroundorkilled。

Theirfoodoptions,tosaytheleast,were?

limited。

TheJewswereusedtosomeofthemostfertilelandintheworld;easternEuropemusthavebeenabrutalshockforthem。

NowcalledAshkenazim,theycreatedthebestcuisinetheycouldforcoldweather,giventhegarbagetheyhadtoworkwith:starches,soups,fattycutsofmeat,andboiledrootvegetables,largelyadoptedfromPolishandRussiancuisine。

Whentheyfinallymadeitout,mostlytoNorthAmericainthenineteenthandtwentiethcenturies,theybroughtthisstuffwiththem,wheresomeofthedishesgotsopopulartheyassimilatedintothegeneralumbrellaofAmericanfood:Bagels,challah,latkes,andmatzohballsoupareasAmericanaspizza,tacos,andporkfried?

rice。

Peoplewhoaren’tintomeatandfatwillfindthatthecenterpiecedishesofAshkenazicJewishcuisinetendtobeveryfattyandverymeaty,likebraisedbeefbrisket,cholent(aslow-cookedstewofbeef,potatoes,andbarley)orkishke(anoften-blandsausagemadeofbeefintestinestuffedwithflourormatzohmealandchickenfat)。

Theyalsooftenhaveasweetelementthatcanbecloying,sinceJewsworldwidelovetoputhoneyandapplesanddriedfruitinsavorydishes。

Thesidesaretypicallyblandfiller,madeofnoodlesorbreadsorvariouspermutationsofmatzoh。

Spicesareexceedinglylimited;herbsprettymuchnon-existent。

Thevegetablesusedareoftheroot-yvariety,likebeets,carrots,potatoes,andturnips,allofwhicharecookedinprettymuchthesameway(boiled)。

TheonlyJewishvegetabledishIcanreallyremembergrowingupwithiscalledtzimmes,adishofcarrotsboiledinwaterandhoneyandsometimessprinkledwithraisins。

Itisanawful,awfuldish;itreducesthecarrottobabyfoodanditisdisgustinglysweet,asaremanyAshkenazicJewishdesserts。

ThefactthatweeatthissortoffoodisespeciallygallingduringtheHighHolidaysbecauselatesummerandearlyfallhassomeamazingproduce?

—?

atleastintheNortheastwhereIand,accordingtocensusdata,severalotherJews,live。

Itseemsashametocookasifwe’reinthedeadofwinterinashtetlinBia?

ystokwheninfactwe’resurroundedbyamazingfruitsandvegetables:Theearlyfallproduce,fromapplestokaletochardtosquash,join?

—?

foramerefewweeks?

—?

theend-of-summerpeaches,okra,greenbeans,tomatoes,andcucumbersonfarmers’markettables。

Wecouldmaketheargument(andIwill!

)thatJewishfood,likemostpoor-peoplecuisines,isaboutusingwhatyoucanfind。

AndwhatIcanfindinBrooklyntodayisahellofalotbetterthanwhatmygreat-grandparentscouldfindin?

Grodno。

LUCKILY:notalltheJewsfollowedthepathofmyAshkenazicancestors。

LotsofthemstayedorendedupneartheMediterranean,eitherinwesternEurope(thesewecalltheSephardim)orintheMiddleEast(thesewecalltheMizrahi)。

Andbecausetheystayedinnicewarmplaceswherevegetablesactuallygrow,theircuisinesarecompletelydifferentfromthatoftheAshkenazim,onlyvaguelyconnectedprettymuchonlybythelawsofKashrut(Kosher)。

InsteadofblendingJewishdietarylawsandtasteswiththefranklynotverygoodfoodsofPolandandRussia,theMediterraneanJewsmixedwithSpanish,French,Turkish,Syrian,Lebanese,Moroccan,andAlgeriancuisines,amongothers,tocreateavarietyofdishesthatarenothingatalllikewhatmostnon-JewswouldthinkofasJewishfood。

Butittotally?

is!

Forthefallfeasts,IthinkwepaleAshkenazicJewsshouldexplorethefoodsofourtanned,warm-weathercousins,becausealotoftheirfooddovetailsperfectlywithwhat’sinseasonrightnow。

Thatdoesn’tmeanabandoningourregionalfood;abagelwithloxandcreamcheeseisadelightfulfoodtobreakatwenty-four-hourfast。

Butvegetablesaregood?

too。

Sinceit’stheendoftomatoseason,howaboutshakshuka?

Theoriginsofthedish,likemostJewishdishes,ismixedupwiththecuisineofwhichevercountrytheJewshappenedtobelivinginatthetime(inthiscase,probablyTunisiaorAlgeria),butit’snowoftenassociatedwithMizrahifood。

Tomake:pre-heatoventoabout450degrees。

Fryonion,garlic,andamixofsweetandhotpeppers(yourchoice,butIlikeshishitoforflavor,cubanelleforsweetness,andThaichileforheat)inacastironpaninquiteabitofoliveoil。

Whenthepeppersaresoft,addcuminandsmokedpaprika,thenstirtotoastthespices。

TakebigstewingtomatoeslikebeefsteaksorRoma(becauseheirloomswouldbeawaste),chopthemup,andthrowthemin。

Cookdownuntilthick,likeastew,thenstirinthepestoofyourchoice(cilantro,parsley,oracombinationwouldbegood)。

Addsaltandpepperhere,becauseafterthisyouwon’tbeabletofuckwithittoomuch,andsomechunksoffetaorgoatcheese。

Crackafeweggsintothestew,beingcarefulnottobreaktheyolk,thenshoveitintheovenforacoupleminutes。

It’sdonewhenthewhitesaremostlyopaquebutstillatouchlooseandpudding-y。

Theyolksshould,ofcourse,berunny。

Servewithpitaorbread。

Orbagel,whynot,thisisallaboutfriendshipacross?

borders。

OkraisafavoritevegetableofMiddleEasternJews,especiallyinLibyaandSyria。

Anotherstew:fryonionandgarlic,thenaddAleppopepperifyoucanfindit(useonepartgroundcayennetofourpartssweetpaprikaifyoucan’t)andasmallpinchofcinnamon。

Sliceokra(lookforthesmallestones)intoroundsandtossintothepan。

Addinchoppedtomatoes,choppeddriedapricotsandalittlelemonjuice。

Cookitformaybetwentyminutes,untiltheflavorshaveallcometogether。

Serveoverriceorcouscouswithfreshmintandparsleyontop。

(Idon’thaveanyspecialrecipeforcouscous。

Bringwatertoaboil,measureoutonepartcouscoustotwopartshotwaterinabowl,addinsaltandapatofbutter,quicklystirandcoverforaboutfiveminutesuntilthewaterhasbeenabsorbed。

Fluffwith?

fork。

)

TheSephardim,liketheAshkenazim(and,Iguess,everybodyelseintheentireworld)areveryintofritters。

Latkesaregreat,butdon’treallyfeellikelatesummertome;movingtotheSephardic-stylefritter,whicharemadewithvegetables,feelsfresher。

Zucchiniisaneasyreplacementforpotato:Gratezucchinionaboxgraterintoabigpile,then(andthisisthemostimportantpart)wraptheminatowelandsqueezetheshitoutofthem。

Youwantaslittlewateraspossible。

Thenmixwitheithergrated(thiswilldestroyyoureyesbutisthebestoption)ormincedonion,abeatenegg,andsomebreadcrumbs。

Formintoapattyandfryinvegetableoil,acoupleminutesonbothsidesuntilgoldenbrown。

(Thesearecalledejjehkousa,andprobablytheLebaneseinvented?

them。

)

AmoreinterestingtwistcomesfromPoopaDweck’sspectacularbook,AromasofAleppo,andarecalledkeftesdeprasa。

Hersusesleeks,oneofmyfavoritefavoritevegetables。

Cutoffthetoughgreenpartatthetopandtherootsatthebottom,thensliceinhalflength-wiseandwashverythoroughly(there’sgoingtobealotofsandandstuffinthere)。

Slicetheleekswidth-wisethinly,intolittlestrips,andsautebrieflyinoliveoiltoremovesomeofthatrawonionflavor。

Thendumpthemintoabowlandmixwiththestandarditems(beatenegg,breadcrumbs,salt,pepper)aswellassomeSyrianspices?

—?

alittlebitofcinnamon,alittleallspice,alittlecumin,alittlecayenne。

AccordingtoSeriousEats,thebattershouldbe“ratherwet,”notquitelikethepattyyou’dmakewithpotatoorzucchini。

Servewith?

labneh。

StuffedvegetablesarealsoverycommoninIberiaandNorthAfrica,andarenicelyceremonial(read:areapainintheass)。

Lotsofstuffedvegetablerecipes,hereinAmericaorinGreeceorItaly,callforbellpeppers。

Ihatebellpeppers;theyaretheworstofallpeppers。

Insteadoptforpattypanorotherwisesphericalsquash,orbigtomatoes,orevensomeotherkindofpepper,likeaNewMexicopepper。

Firstthingsfirst:Putsomericeinwatertosoakforatleasthalfanhour,andgetsomepinenutsorwalnutsinadrypantotoastuntilfragrant。

Ifusingsquashortomatoes,sawofftheirtopandthenscoopoutthegutswithaspoon,gettingasclosetothewallsofthefruitasyoucanwithoutbustingthrough。

Chopuptheguts。

Inapot,sauteonionandgarlicinoliveoil,thendumpinyourspices:turmeric,cumin,cinnamon,driedchile。

Stir。

Thenaddinthegutsofwhateveryou’restuffing,alongwithawholemessofchoppedspinach。

Addinatinydashofredwinevinegarandcoveruntilthespinachhascookeddown。

Thenthrowinyourwalnuts,plussomekindofdriedfruit。

(Raisinsaregood,asarecurrants,orevenapricotsorcherries。

)Drainthewaterfromyourrice,andmixthericeinwiththiswholemess。

Makesureit’snottoodry;addalittlewaterifitseemsso。

Stuffthisinsanemixtureintoyourhollowed-outvegetableshells(nottoomuch,though,sincethericewillexpand)。

Bakeat350degreesuntilthericeiscooked,abouttwentyminutes。

Servewith?

labneh。

Ohright,labneh!

Labnehisadairyproductsomewhereinbetweenyogurtandsoftcheese。

Youcanbuyit,butdon’t,becausethepre-madestuffisweirdlyexpensiveandcanbehardtofindeventhoughitisincrediblyeasytomake。

Tomakeit,getoutastrainerandlineitwithcheeseclothor,hell,acleandishtowelthat’sonthethinside。

Takefull-fatGreekyogurt(Fageisgood)anddumpitinthere,addalittlesalt,andgatherthetopofthecheeseclothortoweltomakealittlebundle。

Putitontopofapotorbowlorsomething,becausethegoalhereistostrainoutmostofthewaterintheyogurt,andputitinthefridgeovernight。

Thenextdayyou’llhavelabneh,anamazinglytangyandthickyogurt/cheesethingwhichgoesgreatwithprettymuchallvegetablesand?

herbs。

Idon’tmeantodecryallAshkenazicJewishfood,orsuggestthatweEasternEuropeanJewsshouldabandonourroots。

AllI’msayingis,objectively,ifyouhadtochooseacuisinetomixwith,wouldyoupickLebaneseorPolish?

SpanishorUkrainian?

MoroccanorRussian?

Yeah。

CropChefisacolumnaboutthecorrectwaystoprepareandconsumeplantmatter,byDanNosowitz,afreelancehumanwhoenjoyshotsaladsandlivesinBrooklyn,naturally。

Photoby?


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