Food Chat: The Rabbi Talks Turkey

— by Hannah Lee

As we prepare for our national holiday of thanksgiving — whether by dieting beforehand, shopping and cooking, or doing chesed — Rabbi Meir Soloveichik has some interesting insights on the curious halachic history of the Thanksgiving turkey. He is the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in New York and director of the Straus Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University (a great nephew of “The Rav,” Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik) and recently nominated as one of the Forward’s 50 notable American Jews.  He spoke on Sunday to an audience of about 40 people at the newly opened Citron and Rose restaurant as part of its yearlong series on the philosophy of Jewish eating.

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Jews have embraced the turkey as food. According to the National Turkey Association, Israel is the world leader in turkey consumption at 26.9 lbs per capita, according to its latest survey conducted in 1999. The United States is second, with 736 million pounds of turkey consumed during Thanksgiving in 2011.

For some Jewish fowl history: The hoopoe was chosen as the national bird of the State of Israel in May 2008 in conjunction with the country’s 60th anniversary (following a national survey of 155,000 citizens). Rabbi Meir cries foul, because the hoopoe (duhifat in Hebrew) is treife (listed amongst the Biblical list of 24 forbidden birds); appears only once in a midrash; and when threatened, does not fight back but excretes a stinky fluid.  

Rabbi Meir votes for the yonah (dove), which is usually used to symbolize peace with an olive branch in its claws. Not so, says the Rabbi, quoting Kohelet that there is a time for war and a time for peace. Another historical anecdote: Harry Truman supposedly said to Winston Churchill that the American symbol is depicted with an eagle’s head tilted towards the olive branch, to symbolize the U.S.’s inclination towards peacemaking, but Churchill retorted that the eagle’s head should be on a swivel, to allow it to adjust for national security interests.

The Israeli national anthem has another stirring anecdote: when 30-year-old Moran Samuel won the gold in individual rowing (skulling) at the Paralympics Games in Italy this summer, the games organizers were not prepared with a tape of the Israeli anthem, so Samuel asked for the microphone and sang the anthem beautifully by herself. This was an athlete who’d already shown her fortitude when she had a rare spinal stroke. When she recovered, she trained to become a pediatric physical therapist and she switched from her sport of basketball to wheelchair basketball and rowing. Rowing, said Rabbi Meir, is the quintessential sport symbol of hope, with the individual pushing against the force of water towards dry land.

Another bird, the raven, also appeared in the Biblical account of Noah, but Jews have not adopted the raven, which is known as the symbol of despair and hopelessness. The American writer and literary critic, Edgar Allan Poe, agreed with this view in his 1845 poem, “The Raven,” with its refrain, “Nevermore.” The yonah, said Rabbi Meir, symbolizes hope for Jews, not peace.

Only the yonah and the tor (turtledove) are allowed on an altar in Biblical times. Both are archetypes of kosher birds, according to the Rema (Rabbi Moshe Isserles): they have an extra toe in back; a crop and gizzard that peels easily; and they are not predators that grab their prey from the air in a cruel fashion. The Rema further teaches that Jews may not eat any unfamiliar birds, unless there is a mesorah (tradition) of it not being a predator. So, how did Jews come to enjoy the turkey, which was a New World bird that became popular in Europe after the Cortes expedition of 1519?

The turkey comes from a land of no Jews (notwithstanding the conceit of Blazing Saddles, joked the Rabbi). So, how did the Rabbis of the 17th and 18th century reconcile their halachic concerns? The bird must come from a land of Jews and its Hebrew name, tarnagol hodu (תרנגול הודו, Indian chicken), gives evidence that it was thought to originate from India (where there were known Jews). The English “turkey” derives from the merchants of the Turkish Empire and in Turkey, the bird is known as hindi.  Notably, hodu also means thanks in modern Hebrew, sharing a syntactic root with the Hebrew word for “Jews,” yehudim.

Why did the poskim (jurists) change their position on turkey?  First, the farmers (even the Ashkenazi ones) knew that the turkey is not a predator, and second, the Sephardim have a mesorah of eating turkey. They may not have known of Benjamin Franklin’s documented preference of the turkey over the bald eagle, because it is not predatory; it is unique to the Americas (while eagles are found elsewhere); and it is a bird of courage that would defend itself.

When the Jews first arrived in what is now the United States, from Brazil in 1654, they found a resting place, said Rabbi Meir, “the land of the turkey has fulfilled the hope of the dove.”

Rabbi Meir Soloveichik gives thanks for living in a country where Jews are welcome to the White House (as he was during the Bush administration) and where he davened maaariv (the evening prayers) there.  He ended his talk with a reminiscence from the former British prime minister, Tony Blair, who noted that the prized possession of his American Jewish friend is his citizenship papers. Only in America have the Jews experienced freedom fully and welcomed as equal citizens in the public square. It is especially poignant that on Thanksgiving we Jews have a national mandate to thank God for this country of religious freedom.

Citron and Rose, located at 368-370 Montgomery Avenue in Merion, is open for dinner Sunday through Thursday. For more information, please visit their website and follow them on Twitter @citronandrose; their phone number is 610-664-4919. To schedule an appointment with Citron and Rose Catering, please email [email protected]    

Citron And Rose Grand Opening!

— by Jennie Hatton

On Wednesday, November 7 at 5 p.m., restaurateurs Steven Cook and Chef Michael Solomonov and owner David Magerman will open Citron and Rose (368-370 Montgomery Avenue, 610-664-4919), a glatt kosher restaurant and catering company.  The kosher food will transcend tradition: Chef Solomonov, a rising star who is at the forefront of an elite group of chefs bringing Jewish food to new heights, has crafted a dynamic menu of genre-defying kosher dishes.

“Steve and I traveled across Europe, eating in kosher restaurants from Paris to Budapest, and we wanted to bring that culinary culture to America,” says Israel-born Chef Solomonov, a 2011 James Beard Award winner who catapulted modern Israeli cooking into the national spotlight at his and Cook’s award-winning Philadelphia restaurant, Zahav.  “At Citron and Rose we will be reinterpreting the dishes from our Jewish ancestors with modern techniques and fresh ingredients.”

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Working closely with Chef de Cuisine Yehuda Sichel, Chef Solomonov designed a dairy-free menu, in keeping with the rigorous limitations of kosher cooking, eschewing butter and cheese in favor of meat-centric offerings that reinvent classic Jewish dishes. Chef Solomonov’s menu will highlight a variety of the best-known dishes of kosher cooking, including:  

  • Chopped Liver with sour cherry, chocolate and pumpernickel;  
  • Mushroom Knish with smoked kasha, tsimmes and carrot-mustard;  
  • Salmon Gravlax with everything bagel spice, walnuts, radish and smoked bagel;  
  • Baked Whole Fish en papillote, parsley potatoes, sweet peppers and riesling;  
  • Roast Chicken, featuring honey-paprika glaze, schmaltzy potatoes and baby arugula; and
  • Pecan Praline Challah French Toast with non-dairy coffee ice cream, fried pecans and maple syrup.  

Appetizer prices range from $9 to $12;  Entrée prices range from $14 to $28;  Desserts are $9.  

Traditional dishes, such as Sholet, or Cholent, a meat-and-potatoes stew that is meant to be prepared before sundown on Friday and left in the oven overnight to be eaten during Shabbat, the day or rest, are made new with exceptional ingredients: in this case, crispy duck breast replaces beef or chicken, along with confit duck leg, kishke, haminado and flageolet beans.

Executing the menu day-to-day will be Chef Sichel, who has worked with Chef Solomonov at Zahav since 2010.  Prior to joining the team at Zahav, Chef Sichel worked in notable kitchens in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.  Although he attended culinary school in Israel, his training in kosher cooking began much earlier: at his first restaurant job, a kosher sandwich shop, and in his Orthodox Jewish childhood home in Baltimore, MD.

“I’m thrilled to prepare and serve authentic-yet-original kosher dishes to a new audience,” says Chef Sichel.  “It’s inspiring to share the foods I have known my entire life and bring a new energy to kosher cooking.”

To complement the food, the team has created a menu of kosher cocktails, including:  

  • The Cosmonaut, vodka with beet juice syrup and fresh grapefruit juice;  
  • The Lower East Side, gin with cucumber and dill;  and
  • Reb Roy, a twist on a classic Rob Roy with scotch and Manischewitz.

The restaurant will also feature a variety of kosher wines, craft beers and an extensive list of scotches.

Citron and Rose’s central open kitchen will offer diners a close-up look at the kitchen in action.  The 75-seat space is divided into two sections, with the bar and chef’s counter, both topped with white marble, separated by a row of windows from the airy main dining room, where comfortable banquette seating is the backdrop for the exceptional food and drink.  White subway tiles cover the walls, while stained ebony oak floors, natural wood wainscoting and molded walnut barstools lend a natural aesthetic.  Highlights of robin’s egg blue further brighten the welcoming space, and a black-and-white graphic floral motif is echoed throughout, including the 15 seat private dining room, where custom wooden wine racks also cover the walls.  Located behind the main dining area, it is perfect for intimate gatherings on any occasion.  Weather-permitting, Citron and Rose will open its outdoor seating for al fresco dining.

“We’ve been committed from the very beginning to creating a traditional-yet-elevated dining experience at Citron and Rose,” explains Magerman, a food enthusiast and philanthropist who created the Kohelet Foundation, which supports Jewish day-school education in Philadelphia and across the United States.  “This is, in my opinion, the finest kosher restaurant possible.”

The restaurant will be under the kosher supervision of Community Kashrus of Greater Philadelphia.   Citron and Rose will follow the every tenet of kosher cooking, including being overseen from open to close daily by a mashgiach and not serving on Fridays and Saturdays, as work is forbidden between sunsets on Shabbat.
Citron and Rose Catering will also include a full-service catering company for on- and off-site events.  For any occasion, from bar and bat mitzvahs to elaborate weddings, Citron and Rose Catering will bring the finest glatt kosher cuisine to make any event more special — and more delicious.

Citron and Rose will be open for dinner Sunday through Thursday.  Citron and Rose Catering is already available to cater events.  For more information, please visit their website and follow them on Twitter @citronandrose.  To schedule an appointment with Citron and Rose Catering, please email [email protected].    

The Sustenance of Torah and Honey

— by Hannah Lee

If Jews are mandated to avoid superstitions, why do we have so many symbolic foods on the Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe?  I was privileged to hear Rabbi Meir Soloveichik answer this question at the Chabad Center of the Main Line on Sunday night.  This was the inaugural event of a year-long Torah-and-food series being coordinated by The Kohelet Foundation to showcase the Torah knowledge, foodie esprit, and sharp wit of Rabbi Soloveichik, the Director of the Strauss Center for Torah and Western Thought at Yeshiva University and the Associate Rabbi at Congregation Kehilath Jeshurun in Manhattan. The series will also launch the kosher restaurant, Citron and Rose, due to open this fall.  The chef de cuisine, Yehuda Sichel, demonstrated two recipes that incorporate honey.

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Athletes are notoriously superstitious, began Rabbi Soloveichik, and Baseball Hall of Famer Wade Boggs had a curious ritual wherein after multiple steps in his pre-game preparations, he would take his bat and carve out the Hebrew letters for Chai (life) in the batter’s box. It helped him hit over .350 in four straight seasons and score over 3,000 hits in his 18-year baseball career, primarily with the Boston Red Sox (but also the New York Yankees and Tampa Bay Devil Rays). It was even more remarkable because he was not a Jew!  His sister later was quoted as distinguishing between superstitions and her brother’s rituals for focusing the mind.  Each act helped Boggs to tune out the noisy stadium of people and concentrate on his goals.

The symbolic foods of Rosh HaShanah, the simonim, similarly help us understand what actions to take for the new year.  Sephardi Jews serve the head of a lamb while Ashkenazi Jews serve the head of a fish.  These foods represent thoughtful action in which the head should direct the body, just as a dog’s head should wag the tail and not the other way around.  (The rosh in Rosh Hashanah actually  means “head” and not “new,” which linguistically would be chadash.)  The decisions we make on Rosh Hashanah have the power to reverberate through the rest of the year. The simonim can inspire us to actively engage and focus on the aspects of life and the values that are truly important to us.

Honey almond crunch cake gale gandAbout 1,000 years ago, the Jewish sage Rokeach wrote about the use of honey smeared onto a tablet on the first day of school for young boys.  Honey cake, lekach, with Torah verses iced on top was similarly served to engender a love of learning. By the 14th century, lekach was the centerpiece of all Jewish celebrations. Up until the 20th century, lekach and schnapps were customarily served and referred to as shorthand for a Jewish celebration.

Jews are akin to bees in their service to God, according to a midrash (homiletic method of biblical exegesis) on Devarim, Deuteronomy, the final book of the Chumash, the Jewish Bible. Why are bees so central?  First, because bee honey never spoils.  (The Rabbi retold the story from Calvin Trilling about his mother serving leftovers whose origin no one in the family remembers.) Second, they offer one of the highest caloric content of any natural foods.  The Biblical Yonatan, in a battle with the Philistines, came upon a beehive and was revived by a taste of honey. Finally, it’s unique amongst foods that are kosher despite its source from a non-kosher creature.

Typically, products from non-kosher animals are not kosher, such as camel’s milk, because camels do not chew their cud and lack split hooves. Honey, however, is not technically produced as part of the bodily processes, whether digestive or mammary. Pollen is stored in the bee’s stomach but nectar is stored in a separate sac. Other bees in the hive add enzymes that turn the sucrose into glucose and fructose. Worker bees then evaporate most of the moisture by fanning their wings, leaving only about 18-percent water in honey.

Lekach, honey cake, reminds us of all the enjoyable experiences — the mitzvot, Biblical commandments — that are truly sustaining, being gifts from God. It says in Proverbs that Torah is like milk and honey.  Mother’s milk is a basic necessity of life, but honey represents all the delights of this world.  Just as the Biblical Shimshon (Samson) was able to take pleasure in the honeycomb that was created amidst the carcass of the lion that had attacked him, so too may Jews take joy from the belly of the beast of this complicated and maddening world. Me, I’m going to try Chef Sichel’s recommendation to substitute beer for the liquid in the traditional recipe for honey cake.

Citron and Rose, located at 368-370 Montgomery Avenue in Merion, will be open Sunday — Thursday for dinner.  Catering contact information: [email protected]. For other events in this series, contact [email protected].

Citron and Rose: The World’s Best Glatt Kosher Restaurant!

— by Ronit Treatman

What happens when philanthropist David Magerman and James Beard Award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov put their heads together?  An incredibly ambitious project is born: to create the world’s best glatt kosher European-Jewish restaurant!  It will be poetically named Citron and Rose.

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“It will not be a kosher Zahav,” David Magerman tells me, referring to Michael Solomonov’s renown Center City Nouveau Israeli masterpiece.  “Citron and Rose will reimagine Eastern Europe.  This will be a unique place!” he promises me.  Citron and Rose will also provide glatt kosher catering.

David Magerman is not in the restaurant business, and never wanted to be.  “I started looking for a way to provide the Jewish community with a glatt kosher restaurant with the highest standards of excellence.  My philosophy is that observant Jews should not have to compromise on quality,” he explained.  

Citron & Rose will have a sleek, modern, and elegant look.  There will be seating for sixty.  Diners will be able to enjoy viewing the chefs at work in the open kitchen.  The wood and marble bar will offer an extensive selection of kosher wines, beer, and spirits.  It will be glatt kosher, which means that it will adhere to the strictest standards of kashrut.  Kosher supervision will be conducted by the Philadelphia Vaad Hashgacha.

To prepare for the summer opening, Michael Solomonov will be travelling in Eastern Europe.  He will absorb the culture and learn about the food and culinary traditions.  He will then share with us the forgotten tastes and textures of our pre-War ancestors.  There will be marinated meats cooked over a charcoal rotisserie grill and charcuterie made in-house.  Pickles will be made using traditional recipes.  Salads and vegetable dishes not generally offered will be reincarnated.  Citron And Rose will also offer freshly baked breads and desserts.  

This planned menu brings back childhood memories for me.  I grew up in a secular Israeli family.  When I was a girl, my father and I would make a pilgrimage to the Orthodox city of Bnei Brak in Israel.  We went there especially to buy cured turkey meat from one of the small, artisanal purveyors.  “No one spices it like the Romanians!” my dad would exclaim.  I have a feeling that this restaurant will be a crucible in which such memories will be conjured up for the post-war generations by Michael Solomonov’s alchemy.

Those of us who live in the Greater Delaware Valley are very fortunate.  Two of Philadelphia’s biggest dreamers have joined forces to create an amazing new reality.  I believe that David Magerman and Michael Solomonov can turn Citron and Rose into the best kosher restaurant in the world. I am salivating already!

368-370 Montgomery Avenue
Bala Cynwyd, PA 19004

Open Sunday – Thursday for dinner

Catering contact information:  
[email protected]