Rosh Hashanah Wishes Bundled In A Grape Leaf

Whole Fish Baked in Grapevine Leaves

–by Ronit Treatman

In Ancient Israel, the fall harvest was still being gathered as preparations for Rosh Hashanah were under way. One of the most important crops was the grape vine. Our modern festive Rosh Hashanah meal is the perfect opportunity to showcase an often-overlooked part of this member of the Seven Species, its leaves. There is an old Sephardic tradition of serving stuffed vegetables for Rosh Hashanah. These cornucopiae connote a year filled with blessings and abundance. This year, recall Ancient Israel’s fall harvest, and imbue your dishes with symbolism, by preparing various delicacies encased in grape leaves.

More after the jump.
Wild grapes were first domesticated in Central Asia. The fruit was eaten fresh off the vine. Grapes were pressed to make juice. Naturally occurring yeasts on the skins of the grapes converted some of this juice into an alcoholic beverage. The discovery of the art of wine making quickly followed, flourishing in Greece, Phoenicia, and Ancient Rome. Wine that sat for a long time was transformed into vinegar. After the grapes were pressed for wine, the skins and seeds remained. Grape seed oil was extracted from these grape seeds. Grapes that were not eaten fresh or turned into wine were dried in the sun, becoming raisins. Even the grapes that did not have time to ripen were not wasted. A very acidic juice was squeezed out of them and stored. This juice was called verjuice. Verjuice added a sour note to any dish it was incorporated into. Grape leaves were discovered to be edible, and became very popular in Near Eastern and Balkan cuisine.

Stuffed grape leaves are said to have originated during the reign of Alexander the Great. When Thebes was under siege by the troops of Alexander, the city was running out of food. The Thebans were very creative in adding nutrition to their diets. They cut up what little meat they had and rolled it up in the grape leaves growing all around them. This was a very good idea since grape leaves are very salubrious. They are high in vitamin A and vitamin K, and contain calcium, iron, and vitamin C. The Byzantines continued this tradition, stuffing leaves from fig, mulberry, and hazelnut tress, in addition to grape leaves.

Grape leaves need a little preparation for cooking. If you are using fresh grape leaves, make sure that they have not been sprayed with insecticides. Pick light green, medium sized, tender leaves. Wash them with cold water. Cut off the stems. Place the leaves in a clean pan, and cover with boiling water. Let blanch for about five minutes. You may begin by preparing one of the most traditional dishes in Greek cuisine: Dolmathakia. Dolmathakia are grape leaves wrapped around a variety of fillings such as rice, fresh herbs, cheese, and pine nuts. A tutorial of how to stuff a grape leaf is available at this link.

Dolmathakia (Stuffed Grape Leaves) With Goat Cheese And Couscous
Adapted from Nancy Gaifyllia

  • 35 blanched or jarred grape leaves
  • 35 1-inch pieces of goat cheese
  • ¼ cup of couscous
  • ¼ cup of boiling water
  • 1 tomato
  • 2 tablespoons of chopped cilantro
  • Ground cumin
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon

Place the couscous in a bowl. Add one teaspoon of ground cumin, salt and pepper to taste, and ¼ cup of boiling water to it. Wait about five minutes for the couscous to soften. Chop up the tomato and add to the couscous. Add the cilantro, one tablespoon of olive oil, and the juice of one lemon. Mix well.

To assemble the Dolmathakia:
Put a grape leaf on a plate. Place one teaspoon of couscous and one piece of cheese on the leaf. Roll the leaf shut, sealing it with olive oil.

You may coat the dolmathakia with olive oil and grill over coals, or sauté in olive oil.

Serve immediately.

Yaprakes de Parra are vegetarian stuffed grape leaves beloved by Sephardic Jews. Traditionally, they are assembled in advance for Shabbat, and served cold. Here is a pareve recipe.

Yaprakes De Parra, Stuffed Grape Leaves
Adapted from Joyce Goldstein’s Sephardic Flavors: Jewish Cooking of the Mediterranean.

  • 35 grape leaves, blanched or jarred in brine
  • 1 cup white rice
  • Olive oil
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 onions
  • 3 garlic cloves
  • ¼ cup dry currants
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • 1 tomato
  • Fresh mint
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh fennel leaves
  • 2 lemons
  1. Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a pan. Cut up two onions and 3 cloves of garlic. Add them to the olive oil and stir over medium heat, until the onions are soft and translucent. Add the rice. Dice the tomato and place it in the mix. Mince the fennel, mint, and cilantro leaves. Add them to the pan. Toss in the pine nuts and currants. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  2. Place a grape leaf on a clean plate, fill a teaspoon with some filling, and deposit it on the leaf. Roll up the grape leaf around the filling, and arrange in a clean pan.
  3. When all the leaves have been rolled up in this fashion, you may add about one tablespoon of olive oil to the pan. Squeeze the lemons into the pan as well. Cover the stuffed grape leaves with water, and place a plate over them to help them keep their shape while cooking. Cover the grape leaves with water, put a lid on the pot, and bring everything to a boil. Lower the heat, and allow the stuffed grape leaves to simmer for about 40 minutes.
  4. Remove the lid and plate from the pot. Allow the stuffed grape leaves to cool down to room temperature. Place in an airtight container, and refrigerate. To serve, arrange the stuffed grape leaves on a platter. Garnish with fresh lemon slices.

In his book Plenty: Vibrant Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi, Chef Yotam Ottolenghi brings one of the most creative grape leaf dishes to life from the cuisine of Turkey. Here is a gluten-free version.

Grape Leaf, Labaneh, and Herb Pie

  • 35 fresh or jarred grape leaves
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon
  • 4 shallots
  • ¼ cup pine nuts
  • Fresh tarragon
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh dill
  • Fresh mint
  • Labaneh or Greek yogurt
  • ½ cup rice flour
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
  2. Dice the shallots, and sauté them in olive oil until they turn a golden brown. Set aside.
  3. Take a deep baking dish (preferably porcelain) and cover its interior with grape leaves. Brush the grape leaves with olive oil.
  4. In a bowl, mix the sautéed shallots with the labaneh and pine nuts. Add salt and pepper to taste.
  5. Finely mince the mint, dill, cilantro, and tarragon. Add to the yogurt mixture.
  6. Grate the skin of one lemon, and throw the zest into the mixture. Then squeeze the juice from this lemon into the pie filling as well.
  7. Pour the rice flour into the yogurt and mix it well to form a paste.
  8. Spread the paste over the grape leaves in the porcelain baking dish. Cover the filling with more grape leaves, and brush them with olive oil.
  9. Bake in the oven for 40 minutes. Remove the pie from the oven, and allow to cool to room temperature. Serve with fresh labaneh.

It is traditional to serve a whole fish during Rosh Hashanah, so we may go into the year “with the head, and not with the tail.” Here is a recipe adapted from Vilma Liacouras Chatiles from her book Food of Greece.

Whole Fish Baked In Grapevine Leaves

  • 35 fresh or jarred grape leaves
  • Whole fish, such as flounder or red snapper, with the head intact, cleaned by the fishmonger
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • Olive oil
  • Lemon
  • Fresh cilantro
  • Fresh fennel
  • Fresh thyme
  • One can of anchovy fillets
  1. Wash the fish, then pat dry with paper towels.
  2. In a glass bowl, mix a marinade of 2 tablespoons of olive oil, salt and pepper to taste, 1 tablespoon each of finely minced fresh cilantro, fennel, and thyme. Squeeze the juice of one lemon and add to the mixture. Stir well and add the fish. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and refrigerate for two hours.
  3. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
  4. Take a deep porcelain baking dish.
  5. Mash the canned anchovies.
  6. Cover the baking dish with grape leaves.
  7. Place the marinated fish on the grape leaves.
  8. Spread some anchovy paste on the fish.
  9. Wrap the fish with the grape leaves.
  10. Bake for 30 minutes.
  11. Garnish with lemon slices and fennel leaves.
  12. Serve hot.

Stuffed grape leaves can be substantial enough to be served for the main course. Below is a recipe from Lebanon that may be prepared with either beef or lamb.

Warak Einab, Stuffed Grape Leaves From Lebanon
Adapted from Saad Fayed

  • 35 grape leaves
  • 2 Lbs. ground beef or lamb
  • 2 cups white rice
  • 1 lemon
  • 3 cups diced tomatoes
  • ½ cup minced cilantro
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  1. In a bowl, mix the beef or lamb, rice, tomatoes, and cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste, and squeeze in the juice of one lemon.
  2. Stuff the grape leaves, and arrange them in the bottom of a pot. Cover the stuffed grape leaves with a heavy porcelain plate. Add water to the pot, covering the grape leaves. Bring the pot to a boil, and then simmer for 30 minutes.
  3. Serve hot, with salad and rice.

Preparing a Rosh Hashanah feast from the bounties of the fall harvest is a way to be thankful for the generosity of the earth. It is an opportunity to represent your good wishes for your family and guests in the foods you prepare. The leaves of the grape liana provide the perfect medium to do this. Grape leaves can be transformed into symbolic packets of good wishes for the New Year. May we exhibit the toughness and resiliency of the grape liana, and thrive in environments as poor as the soil if grows in. May we be blessed with its longevity. May we extract as much life and utility out of our year as we do of our grapevines. Shana tova!

You are invited to join the brainstorm for hands-on Rosh Hashanah ideas at this link.

Hazon Goes to the White House: Food Justice and the Farm Bill

Valerie Jarrett, Senior Advisor to President Obama, addresses the group.

— by Liz Kohn

Last week 12 excited Hazon representatives and 160 other Jewish participants gathered in Washington D.C. as part of the Jewish Social Justice Roundtable (JSJRT), a collection of 21 nonprofits supporting social justice as an essential component of Jewish life. The two-day affair began on Thursday, July 28th with congressional meetings and culminated the following day with the White House Community Leaders Briefing Series, a unique summer-long opportunity for grassroots leaders to engage White House officials and voice issues close to our hearts.

Jon Carson, deputy assistant to the President and director of the White House Office of Public Engagement, succinctly articulated the purpose of the series: “I’m not here to talk,” he said. “I’m here to listen about what you’re seeing across the country.” For many in Hazon’s cohort and millions of American Jews, this issue is food justice.

Early Friday, after a lively opening session at the National Press Club, the large group split four ways for agency briefings about housing, healthcare, education and food justice. I joined the food justice cohort for an overview of food accessibility, policy and budgeting by three key members of the White House staff.

More after the jump.
American Jewish World Service Director of Advocacy, Timi Gerson, first introduced JSJRT and the session’s storytellers: Rabbi Andy Kastner, American Jewish World Service Neta Fellow and campus rabbi at Washington University and David Napell, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger Board Member, shared short, telling stories of food injustice and insecurities, setting the stage for the briefing from agency staff. USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships Acting Deputy Director Julie Curti was the first staff member to share her insights.

It was a pleasure hearing Curti mention the USDA’s first Food and Justice Passover Seder and stress the importance of nonprofit partnerships in actually executing the communal work. She painted a troubling landscape of hunger and food access in America, revealing that 50.2 million Americans were food insecure at some point in 2009. She said a recent study also found that 23.5 million Americans live in low income areas that are more than 1 mile from a food store, a trouble with food access on the retail side often described as “food deserts” or “food swamps.” The third theme she discussed was obesity, saying it has become clear that simply “too few fruits and vegetables consumed, sometimes by choice, but many times not. ” She then detailed various ways the government is combating these issues; from their 18 different agencies addressing producer and consumer components of accessibility and 15 partnerships around nutrition assistance programs.

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is the most important with approximately 44 million Americans enrolled, up from 28 million in 2008. This number, Curti added, still only reaches 68% of eligible participants, which she called “an issue of reach, not funding.” She highlighted several programs, such as the Summer Food Service Program (SFSP), which gives food to nonprofits to distribute to kids. Others such as the Community Food Projects Competitive Grants Program relate to urban farms and gardens and address the supply side of food access. There is also the Healthy Food Financing Initiative (HFFI) which helps to increase the availability of nutritious food in grocery stores, small retailers, corner stores, and farmers markets.

Curti finished her presentation by praising who in the bigger picture is the greatest champion of healthy food access: the First Lady, Michelle Obama. Her Let’s Move! initiative to build healthier communities has recently received commitments from private retailers like Wal Mart and Walgreens as well as public support from a variety of individuals and venues. Curti acknowledged the government’s many food justice oriented Jewish nonprofit partners (including Hazon!) and thanked us for our presence and dedication to the cause.

Brandon Willis, Senior Adviser to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack spoke next, and Jennifer Yezak, the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs at the USDA chimed in during the question and answer session. Willis overviewed the Farm Bill and said that while it is difficult to know its timing or breakdown, funding cuts are inevitable. The Farm Bill is incredibly complex, with approximately 70% of its funding going to nutrition programs, followed by conservation and commodity programs. This complexity leads to health, economic, and environmental issues and as with any complex and broad legislation, straightforward answers were difficult to come by.

Yezak shared that recent discussions about regulatory reform provided the Administration with some ideas that need to, and will, get on the table: “there are efforts and discussions about this in the USDA. Rural Development State Directors are looking at ways to make their loans and grant programs more accessible and easier to apply for.” She encouraged us to continue our involvement as these conversations progress and said she will be on hand as a resource and source of support.

Ruth Messinger, president of American Jewish World Service echoed this sentiment: “We must not underestimate the power of letting our government know that global food justice, equitable healthcare, education reform, and affordable housing are authentic expressions of Jewish values. They are issues that Jewish leaders care about deeply and will work on intensively.” This collective commitment to advance social justice in the food realm has the potential to drive change in a big and powerful way. Moments like last week’s symbolize that we are doing so across communities and around the country, in the Jewish community and beyond.

Liz Kohn, originally from Evergreen, Colorado, is a Masters in Social Work 2012 candidate in the University of Michigan’s Jewish Communal Leadership Program and is Hazon’s Social Work Intern. Her professional and volunteer work and travels have deepened her desire to develop skills in meeting both individual needs and communal challenges related to accessibility and affordability of fresh, healthy food.

Reprinted courtesy of The Jew and the Carrot.

The Locavore Movement and the Religious Jew

— by Hannah Lee

My favorite non-fiction book in 2007 was Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle: A Year of Food Life, written with her biologist husband, Steven Hopp, and their two children about their experiment in growing all of their food on their own land in rural southwest Virginia.  It also powered the growth of the locavore movement.  I found the memoir fascinating in its intelligence, its honesty (mistakes were made!) and the family’s sense of humor. My favorite anecdote was when Kingsolver quipped to her friends that when you’re ranked as “number 74 (on a Doomsday author’s book about the dangers of 100 people who were destroying America), you try harder,” as she endeavored to eviscerate a turkey.

In Wednesday’s New York Times (its Dining section being the highlight of the week for me), readers learned what the family has been doing since their milestone year.  They wanted to expand the lessons learned to their blue-collar, Appalachian community.  First, they contemplated creating a year-round farmers’ market but the growing season is short.  So, Hopp decided that a restaurant would be more viable, one in which the produce, meat and cheese would be sourced locally.  As reported by Jane Black, “Coffee and tea would be allowed because they are dried, but they should be organic, fair trade or both.”

How has the Harvest Table, as Hopp’s restaurant is named, fared since it was launched in October 2007?   It’s been difficult, and they have yet to make a profit.  This isn’t a “progressive, urban enclave” such as exists in Brooklyn or Berkeley, so most of their neighbors have not even bothered to step in, thinking the meal would be too expensive.  As for attempts to reaching beyond the choir (of like-minded folks), you first have to get them in the door.  And the labels, “farm fresh,” “organic” and “local” do not muster the excitement they do in urban communities where entrepreneurs (food impresarios, I call them) charge up to $200 for a dinner served in the fields (as I heard reported on NPR last week).  So, they keep the prices low (comparable to Applebee’s though the reporter noted that the portions are larger in the chain restaurants) and the profile humble, the opposite of the marketer’s urge to scale up in sophistication.  Black gives an example: “What might be called “fennel pasta with pecans” in Brooklyn and served with a detailed description of the vegetable provenance, is “pasta primavera” here.

But Hopp’s quote that hit me personally was this: “We are always trying to figure out how to educate people more, but with the recognition that most people don’t want a lecture.”  I’ve just returned from a visit with my daughter in Chicago, where I stayed in the lovely home of a young couple found through the Airbnb lodging-rentals website.  My host was a New Zealander (with an American wife) and he’d never  met a religious Jew before.  He was curious about some tenets of the Jewish faith.  So, do we give the short, flippant answer or do we attempt the more thoughtful and accurate explanation but risk losing our audience?  My daughter has been through the cauldron of fire before when we transferred her from a religious high school to our local acclaimed public high school (the beloved alma mater of basketball star Koby Bryant) and it was during the social studies freshman unit on the Middle East and she was called upon to explain all of Jewish past, present, and future.  Trying to educate and defend Israeli politics is a challenge far beyond most 14-year-olds.  But, she did engage her peers and she’s matured into a thinking, articulate adult.

So, we found ourselves having a more engaged conversation about faith and ritual with our host than is encountered at the usual Shabbat table.  What struck me anew is that every Jew must conduct herself as a diplomat, a model representative of her people (forgive my use of the distaff (feminine) possessive pronoun).   The people you encounter may not have ever met another earnest, committed Jew before.  You may have this one opportunity to give them not only a positive impression of Yiddishkeit (Jewishness), but you may also have the privilege and challenge to un-do and clarify erroneous impressions conveyed by others, who were less careful, less knowledgeable, less sophisticated.  Would you pass your test?  This may have been our test for The Three Weeks of introspection as we Jews head towards Tisha B’Av, the saddest day of the Jewish calendar, which falls on August 8th this year.

Red, White, Blue … and Green

How to make your barbecue more environmentally friendly.

–by Misty Edgecomb

The U.S. Department of Energy estimates that 60 million Americans get together with their friends and families barbecues on the Fourth of July. Good times, for sure, but to what impact on the environment?

These millions of grills release some 225,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide, burn the equivalent of 2,300 acres of forest, and consume the same amount of energy as the city of Flagstaff, Arizona, uses in a whole year.

Big consequences. So what to do?  The Nature Conservancy is offering 10 tips for eco-friendly celebrations, so you can have yourself a green barbecue this Fourth of July and all summer long!

Top 10 Ways to Green Your BBQ Party (in no particular order):

1. Use reusable or biodegradable plates and utensils. If you can’t find those, at least go for products made from 100 percent recycled materials. Remember that your biodegradable plates will need to be cleaned before going in the compost bin- ketchup, hamburger grease and other-non-veggie food matter doesn’t compost.
2. Fill up pitchers of water, homemade lemonade and iced tea instead of buying huge quantities of personal-sized beverage containers.
3. If you take heed of tip #2, you’ll need to provide cups. If you use plastic or paper cups, provide markers at the drink counter so people can write their names on their cups- and therefore not use more than one.
4. And even if you follow tip #2, you’re likely to have beer and other individual-sized beverages in a cooler. Encourage recycling by putting out easily identifiable bins- you’ll find fewer bottles and cans smeared with ketchup in the garbage.
5. Grill locally grown fruits and vegetables. While local doesn’t necessarily mean organic, small farms are often more likely to be more sustainable and pesticide-free.

More after the jump.
6. Going vegetarian can be better for the planet than eating meat. But if you do eat meat – or your guests do, invest in organic, local or sustainably raised dogs, burgers and chicken.
7. Encourage walking, biking or carpooling to your party.
8. Make sure mosquitoes don’t drive your guests away. Before the party, take a look at prime mosquito breeding grounds – clean out rain gutters, check other spots with standing water and mow your grass (with a reel mower, of course). Even better, help the mosquito-problem year round without resorting to chemicals by installing a bat house in your yard.
9. If you’re throwing a big bash, chose e-vites over mailed invitations.  Sending invitations electronically will save both money and trees. Bonus for going the electronic route: You’ll save on the fuel used to deliver the cards.
10. Don’t forget the little things. Choosing organic condiments, reusable napkins instead of paper ones, homemade decorations and fresh flowers over disposable party products and other details will help round off the finishing touches of your green BBQ.

For more information:

The Nature Conservancy is the leading conservation organization working around the world to protect ecologically important lands and waters for nature and people.  To date, the Conservancy and its more than one million members have been responsible for the protection of more than 18 million acres in the United States and have helped preserve more than 117 million acres in Latin America, the Caribbean, Asia and the Pacific. Visit The Nature Conservancy on the Web at

Farming the Biblical Way

— by Hannah Lee

Touted as a “squash rock star” by Laura Matthews on her blog, Punk Rock Gardens, Tom Culton, 30, has not only appeared on the David Letterman show but he has participated in Sotheby’s The Art of Farming auction along with the gracious-living guru Martha Stewart.  He has been featured in The Philadelphia Inquirer and Bon Appetit magazine.  He supplies his heirloom and other weird-looking vegetables to local upscale restaurants such as  Vetri, Zahav, and The Farm and Fisherman in Philadelphia (the latter recently garnered a three-bell rating from the Inquirer’s food critic, Craig LaBan) and to celebrity chefs such as Thomas Keller and Daniel Boulud in New York City.

What the other media interviews do not mention is that Tom is a devoted member of the River Brethen Church, one of only two remaining Old-Order Mennonite communities in Lancaster and in New Paltz in upstate New York.  Members of his family have been living in Lancaster County since 1740, but several generations back they were dissatisfied by the leadership and dropped out.

More after the jump.
Tom is the first one in his family to return to his ancestral faith.  According to the Wikipedia, the River Brethren oppose war, alcohol, tobacco, and worldly pleasures.  They also observe the Sabbath — on Saturdays, like the Jews —  in which they do not work.  Tom scatters extra grain for his chickens before the Sabbath, just as manna fell in double portion for the Jews in the desert.

Tom grew up farming but it was in his teens that he understood “it’s one of the most important roles” he could have in the world.  After his mother’s death in 2001, he found solace in farming– nurturing something while Nature nurtures him in return.  “Growing food is one of the beautiful things in the world, even when it can be a dark place,” said Tom.  His  mother bequeathed to him the ancestral home (his father had left them when Tom was only three days old), and Tom ventured to turn his family farm– previous crops had been tobacco and carrots– to a more sustainable future.  His grandfather, now 81, has come to see the folly of his post-war generation relying on chemicals without  regard for the environmental impact.

Faith is a very important factor in Tom’s life.  It gives focus, strength, and understanding.  He “doesn’t look for answers in man-made solutions, but in God’s solutions.”  The farming life is so insecure, affected by unpredictable weather conditions and capricious market prices.  Farmers can easily lose faith in the face of difficulties but Tom turns to prayer during the sad times (deaths and relationship woes), crops failures, and husbandry diseases.

It is in church on the Sabbath that Tom feels embraced as a farmer.  In fact, his fellow church  members are all farmers, but he is the only organic one — and the one with the highest yield from his land.  Once a contractor for a  fellow church member ventured to drive his truck through Tom’s land — with its access road that “would have saved him $5 in gasoline” costs — but Tom saw the guy in time and ran to block access, standing him off “like the student protestors in Tiananmen Square (China).”  He was cursed roundly for his unneighborly action, but the unheeded drips from the guy’s pesticide-laden truck (and the wheels) could have cost Tom his organic certification or at least incur a hefty fine.

Tom has tremendous respect for the elderly and the ways of old.  His grandfather lives with him.  The senior Culton is not enamored of speaking to outsiders but he enjoys puttering on the farm.  He also cultivates his own saffron plot– for his favorite rice dishes– a therapeutic crop requiring a labor-intensive harvesting of the stamens.  Respect for the elderly was also demonstrated by his church when their Bishop suffered a stroke.  To maintain his dignity, he and his wife were sent to a remote farm (away from bustling Lancaster) owned by a church member to live out his days in pastoral peace.  Ancestral ties are maintained through family burial plots on his property, a right protected by his church. In another affirmation of tradition, Tom is refurbishing his family’s buggy, which he plans to use on his wedding day when he meets the lucky gal who cherishes a farming life.  The River Brethren were among the last of the Mennonites to give up their buggies.

Organic farming can give comparable or better yields than conventional agriculture but it does demand much more labor.  Tom grows alfalfa, which is dicey to grow without pesticides, as feed for his dairy goats and as a cash commodity as well as a cover crop for fixing nitrogen (a natural alternative to petroleum-based fertilizers).  Every five years (in contrast to the seven years between Shmittah (Hebrew for “release”) years in the Jewish tradition), he takes out his alfalfa and rotates his crops in the fields.  He has located a French company that uses certified non-GMO (genetically modified organism) corn to produce biodegradable plastic for agricultural purposes.  It’s much more expensive, priced at $400 for 5,000 square feet versus $89 for the conventionally produced plastic.  Tom has seen farmers take the lazy way and simply plow the regular plastic under their land, where it doesn’t ever completely degrade but which does chip off and get into our food and water supply.

How did he learn to farm the organic way?  When he began farming seriously, it was already in his DNA.  So, he did not read much, because it was really just common sense.  “You go with your heart” and do what is only sustainable for your land.  It has become a “very religious experience” to come to realize that modern research has confirmed his wholehearted experience on the farm.  Tom recently got his first computer and was able to search on the Internet for the correct spelling of the Red Piriform tomato (with ribbed shoulders) that was previously thought to only grow in the Ligura region of Italy but which Tom has succeeded in cultivating and supplying to his chef friends. On Tom’s kitchen table is a bobble-head figure of Mark McGwire, the discredited baseball player who admitted to steroid use last year, to remind himself that people still prize natural talent — and by extension,  natural food — without chemical enhancements.

Tom has one high-top (plastic-covered tent) greenhouse without any heating source and one that is heated by waste oil, processed by him (centrifuged to remove impurities) on his land.  He collects the oil from the area restaurants, which pay him to take the waste oil off their hands.

This year, Tom has the assistance of Matthew Yoder, recently returned from a stint in Maine and newly adopted into the River Brethren faith, and Ian Osborne, an “English” young man not of the faith– just as Jews might distinguish between themselves and the goyim (Gentiles).  Matthew brought his knowledge of crops that thrive in New England and the two of them have planted heavily on the 53 acres of the Culton Organics farm.  What are his favorite crops?  Fava beans– or just about any bean– and artichokes with its purply, thistly flowers.

Tom’s plans for next year comprise of a reduced reliance on produce and the introduction of ducks and geese (for the eggs and meat).  His farm now supports 15 chickens (only two of which are now mature enough to lay eggs daily), a small flock of goats, and one turkey.  Most of the goats are milk-producing animals, but one lone billy goat was allowed to retain his horns and escape castration (which adversely affects the taste of the meat).  Why was this one chosen for the sacrifice (his eventual slaughter)?  He was the mean one of the flock.

Tom and his friend, Michael Solomonov, the chef at Zahav and a recent winner of the prestigious James Beard award, plan to tour Israel together.  Does he wish to see the Christian religious sites?  No, he is willing to follow Michael’s lead; besides he is more interested in seeing the Jewish historical sites.

You could taste the delicious dishes made from the heirloom vegetables from Culton Organics at area restaurants and you may meet Tom and Matt on Sundays at the Headhouse Square Farmers’ Market (open from 10 am to 2 pm at Second and Pine Streets).  Be sure to bring your smile or he’ll charge you double.

For Your Indian Cooking Adventure: International Foods & Spices

by Ronit Treatman

Where can you find tamarind, sour mango powder, and jaggery in Philadelphia?  I found out serendipitously the other day when I got lost.  As I drove past the intersection of 42nd and Walnut Street I noticed a store called International Foods & Spices.  It intrigued me, so I decided to take a detour and see what it was.

More after the jump.
The shop’s unassuming front gave no indication of the treasures within.  As I opened the door and stepped inside, I was greeted by huge sacks of Basmati rice, imported from India.  Sitar music played subtly in the background.  As I strolled around the store, overhearing conversations, I realized that its name is very appropriate.  I introduced myself to the other customers and met people from Iran, Afghanistan, Pakistan, India, and Ethiopia.  Residents from Center City and students and faculty residing in University City were also shopping there.  All of them raved about the quality of the spices.  Every imaginable type of dried bark, seed, root, fruit, nut, and herb is available here.  There are whole spices and ground spices, most of which are imported from India.  The essentials of Indian cuisine such as ginger, cardamom, star anise, turmeric, coriander, cumin, allspice, and peppercorns are on the shelf.  Cinnamon is available; ground, in stick form, or as pieces of bark, which really take us to its source, the Cinnamon tree.  Tamarind and sour mango powder are for sale, “to add tartness to curries.”  Jaggery, a molded cake of unrefined sugar dried from the sap of date palms or sugarcane, is on the shelf, to be used in both sweet and savory dishes.  I saw bags of exotic dried spices, with no name on them.  Mr. Singh, the proprietor of the store, explained that they are for chewing, like gum.  There are also curry and masala spice mixtures for sale, ranging in color from gold to crimson.  One of the Indian customers I chatted with told me that no self-respecting Indian would ever cook with that.  “We mix our own,” she sniffed.  The dried fruit, of superior quality, is imported from Israel.  Especially delicious were the natural dried dates still on the branch.  The most exotic were the small, brown Persian dried limes.  I asked the Iranian customer I met there, ” What do you cook with that?”  “We add them to stews,” she told me.  “To add just a touch of sour.”

The Indian lady I chatted with encouraged me to purchase a block of compressed tamarind to prepare a different, refreshing summer drink.  Tamarind is a tart, reddish-brown fruit.  Indigenous to Africa, it grows on a tree.  The tamarind fruit is a pod, with a hard, brown peel.  It is very healthy, full of vitamin B and calcium.  Tamarind is a common ingredient in chutneys and other condiments.  This woman makes a restorative summer drink with it.  She generously shared her Southern Indian recipe with me.

Refreshing Tamarind Cooler

  • 1 block of compressed tamarind
  • 1-½ cups boiling water
  • 1-quart cold water
  • Sugar or jaggery to taste
  • Pinch of salt

    Soak the block of compressed tamarind in the hot water for half an hour.

    Pour the water and tamarind into a blender and mix well.

    Add the cold water.

    Sweeten to taste.  If desired, add a pinch of salt.  It should have a sweet-tangy flavor.

    Serve chilled over ice.  Garnish with a fresh mint leaf.

    The products in this store inspired me to try cooking some authentic Jewish Indian recipes.  I decided to cook a fish dish from the Bene Israel community of Mumbai, India.  The Bene Israel are descendants of Galilean Jews who escaped from the Romans in the 2nd Century BCE.  They were sailing away from Israel when they were shipwrecked.  The survivors made it to Mumbai.  This community remained completely disconnected from other Jews until Baghdadi Jewish traders rediscovered them in the 18th Century CE.

    Fish Curry
    Adapted from Claudia Roden

  • 1 ½ pound flounder
  • Salt to taste
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • 1-teaspoon cumin
  • 1 cup toasted, shredded coconut
  • ½ cup coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoon Toasted Sesame oil
  • 1 green chili pepper
  • 2 cups cilantro
  • 1 lime
  • 7 garlic cloves, minced

    Blend the cilantro, cumin, turmeric, chili pepper, coconut milk, and shredded coconut in a food processor.  Sautee the garlic in the sesame oil.  Add the coconut paste and stir until hot.  Add two cups of water, some salt, and squeeze in some lime.  Stir, bringing the mixture to a boil.  Add the fish, and simmer for fifteen minutes.

    You can serve this dish with steamed basmati rice, or you can choose from the large selection of frozen specialty Indian breads, such as naan and paratha, for sale here.  Also in the freezer, you can find all natural tamarind, tomato, cilantro, and coconut, and mint chutneys.  They defrost quickly, and are the perfect accompaniment to the curried fish.

    If you don’t have the time or the patience to cook with these delicious spices, this store is a great source of Kosher, vegetarian, vegan, and gluten free prepared foods. They are imported from India.  Some of them come vacuum-sealed, and will keep indefinitely without refrigeration. Many of them are kosher, with a seal from the Kosher Inspection Service of India, based in Mumbai. In the frozen foods section, one freezer is dedicated only to vegetarian foods.  One really exotic appetizer that I discovered is Patra leaf roulades.  Patra leaf is the leaf of the Taro root plant.  The leaves are sautéed and flavored with coconut and coriander.  There are a variety of Pakoras, seasoned Indian vegetable fritters, and Muthia, steamed cabbage dumplings, seasoned with peppers and sesame seeds.  From Southern India, there are Mendu Vada, “crispy, golden lentil fritters.” There is a whole aisle of jarred Indian pickles and preserves to choose from that would go well with any of these dishes.

    One of my favorite discoveries in International Foods is Nashta.  Known as “Indian snick snacks” in our family, Nashta is a blend of nuts, pulses, puffed Basmati rice, dried noodles, and sun dried potato chips.  This is flavored with different spice combinations, ranging from mild to really spicy.  I serve them at get togethers instead of chips.  These mixtures also add an unexpectedly crunchy, spicy kick to my grandmother’s chicken soup.  

    To conclude your meal, you can choose from the refrigerated case of Mithai, or Indian desserts.  They are made with coconut, cardamom, almonds, raisins, pistachio, and cashew.  There are also exotic mango, pistachio, saffron, and rose water ice creams for sale.  

    I wanted to prepare my own dessert, so I tried another Bene Israel recipe called Kheer.  It is a type of coconut rice pudding.  This is a dairy free, gluten free dessert.

    Rose Kheer
    Adapted from Chef Sanjeev Kapoor

  • 2 tablespoons Chopped Pistachios
  • 2 tablespoons Slivered Almonds
  • 1/2 teaspoon green cardamom powder
  • 2 tablespoons Rose syrup
  • 2 tablespoons jaggery
  • 1 cup Water
  • ¾ cup Rice flour
  • 3-¾ cup Coconut milk

    Slowly bring the coconut milk to a boil.  Mix the rice flour and water in a bowl, and then add the paste to the boiling coconut milk.  Stir until the paste is incorporated into the coconut milk.  When the mixture has thickened, add the jaggery and green cardamom powder.  Set aside to cool.  Mix in the rose syrup.  Pour the pudding into a serving dish.  Decorate with the pistachios and almonds.  Refrigerate for two hours.

    Mr. Singh is a chef from Punjab, and owned a restaurant before he opened International Foods & Spices.  When I felt ready to create my own Indian specialties, his help and advice were invaluable to a novice like me!  How did my dishes turn out?  The Bene Israel curried fish was rich and velvety in its voluptuous coconut sauce.  The tamarind cooler, which we served with lots of ice, was tart and refreshing on a hot summer evening.  The rose kheer was very exotic and different.  I loved its nutty crunchiness.  When I garnished it with fresh rose buds and petals, I felt like I was serving the dessert of the Rajas.    

    International Foods & Spices

    4203 Walnut Street
    Philadelphia, PA 19104

    Tel:  (215) 222-4480

    Fax: (215) 222-5912

    Email:  [email protected]


    Business Hours

    11 am to 8 pm
    Closed on Tuesdays

  • Profile: Leket Israel

    –by Hannah Lee

    Just in time for the holiday of Shavuot with its agrarian setting and the message of hachnasat orchim (welcoming the stranger), I got to hear a presentation by Paul Leiba, the new Director of Development for Leket Israel.

    Founded eight years ago by Joseph Gitler, Leket Israel combined two formerly small food-rescue organizations into an enterprise that now serves 55,000 clients daily.  Fully supported by private donations, it employs 80 people, operates nine trucks that do food runs by day from corporate kitchens, and deploys thousands of volunteers for the nightly runs for pick-up from catering halls and restaurants.  Their field-rescue missions help farmers by harvesting produce from the fields that the farmers cannot sell because the items do not conform to consumer expectations for color and size.  Because volunteers tire easily in the field, Leket Israel also employs 22 full-time pickers who are mostly Israeli Arab women.  Leket may well be the only organization in the world that offers health insurance and a pension plan for its field workers.  It’s also a living model of the Biblical mitzvah (commandment) for paying your workers on time.  In 2010, Leket rescued 9 million pounds of fruits and vegetables from over 300 farms throughout Israel.  All was delivered free of charge to 290 non-profit agencies serving the poor.

    More after the jump.
    Leiba quoted from Jonathan Blum’s book,American Wasteland, in which the author offers the powerful image of the 90,000-seat Rose Bowl stadium in Pasadena, CA filled to capacity being equivalent to the amount of food being wasted each day in this country.  And scholar Tim Jones has estimated that 40-50% of food being grown is not even harvested from the ground, because it would not be worth the effort by the farmers because of declining prices or changes in consumer demand.  And 90% of the water used in the U.S. is used for agriculture, so the critical issues of food and water usage is intimately connected.  Finally, the methane from decaying crops in the field may be more harmful than car exhaust, according to Leiba.

    Leket’s clients are about 85% Jewish and 15% Arab, majority immigrants, and mostly elderly.  Originally, they’d planned on dealing only with kosher food, but Gitler consulted with his Rabbi and was advised that it would be a shanda (shame) if they neglected the non-kosher food when there are poor people who need food.  Now, they pick up non-kosher food from restaurants and, in the south of Tel Aviv, every Friday afternoon, Leket serves the food to about 400 African refugees encamped there.  (The official statistic is 30,000 refugees from the African nations of Sudan, Eritrea, and the Ivory Coast, but Leiba estimates that there may well be twice as many Africans.)  He reports that the shopkeepers in the nearby neighborhoods are grateful because they’ve experienced fewer thefts of food from their shops since this feeding program has begun.

    I was curious that this Biblical mitzvah of leket (gleaning or leaving the dropped grain in your field for the poor) was brought to life by an American oleh (immigrant)  and modeled on a gleaning project of an evangelical church in New England.  It is a continual logistical challenge and, maybe only possible in a country that’s less litigious than ours.

    A Breakfast Fit for a King

    –by Ethel G. Hofman

    As I passed two husky young men in the dining room of the Dan Hotel, Tel Aviv, I overheard  ” You’ll never get this (breakfast) in Tennessee.”

    And that’s a fact. Only in Israel, in every hotel, is the signature breakfast unique and unforgettable. Tables piled high with fresh figs, dates, peaches and the  plums and grapes still with the bloom of the fresh picked,  a dozen salty and cream cheeses, fishes, and salads and sauces of every imaginable combination – and that’s in addition to eggs, crisp bread and rolls, cakes, and cereals. If you’re trying to cut calories – and you can if you’re disciplined enough to  include healthy helpings of the fruits and veggies – there’s an enormous  variety of low fat cheeses, yogurts (including Activia),  crisp breads and crackers.  Spread out temptingly on long tables, this is a meal to carry you through a day of sightseeing. Just carry plenty water with you to prevent dehydration.  
    The quality of Israeli food is striking. Fresh produce is locally grown which means that the time from farm to table may be only a few hours or at most the next day – and you can taste the freshness.  And in response to demand, the  variety of organically grown produce is skyrocketing. Each fruit has its own distinctive, natural flavor. Soft fruits are juicy and sweet; you can taste the sunshine. Tomatoes taste like tomatoes should – firm flesh, and with a refreshing tart juice.  Vegetables are crisp and bursting with natural flavors.  

    On a recent visit, I talked with David Bitton, 25, the Sous Chef at Jerusalem’s King David hotel, the flagship of the Dan hotel chain. David was in charge while Executive Chef Michel Nabet was on vacation.  David is just one of the talented young chefs who are transforming Israeli dishes into a world-class cuisine. His training has been on the job in Michelin restaurants all over the world. He says “My passion with food  began at six years old when instead of kicking a ball outside, my father sent me into the kitchen of our family restaurant  – I was fascinated.”  David is the winner of a  silver medal in the Luxembourg Culinary Olympics and Gold, Silver and Bronze medals in other esteemed culinary competitions. ” All my life, I live and breathe the kitchen,” he says, but he still found the time to get married.

    Fresh produce at the King David is purchased from selected vendors. David is adamant that absolutely no frozen items or processed items of any description are used and when possible, many of the items are organically grown.  “Everything is made from scratch from the freshest meats, fishes, fruits, vegetables and spices.”  Fruits and vegetables appear in simple but clever combinations resulting in irresistible salads and desserts.  

    For a weekend breakfast, as at the King David hotel where royalty and heads of state are regular visitors, add good strong coffee to the recipes below. You’ll have a “breakfast fit for a king” while sampling the best and newest Israeli cuisine right in your own home kitchen.   For best results, buy the freshest produce you can find, preferably in farmer’s markets and mix up a batch of  za’atar (Arabic for hyssop, a biblical plant) for the easy Israeli style thin focaccio.

    Israeli Salad (Pareve)
    serves 4 – 6
    Israelis eat this healthy salad at least once a day. Vegetables vary but the main ingredients are tomatoes and cucumbers, items grown by early pioneers on the kibbutzim. You can add carrots, shredded white or red cabbage, green onions and fresh herbs or whatever fresh veggies are on hand.

    juice and grated peel from 1 large lemon,
    3 large firm tomatoes, cut in small chunks
    1 cucumber, unpeeled, and cut in small chunks
    1/2 red onion, diced
    1 red or green bell pepper, seeded and diced
    1/4 cup snipped fresh dill or parsley, packed
    1 clove garlic, crushed
    1/2 small hot pepper, seeded and chopped OR
    1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes
    pinch of cinnamon
    about 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    salt and fresh ground black pepper to taste

    Place the lemon juice and grated peel in a large bowl. Add the remaining ingredients and toss gently. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Do not chill serve at room temperature.

    Biblical Green Herb Salad (Pareve)
    serves 4-6
    Amounts may vary but essentially the main ingredients are green herbs such as parsley, dill with baby arugula or baby spinach tossed in. I like to add a handful of dried cranberries (optional).

    1/2 bunch curly parsley
    1/2 bunch Italian (flat leaf) parsley
    1/2 bunch dill
    2 cups shredded baby arugula or spinach, packed
    1/4 cucumber, unpeeled and diced
    about 1/3 cup coarsely chopped pecans or other nuts
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
    salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

    Make sure vegetables and herbs are thoroughly rinsed in cold water and dried in a salad spinner or clean cloth. Shred the parsley and dill with scissors and place in a bowl. Add the arugula or spinach, cucumbers and pecans. Pour the olive oil and lemon juice over and toss to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

    Sweet Potato Salad (Dairy)
    serves 4-6
    Israelis use Bulgarian cheese which is firm and salty. We can substitute mozzarella or  feta. Feta will increase the sodium content. Julienne is foods that are cut in thin,  matchstick lengths.

    2 large baked sweet potatoes, peeled and cut julienne
    1 1/2 cups shredded mozzarella cheese
    5-6 pitted black olives, thinly sliced
    2 tablespoons snipped fresh oregano
    3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
    3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    salt and fresh ground pepper to taste

    Place the sweet potatoes, cheese, olives and oregano in a bowl.
    In a cup, whisk together the olive oil and lemon juice. Pour over the sweet potato mixture. Toss gently. Serve at room temperature.

    Cucumbers with Dried Fruits (Dairy)
    serves 4-6
    1 cucumber, unpeeled and cut in 1/4-inch pieces
    5-6 dried figs, thinly sliced
    8 dried apricots, quartered
    1/2 cup plain low fat yogurt
    2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
    2 teaspoons honey, warmed
    fresh ground pepper to taste

    Place the cucumber, figs and apricots in a bowl. Set aside.
    In a cup or small bowl, whisk together the yogurt, lemon juice and honey. Pour over the cucumber and dried fruits. Toss gently. Season to taste with  pepper.

    Israeli Focaccio (Pareve or Dairy)
    makes 6-8
    Use frozen thawed bread dough or refrigerated biscuits for this quick, easy herbed tongue shaped bread.

    Other Ingredients:
    6 – 8  ounces frozen bread dough, thawed
    extra virgin olive oil
    za’atar seasoning (recipe below)
    dried pepper flakes
    kosher salt

    Preheat oven to 500F. Place the baking sheet in the preheated oven for 10 minutes before placing the focaccio on. Divide the bread dough into 6-8 pieces. Press each piece into a “tongue” shape about 4-inches long. (If using refrigerated biscuits shape as for the bread dough). Brush liberally with olive oil. Sprinkle with za’atar, a pinch of pepper flakes, and kosher salt as desired. Place on heated  baking sheet. Bake for 8-10 minutes or until browned at edges. Serve warm.
    ©Ethel G. Hofman 2011

    Za’atar Seasoning (Pareve)
    makes about 1/2 cup
    Za’atar (Arabic for hyssop, a Biblical herb) is hard to find in our markets, so it’s better to make your own. It may also be sprinkled on hummus or fish and chicken before cooking. Ground sumac has a pleasant fruity, slightly astringent flavor. It may be found in Middle Eastern stores.

    1/3 cup dried, crumbled oregano
    3 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted
    1 1/2 tablespoons sumac
    2 teaspoons dried thyme
    1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

    Mix all ingredients together. Store in a tight lidded container in a cool, dry place.

    Homemade Goat Cheese For Shavuot

    by Ronit Treatman

    Mmmm Shavuot.  The sweet smell of cheese blintzes and the sound of butter crackling in the frying pan fill the house.  Bright red strawberry preserves are on the table, ready to be served with the delicious filled crepes.  Why do we have the tradition of eating dairy foods during Shavuot?  Shavuot is a celebration of the Matan Torah, the giving of the Torah to the Israelites.  King Solomon described the pleasure of Torah as “honey and milk are under your tongue” (Song of Songs 4:11).  The first iteration of this celebratory meal was homemade goat cheese, sweetened with honey or fruit.  We can explore those primeval flavors as we indulge in the sweet study of Torah on Shavuot night.  
    One of the first animals domesticated by early humans was the goat.  In Jericho, evidence of goats kept by Neolithic farmers demonstrates that they were part of the household between 8000 and 9000 years ago. Goats were the main providers of milk in Ancient Israel.  Milk, butter, and cheese were available seasonally, in the spring and summer.

    Goat cheese has been made for as long as goats have been domesticated.  In Ancient Israel, raw goat milk probably curdled naturally. This process occurred thanks to two benign bacterial strains:   Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus.  These are soil-based probiotics, which are often present in the milk.  The curdled milk was poured into a cloth bag.  The whey (residual liquid) was drained out of the bag, and the remaining curds were pressed into a soft cheese.  Equally old was the tradition of storing milk in goatskin containers.  Lactobacillus bulgaricus and Streptococcus thermophilus are present on the skin of the goats.   These bacteria combined with the raw milk in the warm Mediterranean climate, causing it to ferment.  The milk curdled quickly, and was transformed into laban, a thick, sour milk.  A hard cheese was made with fermented laban.  The laban was poured into molds and left to harden in the sun.  Israelite shepherds accidentally discovered another way to make cheese.  When they heated the milk, they stirred it with fig tree branches.  Only a few drops of fig sap needed to get into the milk in order to coagulate it.  Fig sap contains ficin, an enzyme whose clotting activity in milk is thirty to one hundred times that of animal rennet.  The Mishna and Talmud describe using the sap of fruit trees to make cheese.  This process of making cheese was adopted instead of using animal rennet in order to comply with the prohibition of mixing meat and milk.  This recipe has been recreated at Neot Kedumim, Israel’s Biblical Landscape Reserve.

    Ancient Israelite Cheese from Neot Kedumim

    • 1 Quart goat milk. You can buy goat’s milk at Whole Foods, or order it online.
    • 1 fig branch thoroughly washed.  Cut it right before using.

    Pour the milk into a pot.  Squeeze 5 drops of sap from the fig branch, being very careful not to touch the sap.  Fig sap may cause a rash, like poison ivy.

    Heat the milk until it boils, stirring it with the fig branch.  

    Once the milk has curdled, allow it to cool.

    Strain the curds through a cheesecloth.

    Goats are very curious, intelligent animals.  Their favorite way to eat is to explore their surroundings, tasting weeds and shrubs.  They like to taste a variety of plants.  The plants consumed by the goats influence the flavor of their milk. If they eat bitter weeds, their milk will be bitter too.   Eating a variety of weeds gives their milk a more complex flavor.

    Milk from goats has small, well-emulsified fat globules.  This means that the cream does not rise to the top as it does with raw cow’s milk, but rather remains mixed in with the milk.  As a result, goat’s milk does not need to be homogenized (mixed so that the fat droplets do not separate from the milk).  It is more similar to milk produced by humans than milk from a cow.  Due to this, goat milk is a good choice for young children, people who are ill, and anyone who has trouble digesting cow’s milk.  Goat milk contains 13% more calcium than cow’s milk, 25% more vitamin B6, and 47% more vitamin A.  

    I learned how to make my own goat cheese from my friend Freyda Black.  Freyda bought her first Nubian goat from the partner of a chef at the Moosewood Restaurant in Ithaca, New York.  She taught herself how to make cheese.  When she took some of her home made chevre to the Moosewood chef and his partner to have a taste, they told her it was better than the award winning cheeses from France and Germany.  

    Freyda Black’s Goat’s Milk Ricotta

    • 1-gallon goat milk (whole or skim)
    • Apple cider vinegar
    • 1/2 teaspoon Baking soda

    Pour the milk into a very heavy bottomed pot, or double boil it over a low flame.  Slowly heat the milk to 186 degrees Fahrenheit.

    When the milk is 186 degrees, pour in 1/4 cup of apple cider vinegar while stirring.

    Stir until the milk starts to curd.  You should see large curds.  If it doesn’t start to curd, add more vinegar, one teaspoon at a time.

    Put cheesecloth over a colander.  Pour the curds and whey into it.  

    Gather up the ends of the cheesecloth, and drain for no more than one minute.

    Pour the curds back into the pot and add one half teaspoon of baking soda.  This will neutralize the acid and stop the curdling.

    Serve immediately.  

    Freyda Black’s Goat’s Milk Queso Blanco

    Repeat the process for Ricotta.

    Omit the baking soda, and allow the Ricotta cheese to drain overnight.

    This is a recipe that Sephardic Jews brought to the New World from Spain and Portugal.  They would pair the queso blanco with sweet preserved fruits, such as pears and quinces.  In South America, the queso blanco was also served with guava preserves.  

    For an authentic Ancient Israelite Shavuot experience, flavor your homemade ricotta or queso blanco with raw bee’s honey, or Biblical date “honey,” available  online

    Have fun preparing it with your family, and eat it while it’s hot!

    If you would like to meet Freyda Black and her Nubian goats,  please come to Germantown Jewish Centre on June 5th, from 10:00 AM to 1:00 PM.  She will demonstrate how to make fresh goat cheese.  There will be goat milk, cheese, and whey for everyone to taste.  Free!  Everyone welcome!

    For Your Romantic JDate: Meme

    Spring has arrived in Philadelphia, putting my unmarried relatives in the mood for romance.  A shy young man in my family called me for advice about a JDate, a date from the Internet based Jewish dating community.  He was very interested in a young lady he had only met online, and wanted to take her out to a special place.

    “First, set the tone by picking the right ambiance,” I suggested.  I told him to invite her to Mémé, in the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood. One of my favorite places in Philadelphia, it makes me feel like I am enjoying a meal in a Bistro in Paris.  I love watching the food being prepared in the open kitchen. “You can make a reservation for dinner this week,” I encouraged him.  “Or suggest brunch,” I added.  “You can reserve a table on the sidewalk and invite her to bring her dog.  The staff will welcome him with a bowl of water.”  

    More after the jump.
    “You may have butterflies in your stomach when your date arrives,” I said to my relative.  “Order a glass of wine to help you both relax,” I advise.  I love Mémé’s excellent selection of French, Italian, and domestic wines.

    Being from my family, he cut straight to the food, “What should we order?” he asked me.  That is a very good question, since the menu does not stay the same for long here.  Chef David Katz is very creative and adventurous.  The cuisine is mostly inspired by France, Italy, and the Mediterranean.  One item that David Katz does not get to take off his menu is the roasted bone marrow with grilled bread.  This delectable dish would have made Julia Child drool all over her manuscript of Mastering The Art Of French Cooking.  “Definitely order this appetizer,” I tell my young man.

    “I don’t know what surprises will be in store for the main course when you go there,” I said.  The food in this restaurant is New American Cuisine.  David Katz explains, “Nobody in America is an American, except Native Americans.  You need to go to a reservation to taste their traditional food.”  What this means for Chef David Katz is cooking the dishes that the American immigrants brought with them from the Old World, using the finest local and organic ingredients, and employing the best cooking techniques. Chef Katz, who has been cooking professionally since age fourteen, does not try to mask the flavor of the food.  He coaxes out the natural taste and aroma so we may appreciate each ingredient.”  On his mother’s side, David Katz’s family traces its lineage back to Spain, Morocco, and then America.  His personal New American food echoes the Moroccan flavors of his childhood.  One such dish is the Moroccan Spiced Lamb Loin with grilled eggplant, harissa, and lemon oil.  “If you see something Moroccan, be sure to try it,” I encouraged the eager courter.

    “To conclude the meal, order the chocolate ganache cake with vanilla gelato, even if she says she does not want dessert!” I instruct the young suitor. “This is the cake that explains without words why there are no vanillaholics!”  “It will be on the menu,” I tell him.  “David Katz would probably have a riot on his hands if he dared take it off!”

    In Moroccan French, “Mémé” means grandmother.  It is very sweet that David Katz has chosen to honor his grandmother by naming his restaurant for her.  She is probably there in spirit saying, “Nu!” to all the couples present.  “After your date finishes the last crumb of your chocolate cake, take her on a lovely walk through the Rittenhouse Square neighborhood,” I tell him.  “Enjoy the warm spring breezes, the fragrance of the flowering trees, and the singing of the birds.  This JDate will be great!”  And so will Mémé!  


    2201 Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103
    (215) 735-4900