Have it your way… with no Chametz


— Jonathan Kremer

My daughter Hannah sent this from her neighborhood in Givat Shmuel. Holiday hours for McDonald’s, including (second heading in the smaller print):

“In order to kasher this branch for Pesach, we will close Sunday at 8:00 pm.”

Maybe they deliver?

Jonathan Kremer is an artist specializing in Judaica. Jonathan studies at the Jewish Theological Seminary. His daughter Hannah made aliyah and studies social work at Bar Ilan University.

Thoughts for the Fast

It is a custom for firstborn Jews to fast on the day before Passover to commemorate the miracle by which firstborn Jews were saved from the plague which struck the firstborn Egyptians.

This year the fast falls on Monday, April 18. Let us take this fast of our choosing as an opportunity to share in the hardship of those who struggle through life, and do not have the means to feed themselves properly.

MoveOn is organizing a communal fast to protest the immoral budget cuts Republicans are pushing in Washington. 30,000 people including 28 Congressmen will be joining this fast.

Last week’s budget agreement-now public-contains cuts to critical programs but does little to make corporations and the rich pay their fair share.

More than half of the $38 billion in cuts target education, labor, and health programs.

The worst cuts and riders didn’t make it into the budget-but that was the Republican plan all along: propose the unthinkable, threaten to shut down the government, and then walk away with cuts that would have been beyond the pale just a few months ago.

Now Republicans are pushing a new round of proposals to abolish Medicare and make far deeper cuts to education, nutrition, health care, and other essential programs-while giving even bigger tax breaks to millionaires and corporations. And this time, after winning so much in the last round, the Republicans actually have a shot at getting every last cut they want.

We need to restore a moral dimension to the warped debate going on in Washington.

See video above for more information.

A letter from Abby J. Leibman of Mazon follows the jump.
— Abby J. Leibman, Mazon: A Jewish Response to Hunger

This Passover as you gather with family and friends to retell the story of our people’s freedom from bondage, please take a moment to consider those Americans who are still enslaved – to hunger.  

Hunger in America is at an epidemic level, despite how it might seem at first glance.

50 million Americans – including 17 million children – struggle with hunger every day.

That’s more than the entire population of Canada.

Hungry people live in every community in the country and come in all ages, colors, shapes and sizes. They wrestle with impossible choices no one should have to make: buy my daughter’s asthma medication or feed my family? Whose turn is it to eat: the children or the adults?  

It breaks our hearts – it should break yours.

There is another way – an end to hunger is within our reach.  Early in the seder we say, “All who are hungry, let them enter and eat.” More than an invitation to join us at the dinner table, we at MAZON see these words as a rallying cry:

  • …to do more to help those who so desperately need it;    
  • …to fight for responsible government policies that promote the health and security of everyone in our nation;    
  • …to provide access to resources that allow people to pick themselves up and build (or rebuild) their lives;    
  • …to give every man, woman and child a chance not only to live their lives, but to thrive.

Please join our fight.    

Chag Sameach,


Abby J. Leibman
President & CEO, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger
 

Home Baked Challah For Shabbat

Ronit Treatman

Olive oil lamps and tabun-baked flatbreads were the centerpieces of the first Shabbat tables.  As Jews dispersed around the world, candles replaced oil lamps, and the loaves used for the blessing over the bread sometimes changed as well.  In the fifteenth century, Jews settled along the Rhine River, and were inspired by the local braided egg breads to bake challah.  At that time, every challah was artisanal!  The woman of the house mixed her own dough, shaped it by hand, and baked it fresh for Shabbat. With the arrival of commercial baking, for many families the art of preparing a homemade challah was lost.  Now, many people are reclaiming the skill of baking their own challah for Shabbat.  They are rediscovering the serenity that comes from feeling the flour on their hands, kneading the dough, and filling their home with the sweet smell of fresh challah being baked.

More after the jump.
Currently, there are 216,000 recipes for challah online, 219 challah-baking demonstrations on You Tube, and 14,700 challah related facebook pages. There are spaces in message boards dedicated to discussing the challenges of getting the challah to turn out just the way the baker wants it. Men, women, amateur and professional bakers, and foodies from everywhere are happy to share their experiences.  This interactive world of the Internet has become our new shtetl marketplace.  We can just casually complain that our dough failed to rise, and anyone who hears us can pitch in with a suggestion.

Some of the best challah recipes have been compiled in a book called The Secret of Challah, by Shira Wiener and Ayelet Yifrach.  

In The Secret of Challah, we learn how to perform the mitzvah of Hafrashat challah, or “separating challah.”  This custom takes us back to the 10th century BCE, to the First Temple in Jerusalem.  We separate the prescribed amount of dough before we start braiding our challah.  The blessing which we say over this piece of dough is

Baruch ata Adonai, Eloheinu melech ha’olam, asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu l’hafrish challah.

Praised are You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the Universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and has commanded us to separate challah (from the dough).

We then hold the piece of dough and say

Harei zoh challah.

This is the challah.

This piece of dough is burned, to remind us of the portion of grain every family gave to the Kohanim serving in the temple (Numbers 15:17-21).    This is what is meant by “challah is taken” on packages of kosher bread or matzah.  

This book has beautiful photography, and can handily guide most people through the process of braiding six strands of dough into a splendid, golden challah for Shabbat.  There is a wonderful chapter about decorative traditions for the challah in different communities.

My family baked Chani’s Shabbat Challah from The Secret of Challah.  Here is an adaptation.


Chani’s Shabbat Challah

  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 2 cups warm water
  • ¼ cup sugar
  • 1-tablespoon salt
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • 4 eggs
  • 9 cups flour

Combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast in a large bowl.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and put in a warm place.  After about ten minutes, the mixture should be foaming.  Add the eggs, flour, salt, and oil.  Knead the ingredients into dough and cover the bowl with the towel.  Let the dough rise for one hour.  

Remove the dough from the bowl.  Separate it into three pieces.  Roll each piece into a long rope.  Braid the challah and place in a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.

Allow the challah to rise for another forty minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.

Beat the yolk of two eggs, and brush the challah.

Sprinkle sesame seeds and poppy seeds over it.

Bake the challah for 30 to 40 minutes.

For some people, mixing the dough from scratch is too time consuming and messy.  This is no reason to miss out on all the fun!  For those who don’t want to knead their own dough, it is possible to order frozen Kosher challah dough online.  Wenner Bread Products is a family owned industrial bakery, which operates under the supervision of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.  If you order their kosher challah dough, you can go straight to braiding and baking.  Challah has already been taken at their facility.

For those who yearn for interpersonal interactions, Chabad hosts weekly challah baking workshops, charging only a nominal fee for materials.  About fifty years ago, the Rabbis’ wives started to invite women from their respective communities to bake challah for Shabbat and learn about Judaism.  These rebetzins preserved challah recipes from their grandmothers that otherwise would have been lost in the ashes of the Holocaust.  Chabad is not famous for its gourmet food, yet when it comes to challah baking no one can compete with them!  There is no one “Chabad challah recipe” that is used in all the Chabad centers around the world.  Their instructors are very adventurous!  Chabad collects recipes from everywhere and everyone.  Every challah baking session tries one or more different recipes.  Chabad wants as many people as possible to learn how to bake challah.  As a result, they have created a challah baking class for the deaf, taught in American Sign Language.

Chabad’s success has not gone unnoticed.  Many Jewish Federations and synagogues in the United States have added challah baking as fun hands-on way to build community.  It is one of the most popular activities created for Birthright alumni.  Hillels in colleges across the country are coordinating Challah for Hunger baking sessions.  These challahs are sold, and the money goes to charity.  In my community, my dear friend Rabbi Fredi Cooper has started a group named Kesher.  Kesher volunteers meet in the kitchen of our synagogue and bake fresh challahs.  These challahs are delivered to welcome every new baby in the community, to homebound seniors, and people in hospitals.  

Are you too busy or antisocial to participate in a challah-baking workshop?  That is no excuse not to bake your own challah!  You can follow step-by-step instructions in this video.  

I love baking challah with my children.  This activity is a way of turning Friday after school time into a special occasion leading up to Shabbat dinner.  My philosophy is that it is the process that matters, not the product.  Our challah would never win any sort of award for presentation or taste!  I love to play beautiful music for Shabbat on You Tube while we measure the ingredients and knead the dough.  One example is this video.  I set the Shabbat table while we let the dough rise.  We only have time to let it rise once, but we don’t let that stop us from enjoying ourselves!  The kids form their challahs.  It is possible to be so creative!  A challah doesn’t have to be in the form of a braid.  It can be shaped like a bunch of grapes, a key, and even a hamsa (hand shaped amulet).  Then, my magnum opi paint the challah with egg yolk, to give it a golden sheen.  The challas are sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds and poppy seeds.  We put the challahs in the oven one hour before dinner is scheduled to begin.  This gives them enough time to bake, and then cool off a little before they are served.

What I love the most about baking my own challah is that it is part of the process of turning my home into a cocoon for Shabbat.  No matter what else has happened during the week, this is a time to minimize all the bad things, and accentuate the special.  I focus on creating a festive environment, with the sounds of Shabbat music, the tactile pleasure of kneading the dough, the smells of yeast and baking bread, the sight of beautiful golden loaves emerging from the oven, and the taste of fresh, warm, sweet challah.  To me, the smell of a baking challah is the smell of love.      

Berbere: The Ethiopian Curry

— Ronit Treatman

When the Ethiopian Jews began arriving in Israel in 1984, they brought with them a spice mixture called berbere.  Like curry, berbere is a combination of spices that gives Ethiopian cuisine its distinctive flavor.  These flavors are one of the newest additions to the fusion that is modern Israeli cuisine.

More after the jump.

Although modern Ethiopia is a landlocked country, it has a long history of spice trading. In the 5th Century BCE, the Kingdom of Axum included modern Eritrea, northern Ethiopia, northern Sudan, Yemen, and southern Saudi Arabia.  Square-rigged trading ships departed Axum via the Red Sea.  Unlike the Roman vessels, they did not follow the longer, slower coastal trade route.  The Axumites knew how to harness the Monsoon winds, opening up a sea route from Africa to India via the Arabian Sea.  This journey took only fourteen days!  The sea route to India enabled them to reach the Silk Road, giving them access to goods from China.  Cinnamon, black pepper, clove, ginger, cardamom, nutmeg, mace, cassia, and turmeric were some of the spices brought back by the Axumite galleys.

As these spices made their way to the Axumite open-air markets, local cooks were intrigued, and sprinkled them into the food.  By experimenting with what was at hand, each family came up with its own individual signature spice mix.  These recipes have been handed down from mother to daughter, and the recipe is a family secret.  The essential ingredients of berbere are fenugreek and hot red pepper.  Other spices that are commonly mixed in are allspice, salt, cardamom, ginger, cloves, and black pepper.  In modern Ethiopia, families traditionally make their own spice mixture.  Some families prepare a dry spice mix, toasting several spices together in a heavy pot over a fire.  These spices are then ground with a mortar and pestle, and are ready to flavor the food.  Other families prefer to prepare a wet spice mix, or a paste, combining the toasted spices with oil or water when grinding them with the mortar and pestle. The berbere mix is different in each region of Ethiopia.  I have adapted a recipe for berbere from The Congo Cookbook.  The Congo Cookbook is a collection of recipes from Africa compiled by epicurean Peace Corps volunteer Ed Gibbon.  The recipes posted “are not new, unless they are new to you.”

Berbere Recipe

  • 1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon ground fenugreek
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 4 to 6 tablespoons of a combination of ground cayenne pepper (red pepper, dried chile peppers, or red pepper flakes) and paprika
  • 1 tablespoons salt
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon garlic powder

It is traditional to begin with the whole spice, such as the allspice berries and cinnamon bark.  Dry roasting the spice releases its essential oils, maximizing its aroma and flavor.  To make a dry berbere mixture, take a cast iron skillet and warm it over medium heat.  Place the spices in the skillet and toast them, stirring continuously.  After about two minutes for whole spices, and a few seconds for powdered spices, place the spices in a bowl and leave them to cool down.  When they are no longer hot, grind them together in a food processor or a mortar and pestle.  To make a wet berbere mixture, substitute the powdered ginger for fresh, grated ginger.  Add 2 tablespoons of minced onions or shallots, and substitute the dry garlic powder for fresh, finely chopped garlic.  Add ¼ cup of vegetable oil or water to the food processor when grinding the spices.  The berbere will retain its flavor if it is stored in an airtight container, in a cool dark place.  The wet berbere should be stored in the refrigerator.

Berbere is the foundation of the wots or thick stews served in Ethiopia.  A special technique is used to cook them.  First, red onions are chopped and stirred in a hot, dry skillet until most of their moisture has evaporated.  Then fat, (usually clarified spiced butter called niter kibbeh) is added.  The onions continue to be cooked in the fat with added spices before any other ingredients are added.  By sautéing the onions in this way, they are dehydrated.  When the other ingredients are added, the onions serve as a thickener for the wot.

Doro Wot is the national dish of Ethiopia.  It is a stew prepared with chicken, hard-boiled eggs, and berbere.  Ethiopian Jews serve Doro Wot for Shabbat dinner.  Below is a recipe for Doro Wot adapted from Ethio-Israel — a kosher Ethiopian restaurant in Jerusalem.  

Doro Wot: Chicken Stew With Berbere

  • 4 tbsp. olive oil
  • 2 large red onions
  • 4 garlic cloves
  • Salt to taste
  • 1 1/2 tbsp. berbere
  • 3 lbs. chicken drumsticks
  • 2 cups of water
  • 4 hard-boiled eggs

Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over low heat.  Chop the onions and add them to the pot.  Stir the onions until they become golden brown.  Mince the garlic and add to the pot.  Add the salt and berbere, stirring well.  Stir in the chicken.  Add 2 cups of water and turn the heat up until the pot boils.  Then lower the heat, allowing the chicken to simmer for about 40 minutes.  Check the seasoning and if necessary add salt or berbere to taste.  Add the boiled eggs, and allow to heat through.

Doro Wot is traditionally served with injera, a sourdough crepe made from teff.  Teff is a type of grass native to Ethiopia.  The grain it produces is gluten free and rich in iron, fiber, protein, and calcium.  To prepare injera, you have to mix teff flour with water and allow the mixture to ferment for about three days.  It becomes a type of sourdough starter.  This dough is then baked into a crepe over a wood-fired clay oven. See this video of injera being prepared in Ethiopia.  

Injera: Ethiopian Crepe


Mix 1 1/2 cups of teff flour with 2 cups of water.  Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let stand at room temperature for three days.  Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in a skillet over low heat.  Pour 1/4 cup of batter into the skillet.  When little holes appear on the surface of the pancake, remove it from the skillet onto a platter.  Do not cook the injera on both sides!  The injera is supposed to have a slightly sour taste due the fermenting process.  

The way to present the Doro Wot is to place one injera crepe on a large, round platter.  Then, spoon the Doro Wot onto the injera, artfully arranging the chicken, eggs, and sauce.  This platter is placed at the center of the table.  Additional injera is served on the side, usually beautifully folded like a napkin.  The injera is the plate, the utensils, and the bread!  Everyone helps themselves from the communal platter.  The way to enjoy Doro Wot is to rip off a piece of injera, scoop up some wot with it, and eat.  The injera lining the platter soaks up the gravy.  As you eat it, you will experience layers of flavors and textures.  The slight acidity of the injera will be the perfect counterpoint to the flavors of the berbere.

I wanted to know where to buy berbere spice mixture in Philadelphia, so I headed over to Abyssinia Ethiopian Restaurant.   This is where many members of Philadelphia’s expatriate Ethiopian community gather to watch Amharic television, drink Ethiopian beer, and talk.  Among them, I have met members of Philadelphia’s minute Ethiopian Jewish community.  One young man shyly spoke Hebrew to me.  Another gentleman, whom everyone addressed as “Doctor” left Gondar as a child.  His family walked to Sudan, and was then airlifted to Israel during Operation Moses in 1984.  He has two brothers in Haifa, who “have become really religious and wear kippas!”  When I asked him where he gets his berbere, he said, “you should go to Mohamed’s Halal Center,” on 4525 Walnut Street.  Mohamed is from Tigray, in Northern Ethiopia.  Jewish and Muslim Ethiopians had a history of peaceful coexistence here.  My daughter and I wandered around his store discussing the products in Hebrew.  He welcomed us warmly, asked us what language we were speaking, and then showed us that all his products are Halal, Kosher, or both.  He sells berbere that is imported from Ethiopia.  You have to ask for it, because he keeps it behind the counter.  I prefer this imported berbere, because to me it has an authenticity that is very difficult to duplicate.  Mohamed’s imported seasoning includes ground korarima seeds, from the ginger family, and long pepper or pippali, a hot pepper from Indonesia.  This is the right place to avoid all the work involved in cooking your own injera.  Mohamed prepares fresh injera every day right at his store.  Most of Philadelphia’s Ethiopian expatriates purchase their injera ready-made from Mohamed rather than making their own.  They just warm it up in the microwave right before serving.

Follow these links to purchase ingredients online:

On one of these cold February nights, treat yourself to berbere-spiced Doro Wot with injera. If you would rather experience an Ethiopian dinner in a restaurant, you live in the right place.  Philadelphia has one of the bigger Ethiopian expatriate communities in the U.S.  There are many good restaurants to choose from.  Our “little Ethiopia” is in West Philadelphia. My favorite is Abyssinia Restaurant.  Other Ethiopian restaurants in the neighborhood are Dahlak Restaurant, Kaffa Crossing, and Ethio Café and Restaurant.  For something different, yet exotically Jewish, try berbere!    

Reactions to Hunger-Free Kids Act

The Hunger-Free Kids Act has garnered support from the key “red furry monster demographic” but the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism had a mixed reaction.

— Mark J. Pelavin,  Associate Director, Religious Action Center

The Healthy, Hunger-Free Kids Act (S. 3307) addresses a key need for struggling low-income families. In reauthorizing Child Nutrition Programs with $4.5 billion in new funding over ten years, this critical, albeit flawed, legislation ensures that thousands of low-income children will not go hungry during the worst economic conditions in a generation. Moreover, Congress greatly enhanced the nutritional content of these supplemental food programs, which is an important step in the ongoing effort to confront the growing problem of child obesity. We urge the President to quickly sign this essential piece of legislation into law.

Unfortunately, despite its admirable accomplishments, the legislation contains insufficient funds to ensure access to these essential programs. Additionally, Congress chose to fund the bill through a cut to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) benefits-the second such cut this year. By imposing what amounts to a $60 per month cut in SNAP benefits for a family of four, Congress hurts the very families that this legislation is designed to help. Cutting SNAP benefits during the third consecutive year of rising poverty rates negates the positive impact of a strong Child Nutrition Reauthorization.

We call on Congress to act immediately to restore SNAP benefits to the level of funding that recipients were told they could rely upon until 2018. We also call on the U.S. Department of Agriculture to take any and all administrative steps to increase access to child nutrition programs. Food security is the foundation upon which our nation’s future prosperity is built; in a nation of plenty, no American should ever go hungry.

Happiness does not necessarily come in a box of fast food

Dr. Daniel E. Loeb

To fight the national epidemic of childhood obesity, San Francisco recently passed a resolution forbidding toys being bundled with children’s meals such McDonalds’ “Happy Meal” unless they do not meet certain basic nutritional standards as an effort. This law has been criticized as denying parents the right to chose how to raise their children. Critics bring up the specter of an “overprotective nanny state.”

On the contrary, this law opens up choices for parents. They can buy the toy by itself,  the “happy meal” by itself, a “healthy meal” by itself, or buy a toy along with either meal and slip it inside before giving it to their child instead of being trapped into McDonalds’ logic of all-or-nothing.

This a great win for parents, healthy children, freedom of choice, and capitalism.

GE Brings Good Cholent To Life


Whether it’s gefilte fish, challah, brisket, noodle kugel, latkes, or one of the many other iconic mainstays of the Jewish kitchen, there is one critical ingredient that cuts across them all – the cooking appliance. While electronics and safety features on modern ranges have added complexity and challenges to the Kosher kitchen, GE has answered with a Star-K-certified Sabbath mode feature on hundreds of its cooking appliances.

More after the jump.

GE offers a Sabbath Mode feature on over 264 GE®, GE Profile™, Monogram® and Hotpoint® models. Consumers can find this feature on GE wall ovens, smooth-top electric slide-in and smooth-top electric drop-in ranges, as well as on the majority of its free-standing ranges.

This feature meets the certification requirements of a nationally recognized Kosher certifying agency, Star-K. This capability can be utilized, if desired, but otherwise it stays inactive and unnoticeable to the non-Jewish consumer. A list of certified GE models is available on the Star-K website.

The voice of Jewish consumers led GE engineers to the development of this feature. Although the Sabbath and holiday laws, especially as they relate to the cooking and heating of foods, are rather complex, the engineers at GE have appreciated and comprehended the intricacies of Halacha (Jewish law) as they developed a Sabbath mode that enhances the Sabbath and holidays of observant Jewish families.

Most modern ranges are equipped with an integrated 12-hour shut-off safety device. This feature shuts down the oven’s power after the oven has been operating consecutively for 12 hours. The GE cooking products with Sabbath Mode will override the 12-hour shut-off. The oven will not shut off automatically, making it possible to keep cooked foods warm on the Sabbath or use the range over religious holidays for cooking and warming food.

In addition to overriding the shut off, the Sabbath Mode feature will meet the observant Jewish consumer’s restrictions for observing the Sabbath and other holidays by:

  • Eliminating tones or timer beeps.
  • Not displaying icons.
  • Permitting temperature adjustments on holidays without displays or beeps.

How does this feature work? When the consumer activates this feature, the oven may be set either to:

  • Go on immediately and stay on for a set amount of time, or
  • Turn off automatically after a set amount of time.

The oven will stay at the temperature the user selects when entering the Sabbath mode. The digital control display will not show time, temperature, or selected oven function until the Sabbath mode feature is manually de-activated at the conclusion of the Sabbath or holiday. This makes it possible for observant Jews to serve warm food on holidays, the underlying principle being that it is permissible to use electricity that is already on but not to turn it on or off during the duration of the holiday. Observant Jews are thus prohibited from turning on or off the oven, or taking an action that causes the oven control display to change during the Sabbath or religious holidays.

For specific model information and availability, consumers should contact their local GE Appliance dealer.

Ronit & Claudia


Ronit Treatman

If I were writing a script for a movie like Julie & Julia, (Julia Child), my movie would be called “Ronit & Claudia.”  Claudia Roden that is.  Ms. Roden is one of the most fascinating cookbook authors that I have ever encountered.  Her books are filled with compelling discourses about Jewish and Middle Eastern history, geography, and culture.  Her recipes, whether Ashkenazi, Sephardic, or Middle Eastern, are surprisingly accessible.  

Claudia Roden was born in Cairo, Egypt.  She lived there until age fifteen, becoming proficient in Arabic, French, English, and Italian.  For her last three years of high school she was sent to boarding school in Paris.  Three years later she moved to London to study art.  In 1956, after the Suez Crisis, her relatives left Egypt and joined her in London.  The Roden clan reminisced about the life they left behind over the old familiar foods that they would prepare in exile.  They were a family of wealthy merchants, and the women had never cooked in Egypt.  

Ms. Roden married an Ashkenazi man, whose mother initially refused to eat Sephardic delicacies.  The couple had three children. When her children were grown, Claudia Roden taught Middle Eastern cooking classes, worked as a journalist, and hosted a television show.  She also wrote cookbooks, and won the James Beard Award, the Andre Simon Memorial Fund Award for Best Food Book, the Glenfiddich Best Food Book Award, and the Gourmand World Media Special Award of the Jury.  Her books are available in both paper and electronic versions.

Claudia Roden wrote her first cookbook, A Book Of Middle Eastern Food, in 1968.   At this time, a tradition of writing cookbooks did not exist in the Middle East.  Recipes were passed down in families.  This inspired Claudia to preserve the culture she had left behind by writing down the recipes.  She would get these recipes by talking to all sorts of people from the Middle East who were living in London, and by corresponding with friends and friends of friends who were dispersed all over the world.  To get Persian recipes, she called the Iranian embassy, and asked to meet with the diplomats’ wives.  When told that the only thing that she wanted to discuss was food, they could not refuse her!  For this book, Roden researched some of the oldest surviving Middle Eastern culinary manuals at the Bodleian Library in Oxford University.  In these handwritten manuscripts in Arabic from the ninth century, she recognized some of the recipes handed down by the oral tradition in her own family.  In 2009, Claudia Roden expanded and updated this book.  She called it The New Book Of Middle Eastern Food.  She covers recipes from Iran, Syria, Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey, and North Africa.  She discusses the Muslim dietary laws and the etiquette of meals at the Arab table.  She connects the cuisines of different parts of the Middle East to history and trade.  The recipes in this book are not complicated and the ones I have tried are delicious.  To cook Chicken With Preserved Lemons And Olives (page 218), all I had to do was cut up one onion and some garlic.  I added cut-up chicken and spices, and let everything cook slowly.  I did not have any preserved lemons in the house.  An online search provided me with a great substitute: fresh lemon peels sautéed in olive oil.  This book is a perfect resource for vegetarians and people who are sensitive to gluten.  Claudia encourages us to personalize these recipes in order to please ourselves.  She does not specify quantities of salt and pepper in her recipes because she believes that only we can decide when it is right for our palate.  She encourages us to mix and match the different recipes, and to substitute beef for lamb, chicken for fish, or to make everything vegetarian.  Her goal is for us to enjoy cooking and eating her recipes.  


Her masterpiece is The Book Of Jewish Food, An Odyssey From Samarkand To New York, which took fifteen years to write.  Roden explores the history of the Sephardic and Ashkenazi Jews, explains the rules of Kashrut, and discusses the foods of the Ancient Hebrews.  She teaches about the Jewish holidays and Shabbat.  Roden discusses the culture clash that occurred when people from the Sephardic and Ashkenazi communities “intermarried.”  Being the product of a mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardic lineage myself, I chuckled with appreciation as I recognized all the tensions she describes.  In my own family, grown men in their mid-sixties cower when asked the seemingly simple question, “Should we cook matza ball soup for the Seder?”  They remember their childhoods, when the Ashkenazi side of the family would not eat rice at Passover (and still don’t), and the Sephardim would not eat matza balls.  What did everyone get?  Chicken soup with dry matza crumbled in it!  To test the authenticity of Roden’s recipes, I looked up how to cook Bukharan rice.  I am part Bukharan, and I wanted to see if she describes my great aunt’s technique.  Impressively, on page 456, there is an anecdote about how to cook Bukharan rice in a linen bag, just as my relatives used to.  Roden’s recipe for Bukharan Rice With Chicken And Carrots (page 457), cooked in a pot, is excellent.  There is a very interesting description of the development of Israeli cuisine, with a discussion about how it was during their service in the Israeli Defense Forces that Israelis of different backgrounds first learned to cook each other’s foods.  Even people who have no intentions of cooking will enjoy this book.  There are many interesting chapters about the different Jewish communities of the world, and photographs of the people and places discussed.

Thanks to the Internet, it is possible to get any ingredient delivered to any location.  Preserved lemons, orange blossom water, and tamarind are available at the tap of a keyboard.  Claudia Roden has traveled extensively, participated in countless conversations, and cooked many permutations of each dish in order to bring us these marvelous cookbooks.  The generation of my grandparents was the one of snobbishness and exclusion of the Jewish foods that did not come from their respective Ashkenazi or Sephardic traditions.  Claudia Roden led the way to bridge these communities with The Book Of Jewish Food.  I have always been curious about the foods and traditions of the Arab countries surrounding Israel.  Claudia Roden’s New Book Of Middle Eastern Food is very instructive not only about the food, but also about how to make a positive impression if I ever happen to be a guest in Cairo or Istanbul.  Ms. Roden is now working on a book about Spanish food.  I hope she comes to the United States for a book tour.  If she does, I will be the first in line to meet this fascinating lady, and have my book signed by her!

The Etrog: The Father Of All Lemons

Ronit Treatman

Have you ever felt an uncontrollable urge to cut the etrog in half?  Many of us wonder why we bring this strange fruit into our sukkah.  Is it not just an overpriced lemon?  What does it symbolize?  How is it a part of the Jewish tradition?  Most importantly, can we eat it?

What is an etrog?

An etrog is a large, fragrant, elongated golden lemon-like fruit. It is the yellow citron, or Citrus medica, a member of the citron family.  This citron is the largest of the citrus family, between four to six inches long. Molecular studies have demonstrated that the etrog is one of the oldest types of citrus in existence. It, along with the mandarin, papeda, and pummelo, is the forefather of all the other types of cultivated citrus plants.  The etrog tree self-pollinates since it is not receptive to fertilization by pollen from other plants.  Consequently, it is considered the male parent of its hybrid offspring, or the father of all lemons.

The history of the etrog

Etrogs originated in Southeast Asia about 4000 years ago.  They still grow wild in India in the valleys of the lower slopes of the Himalaya Mountains.  These citrons were the first type of citrus to be cultivated.  In antiquity, the etrog was called the Persian or Median Apple.  Later it was called the Citrus Apple.  Originally, citrons were grown as ornamental plants.  The fruit was used to perfume clothes, as a moth repellent, and its peel was used as a spice for food.  The etrog was also used medicinally as a cure for seasickness, an antidote to poison, and as an antibiotic.  Cyrus the Great brought the citron from Persia to Babylon when he conquered it in 539 BCE.  Alexander the Great disseminated it around the Mediterranean region in 300 BCE.  In Biblical times, the Jews cultivated the etrog in the Land of Israel for the observance of Sukkot.  The etrog was also used as a symbol of resistance.  In the first century BCE, Alexander Yanai, the last Maccabee high priest and king of Judea, publicly engaged in a Sadducee water ritual (Succah 4:9) in the Temple of Jerusalem.  Infuriated, the Pharisees flung etrogs at him in protest.  During the time of the first Jewish revolt against the Roman Empire (66-70 CE), etrogs were cast in Jewish coins instead of Emperor Nero.  These “Masada coins” were minted in bronze.  They have an inscription in Paleo-Hebrew that says “For the Redemption of Zion.”   When the Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 CE and the Jews were expelled, the etrog went with them to Yemen, Morocco, Syria, Greece, Lebanon, and Southern Italy.  The Romans loved citrons, and cultivated them throughout Italy.  Some of the earliest greenhouses, built from mica, were invented to protect etrog trees in Northern Italy.

Why do we bring the etrog into the Sukkah?

In Leviticus 23:40 we are commanded,

And you shall take of yourselves on the first day the fruit of a goodly tree, a palm branch, the myrtle branch, and the willow of the brook; and you shall rejoice before the Lord your God seven days.

 This has been understood by some Rabbis to mean that the tree must be good and the fruit must be good.  By “good,” they meant that the tree must be beautiful year round, and the fruit must be attractive and delicious.  The etrog tree meets these requirements.  It is an evergreen tree, so its fragrant leaves are on the tree all year.  Its fruit is lovely, with a pleasing perfume and flavor.  The tree itself is edible. If you cut a branch in half and taste its interior, it has the same flavor as the albedo (white part) of the inside of the etrog.  Because of its shape, the etrog symbolizes our heart.  Because it tastes and smells good, the etrog represents Jews who perform good deeds and learn Torah.  This is an ideal we may all strive to achieve.

Elements of an etrog that is kosher for ritual use

Purity:  For a citron to be considered kosher it must be pure.  It may not be grafted or bred with other citrus species.  An etrog tree must be grown on its own roots, from seeds or cuttings.  All seeds and cuttings must come from etrog trees which have never been grafted.

Size:  The etrog needs to be a minimum size of a hen’s egg to be picked.  The average size of a chicken’s egg is 2 ¼ inches long and 1-¾ inches in diameter at its widest part.  The etrog should weigh a minimum of 2.08 ounces.  

Shape:  If it is completely round, it is not permissible for ritual use.  

Texture:  Its skin must be bumpy and it must have a thick rind.  

Color:  The etrog should be ripening from green to yellow when it is picked.  Its skin must be unblemished.  

Segments:  An etrog should have few pulp segments, with very little juice.  Its seeds should point vertically when it is sliced in half.  

Peduncle:  Its stalk, which connects it to the tree, must curve inward toward the fruit.  A small piece of the stalk needs to remain connected to the etrog for it to be kosher for ritual use.

Pitam:  The other end of the etrog sometimes has a protuberance called a Pitam.  This is the stigma of the etrog flower, where pollen grains are received during fertilization.  An etrog with an undamaged Pitam is especially valued.  Some etrogs mature and shed the Pitam.  They are kosher as well.  If someone damages the etrog by breaking the Pitam, then that etrog is not kosher for ritual use.    

Five types of citron are traditional for ritual use during Sukkot.  The Yemenite Citron has been in use since the time of the First Temple (around 586 BCE).  It is pulpless, and has no juice.  The Greek Citron from Corfu has been used since the Second Temple era (516 BCE – 70 CE).  In 1850, this citron was planted near Jaffah by the halutzim.  This was a project funded by Sir Moses Montefiore.  The Diamante Citron from Italy was extensively used by Jews in medieval times.  The Moroccan Citron is a sweet citron.  After the destruction of the Second Temple the Jews who were exiled to Morocco adopted it.  It has and hourglass shape called a “gartel.”  The Balady Citron is native to Israel.  “Balady” is Arabic for “native.”  These etrogs are still cultivated in the Galilee and near Jerusalem.  Balady Citrons do not fall off the tree if not picked.  They continue growing for years until the branches of the tree break under their weight.

Today, etrog orchards require strict rabbinic supervision for the etrogs to be permissible for ritual use.  The mashgichim ensure that the trees are not grafted.  The leaves and thorns are carefully cut away from the fruit so it is not blemished.  The branches are curved downward to encourage the formation of flame shaped etrogs.  

Etrogs do not produce much juice.  Fortunately, most of what we taste comes from our sense of smell.  Thanks to the etrog’s abundant fragrance, what we cook with it will be flavorful.  It is possible to prepare the etrog in many interesting ways.

Etrog recipes

Succade

This is from the oldest recorded etrog recipe, from the 1400s.  The word “succade” is said to come from “sukkot.”  The etrog was cut in half and its pulp was removed.  It was immersed in seawater for 40 days.  Every two weeks, the seawater was changed.  Once the peel was cured, the salt was removed by soaking the rind in boiling water.  The peel was then candied by soaking in a sugar solution.  The candied peel was sun-dried or sealed in jars to be used later.  This peel has a unique flavor, different from that of other citrus plants.  Succade can be eaten out of hand, but is more commonly added to desserts.  It is sometimes coated in chocolate to be consumed as confectionery.  For some families, it is customary to eat succade during the Tu Bishvat Seder.

1 Etrog

3 cups sugar

3 cups water

Dice the etrog into ½ inch cubes.

Place the etrog pieces into a saucepan.  Add 3 cups of water and 3 cups of sugar.  Heat over a medium flame until the mixture boils.

Lower the temperature to a simmer, and allow to cook for 45 minutes.

Turn off the flame, and allow the etrog to cool in the pot for 30 minutes.

Strain the fruit.  Save the syrup.  Mix it with hot water to create an aromatic Korean tea called Yujacha.

Spread the diced etrog over a cookie sheet.  Allow it to dry for 12 hours.

Store in jar, tightly sealed.

If you would like to purchase candied etrog from Italy please go to this link: http://www.markethallfoods.com…  

Etrogcello

Etrogcello is a citron liqueur like the Limoncello from Southern Italy.  It is generally consumed after dinner, as a digestive.  It should be served cold, in a small, chilled ceramic glass.

5 etrogs

1 bottle of vodka

3 1/2 cups water

2-½ cups sugar

Pour the vodka into a glass pitcher.  Cut the peels of the etrogs into long strips.  Add to the pitcher.  Seal the pitcher with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for four days.

Pour the water into a saucepan and bring to a boil.  Dissolve the sugar in the boiling water.  Stir over medium heat for about 5 minutes.  Allow the mixture to cool completely.  Add the sugar syrup to the vodka-etrog mixture.  Cover with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 hours.  Remove the etrog peel from the pitcher.  Pour the liquid into glass bottles.  Seal tightly, and refrigerate until very cold.  Some people like to keep their etrogcello in the freezer.  

Savory preserved etrogs

Preserved etrogs are delicious in Moroccan tagines, on pizza, paired with olives in roasted chicken, in whole grain salads, and on fish.  

Fresh etrogs

Sea salt

Peppercorns

Cinnamon stick

Bay leaf

Coriander seeds

Fennel seeds

Extra virgin olive oil

Cut the etrogs into quarters, leaving them attached at the base.  

Mix all the spices together.

Pack the cuts in the etrogs with the salt mixture.

Put 2 tablespoons of the salt mixture at the bottom of a sterilized glass jar.

Layer the etrogs, sprinkling some of the spice mixture between each layer.

Press the etrogs firmly into the jar.

Pour olive oil into the jar, completely covering the etrogs.

Seal the jar tightly.

Leave at room temperature.

The etrogs will be ready after about a month.  They may be refrigerated for up to two years.

If you have never eaten an etrog before, get adventurous this Sukkot.  Once the eight days are over, give in to your most primal urges and grab your sharpest knife!  Admire your etrog’s beautiful golden color.  Hold it up to your nose and inhale its aroma.  Feel the bumpy skin against your cheek.  Slice your etrog in half.  You will see that most of its interior is a thick, white rind.  Lick the pith.  You may be bracing yourself for the bitterness that you are used to in the rind of a lemon or orange.  The etrog’s albedo will surprise you with its pleasant flavor.  Notice that the etrog has lots of seeds and very little juice.  Bite into the etrog’s pulp and taste its unique citrus extract.  You will be savoring a fruit that has remained unchanged for 4000 years!  Try one or more of the above recipes.  They all preserve the etrog for use throughout the year, infusing our meals with its special taste and aroma.  Thanks to the strict kosher rules against grafting and hybridization, you will be eating the only Jewish heirloom fruit!

Image of First Revolt quarter shekel coin depicting an etrog courtesy of The Jewish-American Hall of Fame.

Do You Dare Eat A Locust?

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Ronit Treatman

When Abraham and Sarah embarked on their journey from Ur to Canaan, what snacks did they bring along? It is safe to imagine that Sarah packed some roasted, ground locusts in a leather bag. Locust powder was the ancient energy food of the Near East. This non-perishable food was taken on long trips by caravan traders. Entomophagy (eating insects) has persisted in the Middle East and Africa to this day. Locusts are the only insects permitted for kosher consumption in the Torah. The tradition of eating locusts remains in the Yemenite Jewish community. If you are brave and adventurous enough, it is possible to reach back to the origins of our Jewish tradition, and taste the original protein energy food.  

What are locusts?

For the past 5,000 years, the desert locust has swarmed through Africa and the Middle East. Locusts are short-horned grasshoppers of the family Acrididae. They breed quickly and grow into nymphs. They keep growing until they become adults. If conditions are right, adult grasshoppers transform themselves into locusts. This occurs if it is warm and rainy. The grasshoppers reproduce at a rate that is too great for them to be sustained by the vegetation where they live. If these grasshoppers feel too many other grasshoppers brush up against them, then their serotonin level changes, causing them to swarm and migrate to a different place with more food. It is at this swarming phase that grasshoppers change into locusts.  As they migrate, the locusts eat all the plant life that they encounter along the way. Swarms of locusts are huge, and some have been estimated to have 250 billion creatures. Locusts can fly up to 125 miles a day, at a maximum speed of about 50 miles per hour, up to a height of 6,500 feet above sea level. Each locust eats about two grams of plants daily, an amount equal to the their body mass.

An ancient culinary tradition

 According to Dr. Zohar Amar, the head of the Land of Israel studies at Bar-Ilan University, locusts were a common food during the period of the Mishnah (200 C.E.) and the Talmud (500 C.E.). The earliest written record describing the consumption of insects in Israel is found in the Dead Sea Scrolls. In a book called Berit Damesek, we find the this rule: 

And all of the grasshoppers of their kinds shall be brought in fire or water while still alive for this is the law of their creation.

[Damascus Document XII. Locusts become bitter very quickly after they die due to chemical changes that occur in their bodies. In order to avoid this, they must be cooked while still alive. This is probably the reason for this directive. During the Middle Ages, locusts were no longer being consumed in Europe. The tradition has remained in Israel, North Africa and Yemen to this day.

Are Locusts Kosher?

According to the Torah, certain types of locusts are permitted. In Parshat Shemini, the Torah instructs: 

Every flying insect that uses four legs for walking shall be avoided by you. The only flying insects with four walking legs that you may eat are those which have knees extending above their feet, [using these longer legs] to hop on the ground. Among these you may only eat members of the red locust family, the yellow locust family, the spotted gray locust family and the white locust family. All other flying insects with four feet [for walking] must be avoided by you. 

This is further elaborated in the Talmud, in Tractate Chullin 59a, 65a-66b and Tractate Avodah Zara 37a, the Mishna states in Chullin: 

Any kind of grasshopper that has four walking legs, four wings, two jumping legs and whose wings cover the greater part of its body is kosher.

Locusts are a pareve staple. In Chullin 8:1, we learn that locusts are classified like fish. They may be prepared with milk. Like fish, there is no requirement of ritual slaughter for locusts. People were especially thankful to have them during times of famine. When they swarmed, they were caught and preserved so they could be eaten over a long period. After they were captured, their wings were detached, and they were peeled. The locusts were then boiled or pickled in vinegar or preserved in salt. Special barrels called gevonta were used to pickle the locusts. The barrels for salting them were called heftek. It is not enough that the Torah tells us that locusts are kosher. A continuous, living tradition of eating locusts, transmitted from one generation to the next, is required for them to be permitted. This is called mesorah. The long-standing tradition of eating locusts still exists in some Egyptian, Moroccan and Yemenite Jewish communities in Israel. Members of these communities are skilled in identifying which locusts are kosher. The locusts they identified were desert locusts. They have a mark on their chests that looks like the Hebrew letter Chet. Place your arrow on the fourth picture from the left at the top of the page to see it. Even Jews who are not of Yemenite or Moroccan background are permitted to eat these locusts, based on this mesorah.

The blessing over locusts

Which blessing do we say over locusts? In the Mishnah (Berahkos 6:3), we are instructed that:

over soured wine or unripe fallen fruits or over locusts one should say,  Blessed are you, G-d, King of the Universe, by whose word all things  exist.

Locusts are very nutritious 

Locusts are high in protein, iron, zinc, niacin, thiamine, riboflavin, and essential fatty acids. They are low in cholesterol. Vendors in the Ahsa market in eastern Saudi Arabia claim, 

that by eating locusts you can cure diabetes, high blood pressure and heart diseases.

Allergy information

People who are allergic to seafood will also be allergic to locusts. This is because the exoskeleton of the locust, like that of shrimp or lobsters, is made of a type of glucose called chitin.

Locusts are good for the environment

Locusts are not only nutritious; they are also helpful in sustaining our environment. It is very efficient to grow locusts for food. These micro-livestock are cold-blooded animals, and do not need to consume food to keep themselves warm. They reproduce quickly in captivity, and take little time to grow into adults. Locusts produce twice as much protein as chickens, and six times as much protein as cows from the same amount of food consumed. In Thailand, locust farms are one of the preferred businesses for women. Their low start up costs, small size, and the negligible amount of waste that they produce make them an excellent opportunity for these women to support their families. Locusts should get the Eco-Kashrut (for protecting the environment) and Hechsher Tzedek (for enabling these women to earn a fair living) seals of approval!

What do locusts taste like?

One intrepid traveler to Thailand reports that dry, seasoned locust tastes a bit like toasted sunflower seeds. Others report a meaty/nutty taste.

Where can you acquire locusts to sample?

There is a laboratory in Israel in which certified Kosher, organic, pesticide-free, restricted range locusts are grown. They are not for sale to the general public. In order to taste them, you have to go to the Mesorah dinner. The Mesorah dinner is a meal organized by Rabbi Dr. Ari Zivotofsky to teach about kosher animals, and to transmit the tradition of eating them from one generation to another, in order to preserve their kosher status. These dinners have been held in New York, Los Angeles, and Jerusalem. To participate in one of these dinners, please  click here. The only locusts that I could find for sale are not certified kosher. To determine kashrut, you will need to find a knowledgeable Yemenite Jew to check them for you. A really good resource is Congregation Tifereth Yisrael, The Yemenite Synagogue of Manhattan. Their mission is

to preserve the sanctity of the Yemenite laws and customs which have remained unchanged for nearly 2000 years.

The locusts I found are Thai grasshoppers; cooked in lemon grass, lime leaf, galingale (from the ginger family), garlic, salt, and soy sauce. They arrive dehydrated and vacuum packed. You may order them online. Because they are considered a destructive pest for crops, live grasshoppers are not sold to retail customers in the United States. Those of you adventurous enough to cook live locusts will need to catch your own grasshoppers. Desert locusts are nicknamed "the sky prawn". 

Like shellfish, they are caught with nets when they swarm. You may use a butterfly net. If you go early in the morning, they move more slowly, especially after a cool night. Dr. Jason Weintraub, the collections manager of the department of entomology at the Academy of Natural Sciences in Philadelphia, recommends going to Houston Meadow in the Wissahickon Valley to find grasshoppers. There is a path behind the tennis courts at the Houston Recreation Center that leads to the meadow.   According to Dr. Weintraub, there are dozens of grasshopper species in this region. Some of these creatures eat toxic or bitter plants whose chemicals protect them from predators. Certain grasshoppers could taste good to humans, and others could cause nausea. Of course, you will need to check with a knowledgeable Yemenite Jew if you have caught the right sort of grasshopper before you eat it!

Recipes from Israel's plague of 2004

In 2004, a swarm of locusts flew through Eilat. They denuded all the palm trees and ate every flower, stem, leaf, fruit, and seed that they encountered. Recipes for locust dishes were posted on a local website. Here are some adaptations you may try:

Locust Shish Kebab

  • Heat some hardwood charcoal in a bar-b-que.
  • Thread 12 locusts on a skewer.
  • Place the skewers over the hot coals, turning constantly to avoid burning the locusts.
  • The locusts are ready when they turn golden brown.
  • Remove the head, legs and wings before eating.

Locust Chips (French Fries)

Ingredients:

  • 12 Locusts
  • 2 quarts peanut oil
  • Salt and pepper

Directions:

Boil water in a pot. Heat the peanut oil in a pan over medium-low heat until it reaches 325 degrees F. Blanch the locusts in the hot water, and remove to a plate lined with paper towels to drain. Increase the heat to medium-high and add the locusts to the hot oil, continuously stirring to avoid burning. When the locusts turn a golden brown, transfer to a plate lined with paper towels to absorb the excess oil. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Remove the head, wings, and legs before eating. Serve immediately. May be served with ketchup.

In Mexico, in the state of Oaxaca, grasshoppers are a popular traditional dish. Following is a locust recipe with the flavors of the New World.

Mexican Locusts (Chapulines)

Ingredients:

  • 1 lb. fresh locusts
  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • Chili powder
  • Lime

Cook the locusts in boiling water for 5 minutes. Drain, and remove the wings, legs, and heads. Heat the olive oil in a pan. Add the garlic, and stir until golden. Add the locusts, and fry until crunchy and golden. Sprinkle chili powder to taste. Squeeze fresh lime juice over the locusts. Serve immediately. May be served with rice, or in a taco shell with guacamole.

In the Mexican websites that I visited, grasshoppers and shrimp were interchangeable in the recipes. I have placed my order for dehydrated grasshoppers with Thai spices. When they arrive, I will need to have them examined by someone at Congregation Tifereth Yisrael. If they are kosher, it will be like eating kosher shrimp. Will I dare?