Tisha B’Av and Environmentalism

Romans Destroy Jerusalem - painting of city wall on fire
Romans Destroy Jerusalem

Tisha B’Av (the 9th day of the month of Av) which we commemorate this year on August 10 – 11, reminds us that over 2,600 years ago Jews failed to heed the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah, with the result that the first Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed, the first of many negative things that occurred on that day, including the destruction of the second Temple as well.

Today there are many “Jeremiahs” warning us that now it is the entire world that is threatened by climate change, species extinction, soil erosion, destruction of tropical rain forests and other valuable habitats, and many other environmental threats. For example, as long ago as 1992, over 1,700 of the world’s leading scientists, including 104 Nobel Laureates, signed a “World Scientists Warning to Humanity,” stating that, “human beings and the natural world are on a collision course,” and that “a great change in our stewardship of the earth and the life on it is required, if vast human misery is to be avoided and our global home on this planet is not to be irretrievably mutilated.” More recently, some climate scientists are warning that we may soon reach a tipping point when climate change will spin out of control with disastrous consequences if major positive changes do not soon occur.

On Tisha B’Av, Jews fast to express their sadness over the destruction of the two Temples and to awaken us to how hungry people feel. So severe are the effects of starvation that the Book of Lamentations (4:10), which is read on Tisha B’Av, states that, “More fortunate were the victims of the sword than the victims of famine, for they pine away stricken, lacking the fruits of the field.” Yet, today over 70% of the grain grown in the United States is fed to animals destined for slaughter, as an estimated 20 million people worldwide die annually because of hunger and its effects and almost a billion of the world’s people face chronic hunger.

Jewish sages connected the word “eichah” (alas! what has befallen us?) that begins Lamentations and a word that has the same root “ayekah” (“Where art thou?”), the question addressed by God to Adam and Eve after they had eaten the forbidden fruit in the Garden of Eden. Perhaps failure to properly hear and respond to “ayekah” in terms of stating “Hineini” — here I am, ready to carry out God’s commandments so that the world will be better — causes us to eventually have to say and hear “eichah“.

The reading of the book of Lamentations on Tisha B’Av is meant to wake up the Jewish people to the need to return to God’s ways, by showing the horrors that resulted when God’s teachings were ignored. The readings on Tisha B’Av help to sensitize us so that we will hear the cries of lament and change our ways. Rabbi Yochanan stated, “Jerusalem was destroyed because the residents limited their decisions to the letter of the law of the Torah, and did not perform actions that would have gone beyond the letter of the law” (“lifnim meshurat hadin“). (Baba Metzia 30b). In this time of factory farming, climate change and other environmental threats, widespread hunger, and widespread chronic degenerative diseases, perhaps it is necessary that Jews go beyond the strict letter of the law in efforts to prevent further environmental degradation.

This Tisha B’Av, I hope that we will begin to heed its basic lesson that failure to respond to proper admonitions can lead to catastrophe. The Jewish people must make tikkun olam (the repair and healing of the planet) a major focus in Jewish life today, and consider personal and societal changes that will improve the environment. By doing this, we would be performing a great Kiddush Hashem (sanctification of God’s Name) by working to meet our mandate to be a light unto the nations.

All of us can and must contribute to this new stewardship, even with modest changes to our lifestyle. In 1999, the Union of Concerned Scientists wrote, “Just as we don’t claim that people need to stop driving their cars completely, we don’t argue that they need to stop eating meat entirely. But reductions in both areas — driving and meat consumption — will certainly benefit the environment.

In view of the many threats to humanity today, I hope that Jews will enhance their commemoration of the solemn but spiritually meaningful holiday of Tisha B’Av by making it a time to begin striving even harder to live up to Judaism’s highest moral values and teachings. One important way to do this is by applying Jewish values in efforts to shift our precious, but imperiled, planet onto a sustainable path.

Hanukkah Chili

As winter descends over Philadelphia, we get to drive away the darkness with our Hanukkah lights. One way to make our Hanukkah parties more festive is to cook a large pot of chili. Served with corn chips or some fresh crusty bread and assorted garnishes, it is the perfect main course to enjoy before the latkes, sufganiyot (jelly doughnuts), and chocolate gelt make their appearance. [Read more…]

The Vegetarian Queen

Photo by Kotoviski https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Kotoviski

Photo by Kotoviski

Purim is a week away but I have already rolled, stuffed and pinched too many circles of dough into cookies, called hamantaschens, that sort of resemble Haman’s three-cornered hat. I will bake many more batches to fulfill one of the four Purim mitzvot — distributing mishloach manot (gifts of food) to friends and family. I might even get to the point of “cheating” and fill my goody bags with store-bought (gasp!) hamantaschens. This year, perhaps in support of my family’s effort to decrease our sugar intake, I’d rather sidestep the dessert and celebrate Purim with a healthy, savory dish. [Read more…]

Fall Harvest Pumpkin for Sukkot

The holiday of Sukkot arrives at the most beautiful time of the year: The trees slowly transform themselves from lush tones of green to vivid shades of gold, ochre, vermilion, and fuchsia.

Nature beautifies our surroundings as we build our sukkot, booths, and decorate them with the seven species of the Land of Israel and the four species of Sukkot. Once our sukkah is built and adorned, it is traditional to serve a festive meal that celebrates the opulence of the fall harvest.

You can have fun picking your own pumpkins, apples, and cranberries. Pennsylvania has a tradition of gathering black walnuts in its forests.

The nuts come encased in a round, green fruit. The best way to extract the drupe is to hit the fruit with a hammer against a hard surface. You can harvest your own at Hill Creek Farm. Of course, you may purchase all of these fruits in your local stores.

Here is a delicious and easy recipe that incorporates the fall bounty. It is sweetened with locally produced maple sugar.

photo-3Harvest Stuffed Pumpkin

Adapted from Eat at Home.

  • 1 Sugar pumpkin
  • 2 Honey Crisp apples
  • 1 cup fresh cranberries
  • 1 cup shelled, black walnuts
  • 1 tbsp. butter
  • 1/2 cup maple sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. cinnamon
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. Slice the top off the pumpkin.
  3. Scoop out the fibrous strands and seeds.
  4. Core and dice the apples.
  5. In a large bowl, mix the apples, cranberries, black walnuts, maple sugar, and cinnamon.
  6. Fill the pumpkin with this mixture.
  7. Cut up the butter, and insert into the filling.
  8. Place the stuffed pumpkin on a cookie sheet covered with parchment paper.
  9. Bake for 90 minutes.
  10. To serve, scoop out some pumpkin from the sides along with the filling.

Baked Kale Chips

— by Challah Maidel

Gaining in popularity, kale is an amazing vegetable that is recognized for its exceptional richness in nutrients, health benefits, and delicious flavor.

Also known as borecole, kale is believed to be one of the healthiest vegetables around. Generally speaking, eating a variety of natural and unprocessed vegetables has proven to be beneficial to your health, but eating nutrient loaded kale on a regular basis may provide significant health benefits, including cancer protection and lowered cholesterol.

More after the jump.
Kale belongs to the Brassica family that includes cruciferous vegetables such as cabbage, collards, broccoli, and Brussels sprouts.

The health benefits that kale provides are primarily linked to the high concentration and excellent source of antioxidant vitamins A, C, and K — and sulphur-containing phytonutrients. Kale also contains eye-health promoting lutein and zeaxanthin compounds. Beyond antioxidants, the fiber content of cruciferous kale binds bile acids and helps lower blood cholesterol levels and reduce the risk of heart disease, especially when kale is cooked instead of raw.

Just as addictive and crispy as potato chips, baked kale chips are a low calorie nutritious snack that even the pickiest eaters will enjoy.

Since kale has an acquired taste, I seasoned it with a bit of garlic powder, smokey paprika, chili powder, a drop of turmeric and ground pepper.

Baked Kale Chips

  • 1 bunch of kale
  • 1 tablespoon of olive oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon of garlic powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon of smokey or sweet paprika
  • 1/3 teaspoon of turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon of ground pepper
  1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  2. Wash the kale and dry thoroughly with paper towels.
  3. Pull the leaves off the center ribs in large pieces, and pile on a baking sheet. Discard the ribs.
  4. In a small bowl, mix oil and spices, and pour over the kale.
  5. Use your hands to massage the kale leaves until each one is evenly coated with the spice mixture. Do not drench.  
  6. Lay the kale leaves out flat on 3 or 4 full sized baking sheets. Do not overlap.
  7. Bake for 10-11 minutes until crisp, but still green.
  8. Cool for a few minutes on the baking sheet before moving. If some kale chips are still a little flimsy or damp, remove the crisp chips and place the damp chips back in the oven for a few more minutes.
  9. Store in an air-tight container.

Yields 12 servings.

Pumpkin-Ginger Soup

— by Ronit Treatman

As Arctic winds blow into Philadelphia, and the snow piles up, our instinct to consume warm, hearty soups kicks in.

This is an opportunity to make use of the many varieties of pumpkins and squashes that are widely available now.  

Pumpkins are high in vitamin A, and have a good amount of vitamin C, iron, and calcium. Also, they are fat free.

When combined with onions, garlic, ginger, herbs, and spices, the pumpkin shines as a winter entree soup. Pumpkin-ginger soup can be served with a green salad, a hearty bread, and a selection of cheeses.

Full recipe after the jump.

  • 2 cups pumpkin puree
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 onions, chopped
  • 6 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup peeled and minced ginger root
  • 6 cups vegetable broth
  • 1/2 cup non-fat coconut milk
  • curry powder
  • cinnamon
  • salt
  • black pepper
  • toasted pumpkin seeds
  • cilantro, minced
  • scallions, sliced
  1. Heat the olive oil in a heavy pot over medium heat.
  2. Saute the onions, garlic, and ginger until the onion is translucent.
  3. Add the vegetable broth, and bring to a boil.
  4. Add the coconut milk and the pureed pumpkin.
  5. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer.
  6. Season to taste with curry powder, cinnamon, salt, and pepper.
  7. Serve garnished with cilantro, scallions, and toasted sunflower seeds.

Bryn Mawr Vgë Café Gets Kosher Certification

— by Hannah Lee

I first wrote about the vegan Vgë Café in Bryn Mawr when it just opened last spring. On a visit some time later, the Brazilian proprietor, Fernando Peralta, expressed to me his interest in obtaining kosher certification because his customers were asking for it. I advised him to speak with the owners of other vegetarian establishments. Lo and behold, I was delighted to hear right before Pesach that he is indeed now certified kosher.

The kosher supervisors are Rabbis Eli Hirsch and Zev Schwarcz from the International Kosher Council, the same agency that certifies other local establishments such as Singapore Vegetarian Restaurant, Blackbird Pizzeria, and Sweet Freedom Bakery. The IKC is based in New York (it supervises the popular Blossom restaurants) and they’ve recently expanded to Mexico, Portugal, and Ukraine. It was Rachel Klein of Miss Rachel’s Pantry who led Peralta to IKC.

More after the jump.
“We are a vegan restaurant and already had proper procedures in place for cleaning vegetables, so the process was quite simple,” said Peralta. He only had to change the balsamic vinegar that he was using. The inspection covered all the ingredients and products used in his establishment. His café will be inspected on a biweekly basis, with no advance notice. Being non-Jewish, Peralta was not asked to close on Shabbat.

Vgë Café, located at 845B West Lancaster Avenue in Bryn Mawr, is open Mondays through Saturdays from 11:30 AM to 8:30 PM and Sundays, from 11:30 AM to 3:30 PM. Catering is available. Phone: (610) 527-3091.  

Winter Soup And Salad

— by Talia Goren

In these cold January days, what can be better than soup and salad? Try the delicious combination of mushroom-quinoa soup and heart of palm salad. It is gluten, dairy, meat and soy free!

Full recipe and picture after the jump.

Mushroom and Quinoa Soup

  • 2 cups vegetable broth
  • 3 cups water
  • 1lb sliced mushrooms, cut in half or thirds
  • 2 cups raw quinoa
  • 3 shallots, sliced
  • 2 tsp fresh ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp fresh ground white pepper
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 2 tsp garlic powder
  • 3 cloves minced garlic
  • Salt to taste
  1. Put vegetable broth and water in the pot on medium heat for 5-6 minutes.
  2. Add spices, stirring in between each addition and let simmer for another 5-6 minutes.
  3. Add mushrooms and shallots.
  4. Once it’s boiling, add quinoa and minced garlic. Simmer on low for 15-25 minutes, or until quinoa is cooked through.
  5. Serve with freshly ground black pepper!

Hearts of Palm Salad with Dill Dijon Dressing

For the salad:

  • 2 medium plum tomatoes
  • 2 parisian (or equally small) cucumbers
  • 1/2 white onion
  • 6 hearts of palm (if they are short. if they are long, you only need three). Note: make sure there isn’t extra salt or flavoring, you won’t need it!
  • 1 bunch romaine lettuce
  1. Chop tomatoes, cucumbers and onions into small squares.
  2. Slice hearts of palm (about 2cm each), and then in half.
  3. Separate lettuce and then slice into 2 inch pieces.
  4. Toss gently.

For the dressing:

  • 1 Tbsp Gluten Free Dijon Mustard
  • 2 Tbsp Red Wine Vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp garlic powder
  1. Combine all ingredients until mustard has incorporated into the olive oil.
  2. Drizzle on the salad, tossing well so it’s fully covered.
  3. Enjoy!

Talia spends a lot of her time in the kitchen preparing copious amounts of experimental foods, which she tests on her very patient and consequently well-fed family and friends. Although she came to the states from Israel when she was just a toddler, she retains her love of loud, passionate discussions and homemade hummus. When she is not in “balabuste” mode, she makes a living composing, singing and performing. Talia also gives workshops to young singers to teach them healthy vocal, performance and audition technique.

Very Israeli Stuffed Vegetables

— by Margo Sugarman

Stuffed vegetables are prevalent in many Middle Eastern and  European countries, each with their own twist and their own flavor profiles. The Greek gemista stuffed veggies will use pine nuts, cinnamon and mint; Italian verdure ripieni include Parmesan cheese and bread crumbs; filfil rumi mahsi, Egyptian stuffed peppers, use allspice, currants and tumeric; Balakan stuffed peppers (names vary by country, but are called punjena paprika in Serbia, Bosnia and Montenegro) are characterized by their use of paprika; and Ashkenazi stuffed cabbage, naturally, has a sweet sauce.

The full recipe after the jump.
My favorite are Israeli stuffed vegetables. I think that the version we make in my house (my husband is the stuffed vegetables master) is a combination of the best of all the recipes, with all the exciting and palate tickling flavors that define Israeli cuisine. The addition of hot paprika, cumin, chili and coriander give this recipe its distinctive Israeli character.

Admittedly, making stuffed vegetables is a bit of a project, but the results are mouthwatering. The combination of meat, vegetables and rice all in one dish also means that once you’ve made this, you don’t need a whole lot more to round out a full meal, so it may take some time, but it really is a meal in a pot.

The Israeli version does not discriminate when it comes to the vegetables. Any vegetable that can be scooped out or can wrap around the filling can be used in this dish. We generally use peppers, zucchini and onions, but you can also use tomatoes, cabbage, eggplant, or any other vegetable that can be stuffed. This recipe can also be made as vegetarian by simple omitting the meat. It’s just as delicious without it and is a great vegetarian main course.

ISRAELI STUFFED VEGETABLES
Ingredients

  • Vegetables to stuff: About 6 red peppers; 4 thick zucchinis halved; 1 large onion. (Quantities will vary depending on the size of the veggies)
  • ½ kg (1lb) minced beef
  • 1 cup raw long grained rice (Basmati is best)
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 large onions finely chopped
  • 4-6 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 100 g (4 oz) tomato paste
  • 1 grated carrot
  • ½ small chili chopped
  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric
  • ½ teaspoon cumin
  • ½ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • ¼ hot paprika
  • Salt and pepper
  • 4 tablespoons chopped fresh coriander
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup chicken stock

For tomato broth:

  • 1 800g (28 oz) can chopped tomatoes
  • 200 g (8 oz) tomato paste
  • About 4 cups of chicken stock (or as much as required to cover the vegetables once they’re in the pot)
  • ¼ teaspoon cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon sweet paprika
  • 2 cloves of garlic crushed
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • Salt and pepper
  1. Prepare the vegetables: For the peppers, slice around the top of the pepper, near the stem and remove the “lid”, setting aside. Remove the seeds and pulp. For the zucchini, from the cut side, using a very small teaspoon or an apple corer, remove the seeds making sure you don’t pierce the bottom. For the onion, place the peeled onion in a pot of boiling water and cook for about 5 minutes. Then make a cut from the top to the bottom of the onion and carefully remove as many of the large outer layers of the onion as you can and set aside.
  2. In a large wok or skillet, heat up the olive oil. Saute the chopped onion until soft. Add the garlic and saute for less than a minute, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the mince and cook until there is no longer any pink meat. (For vegetarian, omit the meat) Add the 100g tomato paste and mix. Add the rest of the herbs and spices and saute for another few minutes until it’s all releasing lots of wonderful aromas. Add the stock and mix.
  3. Remove from the heat and add the rice, mixing well till combined. Add some of this mixture to each vegetable – fill to no higher than 1 cm from the top of the vegetable and fill it loosely as the rice will expand when cooking. For the onion, place one or two sheets of onion on a clean surface and put about 1 tablespoon of filling in the middle and loosely wrap the onion around the filling so that there is a double layer of onion around the filling. You can do the same for cabbage leaves that you have also boiled in water for a few minutes.
  4. Place the peppers bottom side down in a large, wide pot, and place the “lids” of the peppers back on top (this is just for show). Add the rest of the vegetables in the spaces, making sure the openings are facing upward.
  5. Mix together the ingredients for the tomato broth and pour over the vegetables, making sure the liquid covers all the vegetables. This is essential to ensure that all the rice cooks.
  6. Cover the pot. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the rice begins to overflow from the peppers and the vegetables are all cooked.

Serves: about 6-8.

Margo Sugarman is the creator of The Kosher Blogger, a celebration of keeping kosher and loving good food.

Wasabi Eggplant

— By Ben Brewer

I was trying to think of a new way to make roasted eggplant more interesting, glanced over to my spice shelf and saw some wasabi paste.

So… while roasting the eggplant I whipped together a tahina based wasabi sauce and the result was really tasty. Try it out and let know what you think about this Israeli/Japanese fusion-ish dish.

The full recipe after the jump.
Wasabi Roasted Eggplant Salad

Ingredients: (all measurements are approximate)

  • Medium sized eggplants – 2, roasted
  • Cilantro – 1/3 cup chopped
  • Tahina paste (raw) – 1/2 cup
  • Soy sauce – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Canola oil – 1/2 tablespoon
  • Wasabi – 1.5 tablespoons
  • Pepper – to season

Instructions:

  1. Roast the eggplants on a gas burner until skin is charred and the inside is cooked and soft. 3 minutes per side should be enough. Once done, put in a bowl and cover with a towel to keep in steam. Once cook, scrape off charred skin and place the flesh in a mixing bowl.
  2. Mix tahina paste, soy sauce, wasabi, oil and pepper until mixed well and smooth. Add to eggplant and fold in well.
  3. Add chopped cilantro and serve with bread, pita or on its own. Can be served warm or cold.

Ben Brewer is the founder of Israel Food Tours, in which he brings us his unique and in-depth knowledge of the Israeli culinary scene.