Traditional Jewish Food

JNS.org covers traditional Jewish food around the world and in Israel, as well as news from the Kosher food industry. Mollie Katzen, who is listed by the New York Times as one of the best-selling cookbook authors of all time and has been named by Health Magazine as one of “The Five Women Who Changed the Way We Eat,” is a regular contributor. To select another topic, choose from the other content “categories” in our navigation bar.

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Having paid their dues on the Brooklyn food scene, emerging young chefs Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz are on a mission to reclaim and revolutionize Ashkenazi cuisine. The millennial duo’s mission starts with their book, “The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods,” which was released in September and could make for the perfect Hanukkah gift as the holiday approaches this month. Alpern and Yoskowitz, who were featured in Forbes’s “30 Under 30” list for food and wine in 2014, are drawing praise from prominent chefs. “It’s no small feat to retain the character of an old, emotionally held culinary culture while imparting fresh life to the standards,” said Mollie Katzen, a bestselling author-illustrator of vegetarian cookbooks. “Jeffrey and Liz nailed it, not only with outstanding recipes but also with history and stories and context, impeccably written.”

On the Shavuot holiday, Dawn Lerman's dad looked forward to "little packages of love"—aka cheese blintzes. Lerman had made them from scratch several times with her maternal grandmother Beauty before the family moved from Chicago to New York City, but never by herself. When she called her grandmother for guidance, Beauty advised, “The trick to not being overwhelmed making the blintzes is to do it in two parts. In the evening, make the crepes for the shell and fill them so they would have time to set overnight and be ready for frying in the morning.” Lerman, a New York Times wellness blogger and a nutritionist, offers a gluten-free twist on Beauty's cheese blintzes for Shavout—ensuring that the "little packages of love" can be enjoyed without the guilt.

The art and creation of an inspired Passover meal can be challenging. For some, making the same recipes each year represents tradition, comfort, and familiarity, and for others like me, trying new recipes makes me excited to come to the table and share new tastes with others. The effort and energy one extends to prepare for family on any holiday creates a connection and the memories for one’s family that will be cherished forever. Elizabeth Kurtz is motivated to inspire people to taste new dishes, to broaden their palate, or mostly to enjoy the moments they spend in the kitchen preparing for Passover. She presents her tips and tricks to making Passover cooking easy and delicious, followed by three Passover-friendly recipes—soup, main course, and dessert—from her kosher cookbook, “CELEBRATE.”

“A good relationship, like a good recipe, requires balance—three cups of wisdom to every one cup of sugar,” says Beauty, Jewish author and nutritionist Dawn Lerman’s beloved grandmother and revered role model, capturing the flavor of the New York Times wellness blogger’s food-centric memoir. Grandma Beauty bakes important morals into Lerman’s “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes.” The detailed memories recounted in this well-paced narrative—punctuated by delicious-sounding home recipes—depict the healing power of good food, but also the divisions or voids that unhealthy eating habits can create among family members, writes book reviewer Jeffrey Barken.

Growing up, the fact that Jewish author and nutritionist Dawn Lerman preferred fresh seafood and vegetables to soggy SpaghettiO’s for dinner somehow irked her mother, making her feel unappreciated and angered. Lerman was not your typical kid, and her parents—a 450-pound dad and a flamboyant stage mom—were not your typical parents. The combination of their unique quirks and habits was often toxic and unsettling. So for Lerman, the thought of going to overnight camp, where she wouldn’t need to worry about what diet her dad was on or if she would have enough money for food, was a welcome relief. Yes, she actually went to summer camp not for the activities, but for the food. Lerman reflects on her camp experience and provides a recipe for fruit-infused bug juice.

For most of his 29 years, this Brooklyn boy has been spoiled rotten when it comes to kosher food, living in New York City, Los Angeles, and Teaneck, N.J., three of America's top kosher-restaurant towns. He had access to kosher cuisine of all shapes, sizes, flavors, and countries of origin. Gourmet, greasy, and everything in between. The he moved to Houston, home to a strikingly "ordinary" kosher scene. What is the Brooklyn boy to do? The savior was the upscale Genesis Steakhouse, whose owner was among the seven chefs featured Feb. 22 at Houston's 15th Gourmet Kosher Extravaganza. But how did an annual kosher extravaganza come to be in Houston, of all places? Jacob Kamaras explains.

In her recently published memoir “My Fat Dad: A Memoir of Food, Love, and Family, with Recipes,” New York Times wellness blogger and nutritionist Dawn Lerman shares her food journey and that of her father, a copywriter from the “Mad Men” era of advertising. Dawn spent her early childhood in Chicago constantly hungry as her ad man father pursued endless fad diets from Atkins to Pritikin, and insisted that Dawn and her mother adopt his diets to help keep him on track. As a child, Dawn felt undernourished both physically and emotionally, except for one saving grace: the loving attention she received from her maternal grandmother, Beauty. JNS.org presents an adapted excerpt from Chapter 1 of “My Fat Dad,” in addition to a recipe for a healthier version of Beauty’s hamantaschen for Purim.

In the 1930s, Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta began to investigate the hidden ingredients inside mass-produced foods and to evaluate whether those ingredients conflict with kosher laws. He then set a precedent by getting The Coca-Cola Company to make a kosher-for-Passover version of its soft drink, convincing the company to substitute the grain alcohol used in the processing of its drink to alcohol derived from molasses. Geffen’s achievement was a response to the fact that in the 1920s, “Coke became an incredibly popular beverage in America,” and “Jews adopted a custom of making it available to children during the Passover seder in lieu of wine,” said historian Roger Horowitz, author of the new book “Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food.” This step by Coca-Cola stood out at a time when few mainstream food manufacturers were making kosher-for-Passover products. JNS.org explores the history and its influence on the modern-day Passover food industry.

Chef and best-selling author Paula Shoyer returns to JNS.org with recommendations that she guarantees will match the Passover culinary tradition while simultaneously enlivening your seder. On her menu this year: seder plate salad, seared tuna with olives and capers, and gluten-free Linzer tart.

Several Viennese Jews have made a lasting impact on the world. Sigmund Freud’s investigations changed the face of modern psychology. Composer Arnold Schoenberg’s innovations in atonal music changed the face of music. These days, even more Jews—in particular, Israeli Jews—are changing the face of Vienna’s culinary scene with innovations in…the art of the pita.

It’s widely known that Israel has penetrated the wine market, with some of its sophisticated Israeli blends surpassing historically excellent wines from areas such as the Napa Valley or Bordeaux. But what about beer? For decades, Israel has offered solely the Maccabi and Nesher brands. Not anymore. “There is a huge push of people making beer at home. The country is approaching over 30 craft breweries in the last year or two, making nearly 200 beers,” says Avi Moskowitz, owner and founder of Beer Bazaar, Israel’s latest brewery and bar, which is located in Jerusalem.

Food innovation is the next course in the storied U.S.-Israel partnership. Rutgers University’s Food Innovation Center and Tel-Hai College in Israel’s northern Galilee recently announced the New Jersey-Israel Healthy, Functional, and Medical Food Alliance, a venture that will create synergies between start-ups and more established food businesses in America’s so-called “Garden State” and the Jewish state. The key players are Member of Knesset Erel Margalit and Lou Cooperhouse, director of the Rutgers Food Innovation Center. Among other things, the alliance will explore personalizing food based on individuals’ metabolic makeup. “The goal is hopefully [that] someday we will all be taking fewer pills, eating better, and maybe eating foods that have some clinical efficacy that can mitigate disease or be proactive for health and wellness,” Cooperhouse says.

It is a truth universally acknowledged thatwe can never get tired of Hanukkah latkes and sufganiyot (the holiday’s deep-fried jelly doughnuts). But there’s no harm in adding some culinary variety to this year’s Festival of Lights. Pastry chef Paula Shoyer offers a doughnut recipe with a twist as well as two alternative recipes that are great for Hanukkah and will satisfy any sweet tooth. 

Babka. Strudel. Stollen. Danish pastry. Not to mention Gugelhopf and Charlotte. The names set the mouth to watering and conjure up lovingly concocted pastries that feed the body and comfort the soul. If you didn’t have a grandmother who baked these delicacies, you wish that you had. The newly published “A Jewish Baker’s Pastry Secrets,” arriving just in time for Rosh Hashanah, enables the cook to bring a meal to its magnificent conclusion. The concoctions are so numerous and sound so delicious, one wonders how the author was ever able to choose what to bake.

Rugelach (singular: rugala) are a beloved Jewish pastry, with a quirky history to boot, but they often present a kosher conundrum. Though parve rugelach are often a preferred dessert after a meat meal for those observing kosher laws (which stipulate a waiting period between eating meat and dairy), some of today’s most popular rugelach are known for their dairy fillings. “Kosher bakeries sell versions that are dry and filled with over-processed fillings, giving the cookies a fake, too-sweet taste,” says kosher pastry chef Paula Shoyer. “As a result, I rarely buy them, or even eat them, at kosher events. The only rugelach I have enjoyed in years are from Zabar’s in New York, and those are good because they are made with butter and have so much chazerei (Yiddish for junk) in the filling.”

The new Clearly Kosher® bottled water brand says its product is, “Better than perfect.”™ What might not be so clear to Jewish consumers, however, is why water would need to brand itself as “kosher.” Kosher experts tell JNS.org that there are advantages to having a kosher certification even when a particular product doesn't need one. “It is all marketing. ... There is a perception among consumers in general that when something is kosher certified, it is enhanced—that may or may not be true,” says Dr. Avrom Pollak, president of the Star-K certifier.

Standing between a display table full of touchscreen tablets and a colorful spread of Israeli cuisine favorites, World Jewish Heritage Organization (WJH) founder Jack Gottlieb delivers a toast. “Israelis like projects,” he says. “We wanted to create a Jewish UNESCO and Jewish TripAdvisor in a combined application.” Gottlieb’s references to the U.N. agency and the travel website combine to describe a new interactive mobile app being launched by WJH, which is also rolling out an eBook on Jewish and new Israeli cuisine titled, “Israel’s Top 100 Ethnic Restaurants.” On Jan. 14 in New York City, WJH hosted “Celebration of Jewish Ethnic Flavors,” a cocktail hour and dinner event to launch the eBook.

In December 2007, leaders of the Hazon nonprofit drafted seven-year goals for what they coined as the “Jewish Food Movement,” whose emergence has led to the increased prioritization of healthy eating, sustainable agriculture, and food-related activism in the Jewish community. What do the next seven years hold in store? “One thing I would like to see happen in the next seven years is [regarding] the issue of sugar, soda, and obesity, [seeing] what would it be like to rally the Jewish community to take on this issue and do something about it,” says Nigel Savage, Hazon’s founder and president. Ahead of Hazon's eighth annual Food Conference, JNS.org interviews various leaders and followers of the Jewish Food Movement—most of whom started or increased their involvement in the movement due to the conference.

At the turn of the century, a young Jewish immigrant arrived in New York. So begins the history of many American Jewish families. It is Albert Allaham's story, too, with a few unusual twists. He arrived in the U.S. almost 100 years after the massive waves of European Jewish immigration. Rather than coming from some small town along the Danube, Albert's shtetl was Damascus. His first American business was not a pushcart on the Lower East Side, but rather a family-run butcher shop in Brooklyn. “Allaham” means “butcher” in Arabic, making it an appropriate name for a family with more than 200 years of experience in the meat business. Now, Albert is making his mark in the world of fine kosher dining at Reserve Cut, the elegant restaurant he opened in lower Manhattan in 2013.

Omelet sandwich: 5 shekels. Turkish coffee: 5 shekels. Tuna sandwich: 5 shekels. Fresh-squeezed orange juice: 5 shekels. Cheese burekas: 5 shekels. There’s plenty more on the Cofizz menu, but you get the idea. Dani Mizrahi and Amir Amshalm, two Israeli men in their early 30s, had an idea: Why not run a take-out food joint in busy neighborhoods around Jerusalem where everything costs the same thing? Five shekels converts to about $1.50. “We are in this business not only to make money,” says Mizrahi. “We also want to help people make it.”