A Remembrance of Things Past

Most people talk about eating three squares a day — unless you’re a Brit, in which case there’s also tea, or a hobbit (second breakfast, elevensies) or a stoner (Taco Bell’s Fourth Meal). For the Jews, that somewhere-in-between meal is called kiddush.

Following Shabbat services, Jews gather, ritually sanctify wine – the root of the word kiddush – and have a bite to eat. In some congregations, that bite might be a crunchy cookie called kichel and a piece of gefilte fish or herring on a toothpick, all washed down with a shot of schnaps. Or, it could be a sit-down luncheon where the group breaks bread together (its own extremely important ritual), and then eats kugel, salads and maybe some bagels.

Sylvie actually texted me about one she went to on Saturday morning which involved a veggie cholent, sable, whitefish salad and several whiskeys — all at 10:30AM. Some congregations have an early start – think 7:30AM on a Saturday – which means they get out early, before 11. (Yes, our prayers take about three hours to complete. I’m always amazed that Mass takes an hour, homily included.)

Syl’s kiddush report reminded me of the kiddush of my childhood. It’s strange now that I think about it, because, due to merger and attrition, neither my mom and stepdad’s congregation nor my father’s exist anymore. But on Saturday morning, if I wasn’t in services, I’d be helping prep platters of cookies and visiting with the kitchen crew, many of whom, like the congregations themselves, have also passed on.

At my mom’s shul, Ruthie ran things. When Syl started talking about the kiddush, I remembered Ruthie’s broccoli salad. It was crunchy and sweet, with the perfect touch of bite from red onion. About 20 years ago the congregation put together a cookbook of Ruthie’s dishes. I called my mom for the recipe but quickly realized that I would need to adjust the measurements of things. (A cup of mayo? Ick.)

I recreated Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad for dinner tonight. Rich was at a meeting, and I had the perfect amount of broccoli in the fridge for one serving. My stomach is not a fan of raw broccoli, so I steamed mine, but only for a minute or two. This salad calls for a crunch. The recipe here serves one, but obviously, it can be doubled, tripled, quadrupled — enough for a whole congregation.

Ruthie’s Broccoli Salad

Ingredients

1 ½  cups broccoli, cleaned

2 teaspoons red onion, finely chopped

3 teaspoons golden raisins

Dressing

1 Tablespoon mayonnaise

2 teaspoons sugar

2 teaspoons white vinegar

Whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over broccoli, onions and raisins. Refrigerate for several hours.

Heat and Serve

The evolutionary biologist (and outspoken atheist) Richard Dawkins theorizes that the act of applying heat to food was what enabled our early ancestors to gain the nutrients to evolve. Cooking, in other words, is what makes us human.

I hadn’t thought much about this idea until a few months ago, when I found myself trying to explain the intricacies of cooking on Shabbos. I won’t go into exacting detail here; entire books have been written, and degrees have been earned, about the process. But the person I was helping was absolutely fascinated with the idea that, in according to Jewish law, applying heat to raw ingredients actually creates a new substance, which is forbidden. That’s what cooking is: the application of heat to create something new.

I roasted some root vegetables at my parents’ house earlier this week, and my mom asked what I had added to the mix. “Nothing,” I replied. “It was just olive oil and salt. And, I added heat.” I had taken raw, inedible parsnips and potatoes, added heat, and created a spectacular side dish. In college, I used to create a marinade for my roasted roots, with things like tamari and balsamic vinegar, which created a savory crust to the vegetables.

This simple recipe from Melissa Clark’s newest, Cook This Now, is the perfect example of the application of heat to create something entirely new and unexpected. A simple rutabaga, which I learned this year from Ottolenghi can be spectacular raw, has been cooked this time into a warm dish for a cold night. And it’s cheap; today at Russo’s, rutabagas were 29 cents a pound. Granted, maple syrup is expensive, but I get mine at Ocean State Job Lot for a fraction of what it would cost elsewhere.

Roasted Rutabagas with Maple Syrup and Chile from Cook This Now by Melissa Clark

Ingredients

1 ½ pounds rutabagas, peeled and cut into ¾ inch cubes

2 Tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 Tablespoon maple syrup

¾ teaspoon kosher salt

1/8 teaspoon cayenne

Directions

Preheat oven to 400F.

In a large bowl, combine the rutabagas, oil, maple syrup, salt and cayenne; toss well to combine. Spread the rutabagas in a single layer on a large baking sheet. Roast, tossing occasionally, until the rutabagas are tender and dark golden, about 40 minutes.

Clark adds that if you’re not a rutabaga person to feel free to use whatever root vegetables you are enjoying at the moment.

Pot of Gold

Call it kismet, call it destiny, call it Lady Luck, but there is something afoot in my kitchen. A few weeks back, as we were enjoying stuffed pumpkin at a Friday night dinner, I become just a tad wistful talking about my love of cholent, a stew prepped on Friday afternoon, put on a low-flame and cooked overnight so it’s ready the next day for Shabbat lunch. Alas, I lost my Crock-Pot sometime between moving from Harlem to Lower Allston. Such is life, I thought to myself, and helped myself to another piece of pumpkin.

The next day, I set out to take a walk down by the river to watch some of the Head of Charles (read: to eat free food samples down by the river). As I weaved my way through my neighborhood, I stumbled upon a tag sale. And there it was: a Crock-Pot! After inquiring with the Crock-Pot seller about the safety of a Crock-Pot with a $15 price tag – they had just gotten married and were selling things they had doubles of – I convinced them to set it aside.

That Monday morning my sister popped up on Gchat and randomly asked me if and when I was going to post some slow-cooker recipes. “Funny you should ask that,” I typed.

We’ve had some freakishly warm weather this fall, so I was slow to put my new find to use. This past weekend, however, I decided to get a few things in order in the kitchen. I spent an afternoon tidying my pantry by putting dried beans and grains into empty glass Bell jars. Things did look extra-spiffy at the end of my task, but my actions served a deeper purpose: to keep creepy crawling things out of my food. I also did some electronic tidying, sorting through all my emails that contained recipes — 538 to be exact, including several featuring slow cooker recipes I’d tucked away, just in case.

I’ve started digging through the myriad of Crock-Pot recipes, but I’m going to start things off with that cholent I dreamed about.

I started this project two days before. Right before I went to bed, I placed 1 and 1/2 cups of dried cranberry beans to soak overnight. (A quick word about dried beans: Given the new information about BPA levels in canned foods, I am going to now exclusively use dried beans when I cook with legumes, and you should, too. OK, enough lecturing.)

When I came home from work the next day, I assembled the rest of the cholent. I set the cooker to low and left it on overnight. When we woke up in the morning the house had the smell I’d been pining for. Or, as Rich sang, “It’s beginning to smell a lot like cholent.” I kept the pot on low and went to work. I think the cholent would have been ready by mid-morning and certainly for lunch. If I wasn’t at work, I’d most likely be eating bowls of this all day long.

You’ll notice that I’ve topped mine off with a dollop of Greek yogurt. I know some of you won’t be able to do that final step, but if you can, I promise you it’s terrific. You can also leave out the eggs and keep this dish vegan, but I love the deep flavor of the slow roasted egg. I also left salt out of the Crock-Pot and added it to taste when all was said and done.

Vegetarian Cholent with Cumin and Aleppo Pepper

Ingredients
1 and 1/2 cups of dried beans (I used cranberry, but I think chickpea would also be great in this version) soaked overnight
1/2 cup barley
1 carrot, peeled and chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 onion halved and quartered
2 cloves garlic, smashed
1 large potato or 2 small potatoes, peeled, halved and chopped into quarters
1 turnip, peeled, halved and quartered (a rutabaga would also be very nice)
Approximately 2 1/2 cups water, depending on the size of your crockpot
2 bay leaves
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
2 eggs

Directions
On the night before you want to serve the cholent, place all ingredients in your Crock-Pot, except for the eggs. I prefer giving everything a stir so that the spices swirl and cover the vegetables, then place the eggs on top of everything else. Cover, turn Crock-Pot to low, and walk away. In the morning, check to see if everything is sufficiently moist. If things look dry, add a half cup water. Turn the eggs over.

For the yogurt: when ready to serve, mix 1/2 teaspoon ground cumin, 1/2 teaspoon ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon aleppo pepper, juice of half of one lemon and a pinch of salt into 3/4 cup of Greek yogurt. I also tried a plain scoop of yogurt on top of today’s lunch. Both were delicious; it will really be up to you how much you want to explore the added spices.