JEWISH FOOD & CULTURE

Version 2When we moved to Orange County in 1972, I was thrilled to find a bagel shop a mere two-minute drive away. Our Sunday habit, forged in New York, of relaxing with the Sunday papers over bagels and lox would continue. The first Sunday I went out to get bagels, and – you guessed it – the store was closed on Sundays. “Where have we moved?” I thought.

Food plays such a significant role in our Jewish culture that it’s hard to think of our holidays, customs and traditions without it. And yet the vast majority of what we think of as Jewish food was borrowed from others. The word “bagel” derives from the German word “beigen” meaning to bend, and “our” bagel actually descends from the German pretzel. Even the ancient Romans ate a boiled and baked roll with a hole. Bagels became commonplace in Poland and the Baltic states by the 17th century, and beginning in the 1880s waves of Eastern European immigrants brought the bagel to America. Until the 50s they were baked in little cellar operations in New York’s Lower East Side, and I remember well, growing up, the Saturday night ritual of stopping for fresh bagels, hot out of the oven, at a bagel factory above the elevated train in Arverne, Long Island, after the movies.

New York’s Lower East Side is still “bagel central” – with all its toppings, schmears and accompaniments – for legions of New Yorkers and tourists heading to Russ & Daughters, where legendary cookbook author Dorie Greenspan was inspired to create her Lower East Side Brunch Tart.

“Think bagels and lox, the Sunday morning meal of millions of New Yorkers, Jewish or not,” writes Greenspan in her new cookbook “Everyday Dorie” (Rux Martin, $35). “But to say ‘bagels and lox’ is to shortchange the dish. What you want with your bagel and smoked salmon – lox is one kind – is ‘the works’: cream cheese, red onions, capers, dill and tomato. And that’s what you get in this tart.”

I met up with Greenspan recently at Melissa’s Produce in Vernon where she introduced her cookbook and demonstrated a few of the recipes we tasted at a buffet luncheon from the book.

“This book is different from all the others,” she noted. “It’s the food I really love. This is my Connecticut book. Where I live it’s a one-hour round-trip for a quart of milk. It’s basic and practical, cooking from my refrigerator door and my pantry. These truly everyday recipes are based on what I can get at my local Stop & Shop.”

Best known for her baking cookbooks, Greenspan has only one rule: “You must have dessert.” Not surprisingly, there’s no shortage in this book! Blueberry Buttermilk Bundt Cake, Apple Custard Crisp, Chewy Chocolate Chip Cookies, Tangerine-Topped Cheesecake, Caramel Pear and Five-Spice Upside-Down Cake, to name a few– all doable, clearly explained and unintimidating. “The only fancy cake in the book is the Triple Layer Parsnip and Cranberry Cake,” she said. Yes, you heard that right: parsnips, “a vegetable that may not spring to mind immediately when you’re thinking cake. I’m sure this is how people felt when carrot cakes were new. I love when a recipe has a surprise.”

When someone told her, “You cook so healthfully,” Greenspan herself was surprised. “I hadn’t thought about it. I cook for deliciousness. I’m not a fussy cook. I think the food is beautiful on its own. I’m going for the taste.”

Stuffed cabbage, that ubiquitous (and labor intensive!) beloved dish among Ashkenazi Jews, also has an international ancestry, including Turkish, Persian, Ukrainian, Polish, Russian and Hungarian roots, to name a few.

Greenspan’s recipe comes from her mother-in-law. “She was a really good cook,” she recalled. “She would always give you every ingredient in the recipe, but when I made it, it was dry. Then I discovered her secret ingredient: ketchup, idiosyncratic but one I’d argue for.

 

Lower East Side Brunch Tart

 

Makes 6 servings

You can prebake the crust up to 2 months ahead and keep it, wrapped airtight, in the freezer.

 

One 9- to 9 1/2-inch tart shell made with Pâte Brisée, partially baked and cooled

11/2 ounces cream cheese, cut into small bits or chunks

3 ounces smoked salmon, finely chopped (about 1⁄3 cup)

1/4 cup thinly sliced red onion, rinsed and patted dry

3 tablespoons capers, rinsed, patted dry and chopped if large

1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill

3/4 cup heavy cream

2 large eggs

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

12 to 15 cherry tomatoes, halved

  1. Center rack in oven and preheat to 350 degrees F.
  2. Place partially baked tart shell on baking sheet lined with parchment paper or silicone baking mat. Scatter cream cheese over bottom of crust, followed by salmon, onion, capers and dill.
  3. Beat cream and eggs together with salt and pepper in bowl until smooth. Pour this into crust, stopping when you’re just below rim (you might have a few drops left over). Top with tomatoes and very carefully slide baking sheet into oven. Bake tart 40 to 45 minutes, or until puffed and set. A skewer inserted into center will come out clean. If center of tart has risen as much as the sides, you can be certain it’s baked through. Transfer baking sheet to rack and let rest at least 15 minutes before serving — it’s best just warm or at room temperature.

 

Pâte Brisée

 

Makes 9- to 9 1/2-inch crust, for a 9- to 9 1/2-inch fluted tart pan with a removable bottom or a 9-inch pie pan

 

1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon sugar

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt

6 tablespoons very cold unsalted butter, cut into bits

1 large egg

1 teaspoon ice water

 

Working ahead

You can refrigerate dough up to 3 days or freeze it up to 2 months. While you can freeze the fully baked crust, wrapped airtight, for up to 2 months, I prefer to freeze it unbaked in the pan, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil, with the foil pressed against the crust to create as tight a seal as possible. Bake it directly from the freezer – it will have a fresher flavor. Just add about 5 minutes to the baking time.

 

  1. Put flour, sugar and salt in food processor and pulse to blend. Scatter pieces of butter over dry ingredients and pulse until butter is cut in coarsely – you’ll have some pieces the size of oatmeal flakes and some the size of peas. Beat egg and water together and add to machine in 3 additions, pulsing after each bit goes in. Then whir until dough forms moist clumps and curds – you’re aiming for a moist dough that holds together when pinched.
  2. Shape dough into a disk, pat it down to flatten and put it between sheets of parchment paper. Roll dough out evenly, turning it over frequently and lifting paper often so that it doesn’t roll into the dough and form creases. Roll dough into circle about 11 inches in diameter. If you’re making a pie now, have a buttered 9-inch pan and baking sheet at hand. If dough is still cool, fit it into the tart (or pie) pan now; if it’s not, slide it, still between the paper, onto baking sheet and refrigerate 2 hours, or up to 3 days; or freeze 1 hour, or (well wrapped) up to 2 months. If you’re chilling or freezing for more than a few hours, wrap dough airtight.
  3. If dough has been chilled, let it rest on counter until it’s just pliable enough to bend without breaking. Remove paper, fit dough into buttered tart pan and trim excess dough even with edge of pan. (If you’d like, you can fold excess over and make a thinker wall around sides of tart.) Prick crust all over with tines of fork and freeze at least 30 minutes – an hour or two is better – or up to 2 months before baking.
  4. Center rack in oven and preheat to 400°F. Butter shiny side of piece of aluminum foil and fit it snuggly against crust. Fill with dried beans or rice (which you can reuse for crust, but not for eating). Bake crust 25 minutes, then carefully remove foil and weights. If crust has puffed, press it down gently with back of spoon. Transfer crust to a rack (leave it in its pan) for partially baked crust. Or for a fully baked crust, bake crust another 7 to 10 minutes, or until firm and golden brown. Transfer crust to a rack (leave it in its pan).

 

Stuffed Cabbage

 

Cabbage bundles:

1 large head green cabbage (regular or Savoy)

1 1/2 pounds ground chuck

1/2 pound kosher sausage meat (sweet, hot, or combination or equal amount ground chuck)

1 medium onion, finely chopped, rinsed and patted dry

2 shallots, finely chopped, rinsed and patted dry

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup basmati or other long-grain rice

Grated zest of 1 lemon

1/4 cup ketchup

1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce

 

Sauce and add-ins:

2 (28-ounce) cans whole tomatoes, coarsely chopped, with their juice

1/3 cup unsweetened apple juice

3 tablespoons brown sugar

2 tablespoons cider vinegar

1 teaspoon fine sea salt

Pinch cayenne pepper

1 onion, sliced, rinsed and patted dry

1 apple, grated

 

  1. Prepare cabbage: Bring large pot of water to a boil. Meanwhile, pull off and discard any tough outer leaves from cabbage. Turn cabbage upside down and, working carefully with heavy knife, cut out core. I usually have to do this in increments –cutting out a divot and then going back in to cut away more. Pull off outer 18 or so leaves (largest on the head). Drop a couple of leaves at a time into the boiling water and leave them there for a minute or two, just until they are softened. Shake off excess water as you remove leaves from pot and pat dry. Working with one leaf at a time, spread it out on cutting board with outer part (side where the thick center rib sticks up) facing up. Using paring knife or strong vegetable peeler, cut or shave down thick rib so that it’s (kind of) even with the leaf and, most important, flexible. Don’t worry about being precise. Set trimmed leaves aside; they are the ones you’ll stuff. Thinly slice remaining cabbage (think thick-cut coleslaw) and set aside for sauce.
  2. In bowl, mix together ground chuck, sausage and remaining cabbage bundle ingredients in bowl as though you were making meatballs – be thorough, but try not to knead or work stuffing too much.
  3. Lay cabbage leaf inner (cup) side up on work surface. Shape about 1/4 cup stuffing into a little log. Place log horizontally across cabbage, keeping it within bottom third of leaf, and lift bottom of leaf up and against the meat – or over it, if you have enough leaf. Fold two sides over log and then start rolling log up in leaf until you get to top. (Imagine you’re making a burrito and cabbage leaf as the tortilla.) Make roll as compact as you can and secure seam with toothpick. Repeat with remaining leaves and stuffing.
  4. Center rack in oven and preheat to 350°F. Pour chopped tomatoes and juice into large bowl; stir in apple juice, brown sugar, vinegar, salt and cayenne. In another bowl, toss together sliced onion, grated apple and reserved sliced cabbage.
  5. Pour 1/3 of sauce into large Dutch oven or large ovenproof sauté pan with a lid. Cover with half the apple mixture and top with half the cabbage bundles. Repeat with half the remaining apple mixture and remaining cabbage bundles. Finish with layer of remaining sauce and apple mixture. Cover with parchment paper cut to fit snugly inside pot and against the ingredients (or seal top of pot with aluminum foil). Cover with lid and slide pot into oven.
  6. Cook undisturbed 3 hours. Taste sauce, which will be thin, and add more sugar, vinegar, salt and/or cayenne as needed. Test a cabbage bundle to make certain rice is tender. Unlikely, but if it isn’t, return pot to oven until it is. Served now or cool, refrigerate and reheat when you’re ready. I think flavors get even better after an overnight rest.

 

JLIFE FOOD EDITOR JUDY BART KANCIGOR IS the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.

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