As a generation they’re techno-savvy, civic minded, socially aware and health conscious. They eat out more and cook less than their forebears, and when they do cook, they are more apt to find recipes on the Internet.
Enter Chanie Apfelbaum, creator of the popular blog busyinbrooklyn, who has redefined kosher cooking, with this generation in mind, for her new cookbook “Millennial Kosher” (Mesorah Publications, $34.99).
“I believe there’s a place for reinventing our traditions in a modern way while still staying true to our heritage,” she writes. “Don’t get me wrong. I still love the comfort foods of my youth. There’s really nothing quite like Bubbe’s stuffed cabbage and matzo ball soup. But times have changed, and the kosher food industry has evolved.”
And has it ever! When Madison Avenue talks, the world listens…and buys. Years ago two ad campaigns helped bring kosher food into the mainstream. Remember the one for rye bread, “You don’t have to be Jewish to love Levy’s”? And then there was “We answer to a higher authority” from Hebrew National.
The kosher food market has virtually exploded. Originally the province of Orthodox Jews, kosher food is now one of the fastest growing segments of the food industry. According to industry analysts, only 20 to 33 percent of kosher foods produced worldwide is consumed by Jews. So just who is buying them? Muslims, Seventh Day Adventists, Hindus and others who follow similar dietary restrictions, for starters. With 20 percent of the population lactose intolerant and millions calling themselves vegetarians of one sort or another, plus countless others who are health conscious, it is easy to see why kosher products have wide appeal.
In fact, millennials are credited as the impetus behind the exploding vegetarian/vegan movement. According to Forbes magazine: “The shift toward plant-based foods is being driven by millennials, who are most likely to consider the food source, animal welfare issues, and environmental impacts when making their purchasing decisions.”
Where once kosher cooking signaled the heavy, carb-laden fare of the shtelt, the cuisine has come a long way. Today’s kosher cooks are just as concerned as the rest of the world about serving varied, interesting, attractively presented, healthful meals, and one needn’t be in this age group to aspire to the same.
In this cookbook matzo balls are enhanced with spinach and served with minestrone, Grandma’s Rosh Hashanah brisket morphs into Fall Harvest Apple and Honey Roast, mushroom barley soup appears in risotto, and the plain roast chicken we all grew up on gets a Maple Chili Spatchcock (“the millennial term for butterflying”) makeover.
“The millennial kosher kitchen is one in which food is reinvented and reimagined in new and exciting ways,” Apfelbaum explains. “It includes ingredients that are healthier, fresher, and more vibrant than ever before. Yesterday’s margarine is today’s coconut oil, bone broth is the new chicken soup, and the onion soup mix of our youth is replaced with umami-rich porcini mushroom powder.”
Umami, the so-called fifth taste getting lots of attention lately for its rich, savory intensity – now, there’s a concept one wouldn’t expect to find in the kosher cookbooks of yesteryear. The same could be said of other philosophies expounded in “Millennial Kosher”: lightening up the old favorites, tracking the latest food trends and eating seasonally with the freshest farm-to-table ingredients.
“We are so lucky to live in an era of abundance,” Apfelbaum notes. “While our ancestors were scrubbing laundry by hand and making butter from scratch, we have so much available to us. I’m not above using processed ingredients” – she admits that matzo ball mix and sweet chili sauce are her guilty pleasures – “but overall, I do believe that fresh is best.”
Because the book features the most popular recipes from her blog, Apfelbaum includes many you don’t have to be kosher…or even Jewish…to appreciate: Busy in Brooklyn House Salad with quinoa, kale, chickpeas, pumpkin seeds and dried cranberries; Crockpot BBQ Pulled Beef; Curried Coconut Corn Soup; Chicken Pesto Avocado Wraps, Frangipane Fig Galette, and Chocolate Hazelnut Ganache Tart.
Apfelbaum draws from her husband’s Syrian heritage as well, so you’ll find Sephardic as well Ashkenazic recipes, her Baklava Blintz Bundles being a delightful mash-up of the two cuisines.
“Oh, blintzes, with your creamy (i.e., runny) cheese filling and your delicate (i.e., impossible to master until your batter is almost gone) crêpe, you give me a run for my money,” she writes. “I was determined to come up with a fun twist on blintzes that did not involve standing over the stove ladling batter into a frying pan and swirling it just so, and let me just say, it was not an easy feat.”
You will also encounter more than a nod to the cuisine of Israel, what Joan Nathan refers to as a “mosaic” rather than a “melting pot.” Shakshuka, her “all-time favorite breakfast,” is a good example. “I love changing it up with different ingredients, and serving it for brunch, placing the pan right in the middle of the table, family style,” she says. Through the years her blog has featured many variations, from garbanzo beans to spaghetti squash, eggplant, and even Mexican quinoa shakshuka. The version with ramen featured here is a super-easy take on the classic.
“Today, kosher food is spicier and bolder than the food we grew up eating. There’s an emphasis on fresh and seasonal ingredients, less processed foods, and healthier non-dairy alternatives,” Apfelbaum explains. “Modern kosher food reinterprets and reinvents tradition, while still staying true to our heritage. It’s food that is influenced by culture and cuisine and not limited to, but inspired by, kosher guidelines.”
Baklava Blintz Bundles
1 pound farmer cheese
8 ounces cream cheese (not whipped)
1/3 cup granulated sugar
2 teaspoons lemon juice
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1 egg yolk
5 ounces walnuts (1 cup chopped), toasted
½ cup brown sugar
½ teaspoon cinnamon
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
1 (16-ounce) package phyllo dough, thawed
8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), melted
- Line two baking sheets with parchment paper. Preheat oven to 375°F.
- In a bowl, combine farmer cheese, cream cheese, sugar, lemon juice, vanilla, and egg yolk.
- In food processor, pulse walnuts, brown sugar, cinnamon, and salt to lightly grind. (I prefer a finer grind. If you don’t mind larger pieces of nuts, you may do this step by hand.)
- Lay a sheet of parchment paper on your work surface. Spread 1 sheet phyllo dough onto paper; brush lightly with melted butter. Top with second sheet phyllo dough. Repeat and top with two more sheets of phyllo until you have a stack of four sheets. (Do not brush top layer.) Cut stack into 6 squares. Cover remaining sheets with damp paper towel so they don’t dry out while you fill the first bundles.
- Place one heaping tablespoon cheese mixture in center of phyllo square. Top with 1 tablespoon nut mixture. Gather phyllo dough over filling to form a bundle. Place on prepared baking sheet. Repeat with remaining squares, cheese, and nut mixture until all filling has been used.
- Bake until browned and crisp, about 20 minutes. Remove bundles to wire rack to cool.
YIELD: 3 Servings
2 cups marinara sauce
1 teaspoon sriracha
1½ cups water
2 (3-ounce) packages ramen noodles, flavoring packets discarded
6 large eggs
- green onions, sliced
- teaspoon toasted sesame seeds
1) In skillet, bring marinara sauce, sriracha and water to a simmer. Add ramen noodles; cook until noodles start to soften, about 2 minutes. Flip noodles; continue to cook until block of ramen loosens, another 2 minutes. (Don’t worry if they are not cooked through; they will continue to cook along with the eggs.)
2) With spoon, make a well in sauce. Crack an egg into a small bowl; gently slide it into the well. Repeat, one by one, making wells and sliding in remaining eggs. Cover skillet; cook until egg whites are set, 4-5 minutes. Garnish with scallions and sesame seeds. Serve immediately.
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.