When it comes to celebrating, we Jews have it covered.
After all, we celebrate a holiday every week; it’s called Shabbat. A new cookbook by Faith Kramer, “52 Shabbats: Friday Night Dinners Inspired by a Global Jewish Kitchen” (The Collective, $32.50) is an accessible Shabbat primer inviting everyone, regardless of religious background, to the joy that is the Shabbat table.
“In a way, I wrote the cookbook I wanted to read and use, one that gave perspective to Shabbat, provided lots of background info on traditions, foods, Jewish communities and more, and was full of recipes I would like to make for my friends and family,” Kramer told me by email while on a camping trip.
“I love that Shabbat is the holiday we celebrate every week and that just the very act of intention is what sets it apart. That intention can be a small thing or a bigger effort, but it’s still Shabbat, and I wanted these traditions to be accessible to all kinds of Jewish families no matter what their backgrounds.”
Kramer, a food writer, recipe developer and columnist for “JWeekly,” the Jewish News of Northern California, has drawn on global flavors—South Indian Inspired Fish Cakes with Coconut-Cilantro Chutney, Matzo Ball and Chicken Pizole Soup from Latin America, Oregano Roast Chicken with Leek-and-Mint Fritters from Greece, for example—as well as new twists on traditional flavors.
The recipes are arranged by season, and each recipe is accompanied by a “Make it Shabbat” full menu. I especially appreciate her tying some of the recipes to the holidays that fall within that season. Case in point: Shavuot, which this year begins the evening of Saturday, June 4.
“Shavuot marked the end of the barley harvest and the beginning of the wheat, but became associated with the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai and the 10 Commandments,” she writes. “The Mushroom and Cheese Strudels combine two Shavuot traditions: foods shaped like Torah scrolls and those made with dairy. There were many symbolic explanations for dairy foods being associated with the holiday, but one simple reason is that spring is when milk and other dairy products are plentiful.”
Then she suggests other recipes for the holiday, including Spinach and Dill Phyllo Pies and Mango and Cardamom Mini Cheesecakes. “Tuna Freekah Salad made from smoky roasted greens, connects to the wheat harvest, since freekah is made from young green wheat.”
What makes a recipe Shabbat-worthy? “I think as long as you have the intention of celebrating Shabbat any food can be Shabbat-worthy,” she explained. “Pressed for time or not prepared? Pizza or rotisserie chicken from the store is fine. For the book, I wanted special meals, since to me Shabbat is a holiday meal. I like vibrant flavors and lots of color and texture, so that gets added onto my Shabbat recipe wishlist. The recipes in the book have a connection to Jewish traditions, ingredients, techniques, or symbolism, which I feel adds to their Shabbat-worthiness. I use ingredients in unexpected ways (say, Falafel Pizza with Feta and Herbs or my Middle Eastern Grilled Corn), but I do have some classic Jewish fundamentals that my ‘JWeekly’ readers have asked for repeatedly over the years. This is the food I cook for my friends and family at Shabbat and on weekdays and holidays. And I try to give make-ahead directions wherever I can, since while Shabbat may be a holiday, it is still a workday for many.”
According to rabbi and food historian Gil Marks (of blessed memory), rugelach, which had morphed from a yeast dough pastry to a yeast-less crescent made with sour cream, made its first appearance as cream cheese rugelach in 1950 with the publication of “The Perfect Hostess” by Mildred O. Knopf.
Cream cheese rugelach became a Shavuot treat, and by the 1980s were being mass produced by commercial bakeries, not all of them Jewish. “Whereas cream cheese dough predominates in the United States, Israeli rugelach are still commonly parve and made with a yeast dough and sometimes even paired with a savory filling, such as olives,” he writes.
Rugelach (the word means “little twists” in Yiddish) are rolled and filled crescent shape cookies with roots in Austrian history. As the story goes, in 1793 Austrian bakers celebrated the lifting of the Turkish siege of Vienna by creating pastries with a crescent shape to represent the Ottoman flag. Some say the croissant has similar ancestry. Brushing them with melted butter is a brilliant technique I picked up from my cousin Staci Robbins years ago when she visited from Atlanta on a high school trip. She mentioned her Grandma Claire taught her to do this so that they brown without overbaking—not to mention what it does for the taste.
Mushroom and Cheese Strudels
Serves 4 to 6 as main course, or 8 to 10 as an appetizer
2 tablespoons + 1/2 cup olive oil, divided
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 1/2 cups thinly sliced onions
2 teaspoons minced garlic
1 teaspoon Za’atar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 teaspoons paprika, divided
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 pounds mixed fresh mushrooms, chopped, such as button, cremini, and shiitake
10 (13-17-inch) sheets phyllo dough, at room temperature
1 cup breadcrumbs
6 ounces Brie or Camembert, cut into 1/2–inch chunks and chilled
2 1/2 cups shredded Swiss and/or Gruyère cheese
1/4 cup chopped green onions or chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
1. In 12-inch skillet, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and the butter over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until softened, 5 to 7 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Stir in za’atar, salt, 1/4 teaspoon of paprika and the black pepper.
2. Add mushrooms to skillet in batches, sturdier ones (such as shiitake) first. Sauté until they begin to soften, then add softer ones (such as oyster) until all mushrooms are tender and liquid evaporates. Let cool 5 minutes.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line large baking sheet with parchment paper.
4. Lay phyllo sheets on work surface and cover with clean cloth kitchen towel. (You’ll need 8 sheets. Use extras in case any sheets are badly ripped and you need to patch.)Have ready remaining 1/2 cup olive oil (you probably won’t use it all) and a pastry brush.
5. Place 1 sheet phyllo flat on clean, dry work surface with long side closest to you. Very lightly brush entire surface with oil. Place another sheet directly on top and lightly brush with oil. Repeat with third sheet. Top with fourth sheet. Sprinkle half the breadcrumbs on top, leaving a one–inch margin all around. Starting 1 inch from long side closest to you, spread 1/4 of the mushrooms in two–inch–wide horizontal strip, leaving one–inch margins on both short ends. Evenly scatter have the chilled Brie over mushrooms. Top with another 1/4 of the mushrooms. Scatter 3/4 cup of the shredded cheese over mushrooms. Fold in short sides of phyllo about 1 inch on either side over filling. Starting at long side closest to you, roll phyllo and filling, compressing as you roll to create a compact roll. Using two spatulas, transfer strudel to prepared baking sheet, seam side down, leaving room for second strudel. Repeat with remaining phyllo and filling.
6. Lightly brush tops and sides of strudels with oil. With sharp knife, cut strudels a third of the way through into 6 to 8 slices. Bake 35 minutes, or until just golden. Scatter 1/2 cup shredded cheese on top of each strudel. Sprinkle each with 1/2 teaspoon paprika. Bake 10 to 15 minutes, or until light brown and cheese is melted. Let cool at least 10 minutes before cutting. Cut strudel into slices, following premade cuts, garnish with green onions, and serve warm or at room temperature.
Source: “52 Shabbats” by Faith Kramer
1 pound (4 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 packages (8 ounces each) cream cheese, at room temperature
4 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons sugar
½ teaspoon salt
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon
2½ cups pecans or walnuts, toasted and chopped
1 cup sweetened flaked or shredded coconut
1½ cup raisins
About 1½ cups seedless raspberry or apricot jam
About 5 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
1. Dough: Cream butter and cream cheese on medium speed until blended and smooth. Mix flour with salt and sugar. Reduce speed to low and add gradually until smooth. Wrap well with plastic wrap and refrigerate 2 hours to overnight.
2. Filling: Mix sugar, cinnamon, nuts, coconut and raisins.
3. Preheat oven to 350°F. Line several baking sheets with parchment paper.
4. Divide dough into eight portions and use one at a time, keeping remainder refrigerated. Gently knead dough until soft enough to roll. Roll dough on lightly floured board or between two sheets of waxed or parchment paper, and cut out a 10- to 12-inch round (I use a pot lid with a sharp edge). Spread thin layer of jam over dough to 1/2 inch of the edge. Sprinkle with about 1/2 cup of filling. Using a pizza wheel, cut into 12 wedges (like a pie). Roll up each triangle, starting at large end. With the tip end down, bend each cookie slightly to form a crescent shape. Place on prepared baking sheets and brush with melted butter.
5. Bake, two sheets at a time, on middle third and top third oven racks, rotating sheets from top to bottom and front to back halfway through, until rugelach are lightly golden, 20 to 25 minutes. They will seem soft, but will firm up on cooling. Carefully transfer to a wire rack to cool. Makes 8 dozen
Source: “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor
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.