12.13.2020 Dinner in Brooklyn: A Chanukah Special
Dinner in Brooklyn
Smoked Salmon & Dill Cream Cheese
It was Eastern European immigrants who brought the tradition of smoking and curing fish to New York. Pair that with an abundance of salmon from Nova Scotia, and you’ve got an American classic. Around that same time, dairy farmers in the Philadelphia area had developed a reputation for making the best cream cheese which became particularly popular in New York City, where it was (and still is) known as shmear. It’s not known who first paired bagels, lox & cream cheese, and in doing so created one of the most beloved foods in New York, but this is our homage to the GOAT. Smoked salmon tossed with fresh dill and whipped into the Philadelphia classic. Contains dairy, fish; gluten free.
Liverless "Chopped Liver”
While liverless chopped liver may seem blasphemous, this is actually a nod to the “appetizing” stores of old NYC. Since Kosher law prohibits the consumption of meat and dairy at the same meal, it also prohibits the sale of meat and dairy in the same store. As a result, “appetizing” stores were the counterpart to Jewish delicatessens and were a common sight in NYC in the early 1900s. Where the delis sold smoked and cured meats, the appetizing stores sold dairy, fish and vegetables. Mock Chopped Liver was a common delicacy at these shops and this green bean, walnut and egg rendition is a recreation of what was once a common recipe. Contains eggs, walnuts; gluten free.
Horseradish & Cheddar Schmear
Horseradish is indigenous to Eastern Europe and has been cultivated there since antiquity. It’s become a central part of Ashkenazi Jewish culinary history as a pillar of the Passover Seder, where it may be eaten as Maror in the fulfilment of the mitzvah (commandment) of eating bitter herbs. Outside of Passover, it’s a common condiment at delis in addition to pickled vegetables. Here, we’ve used it to make a sharp cheese spread with white cheddar, radishes, and mustard. Pro tip: this is also delicious with the brisket. Contains dairy; gluten free.
Homemade Honey Rye Crackers
Rye bread was brought to the United States by European immigrants during the “Great Wave” in the late 19th century. It found a home in Jewish delicatessens in NYC where, paired with sliced pastrami, it became an American culinary icon. These rye crackers are peppered with caraway seeds and meant to evoke the flavors of a New York deli, especially when paired with the “shmears” above. Contains gluten; vegetarian.
Jewish Style Braised Brisket
A staple at nearly every Jewish holiday or celebration, brisket first gained popularity in the same way many foods become “classics,” by being cheap and delicious. Before emigrating to the US, Jewish farmers in Europe would sell the more expensive cuts and keep cheaper ones, like brisket, for themselves. Brisket is also inherently Kosher; it comes from the front quarter of an animal with cloven feet, perfect for feeding a crowd at Chanukah! There are as many ways to cook brisket as there are Jewish grandmothers, and we’ve kept ours pretty simple. Brisket is rubbed with salt, pepper, paprika and oregano before being braised with tomatoes, onions and garlic for several hours. Gluten free.
Schmaltz Latkes with Sour Cream
Chanukah is a festival of lights, commemorating the triumph of the Maccabees in driving the Syrians out of Jerusalem and reclaiming the 2nd Temple of the city. As the story goes, during the rededication of the temple, there was only enough oil left to keep the menorah’s candles burning for a single day, but miraculously the flames flickered for eight full days, hence the eight days of Chanukah. Today, as an allusion to the oil in the temple, Jewish families celebrating Chanukah often eat foods fried in oil, chief among them the Latke, a savory fried pancake of potatoes and onions. We’ve opted to fry our Latkes in Schmaltz, the fat rendered from chickens, as it’s a more traditional fat that was used in Eastern Europe and NY prior to the advent of vegetable shortening. And also because it’s delicious. Contains gluten, eggs.
Savory Noodle Kugel
Like brisket, kugels are a mainstay at Jewish celebratory dinners or holiday feasts. Possible kugel combinations are nearly endless, and the dish can range from a potato casserole to a noodle pudding. Although many renditions of kugel are sweet, we’re partial to savory noodle kugel. We tossed eggs noodles with cottage cheese, sour cream, parmesan and chives before being baked to perfection. Contains dairy, gluten; vegetarian.
Red Cabbage and Beet salad
While bagels and brisket became Jewish-American culinary icons, beets fell by the wayside. This dish is a callback to the Eastern European roots of the Ashkenazi Jews. Shredded beets & red cabbage are tossed in a sour cream, honey & dijon dressing and topped with balsamic glazed candied walnuts. This refreshing side falls somewhere between a salad and a slaw and makes an excellent accompaniment to the braised brisket and latkes. Contains dairy, walnuts; vegetarian, gluten free.
Caramel Matzoh Crunch
First published in the kitchen classic A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman, iterations of this simple but addictive desert have spread across the internet like wildfire (just google “Matzo Crack” if you don’t believe us). But sometimes the original is hard to beat—lightly salted Matzo crackers, covered in homemade butterscotch and melted chocolate. Contains dairy; vegetarian.
Note: this menu is not Kosher. While both of us appreciate Kosher foods, we are not properly trained or familiar with the specifics of preparing a fully Kosher meal.
2018 Ben Ami Merlot, Galilee, Israel - $15
Available at Everyday Wines
Although Manischewitz may be the most common Kosher wine in the US, we wouldn’t recommend it. So, here’s where Israeli wine comes into play. Wine had been made for centuries in that region of the world (production is referenced in both the Torah and Bible), but production nearly stopped under the several hundred years of Ottoman rule. In the late 19th century, Baron Edmond de Rothschild (of the famed Château Lafite Rothschild in Bordeaux) began producing wine in Galilee, known as the premier viticultural region in the area. Fast forward to today and production has skyrocketed. This merlot has notes of blueberries, cherries, and vanilla and pairs well with the rich brisket and latkes.
Brooklyn, New York
“The miracle, of course, was not that the oil for the sacred light - in a little cruse - lasted as long as they say; but that the courage of the Maccabees lasted to this day: let that nourish my flickering spirit.”
—Charles Reznikoff, "Meditations on the Fall and Winter Holidays"
When Bryan & I decided we wanted to do a special Chanukah menu focusing on Jewish cuisine, we immediately ran into a problem. There is no singular “Jewish food.” The Jewish diaspora spans nearly as many centuries as it does countries. As the Jewish people moved outward from Israel, either voluntarily or as a result of persecution, they settled in new cities and towns. And as happens anytime groups of people move, these new Jewish communities grew and evolved under a variety of cultural, political and culinary influences. These subsequent evolutions of cuisine and culture have led to numerous Jewish subcultures around the world.
While there is absolutely no way we can do justice to the history of the Jewish people here, for the purpose of this menu, it’s helpful to know that today there are a few major Jewish subgroups; Ashkenazi Jews from Central and Eastern Europe, Sephardic Jews from the Iberian Peninsula and Mizrahi Jews from the Middle East and Central Asia. This is by no means an exhaustive list as there are many more distinct ethnic Jewish subgroups, even within the three listed here.
In America though, an overwhelming majority of Jewish immigrants were of Ashkenazi descent, and most of them initially settled in the Lower East Side of New York City. Between 1880 and 1920, during a wave of immigration to the US from Central & Eastern Europe, an estimated 2.5 million Jewish people emigrated to North America, primarily from Poland and Russia escaping persecution and pogroms. They brought with them their combined Jewish and Eastern European culinary heritage. Much of what we think of today as “Jewish food” in America, is more accurately Ashkenazi Jewish food. Now iconic staples such as the bagel, and culinary traditions such as the Delicatessen, came to America by way of European Jewish immigrants.
With the opening of the Williamsburg Bridge in 1896 and the subway shortly thereafter, many Jews left the crowded tenements of the Lower East Side (at one point the 10th Ward was the most congested place on earth, with 700 people per square acre) and re-settled in Brooklyn neighborhoods such as Williamsburg, Borough Park, and Flatbush. Brooklyn has since been a safe haven for Jews, especially during the interwar years and following the Holocaust. In fact, the Jewish population of Brooklyn is larger than that of Tel Aviv, and New York alone has the second largest population of Jewish people after Israel. While Brooklyn is home to a range of Jewish sects and traditions ranging from Reform to Orthodox, the uniting factor is the Ashkenazi food. With restaurants such as Russ and Daughters, Katz’s, and Gottlieb's, Brooklyn and the Lower East Side have the best delis in America, bar none.
Having lived in the Lower East Side after college, both Bryan and I find this food not only delicious, but also deeply nostalgic. It’s impossible to count the bagels with smoked salmon cream cheese, or Pastrami on rye we’ve had over the years. One of our favorite memories is eating at Sammy’s Roumanian, where the shmaltz ran like olive oil, the chopped liver was decadent, and the bottles of vodka were served in literal blocks of ice. To me, this menu is evocative of my time living in New York and all the Friday night Shabbat dinners I’d have with friends in college. To all who are celebrating, have a happy and blessed Chanukah.
Featured Recipe: Schmaltz Latkes with Sour Cream
Makes 12-15 latkes
2 large russet potatoes, peeled
2 shallots or half of a small onion, peeled
½ cup all purpose flour
1.5 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon black pepper
Schmaltz (see recipe below) - duck fat, goose fat, or just plain vegetable oil all work well too
Cut the potatoes into quarters and the shallots in half and use a food processor to grate coarsely. Alternatively, you can use a box grater
Here’s the most important part of making good latkes: remove the moisture. Using a cheese cloth or towel, squeeze all the water from the grated potatoes and onions thoroughly
Add the flour, eggs, salt, baking powder, and pepper and combine well
In a skillet add enough schmaltz to fry (be generous, fat is flavor). Scoop up about a quarter cup of the potato mixture and place in the oil, pressing down slightly afterwards to create a thin disk-like shape
Once the edges start to brown, about 3-5 minutes, flip the latkes and cook another 3- 5 minutes. Serve them warm with sour cream (if you have some extra herbs like parsley, dill or chives, throw them into the sour cream for an extra flavor boost!)
¾ - 1 pound of chicken skin
¾ tsp of salt
½ large or 1 small onion, thinly sliced or grated (optional)
Using kitchen shears, cut the chicken skin into thin strips while still a bit frozen. Having the skin slightly frozen will make it easier to cut and the smaller the pieces of skin, the quicker they will render. You’re looking for ~1 inch squares
Place the skin in a deep skillet or brazier and put just enough water to cover the bottom of the pan. This will keep the skin from sticking before the fat starts rendering. If at any point it gets dry or the skin begins sticking, just add more water
Once all the water evaporates and the skin has started to render, in ~20-40 minutes, add the onion if you wish. Adding onions will give the schmaltz a nice sweetness, but if you want your schmaltz more schmaltzy, then omit
Cook all together until the skin and onions are brown and crispy, but not burned. The secret is to keep the temperature medium low. It takes longer, but you’ll be rewarded with a beautifully gold schmaltz. If you cook it too high, the chicken skins may brown too quickly and make the oil brownish. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to a few hours depending on how much water and skin you initially put in.
Once ready, strain through a mesh strainer covered with cheesecloth. Don’t throw away the crispy chicken skins, or gribenes. If needed, you can add them back to the pan over medium high heat to make them crispier. Sprinkle them with a bit of salt and they’re perfect atop latkes or even as a snack. Think of them as chicken croutons!
Recipes Inspired By:
Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen by Leah Koenig
A Treasury of Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman