Author Aliza Green.
Jews Change the Way the World Eats
A Talk with Philadelphia Chef and Cookbook Author Aliza Green.
-- Lisa Kelvin Tuttle
Thanks to Shelley K. Rosenberg of Or Hadash--A Reconstructionist Congregation in Fort Washington, PA, who interviewed Aliza Green for this article. In addition, just in time for Purim, Aliza shared with PJV's Food Editor, Lisa Kelvin Tuttle, some Purim culinary lore and a trio of delectable recipes--including her Honey-Poppy Seed Hamantaschen!
The first chocolate, vanilla, and citrus fruit plantations in the New World were started by Jews? The smoked, pickled, and salted fish business, too, was started by Jews. Jews from the Canary Islands owned the earliest sugar plantations in Brazil. The dried fruit and nut business? Also Jewish. All of this information, and more, rolls off the tongue of experienced chef and cookbook author Aliza Green like sweet butter off a hot brioche, as you can’t help but catch her infectious excitement about the history of Jewish food.
Green will bring that history alive with a talk and tasting Saturday evening, March 28 at Or Hadash Reconstructionist Congregation, Fort Washington, PA. Because the program will be held immediately following the Havdalah ceremony that marks the close of the Sabbath, with its requisite spices, she’ll begin the program with spices, a Jewish business in India close to 2,000 years ago, and spicy recipes.
Jewish traders changed the way the world eats, Green explains, having had a substantial influence both because they moved throughout the Diaspora and had an influence on people in other countries and because of the trust they built up with fellow Jews who knew that goods would be paid for, even long distance, and that ingredients would be controlled to be certain that they were kosher. Certain occupations, like being a “frigatore,” a maker of fried foods at street stands, were permitted to Jews in Roman times, and they became specialists in them. She also makes a connection between the agrarian basis of the Jewish calendar and the centrality of food to Jewish holidays and celebrations, such as using dried fruits and nuts for shalosh manot at Purim. This, Green points out, is unique to Judaism.
Green’s love of food, especially Jewish food, and the unique history surrounding it, began in childhood, when her father’s work as a theoretical physicist allowed the family to travel and live throughout the world. By age 10, she was cooking for her family and, as an adult, her love of languages, history, literature, and cultural studies, as well as food, led her to make the connections that now fuel her passion. Self taught, having left college because they “weren’t teaching her what she needed to know,” Green made her own opportunities, serving as chef at such Philadelphia favorites as Under the Blue Moon, DiLullo’s, and Moonstruck.
Eventually, Green began consulting with restaurants on their menus, developing recipes, and even doing food styling for television. She wrote food columns for the Philadelphia Inquirer and Daily News, co-authored a cookbook with Georges Perrier, and then went on to author or co-author ten more cookbooks, including the recently published Starting with Ingredients: Baking (Running Press, 2008).
The idea for her next book, Sweet and Sour: How Jewish Traders Changed the Way the World Eats will begin to be explored in the program at Or Hadash, Green’s own synagogue. “Eating sweet and sour together is a very Jewish way to cook, and it’s also a recognition of a very Jewish outlook on life,” she says. “Think about breaking the glass at a wedding, or combining sweet charoset and bitter horseradish at Passover, for example.” She will provide an overview of the history, as well as a taste of the specially prepared foods. The menu will include onion and poppyseed kichel with sour cream and herring; “pan levi,” or biscuits made with mace, a traditional recipe from Curacao, that will be dipped in spiced hot chocolate; and “stuffed monkey,” a Sephardic recipe for pastries made with a filling of dried fruits and cashews, that comes from a Jewish bakery in East London.
For Green, and her lucky audience, it’s not enough simply to talk about food; it needs to be experienced. Thus, the program will be as delicious as it is informative. Green will also have her new books available for sale that evening and will be happy to autograph copies. The talk will take place at 8:00 pm at Or Hadash--A Reconstructionist Congregation, 190 Camp Hill Road, Fort Washington, PA. For more information, please call the synagogue office at 215-283-0276.
Hamantaschen and Jewish History
These triangular poppy seed–filled cookies hail from the Ashkenazi Jewish tradition and commemorate the Jewish holiday of Purim. In the fifth century BCE, in the reign of King Achashverosh of Persia, Mordechai, a Jew, refused to prostrate himself before Haman, the King’s vizier. Offended, Haman set out “to destroy all the Jews that were throughout the whole kingdom of Achashverosh” (from the Book of Esther). The Jews were saved from Haman's deadly plan by the intervention of Mordecai’s beautiful cousin, Esther, who had been chosen as queen a few years earlier. The pastries are made in the shape of Haman's tricorn hat. Symbolically, this long-ago enemy of the Jewish people is destroyed by gobbling up the cookies. In Italy, another version of the pastries are called orecchie di Aman (Haman’s ears), and are consumed just as quickly.
Aliza is honored that her paper on her research for Sweet and Sour has been accepted for the International Jewish Genealogical Conference to be held in Philadelphia the first week in August. To learn more about Aliza and her books, visit www.alizagreen.com.
Until we eat again,
Honey-Poppy Seed Hamantaschen (From Starting with Ingredients: Baking)
Dairy or Pareve
A popular Eastern European pastry called mohntashen (poppy seed pockets) was transformed into Hamantaschen (Haman’s pockets) by Ashkenazi Jews. Start a day ahead to soak the poppy seeds, or use canned poppy seed filling also called mohn. Grind the poppy seeds using a special poppy seed grinder, a spice grinder, coffee grinder, or a mortar and pestle.
Yield: 3 dozen cookies
- 3/4 pound (2 cups minus 2 tablespoons) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 1/2 pound (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margerine, softened
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs
- 2 tablespoons orange juice
- 2 teaspoons orange zest
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Make the dough:
- 1/4 pound blue poppy seeds
- 2 ounces (1/2 stick) unsalted butter or margerine, softened
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 cup coarsely ground walnuts
- 2 ounces (1/2 cup) golden raisins
- 2 teaspoons grated orange zest
Make the filling:
- Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, baking powder, and salt.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes. Beat in the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition. Beat in half the flour mixture, then add the orange juice, zest, and vanilla. Add the remaining flour mixture, beating only long enough for the dough to come together in moist clumps.
- Knead the dough briefly by hand until it forms a ball. Transfer to a plastic bag and shape into a flattened rectangle. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes.
Make the cookies:
- The night before you plan to make your hamantaschen, place the poppy seeds in a bowl and add about 1 cup boiling water, enough to cover the seeds by about 1 inch. Soak overnight at room temperature.
- Drain the poppy seeds well and grind them finely with a special poppy seed grinder or a coffee or spice grinder or using a mortar and pestle.
- In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter or margarine and honey until light and fluffy, 5 to 6 minutes. Beat in the walnuts, raisins, orange zest, and ground poppy seeds. Chill the filling for 1 hour in the refrigerator or 30 minutes in the freezer, until firm.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line two 18 x 13-inch half sheet pans (or other large baking pans) with parchment paper or silicone baking mats.
- Divide the dough into 2 or 3 sections and roll each one out between 2 sheets of lightly floured wax paper lightly dusted with flour to about 3/8 inch thick. If the dough gets warm and sticky, refrigerate it again, still between the sheets of wax paper.
- Cut the dough into 3-inch rounds, rerolling the scraps if desired.
- Spoon about 1 tablespoon of the filling into the center of each circle. Fold up the edges on three sides to form open triangles. Pinch the corners together firmly.
- Bake for 20 minutes or until delicately browned. Store refrigerated up to 1 week.
Roman Conchia di Zucchine (From Sweet & Sour: How Jewish Traders Changed the Way the World Eats, a book that Aliza is researching now)
A specialty of the Jewish community of Rome, this is a simple dish of zucchini fried in olive oil, then marinated in red wine vinegar and garlic and basil or mint and served at room temperature. Zucchini blossoms are prepared the same way. Serve the conchia as an appetizer with freshly grilled Italian bread or as part of an Italian-inspired buffet dinner.
- 3 medium green zucchini, about 1 pound
- 3 medium yellow zucchini, about 1 pound
- 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 6 medium cloves garlic, minced
- ½ cup shredded fresh basil or 2 tablespoons shredded fresh mint, preferably spearmint
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons freshly grounds black pepper
- 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
- Freshly grilled bread
- Trim the green and yellow zucchini at both ends and slice lengthwise into pieces 1/4-inch thick.
- Heat the olive oil in a deep frying pan until just smoking. Cook 5 or 6 pieces of zucchini at a time until golden brown, turning once, about 3 to 4 minutes. Remove the pieces and drain on paper towels. Continue with the remaining zucchini until finished.
- In a mixing bowl, lightly stir together the garlic, basil, salt and pepper until well-mixed.
- Place several pieces of zucchini on the bottom of a glass or ceramic casserole until the base is covered. Sprinkle the zucchini with 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons of the herb mixture as evenly as possible and spritz with 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar. Continue layering the zucchini and herb mixture until the zucchini is finished and cover with plastic. Marinate 2 hours at room temperature before serving.
Sephardic Stuffed Monkey (from Starting with Ingredients: Baking)
Dairy or Pareve
The unusual name of this pastry has nothing to do with monkeys, but is rather the nickname for Monick’s, a once-renowned London Dutch-Jewish bakery. The “stuffed monkey” is a contribution of Dutch Jews of Portuguese origin to English food, and is quite popular among English Sephardic Jews. A double-layer of pastry is filled with a mixture of raisins, candied citrus rind, and nuts, a recurring theme in Jewish, especially Sephardic baking.
Yield: 36 bars
Filling and Glaze:
- 1 pound (3 3/4 cups) unbleached all-purpose flour
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1 teaspoon fine sea salt
- 3/4 pound (3 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, cut into bits and chilled until firm
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 1 teaspoon almond extract
Make the dough:
- 1/2 pound (2 cups) chopped candied orange peel, homemade (page 000) or purchased
- 1/2 pound (2 cups) chopped unsalted, roasted cashews
- 3/4 pound (2 1/4 cups) golden raisins
- 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- 1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
- 1/2 cup light brown sugar
- 2 large eggs, separated
- 1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted
- 1 cup sliced almonds, skin-on
- Whisk together the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, cinnamon, and salt in the bowl of a standing electric mixer. Add the butter or margarine and beat with the paddle attachment until the mixture resembles oatmeal. Add the eggs and almond extract, beating only until the mixture comes together and forms a ball.
- Knead the dough briefly by hand until smooth. Transfer to a plastic bag and shape into a flattened rectangle. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour or in the freezer for 30 minutes until firm but still malleable.
- Preheat the oven to 350°F. Prepare a 15 x 10-inch jelly roll pan by spraying with nonstick baker’s coating or lining with parchment paper.
Make the Filling:
Combine the orange peel, cashews, raisins, cinnamon, allspice, sugar, egg yolks, and butter or margarine.
Make the Pastry:
- Divide the dough in half. Roll out one half between 2 sheets of lightly floured wax paper to fit the pan. Place the dough in the pan, pressing the edges up the sides of the pan and trimming as necessary. Chill the pan with the dough while rolling out the second half slightly larger than the bottom half.
- Spoon the filling onto the dough and spread it out evenly, leaving a 1/2-inch uncovered strip all around. Invert the second sheet of dough on top of the filling and press out any air pockets from the center towards the edges. Crimp the two sheets of dough together so the filling does not leak out.
- Beat the egg whites lightly with 2 tablespoons water and brush all over the top. Cut small slits all over the dough to allow steam to escape, then sprinkle with the almonds, pressing them into the top lightly so they adhere. Bake for 40 minutes, or until golden-brown. Cool to room temperature on a wire rack, cut into bars, and serve.
- Note: If all you can find are salted, roast cashews, place them in a bowl of cold water, swish around to wash off the salt, then drain well and pat dry with paper towels.
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