Friday, December 10, 2010

Thoughts on Inclusiveness

Now that Chanukkah is over, it occurs to me that Chanukkah isn't a very inclusive holiday.  All those strange Hebrew and Yiddish names for things: menorahs, dreidels, gelt, latkes... that sort of terminology excludes gentiles.  From now on, I will be more inclusive!  No more menorahs; from now on, they will be called Holiday Candlesticks.  Dreidels will be called Holiday Tops.  Gelt will be called Holiday Chocolate Coins.  Latkes will be Holiday Hash Browns.

With this new terminology, these things won't be limited to Chanukkah.  They will represent all holidays: Christmas, Kwanzaa, New Years, whatever!  After all, most of these things aren't religious anyway; they're just secular things that got tacked onto Chanukkah.  There's no reason why you can't celebrate Christmas by frying potato pancakes, or Kwanzaa by spinning a top and gambling for chocolate coins.  OK, the menorah -- excuse me, holiday candlestick -- is a religious symbol, but there's nothing about it that gentiles can't do.  Isn't this more inclusive?

If this sounds silly to you...

Friday, August 20, 2010

Tuesday, June 08, 2010

Helen Thomas Reality Check

For those who have been living under a rock for the last 24 hours: Helen Thomas, long-time White House correspondent, has retired in the wake of controversy over her statements about Israel.  When a rabbi interviewed her at a White House event celebrating American Jewish Heritage Month, Thomas said to tell Israel "to get the hell out of Palestine" and they should "go home" to "Poland.  Germany.  And America.  And everywhere else."  You can see the whole thing on YouTube.

I confess, I've always had a certain admiration for Helen Thomas as a ground-breaking female journalist.  I didn't follow her closely enough to be aware of some of the things that are starting to come out in the wake of this controversy, but I admired her as a strong, capable woman in a powerful position at a time when women were still expected to be barefoot and pregnant.  It saddens me deeply to see this.

But there is an aspect of this story that hasn't gotten much press coverage, and it's an aspect that many people, in their discussions of Israel, seem to miss.  Most Israelis are not from Poland.  Or Germany.  Or America.  Or anywhere else.  According to a 2010 report from the Israeli equivalent of the census bureau, 70% of Israeli Jews are "sabras," native-born Israelis or born in the British Palestinian Mandate before Israel was formed.  Most of those are second-generation sabras: their parents were also born in Israel; only their grandparents were born anywhere else.  So you see, they are already home, the only home they've known.  They could no more return "home" to Germany or Poland or America than Helen Thomas herself could return "home" to Lebanon, where her parents were born.

(Unfortunately, I've had to turn off comments on this blog due to extensive blog-spam by Chinese porn mongers. When you have to delete advertisements for pornography on a regular basis from the comments to a post about Holocaust Memorial Day, it's time to turn off the comments.  I apologize for the inconvenience.)

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Friday, April 09, 2010

Yom Ha-Shoah: Holocaust Remembrance Day

This Sunday (April 11, 2010) is Yom Ha-Shoah, a holiday created by the State of Israel to remember the losses the Jewish people suffered during the Holocaust (known in Hebrew as Shoah).  There is an international Holocaust Remembrance Day created by the United Nations that is observed on January 27, the day that the Allied forces liberated the Auschwitz concentration camp, a day of Allied triumph.  Yom Ha-Shoah is scheduled on the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, the largest single revolt by the Jews during the Holocaust, on Nissan 27 of the Hebrew calendar, about a week after Passover.

I've seen a number of gentiles suggest that the purpose of Holocaust remembrance is to make them feel guilty about what they did or did not do during the Holocaust.  To anyone who feels that way...

Thursday, April 01, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Matzah Spanakopita

Yes, this is the secret final recipe I promised last Friday.  I was trying to think of recipes like matzah lasagna, where I could substitute sheets of matzah for a grain product that provides structure.  I thought of spanakopita, the traditional Greek dish made with layers of pastry-like phyllo dough holding together layers of spinach and feta cheese.  I love spanakopita, but I've never had much luck working with fragile phyllo dough.  Substituting matzah looses the light pastry texture of traditional spanakopita, but is much easier to work with and is still quite tasty.  Rachel declared it to be "crazy good."  A second taste-tester, Hutch, called it "delicious," and he doesn't even observe Passover!

I ran into only one problem: too much filling!  I was working from several different recipes, all of which were designed to make a 13 x 9 pan of spanakopita, while I was working with 8 x 8 matzah.  I thought about reducing the quantities for this post, but that would complicate the measurements.  I would recommend one of two options: either expand it to 13 x 9 (breaking some extra pieces of matzah in half to fill out the pan), or set aside the extra filling and use it on another occasion as a spinach-cheese dip!

This recipe is not vegan (contains cheese) and is gebrochts and not gluten free (contains matzah).

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach Bonus Recipe: Broccoli-Potato-Cheese Soup

This is more or less a recipe I got in a brochure that the milk marketing board was handing out at a baseball game.  I made it once before with the adjustments I suggest here, and it was very tasty.  It stays in the refrigerator well enough for a week or so, but definitely doesn't freeze and reheat well.  I've cut the original recipe in half, because the original recipe makes 12 servings.  Obviously, the objective was to sell plenty of milk and cheese.

The only Passover adjustment I made in this recipe is substituting potato starch for flour to make the roux (a mixture of flour and butter that thickens a sauce).  This substitution works very nicely, and should work in any recipe that calls for a roux, such as a cheese sauce or a souffle.  I thought about including a souffle recipe in this series, but I've never had much success making a souffle rise properly, so I didn't feel qualified to explain it.  You're welcome to try it.  Let us know how it goes!

Monday, March 22, 2010

More Passover Dairy Products Available

I've found some more kosher-for-Passover marked dairy products in the grocery store.  All of the basic dairy ingredients in my vegetarian recipes are now in stores with reliable kosher for Passover certification, if that matters to you.

Dannon Yogurt, both lowfat and nonfat varieties, are on the shelves in 1 quart tubs with Kosher for Passover certification marked on the top of the tub.
I haven't yet seen Philly brand cream cheese with Passover markings, but I found Lucerne brand whipped cream cheese with kosher-for-Passover markings.  Kosher for Passover is written in both Hebrew and English on the right side of the label.  Ironically, the kosher for Passover marking is written on top of a not-so-kosher-for-Passover bagel!

Friday, March 19, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Mediterranean Zucchini and Quinoa

I found a recipe for Mediterranean Zucchini that looked good, but it didn't have a protein source.  I found a recipe for Mediterranean Quinoa that I thought needed a vegetable.  The recipes were quite similar, so I put them together and got Mediterranean Zucchini and Quinoa!

I have one more main course idea, but I haven't had a chance to try it yet.  I plan to make it on Wednesday night during Passover, bring the leftovers to work Thursday for a second opinion from my friend, colleague and taste-tester Rachel, and if the recipe gets "two thumbs up" it will be posted here on Thursday.  If it doesn't go so well, I'll skip the complete recipe, but I'll post what I was trying to do.

Most of the ingredients are fresh vegetables, which are not a Passover problem.  The only ingredients that would be challenging are tomato paste and black pepper.  This recipe is vegan (contains no eggs or dairy), gluten-free and non-gebrochts (contains no matzah products).

Thursday, March 18, 2010

Passover Dairy Products Now Available

I've said in several of the recipe posts that national brands of some dairy products are usually available in kosher-for-Passover form.  Well, I was at the grocery store last night, and I spotted Breakstone's cottage cheese and salted and unsalted butter marked for Passover.  I assume this is available nationwide, not just in major Jewish population centers like New York and Philadelphia.  I took some pictures, so you can see what to look for.  I have not yet spotted Passover yogurt or cream cheese, but I'll keep an eye out and post the pictures when I find them.

I know that most people are not normally strict about kashrut (if they observe it at all), but many people who aren't strict (or observant) year-round are more strict at Passover, and this is certainly a painless way to observe a stricter standard.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Solyanka Vegetable-Dairy Casserole

This is based on another of my favorites from the Moosewood Cookbook.  In fact, I've made it often enough over the last 15 years that my book tends to fall open to that page!  When I tell people (non-vegetarians) what's in it, they frequently turn up their nose, but when I reheat it in the microwave at work, people tell me how good it smells (then they ask what's in it and turn up their nose -- people just don't know what's good for them).

Most of the ingredients are available in kosher-for-Passover form, but a few of the ingredients need to be omitted.  Caraway seeds and sunflower seeds are kitniyot, but I usually skip those ingredients when I make this anyway.  The rest of the ingredients should not be too much of a problem.  This recipe is not vegan (contains dairy products), but is gluten-free and non-gebrochts.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Eggplant Parmesan

I've said for many years in my Pesach (Passover) Cooking Tips that matzah meal is an effective substitute for bread crumbs as a breading for things like eggplant parmesan.  Here is a very simple recipe for eggplant parmesan that uses only ingredients that are usually available for Passover.

The primary recipe is not vegan (includes cheese), gebrochts and not gluten-free (uses matzah meal), but I have some substitution suggestions that might work to make it vegan or gluten-free.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Quinoa Stuffed Peppers; Quinoa Stuffed Cabbage

Quinoa is one of the best, most complete vegetarian sources of protein available.  It looks like a grain, but it's really a seed related to beets and spinach.  It has a mild nutty flavor and an interesting crunch.

As I reported on my website, many widely-respected kosher certification organizations have indicated that quinoa (whole seeds, not processed) can be kosher for Passover.  See, e.g., Quinoa: The Grain That's Not (Star-K); Consumer Pesach Q and A (CRC, page 5 indicates that quinoa is not kitniyot, but can be used only if one is certain no forbidden grains are mixed in).  Nevertheless, there is some dispute about whether quinoa is forbidden, so you should check with your rabbi before using it.  See Curious about Kitniyot? (acknowledging that there are differences of opinion, OU does not recommend quinoa, but elsewhere says that if you use it you should inspect it carefully).  A food scientist with the website has indicated that Ancient Harvest (the green box) is grown in areas where chametz cannot grow and is processed in plants where chametz is not processed, so it can be used for Passover.  See Quonfused About's Passover Guide recommends Ancient Harvest,Trader Joe,or Northern Quinoa, but says they should be purchased before Passover and inspected for chametz. UPDATE: Even OU now accepts quinoa, but of course they insist on using KFP certification.

OK: So if your rabbi says quinoa is kosher for Passover... here are a couple of quinoa-based recipes.  These recipes can be made gluten-free and non-gebrochts.

Tuesday, March 09, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Potato-Cheese Gnocchi

This recipe is based on the Ricotta Gnocchi recipe from the Moosewood Cookbook, with ingredients adjusted to meet Passover requirements.  The switch from white flour to potato starch, necessary for Passover or gluten-free cooking, makes this recipe more like traditional gnocchi, which is made with potatoes.  It is not vegan (contains eggs and dairy) but is non-gebrochts and gluten-free (does not contain matzah).  In fact, I used to make this exact recipe for my grandmother, who was on a gluten-free diet for celiac disease. 

Sunday, March 07, 2010

A Very Veggie Pesach: Matzah Lasagna; Vegan Passover Nut Loaf

I've been mostly vegetarian for many years now.  When I first started cooking for myself full-time, I was in law school in Athens, Georgia, more than an hour's drive away from the nearest source of kosher meat.  I would drive down there once a month, freeze some meat, cook it for Shabbat and maybe one or two other times a week, but I got out of the habit of eating meat and came to enjoy pareve and dairy meals.  It's now reached the point where I hardly ever cook meat.  Don't get me wrong: I still enjoy meat occasionally.  I grill some burgers and dogs on the American barbeque holidays (Memorial Day, 4th of July, Labor Day).  I make a chicken with a lemon-wine-dill sauce as my last meal before Yom Kippur.  And I stood on long lines for Max and David's pulled brisket sandwiches when they were catering Jewish Heritage Night at the Phillies and Sixers games (they were delicious).  I find, though, that I can't eat like that on a regular basis.

At Passover, I don't have much choice: my regular diet is mostly beans, grains and pasta, and they're not kosher for Passover!  In the past, I have stuck with mostly meat during Passover, but as the years go on, it just doesn't sit well with me.  At the end of last Passover, I was not feeling well at all, and I decided that I was going to come up with vegetarian options for Passover. I've been working on ideas on and off for the last year, and I now have eight different main course options, one for each night of Passover. I'll be posting the recipes here over the next week or two.  Note that many of these options are not vegan (they contain dairy and/or eggs), and many of them are gebrochts (they combine matzah prodcuts with liquid), and not gluten-free.  I will identify these things. 

Of course, one vegetarian recipe is already on my website: matzah lasagna.  This recipe is not vegan (contains eggs and dairy) and is gebrochts and not gluten-free (contains matzah).

But here's something new: Passover Nut Loaf.  This recipe is vegan, but does contain matzah farfel, so it is gebrochts and not gluten-free .

Friday, January 22, 2010

Sometimes a Box is Just a Box, Part II

Five years ago, a colleague of mine told me a story of being frightened on a train when she saw a man strap some boxes to himself and begin swaying back and forth. She reported it to the conductor, who reassured her that it was just "a Jewish prayer thing." The man was praying while wearing tefillin, a standard part of weekday morning prayers. See:

Unfortunately, the pilot and flight crew of a U.S. Airways Express flight from New York to Louisville yesterday was not as well-versed in Jewish tradition as the conductor of that train. When a 17-year-old boy laid tefillin and began davening shacharit (reciting morning prayers), the pilot diverted to Philadelphia, where police swarmed the plane waving guns at everyone, especially the young boy. See: A Flight Is Diverted by a Prayer Seen as Ominous. The situation was sorted out quickly and the plane continued on its way to Louisville.