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image from aufschnitt.net

 

Boston being Boston, the Boston Globe’s food pages last month turned to Irish food traditions, in honor of St. Patrick’s Day. In this article, Jane Dornbusch wrote about a butcher shop in the Irish-American neighborhood of Dorchester in Boston. What struck me most profoundly about the piece was how in many ways it could just as easily have been written about German-Jewish food traditions. It included aspects of Irish food that were unfamiliar to me, and the one that struck me first was the topic of sausage.

Dornbusch writes: “…the shop carries as many as 18 house-made varieties. Even on a dreary winter day, there are several types in the case: lamb, curried chicken, chicken with spinach and feta, Buffalo chicken, Italian sweet and hot, Guinness and leek.”

This same description could have been written about the German-Jewish butchers of Washington Heights when I was growing up in terms of the large variety of sausages available.

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image from aufschnitt.net

The butcher, Alan Gibson, is a native of Ireland who opened the Butcher Shop Market in 2009. He acknowledged that the Irish-American tradition of corned beef was unknown to him in Ireland, but that he, being a food purveyor in Boston, learned about corned beef in order to meet the demand of his customers. He prepares it the natural way, without preservatives, with a simple brine. The color of his corned beef is not the commonly seen red (which is chemically induced), but rather greyish.

The prevailing tradition here is not only the food itself, but also its preparation and adherence to historic standards of purity. This story felt familiar. I could relate – not only to the sausage part, but to the principle of simple food preparation without a whole lot of food industry commercializations. I thank Jane Dornbusch for this story which illuminated an aspect of our own story for me.

The pictures of sausages you see above and below are not Irish. In fact, they are not real sausages at all, but rather sewn and stuffed fabric! We recently discovered this shop owned by Silvia Wald, called Aufschnitt, that makes these “cuddly wursts” in Germany – in the Friedrichshain neighborhood of Berlin. She makes a variety of meaty stuffed items – from small sausage links to large beanbag chairs in the shape of a ham bone. And since they’re made from fabric and thread, they’re all vegetarian (and kosher)!

-Gaby

image from aufschnitt.net


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What a pleasure to think back to that balmy autumn day on Long Island, while we shovel out of our two feet of snow here in Boston. This is a perfect time, when pretty much everything has closed down in the public world, to sit down and write up the cabbage segment of the two-part cooking demonstration we held at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm’s CSA Harvest Festival last October. You can read about the first part, preparing Kohlrabi in Roux (with a recipe included), here.

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We chose to make our Cabbage Slaw, a dish prepared during my childhood by my grandmother. I always loved it at the festive meals where it accompanied things like roasted duck. But we realized that it could easily be a stand-alone dish that people would enjoy snacking on during the farm’s afternoon event.

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This dish is neither a typical cole slaw (it does not contain mayonnaise), nor sauerkraut (it is not fermented), though it bears similarities to both. The characteristic feature of this recipe is that the cabbage, after having been shredded as finely as possible, is covered by boiling salted water and allowed to steep for at least one hour, causing it to wilt while maintaining much of its crunchiness. During the demo at the farm we poured off the water after a half-hour (simply because we were short on time) and had good results, though the extra soaking time certainly results in the cabbage having a more subdued – and pleasing – texture. After dressing the cabbage in a vinaigrette, it was ready to go – and go it did!!  Children and adults alike came back for seconds (and thirds!). We realized we aren’t alone in our penchant for this zesty slaw. Actually, it would be a great dish in this snowy weather. I think I will go make some now to eat along with the lamb shank that’s roasting in the oven.

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Cabbage Slaw (Krautsalat) serves 6-8 as a side dish

Although the original recipe for Krautsalat in my grandmother Emma’s handwritten cookbook included onion, she did not use them when she made it. Hers was a very mild salad that successfully accompanies any roasted meat, or even a myriad of vegetarian meals. Since I never made note of what she actually did, I have reproduced the taste and texture of her version based upon my childhood memories to create this recipe. This unique dish is surprisingly addictive – the cabbage, which is halfway between cooked and raw, retains a satisfying crunch that is made refreshing by the acidity of the dressing.

The cabbage is best if shredded quite fine into a large bowl. We use a mandolin – (pictured above, left, is my grandmother’s wooden mandolin that she brought Germany that I still use today) but you can also use a box grater on the long bladed side, or a food processor using the slicer attachment. -by Gabrielle                                                                                          

1 quart of water with 2 heaping teaspoons of salt

1 medium sized head of green cabbage

2 tablespoons canola or safflower oil

4 tablespoons white wine vinegar

salt and white pepper, to taste

1) Boil the water with the salt.

2) Prepare the cabbage: Shred the cabbage into a large heat-proof bowl.

3) Pour the boiling salted water over the shredded cabbage. Let it sit until the water cools, about an hour.

4) Pour off as much of the water as you can by pressing down with a plate that is slightly smaller than the diameter of the bowl, holding down the plate and inverting the bowl in the sink until all the water has poured off.

4) Make the dressing: Combine the oil, vinegar, salt and pepper in a small bowl and whisk. Pour this over the cabbage and toss.

5) The slaw will be ready to eat immediately, though the taste and texture will mellow and blend if allowed to stand for an hour or more.

photos, from top: cross section of a green cabbage; shredded cabbage; finished slaw in dish; whole head of green cabbage; Gabrielle (in red apron) shredding cabbage on mandolin while a farm visitor looks on.

mohnberches bamberg

Photo: Regina Hanemann

After our last post (about making Berches, Jewish ceremonial bread, in Berlin), we received a surprise in the form of the photo above. It was sent to us in an e-mail from Dr. Regina Hanemann, director of the municipal museums of Bamberg. It is a Mohnberches (Mohn = poppy seed) that she purchased at the Bäckerei Kerlinga family-run bakery in this small Bavarian city – which happens to be Gaby’s birthplace. What is surprising is that virtually nobody in Germany remembers what Berches is anymore, yet this bakery continues to make it, fully aware of its Jewish background. We do not know whether any of the Jews living in Bamberg today (most of whom are originally from Eastern Europe) buy this bread, which was specific to the Jews of Germany. Dr. Hanemann spoke with the baker, Herr Kerling, who said his father remembers baking it every week for his Jewish clientele. He also said that the dough is the same as the well-known Franconian roll Weckla, though the preparation is different. Dr. Hanemann described the bread as tasting good, though quite neutral, with a fine texture that was denser than other white breads. She also said the inside was very, very white (due to no eggs).

We are posting a recipe here for Berches which is adapted from Herta Bloch. The recipe offers the option of either making two smaller loaves in loaf pans, or forming one larger free-form loaf. Using the pans may be easier for a beginner – the loaves will be guaranteed to rise tall and the braided top will appear over the rim of the pan.

Berches makes 2 loaf pan-sized loaves, or one large free-form loaf. Adapted from Herta Bloch

2 pounds (7 cups) all-purpose flour + extra for bread board

¼ cup + 2 cups lukewarm water, more as needed

1   ¼- ounce package active dry yeast

½ teaspoon sugar

¼ cup neutral oil (such as canola or safflower) + extra for greasing bowl and pan

1 medium white potato (such as russet), cooked, peeled, mashed, and cooled

4 teaspoons kosher salt

1 large egg, lightly beaten

1-2 tablespoons black poppy seeds

1) Place flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center of the flour.

2) Pour ¼ cup lukewarm water in the well. Add yeast and sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Let sit for 5-10 minutes, until it is bubbling.

3) Add the oil, mashed potato, and salt. With a wooden spoon (or your hands), start to mix the flour into the yeast mixture in the well. Gradually add warm water as needed to moisten the flour (being careful not to add too much, the dough should remain firm), while continuing to mix.

4) Remove dough from bowl and put on a floured bread board, or counter. Knead by hand until all the flour is incorporated and the dough is well-blended and smooth.

5) Wash and dry the bowl and grease lightly with oil. Return dough to bowl, cover with a slightly damp kitchen towel and put in a warm spot. Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 2 hours.

6) Punch down the dough in the bowl. Turn it out onto floured bread board, or counter, and knead until smooth.

7a) For loaf pans: Lightly oil two loaf pans. Cut dough in half. Using first half: cut into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope and braid the 3 ropes together. Place in oiled loaf pan. Repeat with other half.

[OR]

7b) For free-form loaf: Lightly oil a cookie sheet. Cut dough into 3 equal parts, roll each part into a rope of equal length. Pinch the ends of the three ropes together and braid the ropes together. Pinch the ends together, and tuck both ends of the braid under. Place loaves on cookie sheet.

8) Cover pans or loaf with moistened towel. Return to warm spot and let rise until doubled in size, about 1-2 hours.

9) Preheat oven to 350° F. Brush top of loaf/loaves with beaten egg and sprinkle evenly with the poppy seeds. Bake in preheated oven for 30-40 minutes, or until the top is light golden brown and the bottom of the loaf makes a hollow sound when tapped with your finger.

10) Let cool on a rack. If using loaf pans, when cool enough to handle, turn loaves out and put on rack to finish cooling.

– Sonya

We had a wonderful time at Golden Earthworm Organic Farm during their Harvest Festival recently, an annual event they host for their 2,000 CSA (community supported agriculture) members. One of the main points of becoming a member of a CSA – in addition to supporting a local farm and getting fresh, seasonal produce – is having a personal connection with the farmers who grow your food. Events such as this one offer a chance to walk in the fields and see exactly where your vegetables are grown. And, a chance to chat with the farmers – to ask them questions, give them feedback and just have a few laughs. We had been invited by Matthew Kurek and Maggie Wood, who run the farm along with James Russo, to come give a cooking demo of some of our recipes. After receiving a long list from the farm of which vegetables would be available, we decided to make two dishes: Kohlrabi en roux (kohlrabi in white sauce) and Krautsalat (or cabbage slaw).


© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

We arrived at the farm on a warm, windy Sunday afternoon and found a big, green pile of freshly harvested vegetables waiting for us. And a bunch of CSA members who were ready to chat, watch us cook and eat! We got busy prepping the kohlrabi – removing the stalks and leaves, then peeling and slicing the bulbs.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

After chopping some parsley to add to the dish, we cooked the kohlrabi until tender, then made a roux, a white sauce made with butter and flour and vegetable broth. Kohlrabi often appears in stores, at markets and in CSA boxes without its stalks and leaves, but these had their leaves intact so we decided to use them in the dish. After tossing the cooked kohlrabi with the chopped parsley, we combined them with the roux, and served it up on little fluted paper plates.

© 2012 Jaime Jimenez 

The day was so busy and fun – and went by so quickly – we unfortunately didn’t get any photos of the plated food (The photo below of the finished dish is actually from a few weeks ago, when I made it at home). Luckily, we ran into photographer Jaime Jimenez, a fellow member of my CSA in Queens, Farm Spotwho was visiting the farm with his family and who offered to shoot some photos for us. Thanks, Jaime!

Kohlrabi seems to be a vegetable that people regularly refer to as being one of the most difficult to cook with – or rather, the one people are most confused about because they are unfamiliar with it. So we were especially delighted to see that everyone loved this recipe. Everyone – from little children to grandmothers – polished off their sample. Most asked for seconds, some asked for thirds. It’s that good.

Kohlrabi en Roux  serves 4-6 as a side dish

Kohlrabi is in the cabbage family and has a subtle, somewhat sweet flavor, similar to Brussels sprouts. Ideally, the kohlrabi will be tender. It is best to use medium-sized bulbs, rather than very large or very small ones. The outside skin must be peeled, either before or after cooking. Here we use the bulbs and the green leaves and discard the stems (though they may be reserved for another use, such as making a stock). This recipe is cooked in the German style with a light roux, or white sauce. We use a light vegetable broth for the liquid, rather than milk or cream, in order to allow the lovely, delicate taste of the kohlrabi to shine through.

2 cups vegetable broth (or 1½ teaspoons vegetable bouillon paste, such as “Better Than Bouillon”, and 2 cups water)

1 bunch (3 or 4 medium) kohlrabi

1½ tablespoons unsalted butter

1 tablespoons all-purpose flour (gluten-free flour may be substituted)

salt + white pepper to taste

2 tablespoons parsley, chopped fine

1) Making the Broth: If using bouillon paste, boil the 2 cups water in a medium-sized saucepan. Remove from heat and add the bouillon, stirring to dissolve. If using vegetable broth, skip to step #2.

2) Preparing the kohlrabi: Wash the kohlrabi. Trim off the stems from the tops of the bulbs and cut off the green leaves. Discard the stems (or save them for a future soup stock), and chop the leaves into ¼” slices. Set aside. Peel the kohlrabi bulbs, removing all the hard outer part. Slice the bulbs into ¼” slices.

3) Cooking the kohlrabi:  Bring the broth to a boil. Add the sliced kohlrabi bulbs and leaves, lower heat, cover and simmer about 15 minutes, or until tender when pierced with a fork. Remove from heat and drain, reserving the liquid.

4) Making the white sauce: In a second pan, melt the butter over medium heat. Lower heat and add the flour, whisking to blend. When the mixture is smooth, slowly add the broth, stirring all the while to keep the sauce smooth. Keep adding liquid until you have reached the desired consistency.  Add salt and white pepper to taste, and the parsley and mix. Finally, add the drained vegetables. Serve immediately (or keep warm on a very low flame until ready to serve).

Raspberries have a special place in the food traditions of central Europe. One of the most common uses for them is in syrup form. Today, one can readily buy tall bottles of raspberry syrup, as well as currant and other fruit syrups that mostly come from Balkan countries such as Slovenia or Croatia. When I was growing up in Washington Heights, the immigrant German-Jewish community had its own provider of this glorious sweet, which in our house was mixed with water to make a fresh and divine soft drink. Mrs. Bauer’s raspberry syrup came in a rather short bottle and it was considerably more concentrated than what appears today. One generous teaspoon of the thick, deep red syrup would flavor a whole glass of water or seltzer and emit a heavenly aroma of raspberry. It was a staple of my childhood diet, a yummy accompaniment to any meal. Of course, raspberry syrup can also be added to iced tea or lemonade. Or, to a glass of white wine to make a Kir (or sparkling wine for a Kir Royale) – or any other cocktail, for that matter. In Berlin, it is often added to Berliner Weisse, a regionally brewed wheat beer.

Now that Mrs. Bauer’s is long gone and I have found nothing as good on the market to replace it (and since I have a massive raspberry crop this year after the warm winter), I am making my own syrup. In addition to using it to flavor drinks, it can also be drizzled over any number of foods – pancakes, waffles, yoghurt, pudding or ice cream.

If you are lucky enough to have access to a supply of fresh raspberries you can pick yourself, all the better.  Here is the recipe:

Raspberry Syrup (Himbeersaft)

1 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 cups raspberries

1) Combine the water and the sugar in a heavy saucepan. Bring to a boil, stirring until sugar has dissolved. Lower heat and simmer for another 1-2 minutes. Remove from heat and set aside.

2) Meanwhile, put the raspberries in a heavy-bottomed pot. Cook over low heat until soft, about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cool slightly and pour into sieve that has been set over a bowl. With the back of a tablespoon or a wooden spoon, press the berries to extract all the juice. Let it sit for another 15 minutes and press again. You should have about 1 cup of juice.

3) Add the raspberry juice to the syrup.

4) Return the raspberry syrup to the stove, bring to a boil and cook for 5 to 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until syrup thickens and becomes more concentrated. Cool.

5) Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator, or freeze.

I received a lovely bunch of fresh summer savory in my CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) box recently. In German it goes by the name Bohnenkraut, which literally means “bean herb”. It is traditionally paired with all kinds of beans, both fresh and dried. After setting the little bouquet of green herbs in a small juice glass filled with water for a day or so (the better to admire the tiny white flowers), I made a simple batch of green beans with Bohnenkraut. The bold flavor of this herb (somewhat similar to thyme) was a marvelous pairing with the beans, it literally was a “summer savory”.

I recently noticed that a good New York rye bread with caraway seeds is much tastier and crisper than a plain white New York rye bread. (Does anyone know why?) It got me thinking about caraway seeds. They are an important flavor addition to many German dishes and therefore also to German-Jewish food.

When I was growing up in Washington Heights, my mother made sautéed potatoes with great regularity – probably three or four times a week. I have to assume that this practice arrived on these shores with her, and that is what she was used to cooking in Germany. Like most of my mother’s food, it was simple and delicious, relying on ingredients that make themselves easily known. She used a black enameled fry pan with tapered sides brought over when they immigrated in 1939. The pan would get a large dab of Crisco or butter, or both; the pan was heated and the previously steamed potatoes were then sliced and laid into the hot fat. The aroma of the butter signaled that these delightful potatoes were on the menu. If I was doing homework on the living room floor, I would head through the swinging door to the kitchen and check out the pan, maybe snitching a slice of potato.

Mom tended to fry hotter than I do, so her potatoes usually had some darker and lighter spots, including some very crisp portions. She would add salt and caraway seeds somewhere during the cooking process. The seeds dotted the potatoes, making a very noticeable pattern which is appropriate because the caraway taste is a very distinctive characteristic of this dish.

In Germany, caraway seeds are also often added to cabbage dishes and to sauerkraut, things I also remember from my childhood. Why, I wonder, is caraway, which is called kümmel in German, so popular? This spice, like so many, has a long history winding from one continent and millennium to the next. Think Stone Age, and Egyptians burying the seeds with their dead. It is related to other spices such as fennel, coriander and anise seed and this whole family of flavorings is considered to be carminative, which means they are soothing to the digestive system. It probably does so well in North-Central Europe because it grows well there, which I think is not the case with fennel and the others. It probably also has a calming effect when eating some rather heavy, difficult-to-digest foods.

Here is a recipe for my version of my mother Erna’s roasted potatoes. I’ve swapped out her Crisco for vegetable oil, but they remain essentially as I remember them from my youth: both crispy and soft, slightly salty and filled with heady caraway notes. They are a wonderful accompaniment to just about any meal, but work especially well with schnitzel, roast chicken, or any type of wurst.

Pan-roasted Potatoes with Caraway Seeds  [serves 4 as a side dish]

1 ½ pounds thin-skinned, waxy potatoes, peeled and cut in half (if using organic, may leave the skins on)

2 tablespoons neutral vegetable oil (or 1 tablespoon oil + 1 tablespoon unsalted butter)

2 teaspoons caraway seeds

1 teaspoon salt

1) Steam or boil the potatoes until barely tender, about 20 minutes. Remove from pot. When cool enough to handle, slice into ½ inch thick pieces.

2) Heat the oil (and butter, if using) in a large fry pan. Layer potatoes into the pan and cook on medium heat. Turn frequently so they will brown evenly. When they begin to brown, scatter the caraway seeds and salt over the potatoes and toss. Cook another minute or two. The potatoes should be gently browned around the edges. Eat hot.

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