The ProsenPeople

Feast of Famine

Monday, October 10, 2011 | Permalink

Lauren Shockey is the author of Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris. She offered thoughts on Yom Kippur and break fast to us last week, which we’re sharing here today.  While it’s too late late to make some of the delicious dishes she mentions for this past year’s Yom Kippur, save them for next year, or, even better, try them out for Sukkot this week.

We might associate Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, with fasting, but for me, the holiday is as much about eating—that is, breaking the fast—as it is about abstaining from food.

Growing up in New York City, my break fast meals were minor affairs.  Really, it was just my parents and me having dinner, since the vast majority of our Jewish relatives live outside of New York City.  Yet when I lived in Tel Aviv, working at the restaurant Carmella Bistro and writing what would become Four Kitchens, I befriended a group of Israelis who took me under their wing and we celebrated the Days of Awe together, first having a large dinner for Rosh Hashanah, and then an equally festive break fast meal following Yom Kippur.  Because I was apprenticing to be a chef, I had been tasked with cooking for Rosh Hashanah, and I prepared an elaborate feast combining American favorites (brisket, an apple tart) with Israeli ones (hummus).

For Yom Kippur, my friend Kate took over the dinner. My newfound pals and I gathered around the table, admiring her flaky golden boureka right out of the oven, excited to sate our hunger and begin anew.  Yet, as when the seasons change and we look towards the New Year, our longing wasn’t just a physical hunger, but an emotional one, too, of beginning a journey together as the book seals our fate for the ensuing year.

Although I celebrated the holidays in New York City this year with friends and family, I cooked the dishes that I made during my Tel Avivian Days of Awe (and which subsequently made it into Four Kitchens): sweet potato soup with feta and za’atar oil, red-wine braised brisket, and pomegranate-herb salad (see recipes below).   And yet while I’ve mastered the skills to develop recipes on my own, I still like to leaf through cookbooks that celebrate the season and the cuisine of the Levant.  Here are my three of my picks for when you’re looking for delicious sustenance for the Jewish holidays.

The New Book of Israeli Food – Filled with luscious photographs, this book celebrates contemporary Israeli cooking, and you can even find a recipe from Carmella Bistro where I worked.  You’ll see simple fare, like shakshuka (spicy poached eggs), as well as more complicated dishes like lamb and quince stew.  Part of the book is also divided by holidays, making it all the more fun this time of year.

The Book of Jewish Food   — Claudia Roden is a cookbook goddess, exploring the cuisines of the Levant.  While I am partial to the recipes in her New Book of Middle Eastern Food, I really love how in this tome she explores the worldwide Jewish Diaspora and how recipes have changed according to geography.

Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous  – Having lived in both Paris and Tel Aviv, I find this book to be really informative.  We don’t normally think of France as having a strong Jewish culture, but Nathan traces the past 2,000 years of history, illustrating the parallels in the two cuisines.  The North African Sephardic recipes are of particular interest to me, since I love the rich, spice-filled cuisine.

Recipes from Four Kitchens:

Sweet Potato Soup with Feta and Zaatar Oil 

This is a really simple soup, warming and autumnal and gently flavored with hints of the Middle East. Zaatar is a spice blend that combines dried hyssop, thyme, and sesame seeds and can be found at Middle Eastern grocery stores or other specialty stores.

Serves 6-8

1⁄4 cup plus 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons zaatar
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
1 onion, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 small leek, diced
5 small sweet potatoes, peeled and chopped in 1-inch cubes
6 cups water
2 cups chicken stock
1 bay leaf
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄4 cup feta cheese

In a small pot, combine 1⁄4 cup olive oil and the zaatar. Cook over medium heat until hot, but take care not to burn the zaa‐ tar. Set aside for at least 1 hour to cool and infuse.

In a large pot, heat the butter and remaining olive oil over medium‐high heat. When the butter has melted, add the onion, carrot, and leek, and cook until softened, about 5 minutes. Add the sweet potato cubes, and sauté for another minute. Add the water, stock, and bay leaf, and bring to a boil. once the soup begins to boil, lower to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes. Check to make sure the sweet potatoes are completely soft. Add the salt to the soup.

Remove the bay leaf and puree the soup using a regular or immersion blender. If the soup is too thick, add a little water or stock until a desired consistency has been reached. Ladle the soup into individual bowls. Crumble the feta into each bowl and drizzle with the zaatar oil.

Red Wine-Braised Brisket

Brisket is a popular choice for the Jewish holidays, and although the meat can frequently be tough, the trick is to cook it for a really long time over a very low temperature so that the fat and collagen break down and the meat becomes fork‐tender. This is great served over a bed of creamy polenta or mashed potatoes. The 5‐to‐6‐pound brisket is the weight before the fat is trimmed off; after the fat is trimmed, the yield should be about 3 to 4 pounds of beef.

Serves 8

1 medium to large yellow onion
4 carrots
1 leek, white part only
2 ribs celery
1 beef brisket, about 5 to 6 pounds before trimming
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1⁄4 teaspoon
freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
6 cloves garlic
2 bay leaves
6 sprigs thyme
2 cups red wine
2 cups beef stock

Preheat the oven to 320 degrees F. Cut the onion in half ver‐ tically, then cut each half into quarters. Cut the carrots, leek, and celery into 2‐inch pieces.

Trim and discard all the fat off the brisket, including the cen‐ ter layer of fat. Cut the brisket into three pieces. Generously season the brisket pieces with the salt and pepper on all sides. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large skillet over high heat. When the oil begins to smoke, place one piece of the brisket in the pan and sear on each side for about 2 minutes, or until a dark golden crust forms. Remove from the pan and keep warm. Repeat with the remaining two pieces of brisket. Add another tablespoon of olive oil to the pan, and sauté the gar‐ lic, onion, carrots, leek, celery, bay leaves, and thyme until the garlic begins to turn golden. Transfer the vegetable mixture to a Dutch oven or other heavy‐bottomed baking dish. Place the beef atop the bed of vegetables.

Add 1⁄2 cup red wine to the skillet and deglaze the pan, scrap‐ ing up any bits that may be stuck to the bottom. once you have reduced the wine by half, pour over the meat. Add the remaining wine and the beef stock to the skillet, and bring to a boil. Pour over the meat and vegetables. The liquid should come halfway up to the meat but should not submerge it completely.

Bake, covered, for 4 hours, basting and turning the meat every half hour. The braising liquid should be at a gentle boil the whole time. If the liquid is boiling rapidly, lower the heat to 315 degrees F. If there is a lot of liquid remaining in the pot, cook with the lid slightly ajar for the last hour. The meat should be tender enough when done to be cut with a fork and should fall apart easily when handled with tongs. Let sit for about 10 minutes before serving.

Divide the brisket among bowls and serve with some of the vegetables and braising liquid.

Pomegranate-Herb Salad

This bright‐green‐and‐red salad is inspired by the herb salad with toasted cashews served at Carmella. Plus, it utilizes the best trick I learned at Carmella: deseeding pomegranates in a snap. Since herbs have a tendency to darken when cut, make sure they are completely dry after washing them (the best way to wash them is to leave them tied in bunches and let them soak in cold water for a few minutes, swirling the water occasionally to remove any dirt) before slicing. And don’t worry if you have uneven or whole leaves; that’s part of this salad’s charm.

Serves 6

2 pomegranates
2 bunches parsley (about 6 cups’ worth of leaves)
1 bunch cilantro (about 2 cups’ worth of leaves)
1⁄2 bunch mint (about 1 to 11⁄2 cups leaves)
4 cups baby arugula leaves
1⁄2 teaspoon kosher salt
1⁄4 cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice

Slice the pomegranates in half lengthwise. Make five to six incisions at a 20‐degree angle into the base of each half. over a bowl, place the pomegranate half seed‐side down into your palm and whack the top of the fruit with a spoon. Repeat until there are no more seeds left in the fruit. Remove any yellow pith that might have fallen out along with the seeds. Place the seeds into a large salad bowl.

Cut the parsley, cilantro, and mint: Leaving the herbs tied in bunches and using a sharp knife, thinly slice the herbs starting at the top of the bunch. once you reach mostly stems, discard the bunch. Add the herbs to the bowl.

Take the arugula and form it into a ball. Using the same sin‐ gle slicing motion, cut the arugula into small pieces. Add to the salad bowl along with the salt, olive oil, and lemon juice. Com‐ bine well and serve immediately.

Be sure to check out Lauren Shockey’s recently published  Four Kitchens: My Life Behind the Burner in New York, Hanoi, Tel Aviv, and Paris.