Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern are two of the leaders of the movement to revolutionize Ashkenazi cuisine. Together, they co-founded The Gefilteria, a Brooklyn-grown business that sets out to reimagine Jewish classics while championing Old World slow food techniques, in 2012. In their first-ever cookbook — including over a hundred recipes, pulled deep from the culinary histories of Eastern Europe and the diaspora community of North America — they draw inspiration from the legacies of Jewish pickle shops, bakeries, appetizing shops, dairy restaurants, delicatessens, and holiday kitchens. Tapping into the zeitgeist of rediscovering Old World food traditions like pickling, fermenting, and baking — as well as the foundational values of these techniques for resourcefulness and seasonality—The Gefilte Manifesto encourages anyone and everyone to incorporate healthy and vital Ashkenazi recipes into their everyday repertoire.
Recipe: Spiced Blueberry Soup
Jeffrey: There’s an intriguing tradition of fruit-based soups in Ashkenazi cooking, much as there is in Scandinavian cuisine. Growing up, I was familiar with sour cherry soup, but I hadn’t heard of blueberry soup until I began reviewing old Jewish cookbooks. I’m glad I found it.
Many old recipes call for straining out the blueberries, but Liz and I prefer the texture that the stewed fruit adds to the soup. This recipe is a great way to highlight the berry harvest in early summer or a delicious way to utilize frozen berries when the weather turns cold. Also, it is a very quick recipe. You can serve it hot right after it’s finished cooking, but the flavor develops nicely after a day. Once cooled, you can refrigerate the soup and serve it cold (our preference) or at room temperature.
SERVES 4 TO 6
2 cinnamon sticks
2 teaspoons whole cloves
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons whole black peppercorns
6 cups fresh or frozen blueberries
¼ cup honey
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
1 cup cold water
2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
2 teaspoons lemon zest, plus more for garnish
Sour cream, store bought or homemade (page 24), or plain yogurt, for serving
- Tie the cinnamon sticks, cloves, coriander seeds, and peppercorns in a square of cheesecloth for easy removal later.
- In a medium saucepan, combine the blueberries, honey, lemon juice, spice bundle, and cold water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for about 8 minutes. The berries will break down quite quickly and release a good deal of liquid.
- Remove the pot from the heat. Very slowly spoon 3 tablespoons of the hot blueberry liquid into the egg yolks (1 tablespoon at a time to avoid curdling the egg yolks). Whisk with a fork until thick, 1 to 2 minutes, then return the blueberry-egg mixture to the pot and return the soup just to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 3 minutes more, until the soup has thickened. Remove from the heat, and immediately mix in the 2 teaspoons of lemon zest.
- Remove the spice bundle before serving hot, cold, or at room temperature, garnished with sour cream and remaining lemon zest.
Recipe: Lilya’s Summer Beet Borscht
Liz: One summer day, Jeffrey and I headed to Little Odessa in Brighton Beach, Brooklyn. We were visiting our business partner Jackie’s ninety-two-year-old Russian-born great-aunt, Lilya. She had immigrated to Brighton Beach from the Soviet Union in 1989. Lilya was known for her borscht, and she’d invited us to spend time with her while she salted and seasoned three varieties of the soup. At ninety-two, she was extraordinary, foisting shots of vodka on us and showering us with words of wisdom. We left Brighton Beach inspired and feeling lucky to have met her. She passed away a couple of years later. We developed this recipe with her in mind.
This beet borscht is perfect served chilled on summer days or served hot in the colder months. The ideal borscht, writes Aleksandar Hemon in The New Yorker of his Bosnian family traditions “contains everything … and it can be refrigerated and reheated in perpetuity, always better the next day. The crucial ingredient is a large, hungry family, surviving together.” Jeffrey thinks that this recipe should utilize rossel (the brine from fermented beets, otherwise known as beet kvass) instead of vinegar to add tang, since traditionally borscht’s coveted sour flavor was cultivated by first fermenting the beets. But I disagree. I like the flavor that vinegar adds, even if it isn’t as Old-World. This recipe uses vinegar (I won!), but if you’d like to be more old school and first wait a week to ferment your beets, follow the Beet and Ginger Kvass recipe (on page 290 in the book) but omit the ginger. And while this recipe calls for roasting beets and adding them to the soup, it also tastes great without roasted beets. Just cut the beet amount to 1 pound if omitting the roasting step.
SERVES 6 TO 8
2 pounds whole beets, scrubbed but unpeeled
2 carrots, unpeeled and coarsely chopped
2 celery stalks with leaves, coarsely chopped
2 medium onions:
1 quartered, 1 diced
5 garlic cloves: 2 left whole, 3 minced
2 dried bay leaves
2 tablespoons kosher salt
2 tablespoons whole black peppercorns
2 tablespoons caraway seeds
4 cups cold water
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
Sour cream, store-bought or homemade (see page 24), or crème fraîche, for garnish
Chopped fresh dill, for garnish
- Preheat the oven to 400°F. Wrap 1 pound of the beets individually in aluminum foil and set on a baking sheet. Roast until they can be easily pierced with a fork, 40 minutes to 1 hour, depending on the size of the beets (larger beets take longer). The skin should peel off easily under cold running water. Dice the beets into bitesize pieces and refrigerate until serving.
- While the beets are roasting, in a large soup pot, combine the remaining 1 pound beets, the carrots, celery, quartered onion, whole garlic cloves, bay leaves, salt, peppercorns, caraway seeds and 9 cups water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 1 hour. Remove from the heat.
- Fill a large bowl with water and ice. Remove the boiled beets from the pot and place them in the ice-water bath. When cool, peel and coarsely chop them. Strain the broth through a fine-mesh strainer into a large bowl, discarding the solids.
- Rinse and dry the soup pot and set it over medium heat. Add the olive oil and diced onion and sauté until the onion is fragrant, about 3 minutes. Add the minced garlic and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes more, until the onion begins to turn golden. Add the beet broth and coarsely chopped boiled beets to the pot and simmer over low heat, covered, for about 20 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and puree the soup in the pot using an immersion blender. (Alternatively, transfer it in small batches to a standing blender and puree — just be careful!) Add the honey and vinegar and simmer over very low heat for 5 minutes.
- If serving hot, place 2 tablespoons of diced roasted beets in the bottom of each bowl and then ladle the hot soup over them. Garnishing with sour cream and chopped fresh dill. If serving chilled, remove from the heat and let the soup cool completely and then refrigerate overnight. Be sure to stir the soup well and taste immediately before serving. Once cooled, many soups require a touch more salt. If necessary, add more salt, a teaspoon at a time. As with hot borscht, place 2 tablespoons of the roasted beets at the bottom of the bowl and ladle the soup on top. Serve garnished with sour cream and chopped fresh dill.
Excerpted from the book The Gefilte Manifesto by Jeffrey Yoskowitz & Liz Alpern. Copyright ©2016 by Gefilte Manifesto LLC. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved. Photography by Lauren Volo.