More Matzo? Say It’s Not So!

Why is this night different from all other nights?
On this night, we must ask ourselves why on Earth we bought so much darned matzo meal.

Don’t tell me I’m alone here. Year after year, as Passover draws nearer, I have an inexplicable fear of running out of matzo meal. Surely, THAT will be the one thing that the stores run out of right in the moment of need. Not toilet paper, not water, but matzo meal. It’s even more incomprehensible because I don’t even like the stuff. Truth be told, I hate matzo! Made into balls or drowned in toffee is the only way I’ll accept it. Otherwise… What the heck do you do with all this dry, flavorless sawdust?

You turn it into a fruit crumble topping, that’s what! Thanks to the magic of nature’s candy, there’s plenty of rich, sweet flavor in the filling to make up for any of matzo’s shortcomings. Bolstered by the warmth of ground cinnamon and dark brown sugar, it turns into a crisp, downright buttery struesel to cap off the tender berry jumble. Served warm with perhaps a scoop of ice cream melting luxuriously into all the crevasses, or a soft dollop of whipped coconut cream melding into each layer, there are few desserts more comforting.

You’d never even know that this formula included the plague of my pantry, that ever-present matzo meal, perpetually purchased in bulk for no good reason. At least, now it has a good purpose, even beyond the Passover Seder. For both its crowd-pleasing taste and effortless assembly, this dessert is a definite keeper.

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Gefilte? Go Fish!

“Passover is right around the corner, so I was thinking about making a vegan gefilte fish this year.

Silence. The line went dead. After a few beats, I wondered if the call had dropped altogether, until my mom hesitantly, quietly responded, “…Why?”

My mother herself is a fair weather gefilte fish supporter, serving it dutifully every time tradition mandates. I get the impression that it’s more about ritual, symbolism, and classic Jewish guilt than genuine enjoyment, but for all that, her tolerance for the processed white fish dumpling is far greater than most. Even she couldn’t fathom why I’d want to revisit the reviled appetizer, and at such great effort.

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure. Maybe it’s the challenge of creating something that is otherwise unattainable, of trying something new and novel, or my general propensity towards all things bizarre.

Let’s be honest, gefilte fish is an outlandish dish. They’re like poached pescaterian meatballs, spiked with the sharp bite of horseradish and bitter herbs. You can generally find them packed in shelf-stable glass bottles, which seem to live indefinitely in the back of your bubbe‘s pantry, like a long-forgotten science experiment gone awry. To make matters worse, because cooking is verboten on the Sabbath for strictly kosher households, it’s typically served cold.

Starting from scratch with plants, we can resuscitate this Franken-fish with just a bit of patience and perseverance. Potato and cauliflower provide the substance and texture with a fairly neutral taste, bolstered by caper brine for a subtly oceanic, saline essence. Olive brine or simply very salty water could do in a pinch, but something about the faintly lemony, pleasingly metallic taste of capers really suits the original inspiration.

There are plenty of similar interpretations on the internet, but what sets my fish-free gefilte apart is the genuine coating in aspic, reminiscent of the gelatinous goop that comes within the jar. Slicked with the sheen of agar, this extra layer locks in moisture, freshness, and an added veneer of savory flavor.

No one would be fooled by my finless imposters, even amidst the cacophony of colors on the average Seder plate; these gefilte are far and away the superior option. Banish those fetid, mummified monstrosities in the closet, and try something better than merely edible this year.

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Pop Culture

Hamentaschen are unarguably the dessert du jour for Purim, but that doesn’t mean that there’s no room for creative interpretation. Iron out the corners, add a lollipop stick handle for grab-and-go fun, and you’d get these stunningly simple pie pops.  Between the tender crust and fruity center, what are they but miniature, triangular pies, after all?  Familiar fillings with small twists liven up the standard pastry, sure to satisfy the traditional and adventurous palate alike. Not to mention, the downsized format is perfect for portion control.

Filling options are truly limitless, but I do have three suggestions to get you started.

Creamy chocolate mousse is a fool-proof pick for any crowd, possessing a richness and depth of flavor unexpected from such a simple preparation.   Pecan pie, that classy southern belle, meets with the decidedly northern delight of maple syrup.  Crunchy, nutty, sweet and salty, this study in contrasts comes together harmoniously in each bite.  Finally, the last filling is not one to share with the kids, but a treat for the adults to fight over instead.  Tender pieces of ripe pear are gently simmered in and infused with cider and red wine before being stuffed inside those flaky pastry cases.   Family-style pies can only dream of being this elegant and fun all at once.

A few months stand in the way of this fun holiday, so you still have plenty of time to dream and scheme up something new. Hit the links for the aforementioned recipes, and check out the Maple-Pecan filling below…

Maple-Pecan Filling:

1/4 Cup Grade B Maple Syrup
1/4 Cup Plain Non-Dairy Milk
Pinch Salt
1 Tablespoon Cornstarch
3/4 Cup Pecan Pieces
1/2 Teaspoon Vanilla Extract

In a medium saucepan over medium-low heat, vigorously whisk together the maple syrup, non-dairy milk, salt, and cornstarch, so that there are no lumps of starch remaining. Cook until the mixture comes up to a lively bubble, whisking constantly so that nothing sticks or burns. Once fully boiling and significantly thickened, turn off the heat and stir in the pecan pieces and vanilla. Cool completely before baking into pie pops.

Proceed as per the instructions in the pie crust recipe.

Printable Recipe

[Written for Joy of Kosher Magazine]

Kosher Cooking with Levana

Every day is a different job, making it rather difficult to explain exactly what I do when meeting new people. Truth is, I’m not quite sure I have the whole story straight myself- Am I a student? Photographer? Author? Restaurant cook? Blogger? Well, to make matters more confusing, it seems I’m about to add another descriptor to the list: Food stylist.

Food styling is something that is par for the course for food bloggers, but in the world of professional photography, the person wielding the camera is rarely, if ever, directly involved in plating and arranging that delicious subject seen through the viewfinder. The ability to artfully display edibles comes naturally to most food enthusiasts, or anyone who spends enough time eating out and seeing how the experts do it, but it’s not a job that one stumbles into with little real experience… Unless you’re me, apparently. Never had I flattered myself by assuming it was something I could do beyond my own kitchen- Most jobs clearly state that the stylist have a solid culinary background, a degree from an esteemed cooking school, and experience up the wazoo. So getting that last minute call from my publisher, saying that a kind woman in Brooklyn would love my assistance, was quite the shock.

And can I tell you something? I had a blast. Challenging at times and a definite learning experience all the way, but thankfully, Levana Kirschenbaum was every bit as warm and welcoming as promised, and we hit it off immediately. Two long days of fussing with greens, swabbing plates obsessively with q-tips, and a just one minor pâté fiasco later, and we had dozens of beautiful images (thanks to the camera work of Meir Pliskin) to add into her upcoming cookbook, The Whole Foods Kitchen. [Please note, though this isn’t a vegan cookbook, there are many vegan options.] I still couldn’t help but pick up my camera a few times, though bear in mind that these are not the images going into the book. Just a few of my favorites, and a little sneak preview to whet your appetite!

Steel-Cut Oat Soup

Lemon Pudding

Steamed Dumplings

Pasta Salad

Roasted Fennel and Endive

Chocolate Steel-Cut Oats Pudding