Serve Up Some Loving-kindness
The daily news is a constant reminder that it’s a cruel world out there; yet we hear a lot about kindness these days. In Judaism we learn that our acts of kindness contribute to “tikkun olam” (repairing the world). In our tradition, the word “chesed” (rhymes with blessed) loosely translates into “kindness,” but it is so much more. “Often translated as ‘loving-kindness,’ “chesed” means giving oneself fully, with love and compassion,” according to pjlibrary.org. “The concept of chesed appears in the Torah more than 190 times. For this reason, many Jewish thinkers hold the value of loving-kindness up as Judaism’s primary ethical virtue. Indeed, Judaism teaches us to lift up each day and make it special. With acts of chesed, we do just that.”
A new cookbook, “The Giving Table” (Menucha Publishers, $38.99) is the culmination of author Naomi Ross’s 18 years of culinary instruction with 160 tantalizing kosher recipes giving home cooks a step-by-step guide to “cooking it forward.” Ross, a regular contributor to Fleishigs magazine, Binah magazine, OU Jewish Action and Kosher.com, believes inspired Jewish cooking infuses meaning into what we create in the kitchen.
“As home cooks, virtually all of our cooking is devoted to feeding our families or ourselves,” Ross writes. “Sometimes, however, there are opportunities that arise to cook for others, not because we have to, but because we choose to, just because we care. These are culinary acts of chesed, acts of loving-kindness. What compels us is the chance to transform a mundane meal into a much-needed source of nourishment, love and comfort. It feels good to help someone who’s having a rough time, whether the cooking becomes a vehicle for visiting the sick, comforting mourners, hosting guests, or even welcoming a new neighbor. In all cases, what you create not only takes on a higher purpose, it will change the person you are as well.”
It is hard to think of a food that can bring more comfort than soup. The word is almost a symbol for food itself. So pervasive is the concept that our language is steeped with soup idioms. A facility to feed the hungry and poor is a “soup kitchen.” A revved-up car is “souped up.” If it has it all, it’s “from soup to nuts.” A real cinch is as easy as “duck soup.” When you’re in the thick of it, you’re “in the soup.” And what’s the standard example given to distinguish a schlemiel from a schlimazel? A schlemiel is one who spills his soup; a schlimazel is the person he spills it on.
Soup is mysterious, deep and alluring—think witch’s brew and blinding fog—the giver of life from whence we come, the prehistoric primordial soup. And don’t even get me started on the whole “Chicken Soup for the Soul” series. No wonder, when dinner is ready, whether the meal includes soup or not, the cook exclaims, “Soup’s on!”
“Marak, the Hebrew word for soup, is derived from the word ‘mareik,’ to cleanse,” Ross writes. Say the word “soup” and instantly that tummy-warmer from childhood comes to mind: The steaming bowl of tomato soup my mother fed me when I was sick. Holiday dinners with Aunt Irene’s matzah balls or Aunt Sally’s kreplach. Aunt Estelle’s vegetable soup, a veritable garden in a bowl, and, of course, my mother’s incredible chicken soup. (Not for nothing is it called “Jewish penicillin.”) And what could be more hearty than mushroom barley soup?
“Barley, mentioned by name 32 times in the Pentateuch, was one of the Seven Species with which the land of Israel was praised,” writes the late rabbi and food historian, Gil Marks. “The importance of barley in ancient Israel can be seen from an injunction stating that the valuation of a field was to be determined according to the measurement of the barley—not wheat—that could be sown in it.”
Ross’s boozy, moist apple cake features dried cherries instead of the usual raisins. According to Marks: “Cherries are part of the cuisine of nearly every Jewish community. Persians use cherries in rice dishes and various sweets. Syrians find cherries complementary to meat dishes, including meatballs, and lamb roast. Cherries are also popular in Europe, and used in jams, soups, sauces, strudels, cakes, and liqueurs. The French serve cherries with ducklings and other poultry and in desserts. In Alsace, sour cherries are used to make the well–known cherry brandy called kirsch. In Eastern Europe, they are macerated with sugar and vodka for vishniac.”
“What makes an apple cake Jewish?” Ross asks. “That it’s served during Rosh Hashanah time (reminiscent of apples dipped in honey)? That it may have some Polish or German origins? It seems, ironically, neither. As its popularity spread, particularly in the mid-Atlantic region, this super-moist apple-laden Bundt cake came to be known as ‘Jewish’ apple cake (even in church community cookbooks!) most likely because of Jewish bakers’ use of oil to keep it pareve, a deviation from the norm of using butter or prohibited shortening. Baking kosher is what set this delicious cake apart, and apparently the result was something liked by all.”
Triple Mushroom, Meat, and Barley Soup
“In addition to white mushrooms, a combination of mushroom varieties, both fresh and dried, will add significantly more depth of flavor.”
1/3 cup dried porcini or wild mushrooms
1 1/2 to 2 pounds beef flanken, cut into 6 to 8 pieces.
1 beef bone
3 quarts (12 cups) water
2 medium onions, chopped
2 large stalks celery, sliced
2 large carrots, peeled and diced
3 large cloves garlic, minced (about 1 tablespoon)
2 pounds (32 ounces) fresh mushrooms (mixed varieties: white, cremini, oyster, etc.), roughly chopped or thinly sliced
1 cup pearled barley.
1 tablespoon kosher salt, plus more to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup chopped parsley, for garnishing.
1. Soak dried mushrooms in hot water to cover for 15 to 20 minutes. Strain mushrooms in a sieve, reserving water. Coarsely chop dried mushrooms; set aside.
2. Skim: Place flanken, beef bone, and 3 quarts water in large soup pot (at least 8-quart) over medium-high heat. Bring to a simmer and skim off foam that rises to the surface.
3. Simmer: After all impurities have been removed, add vegetables, garlic, fresh mushrooms, barley, salt, chopped dried mushrooms, and reserved mushroom water. Stir soup and return to a boil. Reduce heat to low; simmer partially covered for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until flanken is very tender and soup slightly thickened. Season to taste with freshly ground pepper and more salt if needed. If soup is too thick, adjust consistency by adding a little additional water.
4. Ladle soup into bowls, giving each serving a generous portion of flanken. Garnish with sprinkling of chopped parsley.
Rum-Cherry Apple Cake
“Soaking the dried fruit in rum plumps them up and infuses them with flavor.”
3/4 cup dried sour cherries.
1/4 cup dark rum
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder.
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 1/2 cups sugar
3 large eggs
3/4 cup canola or vegetable oil
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
4 large Granny Smith apples (about 2 pounds), peeled, cored, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
1 cup chopped walnuts, toasted (optional)
Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting.
1. Soak: Preheat oven to 350°F. Grease and flour a large nonstick Bundt pan; tap out excess flour. In small bowl, soak cherries and rum 30 minutes, turning occasionally.
2. Batter: Into a medium bowl sift flour, baking powder, cinnamon, salt, allspice, and nutmeg. Set aside.
3. Drain rum into large mixing bowl, reserving cherries. Add sugar, eggs, oil, and vanilla to rum; beat with electric mixer until well blended and slightly thickened, about 5 minutes. Add flour mixture; beat just until blended. Scrape down sides; use a spatula to fold in apples, cherries, and optional walnuts by hand
4. Bake: Transfer batter to prepared pan. Bake cake until toothpick inserted into center comes out clean, about 60 to 65 minutes. Cool cake in pan on rack. To unmold, use plastic knife to loosen cake around edges. Invert onto platter and dust with confectioners’ sugar.
Source: “The Giving Table” by Naomi Ross
Jlife Food Editor Judy Bart Kancigor is the author of “Cooking Jewish” (Workman) and “The Perfect Passover Cookbook” (an e-book short from Workman), a columnist and feature writer for the Orange County Register and other publications and can be found on the web at www.cookingjewish.com.