A South African Seder, Inspired by Lithuanian Roots

Spicy Flavors of African Cape Put Stamp on Litvak Tradition

Carrot Candy: Beth Pollak, who’s family is South African shows off a plate of sweet and spicy ingberlach in her Brooklyn home.
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Carrot Candy: Beth Pollak, who’s family is South African shows off a plate of sweet and spicy ingberlach in her Brooklyn home.

By Leah Koenig

Published March 19, 2013, issue of March 22, 2013.
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In combination, South Africa’s deeply held Lithuanian heritage mixed with local produce and the country’s patchwork of culinary traditions has resulted in a Jewish food culture unlike any other. In recent years, shifts within the community — including an aging group of first- and second-generation Litvaks, the increased availability of imported kosher products and a trend of Jewish emigration out of South Africa — have put some of these traditional recipes and customs at risk of getting lost.

This fading heritage is partly responsible for inspiring Pollak to start making ingberlach five years ago. “I wanted to try out recipes from the old cookbooks, and make something my mother grew up eating,” she said.

More recently, in the weeks leading up to Passover, I joined Pollak’s daughter (and Perkel’s granddaughter), Beth, in cooking up a batch of ingberlach in her Brooklyn kitchen. Neither of us had made the dish before, but we had a recipe from the 1981 Women’s Zionist League of South Africa cookbook in hand, and Pollak on speed dial for guidance.

We spent the next hour and a half grating carrots, then marveling at the rich caramel smell and jammy texture they took on while simmering. The finished confection was earthy and sweet, with a chewy bite and spicy kick from the ginger. It was slightly unfamiliar but intriguing — much like the cuisines it comes from.

Ingberlach (Ginger-Carrot Candies)

Slightly adapted from “The New International Goodwill Recipe Book,” published by the Women’s Zionist League of South Africa (1981).

6 cups peeled and grated carrots (from about 2 pounds of carrots)
3 1/2 cups sugar
juice and zest of 1 lemon
juice and zest of 1 orange
2 teaspoons ginger, or more to taste

1) Place the carrots and sugar in a medium saucepan set over medium-high heat.

2) Bring to a boil, then lower heat to medium-low and cook, stirring often, until mixture turns thick and jammy, about 40 minutes.

3) Stir in the lemon and orange zests and juices, and the ginger, and continue cooking, stirring frequently, until mixture turns very thick and all of the liquid has evaporated, approximately 20 more minutes.

4) Mist a baking sheet lightly with water, then spoon the carrot mixture on top; gently smooth with a rubber spatula to a 1/2-inch thickness (if candy is sticking to the spatula, wet it with a little water).

5) Allow the candy to set, uncovered, in the fridge, then cut into rectangle or diamond-shapes. Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

Leah Koenig writes a monthly column on food Contact her at ingredients@forward.com.


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