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Healthier Kugel Recipes for the Holidays

There’s nothing like a series of back-to-back Jewish holidays to help you pack on the pounds without even trying. Between my mother’s Rosh Hashanah brisket, my bubbie’s stuffed cabbage for Sukkot, and our elaborate post-Yom Kippur feast that features enough delectable breads, spreads, and pastries to more than make up for 24 hours without eating, it’s a wonder any of our clothing fits by the time October rolls around each year.

Given the deliciousness of the various items that typically grace our holiday table, the assault on my waistline is more than worth it. That said, we’ve made an effort over the past few years to mitigate the damage by swapping some of our old school, traditional kugel recipes for ones that are just as tasty but far more healthy.

Challah Back, Girl!

William Greenberg Desserts’ Challah, Round for Rosh Hashanah. Photograph by Liza Schoenfein

An email landed in my inbox this week from William Greenberg Desserts, a tiny kosher bakery on Madison Avenue — and with it came a flood of memories. My grandparents lived practically around the corner from Greenberg’s (we lived nearby too), and my grandmother would sometimes take me there on Friday afternoons after school to pick up one of the lovely braided challahs flecked with raisins, so eggy and sweet they were more like cake than bread.

We’d walk into the cool white space and I’d be hit with the scent of sweet butter, of cookies and babkas and all manner of delicious treats. As Nana ordered, an aproned woman behind the counter would catch my eye, pull out a bin of cookies, and hand me one with a sly smile. It happened every time. My favorite was a thin, crisp butter cookie topped with slivered almonds, which both my grandmother and my mom would pick up for special occasions. I loved the white cardboard box they arranged the cookies in, and the red bakery string, descending from above, that they tied around it.

William Greenberg’s challah is my quintessential holiday bread, the one I measure all others by.
Owner Carol Becker

Owner Carol Becker

(It’s the same way that New Yorker’s seem to measure every slice of pizza by whichever one they grew up eating.) So it’s strange that I hadn’t been in since my childhood—until today.

Inspired by that email and the upcoming holidays, I tromped across the park this morning and paid a long-overdue visit to William Greenberg’s. The shop smelled exactly as it always had, and it has a similar feel, but it’s been renovated by owner Carol Becker, who bought the place seven years ago. It’s cheerful and bustling, and on this beautiful Friday it was packed with customers.

As I chatted with Carol, sharing my childhood recollections and asking about the store, she pulled on a pair of thin rubber gloves, reached into a huge plastic container of almond cookies, put a few into a little white paper bag and handed it to me. It was a gift straight out of the past, happily unchanged.

Not to get all madeleine about it, because that’s so cliché, but I am always struck, particularly at the holidays, by the way foods can trigger memories and connect us to family who are no longer here.

William Greenberg Desserts delivers by messenger throughout Manhattan and by mail anywhere in the U.S.

Liza Schoenfein is the new food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com.

Park Avenue Eatery Becomes Jerusalem Shuk

The scene this week at Barbounia. Photograph courtesy of Barbounia Restaurant.

The Mediterranean restaurant Barbounia has been totally transformed. This week, through Saturday night, executive chef Amitzur Mor is cooking up a dinner menu full of dishes inspired by Mahane Yehuda market, the Jerusalem shuk. Calling it Barbounia Cooks Jerusalem, the Israeli chef says the festival is a salute to that city’s rich culinary and cultural heritage.

“The coolest thing was the challenge of taking the old-school, almost forgotten food that’s mainly done in houses — they sell it down in the shuk, where they keep it on a burner all day — and we actually created those dishes and tried to get all the flavor, but made them restaurant dishes.”

Decorated to look like a replica of the near-century-old market, the restaurant on Manhattan’s Park Avenue South is serving three classic street beverages—fresh almond milk, tamarind juice, and grape juice — from the same big vending machines found in the shuk.

Every meal begins with a Jerusalem-style sesame bagel served with olive oil & zaatar. “Making the Jerusalem bagel, it’s not a joke!” Mor said. “It’s a serious process.”

There’s an Old City Meat Market Lamb Tasting and a Jerusalem fish koufta. Other shuk-centric fare includes a mixed grill of sweetbreads, chicken livers, and duck and chicken hearts, served with homemade pita; roasted baby eggplants with pine nuts, homemade labane, fresh herb salad, and sumac, and Old City Market Crispy Treats featuring falafel, veal cigars, and lamb kibbeh.

“How to roll a kibbeh, we’re pretty much there — but I’m sure some of those old grannies do it better,” Mor said.

For dessert, there are traditional Middle Eastern pastries and other confections—and of course chunks of halva, cut from oversize wheels.

“There was a lot of learning,” Mor said. “The day I learn something new is a good day.”

Liza Schoenfein is the new food editor of the Forward. Contact her at schoenfein@forward.com.

Ottolenghi Book Solves Holiday Menu Conundrum

Holiday menus at my house are a puzzle indeed. My sister and her husband don’t eat red meat or chicken. Our dear family friend Cecile is allergic to fish. Pasta doesn’t feel festive — and anyway, there’s always someone going gluten-free. All this means no brisket, roast chicken, baked salmon or Bolognese for us.

Just as I was beginning to consider my rather knotty Rosh Hashanah menu in earnest, an early copy of Yotam Ottolenghi’s new cookbook landed on my desk. It’s called “Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking From London’s Ottolenghi” (Ten Speed Press). Like so many of us, I was a fan of the original “Plenty” (Chronicle Books, 2010), and of the Israeli-born chef’s “Jerusalem” (Ten Speed Press, 2012), written with Sami Tamimi.

The new book has the riotously colorful, ridiculously tempting images we’ve come to expect — they were shot by Jonathan Lovekin — and the same sorts of exotic, multilayered, if generally uncomplicated, recipes, heady with spices, hearty with interesting grains and legumes, and bright with unexpected combinations of fruits, vegetables and herbs. Sourcing the more esoteric ingredients can be a bit of a challenge, but less these days, with so much available online from specialty shops such as Kalustyan’s.

Recipe: Brussels Sprout Risotto

Photograph by Jonathan Lovekin © 2014

Serves 4

2 tablespoons unsalted butter
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 small onions, finely chopped (1 1/3 cup)
2 large cloves garlic, crushed
2 tablespoons thyme leaves
2 lemons, rind shaved in long strips from one, finely grated zest from the other
1½ cups Arborio or another risotto rice
18 ounces trimmed Brussels sprouts (7 ounces shredded and 11 ounces quartered) lengthwise
Scant 2 cups dry white wine
Scant 4 cups hot vegetable stock
About 1 2/3 cups sunflower oil
1½ cups Parmesan, coarsely grated
2 ounces Dolcelatte, broken into ¾-inch chunks (The Forward substituted gorgonzola dolce)
1/3 cup tarragon leaves, chopped
2 teaspoons lemon juice
Salt and black pepper

1) Place the butter and olive oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Add the onions and fry for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and lightly caramelized. Add the garlic, thyme and lemon rind strips, and cook for a further 2 minutes. Add the rice and shredded sprouts and cook for another minute, stirring frequently. Pour in the wine and let it simmer for a minute before you start adding the stock, 1 teaspoon salt and a good grind of pepper. Turn down the heat to medium, and carry on adding the stock in ladlefuls, stirring often, until the rice is cooked but still retains a bite and all the stock is used up.

2) While the rice is cooking, pour the sunflower oil into a separate large saucepan; it should rise ¾ inch up the sides. Place over high heat and, once the oil is very hot, use a slotted spoon to add a handful of the quartered sprouts. (Take care that they are completely dry before you add them; they will still splatter, so be careful.) Fry the sprouts for less than 1 minute, until golden and crispy, then transfer them to a plate lined with paper towels. Keep them somewhere warm while you fry the remaining sprouts.

3) Add the Parmesan, Dolcelatte (or Gorgonzola Dolce), tarragon and half the fried sprouts to the cooked risotto and stir gently. Serve at once with the remaining sprouts spooned on top, followed by the grated lemon zest and the lemon juice.

Reprinted with permission from Plenty More: Vibrant Vegetable Cooking from London’s Ottolenghi by Yotam Ottolenghi, copyright © 2014. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Random House LLC.

“Plenty More” is available for purchase through online booksellers such as Powells.com and IndieBound.org.

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