A Technicolor Brunch Demo

Leah Koenig showing a New Jersey congregation how to make her smoked-salmon hash with lemon-mint vinaigrette — and we have the recipe.

It wasn’t my birthday yesterday morning, but if I hadn’t looked at the calendar I easily could have been fooled. The morning started out early (thanks to a 5:15 a.m. wakeup call from baby Max) and soggy, with heavy rain pelting against the window.

But just a few hours and a drive down a gray stretch of New Jersey highway later, and I felt a bit like Dorothy entering Oz. From out of the gray and drizzly haze, I opened a synagogue door to a buzzing sanctuary-turned-social-hall filled with Technicolor stained glass, a throng of chatting people and a table laden with brunch goodies. And not just any goodies, but platter upon platter of freshly made brunch dishes and sweets from my cookbook.

There was coffee too. Thank heaven. Amidst all that color and energy, I was grateful I had worn bright yellow instead of the typical all-black New Yorker uniform!

I was at Or Chadash, a small reform congregation in Flemington, New Jersey. “We are a very low key temple — a bit of a one room schoolhouse,” organizer Betsy Zalaznick had written to me before the event. But what they lacked in size they more than made up for in spirit.

Nearly a dozen volunteer cooks had prepared dishes from “Modern Jewish Cooking” — everything from orange-scented cheese blintzes, honey cinnamon pound cake and fig-and-ginger rugelach to spiced lentil patties. I may have accidentally eaten several pieces of noodle kugel with dried cherries and figs.

To the mix, I demonstrated how to make smoked-salmon hash with lemon-mint vinaigrette — a standout brunch favorite from the book, and a dish I regularly demonstrate. Normally I feel as if I am introducing my book to a group for the first time. There is a bit of pressure to make sure I share enough stories to give the audience a good sense of what is inside the cover. But at this event, so many people had already cooked from it that the whole thing felt more like a book club.

As a cookbook author, demonstrations and book-signing events are a surprisingly central part of my job. I’ve cooked on makeshift stages from as diverse and far flung locations as a humble camp cabin in the mountains north of Montreal to a gorgeous Jewish cultural center in Los Angeles. But never before have I been so touched by a community’s vibrant spirit — not to mention their cooking chops.

Smoked Salmon Hash With Lemon-Mint Vinaigrette

Serves 6-8

For the vinaigrette:
¼ cup finely chopped fresh mint
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
½ teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced or pushed through a press
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional)
¼ teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

For the hash:
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1½ pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
1 teaspoon water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 medium sweet onion, such as Vidalia, finely chopped
4 ounces smoked salmon, cut into bite-size pieces

1) Make the vinaigrette: Stir together the mint, olive oil, lemon zest, lemon juice, garlic, red pepper flakes (if using), and salt in a small bowl. Season with black pepper.

2) Make the hash: Heat the olive oil in a large frying pan set over medium heat. Add the potatoes and water, season with salt and black pepper, and stir to coat. Cover the pan and cook, stirring once, until the potatoes are just cooked through and brown in several places, 8 to 10 minutes.

3) Add the onion and stir to combine. Cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are a deep golden brown, 8 to 10 minutes more.

4) Remove the pan from the heat immediately stir in the salmon into the potato mixture. Taste and season with more salt and pepper, if desired. Divide among plates and serve warm topped with lemon-mint vinaigrette.

Leah Koenig is the author of “Modern Jewish Cooking: Recipes & Customs for Today’s Kitchen.” She is a contributing editor at the Forward. Recipe reprinted with permission from “Modern Jewish Cooking.”

A Technicolor Brunch Demo

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