4 Multi-Cultural Jewish Recipes
From bacon-wrapped matzoh balls in Los Angeles and New York to the Jerusalem-inspired craze of London’s hot Ottolenghi restaurants, Jewish cuisine is attaining celebrity status.
Sometimes unapologetically not kosher, chefs are blending elements of classic Jewish cooking with brash, modern style, and often with blatantly non-Jewish foods and beverages.
By no means “authentically” Jewish, this cuisine is an expression of the culture’s increasing diversity.
Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel own Brooklyn’s Shalom Japan, which specializes in Jewish-Japanese fusion. The food symbolizes the partnership of the husband-and-wife team.
“We wanted to do something that was honest to who we are,” says Israel. “Sawa was born in Hiroshima, and I was born in New York and grew up in a Jewish household.”
The restaurant reflects the mingling of their heritage, with menu items like a yeasty, airy challah made with saké kasu (the lees from saké making) and matzoh-ball ramen.
Ilan Hall, winner of Season Two of Bravo’s Top Chef, recently expanded the reach of his Los Angeles restaurant, The Gorbals, by adding a second location in Brooklyn.
Hall’s wife is half-Japanese, and he was raised in New York by an Israeli mother and Scottish father (both Jewish). He describes his cuisine as “global immigrant food.”
His style arose not out innovation, he says, but as an honest reflection of his Jewish, Scottish and Asian culinary roots.
“It’s not blending for the sake of blending,” he says, “It’s blending because it makes sense, for the sake of being delicious.”
There’s not a kosher wine to be found at any of these restaurants (the exception being Shalom Japan’s cheekily-named cocktail, Oy Vey iz Kir, a blend of French sparkling wine and Manischewitz).
Instead, the beverages served alongside these eclectic dishes are a fanciful celebration of diversity, from rustic Georgian amphora wines at Nopi, Ottolenghi’s formal dining space in London, to a comprehensive list of saké and shochu at Shalom Japan. It’s an exposition of the ever-expanding influences being integrated into modern Jewish-inspired cuisine.
—Anna Lee C. Iijima
These bacon-wrapped matzoh balls, a comical affront to kosher dietary guidelines, are a bestseller at The Gorbals. “I’ve had a couple people send me hate email,” Hall says, “including this one guy who found them incredibly rude and offensive.” Yet, says Hall, “I’m Jewish by culture and not by religion, and time and time again, I’ve felt that the only thing missing from Jewish food was bacon.”
Recipe courtesy Ilan Hall, The Gorbals, Los Angeles and Brooklyn
½ cup matzoh meal
½ tablespoon salt
½ teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon dried dill
2 large eggs
1½ tablespoons rendered chicken, beef or pork fat (Hall uses bacon fat or lard)
1½ tablespoons sparkling water
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
4 strips applewood-smoked bacon (Hall orders from Nueske’s)
Mix the matzoh meal, salt, baking powder and dried dill in a small bowl.
In a large bowl, blend the eggs with the rendered fat, sparkling water and fresh dill. Add the dry ingredients and mix until uniform. Cover mixture in refrigerator for 30 minutes to stiffen.
Bring a very large pot (matzoh balls will triple in size) of water to a brisk boil.
Moisten hands and roll chilled matzoh-ball mixture into 8 walnut-sized balls.
Drop matzo balls into the water. Reduce heat, cover pot and simmer until thoroughly cooked, about 45–60 minutes.
Cool matzoh balls in cooking liquid.
Heat oven to 400˚F. Cut the bacon strips in half lengthwise. Remove matzoh balls from cooking liquid and carefully wrap each ball with a half-strip of bacon, overlapping the bacon ends to form a seam. Bake each matzoh ball, seam-side down, for 15–20 minutes, or until the bacon is crispy.
Serve with horseradish or horseradish aioli. Makes 8 matzoh balls.
These bacon-wrapped matzoh balls are the ultimate bar snacks, but also clever hors d’oeuvres to kick off an unconventional dinner party. Salty, smoky and rich, they’re begging to be paired with a hefeweizen, a wheat beer that’s equal parts refreshment, spice and delicate, hoppy bitterness. Hall suggests the classic Weihenstephaner for its rich notes of banana and clove, offset by a revitalizing finish.
The Ottolenghi restaurants and cafés in London began a worldwide frenzy for modern interpretations of Jewish and Arabic foods. The brainchild of two immigrants from Jerusalem, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Jewish and Palestinian, respectively), Ottolenghi is known for its nuanced, vegetable-driven cuisine. This jewel-toned salad fits right into London’s chic restaurant scene, but owes its roots to Jews from the Republic of Georgia that brought their culinary influences to Jerusalem.
Recipe adapted with permission from Jerusalem by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi (Ten Speed Press, 2012)
4 medium beets, roasted and peeled
4 medium leeks, cut into 4-inch segments
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
¼ teaspoon chili flakes
¼ cup cider vinegar
2 tablespoons tamarind water (see below)
½ teaspoon walnut oil
2½ tablespoons peanut oil
1 teaspoon salt
½ ounce cilantro, coarsely chopped
1¼ cups arugula
¹⁄₃ cup pomegranate seeds
Halve the beets and cut each half into wedges measuring 3/8 inch at the base. Put in a medium bowl and set aside.
Place the leeks in a medium saucepan with salted water, bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes, until just cooked.
Drain and refresh under cold water, then use a serrated knife to cut each segment into 3 smaller pieces and pat dry.
Transfer to a clean bowl and set aside.
While the vegetables cook, mix together the walnuts, garlic, chili flakes, vinegar, tamarind water, walnut oil, peanut oil and salt to make the dressing. Set aside for at least 10 minutes to allow the flavors to come together.
Divide the walnut dressing and the cilantro between the beets and the leeks, and toss gently. If needed, add more salt.
Spread most of the beets on a serving platter, top with some arugula, then most of the leeks, then the remaining beets, and finish with more leeks and arugula. Sprinkle with the pomegranate seeds and serve. Serves 4.
To make 2 tablespoons of tamarind water, place 20 grams of tamarind pulp in a bowl. Pour 4 tablespoons of boiling water on top. Leave it for half an hour, squeezing the tamarind pulp a few times so that it’s dispersed through the water and then strain it through a sieve, squeezing the pulp well so that all the liquid is released. Discard the pulp. Extra tamarind water keeps well in the fridge, so make larger amounts using a similar ratio. (For 60 ml of tamarind water, pour 120 ml of boiling water over 60 grams of tamarind pulp.)
The beets and leeks can be cooked a day in advance. Ottolenghi and Tamimi keep the two separate until serving, so the beets don’t color the leeks red.
Vibrant salads that balance sweet and sour are central to Ottolenghi’s cuisine. Fresh with acidity, spice and astringency, they find harmony with the numerous amphora-aged wines from Georgia and Italy on Ottolenghi’s predominantly organic and biodynamic wine list. Pheasant’s Tears 2011 Rkatsiteli from Georgia balances the fruit notes in the salad with delicate orange and blossom aromas. Earthy flavors of beets and walnuts match perfectly with the wine’s smoky, tannic finish.
When Okochi and Israel cook, “It’s not like we’re constantly thinking, ‘We need to add a little more Jewish here, or Japanese there,’ ” says Okochi. Yet, this nuanced dish’s delicate flavors of fluke and saké balanced by a nutty, earthy kasha crust demonstrates the natural interplay of Japanese and Jewish influences.
Recipe courtesy Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel, owners, Shalom Japan, Brooklyn
1 cup royal trumpet mushrooms, quartered
1 teaspoon olive oil
1 teaspoon butter
3 sprigs thyme, divided
1 clove garlic, smashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 cup saké
1 shallot, cut in quarters
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 bay leaf
½ pound butter, cut into ½-inch cubes
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 pound fluke fillets
1 cup whole-grain kasha, ground to flour
1 cup sugar snap peas, blanched (or another green spring vegetable)
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon fresh chives, chopped finely
1 handful sunflower shoots, for garnish
1 handful sunflower shoots, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a pan over medium-high heat. Cook the mushrooms until they begin to darken in color. Add the butter, thyme and garlic. Season with salt and pepper, to taste. Set aside.
Combine the saké, shallot, peppercorns, the remaining thyme and the bay leaf in a saucepan over medium-high heat and reduce saké until about 2 ounces remain. Strain and discard the aromatics.
Warm the saké reduction and whisk in the butter one cube at a time over medium heat. The sauce should be emulsified (saké beurre blanc). Season with salt and pepper, and set aside in a warm spot for up to an hour before serving.
Heat the canola oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Meanwhile, season both sides of the fluke fillets with salt and pepper. Press the inner side of the fluke into the kasha flour.
Dust off excess flour and place in pan, kasha-side down. Sauté over medium heat for 4 minutes, until kasha is golden-brown and fluke is almost cooked through. Flip fillet, count 5 seconds and remove to a plate.
Warm the mushrooms and sugar snap peas in the saké beurre blanc. Add the lemon juice and chives. Don’t let the beurre blanc get too hot, or the sauce will break.
Spoon sauce over the fluke, garnish with sunflower shoots and serve immediately. Serves 4.
To avoid overwhelming the delicate flavors of the fluke and kasha while highlighting the brightness of the dish’s green elements, Morpurgo suggests a subtly rice-scented, textured junmai daiginjo saké, like Ten to Chi’s Heaven & Earth from Niigata, Japan. Equally complementary, but in a vinous way, Morpurgo suggests the subtly oaked Maison L’Envoye 2011 Bourgogne Blanc. Crisp, with fresh apple and lemon flavors, it lends contrast to the dish’s rich beurre blanc and earthy kasha and mushroom flavors.
Okonomiyaki is a savory Japanese pancake packed with a mishmash of meats, seafood and vegetables, usually served with mayonnaise, a sweet-and-sour sauce and bonito flakes. It’s a regional specialty of Hiroshima, where Okochi was raised, but Shalom Japan incorporates Jewish touches like house-cured corned lamb’s tongue and sauerkraut. At home, replace the lamb’s tongue with corned beef or pastrami.
Recipe courtesy Sawako Okochi and Aaron Israel, owners, Shalom Japan, Brooklyn
2 cups all-purpose flour
½ cup rice flour*
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2¹⁄₃ cups dashi (Japanese soup stock), chilled*
¹⁄₃ cup cabbage, julienned into ¼-inch thick slices
½ onion, cut into ¼-inch-thick slices
1 quart bean sprouts (remove any green caps that remain on the bean)
2–4 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil (to grease pan)
Sauerkraut, quantity as desired
Sliced corned beef or pastrami, quantity as desired
1½ cups okonomiyaki sauce* (see recipe)
Scallion, bias-cut very thin, for garnish
Aonori (green seaweed powder), for garnish*
Bonito flakes, for garnish*
*Ingredients may be found at Asian or Japanese grocery stores.
Homemade Okonomiyaki Sauce
Mix 1 cup ketchup, ½ cup Worcestershire sauce, 3 tablespoons soy sauce and 2 tablespoons honey in a small bowl.
In a medium-sized bowl, whisk together the flours, salt, sugar and baking soda. Add the chilled dashi and whisk to combine. Avoid overmixing. The batter should have the consistency of smooth pancake batter.
Add the cabbage, onion and bean sprouts to the batter and incorporate using a rubber spatula. Set aside.
Heat 2 tablespoons of the oil in a nonstick pan over medium-high heat. Slowly spoon batter into the pan and flatten with the back of the spoon to form a round about 1-inch thick.
Cook the okonomiyaki for 3–4 minutes, or until the sides begin to crisp up and the center starts to bubble. Flip the okonomiyaki, add another tablespoon of oil to the pan, and cook for another 3–4 minutes.
While the okonomiyaki finishes, warm the sauerkraut and corned beef in a small pot with a few drops of water or sauerkraut juice.
Remove the okonomiyaki from the pan and cut it into 4 portions. Brush the sauce evenly over the top and drizzle with Kewpie mayonnaise, if desired. Spoon the sauerkraut and corned-beef mixture on top. Garnish with scallions, aonori and bonito flakes and serve immediately. Serves 4.
Batter and sauce can be made ahead and will keep for 1–2 days in the refrigerator.
For a refreshing, yet robust pairing for this seemingly chaotic mix of flavors, Thierry Morpurgo, general manager at Shalom Japan, suggests Oze no Yukidoke, an American-style IPA from Japan. It’s perfumed, with notes of orange blossoms and tangerine, but also zesty, with grapefruit-skin astringency.
For more power, Morpurgo suggests a shochu like Kurokame from Kagoshima, Japan. A distilled spirit made from sweet potatoes, it’s hearty on the palate, with rich notes of roasted chestnut.
- 2Bacon-Wrapped Matzoh Balls
- 3Spicy Beet, Leek and Walnut Salad
- 4Kasha-Crusted Fluke with Saké Beurre Blanc
- 5Okonomiyaki with Corned Beef and Sauerkraut