Root vegetables are at the core of many comfort foods; dishes we crave during the long, cold winter months. Even before modern refrigeration, roots were easy to keep without extensive processing during the harvest season. Unlike late summer harvest produce such as tomatoes, beans, corn and fruits that need canning, drying or pickling, roots only need to be picked, allowed to dry and then stored in a root cellar.
This gallery shows photos of root vegetables both in their natural state and prepared into simple dishes. Most recipes are forgiving and don't require exact measurements.
This post is a follow-up to my January 2022 column in the American Israelite.
This is the first in a series of Kitchen Tips posts about equipment.
I’ll tell you about pieces I love & use all the time and about the items that I found less useful & let go when I downsized last year.
Good knives are the most important tool in the kitchen. A great knife makes your work easier, more accurate and faster.
Terrible knives can make it almost impossible to get anything done.
If I have to cook at someone else’s home or in a synagogue kitchen, I always bring my own knives.
Vinegar is another condiment or ingredient I use often. Sometimes when I feel like a dish is missing something – something I can’t put my finger on – it turns out that a splash of good vinegar does the trick. This year, a few weeks before Passover I participated in the amazing Kosher Food & Wine Virtual Experience, sponsored by Royal Wine Corp. The tasting kit included 25 small bottles of wine! The 2½ hour tasting program left me with a lot of opened bottles, so I currently have two jars of vinegar hanging out in a cabinet – one red and one white. Vinegar takes longer than these other condiments to develop; I will check it in three weeks. Right now I can tell you that when that cabinet opens I get a nose-full of vinegar, so I have high hopes for it.
In the meantime, I hope you will give some of these recipes a try and let me know how you like your homemade condiments.
For many people Passover is a burdensome week of excessive cleaning and extra dietary restrictions. In fact, for most Ashkenazi Jews, Passover has EXTRA extra dietary restrictions. In addition to true hametz, they typically avoid kitniyot – a category of food that includes rice, legumes, and sometimes even corn. But it doesn't necessarily have to be that way.
Jews Around the World Developed Different Traditions
Americans are most familiar with Ashkenazi Jewish traditions that developed and were brought to this country by Jews from Germany and Eastern Europe. Foodwise those traditions include what most people think of as “Jewish” food – matzo balls, gefilte fish, and kugel are some examples.
But Jews lived in and emigrated from many parts of the world, where they developed different traditions including many more than food choices. Sephardic Jews descended from Jews who were thrown out of Spain by the Inquisition in the late 1400s. Some fled north to the Netherlands, then to England and later to the English colonies; some fled south and across the Mediterranean and ended up in Morocco and Northern Africa. Other Jews, known as Mizrahi, were never in any part of Europe. Their diaspora formed mostly east of Israel, in the Syrian peninsula, Persia, Greece and Turkey. There were other pockets of Jews, most notably in Italy, India, and Ethiopia who don't fall into any of these categories. These non-European Jews developed their own prayers, tunes, literature, language, customs, and food traditions.
What does that have to with Passover?
The prohibition of hametz – leavened bread – is a Biblical commandment. The story tells that the Jewish slaves fled Egypt in such a hurry that their dough did not have time to rise. Later, when they finally baked it, the result was a flat bread or cracker. God commands us to avoid risen bread and eat matzo to remember our time in Egypt as slaves and our hasty departure.
According to Jewish LAW only five grains, can ferment and become hametz - wheat, barley, spelt, oats, and rye. These are also the only grains that can be made into matzo and matzo is the only form in which they can be eaten. However, in the 13th century, European rabbis added additional restrictions to prohibit kitniyot – rice, dried beans, millet, and lentils. Those restrictions, developed only 800 years ago, have grown over time to include even more prohibitions including chickpeas, peanuts, soy, and other legumes.
Fundamentally, there is a difference between law and custom, halacha and minchag. Jewish law is derived directly from the Torah, with the details hammered out by the Rabbis of the early Common Era. For example, the prohibition of mixing meat and dairy derives from a single phrase in the Torah: “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk.” (Exodus 23:13) It was THE RABBIS who determined the details of following this prohibition, that include using separate dishes.
However, it wasn’t until 1,200 years later that some rabbis in Europe decided that kitniyot might be confused with other, forbidden, items. These rabbis were concerned that grains of rice and grains of wheat could be mistaken for one another. So, in an abundance of caution, kitniyot were added to the list of forbidden items during Pesach. But, because the ban originated in Europe, Jews of Sephardic and Mizrahi background were not exposed to it and have always included kitniyot in their Pesach diet.
A Modern Decision
In a 2013 teshuvah (religious ruling), Rabbi David Golinkin, a Conservative authority in Israel, noted the reasoning behind the prohibition. At that time, the rabbis reasoned:
However, Rabbi Golinkin revealed that “…not only is the custom contrary to the opinions in the Talmud, but more than 50 different early sages reject it outright.”
So, we learn that even when the prohibition was new, there was disagreement about it.
In December 2015, the Rabbinic Assembly (RA), the rabbinic authority for the Conservative movement, took a long hard look at these additional restrictions. Rigorous research to find the original reasons for the prohibition revealed that it likely began with one rabbi, who it seems did not trust his own wife to know the difference between rice and wheat. As word spread from town to town, more and more rabbis began to follow this ruling in efforts not to appear lax in their kashrut. It is the classic example of a ubiquitous game of one-upmanship.
In addition to the seemingly bogus origin of the rule, the RA considered three modern concerns: 1) nutrition, 2) finances, and 3) Jewish unity. Personally, I will add a fourth, the consideration of highly processed food.
I will add this. Most of the ersatz chametz products, like Pesach noodles, cereal, and even mustard, are highly processed products whose ingredients include a lot of stabilizers and thickeners that aren’t necessary and can be avoided if we just eat real food.
Of course, the RA, while allowing kitniyot, left the decision whether to include them up to individuals. I choose to include them, especially at the Seder.
Tu b'Shvat begins the evening of Wednesday, January 27 this year. It's too bad more people don't know much about this lovely biblical celebration of nature.
Technically, this date - the 15th day of the Hebrew month of Shvat - marks the beginning of the agricultural year. When the Temple stood in Jerusalem, Jewish farmers were required to tithe a portion of their crops to support the priesthood. The middle of Shvat marks the end of the rainy season in Israel; almond trees begin to blossom, so ancient farmers used this date to designate the beginning of the new crop year.
The most meaningful way we celebrate the New Year is to open a bottle of bubbly, look back at our good fortune, and make our charitable donations – tzedakah – for the year.
Here is the list of organizations that we supported this year. Each logo is a link to the organization's home page.
Many groups could fall into more than one category, but I tried to group them by their primary mission or population served.
Last week, I posted this photo on Facebook with the caption -
Busy and productive day in the kitchen! Had so much produce to use up, so I pulled it all out of the fridge and started chopping. Challah for tonight and some for the freezer. Vegetable stock. Chunky Vegetable Soup. Hamutzim - Israeli Pickles. Apple Sauce. Fresh squeezed Mandarin Orange juice. Banana Bread. Broccoli Kugel / Casserole for tomorrow. Now to make a simple dinner - Picante Cod. Pan Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Chestnuts. Roasted (or maybe mashed) Purple Sweet Potatoes. Shabbat Shalom.
So I decided to write about what I found in the fridge and my process. Overall, I spent about four hours doing all of this.
What I had to work with
Mandarin oranges, 1 lime & 1 lemon that were kind of shriveled | Apples, also shriveled | A bowl of pears that were pretty fresh, but a couple were starting to get soft | Two giant broccoli crowns | Two parsnips | About 10 small carrots (not the baby ones, just small) | One zucchini | One shriveled yellow bell pepper, half of another one & a couple of whole peppers in good shape | Half a head of cabbage | About half a pound of Brussels Sprouts | Celery | About half a pound of baby turnips | One Jalapeno | Two little bags of peeled garlic – one open and a little funky, one still sealed | On the counter, two very brown bananas and 2 dried up red hot peppers | In the freezer, one bag of vegetable scraps saved for stock and a cup of pomegranate seeds | Plus, a bag of onions and a bag of potatoes
Put on some good cooking music. I definitely believe the food tastes better when I cook with music. For Jewish holidays, I have specific playlists, but today I put on my go to - Classic Rock.
Finish up. Turn off stock and remove from burner; leave in pot to cool. Remove cinnamon stick and star anise from apple sauce. Use immersion blender to break it all up; put it into a jar. Preheat oven again to 325; bake challah for 20 minutes; pull rolls out to a cooling rack and bake loaf for about 4 minutes more. Remove banana bread from pan; peel off parchment and place on a glass plate. Cover with a tea towel; this will live on the counter until it’s gone. Wash all the dishes that I didn’t wash already; set table for Shabbat, including putting challah on its tray. Move frozen challah to a silicone bag for freezer storage. When pickles, apple sauce and soup are cool, put in fridge. Strain vegetable stock; also wait to cool and put in freezer. Clean up; wipe counters.
Open bottle of wine and start dinner. But that’s another post.