Hands-on learning of Jewish heritage begins in the kitchen

The February issue of Food and Wine magazine reports: “At Chicago’s Common Threads, Oprah Winfrey’s personal chef, Art Smith, has enlisted culinary stars like Chefs Charlie Trotter and Paul Kahan to teach children ethnic cooking, while emphasizing diversity and cultural differences.”

Wouldn’t it be a splendid idea for Jewish kids in the Bay Area to engage in such a program, either as an after-school or summer camp activity? Children who believe that bagels and lox is the ultimate Jewish meal would be in for a delicious surprise when they discover other Ashkenazi dishes as well as the rich splendor of African, Middle Eastern and Sephardi foods.

In an interactive workshop, children would help prepare the foods while the chef/instructor would tell stories of his or her history. The conclusion of each session would involve eating the prepared foods while the children discuss their own families’ Jewish cuisine and its history. Children would come to realize that ethnic dishes are a link to the past and a symbol of continuity.

Meatballs have always been on the top 10 of every kid’s food list. The Spanish word “albondiga” comes from the Arabic, and recipes appear in early Arab cooking manuals. The recipe below is redolent of Mideastern flavors.

According to Gil Marks, rugelach are the best-known and most popular of all Ashkenazi pastries in America, although they originated in Austria. The dough was originally made with sour cream, but cream cheese has become more popular today. I personally like cottage cheese for a flaky result. Children love to help rolling the filled dough into crescents.

Albondigas (Meatballs) | Serves 6

11/2 lbs. ground beef
1 large onion, finely chopped
salt and pepper
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 cup breadcrumbs

2 Tbs. oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
28 oz. can crushed tomatoes
salt and pepper
pinch sugar

Combine all meatball ingredients and make balls just a bit larger than a walnut. Place on baking sheet and bake in preheated 425-degree oven 10 minutes.

Make sauce by heating oil with garlic. Add remaining ingredients and simmer 10 minutes. Add albondigas and simmer another 10 to 15 minutes.

Chocolate-Cherry Rugelach | Makes 32

2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine, cut into small pieces, at room temperature
1/2 pound whole milk
cottage cheese
pinch salt

1/2 cup cherry jam, whisked until smooth
1/2 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chopped bittersweet chocolate

2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. ground cinnamon

In a food processor or mixer, combine dough ingredients until a smooth dough forms. Divide into 4 pieces and form each into a 5-inch disk. Wrap in plastic and refrigerate 3 hours or overnight.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. On a lightly floured surface, roll each disk out to an 8-inch, 1/8-inch-thick circle. Spread each circle with 2 Tbs. jam. Sprinkle with 1/4 of the walnuts and 1/4 of the chocolate. With a pastry wheel or sharp knife, cut each circle into 8 wedges. Starting at outside edge, roll up each wedge to enclose filling. Place, point side down, on greased cookie sheet.

Combine sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle each pastry with mixture. Bake until golden brown, about 35 minutes.

Louise Fiszer is a Palo Alto cooking teacher, author and the co-author of “Jewish Holiday Cooking.” Her columns alternate with those of Rebecca Ets-Hokin. Questions and recipe ideas can be sent to j. or to [email protected].