Recipes from the heart

L’dor vador — from generation to generation.

Best friends (from left) Betsy Narrow, Judi Finkelstein and Debbie Weinberg, around 2000

As the new year approaches and we prepare for the High Holy Days, we honor beloved family members past and present. We do this in many ways — in thoughts and prayer, through customs and family traditions, holding on to memories … and recipes! 

Longtime subscriber Niki Rothman of San Francisco had a wonderful suggestion in her recent (and first-ever) letter to J. when she wrote, “I know there are plenty of great Jewish recipes out there, but we modern Jewish cooks have seriously fallen down on the job of passing on these gems to the next generation. Recipes that are not written down will be lost to our collective heritage forever. … Let’s save our Jewish heritage recipes and pass them down.”

We asked for your recipes, stories and photos. Here they are. Enjoy.


Survivor’s recipe for a sweet life

Grandma’s honey cake

Rosh Hashanah reminds us to be grateful for the sweet things, like family, friends, good health and freedom. Traditional and delicious honey cake is a favorite way for our family to celebrate the holiday. That’s because my grandmother, Mary Kleinhandler, managed to survive the Holocaust and continue on to create a loving life worth living.  

Here is her famous recipe for honey cake that she remembered from her childhood in Poland before the war.  It is always a hit at our house. Give it a try!  — Aimee Golant, San Francisco


Grandma Mary Kleinhandler’s Famous Honey Cake

3 cups flour

2 tsp. baking powder

1 tsp. baking soda

2 tsp. cinnamon

1⁄4 tsp. nutmeg

2 tsp. cocoa or instant coffee

1 tsp. salt

1 cup sugar

1 cup honey

4 eggs

1⁄2 cup water or orange juice

1 orange, grated (I cut the top and bottom off and grate most of it — skin, seeds everything!)

11⁄4 cups oil

Raisins, shredded carrots or dates (all optional)

Mix dry ingredients until there are no streaks. In a separate large bowl blend the wet ingredients. Slowly add the dry mixture to the wet. Blend well.  

If using a round pan with a removable bottom, line it with waxed paper. Otherwise grease a bundt cake pan. Bake at 350 degrees for 55 minutes. Cool and remove from cake pan.


Best friends forever

Friends (from left) Brian Finkelstein, Julia Narrow, Dani Weinberg, Eric Narrow, Jenna Weinberg and Ben Weinberg

When my son was growing up, my two best friends, all our children plus some other friends would get together at our different homes and make Jewish holiday recipes from our grandmothers. We would triple all the recipes so there would be enough for each family to take home. We usually did this on a Sunday because it would take three to five hours to make enough for everyone.  

For Rosh Hashanah we would make Betsy’s grandmother’s teiglach, on Passover we made Debbie’s grandmother’s charoses and on Purim we made my grandmother’s hamantaschen.  

For the teiglach, the kids were best at making the knots because of their small hands. — Judi Rude Finkelstein, Corte Madera


6 eggs

¾ tsp. baking powder

4 cups flour

3 Tbs. oil

16 oz. honey

1½ cups sugar

1 cup water

1 cup raisins, or more

1-2 Tbs. ground ginger

1 cup boiling water

Mix and knead (I use a food processor) eggs, baking powder, flour and oil until smooth. Divide dough and form into long rolls (think worms) ½-inch thick, and cut into ½-inch pieces. Roll each piece in your hands and make into a knot, and place on a cookie sheet lined with waxed paper.

Boil the honey, sugar, 1 cup water and raisins in a large pot for 5 minutes. Add the dough knots and cook for 20 minutes on medium heat, stirring gently. Turn the heat to low, cover and cook, stirring frequently for 1 hour. Stir in ginger. When finished, knots should be crunchy; turn off the heat and add 1 cup of boiling water to pot.  Let cool completely and serve. Parve.


Passing along our delicious heritage

Mari Angel (seated) with her family on the patio of their home in Kiryat Motzkin, Israel, in the 1960s

My mother-in-law’s recipe for lubia, made of black-eyed peas, is derived from Balkan cuisine. Her family is from Spanish Sephardi origins (many went to Balkan countries after the Inquisition), and according to tradition black-eyed peas are eaten at the celebratory Rosh Hashanah meal. They took their cuisine with them in their heads and hearts, not in cookbooks.

So when my mother-in-law, Mari Angel, taught me how to make her lubia, I watched and helped but we never used a written recipe.

She was an amazing cook: She had a very simple kitchen, no gadgets, and often spent about six to eight hours a day preparing food for her family. I guess her devotion to cooking was as much about frugality as tradition.

She lived in Israel, and bought her produce from a Druze and an Arab who came by on their donkeys a few times a week. At one time Mari also raised chickens and had fruit trees.

One of these days I need to get the translation of the recipes my father-in-law wrote in Hebrew in his letters.

Isn’t it wonderful that our heritage is passed through good eating? — Rebecca Angel, Albany


Slow Food Lubia 


Serves 6

4 cups (preferably fresh) black-eyed peas, peeled (frozen OK, or can used dried)*

1 large onion, chopped

2 Tbs. olive oil (approx.)

3 cloves garlic, chopped

4 cups tomatoes, quartered

*If using dried beans: Cover with fresh water and boil for 2-3 minutes in a covered pot. Let the beans sit for 60-90 minutes in the hot water. Drain the water and proceed.

Sauté the onion in olive oil — enough to cover bottom of pan — over low heat. Remove onions, add more oil and sauté garlic.

Peel tomatoes and cut into quarters (or dice if preferred, but tomatoes usually fall apart nicely when stirred and cooked). Combine onions, garlic and tomato in a large pot.

Add fresh black-eyed peas and simmer together until the beans are tender and brown. (I usually heat the ingredients on medium heat before simmering to raise the temperature and decrease some of the cooking time.)

If there is too much liquid, cook uncovered until some of the liquid is evaporated. If there is not enough liquid, add a little broth. Salt to taste.

Note: You may want to try this in advance, just to get it to your taste. I regret I don’t have the written recipe, but I promise it is really tasty comfort food and goes well with many other side and/or main holiday dishes.


Four generations of Jewish cooks

Gertrude Hershman Tobey (in wheelchair), her daughter Shirley Tobey Galbraith (right) and granddaughter Niki Rothman (seated, wearing vest) celebrate Gertrude’s birthday in the late 1980s in San Francisco.

The story behind this cherished recipe involves my great-grandmother Hershman, my Grandma Gertrude, my mother Shirley, and me, Niki Rothman. I am now married for over 30 years to my husband, Richard, happily living in the same house in which he grew up, in the Outer Richmond neighborhood of San Francisco.

Grandma Gertrude’s family emigrated from Latvia to America in the late 19th century. Grandma’s mother, Olga, ran a hotel/boarding house in Linden, New Jersey, and her husband, Maisha (Moses), also sold kosher provisions. My mother remembers her grandmother Hershman’s big boarding house dinners, passing down to me the archaic dinner-table phrase “a boarding house reach” — a sarcastic reference to boarders reaching their arms across the table to serve themselves (and later employed by my mother to scold overeaters such as me).

My mother remembers watching her grandmother drying homemade noodles by tossing them in the air above a sheet spread out on her bed. My great-grandfather Maisha sold hot dogs but although my mother begged, he never allowed her to eat any (there may have been some issue related to their ingredients …). But one day mother, age 5, could stand it no longer: She stole a hot dog and secretly ate it! Immediately stricken with guilt, she confessed and got a “clop” on the tuchus to teach her a lesson. But she always loved hot dogs anyway.

Grandma Gertrude lived to be 100, spending her later years as a resident of the Home for Jewish Parents in Oakland. — Niki Rothman, San Francisco


Grandma Gertrude’s Rolled Cabbage

2 medium-size cabbages

1 large onion, diced

2 lbs. ground chuck

1⁄2 cup long-grain rice, parboiled

1⁄3 cup water

2 eggs

1-2 of the largest cans of V8 juice

1 small can tomato paste

juice of 1-2 large lemons

sugar, salt and pepper to taste

You will need a really big pot and cover, clean kitchen towels, cutting board, a colander, and a large plate to hold the cabbage leaves.

Maisha and Olga Hershman with great-granddaughter Nancy

Cover and boil the cabbages in salt water until soft, about 20 minutes. Drain and place in cold water until they can be handled. Drain in a colander, dry on towels.

Separate out the really big and smallest inner leaves; chop and place in pot with diced onion. Cut out an inch of the tough stem-end of remaining leaves and discard.

Mix together meat, parboiled rice, water, salt, pepper and eggs. Spread out cabbage leaves, place ¼-cup mixture on stem end of each leaf, fold in the left and right sides, roll up tightly.

Place rolls tightly in pot, seam-side down. Fill pot to cover the rolls with V8 juice (start with 1 can; add more as needed) and tomato paste.

Cover and cook on low boil for 1/2 hour, shaking the pot every 10 minutes to prevent burning. Test for doneness. (Cabbage rolls are done when you bite into a roll and the rice tastes completely cooked through. If still al dente, return that roll to the pot and put on a low flame for another 15 minutes and check again.)

Add lemon juice, sugar, salt and pepper to taste, shake and gently stir. Should taste sweet and slightly sour.

Note:  As sent to my mother, Grandma Gertrude’s written recipe concludes: “With some boiled beef and stewed fruit, you should get several meals from this. I am enclosing a check for you to buy the children warm winter coats. Love, Mother.”

How I miss them both!  


A Jewish standard for every occasion

The author, 2, with his grandma Frances Friedman, 1972

My grandmother was a wonderful cook, within a narrow scope. By which I mean that she was a wonderful Jewish cook. She came to Brooklyn from a shtetl in Eastern Europe at a very young age, eventually settling in Southern California to raise her family. And she knew only one way of cooking: brisket, potatoes, latkes, matzah ball soup. The standards.

My favorite was her mandelbrot, complete with chocolate chips and a sprinkling of cinnamon on top. Because she was picky, she put her own spin on it, substituting walnuts for the almonds (the “mandel” part of the name, no less), among other tweaks.

She made mandelbrot for every occasion — usually happy, sometimes sad — at which the family would gather. My mother picked up the tradition in our own house, and just a whiff of the stuff baking tells me that we’ll soon be surrounded by loved ones. It also brings me back to a little yellow kitchen in Tajunga, and a woman whose primary expression of love occurred over an oven, baking delights that continue to keep her memory tangible, all these years later. — Jason Turbow, Albany


Grandma’s Mandelbrot

3 eggs

1 cup sugar, plus extra

1 cup vegetable oil

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 tsp. baking powder

½ tsp. salt

1 tsp. cinnamon, plus extra

2 tsp. vanilla

1 cup chopped walnuts

1½ cup chocolate chips

Beat eggs. Add the sugar, vegetable oil, flour, baking powder, salt, cinnamon and vanilla. Add the walnuts and chocolate chips. After ingredients are all mixed together, let the dough rest for about ½ hour to firm up.

Grease a 9½-by-11-inch cookie sheet. Form three strips of dough lengthwise on cookie sheet. Sprinkle with cinnamon sugar (about 4 to 1, sugar to cinnamon). Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes. Turn off oven. Cut strips into slices, separate the slices and return to oven to dry out.

Reprinted with permission from, a project of the Jewish nonprofit Reboot.


Braided and baked with love

Rabbi Yosef Loschak

Waking up early on the dawn of a New Year, the smell of my father’s delicious challah permeated the house. He made the best challah ever. He was a rabbi with a vibrant personality that drew everyone close. And of course his challah — it brought people from everywhere together. With his commercial-size mixer he could make challah for an army, and his kids would stand at attention, each with their own job, to help with the task of making challah for the holidays. Each ingredient exact. The order in which it was mixed followed precisely.

The result?  An incredibly delicious challah — mixed, braided and baked with love.

Even after I married and moved to the Bay Area to start my own (Mid-Peninsula) Chabad House (my father was head of Chabad of Santa Barbara), coming home to my father’s challah …  what a treat!

It’s been just over a year since my father passed away. Each week I pull out my mixer and his recipe. As I bake, I connect. I connect to his love, his legacy and his life.

This Rosh Hashanah, I’m gearing up to make dozens of challahs, mixed with the love that my father had for his family, his community and for the Torah. — Ella Potash, Redwood City


Father’s Challah


Makes 8 loaves

4½ cups warm water

2 Tbs. yeast

1 cup sugar

5 eggs

1 cup oil

18 cups high gluten flour

2½ Tbs. salt

Dissolve yeast in warm water. Add in sugar to proof (until mixture bubbles). Add in eggs and oil and mix. Add flour and salt and mix until dough forms. Let rise until double in size. Braid into challah and let rise again. Bake at 365 degrees for 30 minutes. (Note: depending on your oven, you might need to rotate the trays.)


Cryin’ in the kitchen

Stephanie Brown (from left) with aunts Selda and Bertha, sister-in-law Judy and mom Mary Brown in the early ’90s

Mom and I made chopped liver every year in our kosher home in, of all places, Knoxville, Tennessee. Let me tell you, this was not the easiest place to keep kosher! Mom would band together with four other kosher-keeping households from our Conservative shul to bring in a truckload of kosher meat quarterly from nearby Charlotte, North Carolina, or Atlanta. We bought a separate freezer just for these shipments, and I fondly recall learning to do inventory with Mom as we checked the accuracy of the order.

My Aunt Bertha, my mom’s oldest sister who was twice widowed, would venture down from New Jersey to share the holidays with us. I joked that our home was “the Catskills of the South,” in recognition of my aunt’s journey to be in a kosher location for the holidays. The three of us would laugh, joke and cry — from either the jokes or the onions or both — while we sautéed the onion in preparation for the ritual of Mama’s chopped liver, a holiday tradition that I still hold to, even in the absence of both my beloved mother and aunt. I think of them and smile every time I make chopped liver for Rosh Hashanah and Passover, even though they would never approve of my level of kashrut! — Stephanie Brown, Berkeley


Mama’s Chopped Liver

2 lbs. kosher chicken liver (not actually kosher until it is broiled and the blood removed)

1 onion, minced

2 hard-boiled eggs

3 Tbs. oil (or more as needed)

salt and pepper to taste

paprika for color

Rinse liver to remove blood. Broil liver in disposable aluminum pan, 8-10 minutes, turning at least once. Discard pan, pat liver clean. Liver should be very soft; chop up finely.

Sauté onion in oil until translucent. Add to liver, along with chopped-up eggs. Mix, and add salt and pepper. Taste. Liver should hold together when mounded. If liver is too dry, add more oil by small amounts. Taste again (go ahead, spread some on a slice of fresh challah). If you have any left from your tasting, form into a rounded igloo-shape on a pretty serving plate. Sprinkle paprika lightly on the top for color. Add crackers around the edge of the plate (Tam Tams work well).