Cooking with Color: New recipe book samples Judaism's many flavors

RTI cookbook image
Alana Chandler, a participant in JUF's Research Training Internship, assembled a recipe booklet featuring Jewish chefs of color.

Berbere Beet and Carrot Latkes. Scallion Pancake Challah. Pineapple Tart Ruggelach. These recipes are part Jewish and part-something else. Just like the remarkable women who made them.

Tzevayim , Hebrew for "colors," is the new "recipe booklet" by Alana Chandler. For it, she interviewed several Chicago-area women who are all chefs, and all Jews of color. Chandler is a student at Walter Payton College Prep, and a participant in JUF's Research Training Internship (RTI), a 10-month paid internship in which high-school-aged girls do original research that advises JUF/Jewish Federation's work. 

This year's cohort, RTI's third, was tasked with completing Independent Action Projects, designed to engage the Jewish community in social justice issues that matter to them most. "The nature of these projects were completely up to the intern, and they all went in some really fascinating directions," explained Stephanie Goldfarb, JUF's Director of Youth Philanthropy & Leadership, and a chef in her own right. Alana's booklet, she said, "inspires deep thought about the experiences of Jews of color in the larger Jewish community. The idea of using food as a bridge for these conversations is ingenious, creative, and totally compelling." 

The chefs Chandler profiled for the booklet, which is also peppered with Talmudic quotes about food, include Molly Yeh and Janie Wolf, who plumbed their Chinese heritage for their Scallion Pancake Challah and Brisket Steam Buns recipes. Tamar Fasjah, from Mexico, serves up Chipotle Adobo Salmon. 

Sahai Redleaf was born Christian in Ethiopia but was raised by Jewish adoptive parents; her contribution is Berbere Beet and Carrot Latkes. Lauren Monaco is from Singapore, and she wants everyone to try her Pineapple Tart Ruggelach Cookies. 

Finding the chefs took some help. "Cantor Liz Berke from [Chicago's] Anshe Emet Synagogue greatly aided my search. Just to clarify, she helped me find Jews of color in the Chicagoland area, some of whom coincidentally happened to have their own food blogs!" Chandler said. "Stephanie Goldfarb also connected me with one of her acquaintances. And one of the participants was my relative."

"My motivation in creating this cookbook was not only immersing others around me to the topic of Jews of color," Chandler said, "but also educating myself about other Jews of color. I was interested in seeing how different types of Jews practice their Judaism, which turned out to be very apparent in the ways many of the participants cook; an intersection between cuisine and identity strongly exists. One question, or perhaps concern, that still exists is making sure that all types of Jews feel welcome. The Jewish community of Chicago is very liberal and accepting, but it is not enough to have only our local community meet these standards." 

Chandler includes two sweet recipes of her own: Green Tea Coconut Macaroons and Halvah Ice Cream. Her project became a true family endeavor, with her mother providing kitchen assistance, her sister providing transcription services, and her father taking the mouthwatering photographs. 

"I think an underlying reason cooking became such a big hobby for me was the fact that both of my grandmothers, Jewish and Japanese respectively, are terrific home cooks," she said. "When I visited my family in Japan a few summers ago, my mom and I brought matzah-ball soup mix, which we shared with my Japanese family. It was a huge hit, and through this simple dish we were able to introduce them to a symbolic Jewish tradition and the story of Passover." 

Along with the recipes come insights into each chef's experiences with both Jewish and other cuisines-and living in that merged space between American Jewish, and another, culture. Some share stories of acceptance, or its opposite, but are quick to note when untoward comments come from hostility or simple ignorance. Plus, each chef shares her favorite Chicago restaurant; even those who like to cook don't want to do it all the time!

"I made this cookbook because I think that the multifacetedness of our Jewish community can sometimes be overlooked, but should instead be celebrated. In regards to this goal, a recipe book was what I saw as most fitting because I hoped to engage readers hands-on rather than have them simply skim over a page of words," Chandler said. "A reader can internalize the metaphor that the combination of Jewish traditional foods with various ethnic foods presents: Jews are not defined by one 'look' or identity, but rather a plethora of cultures and stories that converge at the spiritual center of our religion."

Here is Alana Chandler's own recipe for no-churn Halvah Ice Cream. "The Israeli flavors of pistachio, halvah, and pomegranate combined with a creamy dessert," she said, "echoing memories from Chicago summers."

Ingredients:

  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1 ½ tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1 can (14 oz.) sweetened condensed milk
  • 1/3 cup roasted pistachios
  • Topping:
  • 1 cup pomegranate juice
  • ½ cup honey
  • Roasted pistachios, unsalted

    1. Pour cold heavy cream and vanilla into a large bowl, and beat with an electric mixer on high speed until stiff peaks form. (Do not over-beat, or butter will form!)
    2. Fold condensed milk into whipped cream with a spatula, followed by the tahini. Add more tahini or honey to taste (tahini flavor in ice cream usually diminishes when frozen). Mix in chopped pistachios.
    3. Transfer the creamy mixture into a dish, cover, and freeze until hardened, about 3 hours.
    4. For the drizzle topping, boil the pomegranate juice in a pot over high heat, stirring occasionally to prevent burning. Reduce the juice until it becomes viscous.
    5. Quickly pour the pomegranate reduction into a bowl and pour in honey, stirring constantly (they must be mixed immediately, or the reduction will solidify due to high sugar content).
    6. Scoop ice cream, drizzle with pomegranate honey, and sprinkle with chopped pistachios.

 




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