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The Lilith Blog

May 29, 2020 by

I Told Our Son He Can’t Come Home

He asked to borrow the car. 

Just two weeks earlier, he’d been sheltering with us in our Hudson River town, where he’d stayed for the first two months of lockdown. Despite our pleas, he returned to Manhattan. On a whim before leaving, he took the antibody test and learned that, like 30% of people infected with the coronavirus, he’d had it asymptomatically. Considering himself safe, he asked if he could stay overnight before taking the Honda. I reminded him that no antibody test is highly reliable and that nobody knows yet whether a true positive test means a person is immune. I had to say no. 

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The Lilith Blog

May 28, 2020 by

When Will the Counting End?

The Jewish holiday of Shavuot starts tonight. My husband, Aryeh, and I have been counting many things over the past several months: 1) the days of quarantine. 2) the omer. 3) the days that Darwin Ramos will remain with us in our home. Like everything else this year, Shavuot will be different. Not only because of the quarantine, but also because we will be spending this holiday in quarantine with Darwin.

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The Lilith Blog

May 26, 2020 by

Making a Feast of Mezze

by Susan Barocas

As a writer, cook, filmmaker and travel enthusiast, I have loved traveling to many places and, of course, eating my way through cuisines. I’ve done this enough to know my favorite way to eat. Many of my favorite dishes have been part of mezze, an abundance of cold and hot plates full of flavor and a wide variety of ingredients.

The mezze of the Mediterranean and Mid East, called salatim in Israel and tapas in Spain, are traditionally a prelude to stimulate the appetite for the main meal to follow. But for me, mezze is a wonderfully social, leisurely way to eat the meal itself. Whether dishes are brought out one by one–cold first and then hot, as is traditional–or served all at once, mezze encourages tasting, talking and slowing down.

Screen Shot 2020-05-26 at 12.30.00 PMMezze has a long history as part of Jewish cuisine. The exact origins of mezze are not clear, but by the Middle Ages, there are records of a variety of small plates served to guests before a bigger meal around the Mid East, Mediterranean and among the Sephardim and Muslim of Iberia. 

As with so much of the food of the original Sephardim, we know about mezze because of Inquisition testimony, including one woman whose maid reported to the authorities that her mistress served small dishes of cold foods to her women friends who came to visit on Saturday afternoons. This was damning proof that the hostess was keeping the Shabbat. 

Tapas grew out of the small plate tradition of the Jews and Muslims in Spain. They were named for the lids that would cover the dishes as they were carried from the kitchen to be served. Tapas were originally presented at pubs, especially to men gathered on Sunday afternoons after church while the women were home taking care of the children. The tradition of many tapas using pork developed as a way to ensure everyone’s Christian faith.

Today, the pleasure of eating mezze has spread to many countries and even to some of the finest restaurants. Wherever they are served, mezze bring people together to take their time enjoying good food, company and conversation.

***

Being able to talk about and cook mezze as part of The Great Big Jewish Food Fest, in a session hosted by Lilith, was a delight!  Several hundred people from around the world participated via Zoom and Facebook. If you want to see the action, the video is up on Lilith’s Facebook page.

TURKISH TOMATO AND WALNUT SALAD

Although tomatoes weren’t part of Ottoman cuisine until the mid-1800s, the fruit quickly made its way into dishes like this. It might sound like a bit of an unusual combination, but this salad brings together the gentle sweetness of ripe tomatoes with the slightly smokey, crunchy toasted of walnuts and the tart, unique flavor of pomegranate molasses. If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, try using a balsamic vinegar reduction. It won’t taste the same, but it will still be good.

  • 1/2 cup walnut pieces or halves roughly chopped
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses 
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt or to taste
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper or to taste
  • 2 cups chopped tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes), seeded and drained
  • ¼ cup chopped parsley, preferably flat leaf

Toast the walnuts in a dry sauté pan for 10-12 minutes, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and just starting to darken slightly. Put into a bowl or dish to cool and set aside.

In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, salt and pepper.

Put the walnuts, tomatoes and parsley into a mixing bowl. Pour on the dressing and toss together well. Serve immediately for the crispest nuts, although it’s still good the next day. 

***

SQUASH RIBBON SALAD

A beautifully simple dish, this shines with the flavors of garden-fresh vegetables, good olive oil, fragrant lemon and basil. I first ate it one summer several years ago in the Jewish quarter of Rome, and it wasn’t just the setting that made it taste so good. Once back home in DC, I quickly realized it wasn’t hard to re-create, and I’ve been serving it ever since for brunch, lunch, dinner, parties…and chopping up the rare leftovers into omelets and frittatas as well. There are no measurements here. This dish is best when made by instinct, taste and what you have available. No zucchini? Use all yellow squash and visa versa. Use the rest of the ingredients to your liking, which is the best way to cook anyway.

  • Zucchini
  • Yellow summer squash
  • Good quality extra virgin olive oil
  • Fresh lemon juice
  • Lemon zest
  • Basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade)
  • Salt and pepper
  • Shaved parmesan

Using even pressure, run a vegetable peeler down the length of each squash, creating long ribbons. Continue all around the sides of the squash, stopping at the center seeds. (Save that for making soup stock.)

Pile the squash on a pretty serving plate, mixing colors and, if desired, curing a few ribbons more tightly for presentation. Drizzle with olive oil and some fresh lemon juice. Sprinkle with lemon zest, basil pieces, salt and pepper. Top with few pieces of shaved parmesan. Serve soon after making either cold or at room temperature.

***

ZA’ATAR

Every spice vendor in Israel and throughout the Middle East has their own particular za’atar mix that they become known for. You should do the same and make this mix totally to your taste. Find a blend you like and then use it on pita with olive oil, hummus, baba ganoush, labneh, feta, fish, chicken, in salad dressings…you get the idea! I add only a little sale and not cumin or coriander to the mix, preferring to control those ingredients for each recipe using za’atar. This recipe is for the mix I usually, although not always, use.

  • 1 tablespoon dried thyme
  • 2 tablespoons marjoram
  • 2 tablespoon dried oregano 
  • 2 tablespoons sumac
  • 2 tablespoons sesame seeds, toasted if preferred
  • ½ teaspoon salt

Optional:

  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin 
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon Aleppo pepper, more or less depending on the heat desired 

Mix together well. Adjust for personal taste. Store in a jar or glass container tightly covered. When you use the za’atar, you can crumble it a bit by hand to release more flavor and aroma.

***

LABNE WITH OLIVES AND ZA’ATAR

Labne is so easy to make from plain yogurt that you’ll want to do it often to enjoy the resulting creamy, spreadable, dip-able deliciousness. Try spreading it on bagels, using it for your favorite dip or try something new like this recipe. You can use any good plain yogurt from full- to non-fat with satisfying results. 

  • 16 ounces plain yogurt,
  • 1/3 cup good quality olive oil
  • 2-3 tablespoons small diced pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2-3 tablespoons small diced green olives
  • 2 tablespoons chopped pistachios, toasted preferred
  • 1/4 cup za’atar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup of pomegranate arils or a few extra chopped pistachios, optional

To make the labne, line a fine mesh strainer with handles with double or triple cheese cloth. Make sure 5 or 6 inches of extra cheesecloth hangs over the strainer edges. Set the strainer in a larger bowl that holds it up a few inches from the bottom. Spoon the yogurt into the center of the cheesecloth, letting it sink to the bottom of the strainer. Pull up the corners and edges of the cheesecloth and twist together over the yogurt. Lay the twisted strand to the side and put the whole thing in the refrigerator, overnight or 10-12 hours.

When ready to make the dish, mix together in a small mixing bowl the olive oil, olives, pistachios and zaatar until well blended.

Use a large spoon to scoop the labne onto a round or oval platter with a lip. Use the back of the spoon to spread out the labneh evenly, leaving a little space between the edge of the platter and the edge of the labne. Spoon the topping over the labneh and spread it evenly, letting the oil drip over the sides. Sprinkle the pomegranate arils or chopped pistachios on top if using. Serve with warm pita bread, pita chips or cut up fresh vegetables. Try lining your serving platter with endive leaves for a beautiful and tasty presentation.

***

EGGPLANT CAVIAR / Ensalada de Berenjena (Ladino) / Patlican Salatasi (Turkish)

My little (under 5 feet tall) Russian grandmother ate this eggplant salad thickly shmeared on dark rye bread. Under her supervision, I made this dip as a child using our large wooden chopping bowl with the very sharp red-handled chopper, the same tools we used to make haroset at Passover.  I have since discovered that her Eastern European recipe is surprisingly similar to various Sephardic versions with the only difference being the use of vinegar in the Ashkenazic version or either lemon or vinegar in the Sephardic. These days, I usually serve it as a dip with cut up bell peppers, cucumber slices, endive and pita or pita chips, although it’s surprisingly delicious as a sandwich spread. A warning, though, that this is a dish for garlic lovers. 

  • 2 large purple eggplants (will yield about 2 ½-3 cups cooked)
  • Sea salt
  • 5-6 cloves garlic
  • 2-3 teaspoons good olive oil
  • 1-2 tablespoons lemon juice or wine vinegar or to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • Chopped parsley, Aleppo pepper, paprika or crumbled feta for garnish (optional)

To cook the eggplant:

Method 1: Roasting the eggplant over an open flame the traditional way gives the dish the special unique smoky flavor. Use a fork to poke a few very small holes in the neck and large end of the eggplant. (This keeps it from just steaming inside and also from exploding as it cooks.) Coat each eggplant lightly with oil and cook them on the hot grill outside, turning them carefully and often with tongs until completely blackened and very soft. 

Method 2: To cook inside over the flame on the stove, follow the same directions in Method 1, but instead of the grill, set the eggplants on top of the stovetop grate over a medium to medium high gas flame, still turning carefully and often. 

Method 3: To cook in the oven, preheat to 400 degrees. Cut the eggplants in half the long way, then cut 3 or 4 diagonal incisions, about 2 inches deep, in the flesh of each half. Turn and cut diagonal incisions the opposite direction, creating a crosshatch design. Coat the cut sides lightly with olive oil, then turn cut side down on a parchment-covered rimmed baking sheet. If you want, slice a few cloves of garlic and place under the eggplant. Bake for 40-45 minutes until the halves are very soft and collapsing.

To make the caviar:

When cool enough to handle, separate the eggplants and garlic. Slice open each eggplant if still whole, being careful as some liquid will come out. Scoop out the very soft pulp, scraping it away from the skin. As an optional step, you can set the pulp in a colander or strainer, discarding any large clumps of seeds without losing any pulp. Sprinkle the pulp with a few pinches of salt and let the liquid drain off into a bowl or the sink for 15-20 minutes. This will make for a little thicker mixture and reduce any lingering bitterness in the eggplant.

To make by hand, mash 1 or 2 cloves of fresh garlic in a press or grate on a microplane. Put the fresh garlic, eggplant pulp and cooked garlic slices on a large flat plate or shallow bowl. Mash with a fork to desired con consistency. Add oil, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper to taste and mix until very well blended. 

To use a food processor, press or grate the fresh garlic as above. Add it to the bowl of the processor with the eggplant pulp and cooked garlic. Pulse using a short spurts to chop the pulp and garlic nearly to desired consistency. Add the oil, lemon juice or vinegar, salt and pepper and pulse just enough to blend. Be careful not to over-process to a totally smooth consistency.

Serve the “caviar” as a dip for veggies or pita, spread on crostini or small rounds of bread, as stuffing for cucumber cups or cherry tomatoes with their insides scooped out. Nice topped with a sprinkle of optional spices or crumbled feta.

We’re excited to share with you a special offer for people following Susan Barocas’s mezze-making event! Subscribe to Lilith magazine now using this link and you’ll receive one year– 4 issues–of Lilith for just $18 ($35 value)! This is a limited-time offer, so subscribe right now!

Susan Barocas is a writer, chef, cooking instructor and speaker who served as guest chef for three Obama White House Seders. All recipes are the property of Susan Barocas and may not be reprinted or shared without her permission.

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The Lilith Blog

May 12, 2020 by

Poetry: Thirteen Ways of Looking at Life Before The Virus

I.

I remember shaking hands:

damp sweaty hands and dry scratchy hands,

bone-crushing handshakes and dead-fish handshakes,

two-handed handshakes, my hand sandwiched 

between a pair of big beefy palms.

I remember hairy hands and freckled hands,

young smooth hands and old wrinkled hands,

red-polished fingernails and bitten-jagged fingernails,

stained hands of hairdressers who had spent all day dyeing,

dirty hands of gardeners who dug down deep into the good earth.

 

II.

Thousands of years ago, a man stuck out his right hand

to show a stranger he had no weapon.

The stranger took his hand and shook it

to make sure he had nothing up his sleeve.

And that is how it began.

 

III

I remember sharing a bucket

of greasy popcorn with a boy

at the movies

(though I no longer remember

the boy or the movie)

the thrill of our hands

accidentally on purpose

brushing each other in the dark.

 

IV

I remember my best girlfriend 

and me facing each other to play

a hand-clapping game, shrieking

“Miss Mar…Mack! Mack! Mack!”

and the loud satisfying smack!

as our four palms slapped. 

 

V.

I remember high fives

and how we’d laugh when we missed

and then do a do-over.

 

VI.

I remember the elegant turn

of shiny brass doorknobs

cool to the touch.

 

VII.

I remember my mother’s hands

tied to the railings of her hospital bed

and how I untied them

when the nurse wasn’t looking

and held them in my lap.

 

VIII.

I remember holding my father’s hand

how the big college ring he wore

rubbed against my birthstone ring

and irritated my fourth finger

but I never pulled away.

 

IX.

I remember the joy of offering

my index finger to a new baby

who wrapped it in her fist

as we gazed at each other in wonder. 

 

X.

I remember tapping a stranger

on the shoulder and saying,

“Your tag is showing.

Do you mind if I tuck it in?”

She didn’t mind. I tucked it in.

 

XI.

I remember salad bars and hot bars.

I remember saying, “Want a bite?”

and offering a forkful

of food from my plate.

I remember asking, “Can I have a sip?”

and placing my lips

on the edge of your cold frosty glass.

 

XII. 

I remember passing around the kiddush cup,

each of us taking a small sip of wine.

I remember passing around the challah,

each of us ripping off a big yeasty hunk.

I remember picking up a serving spoon

someone had just put down

without giving it a second thought.

XIII.

I remember sitting with a mourner

at a funeral, not saying a word,

simply taking her hand.

 

–Lesléa Newman

Copyright © 2020 by Lesléa Newman. First appeared in New Verse News. Used by permission of the author.

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The Lilith Blog

May 11, 2020 by

When the Clapping Stops

I may no longer know what day it is, but I can set my clock to the nightly applause that rumble in my neighborhood at 7:00 PM sharp.  A time reserved for New York City residents to step outside (if they can) and bang on pots, whoop, or clap wildly to show their appreciation for the healthcare workers who are tirelessly on the frontlines combatting the deadly Coronavirus.  What will happen when the clapping stops?

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The Lilith Blog

May 4, 2020 by

My Version of a Kippah

It was the day after my wedding, and I was annoyed. Now that I was married I was trying to cover my hair, but the scarf kept slipping off my head. I folded and refolded the cloth, and tried to tie it as tightly as possible. 

My brand-new husband and I were still in the hotel room in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, where we had spent the night after our wedding. The previous day had been the best of my life. Joy, crying, singing, dancing, an after party on a rooftop, and now – well, now I was folding and refolding a goddamn scarf. Why was I doing this?

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The Lilith Blog

April 30, 2020 by

What Carrying the Torah Taught Me About Faith

My daughter’s bat mitzvah took place on Purim, March 10, right as the country was introduced to social distancing and mere days before we were encouraged to stay home. The weekend before, my family went to shul together for Shabbat services. My son has been volunteering as a bimah boy since his bar mitzvah last year, so he’s there regularly with my husband, but my daughter and I often stay home.

Being in shul fills me with conflicting emotions. I love the community, the warmth, and the sense of connection amongst a group of people that large. But I have issues with some of the actual tenets of the religion itself, and a very uncertain relationship with G-d. It’s my love for the clergy and fellow congregants that keep me coming back. I spend my time there in reflection upon myself, my actions, and how I can be better in the future. I rarely follow along in the Siddur, feeling those words so separate from my own.

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The Lilith Blog

April 29, 2020 by

When Home is Not a Shelter

Looking at me, you wouldn’t have guessed. I was a smart, outgoing, well-nourished, girl from a secular Jewish home, a top student at the school where I never missed a day. 

I was also a battered child.

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The Lilith Blog

April 20, 2020 by

Dayenu: Dispatches From the Covid Sick Ward

The Week Before

Washington, DC is beginning to shut down and our two adult daughters want to come home—one from Iowa and one from Boston. First Daughter owns a car [Dayenu], and can drive from Iowa City, where she’s in graduate school, but she has obligations in Iowa, along with legitimate concerns that there may be nowhere that she can stay along the way. Second Daughter is already working remotely [Dayenu, she has a job] because Massachusetts is under an emergency decree.

By the end of the week, they are here; First Daughter has driven, and Second Daughter has flown in.

Day 1

Second Daughter wakes up, does not feel well. Has shortness of breath and tightness in her chest. She’s 25 and is otherwise—[Dayenu]—in good health. 

We call our doctor, who says to isolate her immediately, “Lock her up, do the deepest clean possible, and leave food outside her door as needed.”

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The Lilith Blog

April 14, 2020 by

All-of-a-Kind Seder in the Time of Covid-19

 In the unfolding of COVID-19, while some friends were frantically dashing back to Emily St. John Mandel’s Station Eleven or Ling Ma’s Severence, I reached for All-of-a-kind Family, by Sydney TaylorIt’s an old children’s book, doubly old—published in 1951 and set in 1912—about the five all-of-a-kind sisters, dressed alike and running around in the Lower East Side of Manhattan, surrounded by their fellow Jews. It was the confluence of two events that brought it to mind—quarantine and Passover.

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