I am Jewish. I am not very religious-though if you looked at my life on paper you would think otherwise. I went to Hebrew school through 12th grade, at sleep-away camp we had Friday night Shabbat dinners and Saturday morning services, and I had even applied to college as a religion major!! Could you imagine!? Me-a clergywoman? Rabbi Rebby does have some phenomenal alliteration–though I digress. For me, its not so much the religiosity as it is the traditions. Most of those traditions are centered around food…and what GLORIOUS food it is!
If you aren’t familiar with Jewish cuisine, it’s usually very rich and decadent. Most of the food is braised, broiled, slow-roasted, fried, or cured. There are eggs and/or Schmaltz (rendered chicken fat) in almost every recipe. There is no such thing as “fat free” on the menu.
If you want real deal Jewish cooking, I don’t suggest looking through the Zagat guide. I would, however, suggest maybe perusing your local temple’s directory. The best Jewish food comes right out of any Jewish grandma’s kitchen. Recipes passed down from generation to generation. Everyone thinks that their family’s recipes are the best but I KNOW mine are. We have actually sourced out my Grandma Net’s brisket recipe to friends and they even say it is the best. This year that recipe was passed onto me.
Earlier this fall, my mom took a spill after our “Mission for Missoni” at Target, leaving her unable to cook for the Jewish holidays. I, with the extra time on my hands, was pulled up from the ranks to prepare our feast. It was something I had always wanted to do and now was my time. This was like my own personal episode of Iron Chef and this was battle “Rosh Hashanah”. In my mom’s Upper West Side kitchen, with her and my grandma looking over my shoulder, I battled the brisket. It wasn’t as if the recipe was so intense or the directions especially confusing. It was actually incredibly easy.
But there they were- like two members of the CIA Brisket Division passing down classified information.
This is not my first time at the holiday rodeo. I have been making other Jewish delights for the last few years now and (not to toot my own horn, but TOOT TOOT) they are pretty freakin’ amazeballs. Potato kugel, noodle pudding, broccoli kugel souffle, chicken soup, roasted chicken-you name it, I’ve made it. But the brisket is like a right of passage.
A few days later we sat down to eat our Rosh Hashanah dinner. **WARNING, family secret exposed. Brisket is better prepared ahead of time, frozen, then cooked again.** Everyone knew I was the chef du cuisine that night and if dinner wasn’t good the guilt (another joy about being Jewish) would plague me forever. We said the prayers, ate some matzoh ball soup and challah bread, and then was then it was time for the main event. As my dad walked around the table with the platter of perfectly sliced brisket with carrots and potatoes, my heart was racing a mile a minute. It certainly looked and smelled the same as Grandma Net’s, but would it taste the same?? I took the first bite and it was as if my taste buds were getting a big hug from grandma-it was exactly the same!!
They didn’t have to say it out loud, but I could tell both of my grandmas (Grandma Rosie also makes a brisket that dreams are made of) and my mom were proud of me that night. The traditions they had learned from their grandmothers will live on and get passed down through me now.
People have said “You are what you eat”. I already know that I am Jewish, but I guess after that night I’m an almost 30 year old on the verge of being a Jewish grandma.