How do you make centuries-old Ashkenazi cuisine feel fresh again? Leave it to Liz Alpern and Jeffrey Yoskowitz to show us the way forward.
It all started with gefilte fish.
Liz and Jeffrey were frustrated that the Jewish cuisine they loved and grew up eating as kids was considered a thing of the past. They were friends with a shared passion to create a space where Ashkenazi stories and culinary wisdom from the Old World could be explored and brought into the new.
Gefilte fish was their first order of business. They felt the packaged fish inside a glass jar on the supermarket shelf was the symbol of all that had gone wrong with Ashkenazi cuisine. So, they spent a year cooking and reading up on the state of American fisheries and then started producing and selling a gourmet gefilte fish on a commercial scale, ensuring that no one would ever have to eat the jarred stuff again. The flavor was fresh. The look was beautiful. The fish was high quality and thoughtfully sourced. It tasted fantastic and was an instant huge hit.
Liz and Jeffrey knew they were on to something. They took their approach to gefilte fish and applied it to other Eastern European Jewish foods. Drawing inspiration from their ancestors, old cookbooks, family letters and Yiddish literature—as well as their peers in the culinary world—they began cooking all the classic Jewish foods from their childhoods. Pretty soon they found themselves front and center in the Jewish food renaissance taking place across the country.
With their fabulous new cookbook, The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods you’ll rethink everything you thought you knew about Jewish food. Dishes like Spiced Blueberry Soup, Kasha Varnishkes with Brussels Sprouts, and Sweet Lokshen Kugel with Plums celebrate flavors passed down from generation to generation in recipes reimagined for the contemporary kitchen. Other recipes take a playful approach to the Old World, like Fried Sour Pickles with Garlic Aioli and Sour Dill Martinis.
I’ll be spending my fall cooking my way through this terrific cookbook. I hope you will too!
WINE-BRAISED BRISKET WITH BUTTERNUT SQUASH
Courtesy of Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern from The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods
Liz: Brisket really gets Jews talking. The mere mention of the word brings up stories of holidays past, aunts who can’t cook, aunts who can cook, grandmas force-feeding grandkids, etc. While beef was often very expensive in the old country, brisket became a symbol of plenty in North America, where it was more affordable but no less special. This brisket is braised for hours, just as many Jewish briskets are, but we incorporate white wine instead of the more typical red, and butternut squash instead of potatoes. This makes for a lighter, brighter brisket, if such a thing exists, so it’s a better fit for holiday meals served during the warmer months. Note that the second cut brisket we recommend for this recipe will not slice as thinly as the first cut. It’s softer and fattier. This doesn’t bother us. The meat will be so tender you could cut it with a spoon—who needs a thin slice? Also note that if you’d like to make this a more wintry brisket, you can swap the squash for potatoes and/or turnips and put the veggies in an hour earlier than the recipe calls for. Jeffrey prefers it that way, and once again, we agree to disagree.
SERVES 6 TO 8
1½ cups canned diced tomatoes
4 cups beef, chicken, or vegetable broth, store-bought or homemade
1 (750-mL) bottle white wine (pinot grigio, sauvignon blanc, etc.)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
2½ pounds second cut brisket (also called deckle)
1 large onion, sliced
Handful of fresh thyme sprigs
1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and chopped into large chunks
Chopped fresh herbs, for serving
Preheat the oven to 300ºF.
In a large bowl, mix together the tomatoes, broth, wine, salt, and pepper.
In a large enameled Dutch oven (with a tight-fitting lid), heat the oil over medium heat.
Place the meat in the pan to sear, 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until it is evenly browned.
Remove the meat and set aside. Line the bottom of the Dutch oven with onion slices.
Place the brisket on top of the onion and pour the tomato mixture over the meat, making sure that the liquid covers the meat entirely. If you are using a larger pot and the liquid does not cover the meat and vegetables, add water until it does. Add the thyme sprigs.
Cover and place in the oven for 3½ hours, checking every hour or so to make sure the liquid is still covering the meat. If at any point it isn’t, pour hot water into the Dutch oven to make sure the meat remains covered.
After 3½ hours, add the butternut squash, making sure to submerge it under the liquid. Cook for 1 hour more, then remove the pot from the oven. Let sit at least 45 minutes before slicing.
Brisket tastes even better the next day, reheated in the oven. To serve, scoop out about 3 cups of liquid from the Dutch oven and place in a small sauce pot. Cook over medium-low heat until it has reduced into a sauce. Serve the brisket and squash on a platter, with the sauce ladled over the top, and garnish with fresh herbs.
***All photos by Lauren Volo courtesy of Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern from The Gefilte Manifesto: New Recipes for Old World Jewish Foods. ***