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Jewish Journal

Think Global, Cook Local

by Judy Bart Kancigor

December 4, 2003 | 7:00 pm

"The Jewish Kitchen: Recipes and Stories from Around the World" by Clarissa Hyman (Interlink Books, $29.95)

Clarissa Hyman's new cookbook, "The Jewish Kitchen," is alive with miracles -- stories of Jewish life and war-torn Jewish communities, bringing with them their glorious history, rich culture and a cuisine passed through the generations, itself a story of miraculous survival.

This award-winning author crisscrossed the globe, visiting eight families in nine months, recording their stories and recipes.

"The stories were as important to me as the recipes, because I believe in context and background, and I wanted to give snapshots of the Jewish world today to show that there are so many different aspects to the Jewish experience," Hyman said.

Hyman's nine months' work on the book -- "research, traveling, writing, testing, a miracle in itself," she said -- took her to such places as Greece, Norway, Belgium and the Caribbean.

No Jewish cookbook would be complete without latkes, and Hyman's recipe is her own. But Chanukah is about the oil, not the potato.

From the Israeli food and wine writer Daniel Rogov come pineapple fritters, a classic for Chanukah in Lyon, France, where owner Celestine Benditte-Strauss served them at her renowned Restaurant Cercle.

And rugelach for Chanukah? Hyman describes the lesser-known Chanukah tradition of eating cheese and dairy products in memory of Judith, a brave Jewish widow who beheaded the enemy general Holofernes after feeding him -- what? Hyman said "fatal small cakes."

Some say perhaps she got him thirsty on cheese so that he would drink wine and fall asleep. Others insist it was rich, creamy food for the same reason. While stories differ, the message is clear.

"One Jewish dish, 20 different versions. One Jewish story, 20 different tales," Hyman said. "It's one of the wonderful things about Jewish food: We are as lavish with our symbolism and myths as we are with the sour cream. Any excuse for something delicious to eat."

PINEAPPLE FRITTERS A LA CELESTINE

2 large pineapples peeled, cored and thickly sliced

Superfine granulated sugar for dredging

1/4 cup Kirsch (cherry brandy)

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup warm water

7/8 cup beer

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 tablespoon brandy

Pinch of salt

2 egg whites whisked

Apricot jam for spreading

Vegetable oil for deep frying

Superfine granulated sugar for sprinkling

Dredge the pineapple with sugar, then sprinkle generously with the Kirsch. Let steep 30-40 minutes.

Sift the flour and mix with the water, beer, oil, brandy and salt to make a batter. Dry the pineapple slices on a paper towel, then coat them with a thin layer of apricot jam.

While the oil is heating, fold the whisked egg whites into the batter. Take the fruit and batter to the stove. When the oil is hot (350 F), dip the pineapple slices into the batter, then fry until golden brown on both sides. Serve hot, sprinkled with sugar if desired.

Serves 6-8.

HAZELNUT RUGELACH

13 tablespoons butter, softened

7 ounces cream cheese

2 teaspoons superfine granulated sugar

2 cups all-purpose flour sifted with a pinch of salt

1/4 cup brown sugar

4 tablespoons cocoa powder

2 teaspoons cinnamon

7/8 cup finely chopped hazelnuts (or walnuts)

2 tablespoons butter melted

1 egg white beaten with a little water

Granulated sugar (optional)

Cream the butter and cheese until well blended. Stir in the superfine sugar, then the flour and mix until the dough begins to hold together. Gather into a ball, wrap in plastic wrap and chill overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Combine the brown sugar, cocoa, cinnamon and nuts and set aside. Cut the dough ball in half and return one half to the fridge while you work with the other.

On a lightly floured surface, roll out the pastry into a thin circle about 10 inches in diameter. The pastry may feel hard at first but it quickly softens. Use a cake pan or plate to help cut out a neat circle. Cut the dough circle into 16 or 8 equal pie-shaped wedges.

Brush the surface of the wedges with melted butter, then sprinkle evenly with half the nut mixture. Cover with a piece of plastic wrap and use a rolling pin to press the filing lightly down into the dough.

Remove the plastic wrap and roll up each wedge from the outside, wide end toward the point, so you end up with minicroissants. Place on a lightly greased baking sheet and brush with the beaten egg white. Sprinkle with a little sugar if desired.

Repeat with the remaining dough and bake for 20-30 minutes until golden brown. Let cool slightly before transferring to a wire cooling rack.

Makes 32 small or 16 large rugelach.

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