Posted by Rob Eshman
I just returned from a week-long trip to Azerbaijan, a country on the Caspian Sea. I was there for an international conference and to see the remarkable Jewish community that has thrived there for centuries-- that's a whole other story, to come-- but of course, a person has to eat.
There were 800 participants in the International Humanitarian Conference, and we were wined, dined and in all ways treated as honored guests of the president of this small, oil-rich nation. And the Azeri food, which I knew nothing about before I arrived, turned out to be yet another pleasant surprise in a country full of them.
Azerbaijan, unlike, say the Emirates, has an ancient food tradition and culture developed along the Silk Route. There was cuisine and culture before there was enormous wealth. The country sits just north of Iran, Armenia and Iraq, and shares borders with Russia and Georgia to the north and Turkey to the west. Its climate ranges from desert to rolling farmland to high mountains. That all makes for great ingredients, and a few thousand years of culture and trade to know what to do with them.
One thing I didn't expect, given how far I'd travelled to get there, was how familiar many of the foods were. If you've eaten on Westwood Blvd., you've sampled a lot of the dishes you'll find in Azerbaijan-- the Perisan influence is that strong. That said, the warm and hospitable Azeris always seemed to grow stone-faced when I would say that a certain dish was "just like Persian food."
"No," a chef corrected me. "It's Azeri."
Fair enough: lesson learned. If you want to insult a beautiful woman, tell her she remind you of some other beautiful woman. If you want to insult an entire People, tell them their food reminds you of some other country's food.
The Azeri breakfast buffet at the Kampinski Hotel in Baku featured many locally made products. Jams of mulberry and dogwood, fresh yogurt, sheep and goat cheese, and one of the highlights of my eating there: an entire frame of fresh local honeycomb, which guests could hack away at and add to their yogurt. The waxy cells melted in my mouth, and the honey inside was fresh and floral.
The formal lunches and dinners at the conference featured starters of lamb-stuffed vegetables and grape leaves, which the waiters always drizzled with yogurt sauce, a platter of local cheese, then some kind of grilled meat, a very fragrant herbal meat stew, and pilaf. One day we drove high up to the Caucasus where we ate at the Zirve Hotel, a brand new ski resort. Tuxedoes waiters served kuku, the herb frittata that begins most meals, along with local farm-raised trout.
The stews and soups had the herbal and sour flavors you find in Persian cuisine-- but of course they weren't Persian, they were Azeri.
One day at lunch I wandered into a restaurant in Old Baku called the Old Garden. It just looked good. Two women at the next table told me I was in luck: one was a professor at Baku University and she said Old Garden was by far the best place for an authentic Azeri lunch. I let her order something light for me: dushbara soup with small lamb-filled dumplings called pelmenyi, and two quttabs. These are turnovers made from a thin, hand-rolled dough, stuffed with vegetables or meat and cooked on a griddle. To finish, I had tea with candied watermelon.
Azerbaijan is a Shiite Muslim country, but with no state religion and separation of church and state. The wine industry there, started by either Armenians or Jews, produces excellent dark red Shiraz. The grape, known here as the syrah, is actually a native to Persia-- or to Azerbaijan.
Yes, you can get a sense of Azeri food by eating Persian in Westwood, but for the real thing head to Baku. Or head to Brooklyn and viist the Old Baku restaurant, which a diplomat told me was the best Azeri food in America.
"The owner is a Jewish man from Azerbaijan," he said.
Like a I said, a country full of pleasant surprises.
11.7.13 at 1:34 pm | I just returned from a week-long trip to. . .
10.22.13 at 3:56 pm |
10.22.13 at 3:37 pm | Three food events in LA to put on your calendar
9.24.13 at 11:43 am | This week I columnized about Anthony Bourdain's. . .
9.24.13 at 8:19 am | How to recreate Israel in a glass
9.13.13 at 12:56 pm | DIY atonement with backyard chickens
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11.7.13 at 1:34 pm | I just returned from a week-long trip to. . . (55)
10.10.11 at 3:19 pm | What Steve Jobs' Estranged Father Teaches Us. . . (33)
October 22, 2013 | 3:56 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Time is too precious. A life is a moment in season. A life is one snowfall. A life is one autumn day. A life is the delicate, rapid edge of a closing door’s shadow.
-Allan Lightman, Einstein's Dreams
So fall comes and I move indoors and cook in pots and pans, lots of them. I roast, and braise. The house fills with kitchen smells- sizzling garlic, browning onions, pie spice and bread crust-- and I get hungry earlier.
I've been reading a lot about ritual lately. The positive psychology movement can prove that ritual is a building block to happiness. Repetitive acts, followed religiously, raise your spirits.
In Happier:Learn the Secrets to Daily Joy and Lasting Fulfillment, Tal Ben-Shahar writes:
People are sometimes resistant to the idea of introducing rituals because they believe that ritualistic behavior may detract from spontaneity or creativity–especially when it comes to interpersonal rituals such as a regular date with one's spouse, or artistic rituals such as painting. However, if we do not ritualize activities– whether working out in the gym, spending time with our family, or reading for pleasure–we often don't get to them, and rather than being spontaneous, we become reactive (to others' demands on our time and energy). In an overall structured, ritualized life, we certainly don't need to have each hour of the day accounted for and can thus leave time for spontaneous behavior; more importantly, we can integrate spontaneity into a ritual, as, for example, deciding spontaneously where we go on the ritualized date. The most creative individuals–whether artists, businesspeople, or parents– have rituals that they follow. Paradoxically, the routine frees them up to be creative and spontaneous.
What is fall cooking if not a ritual? Moving inside, pulling out the big pots, preparing the foods you remember from the year before, and the year before that?
This year, the ritual allowed for spontaniety-- just as Tal predicted it would!
I poured Sadaf pomegranate syrup over the already-cubed butternut squash from Trader Joes or Costco , sprinkled it with salt, pepper and olive oil, and roasted it until crispy. That's a keeper.
Then I decided to try a version of the Italian rolled meat dish braciole that would be, let's face it, nothing like the Italian rolled meat dish braciole. Instead of beef I used chicken breasts. Instead of pecorino and prosciutto I used roasted kale, capers and olives. I still bathed it in a rich tomato sauce, and the smells still filled the house. It all turned out very well-- lighter, kosher, but full of the flavors of a traditional fall kitchen. A new ritual, perhaps...
[RECIPE] Chicken Braciole
2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breast
1 bunch Tuscan kale, chopped
10 cloves garlic, minced
2 onions, chopped
1 can crushed Italian tomatoes
1 cup deep red wine
1 cup extra version olive oil
4 bay leaves
1/2 cup chopped pitted Greek olives
1/2 cup capers
fresh chopped parsley
Have the butcher flatten breasts into schnitzels, or do it yourself with a mallet.
Heat 1/2 c. olive oil in a large skillet. Add 1 chopped onion and 5 cloves chopped garlic and saute until golden. Add kale, salt and pepper cover and cook until soft. Remove from pan and set aside to cool.
Place a large piece of kitchen parchment or wax paper on your counter. Lay out chicken on the parchment into one overlapping rectangular "sheet." Pile filling along the long end in a thin even line. Using the paper to help, roll the braciole up tightly. Remove paper and tie with kitchen twine. Set aside.
Make sauce: Heat remaining olive oil in pan, add and saute remaining onion and garlic, add bay leaves, salt, pepper, wine, olives, capers and tomato and bring to simmer. Cook until reduced and rich, about 20-30 minutes. Set aside.
Heat 2 T olive oil in a large skillet. Add braciole and quickly but gently brown on all sides. Add sauce Bring to a simmer, reduce heat and poach until cooked through, about 20-30 minutes.
Remove from heat, spinkle with parsley. Serve by slicing crosswise, topping with sauce.
[RECIPE] Pomegranate-Glazed Butternut Squash
1 pound butternut squash, cubed in 1/2 inch cubes
1/4 c. pomegranate syrup (not juice).
salt and fresh ground pepper
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Cover a large, flat baking sheet with tin foil. Mix all ingredients on the sheet. Coat the squash well with the syrup and oil, then spread to separate most of the pieces. Roast for 20 minutes, stir, then roast for about 20 more, until the edges and sides are well-crisped.
Serves 2-4. It's very very addictive. For a photo click here.http://pic.twitter.com/RZADBS9K0M
October 22, 2013 | 3:37 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Three new events-slash-developments in the LA food world are worth putting on your calendar. I'll list them in chronological order:
October 27. Einat Admony will cook for you
You can fork over $65 and join Israeli-born chef and author Einat Admony, owner of New York's acclaimed Balaboosta restaurant, as she cooks a Middle East-inspired pop-up dinner at the ultra-cool downtown grocer Urban Radish. You'll get a casual family-style dinner with dishes inspired by Admony's Israeli heritage (Yemenite and Persian) from her new cookbook Balaboosta, seamlessly blended with the fresh, sophisticated Mediterranean palate. Tickets are $65 and limited. From 6:00 PM to 8:00 PM Call (213) 892-1570 or click here.
By the way, here's the menu according to the organizers:
Root Veggie Chips (p. 62)
My Mom’s Chicken with Pomegranate and Walnuts (p. 213)
Lentil and Feta Salad (p. 94)
Grilled Meat Kebabs roasted red pepper tahini
Cream Bo (p. 227)
Hummus and Pita
November 24: Applications due for Skirball's “Tent: Food LA”
The Skirball Cultural Center is holding its first “Tent: Encounters with Jewish Culture” seminar in March. “Tent: Food LA” invites the 21-30 set to explore how Jewish food has impacted American cuisine and vice versa. You’ll talk, taste, and cook with each other and leading food writers and chefs. More information is here: Tent: Food LA.
The list of speakers will grow, but for now, Susan Feniger is booked to talk about “ethnic food as the basis for contemporary cuisine” and to host a dinner at Street. Leah Hochman and Evan Kleiman will be leading the seminar.
Go online if you're in the right demo and sign up by November 24.
February 2014: Wexler's Deli opens downtown
Yes, it's the Second Coming...of Micah Wexler. But hey, if you remember Mezze on La Cienega, this is no small thing. Wexler has confirmed he will open an artisan version of a Jewish deli in the Grand Central Market downtown early next year. It will be a ten seater, and knowing how the man cooks, it will give current iterations of the artisan deli craze, like Wise Sons stiff competition. As the (Jewish) man in the Dos Equis commercial says, "Stay hungry, my friend..."
September 24, 2013 | 11:43 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
This week I columnized about Anthony Bourdain's visit to Israel, which aired as an episode of his "Parts Unknown" series on CNN.
Two years ago I wrote a column in the Jewish Journal urging Bourdain, the most articulate of all the food personalities on TV, to include Israel as part of his then-popular show, "No Reservations."
I began the piece with some heartfelt buttering up:
Television is littered with lousy food shows. I know I risk sounding like some grumpy old coot wondering whatever happened to Jack Paar, but I do wonder what the spirit of the great Julia Child would make of the utter mediocrity, the sheer lack of aspiration, the game show approach and personality-driven fluff that has become the norm in food TV.
Thank God for Anthony Bourdain.
Then I made my ask:
One place Bourdain hasn’t been in the Middle East since 2006, or ever, is Israel. He did an episode in Dubai, in which he focused on the plight of the maltreated, deracinated imported laborers, and in Saudi Arabia, where he humanized a culture that exists mostly in monochromatic stereotype, while falling short of giving it a ringing endorsement.
But why not Israel? The comments section of Bourdain-related blogs is peppered with unanswered pleas for an Israel episode.
The country has undergone a food revolution; it is, and has long been, at the crossroads of Middle Eastern cuisine. Israel is home to great chefs, innovative producers, and there’s no lack of moving stories. If you want to examine how food and culture interact, Israel is one of the world’s perfect laboratories.
I assumed Bourdain was keeping his distance out of pique. With a bit of bad luck, he could have been killed in 2006 courtesy of the Israelis. I e-mailed Diane Schutz, the show’s producer, at Zero Point Zero Productions and asked flat out, “Will Tony go to Israel?”
I expected no answer. But very quickly, by return e-mail, came a yes. Yes, she e-mailed me, it is something they are very much interested in. Not this season, which is in the can, but soon.
Now that will be a food show. Stay tuned.
We (me, our Web Team) launched a Facebook page, "Send Anthony Bourdain to Israel." It got a full TWO HUNDRED "Likes." Clearly I had tapped into the gestalt.
That was over two years ago. But finally-- with a different show, different network, different approach-- Bourdain went.
And when he returned, he got slammed.
The watchdog organization CAMERA accused him of pushing pro-Palestinian propaganda. The Forward newspaper-- 180 degrees the opposite of CAMERA-- called the trip a "big disappointment."
"He barely scratches the surface and spends scant time discussing food with Ottolenghi, who is arguably the most significant Israeli chef in the world," writes Devra Ferst.
Ha'aretz enumarates all the restaurants he should have gone to but didn't. But the writer misunderstands what this particular series is about-- not restaurants and food per se, but people and their predicaments, with food as a lens.
To be fair, Bourdain scored a few more points with Palestinians. At the Daily Beast,, comedian, foodie and all-around remarkable person Maysoon Zayid gushes over his humanizing of Gazans-- and notes that for her, he also went a way toward humanizing settlers.
And at the blog Barefoot in Ramallah, Bourdain gets a backhanded not bad, though they call the program "a little odd and simplistic."
So, welcome to Israel Tony-- where as you noted at the outset of your show, you are bound to upset everyone. And welcome to the Jewish people, Tony, where pretty much the same holds true.
My bottom line take on the show is this:
...given the limitations of the medium, Bourdain did the right thing. He gathered narratives, tested them against one another and against his own sense of what’s right and wrong. He sat down at tables and let people tell their stories. And only after he had listened, and eaten, with all of them — Israeli and Palestinian — did he venture a conclusion...
Like I said in my piece (the whole thing's below), it was worth the wait. I'm thinking Bourdain appreciated my sentiments, since he Tweeted the column.
Grateful for this! http://t.co/dFr6vx3QzJ— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) September 24, 2013
The question is, when is he going back?
by Rob Eshman
If you like food and you like Israel, this past week’s episode of Anthony Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” was a win-win.
And I say that despite the criticism Bourdain has received from the people who profess to love Israel. To them, he presented a biased, pro-Palestinian screed disguised as a food-intensive travelogue.
To me, he showed exactly how smart, curious people should engage a complex country — and how Israelis and Palestinians benefit from that approach.
To food lovers, Bourdain is a star. He wrote the best-selling memoir of life as a professional chef, “Kitchen Confidential,” then took his biting insights on the road, first in the Travel Channel series “No Reservations,” and now for CNN. He travels the world reporting his perceptions of people and their predicaments, always using food as the way into their lives.
His first experience with Israel wasn’t pleasant: Bourdain was filming in Beirut in 2006 when the Second Lebanon War broke out, and he found himself at the wrong end of Israeli rockets.
I wondered in a column if that experience cooled Bourdain to the idea of visiting Israel, despite the fact that the country has undergone a food revolution. I even started a Facebook page to get fans to urge him to go there and see for himself.
Three years, a dozen destinations, one network and an entire show concept later, Bourdain arrived in Jerusalem. My efforts, clearly, were wildly persuasive.
But it was worth the wait. Bourdain reports like he eats — hungry for it all. And within the confines of a popular, half-hour travelogue, he devours the Holy Land with an open mind and an open mouth.
He starts at the Western Wall with the surprising acknowledgement that he is half-Jewish, despite a non-religious upbringing. At the Western Wall, the man who describes himself as “hostile to any sort of devotion” very publicly wrestles with his feelings as an Orthodox Jew wraps him with tefillin, and he prays, as a Jew, for the first time in his life.
Leaving Jerusalem, Bourdain shuttles between Israelis and Palestinians, collecting contrasting narratives and the meals that go with them.
He eats at the table of winemaker Amichai Luria, in the West Bank settlement of Eli, and peppers settlement leader Amiad Cohen with questions about their Palestinian neighbors.
When he asks why the settlers don’t paint over anti-Arab graffiti sprayed by Jewish vandals, Cohen is momentarily at a loss for words, like maybe he was just expecting Rachael Ray.
He visits Al Rowwad Theatre in Aida Refugee Camp in Bethlehem, and just as pointedly asks theater director Abed Abusrour why Palestinians glorify hijackers and suicide bombers. After some equivocation, Abed says that despite the propaganda, young Palestinians actually idolize Mohammed Assaf, the Gazan winner of the singing competition “Arab Idol.”
Just outside of Jerusalem, in the village of Ein Rafa, Bourdain eats at Majda, an idyllic vegetarian restaurant run by husband-and-wife team Michal Baranes, an Israeli Jew, and Yakub Barhum, a Palestinian Muslim. They serve Bourdain fried zucchini in goat yogurt and okra with roasted tomato, onion and mint, and Bourdain allows himself to fantasize, for a second, that a divided land could actually come together over food.
Then, reality: In Gaza, he eats a local delicacy of charred young watermelon with soggy bread — he does a terrible job of feigning delight — and hears the bitterness of old men displaced from their homes in 1948.
Just on the other side of the Gaza border, Bourdain visits Natan Galkowicz, owner of Mides Brazilian Restaurant in the Negev kibbutz Bror Hayil. Galkowicz’s daughter was killed in 2005 by a Hamas mortar.
“I know that my daughter was killed for no reason, and I know that people on the other side have been killed for no reason,” Galkowicz tells Bourdain. “Bottom line is, let’s stop with the suffering.”
Look, it’s not a 13-hour PBS documentary. But this is the way most people come to understand Israel: not through PR, or via professors, but through what’s popular — what’s on television.
That didn’t stop the pro-Israel watchdog group CAMERA from nitpicking it apart. “Bourdain felt compelled to play to the perceived political orientation and pro-Palestinian sympathies of his audience,” the organization posted on its Web site, citing exactly zero statistics to support its own assumptions about his audience.
But given the limitations of the medium, Bourdain did the right thing. He gathered narratives, tested them against one another and against his own sense of what’s right and wrong. He sat down at tables and let people tell their stories. And only after he had listened, and eaten, with all of them — Israeli and Palestinian — did he venture a conclusion:
“One can be forgiven for thinking,” he says, “when you see how similar they are, the two people, both of whom cook with pride, eat with passion, love their kids, love the land in which they live or the land they dream of returning to … that they might someday, somehow figure out how to live with each other. But that would be very mushy thinking indeed. Those things in the end probably don’t count for much at all.”
If only the high priests of certainty on all sides would be as willing as Bourdain to sit and hear competing narratives. They might learn something — and get a good meal, too.
September 24, 2013 | 8:19 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait is my attempt to recreate Israel in a glass.
The normal breakfast in an Israeli hotel is an endless buffet of fresh vegetables, pickles, olives, salted fish, fresh cheeses, boiled eggs, fresh breads, olive oil and za'atar. I was 12 when I first laid eyes on one, and it was THE one: the breakfast buffet at the Sheraton Tel Aviv, which back then was the upscale American hotel of choice. The buffet was laid out on huge tables, and one thing struck my groggy, jet-lagged pre-teen eyes immediately: no pancakes. No sweet sickly syrup smell. No greasy bacon (of course). And even more astonishing: for breakfast, these people ate VEGETABLES.
I fell in love.
My taste buds have always leaned salty over sweet, and the combination of truly good tomatoes and cucumbers, the marjoram-and-sesame spice mixed called za'atar, and fresh olive oil, along with homemade yogurts and soft fresh goat cheese-- that obliterated the desire for all the oily Grand Slams and IHOP platters I'd called breakfast in America. After one of those gut bombs I felt gross. After an Israeli breakfast, I felt-- well, Israeli.
The Israeli breakfast buffet evolved from kibbutz breakfast, when the workers would come in to the dining hall from their very early morning labors and go down the mess line, essentially eating what they or other kibbutzim had grown and made.
I've since had dozens of Israeli breakfasts, at Hiltons, Dans, little B & Bs, private homes, and of course kibbutzim. They range from spartan (the kibbutz) to over-the-top (Dan Panorama). The one that stands out as the best was at Mitzpe Yamim, a resort overlooking the Sea of Galilee. The vegetables were locally grown, the breads homemade, the cheese made from goats I petted on my way to the dining hall, the olive oil local and even the za'atar picked and dried and ground on site. That's the Israeli breakfast I dream of.
And it was the one I tried to recreate in a glass this morning.
I diced cucumbers, tomatoes and avocado, and layered them in a martini glass with Redhill Farms goat yogurt, along with chopped kalamata olives. I topped it with za'atar and strong green olive oil (Sultan from Lebanon, $17 for 3 liters at Sunland Produce-- get some).
And the first taste: Israel. Mitzpe Yamim. 2007. Take me back.
Foodaism's Israeli Breakfast Buffet Parfait
1 large fresh tomato, diced
1 cucumber, diced
1/2 cup kalamata olives, pitted
1 avocado, diced
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
1 T. za'atar (optional)
2 cups goat yogurt, or any high quality yogurt
In 4 shallow glasses, layer cucumber, tomatoes and avocado and yogurt in any order you like. You can blend the three or make separate layers. Top with yogurt and chopped olives and za'atar, and drizzle with olive oil.
September 13, 2013 | 12:56 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Every year some stalwart traditional Jews in LA observe the Yom Kippur custom of kapparot, and every year there are completely justifiable protests and public revulsion in response.
This year is no different. As the Jewish Journal documented, Orthodox Jews in the Pico Robertson area brought in battery cages full of terrified chickens, stacked them in the sweltering heat, then followed the customary rite of holding the chickens over their head as they recited the kapparot blessing. Afterwards a kosher butcher slaughters the poor beasts. Some of the meat goes to the poor. But a good portion-- hundreds and hundreds of birds-- are trashed and dumped. It is the definition of a shanda-- a shame.
And it doesn't have to be that way. The custom itself can be a meaningful part of the Days of Awe, the time between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippor. During kapparot, a person's sins are symbolically transferred to a chicken. First, selections from the Bible are recited; then the bird is held above the person's head and swung-- or passed-- in a circle three times, while the following is spoken in Hebrew: "This is my exchange, my substitute, my atonement; this rooster (or hen) shall go to its death, but I shall go to a good, long life, and to peace."
The idea is that the fowl becomes the scapegoat, and takes on any misfortune that might otherwise occur to the one who has taken part in the ritual, in punishment for his or her sins.
Done right, it works like most rituals do-- subjectively. You feel a bit lighter, a bit more on your way to starting a new year fresh.
But what if the act of mistreating these chickens is itself a sin? How can we avoid that?
Ever since I started raising backyard chickens, my answer has been-- use them. You walk out to where your hens are--preferably at night, when they are drowsy and supple-- pick them up gently, pass them over your head, recite the prayer, put them down-- and donate the value of a hen to charity that day.
The birds don't mind at all-- or if they do, no more than your dog minds having its paws inspected. To be blunt, in exchange for us putting up with their chicken poop, they have to put up with our bullshit. The key is no chickens are harmed in the marking of this teshuva, or repentence.
This morning, before I rushed to work, my wife Naomi said, "Wait, the chickens!" I went and got one, Nomi got her worn rabbi's book that of course has the kapparot prayers (you can look online). She recited as I held the chicken over my head, then hers. The chicken was nervous, but nervous is a very familiar chicken emotion. It was over faster than a shot of novocaine.
Today, the Jewish Journal reported that protesters successfully shut down the kapparot operations on Pico Robertson as of this morning. Next year, to save the chickens and avoid the needless battles, find a neighbor with a couple chickens, and ask to do kapparot. It will be one of those heartwarming cultural exchange moments--- and for the break fast, you can eat fresh eggs, instead of dead pets.
August 29, 2013 | 6:58 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
By "making your own" I'm not talking about pouring water over a bowl of couscous from the exotics aisle at Ralphs. I'm talking about doing what they do in Marrakesh: taking semolina, misting it with water, sifting it, steaming it, fluffling it, steaming it again. Joan learns the technique from two Israeli chefs in Brooklyn, Ron and Leetal Arazi, who sell their hand-crafted Israeli food at NYShuk in Williamsburg.
Making couscous is not easy, and neither is describing making couscous. But Joan pulls that off:
Mr. Arazi taught me how to make couscous in the kitchen of his Crown Heights apartment. Watching him work with his hands was mesmerizing. He put about four cups of semolina in a large mixing bowl, and dampened it by spraying it with water. Holding the bowl in his left hand, he patted and circled his fingers gently over the semolina until the grain started to clump into tiny balls. Then he steamed it over water.
Recipes go along with the description. It's a worthy Rosh Hashanah project. And not a bad New Years resolution: each year, resolve to make one thing by hand that you used to buy pre-made. That alone brings us closer to our food, closer to our traditions, closer to one another.
August 28, 2013 | 12:36 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Remains of ancient wine presses dating back 5,000 years may be found today throughout Israel, from the Galilee to the Judean Hills and the Negev Desert. Archeologists have uncovered hundreds of jars for storing and transporting wine.
In the Book of Genesis, Noah plants the first vineyard and catches the world’s first buzz when he drank the wine (Genesis 9:20–21).
The author of Ecclesiastes says it all: “They make a banquet for revelry; wine makes life merry and money answers every need” (Ecclesiastes 10:19).
Romans in Palestine add spices and scents to improve the existing Jewish wine. They add honey, pepper, chalk, gypsum, lime, resin, herbs and even seawater.
Muslims conquer the Holy Land, ban drinking alcohol, and put an end to the party — and to a prosperous wine industry.
Morocco’s Muslim rulers cede to Jews the craftsmanship and trade of precious metals as well as the making of wine and its sale. To this day, Morocco is the largest wine producer of all Muslim nations.
Almost all of the vineyards of Champagne, France, including one owned by the Biblical commentator Rashi’s family, are under Jewish patronage.
Forced out by the Inquisition, Sephardic winegrowers in Spain and Portugal bring wine making and marketing to North Africa and European cities.
Jewish philanthropist Sir Moses Montefiore visits the land of Israel seven times between 1827 and 1875. He funds two Jewish wineries in Jerusalem, Schorr and Teperberg, and the first Jewish agricultural school, Mikveh Israel, near Jaffa, which features an experimental vineyard planted with European vines.
The Herzog family winery is named royal wine supplier to the emperor of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, Franz Joseph, eventually earning Phillip Herzog (1843-1918) the royal title of baron.
British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli is given a bottle of kosher red wine from Palestine. After a few sips, Disraeli, a wine connoisseur, says it tastes “not so much like wine but more like what I expect to receive from my doctor as a remedy for a bad winter cough.”
Baron Edmond de Rothschild of Chateau Lafite contributes 60 million gold francs to develop vineyards and viticulture programs in the Holy Land. He builds two large wineries, one at Rishon le-Zion in 1889, and the other at Zichron Ya’akov in 1892.
A Jewish vintner named Frederick Rosenbaum plants a 16-acre vineyard north of St. Helena. It is now the St. Clement winery.
Rabbi Dov Behr Abramson purchased the passport of a dead man named Manischewitz to gain passage to America. He settles in Cincinnati, Ohio, and begins baking matzah himself in his basement. Then comes wine.
The Schapiro Wine Co. is founded on New York’s Lower East Side with the unlikely name of California Valley Wine Co. The company celebrates its wine’s syrupy sweetness with the famous slogan, “Wine so thick you can almost cut it with a knife.”
Baron Rothschild sets up Societe Cooperative Vigneronne des Grandes Caves-Carmel, better known as Carmel Wine.
Businessman Samuel Flichman is given a Mendoza, Argentina, winery as payment for a debt. In 1947, Finca Flichman creates the first branded Argentine wine: Caballero de la Cepa.
The Russian Revolution, the enactment of Prohibition in the United States, and Egypt’s ban of imported wines virtually destroy Israel’s fledgling wine industry.
Max Schubert joins Penfolds as a messenger boy. He will go on to become the pioneer of the Australian wine industry and creator of Grange Hermitage.
Royal Wine Corp. started by the Pluczenik brothers, is sold to Eugene Herzog, who adds the Kedem name and turns it into the largest producer and distributor of kosher wines in the world.
Marvin Sands begins selling Richard’s Wild Irish Rose, a cheap dessert wine. By 2003, sons Richard and Rob turn Constellation Brands into the world’s largest vintner, which now includes the legendary Robert Mondavi winery and Franciscan in Rutherford, Calif., as well as Buena Vista, Clos du Bois, Geyser Peak, Kim Crawford, Ravenswood, Ruffino and Simi.
Al Brounstein of Diamond Creek comes to Napa Valley. He pioneers the Valley’s focus on a single varietal wine, Cabernet Sauvignon.
Israel captures the Golan Heights from Syria in the Six-Day War — territory that within five years becomes the center for the rebirth of the Israeli wine industry.
Marvin Shanken buys Wine Spectator magazine.
Golan Heights Winery hires a California winemaker named Peter Stern, in part because of his Jewish surname. Over the next 20 years Stern will go on to revitalize the Israeli wine industry. But he isn’t, as it turns out, Jewish.
The Yarden Cabernet Sauvignon 1984 wins both the gold medal and the Winiarski Trophy as the best wine in the International Wine and Spirits Competition in London.
Herzog wines opens a 77,000-square-foot, state-of-the-art winery in Oxnard, Calif., dedicated exclusively to the making of kosher wines.
Rabbi Elchonon Tenenbaum and his family move from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to the Bay Area to establish the first Chabad center in Napa. Tenebaum will work with vintners Leslie Rudd and Jeff Morgan to produce premium kosher wines.
Napa vintners organize the L’Chaim to Life event and the “Al Brounstein Meritorious Service Award” to celebrate their Jewish roots and to join together with non-Jews to raise funds for Napa Valley charities.
Judd Finklestein launches “Judd’s Napa Valley Show,” a new live talk show on KVON radio about wine and winemakers. Finklestein’s father, Art, an L.A. architect, moved to Napa in 1979 and bought Whitehall Lane Winery. Now the family runs Judd’s Hill.
“To take grapevines, farm them to produce the highest-quality fruit and then turn them into wine,” Art Finklestein once wrote, “well, this process gets me closer to and more appreciative of whatever higher power there may be out there than anything else.”
Compiled and written by Rob Eshman @foodaism
“The Long Winding Road to World-Class Wine” by Daniel Rogov
(Reform Magazine, Spring 2007)
“5,000 Years of Jewish Wine Making” by John Intardonato (Winebusiness.com, Nov. 27, 2007)