Miriam Kersh prepares this chicken sofrito annually during Rosh Hashanah. (Photo/Courtesy Miriam Kersh)

Food blogs we love: Israeli Kitchen

We know what you’re thinking: “Israeli Kitchen”??? Isn’t this feature that makes a point to highlight Latino food blogs? Well, the answer is yes, and today we’re featuring a very special blogger who represents Jews with Latino heritage. Miriam Kresh blogs from Israel, and while she showcases a dazzling array of traditional Kosher recipes on her blog, many of them make use of seasonings and staples familiar to Latino culture. In celebration of the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashannah, here’s a look at how one blogger is helping forge a wonderful connection between her religious roots and her cultural upbringing through delicious, soul-satisfying food. And if you’re still craving Mexican food inspiration to help continue the week’s countdown to Mexican Independence Day, check out some of our favorite Mexican food bloggers: The Other Side of the Tortilla, Dos Gildas, and A Little Cup of Mexican Hot Chocolate and What’s Cooking, Mexico?

Who’s blogging: I’m Miriam Kersh and my cooking influences usually go back to Mom and Dad, as do most, don’t they? Well, just about everything goes back to Mom and Dad, but when it comes to the foods we love or hate, it’s usually what we ate at our parents’ table. When I was a youngster, we lived in Michigan. My Nicaraguan mother learned to bake an excellent apple pie, but her skills shone best with dishes she’d remembered from home. Black beans, arroz con pollo tinged yellow with saffron, roast chicken made fragrant with garlic and cumin. I remember how nostalgic my parents would grow over simple ingredients like cilantro.  Nobody knew what cilantro was in Michigan then. One joyful day, my dad brought seeds back from a business trip to New York. He rushed to plant them in a window box and we pampered the leaves through the summer like precious babies.

After that time, we lived in Brazil and Venezuela.  Wherever we lived, we adapted the local cuisine to kosher standards. In Rio de Janeiro, we learned to appreciate the viscous, dark orange dende oil (so good with fish – oh, those moquecas de peixe!). In Caracas, our housemaid, a young woman from the Andes, taught us how to make arepas and wrap fiery hallacas in corn husks. As a result of all that traveling and cooking, I’m comfortable with the languages and cuisines of three different worlds. Well, maybe more worlds than three. Every country, every culture incorporates and gives back so many different elements, so many different typical flavors, and characters, and ways to live.

And I like people. I like talking to complete strangers while waiting at the bus stop (and have gotten some good recipes that way). I like to exchange “a good word” with the vendor at the open-air market; with the neighbor going upstairs while I’m going down. I’m glad I live in a small country where it’s perfectly normal to strike up a conversation with someone you don’t know, because in the end, everybody winds up knowing each other. I guess that’s why I blog. It’s another way to let the world in.

Explaing your blog name: My kitchen reflects my love of good food and Israel. It was natural to name my blog, Israeli Kitchen, after my kitchen.

Blogging since: August 2008.

Blogging from: My home in Petach Tikvah, Israel. Actually, from the reinforced-concrete safe room in my apartment, which by law every Israeli home must have. I installed my computer, files, and cookbook library in this room.

Food blogs we love: Israeli Kitchen miriam wine edited food NBC Latino News

MIriam Kresh blogs from Israel about traditional Jewish foods and has been able to trace wonderful connections between Latino and Jewish cultures through her heart-warming recipes. (Photo/Courtesy Miriam Kresh)

Most popular post: Apricot Chutney.

What you’ve learned about food while blogging about your experience translating Latino food to the Kosher kitchen? I’ve learned that when you want to spin-off a kosher variation of a non-kosher dish, use authentic ingredients; don’t go for kosher imitations. Things like imitation bacon and non-dairy cream make me shudder. My Brazilian feijoada, made pork-less and incorporating local sausages, is delicious.

I’ve also learned to trust my nose rather than the timer. If something smells done, check it, don’t wait for the timer to go off.

On the spiritual side, I learned something important about food from Dona Tsipporah, my mother. She taught me that only food made with love tastes good. I see it from both sides: if a woman cooks with anger or bitterness in her heart, throwing the dish on the table with a sour face, it will never taste good. But whatever she prepares with loving attention, no matter how humble the dish, will taste wonderful to her family. Till this day, and Dona Tsipporah is almost 91, my siblings and I talk about her rice. Nobody makes rice like my mom! Because she’s always cooked it with love.

Where do you get inspiration for your posts? Sometimes, from hunger. I’ll wake up thinking, “I really want a poached egg this morning. But not just an ordinary one. I want a poached egg with a creamy sauce. A creamy sauce with mushrooms!” Then I look through my cookbooks and the Internet until I find the recipe.

Other times, I’ll have eaten something in a restaurant, and have no peace till I’ve recreated it at home. I first ate charred eggplant salad in a restaurant. Several kitchen experiments later, I blogged about it. Some of my posts are about my travels. Naturally, trawling the open-air market and handling the seasonal produce always gives me ideas for recipes and posts.

What have you learned from blogging: I’ve learned to be most careful in expressing my opinions or even what I find funny.  Blogging has also helped me become a better writer.

Where else can we find you online? Find me on Twitter @IsraeliKitchen, and on FaceBook as Miriam Kresh. I’m also a featured writer on the Middle East ecology magazine Green Prophet. Occasionally I write for The Jew And The Carrot.

What are your favorite food blogs? I love E O Que Tem Para Hoje – bilingual Portuguese/English. Another Brazilian blog I like is the Flavors of Brazil blog I also enjoy reading the BaS Cooking blog, Rustica, and  T’s Tasty Bits.

To help get your family ready for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah (which begins the evening of September 16), Miriam is sharing her favorite chicken sofrito dish.

To me, sofrito always meant the familiar base of chopped aromatic vegetables seasoned with plenty of spices and fried. But sometimes the same word has different meanings. I was surprised to learn that to the Sephardic community, it’s a technique of cooking chicken or meat gently in very little water, rather than a flavor base. Traditional seasonings make a taste that harkens back to medieval Spain, where Sephardic Jewry began. Here in Israel, sofrito is considered a Jerusalem specialty. Eating it, I feel connected to those sixteenth-century Spanish Jews who settled in Jerusalem under Turkish rule. They were leaders of the Jewish community and made Spanish the lingua franca of the region.

 Chicken Sofrito

3-4 servings. Can be doubled or tripled.

Ingredients:

2 halves of chicken breast

1 chicken thigh

2 tablespoons olive oil

Juice of 1/2 lemon

2 crushed garlic cloves

Saffron, a good pinch

1/2 teaspoon grated galingale root or ginger

salt and white pepper

1 cup water

Put the water and all the seasonings in a large pot. Bring to a boil.

Add the chicken pieces.

Cover the pot and cook the chicken in the water mixture over the lowest heat. Turn it over once in a while to cook evenly.

When the chicken is tender – between 1 and 1-1/2 hours, remove it from the pot to a platter. Taste the sauce in the pot for seasoning and adjust if needed. Raise the heat and reduce the sauce until it’s thickened to your liking.

Spoon the sauce over the chicken and serve with roasted baby potatoes and greens. Or do the traditional thing and serve your sofrito with plain white rice.

Note: to double the recipe, cook one chicken, quartered. Double seasonings but add only 1/2 cup more water

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