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Dreaming of a gorgeous, traditional seder

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Religion

Uncertainty about what Pesach entertaining holds for us this year has detracted from my normal plan-400-weeks-in-advance personality type. Last year, it was pretty much “let’s all wear pyjamas to the seder, and sit in the kitchen”. However, this year, there is a longing within me for a gorgeous, traditional seder with a tablescape to match. Perhaps it’s this nostalgia which has resulted in me hauling out all my bobbas’ recipes.

It’s important to remember that there were no metric measurements in those days, so use your intuition. Taste for seasoning, and add extra matzo meal to the gremzlach if they feel too soft.

Gremzlach to eat with your chicken soup

I mince the meat from my soup to use in the gremzlach. Mincemeat is a good second choice. Ask your butcher to mince round bolo. It works particularly well. These freeze well, and are lovely to keep for an emergency Pesach meal.

(Makes 16)

Ingredients for the meat

500g mincemeat

½ onion chopped

1 carrot chopped

3 Tbsp sunflower oil

1 tsp salt

¼ tsp pepper

Ingredients for the potato crust

15 potatoes roughly quartered.

1 onion cut in quarters

1 packet of Rakusen’s matzo meal (about 375g)

½ tub schmaltz

1 Tbsp salt

½ tsp white pepper

6 jumbo eggs

Method

Soften the chopped onion and carrot in the oil until it is translucent. Add the mincemeat and brown gently. Add the salt and pepper and taste for seasoning. Set aside to cool.

Preheat your oven to 200 degrees. Line three quarter baking sheets with baking paper, and grease lightly with sunflower oil. In a large bowl, place your lightly beaten eggs, matzo meal, schmaltz, salt, and pepper. Working quickly, whizz your potato and onion in the food processor until chopped. Do this in batches. Transfer the mixture to a strainer and over a basin, squeeze the water out of the potatoes. Tip the squished potatoes into the waiting mixture. Continue until all the potatoes have been added to the mixture. Mix well, and taste your potato batter for firmness and saltiness. Be brave, it’s just raw potato and egg! You will probably need to add extra matzo meal in small increments.

With wet hands, place about half a cup of the mixture in the palm of your hands and flatten to about 2cm thick. Place a heaped teaspoon of your meat in the centre, and wrap the potato around the meat. Place on the waiting baking sheet and continue.

Bake for 40 minutes until golden, flipping over when the bottoms are brown.

Potato and leek kugel

(serves 8)

It’s important to read the entire recipe first as some of the ingredients get divided. You may want to do this before starting. Double it if you want it to fit your rectangular casserole dishes.

Ingredients

9 potatoes peeled (2 kg)

3 medium leeks (cut off dark green part) / ½ packet checked leeks from Freshfellas

7 Tbsp oil

1 onion

2 jumbo eggs

1 Tbsp fresh thyme if you like it (we didn’t)

¼ tsp pepper

1 clove garlic crushed

Method

Preheat the oven to 180 degrees, and place the tablespoons of oil in your casserole dish.

Heat two tablespoons of oil in a large pan. Add the leeks, and season with a pinch of salt and a quarter teaspoon of pepper. When the leeks are soft, add the crushed clove of garlic. Remove from the heat, and allow to cool.

Place the casserole dish in the preheated oven for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile whizz seven of the potatoes and the one onion in the food processor. Squeeze the water out in a strainer. Stir in the leeks, garlic, eggs, one tablespoon oil, thyme, one teaspoon salt, and the pepper.

Thinly slice the remaining two potatoes and toss with the remaining one tablespoon oil, pinch of salt, and quarter teaspoon pepper.

Carefully remove the casserole from the oven and transfer the potato-onion mixture to the dish. Layer the potato slices on top overlapping. Bake for one hour, and then turn your oven to grill and grill the top for a minute or two, watching carefully.

Chocolate pecan tart with lemon curd topping

The combination of chocolate, lemon, and berries is amazing! And, you get to use up the left-over egg yolks. Don’t forget to add the berries for garnish to your ingredient list.

Ingredients

2¾ cups pecans

3 cups icing sugar

½ cup plus 3 Tbsp cocoa

½ tsp kosher salt (not normal salt)

4 large egg whites (at room temperature)

1 Tbsp vanilla

Method

Heat oven to 180 degrees. Toast the pecans for nine minutes, and then roughly chop.

Lower the temperature to 175 degrees, and line a springform tin with baking paper.

Whisk the sugar, cocoa, and salt followed by the chopped nuts. Increase the speed of the mixer and add the egg whites and vanilla. Just beat long enough to moisten the dough. These are not meringues.

Spoon into the tin, and leave to stand for 30 minutes. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is glossy and lightly cracked. Cool and store. These also work magnificently as biscuits, just don’t bake as long.

Lemon curd

Double the quantity as leftovers are wonderful to have in the fridge. It tastes wonderful with chocolate cake, meringues, or even on its own.

Ingredients

3 egg yolks

Juice and rind of 2 lemons

1 cup of sugar

Pinch of salt

2 Tbsp potato flour

1½ cups of boiling water

Method

Mix the water, sugar, and potato flour. Beat the egg yolks with the lemon juice and lemon rind. Very slowly, add the water mixture to the yolks so as not to curdle them. Transfer the mixture to a pot and cook on the stove until it thickens. Cool in the fridge.

To assemble

Place the biscuit base on a cake stand. Just before serving, top it with the lemon curd, mixed berries, and grated chocolate. You could do a double layer to add grandeur.

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Religion

The never-ending voice

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And Charlton Heston came down from Mount Sinai and gave us the ten commandments. Oops! Sorry, make that Moses. And he was carrying the tablets with the Big 10, repeated this week in Deuteronomy as part of Moses’ review of the past 40 years. He describes how G-d spoke those words in a mighty voice that didn’t end.

Rashi writes that Moses is contrasting G-d’s voice with human voices. The finite voice of a human being, even a Pavarotti, will fade and falter. It cannot go on forever. But the voice of the Almighty didn’t end, didn’t weaken. It remained strong throughout.

Is this all the great prophet had to teach us about the voice of G-d? That it was a powerful baritone? Is the greatness of the Infinite One, that he didn’t suffer from shortness of breath, that He didn’t need a few puffs of Ventolin? Is this a meaningful motivation for the Jews to accept the Torah?

Moses was the greatest of all prophets. He foresaw what no other prophet could see. Perhaps he saw his people becoming caught up in the civilization of ancient Greece, in the beauty, culture, philosophy, and art of the day. And they might question, “Is Torah still relevant?”

Perhaps he foresaw Jews empowered by the industrial revolution, where they might have thought Torah to be somewhat backward. Or maybe it was during the Russian Revolution, where faith and religion were deemed to be absolutely primitive.

Maybe Moses saw our own generation, with space shuttles and satellites, teleprompters and technology. And he saw young people questioning whether the good book still spoke to them.

And so, Moses tells us that the voice that thundered from Sinai was no ordinary voice. This was a voice that wasn’t only powerful at the time, it didn’t end. And it still rings out, still resonates, and speaks to each of us in every generation and every part of the world.

Revolutions come and go, but revelation is eternal. The voice of Sinai continues to proclaim eternal truths that never become passé or irrelevant. Honour your parents, revere them, look after them in their old age. Live moral lives, don’t tamper with the sacred fibre of family life. Dedicate one day every week, and keep that day holy. Stop the madness. Turn your back on the rat race, and rediscover your humanity and your children. Don’t be guilty of greed, envy, dishonesty, or corruption.

Are these ideas and values dated? Are these commandments tired or irrelevant? On the contrary. They speak to us now as perhaps never before.

Does anyone know this today better than us South Africans?

The G-dly voice has lost none of its strength, none of its majesty. The mortal voice of man declines and fades into oblivion. Politicians and spin-doctors come and go, but the heavenly sound reverberates down the ages.

Moses knew what he was saying. Torah is truth, and truth is forever. The voice of G-d shall never be stilled.

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Religion

Memory versus history

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Devarim is the parsha associated with Tisha B’Av, the Jewish national day of mourning. After Shabbos, we will recall the destruction of our holy temple nearly 2 000 years ago.

But why remember? The world cannot understand why we go on about the Holocaust, and that was less than 80 years ago! For more than 19 centuries, we have been remembering and observing this event, and it has become the saddest day in our calendar. Why? Why not let bygones be bygones? It’s history. What was, was. Why keep revisiting old and painful visions?

They say that Napoleon was once passing through the Jewish ghetto in Paris, and heard sounds of crying and wailing emanating from a synagogue. He stopped to ask what the lament was about. He was told that the Jews were remembering the destruction of their Temple. “When did it happen?” asked the emperor. “Some 1 700 years ago,” was the answer. Whereupon Napoleon stated with conviction that a people who never forgot their past would be destined to forever have a future.

Elie Wiesel famously once said that Jews have never had history. We have memory. History can become a book, a museum, and forgotten antiquities. Memory is alive, memories reverberate, and memory guarantees our future.

Even amidst the ruins, we refused to forget. The first temple was destroyed by the Babylonians. As they led the Jews into captivity, they sat down and wept. “By the rivers of Babylon, we sat and wept remembering Zion.” What did they cry of? Their lost wealth, homes, and businesses? No. They cried for Zion and Jerusalem. “If I forget thee ‘O Jerusalem, let my right hand lose its cunning.” They were not weeping for themselves or their lost liberties but for the heavenly city and holy temple. Amidst the bondage, they aspired to rebuild, amidst the ruins, they dreamt of returning.

And because we refused to forget Jerusalem, we did return. And because we refused to accept defeat or accept our exile as a historical fait accompli, we have rebuilt proud Jewish communities the world over, while our victors have been vanquished by time. Today, there are no more Babylonians, and the people who now live in Rome aren’t the Romans who destroyed the second temple. Those nations became history while we, inspired by memory, emerged revitalised and regenerated and forever it will be true that am Yisrael chai (the people of Israel live).

Only if we refuse to forget can we hope to rebuild one day. Indeed, the Talmud assures us, “Whosoever mourns for Jerusalem, will merit to witness her rejoicing.” We dare not forget. We need to observe our national day of mourning this Saturday night and Sunday. Forego the movies and the restaurants. Sit down on a low seat to mourn with your people; and perhaps even more importantly, to remember. And, please G-d, He will restore those glorious days and rebuild His own everlasting house soon.

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Religion

Exile is a state of being

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In parshas Massei, the Torah traces our journey in the desert by listing all 42 camps that we passed through. This is a forerunner for Jewish history. Even the most superficial knowledge of Jewish history reveals that a large chunk of it has been spent in exile. Under the nations of the world, the Jewish people suffered immensely. How are we meant to understand this? There are four main points to appreciate.

Chazal tell us that the Jewish people are so beloved by Hashem, that when they were sent into exile for their sins, Hashem accompanied them. The greatest demonstration of His love is the fact that the Jewish people have survived almost 2 000 years of persecution and numerous attempts to annihilate us. So great is this miracle, it surpasses the collective miracles of the exodus of Egypt and our wandering in the desert and in the land of Israel.

Second, when the Jews wandered in the wilderness for 40 years, their survival was supernatural – they were wholly dependent on Hashem. He rained down bread from the sky, provided a well of water, and protected us with seven miraculous clouds. This was the education needed to sear into our consciousness the perspective that Hashem is the source of everything, and we must strive to fulfil His will.

Land, prosperity, and institutions of statehood were put at the Jewish people’s disposal not as goals in themselves, but as a means for the fulfilment of the Torah. When Jews lost sight of their true purpose and began to emulate the ideals of the nations around them, worshipping wealth and prosperity, they were deprived of those things that they had begun to worship, leaving their land with only the Torah to guide them.

Exile was meant, first and foremost, to benefit and perfect us. The Jewish people witnessed powerful empires disappear while we endured, devoid of might and majesty, but loyal to Hashem. How many times have Jews been offered a doorway to earthly pleasure and security if only they renounce their loyalty to G-d? How many times did Jews scorn the lure of wealth and pleasure and even sacrificed their most precious treasures in this world – their wives, children, brothers and sisters – for Hashem?

Chazal tell us that a third benefit of exile was to inspire conversion. Indeed, there have been many great converts in our history.

Fourth, the Jewish people were scattered throughout the world for our protection. If we were all under the jurisdiction of one ruler, he would attempt to destroy us all.

Exile isn’t just banishment from Israel. Exile is a state of being that also applies to individuals. Every person experiences tranquil periods when he finds it easy to learn Torah and pray with concentration. Yet when times are hard, he struggles. It’s specifically at these times that he mustn’t become empty of Torah and prayer, rather, he must strive to sanctify “desert” periods.

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