Turnover at a major D.C. government department is raising questions about local businesses, political contributions and influence in city politics.
The Washington region is home to America’s fifth largest Jewish population. Yet unlike many other major metropolitan regions, Washington has few restaurants catering to those who adhere to strict Kosher dietary laws. As many Jewish families prepare for traditional Passover seders – orchestrated meals replete with detailed traditions and food preparation — Kojo explores Jewish food culture and kosher options in our region.
- Michael Medina owner, The Kosher Kitchen Catering Co. and Distrikt Bistro
- Joan Nathan Cookbook author, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France
Moroccan Haroset Truffles With Dates, Almonds, and Apples from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan:
1 pound almonds
1 pound pitted dates
2 apples, peeled, cored, and quartered
1 teaspoon plus 1/2 cup cinnamon for rolling
1/4 teaspoon dried ginger
1. Place the almonds in a food processor with a steel blade and pulse until finely ground.
2. Add the dates, apple, 1 teaspoon of the cinnamon, and ginger and continue pulsing until the apples form little pieces and the mixture comes together. You might have to do this in 2 batches. Cover and refrigerate overnight.
3. The next day, shape the mixture into balls the size of a large marble. Put about ½ cup of cinnamon in a bowl, and roll the balls in it. Serve 2 per person.
Yield: About 40 haroset balls, which will serve 20.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIFrom WAMU 88.5 at American University in Washington, welcome to "The Kojo Nnamdi Show," connecting your neighborhood with the world. It's Food Wednesday. People of many faiths tailor their diets based on the teachings of their religion. For some, it means avoiding certain foods or ingredients, Mormons steer clear of caffeine. Devote Catholics don't eat meat on Friday's and people of many faiths including Bahai fast during certain periods. But for people of the Jewish faith, the dietary rules are a bit more complicated.
MR. KOJO NNAMDIMany observant Jews keep kosher as chewing pork, shell fish and mixing dairy and meat. But there's still more to it than that and who better to tell us then Joan Nathan. She is the author of 10 cookbooks including "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search For Jewish Cooking in France." She's also a regular contributor to the New York Times, Tablet Magazine and other publications. She joins us in studio today. Joan, good to see you.
MS. JOAN NATHANIt's great to be here, Kojo.
NNAMDIGlad you could join us. Joan Nathan is with us, if you have any questions or comments about kosher, you can call us at 800-433-8850. If you keep kosher, we want to know how easy or how difficult it is for you to eat out in this region, if so, 800-433-8850. Your career has close ties to kosher food. When people who are completely clueless about what kosher is and isn't -- and I do have to say that it's a word that most of us use in our daily lives and we say something is kosher or it's not kosher. And it has become so universal that a lot of times we don't even think about food when we use the word kosher. But can you explain what kosher is and is not?
NNAMDIIn 10 words or less.
NATHANIn 10 words or less. Well, I guess that kosher means, in a way, fit, that's correct. And for those who observe kosher, it goes directly to the dietary laws in the book of Leviticus so that you would not eat, as you said, shell fish, pork. You would not mix milk and meat because in the Bible it says that you shouldn't bathe a calf in its mother's milk. And that's the rabbi's -- decided that's what it meant. You also have to have -- the food that is slaughtered has to be slaughtered in a kosher manner.
NATHANWhich means swift with a very sharp knife. The animal can't be stunned. It's very much like halal, actually. But it's a little bit different. The lungs have to be checked. And this again goes way back to Leviticus. And in products, it used to be that you'd know what was kosher and what wasn't kosher, like the 19th century. But because you know who made it. But in the world we live in, now they have different certifications like O.U., the union -- the Orthodox Union, sort of an O and U. And what happened, which is very, very interesting, Heinz vegetarian beans was the first kosher product.
NATHANSo there had been somebody who was kosher in Pittsburgh working at a Heinz company. And at first they were going write the word 'kosher' on Heinz vegetarian beans and that didn't -- they didn't think that would be a good one because that would be a turnoff to a lot of people. So they've figured out, if you have an O and a U, those who were kosher would know what it means and those who weren't, wouldn't care. And that's how the first certification came into being.
NATHANAnd, of course, now there are so many Pepperidge Farms, you know, Coca-Cola, so many cheeses, so many different cookies, everything, there's just hundreds of thousands of kosher products that most people don't know but those who care, those who don’t want any pork in their products, that they don't have to be Jewish, they can be Muslim, and other people look there and they look just the way other people look to see how many grams of fat, they'll look to see the O.U.
NNAMDIDo you seek out kosher food? Where do you find it in this area, call us at 800-433-8850? Are there events in your culture in which food has to be prepared in a special way? You too can join this conversation at kojoshow.org, go to our website kojoshow.org and join it there or send us email to email@example.com or you can send us a tweet @kojoshow. Do you keep kosher yourself?
NATHANI do not. But I do write kosher cookbooks. It's a little bit weird because I didn't grow up kosher, however I separate meat and milk. We don’t have pork in my house. We don’t have shell fish in my house, although I have it out. But I feel comfortable in my way and I realize what happens in American today, Kojo, there's so many people that do whatever they do the way that they want to do it. And you have to, you know, I didn't grow up that way and so it's not part of my culture or my husband's, but I feel very traditional.
NNAMDISo there are varying degrees of what's considered kosher most of the year and there's kosher for Passover.
NNAMDIHow is that different?
NATHANWell, kosher for Passover is, as I said in the New York Times, a gantzeh megillah, it's a big deal. If you are truly kosher for Passover, you'll have two sets of dishes. A dish -- actually probably four sets of dishes because you'll have dishes that you will use for Passover that are tucked away. You'll totally clean your house of everything. You'll either give it away or barter it away or, you know, just get rid of anything that has yeast in it, that has corn. And, again, that depends if you're Sephardic or if you're Ashkenazi because many Sephardic Jews will eat corn or they'll eat chickpeas or they'll eat soy beans and many Ashkenazi will too. So you don't really know the different customs depend on your family, really and what you want to believe.
NNAMDIWe're talking with Joan Nathan. She is the author of 10 cookbooks including "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." She's a regular contributor to the New York Times, Tablet Magazine and other publications. In the New York Times edition of, I think, it was March 27th...
NNAMDI...28th, I saw a piece by you, the nine-day Passover countdown plan. You have prepared this Passover Seder for enough years for 40 people or more that you now have a laid out plan and you can find that in the New York Times. There's a lot of symbolism involved in a Seder. What items would we find on our Seder plate and what do they mean.
NATHANWell, there are -- it depends on the number. Some people have six items on the Seder plates, some people have five. They mean lots of things. First of all, there's a shank bone and the shank bone is reminiscent of, on the one hand, the houses being passed over because it's burnt, and on the other hand, for the destruction of the temple. You know, when the children of Israel were trying to leave Egypt, remember that? And Pharaoh passed over the houses where there was blood on the sign posts so that's what that is for.
NATHANThere's the egg, which on the one hand, again, symbolizes the destruction of the temple, on the other hand, it symbolizes life, the circle of life. There's parsley dipped in salt water. And the parsley, again, spring and then the salt water, some people say it's a remembrance of even your enemies, that when something is -- when you kill you enemies, you cry. There's the bitter herbs which are either haroseth or romaine lettuce, depending on where you're from.
NATHANAnd they represent the bitterness of slavery. And then the mortar, which I brought you, is haroseth and that represents the mortar that was used when the Jews were building the buildings in Egypt. And the one that I brought you is a Moroccan version. It's called a Moroccan truffle. It's got apples, dates -- I believe this is the really original one because the haroseth came to the Passover Seder after the original Seder.
NNAMDIWhat's in my Moroccan truffle?
NATHANIt's got apples and dates and raisins and nuts and it's rolled. And it's rolled in cinnamon and there's a little ginger.
NNAMDIOh, you can see the smile on my face. I anticipate having it. I called a friend of mine who identifies as Jewish this morning to find out exactly what his definition of kosher is. And it turned out to be a definition that was not at all adequate. Let's now turn to the phones and talk with Mark in Washington, D.C. Mark, you're...
NATHANOh, hi Mark.
NNAMDI...on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARKWell, look. I rarely listen to you at all, to this show.
NNAMDIOh, this is Mark Platkin (sp?) .
MARKThe host is really severely limited. But I love Joan Nathan and I made a break from tradition and I want to know, Joan, first before I go into my food question...
MARK...since you're the expert...
NNAMDI...Mr. Platkin, can I ask you a question first?
NNAMDIAre you now clear about what exactly is kosher? Because...
MARKYes, thank you.
NNAMDI...when I called you this morning to ask you, you couldn’t answer.
MARKYes. Well you are not trafe, and Joan will explain to you what that means, Kojo.
NATHANHe knows what that means.
MARKBut Joan, I would like to know, I read with great interest your article in the New York Times, as I read all of them, and I was invited to a Seder many, many years ago and I have not been invited back. Why did I not make the cut this year? And...
NATHANBecause you didn't call me. A lot of people have called me.
NNAMDI...because the other 39 guests...
NNAMDI...because the other 39 guests at the Seder...
NNAMDI...objected to your presence.
MARKBut can you talk about the Sephardic Seder and I've always wanted to be invited and that would be the next best thing to going to Joan Nathan. Second, talk about horseradish on gefilte fish and I think it should be so hot, as Buddy Hackett said, that it takes the lint off the navel. And on Matzo ball soup, my grandmother Sophie Rosenthal said it should be so light, like a feather drop. And I will listen to the -- and I'm so glad that...
MARK...Kojo had you on, Joan.
NNAMDIFirst and foremost, Joan, will you please invite him to your Passover...
NATHANRight, you have no Seder to go to?
MARKI'm available for the 2nd, I think.
NATHANWell, I only do the first night.
MARKWell, I'll wait, there's always next year.
NATHANAnd Kojo has been invited, too...
NNAMDII'll be there next year.
NATHAN...this year, but he's not -- he's going to be Barbados.
NNAMDIAnd I'm not going to be there this year...
MARKOkay, well, invite me next year.
NNAMDI...but I'll be there next year.
MARK(unintelligible) Kojo and I...
NATHANNext year at Joan Nathan's house, how's that?
NNAMDIOkay. Now, about the things he said he likes so much.
MARK(unintelligible) can you respond to the -- Sephardic Seders and the gefilte fish and matzo ball soup, please.
NNAMDISo we can get rid of...
NATHANOkay, all right. Well, first of all, I personally like lighter, I mean, more al dente matzo balls. So I think that the lighter ones are the ones that are cooked a very long time. And that's how they get so light. And I don't like them that light so maybe you don't want to come to my Seder. But I love my matzo balls. And I put fresh ginger in them and a little bit of nutmeg and they're really delicious. And I learned, this year, that you can really easily freeze them in advance and then just heat them up. So it's something that's great to have in your refrigerator, in your freezer. If anybody's sick, you know, there's nothing better than chicken soup with matzo balls.
NNAMDIAnd Mark, I will make sure that you get a transcript of this show, so that when you show up at Joan's house next year and are being turned away...
NNAMDI...you can show that she actually promised.
NATHANYou should do what other...
NATHAN...Mark, you should do what other people do, they call to say hello to me once a year. It's like two weeks in advance of the Seder.
MARKYeah, I'll do that.
NATHANAnd then, of course, I invite them.
MARKWhat about the red horseradish and the white horseradish? Draw the distinction.
NATHANOh, okay. The red horseradish has beets in it and the white horseradish, which is stronger does not have beets. But what I've been doing is making fresh horseradish with beets and I kind of like the texture of the beets, but I like it to be -- I agree with you, I like it really strong. And I mean, that's what makes good gefilte fish, you know?
NNAMDIMark Platkin. Thank you.
MARKFinal, final, final.
NNAMDINo, no, the final was the last question.
NATHANSephardic. Okay. I can tell you a little bit about some of the Sephardic customs. One of them, which I really love, is a Moroccan custom where you take the Seder plate that I was describing and you put it over different peoples' heads at the Seder so that they, too, will feel they went out from slavery to freedom. So they went from Egypt to the Promised Land.
NATHANAnd there's another one, an Iraqi custom where you take a pack and you put it on your back. And a child does this, and he goes to each of the adults and they say to him, where are you coming from? And he says, I'm coming from Egypt. And where are you going? I'm going to Jerusalem. So that's another one. And there are just so many.
NNAMDIMark, thank you very much for your call. Goodbye. On now to Jennifer in Washington, D.C. Jennifer, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
JENNIFERGood afternoon, Kojo. How are you doing today?
NNAMDIDoing well. I was until Platkin called, but go ahead, please.
JENNIFERI'm in the Air Force and I keep kosher. And I just wanted to share that I was recently stationed in Germany, which is an interesting place to be a kosher Jew. And living there, we had to drive all the way to Strasbourg in France in order to get our kosher food.
JENNIFERBut it was amazing kosher meat as, in fact, the best kosher food we've had.
NATHANWell, I'll tell you, even in France, the Strasbourg kosher meat is the best. And the reason I know this is that in Lyon Paul Bocuse has, you know, one of his three-star restaurants. And he uses the Jewish community -- they want to have dinners there, but they want to have kosher meat. And the meat that they can get from Lyon is not as good as the meat that they can get from Strasbourg. I mean, so that it's very, very good kosher meat, you're absolutely right.
NNAMDIJennifer, thank you very much for your call.
JENNIFEROh, thank you.
NNAMDIYou, too, can calls us at 800-433-8850. Have you got questions about what foods are and are not kosher and how they get that designation? Give us a call, 800-433-8850. You remember the old Lenny Bruce routine about how non-Jews in New York know about Jewish food more than Jews who live in other parts of the country?
NNAMDIWell, because they live in New York. If you happen to share that experience, you can call us at 800-433-8850. We're going to take a short break and come back.
NATHAN...I thought it was that they went to Chinese restaurants. No.
NNAMDIYeah, that's true, too. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NATHANThat dinner must have been spectacular.
NNAMDIThat was Joan Nathan. We were having a conversation before we started this conversation about keeping kosher. She is the author of ten cookbooks including "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." She's also regular contributor to the New York Times, Tablet Magazine and other publications.
NNAMDIBefore we get back to the phones, Joan, I mentioned earlier your nine-day Passover countdown plan, which I think has become a manual for a lot of people who were probably waiting for it for years now. Tell us about how that evolved.
NATHANWell, you know, I've been doing my Seder for 30 years and I have about, well, this year, 46 people coming. And it's a big deal. It's a lot of work and I love it. It's the hardest thing I do every year, but it's the most satisfying. And I realize that -- I told my editors at The Times and they said, you've got to do a survival, how you do it. And, you know, the real thing is somebody said that man created Passover so that women would have to work harder. And in a way it's true, but, you know, you don't want it -- you want it to be joyful. And so I realize you have to do lists, lists, lists, lists, lists and stick to the lists, and that's what I've done this year.
NATHANI'm looking at my list constantly so that I can get it done. But, you know, the thing is that there's always the unexpected. For example, this morning, I got this phone call that my gefilte fish that they didn't have pike yet. So I’m waiting for pike to come tomorrow morning.
NNAMDIAre you on schedule so far on your nine-day plan?
NATHANExcept for my pike, yeah, I'm on schedule.
NNAMDIGood for you. If you have a schedule, your own nine or seven-day plan for Passover Seder, give us a call, 800-433-8850. Here's Patty in Alexandria, Va. Patty, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
PATTYWell, hi. I have a question about margarine.
PATTYAt Passover, we always buy Mother's margarine, which I don't think is at all healthy for you. So my question is, is there another substitute that doesn't have as much transfat in it? Or is there a way, when baking a flourless chocolate cake, that you can use oil?
NATHANOh, I have a great answer for you that I've been using.
NATHANAnd it's using coconut oil, which people are saying that it's very, very healthy for you and it's kosher for Passover. And I've been using it actually for vegetarian matzo balls. I did a lemon curd 'cause I like to do an almond lemon torte and put a lemon curd in. And I've been using it for that. And I'm sure that whatever you want to make, a flourless -- absolutely, you can use it.
PATTYOkay, good. Well, my solution so far has been just to do dairy Seders so I could have...
NATHANYou could do...
PATTY...butter in the cake. So...
NATHANBut the coconut oil tastes really good and it's parve and it tastes really good. And actually what I learned recently -- you're not going to believe this but in the second century AD in Sri Lanka there were Jews in the coconut processing industry that were making oil out of coconuts. And my guess is they had learned in ancient Palestine, ancient Israel how to process olive oil. And they moved there because they were looking for spices. They moved to Sri Lanka or Ceylon and that's what they were doing. I think it's fascinating.
NNAMDICeylon, of course, is what Sri Lanka used to be called. Patty, thank you very much for your call. Joining us now in studio is Michael Medina. He is the owner of the Kosher Kitchen Catering Company in Northern Virginia and Distrikt, spelled with a K, Distrikt Bistro in D.C. Michael Medina, thank you so much for joining us.
MR. MICHAEL MEDINAThank you for having me.
NNAMDIMichael, you've got a very -- well, first and foremost, do you keep kosher?
MEDINAI do, yes.
NNAMDIYou do. Well, unlike our other guest here, Michael keeps kosher. You've got a very diverse background and you've traveled a lot. How does the kosher dining scene in this region compare to what you've experienced in other cities you've lived in or visited? It's my understanding you were born in Montreal.
MEDINAI was, yeah. Just to give you a really quick background, I was born in Montreal. My entire family's Moroccan and Spanish descent from Tangier. And...
NNAMDIJoan got one thing right.
NNAMDIShe said you were probably of Moroccan descent.
MEDINAI am. And actually I was just going to say that Joan got a lot of things right, especially about the Bibhilu that we do over the head. I was just listening in and that's something that I grew up with that...
NATHANOh, that's great.
MEDINA...my grandmother would do. And it is in fact a Moroccan tradition. I don't believe any other...
MEDINA...Sephardic group does that. But there's quite a few things that are very, very distinct about Passover and a lot of rituals that are very distinct and Ashkenazi Sephardic culture the same.
NATHANBut tell them the best Moroccan is what they do at the end of Passover.
MEDINARight, mimouna, yeah.
NATHANYeah, tell them about that.
MEDINASo I was going to talk a little bit about that. That's actually one of the -- probably the most interesting customs that Moroccans do is that the final night of Passover, or actually when Passover ends right after sundown after the eighth night, what we do there's something called mimouna, which is that evening after Passover, once all the flour can be taken out of the cabinets and if they had frozen bread, 'cause there wouldn't be enough time to bake it, everybody would take it out on this very lavish table that these Moroccan families put out on the dining table.
MEDINAAnd there's all sorts of different things, like mufleta which is a fried dough. There's honey. My grandmother had a tradition of taking lettuce and dipping it into honey and giving it to each of us and giving us a prayer or a blessing with it. There's another interesting tradition where she would take a bowl of flour to symbolize that, you know, coming again of that bread again. And she would dip her fingers in it and then put it on our heads, give us a blessing. And there's these beautiful sweets and delicious pastries and things.
MEDINAThe other interesting thing is that we would do something called mimounat, (sp?), which I guess is a make on the term mimouna is where people would go from house to house, the different mimouna -- people celebrating mimouna and taste from these different tables all the different pastries.
NATHANAnd a lot of Jews from Morocco have this custom in Washington. So you should really call them, Kojo, so you can get invited to the ceremony. And what's so interesting about the mimouna ceremony, where they have all -- some people have grass growing, just a symbol of spring, on the table. And if you go to the (word?) ceremony of the Persians -- not just Jews, but regular Persians, they have exactly the same foods on the table because it really came from the spring, the thought of, you know, spring coming.
NATHANAnd it's a very -- I think it originally was from Persia...
NATHAN...and it went to Morocco because only the Moroccans use that.
NNAMDIWe began by asking Michael Medina about how the kosher dining scene in this region compares to what he's experienced. I'll have Robert in Silver Spring give an answer in part to that question. Michael, you can add to it. Robert, your turn.
ROBERTOh hi. Good morning, Kojo. I just wanted to say that it's not New York, but there are a lot of wonderful opportunities here in Maryland, in the D.C. area and in Baltimore. There's the Pomegranate Café or Bistro that just opened up or reopened up. There is Maxs. There is Koshmart and Moti's Grill. There's the Royal Dragon. These are all just here in D.C. There's Café Share which is a wonderful place to get very Middle Eastern food.
ROBERTSo and Baltimore, of course, has many more options, but it's not New York where you have, I would say, a slightly higher gourmet level of food opportunities to enjoy.
NNAMDIOkay, Robert. Thank you very much for your call. Michael.
NATHANAnd by the way...
NNAMDIGo ahead, Joan.
NATHAN...some of the best falafel in Washington is at Max's in Silver Spring, bar none.
NNAMDIRobert, again, thank you for your call. Michael, what, in your view, is the number one misconception about kosher food?
MEDINAThat it's subpart to everything else. I think as a caterer and a restaurant owner, I come across -- because obviously not 100 percent of my clientele is kosher, I would say probably more than 50 percent, even three-quarters are not kosher eaters and a lot of them are not even Jews, that either have some kosher guests or have to have the event kosher because of the association or organization they work for. And they come to us. And we specialize actually in Mediterranean Moroccan style, Spanish style cooking both in the restaurant as well as my catering company the Kosher Kitchen.
MEDINAAnd the previous caller that just mentioned a lot of places that are in Maryland. And although even though Maryland does have a thriving Jewish community and a lot of kosher establishments and markets, D.C. is lacking, Northern Virginia is lacking. We're actually the only strictly kosher caterer in Northern Virginia under the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington. And in D.C. there's two restaurants. There's Eli's and there's Distrikt Bistro, my restaurant on 16th and Q.
MEDINAAnd, like I said, we specialize in Mediterranean food, high end cooking that you would not necessarily find in a kosher deli in New York for example. We don't do matzo ball soup. We can make it on catering orders, things like that but in the restaurant we'll serve something called Moroccan harira.
NNAMDIIndeed while you don't find anything wrong with them you'd like to move beyond the matzo balls, the pastrami sandwiches and the knishes that may come to mind...
NNAMDI...when people think of kosher food. If I were to come into your restaurant, what would I find on the menu?
MEDINAWell, one of the things I just mentioned is Moroccan harira. That's actually our most popular soup. It is a vegetarian-based soup, although in Morocco you might find it with beef, but we do it so that we can have it parve, which means that it has no dairy, no fish, no meat. And what it is it's a tomato base -- thin tomato base, chickpeas, celery, carrots, lentils. It's a very hearty soup. You finish a bowl of harira and with a piece of bread that's a nice meal in itself, a nice lunch. So people really, really do love it. It's spicy, it has cumin in it, it has paprika and it has those traditional Moroccan spices. And people come in and eat that and they like it very much.
MEDINAAnd we also have Spanish tapas. That's something that I found when I moved here from Canada, there was no kosher restaurant that you could say, wow that's something unique. So I said, you know what, if I open, I have to have things that I grew up eating as a Spanish Moroccan Jew.
MEDINAMoroccan cigars, spicy beef cigars and phyllo dough, yeah, those are very popular at weddings. I said, why not have it at the restaurant as an appetizer? Tortilla Espanola. People think of tortilla here, all across the country and they think of a burrito or a wrap and things like that. Well, in Spain, the number one tapas or appetizer, if you go to a restaurant, is called Tortilla Espanola. And it is actually made with potatoes, eggs and sautéed onions in a pan. It looks like the quiche. Some people might call it frittata, but really it's not an omelet. It's, like I said, more of a quiche-looking thing.
MEDINAWe serve it with Israeli salad. It's light. It's fresh. It goes really nice together. And people who order it really haven't ever seen that unless they've been to Spain and ordered it.
NNAMDIAnd, Joan, for dessert, platanas fritos.
MEDINAPlatanas fritos, that's right.
NNAMDIFried plantains topped with vanilla ice cream and candied walnuts.
MEDINAKeeping with the Spanish theme, although it might be more South American, we still find it, you know, very nice Spanish dessert. And it's another specialty dish that we try to serve up that you won't find in a typical kosher restaurant.
NNAMDIIn case you're just joining us, Michael Medina's the owner of the Kosher Kitchen Catering Company in Northern Virginia and Distrikt spelled with a K, Distrikt Bistro in Washington, D.C. He joins us in studio along with Joan Nathan, author of ten cookbooks including "Quiches, Kugels and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Joan, I interrupted you.
NATHANWell, what I was going to say, two things. One is that the harira, interestingly, started out as a Ramadan, a soup to end the fast of Ramadan each day because it was very hearty. And Jewish Moroccans love the soup and it's something that's eaten to break the fast of Yom Kippur, correct?
MEDINAIt can be, yeah, sure.
NATHANAnd it's one of my absolutely favorite soups. So I'm going to come over to your restaurant.
MEDINAYou have to come by, absolutely.
NATHANI will. And...
NNAMDIOn to the -- oh, go ahead.
NATHAN...the other thing that I was going to say is that when I started writing about food maybe 20 years ago or longer about kosher food, there were no kosher products that were really high end. And it's totally changed. But not only has it changed with -- you could get really good parmesan cheese, you could get all kinds of cheeses and even salamis now.
MEDINAYeah, it's funny you say that 'cause cheeses is one of those misconceptions where what can cheese have that's not kosher? And I have an uncle who was vegan and not necessarily kosher but vegan, and he would eat cheese. And I told him one day, I said, you know what? Cheese has rennet in it which comes from -- it's an enzyme that comes from the cow. And he decided, he says, I'm not eating cheese anymore. I'm going to buy kosher...
MEDINA...cheese because of that. So -- and you're right.
NATHANAnd it is a vegetable rennet.
MEDINAYou're right. A lot of cheeses, camembert, brie, French cheeses.
NATHANAnd with the soy milk and now, of course, with coconut oil, it's just changed.
NNAMDII feel like a fly on the wall in this conversation.
NNAMDIIt's a complete learning experience. No, that's a good thing. Here's Clair in Alexandria, Va. Clair, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
CLAIRHi, thank you for taking my call. I can't tell you what a lead-in for what my comment was going to be. I'm actually Catholic and for years I have been seeking out all the kosher labels on products simply because they have less additives. Just what you're saying, it seems to be a purer kind of food. And, I mean, that's it. I really don't have a question. I was just going to say that, you know, it might be that there are so many more products because I think there are a lot of people out there that are not Jewish, yet clearly not kosher, but, like I said, Catholic.
CLAIRAnd we actually seek out the foods that are a little purer to us. So that's it and thank you so much. It's been a great program. I've really enjoyed listening.
NNAMDIThank you so much for calling, Clair. Whether you're Jewish or not, we're curious to know if there's a traditional Passover food that you look forward to, 800-433-8850. We turn now to Leslie in Rockville, Md. Leslie, your turn.
LESLIEHi. I have a question, a very basic question for Joan. Her holiday cookbook has been part of my kitchen for 30 some years, and I am always stymied with Ms. Feinberg's Vegetable Kugel.
LESLIEAnd whether or not I can make it in advance and freeze it. I never have.
NNAMDIThe Vegetable Kugel in advance.
NATHANI would think that you can. Why not? Absolutely. You know, that's funny because that's one of the most popular recipes in that book, ever, and I hope that Nikki Feinberg is listening.
NNAMDIMs. Feinberg Vegetable Kugel. Yes. Apparently you can refrigerate it.
NATHANFreeze it. Freeze it.
NNAMDIYou can freeze it, Leslie.
NATHANYeah. Make it, freeze it, and then just bake it off.
LESLIESo do you -- would I bake it first, or just put it in the freezer frozen?
NATHANNo. I would bake it first, and then...
NATHAN...and then freeze it.
MEDINAI can tell you as a caterer, a lot of things can be frozen. People are surprised at how many things are frozen. As a caterer we do have to be able to freeze. If you have the time, and you freeze it uncooked, that could be best, and then thaw it out...
MEDINA...and then thaw it...
LESLIEThat's even better.
MEDINAYeah. Thaw it out and then you can bake it.
NATHANAnd then -- right.
MEDINAYeah. But even...
MEDINA...leftovers for example, or if you made too much, like two pans...
MEDINA...and only used one, you can definitely -- just make sure it's wrapped really, really tight in plastic and you can freeze it.
NATHANAnd one of the things that I do, because I like everything to be really fresh, is that...
NATHAN….I'll make cookies, for example, and I won't bake them off until I'm ready to eat them, or challah actually.
NATHANI'll twist them and I'll freeze them and I'll let them rise for about five hours.
MEDINAThat's actually such a good point you make about challah because when I moved to this area, there was very few places to buy challah, and you would think, you know, to need challah for Shabbat and things, and we, you know, celebrate Shabbat Friday night dinner and Saturday lunch with a challah and wine, and what I found myself doing is going up to Maryland when I moved here about 14 years ago and freezing as much challah as I can so I would never have to run out. And challah actually freezes really well.
MEDINAAnd baked challah, I mean, fully fresh...
MEDINA...put it in the freezer, you take it out, even let it thaw out, you don't even have to put it in the oven and it comes out very fresh.
NATHANYeah. Absolutely. And there's nothing better than challah as far as I'm concerned.
NNAMDILeslie, thank you very much for your call.
NNAMDIGlad my kosher expertise could be of assistance to you. We're gonna take a short break. When we come back we'll continue this conversation on keeping kosher. You can call us at 800-433-8850. Have you got questions about what foods are and aren't kosher and how they get that designation? Give us a call, or do you seek out kosher food and where do you find it in this area. 800-433-8850. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
NNAMDIWelcome back to our Food Wednesday conversation about keeping kosher. In studio with us is Michael Medina. He is the owner of the Kosher Kitchen Catering Company in northern Virginia, and District Bistro in Washington, D.C. Joan Nathan is the author of ten cookbooks including, "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." She's also a regular contributor to the New York Times, Tablet Magazine, and other publications. Michael, you may be the first restaurant owner that I have met who does not have a key to his own kitchen. Why not?
MEDINAThat's right. That's right. A lot of pole get surprised about that, but it's true. Well, the problem is, is that -- well, it's a problem. It's part of our kosher certification with the Vaad, the Rabbinical Council of Greater Washington, which we're certified kosher under, is that for us to be certified, everything that comes into our kitchen has to be strictly kosher. And not only that, because we're a meat restaurant, we don't have any dairy, even kosher items that are dairy cannot enter our kitchen.
MEDINASo because of that, there has to be that stringency that only the kosher supervisor, which is Hebrew, is called a Mashgiach can have the keys to the kitchen to open it up every day and close it every night.
NNAMDISarah on Twitter asks, "What about all the varieties of kosher? As an event planner, it's hard to know if someone is truly kosher or kosher-lite. Can you tell me what kosher-style usually means?"
MEDINAWell, that's a very good question. There's probably several answers to it. Kosher-style typically is a definition where you'll have "traditional Jewish food," quote/unquote, not necessarily kosher, but like a pastrami sandwich, and a Reuben sandwich and things like that are made with that kind of meat on rye with a pickle and things like that were traditionally Jewish for many years, and kosher, and then along the lines people decided that they wanted to eat that and didn't feel the need for it to be kosher.
MEDINABut as far as what we so in the catering side and the restaurant side, we have to be strictly kosher and those stringencies are across the board that everything we offer is kosher, whether we're serving non-Jews or non-Kosher Jews, the food is the same. It's very high-end kosher food.
NATHANRight. And it gets a little complicated because we do these dinners which I know you know the Sunday night suppers. We had two kosher events this year, and they were in people's homes, and there was nobody watching over, but the -- they were kosher, and everybody observed it, however, the people that had the dinners in their homes felt -- the most important for them was to have kosher meat, and there was no dairy in the dinners, however, some of the fish was able to be cut at the restaurant which he would never allow something like that because it's strictly kosher.
NATHANSo I think that it really depends on where it is, if it's in a public place, if there's a Mashgiach, which is somebody's who's watching over it, it's very -- like, you know, when there are two Jews, there are two different opinions on things and it's the same thing with kosher, there's...
MEDINAActually, the joke is when there's two Jews, there's three different opinions.
MEDINABut to answer that question and the event planner that was on the call, we work event planners all the time, and I think the best rule of thumb is if somebody asks for kosher, go with kosher, strictly kosher, because you don't want to make the mistake of delivering something...
MEDINA...that is kosher-style or some restaurants might advertise that they're kosher, but they're really not, and then the client can't eat.
NNAMDIA lot of callers have questions. Before I go back to the phones, Joan, I seem to be hearing a lot about kosher wine ahead of Passover. What makes wine kosher, and how has that market changed?
NATHANOkay. Well, there has to be a Sabbath-observant Jew who makes the wine or touches the wine after the wine is -- the grapes are picked.
MEDINAThat's right. From the grape picking until the wine is made and then bottled, it has to be supervised, so completely watched. So people think that kosher ingredients is all that goes into it. A lot of what -- kosher in Hebrew means proper. It's used in business transactions, things like that. So the whole thing about wine is that all the ingredients are kosher except it has to be -- they have to be watched, and this goes from a history of pagan worship where priests would use wine to -- for maybe idol worships.
MEDINAThis is thousands of years ago, and the Rabbis instituted that the wine had to be watched and kosher so that, you know, the -- it would never come in contact with any kind of...
NNAMDII've been informed that I have to be watched while I'm drinking the wine, but that's a whole 'nother story. We move on to Bob in Bethesda, Md. Bob, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
BOBThank you. I wanted to talk specifically to comment on what Joan said. A number of years ago I was in Bombay, India during Pesach, and I was invited to a Seder there. There ceremony was in every way was the same except there were about four different languages of course. In addition to Hebrew and English it was Hindi and some Arabic because so many of them come from the Arab countries. These were Baghdadi Jews who came from Baghdad to India 500 years ago.
BOBBut they still call themselves Baghdadi Jews, and when it came time for the -- excuse me, when it came time for the four questions, the children all got up, it was something I had never seen here. The children all got up, went out and came in with backpacks with matzo in their backpacks, and went through -- before they asked the four questions, the symbolism that you referred to. The adults all said, who are you? They say, we're Israelis or -- no, no. I guess we're Jews, and where are you coming from? We're coming from Egypt. Where are you going? We're going to Jerusalem, and then they -- excuse me. Then they went through the four questions. But it was very beautiful.
NNAMDIIn India, Kosher in India. You haven't had that one yet, have you, Joan?
NATHANWell, actually I have.
NNAMDII was about to say it's either in her future or past. It's in her past.
NATHANIt isn't, but it's in my future going to India so...
NNAMDIYou're going back again?
NNAMDIBob, thank you very much for your call. We move onto Marjorie in Potomac, Md. Marjorie, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
MARJORIEHi. I'm enjoying your program enormously and, in fact, I'm cooking for Passover right now.
NATHANWhat are you cooking?
MARJORIERight now, today is honey spongecake, walnut cakes, chocolate chewies, charoset, two weeks ago. And I this is why I was calling you. I made kugels and matzo brei and froze potatoes and vegetables, rosemary beets and sweet potatoes so I could get a head start and don't have to do it all at once. As you know, it's not an easy holiday for which one gets ready.
MARJORIEAnd by doing it in advance, the lady that just called about the vegetable kugel, I'd say please freeze it. I freeze all of that. I even made matzo brei in advance. I bake it and I freeze it.
MARJORIEYes. Because the morning after Seder, you're getting ready to go to synagogue and you have -- I have it all ready to go and it's absolutely wonderful. My family loves it. Not only that, instead of frying it, you have a low-fat item. You're not having a lot of high fat in your meals, and that helps enormously. During the year, I make challahs in advance, I freeze them, take them out as I need them for Friday and Saturday and I bake them Friday night. I heat them in tightened foil Friday after they've defrosted, with my dinner, and they taste like they just popped out of the oven. So if you're busy, it makes life a lot easier...
MARJORIE...and cuts down on the work at the moment that you need it.
MEDINAIf you have the freezer space, too.
NATHANAnd it makes it stress free, right?
MARJORIERight. And I have one for you that's really amusing on charoset. Many years ago I was cooking for seniors at a local synagogue. We cooked for 240 seniors once a month, and it came for Passover and we made charoset for 240 people. Needless to say, we used a gallon of wine. There was some left over. It was apples, Manischewitz wine and walnuts, and it took me three hours to make it with another lady. We actually stood on a tall box in order to reach the top of the grinder to get all this done, and mixer. We had some left over, and the ladies had said to me, who were working there, what we should we do?
MARJORIEAnd I said let's try and freeze it. Well, we did, and (word?) there was a party. I took it out of the freezer, it was lovely. We put it out as one of the hors d'oeuvres. People wanted to know what it was. It was out of context, so they didn't recognize it as charoset and thought it was this marvelous side dish.
NNAMDIWe get great stories here. Marjorie, thank you so much for sharing that with us.
MARJORIEYou're welcome. Have a nice holiday.
NNAMDIWe got an email from Josh who says, "The best kept secret of kosher for Passover is real Coke. Look for two-liter bottles of Coke with yellow caps featuring Hebrew lettering. Corn, and therefore corn syrup, is forbidden during Passover, so Coke packages special bottles feature Coke made with real cane sugar just like it used to be. I've done side-by-side tests and everyone prefers the kosher for Passover Coke so stock up now."
NATHANThat's what they do, absolutely.
NNAMDIAnd we got a tweet from Kyle who asks, "Could you discuss the modern tradition of including an orange on the Seder plate?"
NATHANOh, that was in my article. Okay. You want me to do it?
MEDINAI have never heard of it. I'd love to hear it though.
NATHANOkay. So I think this goes back to Rabbi -- Susan Heschel who is Heschel's daughter, and she wanted to be a Rabbi in a synagogue and somebody said something like, well, it's just having a woman on the bima, which is, you know, at the -- bima is where the Rabbi is, is like having an orange on a Seder plate. And so that's why women started putting an orange. So I did it one year or two years, and I mentioned that in my article, and there have been so many comments about the orange on the Seder plate.
NNAMDIOrange on the Seder plate. That's where it comes from. Here now is Ellen in Gaithersburg, Md. Ellen, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.
ELLENHi, Joan. I just wanted to say thank you for your cookbook. I'm not a very good cook, obviously. I can't do any of your recipes except for your charosets. And every year we have a different charoset because I hate Ashkenazi charoset. So this year, we're having it from Suriname, and in fact I just made it this morning.
NATHANWell, I made it yesterday.
ELLENYeah. Well, I have to be at an all-day meeting tomorrow and Friday. All of my cooking is being done today.
NNAMDIThere you go.
ELLENThat's why the family does not get to eat at home for the rest of the week.
NNAMDIEllen, thank you very much for your call.
ELLENHave a (unintelligible) .
NNAMDIThank you. Here is Jesse in College Park, Md. Jesse, your turn. Go ahead, please.
JESSEHi. Thank you so much for this program. I actually work with an organization called (unintelligible) , one of the country's first and only Orthodox social justice group, and I think it's really fitting that you're having this conversation about kosher food and Passover because the Passover story is so central to the Jewish story and we're commanded 36 times in the Torah, the most we're commanded to do anything is to remember the slaves, to remember the feeling of being slaves in Egypt, because we were slaves and now we have a moral responsibility to look out for modern-day slaves wherever they may be found.
JESSEAnd one of my organization's initiatives is called the (word?) which is an ethical seal for kosher restaurants, and I was wondering if your two guests could speak a little bit about ethics in the kosher industry.
NNAMDIEthics in the kosher industry, Michael Medina.
MEDINAI think that's not the first time that question is asked. One, I want to preface it by saying that one misconception I think is that kosher means better for you or pure. It might mean that to some, but kosher food, you still can have a burger. It might not be a cheeseburger, but you can still have a burger and a steak and French fries.
NATHANWell, there's fake cheese now.
MEDINAWell, I don't use that in any of my meals. I stay away from that. But it still has fat in it, it still has saturated fat and things like that, so you have to watch out for things like that. As far as ethics in kashrut or kosher foods, I know -- I can only speak for myself, and with both my businesses we make sure that we always have everything very, very fresh and make sure that everything is...
NNAMDII think the caller was talking about the treatment of employees in that situation.
NATHANRight. Employees and also animals, and I'm a member of an organization called (word?) which is really thinking about...
NNAMDIAnd I'm afraid we out of time.
NATHANOh, next year.
NNAMDIJoan Nathan is the author of ten cookbooks including, "Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France." Michael Medina is the owner of the Kosher Kitchen Catering Company in northern Virginia, and District Bistro in Washington, D.C. Michael, thank you so much for joining us.
MEDINAThank you very much.
NNAMDIJoan, always good to see you.
NATHANIt's always good.
NNAMDISee you next year at the Passover Seder. Thank you all for listening. I'm Kojo Nnamdi.
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