What Jews and the Chinese have in Common

Israel and China FlagI recently read a BBC News article by Michael Goldfarb, which spoke of his trip to China and the vast similarities and differences he found between the Chinese culture and infrastructure, and that of Britain and North America. He of course speaks of the gigantism that he found – the number of people, huge buildings and city works, and of course the dense impenetrable air pollution. But on a tour of Shandong University in Jinan, he found something he truly did not expect. In the centre of a 27-story building with a giant clock topping it, is the university’s department of religious studies. The department also houses the Centre for Judaic Studies, China’s one and only department of Jewish studies.

Of all places to have a Judaic Studies centre, China is not high up on anyone’s list. Mr. Goldfarb found out though that there is quite the connection between Confucian and Jewish culture.

It was explained to him that the core of Confucianism and Judaism is ethical. They both stress the importance of the relationship between man and man, and are based on the Golden Rule of doing unto others as you would have them do unto you. In addition, the fifth commandment enjoins Jews to honour their fathers and mothers. Confucianism also emphasises filial piety – but in a way Jewish parents can only dream of.

Mr. Goldfarb continues on detailing his adventures in China and the similarities between Judaism and Confucianism, and the Chinese way of life. The one area that doesn’t seem to cross over though? The jokes. The Chinese have a sense of humour, most definitely, but the traditional combination of complaining and joking all at the same time? They don;t seem to get. Maybe something is lost in the translation 🙂

Authentic Chinese Egg Rolls

Egg RollsOriginal recipe makes 20 egg rolls

Ingredients:

4 teaspoons vegetable oil
3 eggs, beaten
1 medium head cabbage, finely shredded*#
½ carrot, julienned#
1 (8 ounce) can shredded bamboo shoots
1 cup dried, shredded wood ear mushroom, re-hydrated (or other mushroom)
1 pound barbecued or roasted meat or tofu, cut into matchsticks
2 green onions, thinly sliced*
2 ½ teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1 (14 ounce) package egg roll wrappers
1 egg white, beaten
oil for frying, as needed

Directions:

Heat 1 teaspoon vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over medium heat. Pour in beaten eggs and cook, without stirring, until firmed. Flip the eggs over and cook for an additional 20 seconds to firm the other side. Set egg pancake aside to cool, then slice into thin strips.

Heat the remaining vegetable oil in a wok or large skillet over high heat. Stir in cabbage and carrot; cook for 2 minutes to wilt. Add bamboo, mushroom, meat/tofu, green onions, soy sauce, salt, and sugar. Continue cooking until the vegetables soften, about 6 minutes. Stir in sliced egg, then spread mixture out onto a pan, and refrigerate until cold, about 1 hour.

To assemble the egg rolls, place a wrapper onto your work surface with one corner pointing towards you. Place about 3 tablespoons of cooled filling in a heap onto the bottom third of the wrapper. Brush a little beaten egg white onto the top two edges of the wrapper, then fold the bottom corner over the filling and roll firmly to the halfway point. Fold the left and right sides snugly over the egg roll, then continue rolling until the top corners seal the egg roll with the egg white. Repeat with remaining egg roll wrappers, covering finished egg rolls with plastic wrap to keep from drying out.

Heat about 6-inches of oil in a wok or deep-fryer to 350 degrees F. Fry egg rolls 3 or 4 at a time until golden brown, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Alternatively, for a healthy version, you can bake the egg rolls at 350 degrees F for about 10 minutes, or until they are nice and golden brown.

* To see how to properly clean cabbage and green onions, click here.

# For ease of convenience, you can purchase pre-cleaned, pre-checked, bags of shredded cabbage and carrots.

The Chinese Connection

Christmas Chinese FoodThere is an old tradition that Jews and Chinese Food on Christmas go hand in hand. How this started? When? Who knows… the most likely would have been, it’s Christmas Eve, and you’re hungry. Back in the day, most of the restaurants owned by Christians would be closed in order to celebrate the holiday. This left the non-Christian restaurants open, i.e.: The Chinese ones. Yes, I know there are Christian Chinese. However it is not the main religion in China, and according to studies, it;s not even close to being the main. So that brings us back to the Chinese restaurants being open on December 24th.

There are even a funny collection of photos available online that show signs posted outside Chinese restaurants thanking their Jewish clientele for their patronage. David Mamet, a cartoonist and humorist is credited with starting the urban legend cartoon that is today’s photo. Well, no matter if it’s just a tradition or heavenly mandated, this week, in honour of Christmas, I will be posting Chinese recipes for some of my favourite dishes. Enjoy and 節日快樂 or for you non-Chinese speakers, Happy Holidays!

The Best Rolled Sugar Cookies

Chanuka Sugar CookiesThis is the perfect combination of a recipe AND a fun activity for the kids (or just those that act like kids). Prepare the dough ahead of time and keep covered in plastic wrap in the fridge. When company comes over, before the meal, set up a decorating station and have everyone cut out their own cookies and decorate as they please. Have bowls of sprinkles, chocolate chips and tubes of ready-bought icing for them to use. Just remember, the icing goes on AFTER the baking, not before 🙂

Ingredients:

1 ½ cups butter (or margarine), softened
2 cups white sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
5 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt

Directions:

In a large bowl, cream together butter and sugar until smooth. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Stir in the flour, baking powder, and salt. If you prefer the slice and bake method, form into 2 thick logs and wrap completely in plastic wrap. If you are eventually going to roll out your dough, it’s easier to form them into 2 thick disks, and then again, wrap completely in plastic wrap. Chill dough for at least one hour (or overnight). Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. If you are rolling out the dough, do so on a floured surface, rolling to about  ¼ to ½ inch thick. Cut into shapes with any cookie cutter. If you are slicing the cookies from a log, simply cut with a sharp knife (you may want to wet it between slices) and cut slices about ¼ to ½ inch thick. Place cookies 1 inch apart on ungreased cookie sheets. Bake 6 to 8 minutes in preheated oven. Cool completely. Makes about 60 cookies.

Lighting the Menorah – The 3 of the 4 W’s plus a How for good luck!

Keep Calm - ChanukaSo we’ve discussed why we light the menorah, but how about the who, where and when? And let’s not forget the how! Here’s a break down of the last bits that you need to know to celebrate the holiday. For more, you can always go to to Chabad.org by clicking here. They have everything you could have possibly wanted to know, and more!

Who
Men and women alike are obligated to participate in the menorah lighting. In some families, the head of the household lights the family menorah while everyone else listens to the blessings and answers, “Amen.” In many other families, all members of the household, including children, light their own menorahs. Either way, it is important for everyone to be present and involved when the Chanukah miracle is festively commemorated.

Where
Light the menorah in your own home. If you are travelling out of town, set up your menorah wherever you will be staying for the night. If you will be spending the night in a Jewish home, you have the option of giving your host a dollar or so, a symbolic contribution towards the menorah expenses, and then you are covered by his/her menorah lighting – or better yet, light your own menorah too.Students who live in dormitories or their own apartments should kindle menorahs in their own rooms or in a communal dining area. In places where this is prohibited, a rabbi should be consulted as to where to kindle the menorah. In the home, there are two preferred locations for the menorah. You can set up the menorah in a central doorway. Place it on a chair or small table near the doorpost that is opposite the mezuzah. This way, when you pass through the doorway, you are surrounded by two mitzvot – the mezuzah and the menorah. Ideally, the menorah lights should be between 12 and 40 inches off the ground. Alternatively, you can set up your menorah on a windowsill facing the street.

When
The custom of many communities is to light the menorah shortly after sunset. In other communities, the menorah is kindled after nightfall (approximately thirty minutes after sunset). Either way, the menorah must contain enough fuel to burn for at least thirty minutes after nightfall. Regardless of the custom you follow on other Chanukah nights, on Friday night the menorah is lit before sunset, and on Saturday night it is lit after nightfall.Ideally, you should light the menorah at the earliest possible opportunity. Only delay if you are awaiting the arrival of family members who wish to be present when the menorah is lit. The Chanukah lights may be lit as long as there are people in the streets, or as long as there is another family member awake to participate – but no later than one half hour before dawn. (If no other household member is awake and the streets are already quiet, light the menorah without reciting the blessing.)

How to light the Menorah

  • Arrange the lights on the menorah. Ensure that there is enough oil, or that the candles are big enough, for the lights to burn until half an hour after nightfall (or, if lighting after nightfall, for one half hour). On the first night, set one candle to the far right of the menorah. On the following night, add a second light to the left of the first one, and then add one light each night of Chanukah – moving from right to left.
  • Gather everyone in the house around the menorah.
  • Light the shamash candle. Then hold it in your right hand (unless you are left-handed).
  • While standing, recite the appropriate blessings.
  • Light the candles. Each night, light the newest (left-most) candle first and continue lighting from left to right. (We add lights to the menorah from right to left, while we light from left to right.)

The Blessings
Before lighting the Chanukah candles, we thank G‑d for giving us this special mitzvah, and for the incredible Chanukah miracles:

Hebrew

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam a-sher ki-de-sha-nu be-mitz-vo-tav ve-tzi-va-nu le-had-lik ner Chanukah.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the Chanukah light.

Hebrew

Ba-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-hei-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-a-sa ni-sim la-avo-te-nu ba-ya-mim ha-hem bi-z’man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who performed miracles for our forefathers in those days, at this time.

On the first night of Chanukah, Tuesday, Dec. 16, 2014 (or the first time on Chanukah you perform this mitzvah), add the following blessing:

ShehecheyanuBa-ruch A-tah Ado-nai E-lo-he-nu Me-lech ha-olam she-heche-ya-nu ve-ki-yi-ma-nu ve-higi-a-nu liz-man ha-zeh.
Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has granted us life, sustained us, and enabled us to reach this occasion

After you finish kindling the menorah lights, place the shamash candle in its designated place on the menorah. At this point it is traditional to sing Chanukah hymns such as Haneirot Halalu and or Maoz Tzur.

For the first half hour after the candles are lit (or until half an hour after nightfall, if the menorah was lit before dark) the menorah should not be transferred from its place. If a flame dies out during this time, it is best to relight it. After this time, the menorah can be moved if necessary, and there’s no need to rekindle extinguished flames.

Blintz Soufflé

Blintz SouffleIngredients:

1 dozen frozen blintzes, any flavour (cheese, blueberry, cherry, etc.)
1 ½ cups sour cream or yogurt (light or regular)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
½ cup sugar
4 eggs (or 1 cup egg substitute)
½ cup orange juice
cinnamon, as garnish

Directions:

Place blintzes in a single layer in a sprayed 9” x 13” glass baking dish. Using a steel blade, process sour cream or yogurt, with vanilla extract and sugar for a few seconds. Add eggs and orange juice through feed tube while machine is running. Process until smooth. Immediately remove bowl from the base of machine to prevent leakage. Pour topping over blintzes(can be prepared in advance and refrigerated.) Sprinkle the top with some cinnamon (it looks good AND it tastes good!). Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 1 hour, until puffed and golden. Serve with sour cream or a sauce that matches the blintz filling; e.g.: cherry, blueberry, etc.

What Makes a “Kosher” Menorah?

Lit MenorahThere are not very many requirements for a kosher menorah, and most—but not all—of the menorahs on the market are just fine. The basic elements of the menorah are eight candle (or oil) holders, and one more, that is set a bit higher or lower than the rest, for the shamash (attendant) candle.

That said, there are some factors to consider when purchasing a menorah:

  • The Chanukah lights can be either wax candles, or oil-fueled lights. Since the miracle of Chanukah transpired with olive oil—the little jug of oil that lasted for eight days—the oil menorah is preferable to the candle one, and olive oil is the ideal fuel.
  • Whenever purchasing a mitzvah article, we try to buy the most beautiful one that is within our means. So, if at all possible, go for the silver menorah. Beautifying a mitzvah is our way of expressing our appreciation to G‑d, and how dearly we hold His commandments. (A beautiful menorah also makes for a beautiful centrepiece for your silver closet or mantelpiece . . .)
  • The eight candles of the menorah’s lights should be level or on an even slant, not some randomly higher than others.
  • If it is an oil menorah, the oil cups must hold enough oil to burn for at least 1½ hours.
  • Just in case you are considering constructing a mammoth menorah to better publicize the Chanukah miracle, the maximum height of a menorah is around 31 feet. People don’t normally look up higher than that height, and a menorah taller than that wouldn’t serve the intended purpose.

I think that about sums it up… tune in tomorrow to learn about the actual lighting of the menorah. In the mean time, enjoy today’s recipe!

Salmon en Croute

Salmon en CrouteIngredients:

1 salmon fillet (about 1 ½ pounds), skin removed
½ cup sour cream
3-4 tablespoons chopped fresh dill*
16 oz. fresh baby spinach or 10 oz. frozen spinach, defrosted and drained*
2 cloves garlic, minced
Zest and juice of 1 lemon
¾ cup dry bread crumbs (plain or seasoned)
½ cup parmesan cheese (grated or shredded)
1 cup chopped onion
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon pepper
2 hard boiled eggs, chopped
1 (17.3 oz) package frozen puff pastry, thawed
1 large egg, lightly beaten

Directions:

Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a skillet on medium-high heat, sauté the spinach, onion, garlic and lemon juice until the onion has become translucent, about 5-6 minutes. Add about half of the salt and pepper to the spinach mixture and stir well to combine. Set aside, and allow the mixture to cool. In a small bowl mix together the fresh dill, the lemon zest, parmesan cheese, bread crumbs and remaining salt and pepper. Set this aside as well.

You are going to want to completely encapsulate the fish, so it is easiest working with two pieces of pastry dough, rather than one large one. Roll out the dough on a lightly floured surface and divide in half. Lay one sheet out on a greased 13 x 9 inch baking dish or cookie sheet. Spread about a tablespoon or so of the sour cream on the dough. Then lay the salmon on the dough. Next, spread the remaining sour cream on top of the salmon. Then sprinkle on the bread crumb mixture over the sour cream. Then gently spread out the spinach mixture on top. Finally, finish with a layer of the chopped up hard boiled eggs.

Pull the edges of the dough up around the sides of your salmon pile. Then top with your remaining piece of dough, using your beaten egg to help seal the two pieces together. Use the remaining beaten egg as a wash over the top of the pastry. Cut a few slits to allow steam to escape, and take the opportunity to decorate the top of the pastry with slits or designs to your liking. Bake for 45 minutes or until golden brown. Serve with a cucumber dill or tartar sauce.

* click here to see how to properly clean fresh dill and baby spinach.

Chanukah Food Traditions

Chanuka FoodsOkay, so I’ve now covered why we eat fried food on Chanukah, and why we eat dairy foods, but why the particular dishes that we associate with Chanukah? Why Latkes? Why Sufganiot (jelly donuts)? There are plenty of foods that fit into the fried/dairy category, so why these ones?

Over time, different Jewish communities throughout the world have found a variety of ways to incorporate both oil and dairy into their Chanukah meals. One of the most famous, Israeli sufganiot, may actually derive from a yeast dough pastry mentioned in the Talmud (the written edition of the oral Torah). These pastries were cooked in oil and called sufganin (absorbent) because they absorbed a lot of oil in cooking. They did not contain milk, but were sweetened and perhaps even filled with honey and the fact that they were cooked in oil led to the pastries becoming a Chanukah staple early on.In Spain, Jews added cheese to these pastries—and from this twist on an old tradition evolved the many cheese doughnuts, fritters, and other fried cheese pastries popular among Sephardim. They may have influenced the cheese pastries popular in some Central European communities as well. A jelly-filled version evolved among German Jews, who brought it with them to the Land of Israel in the 1930’s.

In more Northern communities, where olive oil was scarce and expensive, goose or chicken fat often had to be used for frying. Potato latkes, apple fritters, and other non-dairy fried foods became the norm, although today when olive (or other pareve) oil is affordable and commonly used in preparing latkes, etc., dairy is often added—usually in the form of a dollop of sour cream on top of a latke.

So there you go, you now know the whys, so go and check out the recipes for the hows! Chag Samayach everyone!

Best Mac and Cheese – Ever

Baked Mac N Cheese

This recipe comes from my Mom. It is AMAZING! In fact, she often gives it as a bridal shower gift given with a casserole dish. Yes, you can use that idea for your next shower… it’s a good one, and she gets royalties 😉

Ingredients:

½ cup (1 stick) butter or margarine
½ cup all purpose flour
2-3 boxes of mac & cheese (we like using wacky mac, but whatever is your favourite)
1 – 1 ½ lbs. or more of different cheeses, shredded
5 cups of milk
Salt & pepper
Bread crumbs (optional)
Pam, butter flavoured

Directions:

Melt the butter in a pot over medium heat. When butter bubbles, whisk in flour. Mixture should be think and pasty. Slowly whisk in milk about a cup at a time. You have to use a whisk or it will get lumpy. Continue cooking, whisking constantly, until the mixture bubbles and becomes thick.

When the mixture is as thick as melted ice cream, start adding cheese. Use the cheese packets included with the mac & cheese, and any other sharp flavoured cheese, such as cheddar, kashkeval, or goat cheese. A blend works best. Taste and add cheese until it is delicious! Season with salt and pepper to taste. As the mixture cooks, it may become too thick – just add some more milk. Stir often, and/or turn down the heat so that it does not burn.

In the meantime, boil pasta from the boxes according to the directions. Drain well. Mix the cheese sauce and pasta together – it should be very saucy.
Pour the mixture into a baking dish sprayed with Pam. At this point, you can sprinkle the top of the pasta with breadcrumbs. Spray the top of the pasta with butter flavoured Pam and bake at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes, or until the top is all browned and bubbly.