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Tue Feb 22, 2022, 11:31 AM

A return to vegetarian Jewish cuisine

About an hour has gone by: time to take the gefilte fish and carrots out of the boiling water. In another pot, I've got potatoes and pickles simmering in stock and brine; I stir in a hefty dollop of sour cream to cut the acidity and top the soup with a sprinkling of fresh chopped dill. Tomorrow, I'll be cooking a leek frittata for breakfast and schnitzel breaded with matzo meal for dinner.

I'm swimming in shtetl nostalgia – Ashkenazi Jews have been making versions of these recipes for decades. Gefilte fish (an appetiser made from poached fish), for example, has been a favourite since they first settled on the banks of the German Rhine in the 11th Century.

But there's a key difference. I'm making vegetarian versions of these dishes. And, in doing so, I know I'm closer to the traditions of my ancestors than I would be with the stacked pastrami sandwiches that have become the standard-bearer of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine.

For my Ashkenazi ancestors, the towers of meat you can find at the Jewish deli were nonexistent. Instead, their kitchens would be full of fresh, regional and seasonal vegetables, an assortment of pickles and, if they were lucky, some dairy. Meat and fish were expensive rarities until the industrialisation of meat production in the early 20th Century. That's why the gefilte fish I'm making now is a vegetarian imitation adapted from a century-old recipe using a purée of salsify (oyster plant), cashews and onion mixed with eggs and matzo meal, shaped into disc-like quenelles for poaching, then topped with one sliced carrot and sinus-clearing horseradish.

Instead of veal, the schnitzel is a cut of celeriac root covered in flour, egg wash and matzo meal that browns after a few minutes on a hot skillet – as instructed by an 84-year-old recipe.


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