March 25, 2013
Updated on March 25, 2013 for the latest in Kosher for Passover news
The Torah couldn’t make things any clearer. From Exodus 12:14 and 15: “This day shall be for you a memorial day, and you shall keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations, as statute forever, you shall keep it as a feast. Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven out of your houses, for if anyone eats what is leavened, from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel.”
But in the centuries since, food has gotten a lot more complicated, and the Jews who fled Egypt were fruitful and multiplied, melding their own traditions with regional customs. Today the rules governing keeping kosher for Passover aren’t as clear as they were in ancient Judea. Erik’s explainer on the Lenten fast taught me much about the Catholic tradition, so I’ll repay the favor with this guide for my Gentile friends on how American Jews keep kosher for Passover. I should preface this section by saying that even among the most observant Jews, there are disagreements over what is and what is not kosher for Passover. There are many foods, like jellies or butter, that should be considered allowable given their ingredients, but the equipment used to produce them is not cleaned and inspected by rabbinic observers. This is why you may see specially wrapped or branded products of everyday goods for those Jews who look for that extra degree of precaution. Consider this a brief slice of a very complicated discussion.
The Obvious No-Nos:
Wheat, spelt, barley, oats and rye. Known collectively as chometz, these grains are universally left out of diets during Passover week. This means no Apple Jacks, bagels, biscuits, cakes, cookies, danishes, empanadas, ficelles, gyros, hoagies, Italian bread, jelly donuts, knishes, lefse, muffins, naan, oatmeal, pasta, pizza, quiches, rugelach, strombolis, tacos, upside-down cake, Viennese wafers, waffles, yeast or zwieback.
Unfortunately, these rules also mean that all beer and most liquor is forbidden. The only alcohol allowed is wine, of which there are kosher-for-Passover varieties.
It is customary to clean all the chometz out of one’s house. Some totally cleanse the house, others board up closets, others sell the grains to their non-Jewish neighbors (you can help next year!) and buy it back at the end of the holiday, others sell their chometz on the Internet to a stranger and buy it back even though the food never moves.
The Generally Assumed No-Nos:
Rice and beans. The realm of kitniyot (legumes) is among the grayest of areas. Joan Nathan is the Barefoot Contessa of Jewish cooking and she says it best in her book Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France:
In the Middle Ages, rice, lentils, chickpeas, and fava beans were all ground into flour, which in that state could be confused with the true grains. The list continued to grow after corn and beans came to the Old World from the New. In France, where mustard seeds grow, mustard was added to the list, because the seeds could be intertwined and confused with other plants.
The confusion principle is largely the reason why many American Jews abstain from eating any corn or rice products on Passover. According to Nathan, a biblical ruling was made in the 12th and 13th centuries that “any grain that can be cooked and baked like matzo [could be] confused with the biblical grains.” Therefore, not kosher for Passover. But this is a tradition that is mainly continued by Ashkenazic Jews, or those whose ancestors come from eastern Europe. Pre-Inquisition Jews from Spain never followed these rules, and thus Sephardim, who by definition are Jews descended from those who escaped Spain but also include those who are from South America, Asia, the Middle East and Africa, do not either. The vast majority of American Jews, 95 percent or more, are Ashkenazic.
Even now in an era of detailed FDA-mandated labeling, where such a confusion is nigh impossible, the tradition remains. This is why you see the fabled “Mexican Coke” make an appearance each spring. Made with cane sugar and not high-fructose corn syrup, the imported soda is good to go. UPDATE: Do you live in California? Tough luck, you can’t have kosher-for-Passover coke as a new California law forced Coca-Cola to change its manufacturing process lest the beverage be labeled as having a carcinogenic agent. The company has yet to find a way to manufacture kosher-for-Passover versions on the same machinery. Relatedly, what tastes better? Regular Coke or Kosher for Passover Coke? The New Republic did a taste test.
Matzo. For reasons that are unknown to most Jews, some people willingly eat matzo at other times of the year. These matzo boxes are labeled “not kosher for Passover” and should not be eaten as a part of observing the holiday. The difference? Rabbinic supervision to ensure that any matzo made for Passover is untainted by any leavening agents. There is also a debate over whether egg matzo is allowed. While clearly being verboten for the Passover seder (another Torah passage states that only the flour and water version may be used during the ritual), eating egg matzo during the rest of the week is left up to the observant.
Quinoa. The New York Times had a good wrap-up of the quinoa loophole, which is rather ingenious. Since the grain is a relative newcomer to Western diets, the grain wholly bypassed not only the Talmudic scholars but the “confusion principle” as explained above. Ashkenazic rabbis never had the chance to exclude it from the holiday, and so by default it became kosher for Passover. Now concerns are being raised over whether the manufacturing process is clean of any of the banned grains.
Most everything else. All in all, keeping kosher for Passover isn’t all that difficult, especially if you have experience with the Atkins Diet. I find myself eating more healthy meals this week than usual, as I am forced to cook at home and use copious fruits and vegetables to fill out my diet. If I’m cooking meat, I make my own marinades or sauces, and if I’m eating a salad, my own dressings. Don’t put shrimp salad or a bacon cheeseburger on your matzo—the normal kosher laws still pertain: no shellfish, pork products or mixing of meat and cheese is allowed.
Cigarettes: According to the Associated Press, a rabbinic group in Israel has, for the first time, declared certain cigarettes as Kosher for Passover.
One last note:
If you re-read the passage from Exodus, you’ll notice that it declares that the holiday should be observed for seven days, as is done in modern day Israel, and not the eight customarily observed by American Jews. In the era before standardized calendars, Jews in the Diaspora (any area outside of Israel) added an extra day to ensure that their holiday overlapped with the official celebration. This is also why American Jews have two nights of seders, where in Israel they only have one.
April 5, 2011
Dinner in the Sky is hosted on a table suspended at a height of 160-180 feet by a team of professionals and may accommodate 22 people around the table at every session with three staff in the middle (chef, waiter, entertainer…). Events in the Sky, our partner in this event, is the worldwide leader for this type of activity.
The videos and photos I’ve seen defy belief. Dinner in the Sky looks like a mix between a cruise ship banquet and an amusement park ride with diners buckled into a harness, a combination that I wouldn’t think would bode well for a luxurious meal. Even if you are the opposite of an acrophobe, the mere excitement of it would cause my stomach to churn.
The costs seem to vary, from what I could find—the Las Vegas one is quoted at $289, and according to a Travel Channel segment, one in southern Florida costs upwards of $500. But if price weren’t a factor, would you climb into a harness and do this? Let us know in the poll and the comments below.
As I told my editor, you probably don’t want to over-eat for this dinner, as going down one notch on your belt could have dire consequences.
March 16, 2011
This week marks the mid-point of South-by-Southwest (SXSW) in Austin, an event that started as a wide-ranging independent music festival but has since spawned a film festival and an interactive conference for thousands of Internet visionaries, entrepreneurs, marketers and web journalists. I had the good fortune to experience the both the beginning of the conference and something else Austin is known for: food trucks.
Unlike in D.C., where food trucks are mobile and tweet their new locations daily, Austin food trailers are for the most part stationary. In four days, I tasted the wares of 10 food trucks, most of which were delicious, ranked here in order of excellence.
#1: Pueblo Viejo, E. 6th St. and San Marcos
I had never heard of breakfast tacos before, much less eaten them, and I got a good tip that this was a place to visit.
What I ordered: Three breakfast tacos: two with chorizo, eggs, cheese, potato and avocado; the other with spinach, mushrooms, eggs and cheese. Coffee.
Cost: $10 total
Pros: Made to order, friendly service, nice big chunks of chorizo, exceptionally flavorful. Coffee was full-bodied and smooth.
Cons: I could have gone with just two tacos, but the whole cheap food thing took me a while to get used to.
Caveat: As the first breakfast tacos I’ve ever had, there is a certain amount of first-time bias here.
#2: East Side King, E. 6th St.
As with most of these giant conferences, there are always companies plying you with free food to sell you their services. One company brought in an Austin food truck vendor for lunch. My quick research indicated that East Side King had some of the best, and most refined, food truck food.
What I ordered: Thai chicken karaage (deep-fried chicken thigh with sweet & spicy sauce, fresh basil, cilantro, mint, onion, and jalapeño)
Cost: Free! (But usually $8)
Pros: Sublime food. Never has fried chicken tasted so light. The mint gave it a Vietnamese flavor that I wasn’t expecting. If I weren’t chatting with new friends made while waiting, I’d have scarfed it down in seconds.
Cons: Since it was free, I got only one bun. A filling meal would have to be two to three items.
Caveat: I didn’t get to try the pork belly bun, which looked amazing. If I had eaten both, this could have taken the #1 slot.
#3: Lucky J’s, E. 6th St. and Waller
I love chicken and waffles. As ignorant as I was about breakfast tacos, I am a snob when it comes to this soul food dish. Having read about Lucky J’s months ago, I planned my virginal Austin food truck experience around visiting them. I happened to go during a street band music festival (Honk TX). While eating, I danced with a Second Line band from New Orleans. The music and the food made for a memorable evening.
What I ordered: Chicken and waffles (two pieces, bone-in, two waffles (they are thin, not Belgian).
Pros: The chicken skin was crackled with each bite and the waffle held its own. Not too doughy, and baked to just the right consistency.
Cons: Conversely, the chicken was slightly over-cooked and a little dry, but nothing a little maple syrup couldn’t fix.
Caveat: I love chicken and waffles, and combine with the street band music playing, I was knock (knock knocking) on heaven’s door.
#4: Kebabalicious, Congress St. between 2nd and 3rd
As the final food truck I ate at while in Austin, Kababalicious had to wow me to get this high.
What I ordered: Beef/lamb shwarma. Bottle of Mexican Coke.
Pros: The combination of the two meats worked well and were sliced to the perfect thickness. The vegetables and sauces made for a moist sandwich. Toasting the pitas? Nice touch. Also, Mexican Coke!
Cons: Maybe it was the nine other food truck meals in my stomach, but I could barely finish the regular shwarma. I ordered it with feta cheese, but there wasn’t any on my wrap. They were out of the chicken.
Caveat: Food truck and conference fatigue had set in. I was ready to go home.
#5: Old School Bus, E. 6th St. and Waller
These guys, operating out of an old yellow bus, are usually parked next to Lucky J’s over in East Austin, but a software company brought a handful of food trucks to a parking lot near the convention center. The lines were long, but I was with an old friend so it all worked out.
What I ordered: The steak burger and a Coke
Pros: This savory burger was impressively seasoned. The service was friendly and the truck itself just looked cool.
Cons: Even though I was told their BBQ was great, the burger was the only item in stock at the time. Somehow I made my first trip to Texas and didn’t have any barbeque beef—what a failure!
Caveat: The fast service was also probably due to the fact that this was a giant food fair with high-volume turnover.
After the jump, food carts #6-10
September 9, 2010
Today’s guest writer is Brian Wolly, the magazine’s Associate Web Editor.
Last night’s penultimate episode of Top Chef: DC saw the “cheftestants” leave Washington, D.C. for Singapore, where the winner of the elimination-style cooking competition will be decided. Back when Bravo announced that D.C. would host the seventh season of Top Chef, my mind had raced to try to predict what challenges would be used to represent my home town.
Over the course of twelve episodes, we watched the chefs take on the Maryland blue crab, Ethiopian food (since that’s one of D.C.’s most vibrant ethnic communities), and concessions for the Nationals ballpark. They had to serve good food under the restrictions of lobbyists’ regulations (only foods on a toothpick) and make a “bipartisandwich” while tied to another chef by a shared apron. The CIA, NASA and several diplomats made appearances.
However, there were many parts of the capital city’s food culture that weren’t shown. A few more Top Chef: DC challenges we would have liked to have seen:
1. Make your own version of Ben’s Chili Bowl half-smoke
The half-smoke, a type of sausage, is the rare food that may have actually originated in D.C. Half-smoke connoisseurs can get their fix at street carts around the city, but the best-known version is at Ben’s Chili Bowl. Pittsburgh has Primanti’s, Philly has Pat’s and Geno’s…and in D.C., the must-visit hole-in-the-wall is Ben’s. The iconic D.C. eatery has been around for more than 50 years, and it was made even more famous when then President-elect Barack Obama stopped in for lunch with D.C. Mayor Adrian Fenty. Since then, the lines for half-smokes (with chili, preferably) and fries (with chili and cheese, preferably) have been around the block. I can only imagine what protein hybrids and exotic toppings the chefs would have dreamed up had they been given the challenge to create a half-smoke-inspired dish of their own.
2. Create a dish using regional ingredients inspired by American Indian cuisine
The Food and Think team’s favorite eatery on the National Mall is, naturally, Smithsonian-related: The National Museum of the American Indian’s Mitsitam Cafe. Chef Richard Hetzler bases his menu on the native culinary traditions of five distinct regions of the Americas: the Northern Woodlands, the Northwest Coast, the Great Plains, South America and Meso America. So ideally, the cheftestants would draw knives to select one of those regions and then create a dish using indigenous ingredients like those featured at Mitsitam, which means “Let’s Eat” in native Delaware and Piscataway languages. Between the corn and wild rice, buffalo and salmon, yucca and yams, the range of ingredients would certainly be versatile enough to give the chefs creative room while paying homage to America’s original home-cooked meals.
3. Create a meal that Julia Child would have loved
While we’re dishing out some Smithsonian appreciation, we’d be remiss to not mention Julia Child’s kitchen at the National Museum of American History. The exhibit is the real thing, painstakingly recreated in 2002 using the contents of the famous chef’s home kitchen in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (We’ve covered it before, and conducted a Q&A with the food artist behind Julie and Julia.) How great would it be to see the chefs explore the exhibit and then cook a classic French dish in the spirit of Julia? And then we’d get to hear everyone do their version of the “Julia Child voice,” which would make the episode a classic. Having the French palette (and accent) of Eric Ripert—executive chef of D.C.’s Westend Bistro, and one of the show’s judges for the season—in the mix would make it even better.
4. Make a Vietnamese meal from items bought at Eden Center
Every once in a while, I hear urban legends of foodies from Vietnam traveling to Falls Church, Virginia to eat authentic Vietnamese food. I can’t vouch for the veracity of the stories, but I do know that hidden in this small suburb of Washington you’ll find the Eden Center, a mecca of sorts for banh mi, pho and many other Vietnamese specialties. Tyler Cowen, an economics professor at George Mason University, made a name for himself in the early, wild-wild-West days of the web for his “Ethnic Dining Guide,” and his reviews of the many Vietnamese restaurants in Eden Center are still indispensable. In addition to its dining scene, Eden Center is home to labyrinthine Asian markets. Had the Top Chef crew visited the Virginia strip mall, it would have been a great exposure for the famous-to-us scene in the Greater Washington area.
5. Shop for ingredients at historic Eastern Market
Each season, it seems as though the show takes the chefs to a farmer’s market to buy goods for their next challenge. This season, with the filming taking place in late March and early April, I can see why the producers probably eschewed this, as little would have been in season. But the tour guide in me would have made sure the chefs took a trip to Eastern Market. Nearly destroyed by a fire in April 2007, the historic market building was recently restored and is a popular weekend destination for Washingtonians. Purveyors of homemade pasta, cheeses and sausages mingle with fishmongers and butchers inside the grand hall and out on the surrounding sidewalks. The venue lends itself to a great challenge on its own merits. (Runners-up: The Dupont Circle Farmers Market or White House Farmers Market.)
What D.C.-based cooking challenges and venues would you add to this list?
August 4, 2009
This summer marks the 70th anniversary of the best spice blend ever known to humankind: Old Bay Seasoning. Mrs. Dash may have low sodium and Emeril may be bam-tastic, but no other spice has the kick and the nostalgia of summers past like Old Bay. According to the Maryland-based company, the history of Old Bay goes as follows:
German immigrant Gustav Brunn settled in Baltimore, among the crab lovers of Maryland. In 1939, he started a spice business and rented a space on Baltimore’s Market Place, opposite the Wholesale Fish Market. With only a small spice grinder and mixer, he began creating the secret recipe that would become OLD BAY Seasoning.
Thanks to Mr. Brunn, Old Bay is a Chesapeake Bay institution that packs a wallop of a punch on fresh corn on the cob, blue crabs, shrimp, and well, pretty much anything else. Similar in flavor to a Cajun southern spice, Old Bay is a delicious combination of celery salt, mustard, pepper (both red and black), bay leaves, cloves, allspice, ginger, mace, cardamom, cinnamon and paprika.
Yet it wasn’t until I went up to school in Boston that I realized that my second-favorite spicy seasoning (second to the dangerous Sriracha Rooster Sauce) was a regional treat.
One of the best non-crab uses for Old Bay is on french fries. Go to a boardwalk in Ocean City and you can’t walk a few feet without running into the seasoned french fries. But while I was up in school in Boston, I ventured to historic-meeting-house-turned-food-court-tourist-trap Faneuil Hall, avoided the chainariffic options, and ordered some fresh-cut french fries from a seafood stand. My requests for Old Bay were returned with blank stares. I am still disappointed, seven years later. New England may have clam chowder, but their flavor palate could use some work.
The Internet Food Association blew up a couple of months ago when their blasphemous New York blogger insulted the use of Old Bay on crabs, which is kind of like being angry about having Thousand Island dressing on your Reuben sandwich. Fortunately, the other IFA bloggers smacked their colleague down. I was reminded of the online debate the most recent time I cracked open some Chesapeake Bay crabs and was served a bowl of vinegar and a bowl of Old Bay with my crabs; this was new, but it was fantastic. Dip the lump crab meet in the vinegar, then into the Old Bay, and I’m smiling wider than I possibly can.
A last note—beware of imitation Old Bay. Not that the imitators aren’t good, but you just can’t call them Old Bay. Our web producer Ryan calls Utz’s “The Crab Chip” “a little bag of heaven,” but they don’t use Old Bay. Five Guys fries are legendary, but the Web is inconclusive as to whether or not their cajun fries (definitely superior to the already amazing regular fries) use Old Bay or not.
UPDATE: Just in from Five Guys HQ — they use McCormick’s Cajun Seasoning, not Old Bay. I won’t hold it against them.
The summer is winding down, which means crab season is almost over. So what else should I season with Old Bay? Any suggestions?