‘New Passover Menu’ Serves Up More Fun

For her latest book, all Paula Shoyer had to do “was take all these recipes from my head and put them on paper.” (Daniel Schere)

For her latest book, all Paula Shoyer had to do “was take all these recipes from my head and put them on paper.” (Daniel Schere)

A vegetarian, Passover-keeping Jew or someone on a gluten-free diet would have been right at home on Monday during local chef Paula Shoyer’s baking demonstration at the Atrium Village assisted living facility in Owings Mills.

Shoyer, a Chevy Chase resident, has written three kosher cookbooks and her newest, “The New Passover Menu,” came out last year.

While she says she is normally the type to take whatever ingredients are in her refrigerator and fuse them into that night’s dinner, her culinary intuition had to be translated into actual recipes and measurements for writing her latest cookbook.

“When I wrote this book, all I had to do was take all these recipes from my head and put them on paper,” she said. “So many people have mothers or grandmothers who cook like that.”

While preparing a quinoa salad, Shoyer emphasized to the Atrium residents and others in attendance that Passover food is really just “good food that we eat on Passover.”

“I try to take what’s traditional and make it a little more fun,” she said.

As Shoyer mixed the quinoa with green onions, roasted sweet potatoes, pine nuts and cranberries, she pointed out that the grain crop has only been considered kosher for Passover by the Orthodox Union since 2014. The ruling came just in time for her to include the recipe in the book and to serve the salad to 17 guests at her first night Seder and 20 more the second night.

To dress the quinoa prior to mixing in the vegetables, Shoyer used a light vinaigrette of vinegar, oil, honey and various spices. The dressing’s purpose is not so much to flavor the entire salad as it is to make the quinoa moist enough so that it isn’t too bland. Despite its kosher-for-Passover status, the salad is simple but tasty and could work in a variety of non-Passover settings as well.

For dessert, Shoyer showed off her diverse baking skills to the residents by demonstrating how to make gluten-free biscotti.

“I always cook things that take the most amount of time first,” she said.

Shoyer started by melting bars of chocolate and then mixed in oil and sugar. She concluded by mixing in ground almonds, which she emphasized are the key in giving the narrow cookies their true character. Almonds and almond milk too, are recent additions to the OU’s approved list for Passover foods.

“Now I can make pastry creams,” she said, delighted at the result of being able to use almond milk.

The biscotti get baked for roughly 35 minutes, removed from the oven, then cut into small pieces and baked again.

The cookies, which Shoyer says are “super, super easy to make,” are sure to satisfy any chocoholic’s craving while maintaining a soft texture, rather than the traditional crisp delicacy normally sold in grocery stores.

During the demonstration, Shoyer told the residents of a trip to Israel she took last year in which she visited her son, Jake, who was doing research overseas. She was writing an article for Hadassah Magazine on the best bakeries in Israel, and was astonished to find an abundance of Jewish French chefs. She discovered that many of them had fled their native country for religious reasons.

“Because of all the anti-Semitism in France, so many of the top pastry chefs in France who happened to be Jewish were all moving to  Israel,” she said. “So Israel has this amazing community of chefs.”

Shoyer does a fair amount of traveling during the year and just finished a tour that took her through Memphis, Atlanta and Greenwich, Conn. This week she’s taking her culinary talents to some of the local Washington, D.C., TV news channels.

Resident Marvin Sakin said he enjoyed Shoyer’s dishes and said that her cooking brought back memories from childhood.

“I’ve been around a long time and my mother was a good cook, and my mother-in-law was a very good cook,” he said.

Sakin, who is a Korean War veteran, said when he was in the service many of the cooks “dabbled,” in trying to make Passover foods but it never quite worked out.

“Some of it was terrible,” he said. “They just didn’t have the touch. We ate it because it was there to eat.”

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

From Generation to Generation, A Century Old Tradition

Miller family seder (provided)

Miller family seder (provided)

We all have memories — some vivid, some fading with time, some painfully buried, others that make us smile. One of my most cherished childhood memories is preparing for  Pesach and attending the Miller family seder.

I can recapture those memories with astonishing clarity — the smell of sponge cakes, brisket and tzimmes; the achy feeling from hand grinding hard-boiled eggs, onions and liver pieces to make my mother’s chopped liver; the soreness in my fingers from cracking almonds for stuffed dates rolled in sugar and sneaking a piece of wrapped raspberry and Barton’s almond kiss candies from my bubbie’s candy dishes … the very ones I was supposed to be filling. Every year the routine was just about the same and it was that sameness that made it so special.

How wonderful it was to sit with my father in his big chair, his arm around me, as he  patiently helped me learn the Four Questions, or as he  referred to them, the feir kashes in Yiddish. It became our own 15-minute nightly ritual,  repeating the Hebrew words over and over, until I mastered them well enough to recite at seder.

My Aunt Shirley will turn 99-years-old this month. She is the matriarch of the Miller family, whose tradition of sharing in the first seder  together started before she was born. It began with my grandparents, Anna and Jacob Miller at their home in Baltimore over a century ago. As a child, I remember celebrating seders at the home of Aunt Irene and Uncle Herman (Soble) and in later years at Aunt Shirley and Uncle Bernie’s (Polakoff). As a young adult, it was Aunt Roz and Uncle Gordy (Miller) who hosted them. And then for more years than any of us can remember Cousin Carole  (Diamond) opened her home to our ever-growing family.

The aunts always did the  organizing, shopping and most of the cooking, while my uncles assisted with set-up. In recent years we began ordering from a caterer at the insistence of the younger generation who felt it was too much of a burden on our aging relatives. With some coaxing, my stepmom Shirley Miller finally stopped making her delicious fluffy matzoh balls, sometimes as many as 80 to 90 at a time. We can always count on cousins Arleen and Michael Cohen to bring shmura matzah from New York every year, a thoughtful gift from one of his patients.

As far back as I can remember my dad, Leslie Miller or “Bim,” as our family affectionately called him, led our seder. It was one of his greatest joys — giving commentary, asking questions and trying to keep order over the din of the sometimes talkative crowd. He did so until his short-term memory failed him and the beginning of Alzheimer’s began to surface. He took the responsibility of leading the seder very seriously, and it was not until he realized he was losing some of his capabilities that he decided to step down. He passed the leadership onto the next generation, and my cousin Jill willingly took over the role. She designed a new haggadah for our family entitled, “From Slavery to Freedom; From Bondage to Balmer,” a more user-friendly version that holds everyone’s attention.

Although there are dozens of cherished memories from past seders, how could we ever forget the time when my brother David and my cousin Jeffrey decided to hide the afikomen in the second floor laundry chute. Thank goodness Uncle Bernie grabbed his legs, as David had already started to disappear head first down the chute, trying frantically to  retrieve the matzoh that had dislodged. Or the time when my nephew Chad mistakenly entered the wrong house and found himself in the home of an African-American family.

We were a really close-knit family back then. Most of us lived in and around Baltimore City and Baltimore County, a few within walking distance of each other. Now we are scattered around the country in Pennsylvania, New York, North Carolina, Florida, Arizona and all over Maryland.  Our lifestyles seem more hectic, demands on our time more consuming and yet we all try to come back. Most, but not all, make it every year. Some years we welcome new spouses or new children as our family continues to grow and sadly we  remember those who are no longer with us, leaving an emptiness in everyone’s heart.

This Passover four generations of the Miller family will come together to celebrate our time-honored tradition. What a gift this ritual has been for our family over the years, a constant in our lives that brings us together each year to celebrate the holiday and each other, strengthening our family ties.

Yes, Pesach is about retelling the story of our departure from Egypt, the saga of Joseph, the 10 plagues, and the miracle at the Sea of Reeds, but for the Miller family and for thousands of others it is also about the wonderful bond that unites us as a family — a glorious time of sharing in our rich and sacred heritage.

L’dor v’dor — from one generation to another.

Susan Miller Garbett is a local  freelance writer.

How Coca-Cola Made Processed Food Passover Friendly

A kosher-for-Passover bottle of Coca-Cola is distinguished from ordinary Coca-Cola bottles by its yellow cap and the Hebrew words Kosher for Passover. (Columbia University Press)

A kosher-for-Passover bottle of Coca-Cola is distinguished from ordinary Coca-Cola bottles by its yellow cap and the Hebrew words Kosher for Passover. (Columbia University Press)

In the 1930s, Rabbi Tobias Geffen of Atlanta began to investigate the hidden ingredients inside mass-produced foods and to evaluate whether those ingredients conflict with kosher laws. He set a precedent by getting the Coca-Cola Co. to make a kosher-for-Passover version of its soft drink, convincing the company to substitute the grain alcohol used in the processing of its soda to alcohol derived from molasses.

Geffen’s achievement was a response to the fact that in the 1920s, “Coke became an incredibly popular beverage in America,” and “Jews adopted a custom of making it available to children during the Passover seder in lieu of wine,” said historian Roger Horowitz, whose book, Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food, will be published this month by Columbia University Press.

This step by Coca-Cola stood out at a time when few mainstream food manufacturers were making kosher-for-Passover products.

“Coke was an enormous consumer product in the 1930s, and jealously guarded its formula,” Horowitz said. Much of the company’s decision, he explained, rested on its confidence in Geffen that he would not reveal the drink’s secret ingredients, and the episode was “an enormous asset in persuading other conventional food firms to secure kosher certification.”

Geffen personally issued a kosher-for-Passover certification on Coke, eventually passing the baton to another rabbi. Meanwhile, the founder of the Orthodox Union (OU) and its kosher-certification labeling, Abraham Goldstein, was another figure dedicated to the science of figuring out what’s inside foods and whether those ingredients are acceptable for Passover as well as for kosher-observant consumption year-round. He was particularly interested in ice cream, surveying its manufacturers to determine what they were putting inside their products and ultimately deciding that Breyers ice cream, for instance, is acceptable to eat during Passover.

The cover of Roger Horowitz's forthcoming book, "Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food." (Photo by Mark H. Anbinder via Flickr.com)

The cover of Roger Horowitz’s forthcoming book, “Kosher USA: How Coke Became Kosher and Other Tales of Modern Food.” (Photo by Mark H. Anbinder via Flickr.com)

But Goldstein was simply  reviewing foods as they existed at the time. The fact that Coca-Cola chose to make a distinct version of its drink for Passover was a big exception.

Rabbi Moshe Elefant, chief operating officer of the OU’s kosher-certifying arm, said that the OU began to certify Coke for Passover around 1989, after the company removed high fructose corn syrup from its Passover drink and replaced it with sugar. These bottles are known today for their distinct yellow caps.

Quest for quinoa

When the OU certifies a product as generally kosher, it is typically sufficient for rabbinical supervisors to make occasional visits to a company to make sure that the product is being produced in accordance with kosher standards. When it comes to Passover, however, making a product that is kosher for the holiday requires full-time rabbinical supervision. One other food that illustrates this situation is quinoa, a type of grain that was only in recent years certified as both kosher and kosher for Passover by the OU.

Coke became an incredibly popular beverage in America. Jews adopted a custom  of making it available to children during the Passover seder in lieu of wine.” — Roger Horowitz, historian

 

“One of the staples of the kosher diet now is sushi,” Elefant said. “But there’s a problem with sushi on Passover, because sushi is made with rice, and Jews of Ashkenazi descent don’t eat rice on Passover. How are you going to survive eight to nine days without sushi? You make it with quinoa,”

After many public requests for the OU to certify quinoa, rabbis needed to make their decision based on ancient texts and rules that were written in an era when Jews did not know about quinoa.

“After much deliberation and discussion, we determined that quinoa is not part of that legume family,” Elefant said. “Then we sent a rabbi to the mountains of Peru, where quinoa grows and is packaged,” where he needed to see if “the quinoa is packaged or processed in the same machinery or equipment as non-kosher for Passover products, [which] would, for lack of a better word, contaminate the quinoa.”

As a result — and similarly to how kosher-for-Passover Coke is produced — about once a year, producers of kosher-for-Passover quinoa make a certain amount of quinoa specifically for Passover. It is labeled “OUP,” with full rabbinical supervision of the production process.

Then the rabbis go home, and come back later for the next production round.

Today, many food ingredients, as well as the final food product, are often made far away from the grocery shelves, particularly in Asia, Elefant said. Therefore, the OU has become a highly global operation, with a presence in 80 countries. In addition, “the equipment used to manufacture food is all obviously new equipment that didn’t exist in the time of the Talmud,” he said.

In the current era of mass food production, the OU has needed to find out how to make production equipment kosher without the guidance of original source material with instructions on the issue.

Contemporary rabbis need to be “extremely knowledgeable in understanding the  machinery that manufactures food,” and in knowing how to conduct the koshering process without breaking “a piece of equipment that costs millions of dollars,” Elefant said.

One issue that comes up with regard to Passover and food, according to Roger Horowitz, involves oils that may be used during the holiday. For instance, corn oil cannot be used, so rabbis must figure out how to control the oil while it is being shipped in trucks across long distances, in order to make sure the oil is not contaminated. All tankers need to be washed and sealed by rabbis before they can be reloaded, and any holding tanks must also be monitored by rabbis. Then, inside the factories, sophisticated control systems are also in place.

“You have to embed kosher requirements into the very food system, and what’s remarkable is how successful Orthodox Jews have been in embedding those requirements in our industrial food system,” Horowitz said.

Keeping an  eye on decaf

Elefant cited another example of a product the OU has certified for Passover: canned tuna. “Over the years, we have made [specialized Passover] runs of tuna for Chicken of the Sea, Bumblebee, etc.,” he said.

“The tuna fish itself as a fish is inherently kosher for Passover. But all the other ingredients to make the tuna, [like] the vegetable broth that they sometimes put into the tuna … are not necessarily kosher for Passover,” added Elefant.

In yet another illustration, coffee doesn’t always require an OUP label to be considered as kosher for Passover. The OU also recommends one-ingredient foods that are considered kosher for Passover without requiring the foods to be labeled with an OUP. Decaffeinated coffee, however, can only be consumed on Passover if the decaffeination process does not involve an alcohol made out of grains or corn. Brands that the OU deems appropriate for Passover include Taster’s Choice and Folgers.

“We had to review the entire decaffeination process to make sure there’s no issue,” Elefant said, noting that in these cases, the products were deemed appropriate for the Jewish holiday as they are. Yet in the case of Bosco chocolate syrup, which has also been labeled OUP, a separate version of the syrup needed to be made for Passover.

Statistics compiled by Lubicom Marketing Consulting (an agency working with kosher food producers) for last year’s Kosherfest trade show revealed the production of 600 new products for Passover, and that 40 percent of annual kosher food sales came during the roughly month-long period including and surrounding Passover.

Passover is the “most widely observed holiday on the Jewish calendar,” said Lubicom President Menachem Lubinsky, with an estimated 70 percent of all U.S. Jews attending at least one Passover seder.

Lubinsky added that making special Passover runs of products does not stop at food.

Aluminum foil companies producing kosher-for-Passover foil “have to use cleaning agents that are [suitable] for Passover. They do a special run and they have an OUP on them. The amount of those products that is consumed for Passover is enormous…[and] it’s good business [for the company to produce them].”

On the marketing side of the issue, Lubinsky sees a growth in the advertising of kosher-for-Passover products.

“You see a lot of supermarket ads that highlight Passover specials. There are also a lot online apps with Passover products. I see technology being used in a big way,” he said.

When a mainstream, non-Jewish company approaches Lubicom with an interest in marketing a special kosher-for-Passover version of its product, Lubinsky first determines if the product is unique, and if it is, he suggests that the company “be very user-friendly in teaching consumers how to use the product” through recipes, meal ideas, and tie-ins with other products that are also kosher for Passover.

As for Coca-Cola, when it had removed high fructose corn syrup from its ingredients in 1990, it did so in response to Passover consumers’ demand. But in more recent years, Elefant noted, consumers “are actually trying to stay away from high fructose corn syrup” for health reasons, prompting a growing number of food producers to remove the substance from many products and use natural sugars or fruit sugars as substitutes. This makes such products easier to certify as kosher for Passover.

In the end, Elefant said, “it always boils down to dollars and cents.”

Passover Menu Expands, Conservative Movement Approves ‘Kitniyot’

(istockphoto.com/Hope Milam)

(istockphoto.com/Hope Milam)

On Passover, Lynne Sandler will be passing on the beans and rice.

Sandler, a member of  Conservative Agudas Achim Congregation in Alexandria, Va., said she won’t take  advantage of her movement’s ruling in November that permits eating a category of food called kitniyot that includes rice, beans and other legumes.

These foods have always been eaten by Sephardi Jews, but they were banned by Ashkenazi rabbis in the 1200s.

“We won’t be doing anything different this year,”  Sandler said. “We’ve lived our lives without it.”

 

“Look, if I don’t have those jelly fruit slices, it’s not  Pesach. The rest of the year they’re disgusting. So I can’t  imagine sitting down with corn on the cob, but  someone else might.” — Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom  in Gaithersburg, Md.

But with many Jews complaining about the high cost of eating during the week of Passover and the lack of healthy packaged foods,  dispensing with a custom whose roots in Jewish law are relatively recent when compared to the much-older Mishnah and Talmud, may provide relief for families, said Rabbi Susan Grossman of Beth Shalom Congregation in Columbia, a member of the Conservative movement’s Committee on Jewish Laws and Standards that made the ruling.

“The cost of everything is greater on Passover,” she said. “The ruling helps relieve that burden” by expanding the number of foods that may  appear on a Passover menu.

The committee’s ruling  referred to the “extremely  inflated cost of products under Pesach supervision. Were  kitniyot to be permitted, beans and rice could be served with vegetables and dairy to largely supplant the demand for other packaged products and more expensive sources of protein for those who chose to do so, an option that is significantly limited, today.”

“There are also health issues,” Grossman added. “Passover foods are high in fat and cholesterol.” A less restrictive diet would help those with heart disease, Crohn’s disease or colitis, she said. “And meat is expensive and environmentally questionable in bulk.”

In addition to the financial and health aspects of a ban on kitniyot, the Conservative movement ruling addressed two other issues.

One is an interest to unite the Jewish people. “In Israel, we’re seeing a coming  together of Ashkenazi and Sephardi traditions,” Grossman said. “Pesachdik in Israel includes kitniyot.” The Conservative movement in Israel has permitted eating kitniyot since 1989.

The other interest is to throw light on the reason for the tradition itself. The Torah mentions five types of grain that can become leavened, or chametz, if they remain in water for more than 18 minutes: wheat, barley, rye, oats and spelt. These grains are banned on Passover, except as matzah.

For now, memory may be the biggest barier to bringing kitniyot —  rice, beancs and other legumes — back to the table.

 

But why are kitniyot — rice, millet, beans, lentils and the like — banned, since they cannot become chametz?

A number of reasons arose in Ashkenazi communities in the 1200s. One is that rice and legumes are sometimes mixed with wheat, so to avoid an  accidental mixture, they prohibited kitniyot. “Another,” wrote Rabbi David Golinkin, a Conservative authority in  Israel, “is if we allow kitniyot porridge, we will eat grain porridge because both are cooked in a pot.” And if rice or bean flour can be baked into bread, someone might mistakenly think that it is all right to eat bread on Passover made from wheat or rye flour.

“None of these reasons  appear cogent, however, in the present age when we purchase our flours, rice and beans in  discrete packages, well-marked as to their content, under  governmental supervision,”  according to the Conservative ruling. “In such a marketplace there should be no concern of confusing a permission of kitniyot with one of grains and it should be eminently possible to prohibit one while permitting the other.”

The Conservative movement already permitted eating kitniyot for vegetarians and vegans, said Rabbi Charles Arian of Kehilat Shalom in Gaithersburg, Md.

“But you have to consult a rabbi to make sure you’re eating kitniyot and not chametz,” he said. “Our daughter is a vegetarian, so we’re familiar with her eating kitniyot and using our Pesach utensils.”

Eating kitniyot on dishes and utensils does not make them — or the house — not kosher for Passover, he said.

In its ruling, the committee also pointed to “our inclination in our day to present an accessible Judaism unencumbered by unneeded prohibitions [and] more easily able to  participate in the culture that surrounds us.” But the ruling may make things look a  lot less restrictive than they  actually are.

“My concern is that people will take this as permission to buy anything off the shelf, look at the ingredients, say that it looks OK and eat it,” Arian said. “But practically no processed kitniyot products are certified.”

“You can’t just go out and get a can of beans, unless it says ‘kosher for Passover,’” Grossman added.

A bag of rice, for example, needs to be checked for chametz before the holiday  begins. “I can’t imagine us  actually doing that,” Arian said.

Sandler said that when she lived in Israel, she used to spread rice out on a piece of paper to remove stones. “I don’t know if I could even find chametz in it. It’s not worth the hassle. We can live without it for a week.”

Sharon Samber, a member of Adas Israel Congregation in Washington, welcomed the loosening of the strict kitniyot rules.

“It makes life easier, and you need as much of that as you can on Passover,” she said.

The focus on the minutiae of the holiday often comes at the expense of Passover’s larger meaning, she said. “I hope this helps us focus on the more meaningful parts of Passover — discussing what it means to be free and who isn’t free today.”

And even though the custom to not eat kitniyot only goes about back 800 years — “That’s not so long ago for us,” Grossman said — traditions die hard.

“I will probably stick to tradition,” said Marcie Lerner, a member of Kehilat Shalom. “Just like there are traditional Torah-mandated foods for Passover, there are familial and traditional foods that help keep heritage and memories alive. Also, old habits die hard.”

For now, memory may be the biggest barrier to bringing kitniyot back to the table.

“Look, if I don’t have those jelly fruit slices, it’s not Pesach,” Arian said. “The rest of the year they’re disgusting. So I can’t imagine sitting down with corn on the cob, but someone else might.”

The ruling opens up a number of possibilities, Grossman said. Some families will have their seder as they always did, but take advantage of the new options during the week. “Other people are looking up Sephardi dishes for their seder.”

Arian said Kehilat Shalom will not serve kitniyot “because there is no pressing reason.” The only food served during the holiday will be at the second-night seder and at Shabbat  kiddushim. The fact that not everyone who attends will be kitniyot consumers means customary fare will satisfy the most people.

“Just because you have permission, that doesn’t mean you’re a sinner if you don’t take advantage of it,” he said. “If you’re not comfortable eating kitniyot, don’t eat kitniyot.”

dholzel@midatlanticmedia.com

Navigating Your Own Map: Torah Study Firmly in Hands of Student

Rabbi David Fohrman

Rabbi David Fohrman (photo by Melissa Gerr)

Rabbi David Fohrman wants you “to be floored by the depth of the Bible” and to plumb those depths firsthand, but not solely through the interpretations of Talmudic scholars such as Rashi and the Ramban.

Fohrman presented his third book, “The Exodus You Almost Passed Over,” which employs his simple yet sophisticated approach to study, to an audience of about 200 people last week at his “hometown shul,” Congregation Shomrei Emunah.

Fohrman developed his methodology over years of learning and teaching in Baltimore, first as a student at Ner Israel Talumudical Academy and then as an instructor at the Johns Hopkins University and through his synagogue. One of the book’s benefactors is Silver Spring, Md., native Alan Broder, who has also donated about 1,000 of Fohrman’s books to the Melvin J. Berman Hebrew Academy and the University of Maryland, College Park, among other institutions.

The tools are serious and sophisticated,
but they are also deceptively simple.

— Rabbi David Fohrman, author,
“The Exodus You Almost Passed Over”

There are two familiar ways to study the Bible, says Fohrman, who now resides in Woodmere, N.Y. One is through academics, which can lack spirituality and “tends to be silent as to questions of meaning.” The other is through sermonics, where an authority presents information that is somewhat predigested for the student.

“I’m trying to do something in between the two, to take serious literary tools and look [directly] at the text,” he says. “The tools are serious and sophisticated, but they are also deceptively simple.”

For example, Fohrman urges students to read a passage and ask, “Where have I heard these words before,” seeking out where the Bible repeats itself and thus linking different narratives by using words, phrases and ideas that resonate.

“It’s basically the Torah’s way of saying if you want to understand ‘A’ over here, you’ll see it over here in ‘B,’” he says.

Another technique is, ‘Which of these things is not like the others?’ where four things might be referenced in a Bible story, yet three of them seem connected, and one is clearly out in left field.

“So, the set is not what you think it is,” he asserts. “There’s a different headline for the set, and it includes this fourth [seemingly unassociated] thing too. As you get better with the techniques, it becomes “second nature and seems simple. You feel like you can come with your own mind to this. … You can use the method and engage it with your own brain.”

Fohrman says his newest book enlists these tools and “is structured like a mystery novel that leads you through the text. It’s not like a textbook. It’s intended to draw people into the story and immerse them, and like any good novel, they can walk around and touch the world [as if] they’re there.” But each person discovers their own personal takeaway.

The purpose of the book, Fohrman said, is to combat an all-too-familiar scenario: At a Passover Seder, suddenly it’s late, and everyone is rushing through details to get to the meal. Who actually gets to talk about the Exodus story itself?

“So this [book] was an attempt to create an analysis of the actual biblical story of the Exodus, where you could read it and take your time, then come to the Seder having done some study about what the Exodus means and what some of the elephants in the room are in the story … such as why do we even call it Passover? Why not call it Independence Day or call it Freedom Day? It’s the whole birth of our people as a nation. This book is like a travelogue of my personal journey through these questions and how I’ve grappled with them, and [it’s about] putting them out for another intelligent reader and saying, ‘Here’s what my travelogue looked like, and now make your travelogue.’”

Fohrman continues, “It’s easy to get lost because there are all these really smart people over the ages [such as] Rashi, the Ramban, [and one might ask] who is little old me? But with these tools you can arm yourself and your brain to really attack the text and confront it seriously.”

Uncovering layers of personal meaning in a text makes it more relevant in surprising ways, he says.

Ruth Shane, who attended the event, is a biologist at Johns Hopkins University and also teaches Torah at Shomrei Emunah. She has studied with Fohrman for years.

Making connections on your own “is part of the joy of learning Torah this way. You really accomplish something — you dig and you dig, and then there’s that Aha! moment when it all fits together,” she says. “And you just tingle inside because you can almost hear God whispering in your ear, ‘Yes, you found it.’ I can’t believe how much more I’ve learned by doing it this way.”

Shane attended Bais Yaakov, where she studied text with a formalized approach, and says, “Discovering it for myself has given me an enhanced appreciation of the commentaries. Because now I understand how they do what they do. And they’re not God, they’re human beings. And they’ve worked really hard to come up with what they’ve come up with, and they argue with each other. And now I feel like I can put in my two cents too.”

Rosemary Warschawski, senior vice president of exlnz (an organization devoted to high-level coaching), has known and studied with Fohrman for about 20 years and appreciates his “bringing together of so many different disciplines and making [them] relevant to Torah, so that Torah then becomes something that is ancient but all encompassing — but entirely up to date. And that’s exciting. [Studying with Fohrman is] always text based, but is never only text based.”

mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

Matzoh Ball Mashup Whether Floaters or Sinkers, This Menu Item Is Sure to Bring Families Together

Matzoh Ball Mashup

Last week, the JT staff explored some contemporary meanings of the Passover story in its “Four Questions” cover story. This week, we delve into the festive meal, having diligently researched the one menu item that typically sets the tone for the rest of the repast.

Family debates may rage over the decision to serve chicken or brisket, but when it comes to tradition, everyone agrees you can’t have visions of Passover without chicken matzoh ball soup.

Yes, we agree that ultimately homemade is best. But with no steaming bowl of bubbie’s readily available, we pondered other options and decided upon eight local eateries. Why eight, you ask? Why, one for each day of course. So with nearly a century of discerning matzoh ball soup expertise among us, the JT staff sipped, supped and slurped our way through our research in anticipation of the Passover observance.

You’ll read from our survey (not a competition — What? Are we crazy?!) that the staff dutifully dug into our analysis, and the results invoked blissful praises such as “love at first taste,” “all the bells and whistles” you could hope for in a soup and “tip-the-bowl-back good.” Yes, it’s hard work, but someone had to do it.

So, is it firm or fluffy? (Pesachdik) noodles or no? What’s your perfect soup-to-matzoh-ball ratio? Let us know your personal predilections, traditions and experiments (or better yet, your secrets!) for the best chicken matzoh ball soup experience. (Obviously, with apologies to the non-gebrokts crowd.) Chag kasher sameach to you and your family.

 

Lenny’s Deli: Perfect Middle Ground

Given Lenny’s Deli’s history of more than 30 years in the Baltimore area, I was sure the matzoh ball soup would measure up.

Now, I come from the school of chopping up the matzoh ball into bite-sized pieces. This way, the matzoh ball soaks up the broth, and you can get a spoonful of soup, matzoh ball and, in the case of Lenny’s, carrots and noodles too.

The wide, flat noodles add some defining texture and the carrots more hearty flavor. The broth was not too salty — too much would be a definite deal-breaker for me. The carrots and noodles definitely add to the overall experience and give the soup pizazz.

“Oh, I got a piece of chicken! That was good,” my colleague, Daniel Schere, professed as we sampled the soup. Little chunks of chicken are always a nice surprise.

The matzoh ball itself was firm — not too mushy and not too hard. If you’re dining with a group divided on matzoh ball consistency, Lenny’s offers the perfect middle ground.

As JT photographer David Stuck so aptly put it, the soup was “very pleasing on the taste buds.” My taste buds too were pleased.

— Marc Shapiro

Suburban House: Substantive Texture and Taste

The first thing I noticed was that the broth was perfectly salted, which was wonderfully welcome. I mean, who wants to feel thirsty after consuming a liquid?

Then I noticed this matzoh ball has some gravitas to it. Contrary to some of the other melt-in-your-mouth light, airy matzoh balls — which all have their place — Suburban House’s matzoh ball has a firmer, coarser, more substantive texture and tastes very true to — believe it or not — matzoh.

As with most matzoh balls, it gets softer the more it soaks up the soup, but this ball holds its own when you take a big bite and reveal the insides.

“It’s a good texture,” colleague Justin Katz said. “It’s more like a meaty texture.”

For those who like variety in their soup, Suburban House offers the addition of curly noodles, which really do practically melt in your mouth, and tender carrots that add extra flavor.

The unsalty broth (again, a big plus in my book) wasn’t overwhelmingly chicken flavored, which allowed the taste and texture of the matzoh ball to be forefront in the experience.

When I let my Facebook friends know the Jewish Times would be tasting matzoh ball soups from around town, as a hometown boy I got a number of responses, and many said it was essential to include their favorite, Suburban House. And with such a unique matzoh ball with such character, I can see why.

— Marc Shapiro

Attman’s Deli: The Complete Package

I definitely went into this round of tasting with high hopes, since this soup was from Attman’s, a legendary Baltimore institution.

What I experienced not only surpassed my expectations, but it kind of blew my mind.

As I was serving up bowls for myself and Justin Katz, I exclaimed with delight and surprise: “Ooh! There’s these big, thick ‘home-style chicken noodle’ noodles in it.” As an Attman’s employee later told me, their house-made noodles — which I’d guess were almost 1/8-inch thick and an inch-and-a-half long — are designed just so, because thinner noodles tend to disintegrate when soup sits in a hot pot too long.

“That is a significant noodle,” Justin concurred.

As we continued our foray into this mouthwatering adventure, we realized how much thought was put into not just the broth and the matzoh ball, but also the whole package. The sizable pieces of chicken were cooked with added flavor, not just thrown into the soup. The carrots and celery were bite-size but thick enough to really be tasted.

And the broth! It was flavorful with a light film of actual chicken fat and a hint of herbs. The fluffy soup-soaked matzoh ball acted as a vehicle for the tasty combination of flavors.

“The inside of the matzoh ball looks like the moon with craters,” Justin said upon close inspection. My esteemed colleague brings up a good point about matzoh balls — what’s not there can be almost as important as what is there. The “craters” add to the matzoh ball’s fluffiness and give it a soup-infused sponge-like consistency.

This well-thought out recipe made this soup the complete package.

— Marc Shapiro

Miller’s Deli: A Hardy Meal

With three locations throughout Baltimore, Miller’s Deli certainly aims to satisfy as much of the Baltimore Jewish community as it has the manpower for, and satisfying is a great word to describe its matzoh balls too.

One of my favorite childhood memories during Passover was cutting into my matzoh balls so I could get a nice chunk with every spoonful of soup. Miller’s offers a firm, hearty matzoh ball that feels like it could quell the largest of appetites.

“It feels like they took two matzoh balls and compressed them together,” said fellow reporter Marc Shapiro. “You could have a meal out of this soup.”

He added that it tastes “eggier,” and colleague Daniel Schere agreed.

Firm and dense, or as JT photographer David Stuck put it: “It’s like snow compacted on your driveway,” and in a positive sense.

Stuck also particularly enjoyed Miller’s noodles, scooping as many as he could onto his spoon before eagerly digging in.

Aside from the matzoh ball itself, the broth favors the savory side over the sweet, so those who enjoy this style would do well with choosing Miller’s.

— Justin Katz

Gourmet Again: Tip-the-Bowl-BacK Goodness

Gourmet Again lives up to its name when it serves matzoh ball soup. And as Marc Shapiro put it, “It was “tip-the-bowl-back good.”

The presentation is wholly more colorful than my grandma’s matzoh ball soup ever was, which focused on the simplicity of a strong chicken broth and a rich matzoh ball. Alternatively, for those who enjoy pleasing the visual sense during a meal, Gourmet Again is quite the looker.

The matzoh ball presents a fluffy, melt-in-your-mouth exterior while remaining firm and nicely textured on the inside.

But the greatest strength of Gourmet Again’s matzoh ball soup is how it brings together a medley of small strips of chicken, finely diced onions, chopped carrots and bits of celery resulting in an explosive hearty broth, with just the right amount of salt.

All in all, this matzoh ball soup has all the bells and whistles one could hope for.

And as managing editor Melissa Gerr pointed out, I literally “tipped the bowl back” to get those last delicious drops.

— Justin Katz

Dougie’s: Tongue-Tickling Good

If one were to describe the gestalt of Dougie’s matzoh ball soup, there could be a lot of descriptors, but the JT’s social media guru, Esther Apt, put it best.

“It tastes like the matzoh balls from my childhood.”

This is an “apt” description for the simple but flavorful soup that conjures memories of reclining around the Passover table with relatives, young and old.

With a flavor-forward broth, evenly tempered matzoh ball and spaghetti-like noodles, the simplicity of the soup reminds me of what my grandma served when we were young. (And what Jewish adults don’t enjoy reminiscing about their loving Jewish grandmothers? I always have.)

The matzoh ball itself has a smooth exterior and expresses a middle-of-the-road texture and consistency that allows anyone to sit down and enjoy a bowl, regardless of preferences. It also complements the flavor of the broth, which colleague Marc Shapiro describes as “tongue-tickling good.”

— Justin Katz

Steve’s Deli: Sweeter and Softer

Conveniently located for us just around the corner from the JT office in Owings Mills, Steve’s Deli is a common lunch destination for me. But up until recently I hadn’t sampled their take on matzoh ball soup. So I was pleasantly surprised when I sat down with a bowl and experienced a sweeter and softer version of the Jewish delicacy we all cherish.

After my first few spoonfuls, I detected character within the broth that had a sweet kiss to it, which complemented the melt-in-your-mouth texture of the matzoh ball.

“It’s easy to get on the spoon,” said fellow soup connoisseur Marc Shapiro as he dug into the delectable orb. “You don’t have to fight too much for it.”

Steve’s also offers linguini-thin noodles to complement the matzoh ball, and that will give you something else to get excited about. You’ll need to self-police your noodle intake in order to ensure that the proper noodle-to-matzoh-ball-to-broth ratio is achieved, however.

“I love the pile of noodles when you finish the bowl,” enthused colleague Justin Katz.

Steve’s recipe includes tiny chicken chunks hidden throughout that add a bit of gravitas to what is an otherwise romantic broth that goes down smoothly. The soup’s warm white florescence and easygoing personality make it the big brother or big sister you never had. If ever there was a need for comfort soup, Steve’s has the answer.

— Daniel Schere

Accents grill: Traditional and Delicious

For a traditional and delicious matzoh ball soup, Accents Grill is the place to go, and tasting Accents’ soup was love at first taste for me.

The recipe features Accents’ firm, thick matzoh ball, which transforms the soup from an appetizer into a main course and actually leaves you feeling full but not stuffed. It’s accompanied by carrots and legit-sized pieces of chicken that are emblematic of the diversity of ingredients we so expect in a good soup. There is absolutely no shortage of flavor with all of those lovely culinary components.

“This is the bomb,” JT photographer David Stuck proclaimed emphatically upon taking his first sips. Stuck said the soup “tickled his taste buds.”

Additional rave reviews came from Marc Shapiro, who added that the vegetables make it “more soupy,” and circulation coordinator Rochel Ziman said that the soup is strong enough to stand on its own with “no noodles necessary.”

The broth contains the right amount of salt to maintain the authentic Ashkenazi flavor of matzoh ball soup without going overboard. It’s no wonder Esau elected to consume a bowl of soup in exchange for his brother receiving their father’s birthright.

Accents’ soup is the gold standard when it comes to maintaining the proper balance between matzoh ball, chicken and vegetables. This recipe has both the look and personality of a great soup. You can take it out on a date and even take it home to your mother.

— Daniel Schere

mshapiro@midatlanticmedia.com; jkatz@midatlanticmedia.com; dschere@midatlanticmedia.com; mgerr@midatlanticmedia.com

The Joys of a Planted Passover

(istockphoto.com/Cathy Britcliffe)

(istockphoto.com/Cathy Britcliffe)

At first glance it might seem limiting to be a vegetarian or a vegan during Passover — a holiday that already includes several eating restrictions. But as it turns out, these groups have little difficulty staying away from meat as opposed to the more onerous task of  refraining from leavened foods.

“The only thing that I really missed during Passover was hard boiled eggs because that’s what my mom made growing up,” said Nadine Simpson. “So I think that was just me missing my mom.”

Simpson, a Baltimore resident, said she became a vegan prior to Passover last year after signing up for a vegan challenge with a friend. She ended up making the transition cold turkey, although she had  gotten a head start as an unintentional vegan earlier in life.

“In high school I did it  because I started keeping kosher and my parents didn’t really want to buy kosher meat,” she said.

Simpson said she gets many of her vegan recipes from  actress Mayim Bialik, who is a vegan and often posts recipes online for things “you’d never think of,” such as a vegan alternative to honey. For last year’s seder, Simpson made an eggplant casserole over matzoh farfel. She decided matzoh pizza wouldn’t be the way to go since she didn’t know of a vegan alternative to choose, but since then she has expanded her repertoire.

“In the past year I’ve learned how to make a few vegan cheeses with nuts and other things,” she said.

Simpson and Rockville, Md., resident Dean Weiss both found that keeping kosher was a gateway to veganism and vegetarianism, respectively, but Weiss started calling himself a vegetarian even before he formally became one three years ago.

“When I went to school, anytime somebody asked me if I wanted meat I said, ‘No thank you, I’m a vegetarian. And I did that for nine months, and I decided I would try  becoming a vegetarian,” he said.

During Pesach, Weiss said he will usually stick to simple foods like matzoh with cream cheese and jelly. But when it comes to soup, Weiss has to be vigilant about making sure no animal products were used in the broth.

“My matzoh ball soup isn’t going to have a chicken broth in it,” he said.

The timing of Passover also makes it desirable for vegetarians such as Washington, D.C’s Adam Gorod, who has maintained his habits consistently for 14 years.

“It is easier than most people might think to keep a vegetarian Passover,” he said. “The holiday arrives right at the beginning of spring. There are a countless number of fruits and vegetables to enjoy. Quinoa, nuts, and whole-wheat matzoh are staples that provide more than enough protein.”

Gorod said most traditional Passover foods such as matzoh balls and kugel can be made without using animal products. One of his favorite dishes is a spaghetti squash served in a tomato sauce and topped with walnuts and roasted root vegetables.

“It is a great opportunity to be creative in the kitchen while appreciating the incredible foods that come straight from the earth,” he said.

Gorod added that being a vegetarian makes holidays like Passover especially meaningful because of the message of hope it gives for the cause of animal rights.

“During this festival celebrating liberation, it is comforting to know that what I eat is not furthering any form of oppression, both against animals and other people who suffer from the inequitable loss of natural resources that results from eating meat,” he said.

Perhaps the largest challenge for vegetarians during Passover is finding an alternative to the shank bone that normally occupies the Seder plate. But rest assured, there is a way to do it, said Rabbi Nina Beth Cardin, the founder of the Baltimore Environmental Network.

“We end up using either a beet or a ginger root or something reminiscent of the shank bone instead,” she said.

Cardin’s Passover favorites are matzoh lasagna that is dairy-based and uses matzoh in place of noodles. Quinoa is also a staple in the Cardin household during Passover.

“It’s sort of grain-like and legume-like, but it filled that spot in a vegetarian diet,” she said.

Cardin said there is no commandment for Jews to eat meat at Passover and thus no loss of enjoyment for vegetarians.

“Vegetarians can be absolutely confident in their ability to celebrate Passover,” she said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Less is More When Leading a Seder

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

(istockphoto.com/Karaidel)

If you are leading a Passover seder for the first time this year, the key may be to start small, according to many Washington, D.C.-area rabbis.

“One of my best pieces of advice for the seder is to have a number of people there that you feel you can actually have a conversation with,” said Rabbi Scott Perlo of 6th and I Historic Synagogue.

Perlo remembers leading one of his first seders at Camp Ramah in California while he was a rabbinic student and said the scene was “pure chaos.”

“It was 150 people who had come to Camp Ramah for the week to spend Passover there,” he said.

For beginners, Perlo says a better approach is to host a seder in your home and recommends becoming familiar with a haggadah that you are most comfortable with.

“Haggadot are the most user-friendly of all Jewish books,” he said. “They give you step-by-step instructions.”

Perlo emphasized it is not necessary to know every prayer traditionally said at the seder, adding that designing your own haggadah using haggadot.com is a good place to start. The site allows users to pick and choose from a variety of themes and traditions typically observed during the seder. There are even templates from which to choose, such as one designed by Becca Goldstein of American University Hillel for a social justice-themed seder that is focused on the Black Lives Matter movement.

“If you’re leading seder, I think your job is to make the Passover story come alive for people,” Perlo said. “That means first it has to come alive for you. Read the story and understand it in a way where the story of the Exodus speaks to you.”

Facilitating good conversation is the key to a fulfilling seder, said Rabbi Laura Rappaport of Temple B’nai Shalom in Fairfax, Va. Rappaport said the haggadah is more of a script that was written centuries ago as a guide for Jews who were not sure what to talk about on Passover.

“What they should be preparing is a really interesting night of conversation about the themes,” she said, “either their personal lives or what’s going on in society.”

This year, Rappaport will have no shortage of company, as she is leading six seders including her own family seder, a senior adult seder at the JCC of Northern Virginia and one at her congregation. She said the task of making a seder fulfilling for so many different groups is not difficult because the themes of freedom and personal journey are universal. In the past she has related the themes of Passover to politics, family life and personal growth.

“I might share a few quotes that strike me a particular year and how it reflects on them,” she said. “I feel like a seder leader is there to facilitate an experience that is relevant for the people there.”

For example, Rappaport said this year, “welcoming the stranger” is a particularly pertinent theme, as it relates to feelings about immigration and the refugee crisis. Most importantly though, she thinks about the meaning of having family together for a seder.

“Seder should not be a heavy experience,” she said. “It should connect with you spiritually and emotionally. So I think it’s a nice part of seder if you can connect with family or close friends with which you have seder every year.”

Perlo too said the Passover themes often spark lively discussion. He said he often asks questions such as, “Who would you be in the Passover story if it happened today?” and “Where do you see the Exodus story in everyday life?”

“The best conversations usually come up with disagreements about what the story means,” he said.

Perlo said this approach to a more intimate seder allows people to have conversations about “the biggest ideas in the world across a small dinner table.” This year, 6th and I is encouraging younger Jews to host seders in their homes as part of an initiative called “Seders Across DC.” The synagogue is collaborating with an organization called OneTable, which normally helps people host Shabbat in their home by partnering with on-demand grocery services such as Instacart that allow people to order premade food and accessories.

Because the first night of Passover falls on April 22, a Friday night, OneTable chose to engage with seder-leading efforts as well this year. In addition to OneTable, Motis Market will also provide food and supplies for $20 per person.

“We’d like to encourage as many people to have seders in their homes as possible,” Perlo said.

dschere@midatlanticmedia.com

Five Things that Happen After the Afikomen

The afikomen ends the meal portion of the Passover seder and ushers in the prayerful part of the holiday gathering. (istockphoto.com/Noam Armonn)

The afikomen ends the meal portion of the Passover seder and ushers in the prayerful part of the holiday gathering. (istockphoto.com/Noam Armonn)

For many Jews, the Passover seder ends at the afikomen. But the broken piece of matzoh simply marks the transition from the meal to the prayerful part of the seder.

“So much of what people know of a seder happens before the meal, but really so much does happen after the afikomen, or the dessert,” explained Elizabeth Kurtz, author of  the new book “Celebrate” that includes many kosher-for-Passover recipes.

Robert Kopman, author of the “30 Minute Seder,” said his book is geared toward the  Reform audience, which he finds doesn’t generally stick around after the afikomen.

“After the akifomen you’re finished. You eat dinner, and that’s it,” said Kopman. “I have yet to meet anybody who is able to get anybody to come back to finish the seder after dinner. That’s just the reality of it. People just won’t come back.”

Here are five things that happen at the seder table after the afikomen:

–Birkat hamazon, blessing over the meal, is recited over the third glass of wine, before hallel is sung.

–Hallel, or praise, is recited from Psalms 113-118. The hallel is sung over the fourth cup of wine, according to Kopman. The Kiddush is recited over the first cup, the Exodus story from the haggadah is told over the second cup.

“We eat the afikomen, of course, and then we go on to do the final parts of the seder. For us, that’s hallel, the praising,” said Kurtz.

The fifth and final cup is called Kos shel Eliyahu ha-Navi, or cup of Elijah the prophet. In many traditions, the front door is opened. Some seders set out a cup for the prophet Miriam as well.

Beginning at the second seder, sefirat haomer, or counting of the omer, begins. According to Leviticus 23:15, Jews are commanded to count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

Nirtzah, or the conclusion, of the seder involves joyously exclaiming L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim, Next Year in Jerusalem!

“We sing these amazing songs, and we sing them as a family, and so much of the singing is just joyous,” said Kurtz. “We sing and we dance, and we really celebrate that as Jews we were able to leave the enslavement of Egypt and live free.”

Rabbi Aaron Miller of Washington Hebrew Congregation said his favorite part of Passover is when the seder turns from the meal and haggadah reading to the prayerful spirituality after the afikomen.

“It is not enough to read our ancestors’ story of redemption, especially as we look at the brokenness of our world and realize that healing is so far away,” said Miller. “When we pray for Elijah’s arrival to announce the world to come, we are declaring with no small measure of chutzpah that we still hold tight to our hope of  redemption.”

Continued Miller, “This  redemption is not some faraway wish. Peace, both for us and the world, is something we demand as the seder comes to a close. L’shana haba’a b’Yerushalayim — this very year, we pray, will be when we transform the world into what God always intended it to be.”

jmarks@midatlanticmedia.com

CSAs for Veggie Lovers

Vegan chopped liver (Provided)

Vegan chopped liver (Provided)

For thrifty, veggie-loving cooks, signing up for a  CSA (community-supported agriculture) share is the way to go. Sure, it can be a daunting investment up front, but it’s often the best deal you’ll find locally for fresh produce. And there’s always unanticipated surplus along the way.

Some weeks, there’s tons of pears; other weeks, it’s parsley. (Hello, freezer full of parsley pesto!) Last week, I found myself particularly lucky. There were cremini mushrooms that needed a home, and I was up for the task.

For one blissful week, I was in mushroom heaven, and even after mushroom quiche and tarragon mushroom stir-fry,  I still had about a pound  of mushrooms left. For the next dish, I wanted something festive and kind of classy. Spreadable, perhaps?

And so, inspired by a  rich and flavorful vegan “faux gras” that I sampled at Brooklyn, N.Y.’s Smorgasburg, an open-air market for serious foodies, I tried my hand at lentil, walnut and mushroom pâté .

It was perfect for the dinner party I hosted and for noshing throughout the week. Some said it was as good as any chicken liver pâté or chopped liver they had ever had.

  • Vegan  chopped liver
    1 cup French lentils, cooked (you’ll need  1⁄2 cup raw lentils)
    4 cups cremini or button  mushrooms (or a mix of your  favorites), washed, stems and caps sliced
    1⁄2 yellow onion, sliced
    2 cloves of garlic, chopped
    2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, more as needed
    1 teaspoon dried thyme
    1 teaspoon dried tarragon
    1 tablespoon golden miso paste
    2 tablespoons boiling water
    1 cup walnuts
    2 tablespoons Tamari or soy sauce, or more to taste
    juice of 1⁄2 lemon
    1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar or white wine vinegar
    several twists of fresh black  pepper
    fresh parsley, for garnish

Cook lentils ahead of time: Cover 1⁄2 cup dry lentils with a few inches of water and bring to a boil. Cover and let simmer for 15-20 minutes or until tender. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a cast-iron skillet or deep-dish frying pan. Add onions and cook until translucent and golden. Add garlic and mushrooms and  another 2 tablespoons of oil (try coconut if you have). Sauté for 1 minute. In a small bowl, whisk with a fork the boiling water and miso paste. Add this mixture to the pan. Add herbs. Continue stir-frying 4 or 5 more minutes or until mushrooms are well-coated and tender. If you find that the mushrooms need more moisture, add a few dashes of soy sauce or more water. Remove from heat and set aside to cool. Heat another frying pan over medium heat and add walnuts, stirring frequently. Cook for 2 minutes or until fragrant and golden. Remove immediately from the pan and let cool. Add lentils, toasted nuts and mushroom mixture (slightly cooled by now) to a food processor or blender. Add soy sauce, lemon juice, vinegar and black pepper to taste. Blend until you’ve reached your desired consistency — I prefer it slightly chunky. You might prefer it smoother. You might find  that your mixture needs more liquid, in which case add more soy sauce or vinegar. If you have a salt tooth like me, you’ll want to add a pinch or two  of salt. Scoop into a serving bowl and garnish with fresh parsley. Enjoy with crudité or crackers.

Aly Miller was born and raised in  Milwaukee and has been living in Brooklyn, N.Y., for the past three years. While studying at the University of  Wisconsin-Madison, she lived in a vegan Jewish co-op. The Nosher food blog, thenosher.com, offers new and classic Jewish recipes and food news.