'Cooking from the Heart' for the Holidays

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'Cooking from the Heart' for the Holidays

Libby Barnea

We all know that America prides itself on being a melting pot, home to simmering masses of immigrants both Jewish and not. But we are not unique. Halfway across the world, Australia has also proven to be a welcoming and prosperous home to generations of immigrants—again, including Jews. (And, politically, Australia likewise happens to be a good friend to Israel.)

While in America, Jews’ cultural prominence is often linked to the ubiquity of the bagel, something Polish Jews introduced to this country around the turn of the 20th century, in Australia, noted food writers Gaye Weeden and Hayley Smorgon focus on a different outcome to the Jewish story of  “exile, migration and resettlement” in the new release, Cooking from the Heart: A Jewish Journey Through Food (Hardie Grant Books). Their interest is not the introduction of Jewish food into a larger culinary scene, but the nostalgic re-creations of homeland recipes as a means to connect to a heritage most fear losing. And they go about collecting this food scrapbook with high-end yet homey creativity; the contributors are all photographed in their homes, using their own dishes, cutlery and linens for the shoot, and the results are authentic and rich, but never schlocky.

In Cooking from the Heart, Weeden and Smorgon artistically and tastefully present the story of 27 Jewish Australians, immigrants from around the world: exotic Burma, Zambia and Indonesia; expected hubs of prewar Jewish life such as Hungary and Romania; and places of modern emigration, like Israel, America and Canada. And there are local stories as well, Jews who have counted Australia home for generations.

Recipes range from the familiar—honey cake and almond bread, chicken soup and gefilte fish—to the downright “that is so interesting I have to try it” (one profiled chef is from the Philippines, and her dishes are irresistible, as are those from a contributor from Singapore). 

Jews will be celebrating Rosh Hashana starting on Sunday, September 16. What better way to observe the holiday than by remembering that we are a global Jewish community, and that many of us still proudly and rightfully define ourselves as a people from smaller countries, disparate lands and far-flung pasts. So for our holiday meals, let’s prepare some of the recipes that come not from the American Jewish record, but from Australia’s. The Honey Cake, Apple Hazelnut Cake and two versions of brisket—one a pot roast made on the stove, the other a more traditional preparation but hailing from Zambia!—are comforting reminders that our people found prosperity not only in America, but in another land that also begins with an “A,” and have found success there as well as a fondness for family recipes. Just like us, I suppose.

Honey Cake
From Helen Schon, originally of Czechoslovakia
4 eggs
2 cups of sugar
18 oz honey
3 cups self-rising flour, sifted
1 cup plain (all-purpose) flour, sifted
1 1/2 cups canola oil
1 teaspoon baking soda
3 tablespoons cocoa powder
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons instant coffee
2 cups boiling water
1 cup chopped walnuts

Preheat oven to 325º F. Line a 12 x 8 inch baking tin with baking paper.

Beat eggs and sugar until sugar has dissolved and the mixture has turned pale. Add the oil, honey and mix well.

Gradually add the flours, baking soda, cocoa and cinnamon to the mixture.

Dissolve coffee in the boiling water and then gradually add it to the mixture, which should become loose and wet. Stir in the walnuts.

Pour batter into the baking tin and bake for 1 hour, or until a knife inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Apple Hazelnut Cake
From Ronit Robbaz-Franco, originally of Israel

1 1/2 cups white rice flour
1 cup brown rice flour
3 tablespoons raw caster (demerara) sugar
6 oz chilled butter, diced
1 egg yolk
3 tablespoons chilled water

Apple filling
3 apples, cored, peeled, and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 tablespoons raw caster (demerara) sugar
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Hazelnut meringue
8 eggs, separated
1 cup raw caster (demerara) sugar
1 cup ground hazelnuts

To make the pastry, process the flours, sugar and butter in a food processor until the mixture becomes crumbly. Add the egg yolk and water and process just until the mixture forms a light, shiny shortcrust (pie) pastry. Roll out the pastry, then ease it into a greased 9 1/2 inch springform pan. Trim the edges and refrigerate for two hours.

Meanwhile, stew all the apple filling ingredients in a saucepan over low heat for 5 minutes, or until apples have softened without losing their shape and a syrup has formed. Allow apples to cool.

Preheat oven to 315º F. Bake the pastry for 8 minutes, then remove from the oven and allow to cool for a few minutes. Turn down the overn to 300º F.

To make the meringue, lightly beat the egg yolks in a bowl. In a separate bowl, beat the egg whites with an electric mixer on high speed until it becomes frothy. While still beating, slowly add the sugar until the mixture becomes shiny and glossy. Turn the mixer down to its lowest speed and slowly add the beaten egg yolk and ground hazelnuts and fold in until well mixed.

Spoon apple mixture into the pastry shell, top with the meringue, then bake for 50 minutes. Allow to cool before serving. 

Beef Brisket Pot Roast 
From Meera Freeman, originally of Australia

2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, thinly sliced
2 lb beef brisket, in one piece
4 large potatoes, peeled (kipflers are best)

Preheat the oven to 315º F.

Heat the oil in a large heavy-based casserole dish over medium heat. Saute the onion until golden.

Place the beef on top and season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Cover the casserole very tightly and bake for 1 1/2 hours.

Add the potatoes, then cook for a further 1 1/2 hours, or until the meat is tender and the potatoes are very soft and brown

Braised Brisket with Prunes
From Rene Nathan, originally of Zambia

2 to 3 tablespoons schmaltz or vegetable oil
2-3 lb piece of trimmed, boned beef brisket, with a little fat left on
1-2 onions, cut into wedges
2 carrots, peeled and cut into thick slices
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground allspice
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
ground white pepper, to taste
2-3 potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks
1 1/2 cups dried pitted prunes
2 tablespoons golden syrup (honey, treacle, corn syrup or maple syrup are all acceptable substitutes)

Preheat the oven to 300º F.

Heat the schmaltz or oil in a flameproof baking dish with a lid over medium heat. The dish needs to be just big enough to hold the brisket and other ingredients.

Brown the brisket in the hot schmaltz or oil, turning it to seal all over.

Add the onions and let them colour with the meat for about 5 minutes, turning from time to time.

Add the carrots, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg, and season with sea salt and white pepper. Pour in just enough cold water to cover the meat. Cover with the lid, transfer the dish to the oven and leave to slowly bake, without removing the lid, for about 1 1/2 hours.

Remove the dish from the oven, arrange the potatoes and prunes around the meat and top up with a little more water if needed so that the potatoes and prunes are just covered. Spoon the golden syrup over, mix, and season to taste.

Cover the dish and bake for another 45 to 60 minutes, or until the potatoes and meat are tender.

Serve the brisket sliced, with its wonderful gravy.

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