The End of an Era: Streit’s Matzo Factory To Leave the Lower East Side

Fresh baked matzah from Streit's factory; Photo by ©Liz Rueven, www.kosherlikeme.com.

Fresh baked matzah from Streit’s factory;
Photo by ©Liz Rueven, www.kosherlikeme.com

After nearly 100 years, Streit’s Matzo Factory on the Lower East Side will be moving out. It’s especially sad to me because I give Jewish Food Tours in this neighborhood, and one of the highlights is stopping by the factory and store to get a taste of freshly baked matzah, still warm from the oven. It’s also a loss since it is one of the few remaining family owned businesses still standing in lower Manhattan, going back to the turn of the 19th century. (Hopefully Yonah Schimmel’s, Katz’s Deli, and Russ & Daughters will hang in there!) They will remain open until the end of this month, and move to their warehouse in New Jersey. Eventually they will reopen in a new location, to be announced!

Check out this article on npr to learn more.

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Making Matzah at the Factory

 

Henna: Hametz for Passover?

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©Noam Sienna: “A Contemporary Piece with the Hebrew Alphabet”

Recently I had the opportunity to speak with Noam Sienna about his research and discoveries regarding henna in the Middle East and Mediterranean, and he shared some interesting things about the practice in the Jewish communities with regards to Passover:

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©Noam Sienna: “A Contemporary Interpretation of Moroccan Style”

In Jewish communities, henna was not done during Passover, but rather right before. Because henna is made from dried and ground henna leaves (and not a grain product), it is not technically chametz or leaven. But it seems that because the process to make the henna dye resembles the making of dough for bread, it was considered to be analogous to chametz and therefore not permitted during the Passover holiday. Anthropologist Erich Brauer observed among Kurdish Jews in the 1940s that when making henna, they mixed henna powder with water and kneaded it in a bowl with sumac, an acidic spice; it was then left to sit for several hours or overnight to allow the henna to break down into a strong dye. Even though no rising or fermentation process took place, this process was referred to as hamirit hinna (‘henna’s yeast’) and therefore seen as inappropriate for Passover. In effort to use up their henna, early on the 14th of Nissan (the morning of the eve of the Seder) Kurdish and Moroccan Jews would apply it to their hair, hands, and feet, which would generally last one good week — the length of time of the holiday. 

Henna also occasionally appeared at the Mimounah — a unique North African festival immediately following Passover. (Perhaps it doesn’t appear more often because they had painted themselves right before the holiday, and therefore, their hands would still have had the stains.) Passover begins the fifty-day countdown to Shavuot (a harvest festival also commemorating the giving of the Torah), and on Mimounah there was a ritual of sending henna between boys and girls around the age of five, to mark the beginning of what was seen as an ‘engagement’ period between them and the Torah that would culminate in Shavuot. This union would be played out between a young boy and a young girl, whereby the family of the ‘groom’ would send henna, candies, and jewelry to the family of the ‘bride’ on Mimounah, followed by a mock ‘wedding’ on Shavuot (with the hope that perhaps one day when they are older — God willing — they will actually get married).”

For more information, please check out Noam Sienna’s blog and website:
Eshkol haKofer and Henna by Sienna

Matzah Granola. Why didn’t I think of that?

Matzah_Granola_1_blogThe kosher food industry is getting more and more creative with their Passover food products, making life during the week-long holiday almost too easy to observe. While I’m not big on promoting ready-made products, I have to say that I find the name Matzolah, a Passover-friendly snack or breakfast treat that combines broken up matzah pieces with all the best ingredients of homemade granola, very clever. Recently I was down on the Lower East Side leading a Jewish Food Tour and while at Streit’s Matzo Factory, a box of Matzah Farfel caught my eye. With plans to make my own matzah granola, I bought the box. I was a little incredulous about the taste at first, because let’s face it: matzah ALWAYS tastes like, well, matzah. But the final result was crunchy, chewy, and delicious (and I know that my kids will love it). It’s also a fun way to use up leftover matzah pieces at the end of the holiday.

Let me know what you think!

 

CHEWY MATZAH GRANOLA WITH WHOLE ALMONDS, WALNUTS,
DRIED CRANBERRIES, AND HONEY

(Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes 5 Cups)

INGREDIENTS:
Dry Ingredients:
4 cups matzah farfel or finely crushed (not ground) matzah pieces (about 1/4-inch pieces)

1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/3 cup walnuts
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, blueberries, or coarsely chopped cherries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried Turkish apricots or golden raisins

Wet Ingredients:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

STEPS:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.; Line a large cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Combine the oil, maple syrup, and honey in a small saucepan.
Bring to a slow boil over medium heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and mix in vanilla extract.

4. Pour hot syrup over dry ingredients in the bowl and toss well until the
matzah pieces are evenly coated.

5. Spread the matzah mixture out on the parchment-lined cookie sheet or baking pan and place into the oven and bake 30 minutes until lightly browned, shaking or mixing every 10 minutes to make sure that all of it toasts evenly. 

6. Remove from oven and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Mix in the dried fruit, and store in an airtight container or in a Ziploc bag at room temperature up to 3 weeks. Serve with yogurt, milk, or as is like a snack.

Passover images from around the world: Charoset Ice Cream in Israel

 

Passover images from around the world: A window in Paris

 

Podcast Encore Presentation: “Passover Portraits: Intimate Stories, Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals”

Happy Passover everyone!

If you missed my interview, you can now view my Podcast about Passover stories and rituals on:
“Secret Cuisines & Sacred Rituals” with Vilasi Venkatachalem!

(Interview from Friday, March 13th, 8am PT, 10am CT, 11am ET.)

 

The joys (and tribulations) of making homemade date honey.

Silan_DateSyrup_3_blog

Silan (also known as Ha’lek) is an an ancient Babylonian date honey or syrup that many Iraqi Jews today prepare as their form of charoset for the Passover Seder. Unlike other date charosetsSilan  requires a tedious process of boiling down, squeezing, mashing, and straining until you reach the proper consistency. I knew that the Iraqi chapter of my Passover cookbook would not be complete if I hadn’t tackled this recipe myself, and after speaking to various individuals about Silan, I was intrigued (and sufficiently warned): “It’s a lot of work and you need an enormous amount of dates to give you just a few cups of the syrup,” one Iraqi man told me. “Make sure that you enlist the help of a strong man to help you squeeze out all those dates,” replied one woman. And lastly, “I made it once and it was a disaster. I had to throw my shirt out afterwords — what a mess,” said a third younger woman. But the overwhelming response from those who grew up with Silan was simple: “There’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s divine. It’s pure liquid gold.” My challenge had been set.

One quiet morning (while both kids were at school) I set out to the task of making pure date honey for the first time (at this point I was basing my recipe upon the taste of the store-bought kind from Israel, and detailed descriptions from various Iraqi Jews I had spoken to). I combined several pounds of Medjool dates with water in the largest pot I could find, and brought it all to a boil over high heat. After cooking it down for an hour, I removed it from the heat to cool just long enough for me to handle squeezing the pulp in a sack of cheesecloth to extract the juice (I could see where it required a bit of strength!). This precious liquid was then returned to the same large pot and cooked down another full hour until it reduced to about half. The result was a rich, decadent syrup like a cross between honey and black strap molasses. It was divine, and I had to admit that the Baghdadi Jews had won the battle of the date charosets with this one. (Bravo!)

Note: For more on Silan, please see my August of 2013 post.

SILAN (Baghdadi Date Honey with Chopped Almonds, Hazelnuts, and Walnuts)
Yield: Serves 15 to 20 / Makes 2 1/2 CUPS

INGREDIENTS:
For Date Honey:
3 1/4 pounds Medjool or regular dates, pitted (or 3 pounds total without the pits)
18 cups cold water
4 to 8 large pieces of cheese cloth, for squeezing out liquid
Fine mesh strainer with mixing bowl underneath

For Serving:
2 cups toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios (or blend), cooled and coarsely chopped

STEPS:
1. Place pitted dates in a very large 5- or 6-quart pot with the water and bring to a boil over very high heat. Reduce to medium-high heat and skim off and discard the foam with a large spoon.
Boil, uncovered, for 1 full hour.

2. Layer a large, fine mesh strainer with 3 large pieces of cheese cloth (it should hang over the sides by at least 6 inches so that you can gather them up and tie it into a sack). Place the strainer lined with the cheese cloth over a large bowl and pour the hot dates with all of its liquid over it. Gather the ends of the cheese cloth up and twist it into a large sack. Allow the dates to cool long enough for you to be able to squeeze the liquid out by hand, about X minutes.

3. When cool enough, squeeze the sack of date pulp as hard as you can to extract any further liquid that can come out. Discard the sack and all of the date pulp and return the pot with the date liquid to the stove. Bring to a second boil over high heat, reduce to a medium-low heat, and continue to boil, uncovered for 1 hour 15 minutes.

4. Remove from from heat and cool completely before pouring into one or two jars. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place or at room temperature for up to 1 month.

5. To serve, pour into small glass or decorative bowls and allow individuals to serve themselves.
You may also mix in the chopped nuts or serve them on the side. Serve as you would any type
of charoset.

Eshkol HaKofer

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