Part of my campaign to not leave the house this winter involves cooking more. Recently, a few of my college friends and I decided to start an email chain for sharing recipes. I found that in thinking about recipes I wanted to share, I kept coming back to the classic, typically Jewish recipes often prepared by my mother and grandmother.

My grandmother (really, my Nana — I never called her “Grandma”) and food always went hand-in-hand. She introduced me to foods ranging from Yodels to gefilte fish. I loved them both. As a child, then a teen, then an adult, I watched her make the same delicious brisket, never once while glancing at a recipe. She spoke the directions aloud to me, and I hoped I would remember.

My mother (her daughter) naturally made the same brisket, so luckily I have a resource other than my own (often faulty) memory now that my Nana has passed away. I figure not every Jewish granddaughter has a parent who’s managed to absorb old, family recipes to pass onto their children. Most of my Jewish friends and I have families who immigrated to the US a few generations ago, and each generation moves further away from our families’ “old world” cultures and recipes. Instead of allowing these recipes to slip away, I thought I should collect them.

So I asked a handful of my Jewish friends if they could get their hands on some family recipes. They delivered. Brought to you by Jewish grandmas, dads, and one Syrian Jewish “cooking authority,” here are a few select dishes from both Ashkenazi and Sephardic backgrounds. I copied them as written (light edits only), so the below text may be attributed to the original authors. Some of these recipes are more about the process than the ingredients…

The BEST Potato Latkes

By Eric Finkelman (my friend Emma’s father)

This recipe has been in the Finkelman family forever, passed on from my paternal grandmother to my mother to my sister and me. Great not only for Hanukkah, but also (if made with kosher for Passover matzah meal) for Passover. Properly cooked they should be browned and crispy on the outside, plump and delicious. I use peanut oil for frying because it fries very cleanly and doesn’t smoke.

Ingredients:

  • 5 lbs. (2.7 KG) Idaho, Russet or other very firm, large potatoes
  • 1 box matzah meal
  • 6-8 large eggs
  • 3 medium yellow or Spanish onions
  • 2 liters peanut oil
  • Sea salt or kosher salt
  • Freshly ground pepper

Directions:

  1. Peel potatoes. To keep potatoes from turning brown as I peel the others, I fill up the kitchen sink with cold water to which I add a good handful of coarse salt — the salt also helps the potatoes from getting soggy.
  2. Beat eggs in very large mixing bowl (large enough to hold all ingredients).
  3. Peel onions, cut in quarters, and chop very finely (almost but not quite to a puree) in a food processor. Add to eggs. Add lots of freshly grated pepper to egg mix, and add about a tablespoon or two of salt.
  4. Using shredder disk of Cuisinart, shred potatoes (drying each with paper towel before shredding) and adding in batches (as Cuisinart bowl fills) to egg/onion mix, stirring with each addition. Now add matzah meal — about ½ a box at first, stirring thoroughly. The maztah meal is what holds it all together, so add enough so that the potato/egg/onion/matzah meal mix is not watery and holds together if you shape it in your hand.
  5. Fill cast iron or other deep, large skillet at least 2-3 inches/5-7.5 cm deep with peanut oil (can use canola, safflower or other light frying oil). Heat over a medium-high flame until a drop of water dropped into oil quickly sizzles and boils off.
  6. Now, using large slotted metal (do not use plastic — it will melt) spoon and hand, shape latke to generously fill bowl of spoon and drop into hot oil. Cook four latkes per batch, using spoon to turn over occasionally to brown on both sides. Also use spoon to remove small floating stray bits of potato from oil so they don’t burn up and so oil burns cleanly.
  7. When potatoes are a rich golden-brown color, remove from oil with slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Occasionally, as you cook, the uncooked potatoes in the mixing bowl may throw off more water and the mix may get liquid-y: periodically add more matzoh meal to thicken mix remaining in the bowl to the right consistency.

Serve latkes with sour cream and/or applesauce. They are also great with sour cream and salmon caviar or lox for a fancy brunch. They freeze very well and can be reheated in foil in a 325F/160C oven.

Makes about 30 latkes.

 

Grandma Shirley’s Turkey Tetrazzini

By Lauren, from her Grandma Shirley

The tetrazzini I think my grandma got from Martha Stewart or Joy of Cooking or something, but she, my mom, and I have all made significant changes to it over the years. Mostly me. Lol. It’s banging.

Ingredients:

  • 5 lb turkey
  • 1 ¼ lbs spaghetti
  • 1 cup parmesan cheese
  • 3/4 lb mushrooms sliced
  • 1.2 cup sliced almonds
  • ¼ cup of dry sherry
  • 1 ½ tbs lemon juice
  • 2 cup chicken broth
  • 1 cup heavy cream
  • 8 tbs butter
  • 1¼  tsp salt
  • ¼ tsp paprika
  • ½ tsp pepper
  • 2 tbs flour
  • 1/8 tsp nutmeg

Directions:

  1. Cut Turkey into bite sized pieces.
  2. Cook pasta and put at the bottom of the baking dish.
  3. Melt 4 tbs butter in skillet with mushrooms. As they begin to sauté, sprinkle them with 1½ tbs lemon juice and ¾ tsp salt.
  4. Sauté ½ cup sliced almonds and spread the almonds and mushrooms over the pasta.
  5. Melt and then remove from heat 4 tbs butter. Then add and blend in 2 tbs flour, ½ tsp pepper, 1/8 tsp nutmeg, ¼ tsp paprika, 1 ½ tsp salt.
  6. Slowly stir in ¼ cup dry sherry and 2 cups chicken broth.
  7. Cook and stir until thickened. Remove from heat. Add 1 cup heavy cream.
  8. Mix chicken in liquid mixture so the chicken can soak up liquid. Poor on top of spaghetti. Mix.
  9. Sprinkle with 1 cup parmesan cheese and paprika (a light topping).
  10. Bake at 350 for ½ to ¾ hour.

 

My Grandma’s Recipe for Chicken and Potatoes 

By Hilary, from her grandma/Poopa Dweck

OK here’s my grandma’s recipe for chicken and potatoes — same as from Aromas of Aleppo by Poopa Dweck. (Authority on Syrian Jewish cooking. If you use it, you can credit Poopa Dweck, who is not my great grandma, but her recipe book is my mom and my handbook for lots of family recipes that were never written down.)

Ingredients:

  • One 3- to 4-pound chicken
  • 3 cups plus 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, minced (about 1½ teaspoons)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1 onion
  • 3 pounds of potatoes, peeled and cut into 1½-inch wedges

Directions:

  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
  2. In a large roaster, coat the bottom of the pan with 1 tablespoon of the oil. Rub the entire chicken with 2 tablespoons oil, the garlic, paprika, and salt.
  3. Add the onion to the roaster. Place the roaster into the oven, covered, and roast the chicken for 1 hour.
  4. Meanwhile, deep-fry the potatoes over medium heat in a deep fryer or medium saucepan filled with the 3 cups vegetable oil. Fry each batch for 4 to 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are golden. Drain on paper towels.
  5. Add the potatoes to the roaster. Give them a stir in the pan drippings, making sure that they are well coated. Roast the chicken for 1 more hour, or until the chicken is golden.

This is what we would have for Friday night Shabbat dinner at my great grandmother Mary’s apartment in Brooklyn. My Syrian-Colombian family in Miami still makes this dish. It’s a favorite with my parents as well. You can shred the leftover chicken on Saturday for a Syrian Jewish supper and serve with rice for an easy “no-cook” meal if you’re keeping kosher. I can still remember the delicious smell of the roasted chicken and fried potatoes when we would walk into my grandma’s hallway of her apartment.

 

Vanilla Kipful, but I think may actually be called Vanillekipferls

By Reni, from her great, great grandmother Fannie Kaufmann

They’re an Austrian-German cookie my great, great grandmother (my maternal grandmother’s maternal grandmother) made. Growing up we used to bake these for Rosh Hashanah and Break Fast after Yom Kippur. I remember we always used to roll them into small crescents, but you had to be really careful with them because they were fragile once baked. A few years ago my grandma realized you could just roll them into balls and they turned out just as good and less prone to breakage!

Recipe is from Great Great Grandma Fannie Kaufmann — according to my grandma, she doesn’t know where Fannie originally got the recipe from, but you can find the recipe in The Settlement Cookbook. (My great-great-grandma Fannie and my great-great-grandma Annette Polland were part of the group that volunteered their recipes for an early edition of The Settlement Cookbook.)

The Settlement Cookbook is now a series of cookbooks that chronicle Jewish cooking in America. Before that, it existed as a “pamphlet for young immigrant women,” published in 1901 and written by German-Jewish immigrant Lizzie Black Kander. For more on its fascinating history and enduring cultural influence, read this Taste article by Layla Schlack.

Ingredients:

  • 1.25 cups flour
  • 1 cup blanched almonds, measured, then ground very fine
  • .5 cup sweet butter plus 1 extra tablespoon
  • .5 tablespoon vanilla
  • .25 cup powdered sugar

Instructions:

  • cream butter and sugar in mixer
  • add remaining ingredients
  • mix well; do not over mix or dough will become too firm
  • form dough into small crescents or small round balls
  • bake at 325 for 10-20 minutes – do not overbake; should be set but pale
  • roll in powdered sugar (and dust with extra once cooled) 

Now that we’re done cooking…

I got more recipes than just these. Seems that Jews enjoy feeding people. Who knew?! Alas, reasonable word count dictates that I’ll have to save the noodle kugel featuring cornflakes and those seven other potato latke recipes for a later date. At which time, if you’re lucky, you’ll find out how my Nana prepared liver (hint: add hard boiled eggs)…

Image credit here

Jessica Klein

Jessica Klein is a freelance writer and amateur portrait artist based in New York.