Jewish foods: Teaching teens about the world

Aliza Green spoke at the Philly 2009 Jewish genealogy conference and participated in a first-ever for the annual conference – a hand’s-on cooking demonstration.

Her article on teaching teens about the wonderful world of Jewish foods is in the Philadelphia Inquirer. In her career, she’s cooked everything on the decidedly not-kosher edibles list, distancing herself from her Orthodox upbringing:

But in recent years, I’ve embraced my Jewish heritage, especially its connections to food and culture, and I am researching a book exploring Jewish culinary history through the spread of ingredients worldwide.

So I jumped at the chance to teach Jewish cuisine and culture to high schoolers and junior high kids at the Jewish Community High School of Gratz College, whose mission is to educate Jewish teens about the heritage, traditions and language of the Jewish people. The course brings together my love and knowledge of food and culinary history with Jewish traditions. My weekly challenge is to come up with recipes from far-flung Jewish communities that the kids can make.

The kids come from area high schools and have varying interests.

Nicole Kaminsky, a freshman at Wissahickon High School, whose family comes from Puerto Rico, was interested in learning whether some of the Hispanic cooking at her home was actually Jewish cooking. “I’ve learned that in Ashkenazi cooking, people used ingredients that wouldn’t spoil easily. It all depended on the area and the trade routes.”

Green included a large section on olive oil as Chanukah is coming up tomorrow night. She discussed Jewish history, and the miracle of the oil and the holiday’s significance, and added how olive oil is central to Jewish food traditions across the Mediterranean.

Olive oil was rare in Ashkenazi lands, where our ancestors used rendered chicken or goose fat (shmaltz) instead.

The class made teiglach – although Tracing the Tribe always associates this dish with Rosh Hashanah but, what the heck, it uses oil – which means little bits of dough in Yiddish and its Italian name cicerchiata means little bits of chickpeas.

Egg dough bits are fried until puffed and crisp, immersed in honey, mixed with nuts and formed into individual shapes or one large centerpiece, as Green does.

The class discussed potato pancakes (latkes), apple fritters and squash latkes for the Ashkenazi communities. Mizrahim and Sephardim add sugar and sesame seeds, or stuff cheese into fritters or doughnuts, or soak fried loukoumades in honey syrup. Indians add yeast, milk and butter and fry them.

Read the complete story at the link above.

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