Jewish food has been developed over centuries. It's home-cooked food, evolved by hundreds of thousands of women (and men) in as many homes. Today, each family has their own version of a recipe. They will think it the best. They will also have their own view on whether kneidles should be bouncy or feather-light, or whether gefilte fish should be served with a carrot hat. Where did that come from?
So, when I was invited to join a Jewish cookery class it was a chance to learn about new flavours and methods.
The venue — the unassumingly named Cookery School in Little Portland Street. A bijoux academy comprised of two kitchens perfectly placed for a spending splurge, headed up by the wonderful Rosalind Rathouse.
Ros, a South African expat, made London her home many years ago. A trained teacher and keen cook, she combined the two to found Cookery School.
In my pre-baby days, I helped out in their office and even taught cooking there. I'd not been there since I was pregnant with my most mini Fresser, so it was a weird feeling, tiptoing down the stairs into the main teaching kitchen.
Not just for me, but for the course teacher, Stacey Kanolik. If Kanolik was uncomfortable teaching Jewish cookery to the food editor of the Jewish Chronicle you would not have known it. The former King Solomon teacher chatted away as she doled out chopped liver onto crackers and poured wine for the course participants. There were nine of us. Two had turned up the day before and joined a vegan class as their boobie prize.
For those who had arrived on the correct day, the menu comprised chicken soup and kneidlach; challah; beef tzimmes; latkes with apple sauce plus a couple of Sephardi-styled vegetable dishes. We also made blintzes to finish. All ready to eat within a couple of hours.
Chicken soup and beet tzimmes like a long cook. Short of a time machine, how were we going to manage to prepare AND eat chicken soup and a slow-cook cut of beef? The answer — pressure cookers. Genius — I'm a convert.
One of my key take aways for me (other than a bag of warm challah that sat calling me from the passenger seat of my car all the way home) was the joy of pressure cooking. Chicken soup in under an hour! Beef tzimmes was similarly speedy — and delicious.
Rathouse's method for kneidlach gave me and another Jewish mama on the course reason to raise our eybrows. The eggs are whisked at high speed until light and moussey before the matzah meal and flavourings (including cinnamon) were added. More akin to a sponge cake than a dumpling. We also used onion-infused oil instead of shmaltz for flavour. I expected all the whipped-in air to be pushed out by the heavy matzah meal, but the matzah balls — some served in the chicken soup and others in the beef tzimmes — were the lightest and airiest i've tasted. Takeaway two.
We split into teams so did not each cook every dish, but were called over for key points on each recipe. We each formed latkes and rolled matzah balls — like a group of shtetl brides on a night in. My fellow students were a mostly younger (20-30 somethings) with only one male. Some were Jewish. Others just interested in a new cuisine that is finally in vogue after hundreds of years in the food fashion Siberia.
After about two hours, we sat down to sample all we'd cooked at the end and I left with that full-as-Friday-night feeling.
It's not kosher but the food is mostly organic and as sustainable and eco-friendly as Rathouse can make it. She can also make adaptations for dietary requirements.
New on my Chanukah list? A pressure cooker.