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April 15, 2024 14 mins
Like so many other ethnic traditions and faiths, Jewish life is often centered around the table, where family and friends come together to celebrate rituals, memories and tastes of home. Our guest is Naama Shefi, founder of the non-profit Jewish Food Society, who with co-writer Devra Ferst, is the author of THE JEWISH HOLIDAY TABLE, A World of Recipes, Traditions and Stories to Celebrate All Year Long.
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(00:02):
Welcome to get connected with Nina delRio, a weekly conversation about fitness,
health and happenings in our community onone oh six point seven Light FM.
Good morning, and thanks for listeningto get connected. Like so many other
ethnic traditions and faiths, Jewish lifeis often centered around the table, where
family and friends come together to celebraterituals, memories, and tastes of home.

(00:26):
Our guest is Namachefi, founder ofthe nonprofit Jewish Food Society, who,
with co writer dever First, isthe author of The Jewish Holiday Table,
A world of recipes, traditions,and stories to celebrate all year long.
Namachefe, thank you for being onthe show. Thank you so much
for having me. Nama Chefe isthe founder of Jewish Food Society and author

(00:46):
of The Jewish Holiday Table. It'sa collection of one hundred and thirty five
vibrant recipes, each with accompanying stories. This book, Nama is designed not
just around specific events on the calendar, but it also brings together recipes the
Jewish community around the world, regardlessof where in the world the dishes are
from or what holiday they might represent. What is Jewish food? Can you

(01:08):
put a finger on it, yes, absolutely. So you know, there
is no standard definition for what Jewishfood is, but for me, Jewish
food in essence is a very globalcuisine. For thousands of years, Jewish

(01:29):
people lived in the diaspora in youknow, communities all around the world,
in places as far apart as Ethiopia, Hungary, Bonos, Cyrus and many
more. And wherever they live,they created their own micro cuisines that were

(01:51):
you know, developed and shaped byCashot, the dietary laws and keeping the
Shabbat and Jewish holidays in constant negotiationwith the local food traditions and the people
and the terear war. So theresult is a very layered and interesting cuisin

(02:15):
It's interesting when you talk about that. I think there are people who,
with any food tradition, want tostick to what they think to tradition is
what they have been taught in theirfamily line. And then there are people
who say, let's experiment, let'stry something new. What are your thoughts
and where does this book and theserecipes land. It was important for us

(02:35):
to highlight lesser non food traditions.So you know, in the book,
we highlight the community that moves fromIraq to India, starting in the eighteenth
century. Another family that we profilemove from Morocco to Brazil in the nineteenth

(03:00):
century. You know, Passover iscoming up soon. There is an entire
table in the chapter from pastry chefVanny Gershen. Her family immigrated from Ukraine
to Mexico City and her menu isthis perfect blend of her journey. I

(03:23):
actually want to talk about that oneas we approach Passover. As someone who's
not Jewish, I think the mosticonic recipe for me would be the sator
And even in Catholic school in theseventies in Texas, we had a version
of it. You know, wehad apple and we had MutS and all
salt. And it's the seventies inTexas, so how close we were to
any tradition. I have no idea, but that seda recipe with a Mexican

(03:45):
twist. Can you talk a littlebit about that? It's amazing really so
yeah, so the specific you know, so I'm talking specifically. For example,
I'm thinking about the mathsa bol soupthat originally was the and shaped for
Passover. Because in Passover we avoidleavened food, so mattabole is made from

(04:10):
massa flour, so in Fanny Garyshan'sversion, the massable as this very traditional
Ashkenazi deep flavors of chicken soup,but on top of that she uses fresh
lime and cilantro and avocado and jalapinos, so it has this very fresh and

(04:33):
vibrant flavor. And you know,in general, in Passover, it's as
much ritual meal as it is afeist. So there are many foods that
we eat that kind of promote thestorytelling and play a very major role in

(04:58):
the story. I think thinking aboutanother recipe from the book for heroset,
which is a sweet paste made outof fruits and nuts, and it represents
the mortar that our ancestors used tobuild when they were slaved in Egypt.

(05:20):
So in the book there is thismodern variation from Chefri Nazi doc, and
she makes these herost traffles that blendher Moroccan and Aniemmanite tradition, and it's
this, you know, it's justthis very beautiful heroset made out of dates
and as cardamon and cinnamon, andit's just lovely. Nama Chefi is a

(05:46):
Kibbutznik and New Yorker whose works it'sat the intersection of food culture and community
building and art. In twenty seventeen, she found a Jewish Food Society,
a nonprofit organization which preserves and celebratesJewish culinary heritage through a digital recipe archive
and dynamic events. We're talking abouther new book, The Jewish Holiday Table,
a collection of one hundred and thirtyfive recipes, a world of recipes,

(06:09):
traditions, and stories to celebrate allyear long. You're listening to get
connected on when I was six pointseven, l FM, I'm Ina del
Rio. I wonder if you couldtell us, just for a moment,
Nama, a little bit more aboutthe Jewish Food Society. Yes, absolutely
so. I founded the Jewish FoodSociety in twenty seventeen. And really the

(06:30):
inspiration was that, as you mentioned, I was born in a kibootz in
Israel. Kiboots is the most secularsettings of all and despite that, I
felt very connected to my Jewish culture. But when I arrived to New York,
there was a void for me.You know, I'm not going to

(06:51):
temple or I didn't find a wayto connect with my identity, and I
thought that food is a very powerfulmedium to do that. So that was,
you know, the idea behind theJewish Food Society, and we are
building the largest archive of family recipesand the histories that attach to them.

(07:16):
Currently, we have more than athousand tested recipes in our archives, so
anyone you know, can come tothe archive and be very successful. We
put a lot of work and emphasizeon the storytelling and the histories that are
attached to the recipes, but alsoon the recipes themselves. When we can,

(07:41):
we cook with people in their homekitchen because we believe that that's the
best way to capture recipes because manyof these old school recipes are you know,
the recipe will call to use alittle bit of that, a little
bit of this. So when weobserve someone in their home kitchen, then

(08:07):
our culinary director can really observe allof the tricks and secrets, bring it
back to our test kitchen and developit to be an excellent recipe. There
are stories in the book that comefrom Ukraine, that comes from Zimbabwe.
Your story growing up in a kibbutyou talk about it. You ate mostly

(08:30):
at a communal dining hall. Oneof the fun recipes you share from that
world. I wonder if you couldtell us a little bit more about is
the chocolate salami. Yeah, so, actually the chocolate salami wasn't in the
communal dining room. That was theonly recipe that my mom made it home
because we didn't have a kitchen inthe home I grew up in. So

(08:54):
we called it chocolate salami because itlooked like a salami. But it's actually
a dessert, and it's a verybasic dessert. It. You know,
you can go to a pantry anduse some cookies and nuts and raisins if
you like them, and then youmix it all with some good chocolate and

(09:16):
you roll it as a salami.Then you freeze it and cuts and serf.
So it's a very basic recipe.But I always have one in my
freezer. It's an easy one andpeople are excited about it. There's another
one in there that it's just areally simple little thing, but I like

(09:37):
that there's a little surprise to it. Again, it also came out of
a kibbutz. It's the Lally salad. It's cherries and jalapinos. Oh my
god, you just named my favoriterecipe book. Yes, because you know
it's so unexpected, these flavor combinationsof sweet cherries when they're in season with

(09:58):
cilantro and and jalapinios. Yes,it could be a festive dish for holiday
or honestly, it could be forany night of their when in season.
As you write in the book too, in Jewish life everything passes for Shabbat.
Cooks will do their work in advance, and there's this entire category of
recipes where time is a key ingredient. It might be the most lavish meal

(10:24):
you would have all week, buttime is a faction of course, the
ingredients people have to work with.What's one of your favorite recipes that falls
in that category. I'm a bigfan, by the way of that category
of overnight shabbats Tooo's because you know, like you cook while you sleep with
the ingredients together, and on Saturdaymorning you have this really beautiful meal.

(10:50):
So in the book, we havea recipe for the Fina from Esther,
who now lives in Brazil, buttheir family roots are from Arocco and it's
a lovely recipe. It has meatand potatoes, and traditionally in Morocco they

(11:13):
used to make it with chickpeas,but in Brazil they changed the chickpeas.
Their family changed the chickpeas to theselike dumb little dumplings, and it's very
aromatic and comforting. I also wantto ask briefly about gefelta fish, which

(11:35):
is one of the most iconic Jewishfoods. Most people know it from the
jar in the grocery store, inthe sort of sauce, the fluid,
whatever it is. Where did thatcome from? And you know, sort
of like canned cranberry versus fresh cranberryfor Americans to Thanksgiving, how does the
fresh compare with the jarred version?Oh my god. So first of all,

(11:56):
I love your example because I thinkit will really help to provide people
with It's a very good reference.So you know, gefilter means stuffed in
Yiddish. So originally the dish wasserved in a whole fish skin, So

(12:24):
the petties were packed into the skinof a whole fish and then the fish
was poached. So we actually havea recipe in the Passover chapter from Sasha
Shore for this more traditional old schoolgefilter fish, which is so festive and

(12:46):
delicious. But there is another versionthat I really love. It's from Fanny
Gershon. It's a Mexican ge filterfish. Again, the family immigrants from
Ukraine to Mexico in nineteen twenty sixand added these more local flavor to the

(13:11):
original dish. So now Fanny servesit. First of all, it's seared,
so it's not you know, Icold dish. It's seared, and
she serves it in this tangy sauceof tomatoes, and it's just very lovely.
Whether someone is Jewish or not,what would you want them to take
away from this book and these recipesand the stories. I hope that they

(13:37):
will try new flavors, new dishes, maybe extend their holiday tables. But
more than that, I think aboutthe book as a history book. It
really connects us to a shirt story, and it does that through food.

(13:58):
So there are some extremely powerful storiesin this book, and I hope that
people will give it to read andhopefully find some inspiration and joy from the
stories. It's a beautiful book withbeautiful recipes from Namas Sheffi and her co
writer Dever First the Jewish Holiday Table, a world of recipes, traditions and

(14:20):
stories to celebrate all year long.Thank you for being on Get Connected.
Thank you so much. It wasa pleasure. This has been Get Connected
with Nina del Rio on one ohsix point seven light Fm. The views
and opinions of our guests do notnecessarily reflect the views of the station.
If you missed any part of ourshow or want to share it, visit
our website for downloads and podcasts atone O six to seven lightfm dot com.

(14:45):
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