What to do with: Taste of Ashkenazi Cuisine Box

What to do with: Taste of Ashkenazi Cuisine Box

Ben @ Ben to Table

This box -- Eastern and Central European food viewed specifically through the prism of Ashkenazi Jewish cuisine -- is another one I've been thinking about for a while, and am super excited for folks to dig into.

If I have an ancestral cuisine, it's this -- all of the ancestors I know of are folks who fled pogroms around the turn of the 20th century in Ukraine, Poland, Russia, Hungary, Romania, and elsewhere, and mostly wound up living in Philly.⁠

Ashkenazi food is often disregarded and disrespected as simple peasant food, but it shouldn’t be. First of all, "simple peasant food" describes many of the world's great cuisines.

And second, for many of the items that are traditionally a bit bland or uninspiring, the introduction of deeper layers of flavor with topnotch ingredients can elevate them to new heights. From stews and soups to salads, sandwiches, and breads, the items in here will enhance your cooking and help you explore some tasty foods; whether or not your bubbe cooked them.

Below, I describe a bit about each ingredient. At the end of the post, I also have in-depth recipes for the two dishes that I most want you to try out: Prakas (aka Holishkes) & Chicken Paprikas, as well as braised cabbage.

Here's what's in the box:

  *  Wild Dill Pollen (Curio Co)
  *  Sweet Pepper Paprika (Burlap and Barrel)
  *  Blue Poppy Seeds
(Burlap and Barrel)
  *  King Caraway Seeds
(Burlap and Barrel)
  *  Organic Apple Cider Vinegar
(Apple State Vinegar)
  *  Deli Mustard
(Mustard and Co)
  *  Everything Chips
(Matzo Project)

+++++

Wild Dill Pollen (Curio Co)

Curio Co Wild Dill Pollen

This wild dill pollen, sourced from California, brings a truly exceptional dill flavor that exceeds any dried leaf or seed you’ve come across before. Dill is a crucial herb in Eastern European cooking (and beyond). It can be the star (like in a cucumber and yogurt soup) or as a strong complement to many of the dishes you could put together with what’s in this box (like stuffed cabbage, chicken paprikas, braised cabbage, and more).

It’s also applicable far beyond Ashkenazi cooking; Ben uses it a lot with Greek dishes, too.

One thing I've done a few times with store-bought pierogies is to sautee some onions with this dill, caraway seeds, and salt and pepper, and toss the cooked pierogies with them, and serve with a dollop of sour cream with a pinch of dill pollen sprinkled on top. 

For a simple, cold, summer soup, check out this recipe for tarator (a Bulgarian cucumber, yogurt, and dill soup), which you can use this pollen for (and I'd say neither the dill nor the walnuts are optional, barring a nut allergy). 

Sweet Pepper Paprika (Burlap and Barrel)

Burlap and Barrel Sweet Pepper Paprika

This is sourced from southeastern Turkey, as a sweeter variety of Burlap and Barrel’s silk chili flakes, and it beats all of the sweet paprika I've had before. (Note: It’s not actually sweet; it’s just not spicy.)

This is a crucial ingredient in many of my favorite dishes, like the stuffed cabbage chicken paprikas I describe in more detail below. You can use it as a base ingredient as a rub for meats and veggies, or liberally in soups and sauces.

I also like this for a quick cucumber salad -- thinly sliced cucumbers tossed with a gentle helping of this paprika, the apple cider vinegar below, salt, pepper, and a bit of good olive oil.

Blue Poppy Seeds (Burlap and Barrel)

Burlap and Barrel Blue Poppy Seeds

Sourced from a Turkish city, Afyonkarahisar, whose name literally translates to “Poppy Black Fortress,” these seeds can be ground up and used for sweets (in cookies, cakes, and pastries), or left whole in savory applications like salad dressings, and, most classically, liberally applied atop challah or bagels.

The challah recipe I most often turn to if I'm looking to impress is Deb Perelman/Smitten Kitchen's, and these poppy are great when liberally applied as the topping.

King Caraway Seeds (Burlap and Barrel)

Burlap and Barrel King Caraway Seeds

This is an heirloom variety of white-flowered caraway from central Egypt. We often associate caraway flavor with rye bread (and you can certainly add these to a rye bread!), but caraway -- and especially these -- can be a lovely flavor when added to braises and stews, and it works well as a pickling spice.

I use caraway especially in dishes where earthy and sour flavors seem at home (not that it's sour, but I find it complementary with sour). So I put caraway in my braised cabbage and chicken paprikas, in some cole slaw and saurkraut, sauteed with onions and dill with pierogies, and in other soups and stews as the opportunity arises.

Organic Apple Cider Vinegar (Apple State Vinegar)

Apple State Vinegar Apple Cider Vinegar

Made from 100% organic apples harvested in Washington’s Yakima Valley, this bright vinegar is some of the very best on the market. Perfect for salad dressings and as an acidic layer in some of the recipes below, you'll find yourself reaching for this often. You can even use this in lieu of a shrub in a cocktail (or if you're on trend for wellness, just drink it straight!). 

Deli Mustard (Mustard and Co)

Mustard and Co Deli Mustard

The perfect mustard for your next pastrami on rye, nothing quite says Ashkenazi cuisine like a good, sharp deli mustard, and the line from Mustard & Co in Seattle is filled with winners.

This isn't my favorite for dressing -- I prefer more of a dijon-style for that, or something that's closer to full-on seeds. But hard to beat this for many sandwiches (or with sausage).

Everything Chips
(Matzo Project)

Everything Matzo Project Chips

Betcha didn’t think delicious matzo you’d actually want to snack on could exist? You were wrong. These are truly tasty. And check out the adorable packaging!

++++Recipes++++

Chicken Paprikas

Chicken paprikas

At it's simplest, this is basically just chicken stew where the main seasoning is paprika. It's best if you can use bone-in chicken (or even a whole bird) to get the flavor benefits, but you could also go with boneless skinless thighs without losing too much.

I add simple dumplings to this at the end -- flour, egg, and water, roughly shaped and boiled -- but you could also serve over rice or with potatoes.

Ingredients

1 whole chicken, broken down
Flour, for dredging
Neutral cooking oil
Minced garlic
Sliced onions
Chopped peppers and carrots
Paprika (several tablespoons)
32 oz or so of chicken stock
Parsley, for garnich
Optional: Sour cream
Optional: Dumplings

Directions

1) Combine some AP flour with salt and pepper and dredge the chicken pieces
2) Brown in a heavy-bottomed dutch oven and set aside
3) In same dutch oven, sautee the onion, and season with salt and pepper
4) Preheat oven to 375
5) Add peppers and carrots
6) Once softened, add stock
7) Once warm, add a lot of paprika and a tablespoon or so of caraway seeds
8) Nestle the chicken pieces into the pot, ideally with browned-skin up and exposed over the surface of the liquid
9) Bake for 45 minutes-1 hr
10) Remove from oven
11) Optional: Remove chicken from the pot, stir in a few dollops of sour cream and the dumplings, stir together and place chicken back in
12) Garnish with parsley and serve

Braised cabbage

Braised Cabbage

This is basic, and delicious. Great warm as a side, it also holds up well as a cold salad the next day, once flavors have blended even better.

Ingredients

Whole red cabbage, sliced
Sliced onion
Neutral oil
Caraway seeds
Salt and pepper
Garlic
Saurkraut
2 celery stalks, chopped
Apple cider vinegar
1 apple, chopped

Directions

1) Sautée onions, season with salt and pepper
2) Add celery, garlic, and caraway seeds
3) Add cabbage and maybe 1/4 cup of vinegar, along with the apple
4) Turn down to a simmer and let it bubble away for a while, stirring occasionally
5) After it's pretty soft, add some saurkraut and let cook for a while more
6) Season to taste and serve at your leisure

Stuffed Cabbage (aka prakas, holishkes, gołubki)

Stuffed Cabbage with Crispy potatoes


I get that for the uninitiated, "stuffed cabbage" might not have the immediate pizzazz of more glamorous dishes. But I stand by the idea that it can be truly excellent if you use top notch ingredients (like the above) and take care to layer in flavor at every opportunity.

There are many names for this dish, and infinite variations (for more on the fascinating etymology, including why I call it Prakas but few others outside of Philly/Baltimore do, check out this article). I spent one trip to Hungary basically seeking it out everywhere I went.

This recipe below turned out great, but you can also futz around with different directions and seasonings pretty infinitely. It's quite forgiving and flexible.

I'll also that, traditionally, this dish has ground beef. I used ground turkey. You could also use a ground meat substitute, or rice and mushrooms, as the base for your filling.

And a note on peeling a cabbage so you get good, intact leaves: Most recipe call for blanching. But there's an easier way. First, remove the core, then freeze it, then thaw it. Easy peasy.

The basic idea here is:

1) Prepare your cabbage for getting put into rolls (as above)
2) Cook the filling
3) Cook the sauce (2 & 3 can happen simultaneously)
4) Fill and roll up the cabbage leaves in a large casserole pan
5) Pour sauce all around and over
6) Bake
7) Serve! Ideally with something crispy like roasted potatoes or latkes

Ingredients

For the filling

Ground meat (or substitute)
Cooking oil
Chopped onions
Caraway seeds
Salt & Pepper
Minced garlic
Paprika
Dill Pollen
Parcooked rice (brown or white -- or another grain like farro -- all fine)

For the sauce

Cooking oil
Chopped onions
Caraway seeds
Salt & Pepper
Minced garlic
Paprika
Dill Pollen
Chopped tomatoes (can be a large can)
Apple cider vinegar
Minced Ginger
Stock

Directions

Prepare the filling:
1) In a dutch oven on medium heat, sautee the onions, and add salt and pepper
2) Add a generous amount of caraway seeds
3) Once onions are softened, add ground meat and garlic
4) Once meat is cooked through, remove from heat and add rice, paprika, and dill pollen
5) Mix together and set aside

Prepare the sauce:
1) In a dutch oven on medium heat, sautee the onions, and add salt and pepper
2) Add a small amount of stock (just enough to cover the onions), garlic, and ginger
3) Add a generous amount of caraway seeds
4) Add chopped tomatoes
5) Add a generous glug of apple cider vinegar
6) Add a teaspoon or so of dill pollen
7) Let simmer for 20-30 minutes, season to taste, and set aside

Put it together:
1) Preheat your oven to 350 or so
2) Set up your rolling station -- your casserole, the filling, and the separated cabbage leave
3) And leaves that can't be filled (too small or torn), should be torn up and placed on the bottom of the casserole
4) Holding a leaf in your hand, place a tablespoon or two of filling in the center of the leaf and roll it up, tucking the sides in.
5) Repeat with the rest of the cabbage, making rows and snuggling them next to each other to keep intact
6) Once complete, spread any extra filling out on top of the rolls
7) Pour sauce over the prepared rolls, nudging things around so the sauce can also get through a bit
8) Cover or don't (just depends how saucy it is and what you want), but put something underneath the pan to catch drips, and bake for an hour or two, remove from the oven, and dig in!
9) If you're so inclined, it will go great with roast potatoes (as crispy as possible) or latkes, and sour cream.

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