Authentic Hungarian Potato Casserole—With a 1960s Kosher Kitchen Layover

Recently I had a craving for one of my favorite dishes from my mother’s suburban mid-century kitchen. I’d always believed her Hungarian cauliflower casserole was an authentic dish. It seemed the perfect thing to eat on a winter night when I was having people over for a Chanukah meal and I couldn’t look at another latke and someone else was making the ponchkes. Yes, Chanukah means fried food and I was all fried-out.

It occurred to me that mom’s cauliflower dish would be a nod to tradition and also a sort of deconstructed latke .  It would  also, like every Hungarian vegetable dish I’d ever had (heavy on the butter and sour cream)  line our stomachs. To me it always seemed the ultimate winter comfort food. Even as a kid,  I sort of knew that it wasn’t totally authentic. I remembered mom telling me that the cauliflower was a later addition. Later, a post-college roommate who also had Hungarian heritage  made it with veggie sausage (she, too, only ate kosher) and when I checked with mom, she told me that indeed this was really a potato and sausage dish.

Recently I consulted the Bible of Hungarian cooking, George Lang’s The Cuisine of Hungary.

My mother's copy of Lang's Cuisine of Hungary (1971 edition) with original Paperback Booksmith bookmark and her illegible notes which may refer to butter

My mother’s copy of Lang’s Cuisine of Hungary (1971 edition) with original Paperback Booksmith bookmark and her illegible notes which may refer to butter

I have my mother’ copy from 1971 and on the same day that I went to check out Lang’s book, I came across a post on my Facebook feed from Food and Wine magazine in which Chef Nicolaus Balla of Bar Tartine in San Francisco calls it the Ultimate Hungarian Cook book. You’ll see that Lang’s recipe for Rakott Krumpli (which is what mom called it but in her kitchen  Hungarian I never would have guessed that that is how it was spelled or even that it was two words) would not have worked in a kosher kitchen. Here is Lang’s recipe:

George Lang’s Rakott Krumpli

3 pounds potatoes (small if possible)

1 ½ tablespoons salt

6 hard-boiled eggs

¼ pound butter

¼ pound boiled ham, sliced

¼ pound fresh sausage, sliced

1 cup sour cream

1 tablespoon paprika

Preheat oven to 350. Drop potatoes in their skins in water to cover with 1 tablespoon salt. Cook until tender.

Peel and slice potatoes. Do the same with the hard-boiled eggs.

Butter a heatproof glass dish well. Arrange a layer of sliced potatoes neatly on the bottom of the dish. Season with salt.

Melt the butter in the top part of a double boiler. Sprinkle a little on top of potatoes. Cover this layer with ham slices and top with another layer of sliced potatoes. Again season with salt and sprinkle with melted butter. Arrange egg slices and sausage slices on top. Finish with a final layer of potatoes.

Pour any remaining butter on top. Spread sour cream over all and sprinkle with paprika. Bake in the pre-heated oven for 30 minutes.

One of the great points that Lang makes in the first part of his book which is a treatise on Hungarian food  is that there is no one great version of a classic Hungarian dish. Each Hungarian cook had her own version of a classic dish.  Your grandma’s dobos torte might not have been like my grandma’s dobos torte and that’s fine.

In any event, there are some essential elements of Lang’s potato dish that exist in my mother’s dish (which presumably came from my grandmother and her mother and so on) which I would not and do not change—even though some are at odds with current food trends and also it is likely that all those sour-cream and butter-dousing vegetable eaters in the old days in Hungary may have spent more time on manual labor burning off some more calories than we do. Lang points out that Hungarians never served plain vegetable dishes and wouldn’t have known what to make of a plain boiled vegetable served alone.

cauliflower casserole in foreground (with pomegranate tofu and leek patties) photo by REG)

cauliflower casserole in foreground (with pomegranate tofu and leek patties–in my mother’s tradition of worrying that there would not be enough food) (photo by REG)

To sum up,  what mom’s dish has in commons with Lang’s and what I won’t give up (at least the 2 times a year that I make my mother’s cauliflower casserole): potatoes boiled in jackets: check. Boiled eggs: check. Butter: check (as I think Julia Child said, it gives things flavor); Sour cream: I actually have found I can get away with no fat sour cream.

Another old-timey feature of mom’s dish is boiling the cauliflower. I love roasted cauliflower in general, but in this dish, I’m all about boiling, then roasting, then covering with butter, sour cream, and this leads to my last digression . . .

Before Passover last year, my nephew  and his wife (to whom I swear I am about to send mom’s first edition copy of Lang’s book) requested mom’s cauliflower casserole recipe, demonstrating that this is a beloved family recipe through the generations. It was interesting to me that he sees this as a Passover recipe, which it is only if you eliminate what I consider one of its essential ingredients: cornflake crumbs. Now some of my readers may quibble and point out that it’s possible that there no cornflake crumbs in early 20th century Hungary or even before that. This may be true. I’ll leave that question those persnickety food historian types who will point out the Mr. Kellogg didn’t even invent whole corn flakes until the late 19th century in Michigan–and who knows when people got the idea of crumbling them and using them instead of breadcrumbs? But to me, along with the cauliflower, they are the soul of this dish and that is why I love my mother’s casserole as the quintessential blend of Budapest and Levittown.

Hungarian Cauliflower Casserole a la Rachelle

 6 medium sized potatoes boiled in jackets

4 hard-boiled eggs

1 cup sour cream (low fat or fat free is fine)

corn flake crumbs

salt and pepper to taste

around ¼ lb. butter (use to butter pan—melt remainder in the microwave)

One medium – large head of boiled cauliflower

Preheat oven to 350.

Butter a 2-quart Pyrex casserole (round or oblong) generously. Sprinkle bottom and sides with cornflake crumbs. Peel potatoes and eggs and slice each into slices around 1/8 inch thick. Alternate layers of potatoes, cauliflower, eggs, sour cream, and sprinkle liberally with salt and pepper. Begin an end with a layer of potatoes. Pour melted butter all over top layer. Sprinkle top with more cornflake crumbs, just like they would have done in Hungary—and then more butter—which I’m sure they did in Hungary.

This is not a delicate casserole, so there’s no need to worry about getting the proportions right or not. As long as you use the right amount of corn flake crumbs (and mom’s recipe does not indicate what that is), it will be great.

Bake for 45 minutes.

We usually served this hot out of the oven, but leftovers can be eaten hot or as mom at her most suburban notes: “cold leftovers make a unique potato salad.” That’s true without the ham–I can only imagine that this even better with the ham.  One of my readers will have to let me know.

Holiday leftovers

pot pieMr. Dot is easy to please when it comes to food. As long as I make Turkey Curry Pot Pie every year, he’s a happy man. Actually, he seems to think the pie is a big deal and he thinks that we would get rich if I would sell it. I know that it’s kind of easy and I’m happy to share the recipe.

I discovered the recipe in Sheila Lukins’s USA cookbook, which I bought when I returned to the USA after living in Israel for 14 years. I don’t know if the curry pie can really be considered traditional US food but in any event, it has become a Thanksgiving weekend standard around here. On Thursday of Thanksgiving, I make a large enough turkey to have leftovers for the pie (and maybe a turkey sandwich or two).

This year, I took the leftovers one step further. We had our pot pie on Sunday night after Thanksgiving, marking our Thanksgiving weekend as officially over. But I was left with puff pastry which I had defrosted and I’d only needed half the package for the pie. There’s nothing that Ms. Dot junior (aka my fearless photographer) loves more than something in puff pastry. For example, she loves “pigs in a blanket” and a local store sells hotdogs in puff pastry and she loves that version, too.

In any event, I knew that if I made something in puff pastry, it would be a hit chez Dot. I wasn’t in the mood to fuss so I was thrilled when I came across a recipe that I only tinkered with a bit and came up with my fearless photographer’s new favorite: spinach puffs. I was surprised by how easy and how delicious they are. You could use them as an appetizer (they look beautiful for company) or eat a couple with salad for a meal, as we did. As the next round of holidays approaches, I think you’ll find that this ones a keeper.


Spinach puffs

10 ounces fresh baby spinach package

1 leek, sliced.

1 tablespoon olive oil

2 teaspoon chopped dill

1 teaspoon minced garlic

1/2 cup crumbled feta

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

3 large eggs (2 for filling, one for egg wash)

1 sheet frozen puff pastry (from a 17.3-ounces package), thawed, rolled out to a 12″ square

Cook spinach in microwave for 3 minutes. Add with leeks to food processor and pulse a few times until chopped. Add olive oil, dill and garlic to processor and pulse one more time. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add 2eggs and feta a mix.

Cut puff pastry into 3 equal strips. Cut each remaining strips into 3 squares for a total of 9. Spray muffin pan (I used silicone muffin pans) with nonstick spray. Place a square in each muffin cup, pressing into bottom and up sides and leaving corners pointing up. Divide filling among cups. Fold pastry over filling, pressing corners together to meet in center.

Preheat oven to 400°F. Beat remaining egg to blend in a small bowl. Brush pastry with egg wash. Bake until pastry is golden brown and puffed, about 25 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack; let puffs cool in pan for 5 minutes, then remove and serve.

Uncle Garbage Pail and Cocoa Pecan Pie

When I was a little girl, if I left food on my plate, I handed it over to my dad to finish, saying I had something for “Uncle Garbage Pail.” This nickname, I later learned, had been lifted from Herman Wouk’s Marjorie Morningstar. Even now, at age 92 and 7 months and 2 weeks and 3 days, Dad has an appetite to rival his teenage grandsons’.

But I’ve discovered something now that I cook more for Dad than I did while Mom was alive: even though he is pretty easygoing in general, Dad reserves his enthusiasm for his favorites. I realized that when I knocked myself out to make some really special fish or chicken dish, he’d eat it but not really say anything. I finally figured out that he’s just eating those dishes out of politeness or duty. If I make a brisket, on the other hand—even a really simple brisket that I did nothing to but cook on the stovetop a la Mom’s pot roast style—then he’s happy and I hear endless praise.

Eventually, I learned that when he visits us (which is happening less and less often since he’s in NYC and I’m in Maryland and the trip is getting to be too much for him), he’s happy if I make lots of beef and his two favorite desserts, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. In fact, last year, I bought a cheap and enormous pumpkin pie at Costco that we had for days and he was thrilled to eat it even when it kept showing up again (it was really big).

This year's cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it--REG

This year’s cocoa pecan pie photographed by someone who does love it–REG

As to the pecan pie—I’ve always used my mother’s recipe for cocoa pecan pie (although I’ve updated the recipe a bit with almond milk rather than nondairy creamer and couple of other tweaks). When Dad last visited my family, I made two pies and wanted to give him some to take home. Well, imagine my surprise when he told me that he doesn’t really like chocolate and prefers a plain pecan pie. It turns out that he is a nut person and not a chocolate person—something I seemed to have missed during the Uncle Garbage Pail years.

So I won’t be making cocoa pecan pie for Dad—but I am making it for Thanksgiving and am sharing the recipe now in case you want to add it to your holiday repertoire.

Cocoa Pecan Pie

Crust (for 2 pies)

2 2/3 cups all-purpose flour

scant ½ cup confectioner’s sugar

¼ teaspoon salt

¾ cup unsalted butter, cut into small cubes (can use margarine)

1 egg yolk

2 tbsp cold water

Put the flour, confectioners sugar, and salt in a bowl and add the butter, using the paddle attachment on the mixer (or use your hands or the food processor). Mix until the dough is the consistency of coarse bread crumbs.

Add the yolk and water and mix until the dough just comes together. Do not over mix. Add more water by drops if necessary.

Shape the dough with your hands into 2 disks. Wrap in plastic wrap and chill until ready to use. Remove from the refrigerator around half an hour before you are ready to use.

Roll out dough on a floured board into a 10 inch round.  Place it carefully in pie plate or tart pan. While this isn’t Mom’s recipe, I’ll share her comment since it can apply here as well: “. . . crust still looks like a map of Asia, but . . . once it’s tucked and baked —nobody knows!”  Prick with a fork

Cocoa Pecan Pie filling (for one pie—but I usually double this)

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup cocoa

3 eggs

¾ cup corn syrup (either light or dark)

1 tsp vanilla

¼ cup sifted all-purpose flour

½ tsp. salt

¼ cup melted butter (or margarine)

¾ cup unflavored unsweetened almond milk

1 1/3 cup pecan halves (1/2 cup should be chopped, ½ should be whole, but don’t have to be perfect and the final 1/3 cup are for the surface of the pie, so you want nice, decorative halves, not ones that are nicked)

Preheat oven to 325.

Sift together sugar, flour, cocoa, salt.

Beat eggs for several minutes. Add melted butter, corn syrup, almond milk and vanilla.

Add dry ingredients to mix and stir until smooth. Blend in 1 cup of nuts (both the chopped and whole but not necessarily perfect nuts). Pour into unbaked pie shell.

Bake for 5 minutes and then remove and add decorative pecans. I begin with 3 pecans in the center and fan out into circles from there. My mom would just spread the nuts out haphazardly. Return the pies to the oven and bake for an additional 55 minutes.

My corner

Once upon a time, I was a young real estate attorney in Jerusalem. This job was not my destiny and I had very little in common with my boss but I did learn a few things from him, as follows:

  1. The cognoscenti in Jerusalem call things by their old names. Our office, for example, at the corner of King George and Hillel Streets was across from the “old Knesset”. For the record, the Knesset hasn’t been there since 1966. My first trip to Israel was in 1967, but I learned to refer to the building as the old Knesset.
  1. When my boss was growing up in the late 1940s and early 1950s, his family thought that Jerusalem’s Rehavia neighborhood—where much of the Ashkenazi elite of the time lived–was too  far from the location of  my boss’s father’s barber shop–that is, the building that housed my office in the early 1990s. It would have been a leisurely 15 minute walk to the far reaches of Rehavia from this downtown location. Instead, their family lived a block away from the office at the corner of King George and Ma’alot streets so that his father could go home for lunch and an afternoon siesta back in the pre-air conditioning days when every shop in Israel closed down from 1:00-4:00 pm.
  2. The best lunch place downtown was Pinati, where most days there were two items on the menu: hummus or hummus with meat; and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, they served kubbe soup. (Well, it’s possible that there were other items on the menu, but no one I knew ever ordered them). I started to go to Pinati regularly with a group of friends although hanging out with friends was a violation of the Pinati ethos of eating quickly and making room at the communal table for the next people. We used to joke that you would be kicked out if you brought a newspaper, that is, if you exhibited signs of settling in and staying too long. A few other places serve meat and hummus, but none are as good as Pinati’s heaping ground beef on top of fresh hummus. In fact, most other places I’ve been to serve shwarma meat on their hummus and that is just not as good.
Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus  Photo by REG

Ground turkey (looking beef-like thanks to pomegranate molasses) and hummus
Photo by REG

One habit I did not pick up from my boss was the afternoon nap, which he took in his office every day. Frankly after eating hummus with ground beef as your mid-day meal, you need a nap but, well, I lived too far from the office.

Pinati is now a chain in Israel but the original Pinati was a few blocks away from my office, at another corner of King George Street—which is how it got its name, since Pinati means “my corner.” I have tried to replicate the taste of that beef but these days, I try to eat less beef and have come up with a recipe with ground turkey. I’m not going to pretend that it tastes exactly like beef, but I recently discovered that a judicious amount of pomegranate molasses gives the turkey a meatier flavor and appearance. This is an easy recipe for a weeknight meal and you might not even need the nap.


Hummus and Ground Turkey

1 cup hummus—either home made or a good Middle Eastern style hummus that is smooth and garlicky

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 lb ground turkey

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon ground allspice

½ teaspoon black pepper

salt to taste

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses (you might want more but taste carefully—different brands have different levels of viscocity and tartness and you don’t want to overdo this—although the hummus will mellow the tartness a bit).

Heat the oil in a large saucepan or chef’s pan. Add the ground turkey and stir so that you remove the lumps. Continue to let it brown on all sides, stirring occasionally s that you have cooked it almost all the way through.

Add spices and continue to cook.   Mix in pomegranate molasses so that the color coats all of the turkey.

Spread the hummus on a serving platter and then heap the cooked turkey on top. Serve with warm pita and pickles.

This can be a great appetizer or a week night dinner. If you want to make it with beef, follow the same recipe, eliminating the pomegranate molasses.

Two lasagnas: no meat, no tomato sauce: eliminating the least unhealthy ingredient

My mother taught me to cook by having me work as her sous-chef. I have to admit that I have not been as generous as she about teaching my daughter. Somehow, my fearless photographer has managed to become a great cook when she sets her mind to it–even without the meticulous lessons on technique.

no to sauce--yes to tomatoes photo by REG

no to sauce–yes to tomatoes
photo by REG

When my daughter does cook, her recipes can be quite ambitious. She has made great Vietnamese chicken and chicken pot pies. Her go-to cookbook is Teens Cook: How to Cook What You Want to Eat. The recipes in this book are not necessarily easy; some include elements that good chefs have to master; for example, the vegetable lasagna includes both a béchamel sauce and roasted red peppers. It’s a delicious dish and has a range of vegetables—just not tomato sauce.

When my daughter and I started talking about  “tomato sauce-less” lasagna, I immediately thought of “flourless chocolate cake” and my daughter knew exactly what I meant.  It’s not that this lasagna has anything to do with the restaurant staple of flour less chocolate cake. Instead, I was thinking of   BJ Novak’s story Julie and the Warlord. In it, Julie and her date –who just happens to be a warlord–are making small talk and looking at a menu. The warlord, being his charming first-date self, questions why every one makes a big deal about flourless chocolate cake: “Is flour such a bad thing? I mean compared to other things in chocolate cake.” He goes on to say: “Flour is probably the least unhealthy thing I can think of in chocolate cake.”

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna photo by YJAG

Teen cook with Teens Cook lasagna
photo by YG

So in that spirit here are two lasagnas without tomato sauce, arguably the least unhealthy thing in classic lasagna (I’ll leave the whole gluten thing for other bloggers). But sometimes it’s nice to have a change.  And when that change is that my daughter is doing the cooking and the results are this good, I don’t question why the least unhealthy thing has been omitted from the recipe.

 Teens Cook Vegetable Lasagna

2 tablespoons butter

3 tablespoons flour

1 ½ cups milk

½ cup grated parmesan

salt and pepper to taste

2 red bell peppers

1 small zucchini (or a whole bunch of baby zucchinis which is what we had on hand)

1 large tomato

4 ounces mushrooms

6 uncooked lasagna noodles

1 ½ cups ricotta

1 cup mozzarella

Place the red peppers directly on the stove burner (or under the broiler if you have an electric stove) and cook over high heat, turning occasionally for 15 minutes or until the peppers are almost completely black on the outside. Place the blackened peppers in a small bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand 10 minutes to loosen the skin.

When the peppers are in the covered bowl, place the butter and flour in a small saucepan and cook over medium heat, stirring frequently for 3 minutes or until bubbly. Add ½ cup of the milk and stir until smooth. Add the remaining 1 cup of milk and cook for 7-8 minutes or until it begins to boil. Remove from the heat and stir in the Parmesan. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Then go back to the peppers: Peel the skin off and cut the peppers in half. Discard the seeds and cut each half into 2 or 3 strips.

Stem the zucchini and cut it lengthwise into 1/8 inch thick slices. Cut the top and bottom off the tomato and discard them. Dice the remaining tomato. Cut the mushrooms into ¼ inch thick slices.

Preheat the oven to 350.

Spoon ½ cup of the sauce onto the bottom of an 8 inch square baking pan. Cover the sauce with a laywer of the noodles. Arrange zucchini on top of noodles and cover with ¾ cup of the ricotta. Place the roasted peppers over the ricotta and spread with ½ cup of the sauce. Form another layer of noodles and top with the mushrooms. Spread the remaining ¾ cup of ricotta over the mushrooms and top with the remaining sauce. Place the tomato slices on top and cover the pan with aluminium foil.

Bake the lasagna covered for 40 minutes. Remove the foil and sprinkle the top with grated mozzarella. Bake for 10-15 minutes more or until cheese is lightly browned. Remove the lasagna from the oven and let it stand for 10 minutes before serving.

Since this is really my food blog (with pictures by my daughter) and thus all the recipes should be dishes I have made, I’m linking to another unconventional lasagna that I came across one day when the cupboard wasn’t exactly bare but I didn’t have the usual and I wanted to use some eggplant. So here it is, the combo of eggplants, béchamel, hazelnut and parsley.

eggplant & hazelnuts--but no tomato sauce in this lasagna photo by REG

eggplant & hazelnuts–but no tomato sauce in this lasagna
photo by REG

The recipe is from Gourmet so here is the epicurious link for Eggplant Lasagne with Parsley Pesto.

I really did find it by going to epicurious and searching eggplant, pasta, and parsley. Nope, I didn’t add tomato sauce to the search.

Pumpkin (or squash) is not a fad

Lately, folks are writing about the whole Pumpkin Spice Latte flavoring craze and I want to make it clear that I have loved pumpkin flavor long before it was a fad. As a kid, whenever my mom made pumpkin pie (as she often did for Friday night dessert in the fall), I’d have the leftovers for breakfast.

Actually, I don’t just like the pie flavor; my true passion is pumpkin and squash in all its forms. One of my all time favorites is a traditional couscous with chunks of pumpkin or squash which can be used interchangeably (in fact, I think the Israeli pumpkin is more like what we call squash in the U.S.). When I worked at the Israeli Ministry of Health in the mid 1990s, Wednesday was couscous day at the office cafeteria. My colleagues and I would start gathering each other at 11:45 a.m. because we couldn’t wait a moment longer for the terrific vegetarian couscous. When it was my turn to be served, I prayed that the lunch lady would give me a large chunk of pumpkin and then I would ration my piece so that most of my bites would include  some pumpkin.

Make sure every one gets lots of all the goodies (especially squash!) in their serving. Photo by REG

Make sure every one gets lots of all the goodies (especially squash!) in each serving.
Photo by REG

As much as I loved those couscous lunches, I gave it all up to marry the man I love. It was a hard to leave the job and the couscous that I loved, but that professional experience gave me the confidence   to have the courage to give it all up and join Mr. Dot in California, a place with all sorts of cuisines and fresh produce—but I never found a couscous with pumpkin (or squash, which is what we use in the US) like the one in the humble cafeteria of a certain Jerusalem government office.

Recently, I have started to make a couscous with squash and chicken that may not have the je ne sais quoi of the Ministry’s dish but is, IMHO, pretty delicious. It’s my own recipe so it can’t be called authentic (but I have a feeling that the folks in the Ministry used Osem Imitation Chicken Soup Powder).  I use some short cuts, liked canned chickpeas (and sometimes pre-cut squash). It’s quick, but to be honest, it does require a number of pans so the washing up may not be as efficient as the prep. I like this dish because I can put in lots of squash and, best of all, I get to both have my squash couscous and eat it with Mr. Dot.

 Squash Couscous with Chicken Thighs

1 large leek sliced thinly

6 tablespoons olive oil

½ cup dried apricots

around 1 lb butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into ¾ inch cubes (you can do it yourself or buy it cubed)

½ cup canned chickpeas

1 lb. boneless skinless chicken thighs—cut up into 2 inch pieces (no need to make these uniform)

1 ½ cups couscous

1 2/3 cups chicken or vegetable stock

2 tablespoons chopped mint

1 tablespoon chopped cilantro

½ teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 350. Mix squash with 1 tablespoon olive oil and some salt and pepper, to taste and place on a baking sheet (I line it with parchment paper to prevent sticking). Bake for about 25 minutes – you can check on it a couple of times while baking and move it around so that it all roasts more or less evenly.  You can’t really mess this up. If some of it gets a little brown, that’s fine.

Soak apricots in enough hot water from the tap to cover them. Drain after 10 minutes and cut them into strips.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and add leeks and a pinch of salt. Saute over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until it begins to brown. Remove leeks, and add chicken and sauté. Add salt, pepper,  allspice, and cinnamon.  Let it brown on both sides and cook a few minutes longer so that the chicken is cooked through.

Once you have the squash, apricots, leeks, and chicken in process, heat up the stock. Place couscous in a large, heatproof bowl and pour in the boiling stock along with the remaining olive oil. Cover with plastic wrap and leave for about 10 minutes. All the liquid will be absorbed.

Heat up the chickpeas—you can pop them in the microwave for a couple of minutes.

When ready to serve (in other words, once the chicken and the squash are done), it’s time to assemble the components on a large platter. First spread out the couscous, fluffing it up with a fork so that it’s light and not clumpy. Then add the leek, squash, chicken, apricots, mint, cilantro and chickpeas.

Make sure that every serving includes all the components, especially enough squash so that every bite includes some squash.

My Hungarian Jewish roots and infusing the holidays with a special sense of grandeur

I once dated a guy who said that there were two reasons to date Hungarian women: their looks and the food. Some people may consider these superficial qualities but my Hungarian mother elevated them. By dressing up and making special food, she infused our Jewish holiday celebrations with a special sense of grandeur. We always had new clothes for the Jewish holidays, especially so that we could wear something special on holidays when we said the “shehecheyanu” blessing—a blessing that thanks God for keeping us alive to celebrate special occasions. In addition to saying this blessing on holidays, we always recited it the first time we wore new clothes. This fancy dressing was an essential part of the holiday when I was growing up and remains so for me today.

And then there was the food! Mom would start cooking multiple batches weeks before the holidays and freeze everything. She had to start early because there was so much food. A holiday meal had at least two main courses—for example, capon AND veal roast or duck AND roast beef. There were also multiple dessert options and to this day, I worry that I need to provide choices for my guests. After all, some people are only happy with a chocolate dessert and others can’t eat chocolate—so I channel my mom, and make sure there’s something for every palate.

My mother was always open to new cooking ideas but at holidays there were always traditional Hungarian Jewish foods—especially the desserts, such as dobos torte or rigo jancsi. One fall favorite of my mother’s ties in to her Hungarian heritage but was of more recent vintage: Roszi Neni’s (Aunt Roszi’s) apple roll.

A slice of apple roll with some chocolate ice cream (a necessary option in case you have guests who think dessert must include chocolate) Photo copyright REG

A slice of apple roll with some chocolate ice cream (a necessary option in case you have guests who think dessert must include chocolate)
Photo copyright REG

According to mom, her mother’s sister Roszi was one of the family members who cried bitterly when my mother’s family left Hungary in 1939. They thought my grandfather was foolish to uproot his family because they believed Hungarian Jews were safe. Later, Roszi took a course and learned how to make foods that would appeal to Americans with the hopes that she could emigrate and perhaps work as a cook. She shared the recipe for apple roll with my grandmother. Sadly, Roszi never made it out of Hungary; she was one of the family members killed by the Nazis.

My grandmother's sisters who both died in the Holocaust: Roszi Bloch Hausman and Szidi Bloch Aron

My grandmother’s sisters who both died in the Holocaust: Roszi Bloch Hausman and Szidi Bloch Aron

This is a tragic rather than festive story but I share the one recipe I have from Roszi Neni as a way of connecting to my  Hungarian Jewish heritage. It seems particularly appropriate for Rosh Hashanah when it is traditional to eat apples (which just happen to be in season). Roszi Neni’s apple roll also connects me to the sense of occasion and splendor at my mother’s holiday table and in the finest Jewish tradition allows me to bring some elements of my extended family and their memory to our table.

Roszi Neni’s Apple Roll


3 cups of all purpose flour

1 tsp salt

¼ cup sugar

4-5 egg yolks

Lemon rind from one lemon

1 tsp vanilla

½ lb. shortening (or margarine or butter or some combination)

4-6 tablespoons cold club soda


3 lbs tart green apples (like Granny smith) .

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon cinnamon

¼ teaspoon nutmeg

¼ cup raisins or currants

1 tablespoon tapioca

Cut shortening into flour, salt and sugar with a pastry blender. Add remainder of dough ingredients until ball is formed. Refrigerate several hours overnight.

Cut apples into around 16-20 pieces each. I leave the peel on because I like the peel. Mix in remainder of ingredients.

Cut dough into two parts. Roll one half of the dough on a floured surface into a 10” X 14” rectangle (well not a perfect rectangle—the beauty of this is its rustic look so no need to make sure that this is perfect. It will be better if it’s a little misshapen). Place half of the apple mixture in the center of the rectangle so that it goes almost the whole length of the “rectangle,” leaving some room so that you can seal the ends when you’re done. Fold the sides of the dough over  so that they overlap a little in the middle and so that you have a roll that is 4 inches wide (still 14″ long). The top will look home made. Repeat this with the remaining dough and filling. Place the rolls gently on a jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Seal the ends tightly. Prick all over with a fork so that steam can escape.

Bake at 400 for 20 minutes. Reduce to 350 for another 40-50 minutes.

Serve hot (either fresh or heated up) with a sprinkling of confectioners sugar. This actually freezes very well though it’s heavenly when fresh.

The final instruction is one of my favorite lines in my mother’s cookbook: “Cut slices as for strudel.” I’m sure she knew what that meant.

Extra tip for those of you making festive meals that require lots of desserts: this recipe uses only the egg yolks. You’ll have 4-5 whites to use for making great meringues.