Yiddish food is the Rodney Dangerfield of cuisine,” said cookbook author and famed foodie Arthur Schwartz. “It doesn’t get any respect.”
With the release of his newest book, “Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking,” the Marine Park native and Park Slope resident is hoping to change all that. A collection of recipes ranging from chocolate babka to “Chinese roast meat on garlic bread with duck sauce,” Schwartz’s book revisits the history of Yiddish dishes and updates them for today’s palate.
Some of the recipes are suitable for Passover, which begins Saturday night, April 19, while others are for the rest of year.
“I love this food. It’s the food of my heritage, and the food I grew up eating,” Schwartz, 61, told GO Brooklyn. “It’s a very important cuisine. Millions of people were raised on it, and it’s very good. Jews somehow don’t give it the due it should get. I don’t think people realize that we’ve come full circle — there are ingredients and an attitude that are more contemporary now.”
From vegetarian takes on classics like chopped liver and gravy to lightened versions of traditionally heavy dishes, Schwartz has culled some of the favorites from the kitchens of delis and grandmothers alike.
“I took old recipes, and I tried to make them taste more contemporary. For instance, my grandma made great potato kugel [pudding], but I make that recipe now, and it’s way too heavy,” said Schwartz. “I always think that most secular Jews make this food only for holidays, and when it’s all starches and a pickle is your vegetable, of course it’s heavy!
“When you make the kugel that I devised for this book, with a piece of grilled meat and vegetables, it’s a contemporary meal with a Yiddish point of view.”
Sometimes, though, even the most accomplished cook gets too tired to make anything but reservations. But Schwartz can rustle up traditional Jewish food without leaving the borough.
“Part of my research was to eat around, buy food and see what people were eating,” said Schwartz. “I can go to four or five different kosher shopping communities in Brooklyn. We do have some excellent food stores — the best in the world for kosher food.”
Whether it’s cabbage strudel at Crown Restaurant [4909 13th Ave. at 49th Street in Borough Park], kosher Italian food at Cafe Napoli [1636 Coney Island Ave. at Avenue M in Midwood] or pastries from Mansoura’s Oriental Pastry [515 Kings Hwy. at East Third Street in Gravesend], Brooklyn offers plenty of foodstuffs for the diner with a taste for Jewish food — and it might be the only part of town that does.
When he lived in Manhattan, Schwartz said his friends would rib him about his devotion to eating in Brooklyn.
“I lived in Manhattan, but I always felt like a defector. When I would come back to Brooklyn, which I always did, all my friends in Manhattan would say, ‘Arthur’s going to the Holy Land!’ It was worth the teasing, though, to stock up on the food that was becoming impossible to get anywhere else. We have maybe the best, and certainly the last, Jewish bakeries in the city in Brooklyn,” lamented Schwartz.
His book has a whole chapter of Passover-friendly recipes to make at home, ranging from traditional “matzoh brie,” fried matzoh, to sweet cottage cheese “chremslach” (pancakes), Passover apple cake [see recipe at left] and a dessert of wine-poached pears.
“You can eat an awful lot of good things on Passover, you just can’t eat bread,” said Schwartz, who admitted a special weakness for matzoh brie. “There are a lot of recipes to be used [since] it’s very difficult to eat out over Passover. I always go for the egg salad on Passover or I have chopped eggs and onions. I also love matzoh meal pancakes — it’s something I make all year now.”
In addition to recipes, Schwartz’s book offers a peek at the dining establishments and traditions that have disappeared since the glory days of Yiddish dining in New York.
“I remember the Catskills and the borscht belt and a lot of the old dairy restaurants,” said Schwartz. “I came in at the end of that era, but there were still plenty of them around, even into the 1970s. There is a whole generation — if I had children, they would be my children — who are interested in this, but don’t really know anything about it and would like to learn. The book is for them. It’s also for people my age and older who have great nostalgia for it.”
This Passover, try a tasty dish from Arthur Schwartz’s “Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited.” The Park Slope foodie has packed his new cookbook with dozens of tempting dishes. Try this one for “Passover Apple Cake,” which makes one 8-inch square cake.
1/2-cup coarsely chopped walnuts or pecans
1 tablespoon ground cinnamon or a combination of ground cinnamon, nutmeg, mace and ginger
1/3-cup vegetable oil
3/4-cup matzoh cake meal
5 medium apples, peeled, cored, halved and cut into 1/4-inch-thick slices (about 5 cups), preferably Golden Delicious, Crispin (Mutzu), or other apples that keep their shape when cooked
1/3-cup raisins (optional)
“Position an oven rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Lightly oil an 8-inch square glass-baking dish.
To prepare the topping, mix together the walnuts, sugar and cinnamon in a small bowl; set aside.
To prepare the cake batter, in a bowl, with a hand-held electric mixer, beat the eggs on medium speed until well mixed. Beat in the sugar, about 2 tablespoons at a time, until the mixture is thick and foamy. Beat in the oil, adding it in a steady stream. Scrape down the bowl with a rubber spatula. With the spatula, stir in the matzo cake meal, blending well.
Pour half of the batter mixture into the prepared pan. Sprinkle about half the topping mixture evenly over the batter. Top with half the apples and all the raisins. Scrape the remaining half of the batter over the apples, spreading it out to cover the apples. Arrange the remaining apples on top of the batter. Sprinkle evenly with the remaining topping mixture.
Bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes, or until the sides of the cake pull away very slightly from the baking dish and the topping has begun to caramelize. (A cake tester is not reliable. It will not come out clean due to the moist richness of this cake.) Let sit in the baking dish for several hours until completely cool before cutting into serving portions. This cake is yet another Yiddish food that improves with age. Keep the cake in its dish, covered tightly with plastic, and the next day the topping will have become a moist, candy like coating.”
— from “Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking: Yiddish Recipes Revisited.”
“Arthur Schwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking” ($35, 10 Speed Press) is available at Sterling Place (363 Atlantic Ave. at Hoyt Street in Boerum Hill). Schwartz will read from his book at 7 pm on April 30 at the Park Slope Barnes and Noble (267 Seventh Ave. at Sixth Street in Park Slope). For information, visit www.foodmaven.com.