'Eishet hayil' cooks for Shabbat
The Shabbat dish I loved most, even more than the cake, was noodle kugel.
As I was buying fresh figs a few days ago, I could almost hear my mother, Pauline Kahn Luria, saying, "Let's have them on Shabbat!" The end of August would have been her 93rd birthday, and thoughts of her accompany me especially when I go to stores where we shopped together for Shabbat.
For my mother Shabbat was always the highlight of the week. She kept anything new or special for making Shabbat more festive and organized the week around this sacred day. On Tuesday she planned the menus, on Wednesday and Thursday she shopped, cleaned and began cooking, and on Friday she completed the cooking. Then she relaxed and enjoyed the day of rest. Over the next day or two of the following week she made good things with the leftovers, and we savored the rest of the Shabbat cake - if there was any left.
I appreciated my mother's cheerful enthusiasm for Shabbat and the value of making life into a cycle of celebrations to look forward to. During the reciting of the poem Eishet Hayil - Woman of Valor - on Friday evenings before the Kiddush, I thought of her. It was such a joy for me when she was featured in the book, 20th Century Women of Valor, featuring 22 special Jerusalem women (by Ruth Goldenberg, published in Lincoln, Nebraska, in 1999).
Goldenberg wrote that she chose this number to correspond to the 22 stanzas of the poem, Eishet Hayil, written by King Solomon. She described how impressed she was by my 83-year-old mother's passion for dancing and by her many activities: walking four or five miles almost every day, helping her neighbors during the Gulf War by making sure they wore gas masks and playing with the children in the shelters to keep them occupied, volunteering as a tourist guide at Jerusalem hotels and working hard to raise money for a hospital.
The verse Goldenberg chose for my mother goes: "She invests herself with strength, And performs her tasks with vigor." My mother also put her strength and vigor into cooking. We loved her delicious blintzes, matza balls and other Ashkenazi specialties. Every day we ate home-cooked, wholesome food, but Friday night's and Saturday afternoon's meals were special - they were multicourse menus served elegantly on my mother's best china and polished silverware, with an appetizer or two and of course, a homemade dessert.
Chopped liver was our favorite starter. I've had tasty liver kebabs at Israeli shipudiot (grilled-meat restaurants) and rich chicken liver pÃ¢tÃ© in Paris, but my mother's recipe, with plenty of well-browned onions and hard-boiled eggs, is still the way I like liver best.
The Shabbat dish I loved most, even more than the cake, was noodle kugel. My mother baked the usual sweet kind, but her specialty was a wonderful kugel with sauteed onions and mushrooms. For me this has remained the paradigm of noodle kugels and the best partner for the Shabbat roast chicken. I'm so glad my mother taught me how to make them.
It was my mother's education in Jewish cooking and values that enabled me to receive an Eishet Hayil award for contributing to Jewish culture from the school where my parents sent my brother Tzvi Kahn and me for nine years, the Hebrew Academy of Greater Washington, D.C.
CHOPPED LIVER WITH A MIDDLE EASTERN TOUCH
This is a variation I make of my mother's chopped liver recipe to enhance the appetizer's nutritional profile. To prepare it my mother's way, omit the roasted eggplant. Serve it in a shallow bowl, garnished with olives and parsley sprigs if you like, and accompanied by fresh bread; ours was halla, but not the sweet kind.
â€¢ 1 medium eggplant (400 gr. to 500 gr.)
â€¢ 3 or 4 Tbsp. canola or other vegetable oil
â€¢ 500 gr. chicken livers
â€¢ 2 medium onions, chopped
â€¢ salt and freshly ground pepper
â€¢ 4 hard-boiled eggs, or 1 hard-boiled egg and the
whites of 3 or 4 more
Preheat oven to 200Âº. Pierce eggplant a few times with a fork to prevent it bursting. Bake eggplant on a large baking sheet lined with foil for 30 minutes. Turn eggplant over and bake 30 minutes or until very tender when pricked with a fork. Peel eggplant, drain any juices in a colander and cut in a few pieces.
Preheat broiler with rack about 7.5 cm. from heat source. Rinse livers and pat dry on paper towels; cut off any green spots. Put livers on foil in broiler and sprinkle with salt. Broil 3 minutes per side, salting second side after turning, or until cooked through and color is no longer pink; cut to check. Discard juices from foil. Cool livers slightly. Cut in half.
Heat oil in a large skillet. Add onions and saute over medium-low heat about 15 minutes, or until very tender and deep brown. Add livers, salt and pepper and saute briefly over low heat, stirring, to blend flavors.
Grind onions, liver, eggplant and eggs in batches in a food processor until fairly fine but not completely pureed. Season to taste with salt and pepper; be generous with the seasoning. Refrigerate at least 1 hour before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
NOODLE KUGEL WITH MUSHROOMS AND ONIONS
My mother taught me to prepare several versions of this kugel. For serving it with fish instead of meat, you can saute the onions in butter and stir 1â„2 cup sour cream into the noodle mixture before baking.
â€¢ 225 gr. medium egg noodles
â€¢ 5 Tbsp. canola or other vegetable oil
â€¢ 1 or 2 large onions, minced
â€¢ 225 gr. mushrooms, halved and cut in thick slices
â€¢ Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
â€¢ 3â„4 tsp. paprika (optional)
â€¢ 2 large eggs, beaten
â€¢ 3 Tbsp. chopped parsley (optional)
Preheat oven to 175Âº. Cook noodles uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, about 4 minutes or until nearly tender but firmer than usual, since they will be baked. Drain, rinse with cold water and drain well. Transfer to a large bowl.
Heat 3 tablespoons oil in a large skillet over medium-low heat. Add onion and saute about 12 minutes or until very tender. Add 1 tablespoon oil and heat. Add mushrooms, salt, pepper and 1â„4 teaspoon paprika and saute about 12 minutes or until mushrooms are tender and onions are browned.
Add mushroom mixture, eggs and parsley to noodles and mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning. Oil a 6-cup baking dish and add noodle mixture. Sprinkle with remaining tablespoon oil, then with remaining 1â„2 teaspoon paprika.
Bake in preheated oven 30 minutes or until set. Serve from baking dish. Makes 4 to 5 side-dish servings.
Faye Levy is the author of 1,000 Jewish Recipes.