Appetite for Perfection: Rabbinic chef

 For years I wanted to work as a rabbi. I have smicha/rabbinic ordination and love working with people and teaching. Since I was 14-years-old, I have been a leader on Jewish programs, which led to me run my own ones. One of the biggest barriers to entry for me going into the professional sector and 'leaving' the non-profit world was that I would not be able to continue my dedication to charity work. One day I hoped I would have enough money to support those groups I deemed most worthy, but with the intense hours I knew I would need to dedicate in order to become a success within the culinary industry it seemed a distant dream. However, lately I have finally been able to bring my two passions together.

Rabbi Noah Weinberg, my rosh yeshiva from my days at Aish Yeshivah over a decade ago, used to tell me to use my strengths, whatever they happened to be, to always contribute towards the Jewish people and world. As a result of always trying to live by this, over the last couple of months I have made it possible for Jewish groups coming to Israel to participate at my restaurant. I put together a special menu with massive discounts to give them excellent kosher mehadrin food and help them save a bit of money to invest in other areas of their programs, and maybe inspire a few with my story along the way. As well as the mad busy holiday season in the restaurant, we also hosted a few hundred students from JFS in England, Aish, Meor, Ner Leelef students from North and South America and Birthright. I had the privilege to speak to all the groups and students and it was immensely inspirational for me. To be able to use my business for these kinds of events is awesome and please God I will be able to continue in the future. If you know of any charity running an event, I am more than happy to help out, so put them in touch with me!

To continue this theme, I had the pleasure of hosting my parents from England and my wife Elana's parents from New York in the last two weeks, as well as doing these events, cooking for Chaim Etgar on Channel 2 and attending a wedding where the bride and groom walked in to Stairway to Heaven - epic.
It was fun at times and challenging at times. As I know they read this, I'll stop there but I'm sure you all get the gist! To fulfill the commandment of honoring one’s mother and father I decided to cook my father-in-law’s favorite food - sweetbreads. Why this? Our theme here is to reinvent classic Jewish dishes and with the old-school obsession with offal, organ meats, I wanted to make a dish that was fun.
Here is my southern fried sweetbreads with crispy stuffed potato balls, spinach and coconut puree and sweet and sour sauce. Enjoy!!!

Soak 1kg sweetbreads in iced water in the fridge over night and drain. Add to a pot of water that you can season like a stock. I added onions, garlic, salt, vinegar, allspice, black peppercorns, bay leaf, parsley and thyme. Bring to a boil and simmer until they firm up. Place in iced water to stop cooking and then remove as much of the membrane and connective tissue etc as possible and cut into cubes. Soak in a mix of coconut milk, tamarind paste and soy for about an hour until ready to cook. Remove most of the milk, dip in a mix of flour and cornmeal, ratio 2:1, seasoned with cayenne pepper, salt and five-spice, and fry until golden in oil at 180°C.

For the spinach, sauté 3 minced garlic cloves in 2 tbsp coconut oil and then add 1 kg spinach in batches until all wilted. Pour off the liquid gathered in the pot and add a can of coconut milk, 2 star anise, a dash of soy sauce and a pinch of chilli flakes, and simmer for 5 minutes. Then leave to soak for 10 minutes and puree in a food processor.

Peel and grate the potatoes. Mix in salt and leave for 20 minutes to release their moisture and then squeeze the water out with some muslin. Add into a tea strainer with a piece of rehydrated shiitake mushroom in the center and fry until golden in the same oil as the sweetbreads.

Now for the sauce! 

No dish is complete without a great sauce and for this one I was inspired by Larousse Gastronomique, the chef's bible. Soak 2 tbsp raisins in boiling water. Caramelize 3 tbsp of sugar and 3 tbsp white wine vinegar; add 2 minced shallots and 150ml white wine and boil until almost all liquid has disappeared. Add 250ml reduced beef stock or demi glace and boil until thick. Add to a food processor with raisins and 2 tbsp capers, mix and strain and serve.

Think offal is awful? Give it a try. I KNOW you will not be disappointed. This is worth the effort and something my ancestors from Latvia would have never dreamed of. Remember, your creativity is only limited by your imagination!

Print a copy of this blog post and bring it to my restaurant Soyo for a 10% discount on your next visit - 51 Emek Refa'im St, Jerusalem.