Haredi women in ‘Master Chef’ style competition

Three haredi women served up a feast of culinary delights in a competition to find the most delectable dish in Israel.

Annual mevaser haredi women cooking competition 390 (photo credit: Eli Segal)
Annual mevaser haredi women cooking competition 390
(photo credit: Eli Segal)
Three haredi women served up a veritable feast of culinary delights Monday afternoon, in a competition to find the most delectable dish in Israel for today’s large ultra-Orthodox families and bustling homes.
Readers of the “At Home” supplement of the haredi newspaper Mevaser were invited to submit recipes for the competition, held at the newspaper’s annual consumer fair for ultra-Orthodox women.
More than 1,500 applicants for the grand cook-off sent in their signature dishes, three of whom were selected to battle it out in Monday’s competition at the Jerusalem International Convention Center.
Ella Greenberg, Miriam Eichler and Hani Gelbstein all stepped into the large studio kitchen before a packed audience of keen haredi cooks to fry, bake and sauté their gastronomic creations.
Greenberg offered up panfried chicken livers in an apple and red wine reduction, served on toasted bread with baby salad leaves.
Eichler presented a variation on the classic schnitzel dish: fried chicken breasts filled with a green-bean and walnut stuffing, accompanied by a piquant tomato sauce.
And Gelbstein created a wholesome chicken pie, with alternate layers of ground meat and sweet potato puree, topped with sesame and caraway.
Although expert sampling was not possible, it seems certain that the sharp fruity notes of Greenberg’s apple and wine reduction complemented the rich gaminess of the livers perfectly; the spicy undertones of Eichler’s tomato sauce brought out the full flavors of the succulent fried chicken breast; and Gelbstein’s alluring use of herbs produced a rambunctious riot of flavor in her chicken and sweet potato delight.
Ella Greenberg won the competition, receiving the prize of a new kitchen.
But in addition to being generally scrumptious, competition entries were also required to fit in with the challenges the contemporary religious woman faces in her household.
Haredi families are often much larger than the average Israeli family, so recipes must be quick, employ reasonably priced ingredients, be simple to put together and use as few utensils as possible, to ensure that the kitchen is not overwhelmed with dirty pots and pans, chopping boards, sieves and all other manner of cooking devices.
Leah Myzel, a columnist and editor of the “At Home” supplement and the competition host, talked about the importance of food in the ultra-Orthodox household and how the contemporary haredi woman copes with the daily nutritional requirements of her family.
“The world today is more open for religious women,” Myzel told The Jerusalem Post.
“Many women go to work now and also want to develop themselves personally.”
“On the other hand a haredi woman wants to raise a family, usually a large one, and wishes to remain faithful to the traditions and practices of the community, including cooking and caring for her children,” she said.
Myzel reasoned that preparing meals therefore remains an important aspect of a woman’s role at home.
“There’s a sensitivity that you’re not as good a mother as you can be if you don’t make proper, healthy, nutritious meals for your family.”
But, continued Myzel, modern conveniences such as supermarket deliveries, washing machines, dryers and similar household aids, mean that a haredi woman no longer must remain at home.
“Why should a woman not do something for herself?” she asked. Often the men are learning in kollel so his wife needs to bring in income for the family, she said. Even if that’s not the case, many haredi women are beginning to embrace a more open society with broader horizons.
“They go to all the mainstream ‘high street’ clothing stores because they want to dress fashionably and be well turned out, while of course only purchasing outfits which conform to their level of modesty,” said Myzel. “Religious women also want to have a wider range of experiences, socialize and everything that goes with that, so there is a lot of change in the haredi world at the moment.”