Leah Koenig

Leah is the former Editor in Chief of The Jew & The Carrot (through Jan, 2009). These days, she is a full time freelance writer who's work has appeared in the New York Times Magazine, Saveur, Gastronomica, The Forward and other publications. Outside of work, Leah’s interest in food continues – she is a member of the Park Slope Food Co-op and a Brooklyn CSA, a frequent green market shopper, and an enthusiastic cook. She swoons over sharp cheddar and garlicky sauteed kale.

Leah Koenig's Website »

In Israel, Building Community With Breakfast

(Originally published on The Atlantic’s food channel)

Walking through the Arab souk (market) in the Old City of Nazareth feels something like stumbling upon a secret garden. Just a few steps from the throngs of tourists flocking towards the Church of The Annunciation gates, an easily overlooked archway opens into a maze of bright tapestries, Turkish coffee pots, and folding tables weighed down by peppers and inky eggplants. A vendor stirs rue, a Mediterranean herb, into a bucket of olives while two women lay out their offering of grape leaves, green almonds, and mallow on unrolled blankets. Throughout the narrow streets, a heady mix of dried za’atar, fresh bread, and cinnamon perfumes the air, smelling at once ancient and utterly alive.

It is this breathy, reverential atmosphere that Maoz Inon hoped to capture when he founded the Fauzi Azar Inna 200-year-old mansion-turned-guesthouse that sits deep within the market. In 2004, he and his wife left their home in Tel Aviv and ventured out on an extended backpacking trip across Israel, California, and South America. Along the way, they stayed at countless hostels and guesthouses, enjoying the camaraderie and energy that thrives amongst the freewheeling.

Passover Cleaning: Year One

(Originally published at The Forward)

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One day last spring, at 11 minutes to midnight, I was on my hands and knees, scrubbing the kitchen floor. My jeans were streaked with dirt and my hands covered with those chalky, yellow rubber gloves that scream, “I’m in serious cleaning mode, people!” There was something soothing about the rhythm of plunging my sponge into the bucket of sudsy water and attacking the grimy tile. And heaven knows, I needed some soothing; I was waist-deep into preparing my kitchen for Passover for the first time, and I was terrified.

As a home cook who had done my share of scrubbing beet juice from the grooves of cutting boards, and coaxed stubborn islands of cheese from the bottom of lasagna pans, I admittedly should not have been so intimidated by a little cleaning. But getting ready for Passover felt like serious business. On top of the usual kitchen cleaning, every last crumb of bread, which is forbidden during the weeklong holiday, needed to be accounted for. If a rebellious Kashi flake fell through the cracks, my home would be unfit for the celebration. To crib from the Hebrew National hotdog packages, Passover cleaners “answer to a higher authority.”

A Tu Bishvat Seder for Every Personality

Originally published at My Jewish Learning.

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Over the last decade, seders for Tu Bishvat have spiked in popularity. This growth is largely due to the contemporary Jewish community’s interest in “greening” ritual and holidays. Every year, the number of organizations turning to Tu Bishvat to inject some sustainability-awareness into their annual programming grows, as does the collection of environmentally-inspired haggadot for Tu Bishvat available online. (Like this one from My Jewish Learning, this one from Hillel, and this one from Hazon.)

The downside is that some people shy away from celebrating the holiday precisely because it feels too “hippie” or eco-spiritual. But while the Tu Bishvat seder, which was originally developed as a mystical celebration by kabbalists in 16th century Safed, provides a helpful structure for celebrating Tu Bishvat, there are no official rules for the holiday. The lack of halakhic requirements means that seders can be tailored to meet their hosts’ personalities–even if they happen to prefer fine china over bicompostable dishware.

The War on Vegetables

(Originally published in The Forward)

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Last November, I koshered my kitchen for the first time. I did so with the full understanding that my decision came with certain compromises, like giving up my favorite cheeses and my delicious but uncertified collection of vinegars. While a bit heartbreaking, these were sacrifices I was willing to make as I welcomed in my new lifestyle. If only I had known that I might have to give up salad, too.

Leafy salad greens, along with berries, asparagus and a variety of other produce, have come under serious scrutiny in the kosher world over the past decade. There’s nothing treyf about these particular fruits and vegetables, except that they have a tendency to attract insects, which are halachically forbidden. Once they are removed from a spinach leaf or the inside of a raspberry, the produce is theoretically fit to eat. But kosher agencies like the Orthodox Union and KOF-K argue that certain bugs (for example, aphids, thrips and mites) are too small to spot easily, but large and common enough to be compromising.

Tomorrow: Culture in the Cucina

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Calling all New Yorkers!  A quick reminder that tomorrow (Sunday 12/13 – 2pm) is Culture in the Cucina – a unique and fun foodie event celebrating Jewish Italian food.  Hope to see you there!

CULTURE IN THE CUCINA
How Rome’s Jews are Cooking up the Past and Future

While Jews have lived in Italy since the 2nd century BCE and are credited with popularizing staple ingredients like eggplant, fennel and pumpkin, the notion of an “Italian Jewish cuisine” is difficult to define. Still, a handful of traditional dishes – like Carciofi alla Guidia (deep fried artichokes) and Pizza Ebraica (a fruit cake-like dessert) – have managed to endure over time.

Bagel Showdown: New York vs. Montreal

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This is a tale of two cities, each with a venerable Jewish culinary legacy that claims boasting rights to the world’s best bagel. Until now, these parallel universes have existed at a safe distance. But Mile End – a new Quebecois-style restaurant opening next month in Brooklyn - will bring the long-standing New York/Montreal bagel standoff to a head. In preparation, I consulted the experts about which “roll with a hole” steals their hearts, and their stomachs.

Read what they said below – and for more on Mile End, check out my article in Edible Brooklyn.

Culture in the Cucina: Dec 13

Jewish-style fried artichoke

Calling all New Yorkers!  If you’re around on Sunday, December 13th at 2pm, join me at this fun Jewish food event!

CULTURE IN THE CUCINA
How Rome’s Jews are Cooking up the Past and Future

While Jews have lived in Italy since the 2nd century BCE and are credited with popularizing staple ingredients like eggplant, fennel and pumpkin, the notion of an “Italian Jewish cuisine” is difficult to define. Still, a handful of traditional dishes – like Carciofi alla Guidia (deep fried artichokes) and Pizza Ebraica (a fruit cake-like dessert) – have managed to endure over time.

Food writer, Leah Koenig, will discuss how certain traditional recipes have attained iconic status in Italy’s oldest and largest Jewish center, Rome. She will also explore how today’s urban Jews relate to their culinary heritage. New York’s Jews have their bagels, knish and egg creams. What dishes do Italians turn to when they need a nosh, and how do these foods connect them to their past and their future?  *Bonus! Italian Jewish Chanukah recipes and tips on where to find Jewish Italian food in NYC.

EVENT DETAILS and more photos of Rome’s delicious food culture below the jump…

Saveur Loves Us!

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With the tragic closing of the iconic publication, Gourmet, the already struggling world of food journalism got a bit grimmer.  Fortunately, a few quality food magazines are still up and running – like Saveur, a magazine dedicated not only to delivering delicious recipes, but sharing the food traditions, people and stories behind them.

Well, The Jew & The Carrot must be on an upswing too because recently, Saveur added us as a “Site we Love” on their website!  In other words, Saveur’s editors are handpicking the “best of the food web” to share with their readers – and we got the golden ticket.  Or, rather, the red stamp of approval.  Well Saveur, consider us flattered – and consider yourself invited over for tea any day.

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Vegan Wine 101

(Originally published on Mother Nature Network)

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During my two-year stint as a vegan in college, I often joked that while 90 percent of dining hall food was off-limits, at least I could always find a drink. (Clearly, I had never heard of the bacon martini.) But on a recent vacation to America’s wine capitol, Napa Valley, I stumbled upon an unappetizing fact: All along, I just might have been drinking fish guts.*

“It comes from the bladder of a sturgeon,” said Peter Hoffmann. We were standing in a newly built shed in his fig tree-adorned backyard, sampling wines from his organic and biodynamic label, Aum Cellars — straight from the barrel. Needless to say, I felt pretty cool about that. In between swirls and sips, Hoffmann explained fining — the process of introducing a tiny amount of protein into wine to attract any loose particles (tiny bits of grape skin or stems, naturally occurring yeasts, etc.) and help them settle to the bottom of the barrel. Fining, he said, helps to smooth out a wine, ultimately giving it a silkier, more consistent mouth feel. “It’s the equivalent of driving a Mercedes instead of a pickup truck,” Hoffmann said.

Milk & Honey: Grown Across the Green Line

(Story excerpted from Tablet Magazine)

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On the occasional Friday afternoon, a makeshift farmers market appears inside the popular soup shop Marakiya in Jerusalem’s city center. Israelis peruse the goods: dried figs, almonds, creamy labaneh, bottles of grape honey, and briny stuffed olives. It’s a familiar scene in a country known for its fresh produce and sumptuous food markets. But this souk aims to produce more than a good meal.

Behind one of the tables, Yahav Zohar, a 29-year-old tour guide and translator, chats with a customer about a bottle of organic olive oil. While his deep tan and scruffy beard might suggest otherwise, Zohar is not a farmer. Rather, he is something of an altruistic middleman—traveling once a week to the West Bank in search of growers and small-scale food producers whose products he buys and resells at a small markup. “The other day, I bought 500 eggs from a farmer at a shekel apiece,” he said. “In some cases, our purchases end up being a big share of a family’s income.”

30-Minute (Sabbath) Meals

(reprinted from The Forward)

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The other night I had eggs for dinner. Two of them fried over easy, slipped onto a slice of toast and plopped next to some sautéed zucchini with garlic. My total cooking time clocked in somewhere around 12 minutes — about as much energy as I had on a muggy summer evening after a day spent prostrating myself in front of a laptop. There was nothing gourmet about what I ate, except perhaps the pinch of za’atar that I sprinkled over the eggs en route to the table. But according to a recent New York Times Magazine article by Michael Pollan (author of “In Defense of Food” and “The Omnivore’s Dilemma”), my dinner practically qualified for a James Beard award, the food world’s most prestigious prize.

Why? Because, as unfussy as my meal was, I cooked it. From scratch.

Top 11 Green Food Radio Shows

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Back in 2006, Kim Severson wrote an article for the New York Times Dining section about the emergence of cooking shows on satellite radio (think the Food Network but with aural porn replacing the gratuitous visuals). Never a bunch to miss out on the party, the sustainable food community quickly followed suit. Over the last few years, radio programs spouting the gospel of “good food” have spread like sourdough bubbles across the airwaves and Internet. Here are some of the shows worth tuning in to – and this one “goes to 11!

CHECK OUT THE FULL LIST AT the MOTHER NATURE NETWORK and then share your favorite shows below.

Yid.Dish: Classic Tabbouleh

(Originally published on My Jewish Learning)

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I grew up eating my mother’s American tabbouleh–starchy, lemon-doused bulgur salad. This was the 1980s, when many American Jews were incorporating “Israeli-style” foods into their culinary repertoire. But while my mom’s tabbouleh was delicious, I later discovered that it hardly resembled the authentic version, which features a higher ratio of painstakingly chopped fresh parsley and tomatoes to grains of bulgur.

Tabbouleh, which comes from the Arabic word tabil (“to spice”), is not actually an Israeli or Jewish dish, per se.

Spotlight On: Wissotzky Tea Company

(Originally published at My Jewish Learning)

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Russians had been drinking tea for fewer than 175 years when Klonimos Wolf Wissotzky founded the Wissotzky Tea Company in 1849 at the age of 25. His timing could not have been better. According to The Story of Tea: A Cultural History and Drinking Guide by Mary Lou and Robert J. Heiss, it was not until 1689 that a “measurable exchange of goods and materials, including Chinese tea, began to flow between China and Russia.”

Prior to that Russians drank sbiten–a concoction of herbs and honey steeped in hot water. But by the late 19th century, tea was “hot” in Russia and Wissotzky–a young Russian Jew living in Moscow–quickly emerged as one of the country’s most prosperous tea distributors. Wissotzky’s was even named the exclusive tea supplier for the Emperor’s Court.