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Lag BaOmer

Counting the Omer is a mitzvah through which we count the days from Passover to Shavuot.

What to do? Give up? Sigh and think, “I’m a bad Jew”? Never!

After Passover, we noticed that our 11-year-old son disappeared after school for hours at a time. When we asked him about what he was doing, he divulged few details. 

Whether you’re dining al fresco in July, which is National Picnic Month in the United States, or during the Jewish holiday of Lag BaOmer, which is synonymous with outdoor bonfires and picnics, you’re sure to love these picnic-perfect recipes,

You don’t need to be in Israel to celebrate this festive day the Israeli way. 

Israeli Fish Kebabs with Yellow Tahini Yogurt Sauce

Orly Ziv

Packed with fresh herbs, these fish kebabs are bursting with flavor. Since there are no binding ingredients, like eggs, the secret is to knead the mixture like dough to break down the proteins. The kebabs are good on their own, but even better with the creamy yellow tahini sauce.

I recommend that you use this recipe, and all of my recipes as inspiration, as  jumping-off points to make them your own. Change the ingredients or spices to create your own flavors, because there's no such thing as failure in the kitchen, only learning experiences.

2.2 pounds (1 kg) fish filet, finely chopped (tilapia, sea bass, mullet, red drum)
2 shallots or 1 small red onion, finely chopped
1/2 bunch parsley leaves, finely chopped
1/2 bunch mint leaves, finely chopped
1/2 bunch cilantro leaves, finely chopped
Lemon zest
2 cloves garlic, minced
6 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and pepper
2 tablespoons oil
1/2 tablespoon ground tumeric
1/2 cup tahini paste
1 cup thick goat's milk yogurt or buttermilk (preferably drinking yogurt)
Juice of 1/2 lemon, or more to taste
1 clove garlic, minced

Fish Kebabs

  1. Mix together all the kebab ingredients in a large bowl and knead until you obtain a uniform mixture.
  2. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.
  3. Shape into small round or oblong patties. Working in batches, cook on a hot grill or skillet for 3 to 4 minutes per side until cooked through and golden.
  4. Transfer to a plate or put in a pita and serve with  generous spoonful of the tahini yogurt sauce.

Yellow Tahini Yogurt Sauce

  1. Heat the oil and turmeric in a pan until just before boiling, or heat for 30 seconds in microwave. Strain and allow to cool fully before proceeding.
  2. Mix together the turmeric oil with the remiaing sauce ingredients until smooth and pale hyellow in color.

Reprinted with permission from Cook in Israel: Home Cooking Inspiration by Orly Ziv. 

Camp Recipe: Chef Lori's Shabbas Brownies

The URJ Camp George Team

Like at so many Jewish summer camps, the Shabbat experience is a highlight for campers and staffers alike at URJ Camp George in Ontario, Canada. These chocolaty brownies, created by chef Lori Stevenson, help make Shabbat even sweeter. Now you can enjoy them at home and think of camp, whether you’ve ever experienced Shabbat on Maple Lake or not!

1.875 cups white sugar (1 7/8 cups)
1 cup shortening
1/4 cup pareve margarine
1 teaspoon salt
3 large eggs
1 1/2 cups pastry flour
1/2 cup cocoa powder
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
A splash of vanilla
1/4 cup water
1 cup softened margarine
1/2 cup cocoa powder
5 cups powdered sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla
  1. Cream sugar, shortening, margarine and salt.
  2. Slowly add the eggs, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add vanilla and water
  3. In a separate bowl, mix together flour, cocoa power, and baking powder. Add to wet ingredients.
  4. Pour batter into pan and bake in a preheated oven at 375°F for approximately 30 minutes. 

To make the icing:

  1. Whip butter and cocoa together in large bowl until smooth .
  2. Stir in vanilla and powdered sugar.
  3. Stir together until the icing is light, fluffy, and smooth (about 1-2 minutes). 

Once the brownies have cooled, ice them and cut into squares. They are best enjoyed with camp friends! 

For more than 33 years Lori Stevenson has worked in the kitchen on the site of URJ Camp George, a Reform Jewish summer camp for children in grades 2 to 11. As a master kosher chef and culinary expert, Lori ensures that all 500 mouths are fed three times a day, all summer long. Along with her assistant Vicky, Lori whips up extraordinary meals that have everyone coming back for more!

Learn more about URJ Camp George in Ontario, Canada, or find a Reform Jewish summer camp near you.

Techina Cookies

Sharon Mann

My husband introduced me to techina (tahini), a staple found in most Israeli kitchens, as soon as we made aliyah in 1992. You can choose to halve all the ingredients for a smaller batch or freeze some for a later date. These cookies also taste great straight out of the freezer!

3 cups flour (half all purpose flour and half whole wheat flour)
1 cup raw tahini* (techina gol'mit)
½ cup white sugar
½ cup brown sugar
1 cup melted unsalted butter or margarine
  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C). Line two baking sheets with parchment paper.
  2. Combine all the dry ingredients (flour, white and brown sugars) in a large bowl. Add the techina and then the melted butter (or margarine). Mix with a large spoon. At some point you will need to switch to mixing the dough by hand until it is fully mixed. The dough will have a sticky slightly crumbly consistency.
  3. Take approximately one teaspoon of the batter at a time, and roll in your hands to form small balls. Place each cookie ball, evenly spaced, onto the baking sheets. Techina cookies don’t spread when baking, so there is no need to leave much space between each cookie.
  4.  One at time, flatten each cookie ball by holding it with one hand and with your other hand gently pressing down gently with your thumb or using the back of a small fork to make a criss-cross shape. Because the batter will be crumbly, you may need to reshape the cookie if pieces fall off.
  5. Bake until golden brown (approximately 15 to 20 minutes depending on how crispy you like your cookies). Let cool to room temperature and serve.

*If oil is floating on top, mix it in and then measure 1 cup.

Chocolate Chip Mystery Mandelbrot

Tina Wasserman

This recipe is featured in Tina Wasserman's book, Entree to Judaism for Families filled with tools to help children learn to cook with confidence, with clear, step-by-step instructions for every recipe and tips for adults to make the experience safe and rewarding.

Mandelbrot means “almond bread” in Yiddish, but its origins are the biscotti cookies that were created in Italy more than 700 years ago. These biscotti originally contained no fat or sugar and were baked twice so that they would be very hard and dry and last for months on ships at sea. Biscotti recipes traveled north to Germany, where they became very popular with the Jewish community because they could be made in advance of Shabbat and stay fresh for days.

Around the early 1900s, oil or butter was added to the dough along with different nuts, dried fruit, or chocolate chips, and our modern mandelbrot was created. During the Depression and World War II, butter and cooking oil were expensive and hard to come by, so mayonnaise was often used in their place. Mayonnaise is the secret ingredient in these mystery mandelbrot.

Hellmann’s mayonnaise was created by Nina Hellmann in 1905 to use on sandwiches and for sale in her German husband’s deli in New York City. Perhaps the Hellmanns were Jewish? Who knows, but Hellmann’s mayonnaise makes these cookies delicious!

The almond tree is the first tree to bloom in Israel in the early spring, making this recipe perfect for Tu BiShvat.

1-1/2 cups flour
3/4 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
2 eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips, regular or mini variety
1/2 cup slivered almonds
  1. Preheat the oven to 325°F.
  2. Place the flour, sugar, baking powder, and cinnamon in a 3-quart mixing bowl and stir with a wooden spoon to combine.
  3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix thoroughly.
  4. Divide the dough in half and form into 2 long, narrow loaves on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Bake for 25 minutes. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven and cool 5 minutes.
  5. Carefully transfer one loaf to a cutting board. Using a chef ’s knife, slice the loaf on the diagonal into ½-inch slices. Lay the slices cut side down on the cookie sheet, and repeat with the other loaf. Return the cookie sheet to the oven and bake for 5 minutes.
  6. Remove the cookie sheet from the oven, turn the slices over, and return to the oven to bake for another 5 minutes or until golden. Cool completely before storing in sealed container.

Kitchen Conversations

Look at the label on the jar of mayonnaise and read the list of ingredients. Discuss why it makes the cookies taste so good and light. What other recipes could use mayonnaise instead of oil?

Tina's Tidbits: 
  • This recipe is perfect for children of all ages because no electrical equipment is necessary and the dough is easy to work with.
  • An adult should transfer the hot loaves to a cutting board, but after 5 minutes, supervised children can use a chef’s knife to cut the dough into slices
  • Only children over the age of seven or eight should be allowed to turn the hot slices over, because the cookie sheet is very hot.

Grilled Steak with Chimichurri Sauce and Orange Slices

Tina Wasserman

The use of sherry vinegar, cumin, and oranges speaks volumes about the Iberian influence on the cooking of South America.

1/2 cup tightly packed parsley
1/4 cup chopped onion
4 cloves of garlic, chopped
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
2 1/2 tablespoons sherry vinegar
1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/2 pounds steak (rib eye, skirt, or club)
4 navel or Valencia oranges
Flour tortillas (optional)
  1. Combine the first 8 ingredients in a processor work bowl. Pulse on and off until the garlic and parsley appear to be minced and make a coarse paste.
  2. Add the vinegar and olive oil, and pulse until well blended. Let the mixture sit for a few hours to allow the flavors to meld.
  3. Brush steaks with 2 tablespoons of the sauce and let sit for 1/2 hour. Marinate skirt steak in half of the sauce for 3-4 hours to tenderize.
  4. Cut the tops and bottoms off the oranges and cut away all of the rind, leaving a ball of orange. Slice the oranges horizontally into 1/4-inch slices. Set aside.
  5. Grill the steak over medium-hot coals until medium rare (about 10 minutes per inch of thickness of steak.)
  6. Slice the steak across the grain and place on the center of a platter. Place the orange slices around the meat and drizzle with some of the remaining chimichurri sauce.

Note: If you like, you may place some of the meat, sauce, and oranges in a tortilla and wrap it up, like eating fajitas. This is not traditional but fun!


Tina's Tidbits: 
  • The acid in a marinade will help tenderize tougher cuts of meat. Tender cuts use the marinade for its flavor alone.
  • Regardless of the tenderness of your meat, always slice meat on a diagonal to avoid cutting directly on the grain of the muscle, which would create long strings of chewy meat. This is most true with beef.


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