“Tradition!”: Some Thoughts on Traditional Foods

“Tradition!” Tevye the Milkman sings in Fiddler on the Roof.  What did he mean?  Mostly, he was referring to an adherence to the Orthodox traditions of his small Russian village, but I’d like to think he could have also been singing about food.  It seems like winter sort of just begs for traditional comfort foods, doesn’t it?

Traditional foods is a phrase with several meanings to me.  The historian in me recognizes traditional foods as those foods indigenous to a particular place or time.  The average person in me thinks of a wide assortment of foods from the many influences which make up my background and which at some point or another were considered ‘traditional’ in my childhood home.  We usually had cinnamon rolls on Christmas morning; family gatherings always included guacamole and probably enchiladas; summer meant grilled chicken (or BBQ since Californians aren’t so picky about what constitutes actual BBQ); and our mac’n’cheese used to come with cut up hot dogs in it.  Then we moved around…a lot.  I learned that it isn’t a party in Indiana without a slow cooker full of meatballs; sweet tea is not the default in eastern Missouri north of about Perryville; BBQ does not mean chicken on a grill in North or South Carolina; and I do not like collard greens (even though everyone swears I’d love them if only I had So-and-So’s collards).

Since embarking on my journeys into parenthood and Judaism, I’ve also learned even more about traditional foods.  I’ve learned that as a parent, there is always room for new traditions.  This is especially true when integrating you and your spouse/partner’s traditions into one family set of traditions.  I have also learned that taking traditional foods (such as traditional Jewish yom tov dishes) and making them your own can be one of the most rewarding and deep ways to connect to a new tradition.  So, I’ve made my own version of savory hamantaschen, kheema kreplach, and a savory onion kugel.  Sometimes it’s nice to stick to bubbe’s recipes, but sometimes your own spin on something can be even more delicious and meaningful.

Variety is the spice of life after all, isn’t it?  So maybe even more than “Tradition,” Tevye had food on his mind when he sang, “L’Chaim!  To Life!”


Vegetarian (Kosher!) Enchiladas

I love Tex-Mex food.  When I was growing up in California, it wasn’t a real party unless there was guacamole and enchiladas.  Birthday? Enchiladas.  Family reunion?  Enchiladas.  I have what you might call a family recipe since it began with my grandmother, was adapted by my mother, and now has been adapted here by me.  No matter what you call it, your guests will call it, “Mmmmm!”

What you need:

1 large casserole dish, sprayed lightly with cooking spray

8 large flour tortillas (burrito size)(you could use corn but the consistency will be different)

1 28oz can of mild green chile Old El Paso® enchilada sauce (trust me, get the green stuff)

1 cup shredded “fiesta” blend cheese (Monterrey jack, cheddar, queso fresco, etc.)

1 cup cremini mushroom caps cut into large chunks

1/2 cup pitted black olives

1 cup red and/or green bell peppers sliced thin

1/2 cup salsa (I use a medium salsa, but you could use mild or hot)

1tbsp olive oil

Okay, now prepare yourself.  These are probably the easiest enchiladas you will ever make and everyone will love them.  First, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Then, heat the olive oil in a large skillet and then add the mushrooms.  Let them soften slightly and then add the sliced peppers.  Once everything has softened, add the salsa and cook down until most of the liquid has evaporated.  Remove from the heat.  Next, get a work space ready and spread a few tablespoons (just enough to coat) of the enchilada sauce in the bottom of your casserole dish.  Take a tortilla and make a line of the mushroom/pepper filling slightly to one side.  Add a few olives (you could slice or chop these, but I love biting into whole olives).  Sprinkle with some of the cheese (not too much).  Roll up beginning with the side with filling.  No need to tuck the sides while rolling unless you are using a narrow casserole dish.  Repeat for all 8 tortillas placing each one in the casserole dish perpendicular to the longer sides.  If it seems like they won’t all fit, cram them in.  Smashing them together actually makes them better.  Once all of the enchiladas are in the pan, pour the remaining enchilada sauce over the top (you may not use it all depending on the size of your pan, the dryness of your tortillas, etc…use your judgment).  Sprinkle liberally with remaining cheese and put in the oven.  All of the ingredients are cooked so you’re just waiting for the sauce to warm and the cheese to melt.  Twenty minutes should be fine unless you like your cheese a bit more brown.  Serve with sour cream, guacamole, black beans, and rice.

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