“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!”

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Stick-to-your-ribs Mac’n’Cheese

I made this the other night and my husband didn’t even miss not having meat at dinner since this mac’n’cheese is so substantial.  It’s a great opportunity for a vegetarian dinner or you could even mix in some faux meat and still keep things kosher.  I mixed grilled bell peppers into ours and served it with crusty whole grain garlic bread.  (Clearly, this is not kosher for Pesach!)

What you need:

1lb. box of elbow macaroni (if you use whole grain, you will have to boil it slightly longer)

1/3 cup kosher unsalted butter (I like to control the salt in my food)

2tsp. black pepper

1 1/2 tsp. kosher sea salt

1tsp. hot Hungarian paprika (optional – regular paprika also works well and gives a nice colour)

5 cups whole milk (just do it!)

1/4 cup flour

2tbsp. cream cheese

2 cups grated extra sharp white Cheddar cheese

2 cups grated sharp Cheddar cheese

1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and follow the instructions for boiling your macaroni, except that you will want to pull it out and drain it a minute or two earlier than the package says (about 7-8 minutes at a good boil).  In the meantime, melt your butter in a large saucepan.  Once the butter has melted, sprinkle in the flour and mix well with the butter (this part is called “making a roux”).  Cook the mixture until it’s just a golden blonde colour (DO NOT WALK AWAY WHILE YOUR ROUX IS COOKING!!!!  People who say a roux is hard to make are people who walked away and burnt theirs.).  Add the milk and start whisking vigorously.  Keep on whisking until all of the roux is dissolved in the milk.  Whisk some more (but not quite as vigorously) until the mixture has thickened into a gravy-like texture (Mazel tov!  You’ve made a béchamel!).  Season with salt, pepper, and optional paprika.  Melt in the cream cheese.  Begin adding the white Cheddar about 1/4 cup at the time.  Make sure each time that the cheese you’ve added is melted before you add more or you’ll end up with a big stringy ball.  Next, add 1 cup of the regular Cheddar 1/4 cup at the time and then add the Parmesan.  Once all the cheese has melted into the sauce, combine your drained pasta, cheese sauce, and any mix-ins (veggies, fake meat, real meat, etc.) together in a large casserole dish.  Top with the remaining 1 cup of Cheddar cheese.  Bake until the cheese on top is melted and bubbly (about 20-25 minutes – longer if you have mix-ins that need to heat up, just cover it with foil to keep the cheese from burning).  Let cool slightly before serving because it will be like molten lava when it comes out of the oven.  Enjoy!

So yummy! (Yes, I know I need a food stylist.)

 

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