Saturday, October 13, 2012

Knishing Cousins Share Potato Knish Recipe and History (Oh, and it's Blog Appetit's Seventh Anniversary!)

I can't believe today is Blog Appetit's seventh anniversary - thanks everyone for the help, support, advice and readership over the years.  Watch for a celebration post.  Meanwhile, please enjoy this special post (and potato knish recipe), my 695th. -- Faith

A real San Francisco treat - Mrs. Stahl's New York potato knishes
In a sunny San Francisco kitchen one recent afternoon, two cousins passed on a New York knish tradition.

Toby Engelberg and her cousin Sara Spatz were showing food writer and documentary filmmaker Laura Silver how to make their grandmother’s knishes. Engelberg’s grandmother was no amateur knish maker; she was Fannie Stahl, founder of Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes of Brighton Beach in Brooklyn, New York, one of the city’s legendary purveyors of the stuffed, baked Eastern European savory pastries.

Silver, a New York-based knish historian and expert, had been looking for years for Stahl family members and the recipe for the knishes she had grown up eating. To Silver the plump dough circle is more than just food. It is a “catalyst for talking about memories” and “a vehicle for nostalgia.” 

“It was amazing to find Toby. It went beyond my wildest dreams that I’d be making knishes with a descendant of Mrs. Stahl and in San Francisco,” said Silver, who had come West just to meet Engelberg and learn to make her knishes.

Silver had spent years tracing records and false leads for Mrs. Stahl’s Knishes only to find a clue on an on-line food forum posting by a Stahl relative. Through him, she found Engelberg. They had an “instant connection” and not only did Engelberg have the recipe, she was the family genealogist and was able to fill in the blanks on Silver’s research.
Laura Silver (left), Sara Spatz and Toby Engelberg with knishes
“The fillings are what I remember,” Engelberg said. She prefers the traditional fillings such as potato onion, cabbage or kasha (buckwheat) and is still tweaking her re-creation of her grandmother’s recipe. Working with Silver was “a great chance to get our story correct,” she said.

Engelberg, an architect who moved to San Francisco in 1988, once contemplated making knishes commercially, but she said the market for her hand-made savory pastries was not there. Now she makes the knishes for her annual holiday parties and for friends “who are really into it.” 

A camerawoman recorded Engelberg at work for Silver’s documentary on the Eastern European filled pastry. The dough was stretched out whisper-thin on the slate counter of her kitchen. Engelberg, often consulting with Spatz (who came from New York to participate), would spread a line of filling across the top, brush the dough with oil and turn the dough over until the pastry encased the stuffing. After a few more turns, the filled rope of dough was ready to be cut, shaped and baked into Mrs. Stahl’s famed knishes. With Silver helping out, the cousins made dozens of knishes for a party that night filled with appreciative friends who shared their own knish memories.

Mrs. Stahl began selling her knishes on the beaches and boardwalks of Brooklyn in the 1920s. By 1935 she had opened her shop in the Brighton Beach neighborhood. The cousins, daughters of the youngest and oldest of Stahl’s five children, reminisced about their grandmother’s shop including the machines that stretched and rolled the dough and the workers hand shaping the knishes at giant tables. The shop was sold in the mid-1960s a few years after their grandmother died. Subsequent owners kept the business going until 2005 when it closed for good, although a New Jersey pasta company still markets its frozen knishes under the Mrs. Stahl’s name to food service and other accounts.

In addition to researching knishes connections in New York and San Francisco, Silver has traveled to Minnesota, Poland and elsewhere on the trail of historic and modern knish makers.

“There’s a quote from Isaac Bashevis Singer about Yiddish that says the language is dying but it is never dead,” Silver said. “You can say the same thing about knishes.”

Her work in chronicling and celebrating the knish’s history while trying to introduce new eaters to the pastry has been supported by several organizations, including the Hadassah-Brandeis Institute. Her book, tentatively entitled the “Book of Knish,” is on track to be published late next year by Brandeis University Press. She hopes to have a pilot of her documentary ready to debut next year as well.

Silver is also working on an exhibit about knish history and other projects and invites folks to share their knish stories and local resources. Silver can be contacted at or through her website, .

Below is Engelberg's recreation of her grandmother's potato knish.  For a different style of potato knish, see this post and recipe on Blog Appetit.

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Turkish-Inspired Stuffed Eggplant Recipe a Delight

This is a version of an eggplant dish I first ate during a visit to Istanbul.* Like most stuffed vegetable dishes, this one does have a lot of steps, but the entire dish can be made ahead and served reheated or at room temperature. The rich lamb is tempered by the onions, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs and its eggplant casing becomes silky soft and delectable as it bakes. Serve with rice, couscous or a small pasta such as orzo on the side.
I should point out that when this recipe first appeared in the j.weekly, a reader from a Turkish background took me to task for saying you could serve this dish at room temperature.  Lamb is never served at room temperature in Turkey I was informed.  That is true so if you want to eat it at room temperature, please do, but understand most folks would not do so in Turkey. I do not recommend eating it cold or chilled, however.
Friends have said they don't eat lamb and asked for substitutions.  Try it with dark meat ground turkey or beef, or make it vegetarian like the dish that inspired this recipe (called the Imman Fainted).  You may want to use more tomatoes to make up for the absence of the lamb.  Or you can chop, cube and fry the eggplant that was removed when you hollowed the vegetables out and add when you would mix the lamb in with the tomatoes and onions.
Afiyet olsun! (Or bon appetit in Turkish.  If you speak Turkish and that's wrong, please let me know!)
Turkish-Style Stuffed Eggplant
Serves 6-8
1 tsp. salt
4 cups very thinly sliced onions (no thicker than 1/8”)
1 Tbs. canola oil
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1 lb. ground lamb
1 lb. medium tomatoes, peeled and seeded (see note)
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. sugar
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh dill
1/3 cup finely chopped fresh mint
2/3 cup finely chopped fresh, flat leaf parsley
4 Tbs. fresh lemon juice
2 medium eggplants (1 lb. each)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
Chopped dill, mint and or parsley for garnish, optional

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl, sprinkle salt over onion slices, toss well. Heat 1 Tbs. canola oil over medium high heat in large sauté pan. Add garlic and sauté until golden. Add lamb and sauté, stirring and breaking up any clumps, until just browned, about 2-3 minutes. Drain and discard any excess liquid and add lamb to onions. Cut tomatoes into 1/2” chunks and add with tomato paste, paprika, pepper, sugar, dill, mint, parsley and lemon juice, mix well.

Prepare eggplants. Trim off leaves, but leave stems. Slice in half lengthwise. Use a paring knife or vegetable peeler to remove 3 lengthwise strips (each about 3/4”-1” wide) of eggplant skin from each half, starting at the stem end and leaving the skin intact between strips, creating a striped pattern. If needed, slice a bit off the rounded bottom to stabilize. Use a large spoon to hollow out the eggplants, being careful not to pierce to skin. Leave 1/2" of flesh all around. Reserve scooped out eggplant pieces for another use or discard.

Pack each half with the filling and mound more on top, covering the surface of the eggplant to the edge. Place eggplants skin side down and side by side in a 14” x 9” baking pan. Drizzle olive oil over tops. Pour water down the sides of the pan. Loosely cover with aluminum foil. Bake for about 60 to 75 minutes (timing can vary greatly, so it may take more or less time), until onions are tender and eggplants are very soft. Check every 30 minutes, basting with cooking liquid and adding more water to the pan if necessary. When done, baste once more and remove from the pan, discarding cooking liquid. Sprinkle with chopped herbs if desired. Serve hot, warm or at room temperature.

Note: To peel tomatoes, cut a cross into the stem end about 1/8” deep. Place in pot of boiling water to cover. Let simmer 2-3 minutes until skin is loosened. Remove, let cool and rub or peel off skin. To seed, slice in half and gently squeeze out seeds.
*I am long overdue for writing up more about my trip to Istanbul last year, including the cooking class were I first made the vegetarian version of this dish.  I'll update this post with a link to those experiences when I finally do the write ups.

Thursday, October 04, 2012

Happy National Taco Day

Yes, today is really National Taco Day and Blog Appetit cedes to no one for its love of the Mexican antojito (street snack), particularly the taco-truck style we can get here on the streets of Oakland, CA.

These feature a flavorful filling (grilled, roasted or stewed beef, pork, chicken or offal) on top of 2 small corn tortillas with a spoonful of spicy salsa, a squeeze of lime and maybe a radish, and a pickled carrot slice or jalapeno on the side. My favorite before I began my current mostly vegan diet -- lengua (tongue).

Pictured above is my take on such street fare with turkey (rather than pork) - a turkey carnitas taco.
You can see the recipe here.  The post also includes the quick-pickled carrots and jalapeno recipes and directions for assembling your own.

Or try this smoked chipotle turkey filling for your tacos with roasted onions and cherry tomatoes.

I'm working on a chickpea-kale-potato taco filling but it's not ready for prime time yet.  In the meanwhile, take this virtual tour of Oakland's taco trucks.

What to drink with your taco?  There are lots of choices but maybe go with a vodka.  Nontraditional I know, but today is also National Vodka Day.