La Colomba di Pasqua

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Two notable celebrations of the season, Easter and Passover, are thisclose to being concurrent this year. It’s no coincidence that the Italian word for Easter (pasqua) and the Hebrew word for Passover (pesach) are closely related, although culinarily the holidays couldn’t be more disparate. During this time of year, Jewish families are expunging their homes of even the most minuscule crumb of anything leavened, and Italians are baking Easter breads like they’re going out of style.

Italy’s traditional seasonal bread is La Colomba di Pasqua (“The Easter Dove”), and it is essentially Lombardy’s Eastertime answer to Milan’s Christmastime panettone. These deliciously sweet, cakey breads, in some ways Italy’s gift to coffeecake but so much better, are fundamentally the same except for two significant distinctions: the colomba is baked in the shape of the iconic dove that symbolizes both the resurrection and peace, and the recipes diverge with the colomba’s dense topping of almonds and crunchy pearl sugar glaze. Traditionally, a colomba lacks raisins, favoring only candied orange or citron peel, but as with panettone, fanciful flavors (including some with raisins) proliferate.

The first photo shows a colomba in all its avian splendor. Frankly, I think it’s a leap of faith to discern a dove in there, but if you can detect one, you may have just performed your own miracle.

Hard pressed to see the dove? Fret not, for this photo has the cake turned upside down so the columbine form is somewhat more evident.

The third photo depicts a version that features bits of chocolate and dried peaches within and crunchy crushed amaretto cookies atop.

Just wondering: There’s no debate that American kids bite the ears off their chocolate Easter bunnies first. Do you suppose that Italian children start with the head, tail, or wings of the colomba?

A Passover Dare

(Originally posted in April, 2019.)

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Previously on, I did a springtime post that included a story about someone who dared me to come up with an ethnic fusion Passover menu. I wrote:

Well, far be it from me to dodge a culinary challenge! So although obviously inauthentic, but certainly fun and yummy, here’s to a Sazón Pesach!

Picante Gefilte Pescado
Masa Ball Posole
Brisket Mole
Poblano Potato Kugel
Maple Chipotle Carrot Tzimmes
Guacamole spiked with Horseradish
Charoset with Pepitas and Tamarindo

And, of course, the ever popular Manischewitz Sangria!

It was all in good fun, of course, but it got me thinking about actually creating a Jewish-Mexican fusion recipe. It isn’t strictly Kosher for Passover, but I thought the concept was worth a try. So here is my latest crack at cross cultural cooking: Masa Brei!

Now you might know that Matzo Brei (literally “fried matzo”) is a truly tasty dish consisting of matzos broken into pieces that are soaked briefly in warm milk (some folks use water), drained, soaked in beaten eggs until soft, then fried in copious quantities of butter. Typically served with sour cream and applesauce, it’s heimische cooking, Jewish soul food, at its finest and it’s easy to do.

So I thought it might be worth a try to swap out the matzos for tostadas, the milk for horchata, the sour cream for crema, and the applesauce for homemade pineapple-jalapeño salsa. A sprinkle of tajín, a scatter of chopped cilantro – and it actually worked!

Happy Passover!
!חג פסח שמח

A Ukrainian Ice Cream Novelty

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I can read enough Russian to know when I’m seeing Ukrainian (both are written using the Cyrillic alphabet) – like the label on this package.

The brand is Ласунка (Lasunka) a leading producer of ice cream in Ukraine; it means delicacy or, loosely translated, sweet tooth; пирожено-морожено means cake-ice cream; грушове indicates pear (pictured on the label – look closely); and з карамельннм соусом translates as “with caramel sauce.” (Дякую, Гуглити.)

What appears to be a brown cardboard cup is actually a soft edible bowl (the “cake”) cradling three cute soft ice cream florets. The ice crystals are the byproduct of storage, not the product of creativity, but they were so pretty, I couldn’t resist taking a photo before dispatching them.

And you’ve probably already surmised that I came across this treat while doing prep for my Little Odessa ethnojunket.

You can sign up and taste one for yourself! Please visit the Ethnojunkets page to learn more about my neighborhood food tours and join in the fun!

Hope to see you soon!

🇺🇦 Слава Україні! 💙💛



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I’ve been doing food tours in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood for so many years that by now, notwithstanding the vicissitudes of hurricanes called Sandy and pandemics called COVID, I know Little Odessa like a second home. Consequently, there’s not a lot about the vast array of Eastern European, Central Asian, and Russian cuisines that leaves me stumped. But happily, every exploration brings some kind of surprise and a recent visit brought this one:

Each of the numerous markets offering prepared food presents a different roster of dishes. One of them (come on my Little Odessa ethnojunket and I’ll take you there 😉) had an unfamiliar item in the cold salad section. The sign read “спаржа,” the word for asparagus.

I caught the eye of the woman behind the counter. “The sign says ‘sparzha,’ but that looks like bean curd skin; is it bean curd skin?” I asked expectantly.

“You can read this?” she replied, avoiding my question. “I give you a taste.”

On this ethnojunket, we sample a broad range of culinary specialties. One of them is that of the Koryo-saram, people who in the 1920s and 30s fled from Korea to Russia when Japan occupied their homeland and who were subsequently moved to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan by Stalin; they adapted their cuisine to whatever was available there. Turns out this is another one of the dishes they created. (More about that – and why it’s called asparagus – on the tour.)

It is indeed bean curd skin, known as соевая спаржа, soy asparagus. In Central Asian cuisine just as in that of East Asia, it doesn’t impart a lot of flavor but it does provide a little chew – texture is its prime directive here. Fresh dill and a light dressing inform the dish but do not overwhelm it; the carrot is for color.

I’d consider it a side, certainly not a main. As a matter of fact, IMHO it would be a perfect foil for khe – think spicy Korean ceviche – which we sample on the tour as well.

Hope to see you soon!

Ramadan 2022 – Nishallo

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Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the holy month in which the Qur’an was revealed to the prophet Muhammad; this year, Ramadan begins at sundown on Saturday, April 2. During that period, about 1.6 billion Muslims around the world fast from dawn until dusk. The meal that marks the end of each day’s fast is called iftar and often commences with three sweet dates that help restore blood sugar levels, after which the menu will vary by country and regional specialties.

This is nishallo (aka nisholda), an exceedingly sweet dessert that’s native to Uzbekistan and Tajikistan and prepared exclusively during Ramadan; it makes its appearance as part of iftar. Made primarily from sugar, whipped egg whites, and water, it’s a dead ringer for Marshmallow Fluff (as you’d expect from the ingredients) if perhaps a bit classier because of a touch of star anise and/or licorice root. I understand that for some natives of Uzbekistan, it rekindles heartwarming childhood memories, not unlike Fluff for some nostalgic Americans. It’s often used as a dip for warm flatbread and is particularly appropriate after 17 hours of abstention from eating because its high sugar content is said to jumpstart the metabolism.

I found it, along with other Ramadan specialties, at Tashkent Market, 713 Brighton Beach Ave in Brooklyn, one of the highlights on my Little Odessa ethnojunket. If you like the idea of tasting something new and delicious from another part of the world, please visit my Ethnojunkets page to learn more about my neighborhood food tours and join in the fun!

More about Ramadan foods during the month.

Ramadan Mubarak!

Little Odessa Ethnojunkets Are Back!

Good news! COVID hospitalizations are waning and seasonal temperatures are waxing and that means it’s time to bring back ethnojunkets!

We’re getting the ball rolling with Exploring Eastern European Food in Little Odessa and I’ll be adding the rest soon.

Ethnojunkets FAQ:

Q: What’s an ethnojunket anyway?
A: An ethnojunket is a food-focused walking tour through one of New York City’s many ethnic enclaves; my mission is to introduce you to some delicious, accessible, international treats that you’ve never tasted but soon will never be able to live without.

Q: Which neighborhoods do you cover?
A: My most popular tours are described on the ethnojunkets page but there are always new ones in the works. For the time being, I’m only scheduling Little Odessa.

Q: When is your next ethnojunket to [fill in the blank: Little Odessa, Flushing, Elmhurst, Little Levant, etc.]?
A: Any day you’d like to go! Simply send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section below or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and tell me when you’d like to experience a food adventure and which ethnojunket you’re interested in – I’ll bet we can find a mutually convenient day! (Pro Tip: Check the weather in advance for the day you’re interested in to facilitate making your choice; we spend a lot of time outdoors!)

Q: I’ve seen some tours that are scheduled in advance for particular dates. Do you do that?
A: Yes, in a way. When someone books a tour (unless it’s a private tour) it’s always fun to add a few more adventurous eaters to the group – not to mention the fact that we get the opportunity to taste more dishes when we have more people (although I do like to keep the group size small). You can see if there are any openings available in the “Now Boarding” section of the ethnojunkets page. Subscribers always get email notifications about these.

Q: What will we be eating in Little Odessa?
A: Here are just a few of the Eastern European, Central Asian, Russian, and Former Soviet Union delicacies we usually enjoy on our food tour along Brighton Beach Avenue in Brooklyn. (Not that I’m trying to tempt you to sign up! 😉)

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The overarching term is khachapuri, literally “cheese bread”; they’re commonly filled with tangy, salty sulguni cheese and imeruli, a fresh crumbly cheese which when melted together combine to make stretchy, cheesy nirvana. Georgian adjaruli is shaped like a kayak, the center of which is filled with cheese; a raw egg and a chunk of butter are added just as it’s removed from the oven. Stir the mixture: the egg cooks and combines with the butter and melted cheese. Break off pieces of the bread and dip them into the cheese mixture. What’s not to like?

Uzbek manti, Russian pelmeni, and Azerbaijani kutaby in the back. Azerbaijani food is similar to the cuisine of Georgia but they lay claim to certain dishes such as kutaby as their own. A thin, tortilla-like crepe filled with ground lamb and luscious seasonings, folded in half and griddled, it’s an object of universal culinary lust for anyone whose lips have ever caressed it.

Curd Snacks are not unlike a cross between an Eskimo pie and chocolate covered cheesecake; individually wrapped, they come in an assortment of flavors from chocolate and vanilla to the more esoteric blueberry, blackberry, and raisin.

Salads: At the top there’s fried lagman, a savory noodle dish (also found in soup) of the Uyghur people, an ethnic group living in East and Central Asia. Moving clockwise there’s khe, raw fish marinated in onion, spicy red pepper and vinegar. Russia and North Korea share an 11 mile border; the Korean culinary character of khe is obvious. Finally, there’s norin (aka naryn). Very fine noodles and a generous measure of cumin accompany thinly sliced beef. So good!

I hope you’ll sign up and join us! The cost is $85 per person (cash only, please) and includes a veritable cornucopia of food so bring your appetite: you won’t leave hungry, and you will leave happy!

For more information and to sign up, send me a note in the “Leave a Reply” section at the bottom of this page or write to me directly at rich[at]ethnojunkie[dot]com and I’ll email you with details.

I’m looking forward to introducing you to one of my favorite neighborhoods!

Gusht Non

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In my last post about Bosu Lagman at Kashkar Café, 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, I mentioned an item that was so yummy, it’s a permanent fixture on my Little Odessa ethnojunket through Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach neighborhood. So much so, in fact, that on a recent visit there I asked my dining buddy, “Is this really, really good or have I just been eating too much of my own home cooking?” His reply between bites: “It’s really, really good.”

The first photo shows Gusht Non (гушт нон), literally “meat bread”, in its pristine state. Think Turkish gözleme with lamb meets Chinese scallion pancake via Kazakhstan.

The inner workings.

The menu humbly describes gusht non as “lamb meat, onions, and greenery baked in a pan” which is certainly accurate as far as it goes, but once you’ve had a bite, you’ll gush with pleasure – nononsense!

Ethnojunkets will be starting up soon – stay tuned for the official announcement! (No extra charge for mnemonics. Or bad puns. 😉)

Bosu Lagman

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I’ve written previously about Kashkar Café (here and here), 1141 Brighton Beach Ave, Brooklyn, and since I’m in the throes of revivifying my food tours, a return visit was in order; I’m pleased to report that Kashkar is still thriving and still reliably delicious. They serve the food of the Uyghur people, a primarily Muslim ethnic group who live in the Xinjiang region of northwest China near Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan; as you’d expect, the cuisine is a comingling of Chinese and Central Asian fare and definitely worth getting to know.

On a recent visit, we opted for Bosu Lagman; linguistically, the Chinese influence is easy to identify from the cognates: lo mein → lagman. On the menu, you’ll see жареный лагман, literally fried lagman, delectable noodles with a perfect chew accompanied by tender lamb and vegetables.

Stay tuned for another dish from Kashkar that’s so tasty, it’s a permanent fixture on my Little Odessa ethnojunket.

Looking forward to seeing you just as soon as the weather gets a bit warmer!

Afrosiab Café

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One component of reviving my ethnojunkets involves the always fun task of checking out locations where restaurants along my food tours have closed and new ones have opened in their stead. Such is the case for Afrosiab Café which is firmly ensconced in the former digs of Café At Your Mother-in-Law at 3071 Brighton 4th St, Brooklyn.

Named for the settlement of Afrosiab in Samarkand, Uzbekistan (dating back to about the 6th century BC), Afrosiab describes its cuisine as Middle Eastern although the choices on the menu point to Uzbek food.

My dining buddy and I ordered Jiz Biz; we’ve enjoyed a dish of lamb offal – spelled djiz-biz – many times at Azerbaijani restaurants, but the menu here described this simply as lamb chops. And indeed they were. Accompanied by fried potatoes, sliced red onions and tomatoes, and grilled wedges of Uzbek bread, it was an artful presentation.

Achichuk, Uzbek tomato and onion salad.

More reports of revisiting Little Odessa to come….