Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I love Yotam Ottolenghi

I love his two cookbooks (The Cookbook and Plenty) and his restaurant Nopi and how he tweets.  I love his way with sesame seeds, capers and Dijon mustard.
I love the recipes he publishes in the Guardian magazine.  I try them every week.

So last week while I was chopping up the ingredients for his Vietnamese Beef Salad, I thought about the difference between him and me.

His people are German and Italian.
My people are Litvak and Litvak.

He comes from a food tradition of refined abundance and I come from a food tradition of primitive austerity.

His people’s food traditions taste good, and my people’s food traditions drew the short culinary straw.
Chopped herring, helzel, ptchar and teiglach are foods that are hard to make and hard to love.

But that’s too bad.

This is what I’ve inherited.   It’s a tradition of simple food made from the cheapest cuts and two or three basic ingredients.

There were no preserved lemons in the stores of Dvinsk in the Nineteenth century.  There was no coriander or fennel seeds to be had in Pinsk. Though apparently there was flour, sugar and onions.  And whole chickens, un-plucked and unprocessed.

I don’t live in Dvinsk in the nineteenth century.  Like the great Ottolenghi himself, I live in London now in 2011, cooking with a wider range of ingredients and food experiences than my ancestors ever had.
I like how freedom tastes. But I wonder if I will be the last person on earth who knows how to make Kichel.

3 eggs
1 tablespoon oil
Half a tablespoon salt

Two secrets: the dough has to be very thin. The baking has to be watched because it burns very easily. Beat yolk whites separately, and then fold the yellow into the whites. Add salt, oil and flour to a good rolling consistency. Beat well after adding the oil, then beat in the flour.
Roll out thinly and cut into rectangles and place on an oil tray. Prick all over with a fork and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 200 degrees until shiny and done.
Kichel are like crackers and are basically edible plates for chopped herring or chopped liver.


  1. Yay! The Kichel recipe! I remember this being made by a mutual ancestor in Quanza. They need to be cooked at a high temperature so that the sugar melts into shiny caramel.

    Many thanks

  2. Yay for the Kichel makers! Yay for Granny! Thank you for the reminder about the high temperature and the shiny caramel finish.