As the temperature dips low try out some new comfort foods from around the Jewish world. All these recipes are soothing and rich, and are either parve or diary. As they say in Israel, bitayavon (bon appétit)!

Transylvanian Green Bean Soup (Untergeschlugenah)

Washington-based cookbook writer Joan Nathan recalls asking the late Rep. Tom Lantos – the only Holocaust survivor to ever serve in the United States Congress – if he remembered this dish from his childhood in Hungary; “Did he ever!” Nathan recalls: it was his favorite as a kid.

This vegetarian soup is colorful and tasty on cold winter days – and all year round.

  • 5 cups vegetable broth or water
  • 2 lbs. fresh green beans, cut into 1-inch pieces
  • 1 red bell pepper
  • 2 T butter
  • 2 medium onions, diced (about 2 cups)
  • 2 T unbleached all-purpose flour
  • Lemon juice to taste
  • Dash of sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • Paprika to taste
  • ½ cup chopped fresh parsley
  • ½ cup snipped fresh dill
  • Sour cream for garnish (optional)

Bring the broth or water to boil and add the beans. Simmer for about 5 minutes.

Using a vegetable peeler, remove the outer skin of the pepper; scrape out the pith and seeds. Grate by hand or use the grating blade of a food processor. Add to the soup and simmer for an additional 5 minutes or until the beans are tender. You can also use roasted and peeled ppers instead.

Heat the butter in a small frying pan and sauté the onions until translucent. Stir in the flour and cook for several minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the flour-thickened onions to the broth and bring to a boil. Adjust the seasonings with lemon juice, sugar, salt, pepper and paprika to taste. The final soup should be a little sweet and sour.

Just before serving, add the fresh parsley and dill. Serve as is or with a dollop of sour cream.

Makes 6-8 servings. (From The Foods of Israel Today by Joan Nathan, Alfred A. Knopf, New York: 2001.)

Roasted Garden Egg (Jamaican Eggplant) Puree

Jews have lived in Jamaica ever since arriving with Christopher Columbus; later on, Jewish merchants from Syria and Lebanon settled in the island too. Jews are credited with introducing the eggplant to Jamaica; it’s called “garden egg” locally, and enjoyed in this richly satisfying pate.

  • 2 small eggplants, peeled and sliced lengthwise
  • ½ t finely chopped scotch bonnet (habenero) pepper, cored and deseeded
  • 4 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 2 green onions, chopped
  • 1 T fresh thyme leaves
  • 3 T vinegar
  • 4 T vegetable oil
  • 2 t soy sauce
  • Salt and pepper

Place the eggplant slices in a shallow dish. Mix all the remaining ingredients together and spread over the slices. Leave to marinate for 2-3 hours.

Cook in a medium 180* C / 350* F / gas 4 oven for 30 minutes, or until the slices are tender and cooked through.

Puree the slices in a blender or food processor, turn into a bowl and season to taste.

(From The Festive Food of Jamaica by Tessa Hayward, Kyle Cathie Ltd., London: 1996)

Fish Curry

The Bene Israel community of India dates back thousands of years. Although most members have moved to Israel in modern times, traditional recipes endure. This soothing curry can be made more less or spicy with the addition or removal of chilies from the recipe.

  • ½ fresh coconut, brown skin removed and cut into pieces, or 1 cup dried coconut and ½ cup coconut milk (make sure you buy unsweetened coconut milk)
  • 2 cups fresh coriander
  • 1 or 2 green chilies, cut open and seeded (use less for a less-spicy dish)
  • 1 t cumin
  • 6 or 7 garlic cloves, crushed
  • 3 T sesame oil (can also substitute peanut or vegetable oil)
  • ½ t turmeric
  • Juice of ½ lime or lemon
  • Salt
  • 1 ½ lbs (750g) white-fish fillet
  • 2 cups (500ml) water

Put the coconut, or dried coconut and coconut milk, in the food processor with the coriander, chilies, and cumin, and blend to a paste. Fry the garlic in the oil very quickly until it is only barely colored. Add the turmeric and the coconut paste and stir for a minute or two.

Add water, the lime or lemon juice, and some salt to taste. Stir and bring to the boil, then put in the fish and simmer for about 10-15 minutes, or until the fish is cooked.

Serve hot with rice. (I prefer Basmati for an extra-special flavor.) Serves 4.

(Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden, Alfred A. Knopf, New Yor: 1996)

Moroccan Minestrone

This rich vegetarian soup, popular with the Moroccan Jewish community, contains different exotic spices from its familiar Italian counterpart.

  • 2-3 t olive oil
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or Italian parsley
  • One 14 ½ oz can vegetable broth (1 ¾ cups)
  • 1 quart water
  • 2 large carrots, diced
  • 2 ribs celery, sliced
  • 1 t ground cumin
  • 2 cups small cauliflower florets
  • 2 T tomato paste
  • One 15 oz can chickpeas, drained
  • ½ cup couscous, plain or whole-wheat
  • Salt and freshly-ground pepper, to taste
  • Cayenne pepper, to taste

Heat oil in a large saucepan, add onion and 1/3 cup cilantro and sauté 3 minutes over medium heat. Add broth, water, carrot, celery, and cumin and bring to a boil. Cover and simmer over medium-low heat for 5 minutes. Add cauliflower and cook 7 minutes or until vegetables are tender.

Stir in tomato paste, then chickpeas, and return to a boil. Stir couscous into soup and brting just to a boil. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand 5 minutes. Stir in remaining cilantro. Season with salt, pepper, and cayenne. Serve hot.

Makes 3 main-course or 4 or 5 first-course servings.

(From 1,000 Jewish Recipes by Faye Levy, EDG Books Worldwide, Inc., Foster City, CA: 2000)

Rebecchine de Jerusalemme (Italian Stuffed Polenta Fritters)

This filling dish has been a favorite of the Jewish community in Italy for generations.

  • 250g (1 ½ cups) polenta (cornmeal)
  • 30-45ml (2-3 T) tomato puree (paste)
  • 30-45ml (2-3 T) diced ripe fresh or canned chopped tomatoes
  • 30ml (2T) chopped fresh rosemary
  • 30-45 ml (2-3 T freshly grated Parmesan or pcorino cheese)
  • 130g (4 ½ oz) mozzarella, Gorgonzola or fontina cheese, finely chopped
  • Half vegetable and half olive oil, for frying
  • 1-2 eggs, lightly beaten
  • Plain (all-purpose) flour, for dusting
  • Salt
  • Diced red (bell) pepper, shredded lettuce and rosemary sprigs, to garmish

In a large pan, combine the polenta (cornmeal) with 250ml (1 cup) cold water and strir. Add 750ml (3 cups) boiling water and cook, stirring constantly, or about 30 minutes until the mixture is very thick and no loner grainly. If the mixture is thick but still not cooked through, stir in a litte more boiling water and simmer until soft. Season.

Pour the mixgture into an oiled baking dish, forming a layer about 1 cm (1/2 inch) thick. Lightly cover the polenta, then chill.

Using a 6-7.5 cm (2 ½ - 3 inch) plain pastry (cookie) cutter or the firm of a glass, cut the polenta into rounds.

In a small bowl, combine the tomato puree with the diced tomatoes. Spread a little of the mixture on the soft, moist side of the polenta round, sprinkle with rosemary and a little of the grated and chopped cheeses, then top with another round of polenta, the moist soft side against the filling. Press the edges together to help seal the sandwiches. Fill the remaining polenta rounds in the same way.

Heat the oil in a wide, deep frying pan, to a depth of about 5 cm (2 inches) until it is hot enough to brown a cube of bread in 30 seconds.

Dip a sandwich into the beaten egg, then coat in the flour. Gently lower it ingto the hot oil and fry for 4-5 minutes, turning once. Drain on kitchen paper (paper towel). Cook the remaining polenta sandwiches in the same way. Serve warm, garnished with pepper, lettuce and rosemary.

Creamy Rice Pudding

Evelyn Rose, the doyenne of British Jewish cooking, was given this recipe by her mother, who learned it at the Jews’ School in Manchester before the First World War.

  • 2 oz (1/3 cup) Carolina (short-grain or pudding) rice
  • 1 oz (2 T) butter
  • 1 pint (2 ½ cups) whole milk
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1 oz (2 T) light brown or white sugar
  • Pinch of nutmeg

Wash the rice in cold water and drain well. Use half the butter to grease a 1-pint (2 ½ cup) pudding dish. Put the milk, salt and the rice in the dish and leave for 1 hour to soften. Preheat the oven to Gas No. 2 (300 F / 150 C).

Stir the sugar into the rice and add the remaining butter cut into tiny pieces. Scatter with the nutmeg. Bake for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally for the first hour, then leave to allow a golden-brown topping to form.

Serves 4.

(From The New Complete International Jewish Cookbook by Evelyn Rose, Robsson Book, London: 1997)

Vanilla and Cinnamon Challah Bread Pudding

Canadian Cookbook author Marcy Goldman calls this rich pudding “pure challa ambrosia”.

  • 10 cups challah chunks or cubes
  • 1 ½ cups (one 12-oz can) evaporated milk
  • 1 cup whole milk
  • 1 cup half and half
  • 8 eggs, lightly beaten
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • ½ cup (1 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
  • 2 t vanilla extract
  • 1 t ground cinnamon
  • 2 t baking powder
  • Pinch of salt
  • 2 cups peeled and coarsely chopped apples (optional)
  • ½ cup raisins (optional)
  • Confectioners’ sugar and ground cinnamon, for sprinkling

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly grease a 9 by 13-inch baking dish.

Place the bread cubes in a large mixing bowl. In a separate bowl, mix together the evaporated milk, whole milk, half and half, eggs, sugar, butter, vanilla, cinnamon, baking powder, and salt. Pour this mixture over the bread cubes and let stand for 10 minutes. Fold in the apples and raisins, if using. Spoon the mixture into the prepared pan and dust the top with a little confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon.

Bake until lightly golden (35-45 minutes). Cool about 5 minutes before serving. This can be served warm or cold.

(From Jewish Holiday Baking by Marcy Goldman, Doubleday, New York: 1996)