Do you like deli food? Pickle plates? Good, crusty breads? Smoked, flavorful meats? Vinegar and salt and spices and tradition and stories? If you do, well, shit…you’re in for a fun April here at the Cook the Books Challenge! For April, we’re cooking Jewish modern comfort food with Noah and Rae Bernamoff in The Mile End Cookbook.
See, I love all of the above dishes. Whenever I visit a city, if there is a Jewish deli, best believe we’re going there. When I lived in NYC, I took my parents’ visits (also major deli fans) as opportunities to visit the hallowed halls of such institutions as Katz’s Deli and the 2nd Avenue Deli. A few years back, Double S and I went to L.A. Hey, I had just started my blog back then! Sure, we were all cool, going to Silver Lake and following food trucks on Twitter when I hardly knew what Twitter was, but my favorite food memory from that trip was going to Langer’s Deli. I gushed about it here. If you are anywhere near southern California, go get you ass there right now. Unfortunately, these delis are dying. If you care about food and culture and preserving the history of food and you love pickles, you do not want this.
I know there are a few Jewish delis here in the Seattle area. I haven’t been. Jewish deli in the Pacific Northwest? I’ll believe it when I taste it, but I do want to taste it. Stay tuned!
So I’ve been reading through The Mile End Cookbook. It makes you wanna do that. The story is pretty top notch. Montreal Jewish boy grows up in a family in love with food. Friday night dinners hosted by his grandmother were a weekly thing of legend. But like a lot of poor saps, he hears the siren song of law school. Before he even finishes his second year, he’s found something else calling him. He misses the smoked meat and Jewish deli food of his childhood, so he buys a smoker and learns how to smoke meat on his roof in Brooklyn, Montreal style. Fast forward a few years, and he has dropped out of law school, and he and his wife, a Jewish NYC native, have opened up the Mile End Deli, named after his parents’ suburb in Montreal. Neither of them have an ounce of food service experience. And they make it work. Stories like this get me through long days of not doing what I want to do. Food like this makes me think of my family and traditions and the briny, salty wonderful foods and traditions that I too grew up with.
This is a fun book. Not only do you get the story of how Noah and Rae made the Mile End Deli come about, you get a primer on smoking meat, Montreal specialties, Jewish food, a short history of deli as a cuisine, and not tying yourself to tradition while desperately keeping the cuisine alive. I’m really liking this book.
If you’re going to cook along with us this month, you might want to think about smoking meat. Montreal style smoked meat is a thing, if you don’t know. It all starts with a beef brisket, which is salted and cured for about a week or more, then hot smoked to delicious perfection, then steamed right before eating. The primary spices are peppercorns and aromatics like coriander. It’s not the same as corned beef. And don’t fret, you don’t have to buy a smoker. Noah and Rae’s helpful introduction tells you all about alternative ways to smoke meats other than with a full-on smoker, including just using your charcoal or gas grill, some wood chips, and patience and time. Speaking of patience and time, how good is this song?
Theme song for smoked meat! Oh, I have my mind set on some smoked meats! Fo’ sho!
So I’ve been doing a lot of smoker research. Fine, entry level electric smokers can be had for less than $75. I’m getting a Weber Smokey Mountain, but that’s just cuz I want to learn how to really smoke. But if you don’t feel like using that patience and time and smoking some meat, don’t fret my pet! There are plenty of other recipes in The Mile End Cookbook. But Noah And Rae want you to know how the flavors and textures of smoked meat are key to Montreal Jewish comfort food.
You’ll also learn a lot about pickles. I can never learn too many pickle recipes, so I’m down. This is basically me, for realsies:
After Noah and Rae take you through the basics of their modern Jewish comfort food, with recipes for the likes of smoked meat, corned beef, roast beef, pickled tongue (don’t be skeered!), smoked turkey and chicken and mackerel, lox, as well as all the pickles, garnishes and condiments you can imagine, they teach you to integrate them into meals. Jewish food ain’t just sammies, yo! But heck yeah, there’s plenty of sandwiches in The Mile End Cookbook, too. And have you had hamentashen? If you have, you know that Jewish desserts are really tasty, and you will find them here too.
It’s gonna be a fun month, friends! Cook along with us and send us your link to email@example.com by April 26th or so. Have fun, everybody!