These tasty little buggers add perfect pizazz to any number of dishes and are especially delicious on thai food or in a juicy beet taco. And they’re easy! Here’s what you do:

Take a hefty zucchini (or two smallish ones) and wash it (if it comes from the farm, it has dirt on it and if it comes from the store, it’s been manhandled by green grocers). Then, using a peeler, peel it into strips all the way down to the seeds. You don’t have to throw away the peels, toss ‘em in with the rest–why not? Don’t worry if the strips aren’t all the same length, width, or thickness, just maximize the flesh of the zucchini, okay?

Next, use a measuring cup or bowl to mix:

1/3 cup rice vinegar (can use other kinds of vinegar, if you want. Rice vinegar or apple cider are more gentle)
1 generous tsp minced garlic (less if you are garlic sensitive, these are real garlicy)
1/2 tsp red pepper flakes
pinch of salt
3 grinds of fresh cracked black pepper
fresh or dry dill, like 2 teaspoons
1/4-1/2 tsp sugar

Use a fork or whisk to stir that stuff together and then combine with the zucchini peel/slices and stir some more to evenly coat the zucchini. In a container that can be covered and put in the fridge (I use a mason jar or a bowl with a plate over it).

Let sit, covered, in the fridge for 1 hour, or as long as possible for the flavors to mingle.

Serve, as suggested above. OR post a comment and tell us how you used them. (Or eat them with some chopsticks, just don’t let anyone catch you or they’ll think you’re weird.)

They should keep fresh for at least a week. Don’t throw them away unless they grow mold or smell bad.

The first thing you should know about making challah is this: DO NOT BE AFRAID! I find that many people are intimidated by the thought of making their own challah. Something about the combination of rising yeast, kneading dough, braiding strands, and then serving it up to family sends people into a tizzy of self-doubt and fear. Well, fear no more! What better way to begin the New Year than to take on a new tradition and learn a new skill that will connect you to Jews across the world, and across time?

Now, everyone insists that their own mother or grandmother makes the best challah. This is cute, but it is also false. MY mother makes the best challah. And now you can too! Before I get to the recipe, however, I would like to say a few things about the practice of making challah.

During my Junior year of college, I found myself living with a woman named Abby whose religious practice was more traditional than my own. I was daunted by the task of keeping a kosher kitchen and remembering to leave the light on in the bathroom on Shabbat. Like many other people I know, my increased awareness of Jewish law and custom triggered anxiety and embarrassment about the limits of my own knowledge and practice. I now believe that our match was beshert, or destined. The passion with which Abby approached the every-day rituals of life, and her commitment to making her life spiritually meaningful, inspired me to begin creating rituals of my own, like making challah. Making challah led to cooking Shabbat dinner which led to inviting people over every week and now I’m joyfully stuck with hosting 16 people in my tiny apartment for Rosh Hashanah!

Interestingly enough, Abby taught me that the word “challah” actually refers to the portion of dough that is removed and burned when the dough is divided in preparation for braiding. This act is one of the three traditional women’s mitzvot (along with lighting the Shabbat candles and going to the mikveh. A practice rooted in biblical times, we burn the challah in lieu of giving it to the Kohanim (priests) and their families. You only have to remove the portion (the size of an egg or an olive depending on who you ask) for the challah if you are using over 2.2 pounds of flour. If you are using more than 5 pounds of flour, you must also recite a blessing (see picture). The egg-size portion is then burned in a piece of foil in the oven or wrapped completely, then thrown in the trash. If you would like to read more about this practice, check out Rebbetzin Tzipporah Heller’s article on Aish.com.

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I didn’t start baking challah in college. In fact, I’m pretty sure I started at birth. Every Friday, my mother Yael would bake challah in the home-preschool she ran out of our basement where the yeasty smell of rising bread undoubtedly mingled with tiny voices arguing over cookie cutters and patient reminders not to eat too much of the unbaked dough. She was often recruited by families and congregations to make challah for special occasions and I remember the foot-long loaves she made with the bar-mitzvah boy’s name delicately sculpted along the top. On any given Friday, you might find my mom driving around with a giant metal bowl in her back seat, carrying the dough as she visits her occupational therapy clients, baking it in the oven at work, and delivering the loaf to an unsuspecting sales clerk or waiter that did a favor or a mitzvah throughout the week.

Throughout the many twists and turns of her adult life, my mom has kept the tradition of making challah, and the smell that wafts from my oven each week makes me feel connected to her and to the tremendous love she has for me, and for our family. She proudly shares the recipe with anyone, she answers my phone calls and fields questions when the yeast doesn’t rise or the dough is too wet, and she drives cross-town or stays up all night to make sure that someone deserving gets a loaf when they need it. For me, the weekly ritual of kneading, braiding, and baking serves as a reminder of the greatest lessons my mom has taught me: That there is room for everybody in our big tent of Jewish practice and that we are never to busy to stop and smell the challah. I hope that in sharing this tradition with you, and arming you with some insider tips, you’ll find that your soul, and your stomach, are quite full this New Year.

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Challah (as Yael makes it, since the 1970s)
Originally found in one of James Beard’s bread books under “Rachael’s (or was it Rebecca’s?) Challah.”

Mix/dissolve in a tall water glass (12-16 oz capacity) and let it stand until it reaches rim of the glass:

Image¾ c warm water
2 tsp sugar
2 tbsp flour
2 packs or 3 tsp of dry yeast (more on yeast)

While the yeast-stuff does its thing, use a large bowl to mix:

4 c flour (if you use whole wheat, I’d advice no more than a quarter of the total flour amount, which is anywhere from 7-12 cups depending on the freshness of the flour, the humidity, etc.)
½ c sugar (if you use honey, dough may be a little denser)
2 tbsp coarse kosher salt (1 tbsp if using regular table salt)
2 eggs
½ c oil (safflower or peanut are best…)
1&1/2 c warm water

  1. Stir in one direction until satiny-smooth…when the yeast stuff reaches the glass’ rim, stir that in, also, until satiny-smooth.

  2. Then, add flour, beginning with 2 c flour and then ½ c at a time, until dough is righteously bouncing back. You’ll begin this by mixing and gradually work up to the consistency for kneading. You’ll likely use 8-10 c of flour.

  3. When bouncy and popping air bubbles, turn into an oiled bowl (approx 1/8-1/4 c oil) and flip right side up so all dough’s surface is oiled.

  4. Cover, with plastic wrap or a clean, smooth-fabric towel. Let rise 1 & ½ hrs or until doubled…or until you can get back to it. You DO want to put it into a big enough bowl and cover it tightly, since if it DOES rise for a long time, it could bust out of the plastic and the it’d be dried out and you’d be trimming those pieces off and…that’s no good.

  5. Then, if it’s raised no more than 3 hrs so far, punch down and let rise another hour. (Otherwise you COULD go ahead and braid it now, but only if it’s risen for longer than 3 hrs.)

  6. Take the dough out, use flour sparingly to roll and form braids and place them/it on generous sheets of foil or onto cookie sheets.

  7. Let rise another hour.

  8. Glaze w/ 1 egg mixed w/ 2-3 tbsp sugar, sprinkle w/ seeds (sesame/fennel/poppy, for example).

  9. Bake at 350 degrees for one hour.

MMMMM and Shabbat Shalom!

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For more challah-related photos, check out the Jewish Women’s Archive‘s Baking Challah Flickr set.

For video tutorials on kneading, rolling, and braiding, visit my YouTube channel.

Post your comments, recipe modifications, photos, and thoughts below!

This post was originally published September 27, 2011 on the Jewish Women’s Archive Blog, Jewesses with Attitude, and is reposted here with permission.

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All the veggies for beet taco filling shredded and thrown into the good ol' cast iron. Photo: Etta King.

For my first food-related post, I am going to let you in on what will surely be the first of many, terribly-kept secrets. Are you ready? Here you go: beets are amazing. Seriously though, these hearty root vegetables are fantastic for so many reasons, here are a few in no certain order:

  1. You can eat the root, the stalk, and the stem.
  2. They come in a variety of colors.
  3. They are good, even when you boil them, which is very, VERY rare.
  4. The seeds are way cooler than all other seeds.
  5. They turn human waste matter into a rainbow surprise.

Now that I have whet your appetite, I would like to speak to those of you who are reading this thinking “There is no way I will ever eat a beet (again).” To you I say–if you put enough chili powder and sour cream on it, anything is possible. So do me a favor. Leave your childish fears at the door and try this once. If you don’t like it, you never have to do it again. But I stand firm in my belief that everybody loves a good taco bar and with this recipe, you can make colorful, healthy, delicious, inclusive tacos or burritos for EVERYONE!

Oh, and shout out to my friend Liz, who first gave me the idea to try this. And to Abby for teaching me the true value of beets and scobies.

Enjoy!

– — – — – — – — – — – — – –

  • Equal amounts beets and carrots (any kind of beet), shredded on a cheese grater, mandolin, or using a food processor grating attachment (do the beets last!)
  • Half that amount of white or yellow onion, halved and thinly sliced lengthwise
  • Other vegetables such as zucchini, broccoli stems, etc.(optional), similarly shredded
  • 1 can or bottle of beer
  • olive oil
  • garlic powder, cumin, coriander, chili powder, red pepper flakes, paprika (I prefer smoked)
  • limes or lime juice
  • large flour tortillas (for burritos) or small corn tortillas (for tacos)
  • Various toppings such as Spanish rice, beans and corn, sour cream, guacamole, cheese, lettuce, dilly beans or other pickles, yogurt with coriander

**Be careful, beets stain!

***This recipe is best prepared and finished in a cast iron skillet.

  1. Cut the onion (it will just turn into juice if you grate it) and shred all of the vegetables using the same method, shredding the red beets last.
  2. Heat some olive oil (enough for whatever amount you have shredded, probably a tbs or two) in a heavy skillet or pan large enough to hold all of the vegetables.
  3. Add the onions and sauté for a few minutes, just until they start to become translucent. Add the hard vegetables (beets, carrots, etc.) first and cook over medium-high heat until they start to shed some of their juice. After 7-9 minutes, add the softer veggies (zucchini). Continue to cook for another few minutes.
  4. Once the veggies have wilted or lost some of their water, add the spices. Start with a tablespoon each of cumin and chili powder, 1 ½ tsp garlic powder, cumin, and paprika, and cayenne or red pepper flakes to taste. Stir to integrate completely.
  5. Next add half the beer so that it covers the shreds about half way. Cover the pan and let stew for 7-10 minutes.
  6. Uncover and taste a pinch of the shreds; add more spices depending on what you like. If there is a lot of liquid in the pan, increase the heat slightly and stir to evaporate some of it, you don’t want the taco juice to make the tortillas too mushy!
  7. When the filling seems to be adequately cooked, add a tablespoon or two of lime juice to taste. Remove from heat and gather the other taco/burrito assembling materials.
  8. If you are building a burrito, it is best to use a 12” flour tortilla so that you can really stuff it full. If the tortillas feel brittle, barely moisten it by wetting your fingertips and spreading the water over both sides of the tortilla or using a barely damp towel. Then, pop it in the microwave for 10 or 12 seconds. This will keep it from breaking when you roll it.
  9. Begin to layer the fillings with the veggie mix at the bottom, dairy (sour cream or cheese), then cold toppings like lettuce, tomatoes, and peppers.
  10. Fold each end over with your fingertips, then using your thumbs, roll the burrito from bottom to top, keeping the ends tucked in. For a crunchy effect, take the folded burrito and gently brown it until golden in a cast iron skillet.
  11. If you are building tacos, you may want to double layer your 6” tortillas if the beet filling is especially juicy. Moisten the tortillas as described above in step 8. Layer the same way you would a burrito, starting with the filling, following with dairy, and putting salsa, pickles, and lettuce on top. If you have made rice, I recommend eating it on the side, or you wont have enough room in the tacos.

In an effort to relieve the stress of emailing great recipes I find, and to give hat tips where hat tips are due, I have started a food blog. I will post recipes when I can, and photos of the stuff I make, which should prove to be quite exciting.

I’m not really sure why you would choose to read this blog over any of the other blogs out there (win hearts by being self deprecating!), but at least I wont have to email anything anymore. EVAR.

Yay!

My family at a Passover Seder, in the front from left: Grandpapa (Leon King), Savta (Diane Averbach King), Aunt Cheryl (Cheryl King), and Bubbe (Molly Averbach)

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