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"'You'll eat. We'll talk later,' Abe Lebewohl said to me once, when I sat down amid the aromas of his Deli to interview him. I ate—holishkes; borscht the way Abe made it, with chunks of beef; and chicken livers. We talked, ate rugalach, and we were finished. I thought. As I was walking out Abe yelled after me, 'Don't forget, just because you write for a fancy-schmancy magazine, that cholent is Lower East Side cassoulet.' I didn't forget, Abe. Kisses."
—Fred Ferretti, contributing editor, Gourmet
"The Second Avenue Deli Cookbook is a wonderful collection of recipes and anecdotes that truly captures the essence of a wonderful restaurant and special man. Enjoy!"
—Drew Nieporent, president of Myriad Restaurant Group, owner of Nobu, Tribeca Grill, Heartbeat, Layla
"It would be hard to find anything as wholly delicious as the Second Avenue Deli, but this savory book comes close. Not only is it full of tempting, eminently doable recipes, but it recalls the warm spirit of the Deli itself, and of dear, generous Abe Lebewohl, who would consider this collection a fitting eulogy."
—Mimi Sheraton, noted food journalist and former food critic for The New York Times
The Jewish Rialto
Abe Lebewohl chose downtown Second Avenue as the site for his restaurant because he treasured the neighborhood's Jewish heritage--especially its connection with the Yiddish theater. In the early decades of the twentieth century, New York's Jewish population grew and prospered. Between 1881 and 1903, more than a million Yiddish-speaking Jews arrived in New York, and most of them settled on the Lower East Side. Second Avenue, between Houston and Fourteenth Streets became a cultural hub, lined with Yiddish bookstores, lively cafés, and playhouses. Every night, stars of the Yiddish stage strode the boards in melodramas (often with immigrant-makes-good themes), comedies, and serious theatrical productions. Tragedian Jacob Adler (famed for his moving portrayals of Shylock and Lear) and matinee idol Boris Thomashevsky--who yearned to raise the intellectual quality of Yiddish plays--adapted Shakespeare and Goethe for the Jewish stage. Edward G. Robinson, Steve Lawrence (whose father was a cantor), Paul Muni, Leonard Nimoy, impresario Joseph Papp, and director Harold Clurman all began their careers in the Yiddish theater.
The Jewish Rialto was already on the wane when the Deli opened in 1954, and today most of its venues have been torn down. The old Moorish-motif Yiddish Art Theatre on Twelfth Street and Second Avenue (built in 1926 by the great Yiddish actor/director Maurice Schwartz) is now a multiscreen movie house. And a Japanese restaurant across the street occupies the site of the old Café Royale (celebrated fictionally in Hy Kraft's 1942 com-edy Café Crown). The Royale was once the meeting place for Jewish entertainers and intelligentsia. Charlie Chaplin, George Jessel, Fanny Brice, Eddie Cantor, Moss Hart, and Rachmaninoff--not to mention non-Jewish Village writers like e.e. cummings and John Dos Passos, who found the Royale scene colorful--were among its habitués. They gathered there to discuss art, literature, and socialism over blintzes washed down with glasses of tea.
The Café Royale had closed its doors a few years before Abe arrived on Second Avenue. As a tribute, he wanted to call his establishment the Royale Deli, but the café's owner wanted a $2,000 royalty, which, at that time, might have been $2 million. Still, the idea of honoring the Yiddish theater stuck in Abe's mind.
In the Deli's second major expansion, he dubbed his new dining area the Molly Picon Room and covered its walls with film and theater posters of Picon in roles ranging from Yiddle and His Fiddle to Fiddler on the Roof. At an opening-night party to inaugurate the room, the famous eighty-two-year-old actress (who once sang a Yiddish ballad called "The Rabbi's Melody" so soulfully she made Al Capone cry) was once again applauded by her fellow thespians. Even Mayor Ed Koch stopped by to kiss the guest of honor and nosh a little chopped liver. Molly was a regular customer during her lifetime; her favorite dish was chicken in the pot.
In 1985, further warming to his theatrical theme, Abe created a Hollywood Boulevard-like Walk of Stars outside the Deli, with thirty-one gran-ite stars commemorating fifty-eight luminaries of the Jewish stage. A special star pays tribute to Abraham Goldfaden, "the Father of Yiddish theater." Though Jewish theater actually harks back to the sixteenth century (rooted in Purim plays, it was the Jewish counterpart of Christian passion plays), it was Goldfaden, in the 1870s, who wrote, composed music and painted scenery for, and produced the first professional Yiddish dramas and comedies. His first performance, in a wine garden in Jassy, Romania, was such a flop that the audience not only booed but physically attacked him. The experience taught him two things: that he was a lousy actor and that his material had been too highbrow for the public taste. But instead of nurturing contempt for his unsophisticated audience, he began to use his plays as a forum to educate--to wean his fellow Jews from fanatic traditionalism and cultural isolation. He went on to shape a Yiddish theatrical tradition that, if not subtle or profoundly intellectual, was emotionally stirring and boisterously comical.
As continuing immigration brought thousands of Jews to New York, the Yiddish theater flourished, freed from fear, censorship, pogroms, and persecution. People who lived in dire poverty--who spent their days laboring in sweatshops and their nights in shabby, overcrowded tenements--managed to set aside a little money from their meager earnings for tickets. A link with their heritage and an island of comfort in a baffling new world, Yiddish plays were as nourishing and vital to them as food and drink. The Jewish stage prospered through the 1940s, when it fell victim to assimilation and the diminishing number of Yiddish-speaking Jews.
In the early 1990s, inspired by perestroika, Abe developed a new passion: to open the first kosher restaurant in Moscow. Robbed of his childhood by the rise of Communism, he enthusiastically hailed its demise. His intention was to begin restoring to Russian Jews--via matzo ball soup, chopped liver, and potato latkes--their long-lost heritage. The profits from the restaurant--which was to be called Rishon (Hebrew for "First")--would be donated, in his parents' name, to a Russian yeshiva. Abe made many trips to Moscow trying to set things up. In the end, however, a combination of bureaucratic mire and Russian corruption (thugs demanded under-the-table payments for "security") put an end to this cherished project. Though deeply disappointed, Abe soon put Moscow behind him and returned his focus to the Deli, which by now had attained the status of a Big Apple landmark.
After decades of struggle, Abe's dream of success in America was a reality--a reality that he enjoyed tremendously until the last moment of his life. He loved people, he loved food, he loved his restaurant, and he loved New York, especially his East Village neighborhood. The Second Avenue Deli has long been the anchor of that neighborhood, its glowing neon sign the symbol of a vibrant community of successful businesses, shops, restaurants, and cafés. During his lifetime, other businesspeople in the area dubbed Abe "the Mayor of Second Avenue."
If Abe had been aware of his own violent death, he would have seen it as an anomaly, not as a sign that crime was rampant on the city streets. He was always upbeat about New York. And he would have wanted his restaurant to continue to flourish and feed the public. Soon after Abe's death, his widow, Eleanor, and his brother, Jack, reopened the Deli. They knew Abe would have wanted it that way. Under their loving stewardship, the kitchen has maintained its excellence and authenticity, while continuing to experiment and evolve. The same waitstaff is on hand to warmly welcome customers. And a final dream of Abe's has also been realized: in 1997, a sparkling new interior and façade were created by one of America's most prominent restaurant designers, Adam Tihany, who breathed new life into our surroundings without sacrificing the Deli's all-important traditional gemütlichkeit.
Every night, people still form long lines outside the Deli's doors, waiting to savor its peerless pastrami and incomparable chopped liver. When there are especially large crowds, waiters come out with platters of hors d'oeuvres to stave off the pangs of hunger. The Second Avenue Deli remains a vibrant New York institution that we hope will survive forever as a loving tribute to its founder, Abe Lebewohl.
In the coming pages, you'll learn the secrets of all the Second Avenue Deli's classic creations--our award-winning chopped liver, Old World cholent, fork-tender brisket of beef, and crisp potato latkes.
Our traditional fare is the ultimate expression of comfort food. Dripping in schmaltz and nostalgia--and as diverse as the nations of the Diaspora--it's redolent of Jewish culture and history; almost every dish evokes a holiday ritual. But Abe's eclectic enthusiasms couldn't be contained even in the wide spectrum of Jewish cuisine. If he especially liked something he ate, Abe wanted it served in his restaurant, Jewish or not. Hence, our menu--and the recipes in this book--include such unexpected items as spicy barbecued chicken, buffalo wings, a California-style bow tie salad with sun-dried tomatoes, chicken cacciatore, and even vegetable lo mein!
Every year, the Deli caters hundreds of parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, board meetings, seminars, and political events. It's a big part of our business, and, in compiling recipes, we've included many items from our catering menus that are not offered in the restaurant itself.
Abe, ever a Zionist, made many trips to Israel and loved its cuisine: so we've presented such traditional Middle Eastern fare as baba ganoush, hummus, tahini, tabbouleh, and the best falafel you've ever had.
Other wonderful recipes (all fully tested by us) were provided by Lebewohl family members and friends.
Julia Child once offered this bit of culinary comfort: "Don't be afraid of cooking. . . . What's the worst that could happen?" What's more, she added, "It's important to remember you can fix almost anything." We agree with Julia, and we've worked hard to make our recipes easy to understand so that cooking will be fun, not frightening. Hopefully, you won't even need to "fix" anything.
What's Kosher? What's Pareve?
The Jewish ritual dietary laws of kashruth--which include detailed instructions for the proper selection, slaughtering, cooking, and eating of all foods--were handed down to Moses on Mount Sinai along with the Ten Commandments. A covenant with God, kashruth teaches reverence for life and perpetuates Jewish identity among a dispersed people.
The Second Avenue Deli is a kosher restaurant. In accordance with one of the most fundamental tenets of kashruth--which forbids combining any dairy foods with meat or poultry--we specialize in meat, fish, and poultry dishes. We serve no dairy items--no milk, butter, cheese, or derivatives thereof--and use no dairy items in food preparation. Our delicious mashed potatoes, for instance, are whipped with schmaltz (rendered chicken fat, flavored with onions), not cream and butter.
Frequently throughout this book, you'll see the word pareve, which means "made without milk or meat products." Fish, eggs, grains, herbs and spices, fruits, vegetables, and nuts are all pareve--neutral foods that can be eaten in combination with meat or dairy. At the Deli, our nonmeat dishes are all pareve. Hence, in our kitchen, even traditionally dairy items, such as blintz crêpes, are prepared with nondairy creamer and margarine instead of milk and butter and filled with potatoes or fruit, not cheese (though we do have faux cheese blintzes made with Tofutti cream cheese). And they're served with applesauce, not sour cream.
Because you'll be preparing these recipes at home, where even the most observant Jews are set up for both meat and dairy preparation (with separate dishes and cooking and eating utensils), we've also included some of our favorite recipes that are strictly dairy, such as cheese blintzes, challah bread pudding, and a matzo-apple kugel that contains butter and cream cheese. Wherever possible, we also offer pareve versions of dairy fare (especially desserts). That's because even though observant Jews can eat dairy, they have to wait six hours after a meat meal to do so; and we think six hours is a long time to wait for dessert!
A major star in New York's culinary galaxy, the dynamic Bobby Flay has been garnering awards for Mesa Grill's sassy southwestern fare since 1991. In 1993, he opened Bolo, featuring innovative Spanish cuisine. The author of three cookbooks--Bold American Food, From My Kitchen to Your Table, and Boy Meets Grill--Flay also hosts a cooking show (Hot off the Grill with Bobby Flay) on the Food Network.
I think of the Second Avenue Deli as a comfort zone, especially during the cold winter months. When I'm very stressed--or feel the flu coming on--I jump into a taxi, race over to Tenth Street and Second Avenue, and make the driver wait outside with the meter running while I order matzo ball soup, a turkey sandwich on rye with Russian dressing, and chopped liver to go. I take it all home and eat it in bed watching TV. Then I'm ready to face the world again. It's better than Prozac and TheraFlu combined.
Note: Also check out Mesa Grill pastry chef Wayne Harley Brachman's matzo farfel pancake recipe on page 148.
Bobby Flay'sYellow Corn Pancakes with Smoked Salmon and
Mango-Serrano Crème Fraîche
1/2 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
1 large egg, beaten
1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons milk
1 tablespoon unsalted butter, melted
16 paper-thin slices smoked salmon
mango-serrano crème fraîche
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
1 roasted serrano pepper, finely diced
1/2 ripe mango, peeled, seeded, and finely diced
1/2 medium red onion, finely diced
Freshly ground pepper
1. In a mixing bowl, combine the cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and honey. In a separate bowl, combine the egg, milk, and melted butter. Add the dry ingredients from the other bowl, and mix well.
2. Heat a griddle or cast-iron frying pan (use a nonstick pan if you don't have a cast-iron one) over high heat, and drop the batter by spoonfuls to make 4- to 5-inch pancakes. Cook pancakes until brown on both sides, and set aside, stacked, and covered with foil.
3. Combine the crème fraîche, serrano pepper, mango, and red onion in a small bowl. Season with salt and pepper to taste.
4. Place a pancake on each plate, spoon 1 tablespoon crème fraîche over it, and place 4 slices of salmon on top. Roll the pancake as you would a crêpe, and garnish with remaining crème fraîche.
Potato latkes are really just potato kugel (see below) in pancake form. For more about their Chanukah connection, see cheese latkes (page 146).
21/2 pounds potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 large onions (use 11/2 cups grated; don't tamp down)
3 eggs, beaten
1 teaspoon baking powder
3/4 cup corn oil
1 cup flour
21/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
2 cups matzo meal
1/2 cup corn oil for frying
1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees. In a food processor, fine-grate potatoes (don't liquefy; leave some texture), and strain to eliminate excess liquid. Don't overdo it; just let the water drain out. Fine-grate onions, and mix in a large bowl with potatoes. (If you don't have a food processor, you can grind the potatoes and onions in a meat grinder.)
2. Add eggs, baking powder, 3/4 cup corn oil (most of it cooks out), flour, salt, and pepper; mix well. Fold in matzo meal, making sure that everything is very well blended.
3. Heat 1/2 cup corn oil in a deep skillet. Spoon batter (use a large kitchen spoon) into the pan to create pancakes about 31/2 inches in diameter. Fry on low heat for 3 to 4 minutes until underside is a deep golden brown, turn, and fry for another minute or two. Drain on paper towel. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
Matzo Meal Latkes
Without the grated onion, matzo meal latkes are a little on the bland side. However, you can always take a different, more Sephardic, approach: omit the onion; sprinkle the cooked latkes with a mixture of confectioners' sugar, cinnamon, and finely chopped nuts; and serve them with honey.
1 cup matzo meal
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons sugar
11/2 cups water
3/4 cup grated onion (optional)
3/4 cup corn oil for frying
1. In a large bowl, combine matzo meal, salt, and sugar. Set aside.
2. Separate egg whites and yolks. Beat egg yolks, and combine with water. Add the yolk mixture to the matzo meal mixture, and let it stand for 30
3. Beat egg whites with an electric mixer until they are stiff, and fold them into the matzo meal mixture. Add grated onion.
4. Heat corn oil until it sizzles in a deep skillet. Lower heat, and, using a cooking spoon, spoon batter into the pan, creating thin pancakes 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Fry for several minutes, turning when the pancake is firm and the bottom side is golden brown. Fry for another few minutes until the other side is done. Drain on paper towel. Serve with applesauce and/or sour cream.
Note: Occasionally stir mixture left in the bowl during the process of spooning latkes into the pan.
Drunken Matzo Meal Latkes
Our rum-soaked latkes add sophisticated splash to holiday meals.
Note: For the fresh fruit, you can use any one of the following: apples (peeled, pitted, cored, and finely chopped in a food processor or hand-grated), finely chopped pineapple, blueberries, peaches (peeled and very finely chopped but not grated), or bananas (chopped into 1/2-inch pieces). Or experiment with other fresh fruits and berries.
3 cups fresh fruit
1/2 cup dark rum
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons (3/8 cup) white sugar
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup corn oil for frying
1. Place fruit in a bowl, pour rum over it, mix, and let stand for 50 minutes.
2. In a large bowl, combine matzo meal, salt, and white and brown sugars. Set aside.
3. In medium bowls, separate the egg whites and yolks. Beat the yolks, add water, and mix well. Add the yolk-water mixture to the matzo meal mixture, stir, and let stand for 30 minutes.
4. Beat the egg whites with an electric mixer until they are stiff and form peaks. Fold them into the matzo meal mixture. Add rum-soaked chopped fruit, and stir in.
5. Heat the corn oil in a deep skillet. Lower heat a little bit, and, using a cooking spoon, spoon batter into the pan, creating thin pancakes 3 to 4 inches in diameter. Fry for several minutes, turning carefully with a spatula when the pancake is firm and the bottom side is golden brown. Fry until the other side is done. Drain on paper towel. (Occasionally stir mixture left in the bowl during the process of spooning latkes into the pan.)
6. In a small bowl, mix confectioners' sugar with a bit of cinnamon and, using a sieve or sifter, sprinkle on top of latkes just before serving.
Another version of the above: Substitute Grand Marnier for rum, use blueberries or raspberries for the fruit, and add 1 tablespoon grated orange rind to your batter.
Mad About You star Paul Reiser was born and raised in New York City, where, as a teenager, he haunted Village comedy clubs. In college, summer breaks were spent doing stand-up at places like Catch a Rising Star and The Improv; as a result, he was already well established on the comedy-club circuit by the time he graduated. Paul's first big break came in 1982, when he accompanied a pal to a movie audition; director Barry Levinson unexpectedly asked him to read, then cast him in the movie Diner. Other films followed (Aliens, Beverly Hills Cop II, The Marrying Man, and Bye, Bye Love, among others), as did the TV sitcom My Two Dads (1987-90).
Mad About You is largely based on Reiser's life (like his alter ego, Paul Buchman, he's married, with a baby and an almost-human dog), with further documentation in two best-selling books: Couplehood and Babyhood. A Deli regular when he's in town, Paul has used Second Avenue Deli shopping bags and mugs as archetypal New York props on Mad About You.
My favorite image of Abe is him standing outside the restaurant, serving complimentary "tastes" of chopped liver to the people waiting on line to come in. And while taking care of them, he would also oversee the loading and unloading of several Second Avenue Deli vans that were preparing to deliver more food to yet more about-to-be-happy customers all across town. He would step into traffic (in his shirtsleeves--I don't know if I ever saw the man wear a coat) and proceed to guide the vans safely on their way, halting and directing traffic in four directions with effortless skill and good cheer. It was as if all the wonderful, nurturing chaos of his kitchen was spilling out onto the street, on its way to enveloping the entire city in a warm blanket of pastrami and love.
Paul Reiser's Fourteenth Street Egg Cream
Step one: Play basketball, and get real sweaty. Like rosy-cheeked, out-of-breath sweaty.
Step two: Go home.
Step three: Take a glass (a glass glass, not a plastic glass), and pour in a bunch of Fox's U-Bet chocolate syrup.* (It doesn't matter how much.)
Step four: Pour in some seltzer. (It doesn't matter how much.)
Step five: Add a little milk. (It doesn't matter how much, but too little is better than too much.)
Step six: Get a metal spoon. Now this is the only important part of the whole thing: stir vigorously and increasingly quickly, until your wrist is a blur, and the spoon is actually moving vertically. You should hear a very strong, rapid clanking of metal on glass.
Step seven: When the ferocious whirlpool has subsided, drink the egg cream very fast--in fact, a little faster than is reasonably healthy.
Step eight: Emit a long sigh, stressing the letters a and h.
Step nine: Go out and play basketball some more.
*Although purists would disagree, I say Hershey's chocolate syrup is just as good.
From the Hardcover edition.
Posted January 23, 2006
I usually like recipe collections put out by restaurants, but this one is the exception. Yes the recipes are great comfort food, but the authors/chefs failed to recognize that this book was being sold to the home cook. The recipes yield such ennormous amounts, more than enough for dinner 2 nights in a row not my cup of tea.Was this review helpful? Yes NoThank you for your feedback. Report this reviewThank you, this review has been flagged.
Posted May 17, 2000
This book is a pleasure, but for down-home, make-it-like-your-grandmother-made-it recipes, I prefer The Molly Goldberg Jewish Cookbook, which has recently been reprinted, thank goodness!
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