On a Monday morning about eight years ago, a group of Jewish women from Sydney, Australia, got together to talk about food and share recipes.
The meeting, with debates and discussions about various recipes, was such a success, it grew into the weekly Monday Morning Cooking Club.
Six women, Merelyn Frank Chalmers, Natanya Eskin, Lauren Fink, Lisa Goldberg, Paula Horwitz and Jacqui Israel, eventually compiled their favourite recipes, and turned them into a book called none other than the Monday Morning Cooking Club.
In putting together the book, the women “emailed everyone they knew, and then everyone they knew, and asked them, ‘Who is the best cook you know?’ We asked again and again, and slowly a list began to take shape. We wrote those cooks and asked for their best recipes. Eventually hundreds trickled in, and we chose the best. Each recipe needed a story or history, or else be unique.”
The women met each week and prepared about four or five different recipes, until eventually a list of recipes to be included in the book took shape.
“We asked them for recipes they were known for, those with which they fed their families for years. We also wanted stories behind those recipes, which we could share with our readers,” Goldberg said in an email interview from Sydney.
She said the recipes were “tested and retested and tested again until we felt they were failproof. Our families were very well fed, particularly on Mondays.”
Their goal in writing the book, she said, was to raise money for charities, including WIZO and OzHarvest, an organization that donates excess food to charities.
The women also wanted to create a “first-class cookbook that could sit in any bookstore alongside cookbooks from the best chefs in the world.”
Their work wasn’t just for other people, though. “When we were standing around the kitchen island, rolling mamoul, a Middle Eastern pastry [like shortbread] stuffed with dates, pecans and pine nuts,
it was a therapeutic experience shared by our sisterhood. And for us, after a stressful day, there is nothing better than baking our favourite cake or batch of biscuits and taking some time out from the world.
“The Jewish community is obsessed with food. Without wanting to detract from the religious significance of many Jewish holidays and important dates, the Jewish community thrives on preparing feasts and feeding people with their love.”
In describing Australian Jewish food, Goldberg said the Australian Jewish community can best be seen as a melting pot. “We have a high proportion of postwar migration from Europe, Asia and the Middle East, comprising Ashkenazi and Sephardi Jews, as well as a substantial South African influx in more recent years.
“People arrive on our shores longing for the food they have left behind, and these memories and dishes have been incorporated throughout our community. As a result, Jewish food in Australia is diverse, avaried and delicious.”
Merelyn Frank Chalmers, said that Hungarian paprikash was included in the book to honour her Hungarian mother, Yolanda, who survived the Holocaust. “We ate paprikash probably five nights a week. This was something that she just threw together when I wasn’t feeling well.”
They considered it nothing special, she said, but when Chalmers moved to Sydney and met other children of Hungarian parents, she learned that they all grew up on the same dish. “This dish really reminds me of my mum.”
MUM’S RICE PAPRIKASH
1/3 cup olive oil
2 lb. veal stew
3 large onions, chopped finely
1/4 cup white wine
2 cups boiling water
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 red pepper, sliced
1 heaping tbsp. mild paprika
1/4 tsp. cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 cup long-grain rice
2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
1 small tomato, chopped
Heat the olive oil in a frying pan on a medium-high heat and fry the veal until very brown. Remove from the pan and set aside. Add the onions to the pan and fry until very brown, adding more oil if necessary.
Return the veal to the pan and add the wine and boiling water. Add the garlic, red pepper, paprika and cayenne pepper.
Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
Add the rice, carrots and tomato, stir to combine, then continue to simmer for a further 30 minutes, or until the veal is tender and the rice is cooked. Stir regularly and add more boiling water as required. Season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.
SARA’S PICKLED BRISKET
Sara first made this for her husband’s 50th birthday. She had wanted to make American pastrami and was not able to find a recipe. She experimented, and has been using this version for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur for 30 years.
1 pickled beef brisket
1 cup white vinegar
1 cup sugar
9 bay leaves
1 small handful black peppercorns
4 cloves garlic crushed
4 large onions, sliced
1 cup honey
1 tbsp. vegetable oil
If possible, start this recipe the day before. Put the brisket in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the vinegar and sugar, then bring to the boil, skimming any scum off the surface. Taste to check you have an equal and strong flavour of both vinegar and sugar, and adjust if necessary. Add the bay leaves and peppercorns. Cover the pan with a lid, and simmer rapidly for about two hours until fork tender.
Drain, and place the brisket in a non-stick roasting pan. Rub the garlic over the meat while it is still warm, and allow to cool a little before refrigerating overnight, if possible.
When ready to cook, preheat the oven to 375. Cover the meat with sliced onion and pour over the honey. Drizzle with the oil. Roast, uncovered, for about 45 minutes, basting frequently until the meat is tender and the onions are golden.
Slice thickly across the grain and serve warm with mashed potatoes and cabbage, or in a sandwich on fresh rye bread with mustard, pickled cucumber and coleslaw.