My Grandmother’s Recipes: Part 6, Main Course.

The story of Odessa synagogue and the unsavory characters who ran it continues in this chapter (click for Part 1Part 2Part 3Part 4Part 5Part 7).

*Top of this page was included in Part 5

*Part 6

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16. Alexander Matrosov – a World War II military hero who sacrificed his life by putting his body in front of the embrasure of the enemy’s machine gun.

17. Danaya (Danae) – mythological goddess of fertility, seduced by Zeus who transformed himself into a rain of gold.

Here is another clip from Fiddler on the Roof. The bottle dance is still performed today;  I’ve seen it at a few weddings. With all the persecution, poverty, and hardships, we have still possessed the spirit to rejoice!

This very special recipe symbolizes the meaning of life and the hope for a sweet year.

Of all Rosh Hashana foods, this is the most significant, at least in my family tradition. It is only made once a year, and it requires plenty of time and patience. The name, derived from German, actually means “vinegared meat”, but there is no vinegar involved. It is rather sweet, especially in my grandmother’s interpretation, but there is also a sour note, provided by lemon juice or sour salt. Therefore, another name for it is Zis Und Zovar Fleish (Sweet and Sour Meat). Although there are many Essig Fleish recipes, I have not seen one like ours anywhere. I have tasted something very similar on two separate occasions, both times in Sephardic restaurants, and both of them had the same two out of three elements of my recipe present, and one missing. Oh, and both were made of lamb, rather than beef, which is what my grandmother had claimed it should’ve been but was never available.

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The first element is your basic beef stew. I supplement chuck roast by neck bones not only because I like bones much more than meat itself, but also because they add richness to the overall flavor.

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Onions are minced very fine and sauteed until you get a lightly golden creamy mess, almost a paste. That takes a couple of hours.

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Cube the meat and add it to the onions together with bones. Stir the whole thing, making sure meat is covered by sauteed onions.

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Once the meat is seared, losing most of its red color, add water to cover it, and reduce the heat to simmering. You’ll simmer it, stirring often and adding water, if needed, for another couple of hours, until the meat literally falls off the bones.

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Only when the meat is fully cooked, you can add the stuff that gave it its name, sweet and sour: prune butter, tomato sauce, and lemon juice, supplemented by sugar or substitute.  “Ot azoy ist der leybn (this is how life is), – used to say my grandmother at this point, – and add with a sigh, – gamzeletoiveh!” The last word I couldn’t understand, and it didn’t even sound Yiddish to me. I’ve asked both grandparents, and all I got was “zein git“!  That was already encouraging, as it means “it’ll be good.” It made sense to me, as a child, to say first “this is how life is,” and then add something positive and optimistic. It gave me a good feeling!

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Only as a teenager, studying illegally obtained books and gaining forbidden in communist Russia knowledge, did I learn about the legendary Talmudic sage Rabbi Akiva who lived during the Roman occupation of Palestine and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple.  As Rabbi Akiva was on his way to the city of Betar to meet with the leader of Jewish insurrection, Bar Kochba, his old donkey collapsed and died. On foot, he didn’t make it to Betar before nightfall, so he had to camp out in the forest. His belongings, besides the poor dead donkey, consisted of a candle, to enable him to learn, and a rooster, to wake him up in time for the morning prayer.

Well, the donkey was dead already. The candle eventually burned down, and the rooster was eaten by a fox during the night. As a result, Rabbi Akiva overslept. It is when he woke up and found that the last of his meager possessions were gone, that he remember his teacher who used to say, “Gam ze le toivo” – and this is good.  When he finally made his way to Betar, he discovered that the city had been raided by the Romans during the night and all population killed, as a punishment for harboring the rebels. Had his donkey survived the trip, he would’ve made it to Betar and gotten killed. Had his candle not burned down, Roman soldiers might have found him in the forest. Had the rooster crowed at sunrise, he would’ve certainly been discovered and executed. Thus losing everything he owned turned out to have saved his life! No wonder the phrase became famous, eventually morphing into a word nobody understood but everyone repeated.

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Meanwhile,the meat is happily cooking, and we have to prepare the second element, the one missing in both restaurant renditions – tefteli. These are your ordinary meatballs, Beautiful People, and how they arrived into my grandmother’s Essig Fleish, I have no idea, but the combination works! Just mix some brown rice with ground meat (I use lean turkey) and a couple of eggs and form balls the size of ping-pong balls.

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Gently drop them into the simmering meat stew, making sure not to break them, and prepare the third and last element.

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This is when you want to get your kids involved: stuffing pitted dry prunes with walnuts. Granted, half of both will end up in their stomachs, but they’d be snacking on good stuff!

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Add the third element, stuffed prunes, to the first two, and simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes or so. Do not stir any more, but add enough water, if necessary. Adjust the taste by adding either more sweetener or more lemon juice.  I am cooking it in a huge cast iron pot with a rounded bottom that my grandmother brought back from Tashkent after the war. Uzbeki use them to make plov, and that’s why we kids dubbed it “Uzbekian” pot.  It is best for meat stews as nothing sticks to it.

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This is life, zis und zovar, sweet and sour, like this stew, and everything eventually will be well, as per Rabbi Akiva and my grandmother.

Wishing you and yours a healthy, happy and sweet New Year, I am leaving you with another famous Rabbi Akiva’s saying:

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The dissemination of all my holiday recipes to a wider audience has been made possible through a valiant effort of Esme, The Recipe Hunter, of https://cookandenjoyrecipes.wordpress.com, and her fantastic Recipe Exchange program. Thank you again, dear Esme, for performing this vitally important service for the community.

INGREDIENTS

  • 2 lbs chuck roast combined with neck or rib bones
  • 1 lb ground lean meat or turkey
  • 1 cup cooked brown rice (1/2 cup uncooked)
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 large or 3 medium onions
  • 1 /2 cup pitted dry prunes
  • 1/2 cup walnut quarters
  • 1 cup Prune Butter (Lekvar) or any other thick dark jam
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice or 1/2 teaspoon sour salt
  • Sugar or substitute to taste
  • Salt and pepper to taste

PROCEDURE 

  • Finely mince onions, saute until lightly golden and creamy.
  • Add cubed meat and bones. Mix. Sear meat, add water to cover meat and bones, reduce heat to simmering. Simmer,stirring often, until meat is fully cooked and very tender. Add water if necessary.
  • Add prune butter, tomato sauce, lemon juice, sweetener. Season with salt and pepper. Mix well, add water, bring to boil, reduce to simmering. Adjust sweetener and seasoning, if needed.
  • Mix ground meat with brown rice and eggs, Form balls the size of ping-pong balls. Gently place balls into simmering stew.
  • Stuff prunes with walnuts. Add to pot. Cover, simmer for 20 – 30 minutes. Do not stir, otherwise you might break the meatballs.

Enjoy!

31 Comments Add yours

  1. Hello Dolly! I hope you are well, and you was able to enjoy the summer time? I am so sorry, missing a lot of your postings. But now i am back, like Arnie said. Lol Thank you for another great collection of recipes. I will need a desert with a cooking place to make this all real, without beeing disturbed. 😉 Best wishes, Michael

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging my series, dear Michael. Best wishes to you and yours for a sweet, happy, and healthy year!

      Like

  2. cindy knoke says:

    My goodness this looks delicious. I think I will make it. Thanks for posting.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Cindy; I am so glad you like it. Please let me know how it comes out.

      Like

    1. Thank you so much for reblogging, dear Edward.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. CarolCooks2 says:

    Delicious and I agree meat with bones give so much more depth of flavour, dear Dolly…A beautiful recipe 🙂 x

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Carol.

      Like

      1. CarolCooks2 says:

        Always a pleasure dear Dolly x

        Liked by 1 person

  4. lifelessons says:

    How maddening your story of the Odessa Synagogue is. How has the world put up with these gross unfairnesses all these thousands of years? And it still goes on. Your recipe is intriguing and full of surprises. I have never heard of prune butter before…

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I am reading history of Jerusalem by Simon Montefiore, and it is clearly seen that the unfairness and persecution stemmed from a concept that the Jewish G-d abandoned Jews for their sins. It follows that if they – stiff-necked people that we are! – stubbornly refuse to convert to other faiths, they must be punished, exiled, killed, etc. Historically, Jewish converts have always been accepted in society and showered with honors. The Spanish inquisition was after Marranos who had converted yet practiced Judaism in secrecy.
      I guess the world has other issues to worry about than a handful of strange people who worship an invisible Deity in a weird language and are willing to die for it.

      Like

      1. lifelessons says:

        If people would just worship without demanding others adopt their beliefs a lot of the ills and violence of the world could have been circumvented. This is still true, alas. But, I’m stating the obvious.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. It’s all political, Judy. Constantin wasn’t much of a Christian, although his mother Helena was a passionate (and ruthless) one. He was an original mama’s boy who listened to his mother when she outline the advantage of “one emperor, one state, one religion,” and a very tightly organized along Roman military structure.
        When the Russian Prince Vladimir set out to unite the small princedoms under his own heavy hand, the first thing he did was to send emissaries to the centers of three monotheistic religions, to choose one that will serve his purposes. That’s how Russia became Christian a thousand years ago. I can go on, but the point is politics and money, rather than worshipping.

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    2. P.S. Prune butter (‘Lekvar’) is simply prune jam; I don’t know why they call it butter in America.

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      1. lifelessons says:

        Aha.. like apple butter..

        Liked by 1 person

  5. I like the shower of coins and the Rabbi Akiva stories

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you very much, Derrick.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Enjoy these posts so much Dolly! Family, tradition, and great food!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you so much, dear Dorothy!

      Liked by 1 person

  7. So much “bad” luck saved a man’s life, that’s a good lesson for all of us to remember.

    Thank you again for sharing all these wonderful stories and recipes.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for your interest and your kind comments, dear Mimi.

      Like

  8. purpleslob says:

    That old miser!! Did anybody else ever help old Gabbe again??
    I’ve never heard of prune butter before!! Honey, and strawberry butters are certainly wonderful!
    Was the destruction of the temple called the “Great Tribulation”? I heard a Bible teacher call it that once. And I can certainly see why.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Prune butter is plain old prune jam, and I don’t know why they call it ‘butter’ in America.
      There were two destructions of the Temple, as I am sure you know. Which one did your teacher refer to? Anyway, it is probably an inexact translation of the word “Churban” which means destruction.
      I hope you are doing well, my favorite purple person!

      Liked by 1 person

      1. purpleslob says:

        The second temple, was it called “Herold’s Temple”. The one in 70 AD
        Doing well, thanx. Yourself, hubby, and Psanky??
        You forgot to tell me if old Gabbe ever got anyone to ever help him again??

        Liked by 1 person

      2. You are right, my favorite and very well learned purple person! Herod’s Temple it was, and it was destroyed because of ‘baseless hatred’ between people. So it is explained in our books.
        We are fine, thank G-d, and thank you for asking, darling.
        I do not recall that the Gabbe had asked for help any more, but I am sure that had he done so, the family would not have refused. We were a very tightly knit family.

        Liked by 1 person

      3. purpleslob says:

        I try to memorize the Torah, as well as the New Testament. People hating people is so often the cause of horror! Of course you would!

        Liked by 1 person

      4. You really are well learned, my favorite purple person, and I truly admire that.
        Much love,
        D

        Liked by 1 person

      5. purpleslob says:

        Nothing compared to you, my favorite feline person!! ❤

        Liked by 1 person

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