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In the JoK Kitchen with the Kosher Butcher's Wife

pastrami latkes

I know you must be wondering who the Kosher Butcher's Wife is, well she comes to us all the way from South Africa and we adore her already.  Do you want to know what Chanukah is like in South Africa - it's Summer!!  Sharon Lurie is the author of Cooking with the Kosher Butcher's Wife (2007).   She set out to dispel the old myth that kosher meat is tough, dry and boring.  In her latest book 'Celebrating with the Kosher Butcher's Wife', Sharon takes you on her trip down memory lane, where she proves traditional recipes don't have to be tired and old fashioned, but rather, very trendy and absolutely delicious.

Who is the Kosher Butcher's Wife?

My passion for food lies solely in the fact that 'time out' is time spent in the kitchen! If you thought being the 'butcher's wife' meant an endless supply of the best cuts of meat - you're wrong.  It's the same old story of the  shoemaker going without shoes.  The first lesson I learned, marrying into a fourth generation family of butchers, was that the popular kosher cuts such as Scotch fillet and Crown roast would never make it onto our table!  These were 'for the customer' and it was not negotiable.  So if it wasn't one of the popular cuts it would either turn up on our plates or it would be turned into 'polony'.

With easy access to a 'limited' supply of meat, I started experimenting, creating and improvising with every cut on the forequarter.  Just because we could only eat from the forequarter, didn't mean kosher meat had to be tough, dry and boring!!

With the ever-increasing kosher products and non-dairy alternatives continually being added to the kashrut list, there just weren't any more excuses! If it was French cuisine we fancied or tantalizing Thai we wanted to try, we could!

Lamb Shanks didn't have to be burnt offerings on the seder plate and beef shin didn't have to be a piece of meat bobbing around in a soup pot, it too needed to be uplifted to it's full Italian potential as Osso Buco!   Just because it was kosher didn't mean we couldn't be creative.  Kosher meat didn't have to get the "raw end" of the deal.  We had the finest meat on the market, the highest grades and the best quality available and yet meat  was being used as the excuse for not keeping kosher!  This bland image had to be shechted!!!!.


What finally pushed you to write the book?

In between having my three sons and daughter, I would work in the family business and loved suggesting to customers that they try the different cuts of meat available on the forequarter.  After many years of experimenting, creating and cooking, I knew that each and every cut on the forequarter was special and had its own unique flavour and texture but how was I going to convince everybody else that there was life after Scotch Fillet.?   The only way I could encourage customers to try a "new" cut was by offering a foolproof recipe that I had created and prepared many times for that particular cut of meat.   I had a file full of recipes for every cut on the forequarter that I couldn't wait to share.   The "big black file" grew and so did the interest, not only from customers, but from the local press who requested recipes for the Chagim.

"You've got to write a book" seemed to be the most popular complimentary phrase from those who's meat dish had won the hearts of family and friends that Shabbos.    Unfortunately, in South Africa there were no Jewish book publishers, so a kosher cookery book aimed at a lot less than 5% of the population seemed a far cry from reality.  Well, that was until I was physically pushed by my sister in law into Random House Struik's offices with my "big black file" where "Cooking with the Kosher Butcher's Wife" was born.

This book was written in a humorous, fun style with stories and anecdotes, keeping eager meat lovers entertained as they tried out my recipes.  This book includes beautiful photographs by award winning photographer, Michael Smith, with pictures of the different cuts of meat available on the forequarter together with full color photographs of the different tried and tested recipes. This book contains all the tips and secrets for marinating and tenderizing meat, recipes for marinades, soups, deli delights, beef, lamb, veal, poultry, side dishes, salads and unforgettable desserts.  All the recipes in both books are Fleischik (meat) and Pareve.

And the second book?

For me, each Chag possesses its own vibrancy and joy, which is what I wanted to portray through the use of bright and colorful photographs.  Each festival brings its own unique customs and traditions with regards to food and this certainly doesn't mean 'old fashioned' foods.  Who would have thought we'd be eating Thai fishballs on Pesach or chopped liver in choux pastry puffs?  Twists on traditional foods have enabled us to follow food trends, while keeping within tradition.  Giving a contemporary feel to traditional dishes, making them super tasty, super trendy and super stylish enabled me to lose the tired and old fashioned feel that surrounds the word 'tradition'.

Now tell us what is Chanukah like in South Africa?

When I asked my daughter what Chanukah meant to her I was somehow expecting the  answer to be "Chanukah gelt mom! !" but instead she answered in a heartbeat  "Oh, camp, mom, without a doubt"

You see, in South Africa the school year ends in December and that's when the Jewish Youth Camps begin for three weeks at the seaside..   "Imagine almost 1000 campers standing around a giant menorah all singing Ma'otzuhr " she continued.

I suppose she's right, just the ability to celebrate a chag no matter where you are in the world, whether it's Rockefeller Center with falling snow or  Mossel Bay,  with breaking waves, The miracle of Chanukah should be celebrated by all no matter what the season!

Would you please share some Chanukah recipes with us?

A couple of years back we were in America over Chanukah and it was something I’ll never forget, or rather, Chanukah is something America won’t let you forget!

Their department stores glistened not only with traditional fairy lights and tynsel wrapped fir trees, but with shimmering silver and blue decorations so befitting the 8 day festival of lights, Chanukkah.

Giant menorahs sparkled under brightly lit spotlights whilst background music in these beautifully decorated stores alternated between "silent night" and "O chanukkah O Chanukkah".

TV stations dedicated wonderful cookery programmes to every variation of latke imaginable and I was in my element! From the sweltering heat of Summer in Africa I had been transported into the magical, winter wonderland of dreidels, lights and action.

So, here are a couple of the tried and twisted recipes which are definitely worth frying!

Who said the "festival of lights" had anything to do with "lite"?

Pastrami Latkes

You don’t have to dreidel your kop or get into a spin looking for Chanukah recipes ‘cause here’s a latke recipe definitely worth frying!

Pastrami Latkes with Sweet-Chili Mayo Sauce

Fried Just Pasta Salad

But this isn’t just a pasta salad! It has crunch, it has texture, it has taste, it has a combination of freshness you just can’t seem to put your finger on. But more importantly justa enjoya it!

Fried Justa Pasta Salad

Warm Sticky Chocolate Mousse Cake

This is absolutely divine, absolutely simple, and absolutely Geshmak!

Warm Sticky Chocolate Mousse Cake

Win a copy of Celebrating with the Kosher Butcher's Wife! Leave a comment below telling us your favorite Chanukah food and you could be in with a chance to win. You must be a US resident aged 18 or over. Contest ends Tuesday December 20 2011 at 9 am EST. One winner will be picked by online randomizer.