It’s about to be here! This Sunday and Monday, get your fill.
New market, new Israeli dish, same old cabbage rolls.
THE CABBAGE PATCH
Beverly Soble takes off her latex gloves and looks at her clipboard. She’s been at Keneseth Beth Israel since 8:30 on this crisp Sunday morning, two weeks before the Ninth Annual Richmond Jewish Food Festival will begin.
Beverly has been the Cabbage Captain since year one, a role to which she was basically self-appointed: “The first year, Diane Goldberg was in charge of the food festival, and she said, ‘We don’t have anybody to make stuffed cabbage, so we won’t have it,’ and I said ‘Diane, you can’t have a Jewish food festival without stuffed cabbage!'” In the world of volunteer-run food festivals, that’s all it takes to get yourself put in charge of a major task for the next decade, and that’s just where the recently-retired Soble finds herself.
As we chat, about a dozen or so volunteers are working steadily all around us. There are stuffed cabbages in every stage of production–trays of blanched cabbage leaves, bubbling vats of sweet and sour tomato sauce, trays of pre-scooped filling–approximately 40 scoops on each foil-lined tray, plus aluminum pans with rolled cabbage swimming in the brown-sugar sweetened sauce with its bright, tangy notes of tomato and lemon.
As festival coordinator Rich Goldberg says, “anyone who can count to 4,000 knows we didn’t make these all the day before.” Production started back in December in order to meet the growing demand for one of the festival’s most iconic dishes. Volunteers, up to 30 this year for the cabbage alone, prepare about 1,200 galumpki in a sitting.
Soble says she reconstructed her mother, Gertrude Altschull’s, recipe from memory. The first few years, she made each batch to taste, but in recent years, measurements have been taken and recorded for consistency. Each 1,200-roll batch is flash frozen so it will be perfectly fresh for the festival. In the filling, you’ll find ground beef, rice, tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, lemon, and brown sugar; while the sauce is a simple mix of tomato sauce, crushed tomatoes, brown sugar, and lemon juice. The only other ingredient is time. As Soble puts it, “The longer it sits, the better it is.”
TO MAKOLET, TO MAKOLET
For the observant, finding truly kosher food in Richmond is a challenge. Some would say it’s impossible. Diane Goldberg prepares all of her family’s meals at home; but even finding the right ingredients can be a struggle at times. “In our circles, we scrounge around looking for ingredients. When someone is going to D.C. or New York, they’ll put a message on Facebook to see if anyone needs them to pick up ingredients,” she says.
That’s what inspired the Goldbergs to create the Makolet, a marketplace selling traditional Jewish and Israeli ingredients and snack foods smack in the middle of the Weinstein JCC throughout the festival. “It’s like the mom and pop grocery stores in Israel,” Rich explains, “The makolets.”
If you’ve been looking for Israeli olives and pickles, shwarma seasoning, Elite chocolates, Prigat, and Bamba–peanut butter-flavored cheetos-esque puffs that happen to be the number one snack food among Israeli youth–you’ll find it here in impressive quantities. If you’ve never heard of it before, stock up now, and thank me later.
BUBBE, ZAYDE, AND YOU
One of the most popular features of the festival, Bubbe’s Bakery, returns this year with baklava, rugelach, almond horns, babka, and the three-cornered cookies known as hamantaschen in flavors like apricot, poppyseed, and chocolate. A bevy of bubbes wearing “I Love Jewish Food” shirts and food-service gloves will dish out both goods and, if they’re anything like my own bubbe, comments like, “You should eat a dozen, you’re so skinny these days!” and “Maybe one day you’ll learn to bake so these recipes don’t die with me. I’m not getting any younger you know.”
This year, Zayde, who’s infamously chiller than Bubbe, gets his very own bar, stocked with Israeli beer and wine, plus Dr. Brown’s sodas (Zayde’s faves). “We’ve got a keg of beer from Legend, plus Malka beer from Israel and a selection of Israeli wines,” says Diane. The wine list includes Ben Ami Merlot–a merlot/cabernet sauvignon blend from Galiliee, Borgo Reale Pinot Grigio, and Dolev Moscato. Blond, pale, and stout Malka beer, also from the Galilee region of Israel, is $5 per bottle.
If you can’t spend hours perusing the makolet, sampling the wares, loading up on kugels; don’t worry. You can always place a food order online and pick it up at your convenience. Leave one person circling the crowded parking lot in your nice toasty car while you zip into the JCC to pick up a tray of 30 stuffed cabbages, a traditional Shabbos roast chicken, chopped liver, matzoh ball soup, or a brisket plate with your choice of two sides. But if you’re looking for Israeli food, you’ll need to carve out some time to stand in line in one of those heated outdoor tents, because it’s not available for call-ahead pick-up!
And I’m here to tell you the Israeli food is worth standing in line for. Of all the options each year, it’s always my favorite. Falafel, shawarma, tabouli! This year, the festival’s Israel chef Yossi of 1602 Cafe is adding a new dish to the mix–shakshouka, poached eggs swimming in a pepper-spiced tomato sauce. I don’t know how he’ll pull it off–that’s a mind-bending number of poached eggs, and we’re just talking about my personal consumption goals! But if anyone can do it, it’s Yossi.
RICHMOND JEWISH FOOD FESTIVAL
- Sunday, January 17th and Monday, January 18th • 11:30 AM – 7:30 PM
- Weinstein Jewish Community Center, 5403 Monument Ave.