This Summer Food


Welcome to the hazy, crazy, lazy days of summer. Maybe not the “lazy” part, at least not for local chefs, who are hard at work making everyone else’s summer delicious. We caught up with a few of them, who shared their take on summer, food and how their Jewish heritage fits into the picture. The results were tasty…

Shelby Zitelman, Jackie Horvitz and Amy Zitelman, aka The Soom Sisters, are the brains, brawn and beauty behind Soom Foods, a healthy food brand of tahini, chocolate and dips, all perfect for summer entertaining.

Soom co-founder and VP of Sales Amy Zitelman says, “Summer means farmers’ markets and days at the beach and picnics in the park and barbecues. Food is about fresh produce and no fuss, so I’m all about setting out some fruit, veggies and dip and relaxing with friends and family.” Her sister Shelby Zitelman, co-founder and COO, adds, “We’re the third generation of very passionate grillers. Our grandfather and our dad are masters of the barbecue and I have so many summer memories of huge crowds of family and friends hanging around our backyard pool feasting on traditional summer fare.”

Co-founder Jackie Horvitz jumps in: “We still have family Shabbat dinners. My contribution to the meal is always several jars of our Soom Chocolate. If we serve fruit or cookies, we dip. If not, we each take a spoon and eat straight from the jar!”

Geula Buchnik of Café Ole in Old City has similarly fond memories of her childhood summers, but they are wildly different from the Soom sisters’ experiences. Buchnik grew up in Kiryat Shemonah in northern Israel. “Summers were spent roaming the mountains,” she recalls fondly. “We would pick foods out in the woods; goji berries and artichokes. We instinctively knew what was OK to eat, which is kind of amazing now when I think back and wonder that we never poisoned ourselves!” Buchnik attributes her love of fruits and vegetables to those childhood experiences. Later, during her time on a kibbutz, fruits and vegetables comprised a majority of her diet, so her gustatory habits were established more firmly.

When she came to the United States 22 years ago, Buchnik had a hard time finding her seasonal favorites. “Cucumbers, tomatoes and avocados didn’t taste the same to me. And I wasn’t accustomed to heavy meat meals in the evening. When I planned my café, I naturally developed a menu that reflected my tastes: Israeli salads, shakshuka, lots of vegetables and egg dishes, hummus.” Her mother was Tunisian — and a wonderful cook — but Buchnik didn’t spend much time in the kitchen back then. “I was having more fun roaming around outside, I didn’t want to stay inside working!” But her mother’s skill rubbed off and Buchnik recreates recipes from her childhood both in her home kitchen and at Café Ole.

Steve Safern, a partner in Hershel’s East Side Deli in Reading Terminal Market, also hearkens back to his childhood when he cooks: “Everything I serve at the deli is made from scratch using old family recipes; I vividly recall both of my parents preparing kosher foods in our home.” Family was incredibly important to the Saferns; both of his parents narrowly escaped the Nazis during World War II, and eventually made their way to the United States, where they met in a group for Holocaust survivors.

Safern explains: “My dad survived because his brother Hershel ran home and hid him in the bushes when he saw the Germans invading. They were the only two to survive from their entire town. Hershel’s East Side Deli, obviously, is named in my uncle’s honor. My mother also escaped with her brother, and her whole town perished as well. As a result of their backgrounds, our family traditions, celebrations, food and community were very important in our home.”

Safern grew up in the deli business; his relatives owned the iconic Katz’s Deli in New York City. His family moved to Philadelphia when he was a child, and he fondly recalls summers spent at the city pools, opening fire hydrants to cool off, and endless evenings of stickball, wall ball and stoop ball.

In discussing food, Safern is less focused on the seasons and more on the heritage. “We didn’t really have ‘summer’ foods per se; we had traditional kosher dishes year round. We were poor, and many Jewish recipes are based on peasant ingredients. Things like borscht, kugel and latkes were staples in our household.”

Although their backgrounds are quite diverse, all three of these prominent Jewish chefs reflect the deeply held Jewish values of family, community, tradition and the important role that food plays in Jewish culture.

Keri White is a frequent contributor to the publications and the website of the Jewish Exponent.

Tahini Pesto Sauce

The Soom Sisters shared their take on pesto, that quintessential summer sauce. This recipe makes enough for about 2⁄3 cup pesto and can be used as a sauce for pasta, meats, poultry and fish. It can be spread on crostini, served with a cheese plate or used in place of mayo and mustard on sandwiches.

1⁄3 cup extra virgin olive oil

2 cloves garlic

juice of ½ lemon

2 Tbsp Soom Tahini

¼ cup Parmesan cheese

1 cup basil leaves, rinsed

salt and pepper to taste

Blend all ingredients in food processor until smooth.

Summer Peach Delight

Summer-fresh peaches from the farmers’ market are juicy and delicious. The Soom Sisters took it to the next level with this easy-to-make grilled peaches recipe.

3 peaches

4 tablespoons Soom Tahini

2 tablespoons honey (can substitute agave or preferred sweetener)

Slice peaches in half and remove pits. Place on grill, cut side down, for about 5 minutes until slightly charred. In a bowl, mix tahini and honey. Scoop tahini mixture on top of peaches and finish with a drizzle of honey. If desired, enjoy with a bowl of ice cream, gelato or frozen yogurt!

Tahini Barbecue Chicken

The Soom Sisters’ dad is the grillmaster of the family; he shared his famous barbecued chicken recipe with us.

1/2 cup of your favorite BBQ sauce

2 Tbsp. Soom Tahini

1/2 tsp. crushed cayenne pepper (less if you prefer less heat)

1 Tbsp. olive oil

1 garlic clove, minced

Chicken breasts

Combine first five ingredients to make marinade. Marinate chicken breasts for at least one hour in the refrigerator. Bring chicken to room temperature, and grill over high heat approximately 6-8 minutes per side until cooked through. Eat on its own or on top of a salad!

Artichoke and Meyer Lemon Salad

Geula Buchnik harkens back to her halcyon days in northern Israel when she would pick wild artichokes to bring home to her mother, who used them to create this flavorful salad. Note: Meyer lemons have thinner skin so they can just be quartered and eaten in the salad with the peel on. If you cannot find them, use the zest and juice of 2 regular lemons instead. Serves 2-4 people as side dish.

6 artichokes

4 Meyer lemons cut in quarters (peels and all)

1 teaspoon harissa

1 tablespoon salt (or less, to taste)

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon olive oil

4 tablespoons water

Remove outer leaves from artichoke; cut stem, scrape the hairy portion from core and discard all but the heart. Cut the heart in quarters. Place artichoke hearts and all remaining ingredients in a medium saucepan. Simmer over medium/low heat about 15 minutes, watching carefully to avoid burning. Add a bit more water if needed. Serve cold, warm or at room temperature.


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