James Wolfe is the coordinator of a celebration called Basserfest, which takes place each fall in Washington Heights, New York. Basserfest first started at Columbia University in 1998. The word “basser” is the Hebrew word for “meat.” Shuey (Josh) Fogel and a group of 12 to 15 male university students decided to commemorate Parshat Noach in a culinary way. Before the flood, everyone had been vegetarian and meat was not allowed. However, after the flood, Noah received permission to eat meat for the first time.
Initially there were strict rules for attendance at the Basserfest celebration and no women or freshmen were allowed to attend. When James Wolfe became involved in Basserfest in 2001 during his senior year, the rules were relaxed and everyone was welcome. Basserfest became so successful that soon there were too many people to fit into the dormitory lounge and the location was changed to a friend’s apartment to accommodate the growing number of attendees. Some years more than 100 people came for dinner. Current attendance averages around 45 men and women.
Each fall, people gather together for a pot luck Shabbat dinner to eat a totally meat meal. Chicken is allowed but fish is not. Vegetables can be added to a meat dish, such as beef stir-fry, but a vegetable salad with a few bits of meat is not acceptable. No kugels, salads or grains are allowed. Everyone cooks different dishes and the meal is coordinated so that there are not too many of the same dish. The late Dr. Atkins would have been proud of their high protein menu!
For the first time, Bassarfest did not take place this year due to a conflict of dates with other community events. However, James is planning to organize another Basserfest in the spring, when Parshat Parah will be read. The word “parah” is the Hebrew word for “cow” – and that is a perfect excuse to eat meat, according to James, who is a passionate carnivore.
I recently spoke to James by phone from his Washington Heights apartment. When I asked what his favorite meat dish was, he passionately replied “lasagna – I love meat lasagna! I love any kind of meat.” I asked James what he was having for dinner. He sighed – “My wife made salmon tonight – but that’s okay. I like salmon.”
I told him that Kosher cookbook author Levana Kirschenbaum had offered to share some of her favorite meat recipes for this article, including her famous Brisket in Sweet and Sour Sauce. James exclaimed “I love brisket. My mother makes wonderful brisket and so does my wife.” When I asked whose brisket was better, he diplomatically replied “I think it’s best if I don’t answer that question.”
Levana Kirschenbaum is an accomplished cooking teacher, caterer and co-owner of Levana’s Restaurant located at 141 West 69 Street in NYC. Levana teaches an amazing variety of cooking classes at Lincoln Square Synagogue in New York, including contemporary and international recipes, ranging from Moroccan Foods to Superfoods. A master chef, Levana has 25 years of professional cooking experience and is also the author of the popular cookbook “Levana Cooks.” For more information about this dynamic cooking maven and her cooking classes and demos, visit her website at www.levanacooks.com. Levana truly takes kosher cooking to new heights.
Her son Yakov Kirschenbaum has recently become the Chabad Shliach in Washington Heights. Yakov proudly includes one of his mother’s recipes every week in his newsletter. Her recipe for rack of lamb (see below) was recently featured in honor of his parents’ 30th anniversary.
When I emailed Levana and asked her to share some of her favorite meat recipes for this article, she generously replied: “I’d be delighted! My brisket recipe is in the New York Times Kosher cookbook. I suspect from all the e-mails I receive that it is the most famous and most replicated brisket recipe. I decided to send you my recipe for Marinated Grilled Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce so your readers can make better use of butterflied minute roast, which is economical, a snap to make and scrumptious. You can also let them know that if for whatever reason they don’t have time to marinate it overnight, it will still be okay. My recipe for Beef Bourguignon was recently included in Joan Schwartz’ s cookbook “Meat and Potatoes”, recently published.”
I can just imagine James Wolfe reading Levana’s recipes and trying to decide who should cook them for him– his wife or his mother! No matter who gets the honor, these delicious recipes will be a welcome addition to the next all-meat menu at the spring Basserfest!
Levana’s Famous Brisket in Sweet and Sour Sauce
Levana says that this is the best brisket you’ve ever had. Never mind the weird ingredients. They work!
- 1 brisket (6 to 7 lbs.), first cut, rinsed and patted thoroughly dry
- 1 medium onion
- 1×2-inch piece ginger
- 6 large cloves garlic
- ¼ cup Dijon mustard (omit on Passover)
- ½ cup red wine
- ½ cup coke or ginger ale
- ½ cup ketchup
- ¼ cup honey
- ¼ cup vinegar
- ¼ cup soy sauce (omit on Passover, and if you think your meat might be too salty)
- ½ cup olive oil
- ½ teaspoon ground cloves
- 1 Tablespoon coarsely ground pepper
- Preheat oven to 350°F
- In a food processor, process onion, ginger, garlic and mustard till smooth. Add all remaining marinade ingredients and process a few more seconds.
- Place the brisket in a pan just big enough to fit the meat. Pour mixture over it.
- Cover tightly and bake for 2 hours. Turn brisket over, and bake uncovered 1 hour longer.
- Take out brisket from oven. Strain the liquids into a small saucepan and reduce to about 2 cups. Skim oil off the top.
- Let brisket cool slightly. Slice thinly against the grain and pour gravy on top.
Serves a large crowd
Parsley-Crusted Baby Rack of Lamb
Makes 2 servings (Allow 4 chops per person.)
Levana says: “Do you still get misty-eyed when your wedding anniversary rolls around? If you can’t take your spouse to Levana Restaurant to celebrate, the next best thing will be this baby rack of lamb, ready in a snap and served at home. One rack feeds two people. Serve this with mashed potatoes and steamed baby vegetables drizzled with a little olive oil and sea salt.”
- ¼ cup flat-leaf parsley, leaves and stems
- 1 large clove garlic
- 1 Tablespoon Dijon mustard
- 1 Tablespoon olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons coarsely ground pepper
- ¼ teaspoon cumin
- ¼ teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 whole baby rack of lamb, bones completely trimmed and left long
- Preheat the oven to 500°F.
- Combine the parsley, garlic, mustard, olive oil, pepper, cumin, and coriander in a food processor and process until smooth.
- Place the lamb meat-side up in a baking pan. Cover the meatless part of the bones with foil.
- Spread the parsley mixture evenly on the meat, using up all of it.
- Bake 20 to 25 minutes for medium rare.
- To serve, slice between the chops with a sharp knife.
Source: ‘Levana’s Table,’ by Levana Kirschenbaum.
Levana’s Marinated Grilled Steak with Green Peppercorn Sauce
8 to 10 servings
- 1 minute roast, butterflied, all sinews removed (your butcher will do that for you)
- 4 Tablespoons green peppercorns, crushed
- 3 Tablespoons honey
- ¼ cup mirin or dry sherry wine
- 3 Tablespoons soy sauce
- 4 Tablespoons Dijon mustard
- 3 Tablespoons toasted sesame oil
- A good pinch of cayenne pepper
- Mix steak thoroughly with all ingredients. Transfer to a grilling pan just large enough to fit the steak. Marinate for 2 hours or up to 8 hours in the refrigerator.
- Grill or broil 5 to 8 minutes on each side. Steak will be medium rare. Transfer all cooking liquid to a small saucepan and reduce to 1 cup.
- Slice steak about 1/8 inch thick. Strain sauce over it. Serve hot. It’s also delicious at room temperature.
Levana’s Beef Bourguignon
- 3 lbs. beef shoulder, cut into 2-inch cubes for stew
- 3 Tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 6 cloves garlic, peeled
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 2 large tomatoes, diced small
- 1 Tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper
- 6 bay leaves
- 4 sprigs fresh thyme, leaves only
- 2 lbs. very thin carrots, peeled (about 20)
- 20 very small potatoes, scrubbed
- 1 dozen small onions, peeled and left whole.
WITH A CROCKPOT:
- Layer all the ingredients in a 6 quart crockpot in the order they were given.
- Set the crockpot on low in the morning. It will be ready for dinner (10 to 12 hours total cooking time).
ON A STOVETOP:
- Place beef, oil and eight cups of water in a heavy wide bottom pot. Bring to a boil. Reduce to medium and cook covered 2 hours.
- Add the garlic, wine, tomatoes, pepper and bay leaves, and cook 30 minutes longer.
- Add thyme, carrots, potatoes and onions and cook 30 more minutes. The meat should be fork-tender.
- Transfer meat and all vegetables on platter with a slotted spoon. If the liquid left in the pot is too thin, reduce it on a high flame until it is thickened, the consistency of maple syrup.
- Pour the reduced liquid over the whole dish, and serve hot.
Note: this dish reheats very well, and improves with age, so go ahead and make it a day or two in advance.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.