Monday, January 3, 2011

Challahback Girl

In preparation to cater the New Years Eve shabbat service at my mother's synagogue, it was necessary for me to (gulp) , prepare two loaves of traditional Jewish challah bread (pronounced 'holla'). My original plan was to simply purchase the bread from Central Market (which has spectacular artisan breads), while I spent my time preparing everything else- fennel and chrevré stuffed mushrooms, vegetarian black eyed pea cakes, blue cheese gourgéres, caramel coated brie, spiced meringue pecans, espresso and walnut toffee, stone fruit and chocolate truffles, and snowflake linzer cookies. My mom was taken aghast when I relayed my intention to cheat with store bought challah, and informed me that I could show up serving Sam's deli trays and be better off than to not prepare the bread myself. Ahem, "Are you kidding me!? Have you seen my menu?" was my first thought. All belief systems being equal, however, I decided to investigate the options. After a quick online search, I decided the task at hand was more manageable than previously assumed, and, what the hell, homemade challah it would be.

I grossly underestimated, however, exactly how sticky of a situation I was getting myself into. Once the eggs and honey were added into the mix, the dough transformed into the blob, preparing to envelop everything in sight; Even my trusty KitchenAid mixer, armed with its dough hook, could not handle the mass. In a panic reserved for the most dire of emergencies, my entire kitchen rapidly degenerated into a a scene resembling that of an I Love Lucy episode. The counters, and floor, and I, took on an powdery coat from flour being flung near and far, as I began violently punching the yeasty beat in effort to coerce it into a kneadable consistency. Smelling defeat in the air, I began shouting orders to the defiant concoction it in some bazaar drill sergeant tone that up until that point I was completely unaware that I possessed (was I possessed?). Finally, through shear will and determination (and a few more one-two punches), I had a happy little loaf, quite calmed down, and ready to go about the process- not unlike an unruly child after receiving a hum-dinger of a spanking. After a restful rise (for only bread unfortunately, not for me), it behaved beautifully, and after being divided and braided, it baked up golden, soft, and sweet. In a first rate compliment to perseverance, one member of the temple remarked that it was one of the best challahs she had ever tasted, proving that when all hope is lost, well... just keep punching. Shalom ya'll!

As promised to several at the temple, here is the black eyed pea recipe that proved to be most popular. While these take on a whole new life with the addition of bacon (which obviously wouldn't be kosher), they are absolutely delicious in this meat-free form.

I regrettably have no photos to offer of these dishes as I did not have the opportunity amongst the chaos that is catering to pull out my camera and snap away (You can imagine the impropriety- "Um, excuse me ma'am, would you mind putting that mushroom back so that I may finish taking photos?"). If I did not live it, I would never believe that someone did not have enough time to snap a photo, but (sigh), it is true.

Vegetarian Black Eyed Pea Cakes

4 cups fresh black eyed peas
1 1/2 cups fresh bread crumbs*
1 red onion, diced
1/2 red bell pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeded and diced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
1 TBS chopped fresh oregano (if you must, use 1 tsp dried, but they will not be the same)
1 cup grated Parmesan (for all that is sacred and holy, do NOT use Kraft from a green can)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
2 TBS flour
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

*to make fresh bread crumbs, simply remove the crusts from a good loaf of white bread and pulse for a few seconds in a food processor

1. Place the peas in a large pot and cover with enough water to come up the sides by about 2 inches, bring to a boil, reduce to medium low, and cook uncovered for 30 minutes or so, until they are tender but still retain shape.

2. Dump everything into a large bowl and mix thoroughly

3. Place half of the mixture in a food processor and pulse a few seconds until coarsely ground, then mix it all back together again in the mixing bowl, and form the mix into patties (you can make tiny bite sized patties, 3 inch patties, or hamburger sized patties, depending on how you would like to serve them).

4. Heat about 1/3 cup of oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat (when a drop of water or batter spatters, it is ready), and fry for 4 or 5 minutes per side until crisp and golden. Drain on paper towels

5. You can keep the cooked cakes warm in a 275 degree oven while you finish frying the rest if necessary. You can garnish with a dollop of sour cream or Greek yogurt, with a snippet of green onion and/or roasted red pepper for color.

This recipe doubles very well for large parties, and the mix can be made up to a day ahead and kept in the fridge.



  1. So strange you should be writing on challah today... I just bought a loaf from the place I work today and introduced my husband to the bread. He LOOOOVES it now. I will have to bake your recipe and see if he likes it as much as the other. :D

  2. Whip him up a batch of french toast with the challah once it is a day or two old- you will be addicted. Thank you for the comment and congratulations!!! :D