After the stoves had cooled and the judges had cleaned their plates, Amy Siegel of Clifton was declared the winner of last Friday’s third annual Simply Manischewitz Cook Off with her “Marvelous Mediterranean Falafel Sliders.”
|Amy Siegel won the third Simply Manischewitz Cook Off with her Marvelous Mediterranean Falafel Sliders. PHOTOs”ˆby josh lipowsky|
Manischewitz chose six finalists from thousands of entrants to compete in the finals at New York’s Marriott Marquis Hotel. Siegel won the grand prize package, which included $25,000 in GE kitchen appliances and cash.
The contest, said Manischewitz CEO Paul Bensabat, demonstrates the diversity of kosher food.
“Kosher food has this image of being a safer and a better quality product,” he said. “We felt we owed it to ourselves to show the world that kosher food can be a food that you can cook marvelous dishes with and show it’s a versatile product.”
Siegel likened her dish to a Middle Eastern kofta kabob, which typically is made with ground lamb. That meat isn’t as readily or cheaply available in the kosher market, she said, so turkey became the stand-in. Sliders, she said, have become popular thanks to celebrity chefs like Rachael Ray.
This was Siegel’s second year in the Cook Off. Last year she was a semi-finalist with her falafel-stuffed chicken bundles with fire-roasted pepper salsa.
“I really liked Mediterranean, Middle Eastern flavors so the falafel mix was perfect for that,” she said, noting that she has twice used the Middle Eastern staple. A finalist from Bergenfield in the first Cook Off in 2007 also used falafel in her recipe. “You can do more with it than you think,” Siegel said.
|Marvelous Mediterranean Falafel Sliders|
|1 envelope Manischewitz falafel mix
2 lb. ground turkey*
1 cup mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp. olive oil
1 large Bermuda onion, thinly sliced
1 can ready-to-serve tehina
12 3-inch rolls
1 head bibb lettuce, washed and patted dry
1. In a large mixing bowl, combine falafel mix, turkey, mint leaves, black pepper to taste, and 3-4 tablespoons cold water to moisten. Shape mixture into 12 small patties. Heat a grill pan or large skillet over medium-high heat. Spray with nonstick cooking spray. Grill patties for 3-5 minutes per side, until no longer pink in center. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium high heat. Add olive oil and Bermuda onion. SautÃ© for 10-12 minutes, until softened and golden. In a small bowl, stir together tehina with Â¼ cup water. Add more water to make a thinner sauce, if desired, and set aside. Heat rolls in a 250-degree FÂ° oven for 5 minutes or until warm.
2. To assemble slider: On a plate, place bottom of roll, lettuce leaf, cooked patty, onions, 1 tbsp. tehina, and top of roll. Garnish with additional chopped mint leaves. Serve remaining techina sauce on the side for dipping.
*You can use regular and light varieties of ground turkey. However, according to Siegel, the regular variety works best in this recipe.
She credited celebrity chefs like Rachel Ray for popularizing sliders and inspiring her to make the mini-burger. Although fast-food chain White Castle has been slinging sliders for years, the pint-sized patty has recently become more commonplace in the restaurant scene.
“Sliders right now for the past year or two have been a pretty popular trend in the industry,” said judge Jacob Schiffman, a food buyer for cable’s Food Network. “It’s small. You can eat it with your hands. It’s easy. You can eat sliders at a fancy bar or a little pizza place.”
Organizers would not make public the judges’ scoring, but Schiffman said that while all the dishes were “really creative,” he liked the sliders best.
Beyond showcasing the contestants’ creativity, Manischewitz wanted to highlight the kosher process, organizers said. The company’s Rabbi Yaakov Horowitz was responsible for transforming the Marriott ballroom into a kosher cook-off arena, which included setting up six completely independent workstations, checking ingredients, washing vegetables, and then lighting the ovens before the contest began. These things usually happen behind the scenes in kosher restaurants, but were highlighted for the contest, he said.
Sparking a kosher conundrum, one of the recipes called for goat cheese, while the others were all centered on meat. Mixing the two is forbidden under kashrut law, but having a dairy station next to a meat station is permissible as long as they are under proper supervision, Horowitz said.
Certain traditions call for waiting at least an hour after eating dairy before consuming meat, and up to six hours to eat dairy after a meat dish. Horowitz said he looked at “the letter of the law” for a solution. The dairy dish – Ruby Red Risotto with Pistachio-Basil Pesto and Garlic-Herb Goat Cheese by Erin Evenson of Brooklyn – would be presented to the judges first, followed by a pause for the judges to cleanse their palates with matzoh -Manischewitz brand, of course.
As long as the dairy in question is not a hard cheese, there is no set waiting time before eating meat demanded by Jewish law, according to the rabbi.
“There are divergent customs,” he said, “but it seems according to the letter of the law if someone has anything but hard cheese, you can eat meat after with [only] a very short break [in between].”
Anybody with specific questions regarding the issue should consult a trusted rabbi, inasmuch as local custom plays a large role in it, Horowitz added.
Manischewitz received between 1,000 and 2,000 entries for this year’s contest, said David Rossi, the company’s vice president of marketing. Recipes that were clearly not kosher, didn’t adhere to the contest’s limitation of only eight ingredients, or were not deemed creative enough were tossed in order to find recipes worthy of advancing.
“If somebody did a great potato pancake, that’s great, but it isn’t something that innovative,” Rossi said. “But when you see people that make risotto with borscht or people who put borscht in meatloaf, or, in the instance of our winner who won with a falafel slider, that’s great.”
Between 30 and 40 recipes made the cut. Manischewitz then tested those for taste, ease, and to make sure they really could be prepared within the allotted time. The finalists more than pleased the organizers.
“Our first year was good,” Rossi said. “Our second year was better. And these are probably the best recipes we’ve had so far.”
As for what the future holds for Siegel and her falafel sliders?
“Maybe dinner on Tuesday,” she said with a grin.