Chicken soup has long been called Jewish penicillin. There’s just something about the golden elixir that cries out Yiddishkeit, which is what the National Jewish Outreach Program banked on with its “Better Than Your Bubby’s” chicken soup contest last week.
The contest was a lead-in for NJOP’s annual Shabbat Across America, a national program to be held tonight at almost 600 synagogues, to introduce unaffiliated Jews to the basics of Shabbat. The winning soup recipe was to be distributed among the participating shuls, including at least eight in this area, in time for the dinner.
|Elizabeth Kratz’s Hungarian Sweet and Spicy Chicken Soup was a runner-up in last week’s “Better Than Your Bubby’s” chicken soup contest. PHOTO”ˆby jerry szubin|
Last Thursday, Jeff Nathan, head chef at Abigael’s in New York, prepared recipes from five finalists and judges crowned Michael Cohen of Los Angeles the winner. The East Coast got some respect, though, as Elizabeth Kratz of Bergenfield was named a runner-up for her Hungarian Sweet and Spicy Chicken Soup, a dish she said she’s been working on for about a year.
“I’ve been told my chicken soup recipe was good and possibly unique and special but I didn’t know for sure,” Kratz told The Jewish Standard last Friday.
Her recipe includes three types of peppers. While cayenne pepper brings “a little bit of bite” to the soup, the paprika adds a little sweetness. Kratz said her husband Alexander and his Hungarian parents were the inspiration for the recipe.
“Hungarians see paprika as one of the four food groups,” Kratz said. “It’s kind of true. My husband loves the sweet spiciness of the soup.”
This was Kratz’s first foray into competitive cooking – and, she said, likely her last. She’s “not really a recipe contest person” and finds herself more interested in simply the appreciation of what she called traditional Jewish recipes.
“I enjoyed the cooking contest aspect of it and I thought the NJOP did an amazing job in terms of publicity and letting people know why chicken soup is a wonderful part of the Jewish tradition,” she said.
A free-lance writer, Kratz said that good writing is the backbone of any good recipe because the chef has to convey its every nuance. She hopes to write a cookbook filled with healthful, classic Jewish recipes with what she called modern twists.
“I’m a big fan of healthy cooking and don’t like to use a lot of fat or sugar in my recipes,” she said.
The five finalists were chosen from more than 70 entries, but while organizers were pleased with the attention the contest garnered, their intent was not just to highlight soup.
Chicken soup is a means to an end, said Rabbi Yitzchak Rosenbaum, associate director of NJOP and a Teaneck resident.
“Chicken soup is universal and yet very particularly Jewish, especially in terms of Friday night Shabbos,” he said.
The first – and until this year the only – chicken soup contest was held five years ago and organizers wanted to capitalize on the wide recognition of the dish. It’s much better known than potato kugel, cholent, or other Shabbat staples. The overarching goal was to garner publicity for Shabbat Across America and draw more people to the Shabbat experience, Rosenbaum said.
“Chicken soup is a vehicle we use to heighten people’s sensitivity to Shabbat,” he said.
Although he was not one of the judges, Rosenbaum did get to taste the soups and thought the two that stood out the most were the winning entry and Kratz’s.
Another contest has not been scheduled, but after the positive feedback from this year’s contest, Rosenbaum said, it could happen.