(The Nosher via JTA) - One of the first Jewish foods I remember eating is challah. I associate challah with mingling at bar and bat mitzvahs, a glass of grape juice in hand and a chunk of bread in the other, calculating how many times I could reasonably duck into the temple bathroom without looking suspicious.
I wanted to hide from the awkwardness of being 13 and the fact that temple never felt comfortable to me. My mom is Jewish and my dad is not, so my relationship with Judaism has always been rooted more in my stomach and attempts to find a religious identity than anything concerning actual religious observance. The challah was delicious.
When I was a little bit past bar mitzvah age I attended a Passover seder with relatives on my mom’s side. It was a large group of friends and family and we passed a dozen dishes around several pushed-together tables (one was not large enough to fit all of us). I was transfixed by the elaborate food traditions: the brisket, the matzo ball soup, the seder plate. We read stories, sang songs, and ate and ate and ate. I learned that one of the wonderful things about Judaism and its many traditions rooted in food is its ability to bring people together.
I stopped eating meat, dairy, and eggs about seven years ago and can attest that eating a vegan diet creates a different but similar discomfort I remember feeling as a preteen. If you decide to follow this diet, you will be everyone’s least favorite friend when it comes to picking a place to eat dinner, and you basically need to get used to packing your own Thanksgiving meal every year. One of the reasons I write a vegan blog is to share recipes and stories to bridge that gap between people who choose to eat less meat (or dairy or eggs) and those who choose to eat all of the meat and dairy and eggs.
When I started following a vegan diet I was pleased to learn that most bread is naturally vegan — challah, of course, is one of the exceptions. After going years without challah I decided to try my hand at a loaf like the ones I remember so well. I found the fluffiness was difficult to replicate. The first time I tried it, I didn’t give the yeast enough time to rise and it ended up dense and doorstop-like. After a few more tries it turned out pretty great.
(Izzy Darby is a vegan food blogger at www.veganizzm.com, where she strives to make plant-based eating approachable and fun.)
The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.