It’s always fun to step outside the routine and eat a few things that aren’t part of our day-to-day menu, and our local food festivals are a great way to do it. With this in mind, Jess and I made our way up to the River Market on Sunday for the 2011 Jewish Food and Cultural Festival, an annual event hosted by the Jewish Federation of Arkansas. From latkes to rugelach (with some matzo ball soup and chopped liver in-between), we ate ourselves completely silly, all the while enjoying the festive atmosphere and friendly folks serving up the deliciousness. This was our first year to attend the festival, but it was so much fun that it won’t be the last.
Latkes were one of my first introductions into Jewish cuisine, and they’ve long been a Thanksgiving tradition in my own family, so there was no way I was going to leave without eating some. These potato pancakes were seriously good, crisp and firm on the outside with a moist, mealy interior and served with apple sauce and sour cream (I prefer the sour cream). We paired our latkes with a plate of stuffed cabbage rolls – beef and rice stuffed into soft cabbage leaves and covered in a savory tomato sauce, and I couldn’t resist getting a cup of chopped liver and crackers. Now, I can hear a lot of you groaning a bit at the idea of eating chopped liver, but I urge each and every one of you to give this a try. The version served up at the festival was mild and good with a creamy base of onions and hard-boiled eggs. I’m a fan of traditional pate, but as that mixes dairy (butter and cream) with meat, it’s a no-go for kosher eating, and I was impressed with the flavor and texture of this dairy-free version.
The falafel plate was another delicious thing we tried, and the folks making them were rolling them out by the dozen (see left). Paired with the chickpea croquettes were a wonderfully light hummus, a slice of pita, and one of my favorite things I ate all day, an Israeli salad. I don’t know if they chopped all that salad by hand, but the small bits of vegetables were tossed together with a light and flavorful dressing and just exploded with good flavor. By this point, we were pretty full, but given that there was a huge selection of baked goods, we knew we weren’t finished. We bought a variety pack of sweets and a whole babka (cinnamon cake) to take with us – and I’ll be honest, the babka didn’t even make it a full 24 hours before it was gone. If you’ve never had a chance to attend this festival, it’s definitely worth putting on your calendar for next year, and we’ll hopefully see you there! Enjoy!