Jewish Moments Discovered in a North Dakotan’s Cookbook

I firmly believe that our most Jewish moments can happen anywhere — it doesn’t have to be in a synagogue or a Torah study. Sometimes it happens when you’re 25 and you hear the Black Eyes Peas sing “mazel tov” on the radio for the first time. Sometimes it happens when you accept a new friend on Facebook, realize you have mutual friends across the country, and you realize your new friend is Jewish, too.

And sometimes it happens while you’re flipping through a cookbook penned from a farm in North Dakota.

It’s not that I was surprised to see a Jewish flair in Molly Yeh’s “Molly on the Range” — I’ve been drooling over her Israeli inspired recipes for a few years; last year, she staffed a culinary Birthright trip. But the thing that delighted me in her book, the thing that made me want to stand up and sing “TRADITION!” was a story preceding her recipe for mac and cheese.mollyontherange_cvr_05-27-16

Molly’s mac and cheese recipe was inspired by her summers at Camp Chi, she explains.

“Every day, our meals were eaten at the same long table, which eventually became a stage for after dinner cheers and the Birkat Hamazon, which we bastardized with raunchy words and accompanying dance moves,” including “‘I share I share my bra’ in the place of a-sher a-sher bara.”

Raise your hand if you chanted that exact same thing during the birkat hamazon at summer camp. (Raising my hand, representing Henry S. Jacobs Camp in Utica, Miss., where we technically said “I swear I share my bra” which makes way more sense.) There are probably only a few thousand people in the world who understand that reference, and here it was, in my cookbook. I wanted to hug the book, and Molly, at that moment.

All of that gushing, and I hadn’t even tried a recipe.

On a chilly fall night between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, after putting my toddler to sleep, I baked tahini blondies, a recipe that brought to mind another Jewish memory.

I was uninitiated to the cult of tahini until a few years ago, late at night in Tel Aviv. At the bar at Nanuchka, a Georgian restaurant, my husband and I drank shots of something licorice and soaked up the incredible Tel Aviv nightlife. We ordered tahini mousse and I never looked back. Back home, my supply of duty-free pistachio halva ran out far too quickly.

All that to say I fully support tahini in my dessert, and Molly’s blondies did not disappoint. They’re nutty and sweet and I may have eaten half the pan by myself.

If you’re not into tahini, there are plenty of other Jewish inspired recipes to try in Molly on the Range, including scallion pancake challah (a representation of Molly’s Jewish and Chinese heritage), latkes, and challah waffles and brunch brisket. Your midwestern sensibilities will love Molly’s take on hot dish.

Meanwhile, I’ll be texting my camp friends, pretending I’ll be washing dishes in the chadar ochel next summer,  and waiting for my next moment of unexpected Judaism to land in front of me. I hope it’s as delicious as the ones inspired by “Molly on the Range.

Molly Yeh will be signing copies of Molly on the Range at Cooks of Crocus Hill in Edina on October 22nd.