Virtual Cooking Events Showcase North African Flavours, Russian Foods

Nov. 27, 2020


Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

When COVID struck, Carolyn Tanner Cohen, founder of the Delicious Dish Cooking School, had to reinvent her business. She had been running her popular cooking school from her home.

She was able to build an online following and has made the transition to a virtual cooking school.

On Dec. 3, she’ll be doing a fundraiser for Grandmothers Partnering with Africa (GPWA), part of the international Grandmothers Campaign of the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

The campaign provides financial support for millions of African grandmothers who are raising their grandchildren. They have been orphaned because their parents died of HIV/AIDS.

Participants in the GPWA fundraiser with Tanner Cohen will be making Moroccan Spiced Lentil Barley Soup and Cauliflower Fritters with Dukkah, along with other recipes inspired by North African flavours.

This week’s recipes range from exotic to everyday. Tanner-Cohen’s Marinated Crispy Tofu with Sriracha Tahini encompasses a range of international flavours.


Lea Zeltserman is a Russian-born, Toronto-based writer specializing in Russian food and Russian-Jewish issues and culture. On Dec. 6, she will lead a virtual cooking workshop on how to make rassolnik (Russian pickle soup). See Culinary Calendar below for details.

Lea Zeltserman
Lea Zeltserman

I tried to match Ashkenazi dishes that resemble some of the Russian foods described by Zeltserman. The Food Processor Bible by the late Norene Gilletz was my source. Her Easy Cottage Cheese Pancakes are very similar to Russian syrniki. Zeltserman said buckwheat groats are a Russian staple so I have also included Gilletz’s recipe for Kasha Knishes.

Zeltserman may have spent only two years of her life in her native Russia, but her knowledge of the traditional foods of her homeland is extensive.

She said many dishes considered to be Jewish in North America are the familiar Russian foods of her childhood. “I grew up eating Ukrainian or Russian borscht…This food is part of my Soviet Russian heritage, not my Jewish one.”

There’s a lot of overlap between Russian and Ashkenazi Jewish foods, she noted, except the Jewish roots of these dishes, like those of other cultures, were “stripped away” during the Soviet era. “That government was anti-religious.”

For instance, Russian Jews eat a chopped liver-style paté. She said it’s hard to know if these dishes were originally Russian or if were borrowed from Jewish cuisine and “Sovietized.”

She pointed out that Russians have a preference for sour tastes like sour pickles and sauerkraut. The rassolnik (pickle soup) was originally made with beef kidney, but Zeltserman uses stewing beef. “It’s a very adaptable recipe. If I have beef bones I use them. Any sour pickle will do.”

Kasha, she explained, means porridge in Russian. The buckwheat-groat dish referred to as kasha in North America is called grechka in Russian. “In my house we always had a pot of buckwheat on the stove… It was a staple.”

Soft cheeses like farmer’s or cottage cheese are frequently consumed by both Ashkenazi Jews and Russians, Zeltserman said. “I often make syrniki or cottage cheese pancakes for my kids.”

One of her favourite meals is blinchiki, thin crepe-like pancakes that resemble cheese blintzes. Instead of cheese, however, blinchiki are stuffed with ground chicken, she said. “They are amazingly delicious!”


1 block (about 350 g) firm or extra firm tofu
2 tbs (30 ml) neutral oil like grape-seed or sunflower


¼ cup (60 ml) low sodium soy sauce or tamari
1 cup (250) water
2 tsp (10 ml) garlic powder


¼ cup (60 ml) toasted sesame seeds
¼ cup (60 ml) wheat germ
½ tsp (2 ml) garlic powder
½ tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
Pinch of black pepper

Sriracha Tahini

2 tbsp (30 ml) tahini paste
1 tbsp (15b ml) lemon juice
1 tsp (5 ml) sriracha, more to taste
Ice water to thin
Pinch or two of kosher salt

Cut the tofu into 1–2-inch (2–5 cm) cubes.

Combine the tamari or soy, water and garlic powder in a flat dish. Lay the tofu cubes in dish, marinate 

(turning occasionally) for 10 minutes up to 6 hours.

Combine the sesame seeds, wheat germ, garlic powder, salt and pepper in the bowl of a food processor.

Process until the seeds have broken down and a breadcrumb-like texture is formed.

Heat a large fry pan over med-high heat. Add the oil. Coat each piece of marinated tofu in the sesame 

seed mixture. When the oil is hot, pan fry the tofu cubes until each side is golden brown.

Sriracha Tahini: In a medium size bowl and using a whisk, mix together the tahini, lemon juice, sriracha and 2 tbsp (30 ml) ice water. The consistency should be similar to ketchup. As you add the lemon and water, the tahini will thicken at first, thin it with additional water. Taste for flavour, it should be spicy with a hint of lemon. Add more water to achieve the desired consistency.

Serve the tofu as is or over rice or noodles. Drizzle the Sriracha Tahini or use it as a dip.


1 cup (250 ml) of firm cottage cheese, (farmer’s cheese style, basically a fresh white cheese)
¼ cup (60 ml) sour cream
2 eggs 
1 tbsp (15 ml) melted butter or margarine
½ cup (125 ml) flour
¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) baking powder
½ tsp (2 ml) ground cinnamon
A combination of oil and butter for frying

Combine all the ingredients in a food processor fitted with a steel blade. Process until fairly smooth, about 20–25 seconds.

Melt about 1 tbsp (15 ml) of oil and butter in a large skillet. When it bubbles drop the cheese mixture from a large spoon into the skillet. Brown on medium heat until it becomes golden. Flip the pancakes and brown on the other side. Repeat with the remaining cheese mixture, adding more oil and butter as necessary. Makes 2 dozen pancakes.

KASHA KNISH Norene Gilletz

Kasha Knish
Kasha Knish

1 large onion, halved 
2 –3 tbsp (30 ml) oil
1 cup (250 ml) coarse or medium kasha (buckwheat groats)
2½ cups (750 ml) boiling water or chicken soup
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

Knish Dough

1 egg
¼ cup (60 ml) oil
¼ cup (60 ml) warm water
¼ tsp (1 ml) salt
1 tsp (5 ml) baking powder
Egg wash (Optional): 1 egg mixed with 2 tbsp water
Flaked sea salt (Optional)

Preheat the oven to 350°F (170°C) and place parchment paper on a sheet pan.

Dough: Fitting the food processor with a steel blade, process the eggs, oil, water until mixed, about 5 seconds. Add the remaining ingredients and process just until blended, about 8 seconds. Do not over-process the dough or it will become tough. Let the dough stand while you prepare the filling.

Filling: With the steel blade process the onion with 3 or 4 quick on-off pulses, until it becomes coarsely chopped.

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté. Add the kasha and brown, stirring often. Then add the boiling liquid to cover the onions and kasha. Season with salt and pepper. Cover and simmer for 8–10 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Let cool.

Assembly: Divide the dough into 2 pieces and the filling in half. Working with 1 piece of dough at a time on a floured surface, roll out the dough as thin as possible into a rectangle. Starting 1 inch from the edge, place half the filling in a mound along the longer side of the rectangle. 

Roll up the ends and place on the prepared baking pan with the seam side down. Brush with egg wash (if using) and sprinkle with sea salt.

Bake in the preheated oven for 35 minutes. Yields 2 rolls, each making 12 slices


Dec. 3, 5:00 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Dec. 6, 3 p.m.: Dec. 6 at 3 p.m. Lea Zeltserman will be leading a virtual cooking workshop for Russian Pickle Soup, through Building the Jewish& Cookbook, presented by the Miles Nadal JCC.

Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.: Latkes and Vodka Workshop with National food columnist and author, Bonnie Stern, and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Virtual cooking demo for latkes, cocktails and dessert. To register:

Dec. 8 & 9 Shoresh Chanukah Markets: Place advance orders for beeswax Chanukah candles, Chanukah Miracle Bundle, Bela’s Bees Raw Honey and other sustainable natural products. Pick up locations south of St. Clair on Dec. 8, north of St. Clair on Dec. 9.

Dec. 22 1:00 p.m.: Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese Food Lecture presented by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Andrew Coe, author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, traces the history of Ashkenazi Jews’ affinity for Chinese food from the turn of the century to today. To register:

Traditional Israeli Dishes Bring a Taste of Jerusalem to Toronto

Nov. 20, 2020


Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

When life hands you lemons you make lemonade or, in the case of Galya Sarner, you make a tangy labaneh with lemon.

Galya Loves Food, labaneh with lemon

After COVID struck, Sarner was laid off from her job working with Toronto’s large Israeli community. She pivoted and was able to turn her passion for food into a business. She teamed up with her daughter, Shani Sarner-Lati, and founded Galya Loves Food.

“You could say our creations are a by-product of the pandemic,” Sarner said in a joint telephone interview with her daughter.

The company produces authentic Israeli specialties like labaneh, a yogurt-like spread, Jerusalem hummus, and smoky roasted eggplant – dishes Sarner grew up eating. She is an Israeli of Iraqi descent on her mother’s side.

The foods she loves and is now marketing are from her mother and late grandmother. The recipes were brought to Jerusalem from Iraq by her grandmother, Sarner recounted.

“When I make my smoky eggplant, I use the smoking plate that I received from my late grandmother. I do the same ancient way of smoking.”

The flavour infuses the food. “The smoky aroma is very specific and brings me back to the days in Jerusalem when my grandmother used the plate.”

I discovered Galya Loves Food by happenstance. I bought the labaneh at a local store and later I checked out the company’s Web site. I wondered if the “Galya” on the label was the woman I had taken a cooking class with years ago. She turned out to be the same person.

Over the years Sarner has led many culinary workshops and today shares two of her favourite recipes – Roasted Cauliflower and Jerusalem Lentil Soup.

There are other tempting recipes on her Web site:

The third recipe, Maple-Glazed Delicata, comes from Bonnie Stern. Delicata is a squash with an edible skin. I bought a few at a farmer’s market but they’re also available in independent fruit and vegetable stores.

I noticed Stern’s delicata recipe in one of her newsletters. It’s simple to make and really delicious.


Galya Loves Food is definitely a family venture. Sarner is chief culinary creator, while Sarner-Lati, an interior designer, understands the esthetics and presentation of the products.

“She has the magic touch in creating the products,” Sarner said. “We have this really good chemistry.”

Sarner-Lati, the second of three children, said she spent a lot of time in the kitchen with her mother over the years. “Mom has passed on her skills. I have my own skills and a good ability to know what spice is missing. We each contribute our own creativity. It’s super enjoyable for both of us.”

Sarner pointed out that her husband, Robert (Sarner), a communication specialist, created the company’s website. “It reflects the passion that we have for Israeli food.”

Galya Loves Food products are now sold directly online and at several retail locations, including What a Bagel on St. Clair Avenue. W. and Aba’s Bagel Company on Eglinton Avenue W.

It was Aba’s that gave Sarner her start. Owner Ari Gershon offered to sell Sarner’s appetizers if she made them. She now uses the commercial kitchen at the bakery for production. “We’re very grateful to Aba’s,” she said.

In the meantime, many Israelis across the GTA are purchasing Galya’s hummus and eggplant spreads because they offer an authentic taste of home, Sarner said.

Sarner-Lati who grew up in Israel, said she misses the country, but with COVID, the family has not been able to visit for more than a year. “For ourselves and our clients, we’re trying to bring the Israeli flavour that we are craving and missing to Toronto,” she said.


Water for boiling
1 tbsp (15 ml) salt
1 large head of cauliflower
5 tbsp (75 ml) pine nuts
1/3 cup (100 ml) extra virgin olive oil
3 tbsp (45 ml) za’atar
1½ tbsp (25 ml) sumac, divided
1/3 cup (100 ml) homemade tahini (see below)
1 tbsp (15 ml) silan (date syrup)
2 tbsp (30 ml) chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves

Homemade Tahini

½ cup (125 ml) raw tahini
¼ cup (60 ml) water
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 tbsp (30 ml) fresh lemon juice

Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Fill a large pot with water and bring to boil. Add 1 tbsp (15 ml) salt. Add the cauliflower and cook for 8–9 minutes. Make sure the head of the cauliflower faces the bottom of pot so it can fully absorb the salty water.

Meantime, place the pine nuts in dry frying pan (without oil) on medium to low heat and stir-fry until colour of pine nuts is golden (be careful as they can burn easily). Set aside and let cool.

Remove the cauliflower very carefully so it doesn’t break apart and place it on the prepared baking sheet. Apply olive oil evenly over the entire surface of the cauliflower and sprinkle on the za’atar and 1 tbsp (15 ml) of sumac. Bake for 18–20 minutes until cauliflower is golden. (Make sure the top doesn’t burn).

Prepare the Tahini: In a large bowl, mix the tahini, water, garlic and lemon juice. Keep mixing until the mixture is very smooth. Taste and adjust as you may need more water or lemon. Set aside.

Transfer the roasted cauliflower to a cake plate. Drizzle with the tahini. Sprinkle on the remaining sumac, along with the chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and then apply the silan carefully.

Spread the roasted pine nuts around the cauliflower. Makes 4 servings and can be served at room temperature.


6–8 cups (1½– 2 L) water or broth, depending on thickness preference
4 cups (1 L) dry red lentils
1 tsp (5 ml) salt, more to taste.
1/3 cup (100 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, minced
4–5 cloves of garlic, minced
2 tbsp (30 ml) cumin
½ cup (125 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 bay leaf
1/3 cup (100 ml) minced chives for garnish
3 tbsp (45 ml) roasted pine nuts for garnish
Pepper and additional salt to taste

In a large soup pot, add water or broth, salt, lentils and bring to boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for at least 1 hour.

Meanwhile, add the oil to a saucepan and stir-fry the minced onion. Add the garlic and cook until golden.

Add the cumin. Season with salt and pepper. Add the onions and garlic mixture to the soup along with the bay leaf and simmer another half hour. Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice. Garnish with the chives and pine nuts. Makes 4–6 servings.


1½ lbs (½ K) delicata or butternut squash
2 tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
2 tbsp (30 ml) maple syrup (dark if possible)
½ tsp (3 ml) kosher salt

Preheat oven to 450°F (230°C). Line a sheet pan with parchment paper.

For the delicata squash, slice 1/4–1/3-inch thick-inch (1–3 cm) and scoop out seeds in the centre or, cut in half across and hollow them out and then slice. For the butternut squash slice the long top portion without seeds in rounds or hollow out centre portion and slice in half moons. Arrange in a single layer on parchment paper.

Drizzle the squash with olive oil, then maple syrup and sprinkle with salt. Turn the slices all over in the mixture and arrange back in a single layer.

Roast 20 minutes until they start to brown. Flip the slices over and roast 15–20 minutes or longer until the slice are browned and getting a bit sticky. Makes 2–6 servings.


Nov. 25, 11:00 a.m.: Learn to make appetizers and pickled Salmon with Lilah Rosenthal at a virtual cooking workshop presented by Bernard Betel Centre. To register:

Dec. 3, 5:00 p.m.: Cook Global Cuisine with Carolyn Tanner-Cohen, sponsored by Grandmothers Partnering with Africa, Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Dec. 8, 7:30 p.m.: Latkes and Vodka Workshop with national food columnist and author Bonnie Stern and Rabbi Elyse Goldstein. Virtual cooking demo for latkes, cocktails and dessert. To register:

Dec. 22 1:00 p.m.: Ashkenazi Jews and Chinese Food Lecture presented by YIVO Institute for Jewish Research. Andrew Coe, author of Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States, traces the history of Ashkenazi Jews’ affinity for Chinese food from the turn-of-the-century to today. To register:

Let’s Do Brunch! Crohn’s and Colitis Canada’s tastiest fall fundraiser, now in its 21st year. This initiative brings awareness to Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.