In the Kitchen of Clara Rubin
Clara Rubin’s parents came from Russia to the United States in 1911. She was born five years later in Brooklyn, New York. Her family had fled the pogroms of Russia for this haven of freedom, but life was difficult and money was scarce. The medical dispensary in Williamsburg, run by Beth Sar Shalom, met the real physical needs of the Rubin family, and it also satisfied their spiritual longings. At the age of fourteen, Clara came to faith in Yeshua. She and her husband Joe, also Jewish, have spent their entire adult lives sharing the message of our Jewish Messiah with others.
While 82-year-old Clara Rubin is a missionary first and foremost, she is also a balaboosta in the kitchen, and it is her culinary skills we’d like to profile here. When I tried to get a recipe from her, it wasn’t easy. She told me there is a saying in Yiddish that cooking is like an art and there aren’t any measurements. Clara assured me that she was a fine artist in the kitchen and couldn’t be pinned down to precise teaspoons of salt and cups of flour. She said, I’m an old timer cook. I go by what my tongue tastes and what my nose smells. I know. The things I cook, I eat. Whatever I make is my favorite. Young people, they eat junk today. I’m a fusspot. I can look at a recipe in a book and just see that it isn’t going to taste any good by the list of ingredients. I don’t want to look crazy by giving you an actual recipe.”
Clara’s grandson once made a commercial on video for a college project. He filmed Clara in the kitchen, holding a chicken over a pot, ready to make her famous chicken soup. He moved to a scene of a sick person in bed receiving a sip and getting out of bed immediately, instantly cured! When I asked Clara about her soup she reminisced, “We used to buy live chickens; now all you get is the dead stuff in the stores. You could smell the soup five blocks away! I don’t understand what’s with the bouillons?!”
When I asked her about a latke recipe for our readers in time for Hanukkah, she responded, “Anybody can make latkes. You just grab a few potatoes, rub ’em together and don’t cook them in too much oil. You can make latkes from any leftovers you have in the fridge as long as you use an egg and maybe some bread crumbs. Try cabbage, rice, zucchini—whatever. And when you make the applesauce, just use a little water and some lemon so they don’t turn brown. Sweeten it with honey. It should be thick and smooth like silk.”
Clara has given us one of her winter warmers that should more than fill your tummies. Here’s a taste of her kasha varnishkes:
“Get a box of whole kasha, not the broken stuff. Put in an egg; use more eggs if you use more kasha (like when you’re making extra for your grandchildren to take back to college; this freezes well.) Stir it in a Teflon frying pan until it’s dry, then cover it generously with water and boil it until it’s soft, not mushy. Then drain it. Boil the bowtie pasta separately and drain it. In another pan, fry onions in chicken fat or vegetable oil. Mix everything together and spice with salt and pepper to taste. It takes a lot more than a pinch of salt.”
Clara’s family loves her cooking so I hope you can make some of it part of your family tradition too. And just so you won’t be left high and dry for latkes this Hanukkah, here is a recipe from the Jews for Jesus Family Cookbook for “Award-Winning Potato Pancakes.” Melissa Moskowitz doesn’t like to brag, but she did win first place for this recipe at a Hanukkah party held by the Chicagoland area Messianic community. What won the judges over? “We loved the onions,” they said. Latkes are traditionally eaten with homemade applesauce or sour cream, but for some reason, her husband Jhan always eats his with ketchup.
- 4 large potatoes, scrubbed and left unpeeled
- 1 medium onion
- 3 small eggs or egg substitute
- 1/3 cup flour (for Passover these can be made with 1/4 cup matzo meal)
- salt and pepper to taste
- vegetable oil
- applesauce or sour cream (or ketchup)
Grate potatoes with the onion, either by hand (if you have the energy and the knuckles!) or in the food processor, using the steel blade. You should have a mixture the consistency of coarsely chopped apples for applesauce. Place potatoes and onions in colander to drain over sink. When drained, put mixture in large bowl and mix in eggs and flour (or matzo meal). Season with salt and pepper. Pour vegetable oil to 1/4″ depth in heavy skillet. Heat until very hot, but not smoking. Spoon batter into skillet, flattening pancakes into 3″ ovals. Fry until deep golden brown and crisp on both sides. Repeat with all the mixture. Lay several newspapers on kitchen counter; cover with several paper towels and place cooked pancakes on this to drain. Serve immediately or if you have to, keep warm in a 400 degree oven (they will lose some of their crispness, but will taste just as good). Makes 24 latkes. Serve with applesauce or sour cream (or ketchup).
From Clara Rubin, and the rest of us aspiring balaboostas at Jews for Jesus, a healthy and hearty holiday season!
Laura Barron is a missionary at the Toronto branch of Jews for Jesus. Along with her husband Andrew, who heads up the Jews for Jesus work in Canada, Laura pioneered the South African ministry of Jews for Jesus. She is a fluent Hebrew speaker and regularly takes part in the organization’s outreach ministry in Israel. Laura and Andrew have three children: Rafael, Ketzia and Simona.