California winemaker Jeff Morgan makes great kosher wines and is the author of a new cookbook, The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table.
Jeff Morgan is the author, with his wife Jodie, of seven cookbooks, including the recently released The Covenant Kitchen: Food and Wine for the New Jewish Table. He’s also the proprietor of California's Covenant Wines, where he makes a wide range of extremely good kosher wines.
The recipes in The Covenant Kitchen, Morgan says, “aren’t what you’d consider traditional Jewish cooking by any stretch of the imagination. Neither Jodi nor I had a bubbe making us special dishes from Lithuania or Kazakhstan or whatever when we were growing up—it’s more a compendium of dishes that we’ve developed over the past 20 years in California and my 10 years before that in France. They’re all suitable to a kosher kitchen; if you don’t keep kosher, that’s fine, too. They’re still great recipes.”
So, for example, while there’s a recipe for cholent in the book—the slow-cooked, meat-filled casserole often eaten for lunch on the Sabbath—the Morgans’ version is influenced by a friend’s recipe for chili; hence, Cowboy Cholent. Same old matzo-ball soup? Nope: Fish Soup with Matzo Balls and Aioli instead, a smart Provençal spin on a Jewish classic. And there are plenty of recipes—the Morgans' Ginger Sesame Noodles, for example—that aren’t remotely what you’d normally associate with the old country, unless your old country happens to be China, Italy or Northern California.
The Covenant Kitchen also devotes some space at the beginning to a short rundown of kosher wine basics (and there’s other wine content throughout the book). Since Morgan makes kosher wines himself—and since Passover is nigh upon us—I asked him about some of the misconceptions about it that still linger. Here’s what he had to say:
1. Kosher wines are made differently from other wines.
Morgan's reply: “Fine kosher wines are made in exactly the same way that non-kosher wines are. The difference is only in who symbolically can touch the wine.”
2. Kosher wines are all sweet and sticky and made from Concord grapes.
“Twenty to 25 years ago,” Morgan says, “that may have been true. But not anymore. And one funny thing: I find non-Jewish wine lovers don’t have nearly as much prejudice against kosher wines as Jewish wine lovers who grew up drinking Manischewitz do. For those traumatized souls, I’d like to mention that there are many, many other options now.”
3. Kosher wines always say “kosher” on the label.
“Many don’t. What they will have, like our wines, is a hechsher—a small symbol from the certifying agency, usually on the back label. For our Covenant wines, that’s a U with an circle around it, which is what the Orthodox Union uses. Others might have a small K with a circle.” (Note: If there’s a “P” as well, that means kosher for Passover.)
4. Good kosher wine is hard to find.
“In the past decade, there’s been a very visible renaissance in kosher winemaking—not just in Israel but also in Europe. Most of those wines come to the US. And there are now five or six wineries in California making noteworthy kosher wines, which are distributed throughout the country.”
5. Wine at a Seder dinner is likely to be dreary.
Morgan says, “I think the guidelines for a Passover Seder, in terms of pairing wine, are the same that apply to any meal. Lighter, fresher wines with the lighter dishes; bigger, full-bodied wines with the richer dishes. At our Seders at home we’ll have five, six, even seven different wines. It’s great. White, red, even rosé—there are some excellent kosher rosés on the market right now.”
Morgan’s own Red C rosé is available only from the winery, but the rest of his wines are nationally distributed. Three to seek out are his 2014 Red C Sauvignon Blanc Dry Creek Valley AllanNelson Vineyard ($24); his 2013 The Tribe Red ($38), from Dry Creek Valley in Sonoma as well; and, for a splurge, the impressive 2012 Covenant Cabernet Sauvignon Napa Valley ($90).
Excerpted from The Covenant Kitchen by Jeff and Jodie Morgan. Copyright (c) 2015 by Jeff Morgan and Jodie Morgan. Excerpted by permission of Schocken, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.