Ofer Vardi and his brother were Nana’s boys, cared for by their Hungarian grandmother, Rozsi Varidi, nearly every day. She would make stuffed red peppers after long hot days at the beach, goulash on a cold winter day and rigo jancsi chocolate mousse cakes for birthdays and special occasions.
When she died several years ago, Vardi, a writer and reporter for various Israeli newspapers, began writing a blog in the popular Al Hashulchan website, Israel’s version of Epicurious.com. Three years later, he had a slew of readers and comments, many remarking that his thoughts and recipes reminded them of home and personal histories.
He eventually published “Goulash for the Surfer,” which makes more sense in Hebrew, Goulash laGolesh (Golesh being the Hebrew term for surfers, both of water and the web), a kosher cookbook of Rozsi’s recipes that meld her Hungarian background with the Israeli kitchen of Vardi’s childhood.
“It’s from there, but made here,” says Vardi, who speaks Hungarian fluently from conversing with his grandmother, and spent a year in Budapest working for the Jewish Agency. “For me, Hungarian food is memories from here, from Israel, not from Budapest. When we eat something, it touches the heart first, and then the stomach.”
Well, that’s certainly true for Vardi whose Nana clearly cooked with much love for her boys. And when the high holidays rolled around, she broke out the best of her hometown fare. That included a compote of quinces, always a New Year fruit in these parts, as well as kugloff yeast cake for breaking the Yom Kippur fast and a slow-cooked chicken dish made with lots of garlic for the meal before the fast.
“Those were the things that signified the holiday season for us,” says Vardi. “Cutting those quinces was hard work, and my father would help her. I can picture them in the kitchen, and it’s part of my childhood roster of memories.”
Birsalmakompot, a quince compote
1 kilo of quinces peeled and sliced
300 grams sugar
Juice of one lemon
1 liter of water for cooking
- Boil up water, sugar, lemon juice and cloves.
- Add quinces and cook until soft.
- Cool well in the refrigerator.