From Lokshen to Lo Mein is one of three nominees in the 2007 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards!
Some classic Jewish foods are analogous to Chinese versions--hence the title, From Lokshen to Lo Mein. Lokshen are Jewish noodles used in many recipes, an analog to Lo Mein noodles used in Chinese cooking.
Along with Don Siegel’s favorite Chinese kosher recipes, the author includes some comments on the connection of Jews and Chinese culture, where to get kosher Chinese ingredients, a few jokes about Jews and Chinese food, a short section on what 'kosher' means for those unfamiliar with Jewish dietary laws, and digressions on Chinese cooking techniques and products.
Have fun cooking authentic Chinese dishes while reading interesting topics:
The Evolution of Chinese Cooking
The Jewish Experience in China
The American-Jewish Chinese Connection
The Chinese Kitchen Cabinet
The Drop Dead Tip for Making a Chinese Dinner
THE PERIPATETIC KOSHER—CHINESE CHEF LESSONS FROM A 2005 AUTHOR ON TOUR By Don Siegel JEWISH BOOK WORLD Fall 5767/2006
I am a scientist who cooks ten-course, authentic Kosher Chinese dinners. Last year, I published a Kosher Chinese cookbook and expected a few book signings, maybe a few demos from the effort; but the cookbook took on a life of its own. I wound up taking time off from my academic life to be a peripatetic chef, traveling coast to coast, cooking large meals in unfamiliar kitchens. This is an account of my adventure.
I began cooking Chinese food during my doctoral studies and it quickly became one of my passions. At professional conferences, I’d wander the Chinatowns of San Francisco, Toronto and New York, sample food, and return home to try to recreate what I had tasted and liked. Chinese friends vetted my dishes, and over time, I became pretty good as a Chinese chef. When I moved to Syracuse, I began cooking Shabbat Chinese dinners for my synagogue, and then fundraising banquets for large groups of people. Congregants urged me to compile my kosher Chinese recipes into a cookbook. How cool would that be?!
I was, however, naive. The odds of publishing a successful book are the same as a college football player making it to the NFL. Cookbooks especially lose money, including many written by the Rachel Rays of this world. I learned about these statistics firsthand after I had been rejected by forty publishers and an equal number of book agents.
Before I succumbed to vanity by self-publishing, a Congregants led me to his cousin, who owned a Jerusalem publishing house. Gefen Press took the risk, and I traveled to New York to present my book to the Jewish Book Network. The Jewish Book Council promotes books of Jewish interest throughout North America. In New York, each author gives a two-minute presentation; the venues sign up for their favorite authors, and the JBC arranges the schedule. To promote my book, I asked to participate in their speaker program by giving my own 2-minute drill. I watched as new book authors stood in front of the group and delivered shpiels such as:
“You all recall that I won the National Book
Award last year for (name the book)....”...
“Here is my wonderful review in the
New York Times Book Review...”.
What could I possibly do to compete with these professional authors?
When my turn came at the podium, I said to what looked like a shul of bored Yom Kippur congregants:
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’ve published six books and 150 articles and you wouldn’t want to read a single ONE of them- BORRRRING! All borrring science!”
The astonished congregation woke up. My publisher, ashen, stared at his feet. “My LAST book is a Kosher-Chinese cookbook. I cook kosher Chinese banquets for hundreds and I’ll do it for YOU if you take my book.” Bingo! Organizers were scribbling my name down, and my publisher was smiling, but still shaking his head.
“Are you meshugenah?” He asked,
“Cooking for large numbers of people in strange kitchens? No cookbook author ever does this!”
I laughed and replied, “Look, I’m good at this, no problem.”
The laugh was on me, though. Little did I know what would transpire as I crisscrossed the country - going from Washington to LA, from Detroit to San Antonio, all the while cooking away. Although every host venue tried to be helpful, only a few seemed to understand what it takes to prepare a large dinner from scratch. Perhaps this ignorance is why Chinese “take out” is so popular. You order “take-out” for 50 and viola., dozens of little white cartons arrive at your door.
To be fair, some of the cooking facilities had terrific, restaurant-quality commercial kitchens like the one in my own synagogue. Cooking in these venues was easy, although at one, the caterer was so jealous I was in HIS kitchen that he sabotaged my food by buying the wrong pre-ordered ingredients. Kosher sherry (Israeli Kedem Vineyards) is not the same as Magen David sauterne, and kosher Chinese sesame oil (Trader Joe’s) is not the same as Israeli sesame oil for hummus!
Marginal cooking facilities posed the greatest challenge. One venue provided an old electric stove at the rear of a ballroom, along with a single frying pan, a single two-quart saucepan, a cutting board and one knife. No help—they decided they had other things to do. I had to make vegetarian dumpling “pot stickers,” lo me in, Szechuan eggplant, mu shu vegetables and dessert for 50 in two hours!
I chopped maniacally, simultaneously heating up water, and saute. garlic, ginger and scallions. I didn’t have any bins to store chopped vegetables, so I emptied trash cans, washed them, inserted plastic grocery bags, and used them instead.
The ballroom filled with elderly people, who had come to listen to a lecture about assisted living at “the home.” I got stares and admonitions.
“Sha!, schtill! Too much noise!!”
The comments became louder as I tried to whip rock-hard peanut butter and other ingredients into my lo main sauce by using my fingers, configured as claws—and cursing under my breath in a not-so-sotto voice.
When the first box of pasta was done, I realized I had no tongs to remove the pasta from the pot. I raced up to the health club, stole bath towels and cut them into pads to manually extricate the noodles from the water. I had to continually reuse the cooking water because it took 30 minutes for the pot to reach a boil and I didn’t have time to start re-boiling from scratch!
Finally, I had had enough. Not able to find the organizer (the venue was huge), I stormed into the adjacent rooms of the day school where a kind teacher calmed me down and provided a little whisk and some pots and pans that the kids use.
Long after I had finished most of the food preparation, a volunteer showed up. I asked if she had brought a knife, whereupon she produced a pen knife. I told her to carve the watermelon. She looked at me like I was a crazy man, which by that time, I WAS! I gave her my santuko knife and then began to finish the preparation by mixing lo mein noodles and veggies with my hands.
One, a lawyer, told me;
Desperate, I asked,
“Why is there no problem?!!”
The meal went off fine; but I never want to simulate an Iron Chef’s competitor again. I now know why caterers always bring in their own staff and often, their own equipment, and why being a professional peripatetic caterer is different from being an infrequent one, even one with a published book. In sum, however, my experience publishing my first popular book was terrific, and who knows, maybe there will be a second edition with new recipes and stories if readers buy enough copies of the first edition. However, should I go on tour again, I will only do lectures and demos, not full meals. After all, I mostly am a professor!
Critic Reviews: 'This scientist blends Chinese-kosher cultures with new cookbook.'
-New Jersey Jewish News
'Clear, simple instructions guide the reader from dim sum to noodles and rice to meat dishes and desserts.'
'Offering more than 30 dishes... any lover of Chinese food WILL find a meal they'll enjoy preparing and eating.'
-The Jewish Press
'Carefully researched and crammed with fascinating facts, this goes beyond a cookbook. A jolly good read!'
Ethel G. Hofman -Syndicated Jewish Food Columnist
Award-winning SU earth science professor turns passion for cooking into unique cookbook.
When earth science professor Donald I. Siegel is not busy researching hydrology and geochemistry, he’s hard at work pursuing another interest in life—cooking. Siegel teaches hydrology and earth science in The College of Arts and Sciences at Syracuse University, and recently received top honors from the National Science Foundation and the Geological Society of America.
He has also published his first non-science book, a book of recipes inspired by Chinese and kosher cuisine. This fall, Gefen Publishing House (Jerusalem-New York) has published “From Lokshen to Lo Mein: The Jewish Love Affair With Chinese Food.” Siegel wrote the cookbook at the request of some Jewish organizations for which he prepares 10-course kosher Chinese dinners and banquets for over 100 people. The sold-out events feature meals that run the gamut from tea-smoked duck to whole steamed fish.
Topics covered in the book include: the evolution of Chinese cooking, the Jewish experience in China, the American-Jewish Chinese connection, the Chinese kitchen cabinet and “drop-dead tips” for making Chinese dinners. Some classic Jewish foods are analogous to Chinese versions. Hence the title, “From Lokshen to Lo Mein.” Lokshen are Jewish noodles used in many recipes, similar to the lo mein noodles used in Chinese cooking. Along with his favorite Chinese kosher recipes,
Siegel includes some comments on the connection of Jews and Chinese culture, where to get kosher Chinese ingredients, a few jokes about Jews and Chinese food, a short section on what “kosher” means for those unfamiliar with Jewish dietary laws and digressions on Chinese cooking techniques and products. “I’ve been interested in cooking all my life. It’s one of my extracurricular passions,” says Siegel.
Siegel is no stranger to publishing his work; he has co-authored books published by the National Academy of Science Press on topics related to groundwater contamination, national water use, river science, groundwater replenishment and loss, and how to characterize wetlands. The National Science Foundation recently awarded Siegel and Associate Professor Andria Costello $756,000 for their proposal, “Water Flux and Nitrogen Cycling in the Hyporheic Zones of a Semi-Arid Watershed: Hydrologic and Geomorphic Driving Forces in a Transitional Climate.” This multidisciplinary research, a collaborative effort with Professors Myron Mitchell, Ted Endreny and Laura Lautz at SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, will investigate how small debris dams and other natural stream features such as twists and turns of stream channels can potentially be used to clean up excess nutrients contributed to streams in the more arid parts of the United States. Siegel is also the recipient of this year’s O. E. Meinzer Award, presented by the Hydrogeology Division of the Geological Society of America (GSA). The award’s namesake, Oscar Edward Meinzer (1876-1948), was the “father of modern groundwater hydrology” who served as chief of the Ground Water Division of the U.S. Geological Survey from 1912 to 1946. The Meinzer award recognizes authors who have significantly advanced the science of hydrogeology or a related field. Siegel’s cited papers reflect his broad approach to science, and have been published in Geology, Nature, the Journal of Ecology and Quaternary Research. The papers report his observations on how isotope geochemistry can be used to identify the extent to which continental glaciers, tens of thousands of years ago, either “polluted” or diluted water in deep aquifers, and how wetlands ecology is closely tied to the degree with which groundwater enters or leaves wetlands, particularly under circumstances of climate warming and drying. Siegel received the Meinzer Award Oct. 15 in Salt Lake City, Utah, at the National Meeting of the Geological Society of America (GSA). Siegel also serves as a counselor of GSA, and this year was appointed an associate editor of the Hydrogeology Journal. Siegel also co-organized a week-long National Science Foundation workshop on teaching hydrogeology in the 21st century. The conference was held in Lincoln, Neb., in July, with 90 participants. Information on the results of the meeting can be found at http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/hydrogeo/index.html
Siegel’s main areas of research include wetland hydrology and biogeochemistry; nutrient contamination and transport in watersheds with shallow soils; geochemical techniques used to characterize and remediate groundwater contamination and the interface between science and law.
Carol Kim -Syracuse University News October 11, 2005
Lowdown On Lo Mein: Author speaks on the Jewish love affair with Chinese food
Donald Siegel has believed, in grad school anyway, that the way to a woman’s heart is through her stomach. Taking tips from his mother, who enjoyed experimenting with Jewish-style recipes, Siegel found that offering to prepare dinner was a great way to get a date. Siegel, a professor of hydrogeology and geochemistry at Syracuse University, took up Chinese cooking while going for his doctorate at the University of Minnesota. Shopping in a hardware store near campus, he noticed a huge wok with a steamer tray and cover and decided the cookware offered a variety of creative possibilities.The recipes that developed over many years of research and experimentation have become part of Siegel’s new book, From Lokshen to Lo Mein (Geffen Books; $19.95). The author will discuss the Jewish elements he’s brought to the Chinese cuisine and offer Jewish-Chinese kitchen comparisons when he speaks 1 p.m. Monday, Nov. 7, at the Oak Park JCC. “All the recipes are authentic, with just a bit of my own spin,” explains the 58-year-old Siegel, who has cooked large kosher Chinese meals for events in Syracuse hosted by Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas, the Syracuse Hebrew Day School, Syracuse Jewish Family Service and other Jewish organizations. “I don’t cook in a Chinese-American style because that has evolved into thicker sauces and sweeter flavors.”Siegel’s main dishes include steamed fish with ginger and scallions, rock sugar-ginger chicken with tofu and chestnuts as well as roast duck in a bag. There also are plenty of soups, appetizers and desserts. Ever the professor, Siegel devotes part of the book to explanations of Chinese culture, the Jewish experience in China and kosher cooking. The connection between Chinese and Jewish components led to the title, which points out noodle similarities. Of course, if there’s a Jewish chef, there has to be some Jewish humor.“Because both of my parents were great kosher cooks, we had lots of matzah ball soup, latkes and blintzes,” says Siegel, who will detour some from his literary tour by participating in an earth science program in Ann Arbor as a guest of an academic colleague. In Siegel’s household, cooking has become a family commitment. The professor’s wife, Bette, lived in France for five years and brings those flavors to the dessert table. The couple’s three grown children have their own specialties. “My wife and I have been cooking large dinner parties forever,” explains Siegel, proud of family culinary awards won at the New York State Fair. “We all watch our weight by avoiding starch and serving smaller portions.”
Suzanne Chessler -Special to the Detroit Jewish News November 2005
Fortune Kugel - SU professor publishes cross-cultural cookbook
Treif is everywhere. It could be in your eggs. It could be in your coffee. It could even sneak into your poor, unsuspecting Caesar salad. No, treif is not a new strain of E.coli or a microscopic bug that will eat your insides if it crawls into your sandwich. But Syracuse University professor of earth sciences Don Siegel and anyone else of the Jewish faith knows that this Yiddish word for “un-kosher” is bad – real bad.
A self-described “foodie,” Siegel has always sought ways to work around Judaism’s strict food preparation guidelines and recently published a cookbook filled with his favorite dishes. But his book goes far beyond the typical matzo ball soup and gefilte fish. The story of his innovative idea, which combines the cultures and cuisines of two seemingly opposite groups of people, originated almost 20 years ago at his synagogue in DeWitt.
After moving to the Syracuse area, Siegel and his family began attending Congregation Beth Sholom-Chevra Shas’ monthly Sabbath family dinners. The dinners offered the congregation’s members a chance to go out to eat without having to worry about whether their steamed carrots were chopped with the same knife that sliced the roasted ham at the next table.
Soon, Siegel noticed the difficulties the synagogue had in mass-preparing dozens of kosher meals. “Every month it was the same dinner – barbecued chicken. Month after month after month,” Siegel said. Bothered by the lack of menu variety, he paid a visit to Rabbi Daniel Jezer with an idea in mind of offering not only kosher cuisine, but also a multicultural twist that Beth Sholom never before explored.
“Don came to me and said he could make Chinese food, and I said ‘wonderful,’” Jezer said. “I said I wasn’t sure if he’d be able to pull it off, but I told him he could try.”
Siegel attacked the rabbi’s challenge with tenacity. He whipped up chicken and fried rice for the 100-plus-member congregation the following month, and received such an overwhelmingly positive response that he cooked many more dinners for them over the next several years. His dinners grew so popular that he began selling them at synagogue auctions, where hungry bidders often paid more than $1,000.
“After doing this for almost 15 years, people started wanting my recipes, so I’d hand them out,” Siegel said. “Then I thought I would compile all my recipes in a self-published book of kosher Chinese recipes. But someone told me I should try to legitimately publish it.”
The idea was simple, but revolutionary: a cookbook that not only offered recipes, but also intriguing facts about the ties between Chinese and Jewish cultures that date back hundreds of years.
Studying Chinese culture had been a hobby of Siegel’s since his college days at the University of Minnesota. While there, he made friends with Chinese students who taught
him the craft of Asian cooking, and was so inspired by his new interest that he researched Chinese traditions in his spare time. Siegel found that in the late 1800s, many Jews immigrated to America and settled in New York’s Lower East Side, near Chinatown. Chinatown was safe for the Jews because not only did the Chinese never have a history of persecuting anyone for their religion, but they could also eat in their restaurants without violating different food prohibitions. “It was a combination of feeling safe in that community and also being able to eat food that wouldn’t violate their faith,” he said. Siegel spent countless hours assembling a prospectus to send to publishers called From Lokshen to Lo Mein: The Jewish Love Affair with Chinese Food. But despite his hard work, more than 40 American publishing companies rejected him. Finally, though, he found Jerusalem’s Gefen Publishing House Ltd., which publishes an assortment of titles related to Judaism, Israel, and Jewish history, said Ilan Greenfield, Gefen head publisher.
“When Don approached Gefen with his idea for a Chinese kosher cookbook, I liked the idea in general,” Greenfield said. “Once I received the manuscript I knew this was a title that suits Gefen’s line of publishing very well. While it is a cookbook, it is not only a cookbook.”
In one segment of From Lokshen to Lo Mein, Siegel explains that years ago, scores of Jewish people took the Silk Road and settled in China. Almost inevitably, interracial marriages became so common that the emperor designated some Chinese surnames as Jewish.
Li Jin, a Ph.D. student from China advised by Siegel, read the book before it was released and was shocked at what she
learned from this particular story. “I found out that my last name was the exact same name as one of the names in the book,” Jin said. “My family had never eaten pork for my whole life, and we were the minority in China for not eating pork. My family had never eaten pork for years and years and we never knew why. So maybe I have Jewish ancestors.”
Siegel looks forward to writing more books in the future (perhaps a thriller or a science fiction novel). The possibility of financial gains aside, he hopes his message will shine through and encourage cross-cultural interaction. After all, although some of us are goyim (not Jewish), some of us are khinezish (Chinese), and some of us are just plain meshuge (crazy), deep down, we’re all just hamisch (real people). JM
Christine Mattheis -'JERK', Syracuse University student magazine January 2006
Reader Reviews: '...a very good book, this guy has picked up on the subtle aspects of Chinese cooking and he knows what he is doing. He obviously has a (varied personal) history like many (orthodox Jews today) and has eaten his way through a part of his life in SF’s Chinatown.'
Robert J. Kohlenberg -Department of Psychology, University of Washington.
'One of my recipes to reduce my homesickness while living abroad was to eat Don's Chinese dishes.'
Yiping Shen -CEO of GNT-International, Beijing, China
'Siegel proves my long time belief that a good geochemist must be a good cook first.'