How Jewish Food Influencer Jake Cohen Celebrates Passover
Jake Cohen, a New York food pro, rediscovered his culinary roots. Now, millions of followers can’t get enough of his interpretations of traditional Jewish dishes, including his fresh take on the Passover Seder plate.
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Long before his videos on how to braid challah bread made him an Instagram and TikTok star, Jake Cohen loved his Aunt Susie’s tomato-braised brisket and his mother’s matzo ball soup. But in the Cohen household, such traditional Jewish fare was reserved for High Holy Days like Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, when everyone would gather at the family’s Queens, New York, apartment. “Growing up, I didn’t have a strong connection with my Jewish identity,” Jake says.
Jake Cohen’s Journey with Food and Judaism
In high school he became, he says, “obsessed with the Food Network and the concept of hospitality.” He started throwing dinner parties for friends, serving easy-to-prepare dishes like ratatouille and chocolate tarts made with a graham cracker crust. “Nothing was that great,” Jake admits. “But it wasn’t really about the food. Food was the vessel for community.”
Jake went on to study at the Culinary Institute of America, and he worked as a line cook at high-end Manhattan restaurants and then as a food editor and test kitchen director. Now, with millions of followers on social media and the publication of his first cookbook, Jew-ish: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch (a New York Times bestseller), Jake is eager to share his rediscovered passion for Jewish culture and Jewish cuisine.
Why Jake Hosts Shabbat Dinners
That passion was sparked when Jake met and married his husband, Alex. “When you’re a young professional in New York City, it can be surprisingly lonely,” he says. “We discovered that hosting Shabbat dinners was a natural way to bring people together and to flex all of our interests within this overarching umbrella of celebrating Judaism.”
Jake was especially interested in showcasing the diversity of Jewish cooking at these Friday night meals. That meant not only the food of his Eastern European heritage but also dishes like tahdig, or crispy rice, that reflected his husband’s Persian-Iraqi traditions.
“Jewish culture isn’t just what you see on Seinfeld or The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel,” he says. “There are vibrant Jewish communities across Africa, Asia and the Middle East.”
A Contemporary Take on the Seder Plate
This inclusive, millennial-friendly approach to Jewish cuisine is on full display in the Passover meal, or Seder, that Jake hosts each year. He offers a contemporary spin on the Seder plate, which typically includes five or six items symbolizing the Jewish people’s escape from slavery in Egypt.
In place of the traditional lamb shank, or zeroa, representing the lamb sacrificed by the Israelites before fleeing Egypt, Jake serves Pomegranate-BBQ Chicken Wings.
Karpas, typically parsley that’s dipped in salt water, evokes the green of springtime; Jake’s take on this is his Kale Tabbouleh Salad.
Horseradish, a form of maror, signifying the bitterness of slavery, often has a place on the Seder plate; Jake serves a horseradish mayo, to be smeared on the obligatory matzo.
The true importance of the Seder plate, Jake says, is to inspire an exchange of ideas. “Whether you’re Jewish or not,” he says, “Passover is an opportunity to gather with loved ones and have meaningful discussions around topics like gratitude for our freedom and how we can work to make the world a better place for everyone.”
Jake’s Passover Spread
Jake pays homage to his heritage while giving a fresh, modern spin to the classic Seder plate. In addition to the chopped walnuts and date syrup (also called charoset), deviled eggs, matzo with horseradish mayo and orange segments that Jake includes on his Seder plate, he also dishes up these three symbolic yet delicious recipes.
Little Gem Salad with Pickled Celery
Romaine is the classic, but a mini wedge of Jake’s Little Gem Salad does the trick, too. “Think of this as a modern wedge salad that packs a tangy punch and has an irresistible crunch,” he says.
- 1 cup white wine vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1/3 cup sugar
- 2 tablespoons kosher salt
- 1 teaspoon coriander seeds
- 6 celery ribs, trimmed and sliced on an angle ¼ in. thick
- 1/2 cup tahini
- 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 garlic cloves, grated
- 1/8 teaspoon kosher salt, optional
- 1/8 teaspoon pepper, optional
- 2 pounds Little Gem lettuce or baby romaine hearts, trimmed and quartered
- 4 red radishes, thinly sliced
- 3/4 cup chopped hazelnuts, toasted
- 1/4 cup celery leaves (light green and yellow leaves only)
Step 1: Make pickled celery
For the pickled celery, in a small saucepan, combine the vinegar, water, sugar, salt and coriander. Bring mixture to a boil over high heat; cook until sugar and salt are dissolved, about 2 minutes. Place celery in a heatproof bowl; add hot brine. Set aside to cool completely.
Step 2: Stir together dressing
For the dressing, in a small bowl, whisk 1/2 cup cooled celery brine with tahini, oil, lemon juice and garlic until combined. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if desired.
Step 3: Plate up salad
Drain celery, reserving brine for additional dressing if desired. Arrange lettuce and radishes on serving platter. Drizzle with dressing; top with pickled celery, hazelnuts and celery leaves.
Kale Tabbouleh Salad
There is usually parsley dipped in salt water on a Seder plate to represent springtime. Instead, Jake goes for this salad, which, he says, “has flavor and every texture but is balanced.”
- 1-1/2 cups cracked bulgur wheat
- 3 cups warm water
- 1 medium butternut squash (2-1/4 to 2-1/2 lbs.), peeled and cubed
- 1/2 cup plus 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
- 1/2 teaspoon coarsely ground pepper
- 1/2 cup lemon juice
- 3 garlic cloves, finely grated
- 2 pounds fresh lacinato kale, stemmed and thinly sliced
- 1 cup sprigs fresh parsley, coarsely chopped
- 1/2 cup pepitas or salted pumpkin seeds, toasted
- 2 large Honeycrisp apples, coarsely chopped
Step 1: Soak bulgur
Preheat oven to 450°F. In a large bowl, combine bulgur and warm water; let stand 1 hour. Drain if any liquid remains.
Step 2: Roast and broil vegetables
Meanwhile, on a baking sheet, toss squash, 2 tablespoons olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast until tender, 16-18 minutes, tossing once. Preheat broiler to high. Broil 4-5 inches from heat until squash is lightly charred, 3-4 minutes.
Step 3: Make dressing and toss with salad ingredients
In a large salad bowl, whisk remaining 1/2 cup olive oil, lemon juice and garlic. Adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if desired. Add kale and parsley; toss to coat. Gently rub kale with your hands to soften. Add drained bulgur, squash, pepitas and apples; toss to combine. Adjust seasoning with additional salt and pepper to taste if desired.
Pomegranate-BBQ Chicken Wings
Jake refreshes his Seder plate, which traditionally includes lamb shank, with these chicken wings, which he says are “oven-roasted to golden perfection.” The homemade barbecue sauce is infused with pomegranate molasses and fresh lime juice “for a kiss of Middle Eastern flavor,” he says.
- 3 pounds chicken wings, drummettes and flats separated
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 2 teaspoons smoked paprika
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Pomegranate BBQ Sauce
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 medium onion, finely chopped
- 2 green onions, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- 1/2 cup ketchup
- 1/4 cup pomegranate molasses
- 1/4 cup packed dark brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
- Optional: Sliced green onions, ground sumac and pomegranate seeds
Step 1: Marinate meat and make sauce
In a large bowl, toss the first 8 ingredients. Refrigerate, covered, 1 hour. Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons oil over medium heat. Add onion, green onions and garlic; cook, stirring often, until tender, 5-6 minutes. Add ketchup, molasses, sugar and cayenne. Bring mixture to a simmer; cook until reduced and caramelized, 8-10 minutes. Remove from heat; stir in lime juice. Using a blender or food processor, puree mixture until smooth. Adjust seasoning with salt.
Step 2: Roast wings and coat to perfection
Preheat oven to 425°. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil; spray foil with cooking spray. Divide wings, in a single layer, between prepared pans. Roast until light golden brown, about 30 minutes, turning wings and rotating pans halfway through. Brush wings with sauce. Roast until caramelized and crispy, about 15 minutes longer. Sprinkle with toppings if desired.
Excerpted from JEW-ISH: A COOKBOOK: Reinvented Recipes from a Modern Mensch© 2021 by Jake Cohen. Photography © 2021 by Matt Taylor-Gross. Reproduced by permission of Mariner Books, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. All rights reserved.