Traditional Southern favorites get a Jewish touch
Janice Corker diced two peaches and quickly had a bowl full of summer yellow.
She mixed the fruit with dashes of vanilla, maple syrup, corn starch, sugar and cinnamon. Peaches and company were spooned into a couple of paper-thin spring roll wrappers, which Corker sealed with dabs of water. The wrappers got a quick hot oil bath and came out crispy and fruity.
“They are beginning to be popular,” said Corker of her peach cobbler rolls, a new taste this summer at the Lewis and Frieda Grayson Snack Bar at the Jewish Community Center in Niskayuna.
There are other tastes, too — such as fish pockets, fried chicken, sweet potato fries and chopped barbecue beef brisket. Kosher soul food has arrived at the William and Estelle Golub Family Pool and Tennis Center off Balltown Road.
Corker, 50, who lives in Schenectady, began cooking at the snack bar with her brother Michael in May. She knows how to put soul in her recipes. She learned techniques from her parents, Jannie Lee and Wilson Corker, who once worked as sharecroppers in the South.
“Soul food is food that comes from the South,” said Corker, who also runs her own company, Corker’s Creative Catering, and works as a social worker for the Schenectady County Office of Children & Family Services. “You cook the food with your soul, your feelings, your heart. You cook it with such love, the food tastes phenomenal.”
People have tasted Jannie’s recipes before. In April, Janice served samples of her mother’s macaroni and cheese recipe at the “Taste of the Capital Region” event at The Boys & Girls Clubs of Schenectady in Rotterdam.
Mark Weintraub, executive director of the community center, has been sold on soul cooking for years. He said his mother’s people came from South Carolina.
Weintraub said he has conversations with Corker about a style of cooking she had never tried.
“I said, ‘You know, you could cook kosher barbecue,’ and she said, ‘How can I do that?’ ” Weintraub said. “I said Texas barbecue is made of brisket, brisket is kosher and the sauce, as long as you don’t have any milk products . . .”
Kosher rules say milk and meat cannot be mixed, so there are never any cheeseburgers served at the snack bar. Corker has had to learn how to shop kosher, and makes sure all meats cooked are kosher certified.
The kitchen, near the complex’s swimming pool, is inspected daily by the Vaad Hakashrut of the Capital District, which provides kosher supervision and certification to Capital Region not-for-profit and commercial food establishments.
“Saturday is cold because there’s no cooking on Saturday,” Weintraub said. “Creating fire, you’re not allowed to do that on the Sabbath.”
Soul Saturdays at the snack bar mean cold foods like salads or foods that have been prepared the day before.
Weintraub said putting Corker on the job and Southern-style foods on the menu are ways to put a little excitement and fun into kosher cooking. And he hopes people from the neighborhood drop into the snack bar; folks do not have do be community center members to order hush puppies or peach cobbler.
So far, patrons have bought into the idea.
“People love it,” Weintraub said. “The only complaint they have is they’re not going to lose any weight.”
Soul creations don’t come with detailed recipes. Corker said her mother never kept lists of ingredients and amounts used for each one of her dishes. “She used to say, ‘You’ll know when it’s done when it’s done,’ ” she said.
Fried zucchini with a roasted garlic aioli sauce and hush puppies — fried corn fritters — are two other tastes that JCC swimmers and tennis players are getting used to this summer. “This has another twist to it,” Corker said of the culinary puppies. “They’ve got onions in them; I use flour, baking soda, baking powder and black pepper.”
Corker makes appearances at the soul kitchen near the end of each weekday and works Saturdays and Sundays from 11 a.m. until 7 p.m. She finds time to cook at home, and brother Michael is a big fan.
“Collard greens, black-eyed peas, corn bread and fried chicken,” he said, smiling.
Corker was glad to share one of her recipes.
Zucchini Fries with Roasted Garlic Aioli Sauce
1 small green zucchini
2 large eggs
2 tablespoons water
1 cup bread crumbs
1 teaspoon red pepper
1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
1⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder
1⁄4 teaspoon salt
1 dash pepper
16 ounces cooking oil
Cut zucchini into steak fry-sized strips. Mix eggs and water to form egg wash; combine bread crumbs with red pepper, Italian seasonings, garlic powder, salt and pepper. Dip vegetable strips into egg wash and then into bread crumb mix. Pour cooking oil into deep frying pan and heat to 350 degrees. Drop in zucchini for 1 to 2 minutes or until vegetables are floating.
For garlic aioli:
1 whole garlic bulb, in shell
1 tablespoon olive oil
3⁄4 cup mayonnaise
2 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped
1 small shallot, finely chopped
1⁄4 teaspoon garlic powder
Salt and pepper, to taste
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Cut the top of garlic off, drizzle with olive oil and roast for about 45 minutes, or until cloves are soft. Once roasted, take garlic out of shell, put into food processor or mash with fork until it has the consistency of paste. Add all the other ingredients, add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with zucchini fries.
Reach Gazette reporter Jeff Wilkin at 395-3124 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.