I enjoy being a Chinese Jew. I eat plenty of matzah balls and potstickers and I get to celebrate three New Years.
I’ve often had to convince people that I’m Jewish, which is amusing and usually results in a new friend feeling like they can connect with me better due to a shared religion. Other than that, I can’t say I really thought about what it meant to Chinese and Jewish while I was growing up.
I recently moved out to rural North Dakota with my Norwegian husband, population six Jews and about 10,000 Scandinavian descendants. Things are quiet here, people are Midwestern nice, and the small town life is pretty darn wonderful.
For the first time in my life, I feel a bit like an oddball, in a sea of light-haired Lutherans, but people embrace me when I introduce them to challah. North Dakotans love challah! And I love their food too, like Lefse and dessert bars of all sorts.
All of my challah here is homemade. As are my latkes, kugel, matzah balls… you get the picture. There’s not a deli in sight. Not even a bagel. I do miss bopping down to Zabar’s for babka and bagels, but on the other hand, with the necessity to make everything from scratch comes the opportunity to put my own spin on things and mash up my Chinese/Jewish/Midwesternness.
Brisket in my potstickers, ginger sugar beet latkes, egg rolls with home cured pastrami from a cow that I’ll one day raise…
I’m getting carried away.
But this recipe is me in bread form! Chinese, Jewish and pretty doughy, whether I can help it or not. Inspired by the scallion pancake, here is an Asian twist on my all-time favorite challah.
Reprinted with permission from Molly Yeh, adapted from MyJewishLearning.
Basic challah dough
Based on Food 52’s Recipe
Filling and Topping
1. In a small bowl, proof yeast in 1/2 cup warm water mixed with 1 tsp. of sugar.
2. While yeast is proofing, mix flour, salt, and remaining 2 Tbsp. of sugar in a large bowl.
3. In a medium bowl, mix remaining 1/4 cup of water, honey, oil and eggs.
4. Once yeast has finished proofing, add it to the flour, followed by the wet ingredients. Mix with a large wooden spoon until dough becomes too thick to stir. Empty dough onto well-floured surface and knead by hand. Knead dough until smooth and no longer sticky, adding flour as needed.
5. Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with a damp towel. Let rise for about two hours, or until doubled in size.
6. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
7. Divide dough into three equal parts and then roll each part into a 1-foot log. Gently flatten each log so that it is about 3 inches wide.
8. Brush each with toasted sesame oil and then sprinkle with salt, pepper, chili flakes, and scallions. Roll them up lengthwise like a jellyroll, and then braid.
9. Place the loaf on a parchment-lined baking sheet and then brush with egg wash and sprinkle with sesame seeds and black pepper.
10. Bake for 20-25 minutes until the top is golden brown and the challah is cooked through.