Red is the dominant color in Moshe and Vika’s living room in Ramat Gan. The sheer white curtains are decorated with a red rosebud pattern; the couches and chairs are upholstered in shades of crimson; bunches of plastic flowers are arranged in red glass vases; and visible down the hallway is a red bathrobe hanging on a hook above a pair of red slippers.
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“The color red makes the house and life smile,” says Vika Hauptman, who sports bright red lipstick. Each room of the house has a different palette: The bathroom is a symphony of pink and purple, the kitchen is done in yellow and green with red and violet objects all around. “It’s the seamstress’s eye,” our beautiful 84-year-old hostess says proudly. She has been sewing clothes since she was 12 and still has some of her glorious custom-made ball gowns hanging in the closets.
“Don’t brag. Without Vika, would you have such a house?” she teases her husband, Moshe.
Vika and Moshe are both Holocaust survivors who came to Israel in the 1950s and met in a ma’abara, an immigrant transit camp. They bought the house in 1954. “The beginning was very modest,” says Moshe. “The wedding was held in the soldiers’ clubhouse and we spent our honeymoon in a tent. It took a while until I was able to use some connections to get us a one and a half room cabin, and eventually, with a lot of hard work, to get us out of the ma’abara.” They moved into this ground-floor apartment in a modest area of Ramat Gan. Today, their two daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren come to this house every Shabbat for family meals cooked by Vika.
Klops, yeast cookies and Passover kugel
Vika (née Heizig) Hauptman was born in 1932 in Bukovina, which was then part of Romania and is now part of Ukraine. Her father worked as a veterinarian in the rural area where the family lived. “He did a lot of good deeds and often didn’t charge for taking care of the animals. He died in 1941, a week after we got to the concentration camp, from typhus. We were in the camp for four years, but I don’t like to talk about it. What’s the point in talking about sad things?”
In the short film made by one of her granddaughters, in which she interviewed Vika and her older sister about their lives during World War II, Vika – wearing red and always smiling – also cuts off the discussion about the constant hunger in the camps, and the attempts to scrounge a crust of bread and the dilemma over whether to eat it alone or to share it with fellow prisoners. “That’s it, enough. I can’t talk about it anymore,” she says with an apologetic laugh to her beloved granddaughter. “Come on, let’s eat. That’s the best thing to do. What we didn’t eat there, we’ll eat now.”
We talk about the food Vika’s mother taught her to make (Her mother also survived the war, made aliya and lived to an advanced age). “She was a real balabusta,” says Vika, her nostalgic yearning unmistakable as she describes her mother’s mushroom soup with cream and dill, eaten cold with hot mamaliga, or her yeast cookies with raisins, cherries and berries.
From her mother, Vika also learned to make potato souffle, borscht, chicken soup with homemade noodles; a tender pot roast, klops (meatloaf stuffed with hard-boiled egg yolks), and all kinds of sweet kugels. Including the one that inspires the most longing – krepel kugel. This is a towering heap of crepes filled with whipped cream, nuts and cognac, and baked until the top layers become nicely browned and crispy. It was eaten just once a year, on the day after the Passover seder.
The complicated recipe and expensive ingredients – lots of eggs, sugar, fat and nuts – made it a rarity on Eastern Europe tables at the time. The potato flour in the paper-thin crepes gives the kugel a special taste. The long-lost recipe is currently known only to a small number of women who still prepare it for their families for the holiday.
“Who’s going to make it today?” wonders Vika as we exhort her to teach us how to make it as her mother taught her. “It takes so many hours, and everybody would rather eat in restaurants nowadays.”
“You’re probably right that not too many people will make the recipe,” Dan Perez, our photographer, tells her. “But if Alma makes it for her children one day, then all the effort of making it and photographing it will have been worth it” (one-year-old Alma, the daughter of Dan and his wife Yifat Varchik, is Vika’s great-granddaughter).
Passover krepel kugel
Vika Hauptman’s recipe is very sweet. If you don’t have that much of a sweet tooth, you can reduce the amount of sugar in the filling. Bear in mind that we recorded this recipe by watching Vika at work, and that it is an Eastern European recipe that migrated to Israel (and so made use of some ingredients slightly different from the original). Feel free to adapt the recipe to suit your personal tastes.
For the crepes:
2 cups water
1 cup potato flour
2 tbsp matzo meal
vegetable oil for frying
For the filling:
650 gr walnuts
10 eggs, separated
1 ½ cups sugar
2 tbsp water
2 packets vanilla sugar
juice of 3 lemons
1 cup matzo meal
½ cup vegetable oil, plus oil
for greasing the pan and
¼ cup cognac
To make the crepes: Beat the eggs in a bowl with two cups of water. Add the potato flour and combine until smooth. Add the matzo meal and stir to obtain a thin batter.
Heat a little oil in a Teflon skillet. Use a ladle to pour in some batter and tilt the pan until the whole bottom of the pan is covered with a thin layer of batter. Fry until the bottom starts to turn golden, flip with a spatula and fry a few moments more. Remove from the skillet and set on a plate. Repeat the process until you have 30 very thin crepes.
To make the filling: Use a food processor to crush the walnuts into slightly sticky crumbs. Whip the egg whites in a mixer and gradually add 1 cup sugar and 2 tbsp water until the mixture stiffens.
Add a half-cup sugar and the two packets of vanilla sugar to the yolks and mix well until there are no lumps. Add the lemon juice and mix well.
Fold the yolk mixture into the beaten egg whites and combine well. Add the nuts, matzo meal, 1/2 cup oil and the cognac and mix well.
To make the kugel: Preheat the oven to 200 degrees Celsius. Line a round 24-cm baking pan with baking paper and grease well. Place a heaping spoonful of the filling on a crepe and spread the filling over the crepe. Fold the crepe in half (into a half-circle) and in half again (into a rounded triangle). Place the filled and folded crepe in the pan. Repeat the process, filling each crepe and placing them in the pan in a circle, closely pressed together. When the first layer is complete, start on the second layer, and so on, brushing a little oil between layers to keep them from sticking together. Brush the top of the kugel with oil.
Bake for 45 minutes, or until the edges of the top layer are crisp.