Dr. Alex Sternberg - The Right View


I have shared my mother’s story in previous columns in these pages, and you may have read more about her in my book Recipes from Auschwitz.

Last week was her yahrzeit, and with the social distancing requirements and no shul to go to, I was not able to say Kaddish for her. It was an eerie feeling, like something was missing. I felt that I couldn’t commemorate her life and, after all, what can we give to our parents after they pass away? At least we can say Kaddish and help to give an aliyah to their neshamah. But not this year. So, I arranged to commemorate her yahrzeit on Zoom together with my family — that included my brother and nephews and nieces and two sons — and we decided that we would make our favorite recipes that remind us of her.

During the session, we each munched on our favorite Olga recipe as we remembered her. The evening was memorable and made up in a small way for the lack of Kaddish.

In light of that evening and the advent of Shavuot, I want to share a few of my mother’s favorite recipes with you.

For Shavuot, as the traditional chicken soup will not do, I suggest:

Olga’s Meggy Leves (Sour Cherry Soup)

Dairy or Pareve / Serves 6 / Prep Time: 15 minutes / Cook Time: 20 minutes

This soup is a welcome, cooling summertime dish.


  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup milk or soy milk
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar pitted sour cherries
  • 2 quarts water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ teaspoon cinnamon
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cloves
  • 1 tablespoon flour
  • ½ cup milk or soy milk


  1. In a small bowl, mix together the flour and milk. Set aside.
  2. In a large pot, add the cherries and water. Bring to a boil over medium heat.
  3. Add the flour-milk mixture, and continue to boil for 30 seconds.
  4. Remove from the flame and allow to cool. Chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.
  5. Serve cold.

Most of us are not that experienced planning a dairy meal. I know I’m not. So the next dish to serve will be a strudel or “rétes,” a Hungarian delight.

Olga’s Rétes Strudel

Pareve / Serves 6 / Prep Time: 30 minutes / Cook Time: 25 minutes


  • 5 sheets phyllo dough
  • 2 tablespoons cooking oil, divided
  • ¼ cup bread crumbs
  • 1 (24-ounce) jar sour cherries, drained
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • 1 egg, beaten


  1. Preheat the oven to 350°F and line a baking pan with parchment paper.
  2. Place one phyllo dough sheet on a clean kitchen towel. Spread ½ tablespoon of the oil on the sheet.
  3. Place a second phyllo sheet on the first. Spread ½ tablespoon of the oil on the sheet. Repeat with the remaining sheets.
  4. Sprinkle the bread crumbs in the middle of the top sheet and spread the drained sour cherries on top. Sprinkle with the sugar.
  5. Using the kitchen towel, carefully roll the layered sheets around the filling.
  6. Carefully place the rolled strudel in the baking pan.
  7. Spread the egg on top of strudel roll, and place in the hot oven. Bake for 20 minutes. Serve hot and reheat leftovers as needed.

Substitution: A mixture of grated cabbage, grated apple, and farmer cheese can be substituted for the strudel filling.

While most will opt for the traditional cherry strudel, I strongly recommend the cabbage strudel and perhaps also the cheese one.

Of course, no Shavuot dinner is complete without the mandatory cheese blintzes. This year, why not get exotic and serve the Hungarian palacsinta or crêpe.

Olga’s Palacsinta (Hungarian Crêpe)

Dairy / Serves 6 / Prep Time: 10 minutes / Cook Time: 20 minutes


  • 2 eggs
  • ½ teaspoon salt
  • 2 tablespoon sugar
  • 6 heaping tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • 3 cups milk
  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil, divided


  1. In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the remaining ingredients, except the oil, and mix until smooth.
  2. In a frying pan, heat up about a teaspoon of the oil.
  3. Ladle out enough mixture to cover the bottom of the pan in thin layer.
  4. Cook until golden, and then flip to the other side and cook until golden crispy.
  5. Remove to a plate and repeat with the remaining oil and mixture, to make about 10 to 12 crepes.
  6. To serve, spread with cottage cheese, jam, or marmalade, and roll up the palacsinta.
  7. Eat immediately. The palacsinta do not store well. This dish can be served for breakfast or dessert, but it is best when eaten hot, right out of the pan.

Now that you treated yourself and family to a real traditional Hungarian yom tov meal, you need to top it off with a timeless Hungarian dessert. Sure, the trusty cheesecake may be waiting in the fridge, but you haven’t lived until you taste my mother’s chestnut roll.

Olga’s Gesztenye Rollád (Chestnut Roll)

Pareve / Serves 6 / Prep Time: 2 hours / Cook Time: 30 minutes


For the Roll

  • 1 to 2 pounds chestnuts, boiled and peeled
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • 2 ounces rum
  • 1 ounce margarine

For the Chocolate Crème

  • 1 tablespoon margarine, melted
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tablespoons confectioner’s sugar
  • ¼ cup prepared black coffee
  • 1 pound melted baking chocolate


  1. In a large bowl, crush the chestnuts.
  2. Add sugar, rum, and margarine. Mix thoroughly to make a moist paste. Transfer to parchment paper, and shape into a thick roll. Set aside.
  3. In a large bowl, combine all the crème ingredients, and mix until creamy and smooth.
  4. Place the chestnut roll on top of moist cheesecloth and place another moist cheesecloth on the top (sandwich the roll between two cheesecloths).
  5. Using a rolling pin, spread out the chestnut roll between the cheesecloths until flat, about ½-inch thick.
  6. Remove the top cheesecloth and spread two-thirds of the chocolate crème onto the roll.
  7. Roll up the chestnut roll, and schmear the remaining crème on top. Transfer to a dish.
  8. Place in the refrigerator until the roll becomes firm, about 1 hour. Slice sections like thick salami, and serve.

Olga told me that when she learned this recipe in Auschwitz, some of the ladies shared that they sprinkled the crème-topped roll with confectioner’s sugar. Some others described placing thin slices of almonds inside the roll. With powdered sugar on the outside and sliced almonds on the inside, the roll looked like aged salami with the customary pieces of fat found in the typical Hungarian salamis.

After such a meal, I think I practically have you speaking Hungarian!

A cup of strong coffee now is an absolute necessity to keep you awake during your all-night learning session. Enjoy, and Chag Sameiach.

For more recipes please buy my book Recipes from Auschwitz, now available on Amazon. 

Dr. Alex Sternberg is an author and a lifelong student of Jewish history, focusing on the development of Zionism and the Holocaust. He teaches graduate studies and is active in several pro-Israel organizations. He is a retired research doctor in children’s pulmonary health and a master karate instructor.


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