“The kitchen is the place we escape to – Yagev, my little brother Yuval, and I,” says Nofer Buchshtav, “at every meal with many participants, the three of us find ourselves looking for excuses to return to the kitchen. We don’t like the spotlight, but unfortunately, we have no choice but to endure it now.”.
Yagev Buchshtav was kidnapped from his home in Kibbutz Nirim on October 7 together with his wife, Rimon, and has been in Gaza ever since. Rimon was returned home on November 29, but Yagev has remained captive over 100 days. His parents, Oren and Esther, and his siblings, Nofer and Yuval, spend their days fighting for the return of the abductees: in advocacy, debates in the Knesset, interviews with media and creating various projects that will help tell Yagev’s story and keep him in the news. The family’s love of cooking is a small consolation to them, and also features in the family’s outreach efforts.
Nofer, Yagev’s sister tell us: “In our family, food is a big deal; not necessarily the food itself, but the preparation, the shared cooking, that time spent together. Our family works together like in a professional kitchen, and the division of labor is very clear: our father, Oren, prepares jams and chicken stews; our mother, Esther, has a hand in everything, but is mainly responsible for bread and cakes; Yuval, who is vegan, is responsible for the vegetables and salads and also prepares a legendary focaccia; Rimon and I take care of the desserts and Yagev, he is the head chef. Yagev is the one who knows how to tie flavors together, to choose the right spices, to turn each dish into something gourmet. Yagev and Rimon’s kitchen was filled with jars of homemade pickles. When Yuval went vegan, Yagev created vegan dishes and different spreads from legumes. He was enthusiastic about new techniques, unique ingredients. My last conversation with him was when I bought dried hibiscus flowers stuffed with cheese at Levinsky Market. They were so delicious, that I just had to call him and tell him about it. With who else, other than Yagev, can I nerd out about hibiscus flowers?
“Savta Lina, our mother’s mother, was born in Tripoli and is an amazing cook. Food is her way of showing love – instead of asking “how are you?” she asks “are you hungry? Did you eat? What can I make you?”. From Savta, our mother inherited her love of cooking, and she is also a wonderful hostess. At the beginning of the week, she plans a Friday night dinner for 10 guests, and somehow by Friday, the number of guests has risen to 20.”. Oren, Yagev, Nofer, and Yuval’s father, inherited his father’s love of cooking: “Shmuel (Fluck), my father, was the cook of the family,” says Oren, “he worked in the fields growing crops, but he really loved to cook, and it wasn’t uncommon to find him taking shifts in the cafeteria. He was educated at Mikveh Israel Agricultural Boarding School and from there he joined the founders of Kibbutz Nirim. He actually left home when he was very young, so he had no family food traditions; he cooked pan-Israeli food. The only “home” food he knew was Pirozhki. This is actually what my father brought from home – Pirozhki (which we call Pirozhka), and our last name.”
Behind the last name is an unusual story, but as Nofer says, “it’s the type of story that makes sense when you hear it as a child. Only when you’re an adult do you understand how crazy the story is, especially when you connect it to Yagev- our father’s grandfather’s grandfather, who was actually the first Buchshtav, was also kidnapped.”
The Story of The New Last Name
In 1721, Tsar Peter the Great ordered the establishment of military schools for the children of soldiers serving in the Russian army, with the aim of funneling them into the army as well. His successors perfected the method: they forcibly recruited war orphans and children born out of wedlock, and later added more and more children from other communities’, who were ultimately kidnapped, mainly from poor families. These children were called “Cantonists”. Some of them managed to reunite with their families in adulthood, when they were released from the service; others were taken too young to remember them.
“We don’t know much about the first Buchshtav, for the simple reason that he didn’t know anything about himself – he was taken when he was 5 or 6 years old, and his whole life was spent in that military setting. When he was released, he didn’t know where had been born, exactly how old he was, or what his last name was. He was circumcised so he knew he was Jewish, but he did not receive any Jewish education. He adopted the name Buchshtab from his military posting, likely in a clerical position (in German, ‘buch’ is a book and ‘stav’ is a letter).”
Nahum Buchshtav, the grandson of that Jewish cantonist, was born in the city of Poltava in Ukraine and emigrated to Israel in the 1920s. Apparently, he also came with a recipe for pirozhki: “Although, if we’re being honest,” Nofer smiles, “there’s a theory that the recipe was actually given to our family by my grandfather’s or great-grandfather’s housekeeper, but it doesn’t really matter; Fluck Buchshtav’s pirozhki became the staple dish of our family. When Nirim celebrated their ‘kibbutz holiday’ (the anniversary of the establishment of the kibbutz, which, in a chilling irony, was celebrated in Nirim on October 6), each branch of the kibbutz was tasked with preparing a different dish for the celebration – even the Thai workers prepare food and the Bedouin workers set up a tent with pita bread. The field workers used to make unimaginable quantities of Grandpa Shmuel’s (Fluck) pirozhki, with Grandpa’s craftsmanship taking the cake, of course.
Grandpa passed away in 1973, when my father was a teenager, but the tradition of making pirozhki is still jealously guarded. At the anniversary of Grandpa’s passing, for the past 50 years, we gather and prepare pirozhki together. After grandfather passed, command of the pirozhki machine during the kibbutz holidays and memorials was transferred to Eitan, his eldest son (our uncle). Eitan passed away 15 years ago and since then our father continues the tradition. As with any family meal, we prepare it together, from the preparation of the dough and the filling to the rolling, filling and frying. When the dough needs to be rolled out, our father is called to the plate – he is the only one who manages to roll the dough out as thinly as Grandpa.
“My family’s pirozhki is really something special – the dough is enriched with boiled potatoes, which makes it especially soft. After Mom makes the dough Yagev seasons the filling, Dad rolls out and fills the pirozhki with sirloin meat, which we all agree is the best, and Carmella, Dad’s Mom, fries it. Yagev and Mom add hot peppers to Grandpa Fluck’s original recipe – an addition that comes from the Tripolitanian side. Over the years, Mom and Yagev also developed vegetarian fillings with mushrooms, vegetables or a meat substitute and an egg-free dough for Yuval and the other vegans in the family.”
The end of the story, which begins in the 19th century with that unknown boy, has not yet been written. We join the Buchshtav family, and the families of all the abductees, in the hope and prayer that it will end well.
Ingredients for Pirozhki
For the meat filling:
- 2.6 lbs (1.2 kilograms) Sirloin cut into large cubes ¾"-1¼" (2-3 cm)
- 1.75 oz (50 grams) sheep fat
- 1/4-1/2 cup canola oil
- 3 onion large, chopped
- 2 green pepper not hot, chopped
- 1 hot green pepper chopped
- 5 garlic cloves peeled and chopped
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
For the dough:
- 4.4 lbs (2 kilograms) potatoes red, unpeeled
- 2 eggs large
- 5.3 oz (150 grams) flour
- 1 teaspoon Salt
- canola oil for deep frying
Prepare the filling:
1. Heat 2-3 tablespoons of oil in a wide pan on medium heat. Add onion and fry for about 15 minutes until golden. Transfer the fried onion to a bowl.
2. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to the same pan and fry all the peppers for about 5 minutes while stirring, until softened. Add chopped garlic and continue frying for about 2 minutes until golden. Transfer the peppers and garlic to the bowl with the fried onions.
3. Add 1-2 tablespoons of oil to the same pan, increase the heat and heat well. Fry the cubes of sirloin and lamb fat for about 15 minutes, until they are nicely browned on all sides. Transfer the meat to the bowl with the fried onions and peppers.
4. Grind the onion, peppers, garlic, meat and fried lamb fat together in a food processor to a coarse texture. Season with salt, black pepper and paprika, taste and adjust seasoning.
Prepare the dough:
5. Fill a large pot with water and bring to a boil.
6. Place the potato in the boiling water and cook about half an hour until soft, until pierced easily with a knife.
7. Peel the soft potatoes, cool slightly and mash to a smooth mash. Add the rest of the dough ingredients and put in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment for a uniform and very soft dough.
Assemble and fry the pirozhki:
8. Divide the dough into 6 equal parts.
9. Flour the work surface and roll one of the dough balls into a thin sheet 2 mm thick. In the meantime, keep the other dough balls covered outside the refrigerator.
10. Mark circles with a diameter of 2⅓"-2¾" (6-7 cm) on half of the surface of the dough using a coffee cup or a round cutter; do not score the dough, but only mark the place of cutting.
11. Place a flat tablespoon of the filling in the center of each circle and fold the sheet of dough in half, so that the filling is covered with dough, and tighten slightly to make sure there is no air trapped between the two layers of dough. Score the filled circles with the help of the cup or the cutter and make sure to fasten the edges of the dough well, so that they do not open during frying. The rest of the dough can be collected and re-rolled.
12. Place the stuffed pirozhki on a lightly floured surface until ready to be fried.
13. Heat oil for deep frying in a wide, low pot to a temperature of 355F (180C) degrees (if you don't have a thermometer, throw a small piece of dough into the oil. If the oil bubbles around gently - it's hot enough).
14. Fry the pirozhki in batches, 3-4 minutes on each side until golden.