Growing up, when Todd Ginsberg’s mother had a pot of her Russian cabbage borscht simmering on the kitchen stove, he didn’t always wait for dinner. The young Ginsberg, who has gained fame as the creative force behind the success of The General Muir restaurant near Emory University, couldn’t resist a generous helping right after he came home from school.
“While it was cooking in the pot,” he remembers, “I would dip a coffee cup into it and eat it before it was even finished.”
Long before he even thought of cooking professionally, he steeped himself in his mother’s Jewish cooking, the brisket, the matzah ball soup, and the chicken dishes that he remembers so fondly.
“I came from a very traditional upbringing. Every single meal that we ate inside our home, with the very rare exception of my dad laying meat on the grill in the summertime, she made from scratch. She was our caretaker.”
For more informal meals there were always the cold cuts from the Crown Market deli in West Hartford, Conn., where he grew up. The corned beef, pastrami, turkey and roast beef, he said he could always find in the middle drawer of the fridge along with the pickles, sauerkraut and potato salad as sides. All the food we remember from our childhood, Ginsberg believes, never fully leaves us.
“It’s the nostalgia that reminds us of something you had as a kid. I think it’s a very powerful thing. You know, it not only pulls at our belly, it pulls at our heart a little bit.”
Growing up with all of his mother’s deeply satisfying food inspired Ginsberg when he partnered with Ben and Jennifer Johnson seven years ago to create the menu for The General Muir. His favorites were all there, along with the chopped liver, and the homemade pastrami that he lovingly brines and cures for up to two weeks before finishing off with a gentle steaming in a combi convection oven. It is all in homage to his mom.
“I don’t do anything different than my mom did. I just try to do it without cutting corners. I just want to make it the way our moms and our grandmothers made it. That was my goal. And opening that restaurant and most of the cooking I do is just the food that we all have eaten before. I just try to do the best possible version of that.”
During the health crisis, The General Muir is closed for dining. It is part of the 120 Georgia restaurants in a group calling itself GA Hospitality Together that on April 27 pledged to stay closed, for now, for health and safety reasons.
Still Ginsberg put together a limited menu for takeout that includes favorites such as the brisket, the pastrami and the matzah ball soup. There’s even a special Friday night special of a complete “Shabbat Dinner to Go,” which has to be ordered in advance, that highlights the restaurants braised short ribs, with sour cream coffee cake for dessert.
Not on the menu is the borscht of Ginsberg’s mother, but he’s planning on making it for his parent’s 50th wedding anniversary in September. Just in case you don’t get an invitation to their dinner, we’ve included his family recipe so you can make it yourself during these times when there’s so much interest in cooking at home.
Mother Ginsberg’s Sweet and Sour Cabbage Soup
1 head of green cabbage, chopped
3 beets, roasted, peeled and diced
1 large can whole tomatoes, hand torn
1 to 2 pounds of short ribs
Salt, to taste
Sugar, to taste
Citric acid, to taste (sometimes packaged as sour salt)
Add meat to large soup pot. Cover with water. Bring to a simmer. Skim broth of impurities. Simmer for 25 minutes. Add cabbage, tomatoes, beets and cover with additional water just to cover. Add a teaspoon of salt. This is to draw out marrow and flavor from meat. Cover and simmer gently until the meat is tender, 1 1/2 hours roughly. Season with more salt. Add sugar and citric acid to find a sweet and sour note. You can omit the sugar and citric acid if you wish more of a meaty broth. But, Ginsberg’s mother always made it sweet and sour, hence the name, sweet and sour cabbage soup.