Mimi

Independent food and travel writer living in central Israel. Thanks to travels and extended stays in the US, Brazil, and Venezuela, Mimi speaks and cooks in English, Hebrew, Spanish and Portuguese. Married, with kids and grandchildren.

Mar 092014
 

image onion roll

This is on of the goodies we’re going to pack into our Mishlochei Manot (Purim packages).  I recycle the junky snacks we receive into other packages, feeling a bit guilty. Not guilty because we’re not going to eat what our friends and neighbor planned, and spent money on, and took the trouble to deliver. No, guilty because all those little candies and snacks are going to contribute to Israel’s massive post-Purim sucrose hangover. I should just throw it all out. But I rationalize that someone should enjoy the junk…because in the end, our friends and neighbors did go to the trouble.

I love best the Mishlochei Manot that feature a few home-cooked things. Foods that were made by hand – cakes and cookies and specialties of the donors – I keep. Some go into the freezer right away to stay fresh for next Shabbat. Some we serve at our Purim feast. For our own Mishloche Manot, we’re thinking – and by we, I mean my son Eliezer, the Little One and I – of Hamentaschen,  filled with cherry jam.  And  small potato kugels.  Probably the chocolate fruit/nut clusters, because they’re excellent, and easy to make. And instead of the usual small challah, which looks good in the package but which I suspect never gets eaten, onion rolls.

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Feb 162014
 

carrot cake cream cheese frosting

I’m ready to admit it. Carrot cake is really homely-looking.

But looks aren’t everything.

Flavor counts. So does nostalgia. When I asked Husband which cake he’d like for his birthday,  his eyes went soft and he sighed, “Carrot cake.”There seemed to be a heavy element of childhood memories in that sigh.

I said, “With cream cheese frosting?” And Husband gave me a brilliant smile. Yes.

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Feb 092014
 

whole roasted cauliflower recipe

I’ve always loved cauliflower steamed until just tender, salted, and served with a little melted butter, or olive oil. But lately I’ve become curious about other ways to serve it, especially now when the vegetable is at peak season, so snowy and tender.  Something a little piquant seems called for, to offset the vegetables’ slight sweetness – something acid, something herbal, something cheesy.

Here’s a recipe that does all of that.  And the great thing is, it’s easy. Wait – another great thing. When you serve an entire head of cauliflower, all you need is good bread, butter, and salad to make a fine vegetarian meal. Continue reading »

Jan 252014
 

Sommelier 2014

The Sommelier Expo is an industry exposition held in Tel Aviv annually, where professionals in the food and beverage industry gather to taste and appreciate the fine products of Israel’s wineries. That is, it’s not open to the general public, as the Israel Wine Festival at the Israel Museum, or the new Kosher Wine Festival at the Binyanei Ha’Uma, also in Jerusalem. Bloggers are invited, circulating among critics, importers, exporters, restaurant and bar owners, waiters, and the rest of the commercial crowd.
sommelier 2014 israel

sommelier 2014 israel

I was only interested in Israeli wines, and of those, only the kosher ones. But there imported wines, grappa, eau de vie, chocolate,

chocolate at sommelier 2014

cider,

cider at sommelier 2014

and the most amazingly delicate passionflower liqueur.

passiflora liqueur

Not to mention the very necessary stand of  Yacoby’s Farm cheeses, where a platter of excellent artisan cheeses and a fresh roll helps to balance the onslaught of alcohol.
yaacoby cheese stand

Even if you’re a spitter, not a swallower, you do feel pleasantly affected after tasting 20 wines or so …

The major-name Israeli wines are familiar to kosher wine lovers: Carmel, Golan Heights, Barkan, Teperberg and the fast-growing Dalton. I think you can’t go wrong with any Dalton wine; that’s a feeling I picked up when I lived in Tsfat and could drive up to the winery with a girlfriend or five for tastings, every once in a while. But I have a weakness for the smaller wineries that prove how quality-conscious Israeli winemakers are today. The public is reacting with a new appreciation for our native wines.

The kosher boutique wineries that left a lasting impression on me were:

Saslove, located on Kibbutz Eyal near Kfar Saba. From their site: Saslove produces 3 series of red wine “Aviv”, “Adom” and “Reserved”, a dessert wine and also a small quantity of white wine. Saslove was not represented at the Sommelier, but I mention the winery because I’m a fan of their wines.

I love the fact that Saslove has a woman vinter. The owner’s daughter, Roni, makes some of the wines herself. Maybe I’m biased, but I feel that her wines are different – almost more spiritual. UPDATE: Thanks to commenter David Perlmutter, I heard that Saslove is now owned by someone else, and that Roni is on vacation. I’m glad I saved a couple of bottles!

G’vaot – site in Hebrew, but here’s information in English. I was especially taken with their Herodian series.

Gat Shomron. The wine that everybody was fainting over is their 24K Iced Wine. Aromatic, floral, delicate, ethereal. Another thing I like about the winery is that they successfully make fine Cabernet Sauvignon, Merlot, Shiraz and Petit Verdot using only wild yeast. Their own site is under construction at present.

Tulip Winery. I visited Tulip on a press tour recently, and fell in love. Their flagship Black Tulip is a splendid blend of Cabernet Sauvignon, and Merlot, with minority touches of Cabernet Franc and Petit Verdot. But for a light, affordable wine to drink with pasta and fish, there’s the White Franc, with its unusual bronze color and and fruity taste.

Tulip is also special in that the winery is set in a village for special-needs people, and has employed residents from the village since its inception.

Let’s see now, what am I going to uncork this Shabbat…

israeli wine on ice

Jan 052014
 

jar of tahini

Before I moved to Israel, I didn’t know much about techinah. That is, tahini.

In Israel, if you say “tahini” people will look at you funny. It’s “techinah” or “tekhinah” – with that gutteral ch (or kh).

But I’d heard plenty about the fabulous Israeli street food, falafel. Almost as soon as my plane landed, I headed for a falafel stand and ordered a pita full of those hot, spicy chickpea balls and chopped salad. My more experienced friends encouraged me to drizzle the beige, bland-looking sauce all over the falafel. It didn’t look tempting, but I was willing to try it. I picked up a plastic bottle full of it and gave a good squeeze.

Open sesame! I discovered that  techina’s moist texture complemented the fried falafel and the flavor, between nutty and lemony, perked up the juicy vegetables.

Here’s a techinah bottle like the one I squeezed for that very first falafel. It’s standing next to one of amba, a pungent mango curry. Techinah’s far more popular than amba, as you see. And here’s my post about neighborhood falafel stands.

techina and amba squeeze bottles

Continue reading »

Dec 082013
 

barley risotto w spoon

Barley is such a winterish grain. It’s hearty and comfortingly chewy/soft, good in soup and cholent. But barley sometimes shows in a surprisingly versatile light. Who ever thought of making risotto from barley?

More than possible, it’s delicious, and right for eating when you come in from a cold, grey day, and you’ve been fighting gusts of wind that turn your umbrella inside out, and your darned boots let puddles seep in, and grouchy people on the bus make you dislike humanity, and you just want to be home and dry.

And full.

Whew! Will barley take care of all those woes? Actually, yes, if you will it so. Neither stock nor toasted nuts take much work, so it’s worth making them the day before to have at the ready.

Being bland, barley begs for some buttressing. Or did I mean, butter? Or sharper tastes, like wine, onion, lemon, cheese?

Yes, to all of the above. Welcome to barley risotto.

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Nov 052013
 

image olive harvest galilee

The Israel Olive Branch Festival occurs in October-November each year and extends from the Negev to the Galilee. I joined a tour to one of the Druze festival sites in the Upper Galilee, hoping to bring some olives home to pickle, and remembering how long I ago I picked olives on Kibbutz Sde Eliyahu.

… I was very new in Israel then. In fact, I got off the plane and went straight to the kibbutz to join the Ulpan program, where I worked in the fields in the mornings, and studied Hebrew in the afternoons. I learned enough Hebrew to get by. Picked up all kinds of other information too, like on the first day we students went olive harvesting.

At the ghastly hour of 6:30 a.m., we climbed onto the back of a rusty old truck and bumped over dusty fields in the growing light, stopping at the olive orchards.  I stood and looked at the trees laden with green and purple fruit. How do you pick the fruit, I asked the dour kibbutznik in charge. I meant, one by one, with your fingers, or how?

He said impatiently, “It’s just like milking a cow.”He made a gesture of pulling his fist downwards.

Oh, er, right. I’d just come from urban Caracas and Rio de Janeiro, and had no idea how to milk a cow. Or a sheep. Or a nanny goat, for that matter.

But I learned. That is, I learned to pick olives. And the feeling of plump olives against the palm of my hand, and the scrape of the wood as the olives come away from the twig, stays with me. So partly from nostalgia, and partly because I love everything about olive trees, I jumped at the chance to travel north and stand in the soft blue light between olive trees again. Continue reading »

Oct 182013
 

image roasted vegetables polenta

The radio was burbling a nice mix of easy-going blues and jazz. The DJ introduced “Stormy Weather” and right before the song started,  I was startled to hear him murmur, “Just let the rain come, already.”

A secular prayer.

The radio forecast says it’ll rain soon – yes, please God. I know that in other countries, the rain has been no blessing these past months. But here, we pray that rain should come, each in his own way.

Still,  this cool, sunny weather has its pleasures. Before winter arrives and makes shopping a wet chore, the shuk is where I like to linger. The vendors are as strident as ever, but the shoppers, like me, seem more relaxed and in less of rush.

image shuk Israel

See that banner, high up in the back? It advertises a little eatery called “Mother’s Kitchen.” I dunno…my late Dad always joked, Never eat at a place called “Mom’s.”

There’s a new flower vendor, who set up his table smack in the middle of the road. Nobody complains that he makes foot traffic divide into two streams. Here he is, greeting a friend.

flower vendor Israel

The vegetables are as plump and succulent as though it had rained all week. Broccoli and cauliflower that looked desolate a few weeks ago,  hold up firm, full heads. Tables are piled with grapes of all grapey colors.

image grape bunches

Tomatoes are still reasonably priced and onions are tempting and round in their silky yellow peels.
image onion

Which they weren’t, when it was really hot and all we got were wizened little onion sprouts with damp black skins.

I always overbuy at the shuk, loading my wheeled cart (my little-old-lady-cart, my kids call it) – past capacity. Who can resist the seductive eggplants, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, zucchini? And when I’ve pushed open my door and hauled my cart inside, I unload inspiration for dinner.

This is dinner, then: roasted winter vegetables sitting snugly on a bed of savory, cheesefull, hot polenta. It’s a relaxed, easy recipe that accepts almost any firm vegetable and satisfies your hungers for food and deliciousness.

Roasted Vegetables On A Bed Of Polenta

4 servings

Ingredients:

4 cups mixed vegetables – see suggestions below

3 tablespoons chopped herbs: basil, oregano, rosemary or 1 tablespoon dried spices

1 teaspoon salt

Black pepper to taste

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 recipe polenta (link below)

1/2 cup grated hard cheese

You start with four cups of your favorite vegetables. Use at least four, if not seven or eight kinds. Make sure to include tomatoes and onions, that’s the only thing I ask. Throw a couple of peeled garlic cloves into the mix, if you like. You see that here, it was eggplant, tomatoes, bell peppers, sweet potatoes, celery, onions, and zucchini. Not visible is the garlic. There was garlic in there. Because if deprived of garlic for a day, I go all over funny.

roasted vegetables

And you chop up herbs of choice to make up about 3 tablespoons when chopped up.

image container herbs

This time, I went to my balcony containers and snipped rosemary, sage, garlic chives, nettles and a little za’atar. It could have been only one of those, or different ones entirely.

 image chopped herbs

If there are no fresh herbs on hand, combine 1 teaspoon each of the dried spices you favor. I suggest cumin, oregano, a touch of allspice if you have it. Forget not the salt. Also forget not the black pepper and 3 tablespoons olive oil. Combine the herbs (or spices) with seasonings and olive oil in a large bowl, then toss the chopped vegetables in this herby, spicy, oily mix.

Roast at 375° F – 200° C for 20 minutes, stirring once during that time. Then check for doneness. If needed, roast another 10-15 minutes.
image roasted winter vegetables

While the vegetables are roasting, prepare the polenta – recipe here. It takes about 7 seven minutes. And grate about 1/2 cup of Parmesan or Pecorino or Thom cheese into a bowl, to top the finished dish. Use any cheese you like, really. (I told you this was a relaxed dish.) Serve with beer or white wine, and then you’ll certainly relax. Enjoy!

Sep 222013
 

spaghetti with walnuts

Light lunches are the way to go on Succot. At least, in my kitchen. One reason is, the family can’t sustain a rich festive meal followed by just such another in this year’s holiday-followed-by-Shabbat round. Another is that evenings are when the family’s together and hungriest. Vegetables soups, quiches, salads and pasta satisfy mid-day hunger just fine when a large dinner’s expected later.

A leafy salad is all you need to follow this rich pasta. Leftover herbed crumbs, you can throw into your next omelet or salad,  or on top of soup. Good crunchiness.

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Aug 212013
 

image sinyeh druze kebabs

The Middle-Eastern way in cooking is to use simple, natural ingredients grown (or raised) close to where the cook lives. And in the village communities of the Galilee, traditional recipes – the ones passed down intact from mother to daughter, from one neighbor to another, over centuries – are cooked the same way each time.

You won’t see fusion cooking or dishes jazzed up to suit modern trends in Arab, Druze, or Circassian village homes. The families would simply refuse to eat them. That’s not how they remember their mother’s food. Memories preserve culture, so we’re grateful for those stubborn husbands and kids that resist innovative cooking. Original recipes would get lost otherwise.

With Rosh HaShanah approaching, you might consider cooking Sinyeh for one of the festive meals. It’s rich but not cloying, and almost a complete meal by itself. Just make a simple rice, mix up a leafy salad, and there, you’re done. A traditional dish borrowed from the Druze might become a welcome innovation on your yom tov menu.

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