My neighbors and I cook at around the same time of day, and our cooking smells waft around the building. I stick my head out the kitchen window and sniff judgementally. One neighbor’s food smells great, with sharp notes of onions, turmeric, cumin. Another’s cooking is so bland it depresses me. (Boiling potatoes again, are we? Don’t you get tired of boiled potatoes?)
Yesterday, Friday, every woman was cooking for Shabbat. Naturally, she needs to put something nutritious, filling, and cheap on the table. Potatoes suit the menu every time. I looked at my potato bin. This Friday, I was bored with them. I needed some potato inspiration.
Flipping through my cookbooks, I found an interesting recipe in Joyce Goldstein’s Saffron Shores: Jewish Cooking of the Southern Mediterranean. Actually, it’s two recipes in one, because first you must prepare spiced olives, then add them to potatoes and cook them together.
Goldstein’s recipe calls for crushing whole olives with the flat of a cleaver or a mallet, then soaking them overnight. I didn’t have time for that and figured that canned, pitted olives would release plenty of their salt with a few good rinses. So they did. And the dish was very good. It has the advantage of being vegetarian and pareve, for everyday meals as well as for Shabbat. And the olives, you can serve serve and eat as an appetizer all by themselves.
Yield: 2 cups
2 cups of pitted olives
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large bay leaf
2 cloves of garlic
½ teaspoon sweet paprika
A large pinch of cayenne pepper and/or ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper
Juice of ½ lemon
Rinse the olives thoroughly, three times in cold, running water. Drain them.
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet or shallow pot, over a low flame.
Cook the bay leaf, garlic, paprika and cayenne or pepper for 3 minutes.
Add the olives to the skillet and cook for 5 minutes, turning them over occasionally.
Remove from the fire and let cool. Put the olives, with the bits of garlic clinging to them, in a clean dish.
Add the lemon juice; mix.
You may store the spiced olives in the refrigerator for a week if kept in a clean, dry jar.
Potatoes Stewed with Olives
The olive oil left from cooking spiced olives, or 3 tablespoons fresh olive oil
1 large onion
2 ½ lb. – 1 kg. potatoes, unpeeled but scrubbed and sliced 1 inch (2 centimeters) wide.
1 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
2 cups spiced olives
¼ cup finely chopped parsley or celery leaves
Chop the onion finely. Sauté it for 5 minutes in the skillet where the spiced olives cooked, with their oil returned to it. If using fresh oil, sauté the onions in 3 tablespoons of oil.
Add the potatoes and the spices. Don’t add salt – the olives will add enough.
Add water to halfway up the potatoes, and bring to a boil.
Cover the skillet, lower the flame, and cook the potatoes 15 minutes.
Add the olives and cook another 10 minutes, turning everything over once or twice.
Check to make sure the potatoes are tender; give them a few more minutes if necessary, but don’t let them get mushy.
Sprinkle the dish with the chopped parsley. Serve hot.