Sep 222014

image fish tomato cilantro

“May it be God’s will that we be like the head, and not like the tail!” And so saying, we unveil the cooked head of a fish at the holiday table. It’s one of the Rosh HaShanah simanim, traditional foods whose names play on words representing new year blessings. (For more detail on simanim, and some recipes, read this post.) The fish head has to be veiled with a napkin because it makes The Little One turn green. So we snatch the napkin off, ask for the blessing quickly, and then take the fish head away. Anything for the teenager.

Luckily, she doesn’t have a problem eating fish.

I like to serve this festive recipe on Rosh HaShanah. The fish is first fried, then gently baked in a sauce rich with tomatoes, cilantro and pine nuts. The sauce reduces until thick, and it’s so good, so herby and pungent, you want to lick the plate. The recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s Book Of Middle Eastern Food. You just can’t go wrong with Ms. Roden for inspiration.

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Jul 122013

salmon and potato casserole

It’s the middle of the Nine Days that culminate in the fast of Tisha B’Av. Discounting Shabbat meals and the fast itself, that’s six days of no meat or chicken. A week of meatless days on the Jewish calendar means lots of fish, like red mullet in chermoulah and grains. More vegetables than usual. More eggs in creative ways, and er, well, more fish.

Yesterday I was shopping in a hurry. The family was going to need dinner in about an hour, but I was in the middle of a project that needed all my attention. I didn’t want to spend lots of time chopping, stirring, and hovering obsessively over the stove as I usually do.

What, oh what would dinner be?

A package of salmon fillets caught my eye as I trundled past with my shopping cart – I snatched it up, thinking, salmon cooks quickly and everyone likes it.

Back home, a damp, chilly package of salmon fillets thawing out on the kitchen counter.  Me, suddenly empty of ideas, looking around the kitchen. My cookware said: put it in a clay pot and let the oven do the work.

My pots and pans often provide the answer to What’s For Dinner. There’s more on my theory of Pot/Food-Vision Syndrome on this post. Which happens to be a recipe for spicy brown beans, also appropriate for the Nine Days.

But back to dinner, and the salmon. I couldn’t cook the salmon just bare. There had to be potatoes and onions and herbs and tomatoes, at least. And plenty of lemon. So this is what I did.

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Mar 242013

image spicy moroccan fish balls

I kind of want to call this Sephardic gefilte fish.

Looking for a Passover  fish recipe and a little bored with my usual ones, I was glad to find this  in last December’s Al HaShulchan magazine. I modified it to include somewhat less chili.  The tender, juicy morsels are cooked in a soupy sauce, sort of like gefilte fish, but Eastern Europe never knew the olive oil, garlic and chili that give this dish its huge flavor kick. Not to mention plenty of cilantro – you’ll need a bunch and a half.

And it’s entirely kosher for Passover. The Little One liked it so much, she asked me to cook it for the Seder. Happy to oblige, darlin’ daughter.

In the meantime, let me wish you a happy and a kosher Passover, reader. This year in Jerusalem!

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Sep 112012


The autumn holiday are fast approaching, and the Wise Housewife has her Rosh HaShanah menus all planned out.

But I’m not always very wise. I’m still leafing through cookbooks, jotting down notes and making shopping lists. As usual, I think, How can you put away 4 or 5 meat meals over two days? Especially when Rosh HaShanah closely follows Shabbat.

And as always, the solution is at least one dairy or fish meal over the holiday, usually at dinner of the second night. What we like is fish, like the luscious Moroocan Shabbat fish,  followed by a light dairy dessert, like malabi or traditional Spanish flan.

When I was lingering in front of the fishmonger’s shop in the shuk this week, some handsome grey mullets caught my eye. The next stand over had juicy-looking tomatoes, and the one after that, fresh green herbs temptingly displayed in tight bunches. It came together with saffron in my mind. So here’s what I cooked. It’ll make a great alternative Rosh HaShanah meal.

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Apr 022012


Being without matzah meal, this gefilte fish is gluten-free.

Long ago, I held by the Chassidic custom of no gebroks on Passover – no matzah that’s come into contact with liquids. So there was no matzah brei or any of the myriad Passover foods requiring matzah meal.  I learned to cook gefilte fish without matzah meal in it.

Eventually, I began cooking with gebroks again. But I still prefer matzah-less gefilte fish. It’s light and just right as a first course when there’s an ample menu to follow. And it holds together just fine without matzah meal. The secret’s in the blending. The longer you blend, the fluffier the fish, and the better it will hold together.

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Oct 252011

image-slow-cooked-salmonIt never crossed my mind to slow-cook fish until I stood contemplating a fillet of salmon. I needed to be doing other things and wanted to put it on the fire and walk away from for a while.  Then my eye fell on my tagra, a clay vessel typical of Moroccan Berber cooking

I love cooking in clay pots. My beans are never so tasty as when they’re simmered for hours in a clay pot I keep only for them. My mother, brought up in Nicaragua, says that when she was young, there were no other kinds of pots but clay. People went to the open-air market, where a vendor displayed a variety of clay pots on a blanket placed on the ground, and bought as needed. Maybe my love of clay cooking vessels is a throwback to the taste of Nicaraguan cooking of almost 100 years ago.

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Aug 042011

red mullet tajine

Anyone tired of cheese yet? The Nine Days before the fast of Tisha B’Av are still in force. No meat or poultry, no wine. True, Shabbat approaches and then we can indulge in both, but come Sunday, observant Jews are still going to need meatless recipes.

The solution is fish. Like the Moroccan Shabbat Fish or the Salmon in Orange Glaze, this tajine is colorful and full of flavor. It satisfies the kind of hunger that demands that food be substantial but light – summer hunger.

Small red mullet fillets make an attractive presentation, but you can use slices of any firm white fish. Lacking the clay tajine pot, you can use a heavy-bottomed saucepan. An equally good method is to bake the dish in a casserole. It’s best served right away, but can be made in the morning, refrigerated in its original casserole or saucepan, and gently re- heated to serve for lunch or dinner.

Two typical Middle Eastern ingredients feature in this recipe: spicy chermoulah marinade and roasted bell peppers, both made in minutes. (recipes below).

Tajine of Mullet Fillets In Chermoulah Marinade

Serves 6

Printable version here.


chermoulah marinade according to recipe below
2 lbs- 1 kg. red mullet fillets, cut into large chunks
12 small new potatoes or 6 medium-sized potatoes
4 tablespoons olive oil
4 garlic cloves, sliced
12 cherry tomatoes
2 bell peppers of different colors, grilled and sliced into sixths
Salt and pepper to taste
12 green or black olives
1 lemon, cut into quarters

Chermoulah marinade:
Blend the following ingredients on low speed till a thin, grainy sauce is formed:
2 peeled, chopped garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons ground cumin
½ – or 1 fresh red chili
Juice of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

Reserve ¼ cup of the chermoulah. Place the fish in a deep dish and cover it on all sides with the rest of the chermoulah. Cover and put in the refrigerator to marinate for 2 hours.

Wash, but don’t peel, the potatoes. Cook them for 5 minutes in salted, boiling water. Drain, place in cold water, then peel them. Cut into halves if using new potatoes, or quarters if using medium-sized ones.

Gently sauté the garlic in 2 tablespoons of the olive oil. This only takes a minute or two over low heat. Raise the heat to medium and add the tomatoes, grilled peppers, and reserved chermoulah. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Grilled bell peppers:

Grill whole bell peppers under your oven broiler, or place them on a metal grill over an open flame. Turn them from side to side as their thin skins char and their flesh softens. They should not become completely blackened but will retain their plumpness and color.

Allow the grilled peppers to cool down enough to be handled, then pop them into a plastic bag to cool down. Their skins will then slip off easily. You will need to wet your hands occasionally while peeling.

Slit them open and remove the seeds. Cut them into 4-6 long strips.

(If you like fiery food, try grilling some green or red chilis this way. Be very careful with chilis however – wear latex gloves while peeling if possible, and don’t touch your eyes or any part of your face if your fingers have come into contact with them.)

Place the potatoes on the bottom of a large casserole (or tajine if you have one).

Spread half the tomato/pepper mixture over them. Put the marinated fish on top, and cover it with the remaining half of tomato/pepper mixture.
Scatter the olives around the fish and vegetables.
Spoon 2 tablespoons of olive oil over all.

If baking, cover the casserole and cook for 30 minutes at 350° F – (180° C) or until fish is cooked through.

If cooking in a tajine, put the lid on and cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes. If using a saucepan, add ¼ cup water and cook over medium heat 15-20 minutes.

Serve with lemon wedges to squeeze over the hot dish.

May 262011


Every so often, I feel that I have to eat curry. It must have something to do with needing micro-nutrients. I mean, curry spices are packed with them.That’s why curries figure so prominently in vegetarian cuisine.

That’s my theory, anyway.

Most often, dal fixes me up, that thick lentil stew made aromatic with turmeric and cinnamon and cloves, and smoothed into submission with ghee (my post about ghee is here). Dal is high in protein, satisfying, and inexpensive. You can make it mild or add heat with chilis. Myself, I like some heat, but the recipe below is flexible; you choose how much, if any, chili or cayenne goes in.

Dal and plain rice, like the one I cook to serve with majadra, and salad on the side, make a good, home-made lunch that only takes about half an hour. But then again, and especially if there are guests, I might make a whole Indian menu for dinner. Herbed fish patties, coconut rice, dal, and yogurt raita. (Raita is sauce eaten as a relish and a cool foil to spicy or chili-hot food). Just exotic enough to pique the appetite but not so much so as to freak the people out.

I prefer dal made with the tiny, pale-yellow moong lentils that only Indian stores seem to carry.These seem to melt away into a thick, smooth, savory mass that absorbs all the spices perfectly. But yellow split peas work very well too. Just cook them till they’re very, very soft.

dal ingredients

The recipes have been given in logical sequence to make best use of your time. Altogether, the whole meal should take 1 hour to prepare.

Cucumber Raita (Yogurt  Sauce)

Serves 6 – may be halved or doubled

2 large, fresh cucumbers

1 medium onion

2 teaspoons salt

Optional: 1/8 – ¼ teaspoon cayenne flakes

3 cups thick, cold yogurt

1. Peel the cucumbers. Grate them, and grate the onion – or process the vegetables in the food processor.

2. Stir salt into the grated vegetables and put them in a sieve or colander placed over a bowl to catch the juices. Allow to marinate and drain for 1-2 hours.

While the vegetables are draining, prepare the dal.

3. After vegetables have drained 1-2 hours, rinse them and mix with yogurt and optional cayenne. The sauce is ready to serve.

Dal:  Split-Pea Stew

Serves 6

1 – ½ cups moong dal or yellow split peas

4 cups water

1 – ½ teaspoon salt

3 tablespoons ghee or  butter

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon ground cinnamon

¼ teaspoon cayenne flakes, or more if liked

¼ teaspoon ground ginger

¼ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon mustard seeds – do not substitute prepared mustard for these seeds.

1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

1. Put water to boil with salt. Boil the lentils in it for 20 minutes or until very soft. Stir occasionally while cooking.

While dal is cooking, start preparing the fish patties.

2. Melt the ghee or butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add all the spices. Heat them through for 2 or 3 minutes.

3. Add the spiced butter to the boiled lentils and stir thoroughly. Simmer over low heat till the stew is thick – about 5 minutes.

Indian Herbed Fish Patties

Adapted from The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden

Serves 4

1 cup cilantro  leaves

¾ cup scallions

1 teaspoon hot curry powder or regular curry powder plus 1/8 – 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes (to taste)

3 tablespoons flour

1 lb. – 500 grams raw ground fish

½ teaspoon salt


1. Chop the cilantro and scallions finely. You may pulse them in a food processor, but don’t process them to a paste. Those bits of green herbs give the patties a certain home-made attraction.

2. Add the curry powder, flour, and fish. Mix very well.

3. Make patties in the palm of your hand, pushing the edges together so they don’t crack in frying. Press a shallow dimple in the center of each patty with your forefinger: this helps the patty stay together (do this with hamburgers too).  Fry the patties in shallow oil till brown on both sides. 

Coconut Rice

Serves 6

1 can coconut milk

2 cups water

1 ¼ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

1 ½ cups rice

3 coriander pods, crushed, husks removed, and black seeds crushed again.

1. Boil coconut milk, water, salt, turmeric and coriander in a medium pan, covered.

2. Add the rinsed, drained rice. Bring to a boil again.

3. Cook, covered, over low heat until all the liquid is absorbed – about 15 minutes.

Serve this meal with cold cider, beer, or lemonade.

Oct 082010


Scallions, tomatoes, lime juice and cilantro, with a good drizzle of olive oil. It’s simple, and a truly Latin American taste. To me, it brings back the delicious home cooking of the maids that worked for my friend’s mothers, when I was a teenager living in Rio de Janeiro. Some of those ladies had been with their employers for many years and spoke Yiddish. It was really a spicy patois of Portuguese and Yiddish, which they spoke with the resident grandmothers or the little ones.

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 Posted by at 3:38 PM
Sep 202010

use up your leftover wine

The wine was good, but dinner’s over and there’s just a little left in the bottle.  What can you do with it?

Keep it. Even a little wine does magic things to your cooking.

1. Make your own wine vinegar. It’s easy. You’ll need a clean glass jar and a bottle of commercial vinegar with the “mother of vinegar” – wisps of original vinegar-making material in it. Organic vinegars work best.

  • Pour the bottle of vinegar into your jar. Add any leftover wine to it. You can mix wines if you want, but the vinegar does taste better if you keep separate jars for white and red.
  • Cover the jar with cheesecloth or a paper towel. Secure it with a rubber band.
  • Store at room temperature, away from any open bottles of wine. You don’t want vinegar bacteria getting into your drink.
  • Stir once daily and start tasting after a week. Some vinegar will evaporate, so keep adding leftover wine.
    Don’t be startled if a new “mother” starts forming at the bottom of the jar. This is a sign of good health. Once it’s firm, you can pick it out of the jar with tongs and give it away, compost it, or use it to start a fresh supply of vinegar.
  • Start using the vinegar when it’s gotten sour enough to suit you.

2. Blend up a wine vinaigrette. Leftover white wine makes an elegant, fresh-tasting salad dressing or sauce for fish, chicken, or vegetables.  You’ll need:

1/3 cup white wine
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (from 2 to 3 lemons)
1 teaspoon honey – if the wine is dry. If using a sweet wine, omit the honey.
1/4 teaspoon  salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
3/4 cup olive oil

  • Blend the wine, lemon juice, honey, salt, and pepper in a bowl. Still blending (either with a fork, whisk, or the blender), add the oil, slowly.
  • Mix again just before serving.

That’s it. The vinaigrette will keep up to a week refrigerated.

3. Poach pears in wine. This dessert makes a welcome light ending to a rich meal. Use red or rosé wine. Follow this link for the recipe.

4. Marinate beef, chicken, fish, or tofu in wine. Use your judgment; red wine for red meat, white or rosé for chicken, white for fish or tofu. Keep in mind how the color of the wine will affect the look of the finished dish: will you mind if your chicken looks purple?

A simple marinade:

1 cup leftover wine, 2 tablespoons olive oil, 1 thinly-sliced onion, 1 crushed garlic clove, 1 tablespoon soy sauce, ½ teaspoon ground or freshly-grated ginger, a strip of orange peel as long as your forefinger, 1 bay leaf.

  • Lay the raw meat (or fish, or tofu) in the marinade. Refrigerate immediately till you’re ready to cook the dish. Note: Meat, chicken, and tofu may be marinated ½-hour to overnight in the fridge. Fish will “cook” and fall apart if left longer than ½-hour in the marinade.
  • Turn the ingredients over half-way into the marinating time so that they will absorb the flavors evenly.
  • Remove the marinaded ingredient from the liquid. Now grill, sauté, or roast your dish.
  • Don’t throw the marinade liquid out either.  You can cook it down in a saucepan till it’s thick and spoon it over the finished dish for yet more flavor.

5. Use leftover wine as part of the liquid in tomato sauce or gravy. The perceptible “winey” flavor will cook out, but the sauce will take on a richness and depth that wasn’t there before. On the other hand, if you stir the wine in just a few minutes before you intend to serve, the the sauce will have a delicious winey top note to harmonize with the deeper, rich notes of cooked vegetables.

6. Freeze your leftover wine.Use sealable bags to store your leftover wine, even quarter-cupfuls, in the freezer. You can then break off however much you think you’ll need, as you need it.

Use up or freeze your leftover wine within a day if it’s been left out, or a week if it’s been re-corked and kept in the fridge. Wine that’s old and tastes unpleasant is only fit to be poured down the drain.

I love the taste of roast-lamb gravy enriched with a last-minute dollop of red wine. My grandmother, who studied the art of sauces at the Cordon Bleu (back in the 1950s), used to make roast lamb with wine gravy – and when I cook it like she did, vivid memories of summertime dinners at Grandma and Grandpa’s house come back to me.

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