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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Mar 092013
 

image eggplant stuffed with lamb

Succulent lamb on a bed of tender eggplant, generously spiced and sprinkled with pine nuts.

I served this aromatic, meaty dish with white rice on the side, just something rather plain, so as not to clash with the big, Middle Eastern flavors. With a leafy salad of mixed greens, we had a feast. And I’m thinking it would work really well on Passover week, when guests come from out of town and I’ll want to make something special.

It is a dish apart. I felt lucky to have discovered it in a new cookbook, Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s  Jerusalem, A Cookbook. I hadn’t tried any of the recipes yet, just flipped through the pages, admiring the gorgeous photographs.

Then I remembered. In the fridge was lurking this enormous eggplant.

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Nov 102012
 

israeli chicken shnitzel

Israeli TLC is like no other. It’s a glimpse into the warm Israeli heart – the same bossy Israeli heart that overrides all opinions, doesn’t know what “polite” is, and drives Western immigrants nuts with culture shock.

Where else would you find Breslaver chassidim playing encouraging songs for a patient outside a major hospital? But there they were, guitars, harmonica and voices uplifted, when I went for a checkup last week at Tel HaShomer.

breslev hassidim playing music

Back home, I took my first short walk after surgery, leaning on a stick. As I hobbled around the front of the building, one of my  neighbors emerged from the lobby and came up to me, looking shocked.

“Whatever happened to you?”

I tried to wave her concern away. “Knee surgery, not considered a big deal these days. The worst is over already.”

“But how are you managing with the shopping, the cooking? Who’s making Shabbat?”

My husband and teenager have been managing the house, with The Little One cooking. She got lots of hands-on practice while I sat in the kitchen directing, sometimes taking the bowl or chopping block on my lap to show her how. She would show me the dish in progress and ask, “Is it supposed to look like this now?”

And that’s how we’ve been eating. Although I admit, we did send out for pizza once.

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Oct 222012
 

flu soup recipe

I’ll be recovering from knee surgery for the next little while. Fridge is stacked with easy foods for the Little One to cook while I’m lounging around. Laptop is charged so I can trawl the Net while balancing an ice pack on my knee. New stack of books next to my bed. Rescue remedy for balance, homeopathic arnica for pain. What’s missing?

Oh yes, telling you about it.

So now you know. I’m in the hands of a great surgeon, at a great hospital, and it’s not even considered such a big deal anymore. It’ll be an arthroscopy, not a knee replacement. Wish me good luck – it’s tomorrow.

Now I’m going to have a big bowl of mineral-rich bone broth reinforced with lots of fresh vegetables. Good for any wambly condition you might find yourself in. Really excellent for recovering fast from the flu, if you add grated ginger and turmeric.

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Sep 132012
 

image-braised-short-ribs
Braised short ribs is what we’re eating on Rosh HaShanah night.

And the great thing is, you cook them ahead and it reheats even better than the day before. Also, any excess fat hardens while the meat is stored in the fridge, so you can spoon it off before reheating. The ribs keep in the fridge for several days with no harm done.

After all the simanim – and the Little One’s favorite favorite is the leak tart in that post – we hardly have room for a major meal. But the old saying declares, “No celebration without meat,” so I fix something special and beefy. With the challah (recipe here)  and the simanim as salads, that’s plenty for us.

I seasoned this meat with a Middle-Eastern mix of crushed spices. If you lack a mortar and pestle or spice grinder, just scatter the spices around the meat, whole, and stir them around a few times while the dish cooks.

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Aug 212012
 

image-slow-cooked-beef

This is one of of those casual dishes that evolved over five minutes.

I needed to cook a serious-but-not-heavy lunch, and I had a load of other things to do. So I put the beef together with things I knew would taste good, and put it away to cook in a slow oven for 4 or 5 hours. At some point, a tempting savory smell wafted through the apartment, and I knew the dish was a success.

The recipe’s a loose set of instructions, sort of like those that appear in medieval cookbooks between the dough for pigeon pasties and spiced mead. But you’ll see that it’s all about good ingredients and low heat, so it can’t go wrong. To judge by Husband’s and the Little One’s enthusiasm, it was actually pretty great.

And why white wine instead of the traditional red? Well, it makes a lighter-tasting stew, one more suited to the hot weather we’re experiencing now.

This beef recipe so good and easy, I’m keeping it in mind for Rosh Hashanah. Leftovers will taste even better the next day, or several days later. I can tell it’s going to be one of those recipes that makes life easier.

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Mar 212012
 

image-chicken-sofrito
There must be a million ways to cook chicken, but I had run out of ideas.

Does it have to do with so-called Senior Moments? I’m not sure I subscribe to that.

Maybe these cooking lapses happen occasionally to people who have all the responsibility for daily meals. Any chef I’ve asked says that when he’s home, his wife cooks dinner – or that he eats out after work, or gratefully puts his feet under his mother-in-law’s table.

Which cheered me up some. Here I am, along with the culinary big shots, suffering from Food Thinking Overload.

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Jan 052012
 

image-soup-chicken-dumplings

It’s soup weather, no doubt about it. Even if Israeli skies are blue, it’s cold out there. And what I want to eat when it’s cold out, is soup. A flexible recipe, please, a soup that accepts lots of variations but always tastes good. And, while I’m at it, one with chicken and plenty of green herbs and vegetables.

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Nov 302011
 

chicken-on bed-onions

I had this chicken that needed cooking. But I was bored with all my usual recipes. I stood in my kitchen, revolving ideas around in my mind. Nothing doing; empty head. Well, I do have a lot of cookbooks. Why not open the cabinet where I keep them and get a recipe?

Nah. Too logical.

So I stood there with a blank mind until my hand, obeying some part of my brain still responding to self-preservation, opened the cabinet and  pulled out Elizabeth David’s “Mediterranean Cooking.” All kinds of good chicken recipes there. One was so simple and attractive, I just had to make it. Of course, once I got the chicken into the roasting pan, I had to potchkey it up with more seasonings. But I don’t think Ms. David would have disapproved – the result was so delicious.

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Nov 072011
 

image-chicken-hamine

Slow-cooked food has been my solution to busy days recently, like last post’s slow-cooked salmon. But could there be such a thing as a weekday overnight stew? This overnight stew is as homey and comforting as a cholent, but it’s much lighter. It’s convenient, too. The ingredients are basic and may not even require your going shopping, if you have chicken in your freezer. A good fix-ahead for cold weather, like leaving a crock pot simmering away while you’re out doing things.

Only this, you fix the night before and just let it sit all night and into the next day. Or if you prefer, cook it for 4 hours at a higher temperature in the morning, to eat at lunchtime.

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