Aug 202014
 

spiced fig jam with wine

Late August, and little by little, the longest days of this very strange summer are waning.

It’s surreal, but war on Israel’s ground has become almost ordinary. Hostilities started, stopped, and started again, like a bucking horse. We, the small folks who work and take buses and come home to cook dinner, grit our teeth and carry on, hoping to dodge the flying hooves.

But as long as it’s left undisturbed, nature takes its way throughout the hot days. Pomegranates are turning red in private gardens, a sign that Rosh HaShana is approaching.

image-pomegranates-garden

And figs are sprouting wherever they dare, which is anyplace. I love the fig tree; its hand-shaped leaves with their odor of vanilla and cinnamon, its luscious fruit with a red heart; even its chutzpah as it takes root in any available cranny.

image urban wild fig

How I have loved standing under wild fig trees in Tsfat’s outskirts, harvesting the small, sweet fruit. Figs grow and thrive where I live now in Central Israel too, but somehow, they don’t seem as romantic as those wild figs from the Galilee. Never mind. There’s the shuk

shuk petach tikvah

where, let it be said, anyone is free to shop without fear…

image arab shoppers israel

and which offers figs of splendor.

image fresh israeli figs

The absolutely most delicious way to eat fresh figs is simply to hold one plump, moist fig in your hand and bite into it. But the yearning to preserve a little of that flavor overcame me. Here’s an unusual fig jam recipe that includes red wine, herbs, and a little balsamic vinegar. The mildly acidic flavors brighten up what is often a rather bland preserve, and the spices give it a subtle herbal undertone. The jam improves over time, tasting even more delicious a couple of days after it’s sat in the fridge.

 Spiced Fig and Wine Jam

Inspired by Leda Meredith’s preservation page on About.com

Ingredients:

1.360 kg. (3 lb.) fresh figs
1 1/4 cups white sugar
1 cup dark, runny honey
1/2 cup dry red wine
A good splash of balsamic vinegar
1 2-inch sprig of fresh rosemary (Don’t use dried rosemary, you’ll never get those little needles out. Substitute 1/4 teaspoon fresh or dried thyme if you don’t have rosemary.)
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 medium bay leaf

Method:

Rinse the figs and slice the stems off. Cut into halves if figs are small, into quarters if large. Put them into a large saucepan or a bowl.

Mix the remaining ingredients and pour over the figs. Stir gently and cover. Leave the figs alone at room temperature for 2 hours, stirring twice during that time. Remove the rosemary sprig.

Turn the heat to high and boil the considerably softened and juicy fig mixture. Stir often, keeping a sharp eye out for when the jam starts to thicken. Don’t reduce the heat, just keep stirring to prevent scorching. Test the jam on a cold plate; if a drop holds its shape, it’s ready. The whole thing should take no more than 20 minutes and maybe only 15.

Remove the bay leaf and if you like, purée the jam before storing. I use a stick blender and purée it right there in its pan, while its still somewhat hot (with great care to keep away from splashes).

According to Leda, you don’t have to sterilize the jars for this recipe. I don’t have much pantry space, so I keep the few preserves I make in the fridge. It keeps for three months. Follow standard boiling water-bath procedure if you wish to store the jam at room temperature for any length of time.

I serve teaspoons of this jam with local white cheeses. A nice mature Brie also pairs deliciously with it. And a glass of chilled Chardonnay with them never did anyone any harm.

image spiced fig jam

Jun 072013
 

image cherry tomato dip

Is it too early too talk about tomatoes?

They’re already so good and abundant in the markets. I still had quite a few left over from the kilo I bought in the shuk a few days before.  I was thinking of a dip or spread for basil bread that I was going to take to a little get-together later on. Like, a tomato pesto.

And there were all these sweet, plum cherry tomatoes on my counter. It was easy to imagine roasting, then blending them. Adding almonds to thicken the puree. Herbs, too, and naturally, olive oil. Yes.

Continue reading »

Jul 092012
 
image-capers in a jar

Photo of capers by Mate Marschalko via Flickr.

In my last post, I grew lyrical over the beauty of the caper flower. But there’s no ignoring that this weed also yields a uniquely-flavored vegetable relish, out there and free for the picking. If you’re brave and have made up your mind to ignore some good thorny stings.

Here’s what you do. To make the effort worth your while, try to locate two caper bushes growing in your vicinity. Well, one great big one will do. Ideally, you visit your crop every morning for a few days, harvesting each part separately, because leaves, stems, fruit and buds appear on the runners at different times and each yields its own flavor. Not to mention that it’s a pain to separate pickled buds from leaves, stems, etc.

image-caper-shoot-buds

For pickling the shoots, cut them into finger-sized lengths and peel. As for the green, oval fruit, pick only the smaller ones. The mature one’s seeds are bitter and spoil the flavor.

Choose only tightly-closed buds. Even a little opening in the husk will make a bud go mushy in the pickling. And surprise: even the leaves are pickle-able. Don’t bother picking individual leaves, just cut the tips off some shoots. You’ll have to scissor away any thorns at home.

Then, like olives, your crop must be soaked to get rid of bitterness. Rinse the dust off and throw out anything with worm holes. Soak  for three days, changing the water daily. This not only leaches harsh flavors out, it encourages development of a flavorful fungus.

Hey, cheese also needs fungus.

Pickling Instructions:

Have ready 1/2 cup (125 grams) soaked and drained caper buds, leaves or stems.

Make a brine of 1/2 cup apple cider vinegar, 1/2 cup water and 1 tablespoon salt.

Put your caper products in a glass jar and cover with the brine. Leave for 3 days, then taste. If you like it, start using.

You may choose to continue pickling for one week. Either way, once you’re satisfied with the taste, store in the refrigerator.

Notes: if pickling the fruit, make enough brine, the same way as above, to cover the fruit generously. Proceed as above, but start tasting only after a week.

Don’t be alarmed if little white spots appear on your product. This is a natural reaction to the fermentation.

I haven’t salt-pickled capers myself, but am tempted to try it with leaves this summer. Here’s how: after soaking, pat dry between kitchen towels and pack in fine salt, generously covering the herb. Start tasting after a week. Rinse off the salt before eating.

So what do you do with your capers?

  • Put them into salads. The Greeks occasionally put caper leaves and stems in mixed salads.
  • Leaves and fruit taste good with fish and chicken, as a relish.
  • Make tartar sauce with the buds.
  • Or flavor your next tomato sauce with a few buds.

Or make…

Butter Sauce with Capers

4-6 servings

Ingredients:

4 tablespoons butter
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup capers
1/2 teaspoon salt

Melt the butter, stir in remaining ingredients.

Remove from the flame.

Serve over vegetables or fish, or incorporate into mayonnaise to perk it up.

Try stirring a small amount into cream cheese for super lox and bagels.

Last note: Don’t have capers nearby, or don’t feel like picking? Grow some nasturtiums. The immature buds of nasturtiums can be pickled the same way.

Jun 042012
 

image-apricot-marmalade
How sweet it is. Here’s my home-made apricot marmalade recipe, making breakfast everywhere even more delicious.

And how short apricot season is here. No sooner have you finished your first batch of firm, perfumed fruit than you discover that they’re starting to dwindle in the shuk. Hurry, hurry, get more before they go!

You have to be crafty, though. The first, greenish fruit are sour. You have to taste an apricot every few days until they come into full, golden season. Then the temptation to overbuy is hard to resist. If I buy too many to eat before they start going soft, which I always do, I get out the scale and sugar and make marmalade. Continue reading »

Jan 252012
 

home-made-condensed-milk

It’s really much cheaper to make your own condensed milk. And you can make quantities of it at one time with almost no effort. But it does require time and patience. It’s something to stir while doing other kitchen projects. Like an intensive cooking or cupboard-cleaning session, or a morning of  phone calls you’ve been putting off. Actually, the coolest thing would be to have a magical spoon that stirs all by itself. Lacking that, just old-fashioned patience and time will  do.

Why would I want to make my own condensed milk? Well, here in Israel, all condensed and evaporated milk is imported in squeezable tubes and cans. Living in a dairy-rich country, it seems wrong to buy a milk product that’s been shipped across the planet. That’s Noble Reason Number One.

Continue reading »

Aug 212011
 

image-mango-chutney

August is peak season for so much fruit, it’s hard to choose which to preserve. I used to go hog-wild at the shuk and shlep home kilos of that juicy, perfumed, vividly-colored produce. Fruit wines, liqueurs, jams and chutneys. Mason jars and bottles and carboys all over the kitchen – all over the house. But eventually the family group dwindled, and I found that life demanded downsizing my shopping and cooking.

It’s still a big satisfaction, putting little dishes of pickles or chutney on the Shabbat table, or bringing them out to make an ordinary meal special for guests. But I’ve reduced the number of annual ferments and preserves. Significantly. Let’s see. What did I really put up, since spring this year?

Continue reading »

Jun 172011
 

image-pickled-cherries
I had a crucial role in my high school production of The Taming of The Shrew. Before the curtain rose, I and two other girls in Elizabethan peasant costume strode through the audience, carrying wicker baskets  of plastic fruit and calling “Blackberries! Strawberries! Che-e-e-ries!”

That was it. Oh no, wait, at the last scene, when all the characters crowd onto the stage to witness Kate’s new, humbled attitude, I was there too. Cool, eh?

Well, I don’t know how they would have managed without me. But till today, whenever I buy cherries the echo of that old vendor’s call rings in my mind. Che-e-e-ries!

Pickled Cherries

printable version here

Recipe from Elizabeth David’s French Provincial Cooking

Ingredients:

500 grams – 1 lb. morello cherries

3/4 cup white sugar

1.5 cup wine or apple cider vinegar

6 whole cloves

Method:

Rinse and drain the cherries, discarding any damaged ones and leaving the stems on. Pack them in a clean, dry jar.

Bring the vinegar, sugar and cloves to a boil. Lower the heat and allow the liquid to boil gently for 10 minutes. Allow it to cool in its pan. Pour the cooled vinegar over the cherries and put the lid on the jar. Store in a cool, dark place for 1 month before opening and eating.

The recipe may be multiplied as many times as you like. Don’t worry if at first the liquid doesn’t cover the cherries: just shake the jar a little for a few days. As the fruit releases its juice, the liquid level will rise and the fruit will submerge.

image-pickled-cherries

As you see, plastic wrap works to keep dust and flies out of the jar. Best is to close the jar properly of course.

Eat the cherries as you would olives, as part of an appetizer or as a nosh. The remaining liquid makes fabulous salad dressing, with olive oil, salt, and a touch of garlic.

I look forward to putting some of  these sweet-sour cherries on the table come Rosh HaShanah. They also make great Purim gifts. You’ll have to hide a few jars away if you want them that far ahead.

Once cured, the cherries will keep up to a year.

image-pickled-cherry

May 092011
 

image-peach-chutneyRosy-yellow, fragrant peaches remind me of past summers, young love, and uncomplicated happiness. To hold a beautiful, succulent peach in my hand still makes me happy.

In yesterday’s summers I would savor peaches just as they came out of my shopping bag. A quick rinse under the tap, and the warm, sweet fruit would disappear in juicy bites. It was enough.

Now, I find ways to preserve that abundance and sweetness for a later time. Peach jam, or peach liqueur, or peach chutney. Come winter, peach cobbler made from frozen July peaches. Flavors of early summer, savored again.

In Israel, summers stretch out infinitely long and hot. By September all we want is some relief from the heat, knowing we won’t get it till much later. But my summers are slipping away as the years dissolve behind me. I find myself longing to keep those hot days back, just a little while longer, even if only trapped in jars and spooned out in translucent dollops.

So I return to my kitchen laden with peaches that remind me of youth and careless love. I summon my skills. Let me try to stop time with sugar and spices.

Today, it’ll be chutney.

Peach and Date Chutney

Recipe from Jams & Preserves by Jill Norman

printable version here

Ingredients:

6 peaches, not over-ripe

1/2 cup pitted, chopped dates

1/2 cup dark raisins

2 medium onions, chopped fine

375 grams – 1-1/2 cup brown sugar

2 cloves garlic, mashed

1 tablespoon mustard seeds

2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh ginger root

6 cardomom seeds

2 teaspoons salt

1- 1/4 cups apple cider vinegar

1. Cut slices away from the peaches till only the pits are left. Cut the slices into thirds, reserving any juice.

2. Remove the husks from the cardamom seeds either by bruising them in a mortar or by enclosing them in a kitchen towel and rolling a rolling pin over them. Pick out the dry husky pieces and crush the black seeds with the mortar and pestle or some heavy object.

3. Put everything into a heavy pot over medium heat. Stir to dissolve the sugar.

4. Allow to boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 1-1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Take off the heat when the chutney is thick. Store in sterilized jars or in the refrigerator. Allow to mellow for a month before serving.

 

 

Mar 252011
 

image-fresh-garlic

It’s just that time of the year in Israel, folks. Wonderful, stinky fresh garlic is in the shuk. I’m in the shuk too, packing as much garlic into my little wheeled shopping cart as I can. I expect I’ll be writing about garlic every March till I’m too old to type anymore. And cooking it till I’ve died and gone to garlic heaven.

The Little One rolls her eyes and asks me not to buy any more garlic because I hang it up to dry in the laundry room. The smell of it drying  penetrates into the bathroom and makes her feel like a salami, she says.

My question is, how does she know what a salami feels like?

In her mysterious teenage way, she refuses to say. However, I notice that she does eat anything I cook with garlic in it. I suppose it’s in her genes.

And this year, there’s garlic with some enormous cloves in the heads. Right now the thin sheath that protects each clove is still tender and juicy, so I remove only the papery purple peel. Sorry about the alliteration.

image-garlic-bulbs

Once my garlic is minced to a paste, I add salt and olive oil – some fresh, chopped za’atar and thyme and chives and mayhap a leaf or two of rocket from my little potted plants – and and sit down with a warm pita to sop it all up, drop by drop. And that’s lunch.

Actually, I’m not sorry – I love alliteration.

image-olive-oil-and-garlic

Garlic oil keeps in the fridge for up to a month.

I did have mercy on the Little One and hung up the latest batch outside on our tiny balcony. Here it is, looking strangely shy and head-hanging among the anemones and nasturtiums. For such an aggressive herb, that is.

image-fresh-garlic

Another delicious thing to eat is garlic confit. All the fire goes out of the cloves as they poach in herbed olive oil over two or three hours. You have to put a little fire back in. The result is a delicious relish for roast chicken, a cheese platter, a sturdy salad, or bruschetta. Love garlic? Try this.

image-garlic-confit

image-garlic-confit

Garlic Confit

printable version here

Ingredients:

4 heads of garlic, cloves cleaned and peeled if necessary. Leave the peels on if garlic is fresh and juicy; peel if not.

1-1/2 cups olive oil

4 sprigs of thyme

2 medium bay leaves

1 teaspoon mustard seeds – or 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper

1 tablespoon coarse salt

1 allspice berry

freshly-ground black pepper

Method:

Heat the oven to 300°F – 150 °C.

Place the herbs in an ovenproof casserole.

Place the garlic cloves over the herbs and douse them with the olive oil.

Scatter the coarse salt all and grind black pepper generously.

Cover the casserole with tin foil and bake for 2-1/2 hours or until the garlic is very tender.

Store in the fridge for up to two weeks.

Have a look at previous posts about fresh garlic:

 

 

 

Dec 152010
 

image-home-made-olives

Long ago and far away, a friend and I would drive up to the Meron hills and pick olives from abandoned trees there. But since moving to the center of the country, I buy raw olives in the shuk. Any shuk. This past September, it was the Ramleh shuk.

image-raw-olives

image-ramla-market

It’s a long process, curing olives, but not a lot of work. The first thing you have to do is find yourself a good rock.  A rock with a good heft, one that the hand closes around comfortably.

It’s for cracking the olives. I found a likely one in a field near my building and brought it home to wash. It looks like a loaf of sourdough bread, but it’s a rock, and it crushes my olives fine. (The white bloom on it appeared after I poured boiling water over it and then rinsed it with vinegar).

image-raw-crushed-olives

My usual recipe calls for simply packing the olives in brine, but I was curious to try Sarah Melamed’s method with vinegar, so that’s what I did. The result was a little too vinegary for my taste, but after a second brining with fresh herbs, the olives, with only a hint of vinegar, the olives were a savory treat.

You’ll only need a big jar and water the first week. So get yourself a clean rock and a kilo or two of raw green olives to start. Look for signs of ripening among the olives you buy – some will have turned darker.

Rinse the olives and drain. Discard any spoiled ones. Crush them with your handy-dandy rock, a few at a time, and put them in the jar.  Some will escape and fly around the kitchen, of course, but just pick ‘em up, rinse again, and keep going. Take it easy, though – the weight of the rock should be enough to just crack the olives, not smash them to bits.

Actually, you don’t have to do the rock thing. If you have a meat-tenderizing mallet, that’ll work fine.

Cover the fruit with water. Make sure there are none floating – weigh them down with a small saucer or drape plastic wrap over the surface of the water to keep them under. Change the water every 24 hours. Do this for a week.

The olives will lose their bright color and take on a drabber, khaki shade. This is good – it means that their bitterness is leaching out. When the olives are uniformly darker, taste them to judge if they’re ready for brining. If they’re still bitter, soak them and change the water for another few days.

Once the olives are ready, drain them and put them in a large bowl while washing out their jar. Make a brine. This is:

10 grams of salt for every 100 ml. of water or  7 tablespoons of salt per half-cup of water.

For every 4 cups of brine, add 1/2 cup of apple cider vinegar. Mix well.

Replace the olives in the clean jar. Pour the salt/vinegar brine over all. Add 1 sliced lemon or lime,  hot red peppers,  garlic cloves, sprigs of rosemary or thyme, black pepper, bay leaves, allspice, or grape leaves – to taste and depending on what you have in your kitchen at the time.

Cover the olives with plenty of olive oil to exclude air and prevent spoilage. Close the jar. Leave it alone for a month, then taste an olive every week or so till you’re satisfied. For me, it took 8 weeks. If you like them the way they are, serve them as is. If, like me, you prefer a salty taste to vinegar, drain them, make a new brine as above without the vinegar, and put them back in the jar with fresh herbs and a new layer of olive oil to cover them. After a week or two, they’ll be ready, and just keep improving over time.

image-home-made-olives

Keep your olives in a cool, dry place.  How to serve them?

  • Eat them alone, as a nosh or appetizer.  A little fresh, chopped parsley, cilantro, or basil, mixed into the bowl of olives you intend to eat right away, is a very nice thing. Or:
  • Chop some into dishes that use chopped meat, like picadillo, meat loaf, or hamburgers
  • Add whole olives to braised chicken 10 minutes before serving
  • Or to potatoes
  • Or  to rice
  • Or add some chopped to an omelet…the world is yours with these olives.

image-olives

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