Nov 032014

image cauliflower soup

Let there be white.

White soup, that is. I’m a fool for white soups: potato soup, vichyssoise, cauliflower soup – bring them on, I’ll eat ‘em. With cauliflowers so firm and white in the shuk now, and winter rains bringing on hungers for good hot soup, there’s only one way to go. It’s cauliflower soup, subtly spiced, quickly cooked, satisfying and comforting. Serve with toast that’s  topped with a poached egg.

fresh cauliflower israel

No cheese in this soup. You can sprinkle some grated Parmesan over each serving if you want to, but I like it t when the vegetables  dominate, with no distracting help from cheese. A couple of  the spices so well-loved in the Middle East add depth. A dollop of cream promises a rich, soothing soup. It will help you accept the onset of winter, and even rejoice in it.

Ah – that was thunder. The light is fading and the wind tosses the branches of sidewalk trees around. On the balcony, my wooden wind chimes are bumping each other and make musical klok noises – it’ll rain any minute. I’m glad to be home with this soup for dinner.

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Oct 302014

three stuffed mushrooms

In my parent’s home, I knew it by the homely Yiddish name “farfel.” In Israel, it’s called “p’titim.” Since having become famous in the foodie world, this pearly short-cut pasta is called Israeli couscous. That’s alright by me. As long as I have a bag of it in my pantry, I’m sure of having a quick-cooking backup to heft out a meal that would otherwise look skimpy.

But that’s not all Israeli couscous does. It’s pleasantly bland, so it soaks up any flavorings you add to it or cook it with. You can dress it up or dress it down, like any other pasta. Kids love it, naturally. But here it is in an entirely grown-up guise: stuffing for Portobello mushrooms.  It’s still a quick trick. Takes about 10 minutes to cook the couscous, including the time it takes to chop up an onion and the cheese. Two minutes to  mix the stuffing up. And about 15 minutes in a hot oven.

One mushroom makes a hefty first course, and two make a light main dish, served with a big salad.

Have plenty of olive oil at hand when you make these: it’s amazing how much oil mushrooms can soak up. Continue reading »

May 302014


tian zucchini potatoes recipe

Many readers have complained that I’ve been neglecting this blog. I can’t defend myself, because it’s true.

I’ve been thinking, and I hope, growing in different directions.  I’ve been writing for other publications. These writings, not all of them food-related, leave my mind sort of empty after hours of research, writing and revising. Not much brain power is left for my personal reflections. Cooking and even eating, have been hasty, seat-of-my-pants operations for the past long while.

But food and the urge to cook are still on my mind. They always will be. So I’m returning, maybe a little changed, a little freer. And Reader, I’m always aware that you’re there, and that some are wishing I were back here already. This summer it’ll be nine years since I opened a blog, named it Israeli Kitchen, and started to post. I write this with a feeling of returning home, somehow, like a child who left her parents’ home to travel and returns different, but still loving.

So here’s a French variation of Italian frittata and Persian eggah, the tian. You can also call it a gratin.  The recipe is from one of my favorite cookbook authors, Elizabeth David, and I found it in her “Is There A Nutmeg In The House?” It’s a simple combination of eggs and vegetables, often flavored with cheese or garlic, then baked. You can substitute chard or spinach for the zukes, use the same measure of cooked rice instead of potatoes. Season as you like. It’s a rustic dish that you can adapt to the ingredients you have on hand. I like to serve this tian as the main dish at dinner, adding a leafy salad and a small cheese platter to round out the meal.

And if you’re looking for something interesting for Shavuot, something that emphasizes vegetables rather than cheese, tian is the ticket.

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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 »

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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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


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!

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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Jan 172013

saffron rice with winter vegetables

Chunks of oven-roasted vegetables stirred into fragrant rice.

The storm of the decade passed over Israel, covering Jerusalem and the north with snow. But in the central region where I live, all we got was rain.  I’m not complaining. Although I lived in Michigan for years, I never re-adjusted to cold weather after living in tropical Rio de Janeiro.

The wind circles around outside and drives rain against my windows, but it’s cozy at home.  This is the time for pottering around the kitchen, keeping warm and trying out recipes. Right now I’m most interested in ones that call for doing new things to winter vegetables like butternut squash and sweet potatoes.

Winter food isn’t all hearty soups and stews. In this recipe, culled from Al HaShulchan magazine (Hebrew), the familiar deep yellows and oranges of the vegetables harmonize with saffron long-grain rice.  The vegetable are first slow-roasted to bring out their sweetness – a foil to the slightly bitter pungency of saffron and sharp herbs.

The rice finishes cooking covered with a kitchen towel. My kids call this “shmatta rice.” It’s an old Sephardic method of steaming it so that every grain cooks through, yet remains separate. Yes, it’s a recipe that calls for a number of steps. But they’re all easy steps, and I’ve made a plan that economizes your time, so go ahead and try this pungent, warming, spicy rice. It makes a satisfying side dish. If you add half more vegetables again, it’s an excellent vegan/vegetarian main dish.

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Oct 092012


Summer is loosening its grip here in central Israel, although we’re still walking around in short sleeves and sandals. But it’s a kindlier sun than the scorching tyrant that dried everyone out earlier in the year, and it gives way early to cool nights. My thoughts turn to new baking projects, as they always do at this time of year.

Now that I’m counting up all the ways that early October feels different, I remember my latest walk through the shuk. Vegetables that earlier shrank and got buggy seem relieved by the slightly cooler weather. Celery stalks are getting fat and juicy again. Broccoli and cauliflower heads, which weren’t worth a glance a little while ago, are clean, full and firm. And the mellow colors of squashes on display speak to me of dinners based on baked and roasted vegetables, glasses of red wine traded for summer’s Chardonnays, and full-flavored hard cheeses.


While I love the butternut squash stuffed with quinoa, I had a longing for butternut squash paired with a tangy hard cheese. This recipe satisfied that longing perfectly. The sweetness of the butternut combines deliciously with herbs, and while its baking, a thin, savory, cheese crust forms over all of it. Just right.

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Sep 072012


Almost every Israeli restaurant has some version of this vegetarian dish.  Upscale restaurants call it eggplant carpaccio. Plain folks call it eggplant and tahini salad. Some versions, like this one, are rich with cheese and tomatoes and olive oil, and some are plainer, with just charred eggplant a good dollop of tahini on the side. Myself, I lay that eggplant on its back and pile everything on top of it. The hot eggplant drizzled with garlicky tahini, lemon juice, silan date syrup and olive oil creates a most subtle sauce right there in the plate. And the tomatoes and feta shine through the eggplant and sauce like – like a rich pearl in an Ethiope’s ear. You get layers of flavors in every bite.

So I started with a baladi eggplant from the shuk. Baladi connotes higher quality because the fruit is wild or unsprayed or raised on a small farm according to old-fashioned methods. When you’re trawling through the shuk and come upon a stand with these dark purple, ridged eggplants, you’ve met the baladi. Other eggplant varieties work fine for this dish too, of course. I favor baladi because they look a lot funkier, and they tend to be big.

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