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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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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Mar 282012


In Israel, spring has sprung. In the mornings you see a great number of women shlepping wheeled shopping carts on  buses, intent on filling them up at the shuk. I can relate to them. Here’s my shopping cart, rather worse for wear but full of good things: lavender and mint in pots and lotsa garlic. Well, yes, garlic…what else would I go to shuk for, twice in one week?  Fresh green garlic has arrived, and Mimi is one happy blogger. So far I’ve only made 1 batch of garlic confit (recipe here), but there’ll be more.

It’s not too soon to plan Passover menus. Here’s an updated roundup of recipes that suit the holiday. Enjoy!

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Apr 172011


How we do love anything grilled. That smoky, slightly charred flavor  just wakes appetite up. And how smart we are not to confine our grilling to meat – even peaches taste special cooked over an open flame. With the Passover week coming up, we expect to smell a lot of al ha-esh barbeques around. Ours will have vegetables too.

I brought marinated vegetable kebabs to the family Purim party. While the rest of us sat at the rooftop table drinking wine and sangria, my son-in-law’s brother-in-law – well, extended family tends to grow close here – anyway, one of the young men stood and kindly grilled.

He turned out grilled chicken fillets and wings and livers (and hearts, those dark, crunchy little nuggets).  Grilled, thinly sliced beef fillets. Spicy little hamburgers. And there was a big potato salad colorful with chopped red onions, cilantro, and celery and tart with a lemony mayonnaise. Dishes of humus and Turkish salad (follow links to recipes).  A bowl of Israeli chopped tomato/cucumber salad. French fries. A feast – but the surprise was the grilled vegetable kebabs. Everyone loved them.

My mechutenet (daughter’s mother-in-law) asked me for the recipe. She herself is an excellent cook in the Sephardic tradition, owning no other kitchen appliance than a hand-held grater and making every single thing fresh.  I was honored.

Now it occurs to me that except for the pile of fresh pitas, this menu would be wonderful on a Passover get-together. Many like to grill on the holiday. And at the conclusion of Passover, half the country goes to the parks for the Mimuna festival. Everyone sets up portable grills and boom boxes and lounges around on the grass, eating grilled meat and grooving to loud music sung by people with nasal obstructions. Vegetable kebabs would make a welcome light note there.

Grilled Vegetable Kebabs

6-8 servings

Choose from any mix of eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, tomatoes, bell peppers of any color, white or red onions, mushrooms, and sweet potatoes.


1/2 cup dry white wine

1/2 cup olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

1 tablespoon orange zest

1 tablespoon lemon zest

2 teaspoons freshly-ground black pepper

1 tablespoon fresh, chopped za’atar or oregano, or 2 teaspoons dried

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon thyme

1 tablespoon chopped, fresh rosemary leaves or 1/2 tablespoon dried

Cut tomatoes in quarters or use cherry tomatoes.  Chop peppers and onions into chunks convenient for skewering. If using button mushrooms, there’s no need to cut them; if using larger ones, slice into halves.

If using eggplant and/or zucchini, slice them thickly, place them in a colander, and cover with a light layer of salt. Set the colander over a bowl to catch the juices, and let the vegetables drain for half an hour. Rinse them and either put them back into the (rinsed) colander to dry or pat them dry.

If using sweet potatoes, slice them thickly and drop them into boiling water. Cook for 5 minutes, covered. Remove from the water and drain.

There should be about 8 cups of vegetables, not tightly packed, when you’re done chopping. Combine all the vegetables and pour the marinade over them. Cover and put in the fridge for at least 2 hours and up to overnight.

Have plenty of wooden skewers at hand. Soak them in cold water for half an hour before spearing them into the food – this will help prevent them from burning while the vegetables cook.

Arrange the vegetables on the soaked skewers and grill 5-10 minutes on each side, till all are tender. Have fun sliding the fragrant grilled chunks off the skewers and onto your plate.



Apr 062011


Yes, of course I took the recipe from Julia Child’s Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book, in two volumes, was a gift from my journalist sister Dina when I visited her in Calgary. The sales lady had to search the store for the complete set because there’s been a run on Volume I since the Julia and Julia movie was released. Well, I wanted both books, to work my way slowly through the kashrut-adaptable recipes. Which might take years.

Meantime, I’m with boeuf. It’s a handsome dish for Shabbat or a major holiday like Rosh HaShanah, and I’m thinking that substituting fine (cake) matzah meal for the flour, it will be an excellent dish to serve on Passover.

Julia Child would have OK’d the changes I made to her recipe, I think. Reading her autobiographical My Life in France, a sense of her warmth and humanity rises from the pages like the scent of good cooking. I’m sure she understood about kosher dietary restrictions. And after all, that’s how Jewish cuisine evolves, by adapting local recipes to kosher standards.

If you want to be historically accurate, boeuf bourguignon must be cooked with bacon. That’s no option for kosher cooks, but there is an umami-contributing alternative: shmaltz. (Here’s how to make that wonderful, fragrant, old-world shmaltz.)

Other flavorful ingredients in this potchkeyed recipe include soy sauce and dried mushrooms. More garlic than Julia called for, but then, I must have a constant high level of garlic in my bloodstream or I start feeling…pale. Or something.


  • Use beef with some fat running through the flesh. I buy shoulder. Here in Israel it’s the no. 5 cut.
  • While Julia’s recipe instructs you to drain the bacon fat, I find that you should keep the shmaltz to brown the vegetables. The dish is not at all greasy, although you can certainly draw a couple of paper towels over the surface when it’s done to get rid of  fat.
  • I use an entire bottle of  dry red wine as the cooking liquid. The classic recipe calls for veal stock but since I cook so little beef, I don’t keep it around. Sometime, I might try chicken or turkey stock, but meantime, wine makes a rich, flavorful sauce. Only dry red wine, please, and while it shouldn’t be plonk, it shouldn’t be an expensive bottle either.  (Israelis -most  Segel brand wines are inexpensive yet drinkable  – I usually use one of those  or another in a comparable price range.)
  • I don’t strain the sauce, although maybe I should. Nobody’s complained yet.
  • If you leave the soy sauce out and substitute fine (cake)  matzah flour, this is an impressive and easy dish to serve on Passover.
  • Alright, so I usually leave out the classic fresh sautéed mushrooms and cooked whole small onions that go into the pan almost just before serving. But if you want to, cook 18-24 pearl onions in stock and sauté 500 grams – 1 lb. fresh, thickly sliced mushrooms in olive oil. Add them to the pan after step 7.

What I can say is that everyone who eats this dish likes it. And after you’ve made it once, you’ll see how easy it is. Putting it together takes maybe half an hour, then the oven does all the work. It’s delicious re-heated too.

Kosher Bœuf Bourguignon

printable version here

Serves 4


1 kg. – 2.2 lbs. beef, cut into large cubes

2 tablespoons shmaltz

1 tablespoon olive oil

1 large carrot, peeled and thickly sliced

1 large onion, sliced

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly-ground black pepper

2 tablespoons flour or fine matzah meal

1 750-ml. bottle of dry red wine

1 tablespoon tomato paste

1/2 cup dried, sliced Porcini or other mushrooms

1 tablespoon Tamari soy sauce

2 bay leaves

1 large sprig fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme

4 cloves garlic, minced


Preheat oven to 450° F – 220° C.

1. Pat the beef chunks with paper towels to dry surface moisture.

2. In a large, heavy pan, melt the shmaltz. Add the olive oil. Let the fats get quite hot.

3. Sauté the beef chunks in the hot fat, a few at a time. Turn them over so that all sides brown.Remove the browned beef from the pan to a platter. I use tongs for this.

4. Sauté the onion and carrot in the same pan for about 5 minutes. Return the beef to the pan and sprinkle salt and pepper over everything. Mix with a wooden spoon. Sprinkle the flour over all and mix again.

5. Put the uncovered pan in the oven for 5 minutes. Mix the meat and brown it again for another 5 minutes. Place the pan on the  stovetop, over medium heat, and turn the oven down to 325° F – 160°C.

6. Pour the wine into the beef and vegetables. Add tomato paste, garlic,  soy sauce, and dried mushrooms. Stir to dissolve the tomato paste. Simmer the stew for 5 minutes. Place the bay leaves and thyme on top of the beef and push them in a little with a spoon so that they flavor the cooking liquid.

7. Cover the beef and put it in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, then check to see if it’s fork-tender. Let it cook 1/2 hour longer if needed.  When you judge it’s ready, take the stew out of the oven and skim the fat off if liked. Taste for seasoning and adjust. Add optional onions and fresh mushrooms now.

Garnish the stew with a little parsley and serve with plain boiled potatoes, rice, or noodles. Mighty good.


Apr 072010

artichoke and mushroom soup

Truth is, this recipe works fine for Passover too. But while I’m telling the truth – I’m frankly relieved to have done with the endless shopping, cooking, serving, and washing up that was this year’s Passover. The last stray fork is back in its box, we’ve repacked all the dishes and cookware – everything is safely stored away till next year. Now I can put the word “chometz” out of my mind for another 11 months.

And it’s springtime. Spring in central Israel lasts a couple of weeks at the most, but we’re enjoying fresh winds and a prolonged cooler-than-usual feeling.  Evenings are chilly. Soup is still a good choice.

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I made this soup with frozen artichoke hearts. Fresh artichokes have been in season for many weeks, and we have been eating them – but I had this bag of frozens…and a little basketful of mushrooms…and a craving for a simple soup. So I cooked. And it’s good – very good. The faint taste of lemon and a final swirl of butter complement the artichokes perfectly.

Artichoke and Mushroom Soup

Serves 6


8-12 frozen artichoke hearts (a 400-gram bag)

1 onion, chopped

1 teaspoon salt

1 cup of chopped fresh mushrooms, setting two handsome ones aside for decoration later

3 tablespoons oil

2 garlic cloves, peeled

a pinch of thyme

2 teaspoons lemon juice – or just a hearty squeeze from a cut lemon

1 bay leaf

salt and pepper

2 cups of milk

3 scallion sprigs, chopped

6 teaspoons of butter


1. Put the oil, the onions, and the salt in a soup pan. Sauté the onions till they’re just wilted.

2. Add the mushrooms, minus the two set aside for later.

3. Add the artichoke hearts. They can go in whole – they’re rock-hard when frozen.

4. Season with salt and pepper; add the bay leaf and garlic.

5. Cook everything over medium heat for 10 minutes, stirring.

6. Add water to cover the vegetables, and the lemon juice.

7. Bring to a gentle boil, lower the flame, and simmer the soup for 30 minutes.

8. Test the artichoke hearts for done-ness by piercing one with a knife. If it’s not entirely cooked, give it another 5 minutes.

9. Remove the bay leaf. Add the thyme. Remove one whole artichoke heart and chop it into coarse dice, reserving it for later.

10. Blend the soup. The longer you blend it, the thicker it will become. But it won’t become very thick.

11. Stir the milk in. Cook for 10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add salt and pepper to taste.

12. Put the chopped, reserved artichoke heart back into the soup. Slice the reserved mushrooms and add them.

13. Cook another 2 or 3 minutes – just long enough to cook the mushrooms through.

14. Swirl a teaspoon of butter into each bowl as you serve. Scatter chopped scallions over each serving.

Close your eyes, inhale that artichokey aroma, and eat the first spoonful. Delicious.

two mushrooms and an artichoke heart

artichoke and mushroom soup cooking

Apr 022010

Swiss chard stuffed with mashed potatoes

Ah, leafy greens. And since it’s Passover, potatoes. Together, a savory vegetable dish to round out the holiday menu.

I like this plain and pareve, myself, but if needing to use up leftover chicken, I’d dice up a cupful and add it to the filling.

Or if I needed a dairy dish, I’d add a cup of firm cheese, likewise diced. The tomato sauce agrees with both, while the mashed potatoes bind extra ingredients together.

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Apr 012010

Spent the entire day at Ichilov Hospital, Tel Aviv, accompanying a friend who underwent brain surgery. She’s recovering and doing well, thank G-d, but I came home sort of wound up. To empty my mind and let the tension go, I clicked on some links on my own blogroll, and re-discovered this quirky, eclectic, Yiddishist blog  – In Mol Aran.

The Chocolate Lady doesn’t post often, but her Pesach Survival Guide is wonderful. If you like humorous, useful foody prose laced with Yiddishisms – go there, gentle reader, go there.

Mar 312010

chicken soup with matzah balls

Shmaltz  was the fat of choice for my Russian Ashkenazi ancestors.  In the freezing winters of the Ukraine, they needed a layer of fat to keep warm. On the other hand, people were far more active physically than most of us today. They worked the calories off chopping wood for the stove, drawing well water, making and repairing everything by hand, and walking everywhere.

Every scrap of fat was precious, and not just for eating. My father told me his great-grandmother would skim all cooking fat off, keep it frozen outside all winter, and make soap from it come spring.

Goose or chicken  shmaltz was also a home remedy for pneumonia. Rendered down with plenty of onions and allowed to cool, it was  massaged into the chest and back of the sick one, who was then well wrapped up and kept warm. Sounds disgusting? But the onions draw out fluid and phlegm, relieving the racking cough, while the heat generated by the fat and the wrappings made the patient sweat – bringing down high fever. It was what people had, in those days before penicillin. Better to spend a few days in a fug of oniony shmaltz and hopefully survive.

And people loved the taste of shmaltz – a shmear on bread or matzah, a tablespoon in the pan to start the cooking. We, who monitor our weight and heart health, have almost forgotten what it is. But I have a throwback nostalgia for it. I’m convinced that no other fat gives matzah balls that old-fashioned taste. Plus, nowadays, people no longer regard animal fat with suspicion. A little shmaltz is better for you than margarine, they say, and so I serve it with an easy conscience.

At Passover and Rosh HaShanah, I take the fat off two chickens and render it down with onions. The yield is usually just enough for one batch of matzah balls. The rest of the year, if I get a yearning for matzah balls, I use olive oil – but the taste isn’t the same.

There’s hardly a recipe. Take the raw fat and fatty skin off two or three chickens, or shnorr some off your butcher. Put it in a pan and cover it with cold water. Cook it over a medium flame till all the water has evaporated, and the skin is golden. Then chop an onion and add it to the pot. When you hear crackling and the skin and onion are dark brown, the shmaltz is ready.


Strain it, setting the chicken cracklings aside – the Yiddish name for them is gribbenis. (You can stuff matzah balls with them or add them to a kugel. Or just salt them and eat them as a guilty treat.)

Now, make your matzah balls.

Here’s the typewritten matzah ball recipe my Dad gave me, lo these many years ago: I think he took it from Jewish Cookery, adding his banana bread recipe at the bottom (the bread is obviously not kosher for Passover). It has his characteristic humorous tone. I depart a little from the recipe by adding 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger.

matzah ball recipe from Jewish Cookery

Old-Fashioned Matzah Balls


2 eggs, beaten

4 tablespoons shmaltz or other fat

1 scant cup matzah meal

1/4 – 1/2 cup water

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated ginger (optional)


1. Combine the beaten eggs, shmaltz, and matzah meal.

2. Add 1/4 cup water, salt, and ginger.If the mix seems stiff enough to roll into a hard ball, add more water by tablespoons till it’s a stiff batter, not a firm dough.

3. Cover the batter and put it in the fridge for 2 hours. This step is important if you want light matzah balls. The batter can rest in the fridge even longer – even overnight. It will become a dough firm enough to shape, but still a little loose in the hand.

4. Have a medium pot with plenty of boiling, lightly salted water ready. With wet hands, form walnut-sized balls of dough, and drop them in.

5. Cover and cook the matzah balls over a medium flame for 30 minutes. Lower the heat so that the water simmers after the initial boil – you don’t want the boil to destroy your little treasures.

6. Remove the matzah balls from the water and either set them aside for later or put them in your soup right away.

Tip: As  Dad noted, they can be cooked directly in the soup, but don’t come out as light that way. Another tip: Use a scant cup, as Dad directed, for light matzah balls. The cannon-ball variety, and some folks like it, comes from a greater proportion of matzah meal and then packing the dough in tightly.

Nice to cook something exactly the way our ancestors did it two centuries ago. Who knows, maybe even longer?

Mar 252010

Some don’t eat garlic on Passover, to show that they are not among the kind of folks who wanted to return to slavery in Egypt. Wandering in the desert, harvesting that same old mannah every morning and evening, the unbelievers complained that they  missed “the cucumbers, leeks, and garlic” of the good old days under Pharaoh.

Well…if you know me a little, you know I love garlic, a lot.  I’m just glad my tradition accepts garlic on Passover. Reader Jasmine, commenting on my recent garlic-love post, sent a link to an article discussing the hazards in garlic imported from China. This sent me off on a search for up-to-date information, which I wrote about for the Green Prophet blog.

When you go out shopping and reach for a package of those nice white bulbs, give a thought to what I wrote in this post.

Just to spoil it for you, the moral of the story is: buy local!

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