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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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.

May 202011


The need to visit Tsfat and see old friends had been growing in my mind, so one dusty day this week, I caught the bus northward. We rolled through sleepy towns with hot, deserted streets, stopping at stations where only soldiers and for some reason, elderly people carrying bundles, got on or off.

Magenta bougainvillea bushes and pink oleanders growing beside the highway gave way to  fields dotted with clumps of hollyhocks, sign of higher altitude and cool, moist land.

I was meeting Judy, an old Tsfat friend, in Rosh Pina. We were going to drive even farther north, beyond Kiryat Shmona where the River Dan runs and meets with the River Hatzbani. There, the lovely Dag al haDan restaurant serves fish taken right out of the river. You eat seated under fig and mulberry trees, and the river with ducks and swans paddling in it runs burbling next to your table.

It was a long bus ride to Rosh Pina. Plugged into my MP3, I nodded and swayed in my seat. The air-conditioning felt like a medical necessity as outside, yellow dust blew through the air, making it hard to breathe. After a wearisome time, there was distant sparkle of sun on water and then we were passing Lake Kinneret. The dust haze was lighter there, but the water was an ugly, roiling green, dashing up to the shore in short, hard little waves. The bad-tempered chamseen wind had all the elements in hand.

Do you know what a chamseen is? It’s the Arabic name for hot days when a dry, sandy wind scours the landscape. The word comes from the Arabic for fifty; supposedly there are fifty days of such weather each summer. In Hebrew, the name sounds elegant: sharav. But chamseen sounds elemental, something like the sound the wind itself makes as it swings around buildings, blows hot air like a hair dryer over field and garden, makes less sturdy trees bend.

It’s said that in old days, Arabs didn’t punish murders committed during the chamseen because the tormenting wind was known to deprive people of their reason.

We met, hugged, and got into Judy’s car. Now, whenever I get in the car with Judy, we get lost. We know it and enjoy it. We sing in harmony and laugh like the teenagers we once were, confident that eventually we’d find our way. This time, a wrong turn took us to a narrow road partly blocked by a big sign: “Stop! Border ahead!”

Good grief. We were going to wind up in Lebanon. Back we went, passing farmland and new vineyards. We were hot and hungry and yearning for a cold beer.

A friendly lady in another car gave us directions. At last, O joy – signs on the road pointing to Dag al haDan. The wind never stopped sifting a fine layer of dust over everything, but as we approached the restaurant, we sensed the sweet odor of water.

image-dan-riverOld mulberry trees shaded the parking lot, where chickens and roosters pecked the ground for windfall fruit.


There was the outdoor grilling station.


This young man paused in his work grilling sea bass and trout to give us a hello and signal the waiters that more guests had arrived.


The sight and tempting odor of grilled fish made us slightly frantic.

image-grilled trout

Because of the unfriendly weather, guests were placed indoors. But the big windows looked out onto the river. We were content.


A goodly array of mezze, and that cold beer, kept us from falling down in a faint. There were fresh green fava beans in vinaigrette, pickled trout, babah ganoush and choumous, a chopped Israeli salad, excellent potatoes, a fiery grated carrot salad, spiced olives, and more.


I ordered sea bass, and Judy had the local trout. We were both delighted with the perfectly grilled fish, served with two sauces:a herby lemon/basil/mint sauce and one of almonds and cream.

I could have forgone the sauce, couldn’t I have?


But I didn’t. Nor did Judy and I  pass up the very good creme brûlée.

Here’s a good tutorial on making creme brûlée - the comments are worth studying too.

Replete and relaxed, we drove back to Tsfat in a leisurely way, talking life over and finishing all the conversations we had started and interrupted before. Was it worth all the travel and the dust and the driving?

Of course.

Dag Al HaDan

Kosher, Rabbanut Kiryat Shmonah

Open Sunday-Thursday for lunch and dinner.



May 282010


So I took a bus out to the shuk yesterday, in the middle of a sandstorm. It was eerie. A thin fog of yellow dust hovered everywhere, clinging to the skin and the lips, blurring the outlines of trees  in the middle distance, almost erasing distant buildings.  Now I know how African dust tastes, because this blew in from the Sahara. The radio broadcast warnings: pregnant women, small children, and asthmatics, stay home today.

Well, I’m none of those. And I needed to buy food. So off I went into the yellow distance, intent on tomatoes for slow roasting,  leafy greens, and ground turkey.

Of course I bought the shuk out.

Who can walk past a display of fresh, purple figs and refrain from buying a box? Not I. Who can resist the allure of glistening fish, red of gill and bright-eyed, on their beds of ice? Or of firm, plump mushrooms?


Oh woe, not I. Even the humble cauliflower seemed to be calling my name.


And everything so much cheaper than at my neighborhood supermarket.

So I bought, and bought, and soon had five or six bags dangling from my fingers. But one thing I was longing for wasn’t to be found. The herb vendors gave me funny looks when I asked if by chance they had grape leaves.


I’d seen them in the Shuk HaCarmel, I explained. Oh, that’s a different clientele, they said.

I was sad. Those mushrooms cooked in grape leaves were so good, I’d had the taste in my mouth all week. I already had the mushrooms, all I needed was some grape leaves.

I was also already out of money. Just as well, I said to myself. If I had more money, I’d keep buying. Now for the trip home with all these bags.

Just on the edge of the shuk, a few old people sit on the sidewalk and sell produce from their own gardens. It’s always worth casting an eye on what they have. Usually it’s just bunches of green onions or spinach – one of them used to sell gat but I think he’s been, er,  discouraged to do so by the authorities. I shlepped past, in a hurry for the bus.

Then out of the corner of my eye, I sighted grape leaves.

A little old lady with glasses like bottle bottoms and a long braid down her back was sitting patiently on a stool, bundles of grape leaves on her lap.

Oh, help. And me out of cash. I stopped in front of her, disentangled myself from my bags, and asked the price. NIS 5 for a smallish bundle. All right. Maybe I can dig 5 shekels out of my purse somewhere. You know how it is with purses – they tend to trap little coins in their corners. If you’re persistent, you can usually excavate a few out.

I found 15 shekels. Oh, joy! The lady handed over three bundles, which turned out to be a fair amount because grape leaves are so thin. And I went home to cook my mushrooms and photograph my purchases for you.

What would you make from these ingredients? You know those TV cooking shows where chefs have to produce a meal out of a few dissimilar ingredients – in ten minutes? Tell me what you would make – it doesn’t have to cook in ten minutes.

From left to right, top row: Ground turkey and fillet of chicken breast. On top, coriander. Tomatoes, figs, Swiss chard.

Middle row: champignon mushrooms, grape leaves, bass fish.

Bottom row: Portobello mushrooms, pine nuts, basil, and in the corner, sliced dark Russian bread.

I’ll tell you one of the things I did make, and that was mushrooms baked in grape leaves.


Recipe follows, next post.

Apr 112010

Fish for lunch. I can easily eat fish every day, and there must be thousands of ways to fix good fish. This unusual recipe puts a crust calling for walnuts and lots of herbs, then roasted garlic. Not complicated, although it’s starting to sound like it. The garlic bakes along with the fish, and then you squish it over the fish. As you wish.

I cooked Nile Perch, but any firm white fish, filleted, is good.

Fish Baked in a Walnut Crust

serves 4


1 large fish fillet, enough for at least 4 portions

1 large egg, beaten

Juice of 1 lemon

1/2 cup ground walnuts

1/2 cup flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

1/2 teaspoon paprika

pinches of fresh or dried herbs: thyme, basil, rosemary, a few stalks of lemon grass

a small handful of chives

4 clean, unpeeled garlic cloves

olive oil to drizzle


Preheat the oven to 350° F, 180° C.

1. If using frozen fish, rinse it and let it sit covered in cold water plus half the lemon juice, for 10 minutes. If using fresh, forgo the lemon water treatment.

2. Put the beaten egg into a large bowl. Swish the fillet around in it, front and back. Make sure all its surface is covered in egg.

3. In another large bowl or large, shallow platter, put the dry ingredients. Mix them up.

4. Lay the fillet on top of the nut mixture, and scooping up more from the sides to pat on top of the fillet. Turn the fillet over. Make sure it’s entirely coated with the dry mixture.

5. Place the fish on a baking tray protected by baking paper. Scatter the herbs and garlic on top.

6. Drizzle olive oil over the whole. Be generous but don’t drown the fish.

7. Cover the fish loosely with tin foil. Bake for 30 minutes.

8. Remove the tin foil and bake another 5 minutes to allow the crust to brown.

Squash the garlic flesh out of the cloves – it will come out of the flat side closest to the root. Put the garlic paste in a small dish and serve to those who like it. You can certainly put more garlic cloves to bake with the fish if you want – just separate them and make sure they get their fair share of olive oil before baking.

This flavorful fish is best served with plain rice and a steamed vegetable.

Fish baked with a walnut crust

More fish recipes from Israeli Kitchen:

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