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!

Continue reading »

Mar 282012
 

image-mimi's-shopping-cart

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!

Continue reading »

May 032011
 

image-open-air-market-israel

It took a long time to get over Passover this year. Non-stop cooking and washing-up, it seemed, and once the kitchen was restored to its leavened state, food lost its appeal. Easy soups and sandwiches have been keeping body and soul together around here for the past two weeks.

Except that Husband and The Little One would have left the house, never to return, had I gone on feeding them sandwiches and soup. So to find inspiration, I took my first post-Passover trip to the shuk. Continue reading »

Apr 172011
 

image-vegetable-kebabs

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.

Combine:

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 152011
 

As a child, and even in my early adulthood, I used to feel that a supernatural event was happening during the Seder. It was physical, like a twanging vibration rushing around out there in the immense night as we sat retelling the story of the exodus from Egypt, feeling safe in our little lit-up island of a house. It came and I always accepted it without question or even mentioning it to anyone else. I couldn’t give it a name. Now I think: was I feeling Eliyahu HaNavi on his way to visit Jewish homes?

Well, why not?

A year came when I no longer felt this vibrating, awesome thing during the Seder, and I forgot it. Recently, though, I have remembered.

When my Dad conducted a Seder, it was always in three languages: Hebrew, English, and for my mother’s sake, Spanish. Four languages, counting the occasional breakouts into Aramaic. I will never forget my father, impressive in his white kittel (holiday robe), rising from his seat, holding a matzah aloft. He would recite:

“Este es el pan de afliccíon que comieron nuestros padres quando fueron esclavos a Faraón en Egípto. Todos los que tengan hambre, que vengan a comer….Este año, todavia somos esclavos. D-os mediante, el año que viene, celebramos Pesaj como hombres livres en Jerusalem.”

This is the bread of affliction that our fathers ate when we were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt. All who are hungry, come and join our meal. …This year, we are yet enslaved. Next year, G-d willing, we will celebrate Passover as free men in Jerusalem.

Matzah is a precious thing. The flat, bumpy, tasteless bread represents – apart from G-d’s command that we eat it – nationhood and freedom from oppression. To the individual, it represents refinement of character. I’m sure there are other, mystical interpretations of matzah, but I am not a sage and this is what I know.

Whenever rulers wished to oppress us, they forbade matzah. I have seen photographs of secret ovens in Spanish cellars, where medieval Jews risked their lives to fulfill the mitzvah. Back in the ’60s. friend Judy used to fly to Russia before Passover. She brought smuggled haggadot (printed guide to the Seder, with prayers) and matzot in her luggage. She never knew if she’d escape her KGB watchdogs long enough to find Jews, convince them she was safe, and hand them the goods. She did, though.

I’m grateful to have matzot every year, celebrating the Seder in freedom. When you can just pick up a box of any kind of matzah in the supermarket, it gets harder to realize how precious they are, and how hard-won the freedom.

Maybe this year, when my husband opens the door to invite Eliyahu HaNavi in, I’ll catch the great prophet by the fringes of his robe and pull him down next to me. I know he’ll be wanting to be on his way. All the same, I hope to tell him something before he floats on to the next Jewish home:

” We wait and wait, and only wait, for you to announce the coming of Moshiach. Please, Eliyahu, gather all our Seders up and make a matzah out of them. A shining, supernatural matzah pierced with light. Hold it up to G-d and ask…to make us truly free.”

 

 

 

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.

Continue reading »

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. So 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.

shmaltz

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

Ingredients:

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)

Method:

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.

As  Dad noted, they can be cooked directly in the soup, but don’t come out as light that way.

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!

Mar 242010
 

orange-glazed salmon and stuffed tomatoes

Salmon and orange, there’s an interesting combination for you. It makes a change from gefilte fish at the Seder table, if you want to depart from the old-fashioned Eastern European tradition.

And just in time for warmer weather,  tomatoes are bouncing back from the winter doldrums, looking fat and juicily red. If you’re looking for a dairy menu to serve during Passover week, try the cheese-stuffed ones below. Both recipes are fast and easy, with few ingredients. To round out the dish, try the garlicky potatoes I made the other night.

Orange-Glazed Salmon Fillets

Adapted from AllRecipes.com

serves 4

Ingredients:

4 salmon fillets – about 1 kilo – 2 lbs.
1 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
1 -1/2 teaspoon fresh-ground ginger root – or 1 teaspoon powdered
2 teaspoons balsamic vinegar –  or use another vinegar if balsamic isn’t available for Passover

Method:

1. Preheat oven 400 ° F – 200 ° C.

2. Cook the orange juice over medium heat for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3. When it’s reduced to half and thick, stir the vinegar and ginger  into it.

4. Have a baking pan ready and lined with baking paper. Put the salmon fillets down on it, skin side down. Sprinkle the flesh with salt and pepper. Pour 1/4 cup of the orange juice over the fillets.

5. Bake the  salmon 10 minutes.

6. Drizzle the rest of the juice over the fillets and continue baking 10 to 15 minutes. When the flesh breaks off in rosy flakes, it’s done.

7. Remove the salmon to a warm platter, or cover it and keep it warm on the stove top. Now reduce the roasting juices by letting them cook another 5 minutes at the oven’s highest temperature. When the juices are thick, spoon them out and spread them over the fish.

Serve.

This dish is good cold too, if you have leftovers.

Cheese-Stuffed Tomatoes

adapted from Al-HaShulchan’s Sukkot 2009 Magazine

Serves 4

Roast tomatoes stuffed with cheese

Ingredients:

4 large tomatoes

1/2 cup feta or other salty, medium-firm white cheese

1/2 cup any blue-veined cheese

1 long green onion (scallion)

8 black olives, pitted and halved

2 tablespoons matzah meal

a pinch each of salt and pepper

a pinch of dried thyme or oregano, or any dried herb of choice

1 tablespoon olive oil

Method:

Preheat the oven to 350° F – 180° C.

1. Cut the tomatoes in half, from the stem end down. Squeeze out the seeds and gel. Place them, cut side up, on a baking tray lined with baking paper.

2. Chop the cheeses into dice and mix them up.

3. Chop the scallion and mix it into the cheeses.

4. Stuff the cavities of the tomatoes with the cheese.

5. Place 2 halves of olives on top of each tomato.

6. Mix the matzah meal with the salt, pepper, and dried herb. Sprinkle this over the tops of the tomatoes.

7. Drizzle the olive oil over all.

Roast for 30 minutes. There will be some liquid on the bottom – spoon it over the tops of the tomatoes when you serve.

Mar 222010
 

I love fresh garlic. The season is short, just three weeks, and then the purple-streaked bulbs disappear from the market. I rush to buy my yearly 10 kilos, and shlep all that fragrance home in a taxi because I’m afraid that if I get on the bus with it, I’ll have to pretend I don’t notice all the dirty looks from 20 fellow passengers. Even so, the taxi drivers usually open all the windows. Never mind. I’m the one whose whole apartment reeks for a week, until the garlic dries.

So why do I buy all that garlic, and what do I do with it? Well, have a look at the post I wrote about garlic last year. Just about everything I cook has garlic in it. I detest the expensive imported Chinese stuff that goes sprouty a few days after buying it. I like to buy locally grown garlic that lasts ten months. I buy so much because I know there will be some loss – by the seventh or eight month, some  will go bad and have to be thrown out. And – fresh new garlic is so delicious.

Follow the link above for ideas on how to eat this seasonal treat. And here’s my panegyric on roasted garlic.

Fresh garlic cloves, being juicy, don’t burn and turn bitter as fast as dried garlic does when you’re frying. This evening we enjoyed simple garlicky potatoes made like this:

A handful of baby potatoes, washed, sliced in half horizontally, and steamed till just tender.

1/2 a red onion, thinly sliced

6 entire cloves of fresh garlic, peeled

Olive oil to cover the bottom of a non-stick frying pan

Salt and pepper

I fried the onion slices over medium heat till wilted, then drained the potatoes, and added them to the pan. When the potatoes began to take on a golden color, I added the whole garlic cloves. Sprinkled salt and pepper over all. Shook the pan once in a while to ensure that the potatoes and the garlic would become golden 0n all sides. The onion became crisp and stringy. When the potatoes were cooked through and had acquired a golden-brown color, the garlic cloves were also done. I served. There were none left to photograph.

On Passover, when it’s one potato, two potato, three potato at almost every meal, that easy but interesting recipe might come in handy.

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