The most essential kitchen non-essentials


Maybe I watch too many cooking shows, but it seems like TV chefs have the best tools and gadgets. Of course, they have the same essentials that most of us have in our kitchens, like pots and pans, knives, colanders and blenders, but it’s the items that aren’t essential that make cooking easier and more fun. Those are what catch my eye and make me run out to the store. Now I don’t see how I lived without them.

Mise en place bowls

A French culinary term meaning “everything in its place,” mise en place bowls help you separate and organize your cooking ingredients. They free up room on your cutting board after you’ve done all your chopping, and having those little bowls holding all your ingredients actually makes it easier to follow recipes. Another advantage: Your kitchen counter becomes Instagram-ready. (Set of eight at Williams-Sonoma, $24.95)

Microplane zester/grater

Would you believe these graters originally were used by woodworkers to smooth wood? Now they grate lemon and lime zest, ginger, garlic and even hard cheeses in seconds. (Target, $14.95)

Salt cellar

Instead of constantly pouring kosher salt from a big box every time a recipe calls for it, use a salt cellar to store your salt. Its small profile takes up very little room on your kitchen counter, and salt is always conveniently at hand. Just spoon out a little, or grab a pinch as needed. (Acacia salt cellar at Crate & Barrel, $9.95)

Silicone garlic peeler

You already may know the trick of peeling garlic cloves by smashing them with the flat blade of a chef’s knife, but if you want to keep your cloves intact without being crushed, a silicone garlic peeler is a miracle worker. Just place a clove in the silicone tube, roll the tube with your hand, and the peel comes right off. (Penneli garlic peeler at Amazon, $9.03)

Silpat baking mat

A must for baking cookies or anything gooey or sticky, this silicone mat provides better results than lining a cookie sheet with foil, and you don’t even have to grease the pan. And here’s a bonus idea: When I’m rolling pastry or pizza dough on a piece of parchment paper, I place a Silpat mat underneath the paper to keep it from sliding. (Bed, Bath & Beyond, $24.99)

Plastic food-safe gloves

Now here’s something I wish more TV chefs would use. Notice how they’ll chop a raw chicken and then, without washing their hands, move on to something else? How do they not get food poisoning? To avoid cross-contamination, I always wear disposable plastic gloves that are rated safe for food handling. They also come in handy for tossing salads and massaging kale leaves.  (Smart & Final, $9.99)


Jonathan Fong is the author of “Walls That Wow,” “Flowers That Wow” and “Parties That Wow,” and host of “Style With a Smile” on YouTube. You  can see more of his do-it-yourself  projects at jonathanfongstyle.com.

Photo of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz and her husband Fred. Photo courtesy of Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz.

Sharing important memories, recipes


My mother-in-law, Sarah, survived Auschwitz, but at age 76, cancer of the pancreas did her in. Being a physician, I was involved, along with my husband, Fred, in her medical care during the final months. One afternoon, Fred and I attended an oncology appointment with Sarah.

“Mrs. Davidowitz, tell me, when you were in the camps, were there any toxins in the air where you worked?” Dr. Levin asked. 

He threw out the question, seemingly comfortable discussing the concentration camps. The office, cluttered with books, charts and diplomas, smelled of cleaning solution. My mother-in-law, barely 5 feet tall, sat in an oversized chair across the desk from Dr. Levin.

“Oh no, the munitions factory where I worked was clean, very clean,” Sarah said. She peered at the doctor, hoping he would like her response.

“Did you smell chemicals in the air?” asked the doctor.

“No chemicals,” she said.

“Do you remember names of any materials they used in the factory?” he gently prodded.

“Names, I don’t know.  But there was a guard there, one of the bosses. He let me sleep when I was sick and no one was watching. He was good to me,” she said.

“Uh-huh,” Dr. Levin said.

I was surprised that Sarah spoke kindly toward her captors at that moment. She never said much about the camps, but once in awhile something seeped out. When my husband was 11, he was profoundly disappointed when she refused to allow him to join the Boy Scouts. It was only in later years that Sarah told him the uniforms reminded her of the Hitler Youth organization.

This discussion then, was a surprise. I thought that bitterness would emerge, but Sarah chose to emphasize an act of kindness. Dr. Levin surely saw many reactions to impending death. Maybe this was one of them.

Sarah and I didn’t always see eye-to-eye. When I first met her, I was 33 years old, a professional woman, a physician.  Her son Fred, born in a displaced persons camp in Bamberg, Germany, was the first child of an extended family dismantled by the Holocaust. He was the phoenix that rose from the ashes.

One Friday night back then after Shabbat dinner, we sat around Sarah and Irving’s table with Fred’s three children from his first marriage. Fred was divorced. He and I were seriously dating. I thought, as a successful Jewish doctor, I was a good catch for their son. Sarah and I cleared plates and set out teacups and pastries for coffee and dessert. Sweet smelling cookies enticed the children to sit a bit longer.

“So Sherry, how much do you work?” asked Sarah, eyeing me as she spoke.

“About 40 hours a week. It’s taken time to build up a psychiatric practice. Now it’s going well,” I said.

“Uh-huh. Do you cook?” she asked.

“Yeah, some,” I said.

“How’s your brisket recipe?” she asked. 

“I don’t have one. I don’t like brisket. Too fatty,” I said.

“Oh, I see. Freddie, he loves brisket,” Sarah said.

I hadn’t planned on defending my cooking. Maybe I didn’t make a brisket but if anyone needed help with medical problems, then I was your girl. Sarah shifted her gaze to her grandchildren, who squirmed in their seats waiting for dessert.

“Here you go, bubbelehs. Rainbow cookies,” said Sarah to the children. She handed them a box of multicolored cookies, a traditional favorite among the grandchildren.

Now, nine years later, Sarah sat helplessly in her chair facing Dr. Levin and a terminal cancer diagnosis. I still believed she thought of me as a driven professional woman, capable of husband neglect. Fred and I had married and were raising our three young daughters. We shared the raising of Fred’s older children with his ex-wife.

The next time I saw her, Sarah was home under the care of hospice. It was December, the month of her death. She appeared weak, motionless under the covers. Irving slept in another room away from the IVs and the caretaker. Our oldest daughter, Andrea, having just turned 7, joined me for an overnight with Sarah, along with birds of paradise we picked from our garden.

Bubbe, we brought flowers,” Andrea said. She placed them in Sarah’s shrunken hands.

“Beautiful,” Sarah said. “Thank you, a paradise for me. Andrea, bubbeleh, go to the kitchen. Zayde has rainbow cookies.”

Andrea hurried off, looking for Irving and the cookies. Then Sarah turned to me. She took my hand.

“Thank you for coming with Andrea,” she said.

“I’m happy to be here,” I said.

I didn’t know what else to say. We both knew that her end loomed ahead.

“Ah, me too. So Sherry, do me a favor,” she said. “See that Irving takes care of his health.”

“I will,” I said.

Then she looked me straight in the eye.

“And, I want you should have my brisket recipe. Freddie loves brisket,” Sarah said.

“Thank you, Sarah,” I said, wiping away tears.

Sherry Mendelson Davidowitz is a psychiatrist and writer who has written
for Jewish Women’s Theatre and currently is  writing a memoir.

Simply perfect grilled chicken, sure fire summer fun


It's hot, you're busy and company's coming for dinner. Nothing's easier than tossing some chicken on the grill. Am I right?

Not at all! Think about it: When was the last time you had a properly cooked piece of chicken from somebody's backyard grill?

“Never” is my guess — even from your own. Don't take it personally. The fact is that hardly anybody knows how to grill chicken that isn’t coal-blackened or outright charred in some places or practically raw in others.

The trouble is the chicken. While it’s a favorite choice for grilling, especially in summer, the how-tos are not obvious. Chicken is nothing like burgers or hot dogs, pork chops or rib steaks; it's tricky to deal with the fat under the skin that drips onto the fire and causes flare-ups. What makes matters worse is marinade, which causes the grill to smoke heavily, turning your chicken gray instead of enticingly browned.

On top of that, it's tough to determine when chicken is done all the way through; it always seems to take longer than it should. So you pull it off too soon and end up with (gulp) pink, undercooked chicken.

So who am I to give advice? Well, I wrote a cookbook all about cooking every cut of grass-fed beef, and now I'm tackling poultry. Listen, I've had my own share of chicken troubles in the past. The worst was when I served underdone chicken to a Muslim exchange student who told me that it was against his religion to eat it. That low point kicked off a self-improvement project: learning the techniques for grilling chicken right.

Top 5 grilling tips

1. Use bone-in, skin-on chicken pieces. Grilling experts highly recommend thighs, and I agree that they are the moistest, but legs, breasts and wings also benefit when the bones and skin are left intact, as they help to insulate the meat from overcooking — and they make it taste much better. (However, if you're committed to boneless, skinless chicken breasts, the techniques you practice with the remaining tips will help you master those, too, with practice.) Pasture-raised chickens, especially those from heritage breeds, are not only tastier but also more sustainable than factory-farmed birds, so seek them out in your area at the farmers market or local grocer.

2. Season the chicken well with salt and save the marinades for after cooking. Most people make their first mistake before they even fire up the grill: They don't season the chicken enough. With your best-quality kosher or sea salt, sprinkle all sides of the chicken pieces as if you're dusting them finely with confectioner's sugar. Everyone loves marinated chicken, but submerging your chicken in any sauce — even barbecue sauce — will bring you more cooking complications, not more flavor.

3. Preheat your grill to medium-high heat and control those flames. Unlike other foods that respond well to intense heat, chicken calls for moderate or medium-high heat (between 350 F and 400 F). Whether using a charcoal or gas grill, test the heat patterns by placing your open palm about 5 inches above the grate. If you can hold it there for 5 seconds, you're in range. Also note where the heat is less intense. In the event of a flare-up, immediately move the chicken to these cooler parts of the grill to prevent charring.

4. Brown chicken pieces skin side down for longer than you think you should. Always cook the chicken skin side down first and plan to leave it there for the next 20 minutes or more — or until it is nearly all the way cooked. Why? You'll end up with crispy and beautifully browned skin (remember, it insulates the meat), plus the chicken will be cooked evenly to the bone. In general, it takes 25 to at least 30 minutes to cook bone-in chicken at this temperature, so aim for cooking it skin side down for three-quarters of the total cooking time — 20 to 25 minutes — before flipping and finishing it on the second side.

5. Use your grill like an oven. After laying the chicken pieces on the grate, put on the lid. Now your grill will radiate the heat above as well as below, which is exactly what chicken needs to get cooked all the way through. The lid also controls air flow and keeps the flames on a charcoal grill from getting out of hand. Dripping fat will likely incite flare-ups, so monitor the cooking and move the chicken away from flames to those cooler areas of the grill whenever necessary. If you're at all uncertain that the chicken is done, insert the tip of an instant-read thermometer close to the bone or just cut into the center for a visual check.

Foolproof finishing strategies

Once your chicken is seasoned and fully cooked to an enticing golden brown, let it rest near the heat for 15 minutes or so. Grilled chicken doesn't need much embellishment, although cilantro pesto, peach chutney or avocado salsa — or any other fresh and tangy sauce — will liven it up. [aside]

But what about those pesky marinades? Think wings, which are first deep-fried and then tossed with sauce. The same principle applies to grilled chicken: Cook it well first, then brush or toss it with any homemade or bottled marinade or sauce. Let it warm-marinate until ready to serve or put it back on the grill for a few minutes to marry the sauce to the chicken as it reheats.

Now you're the expert.

Living off the land


When I think of the original baby boomer, I think of our friend Jay Farbstein. He is an architect specializing in the design of large government buildings, and he lives on his family’s original property off Sunset Boulevard, in a rural area of Pacific Palisades.

He grew up helping his father tend the family vegetable garden, and has maintained it for many years.

The first time we met was at a dinner where the subject was food and wine, and after meeting Jay and his wife, Bonnie, we realized that we all love to cook.

After talking about his garden that night, we were surprised when there was a knock on our door the next day, and he arrived with a care package of seasonal vegetables.

A few months later, we were invited to visit the couple and, as we drove down their driveway, the first thing we came to was the vegetable garden, which is about 2,400 square feet.

At the entrance of the garden, there is a cast aluminum memorial plaque dedicated to his father, Milton, that was installed in 2007. The area is surrounded by a fence covered with passion fruit vines, and when the first fruit is in season we often visit Jay and help with the harvest. 

Nearby is an 8-by-12-foot greenhouse that was a birthday present from Bonnie. It is stocked with seedlings that mature much faster there than in the outside garden, and they are replanted as needed.

For example, the cucumbers mature a month ahead of those planted in the outside garden, and he picks the chili peppers year-round. In the greenhouse, parsley, chives and basil are available all winter, and early tomatoes are an extra bonus.

Recently, we were invited to Jay and Bonnie’s for a dinner. We dined on dishes that featured a variety of seasonal veggies from his garden: Fresh English Pea Soup, Beet and Burrata Salad, and Stuffed Squash Blossoms.

At the root of all of this is Jay’s fantastically green thumb, and he has a number of suggestions for fellow boomers who may want to join him in his hobby — starting with the tools of the trade. There is a special gardening stool that helps avoid bending over a lot. It can be adjusted to sit close to the ground or higher — either 4 inches or 1 1/2 feet off the ground — depending on what you are doing. It has handles and can easily be turned over to flip it upside down. In the future, Jay said he will put in raised beds, to make the work even easier.

He also keeps his garden packed with lots of compost. He uses the leaves that fall off the trees for compost and adds them to the soil.
If you have a gardener, be sure to let him do the digging — your back will thank you. Still, Jay insists on doing all the planting, weeding and picking himself.

Jay plants lettuces, carrots, beets and peas in the fall to harvest during the winter and spring. Then, in the spring, he puts in his summer veggies — tomatoes, cucumbers, zucchini, beans and peppers — which he harvests all summer and into the fall. Which means it’s always a good time for gardening!

FRESH ENGLISH PEA SOUP

  • 1/4 cup unsalted butter or olive oil
  • 1 onion, thinly sliced
  • 3 cups vegetable stock
  • 6 cups fresh peas, shelled
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Crème fraiche and chives for garnish

 

In a sauté pan, heat butter and sauté onion until soft. In a pot, heat vegetable stock and add peas and cook (do not overcook) until tender. Transfer to a blender and puree until smooth. Push through a sieve into pot and add salt and pepper to taste.

Chill before serving, ladle into bowls or stem glasses and garnish with crème fraiche and minced chives. 

Makes 12 servings.

BEET AND BURRATA SALAD

  • 6 fresh beets
  • 12 lettuce leaves
  • 1 pound burrata cheese
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pistachio nuts for garnish

 

Place beets in a pot, add water to cover and boil until beets are tender when pierced with a fork. Remove beets, peel and cool. 

Slice beets into 1/4-inch slices. Arrange lettuce leaves on serving plates, top with a scoop of burrata cheese, arrange beet slices on top and sprinkle with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper, and garnish with pistachio nuts. 

Makes 12 servings.

STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS 

  • 12 squash blossoms with zucchini still attached 
  • 1 pound fresh ricotta cheese
  • 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • 2 eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 1⁄4 cup olive oil

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

Carefully open blossoms wide; remove the pistils from inside the zucchini blossom and discard. (The pistil is the fuzzy, yellow floret found in the center of the squash blossom.) Set aside blossoms (keep zucchini attached throughout).

To prepare the stuffing: In a large bowl, beat the ricotta, Parmesan, eggs and salt and pepper until smooth. Taste the mixture; it should be highly seasoned. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

To fill the blossoms, the easiest way is to spoon the filling into a large pastry bag, but a small spoon also will work. Fill the clean blossoms about three-quarters full,
and gently squeeze the petals together over the top of the filling to seal. 

Brush a 10-by-14-inch baking dish with olive oil and arrange the stuffed zucchini flowers in the dish. Sprinkle the blossoms with salt, pepper and olive oil. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake, in preheated oven, until the cheese is puffy and the juices that run from the blossoms begin to bubble. 

Makes 12 servings. 


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of 10 cookbooks, including “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Dishes inspired by Wolfgang Puck are delicious and healthful


I have known Wolfgang Puck since he was about 19 or 20 years old and he was working as a chef at Ma Maison restaurant in West Hollywood. I met him at a cooking class, probably the first one he had ever taught.

I will never forget what happened when he rolled out the pastry dough for a raspberry tart. He confidently flattened the dough around a rolling pin and, in one fluid motion, watched it totally fall apart. Then he looked at us and said, calmly, “If this ever happens to you …” and he proceeded to just mold it by hand into the tart shell instead of starting over. 

A longtime fan of Jewish cooking — Puck, a Catholic, has hosted seders and was married to a Jewish woman for 20 years — he inspired me to teach cooking classes using the same method of honesty and creativity that has made him famous. 

Puck went on to open his first restaurant, Spago, on Sunset Boulevard in 1982, and one of the dishes he specialized in was Smoked Salmon Pizza, my all-time favorite. Could a pizza be more Jewish? To make the pizza ahead, bake it for just 5 minutes, then, just before serving, complete the baking and top the pizza with smoked salmon. 

The renowned chef has inspired me in other ways, too. Consider his most recent cookbook, “Wolfgang Puck Makes It Healthy,” which features the methods he uses to prepare nutritious foods. The book includes an inspiring exercise program to follow, and there are photos of Puck, now 66, exercising with his young sons, Oliver and Alexander.

When thinking of healthy cooking, I always include soups and salads that are easy to make. I have adapted several recipes from Puck’s book that can be made in advance, stored in the freezer and served when needed. 

For example, a couple of months ago, my son-in-law, Jay, brought me a large bag of carrots from his garden, and I made a delicious carrot soup, which is similar to the recipe in Puck’s book. It contains only three ingredients — carrots, onions and garlic — and takes only 20 minutes to make. 

His Griddled Potato Pancakes topped with sliced smoked fish are delicious, crispy and healthy. Created simply, the grated potato pancakes are cooked on a nonstick griddle, then topped with smoked fish and low-fat sour cream.

Finally, Puck’s recipe for Vegetable Pizza is really a salad on top of a pizza — a great concept and a meal in itself. What a great way to eat a lot of vegetables! Feel free to vary the vegetable toppings with whatever looks great at the farmers market.

SMOKED SALMON PIZZA

  • Pizza Dough (recipe follows)
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or creme fraiche 
  • 1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced
  • 3 to 4 ounces smoked salmon
  • 1/2 cup chopped chives
  • Freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 4 heaping tablespoons salmon roe (optional)
     

Prepare Pizza Dough and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 F. 

Divide dough into 4 balls and, on a lightly floured surface, roll out dough into a 9- or 10-inch circle, with the outer edge a little thicker than the inner circle. Brush a round 12- to 14-inch rimless pizza baking pan with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Carefully lift dough onto prepared pizza pan, poke holes in the dough with a fork to prevent bubbling, and bake in prepared oven until golden brown, 10 to 12 minutes. 

Remove dough from oven and set it on a cutting board. Let dough cool, then use a knife or the back of a spoon to spread the sour cream, covering the inner circle, and sprinkle with dill. Arrange the slices of salmon so that they cover the entire pizza, slightly overlapping the raised rim. Sprinkle the chopped chives  and pepper over the salmon. Using a pizza cutter or a large sharp knife, cut the pizza into 8 or 10 slices. If you like, spoon a little salmon roe in the center of each slice. Serve immediately. Repeat with remaining dough. 

Makes 4 pizzas.

Smoked salmon pizza

Smoked salmon pizzaRECIPE: http://bit.ly/1Svxx1D

Posted by Jewish Journal on Monday, March 7, 2016

 

 

PIZZA DOUGH

  • 2 packages active dry yeast
  • Pinch of sugar
  • 1 1/4 cups warm water
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 3 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon salt

 

Dissolve the yeast with the sugar in 1/2 cup of the water and set aside until foamy. 

In a large mixing bowl, combine the remaining 3/4 cup water, the olive oil and yeast mixture. Stir in the flour and salt 1 cup at a time, until the dough begins to come together into a rough ball. Spoon onto a floured board and knead until smooth and elastic. Place the dough in an oiled bowl, oil its top, cover, and set in a warm place to rise for about 1 hour, until doubled in bulk. Or prepare pizza dough and cover with a towel until ready. 

Makes 4 pizzas.

VEGETABLE SALAD ON A PIZZA

  • Pizza Dough (see recipe above)
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup eggplant, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup zucchini, cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup yellow summer squash, cut  into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1/2 cup each red and yellow peppers,  cut into 1/2-inch dice
  • 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes 
  • 2 teaspoons sugar
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

 

Prepare Pizza Dough and set aside.

Preheat oven to 450 F.

Heat a large heavy skillet over medium heat, add olive oil. Add eggplant, zucchini, summer squash, peppers, cherry tomatoes and sauté, stirring frequently until vegetables begin to turn tender, 5 to 7 minutes. Season with sugar, salt and pepper to taste. Continue to sauté until tomatoes soften. Transfer to a bowl and set aside to cool.

Roll out pizza, and poke holes in the dough with a fork to prevent bubbling. Top with sautéed vegetables and bake until pizza is nicely brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. 

Makes 4 pizzas.

CARROT SOUP

  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds carrots, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and
  • mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup fresh flat-leaf parsley, finely minced (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • Garnish with grated Parmesan cheese, optional

 

In a small stockpot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add carrots and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the carrots are tender when pierced with the tip of a small, sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked carrots and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the garlic paste and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Add salt and pepper to taste. Garnish with grated Parmesan. 

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

GRIDDLED POTATO PANCAKE WITH SMOKED FISH

  • 1 pound russet baking potatoes
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 large egg, beaten
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt, add as needed
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 cup low-fat sour cream
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh dill
  • 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
  • 1/2 pound smoked sturgeon, trout or salmon, skin and bones removed, thinly sliced
  • 1/4 cup salmon roe for garnish, optional
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives for garnish
  • 1 lemon cut into wedges

 

Preheat oven to 200 F, its lowest setting. Set a baking dish in the oven.

Line a large bowl with a clean kitchen towel.

Using the fine hole of a box grater, shredder or a food processer fitted with a grating disc, grate the potatoes. Transfer to the prepared bowl and grate in the onion. Twist the towel around the potato mixture and squeeze out as much liquid as possible. 

Transfer the mixture to a clean bowl, add egg, baking powder, salt and pepper and stir with a fork to blend.

Heat a large nonstick griddle or skillet over medium-high heat. Brush with olive oil. Using a tablespoon, carefully place spoonfuls of the potato mixture on the griddle, spacing them about 1 inch apart and pressing down on the mixture to flatten to a thickness of no more than 1/4 inch. Cook pancakes until golden brown and crispy, 3 to 5 minutes per side. Transfer pancakes to the baking dish in the oven to keep them warm while you cook the remaining pancakes.  

In a small bowl, stir together the sour cream, dill and lemon juice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. To serve, transfer potato pancakes to a warm platter or individual serving plate. Spoon a little sour cream mixture onto each pancake and top with smoked fish. Add salmon roe and garnish with chives. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

Makes about 24 servings.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Thanksgiving: Vegan and vegetarian dishes


In some ways, I’m pretty traditional when it comes to my family’s Thanksgiving Day meal: I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food for the holiday. 

Who doesn’t enjoy a handsome bronzed turkey with lots of stuffing, an appealing array of relishes and a lavish dessert buffet? We pour apple cider for the children, a robust red wine for the grown-ups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast. 

It should be noted, though, that not everyone is interested in the traditional turkey. Quite a few guests these days are either vegetarian or vegan, and so we always try to have a menu that will fill their plates and satisfy their appetites. That is why the side dishes are so important.

Our Thanksgiving dinner will begin with bowls of Butternut Squash Soup, garnished with my homemade salsa and served with toasted pumpkin bread. My vegan grandson, Zane, loves my Carrot-Parsnip Slaw so much he can almost eat the whole batch, so it will definitely be on our Thanksgiving menu in a double portion.

It’s never a bad idea to serve a seasonal veggie, and  because there is always a colorful selection of squash at the local farmers market, it offers the perfect solution. Just cut it into cubes and sauté with onions and tomatoes. For my husband, Marvin, it is his favorite holiday dish.

For dessert this year, I will give our daughter-in-law, Amy, the baker in our family, a recipe for a Vegan Pumpkin Spice Bundt Cake to make. I also hope to surprise everyone with scoops of homemade Nondairy Coconut Gelato to serve on the side — and offer them one more reason to give thanks!

BUTTERNUT SQUASH SOUP

  • Salsa (recipe follows)
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted margarine, melted
  • 1 large onion, chopped
  • 2 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces (about 6 cups) 
  • 5 cups vegetable stock or broth
  • 2 large garlic cloves, minced and mashed with 1/2 teaspoon salt (optional)
  • 2 teaspoons peeled and grated fresh ginger
  • 1/3 cup finely minced fresh flat-leaf parsley, (optional)
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

Prepare Salsa. Set aside.

In a small stock pot, mix oil and margarine. Add onion and cook until tender and translucent, about 10 minutes. Add squash and stock. Bring the liquid to a boil, reduce heat and simmer until the squash is tender when pierced with the tip of a small sharp knife.

Transfer the cooked squash and broth to a food processor or blender and puree in batches. Return the mixture to the pot and stir in the mashed garlic and ginger. Simmer briefly and stir in parsley. Taste and correct seasoning with salt and pepper. Garnish with Salsa.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SALSA

  • 2 large tomatoes, sliced 
  • 1/2 large red onion, diced 
  • 1/2 to 1 cup minced fresh cilantro 
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice 
  • Salt to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine tomatoes, red onion and cilantro and mix well.  Add lemon juice and salt to taste.  

Makes about 3 cups.

CARROT-PARSNIP SLAW

  • 3/4 cup mayonnaise (or vegan substitute)
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons sugar 
  • 10 medium carrots, peeled and grated
  • 4 medium parsnips, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup raisins, plumped in grape juice
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

 

In a medium bowl, combine the mayonnaise, lemon juice and sugar and blend well. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to use.

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, parsnips and raisins. Add the mayonnaise mixture and toss until completely combined. Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until ready to serve.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

FARMERS MARKET SAUTEED SQUASH

  • 3 pounds assorted squash (zucchini, yellow neck, summer squash)
  • 1/4 to 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 large tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh basil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate seeds

 

Cut squash into 1/2-inch cubes. In a frying pan, add oil and sauté onion until soft. Add squash, tomato and basil, and continue to sauté until desired texture, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add salt and pepper to taste. Just before serving, transfer to a heated bowl. Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

NONDAIRY COCONUT GELATO

  • 2 (13- to 15-ounce) cans full-fat coconut milk
  • 3 tablespoons cornstarch
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup, honey or sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract

 

Shake the cans of coconut milk thoroughly to incorporate the layers that form in the can. Pour 1/2 cup of coconut milk into a medium saucepan over low to warm heat. Add the cornstarch and whisk until the cornstarch is thoroughly dissolved.

Pour the remaining coconut milk into a large pot, add maple syrup and salt, and warm the coconut milk on medium-low heat, stirring until the maple syrup completely dissolves, about 1 to 2 minutes.

Pour the cornstarch mixture into the warm coconut milk while whisking gently. Heat until the gelato mixture is thick. Pour into a large bowl, and mix in the vanilla extract. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 4 hours.

Pour the mixture into the canister of an ice cream maker, and freeze according to manufacturer’s directions. 

Makes about 6 cups.

VEGAN PUMPKIN SPICE BUNDT CAKE WITH MAPLE GLAZE

  • Maple Glaze (recipe follows)
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 cup spelt flour
  • 3/4 cup coconut sugar
  • 1/2 cup granulated sugar
  • 3 teaspoons pumpkin pie spice
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 (15-ounce) can solid-pack pumpkin
  • 1/2 cup coconut oil
  • 1 1/2 cups unsweetened almond milk
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla extract
  • 2 tablespoons white vinegar

 

Prepare Maple Glaze. Set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Oil and flour a 10-inch bundt pan.

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, sugars, pumpkin pie spice, baking soda and salt.

In a separate large bowl, whisk together the pumpkin, coconut oil, almond milk, vanilla extract and vinegar. Add to dry ingredients, whisking just until combined.

Pour into prepared pan and bake for 45 minutes to 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the cake comes out clean. Let cool for 15 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a wire rack to cool.

Drizzle Maple Glaze over completely cooled cake and let set for 10 minutes. Slice and serve.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

MAPLE GLAZE

  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1/4 cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 teaspoon coconut oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Up to 2 teaspoons cold water

 

Whisk together powdered sugar, maple syrup, coconut oil and cinnamon. If it is too thick to drizzle over the cake, add 1/2 teaspoon cold water at a time.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com

Recipes from Amelia Saltsman: Falling for the flavors of Autumn


For a profile on Amelia Saltsman, visit our Hollywood Jew blog.

GREEN OLIVES WITH ZA’ATAR AND CITRUS

Photo by Staci Valentine

In late autumn, new-crop olives abound. They are often fresh-cured with their buttery flavor and meaty texture intact, making them a perfect partner to a marinade of warm olive oil, garlic, citrus peel and za’atar, the Middle Eastern spice blend of wild hyssop, ground sumac, sesame seeds and salt. French Lucques or bright green Sicilian Castelvetrano olives are also delicious here. (If your olives are too briny, soak them in water for 15 minutes first to remove some of the saltiness.) Olives are an evergreen option for any mezze table. In summer, use Valencia oranges and Eureka lemons; in winter, navel oranges and Meyer lemons. Be sure to have country bread or pita on hand to sop up the seasoned oil.

(pareve/vegan)

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
3/4 pound green olives
2 tablespoons za’atar
1 large clove garlic, sliced 
1 dried árbol chili 
1 lemon
1 orange

In a medium saucepan, warm the olive oil over medium-low heat until it liquefies and shimmers. Add the olives, reduce the heat to low, and warm through. Remove from the heat, add the za’atar, garlic and chili, and toss to coat. Using a swivel-blade vegetable peeler, and working over the pan, remove the zest from the lemon and the orange in long, wide strips, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the pan. Stir to mix, and serve warm or at room temperature. Cover and refrigerate any leftover olives. Bring to room temperature or reheat to serve. 

Makes 2 cups.

OVEN-BRAISED ROMANIAN CHICKEN 

Use the best chicken you can buy because this miraculous braise is all about the bird. There’s not much for the chicken to hide behind. My grandmother Mina added only onions and salt to the pot, although you would never believe it from the gravy that formed during the slow cooking. Everyone in my mother’s family still makes some version of this dish. Generations in Israel and the United States have variously added cumin, paprika, black pepper, garlic, bay leaves, and/or potatoes to the original. My cousins, my mother, my daughter Rebecca, and my son Adam cook this on top of the stove. My daughter Jessica and I prefer the leave-it-and-go oven method. Either way, serve it with something to sop up the juices: basic white rice, steamed potatoes, shmaltz-roasted potatoes, latkes, egg noodles or a nice challah. 

(meat)

1 chicken (4 pounds), cut into serving pieces, or 6 whole chicken legs (thigh and drumstick)
Kosher or sea salt (sel gris is nice here as a cooking salt) and freshly ground black pepper
2 to 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
3 large onions, thinly sliced
4 bay leaves

Preheat the oven to 300 F. Pat the chicken very dry and season with salt and pepper. In a large, wide, ovenproof pot fitted with a lid, heat the oil over medium to medium-high heat and brown the chicken. Work in batches to avoid crowding the pot. Start the pieces skin side down and turn each piece once the skin is deep golden, about 7 minutes. Transfer the chicken pieces to a platter.

Pour off all but 2 tablespoons of the fat in the pot. Add the onions and a little salt and cook over medium heat, stirring from time to time and scraping up any brown bits, until the onions are pale golden, about 10 minutes. 

Scatter the bay leaves in the pot. Return the chicken, skin side up, to the pot, nestling the pieces to fit. Cover and braise in the oven until the chicken is exceptionally tender and juices at least 1 inch deep have formed in the bottom of the pot, 2 to 3 hours. Check the pot from time to time. If it seems dry, add a little water to prevent sticking. You don’t want to boil the chicken; you want it to stew in its own juices. 

Serve the chicken hot with the pot juices. (The dish can be made a day or two ahead, covered, and refrigerated, then reheated on the stove or in a 350 F oven.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GVETCH: ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE

Photo by Morgan Lieberman

Every Mediterranean-influenced cuisine embraces the magical late-summer marriage of tomatoes, eggplants, peppers and squash — ratatouille, caponata and now gvetch, the Romanian entry. Although Romania is most often associated with its Slavic neighbors, it was once part of the Ottoman Empire, and its cuisine has a distinct eastern Mediterranean quality to it. There are endless gvetch variations, some with meat and others with a dozen different vegetables. My family has always stuck to the classic Provençal ingredients. Paprika is a Romanian note; the cumin may have found its way into the dish during my family’s three generations in melting-pot Israel.

My aunt Sarah taught me her easy stove-top gvetch; I like my oven variation even better. Roasting the vegetables concentrates their flavors and reduces the juices to a thick, caramelized sauce. Use meaty Roma tomatoes or another Italian sauce variety, such as Costoluto Genovese, for the best results. Ten minutes of active work yields a big batch you can use in a multitude of ways, and, its flavors improve over a few days.

(pareve/vegan)

2 pounds fleshy sauce tomatoes, such as Roma or Costoluto Genovese
4 to 6 medium-size green or white (Lebanese) zucchini or marrow squash (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
2 medium eggplants (about 1 1/2 pounds total)
3 or 4 sweet red peppers
1 or 2 onions, peeled
6 to 8 large garlic cloves, peeled
1 tablespoon sweet or hot paprika, or a combination 
1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 bay leaves
Extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper 

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

Roughly chop the tomatoes, zucchini, eggplants, sweet peppers and onions into about 1-inch pieces. Transfer the vegetables to a large roasting pan (about 12 by 15 inches) along with the garlic cloves, paprika, cumin, bay leaves, a good glug of olive oil (3 to 4 tablespoons), about 2 teaspoons salt and several grinds of pepper. Toss to mix, then spread the mixture in an even layer in the pan. It should be about 2 inches deep.

Roast without stirring until the vegetables are very tender and browned in places and the tomatoes have melted into a thick sauce, about 1 hour. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

ARUGULA WITH FRESH GOLDEN BARHI DATES, DRIED APRICOTS, NECTARINES AND SUMAC

In date-growing regions, the harvest begins in late summer or early autumn. Barhi dates are the first variety to be brought to market, still on the stem, a beautiful shade of soft gold, and crisp. Their flavor hovers between sweet and astringent. Golden Barhis, known as “fresh” or khalal, the second of four stages of ripeness, are lovely with late-season nectarines or mangoes in a distinctive early-autumn salad. Any astringency in the fresh dates is tamed by the use of orange juice, sweet nut oil and tart sumac in the dressing. Fresh Barhi dates are available at Middle Eastern markets, California farmers markets and by mail order for a few brief weeks in the fall. They are a rare treat, but now you know what to do with them. The basic structure of this salad lends itself to many seasonal combinations of dried and fresh fruits. Try Fuyu persimmons and pears in place of the dates and nectarines, and contrast their sweetness with additional tart dried fruits and early mandarins.

(pareve/vegan)

1/2 pound crisp golden Barhi dates (about 16) 
1/2 cup moist dried apricots (about 16; 2 to 3 ounces) 
2 ripe nectarines or juicy pears (about 1/2 pound total)
1/2 pound arugula
1 to 2 tablespoons nut oil, such as walnut, pecan, almond or pistachio
1 Valencia orange
Finishing salt, such as fleur de sel or Maldon sea salt
Ground sumac 

Cut the dates in half lengthwise, remove the pits, then cut each half into thin crescents and place in a salad bowl. Use kitchen scissors to snip apricots into strips and add to the bowl. Halve the nectarines or pears and pit the nectarines or core the pears. Cut into thin crescents and add to the bowl along with the arugula.

Drizzle the oil to taste over the salad and toss lightly. Using a five-hole zester, and working over the salad bowl, remove the zest from the orange in long strands, getting both the zest and the spray of citrus oils into the bowl. Give the salad a healthy squeeze of orange juice and season to taste with salt and sumac. Toss the salad and sprinkle with additional sumac for color and added tartness. 

Makes 8 servings.

KITCHEN NOTE: To quickly ripen khalal-stage Barhi dates for another use, freeze them for at least 24 hours. When thawed, they will have turned light brown and have become soft and sweet. This is the same freezing technique that works with astringent Hachiya persimmons, the oblong variety that must be meltingly ripe to be eaten.

SEMOLINA AND WALNUT OIL CAKE WITH COFFEE HAWAIJ

Coffee hawaij is a Yemenite spice blend of ginger, cardamom and cinnamon used to flavor coffee (not to be confused with savory hawaij for soups). Ground, it’s great for baking (you can create your own blend, as noted in ingredient list). Together with coarse semolina and walnut oil, it makes this blond loaf unique. Walnut oil is a key ingredient here, so use a well-crafted, untoasted one with no off flavors. Coarse semolina is available at Greek markets; regular Cream of Wheat can be substituted. To make a nut-free version of this cake, use another oil, such as avocado, and omit the walnuts. 

(pareve)

Mild oil, such as grapeseed or safflower, for the pan
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
2/3 cup coarse semolina
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 teaspoons coffee hawaij or 1 1/2 teaspoons each ground ginger and brown cardamom and 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup untoasted walnut oil
1 cup sugar 
3 eggs
1/3 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Oil a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan.

Sift together flour, semolina, baking powder, hawaij and salt. In an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, beat together walnut oil and sugar on medium speed until thoroughly blended and creamy, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition until mixture is thick and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes total. On low speed, add the flour mixture in three batches, mixing after each addition just until blended. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle the nuts evenly over the top.

Bake the cake until the top is golden, springs to the touch, and a toothpick inserted into the center comes out almost clean, about 45 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes. Run a thin-bladed knife or spatula around the inside edge of the pan to loosen the cake sides. Invert the pan onto the rack, lift off the pan, and turn the cake top side up. Let cool completely before serving.

Makes one loaf cake, 12 servings.

ROASTED AUTUMN FRUIT

Photo by Staci Valentine

This is my go-to autumn dessert, perfect for all the season’s holidays, whether served on its own or as an accompaniment to cakes or ice cream. Roasting fall fruit brings out the spicy notes we associate with desserts this time of year. And it’s very forgiving: just about any combination of seasonal fruit will do, and no special techniques, precise measuring  or timing is required. This impressive dish is naturally gluten- and dairy-free. Here’s one of my favorite combinations to get you started.

(pareve)

4 pounds mixed apples and Bosc or Anjou pears (about 6 apples and 3 or 4 large pears), including some  firm-fleshed, such as Pippin, and some melting-flesh apple varieties, such as Golden Delicious
2 Fuyu persimmons 
1 to 2 pints figs (about 3/4 pound)
2 cups Concord, Autumn Royale or wine grapes
2 ounces dried fruit, such as plums, apricots or apples, snipped into small pieces
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup off-dry red or white wine or a muscat dessert wine, such as Beaumes de Venise
Few thyme sprigs (optional)

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Peel the apples, pears and persimmons, if desired. Halve and core them and cut into large wedges or chunks. Cut the figs in half lengthwise. Place all the fruit, including the grapes and the dried fruit, in a large ovenproof pan and use your hands to mix them gently. It’s OK if you need to mound the fruit to fit. In a small saucepan, combine the honey and wine, warm over low heat, and then pour evenly over all the fruit. Toss in the thyme sprigs, if desired. 

Roast the fruit until it is bubbly and well browned in places, about 45 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

POMEGRANATE-ORANGE GELÉE 

Photo by Staci Valentine

Gelatin desserts deserve a comeback. This easy, from-scratch gelée has a luscious silky texture and jewel-tone appeal. It is a refreshing finish to a rich meal, a beautiful autumn starter or a between-course palate cleanser. Orange tempers the more assertive flavors of pomegranate; feel free to shift the balance of juices, keeping the total amount of liquid the same. If possible, use freshly squeezed pomegranate juice available in season where the fruit is grown. Gelatin is typically a meat product. Autumn pomegranates symbolize the hope that one’s blessings in the new year will be as plentiful as its many kernels (arils). 

(meat)

3 cups pomegranate juice
1 cup strained fresh orange juice (from 3 to 4 oranges)
2 packets (1/4 ounce each) unflavored gelatin 
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons orange flower water 

In a measuring pitcher, mix together the pomegranate and orange juices. If any pulp rises to the surface, skim it off. Pour 1 cup of the juice blend into a small bowl. Sprinkle in the packets of gelatin and let stand for 5 minutes to soften. 

In a medium pot, bring 1 1/2 cups of the remaining juice blend almost to a boil over medium heat. Turn off the heat and stir in the sugar and the gelatin mixture, stirring until completely dissolved. Stir in the remaining juice blend and orange flower water, mixing well. Pour into small jelly glasses. Cover and chill until set, about 4 hours. (The gelée may be made a day ahead.)

Makes 8 servings.

Cooking 101: A practical lesson for college students


Spending a lovely summer back home in the Los Angeles area, Morgan Lieberman was doing what she enjoys most: using her camera to shoot photos. From time to time during those warm days, she found her way into my kitchen — and my heart — shooting photos of food for the Journal and its monthly magazine, TRIBE.

When she returned to the University of Missouri this month, however, Morgan and her longtime friend Caroline moved into an apartment with a tiny kitchen. This is their junior year at the university, and it comes with the challenges of independent living. For one thing, it means an end to the in-house chef who cooked all their meals last year in a sorority house.

But inspired by the food photos Morgan took while working in L.A., she and her roommate are now planning to cook together. They have collected a selection of practical recipes and plan to publish a cookbook to share with their college friends that will focus on easy-to-make dishes.

Some of their ideas include bruschetta, paninis, salads and lots of veggie dishes, plus fun desserts. Who wouldn’t want to end a hard night of studying with a Chocolate-Covered Ice Cream Pop?

BRUSCHETTA (GARLIC BREAD WITH TOMATOES AND BASIL)

It is a perfect last-minute accompaniment to an appetizer tray — unbelievably easy to prepare with ingredients usually on hand.

  • 1/2 cup olive oil
  • 3 tablespoons minced garlic
  • 12 slices (1/2 inch thick) crusty Italian bread
  • 5 tomatoes, diced
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 12 whole small basil leaves for garnish

 

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and 1 tablespoon of the garlic over medium heat. Add the bread slices in a single layer and fry them on both sides until crisp. 

Meanwhile, in a bowl, combine the tomatoes, the remaining 2 tablespoons garlic, the chopped basil leaves, and salt and pepper. Place the bread slices on a large serving platter and spoon the tomato mixture onto each slice. Garnish with whole basil leaves and serve immediately. 

Makes 12 servings.

SMOKED SALMON AND CREAM CHEESE PANINI 

This sandwich, cut into quarters, makes an elegant appetizer or a simple and delicious lunch.

  • 12 slices sandwich bread or 6 rolls, cut in half horizontally
  • 1/2 cup cream cheese
  • 6 slices smoked salmon
  • 6 slices Monterey Jack cheese

 

Place bread on a cutting board. Spread cream cheese on 6 slices of bread or bottom halves of rolls. Top each with a slice of smoked salmon and a slice of cheese. Top with remaining 6 slices of bread or tops of rolls. 

Preheat panini press or grill to medium heat.

Place sandwiches in panini press and close the lid. Grill sandwich until the bread is golden brown and cheese is melted. Slice into halves or quarters and serve immediately. 

Makes 6 paninis.

TOMATO, MOZZARELLA AND BASIL PANINI

  • 12 slices sandwich bread or 6 rolls, cut in half horizontally
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise
  • 6 slices tomatoes
  • 6 slices mozzarella cheese
  • 6 fresh basil leaves

 

Place bread on a cutting board. Spread mayonnaise on 6 slices of bread or bottom halves of rolls. Top each with a slice of tomato, a slice of mozzarella and a basil leaf. Top with remaining 6 slices of bread or tops of rolls. 

Preheat panini press or grill to medium heat.

Place sandwiches in panini press and close the lid. Grill sandwich until bread is golden brown and cheese is melted. Slice into halves or quarters and serve immediately. 

Makes 6 paninis.

CHOCOLATE-COVERED ICE CREAM POPS

  • 1 pint ice cream (use your favorite flavor)
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, melted
  • Edible gold flecks or colored sprinkles (optional) 

 

Line a tray with wax paper and place it in the freezer. Remove the ice cream and the chilled tray from the freezer. Using a small ice cream scoop, scoop out 12 bite-size balls of ice cream, insert a wooden stick in the center of each scoop, and place on chilled tray. Place in the freezer for at least 1 hour. 

Remove one ice cream ball at a time and, holding the stick, quickly dip the ball in warm melted chocolate, covering the entire surface. Return the chocolate-coated ice cream balls to the tray and continue with the remaining ice cream balls. Sprinkle with edible gold flecks, if desired. Wrap in wax paper and return to the freezer for at least one hour until frozen solid. 

Makes 12 servings.


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant, cooking teacher and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her website is judyzeidler.com.

Cooking career began with ‘nice Jewish college boyfriend’


Given her background as a cooking instructor, certified holistic health counselor and UCLA Anderson School of Management alum, Pamela Salzman takes the concept and practice of home economics to a new level of organization. 

“I always have a schedule of my meals,” Salzman said one afternoon over tea at the Brentwood Country Mart, after she had just wrapped up leading one of her private cooking classes. “I wouldn’t be able to focus on our conversation if I didn’t know what I was making for dinner tonight,” she joked. 

Salzman’s career teaching nutrition and cooking was “a total fluke,” she said, and yet all of her experiences, personal and professional, seemed to prepare her for this particular vocation. 

A Long Island native Italian-American whose father was born in Italy, she grew up eating and preparing food she describes as “simple, straightforward and always homemade.” Her family grew much of its own produce and spent days in the summer months canning tomatoes to last through winter. 

She “followed her nice Jewish college boyfriend” from the University of Pennsylvania, where they met, to his hometown of Los Angeles, where he went to graduate school at USC. After settling here and establishing a career in corporate public relations, Salzman, now 45, went on to earn an MBA at Anderson and worked in film entertainment marketing.  

As for family, when it came time to integrate herself into her Jewish in-laws’ holiday celebrations, she took cooking matters into her own hands and pitched in. “I didn’t have the real Jewish mentor,” Salzman said. So she found a copy of “The Jewish Holiday Cookbook: An International Collection of Recipes and Customs” by Gloria Kaufer Greene, read it cover to cover, and cooked her way through it, somewhat in the style of the “Julie & Julia Project.”  

Salzman quickly found she loved cooking and updating traditional Jewish foods. She took over cooking for and hosting many of the major Jewish holidays, and now she typically hosts two meals for Rosh Hashanah (one dinner, one lunch), and both nights of Passover seders, serving different menus for each.

It took Salzman a little longer to merge her work life with her kitchen prowess. “I never wanted to be a chef,” she said. But whenever she participated in group cooking activities and classes, “I was always telling people what I would do,” instead of what the instructions suggested. 

Salzman was also keenly aware of the fact that “there are a lot of great chefs, but they can’t teach in an accessible way.” Given her experiences feeding her family in a particular way, she was invited to teach a cooking class for a group of new moms, and inspiration struck. 

Almost seven years ago, Salzman set out to combine her entrepreneurial leanings, organizational skills, cooking know-how and desire to promote healthy eating into a business that’s flexible and conducive to family life. She quickly built a reputation around food that’s nutritious, organic, practical and delicious. She also built an online presence for herself, regularly posting original recipes, tips and videos on her website, pamelasalzman.com

Like any good teacher, Salzman is tuned in to her students’ needs for seasonal ideas. November classes focus on Thanksgiving menus, while December means sweets and hors d’oeuvres that people want to serve at holiday parties. She likes to teach breakfast recipes in June. But she’ll modify agendas based on client requests, too. Regardless of the theme, Salzman’s mission to crusade against the Standard American Diet and promote alternatives to processed foods remains at the heart of her work. 

She leads approximately 16 sessions per month in private homes, including her own kitchen, and each class lasts three hours or so, enough time to prepare a full menu and serve lunch. Salzman prefers to work demonstration style, meaning not every student has an individual setup to get his or her hands dirty. Instead, with the help of an assistant, she simply cooks the recipes while the participants watch and ask questions. (Occasionally, however, some techniques are better taught hands-on, such as wrapping Vietnamese-inspired stuffed summer rolls.)

In 2006, the Salzmans moved from Beverly Hills to Manhattan Beach, where her family attends Congregation Tikvat Jacob Beth Torah. Her husband, Daniel, is a principal of South Bay Green Design, a design-build firm. Together they designed their large kitchen to suit their family’s needs — they have three children between the ages of 11 and 18 — as well as to serve as Pamela’s classroom. 

Salzman fans often become regulars at her classes. “I’ve never met anyone with so much knowledge,” said longtime client Nicole Hirschberg. Plus Salzman’s experience cooking at home for her family is a bonus. “Pamela is inspiring to all moms in the kitchen trying to feed all different tastes and palates. She teaches you how to improvise and make it work for your family and always gives you different options,” Hirschberg said.

The one downside of her career? Often friends are too intimidated to invite her over for a meal, which is a professional hazard for many food pros. “I’m still a home cook,” she   said with a shrug.

“It’s been so organic how it’s grown,” she said of her work. Salzman especially likes to use ingredients that people might have read about or eaten in restaurants but don’t know how to cook. She recalled how kale and quinoa were mystifying foods just a few years ago. Now that they’re bona fide mainstream, Salzman said she’s eager to see which items to tackle next. 

WILD HALIBUT IN PARCHMENT WITH GREEN HERBS

  • 1 to 2 cloves garlic
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint leaves
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt (extra pinch if you like salt)
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/4 cup unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
  • Zest of 1 lemon
  • Spinach or other quick-cooking vegetables (optional; see note below)
  • 6 (4- to 6-ounce) pieces halibut (or salmon or mahi-mahi) defrosted, if frozen
  • 6 (12-inch) squares unbleached parchment

 

Instructions

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Place the garlic, herbs, salt and pepper in the bowl of a mini food processor and process until the herbs are finely chopped. Add the olive oil and process until well combined. Add lemon zest and pulse once or twice.

If using, place handful of spinach or other vegetables in the center of one sheet of parchment. Arrange one piece of fish atop vegetables. Spread heaping spoonful of herb mixture atop fish.

Bring 2 opposite sides of the parchment together and fold. Continue to fold all the way down until you reach the fish. Twist both ends of the parchment so it looks like a hard-candy wrapper. Repeat for each piece of fish. Place packets on a baking sheet and bake for 12 to 15 minutes, based on the thickness of the fish.

Transfer each packet to a plate and use caution when opening — the steam will be very hot.

Note: You can also add to the packets quick-cooking vegetables such as julienned zucchini or finely diced tomatoes. For longer-cooking vegetables, blanch or steam them first, then add to packets.

Makes 6 servings.

EGGPLANT CAPRESE

  • 2 medium eggplants, unpeeled, sliced crosswise into 3/4-inch slices
  • 2 tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing eggplant
  • Sea salt 
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 cups chopped, seeded tomatoes
  • 2 large garlic cloves, crushed
  • 1 small handful fresh basil leaves, julienned
  • 4 ounces (or more, to taste) fresh mozzarella, cubed

Instructions

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Line 2 baking pans or cookie sheets with parchment paper. Place the eggplant slices on the paper and brush them generously on both sides with olive oil. Sprinkle with sea salt and black pepper, then roast for 40 minutes, or until golden brown. Allow to cool.

Mix together the tomatoes, garlic, 2 tablespoons of olive oil and the basil.  Season to taste with sea salt and black pepper. Set aside.  

To serve, arrange the cooked eggplant slices, slightly overlapping, on a serving platter.  Scatter the mozzarella cubes on top and spoon the tomato mixture on top. Remove the garlic cloves.

Makes 6 servings.

RISOTTO-STUFFED TOMATOES

  • 8 medium, firm-ripe tomatoes on the vine with small stems
  • 4 tablespoons unrefined, cold-pressed extra- virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 garlic clove, minced
  • 2/3 cup medium-grain white rice
  • 3/4 teaspoon sea salt, plus an extra pinch
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan or Pecorino cheese

Instructions

Cut tops from tomatoes about 1/2 inch from stems (keep leaves and small stems attached) and set aside. Working over a food processor and using a teaspoon, carefully scoop out tomato pulp and juices, leaving only the outer walls. Purée pulp and juices, then measure; add enough water to get to 2 1/4 cups. If necessary, trim a very thin slice from base of tomatoes so they sit flat (if you poke a hole, patch from the inside with a tomato slice).

Heat 3 tablespoons of oil in a medium saucepan over medium heat. Cook onion and garlic, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add rice, sea salt, pepper and red pepper flakes, stirring to coat. Stir in tomato purée and water mixture.

Simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until liquid is reduced to the surface of rice, 8 to 10 minutes. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and cook, stirring once or twice, until rice is cooked through, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, preheat oven to 450 F with a rack in the top third of oven. Grease a shallow baking dish with some of remaining oil. Stir parsley, basil and cheese into risotto. Divide risotto evenly among tomato shells, mounding it a bit, and set in oiled dish, rice side up. Brush reserved tomato tops with oil and loosely set on tomatoes. Sprinkle tops with sea salt if you like.

Bake until tomatoes soften a bit, 12 to 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 main-dish servings, 8  side-dish servings.

Exploring Israel’s ‘ethnic’ cuisine


From Givatayim’s renowned Sabich Shel Oved – a simple eggplant-sandwich shop with lines snaking around the corner — to lesser-known places like Chachaporia Georgian cuisine in Jerusalem, the new e-book “Israel’s Top 100 Ethnic Restaurants” provides the English-speaking tourist a window into the delectable, folksy Israeli foods that locals have raved about for years.

Israel has been on the culinary ascent of late, with dozens of food blogs, new high-end restaurants, cooking shows and celebrity chefs, and a fascination with everything foodie. But there’s no need for catchphrases like “local” and “fresh” in a place famed for its bountiful produce piled high in open-air markets, from Tel Aviv’s Carmel Market to Mahane Yehuda in Jerusalem.

As noted in the book, which was published by The World Jewish Heritage, a nonprofit that promotes tourism to heritage sites, both markets also house restaurants and after-hour bars in addition to the daily fruit, vegetables and tchochkes they cacophonously hawk.

Many of the tastiest morsels aren’t served up in white-cloth establishments or by rising stars. Rather they are offered at nondescript holes in the wall and unadorned booths by old-school traditionalists, like Savta Eva on Allenby Street in Tel Aviv, serving classic Ashkenazi fare such as chicken soup with matzah balls and farfel, or Rita Romano of the Libyan buffet at Rita’s Kitchen in Herzliya.

That raises the question, what exactly is Israeli ethnic food?

“It’s Moroccan, Russian, Polish, Bukharian, Ethiopian, Syrian, Lebanese — you name it,” says famed Israeli food critic, TV personality and chef Gil Hovav, who served as a consultant on the book. In the foreword, he writes, “While terroir may be too big a word to apply to Israeli street food, we are definitely loyal to whatever grows in our sun-drenched part of the world, where everything seems to be in season all year round.”

At a book launch event this month at Israeli chef Einat Admony’s Lower East Side restaurant Balaboosta, Hovav told a story of coming to New York after 9/11 to film his show, but instead being recruited to cook breakfast for 500 Ground Zero workers at 5:30 a.m. in conditions he said were more rustic than his days in the Israeli army. After feeding shakshuka to the hungry hordes, the sated workers marveled, “How interesting that in Israel you eat Mexican food for breakfast!”

“It’s Moroccan!” Hovav wanted to tell them.

The chef, who came to New York for two days for the event, will return in March for three days to host a Yemenite Pop-Up dinner with food writer and Israeli cuisine expert Adeena Sussman on the Upper West Side in collaboration with the website EatWith.

In “Israel’s Top 100 Ethnic Restaurants,” which offers capsule reviews and a sampling of color photos, there’s also Yemenite, Egyptian, Iraqi, Turkish, Persian, Tunisian and Ashkenazi food — they are notably lumped together under one heading the way the variegated Mizrahi and Arab cultures are often termed “Sephardic” in America. A number of hummusiyot — hummus joints — are featured in every section, from Hummus Ashkara in Tel Aviv to Pinati in Jerusalem. But you’d probably need another whole e-book just for the chickpea spread alone, which when it comes to “the best” engenders fierce debates as heated as any in the Middle East.

“We could have easily done 500 restaurants,” Hovav says, noting that the next step is to add Arab and Bedouin eateries.

He writes in the foreword, “We are people from more that 60 ethnicities living in a tiny country, and each and every one of us is certain that his or her grandma’s cholent” — or for that matter tbit or hamin or whatever your Saturdaystew is called — “is far better than everyone else’s. And you know what? That is what makes us unique. And delicious.”

To download the free e-book “Israel’s Top 100 Ethnic Restaurants” visit worldjewishheritage.com.

The following recipe is courtesy of Hovav.

CHIRSHI (Spicy Tripolitan Pumpkin Paste)

Chirshi is a well-seasoned Libyan pumpkin paste traditionally served as an appetizer accompanied by thick slices of simple challah bread. The secret of this dish is to maintain the incandescence of the pumpkin by avoiding overcooking or overseasoning it — but seasoning should nonetheless be applied generously to the dish, as we are ardent supporters of dominant flavors. Therefore, although normal quantities in Israeli cuisine are of rather flexible nature (for Israelis are notoriously disobedient), it is important to strictly follow the quantities and preparation instructions provided in this recipe.

Ingredients:
3 cups fresh pumpkin, diced
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
3 carrots, peeled and chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tablespoon hot paprika
2 tablespoons ground caraway seeds (necessary!!)
Salt
Juice squeezed from one lemon
6 tablespoons olive oil

Preparation:
1. Cook pumpkin, sweet potato and carrots in boiling water until carrots are soft and let rest in the colander to rid of any excess water.

2. Roughly mash the vegetables using a fork (not a food processor!) together with the remaining ingredients. Leave a few chunks.

3. Taste and adjust seasoning.

4. Serve hot or cold with plenty of fresh bread.

Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Persian Food


My cavalier cooking practices have been a cause for shame and concern for my Iranian mother. To me, eating is just something you do to stay alive; for her and her legion of friends and family that grew up in the Motherland, cooking is a rite of passage to womanhood, the foundation of family and all things good in the world.

You know, everything a ready-made, heart attack-inducing Doritos Locos Taco is not.

So it comes as no surprise to find my mother one day standing by my open fridge grasping a small jar between her index finger and thumb.

“This is hell. I will put it on the side of the fridge, you know, in case you need it,” she says.

It’s just a coincidence that the name of this Persian staple spice—cardamom—is the same word for eternal fiery doom in English.

My mother has been sneaking in her favorite ingredients next to the Hershey’s chocolate syrup and the blue macaroni and cheese box in my kitchen ever since I began dating the man of her dreams, now my husband. Having grown up with his own Persian mother’s everything-fresh-from-scratch cooking, he wouldn’t mind eating a meal that’s not from a box. So the more serious we got, the less subtle her hints. She graduated to telling me, “You seriously need to learn how to cook. It’s not funny.”

Because her comments implied that cooking meant keeping a man, I was very adamant about never lifting a pan. Cooking in this cultural context seemed primitive, sexist, and totally un-American. Where did I get this idea? From my mom who, ironically enough, preached to my sister and me the importance of women procuring financial and personal independence and security through education, privileges she didn’t have growing up in Iran.

Still, I understood where she was coming from. In my mother’s Tehran, it literally “took a village” to raise and maintain a family. The older generation provided food for the burgeoning family, and food was a community affair where everyone helped with the preparing, cooking, and eating. One of my distinct memories from childhood in Iran in the late 1980s is the women in my family cleaning and stemming herbs for rice and stews at our house. Sitting around with their fingers plastered with wet dill and their mouths running with the daily gossip, they were a less sexy version of Sex and the City.

My family moved to Los Angeles in 1991 after a pit stop in Austria for a few months to get our papers together. Or, more specifically, we moved to the enclave known as Tehrangeles where Iranians—especially Iranian Jews—settled after the Islamic Revolution in 1979.

But in L.A., I saw less and less of the chattering relatives, partly because they probably got sick of my mom giving them chores. But also because no one has the luxury or time to sit around stemming herbs all day when there are errands to run, e-mails to send, and nails to be manicured.

The idea was to adapt to American life enough to get by, but still speak, breathe, act, and eat Persian. Which led to a lot of awkward conversations at the school cafeteria explaining my pungent green stew to my friend with the crustless PB&J. And every Friday night, we always had to have the Thanksgiving-size Shabbat dinner, complete with the angry drunk uncle who asked the same questions every time (“How much money are you making writing? That’s horrible. You should go into real estate.”)

Starting a family of my own, I’m trying to reconcile this need to connect through food with the American notion of independence and can-do-it-all attitude. While I do need some guidance and appreciate when my mom brings over the occasional leftover split pea stew or herb quiche, I don’t want to come home to a tower of Tupperware in my refrigerator. The constant parade of handouts from my mom make me feel as if I’m failing as a nurturing wife and mother, roles I had totally been reluctant to take on yet will be damned if I don’t succeed at them.

So I decided it was time to add cooking to my repertoire. I mean, how hard would it be to buy some ingredients, mix them together, and throw them in a pot to cook if it meant so much to my family? Between Google and the TV, I was confident I could figure it out. I announced to my mother that I was cooking a traditional Persian meal for my husband. “That’s great, azizam,” she said, in a sort of God-I-hope-you-have-a-fire-extinguisher-handy sort of tone. “Let me know how it goes.”

I searched “dinner recipes,” then “easy dinner recipes” and finally “really super duper easy dinner recipes” and was overwhelmed by the number of ingredients, steps, and verbs. How do you zest a lemon? Dredge individual mint leaves with sugar? What the hell does dredge mean, anyway? Just doing the measurements alone seemed to require a Ph.D. in calculus. It occurred to me that I had never seen my mother use a measuring cup or an oven mitt.

I was not going to solicit help from my mother, so it was fortunate I remembered that someone had once given us a beautiful Persian cookbook called Food of Life. I swiped the dust off its cover and was delighted to find that it was a literary nerd’s dream come true. Besides recipes, there were pieces of Persian poetry, art, and stories.

“If wheat springs from my dust when I am dead / And from the grain that grows there you bake bread, / What drunkenness will rise and overthrow / With frenzied love the baker and his dough—” is Rumi’s erotic take on baked goods.

Excited at seeing my favorite recipe in English, I braved the long list of at least two dozen ingredients and committed myself to making rice meatballs.

It took me two days to prepare and make these meatballs. I shopped at Trader Joe’s for ingredients I recognized (eggs, rice, tomato paste). I headed to “Persian Square”—an area of Westwood Boulevard where the Iranian version of every business has a storefront—for those I did not.

At Sun Market, the couple running the place was happy to see “a young person” take interest in her native food. They helped me find everything I needed and threw in some unsolicited advice while they were at it (“You really should learn how to read Persian”).

So finding advieh—a mixture of cardamom, cinnamon, rose petals, nutmeg, and cumin—green plums, and summer savory was not really an obstacle. Putting them to use was.

When I was done chopping, slicing, rinsing, boiling, and whatnot, the kitchen was a CSI murder scene. There were grains of rice and petals of herbs on every exposed surface, including the stove, tiles, floor, and sink. Dante’s “Inferno” would have made a more suitable excerpt than Rumi’s poetic fancies.

My husband was grateful for the effort. He ate carefully, as if to detect poison before it was too late. Having taken one look at my disheveled exterior, he couldn’t fathom why I’d go through all the trouble. But it wasn’t really about him.

I wish this experience had made me fall in love with cooking. But at least I no longer found it synonymous with the Dark Ages. I had now tried on my mother’s shoes and saw what an ungrateful brat I’d been. I understand there’s an art driven by love for family and the incessant desire to feed and nurture them. I’m happily going to taken them up on their offers to bestow leftovers and swallow my pride until I get the hang of basic kitchen measurements.

That’s the paradox my mother embraced all these years slaving over elaborate meals while preaching the importance of prioritizing education, career, and independence: You can strive to have it all. Doesn’t mean you will, or that you’ll be good at it, but you can and should try because you have the freedom to do so. And that’s the luxury of being an American: not settling for one identity, especially if you’re a woman.

She was beyond amused when I recounted to her the tale of the rice meatballs. One day, to encourage me, she came over with a new bottle. “This is zaferoon. In America it’s called ‘saffron.’ It’s originally from Iran, where the best zaferoon in the world comes from. Ask anyone. Even Americans.” She pauses to make sure I’m watching her. “I’ll put it right here, you see? Next to the string cheese.”

Orly Minazad is a freelance writer and essayist in L.A. covering arts, culture, and everything in between. She wrote this for What It Means to Be American, a partnership of the Smithsonian and Zocalo Public Square.

Eating my way through Israel on a Birthright trip


At first, the idea of going on a Birthright trip seemed silly, at best.  I’d already been to Israel, twice – once on a family trip when I was 15 and first exposed to lax drinking laws and Jewish college boys, and again before my senior year of high school, on a Write on Fellowship trip.

Both visits to Israel had been positive experiences, enough so that I attended a J Street conference in 2013 and subscribed to various Israel- related e-newsletters, but going back on an air-conditioned tour bus through Jerusalem, presumably with a group of people who were trying to brainwash me to make Aliyah, wasn’t high on my to-do list. There was so much more of the world to see, and my politics seemed far left of the Birthright agenda. 

When my mom (who else), sent me a link to the application for a culinary Birthright trip, I was slightly intrigued. I’d been working since my graduation in May 2013 as a freelance food writer and was about to embark on a month-long trip to Spain and France to eat and write.  A free opportunity to do that same in Israel didn’t seem so bad.  Plus, Jewish parents like it when you do things like apply for trips to Israel.

During my Birthright interview, which took place over the phone while I sat at an Arab café in Greenwich Village, I explained that my relationship with Judaism had changed over the years, partially due to my education at the Jewish Theological Seminary and also thanks to all the changes that happen in your twenties.  I explained that I no longer kept kosher, although I had been raised in a house with strictly separate dishes, and that food and Judaism had an important connection to me.  I also spoke about the menu at my Bat Mitzvah.  Clearly, no one was going to pick this hedonistic freeloader for a Birthright trip.  But Israel Experts did. 

On June 29, I headed to JFK International Airport to meet my best friends for the next two weeks. I hadn’t packed hiking shoes or a flashlight, because this was a culinary trip, not an adventure trip, and I had bought an international iPhone plan, so I could be as antisocial as possible. Again, I was a great candidate to take up a seat on the bus. 

After several unappetizing kosher meals on Austrian Airlines (and yes, I shamelessly begged the crew for the traif schnitzel, but no one obliged), we finally landed in Tel Aviv. About half of our group (none of whose names I knew at the time) had never been to Israel and was already overwhelmed with the foreign characters printed on the signs and all the ultra orthodox men hustling to daven mincha before passing through customs.  I rolled my eyes. Ten years of Hebrew school and a bachelor’s in modern Jewish studies overprepared me for this. Plus, I was hungry. Really hungry. 

We boarded a Coach bus that headed north to Shvil Izim, a goat farm where we would have orientation and our first meal in Israel. The whif of goat pens was soon overpowered by the scents of fresh salads, pasta, and a spread of cheeses, olives, and dips that quickly swallowed any qualms I had about taking two weeks off of work to go on this trip.  Many say that stepping of the plane in Israel makes them feel home, for me, it was that first bite of goat cheese. 

Our days soon filled with tours of holy and historic sites (I’d seen them several times before and may have ventured off to get international flavors of Manum bars not available in the states), meals at recommended Israeli restaurants, and plenty of frappe-style iced coffees that Birthright kids are all known for becoming “obsessed” with. 

The touring was enjoying, I brushed up on my Israeli history and geography, remembered a few Hebrew conjugations, and tried to appreciate the sites I’d seen before with new insight and perspective. Despite my original grumpiness, I knew I was extremely lucky to be on this trip. I’ve been fortunate to travel to many countries and continents, and getting to know these places via their cuisine, their daily meals and routines, helps me feel connected to the foreign destination as must more than a place on a map. 

It wasn’t my third visit to the kotel or another walk through the streets of Tsfat that renewed my love for Israel: it was the people. And perhaps more importantly, the food these people made.

We visited a Druze village for a cooking class, where we learned to make sambusak, tabbouleh salad, and stuffed grape leaves (which mysteriously disappeared before dinner, so maybe we didn’t really learn to make them correctly), and sat down to one of the best meals I’ve ever had adjacent to our instructor’s home.  Despite a few language barriers and perhaps an inability to correctly roll dolmas, the hospitality was incredible, and the desire to share the flavors and culture of the region was addicting.

 

Stuffed artichokes from The Culinary Queens of Yerucham

The Culinary Queens of Yerucham, a group of women whose children are out of the house, warmly welcomed us into their empty nests with plates of homemade, still sizzling schnitzel and couscous and stuffed artichokes. If their dining rooms weren’t in the middle of the desert but in Manhattan, there would be a month-long waiting list for a table, I joked.  But it was true: all the Israelis cooking for us were there, sharing their food, and we were somewhere else, living completely different lives.

I didn’t know what to do when I got back from Birthright. As we discussed in our closing session, talking about the experience with people who were not on the trip would be difficult: How could they ever understand? And what would we want them to understand? Birthright had done a decent job of educating us on the history and current events of Israel, our tour guide, David, open to questions about Palestinian rights and statehood and Israeli immigration issues, and I never once felt pressure to become more religious or even consider moving to Israel.  I took away a greater appreciation for the region, an understanding of individuals rather than just a group that we talk about in discussions about politics.

So I cooked.  I loaded up on purple cabbage and tomatoes and cucumbers and tahini and goat cheese and eggplant and ptitim (Israeli couscous) and chickpeas and olive oil and Halal ground lamb from a butcher in Queens and I cooked.  I cooked and I fed my friends and told them about my Israeli meals, and made them clean their plates like the good bubbe that I am. And I continue to cook with the recipes and inspiration I gathered in Israel.

Coucous from The Culinary Queens of Yerucham

Sentiments regarding the conflict in Israel are difficult to voice, almost impossible if you don’t want to offend one group or another. But the tastes are easy. We may not understand the conflict, may not know how to mediate Palestinian and Israeli peace, but the flavors and recipes humanize the struggle and hopefully make us stop and remember that a war going on thousands of miles away, in a foreign, distant, and delicious land, is so real, you can taste it.  

Celebrate Queen Esther with chocolate


Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim tale, was quite a woman. Not only did she outwit the evil Haman and save the entire Jewish population of Persia, she did it all as a vegetarian. According to tradition, when she moved into the palace, she became quite a party girl but limited her diet to seeds, vegetables, fruits, nuts and, of course, chocolate. 

So, this year, to celebrate her special diet, I am planning to treat my family to a special array of chocolate Purim desserts. The custom of gift-giving to friends during the holiday is referred to as mishloach manot, and my favorite gift when we are invited for dinner to the home of friends is to bring a ribbon-wrapped box filled with homemade chocolates. 

There are plenty of other treats to try: I am sharing my recipe here for Chocolate-Dipped Oatmeal Cookie Fruit and Nut Bars and Chocolate-Covered Halvah Truffles.

And don’t forget hamantaschen, the traditional Purim pastry. The first recipe I remember for these came from my mother. Instead of making them with the yeast-based pastry that is found in most Jewish bakeries, she used cookie dough filled with poppy seed and prune preserves.

Over the years I have developed my own hamantaschen pastries. My favorite is adding chocolate and poppy seeds to the dough and stuffing them with a mixture of chocolate and chopped nuts. 

Just when your guests think all the desserts are on the table, surprise them with scoops of Chocolate Sorbet. Then you can nosh some hamantaschen! 

CHOCOLATE-DIPPED OATMEAL COOKIE FRUIT AND NUT BARS

  • Oatmeal Cookie Dough (recipe follows)
  • 1 1/2 cups whole almonds, toasted
  • 1 1/2 cups hazelnuts, toasted
  • 1 cup pecans, toasted
  • 1 cup diced dry cranberries
  • 1 1/2 cups diced dry apricots
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup cream, warmed
  • 1 package (12 ounces) semisweet chocolate pieces

Prepare the Oatmeal Cookie Dough; bake as directed and set aside.

Mix the nuts and dried fruits in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over the baked cookie dough.

Combine sugar and water in a heavy pot; cook over medium heat, stirring gently, until light brown. Remove from heat; add the cream, stirring constantly. Transfer to a large measuring cup and pour over dried fruit and nuts in baked cookie dough. Set aside to cool, then cut into bars of desired size. (See yields below.)

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water or in a microwave. With your fingertips, dip one end of each bar into melted chocolate, leaving the nuts and fruit showing and place on a wax paper-lined platter. Refrigerate until chocolate is set. 

Makes 54 bars, 2 by 2 inches each; or 108 bars, 1 by 2 inches each.

OATMEAL COOKIE DOUGH

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 cup brown sugar
  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter or margarine
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla 
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 1/2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 2 1/2 cups old-fashioned or quick-cooking oats (do not use instant oatmeal)
  • 1 1/4 cups toasted chopped pecans

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat together the sugars and butter. Beat in vanilla. Add eggs, one at a time, scraping sides of bowl after each one. 

In a bowl, mix together flour, cinnamon, salt, baking soda and baking powder. Add flour mixture to butter-sugar mixture in two to three additions, beating until just combined. Add oats in two or three additions, stirring until just combined. Stir in pecans.

Roll dough into a ball, flatten with hands, and spread evenly onto a greased, rimmed 12-by-18-inch baking sheet. Bake 20 to 25 minutes, until golden brown. 

CHOCOLATE-COVERED HALVAH TRUFFLES


Chocolate-dipped oatmeal cookie fruit and nut bars and chocolate-covered halvah truffles.

  • 1/2 cup tahini (sesame paste)
  • 1/3 cup honey
  • 1/2 cup unsweetened grated coconut
  • 1/2 cup wheat germ
  • 1/2 cup unsalted sunflower seeds
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 pound semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces

In a mixing bowl, stir together the tahini and honey. In a food processor, combine the coconut, wheat germ and sunflower seeds; process until finely chopped. Stir coconut mixture, cocoa and cinnamon into tahini-honey mixture until well-blended and firm. Shape mixture by hand into l-inch balls.

Melt chocolate in a double boiler over gently simmering water. With your hands, dip each halvah ball into the melted chocolate; place on waxed paper-lined plate. Refrigerate until the chocolate is set. 

Makes 30 (1-inch) balls.

CHOCOLATE POPPY-SEED HAMANTASCHEN

  • Chocolate Filling (recipe follows)
  • 3 cups flour
  • 1/2 cup finely ground almonds
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons poppy seeds
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter or margarine
  • 3 tablespoons hot water
  • 2 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa 
  • 1 whole egg
  • 1 egg white

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Prepare Chocolate Filling; set aside.

In bowl of an electric mixer, combine flour, ground almonds, poppy seeds, baking powder, salt and sugar. Blend in butter until mixture resembles very fine crumbs.

Combine water and cocoa in a small bowl; beat in the whole egg. Add to flour mixture, beating until mixture begins to form dough. Do not overmix. 

Transfer to floured board and shape into a ball. Chill 30 minutes for easier handling. 

Divide dough into six portions. Flatten each with the palms of your hands; roll out 1/4-inch thick. Cut into 3 1/2-inch rounds with scalloped cookie cutter. 

Place 1 teaspoon Chocolate Filling in the center of each round. Fold edges of dough toward center to form a triangle, leaving a bit of filling visible in the center. Pinch edges to seal.

Place on a lightly greased foil- or Silpat-lined baking sheet and brush with lightly beaten egg white. Bake until firm, about 30 minutes. Transfer to wire racks to cool. 

Makes 6 to 7 dozen.

CHOCOLATE FILLING

  • 1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa
  • 1/2 cup sugar
  • 1/4 cup milk, cream or coffee
  • 1 cup chopped, toasted walnuts

Combine all filling ingredients in a bowl; blend thoroughly. 

Makes about 2 1/4 cups.

CHOCOLATE SORBET

  • 3 cups unsweetened cocoa
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 cups water
  • 1 1/2 ounces semisweet chocolate, melted
  • 1 cup port or Concord grape wine

Combine cocoa and sugar in a large, heavy saucepan. Add water, a little at a time, in a thin stream, mixing with wire whisk until well blended and smooth. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or until thick. Stir in melted chocolate and port. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer for about 4 minutes, or until thick, stirring constantly. Pour into an 8-cup pitcher or bowl and place inside a larger bowl filled with ice and cold water. Stir until cool. Remove bowl from ice water. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Process in an ice cream machine, according to the manufacturer’s instructions. Transfer the sorbet to a covered container and freeze for at least 1 hour for flavors to mellow. If frozen solid, soften in the refrigerator and beat until smooth and creamy before serving. 

Makes about 2 quarts. 


Judy Zeidler is a food consultant and author of “Italy Cooks” (Mostarda Press, 2011). Her Web site is JudyZeidler.com.

Sukkot veggie heaven


Sukkot is a wonderful time of year to incorporate seasonal ingredients into your cooking. Beets, cabbage and squash are vegetables that are especially delicious at this time of year and work well in many recipes. Sukkot also reminds me of savory sweet and sour dishes that we ate in Eastern Europe, where I was raised.

For the holidays, I like to stick with traditional family recipes, and fortunately we have many for Sukkot. Many of these recipes also freeze well, which helps with the planning and unexpected company.

Beet Salad With Ginger is a lovely way to start a Sukkot meal. It is a delicious appetizer that I like to serve at room temperature surrounded by greens lightly dressed with oil. Traditionally, beets are boiled or steamed, but I think baking gives them a much richer flavor and a gorgeous color.

It is a popular custom to make stuffed foods for Sukkot as a symbol of an abundant harvest, and Stuffed Cabbage Rolls is a perfect example of the tradition. Among the many versions of the dish is the one I feature in my cookbook “Helen Nash’s New Kosher Cuisine.” It’s light, the cabbage rolls are small and not too filling, and it freezes well. The cookbook also includes a wonderful recipe for a vegetarian alternative, Barley Stuffed Cabbage.


BEET SALAD WITH GINGER

  • 5 medium beets
  • 1-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Snipped chives, for garnish
  • Mache or other greens, for serving

Preheat the oven to 400 F (you can also use a toaster oven). Line a baking pan with foil.

Wash the beets and, while still wet, wrap each one individually in foil. (Be sure to wrap them tightly, otherwise some of the juice may ooze out.) Place in the pan and bake for 35 to 40 minutes, until tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Remove each beet from the oven as it becomes ready.

When cool, slip the skin off the beets. Cut them into 1/4-inch slices, then into 1/4-inch cubes. Add the ginger, oil, vinegar, salt and pepper; combine well. Season to taste.

Serve on individual plates, garnished with chives and accompanied by mache. Makes 4 servings.

TIPS: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets to avoid staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove. For those in a hurry, you can chop the beets in a food processor, but it will give them a different texture.


STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

In Eastern Europe, stuffed cabbage rolls are traditionally served on Sukkot. This one is a favorite, as it is light and sweet and sour. Like all stuffed cabbage recipes, this is a bit time-consuming, but you can do it in stages, and because it freezes well, you can make it in advance.

CABBAGE

  • 2 tablespoons kosher salt
  • 2 medium heads cabbage (about 3 pounds each)

FILLING

  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 2 garlic cloves, quartered
  • 1 baking potato, peeled and cut in large pieces
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 pound veal and 1 pound beef, ground together
  • 1/2 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley (stems removed), coarsely chopped
  • 1/3 cup uncooked long-grain white rice
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce
  • Kosher salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper

SAUCE

  • 2 Granny Smith apples
  • 4 carrots, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 2 onions, quartered
  • 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 cup tightly packed flat-leaf parsley (stems removed), coarsely chopped
  • 3/4 cup golden raisins
  • 6 ounces dried apricots, diced
  • 1 can (35 ounces) imported peeled tomatoes
  • 1 can (28 ounces) imported crushed tomatoes
  • 1 can (15 ounces) tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons double-concentrated tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons dark brown sugar, plus more as needed
  • 1 cup chicken broth

Cabbage leaves: Bring a large pot of water to a boil with the salt. With the point of a knife, cut out some of the hard center core of the cabbages. Remove and discard any bruised and discolored leaves. Add the cabbage to the boiling water and boil for a few minutes, turning the cabbage often. Remove the cabbage from the water by piercing the core with a large fork and lifting out the head.

To remove the leaves without damaging them, cut where they are attached at the core, then peel off. If necessary, return the cabbage to the boiling water to soften the leaves. Shred the small center leaves.

Repeat this process for the second cabbage. (You can do this earlier in the day or the night before. Place the leaves in a tightly sealed zip-top plastic bag and refrigerate until needed.)

Filling: Place the onion, garlic, potato and egg in a food processor and pulse until smooth. Transfer to a large bowl and add the meat, parsley, rice, tomato paste and soy sauce. Mix with your hands to combine well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

To fill the cabbage leaves: Spread each cabbage leaf on a cutting board and cut out some of the center rib. Place 2 tablespoons of the filling in the center. Starting from the smaller end, roll the cabbage halfway, fold the sides toward the center, and roll tightly to the end. Continue until all the filling has been used.

To make the sauce: Peel, core and quarter the apples. Chop the apples, carrots and onions in a food processor, one at a time. (Chopping each ingredient separately preserves its distinct texture.)

Heat the oil in a small saucepan. Add the apples, carrots and onions, and saute for a few minutes. Remove to a large bowl and add the parsley, raisins, apricots, peeled and crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce, tomato paste, brown sugar and chicken broth.

To cook the rolls: Preheat the oven to 350 F. Place the rolls near each other, seam side down, in an enamel-lined saucepan large enough to hold the rolls in 2 or 3 layers. Scatter the leftover shredded cabbage on top. Add the sauce. Bring to a slow boil over medium heat. (If the heat is too high, the bottom will burn.)

Cover the pan with heavy foil and a tight-fitting lid. Place in the oven and cook for 1 1/2 hours. Season the sauce to taste with additional brown sugar, salt and pepper. Makes about 3 dozen small rolls.


SWEET-AND-SOUR ACORN SQUASH

This is a pretty winter dish that goes very well with any kind of poultry or fish. 

  • 1 small acorn squash (about 1 1/2 pounds)
  • 2 1/2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 1 1/2 tablespoons dark brown sugar

Preheat the oven to 400 F. Line a baking pan with foil and brush the foil with 1 tablespoon of the oil.

Rinse and pat dry the squash. Trim the ends and discard. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Scoop out all the seeds and fibrous strings. Cut into 1/2-inch wedges.

Arrange the wedges in the pan. Brush the squash with the remaining oil, then the vinegar; sprinkle with the sugar.

Bake for 15 minutes, or until the wedges are tender and the sugar has lightly caramelized. Serve warm. 

Makes 6 servings.


ZUCCHINI CAKE

This moist and delicious cake is perfect when a surprise visitor pops in and you want to serve a light snack with your tea.

  • 1/4 pound skin-on hazelnuts
  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus 1 tablespoon for greasing pan
  • 2 cups sifted unbleached all-purpose flour, plus 1 tablespoon for dusting the pan
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • 3/4 teaspoon baking powder
  • Generous 3/4 cup sugar
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 2 teaspoons grated zest from a navel orange
  • 1/3 cup freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 1 1/2-inch piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 medium zucchini (not more than 1/2 pound), coarsely grated

Roast the hazelnuts in a toaster oven at 350 F for about 15 minutes, or until the skins are blistered. While the nuts are still hot, rub them in a dishtowel to remove most of their skin. (Some skin will remain.) Cool. Chop them in a food processor until coarse.

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Grease a 5-by-9-inch loaf pan with 1 tablespoon of the vegetable oil. Dust the pan with 1 tablespoon of the flour, then invert and tap the pan to shake out any excess flour.

Place the 2 cups flour in a large bowl and add the hazelnuts, baking soda, baking powder and sugar. In a smaller bowl, whisk the 1/2 cup oil, the eggs, orange zest, orange juice, ginger and vanilla. With a rubber spatula, combine the wet ingredients with the flour mixture. Fold in the zucchini.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for about 60 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack. Run a metal spatula around the sides of the pan to loosen the cake. Invert the loaf pan onto a serving plate. 

Makes 12 servings.

Empty nest, full fridge


My son Paul and his wife, Amber, were the original baby boomers, graduating from college in the ’80s, getting married and raising four children. 
 
They both love to cook, and when their kids were growing up, they always ate family dinners together, every night.  The only rule was for the kids to try everything on their plates, and fast food was limited to once a week,
 
Amber said that she never made separate dishes for the adults or the kids, and everyone ate whatever was served at the dinner table.  The meals were crowded with playmates, teammates, boyfriends, girlfriends and the foreign students the family hosted every summer.
 
But now the house is empty. One of their daughters is working at dad’s CPA office and has her own apartment; the other daughter is married, teaching high school in Northern California. The two sons also are away — one in Irvine at law school, the youngest at UC Santa Cruz. 
 

Amber and Paul Zeidler. Photos by Dan Kacvinski

It seemed to happen slowly, but all of a sudden Paul and Amber realized how quiet things are at home. Things started to change: Amber, in addition to managing the household, is a very creative artist, and now that the kids are out of the house, she has more time for her art.  And Paul, always an athlete, now has more time to spend on his long-distance running. But for real fun, they both continue to expand their passion for swing dancing.  
 
The couple is still cooking, of course, and, believe it or not, they are still preparing large quantities that become part of the next meal. They find many recipes difficult to reduce, and no one has any scorn for leftovers in their house.  In fact, Paul takes lunch to work every day, preferring home-cooked food to anything he could order at the local restaurants.
 
Paul and Amber’s weekend shopping trip to the supermarket is a little different though. The cart is no longer filled as they are more selective, unless they are entertaining family or friends.  
 
Amber explains that the main difference in her cooking now is that she no longer has to worry about making things that their youngest son, a picky eater, liked. Now they are preparing more dishes that they prefer, foods the kids never really enjoyed. One of their favorite dishes is Lamb With Almonds, a Turkish-inspired dish served with couscous. 
 
But there’s always one thing they can count on — the kids will still return home from time to time. On those occasions, Chiles Rellenos remains the most-requested dish for family dinners.
 
Here are some of their favorite recipes, perfect for a pair of boomers enjoying an empty nest or a mom and dad happy to host the whole family again.
 
AMBER’S CUCUMBER-LEMON SLAW
 
I love this dish so much, I have to double the recipe if I want leftovers.
 
1 hothouse cucumber, peeled and shredded
1/2 cup sour cream
2 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
2 teaspoons grated lemon zest
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
 
About 10 minutes before serving, spread shredded cucumber onto several layers of paper towels; top with more paper towels. Let stand 5 minutes, pressing down occasionally to absorb moisture from cucumbers.
 
Stir together the sour cream, scallions, parsley, lemon zest, salt and pepper and cucumber in a medium bowl.  
 
Makes 4 servings.


AMBER’S PECAN RISOTTO
 
We try to eat meat only once a week. This is a vegetarian entrée we love. When I’m alone in the house, I stand in the kitchen stirring risotto and singing out loud.  You can prepare this about 1 hour before serving.
 
1 1/4 cups pecan halves
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 cup sliced fresh mushrooms
5 cups vegetable broth
1 1/4 cups Arborio rice
1 medium shallot, thinly sliced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
3 cups baby spinach leaves, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
 
In a large saucepan, stir the pecans over medium heat until toasted. Remove from pan. Cool slightly, then chop coarsely; set aside. In the same large saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add mushrooms; cook until the mushrooms are tender.
 
Meanwhile, in a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil; reduce heat and simmer. Remove mushrooms from large saucepan; set aside. Wipe pan clean.
 
In the large saucepan, heat remaining oil over medium heat; add rice, shallot and garlic. Cook just until rice is lightly golden, about 5 minutes. Slowly add 1 cup broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir over medium heat until all liquid is absorbed. Add another 1/2 cup of broth to rice mixture, stirring constantly. Continue to cook and stir until liquid is absorbed. Add remaining broth, 1/2 cup at a time, stirring constantly until broth has been absorbed and rice is slightly creamy and tender.
 
Stir in spinach, cheese, pepper, mushrooms and pecans until combined. Serve immediately. 
 
Makes 4 servings.


CHILES RELLENOS
 
This meatless dish can be an entrée or, as dictated by the amounts called for in this recipe, a side. It reheats well in the microwave.
 
6 medium poblano chiles (about 4 ounces each)
6 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, shredded (1 1/2 cups)
1 cup corn kernels (cut from 2 medium ears of corn)
1/2 cup loosely packed cilantro leaves, chopped
 
Preheat oven to 350 F.
 
About 1 hour before serving, place whole poblano chiles in broiler pan and cook under broiler, turning occasionally, until blistered and blackened on all sides, about 10 minutes. 
 
Transfer chiles to large sheet of foil. Wrap foil around chiles and allow to steam at room temperature 10 minutes or until cool enough to handle. While chiles are steaming, combine cheese, corn and cilantro in medium bowl.
 
Remove chiles from foil. Cut a 2-inch lengthwise slit in side of each chile, being careful not to cut through top or bottom.  Under running cold water, gently peel off skin. Remove seeds and veins from opening; for less-intense flavor, rinse inside and drain. Pat chiles dry with paper towels.
 
With spoon, fill each chile with about 1/2 cup of cheese mixture. Gently reshape chiles to close opening. Place 3 filled chiles in a single layer on a sheet of heavy-duty foil; bring the sides of the foil up and fold to seal well. Fold over ends to seal in juices. Bake foil packets in the oven for 10 minutes to heat chiles and melt cheese.  
 
Makes 6 servings.


CHOCOLATE CHIP BANANA BREAD
 
Paul and Amber’s son loves to put chocolate chips in banana bread (which they make using over-ripe bananas). Amber baked a loaf recently and brought it up to him at college. He didn’t have a knife in his dorm room, but he and his friends got through it somehow.
 
1 3/4 cups flour
2/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, softened
1 cup mashed bananas
1/2 cup chocolate chips
1/2 cup pecans, coarsely chopped (optional)
1 teaspoon grated lemon zest
2 eggs, slightly beaten
 
Preheat oven to 350 F. 
 
In large bowl, mix the flour, sugar, baking powder, salt and baking soda. Using a pastry cutter or two knives, cut in margarine until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs. Stir in bananas, chocolate chips, pecans, lemon zest and eggs, just until dry ingredients are moistened. Then spoon the batter evenly into a greased 9-by-5-inch loaf pan.
 
Bake for 55 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan on a wire rack for 10 minutes; remove from pan and finish cooling on wire rack.
 
Makes 8 to 12 servings.

LAMB WITH ALMONDS

If you’re planning for a meal featuring meat instead, try this Turkish-inspired dish. It’s nice enough for company, but then you won’t have those yummy leftovers. Serve it with couscous, and you’re done.
 
1 tablespoon canola oil
1/2 cup slivered almonds
1 pound ground lamb
1 1/2 cups chopped onions
1 beef-flavored bouillon cube
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon garlic salt
1/4 teaspoon pepper
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 teaspoon dried mint (or 1 tablespoon chopped fresh mint)
Spinach leaves to cover a platter
1 medium tomato, cut into wedges
 
About 30 minutes before serving, heat canola in a large skillet over medium heat, add almonds, and cook, stirring, until golden brown.  With slotted spoon, remove almonds to plate.
 
Over medium-high heat, in oil remaining in skillet, cook ground lamb, onions, bouillon cube, salt, garlic salt and pepper, stirring, until meat is browned, about 10 minutes. Add almonds, lime juice and mint. Stir mixture to blend well.
 
Line platter with spinach leaves; spoon meat mixture onto spinach leaves and garnish with tomato wedges.  
 
Makes 4 (generous) servings.  

Los Angeles’ top Jewish chefs under 40


What do the young Jewish star chefs in Los Angeles have in common? For those on the cutting edge of the city’s food scene, it’s not the laws of kashrut. Instead, for each of the 10 chefs and teams profiled here, all under age 40, the foundation of their cooking is seasonality, sustainability and a strong sense of place. Their styles and philosophy can be traced back to the temple of  Berkeley’s Alice Waters, who is not Jewish, as well as some leading local godmothers of L.A. cooking, such as Nancy Silverton, Evan Kleiman, Suzanne Tracht and Susan Feniger, who certainly are. 

Many of these younger chefs spent their formative years training with marquee names in iconic restaurants, like Campanile, Michael’s and Spago. Others have made their names via big-time reality TV food shows, while the rest have forged independent, idiosyncratic and often surprising paths. 

Most of the chefs we’ve included are Los Angeles natives who at some point left their hometown to develop their skills and knowledge in other cities, some overseas, but we’ve also highlighted a selection of transplants from the East Coast, as well as other parts of California, who’ve found inspiration and success in Los Angeles. All of these chefs benefited from supportive families, education and access, and almost all have an ownership stake in their current businesses.

They all come from Jewish families, and although mostly secular, their cultural and religious identities, along with formative food experiences, continue to influence what shows up on the tables of their popular and critically lauded restaurants. (Most of their establishments are among Jonathan Gold’s recent 101 Best Restaurants list in the Los Angeles Times.) 

And come major holidays, they might even reinterpret traditional Jewish foods in ways their bubbes never imagined.


Eric Greenspan
The Foundry on Melrose and The Roof on Wilshire

Equal parts extroverted, easygoing, precise and book smart, Eric Greenspan is that guy you went to Sunday school with. Come major holidays, he’s one of the local chefs who regularly puts his version of Ashkenazic favorites on the menu at The Foundry on Melrose (which is under renovation, until August). Meanwhile, Greenspan’s latke bites have proven popular enough to always be available at Foundry. His semi-regular fried chicken nights attracted regulars who shattered stereotypes of caloric decadence-fearing Angelenos.

Greenspan graduated from Calabasas High School, has degrees from UC Berkeley and Paris’ Le Cordon Bleu, and was named executive chef at Patina before moving to the erstwhile Meson G on Melrose (Hatfield’s now occupies the space). Greenspan said he doesn’t actively practice the Conservative traditions he was raised with, but he said he likes “to raise the flag of Judaism as often as possible.” Last February, for instance, he teamed up with chef Roberto Treviño for El Ñosh, a Jewish-Latin fusion pop-up concept during the South Beach Food and Wine Festival in Miami. And his haimish side really shines in his transcendent grilled cheese sandwiches, which became the inspiration for “The Melt Master: A Grilled Cheese Adventure Show,” on Tasted, a food channel show on YouTube. Now The Foundation Hospitality Group (which he formed with partner Jay Perrin and Jim Hustead, and which also operates the Beverly Hills-adjacent Roof on Wilshire, atop Hotel Wilshire) is turning a small space next to The Foundry into a sandwich emporium, dubbed Greenspan’s Grilled Cheese and slated to open in July. 

The Foundry on Melrose
7465 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 651-0915  –  thefoundryonmelrose.com

The Roof on Wilshire Hotel
6317 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 852-6002  –  theroofonwilshire.com


Giselle Wellman
Petrossian Café

Preparing Shabbat dinner “was the highlight of the week,” said Giselle Wellman, 28, about her early devotion as a teenager in San Diego to cooking for her extended clan. It didn’t occur to her that it was unusual for someone her age to plan her activities around preparing a large family meal on Friday nights. Nor did she automatically assume she was destined for a career commanding the stoves. 

“There are a lot of chefs in my family, but I was committed to the idea that we go to school, and we become doctors and lawyers,” the now-executive chef at the luxurious Petrossian caviar boutique and restaurant in West Hollywood explained. “Cooking was a hobby until the day my mom came home with an application for a nearby culinary school.” Not satisfied with her choices nearby, Wellman moved to Mexico City, where most of her family has been based since fleeing Eastern Europe during World War II, and she lived there with her grandmother while attending Le Cordon Bleu. Fluent in English and Spanish, Wellman speaks fondly of her family’s cultural hybrid traditions, such as adding a squeeze of lime to chicken matzah ball soup. 

A beautiful, simple salad with butter lettuce, shaved egg, mixed fresh herbs, crème fraîche dressing and a sprinkling of, yes, caviar, showcases Wellman’s deft hand when it comes to restrained indulgence. She satisfies the smoked fish fanatics and the ladies-who-lunch crowd, but Wellman also knows her way around a lamb pita sandwich. And if you’ve ever wondered what caviar tastes like atop a perfectly fried latke, Wellman is the chef to enlighten you. 

Petrossian Café
321 N. Robertson Blvd.  –  West Hollywood
(310) 271-0576  –  petrossian.com/boutique-west-hollywood-boutique-and-restaurant-6.html


Photo by Dan Kacvinski

Ilan Hall
The Gorbals 

When Long Island-bred, Culinary Institute of America-trained Ilan Hall came to Los Angeles from New York to invest his winnings from Season 2 of “Top Chef,” his location of choice — downtown — reflected the optimism of a new arrival. Opening a restaurant in the lower level of the once lustrous, now scrappy Alexandria Hotel in the Historic Core of the city pinned heavy hopes on the neighborhood’s renaissance. Hall’s bet paid off, and his meat-intensive, cultural mash-up cooking style has drawn customers to the increasingly vibrant intersection of Fifth and Spring streets since opening in 2009. Improvising from his Jerusalem-born mother’s heritage as well as that of his Scottish father, Hall, 31, makes food that is deeply personal. (The restaurant takes its name from Glasgow’s historically Jewish neighborhood where Hall’s father comes from.) “My mom, who doesn’t cook, made really good sandwiches. She made me a hummus and ham sandwich, and it was really marvelous. It was those two ingredients made to be together. That’s where it all began,” Hall told Orit Arfa, writing for jewishjournal.com in 2009. 

His in-your-face iconoclastic bacon-wrapped matzah balls might be what got people talking, but the Gorbals has evolved into one of the area’s staple late-night pubs, where folks can order reasonably priced dishes of welsh rarebit, homemade latkes, tongue confit, and Persian cucumbers tossed with crispy garbanzos and sumac. 

The Gorbals
501 S. Spring St.  –  Los Angeles
(213) 488-3408  –  thegorbalsla.com


Photo by Dylan Ho

Karen Hatfield
Hatfield’s and The Sycamore Kitchen

Chef Karen Hatfield and her husband, Quinn Hatfield, are as close as you get to a fabled L.A. storybook romance. Pacific Palisades-raised Karen, 37, met Quinn while working on the line at Spago, where she was a pastry chef and he was rising through the ranks of Wolfgang Puck’s legendary kitchen. Their first eponymous restaurant occupied an elegantly modest space on Beverly Boulevard, a few blocks east of Fairfax, before they ambitiously decamped to Melrose, near Highland, in the building originally occupied by chef Alain Giraud’s nouvelle cuisine institution, Citrus. The Hatfields’ exacting style fits the site’s pedigree and history. The couple also owns The Sycamore Kitchen on La Brea, a neighborhood utility player where locals drop in for coffee, sandwiches, salads and rustic pastries, including Karen’s notoriously delicious twist on an Old World treat: the salted-caramel babka roll.

Hatfield’s
6703 Melrose Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 935-2977  –  hatfieldsrestaurant.com

The Sycamore Kitchen
143 S. La Brea Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 939-0151  –  thesycamorekitchen.com


Photo by Jessica Ritz

Jessica Koslow
Sqirl 

Good thing Jessica Koslow got her alternative career plans out of the way. The Long Beach-bred master food preserver, 32, earned her bachelor’s degree from Brandeis University and a master’s degree in communication, culture and technology from Georgetown before getting on the culinary track in Atlanta, where she started cooking at the lauded restaurant Bacchanalia under the mentorship of chef Anne Quatrano. Koslow moved to New York, and then was transferred home to Los Angeles while producing online content for “American Idol,” when she started delving more deeply into food preservation and baking. In the interim, she returned to Atlanta for a bit to help Quatrano open another restaurant. Back in L.A., Koslow began making and selling small batches of delicately flavored jams (Pakistani mulberry, Thai basil), and when her production needs exceeded capacity in the commercial kitchen space she borrowed, she found her own place on Virgil Avenue in East Hollywood to create Sqirl, her micro café, which attracts diners willing to consume $5 coffee and brioche toast piled with market greens, preserved lemon and slivered beets topped with an egg while sitting on a stretch of sidewalk that can hardly be described as glamorous.

Koslow still makes the popular jams, and she constantly returns to Jewish pickling; hulking dark brown ceramic fermenting crocks full of caraway-laced sauerkraut and kosher dill pickles can always be spotted somewhere around the kitchen at Sqirl. She maintains a discerning eye for top, peak-season ingredients and zero tolerance for short cuts (current project: mastering beef tongue pastrami). “Jewish food is very comforting. I think of it in terms of the home and family,” Koslow observed. “It’s what I know, and these things resonate.” Because she’s found an ever-expanding audience, the under-construction space next door to Sqirl will contain a provisions shop. 

Sqirl
720 N. Virgil Ave.  No. 4   –  Los Angeles
(213) 394-6526  –  sqirlla.com

Ori Menashe
Bestia

The Italian-themed Bestia, located inside a converted industrial building in the downtown Arts District, has been buzzing since day one, thanks to chef Ori Menashe’s spectacular house-made, intensely flavored pastas, pizzas pulled out of the wood-burning oven at the right nanosecond and an extensive selection of his aromatic, expertly handled charcuterie. Salads and other vegetable-focused dishes at Bestia reflect the chef’s passion for Southern California produce, which is equal to his faith in his customers’ willingness to order grilled lamb heart with sprouted arugula. 

The Los Angeles-born, then Israel-raised Menashe, 32, comes from a mostly kosher household. He started flouting the rules upon eating his first cheeseburger when he was around 15. “That’s when I thought I could change my own direction,” he said, noting that he felt freer to explore traditions and ingredients outside of his family’s kosher home. He’s cooked in L.A. kitchens ranging from a café in Kosher Corridor, to Angelini Osteria and Pizzeria Mozza, before the omnipresent restaurateur Bill Chait (also the man behind Sotto; see below) came calling. Menashe’s wife, Genevieve Gergis, is Bestia’s acclaimed pastry chef. His Israeli upbringing, in combination with his parents’ Georgian and Moroccan roots, enriches his professional toolkit. Said Menashe: “A lot of my flavor profile is because of my dad,” who still owns a restaurant in Israel. “He’s really talented.”

Bestia
2121 E. Seventh Place  –  Los Angeles
(213) 514-5724  –  bestiala.com


Photo by Emily Hart Roth

Zoe Nathan
Rustic Canyon, Huckleberry, Milo & Olive and Sweet Rose Creamery

Westside restaurant power couple Zoe Nathan and Josh Loeb met in the kitchen of Rustic Canyon, the Wilshire Boulevard restaurant Loeb founded and had named in honor of his beloved Santa Monica neighborhood. They’ve since married and had a son, Milo, all while continuing to make their mark among a receptive community. Chef Nathan, 31, who spent time at Mario Batali’s Lupa in New York and San Francisco’s seminal Tartine Bakery, keeps expanding her pastry and savory repertoires, from wood-fired pizzas at Milo & Olive to small-batch ice creams at Sweet Rose Creamery, to sandwiches at casual café Huckleberry, which she co-owns with entrepreneur Loeb. Despite this breadth, Nathan primarily identifies as a pastry chef and baker. The couple’s businesses are a natural extension of their values and worldview. “Zoe and I are much more culturally religious than actually practicing religious, but ultimately food is our religion as much as anything,” Loeb, 38, explained. During the holidays, Nathan notes that “brisket is a mainstay on the menu at Huck, and my flavors in a lot of my food are a play of salty and sweet.” Also of note: Now helming the Rustic Canyon kitchen is Executive Chef Jeremy Fox, a 2008 Food & Wine Best New Chef and 2009 Bon Appetit Best Chef (and Member of the Tribe), who brings the deeply seasonal, highly refined, gorgeously composed style he developed at Manresa in Los Gatos and Ubuntu in Napa. 

Rustic Canyon
1119 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 393-7050  –  rusticcanyonwinebar.com

Huckleberry Cafe
1014 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 451-2311  –  huckleberrycafe.com

Milo & Olive
2723 Wilshire Blvd.  –  Santa Monica
(310) 453-6776  –  miloandolive.com

Sweet Rose Creamery
225 26th St. No. 51  –  Santa Monica
(310) 260-2663  –  sweetrosecreamery.com


Photo by Sean Murphy

Zach Pollack
Sotto

Zach Pollack, 29, who along with Steve Samson, runs Sotto Italian restaurant on West Pico, near Beverly Drive, grew up “quite Reform” in Westwood. His mother was born in Germany to refugees who immigrated to the United States “in the aftermath of the Holocaust,” Pollack said. “We took Jewish cultural traditions seriously,” he noted, and religious practice less so, although he did have a bar mitzvah. 

Pollack’s formative professional conversion can be traced to his junior year abroad in Florence, Italy; after graduating from Brown University, he returned to Italy to fully develop his passion for its cooking. (Samson was raised in an interfaith family that didn’t regularly observe Jewish rituals.) The duo brings a seriousness of purpose and commitment to quality to a block not previously known for culinary accomplishment. That was until Sotto and its upstairs neighbor, chef Ricardo Zarate’s Picca Peruvian cantina, transformed their eclectic colonial townhouse building into a dining destination. At lunch and dinner, the cozy subterranean room is packed with diners sharing hearty plates of grilled meatballs with bitter greens, deliciously funky blistered pizzas, traditional Italian dishes that use quintessentially West Coast ingredients such as Fresno chilies and formidable protein dishes paired with seasonal vegetables. 

Sotto
9575 W. Pico Blvd.  –  Los Angeles
(310) 277-0210  –  sottorestaurant.com


Photo by Jonathan Leibson/Getty Images for Microsoft

Jon Shook
Animal, Son of a Gun and Trois Mec

Jon Shook and his business partner, Vinny Dotolo, opened their first restaurant in the heart of the Fairfax District among the delis, Judaica shops and skater hangouts. But if you expect Animal to share anything in common with its next-door neighbor and landlord, the kosher icon Schwartz Bakery and Café, let us disabuse you of any such notions immediately. (Their lease agreement actually includes a non-kosher clause.) “It’s kind of random that we ended up on Fairfax,” Shook remarked, “but it’s been interesting.” Both Florida natives, Dotolo and Shook, 32, were among the city’s first ambassadors of the nose-to-tail philosophy and approach. And yet despite Shook’s love of a “Jewish-grandma-style brisket,” they’re far from being a one-trick pony extreme-meat shtick. The Shook/Dotolo brand has thrived with their seafood-focused Son of a Gun on Third Street, near La Cienega, which also happens to serve a crave-inducing fried chicken sandwich, along with the stellar petite lobster roll and raw seafood dishes infused with unexpected flavors. 

They’ve also opened Trois Mec (the name roughly translates as “three dudes”), a partnership with celebrated French chef Ludo Lefebvre, who is arguably best known for his series of highly in-demand pop-up dinners called LudoBites. This collaborative project is tucked within a former Raffalo’s strip mall pizza shop catty-corner from Silverton’s Mozza, and immediately attracted accolades for the inventive prix fixe menu that changes almost daily. The restaurant’s system, requiring advance purchase of a meal in lieu of making a traditional reservation, much like a cultural event, also got attention. Any resulting criticism hasn’t impacted the bottom line — Trois Mec’s 24 seats remain  among the hottest tickets in town. The most recent news out of the Shook/Dotolo camp is a vague plan announced via Instagram to take over the Damiano’s space on Fairfax; it helps that they own the building.  

Animal
435 N. Fairfax Ave.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9225  –  animalrestaurant.com

Son of a Gun
8370 W. Third St.  –  Los Angeles
(323) 782-9033  –  sonofagunrestaurant.com

Trois Mec
716 N. Highland Ave.  –  Los Angeles
troismec.com


Photo by Cathy Chaplin/GastronomyBlog.com

MICAH WEXLER
The Residency at Umamicatessen

“I didn’t set out to say I want to be the modern Jewish chef,” Micah Wexler, 30, explained at Reboot’s “Who’s Your Bubbie?” panel at the Skirball last November. “These were the flavors I grew up around, [and they] started to manifest more and more.” So it additionally stung when Wexler, who has staged in some of Europe’s most famous kitchens, was getting into the groove of revisiting the Ashkenazic culinary canon at his pan-Mediterranean Mezze restaurant on La Cienega then had to close down suddenly due to construction next door. 

Losing that venue as a home base for his Old World-meets-New, market-driven dishes, including chopped chicken livers with apple mostarda, farm egg shakshouka, soujouk sausage with muhammara and veal jus, and smoked sablefish with lebne, has by no means kept him out of the L.A. food scene, however. Wexler is currently in the midst of his second stint at Umamicatessen’s Residency project downtown, cooking multicourse dinners in an open kitchen surrounded by customers seated at his counter for a very specific experience. The configuration makes for a social, interactive Saturday night, as does the conceit. For the current “Dead Chefs” theme, continuing through July, Wexler turns to the canon to cook recipes from a different historical culinary giant for each of the 10 weeks, starting with Marie-Antoine Careme and concluding with Julia Child. 

“To Live and Dine in L.A.,” Wexler’s previous, inaugural session of the program, took a specific geographical approach, with nights dedicated to saluting the best of Pico Boulevard and exploring the diverse heritage Boyle Heights, among other communities. Wexler might have made an Israeli cheese-stuffed borek in reference to Eilat Market, but not one you’d typically expect. (Hint: Bacon was involved.)

A graduate of Milken Community High School, Wexler and his business partner (and fellow Cornell University alum) Mike Kassar, are setting their sights on settling down again, in a new locale, in the coming months.  

The Residency at Umamicatessen
852 Broadway  –  Los Angeles
(213) 413-8626 – umami.com/umamicatessen

Save the self-pity, choices abound for Passover meals


For the many who feel overwhelmed by Passover because of the demands of cooking without leaven, a word or two: That should not be an obstacle.

After all, on this most celebrated of Jewish holidays, we are allowed to eat fish, meat, poultry, eggs, nuts, fruits, most vegetables and fresh herbs.

All of the recipes featured here  are nutritious, attractive, flavorful and easy to prepare. They emphasize fresh, seasonal ingredients, fewer complicated techniques, and stylish, elegant dishes. What more would you want for Passover?

The seder meals, when we recount the Exodus story, are the most important events of the holiday.  Most people, like myself, favor their own traditional menu. Each year I repeat the seder menu as a way to hold on to cherished family traditions.

The recipes are from the new cookbook “Helen Nash's New Kosher Cuisine” (Overlook Press).

BEET SOUP
With their magnificent color, delicious flavor and vitamin richness, beets are one of my favorite vegetables. In the summer I serve this soup at room temperature; in the winter I like it hot.

Ingredients:
1 1/4 pounds (570 g) beets, plus 1 small beet for garnish
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 small red onion, sliced
2 garlic cloves, sliced
1 McIntosh apple, peeled and sliced
4 1/2 cups (1.08 liters) vegetable broth
2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Peel and slice the beets (see note below). Heat the oil in a medium saucepan. Add the onion, garlic and apple, and saute for 5 minutes. Add the beets and broth. Bring to a boil over high heat. Lower the heat and cook, covered, for about 30 minutes, until the beets are tender. Cool a little.

While the soup is cooking, wrap the reserved beet tightly in foil. Bake in a toaster oven at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (205 Celsius) for 30 minutes, or until just tender when pierced with the tip of a paring knife. Cool, slip off the skin, and grate.

Puree the soup in a blender until very smooth. Season to taste with the vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper.

To serve, garnish with the grated beet; makes 6 servings.

Note: I always wear thin plastic gloves when I work with beets, as this avoids staining my fingers with beet juice, which can be hard to remove.

CHICKEN SALAD WITH RADICCHIO AND PINE NUTS
This is a colorful and delicious salad with an interesting mixture of textures and tastes. The currants and pine nuts add an unusual Mediterranean piquancy.

Ingredients: 
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced
6 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil for greasing the chicken
Kosher salt 
Freshly ground black pepper
1 head radicchio, shredded
1 to 2 bunches arugula, leaves torn if they are large
1/2 cup (20 g) loosely packed flat-leaf parsley, finely chopped

Preparation:

Place the onion slices in a small bowl and cover with cold water. Let stand for 30 minutes. Drain and pat dry. Place in a large serving bowl.

Pat the chicken dry with paper towels and grease with oil. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Place each chicken breast in the center of a piece of cling wrap and wrap it so that it is completely covered. Place the packages in a steamer, cover and steam over high heat for about 9 minutes. (The inside of the chicken should still be pale pink.) Turn off the heat and let stand for 1 minute.

Remove the chicken and cool, still wrapped. When cool, unwrap the chicken and cut it on the diagonal into thin strips. Place in the bowl with the onions; makes 6 servings.

SWEET AND SOUR DRESSING
Ingredients:
1/3 cup (80 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1/2 cup (70 g) pine nuts 
1/2 cup (115 g) raisins or currants
2 tablespoons Marsala wine
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Preparation:
Heat the oil in a saucepan. Add the pine nuts and raisins and saute over low heat until the pine nuts are lightly golden. Remove from the heat and add the Marsala and vinegar.
Add the radicchio, arugula, and parsley to the chicken and onions; toss with the dressing. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

MARINATED SALMON
This is a variation on the traditional pickled salmon sold in every Jewish delicatessen. The difference: The salmon is more delicate and less vinegary, and has a richer color. It makes a perfect Sabbath luncheon dish.

Ingredients:
6 skinless center-cut salmon fillets (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
1 teaspoon extra virgin olive oil for greasing the pan
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 200 F (95 C). Grease a glass or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold the fillets in a single layer.

Pat the fillets dry with paper towels and season them lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Place them in the dish and bake, uncovered, for 25 to 30 minutes, or until cooked to your taste.

Remove the baking pan from the oven, cover with foil, and let cool completely. (The fish will continue cooking outside of the oven.)

MARINADE 
Ingredients:
3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
4 tablespoons rice vinegar (for Passover, replace with white wine vinegar)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 small red onion, very thinly sliced (see note below)
15 dill sprigs, snipped finely with scissors, plus 2 sprigs, snipped, for garnish

Preparation: 
In a medium bowl, whisk together the olive oil, vinegar and salt. Add pepper to taste. Pour the marinade over the salmon, add the onion and sprinkle with the 15 snipped sprigs of dill.
Cover the dish with wax paper, then foil and refrigerate for 2 to 3 days without turning.

To serve: Bring the salmon to room temperature. Place on individual plates along with some of the marinade and onions. Garnish with the fresh snipped dill; makes 6 servings.

Note: I use a mandoline to slice the onion, as it makes the cutting easier.

CHICKEN WITH POTATOES AND OLIVES
I am always pleased to come up with a dish that is a meal in itself — one that combines either chicken or meat with vegetables. This is one of my favorites, and because it is so easy to make, I often serve it at Passover. I bake it in an attractive casserole, so it can go directly from the oven to the table.

Ingredients:
5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
9 garlic cloves
Kosher salt 
1/4 cup (60 ml) freshly squeezed lemon juice
Leaves from 10 thyme sprigs
Freshly ground black pepper
4 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (about 6 ounces/170 g each)
5 plum tomatoes
1 pound (450 g) Yukon gold potatoes, unpeeled, quartered
1/2 cup (67 g) pitted black olives, quartered

Preparation:
Preheat the oven to 450 F (230 C). With 1 tablespoon of the oil, grease a glass, ceramic or enamel-lined baking pan that can hold all the vegetables in a single layer.

Coarsely chop 4 of the garlic cloves on a cutting board. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon salt and, using a knife, crush them into a paste. Place the paste in a small bowl and combine it with the lemon juice, 2 tablespoons of the oil, half of the thyme leaves and pepper to taste.

Pat dry the chicken breasts with paper towels and season lightly on both sides with salt and pepper. Coat the chicken with the mixture and set aside.

Bring a pot of water to a boil. Drop the tomatoes into the boiling water; bring the water back to a boil and drain. Core the tomatoes and slip off the skin. Cut the tomatoes in half widthwise and squeeze gently to remove the seeds. (Some seeds will remain.) Cut the tomatoes in quarters.

Thickly slice the remaining 5 garlic cloves and spread them in the prepared baking pan along with the tomatoes, potatoes, olives, the rest of the thyme leaves, and the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Roast the vegetables, uncovered, for 20 minutes, or until almost tender.

Place the chicken breasts on top of the vegetables and bake, uncovered, for 5 minutes. Turn them over, spoon on some pan juices and bake for another 5 minutes, or until the chicken is slightly pink on the inside. Cover with foil for 1 minute; makes 4 servings.

STIR-FRIED SPINACH
This is a delicious recipe that captures the very essence of spinach. Now that prewashed spinach is available in almost every supermarket, you can prepare this dish in minutes.

Ingredients:
20 ounces (570 g) prewashed spinach
1 1/2 tablespoons pine nuts
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
Kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper

Preparation:
Break the stems off the spinach leaves and discard.

Roast the pine nuts in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for 1 or 2 minutes, until they are golden. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Heat a wok over high heat until hot. Add the oil. Add the spinach and stir quickly until it is just wilted, no more than a minute. Season with salt and pepper. With a slotted spoon, transfer the spinach to a serving dish. Sprinkle the pine nuts on top; makes 6 servings.

CHOCOLATE MERINGUE SQUARES
These meringue squares are like cookies, but they are light, chocolaty and surprisingly low in calories. I often serve them at Passover.

Ingredients:
1 tablespoon (15 g) unsalted margarine for greasing the pan
1/2 pound (225 g) blanched almonds
6 ounces (170 g) good-quality imported semisweet chocolate, broken into small pieces
8 large egg whites (see notes)
1 cup (200 g) sugar

Preparation:

Preheat the oven to 350 F (175 C). Line a 9-by-13-by-2-inch (23-by-33-by-5 cm) baking pan with wax paper and grease the paper with the margarine.

Chop the almonds in a food processor, in two batches, until medium-fine. Transfer to a bowl. Chop the chocolate in the processor until fine, and combine with the almonds.

Place the egg whites in the bowl of an electric stand mixer. Using the balloon whisk attachment, beat at high speed until foamy. Gradually add the sugar and beat until stiff.

With a large rubber spatula, gently fold the chocolate-almond mixture into the egg whites, making a motion like a figure 8 with the spatula. Do not overmix.

Spoon the batter into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Bake on the middle shelf of the oven for 25 to 30 minutes, until a cake tester inserted in the center comes out 
almost dry.

Cool on a wire rack. Invert onto a cutting board and peel off the paper. Cut into 1 1/2-inch (4 cm) squares; makes 3 1/2 dozen squares.

Notes: It is easier to separate the eggs straight from the refrigerator, when they are cold. Make sure the whites have come to room temperature before beating.

To freeze the squares, place them side by side in an air-tight plastic container, with  wax paper between the layers.

Braised short ribs of beef


“HELEN NASH’S NEW KOSHER CUISINE” is available at bookstores around the country and online retailers.  For more information visit http://www.helennashkoshercuisine.com/.

This is a very flavorful dish using Chinese ingredients. I prepare it in advance and just reheat. I like to serve this with Parsnip and Potato Purée (page 126), White Bean and Potato Purée (page 131) or Vegetable Medley, Asian Style (page 121).

  • 8 beef spareribs (about 4 pounds/1.80 kg) Ask the butcher to cut the ribs into pieces that are 4 inches long and 2 inches wide /10 by 5 cm.
  • 1/4 cup (30 g) sesame seeds
  • 1 cup (250 ml) water
  • 8 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2-inch (5 cm) piece ginger, peeled and grated
  • 1/3 cup (67 g) sugar
  • 1/2 cup (125 ml) low-sodium soy sauce
  • 2 tablespoons sesame oil
  • Preheat the oven to 400°F (205°C).

Place the ribs in a roasting pan large enough to hold them in a single layer.

Roast the sesame seeds in a toaster oven on the lowest setting for a minute or two, until lightly brown. (Watch them carefully, as they burn quickly.)

Combine the sesame seeds with the water, garlic, ginger, sugar, soy sauce, and sesame oil. Pour the mixture over the meat. Cover the pan with heavy foil and roast for 2 1/2 hours, turning the meat once or twice.

Uncover the ribs and slip the bones out of the meat. Return the pan to the oven to bake for another 20 minutes, until the meat is very tender. Skim off the liquid fat with a spoon.

Note: To reheat, cover the meat and place in a preheated 350°F (175°C) oven for about 15 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings


Excerpt from NEW KOSHER CUISINE © 2012 by HELEN NASH. Published by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers Inc., New York, NY. www.overlookpress.com. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved. 

Slice of Life: Cooking with pears


One of my favorite best childhood foodie memories was sharing the plate of sliced pears and cheese that my mom had waiting for me after a long day at grade school. I so loved the concept of sharing a healthy snack and continued the tradition with my boys. Finding out that not only were they lactose intolerant but allergic to pears (and bananas and a few other fruits I’d been giving them on a regular basis) put kind of a kink in my good mom armor. Needless to say they ate other stuff after school and I ate my pears all by myself.   My boys are now men, have moved on to other locations to feed themselves so I’ve decided to bring back the pear with a vengeance.

Pears are super delicious fall fruit that is related to apples and can often be substituted for them. Like apples, the color of the skin of the different varieties of pears range from yellow to green to brown and red or a combination of two or more of the colors. The inside fruit is dcream colored, juicy and runs the gamut from tart to sweet. They’re a terrific source of fiber and vitamin C. for only 100 calories per serving. Add to the fact that they’re sodium free, fat free, and cholesterol free and you have one excellent fruit.

Pears, like apples, come in a multitude of sizes and types. There are two main varieties, the bell shaped European varieties and the round Asian pears there most popular varieties available in your grocery or farmers markets include but are not limited to:

Anjou pears they are red and green, sweet can be cooked

Asian pears are round and crunchy, great raw

Bartlett’s are the juiciest of the pears, great raw, not for cooking

Bosc pears are great raw or cooked. These are the ones with brownish skin

Comice pears great raw.

Seckel pears are smaller, tart and have a green/red skin. Can be cooked

To find the best pears look for ones that give a little when pressed at their neck and have a slight floral fragrance. Most people don’t know that pears actually ripen off the tree and if they’re hard when you buy them they will soft soften when left at room temperature or stored in a sealed paper bag with a banana for a few days.

The following recipes are all yummy and can be used to introduce your youngsters to the joy of pears as well as reminding you that sometimes a simple plate of cheese and fruit is all you need to bring back the best of your childhood.


CARAMEL COATED PEARS (dairy or pareve)

  • 1/3 cup packed brown sugar
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 2 teaspoons butter or margarine
  • 2 medium firm ripe pears
  • sweetened whipped cream or pareve whipped  topping
  • 2 teaspoons sliced almonds, toasted

Preheat oven to 350. In a small sauce pan combine sugar, water, and butter. Bring the mixture to a boil and cook for 3 minutes or until slightly thickened. Remove the caramel mixture from heat and set aside. Peel and core pears, and cut pears in half lengthwise. Arrange pear halves, cut sides up, in a baking dish and drizzle the caramel mixture over the top of the pears. Cover with foil and bake for 25 minutes. Uncover and bake an additional 25 minutes or until tender.  Place pear halves in dessert dishes; spoon 2 tablespoons of caramel mixture evenly over pears. Top with whipped cream and almonds.

Serves 2 to 4.

My files, source unknown


PEAR, MANGO AND CABBAGE SLAW (pareve)

  • 3 ripe pears, cubed
  • 2 cups fresh mango peeled and cubed
  • 4 cups green cabbage sliced very thin
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seed
  • 3/4 cup oil
  • 6 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 teaspoons sugar
  • 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1 dash salt

In a large salad bowl combine the pears, mangos and cabbage. Toss to combine. In a jar with a tight fitting lid combine the vinegar, oil, soy sauce, sugar, garlic powder and salt. Shake to combine. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and toss to coat. Sprinkle the seeds over the top and serve.

Serves 6 to 8.

My file, source unknown 


CHICKEN WITH SAUTEED PEARS WITH ROSEMARY SAUCE (meat) 

  • 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion
  • 1 tablespoon minced garlic
  • 2 cups apple juice
  • 1/2 cup red wine
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons dried rosemary
  • 1 teaspoon fresh thyme or 1/2 teaspoon dried
  • Pinch of dried crushed red pepper
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 1 Bosc pear, quartered, cored, thinly sliced
  • 4 skinless boneless chicken breast halves
  • 1/4 cup Marsala

Heat 2 tablespoons oil in heavy medium saucepan over medium-high heat. Add onion and garlic; sauté until tender, about 5 minutes. Add apple juice, red wine, vinegar, rosemary, thyme and crushed red pepper; bring to boil. Reduce heat; simmer until mixture is reduced to 1 1/2 cups, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes. Strain mixture into small saucepan; discard solids. Add cream and simmer until reduced to sauce consistency, about 12 minutes.

Meanwhile heat 2 teaspoons oil in heavy medium skillet over medium heat. Add pear slices; sauté until tender and golden brown, about 8 minutes. (Sauce and pears can be prepared 2 hours ahead. Cover separately and refrigerate. Rewarm pears over medium-low heat before serving.)

Heat remaining 1 tablespoon oil in heavy large skillet over medium-high heat. Sprinkle chicken with salt and pepper. Add to skillet and sauté until cooked through and golden brown on both sides, about 4 minutes per side. Add Marsala and bring to boil. Stir in reserved sauce, turning chicken once to coat. Cook until heated through, about 2 minutes longer.

Divide chicken among 4 plates. Spoons some sauce around chicken on each plate. Garnish with pear slices.

Modified from Bon Appétit April 1997

Celebrating Sukkot, remembering Africa


There’s a certain bittersweetness to the festival of Sukkot. On the one hand, it’s z’man simchateinu, the season of our rejoicing: In ancient Israel, it marked the end of the harvest season, the time when the storehouses were full of sustenance for the coming agricultural year, the time of thanksgiving. We celebrate that today with wonderful meals for friends and family in our own sukkahs — a time of warmth, conviviality, plenty.

On the other hand, the end of Sukkot is (in Israel as well as right here in Southern California) also the end of the dry season. For our ancestors, as they made their way back from the Temple in Jerusalem to their villages and farms, there must have been an undercurrent of anxiety as well, an anxiety no different from the one that haunts farmers today in the drought-stricken regions of this country. Would enough rain fall in the coming winter, so that there would be a harvest next year as well?

Thinking about the ambivalence as we approach the final days of Sukkot reminded me of a conversation I had in August.

I was one of 17 American rabbis from across the denominations to travel with an American Jewish World Service (AJWS) delegation to a very, very poor part of Ghana — Sankor, a village on the coast that was rife with child trafficking; for as little as $50, poverty-stricken parents have sold their children to work as slaves on fishing boats on Lake Volta.

But Sankor is also the site of Challenging Heights (CH). A long-term recipient of AJWS’ support, CH was created by a former child slave, James Kofi Annan, to save other children from his fate. The organization rescues trafficked children, rehabilitates them in a special center, counsels and works with the parents, and helps to set the family on their economic feet through microloans and support. Most of all, CH is focused on the children’s education, so that they, and other poor children from Sankor, will have the tools to overcome poverty in the future.

A week before I left on that AJWS Rabbis’ Delegation to Challenging Heights, this is what I packed in my duffel bag:

work clothes (required)

a wide-brimmed hat and wide-mouthed water bottle (required)

a long-sleeved blouse and long skirt (urged by AJWS for visits with traditional villagers)

a mosquito net (absolutely required!)

sunscreen (required)

and — at the last minute, just in case,  I — who have always regarded myself as super-healthy and quite hardy — stuffed in bottles/jars/tubes of ibuprofen, anti-itch cream, anti-diarrheal medication, acid controller, Beanaid, and — you never know — protein bars, fruit and nut bars, energy bars, and … hmm … a few of those newfangled bags of tuna — which in ordinary circumstances I’d never buy.

Even more than those ordinarily never-used over-the-counter medications I brought, it was my urge to pack extra food that betrayed the anxiety I felt about this Ghana trip. In such a poor country, in such a bare-bones place, would there be enough to eat?

So we rabbis arrived at Challenging Heights, both to build and, truly, to be “rebuilt”: to work on construction projects at CH in the mornings and to learn in the afternoons — about CH, as well as the connections among issues of poverty, hunger and human rights abuses around the world, issues inextricable from our own consumption habits as Americans and our country’s foreign aid and food policies. Who suffered when we Westerners did not buy only Fair Trade commodities? What was the human cost of our not holding multinational corporations accountable
for the labor conditions and wages paid to their workers in poor countries? How did our Farm Bill affect faraway small farms in Africa and Asia?

How much and what did we Americans —among the most affluent people on the planet — actually need?

One day, as we wrapped up our construction project and washed our hands in preparation for lunch, a young girl named Juliette asked one of the rabbis where he was going now.

“To eat lunch,” he said.

“May you have food tomorrow,” she responded softly.

Juliette’s words echoed in our ears throughout the rest of our stay. Perhaps it was the overwhelming gratitude we felt for our own sense of plenty; perhaps it was the humility we felt in the presence of these profoundly modest people who were dedicating all their energy to healing the terrible wounds of their society. Perhaps it was a new understanding of “need.”

I began to pay more and more attention to the beauty of the food made for us by Charles Quansah, the cook at Challenging Heights. Although he had a modest budget and a limited array of local ingredients, he succeeded in preparing the most delicious, expertly spiced, vegetarian versions of traditional Ghanaian meals. How foolish and fearful bringing all those bars and bags of tuna felt.

I asked Mr. Quansah for his recipes, determined to bring home the tastes of Challenging Heights.

Sukkot, a time of thanksgiving for our harvest and our full storehouses, a time when we share meals with friends and family in our fragile sukkahs, a time when we rejoice in plenty and yet remember the reality of scarcity, seems to me the perfect time to include the foods of a culture far away from us geographically but with so much to teach us spiritually.

May we savor these recipes I brought back from Challenging Heights and Ghana today, and may we, and all the peoples of the world, have food tomorrow as well.

Rosh Hashanah Food: All you knead for a bounty of challah


Dipping freshly baked challah in honey is a tradition observed during the holiday of Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year. This act combines the Shabbat bread with hopes for a sweet New Year.

The custom is to serve a round or spiral-shaped challah, one of the symbolic foods eaten during Rosh Hashanah. Typical is the challah baked in a circle to signify the desire for a long life, peace and universal redemption. Another type of challah is made in the shape of a crown, braided and twisted into a circle and topped by a smaller circle, symbolizing the ascent to heaven.

Middle Eastern Jews add saffron and raisins to make the bread special for the holiday. Because carrots were one of the few sweet-tasting vegetables accessible to Eastern European Jews, they became a substitute for the candied pumpkin and squash often eaten during the holiday.

Another concept is a break-apart challah. The dough is divided into several parts, shaped into small rounds and placed together in a greased round or loaf pan. Next, it is oiled lightly, left to rise, then brushed with egg and sprinkled with poppy seeds before baking. After this challah is baked, it will break apart easily and be ready to dip in honey.

A round braided challah filled with apples, pears or quince, representing the harvest, is an Italian custom and is included in the recipes that follow.

Potato challah, usually associated with times of grain shortages or a need for economy in the kitchen, was made by Russian and Polish Jews during the Jewish New Year. And for those who could not afford to bake cakes for Rosh Hashanah, there was the delicious bolas, made in Spain from sweetened challah dough, filled with candied orange peel and raisins, rolled into loaves, sliced and baked.

Although challah is easily bought at the bakery, many families are discovering the joy of making it at home. This tradition is important especially during holidays in which it has special meaning. There is pleasure and satisfaction in baking it yourself, and what better way to celebrate the holiday than with the aroma of freshly baked bread. Be sure to reserve some dough for small individual challahs, which will be a special treat for the children. Make it a family project, and allow them to braid and bake their own. 


Rosh Hashanah round braided challah

1 package active dry yeast
1  1/2 cups warm water (110-115 F)
Pinch sugar
3 eggs
1/3 cup honey
1/2 cup unsalted butter or nondairy margarine, melted
1/8 teaspoon ground saffron (optional)
2 tablespoons brandy
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1 cup raisins, plumped
Cornmeal
1 egg white, lightly beaten
2 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water and  sugar. Beat together eggs, honey and melted butter in a large mixing bowl. Add the remaining 1 cup warm water, saffron and brandy, and blend well. Blend in the yeast mixture. Add flour, 1 cup at a time with salt, blending with a beater after each addition, until the dough is thick enough to work by hand. Spoon it out onto a floured board and knead for 5 to 10 minutes, gradually incorporating the raisins and enough additional flour to make a smooth and elastic dough. Place dough in an oiled bowl and oil top of dough. Cover loosely with a clean towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1  1/2 hours.

Punch down dough and divide into 3 equal parts. Form each one into a rope about 26 inches long. Braid the ropes together and seal the ends by pinching.

Line a large heavy baking sheet with foil or a silicone baking mat. Oil the foil and sprinkle it with cornmeal. Remove the label and wash an empty 16-ounce can; oil its outside and place it in the center of the baking sheet, open end up. Transfer the challah to the baking sheet, forming it into a ring around the can; join and pinch together the ends of the braid. Cover dough with a towel and let it rise in a warm place until doubled, about 40 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Brush the challah with beaten egg white and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes until golden brown. Cool on a rack.

Serve the challah on a circular tray and set a bowl of honey in the center. Serve with sliced apples for dipping.

Makes 1 challah.

A young chef’s guide to the Rosh Hashanah meal


Considering the history of the Jewish people, the fact that Jews are still celebrating the High Holy Days today is a miracle in itself. Strong traditions and lasting rituals have enabled Jews to survive the most threatening periods of history. With the freedoms we have as modern American Jews, it makes sense that we use these same traditions and rituals to enjoy holidays to the fullest. As a chef and registered foodie, the best way I know to relish in the upcoming holidays is by making really delicious food. My plan for this year is to make a multi-course feast that pays homage to great Jewish eating traditions while at the same time represents me and my life as a Jewish chef in Los Angeles.

Watching friends and family nod their heads and smile as they eat the food you have prepared is unbelievably soul-satisfying. It is a great feeling to know that the meal you cooked has enriched the High Holy Day experience for those you love. Great food is part of the equation in making a great meal, but the experience is made complete when you also have time to enjoy the company of friends and family. In order to accomplish this, I turn to the motto of my alma mater, the Culinary Institute of America, which states, “Preparation is everything.” Creating a strategy and timeline for a feast at home for guests will enable you as the cook to make great food and eat it too. Mise en place is a cooking term that means “to put into place.” It is what every chef must learn in order to master the craft of cooking. Mise en place represents the prep work done in advance of a meal and the strategy for serving it. If you are going to make the High Holy Day meal of a lifetime and still enjoy eating it, you must first focus on making a prep plan as to when the components of the meal will be made, and a strategy for how to serve the meal. This is what I will discuss as I go through my menu for the holidays.

My first course is Olive Oil Poached Sardine Fillets and Fried Heads With Lemon and Parsley Chips. Serving the fish heads, or the “rosh,” for the holidays has traditionally been a symbol for the fact that we have reached the head of the year, and also the head of life, rather than the tail. Some Jews serve whole fish so there will be a head on the table during dinner. Using this tradition as inspiration, I decided to serve fried sardine heads along with the fillets. Even though this is the first course, it should be last in the prep schedule. Ideally, purchase the fish as close to serving the meal as possible, so that it is at its freshest. The sardines should be cleaned and cooked shortly before serving. Last, they should be eaten immediately after cooking to maximize flavor.

The next course is Chilled Honey-Cucumber Soup. My wife and I own the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles. We are coming to the end of our first summer in business, and it has been a fantastic adventure. Along with the excitement and joy of running our truck comes the fact that we have been hot since April. Between the cooking equipment and the warm California sunshine, our truck heats up. This year, while I am relaxing and enjoying our High Holy Day feast, I want to eat something cool. Cucumber is a cooling ingredient and when paired with honey in a soup takes on a familiar homey sweetness that many Jews would associate with Rosh Hashanah. Along with being tasty, this chilled soup relieves a tremendous amount of stress, because everything can be made the day before, and to serve, it is simply poured into bowls and garnished.

Most chefs begin their careers working “the line.” This refers to the line of equipment in restaurant kitchens, where cooks are divided by stations and are responsible for cooking different items on the restaurant’s menu. Typically, stations are divided by the equipment each cook is responsible for, such as grill, sauté, fry, etc. This is the training ground for all chefs. You must prepare a variety of dishes as quickly as possible, while maintaining the highest-quality standards. The only way to survive the line is with impeccable mise en place.

Approaching a family meal at home as a line cook will enable you to cook a great meal and then have time to enjoy the company of your friends and family.  For the main course, I am serving Apples and Honey Chicken along with Smashed Sweet Potatoes and a Warm Kale-and-Fennel Slaw. Braised chicken is ideal for serving large groups hot food that is tender, moist and flavorful. I prepare all of the ingredients for the chicken the day before. The day of the dinner, I begin to cook the chicken in the early afternoon and let it cook slowly until I am ready to serve it.

The ingredients for the slaw are also prepared the day before, and I create a kit for the dressing. Kitting a recipe is a pillar of the Culinary Institute of America’s curriculum. It means that I have the ingredients for a recipe portioned and organized so that I can quickly assemble the dish when needed. By kitting the dressing, I am able to easily prepare the slaw near the time of serving it without stress. The last component of the entrée is the smashed sweet potatoes. Mashed preparations, like potatoes or squash, can be held in a heat-resistant bowl, covered in plastic wrap on top of a double boiler for long periods of time without compromising its quality. I prepare the sweet potatoes before my family and friends arrive and hold them over a double boiler until I am ready to serve them. Limiting the number of steps I have to take after family has arrived allows me time during the meal to sit with them and enjoy the food and their company.

After a great feast, I prefer a dessert that is petite and pairs well with fine coffee and schnapps. This year I am serving Honey-Olive Oil Cookies with Thyme and Fleur de Sel. The olive oil gives the cookie a biscuit-like texture that pleasantly dries the mouth and creates a craving for something to drink. Relaxing at the end of a holiday meal with the people I love and sharing cookies and schnapps is a tradition that helps me celebrate Jewish life. I hope that you will feel empowered to continue developing your own great Jewish culinary traditions for your friends and family.

I wish you all a delicious and sweet new year. L’shanah tovah!

Karaite-style Passover recipes


KARAITE MATZAH (From Amy Gazzar)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

2 cups unbleached flour
1/3 cup warm vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup warm water
1 1/2 tablespoons coriander seed

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all ingredients together until dough is soft but not sticky.

Spread on a cookie sheet and cut into squares. Bake for 25 to 30 minutes until golden brown.


KARAITE MATZAH USING MATZAH CAKE MEAL (From Remy Pessah)

NOTE: To make sure that dough does not rise, matzah should be put in the oven within 10 minutes of adding water.

3 cups (kosher for Passover) matzah cake meal
3/4 cup oil
1 1/2 cups water
1 tablespoon coriander seed
1 teaspoon salt
Preheat oven to 400 F.

Mix all the ingredients together and knead dough until soft but not sticky. Spread on 2 cookie sheets, 12 by 17 inches. Cut dough into 2-by-2-inch squares. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.


PASSOVER ALMOND COOKIES (LOZETTO)

4 egg whites
2 1/4 cups sugar
1 pound almond powder
Whole almonds (optional)

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Line a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Beat the egg whites until foamy, add sugar gradually, gently fold in almond powder, and mix with spatula.

Drop by heaping teaspoonsful onto prepared cookie sheet. Top each cookie with a whole almond.

Bake on middle rack for 15 to 20 minutes until lightly browned. Cool

10 minutes and carefully remove from sheets with spatula.


MAROR

1 fresh anise, chopped
1 endive, chopped
1 red lettuce, chopped
1 romaine lettuce,  chopped
1 curly lettuce,  chopped
1 bunch parsley
1 bunch dill weed
2 tablespoons Lemon Juice
2 pickled lemons, diced
1 teaspoon salt

Combine the above ingredients and serve on homemade matzah during the Passover Seder.


ALMOND MERINGUE

5 egg whites
1 cup sugar
4 cups slivered toasted almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Mix egg whites with sugar; add almonds. Refrigerate for a few hours or overnight. Place parchment paper on a cookie sheet and spray with cooking spray.

Scoop out 1 teaspoon at a time, and place the scoops on the prepared cookie sheet, spacing scoops about 1 inch apart.

Bake for 15 minutes.


ORANGE MARMALADE

4 large seedless oranges
2 lemons
8 cups water
8 cups sugar

Cut the oranges and lemons in half crosswise, then into very thin half-moon slices. (If you have a mandoline, this will be quite fast.) Discard any seeds. Place the sliced fruit and their juices into a stainless steel pot. Add water and bring the mixture to a boil, stirring often. Remove from the heat and stir in the sugar until it dissolves. Cover and allow to stand overnight at room temperature.

The next day, bring the mixture back to a boil. Reduce the heat to low, and simmer, uncovered, for about 2 hours. Turn the heat up to medium and boil gently, stirring often, for another 30 minutes. Skim off any foam that forms on the top. Cook the marmalade until it reaches 220 degrees F on a candy thermometer. If you want to be doubly sure it’s ready, place a small amount on a plate and refrigerate it until it’s cool but not cold. If it’s firm — neither runny nor too hard — it’s done. It will be a golden orange color. (If the marmalade is runny, continue cooking it;  if it’s too hard, add more water.)

Pour the marmalade into clean, hot Mason jars; wipe the rims thoroughly with a clean damp paper towel, and seal with the lids according to the package directions. Store in the pantry for up to a year.

Recipes to please the crowd and de-stress the chef


Passover may be the mother of all kitchen yontifs — but stay cool, and don’t stress. Here are some of my favorite recipes from last Passover that you will love this Passover and all year.

Last year, 99 percent of what I made for Passover wasn’t actually Passover recipes. Of course they were kosher for Passover, but they didn’t require any major Passover ingredient tweaks. These recipes were developed with Passover in mind and have become staples in my year-round repertoire because they were super easy and got the most oohs and aahs.

SALMON CAKES WITH TROPICAL FRUIT SALSA

Croquettes are cute and elegant for your starter course. They’re also wonderfully light and refreshing. The tropical salsa is a combination of fresh pineapple, mango, red onion, jalapeno, cilantro and lime juice — the perfect complement to the richness of the salmon. The balance of sweet and savory flavors instantly pleases the palate. This is a starter with zing!

SALMON CAKES:

1 (2-pound) side of salmon, skin on
2 large eggs, lightly beaten
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 tablespoons olive oil


SALSA:

1 cup diced pineapple
1/2 cup diced mango
1/2 cup diced red onion
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1/2 jalapeno pepper, seeded and finely chopped Juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

To prepare salmon cakes, preheat oven to 350 F.

On a lightly greased large baking sheet, bake salmon skin side down for 25 to 30 minutes or until cooked all the way through. Let cool completely.

Once salmon is cooled, gently flake away from the skin and break into large chunks. Place in a large bowl. Combine with eggs, red onion, matzah meal, salt and pepper. Stir to mix well.

Scoop about 1/3 cup at a time into your hands and form into a round patty about 1/4 inch thick. Place on a large plate or cookie sheet pan and repeat with remaining mixture until you have formed 10 cakes. Refrigerate for 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, for salsa, in a medium bowl combine pineapple, mango, red onion, cilantro, jalapeno, lime juice and salt. Mix well and set aside.

Heat olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Fry a few cakes at a time for about 5 to 8 minutes per side or until golden brown and crispy. Drain on a paper-towel-lined plate while frying remaining cakes.

To serve, top each cake with a few tablespoons of salsa.

Makes 10 salmon cakes.

ZUCCHINI AND RED BELL PEPPER SAUTE

3 tablespoons olive oil

4 medium zucchini, sliced into ribbons using a vegetable peeler
4 cloves garlic, minced

4 roasted red bell peppers, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add zucchini ribbons and saute a few minutes until slightly softened. Add garlic and saute 3 minutes more. Add roasted bell peppers and saute a few minutes more, until heated through.

Stir in paprika and salt.

Makes 8 servings.

POMEGRANATE BRAISED BRISKET

1 (4-pound) first cut beef brisket
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 medium onions, peeled and cut into eighths

6 cloves garlic, smashed
2 cups pomegranate juice
2 cups chicken broth
3 tablespoons honey
3 bay leaves

1 small bunch fresh thyme

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Season brisket with salt and pepper. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large roasting pan or Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Sear brisket about 4 minutes per side or until browned. Remove and set aside.

Add remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil to roasting pan; saute onions and garlic for 5 minutes over medium-low heat until softened. Return brisket to pan and add pomegranate juice, chicken broth, honey, bay leaves and thyme. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cover. Transfer to preheated oven and roast for 2 hours.

Turn brisket over and continue roasting for 1 to 1  1/2 more hours or until tender. Let brisket rest for 10 minutes before thinly slicing against the grain. Strain liquid and serve on the side.

Makes 8 servings.

Position yourself for Passover’s traditions


After many years of reciting the Passover story around our dining room table, we made a major change. My family decided to re-create the seders held long ago. According to the haggadah, when people live in freedom, they can eat in a reclining or relaxed manner.

We asked our guests to bring pillows or cushions to lean against as we celebrated Passover with a seder on our living room floor, which began with the symbolic foods of the holiday displayed on the seder plate.

During the first part of the evening, we eat the required foods of Passover that families have eaten for generations. Charoset is one of the few dishes that may require a recipe. A mixture of fruits, wine, nuts and spices, it represents the mortar our ancestors made while laboring as slaves in Egypt. It is prepared differently in Jewish communities all over the world depending on the ingredients available. We prepare several kinds for our seder, and one that we serve is made from a Yemenite recipe, a combination of dates, dried figs, sesame seeds, ginger, wine and a little matzah meal. Included is fresh grated horseradish, a bitter herb that is eaten with charoset and matzah.

A roasted egg, which many families dip in coarse salt, is usually served, but our family’s custom is to prepare a cold, salted, chopped egg soup instead. We eat spring onions or parsley that are dipped in saltwater, as well as boiled small new potatoes that symbolize the coming of spring. Also on the seder plate is the roasted lamb shank, representing the Pascal lamb, but vegetarians may substitute a roasted beet. 

Reclining on cushions and pillows while reading from the haggadah was a wonderful experience, but serving food on the living room floor – especially matzah ball soup – would be difficult. After we finished recounting the Jewish people’s liberation from Egypt, we would move to the dining room table for a traditional Passover dinner.

We begin seder dinner with homemade gefilte fish, followed by chicken soup with matzah balls. The soup is prepared with whole chickens that are tied and put in the pot with a variety of vegetables. When the soup is done, the chickens are taken out and roasted in a tomato sauce to be served for the seder dinner. When cold, it can be made into a delicious chicken salad eaten for lunch or dinner during the remaining days of Passover.

The main course is served buffet style; everyone helps themselves to platters of roasted lamb shanks, sliced turkey with vegetable stuffing and candied sweet potatoes.

After dinner, Passover desserts include sponge cakes, cookies and chocolate-covered fruit. For a special treat this year, I am adding a Chocolate Marble Cake With Chocolate Glaze. The rich flavors of cocoa, strong coffee and chocolate make this cake extra-special. Grape Truffles are an easy addition — seedless grapes dipped in chocolate and then coated with cocoa powder are a surprise when they burst with flavor in your mouth.

Wine is an important part of the seder, and sweet concord grape wine has always been synonymous with Passover. But today, dry Passover wines are gaining in popularity, and the availability and varietals are remarkable. They are available from California, New York, France, Italy, Chile and Israel. At our seder, we provide both sweet and dry wine — as well as grape juice — to satisfy everyone’s taste. 

In recent years, our seders have moved back to the dining room. But as friends and family gather around our table for Passover, they recall with fondness how we reclined on the floor to read the haggadah. I’ve considered moving the seder back to the living room, but on one condition: We keep dinner in the dining room.


YEMENITE CHAROSET

1 cup pitted, chopped dates
1/2 cup chopped dried figs
1 teaspoon ground ginger
Pinch coriander
1 small red chili pepper, seeded and minced, or pinch of cayenne 
2 tablespoons matzah meal
1/3 cup sweet Passover wine
3 tablespoons sesame seeds
 
Blend the dates, figs, ginger, coriander, chili pepper, matzah meal and wine in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the knife blade. Mix in sesame seeds and transfer to a glass bowl. Roll into 1-inch balls or serve in a bowl.

Dessert variation: Dip charoset balls into melted chocolate and place on wax paper-lined baking sheet.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups or 12 balls.


GRANDMA GENE’S GEFILTE FISH

Buy whole whitefish. Have it boned, and wrap the bones, heads and skin separately for the Fish Broth. If you’re lucky, you might find roe inside the fish, which you can poach with the fish balls.

Fish Broth (recipe follows)
3 1/2 pounds filleted whitefish
2 yellow onions, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
2 small celery stalks, sliced
2 eggs
1/4 to 1/3 cup matzah meal
1/4 to 1/3 cup cold water
Kosher salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Lettuce leaves, sliced cucumber, sliced beets and horseradish sauce

Prepare the Fish Broth and keep warm.

Grind the whitefish with the onions, carrots and celery in a food grinder. Put through the grinder again. Place the ground mixture in a large mixing bowl and blend with the eggs and matzah meal. Transfer the mixture to a large wooden chopping bowl and, using a hand chopper, chop the fish mixture, adding the water gradually with 1/2 tablespoon kosher salt and 1 teaspoon pepper as you chop. (Mixture should be soft and light to the touch.) Wet your hands with additional cold water and shape the fish mixture into oval balls. Bring the Fish Broth to a boil over high heat, and place the fish balls in the broth. Cover, reduce the heat to medium high, and cook for 1 hour, or until fish is tender; do not overcook. Cool, transfer to a shallow glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and foil, and refrigerate.

To serve, arrange a lettuce leaf on each plate; top with fish and garnish with sliced cucumber and beets. Serve with horseradish sauce. 

Makes 24 small fish balls.


FISH BROTH

1 1/2 yellow onions, coarsely diced (reserve peels)
1 large carrot, peeled and thinly sliced
1/2 cup sliced celery tops
1 1/2 pounds fish bones, heads and skin from filleted white fish (wrap in cheese cloth)
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
4 cups cold water

Place the onions, onion peels, carrot, celery tops, wrapped fish bones, heads and skin, and salt and pepper in a large pot. Add water to cover and bring to a boil. Simmer for 1 hour, adding water if needed. When the broth is very flavorful, strain out the fish bones and vegetables and discard. Keep the broth warm.

Makes about 4 cups.

Purim: Poppy seed pleasures


It all began with Queen Esther, the heroine of the Purim story, who became a vegan when she married King Ahasuerus and moved into the palace. She favored fruits, beans and grains in her diet, and legend has it that poppy seed pastries were her favorite.

Over time, I have developed desserts inspired by the traditional poppy seed hamantaschen that are served during Purim, and my family celebrates the holiday with a variety of Purim desserts, which are either filled with poppy seeds or include poppy seeds in the batter.

This year I am making several cookie recipes, including one that combines poppy seeds with hazelnuts for a crunchy, distinctive flavor — a perfect dessert companion to accompany your Purim dessert table – as well as lacy, flourless Purim Seed Crisps.

My husband Marvin’s favorites are Korjas, paper-thin poppy seed cookies, a traditional family recipe that was given to me many years ago by my friend Della Spector. This recipe makes hundreds of cookies, similar in texture to potato chips. I never cut the recipe in half; the raw dough stores well in the refrigerator or freezer and is ready to roll out and bake at any time.

Poppy Seed Cheesecake is a creamy confection with an almond nut crust that is filled with poppy seeds and topped with sour cream. A small slice is so satisfying that one cheesecake can serve at least 20. For mishloach manot, or Purim gift baskets, make mini cheesecakes using the same recipe and muffin tins.

Start Purim day with a breakfast of Poppy Seed Pound Cake, which can be served toasted and topped with sweet butter or jam. It is a delicious treat that goes well with your morning cappuccino.

A tip for the baker in the family: I bake all my cookie recipes on a silicone baking mat to ensure that the cookies come off easily and never get stuck to the pan. You can store any of the cookie recipes in the refrigerator or freezer before baking; just defrost, roll out, and bake for everyone to enjoy.

PURIM SEED CRISPS

5 tablespoons unsalted butter
5 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons corn syrup
2 tablespoons whole milk
1/2 cup sesame seeds
2 tablespoons poppy seeds
2 tablespoons millet seeds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Combine butter, sugar, corn syrup and milk in a medium skillet and cook over medium heat, stirring with a wooden spoon, until the butter is melted and all the ingredients are combined thoroughly. Mix in the seeds. Transfer to a glass bowl. Refrigerate or freeze until firm, about 15 minutes. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 3 days and stored in the freezer for 1 month.)

Line a baking sheet with aluminum foil or a silicone baking mat. Using 1 teaspoon of batter at a time, shape batter into rounds the size of a nickel. Place rounds 2 to 3 inches apart on the prepared baking sheet. (Bake six at a time, as the cookies spread significantly.)

Bake for 10 minutes or until golden brown. (Watch closely — they brown quickly.) Let cool completely then carefully peel off of the foil, or, if using a silicone baking mat, remove cookies with a metal spatula.

Makes about 5 dozen cookies.


KORJAS (CRISP POPPY SEED THINS)

1 cup oil
2 cups sugar
2 eggs
6 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups milk
2 ounces poppy seeds
1 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add oil and 1 1/2 cups sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer and blend together until fluffy. Beat in the eggs until smooth. Sift together the flour, baking powder and salt. Gradually add the milk alternately with the sifted dry ingredients to the oil mixture, beating after each addition. Blend in the poppy seeds. (The dough can be refrigerated for up to 4 days and stored in the freezer for 3 weeks.)

Remove the dough a heaping teaspoon at a time onto a generously floured board or a sheet of wax paper. Roll out the dough into a thin rectangle, about 8 by 11 inches. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamond shapes and place them on a greased baking sheet or silicone baking mat. Mix together the remaining 1/2 cup sugar and cinnamon and sprinkle over the cookies.

Bake for 8 to 10 minutes or until golden brown. Transfer the cookies to racks to cool.

Makes about 200 cookies.


POPPY SEED HAZELNUT COOKIES

1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 cups coarsely chopped hazelnuts,
toasted

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add butter and sugar to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until creamy. Add egg and vanilla.

In another bowl, stir together flour, poppy seeds, cinnamon, ginger and salt. Gradually add to butter mixture, blending thoroughly. Add hazelnuts, mixing to distribute evenly. On a floured board, shape dough into three or four rolls, each 1 1/2 inches in diameter. Wrap rolls in plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours, or until firm.

Using a sharp knife, cut dough into 1/8-inch thin slices: place slices about 1/2 inch apart on a foil or a silicone mat-lined baking sheet.

Bake for 10 to 12 minutes or until edges are golden. Transfer to racks and cool.

Makes about 8 dozen cookies.


POPPY SEED POUND CAKE

1 cup unsalted butter or margarine
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, softened
2 cups sugar
4 eggs
2 teaspoons vanilla
2 1/4 cups flour
1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup poppy seeds
Grated peel of 1 lemon
1/2 cup ground almonds

Preheat oven to 325 F.

Cream butter, cream cheese and 1 1/2 cups sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and blend until mixture is light and fluffy. Beat in eggs, one at a time, until creamy. Add 1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla.

Combine flour, baking powder and salt and add to cream cheese mixture.

Mix together poppy seeds, remaining 1/2 cup sugar, lemon peel and remaining 1/2 teaspoon vanilla.

Coat a 9 1/2-inch bundt pan with additional butter, all of the ground almonds and 3 tablespoons of the poppy seed mixture. Spoon 1/3 of the cream cheese mixture into pan.

Top cream cheese mixture with 1/2 of remaining poppy seed mixture. Spread another 1/3 of cream cheese mixture over the seeds and sprinkle with remaining poppy seed mixture. Top with remaining cream cheese mixture.

Bake for 1 1/2 hours or until cake is dry when tested in the center. Cool in pan for 15 minutes, then turn out onto a rack to cool completely. Wrap in plastic wrap and keep refrigerated until ready to serve. Keeps for at least 2 weeks. Serve at room temperature or warm, sliced thin.

Note: Mixture also may be placed in 6 (5-by-3 inch) loaf pans and baked at 325 F for 1 hour.

Makes 1 (9 1/2-inch) cake, 16 servings.


POPPY SEED CHEESECAKE

Almond Nut Crust (recipe follows)
2 cups sour cream
1 cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
2 teaspoons vanilla
1/2 teaspoon almond extract
3 (8-ounce) packages cream cheese, softened
5 tablespoons poppy seeds
4 eggs

Prepare, bake, and cool the Almond Nut Crust; set aside.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Add sour cream, 1 tablespoon of sugar, 1 teaspoon vanilla and 1/4 teaspoon almond extract to a small bowl. Blend well, cover with plastic wrap, and refrigerate. 

Add cream cheese, remaining 1 cup sugar and 3 tablespoons poppy seeds to the bowl of an electric mixer, and blend until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, one at a time, mixing well after each addition. Blend in the remaining 1 teaspoon vanilla and remaining 1/4 teaspoon almond extract. Pour this filling into the baked Almond Nut Crust.

Bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the center is set and the top is golden. Remove the cake from the oven. Spread the prepared sour cream mixture on top and return cake to the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from oven, garnish with remaining 2 tablespoons poppy seeds. Cool. Remove from springform pan, and serve.

Makes 1 (9-inch) cheesecake, 18 to 20 servings.

ALMOND NUT CRUST

1 1/2 cups unpeeled whole almonds
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 teaspoon almond extract

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Mix almonds and sugar in a food processor or blender, and blend until the almonds are coarsely chopped.  Add the butter and almond extract, and process just until the mixture begins to come together. Press the almond mixture evenly into the bottom and 1⁄4 inch up the sides of 9-inch springform pan.
   
Bake for 5 to 10 minutes, or until the crust is golden brown. Cool.


Judy Zeidler is the author of “The Gourmet Jewish Cook” (Morrow, 1988), “The International Deli Cookbook” (Chronicle, 1994)  and the recently released “Italy Cooks.” She teaches cooking classes through American Jewish University’s Whizin Center for Continuing Education. Her Web site is judyzeidler.com.

Truckin’ with kosher eggrolls


Jews have had a long and halcyon history with Chinese food. In many cities it’s tradition for Jews to spend Christmas at the movies, later eating at their favorite Chinese restaurant. So it’s no small feat that Los Angeles now has its first Jewnese food truck, and a kosher one at that.

Michael Israel grew up in Montreal eating plenty of eggrolls — they were one of his family’s favorite dishes. So when Israel, a culinary school graduate, and his wife, Emily, decided to enter the restaurant business, they knew where they wanted to start.

“Eggrolls, particularly Montreal eggrolls,” says Michael, “are a representation of my childhood and my family’s roots, coming from Canada. And I think it’s critical for any chef to connect with [his or her] upbringing and roots, and communicate that through food.” 

Emily Israel agreed with her husband, and while they initially considered opening a brick-and-mortar shop, the food truck craze in Los Angeles gave them another idea. Why not make an eggroll food truck?  And so, M.O.Eggrolls was born.

The Israels worked with a designer, who helped them find an old linen truck to strip down and rebuild as their kitchen on wheels.

Michael and Emily, members of Temple Beth Am, a Conservative synagogue on the edge of the Pico-Robertson area, knew immediately that they wanted their food truck to be kosher. They turned to their rabbi, Susan Leider, and asked her to help them with the endeavor.

Leider, who’s quick to admit that M.O.Eggrolls was the first food business for which she’s ever supervised kashrut, leapt at the chance. She supervised the building of the truck from the ground up and worked with Michael and Emily to ensure proper construction.

M.O.Eggrolls. Photo courtesy of M.O.Eggrolls

“We take kashrut seriously as Jews and as Conservative Jews, and we feel that we’re modeling for the rest of the community what that means,” Leider said. The obvious drawback is that the vast majority of Orthodox Jews will not recognize a Conservative hechsher, but Leider is quick to point out that Conservative Jews take Jewish law seriously, too. “In no way does any denomination have a monopoly on that.”

Emily agrees. “The fact that it’s kosher … speaks to the integrity not only of our food, but of our business. We’re kosher in the way we run the business, the way we treat our employees, the way we treat our customers.”

Michael doesn’t want people to see the kosher eggroll thing as a gimmick. “I personally am very averse to fusion — and I know our menu seems like it would be classified as fusion. But in actuality, all of the combinations in each individual eggroll tend to be very classic.”

The eggrolls, which come in varieties ranging from Tongue Chinois, which combines “sauteed shitake mushrooms, scallions and garlic” with tender bits of juicy beef tongue, to Challah Pain Perdu, a dessert eggroll with coconut, banana and white rum, are all designed and made by Michael and his team. “We make everything from scratch on the truck. … The only thing we don’t make from scratch are the wrappers that go around the eggrolls.”

And while M.O.Eggrolls isn’t the only game in town — other kosher food trucks, like the kosher taco truck Takosher, have been rolling around town — the Israels hope their family-owned, friendly business will help them stand out. “That’s why we’re doing it — we want to have a community; we want to celebrate Jewishness, and food, and street food, and celebrate Los Angeles,” Emily says.

“Now, every time we see a linen truck on the street, we can imagine what it could be.”

Homemade falafel — A little taste of Israel


Bring a bite of Israel home with delicious falafel sandwiches made with amazing Israeli food products easily found in your local grocery store. These are perfect to pack for lunch, grab as a light snack or serve as a main course for dinner. B’tayavon!

FALAFEL SANDWICHES

Falafel:
Telma Falafel Mediterranean Cocktail Snack Mix
1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Cooking oil (olive, corn or canola oil)

Israeli Salad:
2 tomatoes
1 sweet or yellow onion
1 large cucumber
1 lemon
Fresh parsley

Sandwich and Add-ons:
Telma Hummus Mediterranean Instant Dip Mix
1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water
Paprika
Prince Tahina
Biton Yohai Harissa
Fresh pita bread

For falafel, combine contents of one bag of Telma falafel mix with 1/3 cup plus 2 tablespoons water in large bowl. Add fresh parsley to bowl and mix to combine. Let sit for 10 minutes.

In meantime, for salad, seed tomatoes and then coarsely chop tomatoes, onion and cucumber (no need to peel). Combine vegetables in second bowl. Squeeze juice of lemon into salad and stir. Add parsley if desired, and allow to sit at room temperature while you cook the falafel.

Shape falafel mixture into 12 1-inch balls. Pour oil into heavy skillet or saucepan to a depth of 1/2 inch (be careful if using olive oil, it has a higher smoking point and will splatter; do not use extra virgin olive oil for frying as the taste will deteriorate). Allow to heat. Drop a tiny piece of the mixture or a droplet of water into the oil to test. If it sizzles upon impact, the oil is ready.

Carefully add the balls to the oil. Allow to cook until side that is down becomes golden brown, and then flip over. Fry until second side is golden. Total approximate cooking time is 2 minutes. Remove falafel from pan and drain on paper towels.

Prepare hummus in separate bowl. Mix contents of bag with 1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoon water. Garnish with paprika, parsley and a drizzle of olive oil.

If using tahina, mix purchased sauce with equal measure of water.

To assemble sandwich:

Cut pita in half to create an open pocket. Add cool ingredients as first layer of pocket (hot ingredients will cause the bread to open and the sandwich to leak). Layer hummus, Israeli salad and two falafel balls into each pita. Top with tahina and harissa to taste.

Makes 6 sandwiches.

Giving thanks deliciously


Whether you call it Thanksgiving or Turkey Day, the holiday is a festive time for American Jewish families to enjoy the best of both heritages — hearty American food and an occasion to give thanks for blessings.

When it comes to the Thanksgiving menu, I like to plan a lot of old-fashioned farmhouse food with a few innovative ideas. Begin your dinner with an espresso-size cup of Pumpkin Soup garnished with a sprinkling of pumpkin or pomegranate seeds. Serve muffins with cranberry sauce in the center — it will be a surprise when your guests break them open.

Everyone enjoys a handsome, golden-brown, roasted turkey. If my family had to choose the stuffing for the turkey, it would be Grandma Mollie’s Vegetable Stuffing. My mother was proud of her stuffing and used it with chicken as well as turkey. She did not cook the ingredients separately, but mixed everything together and placed it in the bird. I have found that sautéing the vegetables first allows them to cook more evenly and gives the flavors a chance to blend. I have added raisins for a sweeter taste that’s especially festive for the holiday.

Red Cabbage With Apples adds a sweet and tangy flavor to the meal, and its purple color is the first thing you notice. Adding a splash of something acidic — vinegar, red wine or lemon juice — helps maintain the purple color, which often disappears during cooking.

The baking and much of the rest of the menu can be started days in advance to allow time to arrange the table with festive Thanksgiving decorations. They can be as simple as autumn leaves in a vase; an assortment of pumpkins and squash; or a cornucopia of polished apples, grapes and nuts.

We pour cider for the children and a light red wine for the grownups, and catch up on all the news while enjoying our family feast.

For the perfect ending to your dinner, serve an assortment of desserts, including Chocolate Raspberry Brownies and a Cranberry Meringue Tart.


PUMPKIN SOUP

Pumpkin soup

3 tablespoons unsalted margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 leek, white part only, cleaned and thinly sliced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups peeled and thinly sliced pumpkin (if not available, use banana squash or Hubbard squash)
6 cups chicken or vegetable stock
Pinch nutmeg
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup toasted pumpkin seeds or pomegranate seeds

In a heavy saucepan, heat the margarine and sauté the onion, leek and garlic until tender. Add the apple and pumpkin slices and sauté for 3 minutes or until tender. Add the stock, bring to a boil, and simmer for 20 minutes.

With a slotted spoon, transfer the pumpkin mixture into a food processor. Process the mixture, slowly adding the broth 1 cup at a time, until puréed. Return the puréed mixture to the saucepan and simmer briskly for 10 minutes, or until the soup thickens. Season to taste with nutmeg, salt and pepper. Ladle into heated cappuccino cups or soup bowls and sprinkle with toasted pumpkin seeds or pomegranate seeds.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


CRANBERRY MUFFIN SURPRISES

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 pound (1 stick) unsalted margarine, melted and cooled to room temperature
3/4 cup orange juice, at room temperature
1/4 cup unsulphured molasses
1 large egg
1/4 cup whole-berry cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 400 F. Lightly grease a 12-cup muffin pan and set aside.

In a large bowl, combine both flours, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and salt; blend well.

In a medium bowl, mix margarine, orange juice, molasses and egg with a wire whisk until well blended. Stir the egg mixture into the flour mixture just until combined.

Spoon one heaping tablespoonful of batter into each of the prepared muffin cups. Make a small indentation in the batter with your finger or the handle of a wooden spoon. Carefully fill each indentation with about a measuring teaspoon of cranberry sauce, making sure the sauce is in the center of the batter and not touching the sides of the cups. Gently spoon on the remaining batter, trying not to disturb the sauce.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes or until golden brown. Cool muffins in the pan for 5 minutes, then turn out onto a wire rack to cool completely, or serve while hot.

Makes 12 muffins.


TURKEY WITH VEGETABLE STUFFING

1 turkey (15 to 20 pounds)
Grandma Mollie’s Vegetable Stuffing (recipe follows)
1/4 cup safflower or vegetable oil
1 cup apricot preserves
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 325 F.

Clean the fully thawed turkey and pat it dry with paper towels. Spoon the cooled stuffing into both cavities and close with a needle and thread or skewers. Rub the outside of the turkey with the oil and apricot preserves and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

Grease the inside (unprinted side) of a large brown paper bag, or use a large plastic baking bag. Place the turkey, neck first and breast down, inside the bag. For a paper bag, fold the open ends and seal it with paper clips or staples; if using a plastic baking bag, tie it with plastic ties supplied in the package. Place the turkey on a large rack inside a roasting pan lined with heavy-duty foil. Roast in preheated oven for 3 hours or more, depending on the size of the turkey. (See suggested cooking times below.) 

About 30 minutes before the turkey is done, make a slit in the bag under the turkey and let the liquid drain into a saucepan. When all the juices are poured off, remove the bag and turn the turkey over, breast side up. Return the turkey to the oven to brown for the remaining cooking time. Skim the fat that forms from the juices, discard fat, and heat the juices. Remove the stuffing and transfer to a heated bowl. Carve the turkey and arrange the slices, legs and wings on a large platter. Serve the juices in a gravy boat.
 
Suggested Cooking Time for Stuffed Turkeys:

10 to 12 pounds: 3 to 3 1/2 hours
14 to 16 pounds: 4 to 5 hours
18 to 20 pounds: 5 to 6 hours


GRANDMA MOLLIE’S VEGETABLE STUFFING

1/4 cup olive oil
3 medium onions, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, minced
4 celery stalks, finely chopped
1 bunch carrots, peeled and grated
1 parsnip, peeled and grated
2 large zucchinis, grated
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
1/2 to 1 cup golden raisins, plumped in water, sweet wine or apple juice, and drained
8 to 10 mushrooms, chopped
2 to 3 tablespoons uncooked quick or old-fashioned oats
2 to 3 tablespoons flour
2 to 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
1/4 cup dry red wine
Salt
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large heavy skillet, heat the oil and sauté the onions and garlic until transparent. Add celery, carrots, parsnip and zucchini; toss well. Sauté for 5 minutes, until the vegetables begin to soften. Add parsley, raisins and mushrooms; mix thoroughly. Simmer 5 minutes. Blend in 1 tablespoon at a time of the oats, flour and bread crumbs, until the mixture holds together. Add wine and mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 
 


RED CABBAGE WITH APPLES

1 large red cabbage (2 1/2 pounds)
2/3 cup wine vinegar
2 tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons unsalted margarine
2 apples, peeled, cored and thinly sliced
1 small onion, chopped
1 whole onion, peeled and pierced with 2 cloves
1 bay leaf, crushed
5 cups boiling water
3 tablespoons dry red wine
3 tablespoons red currant jelly
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Wash cabbage under cold water and cut into quarters. Cut into 1/8-inch shreds. Drop into a large bowl and sprinkle with vinegar, sugar and salt. Toss with a wooden spoon.

In a large (5-quart) saucepan, melt the margarine and sauté the apple slices and chopped onion for 5 minutes or until the apple slices are lightly browned. Add cabbage, whole onion and bay leaf. Stir thoroughly and pour in the boiling water. Bring to a boil over high heat, stirring occasionally, and reduce heat to simmer. Cook, partially covered, 1 to 1 1/2 hours or until cabbage is just tender, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon. Remove the whole onion and bay leaf. Stir in the wine and currant jelly and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Serve hot.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


CHOCOLATE-RASPBERRY BROWNIES

1/4 pound unsalted margarine
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/2 cup raspberry preserves
2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, melted
3/4 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup toasted, chopped pecans
Powdered sugar (optional)
Toasted pecan halves for garnish

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease an 8- or 9-inch square baking pan and set aside.

In the bowl of an electric mixer, blend the margarine and granulated sugar. Beat in eggs and vanilla. Add preserves and melted chocolate; mix well. In a medium bowl, combine flour, baking powder and salt; blend into the margarine-egg mixture until smooth. Fold in chopped pecans.

Pour batter into prepared baking pan. Bake for 30 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool. Top with powdered sugar and garnish with toasted pecan halves.

Makes about 16 brownies.


CRANBERRY MERINGUE TART

Cranberry meringue tart

The secret of making a crisp tart is to cook the filling first, then cool it, and spoon it into a prebaked, cooled tart shell. Then top with meringue, place under the broiler or bake in the oven until toasted. If the crust browns too quickly, simply cut a round of foil to fit the tart, cutting a large hole in the center to expose the filling. This keeps the crust from burning.

FILLING:

4 cups fresh cranberries
2/3 cup orange juice
1 tablespoon grated orange peel
2 cups light brown sugar

MERINGUE:

3 egg whites
Pinch salt
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 (11-inch) prebaked Sweet Pastry Tart Shell (recipe follows)
Preheat oven to 350 F.

To make filling: In a large, heavy skillet, combine cranberries, orange juice, orange peel and 1 1/2 cups brown sugar. Bring to a boil, stirring until brown sugar dissolves, and simmer, uncovered, 10 to 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Cranberries will pop and become very soft. Blend in remaining 1/2 cup brown sugar and continue cooking 5 minutes longer. Cool. Spoon into prebaked Sweet Pastry Tart Shell.

To make meringue: In a large mixing bowl, beat egg whites with salt until soft peaks form. Add granulated sugar, a little at a time, beating well until stiff peaks form.

Fit a pastry tube with a decorative tip; fill the bag with the meringue.

Cover the cranberry filling completely with meringue rosettes, including the edge of the crust.

Bake for 10 to 15 minutes or place under the broiler, watching carefully, until meringue is lightly toasted.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SWEET PASTRY TART SHELL

1 1/2 cups flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup powdered sugar
1/2 cup unsalted margarine, cut into small pieces
3 tablespoons water or milk

In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and sugar. Cut in the margarine until the mixture is crumbly. Blend in the water or milk just until the dough begins to come together. Do not over-mix.

Knead the dough into a ball, wrap in waxed paper, and chill for at least 10 minutes in the refrigerator.

Roll pastry out, between 2 large sheets of floured waxed paper, to a round large enough to cover and overlap an 11-inch tart pan with a removable bottom. For easier handling, fold pastry in half before transferring it to the pan. (The waxed paper prevents the pastry from sticking together.)

Lift the pastry from the bottom sheet of waxed paper and place on half of the tart pan. Unfold the pastry and remove the other sheet of waxed paper that covers it. (At this point, the pastry can be covered with plastic wrap and foil and stored in the refrigerator, or freezer for several days.)

Preheat oven to 375 F.

Bring the pastry to room temperature. Spread a light coating of margarine on a sheet of waxed paper and place it, coated side down, inside of the pastry, overlapping around the outside. Cover with another sheet of waxed paper, with the cut ends in the opposite direction. Fill the center of the waxed-paper-lined tart shell with uncooked rice or pie weights. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until the edges of the pastry begin to brown. Carefully remove the waxed paper with the rice or pie weights and continue baking until the bottom of the pastry is lightly browned. Remove from the oven and cool completely before filling.

Sweet season: Apples and honey for Rosh Hashanah


Among the familiar customs of Rosh Hashanah is the dipping of apple slices in honey — but what is its origin?

King David had a “cake made in a pan and a sweet cake” (II Samuel 6: 15, 19) given to everyone. Hosea 3:1 identifies the “sweet cake” as a raisin cake.

Honey also may have been used in the cake, but the honey of ancient eretz Yisrael was made from dates or grapes or figs or raisins because the land at the time had no domestic bees, only Syrian bees. To extract honey from their combs, it had to be smoked. Still, honey was of importance in biblical times because there was no sugar.

During the Roman period, Italian bees were introduced to the Middle East, and bee honey was more common.

The Torah also describes Israel as “eretz zvat chalav u’dvash,” the land flowing with milk and honey, although the honey was more than likely date honey, which many Sephardic Jews use to this day.

Today, Israel has some 500 beekeepers who have some 90,000 beehives that produce more than 3,500 tons of honey annually. Kibbutz Yad Mordechai is the largest producer of honey — 10,000 bottles a day.

According to an article from a few years ago, the average Israeli eats 125 apples and 750 grams of honey a year, most of it around the High Holy Days.

Among Ashkenazim, challah is dipped in honey instead of having salt sprinkled on it for the blessing, and then the blessing, “May it be Your will to renew for us a good and sweet year,” is given over the apple, which is dipped in honey.

Dipping the apple in honey on Rosh Hashanah is said to symbolize the desire for a sweet new year. Why an apple? In Bereshit, the book of Genesis, Israel compares the fragrance of his son, Jacob, to “sadeh shel tappuchim,” a field of apple trees.

Scholars tell us that mystical powers were ascribed to the apple, and people believed it provided good health and personal well-being.

Some attribute using an apple to the translation of the story of Adam and Eve and the forbidden fruit that caused the expulsion from paradise.

The word honey, or “dvash” in Hebrew, has the same numerical value as the words “Av Harachamim,” Father of Mercy. Jews hope that God will be merciful on Rosh Hashanah as He judges us for our year’s deeds.

Some Moroccans dip apples in honey and serve cooked quince, which is an apple-like fruit, symbolizing a sweet future. Other Moroccans dip dates in sesame and anise seeds and powdered sugar in addition to dipping apples in honey.

Among some Jews from Egypt, a sweet jelly made of gourds or coconut is used to ensure a sweet year, and apples are dipped in sugar water instead of in honey.

Honey is also used by Jews around the world not only for dipping apples but also in desserts. Some maintain that in the phrase “go your way, eat the fat, and drink the sweet” (Nehemiah 8:10), sweet refers to apples and honey.

The recipes below will help make your Rosh Hashanah sweet.


CHICKEN WITH HONEY FRUIT SAUCE

3 to 4 pounds cut-up chicken
3/4 cup apricot jam
1 1/2 cups orange juice
1 1/2 cups red wine
1 tablespoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons garlic powder
1 1/2 teaspoons thyme
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons cornstarch
2 teaspoons cold water
6 ounces dried apricots
6 ounces prunes

Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease a baking dish. Place chicken parts in dish. Set aside.

Place apricot jam, orange juice, red wine, ginger, garlic powder, thyme and honey in a saucepan. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer to reduce to 3 cups.

Stir in cornstarch and water and blend. Add apricots and prunes. Pour over chicken. Bake 45 minutes or until chicken is done.

Makes 6 servings.


POPPYSEED HONEY DRESSING

1/4 cup honey
2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cider vinegar
1/2 cup oil
2 teaspoons poppy seeds

Beat honey, mustard and vinegar in a bowl or shake well in a jar with a lid.

Add oil and poppy seeds and shake some more. Use in a salad with mixed greens and fruit such as grapefruit.

Makes about 1 cup.


APPLES AND HONEY CAKE

2 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup sugar
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon cloves
3 cups grated, unpeeled apples
2 eggs
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla extract
3/4 cup oil
1/3 cup non-dairy creamer or pareve whipping cream
1/2 cup honey

Preheat oven to 325 F. Grease a bundt pan.

In a mixer or food processor, blend flour, baking soda, salt, sugar, cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves. Add apples.

Add eggs, vanilla, oil, non-dairy creamer and honey and blend slightly. Pour into greased Bundt pan.

Bake 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean. Cool before removing from pan.

Sybil Kaplan is a journalist and food writer in Jerusalem.