Market fresh soups


Fresh ingredients for a soup are a chef’s dream, and the best place to find them is at your local farmers market — fresh fennel, squash, mushrooms, ripe tomatoes of all shapes as well as root vegetables.

Our first experience with open-air markets was on a trip to Italy in the early ’60s. We walked excitedly through the marketplace looking at the fresh fruit and vegetables, then when we discovered that every village had its own market day during the week, we tried to visit all of them. The melons were sweet, the figs perfect, and the tomatoes, while ripe, still had a little green on them, but they were delicious.

When farmers markets began popping up in Southern California in the early ’80s, we were eager to see what each vendor had to offer. Today we often drive up the coast on a sunny Saturday morning to visit my favorite, in downtown Santa Barbara, which features the most amazing selection of fresh produce and handcrafted objects.

During a recent trip to the Old Town Calabasas Farmers Market, I was surprised by the amazing variety of mushrooms at Dirk Hermann’s LA FungHi stand, including crimini and shitake, which are just right for a Tuscan Mushroom Soup. Bread is the ideal accompaniment to serve with soup, and a few yards away, the Old Town Baking Co. offers an assortment of hearty breads to chose from — squaw, olive, nine-grain, sourdough, Italian, shepherd’s, rye and country harvest, to name a few.

I have a passion for creating and collecting recipes for vegetable soups, and one of my most recent discoveries, Fennel Soup, comes from a dear friend, Bettina Rogosky, who has a vineyard in Tuscany. During our last visit, she served us this delicious simple soup whose only ingredients are fennel, olive oil, water or vegetable broth and Ricard Pastis, an anise-flavored liqueur. Although it has a creamy consistency, it does not contain an ounce of dairy. Bettina served it with tiny croutons and chopped fennel tops.

At home, when friends come over for a casual supper, I love serving Minestrone Soup. A tossed green salad, warm crusty bread and a glass of red wine complete the menu.

Fresh herbs are an easy way to enhance the flavor of dishes. If you don’t have herbs in your garden, you can always find them at the farmers market. The addition of herbs, such as oregano, marjoram or sage, is an easy way to add an intense flavor to soups. Basil, mint, tarragon, cilantro, chives and parsley are often used raw, sprinkled on top of a dish just before serving. Try experimenting to find the flavors you like best.

TUSCAN MUSHROOM SOUP

1/2 cup olive oil
1 small onion, finely diced
1 medium stalk celery, diced
1/4 cup minced parsley
12 ounces assorted mushrooms (crimini and shitake), cleaned and thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 cup dry white wine
4 small ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and sliced (about 1 cup)
4 to 5 cups vegetable broth or water
Parmesan cheese for garnish

In a large pot, heat olive oil; add onion, celery and parsley, and sauté until onion is lightly browned. Add the mushrooms and sauté for 6 to 8 minutes, stirring often with a wooden spoon. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Add the wine and allow it to evaporate completely.

Add the tomatoes and the broth, bring to a boil, and cook over medium heat, covered, for 20 minutes.

Ladle into a blender or food processor, and blend to a puree. Return to pot and heat.

To serve, ladle into soup bowls and drizzle with additional olive oil, and sprinkle with Parmesan cheese.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


BETTINA’S FENNEL SOUP WITH CROUTONS

3 large fennel bulbs (about 5 cups)
1/4 cup olive oil
4 to 5 cups vegetable stock or water
4 to 5 tablespoons Ricard Pastis or Sambuca
Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1/2 cup croutons (recipe follows)

Cut tops off fennel bulbs and reserve. Cut bulbs in half, remove core and discard. Cut bulbs into thin slices. Mince the reserved fennel tops, spoon into a small bowl, and set aside until ready to serve the soup.

In a large, nonstick skillet or pot, heat olive oil and sauté fennel until tender (do not brown). Add the stock and simmer until very soft. Add additional stock if needed.

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl or measuring cup. Ladle 1/3 or 1/2 of the mixture, with liquid, into a blender or food processor and blend to a fine puree. Pour into the large pot and repeat with the remaining mixture.

Simmer over medium heat, add Ricard Pastis and salt and pepper to taste.

To serve, ladle into heated serving bowls. Garnish with the croutons and minced fennel tops. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

The very best Tashlich custom is a toss-up


On paper, the Rosh Hashanah ritual of Tashlich is about doffing one’s sins to start the new year with a clean slate. For Jason Mauro, 16, it’s also about beach football.

Every year since he was 8, Mauro and his friends at Temple Israel of Hollywood have marked the afternoon ceremony, which the synagogue holds at a beach in Santa Monica, with a sand-logged scrimmage.

“It’s a routine now,” said Mauro of Studio City. “We bring a couple of footballs and give some to the younger kids. The games used to be kids vs. parents, but since we’ve gotten bigger and stronger, they kind of back off.”

Family ball games, picnics and drum circles are revitalizing Tashlich as a booming social event, local rabbis say. Built on the traditional casting of sins — often symbolized by breadcrumbs, rocks or lint — into the ocean, the ritual now draws throngs of participants eager to celebrate community, revel in the great outdoors and cut loose.

“People are really gung-ho about Tashlich,” said Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, associate rabbi at Temple Israel of Hollywood. “After spending the morning in synagogue, they get to take off their stockings and shoes and suits and ties and dresses and put on shorts and T-shirts and bathing suits and sun block. They take picnics and blankets, and we all meet at the beach.”

Maybe that’s why the ceremony, which Missaghieh brought to the Reform congregation when she joined its staff 13 years ago, has been steadily gaining in popularity. Starting with about 100 participants the first year, Temple Israel’s Tashlich event now draws a gathering so large — more than 450 people, Missaghieh said — that they have to obtain a permit from the city of Santa Monica to accommodate the crowd. The city also assigns lifeguards to watch over the waterside festivities.

“It’s a great service for people with families,” said Temple Israel member Bruce Miller, who has taken part in Tashlich for the past six years with his wife, Tracy, and their three young children. “You’re not sitting in one place in a big room where you have to be quiet and sit still. Three-year-olds don’t do that so well. Here, they can run around. Tashlich is more connected to things kids can relate to.”

Miller, a television writer based in Hancock Park, also enjoys the chance to experience Judaism amid nature’s majesty.

“It’s wonderful to hear the shofar outside at the beach,” he said. “Near the water, under the sky, it seems more spiritually relevant to what the holiday is about.”

A few blocks south on Venice Beach, Nashuva encourages Jews of all ages — including total strangers catching rays nearby — to tap into their spiritual sides by taking part in a drum circle. With more than 1,000 participants, Rabbi Naomi Levy said she’s been told Nashuva’s Tashlich ritual is the largest Jewish drum circle in the world.

“We’ve been doing this for four years, and it’s been growing exponentially,” Levy said. “We blow the shofar at the beach as a call for all Jews to come. You’d be surprised how many times we get an Israeli jogger passing by, or a couple of sunbathers who happen to be Jewish. You see people coming from all different parts to join in.”

Members of the Nashuva community, which during the rest of the year holds Friday night Shabbat services at Brentwood Presbyterian Church the first week of each month, gathers for Tashlich at the beach off Venice Boulevard at 4:30 p.m. on the first day of Rosh Hashanah. Organizers hand out percussion instruments, but attendees are also urged to bring their own. Drums, tambourines and even spoons are welcomed.

The first time Brentwood resident Carol Taubman took part in Nashuva’s Tashlich ceremony in 2004, “it took my breath away,” she recalled. “There were so many people, all dressed in white, and this fabulous drumming circle. There was a great sense of community, and it was very powerful.”

Taubman has attended Tashlich ever since, drawn back by the inclusive spirit of the event.

“It’s such a welcoming experience,” she said. “Some people can be intimidated by all the prayers at a synagogue service, but anybody can hit a drum or bang two spoons together. It’s like sharing a communal language.”

But the point of Tashlich — to cleanse oneself of the past year’s sins — shouldn’t be undermined by the ritual’s festive atmosphere or the ease of tossing breadcrumbs into the ocean, said Rabbi Dan Shevitz of Mishkon Tephilo in Venice.

“The notion that we can dispose of our sins in such a casual manner is problematic,” said Shevitz, whose Conservative beachfront service gathers 200 to 400 people each year. “You can’t just empty your pockets and be rid of your sins. It takes more work than that.”

Shevitz has put together a reading reflecting the idea that sins can never be truly cast off, but they can be “purified, as we treat sewage.”

The ceremony, which Mishkon Tephilo has done for decades, attracts more and more congregants each year, he said. “It’s as much a social occasion as a liturgical one. It’s a refreshing alternative to the sobriety of the morning service.”

Further inland, Encino-based Valley Beth Shalom has seen a spike in Tashlich attendance for the same reason. The Conservative congregation has been holding a ceremony on the second day of Rosh Hashanah for the past 10 years at Encino’s Lake Balboa.

“Tashlich is amazingly popular,” said Rabbi Edward Feinstein, senior rabbi of Valley Beth Shalom. “The sunshine is wonderful, we’re out in the fresh air, and we can begin to smell the autumn coming. It’s really joyful.”

This year, Valley Beth Shalom will partner with Valley Village congregation Adat Ari El for a joint Tashlich service. Feinstein is expecting a crowd of about 250 at the lakeside park, which Los Angeles park rangers keep open an extra hour for the ceremony.

An added bonus of holding Tashlich at the site, Feinstein noted, is that the bits of challah thrown into the water end up feeding the ducks that live on the lake grounds.

Temple Israel of Hollywood chooses to forgo traditional breadcrumbs for a more novel approach to the purging of sins, Rabbi Missaghieh said. As soon as the crowd gathers at 4 p.m. on the first day of the holiday, all the children begin building a wall of sand along the shore. After songs and readings, participants consider an area of their lives they want to improve in the new year, then inscribe their thoughts by hand into the wall. The waves eventually wash the sand away, carrying congregants’ written confessions out to sea.

“I think there’s something very magical about it,” Missaghieh said. “You spend the whole morning thinking about God, talking to God. But then you actually go out into nature and feel the grandness of God’s creation on the day of creation. It’s a very visceral moment; not just your mind, but your whole body is experiencing the rebirth of the world.”

Delivery chef unable to savor his culinary success


Crab cakes drizzled with zesty chipotle lime sauce and peppercorn brandy glazed pork loin are a few of the entrées The Fresh Diet delivers to clients. But its Le Cordon Bleu-trained chef, who developed most of the dishes offered on the meal-delivery program’s menu, has never actually sampled his own dishes, which have been praised by Phil Lempert, food trends editor for NBC’s “Today.”

While it might seem odd for a head chef to have not tasted any of his or her own creations, Yosef Schwartz can’t; he keeps kosher.

The Fresh Diet is one of about 50 meal-delivery programs nationwide that can help take the time-consuming preparation — as well as portion-control and guesswork — out of eating healthy. In the next few weeks, Miami-based Fresh Diet will start delivering to homes and offices in Los Angeles. And if there’s enough of a call for it, Schwartz is hoping to start a kosher version of Fresh Diet here after he returns to the Southland this month.

Schwartz, 27, grew up in Westwood and Mar Vista, attended Yeshiva Ohr Elchonon Chabad near Hancock Park and received his smicha in Israel. While you can call him a rabbi, he would rather be thought of as a chef.

Schwartz wanted to cook from the time he was a teenager. His rabbi father and rebbetzin mother would host 50 people for dinner each Friday night, and Schwartz says he would spend Thursdays and Fridays after school cooking with his mother. “I knew by 14 years old that I wanted to go to culinary school,” he said.

After he received his rabbinic degree in 2001, Schwartz immediately applied to California Culinary Academy to hone a variety of cooking skills.

“My parents were very supportive,” he said.

As far as working with treif ingredients like pork and shellfish at California Culinary Academy and now Fresh Diet, Schwartz says it took some getting used to.

“Once I started working with the product, I was really fine with it,” he said. “There are other senses besides taste. I like to think of myself as a food technician.”

Schwartz worked with a variety of local kosher caterers while he studied in Pasadena. And after graduating from California Culinary Academy in 2004, his high school friends encouraged him to consider joining them to start a food-delivery business based on Dr. Barry Sears’ Zone Diet, which features 40 percent carbohydrates, 30 percent proteins and 30 percent good fats.

The prices for the Fresh Diet delivery service, which currently reaches South Florida, Chicago and the New York Tri-State area, range from $35 to $60 per day. The meals are delivered in cooler bags overnight and include three entrees and two snacks.

“We’ve had people who said they’ve saved money,” he said, referring to busy clients who would tend to eat in restaurants several times each day. “It’s basically a little present at your door every morning.”

Schwartz says exercise and his own kosher version of the meal system have helped him lose weight. He weighed 300 pounds when he started the business with his friends. His shirt size has since gone from XXL to large, having dropped down to 210 pounds.

“I was thinking about doing it kosher before we even started the company,” he said, adding that it would take 30 to 50 subscribers to start a similar kosher service in the Southern California. “If there’s a demand for it, we will do it.”

Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu


A recent trip to Italy made me aware of the wonderful possibilities of growing your own lush, flavorful garden-fresh food. The villa where we stayed was entirely self-sufficient, with magnificent varieties of produce, eggs gathered from the hen house and the proprietors even making their own wine and olive oil.

 
If you have a garden, you know the pleasure of eating the freshest of salad greens, tomatoes, vegetables and fruits. And since the weather is still warm as Rosh Hashanah arrives at sundown on Friday, Sept. 22, take advantage of the healthy garden bounties and prepare a light menu featuring the late summer harvest of fresh vegetables and fruits to celebrate the New Year.

 
If you’re not a gardener, visit some of the local open-air farmers’ markets. The Wednesday morning Santa Monica farmers market is one of the largest, and there is an organic Saturday market as well, where the selection and variety is very impressive.

 
After a special round challah and apple slices dipped in honey, start the dinner with a simple salad of avocado and tomato slices served on a bed of pungently flavored arugula and dressed with a tangy orange vinaigrette. Hopefully, you will be lucky enough to make it with full-flavored tomatoes from your garden; nothing compares with vine-ripened tomatoes. If they are not available, your local farmers’ market will have a selection of the tasty heirloom tomatoes.

 
Arugula is not only trendy and delicious, but very easy to grow, and seeds are available at most nurseries.

 
Next, serve a chilled beet borscht, my version of gazpacho, and pass around bowls of chopped cucumbers, green and yellow bell peppers, and chives, for a colorful do-it-yourself garnish.

 
The main course is a whole roast chicken that has been butterflied and baked on bed of fresh vegetables — a combination of garlic, onions, celery, carrots, parsnips, squash and potatoes, and garnished with fresh herbs from your garden. With this dish we will drink a special toast for a peaceful year with a glass of young, fruity chardonnay.
 
For dessert, late summer pl
ums, arranged in colorful circles on a light pastry dough make a delicious eye-appealing tart. Serve a sweet late harvest wine or hot tea with lemon, and let the children choose their favorite fruit juice.

 
Cold Puree of Beet Borscht
4 medium-size beets, unpeeled
4 tablespoons lemon juice
4 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
Diced cucumbers
Diced green and yellow red peppers

 
Scrub the outside of the beets using cold water, place in a large pot and add enough cold water to cover. Bring to a boil and simmer until a fork inserted in the beet is tender, about one hour. Cool. Remove the beets, but reserve the liquid. Peel the skin, which should come off easily, and discard.

 
Dice the beets and return to the liquid. Place half of the diced beets and liquid in a blender or food processor and puree until smooth. Transfer puree to a bowl and repeat the process with the remaining beets and liquid. Add lemon juice, sugar and salt to taste and mix well. To serve, ladle into shallow soup bowls and garnish with cucumbers and peppers.

 
Makes eight to 10 servings.

 
Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad

 
Usually avocados are served mashed or chopped. For this dish, simply slice the avocados and tomatoes, which enables them to harmonize with the pungent-flavored arugula.

 
2 avocados, peeled and seeded
Juice of 1 lemon
2 large tomatoes, sliced
3 cups loosely packed arugula, coarse stems discarded
Vinaigrette dressing (recipe follows)
Pomegranate seeds for garnish, optional

 
Cut each avocado into nine to 12 lengthwise slices. Sprinkle with lemon juice and set aside. Slice tomatoes and set aside.

 
Wash arugula and dry. Slice and mound arugula on chilled plates, fan the avocado slices around the mounds and arrange the sliced tomatoes in the center.

 
Spoon enough vinaigrette over each salad to coat leaves, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Garnish with pomegranate seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.

 
Makes six to eight servings.

 
Vinaigrette Dressing
1 tablespoon Dijon-style prepared mustard
3 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 cup walnut oil
Salt, freshly ground black pepper

 
Place mustard, vinegar, lemon juice in a processor or blender. Add oil in thin stream and blend until slightly thick and creamy. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

 
Butterflied Roast Chicken With Medley of Vegetables
1 (4-pound) or 2 (2-pound) whole chickens
1 onion, sliced and diced
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced
4 carrots, peeled and thinly sliced
1 parsnip, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium potato, diced and steamed
2 tablespoons minced parsley
6 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
3 tablespoons minced fresh rosemary

 
Marinade
1/3 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon each dried basil, thyme and rosemary, crushed
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
2 to 3 cups dry white wine

 
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Split the chicken along the entire length of the back, removing backbone from tail to neck. Open it out, skin side up. With a mallet or the heel of your hand, flatten the chicken, fracturing the breastbone and ribcage, so it lays flat. Arrange vegetables on a foil-lined large roasting pan, and place the chicken on top, skin-side up.

 
Mix garlic and rosemary together. Working with your fingertips, separate the skin from the meat of the chicken, beginning at the neck end, being careful not to tear the skin. Place sliced garlic and rosemary under the skin, including the drumsticks and thighs. Mix together the olive oil and herbs and rub it on the top of the chicken and sprinkle with salt and pepper.

 
Pour the marinade over the vegetables and chicken and bake for l0 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 375 degrees, and bake for 45 minutes to one hour longer, depending on the size of the chicken. Baste every 20 minutes. If chicken browns too quickly, cover it loosely with foil. If the marinade cooks away too quickly, add more. Remove the foil during the last 10 minutes, allowing the chicken to brown.

PASSOVER: Yemenite Flavor at the Seder


For me, Yemenite cooking is the taste of home. My parents were born in Sharab, a region in southwest Yemen. I was born in Tel Aviv, and grew up on my mother and father’s traditional cooking. The food in our home was always fresh, simple and richly spiced. On Passover, the fragrance of the traditional chicken soup, full of tumeric and cumin, filled our house, and we looked forward to eating our candy-like charoset, made from dates and walnuts.

I came to America in 1976, and opened Magic Carpet, named after the airlift of Yemenite Jews to Israel, in 1993. The Yemenite food we serve is a warm and constant reminder of my childhood.

Of course, now it turns out it might also be good for you — really good for you.

Yemenite Jews in Israel live longer and healthier lives than other Israelis. Over the years, many researchers have attributed the Yemenite’s good health to the simplicity of their cooking and their use of herbs and spices. Fenugreek, for example, a staple spice in our kitchens, has shown promise in research to treat diabetes and high cholesterol.

Beef, chicken, fish and vegetables require the use of hawa’age, a curry-like spice mixture that consists of turmeric, cumin, coriander and black pepper in proportions that vary from town to town. On top of that, we add fresh garlic, onion, tomatoes and cilantro to many of our dishes. Hilbeh, a viscuous, spicy relish made from freshly ground fenugreek, and schug, a bright green mix of cilantro and chili, are served separately and added to food according to taste. A few meals like this, and you are on your way to a healthy Yemenite life.

Below are traditional Yemenite Passover foods. Some, like chicken soup, we serve in the restaurant. For the rest, you’d have to come to my house.

Baked Eggs

Oven-baked eggs become brown and flavorful, with a creamy texture.

Just cover eggs in water at room temperature. Add salt to minimize cracking. Cover and cook in your oven at low heat (250 F) overnight or at least 12 hours. Serve hot or cold.

Charoset

This is our version of charoset, which Ashkenazim make from apples, walnuts and wine. We use charoset as jelly on matzah through the holiday.

1 pound dates, pitted and mashed
3 cups water
1/2 teaspoon ginger
1/2 teaspoon cloves
1/4 teaspoon cardamom
1/4 cup raw sesame seeds

Place all ingredients in a medium saucepan. Bring to boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Stir occasionally. Cook for about an hour or until the mixture is thickened to a jelly-like consistency. Serve cold.

Matzah Cereal

This was our breakfast throughout the holiday. What makes it special is the spice mixture.

Break two matzah into small pieces. Pour in 1 1/2 cups of hot milk and one tablespoon of butter, mix with the same spice mix as the charoset. Add honey to your taste.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

We would often serve this by placing broken soaked matzah in our soup bowls, then ladling the broth over it.

One 4-pound chicken cut in quarters
5 quarts water
1 large head garlic
1 large tomato
1 large onion
1 bunch of fresh cilantro
1/3 tablespoon turmeric
1/2 tablespoon cumin
1/2 tablespoon of coriander
black pepper
salt

Put whole onion, garlic and tomato in the pot of water and bring to a boil. Add chicken pieces and cook for 25 minutes. Add spices and fresh cilantro, peeled tomato and if you like, add some sliced zucchini. Salt and paper to taste. Cook for 25 more minutes.

Nili Goldstein is co-owner of the kosher Yemeni-Israeli Magic Carpet Restaurant, 8566 W. Pico Blvd., Los Angeles. (310) 652-8547.

 

Latkes That Last


Finally! You can now say goodbye to those weird frozen triangles of premasticated potatoes that pass for latkes after Chanukah has ended and the frying pan and grater have been packed up. Scientists at the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology in Haifa have come up with an alternative way to preserve food, which promises to keep latkes frying-pan fresh — even months later — without extreme heat, chemicals or freezing. Instead, they zap the food with pulsed shockwaves — a process that takes a second, but kills microbes, harmful enzymes and bacteria. Since no chemicals are used, the flavor of the food remains the same, but its shelf life is increased exponentially.

"There is really a great need for alternative preservation methods in order to get safety and shelf life," said Dr. Hadassa Zuckerman, a lecturer in food engineering and biotechnology at the Technion, who helped develop this system. "There are many materials that cannot be preserved by heat or other methods because then they lose their functional properties."

Latke eaters are not the only ones who are going to be able to welcome this procedure. Shockwaves are also being used to preserve biological materials such as blood and plasma. "Without this system, it takes approximately one week to preserve plasma," Zuckerman told The Journal. "Our method takes a few seconds."

Zuckerman called this preservation method "revolutionary" and said that they are still testing its uses.

"We were convinced that latkes were only worth eating fresh out of the oven," she said. "Now we may all have to reconsider that notion."