November 14, 2018

‘Lost Bread’ and Found Wanderers

Why are Israelis so happy? Why does the United Nation’s World Happiness Report consistently rank Israel above the United States and parts of Europe on the happiness scale? Despite wars, insecurity and economic hardship, Israel, it appears, seems to be a very good place to live. 

I got a little insight into “Israeli happiness” while eating the best French toast I’ve ever had, at Kirsh Bakery and Kitchen in New York City last week. 

Anat and Dan Kirsh took one look at each other 20 years ago in Tel Aviv, where they were employed at Café Basel, she as a waitress and he a bartender, and fell madly in love. They went on to discover that they had other things in common as well — a love of homemade-caliber food and customer service, the restaurant business and New York City. Both diehard Tel Avivites and graduates of virtually every food industry job — from dishwashing to general managers of high-end establishments from one end of Tel Aviv to the other — the pair plotted and planned and worked toward the goal of opening their own place. 

When a friend told them of a vacant carpentry shop in a historic building in Jerusalem, it was love at first site. There, in 2006, Zuni Café was born — a restaurant and 24/7 diner specializing in French and American comfort food, with a nod to Anat and Dan’s mutual obsession with New York and his mother’s European-style baking. Zuni was a huge overnight success, particularly with American ex-pats who stopped by to get a taste of home, but also with local Israelis who became obsessed with, of all things, the French toast. 

Dan took his childhood memories of his mother’s pain perdu — “lost bread” —  made with day-old bread battered and pan-fried in butter, and gave it an upgrade with mascarpone cream and mixed berries. It was an instant hit in the café.

All manner of French toast then made it onto the Zuni menu, including savory options such as lox and crème fraiche, and spinach and cheese topped with a sunnyside-up egg. Next thing you knew, Zuni became just as famous for its French toast as its brasserie-style comfort food and cocktails.

In 2012, with an experienced team in place at Zuni and two young children in tow, the pair decided to pursue their dreams in New York. At first, they considered launching a chain of kiosks specializing in French toast made with their signature milk bread and a variety of toppings, but bigger things were in store for them.  In 2016, they founded Kirsh Bakery & Kitchen, a full-service café and restaurant in the Upper West Side neighborhood they now call their New York home.

“Israel is home, and it always will be.” Anat told me, “but I live in two dimensions — here and Israel. Tel Aviv is my very favorite city in the entire world — the feeling of being home, of belonging. As much as I love New York, there is no place like Tel Aviv.”

The couple brought their two young children to New York to start their business, but they return to Tel Aviv at every opportunity, taking turns managing Zuni and Kirsh. While we talked about the distinctions between Tel Aviv and New York, and the differences and similarities between the palates of Israelis and Americans, Anat told me that her children were studying in Israel. She said her children feel comfortable in Israel and the U.S. because the family has solid friendships and communities in both countries. 

Although they plan to continue living in New York as their restaurant business grows, the Kirshes plan to continue maintaining a home in Israel. This struck me as the key to why Israel ranks so high on the happiness scale: Community — close family ties, the shared experiences of mandatory military service, and strong ties to a shared faith — tends to make the average Israeli feel a sense of belonging that leads to more satisfaction and perhaps a greater sense of security.

While Americans and Europeans often move away from family and the friends they grew up with, Israelis tend to keep in touch with them and live almost communally, where the support of loved ones is an integral part and focal point of their lives. 

At Kirsh Bakery& Kitchen, while I ate my upgraded “lost bread” and traded restaurant stories with Israelis — who, like me, have become ex-pats in another land to seek their fortune — I was filled with gratitude that we live in an age when air travel is affordable and we are able to touch base with our homeland and even straddle the two countries, something our parents weren’t able to do. It’s good to know we come from a land where happiness reigns despite obvious day-to-day struggles and worries. 

 J.R.R. Tolkien wrote a poem with the refrain “All that is gold does not glitter, all those who wander are not lost; The old that is strong does not wither, deep roots are not reached by the frost.” 

I wholeheartedly agree. It won’t take but a bite of Kirsh’s French toast to convince you that those who wander are not all lost.

So, here is its recipe.

If you happen to be in New York City, pick up a loaf of its milk bread to make this. Otherwise, I’d recommend using day-old challah cut into 1 1/2-inch-thick slices. That’s what this Israeli is going to do when she gets back to her kitchen in Uganda, while missing both the U.S. and Israel.

ZUNI CAFÉ MASCARPONE FRENCH TOAST

For the mascarpone cream:
14 ounces heavy cream
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
6 extra-large egg yolks
1/2 cup granulated sugar
2 tablespoons Myers rum (optional)
16 ounces Italian mascarpone cheese

For the French toast:
6 ounces heavy cream
1 extra-large egg
1 tablespoon powdered sugar
8  1 1/2-inch-thick slices of one-day-old milk bread or challah
3 ounces butter, for frying
4 ounces mixed-berry confiture (or chocolate)

To make mascarpone cream, place heavy cream and powdered sugar in a mixing bowl and whip with an electric mixer until stiff peaks form. Set aside in the refrigerator. 

In a double-boiler, place egg yolks, granulated sugar and rum. Whisk for 5 minutes without stopping, or until you have a light-yellow, fluffy foam consistency. 

Take egg mixture off the heat and fold in half the mascarpone cheese. Once incorporated, gently fold in the other half without overmixing. Do the same with the whipped cream from the refrigerator, folding half the whipped cream into the cheese mixture and then gently folding in the other half until fully combined. Refrigerate until ready to use.

To prepare the batter for the toast, whisk together heavy cream, egg and sugar. Place the bread slices into the batter one at a time, soaking each slice for 3 minutes while turning over in the batter until bread is soaked through. Continue with remaining slices.

Melt butter on low flame and pan-fry slices for 6 to 8 minutes each, constantly turning from side to side until each is cooked through and golden brown. Place slices on paper to soak up excess fat before serving.

Serve sprinkled with powdered sugar, chilled mascarpone cream and berry confiture. Serves 4.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Soup DNA: The Secret Behind the Best Chicken Soup

Soup is the culinary equivalent of love. I know that’s a pretty bold statement, but I fiercely stand behind it.

I once read that Chinese families used to keep a pot of soup on the stove — for generations. They would top it off all day with vegetable and meat scraps, bones and herbs, and keep it on the stove simmering away ad infinitum. This means that every time they ate soup, they ate a part of their ancestry. Imagine always having your grandmother’s and great-grandmother’s soup DNA in there nourishing you.

As a half-Ashkenazi Jew, the concept of a perpetual pot of soup on the stove is very appealing. After all, have you ever met an Ashkenazi who didn’t begin his or her meal with soup? This hardy stock of folks historically has been raised on hardy stock — literally.  In the frigid winters of Eastern Europe, a nourishing and comforting bowl of soup was the difference between life and death.

One day, on a trip to visit family in Israel, I was invited to lunch by one of my mother’s Romanian cousins. I walked into the house and was almost struck speechless by an incredible smell. A nearly visceral image of my grandmother came to mind, and I rushed into the kitchen to see what was cooking.

“Leustean,” my cousin Beatrice said, laughing. “I put it in the chicken soup. Your grandmother used it — all Romanians do.”

And there it was, that special smell and flavor I had been chasing for my entire life summed up in a word I’d never heard.

“Leustean?” I asked, sticking a spoon in the pot to taste.

“Leustean is Romanian for lovage,” my smarty pants uncle chimed in.

I called my mother to tell her that I had finally found a clue to safta’s soup. We ordered a pound of dry lovage and added it to our chicken soup. Suddenly, my mother’s face lit up.

“Leustean,” she said. “I’ve been chasing this taste for years.”

Since the day my grandmother reached down through the great divide to remind me about lovage, I’ve never made chicken soup without it. Lovage, an herb from the dill family, is what is used to flavor bouillon cubes. Surprisingly, even though it’s one of the most ubiquitous taste profiles, most of us don’t have a name for it, and I’ve yet to find a customer who can identify it.

So now that you know the secret to great chicken soup, here is my “recipe” for chicken stock. This is the quintessential Jewish mother’s remedy to everything that ails you — from a cold to heartbreak.

If there is one thing you learn to do in the kitchen, learn to make stock. It will fill your home with the aroma of your ancestors, it’s a bowl of vitamins in disguise, and it will earn you a lifetime of accolades from admirers who can’t quite figure out why your chicken soup tastes so special. And if you have kids, this just doubles the incentive because there is never a time when I make chicken soup that I don’t hold my mother and my grandmother in my heart and mind the entire time.

If that’s not love in a bowl, I don’t know what is.

WORLD’S BEST CHICKEN SOUP STOCK
Bones of at least 3 chickens or 1 whole chicken
1 head garlic, unpeeled
3 carrots, washed, peeled and cut into chunks
8 ribs of celery, washed and roughly chopped
2 parsnips, washed, peeled and cut into chunks
1 sweet potato, peeled and chopped
1 whole celery root
2 large yellow onions, unpeeled, washed
and cut into quarters
1 small green pepper, washed, deseeded
and cut into quarters
Handful parsley stems
Handful cilantro stems
Handful dill stems
Handful lovage stems (or 2 tablespoons
dry lovage)
6 whole black peppercorns
1 inch fresh ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 hot green pepper left whole (optional)

BEFORE SERVING
Salt to taste
Black pepper to taste
Sugar to taste
1 tablespoon finely chopped leaves of parsley
and dill, for garnish

Put all ingredients into a large pot. Cover all with cold water and turn the heat to high. Skim the scum that rises to the top of the pot as it heats and discard.

At the first boil, lower the heat to a slow simmer and partially cover pot for a minimum of 2 hours — 4 is better. If you used a whole chicken, feel free to remove the meat after a few hours and leave the bones in the pot to continue simmering; that’s where the flavor comes from, anyway.

And there it was, that special smell and flavor I had been chasing for my entire life summed up in a word I’d never heard.

When your stock is done, turn off the heat and let the liquid cool until you can handle it. Take a large sieve and put it over another pot and strain out all the solids. At this point, you should have a dark, yellow, fragrant stock and a heap of mushy vegetables and bones in the strainer. If you didn’t remove your chicken and you enjoy stringy boiled chicken — I sometimes do — then pull the chicken out and keep it in the refrigerator to add back into the stock later. If not, feed this resulting mush to your pets; they will enjoy it much more than you will. (Warning: Dogs should not eat onions or garlic, and never give a dog poultry bones.)

Strain the stock one more time. (The French strain 7 times, but I don’t. The clearer you want your stock, the more you strain.)

Leave your stock in the fridge to jell overnight. The stock will separate and the fat will rise to the top in a hard yellow layer. This is the gelatin and collagen from the bones and marrow of the chicken, and it’s great for your hair, nails and skin, and part of the reason that chicken soup is a wonder drug for the flu. Keep this golden schmaltz and use it to cook rice or vegetables or to fry latkes or sweet potato fritters.

You can put some stock in the freezer in jars or continue on and make any type of soup you fancy: lentil, split pea, black bean or tomato. Do you want to make chicken soup? Add back some chopped raw carrots, chicken breast and some snips of fresh herbs — and maybe even some matzo balls or noodles. Important to note, this is unseasoned stock.

When you are ready to serve, be sure to season your stock with salt, black pepper and a touch of sugar to taste.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

The Day-After-Thanksgiving Feast

You know how you wake up the morning after Thanksgiving trying to figure out how you could have eaten so much but still have a refrigerator bursting with leftovers? Well, in my case, this is exacerbated by the fact that I’m a chef and never quite know how many people are going to come to the Thanksgiving lunch in my restaurant in the American Embassy in Uganda.

You can imagine how my Jewish-mother gene gets activated during a holiday, especially when I know that I am cooking for many of our young Marines who are missing their moms’ cooking while on tour overseas. Inevitably, I spend a few hours after the meal is over portioning out care packages to anyone and everyone I see, yet I’m still always left with so much food that it begs for me to get creative with the remnants of America’s favorite food holiday.

Maybe it’s a good thing, then, that I never actually get to eat the Thanksgiving meal — I’m always too busy cooking with my team — so I’ve come up with some simple and tasty recipes for leftovers that I now look forward to eating the next day. I’m sharing three of my all-time favorites here so that they may become traditions in your household, too.

ORNA & ELLA’S YAM PATTIES
(Levivot Batata in Hebrew)

Orna & Ella is a small, cute café on Sheinkin Street in Tel Aviv. After I opened my first business in the city, I often indulged in these tender little treats when I was pushing myself too hard and needed a break. They spell comfort, and are a fantastic use of leftover sweet potato casserole. You can even throw in some leftover mashed potatoes if you have it.

3 cups mashed sweet potatoes (or a mixture of
sweet and regular mashed potatoes)
1 tablespoon soy sauce
1/2 cup flour
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
6 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (or margarine)

In a large bowl, mix the mashed sweet potatoes with soy sauce, flour, sugar, salt and pepper, and stir without over mixing. Set aside to rest and come to room temperature for 30 minutes.

Put a few tablespoons of olive oil and 1 tablespoon of butter into a heavy-bottomed frying pan over medium heat.

Transfer the mashed sweet potato mixture to a Ziploc bag and make a small cut at the tip for piping. When the oil is hot, squirt tablespoon-sized balls onto the frying pan and flatten into a patty with the backside of a tablespoon. Fry for about 3 minutes on one side and then flip, frying the other side until both sides are golden brown. Be careful flipping because the patties are fragile. Each time you add a new batch of sweet potato patties to the pan, add more oil and butter — but not too much; a thin layer will do. Transfer cooked patties to a plate lined with paper towels and continue frying until batter is used up. Serve with sour cream, yogurt or tzatziki.

Makes about 15  patties.

THANKSGIVING FEAST EMPANADAS

An Argentine woman named Sheila, who was a retired head chef at a large kibbutz in the north of Israel, once taught me an incredible recipe for empanadas, a deep-fried, stuffed hand pie. Over the years, I have made empanadas filled with ingredients ranging from the traditional meat, raisins and olives to mushrooms, cheese and sautéed shallots.

However, the day after cooking for 200 people is not the day to start making empanada dough, much less deep-frying anything. So I came up with a quick version of an empanada made from Thanksgiving leftovers and store-bought puff pastry. The only thing you have to remember is to take the puff pastry out of the freezer before you go to bed on Thanksgiving and pop it in the fridge to thaw for the next day.

1 package store-bought puff pastry, thawed
overnight in the refrigerator
1/4 cup all-purpose flour for rolling out pastry
1 egg, beaten
9 tablespoons turkey, chopped into cubes
6 tablespoons stuffing
6 tablespoons roasted vegetables,
chopped small
6 teaspoons cold gravy
6 teaspoons cranberry sauce

Preheat oven to 400 F. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Remove Thanksgiving leftovers and puff pastry from refrigerator and cut the turkey and vegetables into 1/2-inch pieces.

Put a small amount of flour on a clean work surface and roll out the dough to half its original thickness. Keep moving the dough around the counter to ensure it doesn’t stick. Take a bowl that is 5 inches in diameter and use a sharp knife to cut around the bowl, creating as many pastry circles as you can.  Try to cut them close together so that you don’t waste too much pastry. This should yield about 6 pastry discs.

Place one pastry circle on your baking tray and use a pastry brush or your finger to paint a bit of egg wash on the bottom half of the disc. Place a few pieces of turkey, a tablespoon of stuffing, a tablespoon of vegetables, a teaspoon of cold gravy and a teaspoon of cranberry sauce on the bottom half of the circle. (Feel free to substitute other Thanksgiving leftovers, such as green bean casserole.) Bring the top half of the pastry circle down over the top and press gently to seal. Take a fork or the handle of a knife and press carefully to form a decorative edge on the seam. Continue filling the remaining empanadas and then brush with egg wash. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden brown.

Makes about 6 empanadas.

DAY-AFTER TURKEY SALAD

Another thing I never miss making after Thanksgiving is turkey salad. It’s fantastic on bagels, crackers or leftover toasted challah, but I love it scooped onto a big bed of crunchy salad greens. Truth be told, this is one of my go-to chicken salad recipes, but I like it even better with leftover turkey.

1/4 cup toasted slivered almonds
2 cups of turkey (white or dark meat or
a mix), chopped into 1-inch cubes
3 celery stalks, coarsely chopped
3 scallions (white and dark parts),
finely chopped
3 tablespoons finely chopped fresh tarragon
(or 1 1/2 tablespoons dry)
2 tablespoons crystallized ginger,
finely chopped
3/4 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
2 tablespoons cranberry sauce
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper

Toast raw almonds in a dry pan for 5 minutes or until golden brown on all sides. Then, in a large bowl, mix together toasted almonds, turkey, celery, scallions, tarragon and ginger.

In a smaller bowl, whisk together the mayonnaise, mustard, cranberry sauce, salt and pepper, and then drizzle the dressing over the turkey. Mix to combine and chill covered in the refrigerator for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Makes 4 servings.


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

Joan Nathan Makes a Shabbat Meal Infused with Weed

It took two seasons and 19 episodes, but VICELAND’s weed-culinary show “Bong Appetite” finally did a traditional Shabbat episode, which aired last night. The guest chef? None other than celebrated Jewish icon Joan Nathan, author of King Solomon’s Table, who whipped up a “cannivorous” Shabbat meal…and we’re kvelling.

“Have you ever cooked with cannabis before?” asked the show’s host Abdullah Saeed. “This is the first time I’ve ever cooked with cannabis, let me just tell you,” assured Nathan.

So what was served?

Challah (duh), matzoh ball soup, double lemon roast chicken and apple kuchen (to which, Saeed exclaimed, “Kuchen! That’s a fun word!”). A typical Shabbat meal, except totally infused with weed.

Upon entering the kitchen, Nathan was faced with a pantry stocked with cannabis. “I don’t think I’ve ever seen weed in my life, but that’s OK,” an unfazed Nathan said. And so, with the help of chef Vanessa Lavorato (founder of Marigold Sweets) and cannabis specialist Ry Prichard, Nathan elevated a traditional Shabbat meal to a “higher” plateau (eh?).

Here’s how: The flour for the challah was sifted with kief (the strain: “Forbidden Fruit”); schmaltz was infused with hemp for the matzoh balls; THCA (the acidic version of THC) and CBD were pulverized with salt to preserve lemons for the chicken; and coconut oil got a healthy dosage of ganjah for the apple kuchen.

When braiding the challah, Nathan told Lavorato, “What I do is I six-braid it.” Of course she does. Because she’s Joan Nathan and three braids is for amateurs. “Alright, let’s see how this bakes,” she said after putting the immaculately six-braided weed challah into the oven. “Well, it’s already baked,” quipped Lavorato. Ha. Ha. The episode is loaded with puns.

The episode ended with a Shabbat meal (Nathan didn’t indulge). A table was set. A blessing was recited over the challah. Candles were lit (and so were the guests). Oh yeah, and the candle-holder obviously was a bong…

Shabbat Shalom.

Watch the episode here.

End-of-the-Line Herb Salad

Yamit's Garden Herb Salad-Four Tastes

One of the first games children learn in grade school is called telephone or grapevine. All the students in the class form a line, and the teacher whispers a sentence into the ear of the first child, who then whispers the sentence into the ear of the child next to him or her. On and on it goes until the last child in the row reveals a sentence that is usually much different in meaning than the original.

It’s a fun, silly game but also one that offers a few deeper lessons: The game often is used to show how quickly rumors become gossip, which tends to be factually incorrect.

But another takeaway is far more intriguing, and that is the unreliability of human recollection. Some children genuinely mishear the sentence whispered to them; some change a word here and there according to their understanding; others deliberately change the sentence to make it more humorous or interesting.

As a child, I was extremely anxious about getting the sentence wrong and not making a mistake. To make matters worse, instead of standing at the beginning of the line, where no one could blame me for getting it wrong, somehow fate always had me standing in the middle. Try as I might to repeat the sentence exactly as I’d heard it, my anxiety over making a mistake would render me unable to hear the whispers in my ear. It took a while, but once I realized that the last one in line got rewarded with all the laughs, I always tried my best to be that kid.

Since I first tasted this salad in Israel 12 years ago, everyone I’ve fed it to falls in love with it.

Belting out that punch line might inadvertently have made me realize I was good at improvising and led to a lifetime of learning to build on other people’s ideas. It’s certainly served me well in the kitchen.

I was reminded of this recently while talking to my cousin Tali about a salad. This incredible herb salad is so unusual that it has appeared on every one of my restaurant menus and is a regular staple on my table at home, particularly when I’m entertaining.

In my restaurants, it’s called Tali’s Garden Herb Salad-Four Tastes. The four tastes are salty, sweet, sour and spicy. It features feta and caramelized pecans on top of cilantro, parsley and mint, dressed simply with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, garlic and chili flakes.

Since I first tasted this salad in Israel 12 years ago, everyone I’ve fed it to falls in love with it.

I phoned my cousin the other night to tell her about my intention to write about her famous salad, and the conversation went something like this:

“Tali, I want to write about that herb salad you make. Can you remind me how you came up with the idea?”

“I didn’t come up with that salad.”

“What do you mean? I thought you used to make it when pecans came into season on Uncle Leon’s farm, and Aunt Viola would caramelize them in big batches.”

“That’s so romantic, but we never used our farm’s pecans for the salad! My mom used to make salted pecans on the farm, not sugared ones. I buy the ones for the salad at the store.”

“Really? I must have misunderstood. Other than the cilantro, parsley and mint, do you ever use any other herbs in the salad? Like basil?”

“No, you’re the one that added parsley and mint. I use only cilantro, and I got the recipe from the owner of the bakery on a nearby farm. I was annoyed because I had to wait for my order to finish baking and he made me this salad to distract me. You make caramelized pecans yourself?”

“Wow! I wonder why I started adding parsley and mint to it.”

“Remember Aunt Dora hated cilantro, so you probably added parsley for her and then Aviva suggested mint may be good in it.”

“And did the baker come up with the dressing of olive oil and balsamic vinegar
or was that your idea?”

“I hate to tell you this, but there is no vinegar in the salad, Yamit. Only olive oil and garlic.”

“But what makes the sour fourth taste?”

“You made it by adding vinegar! Now, get over it already and teach me how to caramelize pecans.”

As I hung up the phone, I smiled, remembering that life is a little like a game of telephone. Although it’s human nature to want to avoid making mistakes, sometimes it pays to be at the end of the line.

YAMIT’S GARDEN HERB SALAD-FOUR TASTES

Better double or triple this recipe for a gathering. No matter how much I make for a party, the bowl is always empty in 10 minutes.

1/2 cup Caramelized Pecans, coarsely chopped (recipe follows)
2 large bunches (about 4 cups) fresh cilantro,
leaves only
1 bunch (about 2 cups) fresh flat-leaf parsley,
leaves only
1 handful (about 1 cup) fresh mint,
leaves only
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1 clove crushed garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
3 grinds freshly ground black pepper
1 cup crumbled feta cheese, preferably
Bulgarian
1/4 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Make Caramelized Pecans; set aside.

Use sharp kitchen scissors to cut the leaves of the herbs from their stems. Wash herbs thoroughly and dry using a salad spinner or paper towels. Chop the leaves, leaving some whole leaves, and chopping others medium to fine. I use a mezzaluna for this, but kitchen scissors work great as well.

In a bowl, whisk together olive oil, red pepper flakes, garlic, vinegar and pepper, and toss with herbs an hour before you want to eat. Store salad in the fridge to chill.

Right before serving, crumble in the creamy feta and the chopped pecans. Give it a final mix and taste to adjust salt.

Makes 4 servings.

CARAMELIZED PECANS

1 tablespoon butter
1 cup pecans
1/4 cup sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse sea salt

Over medium heat, melt butter in a pan. Add pecans and sugar and let cook slowly, frequently stirring with a wooden spoon. The butter/sugar mixture will become syrupy and then evaporate and glaze the pecans. Keep stirring until the pecans turn a dark, shellac brown, about 10 minutes. They are easy to burn, so keep an eye on them.

Carefully, pour the glazed pecans onto a plate covered with a sheet of baking paper, sprinkle on salt, and let cool to harden thoroughly for about 30 minutes. Nothing hurts more than caramel sugar burns, so consider wearing gloves.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Viva Banitsa: Why You Are What Your Neighbors Eat

This savory Bulgarian pastry, known as banitsa, is made here with spinach and feta filling.

The more I travel, the more I realize that food influences move across borders with astounding efficiency. Take, for example, the Moroccan b’stilla, a chicken pie of sorts consisting of thin layers of dough surrounding a saffron-scented filling of eggs, chicken and crushed almonds dusted with powdered sugar. It’s not so different from a Turkish borek, an English pasty, an Argentine empanada or even a French quiche.

Most Mediterranean cultures have some version of a savory pie that includes eggs, cheese, meat or vegetables. Greece and Bulgaria are neighbors, so you would expect the food to be similar, but even in a place far removed from the Mediterranean you find food influences that have traveled very far, stuck and been reinvented as another dish. Take the ubiquitous samosa of East Africa, for example. Like the b’stilla and borek, this much-loved Indian snack made of flaky pastry surrounding a savory filling is yet another version of a pie, but flavored with curry and coriander rather than cheese and eggs.

We are all made of the same stuff, just spiced a little bit differently.

Nowhere is this phenomenon more evident than in Israel, where the influences of the Middle East meet the influences of Asia and Europe. Because Israel is a small country, culinary influence tends to spread even faster. It is not unusual, for example, to find Libyan, Yemenite and French restaurants on the same block in Tel Aviv. The fact that Jews came from all over the world to settle in Israel created an exciting food culture where anything goes. The foods of Bulgaria, Thailand, Germany, Ethiopia and Morocco offer flavors Israelis understand and appreciate.

My childhood kitchen was no exception to this culinary mish-mash. Romanian, Bulgarian and Israeli influences created an abundance of special flavors that I crave to this day. My favorite, a Bulgarian staple called a banitsa, is a pie I grew up eating at family gatherings. Traditionally, Bulgarians stuff a banitsa with eggs, yogurt and Bulgarian feta called sirene. 

Because most of my customers are Americans, I usually opt for a spinach and feta banitsa in my restaurant kitchen because it’s very similar to the better-known and loved Greek spanikopita. I like to form the banitsa into the traditional Bulgarian shape of a snail and make many individual servings so each person can have their own banitsa — or two.

Here is my spinach and feta filling recipe, but I encourage you to come up with new flavor combinations. Potato and cheese, mushrooms and herbs, pumpkin and goat cheese — your imagination is the only limit. My mother makes a banitsa with ground beef and potato that is beloved by all who try it. Just make sure your filling tastes delicious to begin with and is seasoned well enough with salt and pepper.

If you can, make the filling the night before you want to use it. Sometimes, I make three or four times the filling I need and freeze it in containers. That way, if the mood strikes for a banitsa or if I have last-minute company, I just need to defrost the phyllo and the filling in the refrigerator overnight and — presto! — the whole operation, including baking time, can be done in less than an hour.   

In my restaurant kitchen, I always make extra already-filled pastries and store them in the freezer. If kept in a well-wrapped container,  the frozen filled pastries can be taken directly from the freezer to the oven without defrosting and will come out just as perfect as freshly filled ones. Nothing beats a hot, crisp banitsa right out of the oven. Nothing!

If, like me, you love to re-create dishes you eat in your travels, it doesn’t take long to realize that we all are made of the same stuff, just spiced a bit differently.

SPINACH BANITSA 
Spinach and Feta Filling (recipe follows)
1 package (16 ounces) frozen phyllo pastry,
thawed in the refrigerator overnight
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup melted clarified butter (optional: use 1/2 cup of olive oil if you prefer)
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional garnish)

Make Spinach and Feta Filling; set aside to cool.

Preheat oven to 400 F.

Take phyllo out of the refrigerator and gently remove from packaging. Working quickly, peel one sheet of dough away from the pack and place on a clean work surface. Keep a damp towel nearby for covering the dough you are not using because phyllo tends to dry out and crumble when exposed to air.

Take a small amount of your oil/butter mixture and either use a pastry brush or your hands to oil the pastry sheet. I find that my hands are the best tool for this job because I can control the amount of oil that goes on the pastry without overdoing it. You want a thin smear of oil, not a puddle. Don’t worry if the pastry tears; there is plenty more pastry when you roll it to patch up your mistakes.

Working with the longer side of the pastry sheet in front of you, place five tablespoons of the cooled Spinach and Feta Filling evenly along the length of the sheet, leaving a 1-inch border on both sides. Fold the sheet of pastry over the filling and then fold the right and left sides in, creating a cylindrical pouch.

Continue to roll firmly but not too tightly until you reach the end of the pastry sheet. The moisture in your filling will seal the pastry cylinder. Finally, starting from the right side of the cylinder, gently roll it into a snail shape. 

Place your pastry snails touching one another on an ungreased baking tray.  Continue rolling the remaining pastry sheets until the filling runs out. If desired, take a pastry brush with a small amount of oil/butter, brush the tops of the snails and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for about 25 minutes or until the pastries are golden brown with a few darker spots here and there. In my family, we eat these with a dollop of tart yogurt on top and a simply dressed, crisp green salad on the side. If you don’t care to bake the banitsas on the spot, you can wrap them well, unbaked, and store them in the freezer for a rainy day. 

Makes about 15 servings.

 

 

 

SPINACH AND FETA FILLING 
18 ounces fresh or frozen spinach leaves
6 scallions (green and white parts),
finely chopped
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 whole eggs
8 ounces crumbled feta cheese
(preferably Bulgarian)
2 ounces small curd full-fat cottage cheese
1 ounce grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
1 tablespoon dry oregano
2 tablespoons fresh flat-leaf parsley
2 tablespoons fresh dill (optional)
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon sea salt (adjust depending on
the saltiness of the feta)
Pinch of nutmeg (optional)

Sauté spinach with scallions in olive oil until thoroughly wilted and soft. Put in a strainer and squeeze dry with both hands until the mixture is completely devoid of moisture. This is the most important step in the process because if you don’t get all the water out of the spinach mixture, you could end up with a soggy banitsa. 

Chop dry spinach mixture finely and add the remaining ingredients, except for salt. The amount of additional salt you add depends on how salty the feta is. Set aside to cool in the refrigerator until ready to use — don’t use hot filling because it will melt the phyllo dough leaves together. 

Makes about 5 cups.

Full Disclosure Egg Salad

I wish I had a dollar for every time someone prefaced a recipe request with: “It’s probably a secret, but is there any way you would give me your (fill-in-the-blank) recipe?”

Because I have a Facebook group dedicated to this very purpose, I’m always baffled by the disclaimer. While growing up, I often heard my aunts in Israel joke about certain “friends” who shared recipes that had a few crucial ingredients omitted. They threw shade at these women, between sips of coffee and nibbles of cake. “We don’t do that in our family,” they alleged, which to their credit was mostly true.

But it’s not just old-school homemakers who don’t want to let the secret of their best meringue out of the bag. Wars have been fought in the food industry over fried chicken and proprietary ingredient lists, as if you can keep a great dish a secret. 

I’ve spent some time reflecting on why we get proprietary about recipes. Maybe it’s because we feel threatened that someone will steal our big ideas. I’ve got news for you:  There is no recipe on earth that cannot be Googled in three seconds flat. 

With recipes, and in life, it always pays to be as generous as possible and with as much as gusto as you can muster. Generosity always comes back to you in abundance.

Sometimes, even chefs fall under the  misguided impression that a secret recipe can make them a success. There is a whole lot more to running a successful restaurant than the food, and you would think people who make their living by cooking would know that better than anyone. Yet surprisingly, this isn’t always the case.

I once watched a chef from a competing cafe grill our waiters about a dip we served as a complimentary snack with our bagel chips. I was cooking in our open kitchen, but he couldn’t see me behind the reflective glass of the restaurant window. The poor guy was taking photos of the dip, tasting and retasting, and I could see the staff was having a hard time answering his questions. I finally went out and talked to him. 

“I can see you like our red sauce, and I’d be glad to tell you how to make it if you like,” I said. 

He stared at me with disbelieving eyes. 

“Would you really tell me?” he asked.   

“Why wouldn’t I?” I responded, and proceeded to describe the recipe for the sauce. 

Maybe he thought figuring out the secret to this sauce was so important that he couldn’t believe I was not leaving out some mystery ingredient. He was so mistrustful of my rendition of the recipe that it became a running joke in our restaurant. For the next few months, my staff often would call me and say, “That dip guy called for a delivery and ordered bagel chips with extra sauce again. He must still not believe you.”

Of course, none of us is immune to irrational fears, and in the ultracompetitive world of cooking, it’s tempting to want to make any grab for an edge. Still, since we all have been taught by someone, and usually by many, it’s counterproductive to keep that knowledge to yourself. With recipes, and in life, it always pays to be as generous as possible and with as much as gusto as you can muster. Generosity always comes back to you in abundance.

On that note, I’d like to share my highly requested egg salad recipe. It’s actually more of a technique than a recipe. I prefer it unadulterated, free from all the extras people tend to put in egg salad.

When someone asks you how you made this, remember that when you pass along a great recipe you are giving someone a reminder of yourself that will last forever.  They will think of you fondly each and every time they make it. 

That part can be our little secret.


EGG SALAD

4 free-range, yellow-yolk eggs

1/2 cup Homemade 30-Second Mayonnaise
(recipe follows)

1/2 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

Paprika as garnish (optional)

If using farm-fresh eggs, put on a pot of boiling water. Gently place the eggs in boiling water with a spoon and bring back to a boil. Let them boil gently for 10 minutes. Drain and plunge eggs into an ice-water bath, cracking the top and bottom of the eggs on the counter on their way in. After 15 minutes, the eggs should peel very easily. If your eggs are pasteurized and refrigerated, place in cold water and bring to a boil. Then turn off heat and cover pan, leaving eggs in hot water for 15 minutes before plunging into an ice bath.

Slice peeled eggs in half. Remove yolks from the eggs and put them in a bowl. Add Homemade 30-Second Mayonnaise and lemon juice and stir to create an egg yolk emulsion.  Think of this as creating a dressing for the whites. Rather than cutting the whites, crumble them with your fingers so they become fluffy and break into irregular sizes. This way, those frayed edges can absorb more of the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste, stirring gently, and decorate with a bit of paprika if you wish. Cover bowl with cling wrap and let sit in the fridge for a few hours before enjoying.    

Makes 2 servings.


HOMEMADE
30-SECOND
MAYONNAISE

1 cup olive oil or avocado oil (not extra
virgin; pick one that is not
heavily flavored)

1 free-range, pasteurized egg yolk

1 tablespoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon vinegar of your choice
(or lemon juice)

1/4 teaspoon salt

Put oil in a container that fits your immersion blender head (a glass measuring cup is ideal); add the whole egg yolk, as well as all remaining ingredients. Try not to break the yolk in the process. Push an immersion blender to the bottom of the container and turn it on, moving the stick up from the bottom and down again until your mayo turns thick. This takes 30 seconds or less. If there is some oil that has not incorporated at the top, don’t worry about it, just stir it in. This mayo will be fresh for about five days in the fridge, but it tastes so fantastic, good luck keeping it around for that long.

Makes 1 cup. 


Yamit Behar Wood, an Israeli-American food and travel writer, is the executive chef at the U.S. Embassy in Kampala, Uganda, and founder of the New York Kitchen Catering Co.

RECIPES: A Sukkot menu that celebrates the land’s fall harvest

Holiday Pumpkin Soup. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

The harvest festival of Sukkot is a great time to be home for the holidays.

The most obvious reason is that the main symbol of the festival is the sukkah, the decorated outdoor booth that provides families a wonderful opportunity to invite friends and neighbors to share a snack or come together for a meal.

In the spirit of the holiday, dishes should include seasonal fruits and vegetables, along with several kinds of grains, as a reminder of the fall harvest. 

This year, our family and friends will enjoy interesting foods from a menu that is healthful and low in fat, and much of it can be prepared in advance.

Begin with a hearty Holiday Pumpkin Soup, which can double as a great addition to your Thanksgiving dinner. Garnish with a sprinkling of toasted pumpkin seeds that add a crunchy texture, and serve with grain-rich bread made from whole-wheat flour and cornmeal.

Another Sukkot culinary custom is to serve foods filled with rice or other grains. Kreplach, blintzes, cabbage, squash, and other vegetables are perfect examples. But, red bell peppers stuffed with rice and fruit, and baked until tender, are my favorite.

For dessert, lemon-flavored treats always are welcome and refreshing, since lemons are in the same citrus family as the etrog, or citron, one of the four species used ritually during Sukkot. (The other three species are the palm, willow and myrtle.) The lemon cake recipe below uses generous quantities of fresh lemon juice and grated rind for some extra zest. 

HOLIDAY PUMPKIN SOUP

3 tablespoons unsalted butter or nondairy margarine
1 large onion, thinly sliced
1 clove garlic
1 tart apple, peeled and thinly sliced
4 cups pumpkin, peeled and thinly sliced
1 teaspoon fresh thyme
6 cups vegetable broth or pareve chicken broth
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds for garnish

In a heavy saucepan, heat butter; add onion and garlic and sauté until tender. Add apple and pumpkin, and sauté 2 to 3 minutes, until tender. Add thyme and 5 cups broth. Bring to boil or until soup thickens.

With a slotted spoon, transfer all of pumpkin mixture to a food processor and process slowly, adding remaining 1 cup of broth until pureed.

Return pureed mixture to saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes or until soup thickens. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into heated soup bowls and sprinkle with parsley and toasted pumpkin seeds.

Makes about 7 cups.

HARVEST CORN BREAD

1 cup whole-wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 1/4 cups yellow cornmeal
2 tablespoons sugar
1 cup milk
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 egg
2 tablespoons sesame seeds

Preheat the oven to 425 F.

In the large bowl of a mixer, combine flour, salt, baking powder, 1 cup yellow cornmeal and sugar. Blend well. In a separate bowl, combine milk, oil and egg. Pour into flour mixture, beating until dry ingredients are moist.

Brush an 8-inch-square baking dish with oil and sprinkle with cornmeal. Pour in batter and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes, or until wood toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool on rack and cut into squares.

Makes about 16 squares.

RICE AND FRUIT STUFFED RED BELL PEPPERS

Quick Tomato Sauce (recipe follows)
8 large, sweet red bell peppers
1 1/2 cups uncooked, long-grain rice
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
1/3 cup sliced dried prunes
1/3 cup sliced dried apricots
1/2 cup chopped parsley
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
2 cups vegetable stock, chicken broth or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
3 tablespoons pine nuts

Preheat the oven to 350 F.

Prepare Quick Tomato Sauce; set aside.

Cut off stem ends of peppers (1/2 inch from top), and remove the seeds and inner white ribs. Blanch and invert to drain while preparing filling.

Rinse and soak rice in hot water, covered, for 30 minutes; then drain.

Heat oil in skillet and sauté onion until tender. Add prunes, apricots, parsley, cinnamon, turmeric, stock and drained rice. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Mix well. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Stuff peppers with rice mixture and cover with stem ends of peppers. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour or until tender, basting occasionally.

Makes 8 servings.

QUICK TOMATO SAUCE

1 (15-ounce) can tomato sauce
1 cup water
1/3 cup lemon juice
1/3 cup brown sugar
1/2 cup golden raisins
Salt to taste

In a large pot, combine tomato sauce, water, lemon juice, brown sugar, raisins and salt to taste. Bring to boil, then reduce heat and simmer 10 minutes. Cover and set aside. 

Makes about 3 cups.

Sukkot Lemon Cake

SUKKOT LEMON CAKE

6 eggs, separated
1 1/2 cups sugar
1 3/4 cups flour
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup lemon juice
2 tablespoons grated lemon zest
Powdered sugar for garnish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. 

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, beat egg whites at medium speed until foamy. Gradually beat in 1/2 cup of the sugar, 2 tablespoons at a time, beating well after each addition.

In another bowl, beat egg yolks until very thick and lemon-colored. Gradually beat in remaining 1 cup of sugar until mixture is smooth. Combine flour and salt and blend into egg-yolks mixture, alternately with lemon juice. Fold in lemon zest. Using a wire whisk or a rubber spatula, fold yolk mixture gently into egg-white mixture. 

Pour batter into ungreased 10-inch tube pan. Bake in preheated oven for 50 to 55 minutes, until cake springs back with finger. Invert on wire rack and cool completely. Just before serving, sprinkle with powdered sugar.

Makes 10 to 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.

Key to a great break-fast: Prepare a simple menu in advance

Turkey Meatloaf. Photo by Cyndi Bemel

Yom Kippur, one of the holiest and most important days of the Jewish year, is observed by prayer and fasting all day. The 24-hour fast begins at sundown, and since no cooking traditionally is permitted during the holiday, all food that will be served for the break-the-fast meal must be prepared prior to the holiday.

 When planning a break-the-fast gathering at your home, a buffet of dishes that can be prepared in advance is the perfect answer. Your menu should offer something for everyone — from those who wish only a snack to the hearty eaters who crave lots of well-seasoned food to make up for their fasting. 

 In our home, after the shofar has sounded to mark the close of Yom Kippur, we begin the evening with apples dipped in honey, served with my special holiday challah — baked with apples and raisins — and our favorite honey cake.

 This year, I hope to make the preparation of the rest of the holiday meal less stressful with a delicious menu that can be ready to serve when we all gather for the break-fast. Consider this Turkey Meatloaf. It can be made in advance, stored in the freezer and served with Potato Salad, Carrot Slaw or Coleslaw. Include a Cauliflower-Anchovy Salad — the color and zippy flavor of its Parsley-Anchovy Dressing give the understated vegetable a dynamic boost. Add some surprise to the meal by serving candied apple slices with the meatloaf. 

 For dessert, a large platter of Crisp Almond Butter Cookies is the perfect end to the evening. My son-in-law, Jay, has been making delicious homemade almond butter that he always shares with me. It is the cookies’ secret ingredient. The cookie dough can be made in advance, kept in the freezer and baked before serving.  

TURKEY MEATLOAF

2 pounds ground turkey
2 eggs
1 medium onion, grated
1/2 cup breadcrumbs
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 large onions, sliced
1 can (15-ounces) crushed tomatoes
3/4 cup dry red wine
3 hard-boiled eggs, peeled
1/2 cup ketchup

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a large bowl, combine ground turkey, eggs, onion, breadcrumbs, and 2 tablespoons of the minced garlic cloves; mix well. Add cumin, salt and pepper.

Heat oil in a skillet and sauté remaining 2 garlic cloves, sliced onions, tomatoes and wine until soft.

Place garlic mixture in a large roaster. Shape 1/2 of the meat mixture into a flat loaf and place on top of the onion mixture in the roaster. Place hard-boiled eggs lengthwise along center of molded turkey loaf. Mold remaining turkey mixture on top of the eggs, pressing to make a firm loaf. Spread ketchup on top of the loaf, frosting the loaf like a cake.

Bake in preheated oven, covered, for 1 1/4 hours, until baked through.

Makes about 8 servings.

POTATO SALAD

8 to 10 medium potatoes, cooked and diced
1/2 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced fresh fennel
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 cup mayonnaise
1/2 cup finely sliced green onions (scallions)
1/2 cup minced parsley, optional
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste
Garnish with diced red bell pepper

In a large bowl, combine the potatoes, celery, fennel and red bell pepper. Add enough mayonnaise to moisten and toss gently. Add the green onions and parsley, and season to taste with salt and pepper; toss gently again. Garnish with diced red bell pepper.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

COLESLAW 

1 head cabbage
1 large carrot, peeled and grated (optional)
3/4 cup mayonnaise
2 tablespoons sugar or honey
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

Cut cabbage lengthwise into wedges small enough to fit in feed tube of food processor. Remove core. With slicing disk in place, slice cabbage using moderate pressure on pusher. Or, using a sharp knife, slice the cabbage as thin as possible. Transfer sliced cabbage to a large bowl. Add carrot and toss. Set aside.

In a small bowl, combine mayonnaise, sugar and lemon and blend. Add salt and pepper to taste. Add additional sugar or lemon juice to taste. Toss with cabbage mixture to moisten completely.

Makes 8 to 10 servings.

CARROT SLAW

6 medium carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 cup diced celery
1/2 cup diced apples
1/3 cup golden raisins
1/2 cup mayonnaise
Salt to taste
Freshly ground black pepper to taste 

In a large bowl, toss the carrots, celery, apples and raisins. Mix in the mayonnaise; season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve on a lettuce leaf.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAULIFLOWER-ANCHOVY SALAD

1 cup Parsley Anchovy Dressing (recipe below)
1 head cauliflower, rinsed and separated into florets

Prepare Parsley-Anchovy Dressing, cover with plastic wrap and chill.

In a large saucepan, using a vegetable rack, steam cauliflower until tender when pierced with a fork — about 10 minutes. Transfer cauliflower to a large bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and chill for at least 30 minutes. To serve, spoon just enough dressing over cauliflower to moisten and toss. Serve immediately.

Makes 6 servings. 

PARSLEY-ANCHOVY DRESSING

1/4 small onion, diced
1 can (2 ounces) anchovy fillets, drained
3/4 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
2 cups tightly packed parsley sprigs, stems removed (about 1 bunch)
Freshly ground black pepper to taste

In a blender or food processor fitted with the metal blade, blend onion, anchovies, olive oil and vinegar. Add parsley, a little at a time, and puree until the dressing is a bright green color. Season with pepper to taste.

Transfer to a glass bowl, cover with plastic wrap and chill. If dressing thickens after chilling, add additional olive oil and mix well. Dressing will keep for several days in the refrigerator.

Makes about 1 1/2 cups.

CRISP ALMOND BUTTER COOKIES

1/2 cup unsalted nondairy margarine
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
1/2 cup almond butter
1 egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 1/4 cups unbleached flour
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
Additional sugar

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

 In the large bowl of an electric mixer, cream the margarine and sugars. Add almond butter, egg and vanilla; beat until smooth. In another bowl, combine the flour, baking soda and baking powder; add to creamed mixture and mix well. For easier shaping, chill in the refrigerator for 1 hour.

Shape cookie dough into 1-inch balls. Place them 2 inches apart on ungreased baking sheets. Flatten each ball by crisscrossing with the tines of a fork dipped in sugar. Bake in preheated oven for 10 to 12 minutes or until bottoms of cookies are lightly browned and cookies are set.

Makes 4 to 5 dozen cookies.


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

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken

Moroccan-inspired tzimmes with saffron, white wine and chicken. Photos by Chaya Rappoport

I didn’t grow up with tzimmes, so the idea of stewed, mushy vegetables with dried fruit has never much appealed to me. I say “idea” because I am pretty sure I have never actually tasted tzimmes. The dish always seemed too sweet to be appealing, even if sweet foods are traditionally enjoyed for the New Year.

But recently, while thinking of new ways to reinvent a few classic Rosh Hashanah dishes, I began thinking about tzimmes. And perhaps with a couple of very liberal (and namely savory) changes, who’s to say it couldn’t become something newer, grander and much more enticing for a palate like mine?

My experimentation has produced a colorful, show-stopping and nontraditional chicken dish.

Wonderfully savory chicken now complements the sweet tzimmes of yore, which I have updated by swapping fresh, juicy plums and apricots for their dry, pruney counterparts, adding sweetly swirled candy cane beets (you can also use red or golden beets); switching out regular carrots for vivid, tricolored ones; and tossing in a handful of golden raisins to be plumped up with aromatic pan juices. Alongside the requisite onion, aromatic rosemary and heady cloves of garlic, the striking fruit-and-vegetable mixture roasts in a cinnamon, ras el hanout (a Moroccan spice blend) and spiked date honey sauce.

Once the fruits and vegetables have softened a bit, they are topped by the chicken and doused in a saffron-infused white wine mixture, which saturates the entire dish as its components roast together in happy, fragrant harmony.

Now we have a delicious dish with tender fruits and vegetables, bronzed chicken and a saffron-and-white-wine-flavored gravy that puddles at the bottom of the pan and would be splendid spooned over fluffy couscous. Serve this holiday-worthy chicken with even more wine and with shreds of fresh green parsley, then watch as even the most vehement tzimmes haters come slowly, then speedily around.

Ingredients:
For the fruits and vegetables:
2 bunches small colored candy cane beets, tops removed, scrubbed and sliced
1 bunch colorful young carrots, scrubbed and thicker ones sliced in half
4 apricots, halved, some quartered
4 big purple plums, halved and some sliced
1/2 cup golden raisins
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 large onion, peeled and sliced into thick rings
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
chopped parsley, for serving

Some of the fruits and vegetables that go in a newfangled tzimmes dish.

 

For the chicken, sauce and saffron white wine marinade:
4 chicken bottoms, cleaned
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 sprigs fresh rosemary
1/4 teaspoon saffron threads
1/4 cup water
3/4 cups good white wine
3 tablespoons date honey (silan)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
3 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 pinches cayenne pepper
1/4 teaspoon ras el hanout

Directions:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 F. Rub the chicken bottoms with the sea salt and the 2 sprigs of fresh rosemary.

2. Toast the saffron threads in a small pan over low-medium heat for about 3-5 minutes until they are slightly toasty and fragrant. Remove the pan from the heat, add the 1/4 cup of water and let it sit and turn yellow as the saffron infuses its flavor into the water.

3. Combine the cooled saffron water, of which you should have 1/4 cup, with the white wine. Mix and set aside until needed.

4. Make the marinade: Whisk the date honey, oil, black pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and ras el hanout in a large bowl.

5. Add the chicken pieces, carrots, onion, cardamom pods, garlic, apricots, plums, carrots, beets, golden raisins and rosemary to the large bowl and toss to combine.

6. Remove the chicken and set aside in a clean, baking paper-lined pan until needed. Spread the fruits and vegetables on a baking paper-lined rimmed baking sheet.

7. Pour half of the saffron/white wine mixture on the chicken and half on the vegetables. Cover the vegetables tightly with foil. Roast 15 minutes, then remove from oven. Remove and discard the cardamom.

8.  Remove foil, lower the heat to 400 F. and top the vegetables with the chicken and the rest of the saffron/white wine mix.

9. Continue to roast until the beets and carrots are tender, the chicken is golden brown and the whole mixture smells divine, around 40 minutes to 1 hour. (If the fruits and vegetables get too dark, you can remove the sheet tray from the oven, place the chicken in another pan and return that pan to the oven until the chicken is nice and golden, leaving out the vegetables.)

10. When the chicken and vegetables are done, transfer chicken mixture to serving platter. Pour pan juices over. Top with shredded parsley before serving.

Chaya Rappoport is the blogger, baker and picture taker behind retrolillies.wordpress.com. Currently a pastry sous chef at a Brooklyn bakery, she’s been blogging since 2012 and her work has been featured on The Feed Feed, Delish.com, Food and Wine and Conde Nast Traveler.


The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.

Rosh Hashanah recipes from Chef Ari Kolender

Cast-Iron Peach Crisp. Photo by Jessica Ritz

Chef Ari Kolendar has a few favorite, hearty fall dishes his maternal grandmother used to make at Rosh Hashanah for their large family in Charleston, S.C. “Now that I’m in the field,” he said, “I’ve mastered her recipes.”

[MORE: Chef Ari Kolender branches out with new café]

Here, he’s adapted them, mixing just the right amount of nostalgia with ingredients to satisfy contemporary tastes.

NOODLE KUGEL

– 8 ounces packaged egg noodles
– 3 eggs, beaten
– 4 ounces unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 8 ounces pineapple, diced small
– 2 apples, diced small

Preheat oven to 350 F.
Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.
Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cook noodles in boiling water until tender. Drain and place into a Pyrex dish.

Place the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Pour into the Pyrex dish, over the noodles. Sprinkle with cinnamon and sugar then bake for 1 hour.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

SQUASH CASSEROLE

– 3 pounds fresh yellow squash
– 2 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 1 teaspoon ground white pepper, if available
– 1 yellow onion, diced small
– 2 eggs
– 1 teaspoon sugar
– 4 ounces melted unsalted butter, plus some cold butter for the Pyrex dish
– 1 cup seasoned bread crumbs for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Cut the squash in half, then season with olive oil, salt and pepper. Cook in the oven until tender, about 10 minutes.

Once cool, chop the squash and place into a bowl. Add the rest of the ingredients into a bowl and whisk together. Place into a buttered Pyrex dish and cover with seasoned bread crumbs. Bake in preheated oven for 45 minutes.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CHERRY TOMATO CRISP

– 6 tablespoons olive oil
– 2 pints cherry tomatoes
– 1 tablespoon yellow onion, diced small
– 2 cloves garlic, minced
– 1/2 cup matzo meal
– 1 tablespoon parsley, chopped
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1/2 teaspoon black pepper

Preheat oven to 425 F.

Lightly coat a shallow baking dish with 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Add tomatoes to pan.

In a medium bowl, add the remaining ingredients. Mix well and sprinkle over the tomatoes. Roast for 20 to 25 minutes until golden brown and tomatoes are tender.

Makes 6-8 servings.

DERBY PIE

– Store-bought pie shell
– 3/4 stick melted unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup sugar
– 3/4 cup white corn syrup
– 3 eggs
– 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
– 3/4 cup pecans, chopped
– 1/2 cup chocolate chips
– Whipped cream for topping

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Bake the pie shell for 12 minutes. Let cool and reserve.

Using a standing mixer or a hand-held electric mixer, cream the butter and the sugar until light and fluffy. Mix in the syrup, eggs and vanilla slowly. Once incorporated, stir in the pecans and the chocolate chips.

Pour into the pie shell and bake in the preheated oven for 45 minutes. Serve warm with whipped cream.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

CAST-IRON PEACH CRISP

– Peach Crisp Topping (recipe follows)
– 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter for preparing the pan
– 2 pounds firm peaches (about 5 medium), cut into half-inch width slices
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup white sugar
– 5 ounces pecans, toasted and chopped
– 3/4 teaspoon garam masala spice mix, if available
– 1 tablespoon lemon juice
– 1/3 teaspoon sea salt

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare the Peach Crisp Topping; set aside.

Smear the sides and bottom of a cast iron pan with the cold butter.

In a bowl, mix the peaches, brown sugar, white sugar, pecans, spice mix, lemon juice and salt. Place into the pan and finish by scattering the Topping on top.

Bake in the preheated oven for 25 to 30 minutes. The topping should be golden brown.

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

TOPPING

– 3 tablespoons unsalted butter
– 1/3 cup all purpose flour
– 1/3 cup brown sugar
– Pinch of sea salt

Melt the butter and set aside.

Combine flour, sugar and salt in a bowl and mix together. Add the room temperature butter and mix until fully incorporated. Crumble the mixture on top of the fruit in the pan.

Figs add richness to holiday sweets

Fresh Fig-Nut Loaf With Streusel Topping. Photos by Cyndi Bemel

Traditionally during Rosh Hashanah, foods sweetened with honey are eaten to symbolize the wish for a sweet and happy year ahead. But at my family’s holiday dinner, we like to supplement them with something equally nectarous: fresh figs.

One of the seven species of fruits and grains named in the Bible, figs offer distinctive sweetness to many recipes and fit perfectly into the New Year’s menu. California dried figs are plentiful all year round, but fresh figs also are available at this time of the year. (I like to get mine from a tree in my son Zeke’s backyard.) They add a rich source of fiber, vitamins and minerals, and are versatile enough to try in salads, main courses and desserts. 

These four recipes are easy to make, and each is a little different from the way you may have enjoyed figs previously. Delicious, fresh fig bread can be whipped up in a few minutes, and it has a nice chewy texture. Served in thin slices, it is especially good with fruit or cheese. Serve for breakfast topped with orange marmalade.

Israeli-style stuffed figs with a chocolate-nut filling are a gourmet delight and they can take the place of a tray of pastries. Make a few extra to give to dinner guests to take home, or wrap them in a box or basket to bring when you are invited to dinner on Rosh Hashanah.

The Italian Fig Cake is inspired by the famous panforte, a delicious confection that originated in Siena, Italy. Rich, dense and chewy, the ingredients include dried figs, nuts, honey, spices and an assortment of other dried fruits. It keeps well in tins and is another good choice to bring as a gift from your kitchen.

As a bonus, serve fresh figs with homemade ricotta cheese and honey. The recipe for fresh ricotta takes just a short time to make — as long as it takes to boil milk — and much longer to enjoy!

FRESH FIG-NUT LOAF WITH STREUSEL TOPPING

– Streusel Topping (recipe follows)
– 1/2 cup melted, unsalted butter
– 3/4 cup finely ground walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups sugar
– 2 1/2 cups flour
– 2 teaspoons baking soda
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 1 cup unsalted butter, cut in pieces
– 2 cups toasted, chopped walnuts or pecans
– 2 cups (about 8 large figs) peeled and mashed fresh figs
– 4 eggs
– 1/2 cup milk

Preheat oven to 350 F.

Prepare Streusel Topping; set aside.

Brush 4 3-by-7-by-2-inch loaf pans generously with melted butter; sprinkle them with ground nuts and set aside.

In the large bowl of an electric mixer, blend the sugar, flour, baking soda and salt. Add the butter and blend until crumbly. Add the chopped walnuts and mix well. 

In a medium bowl, beat the figs, eggs and milk together. Pour the fig mixture into the flour mixture all at once. Stir gently just until all the dry ingredients are moistened; do not over-stir.

Spoon the batter into the prepared loaf pans. Sprinkle each loaf with 2 to 3 tablespoons of the Streusel Topping. Bake for 40 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the loaves begin to come away from the sides of the pans.

Makes 4 loaves.

STREUSEL TOPPING

– 1/2 cup brown sugar
– 1/4 cup flour
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/4 cup unsalted butter
– 1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans

In a food processor or large bowl of an electric mixer, blend together the brown sugar, flour, cinnamon and butter just until crumbly; do not over-mix. Stir in the chopped walnuts. Cover and set aside.

Makes about 1 cup. 

ITALIAN FIG CAKE (PANFORTE)

– 8 ounces dried figs
– 1 cup golden raisins
– 1 cup dried apples
– Grated peel of 1 orange and 1 lemon
– 1/2 cup flour
– 1/4 cup cocoa
– 2 teaspoons cinnamon
– 1/8 teaspoon mace
– 1/8 teaspoon white pepper
– 3/4 cup honey
– 1/2 cup sugar
– Juice of 1 orange
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted almonds
– 1 1/2 cups whole toasted filberts
– 1/2 cup powdered sugar

 Preheat oven to 300 F.

Place figs, raisins, dried apples, orange and lemon peel in a food processor and blend until finely chopped, or place in chopping bowl and chop until fine. Transfer fruit mixture to a large mixing bowl.

Sift together flour, cocoa, cinnamon, mace and pepper. Add to dried fruit mixture and mix well.

In a heavy saucepan, heat the honey, sugar and orange juice until sugar dissolves. Carefully pour hot liquid into dried fruit mixture. Add nuts and stir well.

Line  an 8- or 9-inch round baking pan with parchment or wax paper and spoon in mixture. Bake in preheated oven for 50 minutes to 1 hour or until cake browns around the edges and paper comes away from the pan. (Cake will be sticky on top.)

Cool in pan for 10 minutes.

Dust a 12-inch square of foil with 1/4 cup powdered sugar. Turn cake upside down onto prepared foil. Peel off paper used to line pan and invert onto cake plate. Before serving, sprinkle with additional powdered sugar.

Makes about 10 servings.

ISRAELI STUFFED FIGS

– 2 ounces semisweet chocolate, grated
– 1 cup ground almonds
– 24 large dried California figs
– 24 toasted whole almonds

Preheat oven to 350 F.

In a bowl, combine chocolate and ground almonds; set aside.

Using scissors or a knife, remove the stems from the figs. Make a deep depression  in each fig with your finger or a small spoon. Stuff each fig with the chocolate mixture. Pinch each opening together firmly.

Place the stuffed figs, stem side up, on a foil-lined baking sheet. Bake in preheated oven for 5 minutes. Turn figs over and bake another 5 minutes or until the bottoms begin to brown. Press a whole almond into each fig and reseal.

Makes 24 stuffed figs.

HOMEMADE RICOTTA CHEESE

Homemade ricotta cheese

 

– 1/2 gallon whole milk
– 1 cup cream
– 2 teaspoons salt
– 6 tablespoons lemon juice
– Honey, for garnish

Heat the milk, cream and salt over medium heat until it is about to boil. Add the lemon juice, stir a few times and when mixture begins to curdle, remove from the heat. Let curds rest for a minute or two. Using a slotted spoon, skim the ricotta curds from the whey and place them in a colander or wire sieve lined with cheesecloth. Drain for 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature, with a drizzle of honey. 

Makes about 1/2 pound.


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

The return of the sable to the table

Sliced potato “latke” with BBQ cod

While I was growing up, one of my favorite smoked fish was barbecued cod. It was atomic red and dripping with its own oil.

There was always a fight in my family to get some before it was all gone; my cousin Jeff had a particular affinity for loading up his bagels.

A number of years ago, that sort of cod seemed to vanish from delis and gourmet stores. You could still find it on the East Coast under its other name, smoked sable, but it just wasn’t quite the same.

When we opened Wexler’s nearly four years ago, it was one of those things that was on my mind that I really wanted to bring back. Little did I know how difficult it would be to source the fish and rediscover the lost techniques on how to cure and smoke it.

It turns out the fish is wild and abundant and has high sustainability ratings. We created a spice rub that gives it the characteristic red color without using any artificial coloring or dyes. I think we went through about 25 iterations of the recipe over the years until we got it right — frustrating, but well worth it. Now we sell it by the pound at Wexler’s in Santa Monica or through our catering.

I like it best on a great bagel with some cream cheese and red onion. But to dress it up for a Rosh Hashanah or break-the-fast meal, I serve it with colorful garnishes on a freshly made potato galette.

SLICED POTATO “LATKE” WITH BBQ COD

This dish can easily be made with the traditional latke recipe of your choosing. You can vary the garnish, too.

– 1 sprig fresh thyme
– 2 fresh garlic cloves
– Kosher salt to taste
– 2 Yukon gold potatoes
– 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
– 1/2 pound deli barbecued cod
– 2 ribs celery, shaved
– 1 watermelon radish, shaved
– 1 sprig dill
– 1 ounce crème fraîche (optional)
– 2 tablespoons diced Persian cucumber

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil with thyme, garlic and kosher salt to taste.

Peel potatoes and shave thin on a mandoline. Place in the boiling water for 3 minutes. Strain onto a baking sheet lined with a towel and cool in the refrigerator.

In a 10-inch nonstick or cast-iron pan, heat vegetable oil over medium-low heat. Place the potato slices in the oil, carefully shingling one on top of the other in a repeating pattern until the entire surface of the pan is covered. Cook for about 15 to 20 minutes, invert the galette onto a plate and slide back into a pan on the uncooked side and cook for another 15 to 20 until the galette is golden brown and crispy.

Place the latke on the plate and garnish with remaining ingredients.

Makes 2 to 4 servings.

Israel’s fake honey cake: Born out of necessity

Fake Honey Cake. Photo by Hava Volterra

I came of cooking age in the Israel of the 1970s. Israel in that period had a Third World economy, and food was still a very large part of each family’s budget. Basic food items — milk, flour, bread — were subsidized, and the best of Israel’s fantastic produce — the soog alef (grade A) — was exported. Domestically, we satisfied ourselves with grade B and lower.

Israeli cuisine of the ’70s retained relics from the shortages and rationing of the ’50s, when a lot of Israel’s basic food items were surpluses from abroad. Most dairy products, including milk, were made with excess powdered milk from the United States. There was an abundance of cheap imported frozen cod, but chicken cost a fortune. Eggs were, even in the ’70s, subject to constant shortages. And tree nuts, such as almonds, pecans and walnuts, while available, were still fantastically expensive.

A whole body of recipes was developed to deal with this reality. The basic type of Israeli yogurt, called eshel or leben, was made exclusively from powdered milk. Not as bad as it sounds, but definitely different. Recipes were published for “fake” chicken meatballs, made with cod instead of chicken, but tasting surprisingly chickenlike.

Cakes were made using peanuts instead of almonds or walnuts, and the luxuriousness of a cake was measured by the number of eggs in it. You never could know when stores would be short of eggs, so you had to have a few eggless cake recipes in your repertoire. If you did have eggs in a cake recipe, it was two or, at most, three. A seven-egg cake was considered the height of extravagance. 

My mother had only two cake recipes, a chocolate Bundt cake that she made every Friday, and an apple tart that was reserved for special occasions. So my real introduction to baking was not at home, but rather in my seventh-grade home economics classes. Since meat was so expensive, the class focused on cakes.

Which brings me to another extravagant ingredient — honey. For Rosh Hashanah, we made a honey cake. Except that there was no honey in that honey cake. Instead, we used jelly. And it was delicious.

It was only years later that I first tasted real honey cake. And to my surprise, I didn’t like it.

I’ve since tried many more, but sad to say, I haven’t really liked any of them. So if you, too, feel that honey cake is a little overrated but still want one for your Rosh Hashanah meal, let me suggest my Israeli home economics teacher’s honeyless honey cake, or as it was called in Hebrew, Oogat Dvash Medumah (literally, Fake Honey Cake). It’s quick, it’s easy, it’s delicious, and you don’t have to tell anyone that it’s not the real thing.

FAKE HONEY CAKE

– 3 1/2 cups flour
– 1 cup sugar
– 3 teaspoons baking powder
– 1 teaspoon baking soda
– 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
– 1/2 teaspoon allspice
– 1/2 teaspoon ground cloves
– 3 eggs
– 1/2 cup jelly (I use raspberry)
– 1/2 cup canola oil

Preheat regular oven to 375 F, or convection oven to 325 F.

In a large bowl, mix the dry ingredients: flour, sugar, baking powder, baking soda and spices.

Separate the eggs, and beat the egg whites until stiff; set aside.

Mix the egg yolks with the jelly and canola oil, then add to the dry ingredients and stir. Fold in the egg whites.

Pour batter into an oiled 8-by-8-by-3-inch cake tin (or equivalent). Bake for 35 minutes or until firm to the touch.

Makes 12 servings.


HAVA VOLTERRA is the co-founder and CEO of Parsley Software, a provider of web apps that help chefs run restaurant kitchens. She can be reached at hava@parsleycooks.com.

Milling your own grain is a Biblical birthright

Roe Sie gained insight into ancient food customs and making better-tasting fresh bread after he decided to try milling his own grain.

In Deuteronomy, we’re told that the one thing you can’t take as pledge for a debt is someone’s top millstone. This law seems archaic and meaningless, yet it speaks volumes about the pitiful state of American bread-eating habits — and gives a big clue about how we can repair it.

To our biblical forebears, millstones were so important that taking one as collateral left someone unable to make his daily bread. You don’t want your debtors to starve before paying you back. Bread was the staff of life, and there was no bread without milling the wheat into flour.

A mill is made by stacking two round, flat stones on top of each other. Grains are poured into a small hole drilled in the center of the top stone, and rotation crushes the grains between the stones.

Today, the vast majority of us get our daily bread from the supermarket, and the simple but critical process of milling grains has become invisible. The result is not good for the flavor of our bread — or our health.

Our daily grocery store bread generally begins as nonorganic grains, grown on government-subsidized farms, then transported many miles to huge factory mills where the grains are refined to become flour.

The refining process strips grains of their mineral- and fiber-rich bran and removes the vitamin-packed germ. This greatly lengthens shelf-life but has unintended health impacts. It turns out, we got so good at processing flour that we began to get sick as a result.

For instance, B vitamins found in wheat germ prevent pellagra, a disease that ravaged the United States in the early 1900s. These days, the government requires that white flour be enriched with vitamins; otherwise, it is imbalanced and without nutrition.

After learning all these facts, I decided to bake healthful bread for my family, using a natural yeast starter and the best organic whole-wheat flour I could buy. No more refined white flour for me! Only later did I learn I was leaving out a crucial step in the process: milling the flour myself, fresh from whole grains.

The same way an apple starts to turn brown the moment you cut it open, a whole-wheat berry starts to go bad as soon as it’s milled. Intact, a wheat berry will last decades, even centuries, and still sprout into a beautiful blade of grass. But the clock starts ticking when you break the outer seal.

The whole-wheat flour we’re used to tasting is a little bitter because the healthy oils quickly go rancid when exposed to air. I was going to great lengths to provide my family with a healthy staple food, yet I was using spoiled ingredients.

Mills have been around for thousands of years but are not found in regular stores. Digging on line, I found mills ranging from $200 to $500. So I ordered one and began my adventures in making bread with 100 percent freshly milled flour.

In those early days, I reinvented all the newbie-baker bread styles: the brick, the hockey puck and the concrete paving stone. How could I get my bread to fluff up like store-bought bread without adding white flour? There were all sorts of complicated techniques and a variety of modern additives I could buy. It was tempting to try them, but I thought again of our biblical ancestors. They couldn’t run to the store for instant yeast, dough conditioners or vital wheat gluten. There had to be a better way.

Leavening bread the old-fashioned way was not accomplished through instant dry yeast from a store shelf — instead, it occurred through the action of naturally occurring yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. The tradition of the unleavened matzo, one of the most well-known symbols of Passover, reminds us of the importance of leaven by living without it for a bit.

As a baker, I find the rules of Passover and the making of matzo fascinating because they give us clues to the differences between baking now and 3,500 years ago.

If you mix today’s refined flour and water, it can take a week of work to get a robust “leaven” from it. But mix water with freshly ground flour and you’ll discover that the yeast strains living symbiotically right on the seed begin to leaven the bread almost immediately. That could be why Jewish law still requires matzo to be baked within 18 minutes to avoid any leavening at all. Using modern, bleached, sterile flour, you have zero chance of getting any leavening action in 18 minutes — but use an organic, freshly milled flour and the process begins right away.

So I sat down with a 50-pound bag of hard, white wheat berries and my new grain mill. And drawing on what I had learned about bread baking up to that point, I set about relearning how to bake, using only wheat berries and salt water. That’s it.

After a few tries, I baked my first passable loaf of bread. Surprisingly, I didn’t even have to knead it much, if at all. It sliced easily and it tasted great. The kids even preferred it to store-bought bread.

After milling my own grain, I noticed that the bread we ate at restaurants was beginning to taste boring and flat. It’s like grinding your own coffee beans, then going to a restaurant that serves instant coffee.

Isn’t our daily bread at least as vital as our beloved morning coffee? It’s that sentiment that took me from being a user of millstones to being a merchant.  Millstones became my passion, then my business.  I opened The King’s Roost in Silver Lake, the first brick-and-mortar store in the United States to sell grain mills and locally grown grains in one place.

I tell my customers that using freshly milled grains will make their traditional flatbreads and crackers — even matzo — more flavorful than anything you can buy in any store or bakery. Not to mention the nutritional benefits.

Whole grains and seeds are readily available in many stores, and if you have a mill, you can make the kind of real flour that past generations enjoyed. Bypassing many of the steps in our modern industrial food system feels almost like an act of subversion — you now can buy whole grains that are grown a couple of hours from where you live, then turn them directly into food for your family. Not just breads, but cookies, cakes, pastries, tortillas and more. The possibilities are endless.

The ceasing of the sound of the millstone was a sign of desolation,” the prophet Jeremiah tells us.

Maybe it’s time for the sound return to our homes.

ROE SIE’S 100 PERCENT WHOLE WHEAT BREAD RECIPE

This is the simplest and least processed bread I’ve seen or tasted. While it can be done with a mixer, this recipe doesn’t need one. The only ingredients: freshly milled flour, kosher salt, filtered water, and wild yeast starter (ingredients being only live yeast, whole-meal flour, and water). None of “the good stuff” is taken out of this bread. It’s a 100 percent extraction bread … which is a fancy way of saying you don’t sift out any of the bran. Keep in mind this is a guide: it works well for my whole grains and you will need to adjust a bit for the type of grains/flours you end up using.

Mix 500 grams flour, 365 grams filtered water and 12 grams salt.

Rest between 20 minutes and 4 hours at room temperature (autolyse).

Mix in 100 grams of starter.

Bulk ferment anywhere from 5 to 24 hours (depending on the temperature). Hot day? You may only need 5 hours. In the fridge? At least overnight. Periodically stretching and feeling the consistency will help develop the gluten, avoid over- or under-fermenting the dough and allow you to adjust the hydration to get the consistency you prefer. When you notice a nice jump in dough size or activity level in your dough, you’re ready for the next step.

Shape the dough for the final proof, and move to the proofing basket for 20-40 minutes (poke test).

Gently move the dough to your loaf pan, your peel, cloche, cookie sheet, pizza stone, steam oven, etc.

Slash and bake at 400 F for 45 minutes.

Transfer to rack, wait a half hour (if that’s even possible) before cutting into it.  Enjoy!


Roe Sie sells do-it-yourself fermentation and bread-baking equipment (including mills) and teaches bread-baking classes at The King’s Roost in Los Angeles.

Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad

I know I’ve said this before, but it’s time to say it again: necessity is the mother of invention. This Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad recipe is something that I invented when I absolutely thought I had nothing to eat in the house. What I did have was a couple of cans of Costco tuna, waaay up in my pantry along with a can of garbanzo beans. And in my fridge, I found wilted dill and parsley from last week’s Passover cooking class. I had a couple of lemons, because if I don’t have lemons, then I’m really a slacker. And truth be told, the only reason I had red cabbage was because InstaCart delivered the wrong thing. 

Tuna garbanzo bean and sumac salad

But there’s nothing I would change about this salad, and I think it’s perfect for a potluck, a buffet, or a family-style lunch. Or to feed your employees while you work (which is why it was so urgent that I found something to eat in my house.) 

If you’ve never zested a lemon, you can do it with a microplane. It adds a pop of Italian summer to the salad. Sumac is a Middle Eastern spice that has a tangy taste that’s delicious on all kinds of salads. Good to keep in the house. And there you have it! 

Tuna Garbanzo Bean and Sumac Salad

  • 1 can of organic garbanzo beans
  • 2 7oz cans of olive oil packed tuna (I get Italian tuna from Costco)
  • 1 large cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 1/8 cup of fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/8 cup of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
  • a handful of red cabbage, chopped VERY THINLY
  • juice and zest of 2 lemons
  • 1/2 cup of olive oil
  • 2 tablespoons of sumac
  • salt & freshly ground pepper to taste – the amount of salt you need will depend on whether or not your beans are salted, and how salty your tuna is.

1. Put it all together in a large bowl, and mix thoroughly!

Chocolate Covered Charoset Truffles: Passover

Charoset truffles

This treat combines chocolate with a Sephardi version of charoset, the Passover fruit concoction representing the building of granaries by the Hebrew slaves. Use this charoset recipe for your Seder and save the leftovers for your truffles. Or, make enough charoset to plan for these truffles as a Seder dessert. Either way, they are unusual and delicious.

By the way stories about the Sephardi role in spreading chocolate in the world as well as contemporary and historical recipes, may be found in On the Chocolate Trail (Jewish Lights).

Makes 24 truffles

3 pounds high-quality dark or bittersweet chocolate, preferably fair trade, broken into pieces
¼ cup pistachios
¼ cup pecans
1/8 cup almonds
1/8 cup pine nuts
½ tart apple
¼ navel orange, with rind
A few drops of sweet white wine
A few drops of honey
Pinch of fresh or ground ginger (or to taste)
Pinch of ground cinnamon (or to taste)

1) Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper or waxed paper. Grind the nuts, apples and orange separately in a food processor. The nuts should be as close to a powder as possible without becoming “butter.”

2) Combine the nuts, apple, orange, wine, honey, ginger, and cinnamon in a bowl, mixing well. The charoset filling should have a smooth, thick texture.

3) Roll the charoset into one inch balls. Melt the chocolate in a large heatproof bowl set over a pan of simmering water; remove from the heat. Using two forks, dip the balls into the melted chocolate and place on the prepared baking sheet; refrigerate until the chocolate has set.

Rabbi Deborah R. Prinz speaks about chocolate and Jews around the world. Her book, “On the Chocolate Trail: A Delicious Adventure Connecting Jews, Religions, History, Travel, Rituals and Recipes to the Magic of Cacao,” was published in 2013 by Jewish Lights and is in its third printing. The book is used in adult study, classroom settings, book clubs and chocolate tastings. She is Co-Curator for the Temple Emanu-El Bernard Museum exhibit of “Jews on the Chocolate Trail” to be mounted in the fall of 2017.

This is cross posted from The Forward

Recipes: The essence of Ashkenazic cuisine

A spate of Jewish cookbooks have hit the marketplace in recent years to address various niches and interests in diasporic cuisine. The recently published “The Gefilte Manifesto” is arguably the most hamish with its focus on reviving Ashkenazic foods that industrialized production denigrated — and Borscht Belt humor sometimes mocked. 

As the title suggests, “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern is part polemic, part how-to manual that reintroduces time-honored cooking, baking and food-preserving. The philosophy and recipes resonate for pickling-crazed millennials or bubbes who were taught to jettison the ways of the Old Country under the sacrosanct banner of modern convenience.

It all is presented with a mixture of tradition and contemporary twists that seems to fit the needs of Chanukah and other holidays.

“Rather than attempting to preserve old recipes or soon-to-be-forgotten ingredients, we’re presenting an old approach to a new way of eating. Or is it a new approach to an old way of eating?” Alpern asks in “Manifesto’s” introduction.

Alpern and Yoskowitz were recently in Los Angeles to discuss their new book, show off their artisinal Gefilteria product line and participate in some local Jewish charity events in a pre-Chanukah run-up. 

Among their events in Los Angeles was a tasting and talk about Jewish food, history and identity at the Rustic Canyon home of food writer Amelia Saltsman. For the November gathering, Saltsman and the two visiting cooks prepared noshes to benefit Netiya, the Los Angeles-based nonprofit organization that addresses the intersection of faith work and food justice. (Disclosure: I’m on the Netiya board of directors.)

While on the L.A. leg of their tour to promote “The Gefilte Manifesto,” Alpern and Yoskowitz, both 32, also joined forces with East Side Jews and The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles’ NuRoots initiative for food and drink events. 

Their time on the Westside included the requisite trip to the Wednesday Santa Monica Farmers Market with Saltsman. “You’re very lucky to live in a city where you get this amazing produce all year,” Alpern told the gathering in Rustic Canyon. The audience already had been converted to Gefilteria’s culinary view of the world via the Cauliflower and Mushroom Kugel served that evening hipster-DIY-style in Mason jars. Cholent deviled eggs, smoked whitefish terrine with carrot-citrus horseradish relish and pickled shallots, autumn kale salad, and roasted red beet and dark chocolate ice cream helped seal the deal. 

With third business partner Jackie Lilinshtein, Gefilteria (ROOT VEGETABLE LATKES

– 4 russet potatoes (about 2 pounds), peeled
– 1 medium parsnip, peeled
– 1 medium turnip, peeled
– 1 small onion
– 4 scallions, finely chopped
– 3 large eggs, lightly beaten
– 1 tablespoon kosher salt
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
– 1/3 cup bread crumbs or matzo meal
– Schmaltz or peanut, canola or grapeseed oil, for frying
– Apple-Pear Sauce for serving (Recipe below)
– Sour cream for serving

Shred the potatoes, parsnip, turnip and onion on the large holes of a box grater or in a food processor using the shredder plate. Place the grated vegetables in a large bowl and add cold water to cover. Let sit for about 5 minutes. 

Drain the vegetables in a colander and squeeze out as much liquid as possible from the shreds into a bowl. It’s helpful to take cheesecloth or a clean thin kitchen towel, drape in an empty bowl, then pour in the shredded vegetables. Wrap the cheesecloth or towel around the vegetables and squeeze tightly in the bowl. Repeat until as much liquid as possible has been removed. White potato starch will collect at the bottom of the bowl. Carefully drain off the water, leaving the potato starch. Set aside. 

Place the drained vegetable shreds in a large bowl. Add the scallions, eggs, salt, pepper, flour, bread crumbs and the reserved potato starch. Mix well, preferably using your hands. 

In a 9-inch nonstick or cast-iron skillet, heat a layer of schmaltz or oil, about 1/8 inch deep, over medium heat. Form the latke batter into thin patties, using about 2 tablespoons for each. As you form the patties, squeeze out and discard any excess liquid. Carefully slip the patties, about 4 at a time, into the pan and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, or until golden brown and crisp. Take care to flip them only once to avoid excess oil absorption. If the pan begins to smoke at all, add more schmaltz or oil and let it heat up again before frying another batch of latkes. 

Remove the latkes from the pan and place on a baking sheet lined with paper towels to drain the excess fat. Latkes are best and crispiest when served right away. If serving later, transfer to a separate casserole dish or baking sheet and place in the oven at 200 F to keep warm until serving. Serve hot, topped with Apple-Pear Sauce and/or sour cream.

Makes 18 to 22 latkes.

APPLE-PEAR SAUCE

– 2 pounds baking apples (about 6 medium), such as McIntosh, peeled, cored and quartered 
– 2 pounds sweet pears (about 5 medium), such as Bartlett, peeled, cored and quartered 
– 1/2 cup apple juice, apple cider or water 
– 2 cinnamon sticks 
– 1 to 4 tablespoons maple syrup or sugar (optional) 
– 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice (optional)

In a large, heavy-bottomed pot, combine the apple and pear quarters, apple juice and cinnamon sticks and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 30 to 40 minutes. The apples will soften and puff up a bit as the heat draws out their liquid. When you can smush the fruit by pressing on it with a spoon, it has finished cooking.

Turn off the heat and remove the cinnamon sticks. Mash the mixture with a potato masher or an improvised masher (an empty jar works well). For a smooth applesauce, puree using an immersion blender or food processor. 

If you’d like your sauce sweeter, stir in the maple syrup or sugar (start with 1 tablespoon and add more if needed). Stir in the lemon juice, if using, which adds a bit of tartness to balance out the sweetness. Let the sauce cool. 

Serve at room temperature. The sauce will keep in the refrigerator for about a month. If storing for later use, transfer to an airtight container and freeze.

Makes 5 to 6 cups of sauce.

OLD COUNTRY SOUR CREAM

– 1 cup heavy cream 
– 1/4 cup store-bought cultured buttermilk 

Pour the heavy cream and buttermilk into a clean pint- or quart-size glass jar with a lid. 

Seal tightly and shake vigorously for about 1 minute. Let the jar sit on the countertop at room temperature, out of direct sunlight, for 24 to 48 hours. The longer it sits, the sourer it will become. You may notice liquid separation occurring. It’s hard to judge from the looks of your sour cream when it’s ready, so taste to see if it’s at a sour level you’re comfortable with within the 24- to 48-hour window. The warmer it is, the faster it will sour. If the mixture becomes yellow or chunky, which could occur if the temperature in the room is too hot, toss it out and try again. 

Place the jar of sour cream in the fridge and enjoy for up to a week. Shake before each use to reincorporate any liquid that has separated.

Makes 1 1/2 cups sour cream.

CAULIFLOWER AND MUSHROOM KUGEL

– 1 large head cauliflower (about 2 pounds), broken into florets
– 1/4 cup vegetable oil or unsalted butter, plus more as needed
– 1 medium onion, diced
– 8 ounces fresh mushrooms, cleaned and chopped (porcinis, shiitakes and wild forest mushroom varieties are ideal, but any variety from the store is fine)
– 1 3/4 teaspoons kosher salt, plus more as needed
– 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
– 4 large eggs, plus 3 egg yolks
– 2 tablespoons bread crumbs, store-bought or homemade
– 4 shallots, for topping (optional)
– About 1/4 cup grapeseed oil, for frying the shallots (optional)
– Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
– Six 8-ounce ramekins or a 9-inch glass baking dish

Preheat the oven to 350 F. Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil. Add the cauliflower and boil until the florets are tender but not mushy, 5 to 7 minutes. Drain the cauliflower thoroughly. Place it in a food processor.

In a medium pan, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onion and sauté until translucent and lightly golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Add the mushrooms, salt and pepper and cook, undisturbed, for at least 1 minute to help the mushrooms darken. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the mushrooms are browned and their liquid has evaporated, 5 to 7 minutes more.

Transfer the mushrooms and onion (and any extra oil from the pan) to the food processor with the cauliflower. Add the eggs and egg yolks and process until the mixture has a smooth consistency with minimal clumps. (If you do not have a food processor, mash the vegetables, eggs, and yolks together with a large fork or spoon until the mixture is as smooth as possible.) Transfer the mixture to a large bowl, stir in the bread crumbs, and mix well.

Grease six 8-ounce ramekins or a 9-inch glass baking dish. Fill with the cauliflower mixture. Each ramekin should hold a little under 1 cup of the filling. Tap the bottoms of the ramekins or baking dish against the counter so that the top of the kugel flattens out and you’ve released any air bubbles. If using individual ramekins, place them in a roasting pan with at least 3-inch-high sides. Pour boiling water into the pan to come about halfway up the sides of the ramekins (this will ensure that the kugel stays moist). Bake for 55 minutes to 1 hour. The kugel is done when a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean and the kugel is lightly browned on top. Remove from the oven carefully, remove the ramekins from the water, and let cool slightly.

If using shallots, while the kugel is baking, slice them as thin as possible (if you have a mandoline, use it here on the thinnest setting). In a small nonstick pan, heat the grapeseed oil over medium heat. Immerse the shallots in the oil and fry them, stirring frequently, until they are crispy, crunchy, shrunken and dark in color, 15 to 25 minutes. Keep an eye on them to make sure they don’t burn. Transfer the shallots to a paper towel-lined plate to drain and sprinkle lightly with salt. Set aside until serving.

Garnish the kugel with the fried shallots (if using) and the chopped parsley. Store any leftover fried shallots in an airtight container.

Makes about six 8-ounce servings.


Excerpted from the “The Gefilte Manifesto” by Jeffrey Yoskowitz and Liz Alpern. Copyright  2016 by Gefilte Manifesto LLC. Reprinted with permission from Flatiron Books. All rights reserved.

How I learned to make latkes

 

Chanukah has meant different things to me at different stages of my life. When I was little, it was about nightly presents and making candy dreidels in school, using marshmallows, red vines, Hershey’s Kisses and icing.

As I got older, it was about lighting the chanukiyah with my family and reading the prayers from my father’s prayer book. In college, it was about convening my friends in our dorm to light the Chanukah menorah together, and since then it’s been so meaningful to come home from work, light the chanukiyah in my kitchen and place it in the window of my apartment in view of the street.

This year, though, Chanukah took a different turn. I decided to learn how to cook latkes, the potato pancakes we eat to commemorate how oil, enough for only one day, lasted eight nights following the Maccabee victory.

The best way to learn, I figured, was to visit with Rob Eshman, Journal publisher, editor-in-chief and Foodaism blogger.

Rob is a foodie. He once brought a sugar cane to an editorial meeting and began chopping away at it with a knife so we could all taste fresh sugar. He’s kept goats and chickens in his backyard and grows many of the vegetables, fruits and herbs he cooks with in his garden. He’s genuinely offended when the office orders Domino’s.

Given that I’d never made latkes before, it helped that Rob was prepared. He had all the ingredients ready: the potatoes, an onion, salt, pepper, eggs and oil. There aren’t a lot of ingredients to latkes, Rob explained. The secret to success, he said, is in the technique.

He immediately put me to work peeling potatoes. I cook my own meals most nights, but it turns out there’s plenty left to learn. Like, how to use a potato peeler. Rob’s peels flew off the potato like sparks. Mine took their time. Rob looked over.

“Oh, we’re starting from there,” he said.

After some instruction, I sliced away at the potato skin, then, per his instructions, placed the potato in a bowl of water. Rob explained we keep the potato in water so as to prevent it from turning brown, or oxidizing. That was technique No. 1.

Then came technique No. 2. To make sure the grated potatoes didn’t turn brown, we alternated grating them with an onion. The onion was strong. I cried; Rob did too.

The third technique, Rob said, was crucial. We took handfuls of the potato/onion mixture and squeezed it out into a bowl to remove as much liquid as possible. The more liquid, Rob explained, the soggier the latke — and no one likes a soggy latke.

A white, wet goo settled at the bottom of the drained liquid. This was potato starch, and the basis for technique No. 4. Once the starch settled at the bottom of the bowl, we drained off the liquid, scooped up the starch and mixed it in with the potatoes. That would help bind the latkes and erase the need to add flour or matzo meal, which can make for heavier pancakes.

I cracked a couple of eggs and mixed those in as well, then sprinkled salt and pepper over the batter. Afterward, I poured a generous amount of cooking oil into a pan, spooned the latke batter into the pan and let it fry into latkes.

Latkes frying in oil.

The latkes turned out perfectly. Crisp, light and potato-y. Rob even made a special few using a Middle Eastern strained yogurt called labneh, smoked salmon, and dill fetched from Rob’s garden.

The real test, however, was cooking latkes on my own. A few days later, I went to Ralphs and purchased two potatoes and an onion. I also got a grater and a potato peeler, since I had neither.

At home, I did exactly what I’d learned, following the techniques step by step. Eventually I wound up with about 12 latkes. I ate them with sour cream. They weren’t as good as the ones I’d cooked with Rob, but they were edible. Most importantly, I’d cooked them myself.

Later, my friend Esther came over with applesauce and tried one of my homemade latkes. I explained that the latkes seemed a little dry and didn’t hold together well. Esther asked me if I used eggs. Nope — forgot. Esther made me feel better, pointing out I’d just made vegan, gluten-free latkes.

I plan to cook latkes at my family Chanukah party this year, to put my new skill to use and wow my mom, dad, sister, brother-in-law and nephew with my culinary abilities. I just hope I remember all the ingredients.

Recipe: Mini almond and grape crostatas

Apples and honey around the High Holidays are certainly not the only way to ensure a sweet new year. Cuban families, like mine, have long practiced the tradition of eating grapes for good luck. At the stroke of midnight on New Year’s Eve, we enjoy 12 grapes — one for each month.

According to folklore, this practice stems from Cuba’s Spanish roots. Spanish grape growers may have instituted the tradition when they were faced with an overabundance of harvest and needed to offload some grapes. With everyone in the community enjoying grapes, the grape farmers were certainly enjoying a sweet start to the new year.

While most Cubans eat their 12 grapes as they are, I’ve always enjoyed the challenge of incorporating the grapes into a Rosh Hashanah dish. My Mini Almond and Grape Crostatas are the perfect solution to this puzzle, as these single-serving pastries feature 12 whole grapes.

Gluten-free and completely pareve, they are the perfect addition to any Rosh Hashanah table.

MINI ALMOND AND GRAPE CROSTATAS 
 
 
Ingredients:
 
7 ounces almond paste
1 egg, beaten
48 seedless grapes (any color)
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 teaspoon corn starch
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
4 teaspoons sliced almonds, divided
1 tablespoon Turbinado sugar
1 tablespoon powdered sugar (optional)

Directions:

 
Preheat oven to 375 F.

Divide almond paste into 4 equal parts, and between 2 sheets of parchment paper, roll out into ¼-inch thick round discs. Place on parchment lined baking sheet and brush with beaten egg.

In a bowl, toss together the grapes, lemon juice, corn starch and cinnamon until the grapes are coated. Place 12 grapes on each disc, leaving a 1-inch rim and fold the rim over the grapes, pinching to crimp along the edges.

Brush the top of the almond paste with beaten egg, and add 1 teaspoon of sliced almonds to the top of each pastry.

Sprinkle with Turbinado sugar and bake for 15-20 minutes, or until crust is golden brown and sliced almonds have started to brown. Remove from oven and let cool on the baking sheet for 10 minutes.

Carefully transfer to a cooling rack or serving platter and allow to cool completely.

 
Makes 4 crostatas.


 
Jennifer Stempel is a TV development executive who lives in Los Angeles with her husband and son. To read more about her culinary adventures, check out: www.TheCubanReuben.com.

Recipe: Arugula sweet potato salad

This is a perfect salad to eat for lunch on a weekday or as a first course for a brunch or even during a holiday like Rosh Hashanah. It’s especially nice when served plated individually and topped with the sweet potatoes and cashews.

Note: If you don’t have sweet potatoes you can replace them with sautéed red peppers.

This recipe is excerpted with permission from the cookbook “Kosher Taste.”

Ingredients

For the salad:

2 cups cubed and roasted sweet potatoes
2 Belgian endives, cleaned and sliced thinly
6 cups baby arugula, cleaned
1⁄3 cup dried cranberries
½ cup cooked quinoa
½ cup chopped roasted cashews

For the dressing:

¼ cup red wine vinegar
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
1 tsp sugar
salt and pepper to taste

Directions

In a large mixing bowl, combine all the salad ingredients except cashews.

In a small jar or bowl, combine all the dressing ingredients.

Pour dressing over salad and toss well.

Add cashews and serve.


Amy Stopnicki is a busy mother of four, an active member of her community and successful event planner. She is the author of “Kosher Taste.”

The Nosher food blog offers a dazzling array of new and classic Jewish recipes and food news, from Europe to Yemen, from challah to shakshuka and beyond. Check it out at www.TheNosher.com.

Date syrup: New meaning for an age-old sweet

Many ancient sweeteners are long forgotten, overtaken by the simple, clean taste of granulated sugar. Take for instance, date syrup. Also called date molasses, melasse de datte, rub, dibs or silvan, date syrup has a long, storied history for many millennia in the Levant, Ancient Persia and throughout the Middle East.

I make sure my pantry is stocked with date syrup before the fall Jewish holidays. Its history alone isn't enough to earn it a place in my top shelf, but its taste and new meaning give it high status.

How to use date syrup

Date syrup can be used, spoon-for-spoon, like molasses, although it's not as sulphury or bitter. It is easy to bake with and even easier to drizzle on foods. Last of the watermelon and feta salads? Drizzle date syrup over them. Having avocado toast? Drizzle date syrup on top. Want a new sweetener in your yogurt bowl? Drizzle date syrup all over it. Want something new on your peanut butter sandwich? Drizzle date syrup across the spread.

It's easy to find — look for date syrup online or at Middle Eastern grocery stores.

The unique taste of date syrup

Date syrup is a bit sweeter than agave nectar, yet less sweet and powerful than the strongest honey. The flavor has a dark, complex edge. It's rich, handsome and oh-so-sexy on your taste buds. When paired with a lighter sweetener like granulated sugar, it's an undertone, like blackstrap molasses, but without as much earthiness — and no traces of bitterness.

Why use date syrup at the New Year? What about honey?

I hear the honey rumblings coming, so listen up. I love honey. I write about it, I eat it and I cook with it. One of my teenage daughters even interned at a local honey maker and apiary this summer. A wide variety of honeys will be on my table with apples this year, and every year. But at the Jewish New Year table, I often look for a new food as a tasty way to embrace the new. Year after year, date syrup is always, and I mean always, new to someone at the table.

Dates are a ritual Jewish New Year's food

Dates are also one of the ritual foods in a Sephardic and Mizrachi Rosh Hashanah feast, a seder with culinary symbols, so it feels natural on the table. Ripe dates, wrinkled and nonperishable, are called tamar. (Yes, like my name's root). The word is related to the Hebrew verb to consume or finish. The hope is that our enemies will be “finished.”

But given the domestic climate in this election year, I will not be offering this prayer at my table. I want to broaden the sense of hopefulness at Rosh Hashanah. We have plenty of other days to worry about harshness. So, instead of the Sephardic or Mizrachi prayer, when I serve and eat dates and date syrup, I will hope for a world without any reason to have enemies, where tolerance reigns.

Two new, symbolic reasons to add date syrup to the table

The food is deserving of its place. Its natural complexity is held together with a deep sweetness, without harshness on the tongue. That's one heck of a real life wish on that spoon. Sweet and hopeful, complex and real, date syrup is more than delicious. It mirrors the best reality of an actual life, not a purified dream.

Date syrup is also a tangible evidence of human ingenuity. I think it's awesome to share something so simple and yet so clever at the New Year's table. Ingenuity is fascinating and part of its definition is newness. Ideas and inspiration can come from anywhere. The genius of the human mind is coming up with something unique out of those ideas and inspirations. It's not simple. It's not the white sugar of thinking. It's the date syrup.

Here are a few recipes for using date syrup.

Date Syrup and Carrot Muffins

The magic of date syrup transforms these muffins from simple to complex with a single abracadabra! Tender and rich in both flavor and texture, they are studded with the earthy sweetness of carrots and a few chunks of dates that together up the “healthy” ante. Great with coffee or tea, these are tasty treats from am to pm, weekday or weekend, holiday or everyday.

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cook time: 22 minutes

Total time: 42 minutes

Yield: 18 muffins

Ingredients

2 cups (260 grams) unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons (10 grams) baking powder
1 teaspoon (5 grams) baking soda
1 teaspoon (2 grams) ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon (2 grams) kosher salt
4 large eggs
1 cup (210 grams) granulated sugar
1/2 cup date syrup (date molasses or silan)
1/2 cup mild olive oil
2 teaspoons vanilla bean paste
3 medium carrots, peeled and grated (about 1½ cups)
6 pitted Mejdool dates, finely chopped (about ¾ cup)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 F. Spray an 18-cup muffin tin with nonstick vegetable oil or canola oil spray (see Kitchen Tips).

In a large mixing bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon, cardamom, ginger and salt.

In separate bowl, combine the eggs, sugar, date syrup, olive oil, and vanilla bean paste and mix with a spoon until fully combined and bubbly.

Add the flour mixture and mix just to combine. Stir in the carrots and chopped dates.

Scoop the mixture into the muffin cups, filling each cup almost to the top (a little more than 1/4 cup of batter each).

Bake for 12 to 13 minutes, and rotate the muffin tin back to front.

Bake for 8 to 9 minutes longer, or until springy when touched lightly, and a cake tester or toothpick inserted into a muffin comes out clean with perhaps a few moist crumbs.

Cool in the pan for 3 to 5 minutes. Then carefully transfer them to a baking rack to finish cooling.

Kitchen Tips

If you don't have an 18-cup muffin tin, use a 12-cup tin and a 6-cup tin, or two partially filled 12-cup tins.

Swap the tins between the bottom and top oven racks about halfway through baking, rotating them from back to front as described in step 5 above.

Almond, Banana and Date Syrup Smoothie

Dairy-free, vegan and packed with flavor and nutrients, this smoothie make a great breakfast, post-workout pick-me-up or after-school snack. You can even freeze it, and scoop it out for a almost-ice-cream treat.

Freezing time: 2 hours

Prep time: 5 minutes

Total time: 2 hours, 5 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

2 very ripe small or 1 large banana, peeled, cut into 1-inch pieces and frozen
2 1/2 cups almond milk
1/4 cup smooth almond butter
1 tablespoon date syrup (silan)
1/2 teaspoon vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract
4 large ice cubes

Directions

Combine the frozen bananas, almond milk, almond butter, date syrup, vanilla and ice cubes in a blender and process until completely smooth. Pour into glasses and serve immediately.

Eat, drink and be healthy

There is an age-old question about what’s the “perfect” diet. The idea behind this question is if we just find the perfect diet and we follow it, we can stop looking, stop worrying, stop stressing over too many carbs or sugar or meat or butter.

But what does “perfect” really mean in the realm of diet and nutrition? Perfect for whom? At what age? In what region? At what activity level? In what culture and society? With what kind of metabolism and immunity and digestion and brain function? At what stress level? 

And, perhaps most importantly, will it still allow us to eat kugel?

The answer is complicated. In the health and nutrition fields, you will find more dietary theories than you can possibly imagine. Some nutrition experts believe in looking at what our ancestors ate; others think we should look at our DNA for answers. Then there’s the idea that our blood type might have something to do with our nutritional needs. 

So many people, including health professionals, think of nutrition as pure science — as if the science will lead us to the best diet. Science has us believing that reducing food to its vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, fiber, fat, protein and calories, and consuming those in the proper balance, is the answer. 

What this approach overlooks, however, is that this “proper balance” is almost impossible to determine. After all, no two of us are exactly alike, and there are plenty of other variables: Our well-being is influenced by our thoughts and feelings, our environment, the toxins all around us and in our food supply, the health of our digestive system that determines what nutrients we absorb from the food we eat, and our life circumstances. 

This isn’t to say that you should give up. There are plenty of general guidelines for healthy eating that everyone can follow.

An easy one is to manage what’s on the end of your fork — think quality over quantity. If you eat meat, fish, eggs or poultry, buy organic, grass-fed, pasture-raised, free-range and/or wild-caught.

Stop eating processed junk foods, including regular and diet sodas, and get processed sugar out of your diet. (Also cut out fruit juices, which are high in sugar.) Instead, use natural sweeteners such as maple syrup or raw organic honey — in small amounts, of course.

You should also try to consume whole food in its natural state, where all of its nutrients are fully available. This includes raw nuts and seeds, grains and beans, vegetables and fruits.

Be sure to have lots of green leafy vegetables at least twice per day, and make sure you eat good fats, daily and in moderation (coconut and olive oils, olives, avocado).

When it comes to what you drink, a good rule each day is to consume at least half  an ounce of good quality spring water for each pound you weigh. (It may sound like a lot, but check out how much your water bottle holds and do the math. You can do it!)

Finally, no matter what kind of diet you choose, make sure you eat with joy. No joke — it increases your ability to digest. When you eat under stress or anger, digestion shuts down, leading to weight gain and poor nutrient absorption.

How can it work with Jewish foods?

Don’t think that just because you’re trying to eat more healthfully that you have to give up your favorite Jewish dishes:

  • Substitute almond flour (lower in carbs than wheat) or coconut flour (contains healthy fats and is low in sugar) in breads, pastries and matzo balls. Be careful with ordinary flours, since some people have a sensitivity to the gluten protein found in wheat, rye and barley.
  • Substitute carrots or yams for white potatoes or noodles in your kugel dish. This helps keep down your sugar intake.
  • Gefilte fish is often made with sugar and matzo meal, but it doesn’t have to be. Check out the following delicious recipe without these unhealthful ingredients. 

 

GEFILTE FISH

  • 1 pound white fish (e.g. Dover sole) fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 1/2 pound salmon fillets, skinned and deboned
  • 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt 
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice, freshly squeezed
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, finely chopped
  • 1 cup grated carrots
  • 1/2 cup parsley, finely chopped

 

Directions

Cut the fish into large chunks and place in a food processor. Pulse until finely ground; do not puree.

Heat oil in a large frying pan. Sauté diced onion over medium-low heat until soft and transparent; cool for 10 minutes.

Pulse onion, eggs, salt, pepper and lemon juice into fish mixture. Pulse in dill, carrots and parsley. Refrigerate mixture for 3 hours.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Shape fish mixture into 1 1/2-inch balls. Drop balls into water and cook for 15 to 20 minutes until cooked through. Place balls in a 9-by-13-inch baking dish and refrigerate to cool. Serve with horseradish sauce made from horseradish root and apple cider vinegar (no added sugar) and garnish with fresh sprigs of parsley.

Makes 18 fish balls.

Recipe adapted from Elana’s Pantry (elanaspantry.com), the website of New York Times best-selling author Elana Amsterdam. 

Recipe: Salted S’mores Truffles

Ingredients:

1 pack graham crackers
1 cup of mini chocolate chips
1/2 tsp of salt
1 1/2 cups of marshmallow fluff
4 chocolate bars for melting
Sea salt to top with

Directions:

Empty crushed graham crackers into bowl. 

Add mini chocolate chips, marshmallow fluff, and salt. 

Mix well. 

Roll small hand-fulls into balls. 

Place the truffles onto wax paper and place in the freezer for 15 minutes.

Break the chocolate bars into small pieces and microwave in a non-metal bowl for 1 minute. 

Dip the truffles into the melted chocolate, making sure the whole truffle is covered.

Top the truffles with sea salt and cool. 

Enjoy!

Recipe from Buzzfeed Tasty.

Red-hot grilling tips for the Fourth of July

July Fourth begs for a magnificent grill party. It's summer, it's a great celebration of the nation's birth and everyone is outdoors and in party mode. Why hold back on July Fourth? Why not grill everything? With a couple of days' planning, you can really do something amazingly and deliciously different.

Here are four great ideas for the barbecue. There's no reason why you can't do all of the these dishes, although it does require that planning. You will have to consider how many people you're cooking for, think about how large your grill is and make plans for placing all the dishes on the grill.

Getting organized for easy grilling

There's something else many people forget when they grill, but it makes everything easier. Remember to set up a little work station next to the grill to put foods that are cooking too fast, spatulas, mitts and your drink. Even a crummy card table will do. When building your grill fire, remember to pile up the coals to one side of the grill so you also have a “cool” side to move food that is either cooking too fast or is flaring up.

Getting spicy with 'angry chicken'

You may have heard of the pasta dish called penne all'arrabbiata, angry pasta, so-called because of the use of piquant chiles. This is chicken arrabbiata. It's “angry” because it is highly spiced with cayenne pepper.

This chicken gets grilled so if you use the breasts instead of the thighs it will cook quicker. You can leave the chicken skin on or remove it. Crispy skin is delicious, but trying to get the skin crispy on a grill is tricky because of flare-ups. You'll have to grill by means of indirect heat, pushing the coals to one side.

Finding the right fish for the grill

Many people shy away from grilling whole fish for a variety of reasons. One way to make grilling fish easier is to place a rectangular cast iron griddle over a portion of the grilling grate and cook the fish on top.

If you do that, the griddle must be on the grill for at least 45 minutes to get sufficiently hot before cooking. I suggest several fish below, but it all depends on what's locally available.

Parsley-stuffed grilled porgy and mackerel are two small-fish dishes ideal for a fast grill. You may not necessarily have these two fish available, so use whatever is the freshest whole fish of like size.

I like the contrast between the mild tasting white flesh of the porgies, also called scup, and the darker, denser meat of the mackerel. Because 50 percent of the weight of a whole fish is lost in the trimming these, 4 pounds of fish will yield 2 pounds or less of fillet.

But you can use any fish: The red fish in the photo is a Pacific fish called idiot fish, kinki fish, or shortspine thornyhead (Sebastolobus alascanus). It has delicious soft flesh.

Complementing with the right grilled sides

I think it's always nice to have grilled vegetables with any grill party. Grilled red, green and yellow peppers make a very attractive presentation. Their flavor is a natural accompaniment to grilled meats. The charred skin of the peppers is peeled off before serving, leaving the smoky flavor. You don't have to core or halve the peppers before grilling.

Chicken Arrabbiata

Prep time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 25 minutes

Total time: 45 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1 small onion, chopped fine
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 1/2 pounds boneless chicken thighs or breasts (skinless, optional)

 

Directions

1. Prepare a hot charcoal fire to one side of the grill or preheat one side of a gas grill on high for 20 minutes.

2. Meanwhile, in a bowl, stir together the onion, tomato paste, olive oil, cayenne, and salt and pepper to taste until well blended.

3. Flatten the chicken thighs or breasts by pounding gently with the side of a heavy cleaver or a mallet between two sheets of wax paper. Coat the chicken with the tomato paste mixture.

4. Place the chicken on the cool side of the grill, and cook until the chicken is dark and springy to the touch, turning once, about 20 to 24 minutes (less time for breasts). Baste with any remaining sauce and serve.

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.

Recipe: Pappardelle with long-cooked asparagus and basil

My father, may he rest in peace, was a champion Yankee gardener, as proud of his vegetables as he was of the considerable flowerbeds that surrounded his bayside home. He did almost all the work himself — preparing the beds and cold frames, planting, transplanting, weeding, deadheading and harvesting — although there was a man who came to mow the lawns once a week or so.

Like most champion gardeners in these chilly northern parts, my father relished especially the first springtime harvest, no matter what it was: first peas, first strawberries, first lettuce (served at table the old-fashioned way, with sugar and vinegar as a dressing) and above all first asparagus.

He was also first up in the morning and out in his garden almost at sunrise, snapping off the tender shoots of asparagus right at the base. Then for breakfast we'd have aspara-grass, as we called it, cooked in my father's unique and (fortunately) almost inimitable fashion, boiled or steamed until the poor, plump stalks were limp and gray with exhaustion, then piled them atop a toasted slice of Wonder Bread, liberally spread with butter, and with more butter, melted now, pooled on top — along with the leftover juices, which of course turned the toast to soggy pap. My father was a much better gardener than he was a cook.

I was fully grown before I discovered the pleasures of underdone asparagus and had to wait for my own garden patch before I understood that the best asparagus in the world, like the best peas, is consumed standing in the garden and contemplatively chewing on what you've harvested only seconds before. Come to think of it, because all fruits and vegetables begin to deteriorate in the normal course of things as soon as they're harvested, don't you get the fullest impact of all those vitamins, minerals and fiber when you eat food, as it were, straight from the ground? I'm no raw foodist, but it does seem to me there's an argument there.

Fast forward to the present day, when my daughter, Sara, and I were working on our first cookbook together, “The Four Seasons of Pasta.” Of course, the spring season must have asparagus pasta recipes, and so we set diligently to work. I've done tagliatelle for years with grilled or seared asparagus and sliced red onions, tossed in a creamy goat-cheese dressing, the asparagus just barely cooked so it still has a lot of crunch. As they say on Facebook: YUM! But I was stopped in my tracks when Sara proposed a recipe that's a favorite from her restaurant: pappardelle with long-cooked asparagus. “Long cooked?” I shuddered, remembering those breakfasts of soggy toast and limp, discolored spears of asparagus.

She ignored my qualms and went ahead with the recipe. And you know what? It was terrific! The melting softness of the asparagus sauce, made from the stalks cut small and indeed overcooked, contrasts beautifully with the still-crisp flavors of the tips, which retain some of their brightness because they're cooked for a short time. We made it again for dinner recently, with the first of the local asparagus, and once again marveled at how pasta can serve as a perfect foil for the first of spring's offerings, whether peas or asparagus or possibly even strawberries.

Pappardelle With Long-cooked Asparagus and Basil

Asparagus is a delight when freshly picked and barely blanched. Its sweet vegetal flavors are a welcome herald to spring. But as the season winds on and the spears get fatter and a little tougher, it's also good cooked thoroughly, to break down the tough fibers and pull out a little extra sweetness along the way. It's great served over pappardelle — or any other kind of long, broad noodles, fettuccine, for instance, or even penne.

Prep time: 5 to 10 minutes

Cooking time: 15 to 20 minutes

Total time: 20 to 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings as a main course, 6 as a first or primo

Ingredients

  • 2 pounds of fresh asparagus
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large shallot or 1 small spring onion, finely minced (2 tablespoons)
  • Sea salt and ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup loosely packed basil leaves, in fat slivers
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • About 1 pound (500 grams) pappardelle
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Grana Padano

 

Directions

1. Trim the asparagus by snapping off the bottoms, which break where the stem starts to get woody. Cut the stalks into 2-inch lengths, setting the tips aside.

2. Combine the butter and oil over medium heat in a saucepan or deep skillet. When the butter begins to foam, add the minced shallot (or spring onion) and the asparagus pieces, except for the tops, with a good pinch of salt and pepper to taste. Cook briskly until the shallots and asparagus take on a little color — about 8 to 10 minutes. Then turn the heat down and add the cream, 2 tablespoons water, the asparagus tips and half the basil leaves. Cover the pan and continue cooking, until the asparagus tips are tender and the liquid in the pan is reduced by half.

3. In the meantime, bring a large pot of water to a boil. When the asparagus sauce is ready, cook the pasta according to package directions, until it is al dente.

4. Have ready a warm serving bowl. Drain the pasta and toss in the bowl with the asparagus sauce, the remaining basil and the cheese. Add more black pepper to the top and serve immediately.

Note: You can vary the flavors by using other fresh spring herbs in place of the basil — lovage, chervil, even plain old flat-leaf Italian parsley will be very good.

Recipe: Blast the heat for a charred vegan salad

Going vegan tastes so good when you turn up the heat on garbanzo beans and create a beautifully charred vegetable salad.

Carbon steel pans and their close cousins, cast iron pans, love heat. Turn a burner on high, place the carbon steel pan on the fire, and you’ve pushed the pedal to the metal. Used by chefs to create crispy skin fish filets and perfectly seared steaks, carbon steel pans can also be used to give vegetables a beautiful, carbonized crust that deepens their flavor.

Hot, fast and easy

Everything is faster with a carbon steel pan. Cooking is quick. And so is cleanup.

Unlike stainless steel pans that must be scrubbed clean after each use, once cured, a carbon steel pan needs only a gentle washing to remove leftover oils. After that, it can be dried on a high flame.

If you have not used a carbon steel pan, think of it as a wok cut down to frying pan size. What carbon steel pans bring to the party is the ability to create rich caramelization quickly. In a matter of minutes, the high heat chars the garbanzo beans and vegetables with a small amount of oil.

Because the temperature of a carbon steel pan can reach as high as 700 F, a blend of oils works best. Eighty percent canola manages the heat with less smoke, and 20% olive oil adds flavor.

Flash cooking adds flavor and seals in the healthy qualities of fiber-rich garbanzo beans, a good source of protein and essential minerals such as manganese and folate or B-9. Also called chickpeas, the legumes provide a starchy contrast to the vegetables.

To make a delicious salad, toss the charred garbanzo beans and vegetables with olive oil and reduced balsamic vinegar together with finely chopped Italian parsley or fresh leafy greens like arugula, green leaf lettuce, romaine or frisee.

Mise en place, tongs and a good over-stove exhaust fan

What restaurant chefs call mise en place is all-important when cooking with high heat. Because the dish will cook in a matter of minutes, all the ingredients must be prepped ahead of time. Peel, chop and arrange all the ingredients on the cutting board before you fire up the carbon steel pan.

Remember, the pan can get as hot as 700 F, so have a good pair of 12-inch tongs at the ready. Turn on the exhaust fan so any smoke from the pan will be pulled out of the kitchen.

Charred Vegetable Salad With Garbanzo Beans

Use any fresh vegetables you enjoy. Besides broccoli, carrots and onions, Swiss chard, kale, spinach, turnips, Chinese bok choy and celery are also delicious when charred.

All the vegetables must be cut into small pieces so they will cook evenly. Leafy greens can be shredded. Calculate the order in which you add the vegetables based on how long they take to cook. For example, broccoli, carrots and turnips take more time to cook than does spinach.

Because carbon steel pans are relatively nonstick, less oil is required when cooking. The recipe calls for a minimum amount of blended oil. Use more depending on taste.

Reducing balsamic vinegar creates a thicker sauce and adds sweetness, offsetting the acid.

Prep time: 15 minutes

Cook time: 15 minutes

Total time: 30 minutes

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

  • 1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
  • 1/2 cup blended oil, 80% canola oil, 20% extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 medium yellow onion, washed; skin, root and top removed; thin sliced
  • 1 15-ounce can cooked garbanzo beans, organic if available, drained
  • 2 cups shiitake, portabello or other brown mushrooms, dirt cleaned off, stems trimmed on the end, thin sliced
  • 2 cups broccoli crowns, washed, each floret cut in half lengthwise
  • 1 large carrot, washed, stem and root ends trimmed, peeled, finely diced
  • Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 large bunches Italian parsley, washed, stems removed, leaves finely chopped
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

 

Directions

1. In a small saucepan over a low flame, reduce the balsamic vinegar to one quarter the original volume. Set aside to cool.

2. Arrange all the prepped vegetables on a cutting board or in bowls for easy use.

3. Place a 10-, 12- or 14-inch carbon steel pan or cast iron pan on a high flame. When the pan begins to smoke, turn on the over-the-stove exhaust fan.

4. Drizzle a teaspoon of blended oil on the hot pan and immediately add the thin-sliced onions. Using tongs, toss the onions in the hot oil, turning frequently to avoid burning. When the onions are lightly browned, add drained garbanzo beans. Mix together. Add another drizzle of blended oil. Using tongs, toss frequently to avoid burning.

5. Add mushrooms. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

6. Add broccoli crowns. Stir and mix well until lightly browned.

7. Add finely diced carrots. Mix well and drizzle with blended oil. Season with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.

8. Taste a broccoli crown and carrot dice. When they are al dente, with a little crispness, remove from the flame.

9. Transfer to a bowl or large plate to cool.

10. Place the finely chopped Italian parsley into a large salad bowl. Add the room-temperature charred garbanzo beans and vegetables. Toss well. Season the salad with extra virgin olive oil, reduced balsamic vinegar, sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste. Adjust seasoning and serve.

Recipe: Fennel granola is a wild breakfast treat

Granola is a marvelous vehicle for foraged seeds. When I harvested more than a quart of fennel seeds last fall, I never could have imagined that I'd have used them all by spring.

Thanks to the delicate anise cookie-like taste of fennel granola, I believe my demand for fennel seeds will always outreach my supply. Fennel granola is so delightful that even those who don't have access to wild-harvested seeds will want to make it. Store-bought fennel seeds are slightly less flavorful, but work well in this recipe.

As a forager, I find wild seeds to be fascinating, particularly in fall, when the number of other crops to pick diminishes. Every year, I work hard to collect all manner of wild seeds. Some of these, such as seeds from the mustard family, are very flavorful and can be used as spices. Others, such as lamb's-quarter and its cousin kochia, need to be processed to remove bitter components before they can be utilized as food. Other seeds, for example evening primrose, a high source of gamma-linolenic acid, are relatively flavorless but powerfully nutritious.

Seeds such as amaranth, nettle or evening primrose are easy to bring into the kitchen, requiring little more to process than simply shaking them off the plant and some minor winnowing. These seeds are a dream to harvest, but because they have little flavor, I often forget about using them over the course of the winter. In theory, they can be ground to better access their nutrition, then used atop or mixed into pretty much anything you could cook, from salad to breadcrumb toppings to dessert. In practice, these flavorless wild seeds sit unused in my kitchen. A foraging friend, Erica Marciniec, mentioned using her seeds in granola. I followed her advice and it worked brilliantly. Finally, with granola, I've found a way to use these wild seeds in a way that is convenient for me to cook, and that the whole family will enjoy.

While I really enjoyed eating my wild seeds in a typical cinnamon-flavored granola, I knew I could somehow boost the flavor.

That's when I rediscovered my quart of fennel seeds. Initially, I added only a teaspoon of fennel seeds. I discovered that I loved the taste so much that I omitted cinnamon entirely and increased the fennel to further enhance the flavor of the granola.

I ran nine test batches of fennel granola, tweaking every detail you could imagine. In the end, leaving it in the oven produced the most consistently brown and crunchy granola. The addition of the egg white helps to form clusters. Of course, it could easily be omitted if you are making granola for someone with an egg allergy.

I tried making this granola with honey, but found the flavor competed too much with the fennel. Using brown sugar as a sweetener makes this recipe budget friendly, too. If you'd prefer to use honey, substitute 2/3 cup honey, and omit the brown sugar and water.

Fennel Granola

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 10 to 12 minutes

Total time: 6 to 8 hours (including cooling time in the oven)

Yield: 5 cups

Ingredients

  • ½ cup butter
  • ¾ cup packed brown sugar
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups quick oats
  • 2 cups old-fashioned oatmeal
  • ¼ cup fennel seeds, lightly ground in a spice mill
  • 2 tablespoons other wild seeds such as evening primrose (optional)
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ cup slivered almonds
  • 1 egg white

 

Directions

1. Preheat the oven to 325 F.

2. In a small pot, melt the butter over low heat. Add the brown sugar and water, raise the heat to medium, and let it bubble for 2 minutes. Remove it from the heat, and stir in the vanilla.

3. In a large bowl, mix together the two kinds of oatmeal, seeds, salt and almonds.

4. Pour the warm liquid ingredients over the dry ones, and make certain that they are mixed very thoroughly, so that all of the oatmeal appears wet.

5. In a small bowl, whisk the egg white with a fork until it is frothy. Add it to the oatmeal mixture, and again, stir very well.

6. Pour the granola mix onto a greased 12×17-inch baking sheet. Use a spatula to press it down and make it evenly thick. This will help to ensure that you will have big chunks once it is cooked.

7. Place the granola in the oven and bake it for 10 to 12 minutes. When that time is up, turn off the oven, and leave the granola inside until it is cool. From the time the granola goes into the oven until the oven is cool, do not open the oven door.

Bay area chef revives tradition of supper clubs

What’s the difference between a “pop-up” restaurant and a supper club? About 50 years.

Intimate dining rooms had all but faded into a thing of the past until recently, when the idea re-emerged among millennials as the underground or “pop-up” restaurant. While these smaller, informal dining arrangements are similar to the traditional supper club in basic function, the spirit has changed. In today’s so-called supper clubs, the love and warmth of a chef who truly enjoys cooking a good meal for friends is often superseded by a desire to be exclusive or edgy. 

But chef Noah Jacob doesn’t go for the clubby part of supper club.

With his Bay Area-based gastronomic venture, Comestible Catering & Supper Club, Jacob has given new life to the supper club tradition. At Comestible events, the atmosphere is light-hearted and carried by the laughter and chatter of family, as well as friends new and old. The meals are skillfully prepared, yet unpretentious. There is a sense of fresh creativity and energy in this old-fashioned affair. 

Comestible caters events both large and small, kosher and non-kosher. The team of chefs and culinary entrepreneurs are actively involved in the local Jewish community, often hosting events for the San Francisco Jewish Federation and the Jewish Film Festival, as well as elaborate Passover seders. 

It all began when Jacob and a friend, chef Tim Symes, slaughtered a lamb in Jacob’s garage at his Northern California home. But even before that, Jacob had long been passionately engaged in all aspects of the world of food. 

When Jacob was 14 years old, he began his first job in a Portland restaurant as a dishwasher. “Working as a dishwasher gave me great respect for people who do those jobs, the dirty jobs, the less-desired jobs, the physically hard jobs. … I’m sure it’s because of what I learned in those years that I make it a priority to treat my staff as I would like to be treated,” Jacob said, looking back on the experience.

Jacob continued to work in restaurants through high school and college, but when he moved to New York City in 2001, he gave up cooking to pursue a career in finance. After several years in the financial sector, Jacob got married and moved with his new wife, Dori, to San Francisco. It was then Jacob realized that it was cooking, not finance, that made him happy. Jacob explained, “I had a strong connection to my cultural Jewish heritage. … I was hoping to have that be a piece of what I was going to do next.” 

Jacob heard about a new Jewish deli opening in the Mission District of San Francisco, Wise Sons. He tracked down the owners, told them he wanted to be a part of their team and that he’d do whatever they needed, even without payment. “I just wanted to be back in the kitchen learning,” Jacob said. For the next year, Jacob worked at the deli, where he was trained to smoke and cure meats, slice fish, make pickles and prepare vegetables with speed and accuracy. 

 It was around this time that chefs Jacob and Symes butchered the lamb, which they then served over eight courses to 10 people at Jacob’s house. “From there, the supper club evolved to be a more elaborate event, starting with a theme or an ingredient and four or five chefs in friendly competition, with a sommelier or mixologist and a wait staff,” Jacob said. The supper clubs gained in popularity and guests began asking if Jacob could cater their corporate events. 

Jacob’s love of food, and the source of inspiration for much of what he cooks, stems from his Jewish heritage. 

“The techniques and flavor combinations of the foods I grew up with are my daily inspirations, using smoke and brine, caraway and dill, and using cheaper ingredients and attempting to elevate them to more sophisticated levels,” Jacob said. “Beyond that, it’s also about feeding people and how it equates with showing love. I think that’s one of the things that I appreciate most about Judaism and food culture, how tied to food and love are.”

With a baby at home, Jacob has had less time for creating menus, but plenty of food and love in his life. He enjoys reinventing antiquated Jewish recipes and believes that “soon enough, we’ll see modern adaptations of kugel and kishke and gefilte fish on fancy menus all over the place.” 

His embrace of his heritage has lead directly to his emphasis on ethical food. We must pay attention to where our food comes from, Jacob said, not just because the way something is grown correlates to the quality of its taste, but also because it’s the right thing to do. 

“With kashrut, Jews were probably the first people to truly source their food and closely examine its origins,” Jacob said. “While training as a chef and a caterer, I worked for a fully kosher-certified Bay Area caterer to learn exactly how kashrut is applied in commercial kitchens and professional events.”

When sourcing ingredients, Comestible goes beyond the farm-to-table movement, returning to Jacob’s Jewish roots. During his interactions with farmers and suppliers, Jacob strives to find the best kosher ingredients and ensures that the animals used in his dishes were treated humanely. 

Jacob remembers the early days of his supper club events fondly. “I know that it’s not going to be possible to ever go back to the way they were at the beginning, with all of the excitement and mistakes and far too many drinks for both cooks and diners. … It felt like a moment in time, where everyone kind of knew something special was happening. There was just so much creativity and teamwork, and I think you could really see it in the presentation and taste it in the food,” Jacob said. 

In the near future, Jacob hopes to grow Comestible’s team of chefs, but he is also determined to remain personally involved in every event that they cater. He will only take on as many events as he can while still offering the same high-quality, heartfelt dining experience. For Jacob, the goal has never been about numbers or filling seats. Comestible is founded on a simple tradition of sharing good food with good company. 

COMESTIBLE GRAVLAX

People always think that lox have to be expensive or labor-intensive, but in reality, these dishes are super-easy to make and fairly inexpensive. All you need is some foresight, as the fish takes 4 to 6 days to cure, minimum. 

  • 2 sides of salmon
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 cup salt
  • 2 tablespoons ground star anise
  • 2 tablespoons ground juniper
  • 2 tablespoons ground clove
  • 2 tablespoons ground allspice
  • 2 tablespoons ground fennel seed
  • 4 bunches of dill

 

Start with two fillets of salmon, skin-down, on a cutting board.

Mix all dry ingredients in a bowl. 

Pour half the dry rub over both salmon fillets and rub into salmon meat thoroughly. Next, lay bunches of dill over one of the salmon fillets until it is completely covered in dill. Pour the remaining dry rub over the fillet with the dill. 

Place the other fillet skin-up on top of the dill-covered fillet to create a salmon sandwich, with the thick layer of dill as the middle. Line up the fillets as closely as possible so all the spices and dill stay inside.

Next, wrap the salmon sandwich tightly in plastic wrap and place in a large roasting pan. Place another roasting pan directly on top of the salmon sandwich (covering it completely) and weigh it down with cans or something heavy, such as a Dutch oven or cast iron pan. This is the pressing process. Place in refrigerator.

After two days, open it up and flip the salmon sandwich so the other side is facing up. Rewrap it with fresh plastic wrap and place the salmon sandwich back in the roasting pan, repeating the pressing process for the second side. The salmon will release some water, but it shouldn’t smell bad or fishy. 

After an additional two to four days, pull from the refrigerator and unwrap. Toss the dill and give the filets a quick rinse before laying them skin-down on a paper towel. You will see the pin bones starting to protrude. Go down each fillet and pull out the bones with tweezers; they should slide right out at this point. 

Once it is deboned, your salmon is ready to be sliced for lox or used however you see fit. The serving size will depend on the size of your salmon fillet, usually between 2 and 4 pounds. One side of salmon usually makes sliced lox for 20 to 30 people. The scraps can be chopped up and whipped into cream cheese for homemade shmeer.