Living off the land


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

FRESH ENGLISH PEA SOUP

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

 

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

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

Makes 12 servings.

BEET AND BURRATA SALAD

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

 

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

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

Makes 12 servings.

STUFFED SQUASH BLOSSOMS 

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

 

Preheat the oven to 375 F.

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

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

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

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

Makes 12 servings. 


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

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.

Power salads: 5 ways to transform dinner


A large plate bursting with colorful plants and topped with a zingy vinaigrette — a big salad — has been part of my regular dinner repertoire for years. Happily, this concept is finally getting the love it deserves as a result of today's increased focus on plant-based diets. Forget the naked salads of the 1980s, cruelly deprived of dressing. Follow these five tips and get creative to make salad the star of tonight's supper.

Build your base: Salad greens, your way

Begin building your salad base. Lettuces are low in calories, so you can pile them on; their fiber and water content will help you to feel full. Greens are also loaded with vitamins, minerals and phytonutrients (health-promoting plant chemicals). Ditch iceberg, which lacks the bright flavors and myriad nutrients of other greens. There are so many fabulous lettuces out there — why not give some new ones a shot?

Romaine is a good starter, but there's also spinach, arugula, mesclun, red leaf and beyond. Include cancer-fighting crucifers, too, like cabbage or kale, or fresh herbs. What's in season? What works for you? Make it your own.

Top with veggies: Go for variety, color

Select whatever vegetables you like and make it your own: the more color and variety, the better. 

You've got your salad base; now paint your palette with whatever veggies your heart desires. My salads feature whatever I have on hand: carrots, radishes, peppers, avocado, tomatoes, beets, sprouts, olives, artichokes, Brussels sprouts, onions — whatever. If you can find local veggies in season, your taste buds will thank you.

Personally, I'm obsessed with watermelon radishes and romanescu broccoli (aka, Roman cauliflower) — and don't even get me started on sugar-sweet gold cherry tomatoes, which, come August, I pop into my mouth like candy. Variety and color are key: The more varied and brilliantly hued your veggies, the more nutrients you're getting. (And, just for the record, while low-sugar veggies should appear most often on your salads, many big salads are wonderful with fresh fruits like citrus, pears, pomegranate and berries.)

Add protein power: Beans, pulses, legumes

It's time to turn to the satiating power of protein. After all, you don't want to finish your big salad still hungry and order a pizza. Most people jump to chicken, shrimp and steak to liven up their salads. As long as the meat doesn't become the leading player, perhaps that's what you'll first choose to get a big salad into your dinner repertoire.

Yet soybeans (and their products, like tofu), lentils, chickpeas, pinto beans and the like are small packages with big nutrition. They include protein, as well as fiber, B vitamins, iron, calcium and potassium. They're also low in calories and sodium — if you use canned, make sure to choose a no-salt brand — and are less pricey than animal protein.

Moreover, producing these plant foods is less taxing on our planet's precious natural resources, and many enhance soil quality through nitrogen fixation. There's a good reason it's the International Year of Pulses, and most of us don't eat the amount we should for optimal health.

Mix it up: Toss in whole grains

Mixed lettuces with quinoa, orange, walnuts, and chia seeds makes for a salad packed with vitamins and minerals.

Like pulses, whole grains are a nutritional powerhouse of vitamins, minerals and fiber — and even some protein — and create a pleasing texture and toothsome bite to your salad. Brown rice is a favorite of mine, especially when included with black beans for a big salad with a Tex-Mex twist. There are many different grains — think barley, quinoa, farro, oats and amaranth — to add intrigue to your salad; experiment to learn what you prefer.

Tossing whole grains into a big dinner salad is also a terrific way to use up last night's leftover rice or pasta, too. While whole grains aren't a regular addition to my salads, which tend be loaded up with veggies, beans and greens, a handful can make a tasty difference — especially if I'm having a craving for toasty homemade rye croutons.

Bring on the fat: Salad dressing and toppings

It takes only a few minutes to whisk up your own healthy salad dressing to top your big salad — use whatever vegetable oil and vinegar you prefer.

It makes me sad when I think about everyone out there still shunning salad dressing, or opting for low-fat varieties, often packed with sugar. Yes, full-fat salad dressing is energy-dense: The main ingredient is oil, which has more than double the calories compared with carbs or protein (about 9 calories per gram versus 4).

So if you need to lose weight, you'll want to keep the calorie content of dressings in mind — and save sumptuous dressings like blue cheese and green goddess for special occasions.

Even so, science has shown clearly that certain types of fats are particularly beneficial to health. Diets rich in monounsaturated fats, like olives and olive oil, and polyunsaturated fats, like nuts, seeds and their oils, are both associated with decreased risk heart disease, especially when these foods supplant refined carbohydrates (like white bread, rice or pasta).

Moreover, the fat molecules in salad dressing help your body absorb the valuable (fat-soluble) nutrients in your meal. A drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar is my go-to dressing, but whipping up a simple vinaigrette at home is a cinch — try my maple-Dijon recipe — and can feature any combination of oil and vinegar that pleases. And, if your salad calls for crunch, scattering on a few nuts or seeds can take your big salad over the top.

Dinner's ready. Season with sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste, and enjoy. With the first luscious vegetables of the season popping up in local farmers markets, now is the perfect time to celebrate the power of plant-based diets, your way.

This Week in Jewish Farming: The high cost of cheap vegetables


My Facebook feed lit up last week with an article in the Aug. 9 New York Times headlined: “Don’t Let Your Children Grow Up To Be Farmers.”

In it, Bren Smith chronicles the financial woes of today’s small farmers: The high costs of land access, competition from nonprofits and subsidized agriculture, the downward price pressure, the need to work a second job (I know a bit about that last one). And then there’s this scary stat: In 2012, the median U.S. farm household income was negative!

The piece generated a lot of angst in the circles I run in – both from those who wholeheartedly agree with Smith’s read on the situation and those who found the piece whiny, factually selective and dismissive of all the progress the food movement has made in building demand for local produce.

But here’s one thing no one denies: Even if you are making money as a farmer, it ain’t much. And while, like in any industry, some farmers run better operations than others or produce superior products, ultimately the reason even the best farmers live very modestly is this: Prices just aren’t high enough.

Yes, that’s right. The $4.50 I charge for heirloom tomatoes early in the season (it’s down to $3.75 now, market pressure and all) just isn’t enough. Not for the hours we spent sowing, planting, trellising, pruning and weeding them. Not for the fertilizer and disease control products we have to buy. Not for the bins and boxes needed to harvest and store them. Not the for the labor necessary to sort, package and deliver them to market.

And that’s my high-value crop. Squash? Sells for $2 per pound. Watermelon? Sells for even less. And how about that trendy crucifer everyone is so eager to toss in their juicer? You can grow a lot of kale in the space a single watermelon plant requires and the bunches sell for $3 each. But that’s the problem: Everyone has reasoned the same way and the market is flooded. I bring home more than half my kale harvest each week and feed it to the goats.

After I returned from the market on Sunday, I took a stroll down to a vegetable stand on the main road near the farm. It sells many of the same crops I raise but at significantly lower prices. Granted, its costs are lower. The farmers own their land. They don’t raise nearly the same variety of of veggies I do and don’t manage their fields nearly as intensively. Their tomatoes, I think it’s safe to say, aren’t nearly as beautiful or tasty as mine. But still, their price point reverberates in the market and conditions everyone to see a $5 Brandywine as some sort of luxury item.

And, perhaps, it is. But only if you believe it’s a luxury to buy tomatoes that weren’t raised in massive monocultures, or trucked halfway across the country at great expense to the planet and palate, or grown by a small army of low-wage immigrant labor.

None of these costs — and make no mistake, the way most American produce is grown entails massive costs to the environment, communities and our health — show up at the supermarket cash register. And that artificially low price exerts downward price pressure on even those of us who don’t raise vegetables that way.

Small farmers like me cope with that challenge in various ways. For me, it’s by selling a premium product – more interesting varieties, fresher, better tasting. But if it weren’t for an outside source of personal income that makes it unnecessary, at this point, to support myself through farming, it’s likely even that wouldn’t be enough.

Veteran JTA journalist Ben Harris is chronicling his new life as a Connecticut farmer. Read more of his weekly dispatches here.

Sukkot veggie heaven


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

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

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

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


BEET SALAD WITH GINGER

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

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

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

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

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

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


STUFFED CABBAGE ROLLS

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

CABBAGE

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

FILLING

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

SAUCE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


SWEET-AND-SOUR ACORN SQUASH

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 servings.


ZUCCHINI CAKE

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 12 servings.

Opinion: At the New Year, let’s give animals a new Jewish chance


Shortly after I became a vegan, around 20 years ago, I ordered my first “vegan option” at a Jewish organizational dinner.

It arrived: a plateful of raw celery and carrot sticks arranged around a cup of something ranch dressing-ish that probably wasn’t even vegan.

Since then, things have changed considerably.

Teenage servers at fast food places know what vegan means even if they have to deliver the news that there is nothing there that fits the description. And at most Jewish organizational dinners today, the vegan option is so delicious that others at my table invariably cry, “Oh, I wish I had ordered that!” when they see it.

Things have changed, but not nearly enough for animals.

Enter the Jewish new year for animals—an initiative to transform an ancient and largely forgotten holiday, Rosh Hashanah l’Ma’aser Bemeima, or New Year’s Day for Tithing Animals, into Rosh Hashanah l’ Beheimot, a New Year for Animals devoted to considering how Jews can improve their relationships with animals.

Animals raised for food, whether on factory farms or “free range,” live and die in unspeakably horrible conditions, treated not as living beings but as the commodities they are. Dairy cows are crammed into tiny stalls and kept impregnated so they will produce milk perpetually. Their calves are taken from them shortly after birth and raised as veal in crates too small for them to turn around in.

Chickens, as several recent undercover videos now available on YouTube have documented, are kept in cages so small they can’t even raise a wing, and they are de-beaked without anesthesia so they don’t peck each other to death, as animals kept in such unnatural conditions are wont to do.

And that’s not even mentioning animals in circuses, product testing labs, the fur trade and other forms of what writer I.B. Singer called “eternal Treblinka.” Nor does the list address other related issues such as human health and its connection to diet and the link between animal agriculture and climate change.

The so-called new Jewish food movement, laudable though it may be, is more concerned with issues of locally grown produce, sustainable agriculture, healthy eating and social justice for workers than with the treatment of animals.

And yet animal cruelty is very much against Jewish teaching. As Richard Schwartz, the president of Jewish Vegetarians of North America and a tireless crusader for animal rights and a plant-based diet, points out, “tsa’ar ba’alei chaim,” causing harm or sorrow to animals, is a Torah prohibition.

That’s evident in many ways, from the mandate that farmers not muzzle an animal while it is threshing in the field (so it can eat some of the grain) to the admiring way the Torah treats the compassionate actions of Moses and King David toward their sheep.

Yet today, as Schwartz writes on the Jewish Vegetarians website, “with regard to animals, the primary focus of Jewish religious services, Torah readings and education are on the biblical sacrifices, animals that are kosher for eating, and laws about animal slaughter, with relatively little time devoted to Judaism’s more compassionate teachings related to animals.”

That’s why Schwartz and a coalition of Jewish groups have proposed the initiative to turn Rosh Hashanah l’Ma’aser Beheima into a New Year for Animals. (Disclosure: I am a member of some of these groups.) The holiday occurs on the first day of the month of Elul (this year, beginning Saturday evening) and initially was devoted to counting domestic animals intended to be used for sacrificial offerings.

This wouldn’t be the first time an ancient holiday has been reclaimed for a related but very different purpose.

Tu b’Shvat—the New Year for the Trees and a day originally intended for tithing fruit trees for Temple offerings—has evolved into a holiday devoted to appreciating and healing the natural world.

Schwartz, who along with Jewish Vegetarians of North America is leading the campaign to establish the new holiday, suggests that Jews use it to consider ways to apply traditional Jewish teachings on compassion toward animals to today’s issues, such as factory farms and moving toward a plant-based diet.

That seems particularly appropriate since Elul is considered a month of introspection as Jews examine their words and actions in the days leading up to Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.

The initiative’s first event is a seder set for Sunday evening at Caravan of Dreams, a vegetarian restaurant in New York City. Other vegetarian seders are taking place at the Isabella Freedman Jewish Retreat Center in Falls Village, Conn., and at a resort in Ontario, Canada.

A number of other groups are supporting the initiative, and several prominent Jewish leaders have endorsed the idea of the new holiday. Modern Orthodox scholar and author Rabbi Yitz Greenberg says in a statement that “it is a beautiful idea to renew/revive a classic day … Your contemporary application … in the form of addressing humanity’s relationship to animal life and the widespread mistreatment of food animals and environmental abuse in today’s economy, marked by industrial farming and animal husbandry, is inspired.”

Rabbi David Wolpe of Sinai Temple in Los Angeles succinctly summarizes the idea of the holiday, writing in a statement, “The Jewish tradition mandates that we are stewards of all God’s creation. In our day we are increasingly sensitized to suffering of those living creatures in our care; this initiative helps us recognize our obligation to animals and so helps us be more fully human.”

Schwartz and others realize that restoring and reclaiming an ancient holiday can’t be done all at once. Plans include setting up a website and Facebook page that would feature a collection of material on Jewish teachings about animals and creating a haggadah for a seder, modeled on the now-widespread Tu b’Shvat seder.

For now, I’m hoping that awareness of these efforts leads to greater attentiveness to issues related to animals, issues that many of us would like to push out of our consciousness, along with other “inconvenient truths,” as we buy our neatly wrapped and packaged meat.

To start things off in a modest way? Read more about the initiative and find links to related sites at www.JewishVeg.com.

And think about having a veggie burger for lunch or dinner.

(Pauline Dubkin Yearwood is managing editor of the Chicago Jewish News.)

EU lawmakers back open markets for Palestinian goods


The EU moved closer to a trade deal with the Palestinian Authority on Wednesday after unanimous backing from European lawmakers to fully open markets to farm and fish products from the West Bank and Gaza Strip.

The 27-0 vote by the European Parliament’s international trade committee paves the way for full parliamentary approval for a deal later this year, signalling EU support for the Palestinian Authority as it prepares to bid next month for statehood recognition at the United Nations.

While small—trade between the EU and the West Bank and Gaza was worth 60 million euros in 2009, of which just 10 percent constituted Palestinian exports to the EU—the move nonetheless represents an opportunity for exports to boost an economy weakened by chronic conflict with Israel.

“This deal is enormously important. It gives more power to the Palestinians to trade directly with the EU. And it’s a signal of good will from the international community that comes at an important time,” said Maria Eleni Koppa, a Greek socialist lawmaker who led the committee’s discussion on the issue.

The West Bank and Gaza mostly export vegetables, fruits and cut flowers to the European Union, while the territories import EU machinery, chemicals and transport equipment.

The new deal will give Palestinian exporters unlimited duty-free access to European markets for farm goods and products as well as fresh and processed fish.

“For us this is one of the agreements that will help us build the economy of an independent sovereign state,” Majed Bamya, a Palestinian diplomat in Brussels, told Reuters.

The full European Parliament is due to vote on the trade agreement in late September.

Once approved, the deal needs final backing from EU member states and ratification by the Palestinian Authority. It is expected to enter into force before the end of 2011.

GREATER OPPORTUNITIES FOR PALESTINIAN EXPORTERS.

Europe imposed strict labelling laws on goods arriving from the occupied territories in 2005. But complex laws and the fact that trade is conducted largely through Israeli channels has created lingering concerns that Israeli farm operators may be benefiting from deals designed to aid Palestinians.

“We have been campaigning, especially in European countries, that they should not import from Israel products that are produced in (Jewish) settlements … and if they want to import anything from settlements then it has to be labeled separately (as settlement produce),” Ghassan Khatib, spokesman for the Palestinian Authority in Ramallah, told Reuters.

Palestinians say that controls by Israel, which took control of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, restricts their access to export markets, denying them economic opportunity. Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.

Palestinians have argued that better access to export markets is vital to allowing the Palestinian economy to grow, in turn allowing the Palestinian Authority to ease its dependence on aid from donors including the European Union.

Europe’s deal with the Palestinian Authority also forms part of ongoing EU moves to open up trade and investment with the Mediterranean rim along North Africa and the Middle East. (Additional reporting by Thomas Perry in Ramallah; Editing by Elizabeth Fullerton) ($1 = 0.693 Euros)

Market fresh soups


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TUSCAN MUSHROOM SOUP

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 8 to 10 servings.


BETTINA’S FENNEL SOUP WITH CROUTONS

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

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

Dig, plant, grow, give — sharing the bounty of food


If there’s one thing Gabe Goldman wishes more Angelenos would do next spring, it’s get their hands dirty.

The American Jewish University (AJU) professor and director of experiential education is signing up students, synagogues and anyone else with a piece of land and a green thumb to plant small, personal gardens next March and donate their produce to local food pantries. The project, Helping Hands Gardens, aims to stock the shelves of overburdened Los Angeles pantries with organic fare as need across the region soars.

“I found out from food agencies that the number of people coming through their doors in the last six months has been overwhelming because of the economic downturn,” Goldman said.

Goldman brought his sophomore service-learning students to SOVA Food Pantry in 2007 to get a feel for what the agency, an arm of Jewish Family Service, does. They found that the pantry’s clients weren’t just unemployed adults anymore — they were often the children of families who can no longer make ends meet.

SOVA’s troubles sprang to mind as Goldman worked in the organic garden at AJU’s Brandeis-Bardin campus in Simi Valley last summer. After a bumper crop of tomatoes, he realized he and his students could help fill a need in the community. “I thought, boy, this would be a good time to take a portion of our food and start donating it,” he recalled.

In fact, he began to envision dozens of volunteer gardeners across Los Angeles doing the same. A small, 10-by-12-foot organic garden might only produce 20 pounds of food in a season, but a network of bite-sized food-growing operations could collectively help alleviate the strain on local food banks.

“One-hundred of these small gardens could produce more than a ton of food,” Goldman said. “These gardens are small, they don’t cost a lot, and they’re easy to take care of. Anyone with a backyard can do it.”

The project is a boon to SOVA Executive Director Joan Mithers, who has seen the number of monthly visits to the agency’s three pantries climb steadily since the economy began to sour last summer. In 2002, SOVA provided food to 2,500 clients per month. That number had risen to 5,000 by 2007. A record 6,200 L.A. residents lined up at SOVA locations this September. The agency has struggled to accommodate a 40 percent spike in client visits over the past year alone, between requests for food and financial service referrals, Mithers said.

“We have no indicator that it’s going to get better soon,” she said, noting that the pantry’s donations of surplus food from the USDA have been dwindling in recent years (the agency also receives food from the Los Angeles Regional Food Bank, the Westside Food Bank and community food drives). “The common belief is that it will get worse before it gets better. With so many people, it would be great to have more food coming in.”

Goldman’s crop this summer at the AJU garden was a start. He and his students set aside a 50-by-50-foot portion of the one- acre plot for the Helping Hands Gardens project and ended up donating 200 pounds of food to pantries around Los Angeles, including SOVA and Simi Valley’s Care & Share food bank. The organic offerings featured zucchini and butternut squash, sweet corn, roma and beefeater tomatoes, onions and carrots.

Mithers said the project would improve not just the quantity, but also the quality of food at SOVA’s pantries.

“This is healthy food,” she said. “When people have limited income, they tend to have to buy the kinds of things that fill them up quickly and inexpensively, and those aren’t always the healthiest products. We want to provide our clients with healthy food, and you don’t get much healthier than fresh, organic produce.”

Studies have shown that the act of gardening also carries health benefits — and a sense of pride — for the gardeners themselves, according to Goldman.

“It’s a win-win-win situation,” he said. “The people who are least able to afford organic food will have it provided for them. The students at our institution won’t just be learning about social problems; they’re taking an active role in the planning process — getting their hands dirty in the fields — and that changes them. Then the people in these agencies and schools who have these gardens get this tremendous sense of pride because they put a seed in the ground and helped it grow.”

Educators at Leo Baeck Temple in Los Angeles have already seen this phenomenon in the two years since they planted a community garden at their religious school. Students there are no strangers to tikkun olam (healing the world) — they currently grow flowers to bring to patients at local hospitals alongside Passover herbs and Israeli plants.

“There is a glow in their eyes when they show me the dirt under their fingernails,” said Avram Mandell, education director at Leo Baeck. “There’s something about nurturing something from start to finish that you can’t teach out of a book.”

Next spring, the school will dedicate a portion of its garden to Helping Hands. Children in grades K-6 will care for the vegetables, harvest them, and donate them to help feed the hungry.

“We want students to connect to their community through the earth,” Mandell said. “This is an amazing opportunity to teach them about contributing to society.”

That’s how Rabbi Dara Frimmer feels about her young congregants at Temple Isaiah in West Los Angeles. The synagogue, whose unique Green Team encourages recycling and energy conservation, got on board with the Helping Hands project as a way to educate their 400 preschool students about sustainability.

“We want to teach our kids where food comes from,” Frimmer said. “We want them not only to have the pretty green plants in their courtyard, but also to teach them about having something they can use and work with and donate.”

Because of space restrictions on synagogue grounds, members will install several large planters around the property — namely in the playground area and in the preschool courtyard — so kids will interact with the gardens each day.

Until planting season begins in March, Goldman is reaching out to churches, synagogues, Hillels, senior centers and other potential participants to join the effort. Helping Hands Gardens will train AJU students to work with each facility as they set up their garden, which volunteer hosts will tend themselves. Goldman wants to see the project grow to a size where they can donate to food pantries throughout Los Angeles and Ventura counties.

“Every community in the country could have Helping Hands Gardens,” he said. “I am a firm believer that any social problem we create, we can solve. We have a lot of people and a lot of kids who need help now, through no fault of their own. We’re here and we can help them, so we should.”

Buying local produce adds spice to holiday dishes


As an avid farmers’ market shopper, I welcome the holiday season by noting what’s at the market, rather than by turning the page of my calendar. The High Holy Days are a time of endings and beginnings, and nowhere in my everyday life is this more apparent than when I visit my local market this time of year.

Certainly, the crops’ comings and goings evoke the holidays’ agrarian roots. But when I buy directly from local producers, I’m aware of subtle shifts within a season, and, if I’m really paying attention, of an accounting of the entire past year’s weather (and pests) and toil that has determined what is before me now.

This year will my family enjoy late-season figs and plums, along with new harvest dates and apples for a sweet new year? Will the season’s first pomegranates arrive in time to offer blessing for a year of plentiful merits?

Culture and tradition may dictate holiday fare, but climate and weather make the final menu decisions for me. Call it surrender or call it living on the edge, this local, seasonal approach makes every food on my family’s holiday table resonate with multiple meanings.

First of all, everything tastes better. Shopping locally is shopping in season, and foods have more flavor when grown and harvested in their true time and place. When even the potatoes and carrots are exceptional, I’m grateful to the farmers and shop with greater appreciation for the fixings for our celebration: the eggplants my mother uses in our family’s fire-roasted appetizer salad we simply call chatzilim (eggplants); bright-yolked eggs for knaedlach, and deliciously fresh, free-range chickens for roasting and grass-fed beef briskets for braising, with loads of local onions.

I rejoice in the bounty of heirloom apple varieties so honeyed that they need no adornment. But honey we must have, so I stop at the local gatherers to choose delicate orange blossom and robust buckwheat flavors.

If farmers have pomegranates, I’ll scatter pale-pink and ruby kernels over salad and rice and use the juice to glaze seasonal beets. Our table will be graced with market fruits and broomlike date blossoms.

If you’re a farmer, the connection between land and table is even more profound.

Esther Maso of Weiser Family Farms prepares Rosh Hashanah dinner from ingredients produced on the farm started by her parents 25 years ago as a retirement dream. Their Tehachapi and Lucerne Valley fields yield plenty: eggplants, peppers and beets for salads; fingerling potatoes, root vegetables, onions and garlic for roasting; and green-and-white-striped Sweet Dumpling squashes to stuff with rice, honey and cinnamon.

Known for its heirloom potatoes, the farm is now a multigenerational enterprise — Sidney, a former chemistry teacher from Boyle Heights; Raquel (from Mexico City); sons Alex and Daniel; daughter Esther, who left her job as a Hebrew day school teacher to help out; and now granddaughter Sarah, who’s an agricultural marketing student at Cal Poly Pomona.

This sense of family permeates farmers’ markets. Chefs who frequent them feel it as they seek their own favorite holiday ingredients.

Andrew Kirschner of Wilshire Restaurant wants great carrots and prunes for tzimmes-stuffed capon, because “having worked with local farmers so long, it’s special to have their foods at my own family’s table.”

Pastry chef Zoe Nathan of Rustic Canyon Seasonal Restaurant and Wine Bar gets dried pluots and plums for rugulach, and Evan Kleiman of Angeli Caffe buys armloads of leeks (that we may vanquish our enemies) for Sephardic leek patties she learned about from a friend years ago.

For me, that special ingredient is the date. In Southern California, we have a unique opportunity to connect with this ancient crop, for the desert southeast of Los Angeles produces our country’s entire supply.

Only if you shop locally do you learn that the two-and-a-half-month harvest begins just after Labor Day, and that there are many more varieties than Deglet Noor and Medjool — in early September I also find 24-hour-old Barhi, Khadrawi, Amber, Precioso and Zahidi — and that you can enjoy them, as they do in the Middle East, in varying stages of ripeness, from golden, crunchy Khalal still on the stalk to melting Rutab and the familiar, chewy dried Tamar.

I’m always overcome by their biblicalness. So is date rancher Robert Lower of Flying Disc in Thermal, Calif.

“Many a time when I’m out in the palm, with a view to the east almost unobstructed by humanity, I’m transported to what it must have been like 5,000 years ago,” Lower says. Over the millennia, there have been a few improvements to the date, but pollination and how they grow are the same as they were back then. It’s hard to improve on perfection.”

Everett Davall, another producer, tells me, “We’re so lucky to have a desert in the United States.”

Where many of us would see an arid expanse, the date grower sees fecund possibility. Isn’t that what Ecclesiastes 3:13 is all about— seeing the good in toil, finding the blessings in the not so obvious?

I’m directed to this passage by Adina Rimmon, who works at the Santa Monica market with citrus and pomegranate grower Peter Schaner. For Rimmon, a member of Beth Jacob Congregation, the physical labor, communion with farmers and customers and intense seasonality bring her closer to God.

The equally devout Catholic Schaner agrees: “I’m completely dependent on God for my existence as a farmer. I can’t ever forget that connection.”

“Getting closer to our food source gives us opportunities to explore our relationship to our fellow man, God and ourselves and find deeper symbolic meaning in ritual foods,” said the appropriately named Rimmon (Hebrew for pomegranate). “Take the pomegranate. You could say the blessing and be done, or you could also think about the fruit’s other attributes — the tree’s thorny branches, the fruit’s thick skin — the challenges required to get to the treasure inside.”

And this is perhaps the richest of all the gifts I receive by shopping locally: life lessons from passionate farmers to help me reflect and do mitzvot — support small family farms, help protect agricultural space and close the circle. Judaism isn’t easy, especially at this time of year. Neither is farming.

Flame-Roasted Eggplant Spread With Lemon and Garlic

Use traditional black-purple globe eggplants or try purple-and-white Rosa Biancas with creamy white flesh and few seeds. Either way, choose firm, shiny eggplants that are heavy for their size and free of soft spots. Although a bit messy, roasting eggplant over an open flame adds sweet smokiness and keeps the flesh white.

2 large eggplants (about 1 pound each)
4 to 6 tablespoons canola or other mild cooking oil
1 scant teaspoon minced garlic
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Kosher or sea salt
Cucumber and tomato for garnish
Challah or pita crisps to serve

Place the whole eggplants directly on the burners of a gas stove turned to medium-high or close to a medium-high fire on a grill. Roast, turning often, until the skins blacken and flake and the eggplants collapse and are meltingly tender — 10 to 15 minutes. As the eggplants start to char, the skins will tear and release steam and juices. If the skin burns before the flesh is tender, lower the flame slightly.

Remove each eggplant to a plate. Use two large spoons or spatulas to manage this. While still hot, split them open flat like a book. Scoop the pulp into a sieve set over a bowl, scraping as much as possible from the skin and leaving any juices behind. If there are a lot of seeds, remove some, and pick out any black bits of skin. Drain for 10 minutes, discard the juices and place the pulp in a bowl.

Using a whisking motion, mash the pulp with a fork, adding the oil gradually until the mixture is light and fluffy. Stir in the garlic, lemon juice and salt to taste.

The mixture will be a pale gold. It can be refrigerated for up to one day before serving. Serve at room temperature garnished with cucumber and tomato and accompanied with challah.

Makes about two cups.

Pomegranate and Orange-Glazed Beets

24 small beets, 1 to 2 inches in diameter or 3 pounds larger beets, quartered
1 to 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup orange juice
1/3 cup pomegranate juice
1 tablespoon margarine or butter

Preheat oven to 400 F. Cut off the beet greens, leaving one inch of stem attached to beets, and reserve for another use. In a large baking dish, toss the beets with the olive oil and season with salt and pepper.

Cover pan and roast beets until almost tender when pierced with a knife, about 30 minutes, shaking the pan once during cooking time. Uncover, shake the beets again, and roast uncovered until tender, about 15 minutes more.

When cool, peel the beets using a paring knife (skins should come off easily). The beets may be prepared one day ahead and refrigerated. Return them to room temperature to finish the dish.

Pour the orange and pomegranate juices into a large skillet set over medium-high heat, and cook until juices are reduced by half and slightly syrupy, about 10 minutes. Add the beets and a little salt and pepper.

Reduce the heat to medium, and cook the beets, frequently spooning the juices over them until the juices become a very thick syrup, six to seven minutes. Stir in the tablespoon of margarine or butter, reduce the heat as needed to keep the glaze from browning and stir constantly one to two minutes until the beets are richly coated and the juices are a thick glaze. Add salt and pepper as needed.

Makes six servings.

Slow-Roasted Seasonal Fruit

Use a mix of late summer and early fall fruits, such as Golden Delicious (or other tender, quick-cooking) apples, pears, figs, peaches, prune-plums, and concord grapes. If you prefer, you can use an off-dry red wine instead of the muscat dessert wine. Serve with honey cake.

3 pounds mixed fruits
1 cup concord or red grapes
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup muscat wine

Preheat oven to 375 F. Halve fruit and remove pits or cores, and quarter apples and pears. Place fruit cut-side up in shallow baking pan. Scatter grapes on top.

Warm the honey and drizzle over fruit. Pour wine over all and roast, basting occasionally, until fruit is tender and juicy and edges are browned, about 45 minutes.

If desired, place under a hot broiler to further crisp the fruit. Serve warm or make this early in the day and serve at room temperature.

Makes eight servings.

Roasted Potatoes, Root Vegetables, Onions, and Garlic

ALTTEXT
This recipe can be multiplied easily but use a little less oil than the math would call for. A variety of small fingerling potatoes are lovely here because they can be roasted whole. Add red or yellow carrots to the mix for extra color.

2 pounds potatoes, scrubbed and left whole if less than 2 inches in diameter or halved or quartered
1 pound each carrots and parsnips, peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
2 onions, cut into eighths
1 small head of garlic, cloves separated but unpeeled
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Preheat oven to 400 F. In a large roasting pan(s), toss all ingredients together with the olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Roast uncovered until vegetables are tender and browned, one to one and one-half hours. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed.

Makes eight servings.

Sweet Dumpling Squash Stuffed With Honeyed Rice

Add a little or a lot of honey, depending on how sweet you would like this dish. The squashes can be baked a day ahead, filled in the morning and reheated just before serving.

8 sweet dumpling or other small, hard squashes, 8 to 10 ounces each
1 tablespoon oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 rib celery with leaves, chopped
1 cup long grain rice
1 cup each chicken stock and water or 2 cups water
1 to 3 tablespoons honey
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 cup currants or raisins, optional
Kosher salt

Preheat oven to 375 F. Place whole squashes on baking sheet and roast until tender, 45 to 60 minutes. Cut off tops about one inch down from crown of squashes to make lids. Use a spoon to scoop out and discard seeds and strings.
If the cavities are very small, scoop out some of the cooked meat and reserve. Squashes may be prepared to this point a day ahead and refrigerated.

In a medium pot over medium heat, sauté onion and celery with the oil, seasoning with a little salt, until translucent, five to seven minutes. Add rice to pot and cook, stirring frequently, until rice grains whiten, two to three minutes.

Stir in stock, any reserved cooked squash, half teaspoon salt, honey and currants. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover pot and cook rice until tender and all liquid is absorbed, about 15 minutes.

Add cinnamon and stir rice with a fork to fluff and allow steam to escape. Taste and add salt or additional cinnamon to taste.

Fill the cavities of each squash with rice mixture, mounding but not packing the rice. Use about a third of a cup for each squash. Put squash tops on (some of the rice will show at the sides), place on baking sheet and return to oven to heat through, 20 to 25 minutes. Squashes may be filled several hours ahead; allow rice mixture to cool first.

Makes eight servings.

Recipes adapted from “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes and Stories From the Market and Farm,” by Amelia Saltsman (Blenheim Press, 2007).

Amelia Saltsman, a Santa Monica-based writer and teacher, is an ardent supporter of local farming and the author of the award-winning “The Santa Monica Farmers’ Market Cookbook: Seasonal Foods, Simple Recipes, and Stories from the Market and Farm.”

Photo: Fresh veg at the Santa Monica Farmers Market

Atoning for the sin of rushing dinner to get to Kol Nidre


I consider Yom Kippur eve the sandwich holiday. Not because I would ever serve my family and friends sandwiches before going to synagogue on the eve of a solemn fast. I see the start of Yom Kippur this way, because it’s sandwiched between two days of Rosh Hashanah celebrations and the Day of Atonement. Not to mention the eight-day festival of Sukkot, which rushes in four days later.
 
With the emphasis that night, as it should be, on getting to Kol Nidre services on time, sometimes little thought is given to this very important meal whose menu should be in perfect balance to ready people for the fast ahead. Ideally dinner on Yom Kippur eve should be hearty but light, nourishing but satisfying, tasty but not too luxurious. The challenge is daunting at a time when school and fall activities have just begun, and the Jewish calendar is so full.
 
I recall one year when I was still peeling potatoes an hour before eight people were expected for dinner on erev Yom Kippur. I panicked, fearing that we’d never get to Kol Nidre services on time.
 
Fortunately my husband always comes to the rescue whenever I’m in a jam. He microwaved the potatoes, threw together a salad and broke into a sweat basting the chicken. I set the table, barking orders, as our 9-year-old daughter scampered to her room to avoid my tension. I swore I’d never do that again. Since then, I’ve given much thought to organizing this special dinner to save time, lower stress and serve foods that will facilitate a meaningful fast.

 
With Yom Kippur beginning this year on a Sunday night, people who observe the Sabbath have additional considerations. If possible, they should complete the bulk of their organizing and food preparation by Thursday, leaving Friday free to focus on Shabbat cooking. After Friday evening, their next opportunity to address the Yom Kippur eve meal is Sunday morning, when the countdown begins. Although I’m embarrassed to admit it, I’ve solved this dilemma by imitating a staple of women’s magazines — the make-ahead menu. The day after Rosh Hashanah, while I’m sipping coffee and drizzling honey over a piece of challah, I start planning for Yom Kippur eve. I fine-tune my menu and compose a shopping list.

 
On each of the following days, I prepare a dish and freeze it, or I make most of the steps in the directions, refrigerating foods until I’m ready to proceed. On the day of Yom Kippur eve, I have only a few last-minute touches to handle. I glide into the holiday with a sense of serenity, a far cry from the frenzied person I used to be. For peace of mind, I now serve the same menu every Yom Kippur eve. It meets my most important criteria: healthy, appealing and easy to execute. This menu can be expanded to include additional dishes, but it’s filling enough to stand alone.
 
Inspired by Greek Jews, who often partake in stewed chicken and tomatoes before the Yom Kippur fast, I created my own version of this traditional dish. The chicken is sautéed and then poached in plum tomatoes, which simmer into a sauce that moistens the chicken. However, this dish is fairly bland and doesn’t cause undue thirst the next day. The ample tomato sauce calls for a bed of rice. Throughout the world, chicken and rice are served on Yom Kippur eve, because they are filling and easy to digest. However, many people, particularly when pressed for time, have difficulty finessing rice, which needs some tender loving care. They end up with a sticky ball of starch, rather than a pot of fluffy rice. My recipe, relying on a bit of olive oil, comes out perfectly every time.
 
Roasted Autumn Root Vegetables are a medley of seasonal produce flash-cooked at a high temperature. You can prepare this dish three days in advance, finishing it quickly just minutes before serving dinner.
 
Filled with dried fruits, flakes of oatmeal and a dollop of honey, Baked Stuffed Apples is not an indulgent dessert. For that reason, it’s a nutritious and appropriate way to end the pre-fast meal.
 
When it comes to Yom Kippur eve, my motto is to do as much as possible as soon as it’s feasible. On the morning after Rosh Hashanah, finalize your Yom Kippur eve guest list. Decide what you want to serve. Select which linens you will place on the table. White is traditional on Yom Kippur. If you’re using the tablecloth and napkins from Rosh Hashanah meals, make sure they’re washed and ironed or back from the dry cleaner on time.
 
If you’re expecting a crowd, you may have to expand your dining table. Know in advance how many leaves you’ll require. If you need a folding table, make sure it’s clean and in good condition. If you have to borrow a table and chairs from a family member or friend, organize this well in advance.
 
I suggest setting the table after breakfast that morning. Eat lunch in your kitchen or on the living room coffee table. To make life easy, order a pizza. Although it goes against my creative nature to be repetitive, under certain circumstances, it makes sense.
 
On Yom Kippur eve, I’m a big proponent of the preset menu, one you can follow year after year. Select a combination of recipes you can manage. Of course you can make reasonable substitutions, such as casseroles or other make-ahead dishes. But with so much going on, Yom Kippur eve is not the time to strike a new course or leave things to chance. It’s the time to be methodical and calm, to guide yourself and your family into a peaceful fast.
 

Poached Chicken Breasts and Tomatoes

 
3 tablespoons olive oil, or more if needed

Mark the New Year with late summer harvest menu


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 
Makes eight to 10 servings.

 
Avocado, Tomato and Arugula Salad

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

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

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

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

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

 
Makes six to eight servings.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You Are What You Eat


 

I am a vegetarian. I know there was a big controversy brewing over kosher meat, but I’m not sure what the Jewish position

on vegetarianism is. I suppose as long as the vegetables are pulled from the ground in a quick and humane manner, no one can object too strenuously to it. I know God created animals, but I can’t imagine He’d be offended if I didn’t eat them. I’d hate to think of God pouting in His room saying, between sobs, “I worked so hard on that lamb and Nemetz doesn’t even touch it!”

People usually become vegetarians for either health concerns or humane reasons. It is, in theory, healthier to eat lower down on the food chain. Foods are more easily digestible (with the notable exception of my mother’s potato kugel, some of which has been lodged in my small intestine since the Thursday before my bar mitzvah). The problem with doing anything for health reasons is that you’re just staving off the inevitable — like carrying an umbrella in a meteor shower. It may slow the meteor down a tad, but not enough to change your ultimate destiny.

As for the inhumanity of eating animals, while I applaud the sentiment, I think it is a somewhat misplaced compassion — like the anti-abortionists who value the fetus but have no problem killing the abortion doctor. All one needs do is turn on the National Geographic channel to see that, out in the wild, fast eats slow and big eats little — although for some unknown reason, nothing eats the guy holding the camera. If I ever go on safari, I’m renting a Betacam.

I have chosen to eschew meat for a third, more self-obsessed reason — it’s annoying to those around me. You know how some people say that they don’t want to be a bother? Not me. I love being a bother. It really puts people out when they want — or feel obligated to — have me over for dinner (I’ll accept either; a meal’s a meal).

Upon learning of my restrictive diet, the host or hostess will invariably ask me the same question, “Do you eat fish?” Now I’m not a biologist (although I was a genetics major my first year in college — until my grades came out, at which point the university and I agreed that I should pursue a degree in English), but it seems to me that fish hardly qualify as a vegetable. They’re living things. Granted they don’t have much of a life, but then neither did my Uncle Alec. In fact, he would have loved nothing more than to swim around in circles all day, hiding in fake rocks. He wasn’t what you’d call an overachiever — or even an achiever.

Now, as vegetarians go, I’m not that difficult to please. Aside from a major food group, I will eat pretty much anything. There is another, stricter level of vegetarianism. They are called vegans and they consume no animal products whatsoever. There is even a small sect of vegans — I don’t like to use the word fanatical because fanatics tend to get, well, fanatical when you use that word (go figure) — who are so concerned with not taking any life whatsoever that they walk down the street with brooms, sweeping ants out of their paths lest they crush the poor vermin and take a life. The fact that they sweep the critters onto the road into oncoming traffic seems lost on these well-meaning souls. It is this line of flawed thinking that gave us the leaf blower — it doesn’t eliminate the leaf but it does blow it onto your neighbor’s property where it’s no longer your problem.

I find, however, that while familiarity usually breeds contempt, in my case it breeds indifference. The more often I go to someone’s house for dinner, the less effect I have on his or her diet. At first, everyone eats a vegetarian meal because of me. After a while, the host makes a vegetarian meal with a dish for others to eat. Finally, I’m invited to a meat meal with a dish that I can eat. I can see the writing on the wall. Next I’ll be asked to eat something before I come over. Well, I’m not going to wait for that to happen. I’m going to get new friends. That’s why I’m asking you out there to invite me to dinner. I’m willing to go as far as Calabasas. Just remember, I don’t eat fish.

Howard Nemetz is almost as good looking as his picture.