Recipes from Amelia Saltsman: Falling for the flavors of Autumn


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

GREEN OLIVES WITH ZA’ATAR AND CITRUS

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

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

Makes 2 cups.

OVEN-BRAISED ROMANIAN CHICKEN 

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

(meat)

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

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

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

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

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

Makes 6 to 8 servings.

GVETCH: ROASTED ROMANIAN RATATOUILLE

Photo by Morgan Lieberman

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

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

Preheat the oven to 400 F. 

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

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

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

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

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

(pareve/vegan)

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

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

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

Makes 8 servings.

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

SEMOLINA AND WALNUT OIL CAKE WITH COFFEE HAWAIJ

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

(pareve)

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

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

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

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

Makes one loaf cake, 12 servings.

ROASTED AUTUMN FRUIT

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(pareve)

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

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

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

Makes 10 to 12 servings.

POMEGRANATE-ORANGE GELÉE 

Photo by Staci Valentine

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

(meat)

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

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

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

Makes 8 servings.