August 20, 2019

Chef Akasha adds fresh twist to holiday traditions

Akasha Richmond is a self-trained chef and artisan-style baker who has been catering events in the Los Angeles area for the past 20 years.

A tall woman with dark hair and blue eyes, she bears a striking resemblance to Barbra Streisand, for whom she worked as a private chef.

Richmond said some of her fondest memories were made at Streisand’s home, where she selected fresh vegetables from her garden for a healthy menu.

Richmond’s dream was always to have her own restaurant, and now with the support of her husband/business partner, Alan Schulman, that day has arrived. And Culver City’s buzz-worthy Akasha Restaurant is celebrating its first Passover this year with a special second-night dinner.

Akasha’s regular menu includes vegan dishes, low-fat breads, healthy desserts and organic wines. She is also strong in her beliefs for energy efficiency, green building material, locally grown produce, fair-trade coffee and waiters in hemp aprons and organic cotton jeans.

Richmond is also the author of “Hollywood Dish,” a cookbook that includes tales of Hollywood’s passion for healthy lifestyles and stories of her favorite cooking experiences: holiday dinners for Billy Bob Thornton, catering parties for Pierce Brosnan, producing events at the Sundance Film Festival and working as a private chef for many Hollywood stars.

She also loves to reminisce about watching her grandmother prepare Passover meals for the family and whoever happened to drop in. She said her bubbe made gefilte fish using three kinds of fish: pike, whitefish and carp. She would grind the fish by hand in an old cast-iron grinder attached to the kitchen table, the same type of grinder she used to make her chopped liver.

Richmond went on to explain that her zayde was in charge of the horseradish, which he bought fresh and would grate before adding beet juice for the red color (back before the days of bottled horseradish).

Her other grandmother made the matzah balls for the chicken soup and great potato pletzlach (rolls with poppy seeds, chopped onion and kosher salt), using mashed potatoes, while Richmond’s mother, Judy, made a main course of roasted meat, chicken or duck with potatoes, carrots and onions. She recalled that it was the children’s job to make the charoset.

Richmond’s plans for the Passover meal at Akasha, which will include a seder service, will be a little different than what she grew up with.

“The restaurant is a perfect venue for a family seder,” she said, pointing to the large open space that could easily hold 100 people. She plans to donate a portion of the proceeds from the dinner to MAZON — A Jewish Response to Hunger.

Although Richmond grew up with Ashkenazi dishes for Passover, she loves the flavors of the Middle East, and her Passover menu will feature both creative and traditional family dishes: charoset, Moroccan gefilte fish, chicken soup with matzah balls, and Middle Eastern roast chicken made with fruits and spices and served with leek pancakes.

For the Passover dessert, she has developed a chocolate torte, garnished with fresh raspberries and a raspberry sauce, which can be made into individual tortes and served with a plate of chewy almond macaroons.

Moroccan Fish Balls With Tomato Sauce

Fish Balls
1 1/2 pounds skinned whitefish fillets or wild salmon fillets
1 small onion, grated
1 large egg
1/3 cup matzah meal
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon finely grated fresh ginger
1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons minced fresh cilantro
Lemon wedges for serving
Flat-leaf parsley for garnish

Tomato Sauce
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water

Chop the fish in a food processor. Transfer to a large bowl and mix in the onion, egg, matzah meal, coriander, cumin, turmeric, ginger, cayenne pepper, salt, pepper and cilantro. Mix well, cover and refrigerate while you make the sauce.

To make the sauce, heat the oil in a 12-inch nonstick skillet over medium heat.

Add the garlic and cook for one to two minutes. Add the diced tomatoes, tomato paste, sugar, salt and water. Bring to a simmer, cover and cook for 15 minutes.

Roll the fish mixture into oval-shaped balls. Place into the sauce one at a time and add additional water if needed to just cover the balls. Bring to a simmer and cover the pot. Simmer for 20 to 25 minutes or until firm and the fish is cooked, turning each ball over once. Let cool in the sauce. Serve chilled with lemon wedges and chopped fresh parsley.

Makes about 20 balls.

Honey Glazed Chicken With Cherries and Apricots
1 whole chicken (about 2 1/2 pounds), rinsed and cut into 8 pieces or 4 large chicken breasts on the bone
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup minced shallots
2 teaspoons dried oregano
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
3 tablespoons kosher-for-Passover red wine vinegar
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 fresh or dried bay leaves
1/2 cup dried cherries
1/4 cup dried apricots, cut in half
1/4 cup pitted green olives
3 tablespoons honey
1/4 cup fresh chopped parsley

Place the chicken in a large bowl. Season with the salt and pepper. Add the shallots, oregano, thyme, vinegar, olive oil, bay leaves, cherries, apricots and olives. Mix well and place in a storage container or plastic freezer bag and refrigerate overnight.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Place chicken pieces on an oiled baking sheet or in a large oiled casserole dish. I like to tuck some of the fruit under the chicken so it remains soft, and I leave some exposed so it gets crisp. Spoon any remaining marinade around the chicken and drizzle with the honey.

Roast until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the deepest part of the breast registers 170 degrees and the juices run clear when pierced with a knife, about 45 minutes. Let rest for 10 minutes before serving. Serve hot or at room temperature, sprinkled with the parsley.