Golani Cherries!

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Picking Bing Cherries in the Golan  Heights

We had been waiting for this tiyuul (Hebrew for field trip) for weeks now. It seemed like ages since we were up in the Golan, one of my favorite places in Israel. First there was all the winter snow, sleet and rain, and then the COVID lockdown for months. But the day was perfect – nice and warm, sunny, with slightly cool breezes from the West off the Mediterranean. And it was the first week of cherry season!

Odem Mountain sits towards the foot of the Mount Hermon and butts up against the border with Syria. The Heights have been quiet since the Syrian Civil War moved from the area about a year ago. Odem is known for its wonderful wineries and for its pick-your-own fruit farms. Raspberries, blueberries and blackberries (called ‘black raspberries’ here) will be ripe in mid-July; grapes in August. But last week, life was a bowl of cherries for us!

We were given entrance to the orchard for 20 shekels per person, about $6 each. We could eat as much off the trees as we could stomach – and that was a ton! – plus pick as much as we could carry in our baskets. The first kilo was included in the price, the rest were about $5 a kg – 2.2 pounds. There were only a few families out, so we had the huge orchard mostly to ourselves. The sky was a gorgeous blue, the birds singing, and the butterflies were out in abundance. Who could ask for more?

I love that Israel is so family friendly. Because fruit picking is a family activity here, the orchards cater to the wee folk. Instead of pruning back the lower limbs and bushes as one normally does to increase fruit production, everything is left in its natural state. Low hanging limbs mean low hanging fruit, and any 2-3 year old can enjoy harvesting the luscious gems.

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John and I each picked four baskets of Bing Cherries before we discovered the sweetest, most delicious Rainiers. Within an hour, we had picked another four baskets. It was sheer bliss – I found my happy spot. As the morning wore on, we followed the sound of Russian voices chattering madly in the Eastern part of the orchard. We found out what was causing the commotion: fresh sour cherries! The Russians and Eastern Europeans are absolutely wild about forest fruits. They especially love sour cherries, preserving them for pastries, toppings and winter desserts.

After eating so many cherries, it’s a wonder we even had room for lunch, but I had packed a lovely picnic with an assortment of cheeses, olives, homemade crackers, pickles and salads and a bottle of rosé. All of the picking areas have adjacent picnic tables under the canopy of vines and trees. It’s just so romantic!

As soon as we got home the work began in earnest -which would last the rest of the week for me. It was enjoyable labor, and I can’t wait to share these recipes with you!!

  CHERRY LIQUEUR

IMG_0144 I can’t believe I forgot to take a picture of the finished product after it had been bottled, but this is the basic process: I steeped about 40 Bing cherries in a covered Mason Jar of vodka for a week. The vodka turns red and the cherries fade somewhat. Strain the infused spirit into sterilized bottles. Store the bottles in a dark cabinet for up to a year. When ready to use, place a bottle of the liqueur in the freezer – the liqueur gets nice and cold, but will not freeze. Sip straight up in a tiny liqueur glass, or mix into cocktails.

You can spoon the reserved cherries (I microwave them for 10 seconds) over vanilla ice cream. A lovely dessert!

        CHAMPAGNE JUBILEE!

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Take the cherry liqueur (you just made, recipe above) out of the freezer. Pour about 1 oz. into a champagne flute and top off with Prosecco, sparkling white wine or a sweet white wine. This is really refreshing on a hot summer day – and beautiful for bridal showers and with brunch!

   CHERRY-BALSAMIC VINAIGRETTE                  (makes 4 slender bottles)

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Love this recipe I came up with. It’s really delicious on a pasta salad with grilled chicken strips, or on a sweet summer salad of fresh greens, red onion (or pickled onion), fruit and nuts. Add feta on top for a dairy salad – or leftover grilled chicken strips for a main course (meat/basari). Refrigerate after opening.

Ingredients:

  • 6 Tablespoons wildflower honey
  • 40 Bing cherries, stemmed and pitted
  • 2-3 shallots or 1 Bermuda/red onion
  • 1/4 cup good quality Balsamic vinegar
  • 6 sprigs fresh rosemary
  • 1/2 cup champagne or white wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup best quality extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp sea salt (I use Dead Sea salt or Maldon)
  • 1/2 tsp freshly cracked black pepper
  • Distilled or filtered spring water

  Directions:

Prepare/sterilize the bottles and the tops by keeping them submerged in boiling water for 20 minutes.

In the meantime, place the pitted cherries and the honey in a small saucepan and let them simmer (but not boil!) for about 5 minutes. Let cool. Chop 8-10 of the cooled cherries into little pieces. Reserve the rest of the cherries (for pouring over vanilla ice cream or serving with a dollop of whipped cream!!!), saving the honey liquid.

Pour the reserved honey liquid into the four dressing bottles that have been recently sterilized. Make sure each bottle gets an even amount. Distribute the chopped cherries evenly into the four bottles. I find using a funnel makes all of this a lot easier! Add 2 Tbsp Balsamic to each bottle. Add 1/8 cup champagne vinegar and 1/8 cup olive oil to each bottle. Add 1 sprig of rosemary, the salt and pepper. Using a garlic press, I halve and squeeze 2 peeled shallots to collect the shallot juice in a little cup or glass. Pour the shallot juice evenly into each bottle. Finely mince the remaining shallot and add to the bottles. Fill the rest of the dressing bottles to about 1/2 inch from the top with the spring water. Seal. Shake vigorously before serving.

THE BEST CHERRY CHICKEN SALAD!!

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This is fairly easy to make. I serve it for Shabbat lunch on a hot day. It’s quite flavorsome, not to mention beautiful with the jewel-like cherries poking out. We never have any leftovers it’s just that delicious – but if we did, I’d serve it on a crusty baguette with a bed of arugula or rocket lettuce.

 

  • 3 cups (about 1 pound/1/2 kg) cooked chicken breasts, chopped into bite sized bits
  • 1/3 cup chopped red/Bermuda onion
  • 1/3 cup chopped celery
  • 1 cup pitted, halved cherries (I like a combo of Bing and Ranier cherries for this dish)
  • 2 Tbsp poppyseeds
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise (light mayo, preferable)
  • 1/2 cup “Chinese” sweet pecans
  • Sea salt & freshly cracked black pepper to taste

In the States, I was able to buy pre-grilled or pre-cooked chicken strips (I was spoiled). Here I have to make everything from scratch, so I boil my chicken breasts in water with celery tops, an onion, bay leaves, salt, pepper, 2 Tbsp whole cloves and a thumb sized sliver of fresh ginger (I just gave away my bubbe’s chicken stock recipe!!! I swear the addition of the cloves and ginger take the soup to a whole new level of awesomeness!!!!). Let the chicken simmer on the stove for about a half hour until cooked through. I reserve the stock to freezer bags once it cools – future use. There’s no soup in aseptic boxes or cans here.

Chop the cooled breasts into bitesize morsels. Chop the onion and celery. Add all to a large bowl. Stir in mayo and poppy seeds, salt and pepper. Gently fold in cherries and pecans. Chill until ready to serve.Can garnish with rosemary sprigs or fold in about a Tbsp finely minced fresh rosemary before serving.

CHERRY CHOCOLATE CHIP SCONES      (makes 18, but doesn’t last more than 2 hours! They tend to disappear that quickly)

My family loves these scones. I’ve made them for years, but can never seem to find them when I want to serve them. So glad I took the picture shortly after I took them off the baking sheet, because they were all gone 2 hours later when I wanted a sweet snack!

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Ingredients:

  • 2 1/2 cups regular flour
  • 1/3 cup coconut sugar (low glycemic option to white sugar)
  • 1/4 tsp sea salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 20-25 Bing cherries, pitted and quartered (use gloves or your hands will get stained)
  • 8 Tbsp cold butter
  • 3/4 cups cream
  • 2 Tbsp milk
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tsp almond extract
  • 1/2 tsp dried ginger powder or 1 TBSP grated fresh ginger or stem ginger pieces, minced
  • 3/4 cups semi-sweet chocolate chips

 

Preheat oven to 400*F/200*C.  Place baking paper or silpat on two baking sheets.

Mix together dry ingredients a large bowl. Using a party cutter, knife, or fork, cut in pieces of cold butter and blend until the mixture resembles coarse sand. Stir in the cherries and chocolate chips to coat with a dusting of flour (this prevents sticking together or clumping on the bottom).

Make a shallow well in the middle of the flour mixture. Whisk together the wet ingredients and pour into the middle of the well. Gently stir the wet ingredients into the dry mixture without overworking the dough. It should just be moistened.

Using an ice cream scoop, I place small scoops of the batter (6 on each sheet, evenly spaced) on the baking sheet. Sprinkle with a little sugar if you’d like a little sparkle. Bake for about 20 minutes. Remove from oven and let cool for a couple minutes. Repeat until all batter is used up. Guard these babies with your life if you want them to last! They can be stored in a wax-paper lined tin box or plastic container for a couple days (yeah, right – good luck on that one!)

I find them best served with a light spread of cream cheese. So delicious!

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And OF COURSE!!!!I made 12 jars of cherry vanilla preserves last week. Two are gone, so I hope to make some more in the next couple days…. until then, my friends –

 

Cooling Summer Salads

Our lockdown due to the global pandemic officially entered a new phase last week. Restrictions were eased allowing Israeli citizens to travel the country a bit more freely – provided face masks were worn. Stores with streetfront access were open (forehead temperatures were taken before entering).  Restaurants, malls, cinemas, sporting events, all remain closed. Religious services were allowed with masks and proper social distancing. Schools began to open up.

But then, as quickly as the easements were occurring, the next plague swept in with a vengeance! Schools were closed again. Few dared leave their homes. Heat! Searing heat with over a week of extreme temperatures soaring well into the triple digits Fahrenheit – the 40’s Centigrade!. The winds were hot. The skies blistering. So we “sheltered in place” as best we could. You know it’s a scorcher when you go to take a cold shower, put the water on full cold, and tepid/lukewarm water at best comes out. We have one tiny air conditioning unit (mahz-GAHN) in our living room (for the whole house) and an even smaller mazgan in our master bedroom. The best we could manage was to bring the internal temps to a “balmy” 94 degrees Fahrenheit!!! Even the dog was lethargic. This was one time I was glad our scheduled houseguests from the States had to cancel their travel plans. Venture outside? I think NOT!!!!

Heat up the house even further by running the oven? NO WAY!!!! Inspired by the weeks of cooking shows by my favorite chefs (and I found a slew of new favorites) during the stay-at-home period, I decided to get creative with whatever I had left in the freezer, fridge and pantry. And I harvested most of my lettuces and the rest of my citrus fruits before they could burn up in the sun. Along with my new found organic produce delivery, we were good to go. So, I thought I’d share with you some of those recipes for when the weather heats  up in your area (Most I posted on Instagram and Facebook without recipes).

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                    COOLING CITRUS PAVLOVA

I started with dessert first, because, hey! Why not? This was by far the easiest, throw together; the most beautiful, colorful, juicy, sweet, creamy dessert ever. I harvested and wanted to use up all my grapefruit, lemon, oranges, and clementines. Luckily, I had bought package of miniature meringue puffs ages ago, thinking they were marshmallows. So now, to use them! Check your local supermarket to see if they carry pre-made meringues. Here in Israel, they come in all different shapes and sizes (and colors). If not, meringues are fairly easy to make – just requiring stiffly beaten egg whites (or aquafava, the juice left over from your canned garbanzos or kidney beans) and sugar with a little cream of tartar.

Ingredients:

  • peeled, de-seeded, and sliced (crosswise) segments of your favorite citrus fruits –
  • meringues (I used pre-packaged)
  • high quality vanilla ice cream
  • 1/2 cup whipping cream
  • 3 TBSP white sugar
  • 2 TBSP vanilla extract, Chambord or St Germain liqueur (optional)

Line a serving platter with the meringues – this could be one large pouf, mini meringues, or meringue cups. On top of that, lay the sliced citrus fruits – the more varied the colors, the prettier. Whip the cream (I used 38% milk fat) with the sugar until it holds its shape. Add in the flavoring, optional, but yummy. This time I used St. Germain, which imparts a lovely elderflower taste – virgin Elderflower Syrup (non-alcoholic) is available at IKEA. Spread on top of the citrus. Add as many scoops of vanilla ice cream to the top as you have people.

               PEACH and CARPACCIO SALAD

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Sometimes, you just never know what you’ll find in your freezer!!!! Going through for odds and ends and recipe ideas, I found two tiny packages of beef Bresaola I got from my Italian friends last summer. Usually made from horse (uuggghhhh), Daniel and Claudia bring me Kosher beef bresaola from Milan. It’s an air-dried, salted beef that has been aged two or three months until it takes on a dark reddish purple hue. It’s lean and tender and sweet. Altogether delicious. Claudia served it wrapped around melon, so I’m guessing if you can’t find Bresaola, a prosciutto would work well here. It can be eaten as an appetizer or main course (for a luncheon or light dinner).

This is another easily assembled recipe that looks amazing and is super delicious. Especially on a hot, no-cook day. Here, I was able to harvest the last of my arugula/rocket leaves, and also use the basil from my garden. I even used the crumbs from the fresh garlic croutons I make each week. Amazing!!!!

Ingredients:

  • Arugula/rocket
  • Sliced peaches
  • Thinly julienned Italian basil
  • Beef Bresaola, Procsciutto, or Carpaccio
  • High quality Balsamic vinegar (I use the one with three coins on the front of the bottle for extra richness/sweetness)
  • Bread crumbs

All you do for this one is to arrange the arugula/rocket leaves on a plate. Alternate the peach and bresaola slices. Scatter the basil on top. Drizzle with balsamic and sprinkle with those crunchy, salty, garlicky crumbs. If this is not an umami explosion, I don’t know what is!

                          AVOCADO SALAD

This was another winner as a side salad requiring no heat and little time to put together. If you keep Kosher, this is a good one because it is neither dairy nor meat, and can be eaten with either food group. As you can see, I’m really not giving quantities here as I was using up all my produce and odds and ends – and it depends on the number of people you are feeding. These are easy enough to eyeball, guesstimate, and assemble.

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                                BEET SALAD

Because of the influx of Russian, Ukrainian, and other Eastern European immigrants to Israel, beets are a most popular food here. They are ubiquitous on the Israeli table – in borscht, in salads, as side dishes, even pickled beets. Very cheap, and easy to grow (I’m growing both red and golden as well as the candy-cane striped chioggias which I shave raw into salads). I always have at least 4-6 roasted beets in my fridge for put-together recipes…

This recipe can be made with the addition of feta cheese (or bulgarit cheese) crumbles, if you are serving a dairy meal. I left it out as we were having a salad with smoked duck (recipe to follow) that evening.  Also, it used pickled onions, a really easy thing to make that is a staple in our home. I use the pickled onions on sandwiches, and in salads as a random garnish. Quite deliciously tangy and sweet.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 large red beets
  • 1 golden/yellow beet (if available)
  • 1 orange zested, peeled, seeded & segmented
  • squeeze of orange juice
  • pickled onions (recipe follows below)
  • Extra virgin olive oil
  • sea salt, fresh cracked black pepper
  • rosemary of thyme

Wrap the beets in foil and roast in a 200*C/400*F oven for about 30 minutes or until tender. Allow to cool fully. Remove the skin and any “burned bits.” Slice into a bowl. Squeeze about 1/4 cup orange juice over the beets. Add about 1 teaspoon of the orange zest, and the segmented orange bits (you can also use canned mandarins, which are impossible to find here). Drizzle with about a tablespoon of the olive oil and sprinkle with the slat and pepper. You can add about a teaspoon of fresh rosemary or thyme or just use it as a garnish Both work well in this salad. Top with a scattering of pickled red onions. Serve cold.

Pickled onions:

  • 2 large red/purple/Bermuda onions
  • 1 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1 cup white wine/champagne vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp white sugar
  • 1 Tbsp pickling spice
  • 1 tsp coarse salt

Peel the onions and slice thinly. In a medium saucepan, heat the vinegar sugar, salt mixture to boiling, then let simmer five minutes. Remove from heat and add in the sliced onions. Add the pickling spices. Store in a glass jar. Keep refrigerated. This will stay good for weeks and I add extra sliced onion as the quantity diminishes with use. The pickled onions will be ready to use in as little as half an hour after they are made – but keep getting better as they sit in the fridge.

                     SMOKED DUCK SALAD

This was our favorite salad ever. I found a smoked duck breast in my chicken just hiding out under the frozen peas. So glad!!!!! Don’t even remember when I bought this pre-packaged little gut, but it was a life-saver. The inspiration for this one takes me back to one of our favorite San Francisco restaurants, Cinema Cafe. Served with a crusty slice of sourdough, and its a winner of a meal – great for company!!!

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I’m just giving ingredient list here as you can determine how much you want to make to feed a hungry crowd. I was using everything I had left in my pantry (literally) and fridge, so….

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1-2 smoked duck or chicken breasts, sliced into thin strips
  • arugula/rocked/ baby lettuce leaves
  • sliced cherry tomatoes
  • pitted kalamata olives
  • 1 can drained garbanzo beans
  • pickled onions (see recipe above)
  • garlic croutons
  • lemon juice
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • pepitas/pumkin seed (sunflower seeds, nuts, whatever you can find)
  • poached eggs
  • salt and papper

Arrange the first five ingredients on a platter fairly artfully. Drizzle with freshly squeezed lemon juice and olive oil. Sprinkle on croutons and pepitas. On the top add one or two perfectly poached eggs per person, keeping the yolk fairly runny.

It’s fun to break the egg yolk into the served salad and mix it up with the other ingredients as kind of a warm sauce. Quite fancy. Very easy to make and super tasty!

 

 

Quarantine Cooking (Life Under Lockdown, Passover Edition)

 

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Things are exceptionally quiet here in Israel. This is usually the time when children are merrily paddling down the Jordan River in canoes; horseback riding in the Golan; hiking in the Judaean Hills; sailing on the Red Sea in Eilat. Today, Sunday, is usually joyous and loud in Jerusalem as thousands of Christian pilgrims from all over the world make the Palm Sunday Walk from Bethpage through the Lion’s Gate and into the Holy City following the path that Jesus took. It is a day where Mechane Yehudi market is bustling with shoppers buying all their provisions for the imminent Passover feast. Not so now. All is surreally still under the COVID-19 lockdown.

I spent my morning doing something I’ve promised myself for ages: trying out new and exciting Charoset recipes from around the world. Each very different and each delicious in its own way. I’ve collected these recipes over the past five years from people I’ve met here. Each woman has come to Israel carrying her own cultural traditions and special holiday foods.

Passover, or Pesach, is the springtime holiday celebrating the triumphal exodus of the Children of Israel, the Jewish people, out of slavery under Pharoah in Egypt and into eventual freedom back in their homeland of Israel. After 40 years of intense desert wanderings, that is! And to remember the entire story, Jews the world over (and now many Christian communities are following suit) are hosting a Seder meal. Seder is a Hebrew word meaning order, and the table is beautifully set. The centerpieces are the Seder plate, containing foods which will be integral to the telling of the story – and the plate of matzah, or unleavened bread. The Jews left Egypt in such a hurry there was no time to let their dough rise, hence the matzah.

Anyway, I’d like to share these charoset recipes with you. They are fun to put together, and since our Seder (I used to host upwards of 30 people!) will be minuscule this year (thanks COVID!), we will have a fun charoset tasting. The charoset symbolizes the mortar that the Jewish slaves had to make (a mixture of straw, water and mud) to cement the stones of the pyramids and monuments of ancient Egypt. In modern times, Jews have been scattered (since 70 AD, when they were kicked out of Israel by the Romans) all over the world. Depending on the resources available, different recipes have developed, each uniquely different, but representing the same idea.

The first type of charoset is our traditional Ashkenaz family recipe. The Ashkenazi Jews settled in Europe – mostly Poland, Germany, Russia and other parts of Northern Europe. There was an abundance of apples available in that region of the world, hence the apple base. We love it – it’s so delicious, that I have to make multiple batches throughout the holiday for myself and my family. We eat it on matzah with a ton of fresh horseradish flavored with beet juice. It’s called a Hillel Sandwich, after the famous first century rabbi who invented it.

           CHAROSET, ASHKENAZI STYLE

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Ingredients:

  • 4 large apples, cut into quarters
  • 1 cup walnuts
  • 1/2 cup sweet Kosher wine (Manischewitz anyone? In Israel, I use King David Concord)If you don’t use alcohol, substitute pure grape juice
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1/2 freshly squeezed lemon (juice)
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

In food processor, or by hand, chop the unpeeled apples as finely as possible without creating a mush. Empty into large bowl. Chop up the walnuts, also very very finely. Add to bowl. Mix in the remaining ingredients, the lemon juice, wine, honey and cinnamon. Mix well and let sit for at least an hour for the flavors to absorb and blend together. Hide it from yourself and other people in the house or there won’t be any for the Seder – it’s that addictive.

 

The next charoset recipe is from my Israeli sabra (Israeli born, 4 generations!!!) friend, Liat. It’s very sweet, and uses much of the seven species of the Land of Israel (mentioned in the Bible, they are: figs, grapes, pomegranates, wheat, barley, olives and (date)honey) plus a couple extra ingredients. When blended together, this really looks like the mortar the slaves could have used. It’s a really, really, thick and sticky paste. You can also add cocoa powder (1/4 cup) and roll it into balls and then roll the balls in dried coconut or nuts…

NATIVE ISRAELI CHAROSET

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup pitted medjool dates
  • 1/3 cup dried figs
  • 1 ripe banana
  • 1/4 cup pomegranate juice
  • 1 cup chopped raw almonds
  • 1/4 cup honey or silan (date honey)
  • 1/4 cup red wine

In a food processor, chop up the figs, banana and dates until it is one thick, gooey paste. Spoon into large bowl. Chop up the almonds in the processor very, very finely. Add to paste along with the juice, wine and honey. Mix well. Let stand for about an hour for flavors to blend.

The following recipe is lovely, From Devorah, a new olah (immigrant) to Israel from Rome Italy. Devorah also has lots of family outside Venice and this is their take on charoset. It is very different, but I absolutely loved these flavors!!! Because they have lots of chestnuts in Italy, that’s what they use. It also looks a lot like mortar…

ITALIAN CHAROSET (VENETIAN STYLE)

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Ingredients:

  • 1 cup dried apricots (the bright orange kind)
  • 1/2 cup golden raisins
  • 1/2 cup pistachios
  • 1 small package of roasted, shelled chestnuts (about  1 1/2 cups)
  • 1 tsp orange blossom water (found in gourmet or specialty food shops – Trader Joes? or a MidEast or Indian store?)
  • grated orange rind
  • 1/2 cup brandy
  • 1/4 cup honey

Process the dried apricots until they are about the size of small raisins. About 4 quick pulses in a food processor. Place in large bowl. Add the raisins. Process the pistachios and the the chestnuts until they are quite fine. Add to bowl. Add the freshly grated orange rind, the brandy, honey, and orange blossom water (this really sends the whole concoction over the top!!!). Mix well, and let stand at least an hour to let all the flavors absorb into a romantically exotic paste. So so fragrant and sweet!!!! This is decidedly different, but I love it!!!!

The last recipe hails from Morocco/Algeria/Tunisia – Northern Africa. The jewel tones look nothing like mortar, but like exotic gems from Egypt. It is also nothing like the other recipes, as it has lots of spice – lots of intense flavors, a lot like the beautiful people from North Africa now calling Israel home.

NORTH AFRICAN CHAROSET

IMG_9542.jpegIngredients:

  • 1/2 cup pitted medjool dates, diced
  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 cup apricots, diced
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 1/3 cup brown raisins
  • 1/3 cup dried cherries
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1/2 cup chopped pistachios
  • 1/2 cup chopped almonds
  • 1 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp clove powder
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp ground cardamom
  • 1/4 tsp allspice (English pepper)
  • 1/3 cup silan or honey
  • 1/3 cup Arak (I would substitute sweet wine, pomegranate juice or even a port or brandy for this Middle Eastern liquor)
  • grated lemon peel
  • grated orange peel
  • dash sea salt

That’s it! I chopped up my apricots and nuts and mixed in the rest, substituting Port wine for the spicy, licorice-tasting Arak. It turned our chunky, but really really pretty. It, too, is quite fragrant, and the spices really  intensify the flavors.

So there you, have it. Whether you are celebrating Passover or Easter, or just want to have some experimental fun in the kitchen during quarantine, these should keep your hands busy and your mouth happy for awhile. Have fun!!! And Khag Pesach Samayakh!!! Happy and healthy!!!!!

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Tu b’Shvat Tiyyuul

Yesterday the sun broke through in all its shining glory after months and months of cold, rainy weather. We knew it was going to be short-lived as more was forecast for later this week. John and I dropped our son off at work, and decided to take full advantage of the respite from nasty weather. We drove to the Kinneret, the Sea of Galilee, to see the increase in water level after the past decade of drought conditions. It did not disappoint.

Just south of Tiberias, we pulled off at our favorite beach. What was once a sweeping expanse of brush, rocks and sand was now completely under water. It even came up to the stone embankment where the picnic tables and campsites were. The stone steps were partially under water. You just have to see!

We’ve been following the rising of the Kinneret water levels over the internet each day, but wanted to actually see the measuring stick at Yardenit (there is also one in Tiberias).This is where the Sea of Galilee flows out to form the Jordan River to the South. Right across the street, I was struck by groups of white-robed masses in the water. It looked like the scene from “O Brother, Where Art Thou?” I had to get closer. Christian pilgrims from all over the world come here to be baptized in the Jordan (this is NOT the place where Jesus was immersed. That’s 70 miles downstream in the Samarian desert near Jericho). Anyway, there they were, taking full advantage of the sunny weather doing full immersions. It reminded me of a sort of mass mikveh, the Jewish ritual immersion.

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Pulling into Kibbutz Kinneret to turn around and go home, I saw the sign: Kinneret Dates Factory Story. This was turning into a real tiyuul, which is the Hebrew word for day-trip or field-trip. And just in time for the upcoming Jewish holiday of Tu b’Shvat, which will be celebrated from sunset February 9 – sunset February 10this year.

When I was growing up in America, this minor holiday was relegated to the ‘back 40.’ We didn’t celebrate it much at all. All I knew was that it was a type of Jewish Arbor Day. My mother, the designated “Tree Lady” of our synagogue would call up the congregants to ask them to order trees to be planted in the State of Israel. That was about it. Tu b’Shvat has grown in popularity in Jewish communities throughout the world, but here in Israel, it has been and still is celebrated as an agricultural and ecological holiday with much rejoicing.

In Hebrew, letters and numbers are interchangeable, so “tu” are the Hebrew letters ‘tet’ and ‘vav’ (adding up to 16), and Shvat is the name of the Hebrew month – so Tu b’Shvat means Shvat 16. The holiday is not found in the Torah (the first five books of the Bible), but in the Talmud – the oral explanations of the Law. It’s basically the New Year for trees, or the time which trees are planted. There are both physical and spiritual levels to this holiday. Planting trees in the middle of winter is a sign of hope and a way of re-greening the planet. It has connotations of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden and there are ties to the spiritual Tree of Life.

Historically, in the 1500s, in the northern Israeli town of Tsfat, the great Rabbi Isaac Luria (the same guy who wrote the Shabbat hymn, Lecha Dodi) put together a Tu b’Shvat seder (ordered feast) in which different fruits or nuts are eaten along with 4 cups of wine. There is a beautifully arranged Seder plate with raisins, almonds, pistachios, dried figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and other fruits and nuts. There are special blessings: thanks and praise for G-d’s creation: over His sustenance through the year; for the winds and rain; for the fruits (or nuts) of the tree. After the prayers, nuts and fruit with a hard/inedible shell (klipa) and a soft interior is eaten – the almonds or pistachios; the oranges, pomegranates or bananas. Then one says the blessing over wine and drinks a small amount of red wine. Next, fruits with a soft exterior and hard center is eaten (olives, dates, apricots, persimmons, avocado) followed by a dark pink rosé wine. Next, fruits are consumed which can be eaten whole: figs, pears, berries, apples. And a light pink rosé wine is sipped. After that, the celebrants eat something made with wheat or barley: bread, crackers, or a pulse. Then comes the sips of white wine. All of this is interspersed with spiritual readings from the Scriptures and explanations on how one is to ascend from the purely physical to the emotional to the intellectual to the spiritual. Thank you Rabbi Luria. There are several interesting Tu b’Shvat seder guides on the internet, each with different highlights.

So – we found ourselves in the Land of Fruits and Nuts – literally. The factory store of Kibbutz Kinneret Dates. I visited the Garden of Eden and I can’t wait to go back! In typical Israeli fashion, the first thing we did upon entering was to see a movie on the history of this particular kibbutz and on the date palm. The date palm is one of the seven species of plants indigenous to Israel (dates, figs, wheat, barley, grapes, pomegranates, olives) and mentioned in the Bible. By the end of the Ottoman Empire and the desolation of the land by both neglect and destruction, every single date palm had disappeared in this land.

In 1908, Kibbutz Kinneret was founded and a pioneer named Ze’ev Ben Zion traveled to Iraq to bring back a truckload of palms – and Jewish refugees who were being persecuted by the Islamists. Both the palm shoots and the new immigrants thrived in their new land, so Ben Zion went out again to bring back 1000 new baby palms – and more refugees. Uri Stoner, from Kibbutz Kinneret, researched and developed different hybrids as well as novel uses for dates. In 1933, the kibbutz factory was founded and a multinational exporting of Israeli dates and date products had begun.

The factory store here has products unique to Israel…and all can be sampled generously. There are friendly (English-speaking)kibbutzniks available to explain all of the products. The date is nature’s candy. Naturally sweet and high in fiber, it gives a quick energy boost, yet is very low on the glycemic index. Minerals and compounds in the date are said to increase fertility and help pregnant women to have easier deliveries. They are very high in antioxidants and can help reduce blood pressure. Dates help maintain bone mass because they are high in calcium and magnesium as well as selenium. They are also rich in iron and fluorine – and essential fatty acids that actually help with hunger-control an weight loss. Yippeeee!!! So for a ‘normal’ person, eating 5-9 dates a day is healthy – more for late term pregnant women (dates are reputed to induce labor).

Who knew there were so many different varieties, flavors and textures among different species of dates? Most people are familiar with the Deglet-Noor and Medjool varieties, as those are the top exports, BUT:

Some are sweet and sticky: the Amari are moist and taste like caramel; the Deri are intense and flavorful- almost like a shot of espresso; the Amari, drier, but packing a sugar punch; our favorite, Hadrawi were soft and flavorful, not too sugary, but like butterscotch. We bought 3 boxes of dates.

And the products available!!!! My favorite date product is silan (see’ lahn), a date syrup/honey. I don’t know if it’s available in the US, but I use it in place of other sweeteners now – in cooking and baking, in teas and smoothies. There are different types of date spreads, date candies, date butters, and here, they are all available for sampling. And the prices here are some of the best I’ve seen in the country-

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In addition to date products, there were other products, all organic and made right here in the Galilee. There was carob syrup (which I also use in place of molasses), tehinehs (sesame butter) – so I bought 2 huge jars. I use tehnineh extensively now, including tehnineh and silan on rice crackers. Olive oil, locally produced, bee products, herbs and spices – all from this area.

Add to this the cosmetics line, Shivat, made from the seven species, and I was in absolute heaven!!! We really had a lot of fun, but armed with a couple bags full of goodies and a new cookbook (yay!!!), I couldn’t wait to get home and start cooking. So – now for the recipes!

The easiest is the tehnineh spread with silan. Tehineh is much richer in calcium and fiber and lower in sugar than peanut butter, and it is non-allergenic.

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This sesame seed paste is also mixed with the juice of one lemon and a spoon of silan for a lovely salad dressing for chopped cucumbers and tomatoes or for a mixed cabbage and carrot slaw with chopped green onions and walnuts and chopped dates.

               SWEET POTATOES WITH SILAN (parve/vegan)  serves 6

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 3 large sweet potatoes
  • 4 tsp olive oil
  • 3 tsp red wine vinegar
  • 4 Tbsp silan date syrup
  • 4 tsp sweet asian chili sauce
  • juice of a freshly squeezed lemon
  • a dash of chili flakes
  • 2 green onions, chopped finely
  • a sprinkling of coarse sea salt

Wrap and roast the sweet potatoes in a 200*C/400*F oven for about an hour. Mix all the ingredients of the sauce (minus the sea salt) with an immersion blender. Score the hot potato and pour the sauce over top. Sprinkle generously with the coarse sea salt.

FREEKEH STUFFED ONIONS (pareve/vegan) serves 6-8

 

This can be eaten as a hearty lunch or served as a side dish for a Shabbat dinner. Its roots are typically Middle Eastern, most likely Egyptian. Freekeh is a type of durum wheat that is roasted to bring out its nutty flavor. The word is actually Arabic for “rubbed” as the grains are rubbed before roasting. As freekeh might be difficult to find outside this area, bulgur or spelt can be substituted. You can also use brown basmati rice for this one. Because it is pareve (neither milk nor meat) it makes a great accompaniment to any main course.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2-3 whole large white onions
  • 2-3 whole large red/purple onions
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 cup freaked, bulgur, spelt, farro, or brown rice
  • 1 1/2 cups boiling water
  • 1 1/2 cups mixed green herbs cut finely (parsley, mint, cilantro, green onion, dill)
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 cup silan date syrup
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup chopped dates
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

DIRECTIONS:

Prepare the stuffing: Heat olive oil and grain in a saucepan and fry until hot. Do not burn. Add boiling water and salt, Stir well and cover. Lower flame to simmer for 30 minutes. Then turn off heat and let sit for 15 more minutes. Gently fluff and fold in mixed herbs and cumin seeds, silan and fruit.

As the stuffing is cooking, peel the onions and slice the tops off. Drizzle with olive oil, salt and pepper.  Wrap in foil and roast about 20 minutes in a 200*C/400*F oven – until soft.  Let cool until able to handle comfortably. Remove the inner part of the onion with your fingers, pulling gently. There should be 2-3 layers of the outer shell left. Chop up the onion that was extracted and add to the stuffing mixture.

Fill each onion with the stuffing mixture. Place in a baking dish greased with olive oil. Sprinkle the onions with salt and pepper. If there is any juice from stuffing mix left behind, pour over onions. Cover dish with aluminum foil and bake at !70*C/350*F for about 20 minutes. Remove foil so onions can brown and bake for an additional 10 minutes. Serve hot.

                 GLAZED BUTTERNUT SQUASH (parve/vegan)  serves  6

Another great recipe – especially for fall/winter. It calls for butternut squash, but you can use any gourd, or a combination thereof and it will be delicious. I especially like seeing smaller pieces of different varieties of gourds for a gorgeous and colorful platter. This is a tasty side dish, but also can be hearty enough as an entree served with a hearty bread and a side salad.  Also, this is an amazing Pesach recipe (one which I plan to use at my Passover seder this year)-

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 6 gourds (butternut squash), halved, seeds removed
  • 3 tsp olive oil
  • salt and black pepper
  • ground cinnamon
  • 3 Tbsp silan
  • 2 sheets of matzah
  • 2 more tsp olive oil
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, minced
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Preheat oven to 190*C/375*F. Drizzle gourd halves with olive oil and silan , and sprinkle with salt, pepper and ground cinnamon. Roast for 40 minutes. Can cover with foil lightly, if it starts to brown too much.

For crumbly topping: heat a frying pan with the olive oil. Add the matzah pieces and cook over a medium flame, stirring constantly to glaze and brown. Add garlic , salt and pepper and a  small amount of cinnamon at the very end. Remove from flame, and add the chopped parsley.

Arrange the hot gourd pieces on a platter and spoon the crumble over top. Drizzle with more silan and serve hot.

AMAZING I CAN’T STOP EATING PUFFED RICE SNACKS!                                                  (                                                    (vegan/pareve)  

I made these yesterday and we just can’t stop sneaking them. Really rich, and decadent, yet I tell myself they’re healthy because of the tehnineh, silan. cocoa super-food combo. It makes me feel better about pigging out. But. seriously who can resist? I’m not paying $7 to $9 for a small box of Kelloggs Rice Crispies ….. when I CAN find them here! So we found a pretty lame puffy rice flakes for a substitute. I highly recommend the Rice Crispies if they are available in your area- just sayin.They can be formed into bite sized balls or put in a wax-paper lined baking dish and cut into squares. I did both. The best part is that they are super easy to make and require no baking or refrigeration.

*****OK, not as an affront to anybody but you hear the most amazing things living here. This is a true(?) story about John the Baptist. In the New Testament, John the Baptizer is a radical hermit preaching about the importance of being a B’aal Tshuva (repentant sinner who comes back to G-d) and performing ritual immersions/mikveh in the Jordan River. He announces the coming of the Moshiach, the Messiah. Anyway, in art he’s always pictured wearing a rough camel hair tunic tied with a thick rope. This ascetic is famed for his diet of eating locusts and honey. But it was a MISTRANSLATION from the Hebrew to Greek to Latin to the English of the King James Bible in the early 1700’s. The honey was most likely a date syrup like silan. And the carob tree (kheeroov) was also known as the locust bean in England. The ground carob beans are similar to cocoa powder, but much higher in protein and in antioxidants. Instead of eating yucky insects like a madman, John was actually consuming a fudgy, delicious superfood paste. Sorry to burst your bubbles, but I found it fascinating!

For those Christians who celebrate the feast days of favorite saints, this is a great recipe to make with young kids in honor of John the Baptizer. For my Jewish friends, it’s a lovely treat for Tu b’Shvat.

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 1/2 cup tehineh
  • 1/2 cup silan
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 1/4 cup carob powder or cocoa powder
  • 1/4 tsp salt
  • 1/2 cup dark chocolate chips, melted in the microwave
  • 4 tsp silan
  • 3 cups crisped rice cereal
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped almonds (optional) or ground coconut

Mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Grease your hands with a little canola or coconut oil. Form about a tablespoon of the mixture into golfball sized balls. Or spread out in a wax-paper lined baking dish. Let set for a half hour, if you can resist the temptation to eat before then. Cut the chocolate rice mix into brownie-sized bars. Enjoy!!!!

 

 

 

 

The Spices of Life

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Walking into an Israeli shuk is an experience like no other. The colors and the smells of the spices are heady and exotic. Bags and bins of finely raked, highly colored powders line the stalls. There are all kinds of herbs, roots, pods, and grinds. Spices specifically designed for meat, fish, chicken, rice, salads and soups. Many of which I had never heard of – with strange sounding names like baharat, and dukkah and ras-al-hanout and za’atar. Over the past four years, I’ve invited these beautiful new friends into my home and have learned to use them. By talking to the shop vendors and to chefs and housewives, I’ve begun to incorporate them into my own recipes.

The Israeli palate is very different than the typical Anglo palate. Spice blends I would only use for pies and baked goods in the past, I now use in meats and on vegetables. The Jewish people have returned to the Land from all over the world bringing their tastes, recipes, and spices with them. The heavy turmeric-laden foods of Yemen; the hot chilis and warming spices of Morocco, Libya, Tunisia and other parts of Northern Africa; intensely fragrant flavor combinations of Iranian and Iraqi Jews; the many-colored and different kinds of curries and garam and biryani of the Bnei Menashe of India have all added to the culinary melting pot of this country. Add to that the neighboring Lebanese and Syrian influence as well as the Ethiopian, Egyptian, the Bedouin and Druze foods and the  Israelis’ intense love of the flavors of Asia – you create a flavor fusion unlike anyplace else in the world.

For those of you reading this in khool (Hebrew slang for outside the country), some of these spice blends can be found in the larger grocery stores or in MidEast specialty markets. Start looking around for them. As diversity and intersectionality sweeps the world, more local supermarkets are carrying world flavors. Try World Market or WholeFoods for some of these blends.

I have interviewed many people, and each person has their own take on what goes into each blend. There are as many different combinations and levels of intensity as there are people here. Some are “old family recipes.” Because our family’s taste tends to shy away from intense heat, I’ve tried to stick with the more moderate levels of measurement. From experience, I’ve learned there are some flavors we enjoy more than others. You will have to experiment to find your own range of taste, but that’s just part of the fun. So, don’t be afraid to buy the individual spices and start combining to fit your own palate. Always start with a lesser prescribed amount and add more of one thing or another. And always use fresh spices. Some tend to fade or go rancid after a few months. store in tightly sealed canisters or jars, preferably our of the light.

My first spice blend to share is baharat, with the addition of a little sugar or salt, it’s also known as Rambam spice. This is the one I used in baking at first, but I also put a teaspoon or two into my plum preserves with a splash of port wine as it cooks down. Here in Israel, it’s a key ingredient in kebabim (not skewered meat and veggies on a stick, but fingerlike sticks of spiced ground meat) and other meat dishes. Imagine the surprise – and depth of flavor – of tasting meats and stews with heady cinnamon, cloves, and peppers. It’s also used in rice, with the addition of dried cranberries and currants and chopped pistachios. The word baharat comes from the Arabic for spice, and this is distinctly Mediterranean -Israeli. Most people say it is a blend of seven key spices, but depending upon the region one is from, it changes…so I will give you five different blends.

Shoshanna’s Yemenite Blend of Baharat

  • 1 Tablespoon of cumin
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon English pepper (allspice)
  • 1 Tablespoons cinnamon
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons tumeric
  • 1 Tablespoon ground, dried rose petals

 

  Etti’s Iranian Baharat Spice

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon white pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon dried rose petals

 

  Geh’u’lah’s ‘Israeli’ Baharat Blend (my favorite)

  • 1 tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 teaspoon ginger
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon English pepper (allspice)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin
  • 2 Tablespoons dried rose petals

 

   Tzippy’s ‘Israeli’ Baharat

  • 1 Tablespoon cinnamon
  • 1 Tablespoon cloves
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon allspice
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
  • 1 Tablespoon cumin

Marwan, my spice guy – we all have a favorite spice guy – swears by his absolute best homemade blend. “It must be done this way!!!” There is just no other way to do it, he insists ….. I’ve learned from experience that each person will tell you there is just no other way. Actually, I will buy my baharat from Marwan, because his spices are really the best. Whenever I have guest, we make a special trip to Marwan’s spice shop in old Akko. It’s that wonderful.

  Marwan’s Baharat

  • 2 Tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 2 Tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 4 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon cardamom pods

In a small pan, over medium-high heat, dry roast the above ingredients, about 3-5 minutes. Toss regularly to prevent their burning, but they should begin to become very fragrant. remove to a bowl and allow to cool completely. Grind to a fine powder (he does this all by hand on a much larger scale) by hand or using a spice mill/food processor. To this blend add:

  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg

Baharat can be used as a dry-rub for meat or chicken. To make kebabim, take a pound of  ground meat, add a small diced yellow onion, a tablespoon of baharat and some minced fresh parsley. Form into finger-shaped cigars wrapping each around a cinnamon stick. (It will look like a chicken drumstick when done). these are typically grilled, but can also be baked.

 

Middle Eastern “Sloppy Joes”

This dish was gobbled up before I could take pictures, it was that delicious. Instead of putting the ground meat mixture on a bun, as in the States, this dish is served over couscous.

  • 1 1/4 pound (1/2 kg) ground beef
  • 1 Tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves crushed fresh garlic
  • 1 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 Tablespoons baharat
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric (curcum)
  • 1 Tablespoon fresh ginger, grated
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground caraway seeds (optional)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes with juice
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh mint, chopped
  • 2 Tablespoons fresh cuzbara (cilantro), chopped

In a large pan over medium-high heat, brown the onion, garlic and grated ginger in the oil until the onion becomes soft and translucent. Add the baharat, turmeric, and ground caraway and cook about 2-3 minutes until you have a soft, fragrant paste. Remove from pan – but do not clean out the pan. Place the ground meat in the pan and brown the meat. Add the spice paste in and mix thoroughly. Pour in the can of undrained tomatoes. Cook for an additional 2 minutes. Pour this meat blend over hot couscous and top with the chopped mint and cilantro. I guarantee you won’t have leftovers.

 

The next recipe has become a family favorite. I serve it all the time, and even eat it as a healthy snack or for breakfast. When Americans serve sweet potatoes, it’s usually topped with loads of butter and even brown sugar or marshmallows. This is a much lighter, tastier, healthier alternative. Very easy and very quick! I’ve been finding these cute little fingerling battattas in the local shuk and am loving them!! So adorable – just a little bigger than my finger.

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                   Tehine Battattas

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  • 1 pound sweet potatoes
  • 1 tablespoon coconut oil
  • 1 teaspoon baharat
  • sea salt, to taste

Preheat oven to 400* F/200*C. Peel the sweet potatoes. I leave my fingerling potatoes whole, but if you are using the conventional large sized sweet potato, cut into 1/2 inch thick round slices. Place on large sheet of aluminum foil and sprinkle with oil. Add the baharat and toss to coat the potatoes thoroughly. Seal foil packet tightly and place on baking sheet. Roast the potatoes about 15 minutes or until soft. Remove from oven and onto platter. Drizzle with tehine (sesame paste liquid). Several hot.

The next recipe makes for a great Friday night Shabbat meal. It’s a good dish to make for company, because of its color and fragrance. This recipe hails from Iran  and is my friend’s traditional home-cooking Shabbat recipe. She serves it in a beautiful copper pan. The textures are creamy and crunchy and the pops of flavor from the rice, the spiced chicken and veggies topped with pomegranate arils and drizzled with tehine: it’s a flavor explosion. In Israel, the boneless, skinless chicken thighs, called par-gee-yot’ are the choice cut of chicken. They are often heavily spiced and grilled.

 PERSIAN SHABBAT PARGIYOT  serves 4-6

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  • 6 whole, boneless, skinless chicken thighs
  • 3 Tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4-6 teaspoons baharat (adjust to your taste – I use 5 tsp)
  • 1/4 teaspoon turmeric (curcum)
  • 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 yellow onion, peeled and diced
  • 1/2 cup pomegranate arils
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup tehine
  • 1/4 cup chopped, fresh mint leaves
  • 2 cups rice
  • 4 cups chicken broth
  • 1/4 cup currants
  • 1/4 cup dried cranberries

Rub chicken thighs with salt and 3 teaspoons of baharat, massaging into the chicken. Let sit 1/2 hour. In a large skillet over high heat, brown the thighs, turning once – don’t cook through. Remove to separate plate. Add cut up onions, garlic, carrots and drained chick peas to pan. Cook about 4-6 minutes until the veggies become tender. Add 2 cups of chicken broth and the bay leaf and frozen peas. Put the browned chicken thighs back in the pan. Add 1-2 more teaspoons of baharat and cover pan. Cook on low heat about 20 minutes. The mixture should cook down and become less liquidy.                                                                                                    While the chicken and veggies are cooking, pour remaining broth (2 cups), cranberries, currants, rice and 1 teaspoon baharat into a pot and bring to a boil. Cover pot and simmer as rice cooks up – I use a long grained white Persian rice that fluffs up nicely and doesn’t become sticky.  After rice cooks, fluff it with a fork and plate it on a lovely platter. Spoon the chicken veggie mix over the top. Drizzle the tehine over top and sprinkle the mint and pomegranate arils over the whole plate. My friend, Ainat, also sprinkles dried rose petals over the top, which makes for a beautiful and delicious Shabbat meal fit for royalty.

My next spice blend is za’atar, which is both the name of the plant and the spice blend. The za’atar plant grows wild in the Mediterranean area, and in Israel is a protected species – although many people pick the wild za’atar growing in the rocky ledges. Mostly, though, it can be found in nurseries or grown from seeds or clippings from friends. I got mine from a Druze woman in Hurfeish. It is similar to thyme, but much woodier and stronger, almost like a flavor between thyme and oregano.

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I sprinkle it liberally on humus and labane (a very creamy, sour cream-like dairy product). You can make a thick paste of extra virgin olive oil and za’atar and spread it on bread, pop it in the oven for a few minutes, and instant deliciousness! Others make a roast chicken rubbed inside and out with the blend. If you can’t find it in your local market, this is the closest I can come to imitating it. Similar, but not quite…. it will do.

       Mock Za’atar Spice Blend

  • 2 Tbsp minced, fresh oregano leaves
  • 2 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
  • 2 Tbsp minced, fresh thyme leaves
  • 2 Tbsp ground sumac
  • 1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

I’ve been eating “weird” things for breakfast every morning. Not your typical American breakfast foods, but healthy and yummy, nonetheless. I’ll cut up one cucumber, one hard boiled egg, 1/4 cup humus, and sprinkle with salt and za’atar. It’s one of my go-tos. The next recipe also makes for a yummy breakfast. We eat lots of fresh veggies and salads for breakfast in Israel.

 COTTAGE BREAKFAST SALAD 

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So here, cottage cheese is just known as “cottage.” That’s it. “Cottage.” And this is another salad I eat for breakfast. I make it on Friday afternoon and serve it on Shabbat so I don’t have to cook. Add to this some fluffy Israeli pita bread, some dips and humus, a cup of freshly squeezed juice and a cup of coffee and it’s a feast.

  • 6 small Persian cucumbers or 2 English cukes
  • 1 cup fresh tomato diced (I halve cherry tomatoes)
  • 1/4 cup chopped red onion
  • 1/2 cup sliced kalamata olives
  • 1 cup low fat cottage
  • 2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil (here’s where I break out “the good stuff”)
  • 1 Tbsp za’atar
  • salt, pepper to taste

Mix together in a large bowl and enjoy. I sometimes add half regular low-fat cottage and half garlic and herb cottage, which I find in the local market. It gives a fresh, herby taste along with the za’atar.

 

In a ‘typical, ethnic’ Arab or Israeli restaurant, it’s common to have a whole host of little dishes of slides, pickles and dips served before the meal. these can be so filling, you don’t want to order an entree. Often these little dishes are heavy on the eggplant – grilled eggplant with garlic and mayo (amazing!), eggplant pieces in a barbecue sauce, eggplant pickled, eggplant and onions and raisins in a sweet tomato sauce. I just love them all – but have found that it doesn’t love me. So, for a substitute, I’ve found zucchini works just as well, with a similar texture and taste. My family hates this dip, because it looks like – well – you know – throw-up. But if you can get beyond the look, it’s a super delicious, healthy, low-fat dip for pita or cut-up veggies. I love raw onion slices or cucumber spears for this one!

IMG_7892.jpeg                                          Zucchini Baba Ganoush

  • 3 large zucchini, halved lengthways
  • 1/2 cup goat-milk yogurt
  • 2 cloves fresh garlic, smashed
  • salt, pepper to taste
  • 2 teaspoons za’atar
  • 1/2 fresh lemon
  • extra virgin olive oil (the good stuff)

The secret to this is to grill the zucchini to get that incredible smoky taste. You can’t skip this step. I oil and salt and pepper my zucchini halves and place them directly on the very-high heat grill. Stay with the grill, and after a couple minutes turn the zucchini over. You want them to get nice and soft. I use a tongs for this one.

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Remove squashes to a platter and pet cool just a little bit until they are just cool enough to handle. Scoop out the flesh into a small bowl. Add the garlic and mash well with a fork. Mix in the yogurt, salt and pepper to taste. Sprinkle with the za’atar, and squeeze the lemon over. Drizzle with a bit of the oil. Can be served warm or cold. Another interesting Israeli breakfast twist: put the mashed zucchini mixture in a pot and heat up, stirring constantly. When the mixture begins to bubble, crack an egg on top and let the egg poach. Spoon the poached egg and dip into a bread bowl or serve in a bowl with a piece of pita bread. It’s really good!!!

My son, Max, eats pita and humus like it’s going out of style. But you can really only appreciate fresh, made-that-day pita. I buy a pack of 8 at a time, and after a day or two, use any that’s “left over” to make pita chips, which I also use in soups or in a Lebanese salad called fattoush.

Homemade Pita Chips

Cut up day-old pita bread into bite sized pieces. Toss with olive oil, salt, garlic powder and za’atar. Spread out on a silat lined baking sheet and baking a 250*F/110*C oven for 10 minutes or until lightly browned. Don’t over bake! They should be crispy, but not burnt. Good for dipping too.

 Fattoush

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This is a lovely salad from Lebanon. It’s very much akin to the Italian panzanella bread salad. There are also Syrian and Israeli variations. Some use romaine lettuce or wild baby leaves. Others add olives. I like mine plain and simple. This recipe is from Rola, my Lebanese friend.

 

 

  • 1 cup pita chips (see above recipe)
  • 2 English cucumbers, washed and cut up, peel on
  • 4 radishes, sliced thinly
  • 1 small purple (Bermuda) onion, cut into small chunks
  • handful of cherry tomatoes , cut in half
  • 2 cloves garlic, chopped
  • !/2 cup fresh mint leaves, chopped
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon sumac
  • 1 teaspoon za’atar
  • 1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • salt, pepper to taste

There are so many colorful, interesting and unexpected spice flavors here. One specialty is Harissa, a very hot Moroccan chili powder or paste that’s often used as a rub on meats and fish. It’s made from roasted red sweet peppers, sun-dried tomatoes, red hot chili peppers, garlic, cayenne and smoked paprika. Fire in your mouth. People here love it. It’s often incorporated into the tomato and egg dish, Shakshouka, but today I will give you my version of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Israeli-style English Breakfast.

(As I’m writing this blog, my dear husband just brought up a bowl of cut up cucumbers with humus and olive oil and a sprinkling of za’atar! With a small dish of green olives with garlic and herbs on the side. I think we’re going native….)

 Spicy Israeli Breakfast Meal (serves 1)

  • 2 thick sliced tasted, whole grain bread
  • 2 eggs
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 Tbsp Harissa
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 Tbsp olive oil
  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp sugar
  • 1 can chopped tomatoes or 1 very large fresh tomato, cut up
  • 1 can chickpeas, drained

In a large skillet, fry up the chickpeas with the tomato paste, harissa and olive oil. Add the water and the tomatoes (canned or fresh) and let cook down about a half an hour. You can make it in a crockpot on low setting to cook overnight (about 6-8 hours, but add more water). When the tomato-pea mixture is thick and hot (bubbly), crack the two eggs over top and let set until the whites are cooked through and the yolks still runny – although the Israelis seem to like their yolks hard as golfballs. Spoon mixture over bread toast slices. Top with sesame seeds and a sprinkling of za’atar.

The last spice blend is from North Africa. It’s called Ras-al-hanout, which basically translates to ‘head of the shop” in Arabic. It’s the best the spice guy has to offer. A wild mix of various spices, each shopkeeper’s blend varying slightly in flavors and intensity. It’s something that can be used as a dry-rub fr meats, in soups and stews, and sprinkled over veggies to be roasted. Many are closely-guarded, secret family recipes, but this is the closest I could get – from Marwan –

Ras-al-Hanout Spice Blend

  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp ginger
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 1/2 tsp English pepper (allspice)
  • 1/4 tsp cloves
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne
  • 1/4 tsp nutmeg
  • 1 tsp coriander seeds
  • 3/4 tsp fennel seeds
  • 1/4 tsp ground anise
  • 1/2 tsp hilba (fenugreek seeds)
  • 2 tsp paprika
  • 1 Tbsp ground lavender buds
  • 1 1/4 tsp ground, dried rose petals

WHEW!!!!!! That’s some blend! There was a recipe developed in a Tel Aviv restaurant a few years ago that’s swept the country by storm and has become synonymous with Israeli cuisine. It’s vegan and is a meal unto itself. It comes out piping hot on a wooden board and everyone digs in – much like the bloomin onion in the US, only not-fattening and tons healthier. You might be able to find a ras-al-hanout blend at a store in the US or in a Mid East specialty market.

         Tel Aviv Roasted Cauliflower

Take a large, very very large head of cauliflower. Remove the leaves and thick core, leaving the rest of the head intact. Place on a large sheet of aluminum foil. Rub the cauliflower all over with Olive oil. Then rub generously with the spice blend. Cover and seal up the foil and place on a baking sheet. Roast at 200*C/400*F for about a half an hour. Serve piping hot.  As an appetizer, the florets can be pulled apart and dipped in a sauce (Baba-Ganoush, anyone?).

 

 

 

 

The Incredible Israeli Breakfast

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Before I visited Israel for the first time in 2011, I asked an ex-pat Israeli friend what she missed most about her native country. “The breakfasts. Definitely the breakfasts!” was her answer. Was she kidding me or just plain crazy?

Israelis take the most important meal of the day incredibly seriously. If you’ve ever been to Israel (and not stayed at a hostel or pilgrim house), you will know what I mean. I’ll never forget that first morning in Jerusalem’s Dan Panorama Hotel. The breakfast spread was simply overwhelming. Different from anything I’d expected. Delicious!!!! I fell madly in love at first sight, smell and taste. It was so different than anything I’d ever seen. So, what makes this meal so wonderful?

There are several different staple courses. First of all, because of the Kashrut rules (most Jewish people keep Kosher to some degree), the meal is dairy. No meat to be found anywhere at all. No bacon. No ham. No sausage. No meat. Fuhgeddaboudit!

We’ll start with the salad course. There are salads of every kind… not the typical American tossed salad, but chopped fresh vegetables, sprouts, nuts, grains, olives, and eggplant. The national food of this country, found at just about every meal is the Israeli salad: cucumbers and tomatoes diced finely and topped with olive oil, lemon juice, or tehine. There can be cherry tomatoes (did you know they were developed here first?) with cheeses and balsamic vinegar; sprouts with green onions, mushrooms, radishes,  arugula and nuts dressed with olive oil;

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quinoa salad with pomegranate arils, juice, green onions and feta cheese;

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lentil salads; cold eggplant cubes in picante tomato sauce; smoked eggplant with garlic, pureed; carrots in vinaigrette; all types of cabbage salads; anything fresh, colorful and in season cut up and dressed is fair game. Avocado and hard boiled egg with sprouts and walnuts is popular here as are tabbouleh and fattoush. And the beet salads! Don’t get me started-

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An Israeli breakfast is not complete without the dairy, namely wide variety of cheeses: cow, sheep, and especially goat-milk cheeses, both hard and soft. We have whole pieces of gouda, kashkaval, manchego, grana padana at our tables. There are the soft cheeses, like tsahoba (yellow cheese), emmental, and buttery emek cheese. Add to this feta: Tsarfatit and Bulgarit, which is a very salty feta. Cream cheeses; labaneh is a mainstay here – a thick cross between a sour cream and a yogurt, spread on bread, dolloped on salads, on eggs, on veggies and everything in between. A reason I gained so much weight in my first three years here. And yogurt – with fruit, with honey, with nuts, with granola, usually fresh goat yogurt. I eat this every morning. The darned delicious cheeses!

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Fish!!!!! Lots of fish!!!!! Thank the Russians and Eastern Europeans for this course. There is always tuna fish – whipped into a mousse, plain, tuna salad (dark tuna is used – white unavailable here, so if you visit me, bring the Albacore!). Also included are assorted smoked fishes and pickled fishes – whitefish, sable, herring, salmon (lox), to name a few. Pickled herring with onions, herring in cream sauce. Fish. Fish. Fish (It’s not considered meat, so breakfast usually is the time to eat it).

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I certainly hope you’re not full yet, because we are only getting started! Olives of all types (stuffed with almonds, lemon, chiles, garlic) and all colors. Of course humus. Lots and lots of humus and pita. Mix it into your salads (I have humus, cucumber and hard boiled egg chopped small every morning). Humus with a soft egg on top. Humus with gargarim (whole chickpeas), with olive oil and zata’ar spice, hot humus. It’s ubiquitous in Israel. And of course, there’s bread. Wholegrain. Pita. Dark flour breads. Flatbreads. Crackers. Sorry, but you won’t find Wonderbread here no matter how hard you try. There are lakhmaniot (little hand-held buns and breads) of all varieties. Just recently the American-Jewish bagel started making an appearance. The Yememites introduced Jachnoon, a tight roll of filo dough that is deep-fried and soaked in a sugar syrup, usually orange blossom flavored.

You won’t find pancakes or French toast here. Unhuhh. Nope. We have bourekas, another national breakfast food that is also a snack food. The boureka is found on every breakfast buffet, in every grocery store, and in bakeries. There are stores everywhere that sell only bourekas (I have my favorite place. If you come, we’ll go. It was one of the places my daughter, Liz, requested from her last visit, they are just that good!!!). They’re sold by the kilo. So the boureka came to us from Turkey. They are thin, fluffy paper-like filo dough pockets filled with savories like mushroom and onion, cheese, spinach and feta, potato. They come in bite-size and hand-held size. Some fillings are sweet with jams and fruit butters, some have nutella or chocolate centers. A popular variety is the pizza boureka, and they are all best eaten piping hot.

Would you believe, that the rabbinate (board of Chief Rabbis) ruled in 2013 that each type of boureka has to have a pre-determined shaped based on the filling (the triangular are dairy; the square are potato; semi-circles are mushroom; pizza spirals; fruit filled have open patchwork on top)? That way, people would not get confused? Oy va voy! I’m so confused…..

Are you ready for the eggs? Another national dish is shakshuka. There are several different takes on this, but basically it’s a mildly spiced tomato sauce with eggs cracked on top and cooked by the heat of the sauce. Sop it up with that hearty bread. Put a spoonful of white labaneh cheese on top.

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I love chavita (khah vee tah), our version of an omelette. I’ll include the recipe at the end. For those who want breakfast to go, try sabikh. It’s a warm, thick (think eating a cloud) pita stuffed with pieces of boiled potato, grilled eggplant, hard-boiled egg and tehine on top. And pickles. And Israeli salad. Sometimes fries. Serious food for starting the morning. Street food. Great breakfast.

Yes, there are fruits. All seasonal. Melons, fresh dates, figs, stone fruits, pomegranate, mango in the summer. In the winter dried fruits, stewed fruit compotes, citrus and apples. Sweets. Pastries and quick breads and cakes and rugelach. DO NOT LEAVE WITHOUT EATING THE HALVAH!!!!!! One of my favorites since I was a kid. Halvah is made of sesame seed paste and honey compressed to form a brick shaped bar of awesomeness. Flavors that are traditional are plain, chocolate, marble, pistachio, and espresso. Now you can get many different flavors (Halvah King, Mechane Yehuda Market, Jerusalem) like chile, passionfruit, whiskey, cherry….there are over 100 varieties!

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I’m sure by now you’re thirsty. Very, very thirsty with all that salty cheese and fish, the humus and the halvah. Every Israeli breakfast comes with freshly squeezed juices. Max likes apple carrot. I prefer the lemon with fresh ground mint over ice or the orange pomegranate. John, well he sticks to plain old orange, which if you’ve ever tasted the Jaffa Orange isn’t so plain, nor is it old. Add tea or coffee. No Starbucks here. The coffee is usually a strong Turkish blend with cardamom. Or have it aufrukh, upside down, a cross between a cappuccino and a latte with lots of foam on top.

From the grand hotels to the small cafes, to the kibbutz or bed and breakfast, this meal is usually a big deal. The kibbutzniks used to work very long, hard days in factories or in the fields, and needed hearty fare to keep them going until the afternoon. Most all of the food was locally sourced, seasonal, and abundant. The Israeli breakfast has become this country’s gift to the culinary world. When people come visit, I serve a big breakfast. It’s how we roll now. Lunch here is a medium sized meal, or is grabbed on-the-go like falafel or shawarma. Many people have their breakfast early and lunch around 1:00-3:00. Shops, clinics, government offices close during the hottest part of the day so people can pick up kids from school, run errands and eat lunch. Dinner is usually a smaller, large snack affair… unless of course, it’s a special occasion.

But if you visit Israel, and I hope you do, make sure you sample Israeli breakfast at several different places. You’ll fall in love and never want to leave. That’s a promise!

 

                             GALILEE CHAVITA (serves 1)

  • 1 large egg, cracked into a bowl and scrambled
  • 2 TBSP raw red/purple onion minced very finely
  • 2 Tbsp assorted fresh herbs, chopped very finely – Parsley, chives, and either thyme, oregano or basil are good.
  • 1 tsp butter or PAM
  • salt and pepper, to taste

Heat a small skillet sprayed with PAM or coated in melted butter. Pour the scrambled egg in and let sizzle. Do not mix!!!! you can tilt the pan a little bit, or move the edge a wee bit with a fork so extra runny egg will cover the pan, but just leave it to bubble and sizzle. Add the chopped onion and herbs all over the top. Turn off the heat and let the herbs and onion sit a bit. Season with salt and pepper. Can be folded in half and served as a sandwich between pita or bread. I like mine plain with a chopped Israeli salad and a ramekin of goat yogurt on the side. (The onions should keep their crunch)

SHAKSHUKA (my favorite recipe is Yotam Ottolenghi’s, serves 4)

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  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 190 ml olive oil
  • 2 large onions, peeled and sliced
  • 2 red & 2 yellow peppers, cored and cut into thin strips
  • 4 tsp sugar
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 6 sprigs thyme, leaves plucked
  • 2 Tbsp flat-leaf parsley, chopped
  • 1 bunch fresh coriander/cilantro, chopped
  • 6 ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped
  • pinch of cayenne pepper
  • salt & pepper
  • 8 eggs

In a large saucepan, dry-roast the cumin seeds on high heat for two minutes. Add the oil and sauté the onions for two minutes. Add the peppers, sugar, bay leaves, thyme, parsley, and two tablespoons of the coriander/cilantro, and cook on high heat to get a nice color. Add the tomatoes, cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. Cook on low heat 15 minutes, adding enough water to keep it the consistency of pasta sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning. It should be potent and flavorsome. Break the eggs into the pan (can split into four individual little skillets and crack 2 eggs onto each). Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cover and cook gently on low for `10-12 minutes. Sprinkle with chopped coriander and serve with chunky bread.

 

When I have guests, I usually make this Broccoli Egg Cake, my version of Ottolenghi’s Cauliflower cake (not a cake at all). It keeps well in the fridge and can be enjoyed hot or cold.

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Broccoli Egg Bake  (serves 6-8)

  • 1/2 cup basil leaves
  • 1 bunch broccoli
  • 1 red/purple onion
  • 1/2 tsp rosemary
  • 7 eggs
  • 120 g/1 cup flour
  • 1/3 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
  • 150 g/ 1 1/2 cups grated gouda cheese
  • 100 g 3/4 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 75ml / 5 Tbsp  olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp sesame seeds
  • 1 Tbsp nigella seeds
  • 1 Tbsp butter

Preheat the oven to 180*/400*F.

Cook the broccoli in florets in a large pot of salted boiling water. Simmer for 506 minutes until the broccoli has softened a bit. Strain and run the florets under cold water. Drain well.

Cut 4 round slices off one end of the red onion. Set aside. Chop the rest. Place in a small pan with the rosemary and cook for 10 minutes over medium heat, until soft. Remove from heat and set aside.

Beat the eggs until light and fluffy. Add the chopped basil ribbons, flour, turmeric, salt and pepper. Mix until you have a smooth batter. Fold in the onion and cheeses carefully. Do not overmix! Add the cooled broccoli and fold in thoroughly. Do not break up the florets.

Line the base and sides of a springform pan (9 1/2 inch/ 24 cm) with parchment paper/ baking paper. brush the sides with melted butter. Sprinkle the nigella and sesame seeds on the bottom and sides so they stick to butter. Pour in the broccoli egg batter, spreading evenly. Arrange the onion rings in concentric circles over the top. Place in the center oven rack and bake for 45-50 minutes until golden brown, puffy, and set. Remove from oven and let cool before releasing from pan.

 

 

 

 

An Early Summer Feast

 

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The last of the Spring holidays is rapidly approaching here in Israel. It has been two months of non-stop festivities beginning with Passover for the Jews, Easter for the the Christians and Ramadan for the Muslims. The Jewish people have been counting the days of the Omer (for the late spring harvest) and working on improving their inner spirituality.

We had an interesting holiday of Lag B’Omer a couple weeks ago, celebrating the Light of the World, and also the life of beloved first century sage, Rabbi Akiva. This festival is usually celebrated with joyous bonfires, singing and dancing. Tragically, for Israel, it was marked by arsonist terrorists setting fire to several communities. The moshav of Mevo Modi’in was utterly destroyed. We know four families who lived there, including the Solomons and Swirskys. Their sons form one of our favorite LA bands, Moshav. Hamas and other terrorist factions in Gaza have been sending over incendiary devices attached to balloons, burning up thousands of acres of forest and farmland.

This week, we are looking forward to the last holiday of the season, Shavuot, where we celebrate the giving of the Torah to Moses on Mount Sinai; the wheat harvest that has just come in…. as we travel on Route 6 every day, we have seen the gathering and bundling of the golden fields of wheat. It is spectacular!!!!…. the fruits and vegetables coming into season; the summer flowers; the Land of Milk and Honey; the sincere milk of the Word; and the love story of Ruth and Boaz.  And the Christian communities here will be celebrating the Feast of Pentecost where the Holy Spirit fell upon the talmidim of Jesus and upon the congregation of people gathered in Yerushalayim for the Shavuot holiday. Wow! That’s a mouthful!!!

Some religious Jews stay up all night studying Scripture. The seculars (khiloneem) celebrate the agricultural aspects of the holiday with parades and floats and lots of flowers. And EVERYONE enjoys eating dairy products!!! Lots of dairy!!! Cheese platters; cheesecake; noodle puddings; cheese blintzes; and interesting regional specialties. So, without further ado, here are some amazingly delicious and culturally different recipes I’d like to share with you:

LAYALI LAVAN

This recipe comes from Lebanon. the Jewish refugees that escaped persecution from the Arabs in the 1940s-1950s brought this exotic and romantically delicious recipe with them.  On a warm summer evening, eating it is like flying on a magic carpet with your lover into the sunset. It’s just that awesome!!!     8-12 servings depending on how big you slice it-

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Ingredients:

  • 1/2 cup dried cranberries
  • 1/2 teaspoon orange zest
  • 3/4 cup cream of coconut/coconut cream – 2 cans
  • 3 teaspoons freshly squeezed orange juice
  • 3/4 cup solet (semolina)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • 3/4 cup ground pistachios
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons rose water (available in MiddleEastern/Indian stores or Trader Joe’s in the U.S.)
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons orange blossom water (available in Middle Eastern/Indian stores or Trader Joe’s)
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 3 1/2 cups milk (can go vegan by using unsweetened almond, rice or coconut milk)

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Chill the cans of coconut cream in the fridge for several hours or overnight. You need the cream to be cold enough to completely separate from the liquid below. DONOT SHAKE can!!! Open and remove the solidified cream to a large mixing bowl. Discard the liquid or reserve for other use. Using a hand mixer, whip up the coconut cream just as you would make dairy whipping cream. When thick and fluffy, set in fridge to keep chilled.
  2. On a medium-high heat stove, whisk together the milk, semolina and salt in a large pot. Bring mixture to a rapid boil, stirring constantly. Make sure it does not burn!! As soon as the mixture reaches a boil, remove from heat and stir in the dried cranberries, rose water, orange blossom water, and orange zest.  With a rubber spatula, turn the mixture into a 9X13 inch baking dish. Smooth the surface so all is even. Allow it to cool to room temperature 25-45 minutes. Once it has cooled enough, take the whipped coconut cream from the fridge and spread an even layer overtop the semolina milk surface. Cover and chill in the fridge for 2 hours or overnight.
  3. For the super delicious syrup: Make this right before serving. It will be poured, warm and fragrant over the dessert just prior to serving. In a small saucepan, put the sugar and gently pour the water overtop, adding the freshly squeezed orange juice. Cook on medium high heat without stirring. As soon as the syrup reaches a rolling boil, reduce the heat to simmer as you swirl the pan to just mix the ingredients. Add 1/2 teaspoon each of orange blossom and rose waters. Let come to room temperature…but still slightly warm, and put into a lovely small pitcher.
  4. To serve: Slice up squares of this rich custardy dessert and carefully transfer to individual plates. Decorate with chopped pistachios. I like to add a small amount of dried rose petals (unsprayed!!!) from the garden for that pop of color and romance. Drizzle with (pour it on, baby!) the fragrant syrup and enjoy!

 

The next recipe comes from the Persian Jews. It is very different to the Western palate, but I just adore this one!! Besides being a tasty coffee latte drink you’ll probably never see at Starbucks, it’s beautiful to present with slices of poundcake or a few plain cookies or macarons. A delicious summer drink! Serves 2.

             PERSIAN PINK SPICED ROSE & CARDAMOM LATTE

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INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cups milk
  • 2 shots espresso coffee or turkish coffee powder
  • 8 cardamom pods or 3/4 teaspoons dried cardamom
  • 1/2 teaspoon rose water
  • 1/2 teaspoon beet juice or red food coloring
  • 1-2 teaspoons honey
  • 2 teaspoons dried unsprayed pink or red rose petals, crushed
  • 2 sprigs of fresh thyme

DIRECTIONS:

  1. In a medium saucepan, pour the milk, rosewaterand cardamom along with the beet juice (which I use) or food coloring and honey. Stir until well combined and warmed. Do not allow it to boil! Remove from heat, and if you are using cardamom pods, remove the pods with a spoon. Whisk with a hand-held frother or immersion blender for a few seconds to froth up.
  2. Pour an espresso shot into each cup or glass. Spoon the warm pink froth over the top and sprinkle with rose petals. Place a small sprig of thyme on top.

 

On Shavuot, the Russians eat cheese blintzes with cherry sauce on top. These are thin crepe-like pancakes filled with sweetened ricotta cheese or fruits. Both varieties are available in the frozen foods section. I love to make pre-packaged sweet potato ravioli with a sage-infused cream sauce or a cheese tortellini with a basil-pesto infused cream sauce. Both are equally delicious.

My Christian friends living on the shores of Lake Kinneret, or the Sea of Galilee celebrate the Pentecost by eating freshly caught lake fish (Dennis, Amnon or St. Peter’s Fish) covered with a red tomato sauce to remember the tongues of fire that alit atop the disciples’ heads. I believe a sole, halibut, flounder or tilapia (any white fish) will be a tasty substitute.

 SPICED WHITE FISH IN TOMATO SAUCE  serves 2

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 fillets of firm, white fish
  • 7 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 large garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon caraway or fennel seeds, roasted in a pan for 1-2 minutes
  • 2 teaspoons paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/3 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • small green chile pepper, seeded and chopped(remove the seeds & don’t touch your face! Wash hands well!!)
  • 3 tablespoons of flour or semolina, which is traditionally used
  • 150 ml/ 5 oz. water
  • 3 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons silan (date syrup) or honey
  • 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • lemon wedges
  • handful/bunch chopped fresh coriander/cilantro/cuzbara leaves
  • salt 7 pepper

DIRECTIONS:

Combine 2 tablespoons of olive oil with chopped garlic, spices, and chili and blend to a paste by spoon or in a food processor. In medium-large pan, heat two tablespoons of the olive oil. In small bowl combine the flour or semolina (preferred) with salt and pepper and dredge the fish in this mixture. Sear the fillets on both sides in a hot pan until golden brown in color. Remove to a paper-towel lined plate to absorb excess oil.

Heat the rest of the oil in the pan. Add spice paste mixture and stir for about 30 seconds. Stir in the water and tomato paste. Add the silvan or honey and lemon juice and let simmer. Salt and pepper to taste, if necessary.

Add the fish fillets to pan. Bring the sauce to a simmer, cover and let cook through about 15 additional minutes.Remove fish to plates, pouring the red sauce over top. Garnish with lemon wedges and chopped herbs. A traditional accompaniment to this is ptitptitim, or a very fine grain couscous. Of course, no Middle Eastern feast is complete without a bazillion different varieties of fresh olives; eggplant salads a million ways to Sunday; pickled carrots, turnips and cabbages; humus and pita and steaming hot Turkish coffee spiced with cardamom!

As the Jews say, “Khag sameakh!” and as the Christians say, “Happy Feast!”

 

 

The Ubiquitous Cholent

For observant Jews, Shabbat is a day of complete rest. No work at all can be done. No physical work, no driving, no shopping, no writing or computer use, not even turning on or off electricity and NO COOKING! All work must be completed sundown Friday (through nightfall Saturday). Shabbat is a day for prayer, family, visiting neighboring friends, and relaxation. It’s a necessary unplugging from the frenetic pace of the week.

There is a traditional Sabbath dish in the Jewish culture. A mainstay. It’s ubiquitous here in Israel. Called cholent ( pronounced CHO lent, SHOW lent, or shoont), it is a hearty thick cross between stew and chili that is prepared on Friday and cooks in a crock pot or on a hot plate through Saturday. Especially great on a cold winter day, it has as many different variations as there are cooks. It was birthed from necessity over hundreds of years and encompasses all the different Jewish cultures of the world – made with different ingredients: meats, veggies ,spices, beans, grains – based on the tastes and availability of products in that part of the world. I’ve had the “typical” Ashkenaz cholent as well as the Sephardic, Yemenite, and North African versions, called chamin (kha MEEN), which translates to “hot” in Hebrew.

The basic ingredients for cholent are cubed stew meat, beans, potatoes, tomatoes, spices, whole eggs (really!!!), vegetables and sometimes grains like barley or cosemet (bulgar or buckwheat groats). The meat is seared first, the rest of the ingredients are added, brought to a boil, and then set on a slow simmer (crock pots are great for this) for the duration of Shabbat.

The hard boiled eggs can be fished out and eaten at breakfast; the stew makes a stick-to-the-ribs midday meal, and any leftovers are scooped up with bread; stuffed into pita; and served with accompanying cold salads, olives, pickles and other mezze.

The “guys” love cholent with the addition of a can of beer or a cup of whiskey, which cooks out leaving flavor. It can be dressed up with a dry red wine, but mostly it’s made alcohol free.

This is a very creative dish. Basically it uses the meat and red kidney beans or brown beans. The Spanish and Mexican style uses black beans. Middle Eastern versions use chickpeas and turkey or chicken thighs for the meat. For the Eastern European, white potato chunks are added. The Yemenite and South African style uses sweet potatoes. Always, lots of onion chunks and garlic cloves are thrown in. Some people put in cut up carrots, celery, turnips, tomatoes, even peas. And…. it can be made vegan without the meat.

So, without further ado here are some basic recipes:

Basic Ashkenazi Cholent. Serves 6

Ingredients:

1kg/2.2lbs Beef short ribs or stew meat. 1 onion cut into large chunks. 8 pieces garlic. 1/3 cup northern white beans. 1/3 cup red kidney beans. 1/2 kg/1lb. large chunks unpeeled red potatoes 3/4 cup pearl barley. 3/4 cups beef broth. 6 whole eggs. 2Tbsp honey. 2 tsp paprika. 1 tsp each salt & pepper

Sear meat on high heat in skillet. Add to bottom of crockpot and dump all the additional ingredients on top. Cover and bring to a boil on high setting 1-2 hours. Then set dial to low. Keep covered 12-18 hours. Can add more liquid ( can of chopped tomatoes with liquid) if it looks too thick or dry. Also, when in the US I added a frozen vegetarian kishke chub which, for us, puts the dish over the top! It’s something I can only find at Mehane Yehuda in Yerushalayim here in Israel.

Yemenite Chamin

Ingredients:

1 kg/2.2 lb chicken things, skin on. 1 red/purple onion cut in chunks. 6 cloves garlic. 3 large sweet potatoes, cut into large pieces. 3 carrots, cut up. 2 dates, pitted. 1/2 cup apricots. 1/4 cup raisins. 3 cups chickpeas. 6-12 eggs, whole. 2 tsp turmeric (curcum). 1/2 tsp allspice. 1/2 tsp cumin. 1/2 tsp cinnamon. 1 tsp salt. 1 quart/1liter chicken broth

Brown the salted and peppered chicken thighs in a skillet until golden. Transfer to crockpot and add all other ingredients. Stir well and cover. Heat on high 1-3 hours then set to low 12-18 hours.

MexiCholent

1/2 kg/1 lb ground meat, browned. 1 onion, chopped large. 6 garlic cloves. *optional 1-4 jalapeño, chopped 1 cup black beans or frijoles. 1 cup rice. 2 cans (425 ml) chopped tomatoes with sauce. 1 can corn with liquid. 1cup water. 6 whole eggs. 1 bunch chopped cilantro (cuzbara). 1 1/2 tsp cumin. 4 drops Tabasco. 1/2 tsp chili powder. 1 tsp each salt & pepper. 1/2 tsp. Sugar

Add all ingredients to crock pot. Set to high 2 hours, then turn to lowest setting for 12-18 hours. Can add water if needed, but try to keep covered

Veggiecholent

Ingredients:

2yellow onions, cubed. 1 red/purple onion, cubed. 6 garlic cloves. 3 large zucchini cut in very large chunks. 6 carrots cut in large pieces. 1 pack brown mushroom, sliced thickly. 3 stalks celery, cut large. 2 cans chopped tomatoes with juice. 2 cans white cannellini beans, Lima beans or northern whites. 1/2 kg/ 1 lb red potatoes, cubed. 1 cup grain (barley, couscous, brown rice) 6 eggs(omit if vegan). 2 tsp dried thyme. 1 large bay leaf. 1 bunch parsley, chopped. 1tsp each salt & pepper 1 1/2 cups water

Add all to large crockpot. Allow to come to boil on high heat 15 minutes, stirring well. Switch to lowest simmer 12-18 hours.

As stated previously, there are many variations. Start with the basics, then be creative. But most of all enjoy! B’tayamim!!

Food, Fall & Feasts

When I lived in California, I always had a big, beautiful and very productive garden in which I grew organic, heirloom vegetables. Our fruit trees provided us with plums, peaches, citrus, cherries and figs. It seemed sensible with five children and one steady income to supplement our grocery bill with healthy, garden-fresh produce. With super abundant yields, I learned home canning and preserving, making sauces, pickles, chutneys and jams to last us into winter. Living in earthquake country, it also seemed wise to have a store of food on hand in the event of emergency. And when I needed holiday or hostess gifts, I used what I had made to create some pretty fabulous gift baskets. There was always enough at hand to give to a new neighbor or friend in need.

Coming to Israel, not only was continuing an organic garden important to me, but making my (award winning in California) lines of preserves, chutneys, relishes and pickles would become my business – Tamar Gourmet. We were so blessed to rent a home with huge concrete planter boxes outside every window and surrounding our upstairs balcony. The first thing I did when we moved here was to plant.

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Herbs grow outside my kitchen window

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Red, Choggia & Golden Beets

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Peach Blow Tomatoes

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Brandywines on the balcony

From the beginning of our Israeli adventure, the realization that there was more to Jewishness than the narrow Ashkenaz (European Jewish) culture than that which I was brought up in. This place is diverse in its mix of Jews from all over the world: the Spanish Sephardim, the Middle Eastern Mizrachi; the Ethiopian, Ugandan and Indian. They have all come here with their own palates creating a taste explosion of spices and food preparation styles, each with their own contribution to this remarkable land. What fun it’s been to get a sampling and learn from the different cultures!!! And for me, experimenting to create a fusion of the different flavors has been challenging, and many times yielding amazing results.

This time of year, late summer, is especially wonderful here, as everyone seems to be preparing for the great Fall Feasts!! From Rosh HaShannah, the Jewish New Year – to Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, Mercy & Forgiveness – to Sukkot, the Feast of the Harvest where we dwell for a week in tabernacles – to Simchat Torah, the rejoicing over the Five Books of Moses given to the Jewish people by G-d. And each holiday comes with its traditional foods (yes, even Yom Kippur, a fasting day, starts with a heavy meal before and ends in a sumptuous break fast).

I’d like to share with you some recipes incorporating these different cultures and traditions.

                     SWEET PEAR PICKLES                    

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I guess home preserving runs deep in my blood, because I remember my parents making pickled pears every year before Rosh HaShannah. Last year, I was going through some boxes and came across my dad’s recipe! So, I’m glad to be able to continue the family tradition. Totally Ashkenaz!

As my parents did, I use the tiny, brown Sekel pears. They are hard and sweet and stand up well to pickling, retaining their firmness without any mushiness. They keep really well for a year, and are delicious as a side dish or sliced up in a salad with blue cheese crumbles and walnuts. I’ve also used them on top of a cake with my Tamar Gourmet Vanilla Pear Conserves as a filling for the middle layers. Absolute heaven!

 

Ingredients: (makes 8 pints/4 quarts)

5 pounds Sekel Pears (2 1/2 kg)                             2 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice                 3 cups spring water                                                  1 cup apple cider vinegar                                     2 cups sugar                                                               4 sticks cinnamon (broken in half for pint jars)                                                                               whole cloves                                                              24 whole peppercorns

Thoroughly wash the jars and lids. Submerge  them in a large pot filled with water so that they are completely covered. I use a wire rack underneath to insure water circulation. (If using Mason, Kerr, or Ball jars, sterilize lids only, not screw bands). Bring to boiling and let boil for 20 minutes while you prepare the pears and syrup.

Wash the pears and cut in half. No need to peel them. Core out the seeds. Place in large bowl of ice water with lemon juice to prevent browning.

For liquid –  Add vinegar, sugar and 3 cups spring water to a pot and heat on stove until sugar dissolves, stirring occasionally. Set aside.

Remove jars from water bath. Add 1/2 stick cinnamon, 8 cloves & 4 peppercorns to each PINT jar. Add 1 cinnamon stick, 16 cloves, 8 peppercorns to the QUART size.  Firmly pack in the halved pears. Ladle syrup over the top until there is 1/4 inch headspace. Place lids on top. Screw on the bands.

Place filled jars back into hot water bath and process (bring to boil) for 10 minutes to insure any germs are gone. Take out of bath and let cool on clean towel. The lids will make a slight popping sound as they seal, and should not feel springy when pressed on with finger. This could take up to half an hour. Store when room temperature. Refrigerate after opening.

                              CHUTNEYS

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Chutneys give limitless opportunity for experimentation. I make several varieties and use them on sandwiches, as part of an hors-d’oeuvre board with crackers and cheese, and even mixed into cooked rice as an accompaniment to meats. Especially yummy on burgers or with spices Indian food! I’ve  developed my own basic recipe, but really enjoy playing around with different veggie, fruit and spice combos to create the ultimate, perfectly balanced pickle.

The British set seem raving mad about their chutneys, each having their own opinion on the perfect combo. I’ve learned a few new twists from my Indian friends from B’nei Menashe. But ultimately, I rely on what I have at hand and my family’s taste preferences.

I start with a kilo (about 2 pounds) of vegetable – my last endeavor used up the beets in my garden. Sooo yummy! You can try cauliflower, eggplant, carrots, tomatoes, peppers… Into a very large pot, cut peeled veg into bite sized pieces. I always add 1 whole, peeled purple onion, cut up. Then add your fresh fruit: 2 cups cut up pears or apples, apricots, peaches, mangos, pineapple. Mix in a cup of dried fruit such as dates, raisins, cranberries, cherries, Add 1 cup apple cider vinegar to the mixture in the pot. Next stir in your sweetener, if you need it (to your taste. Often I leave out the sweetener as the fruits make it rich enough). You can add honey, brown sugar, silan – date syrup- or maple syrup. The spices can be as conventional or exotic as you wish. Powdered cloves, ginger, cardamom, pepper, nutmeg, cumin, curries, allspice, turmeric, chili, even espresso powder in small amounts or horseradish are interesting additions. Use the spices that best suit your flavor palate. Add a little at first and increase very, very gradually. The chutney flavors tend to intensify during cooking and in the week after. After bringing up the heat on the stove to a near-boil, I let the mixture simmer for a few hours, until the fruits and veggies are soft, and the fragrance in the house becomes irresistible. (Works great in a crock pot too!) Then I ladle the hot chutney mixture into sterilized jars, sealing the lids, and processing for 10 minutes in a boiling hot water bath. The chutney keeps for a year unopened, but can be stored in fridge for up to a month after opening.

PICKLED BEETS

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My Choggia Beet harvest was pretty sweet last fall, so I made the most delicious – and easy pickled beets. They are soooo beautiful!! If Choggias aren’t available, golden or red beets will work as well. They’re pretty tempting straight from the jar, but my favorite is to place them on a bed of mixed greens with my pickled onions and feta cheese. I use a little of the juice as a dressing. Pretty amazing!!

Ingredients:   (3-4 pint jars)                                                         2 pounds (1 kilo) beets, peeled & sliced into circles                                                                           1/2 cup white (or champagne!!!!) vinegar         1  cup spring water                                            1/4 cup sugar                                                           1 /2 cinnamon stick per jar                                   8 whole cloves per jar                                             4 peppercorns per jar

Sterilize the jars and lids in boiling water bath 20 minutes. In large bowl, mix the vinegar, water & sugar, stirring until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the cloves and whole peppercorns to each jar. Pack in beet slices. Pour liquid over top. Add the cinnamon stick. Seal with lid and process in boiling water bath 10 minutes. Keeps for up to one year. Refrigerate after opening.

This summer, my basil has been out-of-control outrageous! I’ve trimmed it up numerous times for Caprese Salad (sliced tomatoes, fresh mozzarella slices, drizzled olive oil, balsamic, salt, pepper & basil leaves). It’s a tremendous add to my spaghetti sauces, pizzas and panzanella (stale bread cubes, tomato pieces, red onion cubes, and basil with an Italian dressing poured overtop).Lately, I’ve been making pesto, canning much, freezing some in ice cube trays, and stirring it into a 15% cream sauce with some grated Parmesan and Pecorino-Romano to serve atop pasta. Really delicious! So – here’s an easy Pesto Recipe that’s sure to delight! Pour it over roasted chicken for an awesome change of pace.

  PESTO

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3 cups fresh, washed basil leaves                       1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil                                    4 nice big pieces garlic                                          1/4 teaspoon sea salt

Place all of the ingredients in food processor or cup of an immersion blender and process until a thick paste forms. Can be used immediately; refrigerated; frozen in ice cube trays (stored in freezer baggies); or processed in glass canning jars.

Pickles are all very popular here in Israel – the Yemenite and Mizrachi Middle Eastern Variety. Pickled eggplants done up many ways, pickled cauliflower, turnips, olives, cucumbers, green tomato, carrots. Most are very vinegary and most are harif – very, very spicy for my family’s tastes. You will not find the usual Kosher, half, sour garlic dills here (although I have an old New York deli recipe that I’ve played around with). These assorted pickles can be found at any falafel stand and are often served at table before a meal.

Here, I will present 4 versions of pickled carrots, each representing the different cultures.

          SHABTAI’S CARROTS (HARIF!!!!!)

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These are sure to knock your socks off!! Please adjust to your own taste-

Ingredients:

2 pounds very fresh, hard carrots, peeled & sliced into rounds (1 kilo)                                     5-10 small, green chilis, sliced into rounds (please don’t rub your eyes – and wear gloves. I did this with him, and it burned my skin for hours!!!!)                                                                  1 white or yellow onion, sliced and quartered                                                                1/2 Tbsp cumin seeds                                             1/2 Tbsp coriander seeds                                     1 tsp carraway seeds                                                  3 cups white vinegar                                                 1 cup water                                                             3/4 cup sugar                                                          1/4 cup salt

Shabtai didn’t bottle to sterilize his jars (I would). He recycled old mayo jars (I wouldn’t). I guess the peppers will kill almost anything…

In large bowl combine the veggies.

Toast the seeds over medium heat for 1-2 minutes to release fragrance. The seeds should just start popping, but not turn brown.

In another bowl add vinegar, water, sugar & salt. Mix well for sugar & salt to dissolve as much as possible. Pour over veggie mix and let sit for an hour. Ladle into jars. Put in fridge.

     ROLA’S EEMAH’S CARROT PICKLES

This is a Mizrachi family recipe. It’s more than possible that it came from the Persian Jews who immigrated to Israel to escape persecution and genocide in the 1970s, as did Rola and her parents.

Ingredients:

2 pounds fresh, hard carrots, scrubbed & sliced into strips                                                        1 small head cauliflower, washed, cut into bite sized pieces                                                     1 red bell pepper, washed, seeded & cut into thin strips                                                                1 Tbsp mustard seeds                                                1 Tbsp coriander seeds                                            1 Tbsp cumin seeds                                                 1 Tbsp whole cloves                                               1 Tbsp whole peppercorns                                   1 large bay leaf, crumbled                                   1/2 tsp curcuma (tumeric powder)                     10 cloves garlic, peeled, whole                                600 ml (2 1/2  cups) white wine vinegar              100 grams (1/2 cup) white sugar                         1 tsp salt for each jar made.

Cook the carrots and cauliflower in very salted boiling water 5 minutes to soften. Drain.  Toast seeds and bay leaf in large pot until it releases it’s fragrance, about 1-2 minutes on medium heat. To this, add vinegar and sugar and bring to a boil.

Arrange veggies and divided garlic cloves to each clean (sterilized) jar. Pour pickling liquid over top to cover the veggies completely. Add 1 tsp salt to each jar before sealing. I would place this in a boiling water bath for 10 minutes for safety reasons, but Rosa didn’t seem concerned. Let it sit for 2 weeks before serving at room temp.

               URI’S PICKLED CARROTS                          I really like Uri’s carrots. I  stayed with Uri during my pilot trip, and after a long day, I would come back and devour a bowl of these light and tasty carrots! He was born in Israel to Holocaust survivors of Eastern Europe. Uri fought in the 1967 War, and is an amazing vegan chef who still practices yoga and goes for long bike rides. This is his own recipe ( I added the sugar just to balance the tartness).

1 kilo (2 pounds) peeled carrots, sliced into rounds                                                                       3 green onions, cut into bits                                 1/2 tsp dry mustard powder                                 1/2 cup white vinegar                                               1/4 cup sugar                                                           1/2 tsp salt                                                              2-3 fresh dill sprigs

Cook the carrots in boiling, salted water for a few minutes to soften. Drain. Combine rest of the ingredients, minus green onions and mix well to dissolve. Pour over carrots. Stir in green onion. Place dill sprigs on top. Cover and refrigerate.

MY MOM’S  “COPPER PENNIES”IMG_4353-525x700

OK, so this was a staple in my house when I was growing up. My mother would give them out to friends and neighbors at holidays. Today, they remain a favorite item. John & the kids use the sauce to spoon over backed chicken or roast beef. They’re a  Shabbat table regular at our house. Years ago I “stole” her original clip out recipe… if she were alive today, I hope she’d feel honored…thanks, Mom!

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(Note: here in Israel, I haven’t been able to find canned soups, so I’ve learned to make and store jars of my own – even tomato!!!!)

Next week’s post will have recipes using the Seven Species of produce grown here in Israel and their significance, both spiritually and culinary…. stay tuned!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Recipes for a Shavuot Dairy Meal

It is traditional to eat dairy products and sweet foods on the Jewish holiday of Shavout. So – I’m really excited to be posting my first recipes here! I am a true foodie, and have a passion for finding and preparing new, healthy, and delicious meals. One great unifier of people is breaking bread together and the sharing of recipes. Since, I’ve been in Israel, I’ve become friends with a few chefs, who are all to pleased to share their passion. I’ve also talked with women of varying backgrounds from Jewish to Christian to Arab – from European to Ethiopian to Middle Eastern. This place is a true salad bowl of people, which makes it even more fun for me.

Today I’m sharing three recipes, which, taken together, form a delightful meal – and is a sidestep away from the traditional cheese blintzes and cheesecake served on this day. Now is your opportunity to try something different: something to make people say: Wow!!! Where did you get this one? The first is an appetizer, from my friend, a Yemenite chef, Zuzu. I can’t begin to pronounce the name of it, so I’ll just call it sautéed greens on a yogurt bed.

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Yemenite  Sauteed Greens & Yogurt

Ingredients:

3 Tbsp Extra Virgin Olive Oil

4  Cups Wild Chicory (Substitute Swiss Chard), cut into strips

1 Extra large yellow onion

1 Cup Goat Milk Yogurt

1 1/2 Tsp ground Sumac

Salt and Pepper, to taste

Slice 1/2 of the onion and sauté in 1 1/2 Tbsp olive oil. Reserve for later use. Dice one half of yellow onion and sauté with cut up chicory leaves (or chard) in 1 1/2 Tbsp  olive oil. Add salt and pepper to taste with 1 Tsp ground sumac. In a serving bowl, spoon the goat milk yogurt to cover the bottom. Sprinkle lightly with the remaining sumac. In the center of the yogurt, spoon the hot greens and top with carmelized onion.  This was served with a tumeric and sesame infused Yemenite bun made  with flour and water, but you can serve it with a piece of pita bread cut into 6 triangles on the side. Healthy and tasty!!!

Gluten-Free Broccoli Quiche

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Ingredients:

1 tsp extra virgin olive oil

3 large red potatoes, thinly sliced

1 yellow onion, sliced thinly

5 eggs

1 cup heavy cream

1/2 cup lightly steamed or sautéed broccoli

1/2 small fresh ovolini (Mozzarella cheese balls in Olive Oil & Italian herbs from Trader Joe’s)

salt, pepper to taste

1 tsp oregano

Lightly grease the inside of a deep dish pie plate or quiche dish with the olive oil. Alternate layers of the potatoes and onions to form the crust.

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In a medium bowl, beat the eggs. Add the cream and 1/2 tsp oregano, some salt and pepper to taste, and blend well. Scatter the cooked broccoli atop the potato-lined dish.

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Gently pour the egg mixture over the top of the broccoli. Dot the top with the Mozzarella balls, being sure to include some of those yummy herbs and spices! Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 oregano on top. Bake for 50 min. in 350* oven, or until top is nicely golden brown. Serve hot or cold!

        Middle Eastern Dessert: Mahlahbi

They sell Mahlabi everywhere here – from pre-packaged in the stores and from street vendors and coffee shops to freshly made in the finest (dairy) restaurants. The first time I tried this, I thought I’d died and gone to heaven. It’s become my favorite food, and is my secret daily indulgence!!! I’ve since developed my own recipe for this heavenly dessert, a type of milky panna cotta with a rose syrup sauce topped with coconut and peanuts (you can substitute almonds or pecans).

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Ingredients for Milk Layer:

1/3 cup 1% milk

1 (0.25 oz) packet unflavored Kosher gelatin

2 1/2 cups heavy cream

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla

Pour milk into a small bowl and mix in the gelatin sachet. Set aside for later use.  In a medium saucepan, stir the cream and sugar together. Put over medium heat and bring to a rapid boil. Watch carefully and stir continually so the cream will not overboil, spill over, or burn. Pour in the milk/gelatin mixture, rapidly stirring until dissolved. Cook for one minute – do NOT stop stirring!!!! Remove from heat. Mix in vanilla, and pour into lightly greased baking pan (canola oil) or silicon ramekin dishes. Let cool, uncovered at room temp, then cover with plastic wrap and store in fridge for 4 hours or overnight.

Sauce:

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

2 teaspoons Rose Water (available at Middle Eastern Markets or Valley Produce, if living in Los Angeles area)

1 to 2 teaspoons beet juice (I make a freshly roasted beet salad with feta crumbles, pecans, and raspberry dressing, and use the reserved juice from the roasted beets….) for coloring. You can substitute a drop of red food coloring, if desired.

Add all ingredients to medium saucepan and stir to dissolve the sugar. Put the pot on medium heat and bring to boil, stirring rapidly and continually so there is no burning or overboil.Remove from heat and let cool to room temp. Cover with plastic wrap and put in fridge 4 hours or overnight.

Assembly:

Slice the milk ‘Jello’ into rectangles. In individual serving bowls, pour the rose syrup to cover. Gently lift and place the milk gel atop the syrup and spoon a bit over the top. Sprinkle with coconut flakes and chopped nuts.

It’s the smell and taste of the rose syrup that makes this dish so amazing. It’s a pleasure to present as well as to smell. You can even garnish with a rosebud or fresh red or pink rose petals (washed & pesticide-free, please).

B’Tayavon!!! To Your Appetite! Enjoy….