Monday, September 1, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall #2: Indian Green Beans with Harry

You can only imagine how happy I was when Harry said that he wanted some spices to bring back to school, and some quick cooking lessons so that he would know what to do when he settled in at Wilch Hall. In some families, male bonding consists in going out to the wilds together and firing guns at birds and mammals.  In others, it is going to ball games.  For us, it is eating lunch at an Indian restaurant and shopping for spices together at Foods of India and Kalustyan's my two favorite stores in Curry Hill in Manhattan.  Then, that evening, under my guidance, Harry made chicken shawarma (no recipe necessary:  just dredge chicken cutlets in shawarma spice mix and saute in a little oil until done), cabbage salad with zaatar , a simple tahini sauce, and these not so simple green beans.  The green beans were an instantiation of the general method for cooking vegetables, Indian-style, which was my first installment on cooking in Wilch Hall.  This recipe is a concrete illustration of how it can be done.  No excess verbiage here (at least not too much),  no choices and options, just the facts:

Harry's Indian Green Beans


  • 1.5 pounds fresh green beans, washed
  • 2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • salt
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • dash of cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup water
  • juice 1/2 lemon
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander (wash it well please, it can be sandy)
  • sprinkling (about 1/4 teaspoon) of garam masala, if available;  if not use a little black pepper
  1. Trim the green beans: you can either snap off the stem ends individually, which involves less waste, or stack them in piles of 10 or so beans and cut off each end of the stack.  This goes more quickly, but involves more waste.  Cut the beans in half.
  2. Heat the oil on high in a large skillet for about 30 seconds, and add the whole cumin seeds.  
  3. Cook the cumin seeds on high  until they start to change color, but be careful not to  burn.  Add the turmeric and stir in.
  4. Immediately add the onions, salt lightly, and cook for about 5 minutes on high until soft. Add the garlic and ginger and cook another few minutes until the aroma changes.
  5. Turn the heat down to medium low and add the ground coriander and cumin.  Cook for about 3 minutes stirring occasionally until the spices lose their raw aroma.  
  6. Add the green beans, turn heat back up to high, sprinkle with a little more salt, and stir and fry for 3-5 minutes until the beans look glossy.
  7. Cover the skillet and cook for 5-10 more minutes until done to taste.  (Indian spiced veggies are often overcooked by contemporary American Northeastern and California standards.  They are practically raw by Southern standards.)
  8. Uncover, boil off most of the remaining liquid, and then add the final seasonings:  lemon, coriander and garam masala.
  9. Enjoy!  Serves about 5 with other dishes, and is good hot, cold or room temperature.

Silk Road Smash

A smash is a julep-like drink, and this is very much like a mint julep, only tastier.  There is no better libation to use to console yourself at the end of summer than a Silk Road Smash.

I got this recipe from Robin Gross, a San-Francisco based intellectual property lawyer and ED of IP Justice, an NGO which works for a more balanced international IP regime.  We met at ICANN in Rio in 2008, and are Facebook friends.  It is funny how many of my contacts come from a brief period of work on IP reform a number of years ago.

Robin posted a picture of this cocktail with ingredients, and when I saw it I had to make it. I was glad that I did.   It is tart, juicy refreshing, beautiful to look at, and quite potent.  Below is Robin's recipe for a single serving, which I have adapted, and following that a pitcher drink version that I served on the Cape to 10 people.

Silk Road Smash

For a few drinks (this quantity serves one;  you can multiply to serve up to four(:
  • 8-12 blackberries
  • 12 leaves mint, torn with a few more for garnish
  • 2-3  teaspoons cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 1 teaspoon lemon juice
  • 2 ounces bourbon
  • 2 dashes aromatic bitters, like Angostura (or cardamom bitters if you have)
  • ice
  • soda water (optional)


  • Muddle the blackberries and mint in a cocktail shaker. Add lemon juice and syrup and muddle a bit more.
  • Add bourbon and bitters and stir. 
  • Fill the shaker with ice, and shake for about 30 second.
  • Fill an old-fashioned glass with more ice, and strain the smash into the glass.  garnish each with two blackberries and a few mint leaves. 
  • Serve and enjoy.  If anyone finds the drink too strong you can serve it in a high ball glass and top it off with some soda.

Pitcher drink version for a crowd:

  • 1  pint blackberries
  • 1 bunch mint, most of the leaves torn and about 20 reserved for garnish 
  • 1/2 cup cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 3 tablespoons  lemon juice
  • 20 ounces bourbon
  • 20 dashes aromatic bitters, like Angostura (or cardamom bitters if you have)
  • ice
  • soda water (optional)


  1. In a two quart pitcher, mash blackberries and mint together.  
  2. Add syrup and lemon juice and mash a bit more.
  3. Add bourbon and bitters, stir, and leave aside for about 1/2 hour.  (It is more difficult to muddle a large quantity of berries and this will allow the flavors to permeate the whiskey.)
  4. Prepare the glasses:  fill 10 old-fashioned (8 ounce short) glasses, ideally pre-chilled in the freezer, with ice.  Garnish each with 2-3 blackberries and a few mint leaves. 
  5. Add ice to the pitcher with the smash ingredients and stir for 30 seconds.
  6. Strain the smash into another large pitcher filled with ice.
  7. To serve, pour the smash into the cocktail glasses, trying not to disturb the garnish.  Don't worry too much because after a sip no one will care. Serve with soda water for those who find it too stiff.

Cardamom syrup:  In a small pot, boil 1 cup of water and add 25 cardamom pods, smashed. Simmer for about 15 minutes on low heat, covered to prevent evaporation.  Add 1 cup sugar, raise heat to medium and cook until the sugar is dissolved.  Let stand until cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. If you don't have time to make it in advance, you can chill it by setting the pot in a pan of ice and stirring until the syrup is cold.  This syrup can be used in lots of cocktails and is worth having on hand.  It is even good over vanilla ice cream or drizzles on a dish of orange segments or sliced peaches or nectarines.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Cooking at Wilch Hall, #1: Indian vegetables

"Dad, where did you get the 'Hall' from, it's just Wilch."

So says Harry, who is living this year in Wilch, a residence at Cornell College (Iowa, not Ithaca).  I prefer to call it Wilch Hall, which reminds me of Wolf Hall and has a nice Tudor or Renaissance ring to it.  So, I will refer to it as Wilch Hall in this and future postings.

He will be sharing the apartment with his friends Brennen, Margo, Tommy and Trevor.  Each floor is a separate apartment, including a living room and a kitchen.  The kitchen is a tremendous perk for students who have been eating dorm food for three years, and Harry is very keen at the prospect of not having to eat dinner in Commons. I am concerned that he and his apartment-mates not waste this golden opportunity to eat well and to acquire cooking skills that will last them a lifetime  and help them to survive, even in the most poorly paying professions.

The recipes that will be included in this and other posts are about method, so ingredients and quantities vary widely.  They are also all derivative.  They are digested and synthesized from cookbooks, friends, cooking shows and long years experience.  They are the kinds of things that we make at home, and are intended to give the Wilch Hall-ites some guidance if they get tired of treyfe hot dogs or pasta with jarred tomato sauce.

We will start at the beginning with a sabzi, or Indian vegetable dish.  This first post is a generic method that has infinite variations and can be used with a wide variety of vegetables and spices.  Like in college, the purpose is not to give your the answers, but to help you make intelligent choices and come to defensible results based upon available resources (be they data or ingredients).   In separate posts, I will give a recipe for green beans that Harry made under my loose guidance, a generic dal (legume) recipe, and an overview of other Indian vegetable dishes on this blog along with some links.  I have also given some links to other recipes in the vegetable prep section below.

Basic method for Indian vegetables (Sabzi)

This can be used for most any vegetable. The quantities given are for about 1.5-2 pounds of vegetable. Tips for prepping a few different vegetables will come at the end, as well as suggestions for some classic combos. The process is divided between three phases:  cooking the masala, or spicing, at the beginning, cooking the vegetable itself, and then the final seasoning.  Although you have to perform all three phases to get a good outcome (or at least the first two), you can pick and choose between the steps and ingredients in each phase.    Read through the entire recipe and have all your ingredients handy since things can move quickly and burn, especially when making the masala.

Make the masala

You have to heat the oil and cook some type of seasoning in it.  You can follow all of the steps below, or just choose one or two.  It is usually best to do at least one spice and one batch of seasoning vegetables.  This all  may look scary but it really isn't:

  • Heat oil in a large skillet, preferably nonstick.  Between 1 and 3 tablespoons of fat should be sufficient.  The more the tastier,  because of the way the salivary glands respond to fat and because the flavors of many spices are fat-soluble.  The choice of oil can result in subtle differences in the result.  Make sure that the oil is suitable for cooking at high temperatures, which olive oil, butter, and roasted sesame oil are not. You can use a generic vegetable oil (canola, corn, safflower, soy or "vegetable") or a different oil for a special regional flavor.  Sesame oil  (Indian sesame oil is lightly roasted, richer than the health food oil but much lighter than East Asian dark brown sesame oil which should not be used) is used in the South, as is coconut oil.  Mustard seed oil gives a special Bengali flavor, but I don't expect you to be able to find this so easily.  If you can find it, heat it until almost smoking and then let it cook a bit before cooking.  Ghee (Indian-style clarified butter) is common in Northern India.  Though I don't expect you to make it yourself, you can sometimes find it in supermarkets and even at Trader Joe's.
  • When the oil is hot, add approximately 1/2 - 1 teaspoon whole spice seeds.  Most popular are cumin, mustard seeds, and fennel.  A classic seasoning combo is cumin and mustard seeds, adding ginger and green chili later. You can also use fenugreek (use very sparingly, 5 or so seeds should be enough),  kalonji (black onion seed) or ajwain (a small seed that looks like celery seed but tastes like thyme), though these are more esoteric.  Cook until they turn a few shades darker, but be careful not to burn them.  The mustard seeds will pop.  When they sit on the stove they look a bit like cockroach eggs, which may amuse guests.  You probably want to clean your stove before any parents visit.
  • Add a whole dried red chili if you want.  Let it darken slightly.
  • If you have them, you can add 5-20 fresh curry leaves, but you probably won't have them.
  • You can add a pinch of sugar if you want your dish a little sweet (Bengali's like it that way.).  Let sizzle a few seconds.
  • Add 1/4 teaspoon turmeric now.  You can also add it later , but adding it early helps to take the raw edge off its flavor.  Let sizzle a few seconds.
  • Add some chopped onion.  It can be  few tablespoons to about a cup.  You can use red, white or yellow (i.e. plain old) onions, shallots, or scallions (white part only).  Sprinkle with salt, about 1/2 teaspoon, and cook.  You can cook these from any stage until merely soft (a few minutes) to brown at the edges and starting to crisp (a lot of seconds). 
  • Add ginger (1 inch, peeled and hand chopped or grated), garlic (between 1 and 7 cloves, sliced or chopped) and green chili  (1 or 2, seed if you want it milder, and chop).  Cook for a minute or two,  You should notice a change in the aroma from raw to cooked. 
  • If Ingrid and Elijah loan you their mini-processor, or if you happen to acquire one by other means, make a paste of 1 chopped onion, 1 inch chopped ginger, and as much smashed garlic as you would like.  Pour this into the pan and cook down on high heat for 5 to 8 minutes, stirring frequently. The aroma will change.  Although you would generally use this paste without the other onion, garlic and ginger steps (you can add a green chili before the paste), adding this paste to some browned onions will result in a very special dish.)
  • Turn the heat down and add ground spices, especially turmeric (1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon if you haven't used it yet), cumin (1 teaspoon, a little goes a long way especially if you have used whole seeds) and coriander (1 to 3 teaspoons).  A teaspoon of ground mustard can also be nice, especially with green beans. Use some sugar if you do this. Cook slowly for 3 to 5 minutes, stirring constantly so the spices don't burn),  until the spices lose their raw aroma.
  • Add tomato if you want.  This can be 1 tablespoon of tomato paste, a chopped fresh tomato or two (a nice Mexican trick it to cut a slice off the top of a large tomato and grate it straight into the pan -- the skin will stay behind) or between 1/4 cup and a cup of chopped canned tomatoes.  Cook these about 5 minutes more.  Unless you use the paste, turn the heat up again.

Cook the vegetable

  • Add  prepared vegetable.
  • Sprinkle with more salt if you like things salty.
  • Cook in the masala for a few minutes, stirring, on medium to high.
  • If you want, add water or a little coconut milk, about 1/2 cup. Bring to a simmer.
  • Cook until done to taste.  Times vary.  You can cover it and lower the heat, which requires less attention, or leave it uncovered.  Uncovered requires attention and more frequent stirring, but can result in a nice pan-roasted flavor.

Final seasoning

  • Although you should always taste and correct for salt, the final seasoning process is like making the masala. You can do one, some or all of the following:
  • Taste for salt and add more if needed.
  • Add a teaspoon or so of lemon or lime juice.  (Tamarind is another souring agent but probably not readily available.)
  • Stir in some chopped fresh cilantro or another suitable herb (which may on rare occasion be dill or mint).
  • Sprinkle with a finishing spice: garam masala or ground, roasted cumin seed.
  • Sprinkle a bit more fresh herb on the top.


Vegetable prep and some classic combos:

This list is not exhaustive, and is just to get you started.

Beets:  Peel beets and dice. Clean your hands with lemon juice or someone may mistake you for an axe murderer.   Great with whole cumin seed, chopped onion, garlic and ginger, ground coriander, tomatoes, and fresh mint.    Also nice simply cooked with mustard seed, ginger, garlic and chili.  Raw beets can take a while to cook.  You can also get a large beet, peel and grate it, and stir fry it with mustard seeds and other seasoning, which will go very quickly. If you want, you can use precooked beets, especially those sold vacuum packed in the supermarkets.

Cabbage:  simple is better.  Clean the cabbage by removing the outer leaves.  Shred. Try it with whole cumin, a bit of turmeric and onion or with mustard seed, ginger, chili and turmeric.  Cook until just done or until well brown.

Carrots:  Peel and cut into 1/2 inch pieces.  Use whole cumin or a combo of cumin and mustard seed with ginger and chili, and a bit of turmeric.  Lemon juice and dill at the end.  Or you can do carrots and peas, using whole cumin seed and adding frozen peas at the end (cook until they defrost).  Substitute coriander for the dill.

Cauliflower:  this is a real classic.  I particularly like it with roasted cauliflower. Two of my favorites are cauliflower with mushrooms and tomatoes and cauliflower with eggs.  Clean the cauliflower by washing it, cutting off any brown spots, removing the leaves and core and separating into florets.  Dont' throw out the core or leaves, which are good in the pot.  The ribs of the leaves are particularly succulent. Just trim off the hard parts of the core and cut it up into 1/2 inch pieces.

Eggplant:  Cut in cubes, and if you want roast it first.  Toss in oil and roast in a 425 oven for about 20 minutes.  Then make with either mustard or cumin seeds, onion/garlic/ginger, and tomato.  Fresh coriander at the end.  This is also very good with fennel seed.

Green beans:  recipe to follow soon, but these are great from the simplest (just mustard seed, ginger/green chili, lemon juice and fresh coriander at the end to a very elaborate dish.  Excellent with a sprinkling of garam masala or roasted cumin.

Peas:  Frozen is generally ok.  You can defrost by running in a colander under cold water, or just adding them frozen to a dish with other vegetables.  Peas love cumin and onion.  They also cook quickly.

Potatoes:  You can wash and boil or bake potatoes until just tender and then peel and finish using seasoning above cook, or use whole very small potatoes, scrubbed, and cook them raw, whole or halved with whole spice seeds.   Combo of fennel, mustard and cumin is great, with a bit of ginger and chili if you want.  Cook covered until potatoes are tender.  Fresh coriander almost a must.

Winter squash:  Peel and dice about 1/2 inch cubes.  Cook covered with mustard seed, turmeric, green chili and add fresh coriander at the end.  Also good with some grated coconut (reconstitute dried coconut by soaking in boiling water about 15 minutes, and then just add it toward the end).  If you are going to use kalonji, now is the time.

Zucchini or other summer squash:  It can be a good idea to soak these since the can be sandy.  They will go with almost any combination that you want to try, simple or elaborate.  Try to brown in the skillet if you can.

Friday, August 8, 2014

Not eggplant parmesan

We had some beautiful, small eggplants fro the farmers market that, after cooking, turned out to be some of the sweetest and least bitter that I have ever had. I wanted to make a dish of Marcella Hazan's where you pan-cook eggplants with breadcrumbs, garlic and parsley and then melt on some fresh mozzarella.  However, Amy is (very successfully) following a low-carb diet, so I try to be a supportive spouse.  Breadcrumbs were out.  She doesn't even like to eat too much tomato sauce.  So working with what we had around -- mushrooms, miso, parsley and fresh mozzarella, I came up with this.  The mushrooms are delicious on their own since the miso heightens their innate umami-ness, but I think that they are even better in this dish.

Eggplants with mozzarella, mushrooms and miso

  • Olive Oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1.5 pounds eggplant, more or less (I used four small light purple ones.  Use whatever you can get, preferring ones at the market that are firm and heavy in the hand.)
  • 1 pound cremini (or your favorite) mushrooms, washed, stemmed and sliced -- see below for a quick washing technique
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon sweet white miso (I love Two Rivers brand)
  • 1/4 cup washed, chopped Italian (flat-leaf) parsley
  • 1/4 cup dry white wine.
  • 1/2 pound fresh mozzarella (we always use salted), shredded or diced
  1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
  2. If you are using small eggplants, cut them in half lengthwise and place in a lightly oiled (or sprayed) shallow casserole that will accommodate them in one layer.  If you use large eggplants, cut them in about 3/4 inch slices.  In any case, the eggplants should fit in your baking dish in a single layer. 
  3. Drizzle the eggplant with oil (or spray them) and sprinkle with salt and bake them for 20 minutes, until the eggplant is tender when tested with a fork.  The time will vary widely depending on how you cut the eggplant.
  4. Meanwhile, make the mushrooms.  Put about 1 tablespoon olive oil in a skillet, add the mushrooms and sprinkle  them lightly with salt.  Cook them on high heat until they give off their liquid and it evaporates and the mushrooms begin to brown in the oil.  Turn the heat down and add the garlic and parsley and cook gently for about 2-3 minutes until the garlic looses some of its raw aroma.  (Adding the garlic late rather than early both prevents it from burning and preserves some of its pungency.)
  5. Add the miso and stir to distribute evenly and blend with the mushrooms. 
  6. Add the wine and boil down until the miso dissolves and the liquid reduces and thickens, about 2 minutes.  
  7. Broil the eggplant for 2-5 minutes until nicely browned.  They can go from brown to burned quickly, so don't leave the oven and check frequently. If you are using eggplant slices rather than halves, turn them over if you want to brown the other side.  
  8. Return the oven to 425 degrees.
  9. Spread the mushrooms over the eggplant in the casserole, season with pepper and salt if needed (taste the mushrooms, which may already be quite salty) and sprinkle the top with the mozzarella.  Bake until the cheese melts, about 10 minutes.
  10. Broil until the cheese browns lightly. (Again watch this carefully.)
  11. Let rest a minute or two before serving.
Serves 4 with other dishes. 

Washing mushrooms: The conventional wisdom used to be to scrub each mushroom individually with a light damp paper towel.  This was said to prevent them from getting waterlogged, but life is too short. Try this instead: dump them into a bowl that will hold them comfortably, cover them with cold water, and swish them around for about 15 seconds.  Lift out the mushrooms and pour out the dirty water and rinse the bowl.  Repeat.  The mushrooms will now be pretty clean.  Dry them quickly with a paper towel, rubbing off any dirt that may remain.  If you are cleaning more than a few ounces of mushrooms, this is far faster than wiping them individually.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Haloumi salad

This is another recipe that isn't quite a recipe. It doesn't have to be. The quantities that I give are very imprecise.  It will come out good whatever you do.  Haloumi is a Cypriot cheese, usually made from goat or sheep's milk and looks and tastes something like feta, with less funk. Because it is low in acid, it behaves very differently from most cheeses under heat.  Its melting temperature is very high, so that you can fry or grill it and it will hold its shape and brown.  It is very popular in Israel and elsewhere in the Middle East. Now that it is available in lots of supermarkets, even Trader Joe's, there is no excuse not to make it.

It is good fried by itself, added to shakshuka, or on a sandwich with grilled vegetables.  My favorite way toeat it however is in this simple salad.  Tomatoes, basil, haloumi, olive oil.  No vinegar.  The Catalans never add vinegar to tomatoes,  because they think that they already have sufficient acid. They are onto something.

Haloumi Salad

  • Dice about 3/4 pound ripe tomatoes.  If you are using cherry tomatoes, halve them. Place on a platter and salt very lightly.
  • Wash and chop a large handful of basil. You should have a half cup or so. Scatter it over the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil.
  • Slice a block of haloumi, about 1/2 pound, and fry on high heat in a nonstick skillet until browned, about 3 minutes on a side.
  • Put the haloumi on top of the tomatoes and basil, grind a little pepper on it, and serve at once.  Your first forkful will be significantly better than your second, so don't leave it around.
  • You can add avocado or cucumber if you want, but why mess with perfection?
  • Serves four as an appetizer or side salad, 2 for lunch.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Apricot almond cake -- make it while they're still in season

Make this cake now, while apricots are in season.  You don't have much time.  Later in the summer, you can try it with peaches, nectarines or plums.  It is a wonderful addition to a Friday night dinner or a 4th of July picnic.  If you are in need of comfort food, this is comfort cake -- it reminds me of things that my mother-in-law used to make.

I am not much of a baker, and am just getting to tinkering with some of the few things that I actually do bake.   One of my goals is to increase my repertory of pareve (non-dairy) cakes to serve after meat meals.  Also, under the influence of Nancy Sinkoff, master of modern Jewish history and much else, I try to eschew margarine.  Various oil cakes may not be as good as butter cakes, but they can be good on their own terms.

One of the few cakes that I have been baking for several years is the  Ukranian apple baba from Anya von Bremzen's Please to the Table, her first cookbook devoted to the food of the former Soviet Union.  (This is one of those cookbooks that is not only fun to read, but every recipe in it seems to come out well.)  I have been playing with the baba for a few months, mostly adding nuts and dried fruits.  Once I substituted some pears for half the apples, and it was quite good but not what I would call a daring variation.

Recently, we found ourselves with a box of apricots that weren't getting eaten by anyone but me, so I decided to use them in a dessert and hit upon this cake.  I added some toasted slivered almonds to the filling and substituted almond flour for some of the regular flour.  It worked quite well since almonds and apricot have a particular affinity for each other and, in fact, Amaretto almond liqueur is often made with apricot pits.  For spicing, rather than cinnamon doing a solo, I combined it with
cardamom,which also went well with the almonds.

I was very pleased with the results.  The apricots are tart so the cake makes a great ending to heavy mean.  You could make this with other stone fruits as well, after the brief apricot season is over.

Apricot Almond Cake

  • 3 cups unbleached white flour
  • 1 cup almond meal or ground blanched almonds
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon (ideally Ceylon, or true cinnamon)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 teaspoon almond extract
  • 1/4 cup slivered almonds, lightly toasted in a skillet (be careful not to burn)
  • 10-12 fresh apricots, quartered and pitted
  • confectioner's sugar to dust before serving


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Combine flour, ground almonds, baking powder and spices in a bowl and stir vigorously with a fork to combine.
  3. Whisk the eggs, stir in the sugar and whisk for about a minute.  Add the juice, oil, and extracts in order, whisking well after each addition to combine.
  4. Add the flour mixture, about one cup at a time, stirring with a large spoon to combine but trying not to overmix.
  5. Spray a 10-inch bundt pan with baking spray, and your cake will pop out beautifully.  Otherwise, oil the pan, sprinkle with a bit of flour and rotate the pan to coat it lightly with flour, shaking out the excess.
  6. Pour in about 1/3 of the batter and distribute with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle in the tasted almonds and arrange the apricots over them and the batter.  Pour the remaining batter over, smoothing it with a spatula to distribute it evenly.
  7. Place the cake in the oven and bake for 1 hour and 15 minutes. Test after about 1 hour and 10 minutes with a skewer -- it it comes out clean, the cake is done.  It may take up to an hour and a half, depending on the precise temperature of your oven and the ingredients.
  8. Remove the cake from the oven and cool on a rack for about 15 minutes.  Turn the pan over and remove the cake, and let it cool on a rack.
  9. When cool, dust with confectioner's sugar (put about 2 tablespoons of sugar in a sieve and shake it over the cake).  Serves 12.  It keeps for several days if covered.

Variations:  Substitute underripe peaches or nectarines for the apricots.  Depending on size, you will need 6-8.  You can also use plums, but I would omit the cardamom and use 1 teaspoon of cinnamon, use substitute ground walnuts for almond flour and toasted chopped walnuts for the almonds and use 2teaspoons vanilla extract and no almond extract.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Halvah cake with chocolate tahini glaze

This cake is for sesame lovers.  I call it halvah cake since it tastes like halvah, which should not be surprising given that they share their principal ingredients: sesame, eggs and sweetener.

 It is simple and pareve (dairy-free).  It contains no pareve margarine. (Nancy Sinkoff has finally convinced me that this is an abomination.)  It is so good that you should not save it for occasions when you don't want to serve dairy. It is adapted from a cake in Jennifer Abadi's wonderful book of Syrian-Jewish cooking, A Fistful of Lentils.  However, I found her  cake too dry, almost like a cookie or mandelbrot, but not quite.  My version is much moister, but equally simple.  I also love the combination of chocolate and sesame, so I added this glaze.

I am a cook much more than a baker, in part because I like to tinker and improvise and cooking allows much more latitude than baking.  My other attempts to improvise with baked goods have been less than successful. (I have been working on a chocolate-ancho chili cake for years, to no avail.) This experiment came together easily and I was surprised at how good the results were.  I am tempted to tinker further, and add some spices like cardamom or cinnamon, but the purity of the sesame flavor is really nice.  Sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone.

Halvah cake with chocolate tahini glaze:


For the cake:
  • 4 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup honey (a lighter honey is better here, not a dark one like buckwheat which is usually my go-to honey for bread and apples)
  • 2/3 cup tahini
  • 2/3 cup vegetable oil (I used canola, but a light-- not oriental style -- sesame oil would be good too)
  • 1 tablespoons vanilla extract
  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • pinch salt

For the glaze:
  • 4 ounces chocolate (I use Scharfenberger 70%)
  • 3 tablespoons sugar
  • 3 tablespoons tahini
  • 3 tablespoons water
  • 1 tablespoons sesame seeds (approximately -- hulled raw will be prettier, but roasted with the hull will be tastier)
  1. Preheat oven to 350. 
  2. Beat the eggs in a large mixing bowl. Nothing fancy here, a fork is ok.  Beat in the honey, tahini, oil, and vanilla.  
  3. In another bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder and salt with a fork.  Stir into the wet ingredients until you have a smooth batter.  It will be fairly thick and stiff.
  4. Oil a 9-inch springform pan. (Or, even better, spray with baking spray, which is emulsified oil and flour  -- your cakes will jump out of the pan. I owe this life-changing tip to Navah Frost.)
  5. Pour the batter into the pan, and smooth the top with a rubber spatula.   It won't be perfect since the batter is somewhat stiff, but if you oil the spatula lightly it be easier to spread.
  6. Bake for 25-35 minutes.  The exact time will depend on the precise heat of your oven and the temperature of your ingredients.  Test for doneness by inserting a skewer, which should come out clean.  I find that 30 minutes is about right in my oven. The cake will not be smooth on top, but you can even this out whey you glaze it later. 
  7. Leave the cake to cool on a rack and let cool for about 30 minutes, than remove it from the pan and let stand until cool. 
  8. To make the glaze, combine all of the ingredients in a small pot, and whisk over low heat until smooth, about 5 minutes.  
  9. Let the glaze cool for about 5 minutes, and then spread on the top of the cake with a rubber spatula.  Sprinkle with the sesame seeds and leave for a few hours until the glaze is set.  This cake keeps well at room temperature, do not refrigerate. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Not cassoulet, just lamb and beans

This isn't cassoulet.  It may be better.  It isn't cholent either. It takes time but not much effort and no hard-to-find ingredients.  It is perfect for a Sunday evening meal, or even a Friday evening. You can leave it to cook while you are toodling around the house.  It can sit in the oven for hours on low either before or after you do the bread crumb topping.

The inspiration for this was twofold.  One is the pre-Pesach purge.  We had some presoaked frozen limas in the fridge, as well as some lamb neck, and I couldn't think of anything better to do with them, perhaps because there isn't.  The other is my father reminiscing about how his mother used to stew limas with meat bones.  You could also use other beans, but the lima was my grandmother's preferred bean.  She also rarely cooked lamb, and I am pretty sure that she never cooked with rosemary, but this dish still tastes like someone's grandmother made it.

What this dish is is REALLY good.  There is something about he combination of meat fat and gelatin and tender beans that is deeply satisfying, particularly on a chilly day accompanied by some red wine.  The quantities below will serve 4-6, though the recipe could be halved or doubled. You could also cook it on 325 for a total of 90 minutes to 2 hours, but slow and steady is  better.

Lamb with Beans

  • 1 pound large white lima beans or gingantes, washed and soaked overnight (see below)
  • 1-2 pounds meaty lamb bones, like neck
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • 1 large or 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 anchovy filets (optional but desirable)
  • 1/4  to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (optional but desirable)
  • 4 sprigs rosemary
  • salt and pepper
  • 1/4 cup breadcrumbs
  1. Preheat oven to 250 degrees and bring some water to the boil.
  2. Heat olive oil, reserving about 2 teaspoons,  in  a 4-quart oven safe casserole, dry the lamb, and saute on all sides until nicely browned.  Remove lamb to a dish.
  3. Saute the onions in the oil until they begin to brown, then chop the garlic coarsely, add to the pot and saute on low about a minute.  Add the anchovy filets and the Aleppo pepper and mash the anchovy until it becomes a paste.  
  4. Add about a cup of water to the pot and deglaze until the brown bits on the pot have dissolved.
  5. Return the lamb to the pot, add the beans, and barely cover with boiling water.  Tuck the rosemary sprigs into the pot and season with salt and pepper. 
  6. Bring to the simmer, cover and put in the oven for two hours.
  7. Uncover, correct salt and pepper, and put it back for another one or two hours, depending on how tender the lamb and beans are and how much liquid you want.  If you leave it for the full two hours much of the liquid will evaporate and the beans on top will begin to become crusty.
  8. Mix together the bread crumbs, parsley, and the remaining cloves of garlic, chopped fine.  Spring on top of the meat and beans, and return to the oven for 15 minutes to a half hour or even more.  If the bread crumbs are not brown, turn on the broiler for a few minutes, but watch it carefully, since you do not want to burn the bread crumbs or the garlic.  
  9. Serves 4 - 6 with a nice red wine, some salad and maybe some bread.  
The beans: As I mention above, in my grandmother's house it was almost always limas, unless it was cholent and some red kidney beans might sneak in.  You could also make this with another white bean such as great northern or navy.  Gigantes, the giant Greek limas, would be excellent, though they are more expensive.  Beans really don't need to be soaked overnight.  As Barbara Kafka has remarked, beans are legumes, and not phantoms, and there is nothing magical about the nighttime.  (Well, maybe there is, but not as far as beans are concerned.)  Just rinse them and soak them in water for 4-8 hours.  Time does not necessarily equal effort.  Once you have soaked beans, you can drain and freeze them so that they are ready on shorter notice.  

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Zapped banana

I should probably tweet this rather than blog it, but here goes:

Take one banana and microwave for 30-45 seconds on high, depending on the power of the ovens. (Newer and larger ovens are more powerful, and use less time.)

Peel and eat.

The results are actually rather comforting.  Sort of like a warm banana pudding.  Perfect for a rainy day.



Pasta with preserved lemons, garlic and chili

This is not a healthy dish.  I never thought that the pasta would be a concern and the quantity of butter no big deal, but this is apparently where we stand in terms of today's health wisdom.  But it is real good.  So enjoy it from time to time.

The recipe is based on a combination mentioned by Mario Batali in an interview once, and I took it for a few test drives and came up with that lies beneath.  The quantities of salty ingredients are variable.  The larger quantity makes for a more hard-hitting, assertive dish.  It is considerably milder but still quite tasty.  Serve this with an acidic wine.  I think it is better with red, so my first choice would be a Pinot Noir or  an Austrian Blaufrankisch.  It would  also go well with an dry Riesling or Sauvignon Blanc.  If the wine lacks acidity, it will come off as sweet, heavy and syrupy in combination with the preserved lemons, while the high acid wines are mellowed and compliment the dish perfectly.

This recipe serves four, and could easily be called Pasta with Forty Cloves of Garlic.  I find that it is easier to cook the garlic in a larger quanitity, but you can adjust the proportions for one or two servings.

Pasta with Preserved Lemons, Garlic and Chili


  • 1 pound tubular pasta such as penne
  • 8 tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter
  • 40 cloves of garlic, peeled (pre-peeled garlic is fine)
  • 2-4 large preserved lemons (preferably homemade, store-bought acceptable)
  • 2-4 anchovies 
  • 2-8 pickled chilis (these vary widely, I use Roland, which are about 2 inches long and  1/4 inch wide)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 cup freshly grated parmesan or grana Padano


  1. Bring a large (4-6 quart) pot of water to boil  (This is the first thing you should do when you get home if you are even contemplating making past, not that people do this much anymore.)  Salt the water more lightly than you might for pasta ordinarily since it will be dressed with salty ingredients, about 2 tablespoons for this quantity of water.
  2. Put the garlic and seven tablespoons of butter in a small pot on medium heat.  When the butter melts, turn heat down to medium low and allow to simmer for about 20 minutes.  You want the garlic to brown very lightly, but be careful that it does not burn.
  3. Pour the garlic  and butter through a coarse strainer into a medium skillet.  Transfer the garlic to a cutting board. It will crisp up a bit as it cools.  
  4. Remove the pulp from the preserved lemons, and sliver the peel.
  5. Put the pasta into the boiling water.  Depending on more variables than I can list here, it will probably take between 8 and 10 minutes.  
  6.  Put the slivered preserved lemon into the skillet with the butter and saute on medium heat until lightly brown.  Be careful that the butter, which will contain some brown residue, does not burn.
  7. Add the chopped chili to the pan and saute a minute.
  8. Add the anchovy filets and mash into a paste.
  9. Slice the garlic. and add to the pan with the other ingredients.  Add the parsley and cook for about 30 seconds.  You don't want to cook it but you don't want it to be quite raw either.
  10. Scoop out a coffee cup of pasta water and set aside. 
  11. Drain the pasta and put it into a warmed serving bowl.  Add the remaining  tablespoon of butter and half of the grated cheese.  Dump on the ingredients from the skillet and mix into the pasta.
  12. Serve quickly in warmed pasta bowls with the remaining grated cheese.