Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Fake Meat: the Best Vegetarian Chili

If you don't want to deal with my long intro, skip down a ways to the recipe for vegetarian chili. But it will be your loss.

After we dropped Maya off at Beloit College in Wisconsin in August 2005, we headed for the Wisconsin Dells. This is a beautiful natural area that in recent decades has become the indoor-outdoor all-season water park capital of North America, and one of the schlockiest resorts anywhere. Think Lake George, only many times more so. We did this in part out of a sense of parental obligation. The time before she left for college (ok, let's say the previous 18 years) were very intensively about Maya. So we thought that at least some of the summer vacation should be about Harry too, and the Dells seemed like a dream come true for a 13-year old.

This is not to say that the Dells do not have their virtues. The water parks are fun and doubly so if you are stuck in the Upper Midwest in January and can splash around indoors. And there is the Hades roller coaster at the Mount Olympus water and theme park. (The theme is sort of Greek as in diner, rather than as in mythology.) But Hades was amazing. It is an old-fashioned wooden coaster and the first, incredibly high and steep drop is into the gaping mouth of hell, after which you find yourself racing and turning around in the dark, under the parking lot -- sheer terror and pure fun. However, this is not the kind of resort you expect to go to for the food, most of which consists of the usual chains and fast food restaurants (not that there is anything wrong with Culver's custard and fried cheese curds, as separate courses, but that is another matter).

However, we did happen on an excellent vegetarian restaurant called The Cheese Factory which was as out of place in this town as a Cossack in a Sukkah. It was right down the road from our resort hotel, the Kalahari (a desert themed water park?), so we tried it . Usually the vegetarian food that we go for is of the ethnic or locavore vegetable variety, but this place is nothing of the sort. It specialized in fake meat : omelets with vegetarian ham and pancakes with soy bacon for breakfast; vegetarian Reuben sandwiches (with seitan pastrami) and things like that for lunch; and tofu strogonoff, textured soy protein meatballs, and seitan chicken parmiggiano for dinner. It seemed to be run by some kind of Christian cult (growing up Jewish in Queens, any form of Christianity other than Catholicism was some sort of cult, but this was on a whole other level). The waitresses dressed "prairie-style" like Nicky and the polygamous sister wives from the compound on Big Love, and they smiled all the time all had names like Patience, Purity and Charity. It all sounds revolting, but the food was good and it converted me into of a devote of fake-meat. At this stage in my gastro-spiritual development, it is very convenient to be able to enjoy soy bacon on a grilled cheese sandwich, "fake-jitas" (fajitas made of soy or wheat gluten beef strips) that you can have with sour cream and cheese, and not to mention vegetarian chili with all the fixings including cheese and sour cream.

The following recipe is very liberally adapted from The Cheese Factory Restaurant Cookbook, on sale at the restaurant. It marks a departure for me in a few ways. It is much less stream of consciousness than my other recipes. As I made it this afternoon (special request of Maya, Andrew, Sarah and Helen), I wrote down the ingredients and what I did with them at every stage. Also, I am presenting this in more conventional style, with the ingredients first and then the procedure. It makes an enormous quantity. I suggest you set aside half without the beans and final seasonings and freeze it. Then add the beans and seasonings to what is left in the pot, which will serve 8-10 in any case. It is the kind of dish that it pays to make in quantity. For those to whom this matters, it is pareve (without the accompaniments of course) so you can use it in lots of interesting ways.

Vegetarian Chili

  • 4 cups Textured Soy Protein (TSP) or Textured Vegetable Protein (TVP), about 1 pound
  • 3 cups bullion (2 Telma pareve beef cubes dissolved in 3 cups boiling water)
  • 4 tablespoons oil (I use canola)
  • 3 medium onions, chopped (about 1 quart)
  • 3 carrots, trimmed, peeled and chopped
  • 4 stalks celery, trimmed and chopped
  • 10 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 large green pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced
  • 1 large red sweet pepper, stemmed, seeded and diced.
  • 2 tablespoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground black pepper (about 45 turns of the grinder -- I counted)
  • 2 teaspoons thyme
  • 2 teaspoons "Ceylon" cinnamon (or 1/2 to 1 teaspoon regular -- see note)
  • 2 tablespoons paprika (preferably smoked sweet Spanish pimenton)
  • 1-2 tablespoons ground chipotle pepper
  • 4-6 tablespoons ground Ancho pepper (you can substitute a little ground pasilla or mulato and cut down on the chipotle if you can find them)
  • 2 28 ounce cans crushed or diced tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 6 ounces tomato paste
  • 1-2 tablespoons of salt
  • 4 cups water
  • 28 ounce can red beans (I prefer small red beans to kidney beans)
  • 28 ounce can black beans
  • 2 teaspoons unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 4 teaspoons roasted ground cumin (you can probably substitute garam masala here, but I would cut the quantity to 2 teaspoons)

Accompaniments (any or all)
  • sour cream
  • chopped white onion
  • chopped cilantro
  • chopped green chili
  • white or brown rice or elbow macaroni
  • corn bread
  • shredded cheddar cheese
  • hot sauces
  • avocado cubes
  • toasted tortilla strips (take 12 tortillas, cut in half, cut into 1/4 inch ribbons, put on a baking sheet sprayed with vegetable oil spray, spray a little more, and bake in a 300 degree oven for 30 -45 minutes. They should be crisp but not burned. Guard these well until you serve them.)
  1. Put 1 tablespoon oil in a very large non stick skillet. Add the TVP or TSP and toast on medium low heat, stirring occasionally, until it turns several shades darker. I aim for the shade of caramel, you can try to darker but be careful not to burn.
  2. Add the bullion, stir, and set aside until ready.
  3. In a large (5-6 quart) pot, heat the remaining oil, add the onion, salt lightly, and saute on medium until soft but not brown.
  4. Add the carrots, celery, garlic, and peppers. You can prepare these while you are sauteing and add each to the pot when done. Saute until soft.
  5. Add all the spices (coriander through Ancho), and saute a few minutes on low until fragrant being careful not to burn them.
  6. Add the tomatoes, paste, and salt. Stir well and simmer about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  7. Add the soaked TVP/TSP stir well, and add up to 4 cups additional water.
  8. Simmer for about 1/2 hour stirring occasionally and being careful not to burn it.
  9. Take half of the chili, and set aside to freeze.
  10. Drain the beans, rinse very well, and add to the chili and cook another 15 minutes or more until well heated through.
  11. Add the cocoa and roasted cumin and serve with any accompaniments you would like.

  • The recipe sounds longer and harder than it is. It probably takes a 90 minutes beginning to end, not all of it active, and it is well worth the effort. Besides, you will have lots of dinners in the freezer.
  • Ceylon Cinnamon is true cinnamon and is used in Mexican cooking and available in good spice stores and as canela where Mexican ingredients are sold. What we generally call cinnamon is really cassia, which has a different flavor and should be used much more sparingly.
  • It doesn't matter whether you use Textured Soy Protein or Textured Vegetable Protein, either form of fake meat will do. They are yellowish tan in color and look sort of like a cross between coarse bread crumbs, corn flakes, and some kind of animal feed. Since most ground beef makes no noticeable contribution to the flavor of the dishes in which it is used, and since this is so vigorously seasoned, you can use TSP or TVP in confidence. They are healthier and more economical than ground meat, and pareve. Especially when seasoned with pareve bullion, it adds a meaty texture and flavor missing from bean or vegetable based vegetarian chili. I use Bob's Red Mill brand, which also happens to be heckshered.
  • Because I usually make this in large quantities, and for crowds I tend to make it on the mild side, and people can add chopped chile or hot sauce if they want. I usually use the minimum amount of chile powder in the recipe, but you can use the max or even more if you know who will be eating it.
  • It you tire of chile by itself, try chile dogs, chili veggie burgers, or chili cheese omelets.

Red cabbage soup (from leftover chicken with red cabbage)

We had about two cups of leftover red cabbage in the freezer from the chicken with red cabbage which I blogged about last time. If you find yourself with some of this, here is a great, quick soup you can make. It is adapted from a red cabbage soup of Marcella Hazan's without all the chazerai. A lot easier also.

Red cabbage soup with chicken sausage:
  1. Take 1/4 to 1/2 pound of fresh (i.e. not precooked) chicken sausage. cut into half inch slices, which is a lot easier if it is frozen. Brown in a medium pot in a little olive oil on medium heat. You could leave out the sausage but it adds a lot to the final dish.
  2. Add the defrosted cabbage. If there is any leftover chicken in it, bone it and add to the pot. Add 2 to 3 cups of chicken broth, preferably homemade (thought I used Tabatchnik which was surprisingly good; if you use bullion cubes you are on your own).
  3. Bring to a boil and simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Add a 15 oz. can of canellini beans, drained and rinsed very well -- all the foamy gunk should be washed out. (You could also use a cup to a cup and a half of fresh cooked white beans, but why bother?) Simmer another 5 minutes.
  5. As a finishing touch, saute 3-4 cloves whole, smashed, peeled garlic to 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil in a small pot. Cook until light brown, and add about a teaspoon of dried rosemary. Cook another minute, and then pour through a strainer into the soup.
  6. Serves 2 people as a main course, 4 as a hearty appetizer. Of course, if you have more leftover cabbage, make more soup.
Fresh, kosher chicken sausage is available at Kosher Marketplace and is worth looking for elsewhere. You could also try it with the little spicy dried turkey sausages, but the effect would be very different -- more Spanish than Italian.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

A very Italian Hanukah

As the smell of oil and onions begins to clear from our apartment, and because I haven't blogged in a while, I think this is a good point to reflect on some of the better meals that we had during Hanukah, two of which were based on Marcella Hazan's Italian recipes. We skipped some of our usual favorites, especially homemade sufganiot (jelly doughnuts). The night we had planned on making them, we had a hoard of teens and twenty-somethings descend on our house, devour almost 100 latkes, and I didn't feel like making a double recipe. I hope we get to do them next year though. I generally don't cook many pastries, but these are lots of fun to make, and the dough is a soft as a baby's bottom. The recipe that we use is from Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook, which is one of those great cookbooks that doesn't seem to contain a single bad recipe (but which annoyingly includes the author's name in the title).

What we did have that night, which proved to be very popular, were ricotta fritters, which sort of come from Marcella Hazan's second cookbook, More Classic Italian Cooking. I say "sort of" because I couldn't find the book and didn't feel like following some of her rather strict directions anyway (she can come off a bit like an Italian Margaret Thatcher). It will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog that one of the reasons I don't cook many pastries and cakes is that I don't like having to follow precise directions. We winged it and it came out great. An approximation of my version is below, but don't get too hung up on doing it exactly as I say.

The funny thing was that our other very successful dinner was Hazan's chicken with red cabbage, with a little Filipino touch at the end. That night only Amy, Harry and I were home, and we enjoyed it with latkes, which are actually fun to make when you are only cooking for three. The combination of red cabbage with the latkes was more Middle European than Italian. Maybe this is what they eat in Tyrol. Again, my adaptation is below. It was surprisingly good, and Harry, a real meat and potatoes man, had seconds on the cabbage. There was quite a bit of cabbage with rich chicken juices left over, and one day I will turn it into a soup with chicken sausage and white beans. I'll let you know how it comes out. But meanwhile, the recipes:

Ricotta Fritters:
  1. Take one pound of ricotta cheese and smush it around with a fork to smooth it a bit. I used fresh ricotta.
  2. Beat in 2 large eggs.
  3. Season with a pinch of salt, about a tablespoon of sugar, a tablespoon or two of rum, and a good amount of freshly grated nutmeg. Add a teaspoon of vanilla if you feel like it. (The original recipe calls for grated lemon rind, and I didn't want to bother so I used the other seasonings. The funny thing is that everyone raved about how lemony the fritters taste anyway. So, why bother?)
  4. Mix in about 1/4 to 1/2 cup of flour. Don't overmix because the gluten will develop and it may get tough. (Think pancakes and muffins here.) Add a bit more if it looks too moist. The exact quantity will depend on the moisture level of the ricotta.
  5. You may either deep fry or pan fry these. The method is basically the same, but deep frying uses vastly more oil, and as a consequence produces less greasy results.  To deep fry, heat a minumum of 2 inches of oil in a fryer or Dutch oven to 375 degrees.  To pan fry, use a skillet and about 3/4 inch of oil. Bubbles will form around a piece of bread when you dip it in.
  6. Take tablespoons of batter and push them gently into the oil with another spoon. (Don't drop it from a height.)
  7. Turn over when the underside browns with a spatula and a fork, and fry another minute or two. Regulate heat so that they cook quickly but don't burn.
  8. Remove with a slotted spoon, seive, or tongs. Drain on crumpled paper towels.
  9. Transfer to a serving platter and drizzle with Middle Eastern date honey (also known as date syrup) or a flavorful bee honey. Serve as soon as possible.
  10. Serves 6-8.
If you are super lowcarb, you could also substitute ground almonds for the flour.

Chicken with Red Cabbage:
  1. Heat a tablespoon of oil in a pot or skillet large enough to accommodate all ingredients later, and add a medium onion, quartered, sliced and salted lightly and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. When the onion is soft, add about 4 cloves of garlic, sliced, and saute a few more minute.
  3. Add about 1 to 1 1/2 pounds of red cabbage, quartered, cored and shredded finely. Season with salt and pepper and mix well.
  4. Cover and cook about 10 minutes until the cabbage begins to wilt.
  5. Add a smallish chicken (3 pounds or less), cut into 8 pieces. Mix into the cabbage, and pour 1/2 to 1 cup of red wine over it call.
  6. Bring to the boil, turn the heat down to medium low, and simmer about 45 minutes until the chicken is just done.
  7. Remove the chicken to a plate, and boil down the cabbage to reduce the juices as much as you want.
  8. Put the cabbage in a bake and serve dish, top with the chicken, skin side up, and broil in the middle of the oven until the chicken is well browned and the skin is crisp. (This is the Filipino touch, from Chicken Adobo, and it makes all the difference, especially if you hate flabby stewed chicken skin.)
  9. Serves 4, maybe with a little left over for lunch. Great with latkes. If not, serve roasted potatoes or a good baguette.
Note: You can easily double this recipe is you have a large enough pot. The ideal proportion is no more than 1/2 pound of red cabbage to pound of chicken. Don't be tempted to increase the cabbage or it won't be flavorful enough. If you want more cabbage, throw in some extra chicken backs or necks, or add some chicken stock and reduce it more.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

The absolute best latke recipe

Hanukah starts tomorrow, so nobody should miss out on what I think is the absolute best latke recipe in the world, which is based on one that comes from, of all places, Reform Judaism magazine. (I may have some problems with the movement, but they do publish a good magazine, not like the dreck that United Synagogue produces for the Conservative movement.) The original recipe is by Tina Wasserman, and my version is fartaytscht und farbessert in some significant ways, but she deserves a lot of credit for making her method known to the world.

This is the only really good recipe that I have found using a food processor rather than a hand grater. Even most of today's hand graters don't work all that well -- the holes are too coarse or too fine. My grandmother used to use something that looked like a piece of wire fence, though I haven't seen anything like it in years. So save your knuckles, and try these.  Be aware that latkes, like pizza, bagels and chopped liver, are very personal foods.  They have to be just right (how your better-cook grandmother made them) or they won't quite do.  Some people like only coarse shreds so the latkes practically fall apart.  I think that they are crazy but who am I to argue.  Others like it much more onion-y.  I have even been told that my latkes lack tam (flavor).  Again, though I generally go for strongly flavored foods, I like my latkes with a whiff of onion and would prefer not to taste it all
night.  But if you swing differently, by all means use two onions instead of one. 

I recently made a double batch of these latkes  with six pounds of potatoes to freeze for a party.  It yielded about 60  latkes and took 90 minutes including cleanup.  Plan accordingly.

  1. Peel 6 large Yukon Gold potatoes, about 3 pounds. Put in cold water.
  2. Grate the potatoes in a food processor on the shredding blade. Immediately run under cold water and squeeze dry.
  3. Change the blade on the processor to the usual grinding blade and grind an onion to a coarse puree. Add about 1/4 of the grated potatoes and puree these as well. Add salt (lots, about a tablespoon of kosher salt) some pepper, and 2-3 eggs, and mix briefly.
  4. Stir all of this into the rest of the grated potatoes.
  5. Mix in about 1/4 cup of flour, though you will need more later. (Most recipes call for matzah meal, but after much experimentation, I think that flour works best here.)
  6. Heat fat in a skillet. We usually haul down my mother-in-law's old electric skillet for this one. Stainless or cast iron would also work, but non-stick is a waste here. For the fat, we usually use Crisco. You're frying latkes and you're going to worry about transfats? It should be at least 3/4 inch deep. The more fat, the less it cools when you put the latkes in, the crisper and less greasy they will be.
  7. If using an electric skillet, heat it to 375; otherwise, heat it on medium high and test the fat with a piece of bread. If it bubbles, it is ready. Use a frying thermometer if you have one.
  8. Put large tablespoons of the potato batter in the fat, but don't press them down. Fry about 3 minutes on a side. The later batches tend to cook quicker than the earlier ones. Try one latke first. If it looks to liquid (you will know that it is if it disintegrates in the skillet) add more flour. If it just spreads out into a pancake and holds together, you are good to go.
  9. Drain the latkes on crumpled paper towel on top of a paper bag. Serve as hot and as fresh as you can.
  10. As the batter sits, some of the juices will separate. Drain them out, and add about a tablespoon more flour at a time until the batter isn't liquidy. Also, you will probably need to skim out some of the solids so they don't burn and add more fat to the pan.  Just be sure to bring it back up to cooking temperature before adding more batter. 
Accompaniments? Some people like applesauce. (I think homemade is wasted here, but I am willing to be proven wrong.) I like sour cream, especially with a little smoked salmon on top. I think my mother-in-law said that when she was young, they would just sprinkle them with sugar. Before he had to worry about hypertension, my father liked them plain with some coarse salt.

How many does it serve?  Who knows?  The three pounds of potatoes will make about 25-30 latkes, which I would say serves 4-6 as the main event of the dinner.  But, a lot depends on what else you are serving.  With brisket?  Figure 2 each.  With sour cream and applesauce, maybe following a mushroom barley soup or tuna salad?   Figure 5 each.  Now that everyone is watching their carbs, it may go further.  If there are teen boys present, all bets are off.

Can I make them in advance? No, not really. But if you have a life and a large number of guests, say anything more than 3, you may want to. You can make them earlier in the day, drain them on toweling, and then leave them at room temperature for a few hours. Reheat in a 350 oven in a single layer on baking sheets. You can also freeze them, on sheets in a single layer, and then store them once frozen in a bag. Reheat them the same way, just a bit longer. For some reason, they tend to get gluey if refrigerated.

Why are these the absolute best latkes in the world? Coarsely shredded potato latkes fall apart and get too greasy. Latkes made from processed, pureed potatoes are just boring. This recipe gives you the texture of the shredding, the body of the ground potato and no bloody knuckles. Beyond this, there are many keys to latke success:  salting well, plenty of fat, frying soon after the mixture is prepared and adding flour or draining water as the mixture sits. Several factors keep the latkes from discoloring: rinsing and draining potatoes and shreds, working relatively fast so that the batter doesn't discolor, and using a light colored potato. There are few things as unappetizing as a gray latke.

To peel or not to peel? This is very controversial. If you use a light skinned potato and rinse quickly and properly, you should be OK. Don't even dream of trying this with russets (baking potatoes). Some people swear that the skins give incomparable texture and flavor. However, I think that the real reason that I peel is to make Bengali potato skins (potato skins sauteed in mustard oil with white poppy seeds, chick pea flour, and a touch of chili). Peeling potatoes for latkes makes Hanukah a great time to accumulate enough skins to make this dish, which is probably my daughter's favorite. She is coming home this weekend, so we will be prepared.

Why Crisco? I don't know. This is what my mother-in-law used so it is what I use. My grandfather said that in Pruzhane they would fry them in goose fat. I wonder if the fat could have gotten hot enough to crisp them, but they must have tasted delicious. There must be something about the crystalline structure of solid fats that contributes to the texture. And there is a certain visual poetry generally denied to Jews who don't cook with lard of seeing a vast amount of Crisco melt in a skillet. But use oil if you must.


One of the challenges of switching to kosher meat is that fewer cuts are available. The hindquarters are forbidden because they contain the sciatic nerve (in commemoration of Jacob's injury when he wrestled with the mysterious man at Jabbok). You can actually remove this, but it is expensive and time consuming. My grandfather said that in Pruzhane, the shtetl where they came from in Belarus, his father would stay up all night performing the process. In the US, as opposed to Pruzhane, where non-Jews are happy to buy meat from kosher slaughterers (and much prime meat is), hindquarters are not certified as kosher and the observant are restricted to the forequarter, which generally contains tougher cuts.

In transitioning to using only kosher meat, I have found myself experimenting with a lot of cuts that I didn't deal with before. Hence clod. Fairway market sells a kosher cut called clod, which is also known as minute roast, but clod has a certain poetry about it. I don't know the etymology, but it must mean something in Yiddish. I don't particularly care for it when cut into steaks,which I don't find particularly tender, and they have a thick vein of gristle running down the center which isn't very appealing. However, I have found that it makes a great pot roast, and if you pressure cook it, the whole deal takes about an hour, and the vein becomes soft and gelatinous, a pleasure for some of us (like me), and easy enough to cut out for the rest. Here is my recipe:

Clod with mushrooms and wine
  1. Sear a 2 pound clod roast on all sides in vegetable oil in a large skillet on high heat. (I use canola oil which contains Omega-3s to compensate for all the Omega-6s in everything else we eat, especially the grain- and soy-fed meat.)
  2. Meanwhile, saute one very large onion, halved, sliced, and lightly salted, in a little vegetable oil in the pressure cooker. Add about 4 cloves sliced garlic and saute come more.
  3. When the meat is seared, put it on top of the onions in the cooker. Add a 15 oz. can of crushed tomatoes (I like Muir's Glen roasted tomatoes), a half cup of red wine, some pepper, 2 bay leaves, a pinch of rosemary, and 2 cloves (these add a wonderful aroma.
  4. Close and seal the pressure cooker and bring the pressure up to high over high heat. (On my Kuhn-Ricoh, that means the second red ring is showing.)
  5. Turn heat to medium and cook for 45 minutes. Watch from time to time to make sure the pressure is constant.
  6. Meanwhile, pour the oil out of the skillet (it will have burned if you seared the roast properly) add a little more oil, and another large onion, quartered and sliced. Salt lightly and saute until golden.
  7. Add one pound washed sliced mushrooms. I like cremini. Forget about what people say about wiping them individually with a damp paper towel. Life is too short. Dump them in a large bowl of water and swish them around a bit. What dirt doesn't some off you can then remove with a paper towel.
  8. Salt lightly and saute on medium high until the mushrooms give off all their liquid, and then boil it all away. The mushrooms and onions will be nice and brown at this point. Shut the heat until the roast is done.
  9. After the 45 minutes, let the pressure come down naturally (i.e. don't run under cold water or press the button, it could toughen the meat). Remove the cover and the roast from the cooker. Boil down the juices until they are as thick as you want -- I like the texutre of a chunky tomato sauce. Stir occasionally so it doesn't scorch. Remove the bay leaves, and the cloves if you can find them.
  10. Slice the roast about 1/4 inch thick and put in in the skillet with the onions and mushrooms. Pour the sauce on top. Simmer a few minutes and serve. Goes very nicely with egg noodles or other pasta.
  11. Serves 4 .
You can probably make this stove top in a regular pot, but I would give it about 3 hours, and I don't know how tender the gristle would be.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Uighur-style Lamb Stew

Skip way down if you want to actually see this recipe, because I am going to ruminate and go off on a lot of tangents first.

I believe that the 1976 copyright act does not protect recipes. If my memory serves correctly, recipes were considered just a list of ingredients and procedures and not particularly original. There seems to be a bit of misogyny in this: is women's work worthy of the protection of the state? (The texts of cookbooks, that is the actual expressed words, are protected to the extent that other books and writings are, albeit with fair use protection for limited quotation.) However, recently, I think as a result of the proliferation of phenomena like highly visible chefs in the media, avant-guarde cuisine, and things like scientific and molecular gastronomy, some legal scholars have argued that some recipes deserve protection as intellectual property.

One day I will definitely blog on this, but to do so properly requires more time for research and reflection than even an underemployed job hunter has. (To put my cards on the table, I think that IP barriers are too high in general and that highly innovative industries like fashion do just fine without enforced IP protection, and may even depend on the lack of IP enforcement.) However, I think about this whenever I post recipes derived from other sources, as my next few blog postings will be. How original do my recipes have to be before I post them? How original are 99% of recipes anyway? How original is anything? At the same time, those who do the original and creation deserve credit, not to mention our everlasting gratitude. The principles that I follow are to acknowledge the source and link to it if possible. The recipe should be fartaytscht und farbessert, Yiddish meaning translated and improved, meaning that I should make at least some adaptation or improvement to them.

I am a big fan of the cookbooks of Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford, and their recent Beyond the Great Wall: Recipes and Travels in the Other China is great. As with most of their books, it is a travelogue and cultural study as well as a cookbook, and this one deals with the cuisines of China's 100+ million minority people. Much of the food is surprisingly accessible. I wonder if some of this is simplified for Western kitchens. When I was in China for work in Guilin in the South/Southwest 3 years ago a friend and I hired a driver and guide for the day after our meetings ended for some touring in the vicinity. The guide was a young Dong woman, and when we asked her what the difference between her people and the Han Chinese, she answered that they were actually very similar, but that "We don't eat water buffalo. The water buffalo is our friend. But we do eat dogs." My friend, a great dog lover, gagged and blanched, and the guide responded:"Oh no! Don't worry. Not lovely dogs." This has forever changed the connotations of the word "lovely" for me as referring primarily to the kind of dog that one does not eat.

Anyway, Beyond the Great Wall includes a recipe for a sauce for lagman, a long noodle, a Uighur specialty. The Uighurs are a Turkic-speaking people from the far Northwest Xinjiang province. They are closely related to the Uzbeks who live in the FSU. In the Bukharan (kosher Uzbek, it is hard to find treyfe Uzbek food in the city) restaurants around New York, lagman is usually served as a rich lamb and vegetable soup with fettucine-type noodles. I have also had it drier, more like pasta with a stew-like meat sauce. In the book, the sauce is basically a stir fry that is the simmered briefly with peppers and tomatoes. I thought that the lamb (or at least most of the lamb that I can afford) would not be tender using their rather brief cooking, so I adapted it into a stew. My brother-in-law and sister-in-law were visiting this week, and we had it for Shabbat dinner (with celery and tofu salad seasoned with chili and sichuan peppercorn; daikon, tomato, cucumber and dill salad from Beyond the Great Wall; and roasted romesco cauliflower) and it made a big hit. We drank a South African Sauvignon Blanc which has green pepper undertones and nicely complemented the stew. For something that sounds so exotic, the flavors are very straightforward and no particularly unusual ingredients are required. My sister-in-law urged me to blog the recipe and I decided that the adaptations were sufficient enough to warrant it, so here is my version:

Uighur-style Lamb Stew
  1. Peel a very large onion, cut into quarters, slice, and saute with a little oil in a large pot. Salt it lightly to draw out the moisture. Cook stirring occasionally until the onions are soft and translucent.
  2. Slice or chop about 10 cloves of garlic (more or less to taste). Add to the onions and saute a few more minutes. Do not brown either the onions or garlic.
  3. Add 2 pounds lamb stew meat, in approximately 1-inch cubes. (I used Solomon's glatt lamb. It is natural, organic, hormone free, etc., and the Solomons are supposed to be nice to both their animals and their workers. For some reason, the Fairway market on 72nd street charges about $5 a pound less than the uptown Fairway for this. I can't figure out why, but I hope that they don't read this......) In general, shoulder or shank are the prefered cuts for lamb stew. Add a few lamb bones if you want a richer sauce.  You can also use lamb neck on the bone, which is cheaper and tastier, but you will need more, about 3 pounds, and it will take longer to cook.
  4. Saute a few minutes until the lamb looses its red color.
  5. Add a 28 ounce can of diced or crushed tomatoes. (I like the flavor of Muir's Glen fire roasted tomatoes.) If fresh tomatoes are in season, put them in a salad and don't waste them on a stew. If you want it a little saucier, add another 15 ounce can. If you want it drier, use diced tomatoes and drain them well. Add 1 or 2 tablespoons of soy sauce, and simmer, stirring occasionally, for about 90 minutes. The lamb should be just about tender now.  (Lamb neck will take close to 2 hours.)  You can also bake the lamb in a slow oven, 300 degrees, for about two hours.
  6. For a less soupy stew, remove the lamb with a slotted spoon and boil the juices down until they are a thick sauce. 
  7. Add two sweet red peppers and two sweet green peppers, shredded, and cook about 10-15 minutes. If you want some potatoes in the stew, one or two peeled Yukon golds cut into 1/2 to 3/4 in dice would be nice.  (If you have removed the lamb to boil down the sauce, return it at this point before adding the tender greens.)
  8. Add other vegetables as you like: I usually make this stew with bok choy cut into slices  and some spinach. Cook these for about five minutes or a bit more. It would also be nice with green beans (I haven't tried this yet), which I find have an affinity for lamb, but they take longer to cook and should be added shortly after the peppers. Total cooking time for the lamb should be about two hours.
  9. Taste for salt and add salt or soy sauce to correct seasonings. I find, esp. with kosher meat, it is plenty salty.
  10. Top with fresh chopped cilantro, or pass a bowl at the table. It is also nice with Chinese Jingiang black vinegar (you can substitute Worcestershire sauce if you must).
  11. Serve with or on top of some kind of noodle. We have found orrechiette (Pugliese ear-shaped pasta) to be the perfect accompaniment!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Brussels sprouts for breakfast, brussels sprouts for lunch, brussels sprouts for dinner

The reader of this blog may be excused for thinking that roasted cruciferous vegetables are a major portion of my diet, because they are. I do eat them in other forms (witness the Indian cabbage recipe/technique from a few months ago), and even boiled or steamed (we had an excellent marinated brussels sprouts with the roast beef birthday dinner I reported on a while back -- made according to the late lamented Laurie Colwin's recipe from the also late lamented Gourmet magazine in 1992 -- see http://davesgarden.com/community/forums/t/664658 ). But for most of them, especially brussels sprouts, cauliflower in all its varieties and broccoli, roasting is usually the way to go. I couldn't get my wife to eat brussels sprouts until we roasted them, and now it is hard to get her to stop. We'll start with two dinner recipes, then eat some leftovers for breakfast, and then another variation that I had for lunch today.

So, here is a basic recipe, based on that of Arthur Schwartz from his excellent site, The Food Maven ( www.foodmaven.com):

Roasted Brussels Sprouts, (For Dinner)

  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Trim and split sprouts vertically.
  3. Line a baking sheet with foil, spray it with olive oil spray and sprinkle lightly with coarse salt.
  4. Put the sprouts on the sheet, leaving a bit of room between them -- you can either put them all cut side down or haphazardly, I like the latter. Spray the sprouts again, and sprinkle with some more salt -- we use Maldon here.
  5. Bake 15-25 minutes, depending on your oven, the size of sprouts, and how soft you like them.
  6. Broil for a minute or two to brown the top if you want.
  7. Eat hot or warm; nice with a squirt of lemon or drizzled with lemon infused olive oil, or drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with za'atar.
Variation #1: instead of spray, oil the sheet and toss the sprouts with oil and salt. The caloric difference is not that great after all.

Variation #2: Roast them whole for a bit longer.

Fancier Brussels Sprouts, for Dinner

  1. Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Heat a large cast iron skillet on high for about 2 minutes.
  3. Put some olive oil in the skillet and spread around lightly, and sprinkle in some coarse salt.
  4. Put whole, trimmed brussels sprouts in the skillet, and cook on high heat for another minute.
  5. Put the skillet in the oven and bake about 20-25 minutes, maybe a bit longer. until the sprouts are tender.
  6. Broil for a minute or two if you want them browner.
  7. Remove the skillet from the oven, add a pat or two (or three or four) of butter, shake to melt, drizzle with a little good balsamic vinegar, swirl around and serve hot.
Brussels sprouts for breakfast

  1. Take about 1/2 cup of leftover sprouts from the first method, if there are any. You may wish to zap them briefly in the microwave to take the chill off.
  2. Make a 2 or 3 egg omelet. You can even make an omelet with egg whites out of the container and it will be good prepared this way.
  3. Put the sprouts in the middle of the omelet, add some grated cheddar or similar cheese, fold the omelet over, and cook until cheese melts and sprouts are warm.
  4. (The leftover sprouts also make a great frittata.)
Brussels sprouts for lunch

  1. This is a variation on the first recipe. I had it for lunch today after picking up some brussels sprouts at the farmer's market and used about 3/4 pound of sprouts, cooking them in a 9 inch square metal pan, cut side down.
  2. After the sprouts have baked, broil for 1 minute. Then top with a handful of grated parmesean cheese, a few spoons of breadcrumbs, some hot pepper flakes to taste, and drizzle with a little olive oil or spray with oil spray.
  3. Broil 2-3 minutes until the cheese melts and begins to brown. It will be crisp and unbelievably delicious and is really a meal in itself (for one person, if you like it as much as I do).

It should go without saying that you should use fresh, green brussels sprouts without yellow spots, mold or bruises for all these recipes.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Is truffle cheese trite?

Jonathan, my wife's cousin, is what we call a serial obsessive. A few years ago it was old magazines. Then it was Delta blues, and he spent much of his free time collecting records and visiting its places of origins, usually proceeding through the sites at his customarily glacial speed. Then it was cheeses. Then it was mushrooms (the legal, gastronomic kind, as far as we know) and there were wild mushrooms leaving their spore prints on paper all over his very large house. Now it is truffles.

On a recent trip to Italy, he and his wife Debbie visited their daughter in Siena, and went to a number of other places. They visited the Truffle museum (2 small rooms took Jonathan 2 1/2 hours), and bought all sorts of implements, such as the truffle digger, pictured on the top left, which they will almost certainly never use. As we learned, you carry your pig into the woods to the right spots, near oak trees I think, in a wheelbarrow, because the legs of the right kind of pig are so short that you would miss truffle season if you waited for it to get there on its own power. When the pig starts sniffing and digging, you use this implement to get at the truffle which grows about a foot below the surface. Though he didn't buy any truffles, Jonathan also brought a pretty neat truffle shaver, pictured as the bottom of the three, above right. The shaver reminds me more than anything of the clamp that mohels use during a circumcision. (See above right, a more traditional and a more modern version.) There must be some spiritual connection here, I just can't figure out what it is.

What does all of this have to do with cheese, you may ask? A few months ago I had dinner at Artisanale, a restaurant in NY that specializes in an extensive cheese menu with a friend who wanted to order a truffled pecorino (sheep's milk cheese). I vetoed it, calling it "trite." Perhaps it was an inappropriate put down, never actually having tasted one, but I generally shy away from flavored cheesed (the exception being those with herb crusts or wrapped in leaves).

Anyway, after bringing out his truffle instruments, Jonathan demonstrated this weekend that his obsessions were not unique, and that they could meld. So, he brought out a large selection of cheeses, mostly pecorinos from Tuscany (and some cow's milk cheese from Vermont), many in an advanced stage of decrepitude (one had a crust with special mites in it!) that he had brought into the US in a package on which he had scribbled "PASTEURIZED" in case he had any trouble -- he didn't. (Lest anyone think I am being uncharitable here, this impromptu cheese tasting was one of the highlights of the Thanksgiving holiday.) One of the cheeses was a youngish pecorino with black truffles. It is the whitest cheese in the assemblage on the left. As a pecorino, it was quite good, though all of the cheeses were. (I think I passed on the one with the mites.) But the truffles added nothing to, and may have detracted from, what was otherwise a lovely cheese. Trite? Perhaps not the right word, but in general, a cheese stands alone, or not at all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Sweet potato and pecan pancakes for Thanksgiving morning breakfast

I usually post recipes soon after I make them, so that any of the latest tweaks and improvements can be included. I haven't made this recipe for a few years, but I am posting it tonight since as soon as I make it tomorrow morning , we have to clean up and leave for Worcester, Massachusetts for an intimate Thanksgiving dinner with 50 of our favorite people. My daughter is home, however briefly, for Thanksgiving and I promised her I would make these pancakes, in part as an incentive to get her up and us on the road early. It worked as well for Harry and for Andrew and Bruce, friends who were staying with us. Besides, they are fabulous and worth making even if you don't have a long awaited guest to feed, and they will hold you to the main meal later.

Sweet potato and pecan pancakes

  1. Bake a large sweet potato at 350 degrees for about 1 ½ hours or until very tender. Cool, peel and mash. You will need about 1 ¼ cups for the pancakes. This is best done the night before. (Any leftover sweet potato is fine as long as it dosen’t have too much seasoning.
  2. Sift together 1 ½ cups flour (you may include up to ½ cup whole wheat if you want, but don’t overdo it along with 3 teaspoons baking powder and 1 teaspoon salt.
  3. Put the sweet potato puree in a separate bowl. Add ¼ cup melted butter (ideally) or vegetable oil, 2 beaten eggs, and 1 ½ cups milk. Stir until you have a smooth puree.
  4. Stir the moist ingredients to the dry ingredients, about 1 cup at a time. Don’t over mix or over beat. The secret to good pancakes is that the batter should be lumpy rather than smooth. If it looks to wet, as a bit more flour.
  5. Stir in about ½ cup of chopped toasted pecans, and a few gratings of fresh nutmeg. Let the batter sit a bit while you heat your griddle on medium heat. I find nonstick or impeccably seasoned cast iron works best, though I use nonstick since I can never keep my cast iron seasoned impeccably.
  6. When the griddle is hot, grease it very lightly (remember, these are cakes and they are baked, not fried, even if it is on top of the stove) with butter or oil.
  7. Drop tablespoons of batter on the griddle. Bake until bubbles begin to appear and it looks a little dry around the edges.
  8. Flip the pancakes and cook on the other side until done.
  9. Serve hot with butter and maple syrup.

My wife claims that her mother used to warm maple syrup and butter together for her brother. My mother in law disputed this until they day she died. (She said that she did it for both of them.) I think that melting the butter in the syrup is excessive -- better let each person to put each on in the proportion they want. However, warming the syrup is a nice touch, and if the butter is at room temperature, it won't cool down the pancakes too much.

You can also make this with sliced slightly underripe bananas, but add a bit more flour because they are a bit moister. I frankly like it better without.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Roasted cauliflower with pasta, roasted cauliflower salad

As long as you are roasting cauliflower, and may have some more on hand, two more recipes. The roasting adds a real depth of flavor that steamed or boiled lacks. My wife hates boiled cauliflower, but practically mainlines it when it is roasted.

Roasted Cauliflower with pasta

  1. Roast Cauliflower according to the directions of the last blog posting.
  2. Bring large pot of salted water to boil.
  3. Heat a few tablespoons olive oil on low heat(I hope I don't have to do a Rachel Ray and specify EVOO......), and add 5-10 cloves of chop garlic, depending on your taste.
  4. Saute gently for a few minutes, until they are soft but not even beginning to brown.
  5. Add between 2 and 10 anchovy fillets. This is a matter of great argument in our house. Amy wants none, I want 10, so we compromise on two. Add some ground black pepper and a pinch or two of pepper flakes if you like. Saute, stirring, until the anchovies dissolve into the garlic.
  6. Add a handful of chopped flat-leaf Italian parsley and stir a bit.
  7. Add the cauliflower and saute stirring occasionally, until it is hot. Mash it a bit from time to time as you stir -- this dish is better with smaller pebbles than large florets.
  8. As soon as the water boils, add one pound of pasta. Good choices hear are penne, rigatoni, or orrechiette. (Dal Racolto has a wonderful new rusitc orrechiette which would be great.
  9. When the pasta is done -- there should be some tooth to it (when we were in Southern Italy there was often some snap to the macaroni pasta!), spoon off a cup of water and drain.
  10. Add the pasta to the cauliflower, and mix well to incorporate. Add a little pasta water if it seems dry.
  11. Before serving, you have your choice of toppings: nothing, breadcrumbs (unflavored!!!!!!) browned in a little olive oil, or grated pecorino cheese , alone or mixed with a bit of parmiggiano. Though probably not authentic, we often like bread crumbs and cheese together.
  12. If there is any leftover, it is great straight from the fridge.

Roasted Cauliflower salad
  1. Combine the cauliflower with chopped flat leave parsley, rinsed capers, rinsed and seeded black olives (pre-seeded kalamatas if you are lazy, gaetas or picholines if you are not), and a little chopped red onion or shallot.
  2. Dress with olive oil, sherry vinegar, and salt and pepper to taste.
  3. If you want a slightly Mexican (Veracruzano) flavor, add about 1/2 teaspoon of Ceylon (true) cinnamon and 1/2 to a full teaspoon of rubbed oregano, ideally Mexican. This sounds odd but it works. True cinnamon is very different from the regular cinnamon that we usually get, which is really cassia and better in desserts, Indian and Moroccan food.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Roasted cauliflower and eggs

If you haven't discovered it yet, roasted cauliflower completely blows boiled or steamed out of the water. Instead of mush, you get a beautifully caramelized vegetable. It is also a cinch, can be varied in interesting ways, and combined with eggs in various forms, makes a nice main dish.

All you do is:
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Wash the cauliflower and separate it into medium florets. Dice the center stem as well, and if you want it, the thick ribs from the leaves, pulling off the strings like you would do for celery.
  3. Oil a large baking sheet or jelly roll pan with a peanut or olive oil, or spray it with oil spray. (If you want to make clean up a lot easier, line it with foil first. Sprinkle it with coarse salt --we usually use Maldon sea salt for this and much else.
  4. Put the cauliflower on the sheet, spray and sprinkle with salt.
  5. Bake. How long does it take? It depends (on the density of the cauliflower, how hot your oven really is, the type of pan and how crowded it is, etc.), so taste, but about 15-20 minutes should do it, until the cauliflower is lightly browned. If you are going to cook the cauliflower more later and like it on the crisp side, less is more.
  6. Broil for a about 5-10 minutes more until done how you want it. Well browned is nice, carbonized is excessive.
  7. Serve hot, warm, room temperature or cold. It is great dipped into tahini or hummus, and is even better in one of the following egg dishes.
Variation #1: instead of spraying, toss the cauliflower with oil.

Variation #2: after tossing the cauliflower with oil, sprinkle it with curry powder. (I use a sieve for this to make it a bit more even.) After Madhur Jaffrey's Invitation to Indian Cooking came out in the early 1970s, I did not use curry powder for over 20 years. My loss. Although her opposition to prepared curry powder was a useful corrective to what passed for Indian food inthose days, I hope we have all moved beyond the ostentatious attachment to authenticity.

Cauliflower with eggs, North-Indian style
  1. Heat 1-3 tablespoons fat of choice in a very large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat. Peanut or vegetable oil or ghee would be nice.
  2. When hot, add 1 tablespoon of whole cumin seeds.
  3. When they begin to sizzle and darken a few shades, add a dried red chili or two if you like and then add add 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon turmeric and stir.
  4. Add one large onion, cut in half and sliced thin. Salt lightly and cook until soft and at least lightly browned. The more fat, the easier the browning, but you don't necessarily want them crisp here.
  5. Add ginger, garlic and green chili to taste. (For example, a 1 inch piece of ginger peeled and chopped fine, 5 cloves of chopped garlic, and a chili or two, seeded if you want the flavor without some of the heat. You can use more, less, or none at all of these).
  6. Stir for a few minutes, and if you want add 1 tablespoon ground coriander and 1 teaspoon ground cumin. If you add these spices, you might want to also add a diced tomato or two (canned is better than OK), which will round out the dish and give the spices more time to loose their raw flavor. Stir and cook a few minutes more, lowering the heat so the spices don't burn.
  7. Add the cauliflower (or as much of it as you want or can fit) , and if you have any roasted potatoes lying around, add them too (they are worth making for this) and fry together, stirring occasionally, until the flavors are well blended and the cauliflower is hot.
  8. Make a well in the center, add a little more of your cooking fat, and add 1-4 eggs, beaten lightly and salted.
  9. Cook until the eggs are set, stirring a bit, and then break them up and mix with the cauliflower. Sprinkle lightly with garam masala (Indian mixed roasted spices) or ground roasted cumin.
  10. Turn into a serving dish and garnish with a handful of chopped fresh coriander.
  11. Serve with flatbreads -- chapatis or parathas best, good pita more than acceptable. This makes a great main dish with a salad (esp a yogurt and cucumber salad). It is often my wife's main dish of choice.
Cauliflower Kookoo (Iranian fritata)

We had this the Friday night for dinner when we were having Persian Jewish food and a number of the guests were vegetarian and therefore missed out on some of the best Chicken with Quince we have ever made (not our skill, but the quince were incredibly flavorful). It is extremely simple.
  1. Brown a medium-large halved sliced onion in olive oil.
  2. Mix the onion, 6 or seven beaten eggs, and a handful of chopped fresh together. Stir in some cauliflower -- we used about half a head here.
  3. Heat a 9 inch nonstick skillet on medium high heat.
  4. Add 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Heat until it shimmers.
  5. Add the egg mixture and shake the pan to even it out.
  6. After about a minute, when you start to see sizzling around the edges, turn the heat to low and cook about 20 minute until the eggs are almost set.
  7. Broil 5 minutes to finish cooking and brown the top.
  8. Good hot, warm cold, and reheats well.
Shakshuka with Cauliflower

Shakshuka is a Tunisian Jewish dish served in a lot of Israeli restaurants. It is just eggs poached in spicy tomato sauce. We found that it is very nice with roasted veggies, cooked the sauce before you add the eggs. Here is our variation with cauliflower:
  1. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil on medium heat in a 10-12 inch skillet with a cover.
  2. Add 5 or more cloves of chopped garlic. Do not brown.
  3. When soft, as a chopped jalapeno, leaving seeds in if you want it hot and stir a bit.
  4. Add a handful of chopped flatleaf parsley and stir a bit, then add 1 tablespoon tomato paste and stir.
  5. Add a 15 oz can of chopped tomatoes -- I am partial to the chopped cherry tomatoes from Italy under the del Valle label. Add salt to taste.
  6. Cook about 15 minutes until the oil begins to separate, adding a bit of water if it is too thick.
  7. Add a cup or two of roasted cauliflower and heat through.
  8. Turn heat to medium low, make 4 depressions, and add 4 eggs. Cover the skill. Cook gently about 4 or 5 minutes. The white should still be set but the yolk soft.
  9. Serve with pita bread for dipping. (I like thick pita with this -- the kind produced by Pita Express in Brooklyn in excellent here.) It tastes best when you eat it together from the common skillet, but these days of H1N1, you may want to serve it on plates. Use a spatula to take the eggs out so they don't break.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Deconstructed kadaif, reconstructed

I generally don't make dessert, but this is probably one of the world's easiest ones, and it is sublime: crisp pastry topped with sweetened ricotta cheese, date honey, and soft curly halva -- that's it. It is a cinch to put together -- finding all of the ingredients may be another matter, however.

Kataifi is like a finely shredded filo dough, though I think it is produced by and extrusion process rather than by rolling or stretching dough out superfine. It is generally used to produce a lazy cooks baklava that the Greeks call kataifi and in Arabic is known as kenaffy. You just stir melted butter into the dough, layer it with ground nuts, bake it, and then drench it in syrup. This dessert has nothing in common with regular kataifi, and I have only seen it at the Hummus Place, a chain of Israeli restaurants that serve very good hummus, shakshuka, and things like that, but not much else. I worked out my own version, and it is very simple to put together. The hard part is getting the right ingredients. You will need (in descending order of difficulty of finding)

Curly halva: In Hebrew it is something like Halva Mesoselet. The only brand I have every seen is Achva, and I have only found it at Kalustyan's market in the East 20s. It comes in 250 gram packages. I am sure it is available in some Israeli or kosher market somewhere, but I have checked every one that I have passed and have never seen it. Maybe you would do better in Teaneck or one of the Sephardi neighborhoods in Brooklyn. If you find some, pick up a lot, because it is also (too) good by itself with tea or coffee. It is light beige, soft and tender, rather than hard and crumbly, and resembles in shape the the pulled beef in ropa vieja, a Caribbean dish. The texture is similar to that of challah with a fine, long, crumb, pulled into shreds. Do not substitute the Turkish halva called something like Pismaniye, or thread halva. It's texture is more like cotton candy, fun to eat but not right in this dish.

Kataifi: I found the Apollo brand at the West Side Market on 110th st. I am sure it is available in other Greek and Middle Eastern Markets, and in supermarkets owned by folks from that part of the world. It usually comes frozen in 1 pound packages, and you will need about 1/3 of a pound to serve 6 people. Pull off what you need and defrost in a bag in the fridge for about 8 hours. If you forget to do this, take what you need, seal it tightly in a plastic bag, and defrost under cold running water for about 20 minutes or until you can pull it apart.

Date honey: I use Silan brand from Israel, which is usually available around Pesach, and a small jar lasts a long time. You can also use dibs, or Middle Eastern date syrup, or even a dark and aromatic honey in a pinch.

Ricotta Cheese and Yogurt: Although Hummus Place uses ricotta only, I like the combo. It is best with whole milk fresh ricotta and a full fat drained Greek yogurt like Fage, Total or Chobani, but would probably not be too bad with Polly-O by itself.

Superfine sugar: confectioner's and regular sugar won't do here -- it needs to dissolve in the cheese and yogurt mixture.   You can make your own by whirling granualted sugar in an impeccably clean spice grinder.  If you must, you can substitute agave.  The cheese will be darkened somewhat from vanilla anyway.

Method, for about 6 servings:

  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Spray or oil a baking sheet or jelly roll pan. If you line it with foil it will be easier to clean.
  3. Spray the kataif well and mix, and spread on the pan. Bake for between 12 and 20 minutes. It should darken to a very light brown. Watch carefully near the end to make sure it doesn't burn. ( Do not broil and stay near the kitchen.  Click here to see what can happen if you broil it. ) Set this aside on a large serving platter until almost ready to serve.
  4. Beat together about 1 cup of ricotta, 1/2 cup of yogurt, and superfine sugar to taste. Start with about 1/4 cup sugar and more if needed. It should be sweet but not cloying. Add 1 teaspoon of vanilla if you want. Set aside in the fridge until it is ready to serve.
  5. Just before serving, Spread the ricotta-yogurt mixture over the kataif with a spatula.
  6. Drizzle about 2-3 tablespoons of date honey over it.
  7. Scatter about 1/3 to 1/2 of a 250 gram container of halva over it, and serve at once. You may want to have more at the table for those who really take to it. (However, a guest once brought our leftovers home and said that his teenage daughter liked it just fine 4 hours later, at 2 a.m.)
  8. It can be fun to assemble this at the table.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

My favorite joke, and birthday dinners

What is the difference between roast beef and pea soup?

Anybody can roast beef.

This is actually from a Prairie Home Companion joke show, and will make a big hit with boys in the 6 - 8 year old demographic.

However, I am not sure that it is true. I cook all the time, but I have never make roast beef (as opposed to a gedaempfte brust) and it took be almost 30 years to actually bring myself to roast an entire chicken -- see one of my earlier posts on this. A formidable rib roast, cooked in dry heat is something that it may take me another 20 or 30 years to try.

All this is by way of intro of course. Usually I seem to make my own birthday dinners, and since I can be an unpleasant control freak when I enter a kitchen, this seems to make everyone happy. This year, however, I was fortunate to be invited two birthday dinners, both delicious. The one on my birthday itself was cooked by a friend with the same birthday, and featured English-style roast beef, which was wonderful, along with Yorkshire pudding and roast potatoes. I have never had Yorkshire pudding before, which is odd for a reformed omnivore. However, it was sublime in the truest sense of the word -- the apotheosis of beef fat. I could hear my arteries harden with each bite. (These are compliments.) I would not try to duplicate either of these, but they were accompanied by some of the best, crunchiest roast potatoes I have ever had, and I will post the recipe as soon as I get my hands on it.

The night before, we had Mexican brisket. This recipe has gone through a few stages of transmission already, and reflects what was served to us. The style is different from that of most of my postings. It comes from Emily as taught to Jay, with my edits. I think that this is the first recipe that I have posted that I have not tested myself, but that will come soon enough. I have put some suggested variations at the end as well.

Mexican Brisket4-5 pound brisket
Salt and Pepper
3 tablespoons peanut or vegetable oil
4 cloves sliced garlic
2 cups Mexican beer (in this case light Dos Equis)
2 cups chicken or beef broth

2 ancho chiles, stemmed seeded and torn into big pieces
2 small cinnamon sticks (preferably the soft Mexican kind)
1 Tablespoon oregano, preferably Mexican
2 bay leaves
1 cup canned tomatoes (Muir Glen diced fire roasted is nice here)

1 cup golden raisins

1/2 cup sliced or slivered almonds

1 chipotle in adobo (available canned, I like San Marcos brand)
  1. Preheat oven to 350.
  2. Salt and pepper the mean and brown in oil in a heavy pot or dutch oven.
  3. Add the ingredients garlic through bay leaves bring to boil, transfer to oven and cook for an hour.
  4. Add tomatoes, raisins and almonds and cook til tender..another two hours
  5. Take out the meat and discard the cinnamon and bay leaves.
  6. Puree sauce in batches, return to pot and add the chitpotles to taste.
  7. Refrigerate meat and sauce separately overnight.
  8. Degrease the sauce, slice the mean, and return to a 250 degree over to warm.
  9. Garnish with cilantro and toasted almonds.
  10. Serve with rice (night cooked in chicken broth), corn tortillas or boiled potatoes.
  • Add more ancho chiles, up to 4, and toast them lightly in a dry skillet after removing the seeds and the veins, being careful not to burn them, before adding to the pot. They are rich rather than spicy and won't result in a dish that is too hot -- you can control the spiciness with the chipotles added at the end.
  • Rather than using a Mexican beer, try it with something Belgian or Belgian style. I would love to try this with Tres Philosophes, a cherry-flavored Belgian style beer produced by Ommegang in upstate NY. I think it would be far better than one of the fruit-flavored Belgian lambics. In this case, I might also substitute dried cherries for the raisins. Although the dish went well with red wine, I would serve this beer if made this way.
  • A chopped white onion would not be amiss, and would add flavor to the sauce. Take out the meat and saute the onion it with garlic and spices before returning the meat to the pot.
  • This could probably also be made nicely with a chuck roast.
  • Leave out the broth -- the beer provides more than enough liquid and more will ooze out of the meat and onions. Maybe add a bone or two if you want the flavor.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Pre-Halloween Dinner, and Salmon with Wasabi Peas

I really wanted to make something that would fit in with a Halloween theme for the Friday dinner the night before, something like sweet potatoes with hijiki seaweed. The color scheme is right -- orange and black, and the hijiki looks like some kind of mysterious vermin. (The guest to whom we ultimately did not serve it said that she loved it, because it looks like worms and tastes like dirt.) At least it seemed like the perfect idea until I picked up a package of dried hijiki and saw the price: $18.94. It seemed like a lot for something that I was sure most of the people at the table wouldn't eat, so I decided to spend the money on better fish. For the seasonal touch, we had monster eyeballs for dessert. (Basically sugared peanut butter balls dipped in chocolate with M&Ms for irises -- the recipe was from Epicurious at http://www.epicurious.com/recipes/food/views/Monster-Eyeballs-355109 which were lots of fun. We sent Maya (now in Wisconsin) a picture, and she was very upset that we made them without her. She taked Halloween very seriously.

For the main dish, we had Salmon with Wasabi Peas, which is always a big hit. This is my adaptation of a dish that some friends of ours serve pretty frequently, which is baked salmon topped with mustard and black sesame seeds, but, as they say in Yiddish without any modesty whatsoever, "fartaytsht un farbesert," or adapted (literally translated into a Germanic language) and improved:

Salmon with Wasabi Peas
  1. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  2. Take a salmon fillet and season it with salt. I usually use a roasted Sichuan peppercorn and salt mix by Penzey's spices, but sea, kosher or even plain salt is fine.
  3. Take 1 tablespoon sweet white miso and mash it up well so that it is almost smooth. Mix in 1 tablespoon mayonnaise until smooth. (This amount is sufficient for 1.5 to 2 pounds of salmon.
  4. If you want (and you should) wash a small knob of ginger, less than 1 inch -- no need to peel. Grate it on the coarse side of a grater, take the grated ginger in you hand, and squeeze the juice into the miso-mayo mixture. Mix until smooth.
  5. Spread a thin layer over the salmon. Don't overdo it, a little is plenty, and even though we are in a recession, you can afford to throw what is left away.
  6. Take a handful of wasabi peas and whirl in a food processor (a smaller one works better here) or blender until the texture of bread crumbs.
  7. Sprinkle evenly over the salmon -- not to thickly.
  8. Bake the salmon for 10-15 minutes. Broil briefly at the end if you want it browner.
  9. Serve hot, warm, or room temperature.


  • The better the salmon, the better the dish. Wild Alaskan salmon is in season, inexpensive and was really good. This can also be made with arctic char. You can also use farmed salmon.
  • How long does it cook? One day I will devote a blog posting to this question, but the answer is simple. It depends. In this case, on how cold the fish was when it went in the oven, the thickness of the fish, how much coating you put on, and the kind of fish. In my experience, wild salmon cooks faster and is usually somewhat less forgiving than farmed, but tastes better anyway even if it is a little overcooked.
  • The inspiration for the miso topping in dengaku, a Japanese grilled tofu dish. To prepare the dish authentically, you make a sort of custard with miso, sake, eggs, dashi and seasonings. I just use miso, mayo and ginger juice and no one notices.
  • One variation worth trying (I haven't done it yet) would be to broil the fish with the miso-mayo but without the peas.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Greens, greens, greens, greens

I just checked into the likely weekly haul from my CSA, there it includes broccoli rabe and collards. Most weeks the we get greens of some kind: when we are really lucky, lacinato kale, otherwise, things like chard of which even I get tired pretty quickly. I love greens, but not everyone in my family does. With a very few exceptions, like Northern Indian collards with mustard oil, they particularly don't like them long cooked. And, besides, who wants to spend the better part of an afternoon overcooking a veg? So here are three quick alternatives, based on the Brazilian greens served with feijoada, the black bean and meat stew. It is best with greens of the kale and collard family. I got the base recipe from a friend who learned it from his brother's Brazilian partner. They are best with younger greens (I especially like Russian kale here), but if shredded finely enough, they can be used with the tougher greens as well. Any of the kales work well, as do collards, chard, etc.

Brazilian greens
  1. Wash the greens well, and trim the leaves off the tough stems.
  2. Stack the greens and roll them sort of like a cigar. Cut into shreds with a very sharp knife. It the greens are old and tough, make the shreds very fine, like 1/8 inch or less. It really doesn't take that long.
  3. Heat some olive oil in a large skillet on medium and add very thinly sliced garlic. For a medium bunch of greens, I would use 4 cloves. Cook, stirring, but don't brown, and then add the greens.
  4. Stir the greens and the garlic together (if the garlic is left on the bottom it might burn), salt well, turn heat to high. Stir fry about 5 minutes until bright green. If the greens are still to tough for you, turn heat down, cover, and cook until tender to your liking. (They should still be bright green.)
  5. This is nice served with black beans, rice, and oranges cut into eighths for a vegetarian dinner. I will post a decent vegetarian black bean dish one of these days. This also took much longer to write than it does to prepare.

Variation #1: vaguely Asian: Use peanut or vegetable oil. Instead of salt, use about a teaspoon or more of Bragg's Aminos. This is an odd soy product that claims to be gluten free. In large bottles, it has both kosher certification and a New Testament reference on the label. It also comes in small spray bottles with a few ounces which seem to last long enough. It is basically a soy sauce substitute, but it is delicious, and tastes to me like a vegetarian version of Southeast Asian style fish sauce, and is great with sauteed greens of all kinds. (Try it with bok choy or napa as well as the kaley collardy ones in the recipe above.) One day I am going to try using it to make a vegetarian version of Vietnamese sweet fish sauce.

Variation #2: vaguely Mexican: Follow the original recipe, but add a small chopped onion, salt lightly, and cook until soft but not brown. Then add the garlic, cook briefly and add the greens. When the greens are nearly done to your liking, add a half to a whole diced, seeded pickled jalapeno pepper, the kind available (whole) in jars and cans and in Spanish as jalapenos en escabeche. Add more or leave the seeds in if you want it really hot. Then finish it off with a half to a full teaspoon of the pickled chili juice just before you turn off the heat. Pickled chili juice is an under appreciated culinary treasure, essential to a good salsa Veracruzana, and it makes a great addition to many sauteed dishes and salads. You might try a similar seasoning with sauteed green beans. If the jalapenos come in a can, transfer to a jar, and it will keep almost forever in your fridge.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Blogging, the zone of privacy, and turnips

Linda Ellerbee once talked about "committing journalism" and the toll that it can take on the life of the writer, and especially on the people in their family. Not meaning to be grandiose here, but if it is the case for journalism, it certainly applies to blogging all the more. How to protect the privacy of the people for whom you cook and with whom you eat, when it is integral to the story you have to tell? So I decided to stop worrying about it.

Amy is on a very low carb diet (not Atkins) and as we were about to sit down on Wednesday to a dinner of salad, sauteed broccoli (from the CSA), roasted baby potatoes for Harry and me (also from the CSA) and take-out roasted chicken, she said, "You know, we really have to eat more vegetable dishes with dinner." So, we had to come up with something fast. We had picked up a load of veggies that afternoon, but one of the great unreported problems with CSAs is that washing their vegetables can become a part-time job. Supposedly, in India, dirt on produce is seen as a sign that food is farm-fresh. Regardless, it makes it hard to get another dish on the table quickly. Anyway, we had some lovely young turnips with their greens which were not too gritty. My general preference would have been to steam them together and serve simply with butter, but this is no longer something we do with chicken. Besides, Amy finds this boring in the extreme. So here is what we had, adapted from a recipe of Madhur Jaffrey's for cooking radishes:

Indian-style turnips and greens:
  1. Clean and trim turnips, cut in large dice and save the greens.
  2. Heat about 2 teaspoons oil on medium heat in a skillet. (I used light sesame oil)
  3. Add 2 teaspoons black mustard seeds, turn heat to low, and let them pop.
  4. Fry, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, clean the greens well by soaking and swishing in a change or two of water.
  6. Shred the greens coarsely.
  7. Add 2 cloves chopped garlic, and if you want, a sliced hot green chili to the turnips.
  8. Stir a bit, and then add 1/4 teaspoon of turmeric, 1 teaspoon ground coriander, salt to taste. Stir a bit more.
  9. Add the greens, stir around, and the cover and cook until both greens and turnips are tender. The whole process should take between 10 and fifteen minutes, though it will vary greatly with the age of the turnips, the size of the pieces, and the type of pan you use.
  10. Sprinkle with garam masala if you want (I didn't) and serve.

This only works with tender young turnips with their greens. The turnips should be no larger than golf balls and not have developed thick skins yet. Amy's reaction:"It's not my favorite, but not too bad."

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

What to do with leftover Armico-- Soup!

I am just getting the hang of this blog thing. Rather than edit the old posts with variations, etc, you are supposed to add a new post. Duh.

Anyway, after Kol Nidre we had one chicken leg and thigh and a LOT of vegetables/sauce left. There wasn't enough for dinner for more than one, so we made a soup, and it was great and very easy. Here is how:
  1. Degrease the leftovers to the extent that you can.
  2. Scrape all the vegetables, sauce and jellied juices into a pot.
  3. Add an equal amount of water and bring to the boil. Salt well (but taste!). Simmer about 10 minutes.
  4. Skin bone and shred whatever chicken is left and simmer about 5 minutes more to warm through. Taste for salt again.
  5. That's it, and you won't believe how good it is.

If no one in the house is low-carbing it, you can add a small handful of ditalini pasta or arborio rice. It will make it a lot thicker and more substantial.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Armico, a Sephardi chicken dish for before the fast, and what to do about the flabby skin in chicken stews

I find the day before Yom Kippur both rushed and endless, whether it is a Sunday or a workday, and the pre-fast meal to be hurried and unsatisfying. Kol Nidre hangs over you all day, and there seems to be both too much time, and not enough, especially to clean a bit after dinner before rushing out to shul. However, our sages teach that in order to get the full merit out of the fast, you must feast before, so people put a lot of effort into it. Growing up the meal was invariably boiled chicken with soup (BORING!!!). The more people went on about what a treat it was, the more you knew they were weren't enjoying it, especially because it was prepared with little or no salt, so that you wouldn't get thirsty during the fast. While boiled chicken can be good when done right (i.e. not overcooked), without salt it is hard to take. In our house, where salt is a major staple to the point that I think we eat more salt than rice, especially in this low-carb age, this would not be an acceptable "festive" meal.

So, for more years than I can remember, I have been preparing a Armico, a Sephardi dish of chicken in tomato sauce with leeks and herbs. It needs no added salt so it makes a great pre-fast meal. I originally got the recipe from a synagogue cookbook from the West coast that I lost and dearly wish I could find. The recipe has grown and changed over the years to become almost a one-dish meal chicken and vegetable stew (it only needs rice and a salad).

The main innovation I have introduced is to brown the chicken under the broiler after stewing in the style of a Filipino Adobo ( chicken stewed with garlic, black pepper, vinegar and soy sauce, definitely not recommended before a fast). This method is a great solution to the flabby-skin- on-chicken-stew problem in general. The only other acceptable solution is the Indian one, of skinning the chicken before stewing. It is a lot easier than browning the bird beforehand, which I find does little good since after stewing, the skin is pretty gross anyway. Much better to broil the cooked chicken and brown the skin, and at the same time reduce the sauce, pour it over and serve. Try this next time you make any chicken stew. Here is my recipe, which is in the pot as a write and wait to the big event this evening:

Armico (Sephardi-style chicken stew)
  1. Trim a bunch of leeks of most of the greens, split in half, and cut into 1/3 to 3/4 inch chunks. You will probably need to soak them several times in water to remove all the sand. Put in a large pot with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and saute over medium heat.
  2. Add other vegetables to the pot in the order that they are prepared, all cut into large-ish dice or smallish chunks: 3 or 4 carrots, 3 or 4 stalks celery, about 1/2 pound green beans, a zucchini or two, and 3/4 to 1 pound of washed quartered mushrooms (I like cremini here). After each addition, stir and continue to cook.
  3. Wash a bunch of flat-leaf parsley and a bunch of dill very well, dry and chop. Add to the pot, reserving a few tablespoons to use as garnish later (something which I almost always forget to do). Add one or two bay leaves.
  4. Add a 28 ounce can diced tomatoes. I like to use Muir Glen Fire Roasted Diced tomatoes. Cook a very few minutes.
  5. Add a chicken, cut into quarters or eighths. Simmer on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes until just done. (The meat and skin on the legs will be pulling away from the bones and the juices will be clear when pricked. The exact time depends on too many variables to list here.)
  6. Remove the chicken pieces to a large broiler safe serving dish, skin side up. Broil on the middle shelf of the oven on low for about 10-15 minutes until well browned.
  7. Meanwhile, boil down the sauce and vegetables on high heat, stirring frequently so that it does not burn.
  8. Pour the vegetable sauce over the chicken and serve. You can hold this warm for while before serving and do no damage.
  9. Serves 4.
Meatballs: This year, we are adding turkey meatballs. Take one pound of turkey, mix with a small grated onion, some chopped parsley, and a bit of oregano. Shape into largish meatballs (we got 8 out of the pound) and brown in nonstick skillet in a bit of olive oil. You need to firm up the meatballs so they stay together. Add to the pan with the chicken, deglazing the skillet if you want to be fancy. I am not sure what we are going to do about broiling the meatballs at the end, since this is the first year we are trying this. (Harry, our mutant carnivore, has become something of a meatball enthusiast.)
Tomatoes: The resulting dish is not all that tomatoey. If you want a redder result, add another 16 or 28 can or diced tomatoes or tomato puree.
Serving the dish at other times of year: This is great anytime, and makes a wonderful Friday night dish, and we have evened served it at a seder. By all means salt it well, and add some pepper too and garlic or a pinch of cayenne while you are at it. Even though for a pre-fast meal, it is fine without these, it is much better with.
Gmar hatimah tovah, and an easy and joyous fast to everyone.

Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Moroccan take on brisket

Sliced and ready to serve
(For an improved, albeit slightly more labor-intensive version of this dish, see here.)

We had this as the main dish at our Rosh Hashanah dinner. We were going to have the standard Ashkenazi variety at my mother's the next night, and wanted something a bit different. It is adapted from a chicken recipe that appeared in the NY Times in early 2008. The original recipe may be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/20/dining/201crex.html . I have made it with chicken and beef, and beef is definitely the winner -- it cooks longer and there is more time for the spices to meld and develop.  You can make it with stew but a fatty brisket is best I think.

Moroccan-style brisket
  1. Make a spice mixture of 1 teaspoon kosher salt, 1.5 teaspoons fine, freshly ground black pepper, 2 teaspoons ground ginger (fresh is very un-Moroccan), 1.5 teaspoons ground cinnamon, 1 teaspoon ground cumin,  1.5 teaspoons of Aleppo or Kirmiz pepper, depending on your taste.  (Once I had some spice mix from Boite of cardamom, cumin and rose and added this as well.  Not too shabby. ) 
  2. Rub all but about a teaspoon of the spice mix into about 4-5 pounds of brisket .  (See below on the cut to use.) You can leave it overnight if you want, though I generally don't.
  3. Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Put 1 or 2 sliced onions in a roaster large enough to hold the meat and then some. Add 2 cloves sliced garlic, put the meat on top, and cover with 2 more sliced onions and 2 cloves sliced garlic. Sprinkle with the reserved spice mix. Add a bit more salt.
  4. Add 2 oranges, cut into eighths, about 30 pitted dates, and 6-10 carrots, peeled and cut into thirds. Tuck them in wherever they fit.
  5. Cover well (foil is ok), and put in the oven to bake for about an hour and a half.
  6. While the meat is cooking take about 1.5 pounds of merguez sausage (not the precooked kind), prick with a fork, cut into two inch lengths, and brown in a skillet.
  7. Set aside, pour out the fat, and deglaze with about 1 cup of orange juice.  A tablespoon of pomegranate molasses, if you like it, will add richness. Cook until reduced by around half.  
  8. Top the brisket with the merguez pieces, pour in the juice, cover and back for another 1.5 to 2 hours until the meat is tender.
  9. To serve, slice the meat across the grain on the bias. Place on a large deep platter and surround with dates, carrots, merguez and orange pieces. Taste the juices for salt and add a bit if necessary. If there are lots of juices and they are very thin, reduce them a bit, and pour over the meat. Garnish with a handful of toasted pine nuts.
  10. Serve with couscous to around 8 people.
This can be made in advance, but my preference is not to slice the meat until after you reheat it.

The meat:  Best for this is a nice fatty cut, like 2nd cut brisket or deckel.  I have made it with first cut brisket to my regret-- it is really too dry.  Your cardiologist will not approve, but how often do you eat brisket?  You might as well enjoy it.  If you can find beef cheeks, they would also probably work well in this recipe, though I have never cooked with them.  If it does end up dry, which may happen if you use a first cut, be particularly careful in the slicing.  Use a very long, very sharp carving knife, hold the meat down firmly with a large fork, and carve of thin (I am talking 1/8 inch here) about 20 degrees off the horizontal,  You will end up with large thin slices.  Topped with the juices, you will be able to pretend that they are not dry.

As a stew:  Use a comparable quantity of chuck cut into 1-2 inch pieces.  The ingredients are the same, but the order and cooking time are different.  Fry the sausage first and remove.  Brown the beef in the fat and remove.  Saute the onions (chopped instead of sliced) in the fat until light brown, add the garlic and saute another few minutes.   Add the spices and saute another few minutes to remove the raw aroma.  Deglaze with the orange pomegranate mixture, and return the beef and sausage to the pot.  Stir in the carrots and dates, and top with the oranges.  Bake about 2 hours until tender.  Taste about half way through for salt and add more if necessary.

Monday, September 21, 2009

Zucchini salad and the water problem

The surprise hit at our Erev Rosh Hashanah dinner was a zucchini and tomato salad. My wife generally dislikes zucchini, especially when it is boiled, and I have made a number of salads in the past that have left her completely cold. No amount of harissa, garlic and caraway in a Tunisian style zucchini salad could make up for the water that the vegetable kept exuding after it was mashed, no matter how long and how well we tried to drain it.

One of Claudia Roden's more recent cookbooks, Arabesque, contains an intriguing sounding Moroccan recipe for a salad of zucchini and tomatoes, but it called for the zucchini to be boiled and I knew that it would not go over too well. So, I adapted it with grated, salted and drained and sauteed squash: the process concentrated the flavors, kept the zucchini from oozing water, and ended being the most popular dish at the table. (It does require quite a bit of salt, which is a major staple in our house, so one of our guests was not able to eat it, but we were able to set aside some low-sodium versions of the other salads for him.) The recipe:

Moroccan Zucchini and Tomato Salad:
  1. Wash 1 to 1.5 pounds of zucchini well. (To get out the grit I use Marcella Hazan's method: soak them in water about 10 minutes, rinse, and use your fingernail to scrape off any grit that remains.)
  2. Grate the zucchini and salt well -- use about 1 teaspoon. Leave for 30 minutes to an hour to sweat. It will give off lots of water.
  3. Put the grated zucchini in a colander to drain off the salty water, rinse and drain again, and squeeze out as much moisture as you can with your hands. (Believe me, plenty of salt will still remain.)
  4. Saute the zucchini in about 1 tablespoon of olive oil in a nonstick skillet on medium heat for 10-15 minutes until tender. When almost done, add a mashed clove of garlic, cook a bit more, and set aside.
  5. Halve about 12 ounces of large cherry tomatoes.
  6. Heat 2-3 tablespoons olive oil in a nonstick or impeccably well-seasoned cast iron skillet (mine never seem to achieve the requisite impeccability of seasoning). Place the tomatoes cut side down in the skillet, and cook on medium high heat until they soften and the undersides begin to caramelize. (You have to peek).
  7. Turn down the heat to low and add 4-6 cloves of slice garlic, and saute until the garlic is cooked but not browned, which should take 5 minutes of less. Watch it carefully at this stage.
  8. Combine the zucchini and the tomato and garlic mixture, add a little pepper and taste for salt, just in case.
  9. Serve warm, at room temperature, or cold with bread. You could garnish it with chopped parsley or cilantro, but we forgot to and nobody complained. They were too busy trying to wipe every last bit of the oil out of the serving dish with their challah.
  10. Without the cilantro, which I forgot anyway, there is nothing about the flavors that would prevent you from serving it hot with pasta, perhaps with some chopped fresh basil. Try it and let me know how it turns out.
The water problem:
Just a little food for thought, which applies not only to zucchini but to other foods as well. I maintain, based on no particular scientific evidence, that many flavors are fat soluble rather than water soluble. Spices generally taste better after being sauteed in fat. And, while steamed and boiled veggies have their place, I am not always sure what it is, and there are few, that too my taste, are not better when sauteed or roasted, even using minimal low-fat cooking spray. The fat and dry heat concentrate the flavors, while the water carries them away. The sauteed grated zucchini in this recipe makes a far better side dish than steamed or boiled zucchini, no matter how much butter you put on the latter.
This works for meats as well. In general, a boiled chicken tastes less juicy than a roasted or sauteed one. I think that it is Harold McGee, in his first book, who writes that the sensation of juiciness comes when the fat (or salt or sugar) in food causes us to salivate, and not necessarily from the moisture content of the food itself.