Saturday, March 27, 2010

Matzah Toffee

Uncharacteristically, the two passover recipes that I have posted so far are for desserts, and Amy usually makes them rather then me. Why am I posting them? Because they're good notwithstanding that some of the ingredients are truly gross. Kosher for Passover margarine is not much better than Crisco with motor oil overtones (I am paraphrasing a friend here) and I would be surprised if the Passover chocolate chips contain more than 10% cacao. But who cares? Everyone seems to love it and some years Amy seems to make a batch every day of the holiday. If you try it, you will certainly find yourself making more than one batch. Most people seem to know about this recipe already, but some don't and I consider posting it on my blog to be a public service. I would give credit for it, but its provenance has been lost with time.


  • Matzah, to fit pan (about 6 pieces)
  • 1 cup kosher for Passover margarine
  • 1 cup dark brown sugar
  • 12 ounces (2 cups) pareve kosher for Passover semi-sweet chocolate chips


  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees and line a 15 x 10 inch shallow pan (a nonstick jellyroll pan is ideal) , with matzah boards. Fit them to cover the bottom evenly, without overlapping; you may need to break them to do so.
  2. In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the margarine and brown sugar together and bring them to a slow boil. Maintain a gently boil without stirring for 3 - 5 minutes, until the mixture becomes thick enough to coat a spoon. Pour the sugar mixture over the matzah and spread evenly. Bake in the oven for 4-5 minutes or so. (You want to see the brown sugar and margarine mixture bubbling but be careful that it doesn’t burn, especially if you think your oven runs hot.)
  3. Immediately sprinkle the chocolate chips on top of the matzah, and as they start melting, gently spread the melted chocolate so that it covers the top as completely as possible.
  4. It is sometimes easier to remove later if you cut the toffee into pieces when it is still warm, but there are so many variables (esp the pan you use) that this is not always necessary.
  5. Let the matzah toffee cool at room temperature until it has completely solidified. You can speed this process by putting it in the fridge or freezer, or, this year, leaving it by an open window.
  6. Break into pieces, and store in an airtight container. Cleaning the pans is no fun.
  7. Makes about 2 pounds of candy.
Ingredients: You could make this with butter for a dairy version, and, frankly, it is good enough that it would be worth making after the holiday with butter and real chocolate chips. Amy has been talking about chopping up real chocolate for it (you can buy K for P chocolate that is 75% cacao but it is 4 times more expensive than the chips) but no one has ever complained when we served this toffee to them so I convinced her that it was worth neither the effort nor the expense. If you don't need a treat, your kids do, so make it now, even with the gross stuff. Besides, it is a lot better and less expensive than most of the Passover desserts that you would buy.

Nuts? We argue about this every year. Amy likes to add slivered almonds, but I don't think they add anything. Besides, her brother is allergic to nuts and sometimes gets insulted when people serve them. This year we may top some with chopped pistachios. It's worth trying both ways, but I would keep the preponderance plain. (Post Seder update: even though last year's almond slivers sort of left me cold, the chopped pistachios rock. Apologies to my wife.)

Crumbly leftovers: You will find chocolate toffee crumbs at the bottom of the storage container. Don't throw them out. They are great as a topping for ice cream during the year.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Tishpishti: Orange walnut cake for Passover from Turkey

People have asked me why I haven't posted anything for Pesach yet, but who has the time, so I am offering this easy and wonderful cake without much commentary. My friend Barbara brought this to our house for Seder a few years ago. She got the recipe from her friend Karen and it was a big hit so she shared the recipe with us. It is simplicity itself, light and delicious. There are other versions but they are all more complicated. Harry, our son who occasionally has the misfortune to have his birthday fall during Pesach, liked it so much that he requested it for his birthday cake. If it is good enough for a 15 year old (now almost 18), it should be good enough for you too.


  • 5 eggs lightly beaten
  • 1¼ cups walnuts chopped
  • 3/4 cup ground almonds
  • 1 cup sugar
  • juice and grated zest (skin) of 1 orange
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Mix all the ingredients well.
  3. Line bottom of 9 inch square cake pan with foil or parchment paper (I think parchment works better.)
  4. Brush paper and sides of the pan well with oil.
  5. Bake for 1 hour until browned.
  6. Turn out upside down immediately and peel off the paper . If it looks like it is going to stick, put the pan back over it and just serve it from the pan.
  7. Cool and serve cut into one inch squares.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Apple Mess

A few months ago, Amy made a baked apple dish that she got somewhere off the internet. It was for baked apples stuffed with dates and pecans, and it was a disaster. There was too much filling, it oozed out of the apples, and turned into a sloppy mess at the bottom of the pan. The thing is, it was delicious. It tasted like pecan pie with apples, only better. She tried the recipe a few weeks later the right way, and it was picture perfect with the filling staying nicely in the cored apples, but nowhere near as tasty.

So, this Friday, Amy didn't want to make dessert and I was on my own. Dedicated readers of this blog will note that I have few dessert recipes, so this is not really my field. I didn't want to make a fruit crisp, our meat meal (Uighur lamb stew) default. It thought that I would try to reproduce the baked apple dish the time she got it all wrong. I didn't even try to keep the apples whole and just sort of tossed everything together. It was a big hit and VERY easy.

I would call this a crisp, but it wasn't crisp at all. I am not sure what to call it, so I welcome your suggestions in the comments (this is a not so subtle way to encourage someone other than my niece to comment on my blog). Here it is:

Apple Mess

  • 4 large baking apples (I used Rome)
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup brown sugar (light or dark, whatever you have)
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried dates (pitted of course)
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans
  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
  • 1 tablespoon Calvados or applejack (optional)
  • 4 tablespoons unsalted pareve margerine or butter, melted
  • 3 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • a pinch of salt
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Peel the apples, quarter them, remove the cores, and cut into lengthwise slices. Put into a lightly greased baking dish that will hold all the apples with some room for the goop. A 7x10 inch pyrex dish worked nicely.
  3. Mix the other ingredients. Pour over the apples. It will all sink to the bottom.
  4. Bake 15 minutes and then mix the apples well to coat with the goop.
  5. Bake another 15 minutes and mix the apples well to coat with the goop.
  6. Bake another half hour.
  7. Best served hot or warm, and keeps well for a while in a low oven. Serve with coconut sorbet or vanilla ice cream. Also nice drizzled with a little more Calvados or applejack.
  8. Serves 6 nicely.

Why the peculiar method? When you pour in the liquid mixture it will all sink to the bottom, except for a few piece of dates and pecans. Unless you mix it, the apples on top will cook without flavoring, and the nuts and dates on top will scorch. I found that mixing twice in the first half hour redistributes both apples and goop so that the apples glaze nicely and nothing is left on the top to burn. The goop becomes sort of custardy and isn't all left on the bottom.

Why coconut sorbet and pareve margerine? This is for Andrew who wanted to know about the Jewish holiday called shiva where people sit around in the morning. If you are separating milk and meat, you don't want to make a dessert with butter or serve it with ice cream. Pareve products contain no meat or dairy and are fine after a meat meal. The problem is that most really good desserts are dairy. You could just as easily make this with butter and serve it with real ice cream, but frankly, there are so many good dairy desserts around that why would you want to? The nice thing about fruit crisps and this apple mess is that you won't miss the butter and ice cream and can eat it happily after a meat meal.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

More fake meat: chickpeas with vegetarian chorizo 2 ways

I know that this may sound gross, but it isn't. As I explained in an earlier posting on vegetarian chili, I have become out of both choice and necessity a devote of fake meat.

My niece was coming over for Friday night dinner, and made a special request of a recipe that had just appeared in Mark Bittman's minimalist column: fried chickpeas with chorizo and spinach. For the original recipe, see . But, since she is a vegetarian, and I don't eat pork anymore, some experimentation was called for. Since the vegetarian sausage is lacking in both spice and fat and therefore much flavor, some further doctoring was needed in the form of smoked Spanish paprika (pimenton), black pepper and garlic, which made up for some of the flavors that would be found in the original chorizo. Here is what we did with it:

Chickpeas with vegetarian chorizo


* olive oil

* 2 vegetarian chorizos (I used Lifetime brand)

* 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possible (about half a pound cooked, or the contents of a 28 ounce can)

* 5 cloves chopped garlic

* 1 chopped shallot or 1/4 cup chopped onion

* 1 tablespoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika

* Salt and black pepper

* 1/2 pound spinach

* 1/4 cup sherry

* 1 to 2 cups bread crumbs.


1. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large nonstick skillet. Quarter, then slice the chorizo and fry on medium heat until crisp. This takes 5 or 10 minutes depending on how crisp you like it. Remove to a plate.

2. Add 2-3 more tablespoons of oil to the skillet, and the chickpeas, dried well, and fry over medium high heat until they are brown and crisp a bit, about 10 minutes.

3. Push the chickpeas to the side, add a bit of oil, and 3cloves of chopped garlic and the onion or shallot. When they are soft, add the smoked paprika and about 10 grinds of black pepper. Cook on low until the paprika loses some of its raw aroma, and then incorporate into the chickpeas. Mix in the chorizo.

4. Add another tablespoon of oil to the pan then add the garlic and saute on medium for under a minute.

5. Add spinach and sherry and stir fry until wilted.

6. Remove the spinach to a cutting board and chop coarsely (much easier than wrestling with it when it is raw).

7. Combine chick peas, chorizo, and spinach in a thin layer in a baking dish, sprinkle with bread crumbs and drizzle with some more olive oil or spray with some olive oil spray.

8. Put the dish under the broiler for about 5 minutes to brown.

Since I cooked my own chickpeas, and I had some chorizo left over as well, I made the following dish for lunch during the week. The ingredients are very similar but the effect is completely different. Much easier and less elegant, but no less delicious.

Chickpea stew with vegetarian chorizos and tomato sauce


* olive oil

* 2 vegetarian chorizos (I used Lifetime brand)

* 2 cups cooked or canned chickpeas, as dry as possibe (about half a pound cooked, or the contents of a 28 ounce can)

* 5 cloves chopped garlic

* 1 chopped shallot or 1/4 cup chopped onion

* 1 tablespoon sweet smoked Spanish paprika

* Salt and black pepper

* 15 ounce can chopped or crushed tomatoes (I like del Valle from Italian cherry tomatoes, but Muir Glen fire roasted would accentuate the smokiness of the paprika).


1. Slice or dice the chorizo and saute on medium heat in one tablespoon olive oil in a nonstick skillet for about 5 or 10 minutes. Remove to a plate.

2. Add garlic and onions to the skillet with 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil and saute until soft but not burned. Add paprika, salt and pepper and saute a bit longer to remove the raw smell.

3. Add the tomatoes and cook on high for 5 to 10 minutes until the oil begins to separate.

4. Mix in the chickpeas and chorizo and cook 5 more minutes until heated through. If it looks to dry, add water or chickpea cooking liquid (only if you make your own, not from the can).

5. Serve over rice.

Canned or dried chickpeas: There is really no comparison, and cooking your own chickpeas takes minimal effort. Wash them, soak them over night (or for at least 8 hours at any time of day; as I have said before they are legumes and not phantoms and there is nothing magical about soaking them at night), then rinse and simmer in fresh water until tender to your taste, about 35-50 minutes, depending on the age of the legumes and on your taste. Salt the water about 5 minutes before they are done. You can actually use the water you cook the chickpeas in, unlike the gross slimy liquid from the can. However, life is short, planning in advance doesn't always work, and canned chickpeas are a real convenience, even if my daughter won't eat them.

Menu ideas: either of these dishes, especially the second one, would make a great component of a vegetarian Spanish meal. Try it with spinach or other greens sauteed with pine nuts and raisins, tortilla espagnole (a frittatta like omelet with potatoes) and a tossed salad. Gazpacho or a hot garlic soup with bread and poached eggs would be a good first course.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Chicken with sumac : one of the world's best chicken dishes

Penny for penny, minute of effort for minute of effort, chicken with sumac is probably the best dish in the world. It takes almost no time to prepare, bakes in less than an hour, and uses simple, easy to find ingredients (provided you have a source for sumac).

For some, sumac is a stumbling block. Even hearing the name of the dish gives some people a rash in their throat, but be assured that the spice sumac is a completely different species from poison sumac. It is an essential spice in the Middle east, at least from the Levant through Iran, and adds a rich lemony acidity but is not quite as sour. The color is also beautiful. There is also a traditional American use. American non-poisonous sumac I think is related. Have you ever had pink lemonade? Why would anyone dye lemonade pink? The reason is that in previous centuries, when lemons were scarce to unobtainable, a sweet and sour drink was made with red sumac berries and a sweetener, either sugar or honey: sumac lemonade. My guess is that people were in the habit of drinking a pink lemonade-like concoction, and when real lemons were more readily available, were in the habit of coloring the drink pink. Don't pick your own sumac berries for this dish, though.

The recipe I offer is very slightly adapated from Mary Laird Hamady's luminous Lebanese Mountain Cookery, one of the great books devoted to a micro-cuisine, rural, Druze cooking from Lebanon, and its transmutations in Michigan. It is out-of-print, but still around and worth looking for. You know that you are dealing with the real thing when there is a chapter lovingly devoted to dehen (rendered lamb tail fat), along with adaptations for the American kitchen. This fat is specifically forbidden in Leviticus as an act of asceticism. Remember, our ancestors come from a part of the world where much erotic poetry revolves around the image of the fat tailed sheep and giving it up must have been quite a sacrifice. (Sabbetai Zevi shocked many of his contemporaries by consuming lamb kidney fat, also forbidden, and suggested by Hamady as a substitute for the tail.)

Many of the recipes in the book are worth making (appetizers, pastries, fish, stews, meatballs), but this is our favorite. You will note it is much shorter than most of my recipes, since there is not way to make it longer. I made up for it with excessive commentary:

  • olive oil
  • 4-6 loaves pita bread, stale ok, white or whole wheat ok
  • 1 large spanish onion, peeled, halved, and cut into thin slices
  • 4-5 tablespoons ground sumac
  • 3 1/2 pound chicken, cut into 10 pieces (halve the breasts which tend to be very large)
  • salt and pepper

  1. Preheat oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Lightly oil a large baking dish that is 1 or two inches deep.
  3. Split the pitas, rip into large pieces, and place in the baking dish. Top with the onions.
  4. Season with salt, fresh pepper, and 2-3 tablespoons of sumac. Mix lightly if you are not lazy, but this is not absolutely necessary.
  5. Top with the chicken, which ideally should cover all the bread.
  6. Season the chicken with salt, pepper and 2 more tablespoons of sumac. It looks nicer if the sumac is spread evenly, so you may sprinkle it on through a sieve.
  7. If the chicken looks like is doesn't have enough skin and fat, drizzle with a little olive oil (or actually as much as you feel like).
  8. Bake 50 minutes to one hour. That's it. Serves 4 - 6 people.
Finding sumac: It is actually not that hard. Any store that stocks middle eastern groceries should have it. Fairway even carries it now. It is also available mail order from Penzey's spices. You can even follow Paula Wolfert's suggestion and call a local Lebanese or Syrian church and ask the priest where the women in his congregation do their shopping. Don't make excuses, you will regret it. It keeps nearly forever in your freezer. Don't keep it, or any other spices, on a rack near your stove. Sumac is also very nice in a chopped salad or fattoush, and can also be rubbed on a plain roasted or broiled chicken.

The key to success: is the right balance between chicken and bread. Be sure the chicken covers the bread, and add olive oil if necessary. Some people think that in this dish the chicken is beside the point and it is all about the bread, onions and sumac. They are right, but don't be tempted to just put in more bread, since there won't be enough chicken fat to moisten it. The best solution if you want more bread is to get a package of chicken backs and increase the seasonings. They will add plenty of fat, and to my taste, more of the best meat on the chicken. Another key to success is salt, and kosher chickens are really good at keeping the sodium levels up. We have friends who live in a low-sodium household (not that any of them have particularly high blood pressure). We on the other hand eat more salt than we do rice, especially since Amy is on her current low-carb regime. Whenever we make this dish for these friends they remark on how much better our version is than their's. It's because we use salt, and aren't shy about it.

How long does it cook? How many does it serve? These are the eternal questions for which there is really no answer, only, in the Jewish style, questions. How hot is your oven? How tightly is the chicken placed? Was the chicken cold or at room temperature when you put it in? How big is the chicken? How big are the pieces (I find that breasts can run so large that they take longer to cook now than the nearly vestigial legs and thighs of our poor chickens, so I then to cut the breasts up)? How hungry is everyone? What else are you serving? Just bake it for an hour and don't worry about it. There will be plenty for at least 4 people.

Chicken with sumac and mussakhan: There is a similar, more elaborate, and more difficult Palestinian dish called mussakhan. To my taste, it's not worth the time and effort -- you get more bang for your precious time with this version of chicken with sumac, which has all the flavor elements and is easy enough to be a weeknight dinner.

Copyright and recipes: One day, as I have long promised, I will write about intellectual property and recipes. My version makes some slight changes from Hamady's (she puts bread on top which just burns) , but I really justify my publicizing her recipe as a way of making her wonderful cookbook better known. Look for it and buy it if you can.