Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Who uses recipes? A recipe for Hungarian Cabbage Salad

If you generally find my writing style annoying, you may find this post is obnoxiously self-congratulatory. If so, just skip it.  I think it goes with the territory of blogging.

I NEVER participate in chain letters.  So, of course, when I got a recipe exchange chain, I couldn't resist, especially since it came from a reliable and upstanding source.  You send out the letter to 20 other people with two names on it, the person who sent it to you and your own name.  Each recipient is supposed to send a recipe to the person who originally sent the letter to you, and then send it along to 20 more recipients who in turn will send you recipes.

The first response I got was from Tony.  I didn't send the recipe exchange letter to him, but my cousin did.  He didn't send a recipe but asked, "Who uses recipes?"  Good question.  A mutual acquaintance of ours uses recipes, and when a recipe calls for 1 tablespoon of chopped ginger, this individual has been known to chop the ginger and pack it into a measuring tablespoon to make sure that he has the right amount.  This is one extreme.  Tony is probably the other extreme.  Most of use fall somewhere in between.  Readers of this blog will have observed that I rarely bake, because I don't have the patience to follow the directions precisely or the equanimity to deal with the results when they don't come out as they should.  But when I cook,  I still like recipes because I like the variety that they bring to my cooking.  I rarely follow recipes as they are written, but they are a useful starting point.  I find that when I don't use recipes, food tastes like me, rather than like itself. Who born outside of Bengal could make a Bengali fish stew without using a recipe, at least the first time, and probably many other times as well? I tend to remember and internalize recipes better than less significant information, like my childrens' names, and usually don't need to refer to a cookbook or an online recipe, but behind most of what I cook, there is a recipe somewhere.  Which brings me (almost) to this post's recipe.

We have been members of a foreign affairs discussion group for decades, since time out of mind (an English common law formula) and I had hair.  Sometimes the discussions are interesting and surprising, but we have been doing it long enough that everyone usually knows what everyone else is going to say.  Still, we have a good time and enjoy each others' company, and every meeting is preceded by a pot luck where the host makes the main dish(es).  Debbie and Eli have only been in the group for a few years, so they can occasionally surprise us with their opinions, and Debbie usually surprises us with her cooking. Debbie uses recipes, and this is nothing to be ashamed of. She is of Hungarian extraction, and Eli  Iraqi via Israel.  Usually she makes Iraqi food, though sometimes Hungarian as well.  At our most recent meeting, she made chicken paprikash and an Iraqi stew of chicken meatballs with dried fruit.  When I volunteered to bring a side I had intended to make shlishkes, a Hungarian dish of potato dumplings (or pasta) dressed with toasted challah crumbs and highly seasoned with salt, pepper and sugar.  Carbs in carb sauce, what could be bad?  But she sent me an email that she was already making dumplings (halushki) and rice, so I should bring something less starchy.  So I brought a Hungarian cabbage salad that everybody loved, and several people asked for the recipe.  What recipe?  I make a cabbage salad that is a descendant of the recipe in the Cuisine of Hungary by George Lang, who as far as anybody knows never had any hair. (I have the 1971 edition and it is one of the greatest cookbooks ever written.) But I depart from it in important ways (he blanches the cabbage, who can be bothered?) and my recipe also owes a lot to the cabbage salad sold by the Kosher Marketplace on Broadway and 90th.  And to my own imagination. So here is the cabbage salad that I make, written down for the first time. It's really not much of a recipe, so feel free to play around with it:

Hungarian Cabbage Salad

  • 1-1.5 pounds of cabbage (one small head or 1/2 of a large head)
  • Salt
  • 1 bunch of scallions, white and light green parts
  • 1 bunch of dill
  • Olive oil, about 1/4 cup, more if you aren't worried about calories
  • Cider vinegar, about 2 tablespoons 
  • 1/2 of a small onion, coarsely grated
  • 1 teaspoon Bragg's aminos, unless you are sick of them 
  • 1/2 tablespoon sugar
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds, bruised by pounding them lightly in a mortar or pestle or crushing them with the side of a knife
  • 1 teaspoon sweet paprika

  1. Clean the cabbage by removing the outer leaves.  I have heard that once you do this, the cabbage is so clean that tap water will only make it dirtier.
  2. Cut in quarters and remove the core.
  3. Shred very finely.  You can use a mandoline if you have one.  What I do is cut it into very thin shreds with a very sharp knife, starting at the top with the cut surface facing down.  After several cut, given the way I hold the knife, there will be an overhand, so I rotate the cabbage so that the cut surface faces up and continue cutting it into fine shreds, almost slivers.  This doesn't take long and the cabbage seems to come out fine enough this way.
  4. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and salt lightly.
  5. Chop the dill and scallions and toss into the cabbage.
  6. Whisk together the remaining ingredients for the dressing.  Taste that it has the right balance of sweet and sour. Toss with the cabbage.
  7. Weight down the salad:  this softens it without blanching.  Cover the top with some plastic wrap or wax paper, put a plate or pot cover on it, and weight it down with a heavy object.  I use a Thai mortar.  A large can would do as well.  Leave it for as long as you want, but at least an hour.
  8. Chill.  Toss and taste for salt before you serve.  This amount should serve 4-6 generously.  
  9. The cabbage will also soften as it is left.  It is best later the day you make it or the next day.  It can be kept longer, but should not be considered a long-term asset. 

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Mexican vegetable soup

I have nothing interesting to say about this, other than that it is easy,  good, and can be made vegetarian or with chicken broth.  We always make it vegetarian.  It is a light meal by itself unless you serve it in very small quantities as a first course and a more substantial meal if you add roasted tofu or shredded chicken. People seem to love mixing in their own garnishes.  Since it does not contain potatoes, it freezes well.  Try it!

Mexican vegetable soup

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 onions finely chopped
  • 1 stalk celery finely chopped
  • 1 carrot peeled and finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1/2 pound green beans, trimmed and cut into 1 inch lengths
  • 2-3 small zucchini scrubbed and cut into 1/2 inch dice
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 - 1 teaspoon dried chipotle pepper (the larger amount results in a much spicier soup)
  • pinch (and I mean a pinch) oregano
  • 1 sweet potato, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch dice (ok to substitute about 2 cups butternut squash cut into 3/4 inch dice)
  • 1 can crushed tomatoes or puree, 15 oz  (Muir Glen fire-roasted crushed tomatoes adds a nice smoky taste)
  • 2 cups cooked chick peas (canned are acceptable, but then you can't use the liquid -- see below)
  • bay leaf
  • 6- 8 cups liquid (chick pea broth, vegetable broth, or water and bouillon cube -- see below)
  • several sprigs cilantro, well washed
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • optional:  roasted tofu  (see below)
  • garnishes:  chopped red or white onion, lime quarters, chopped cilantro, sour cream, grated cheddar or cotija cheese, chopped jalapeno, toasted tortilla strips (see below)
  1. Heat the oil on medium in a 4 quart pot and add onions, celery and carrot, a bit of salt, and saute until soft but not brown.  (This is really very flexible.  You can add the vegetables to the pot as you are finished chopping them.)
  2. Add the green beans and zucchini as they are ready.
  3. Add the garlic and saute for a minute.
  4. Add the cumin, chipotle and oregano and saute for another minute.
  5. Add the sweet potatoes, tomato puree, chickpeas, liquid and bay leaf.  Push the cilantro into one corner (you can tie it if you want, but I don't bother) and bring to the boil.  Simmer about 20 minutes until the vegetables are tender.
  6. Fish out the coriander, and if you can the bay leaf.
  7. Correct taste for salt and pepper, and if using, add roasted tofu and warm through.
  8. Serve with garnishes, as many as you want, but serve either the sour cream and grated cheese OR the lime, not both.    This makes a pretty hefty dinner for 4.
Non vegetarian variation:  use chicken broth and some poached shredded chicken breast.  I would leave out the cream and cheese here but it is up to you.  This makes more of a hearty main dish.

Cooking liquid:  If you cook your own chick peas, you can use the cooking liquid as some or all of your broth.  One cup dried chickpeas will yield the right amount cooked and will probably leave you with between 3 and 4 cups of liquid.  The rest can be made up with vegetable stock (I used Tabatchnick's boxed) or bouillon.

Tortilla strips:  These are sort of like Chinese noodles made out of corn, and thought they are traditionally fried, you can bake them which is both easier and far lower in calories.  Take white corn tortillas, cut them in half, and then cut the halves into 1/4 inch strips. For this quantity of soup, 6-8 tortillas is more than enough and will probably leave some for snacking.   Line a baking sheet with foil (to make it easier to clean) and spray with vegetable oil spray.  Scatter the tortilla strips in on the pan, spray with more spray, and bake in a 300 degree oven for about 30 minutes.   They are done when they are lightly browned and crisp. Separate them gently and put them in a bowl to serve.  It is difficult to be precise about the time since it depends on so many variables, like the size of the pan, etc.  You can also bake these longer at lower heat, in which case it will take longer they will become less brown or on higher heat, in which case you have to watch them more carefully.   You can use the same method for tortilla chips by cutting the tortillas into sixths, or make tostadas by using whole tortillas.  I find that whole tortillas work best directly on a rack which allows the air to circulate so that they dry out very quickly, and should be done in 15-20 minutes.  I will post some recipes for tostadas shortly.

Roasted tofu:  If you add this, it becomes a pretty hefty dish.  Take about half a pound of tofu and cut into 1/2  inch dice.   Marinate in a combination of pureed onion, a spoon or so of Bragg's amino (or soy sauce or salt), and about a teaspoons of ground cumin for between 30 minutes and a few hours.  Take the cubes out of the marinade, put on a sprayed or greased baking sheet (line with foil first if you want) , spray again, and roast for about 30 minutes in a 450 degree oven until lightly browned.  You can vary the marinade depending on the dish.  This cubes are also good tossed into salads if you have any left over.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Easy kadaif: another recipe for curly halvah

One of the neat things about blogging is tracking use.  For most of my blog's existence, my tracking was limited to seeing how many hits I got.  The more hits, the less vulnerable my rather precarious psychic health.  However, I have begun to play around with some of the more sophisticated management tools, and which enable you to look more closely at traffic sources.  Many users come to my blog from Facebook, thanks to my shameless self promotion on that social medium.  However, a number do come over the web from search engines.  The latke recipe that I posted last year has gotten a lot of hits in response to queries like "best latke recipe" (as if Google knew).  The lesson here is that in the absence of metatags, use a lot of superlatives in your text and file names.

Recently I got a hit in response to a query looking for "desserts made with curly halvah."  Last year I posted a recipe for kadaif  which relies on curly halvah.  It is my reconstruction of the version served at the Hummus Place and uses the shredded wheat pastry used in Middle Eastern desserts.  Though easy, at least by my standards, it is best made for a crowd. Here is an easier version, which you can make for for yourself if you want.  It is also suitable for those of you who were put off by my recent report of burning the kadaif pastry (and almost burning us out of our apartment). It is not quite a recipe, but it is fun to make and eat, and there is no danger of burning anything:

Easy kadaif:

  1. Crumble a few small shredded wheats or about 1/3 of a large one into a bowl.  For a New England variant, use a spoon of Grape Nuts Cereal.
  2. Top with a scoop of vanilla ice cream (or if you want pareve, coconut sorbet or soy ice cream).
  3. Drizzle some date honey or dark regular honey over the ice cream.
  4. Top with some curly halvah which you pull into shreds by hand.
  5. That's it.
Note on curly halvah:  The only brand which I have been able to find is Achva, from Israel.  It is wonderful by itself with tea, and better in kadaif.   I used to stock up on it because I could only find it at Kalustyan's in the east 20s, but it has since made its appearance on the Upper West Side.  This is a good thing, because it does not last forever and is best used fresh.  As it sits, it tends to compress.  You can still separate it carefully by hand to make it fluffy again.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew, and how memory works, and doesn't

Multitasking becomes difficult as one ages, and this can lead to culinary disasters, as I have noted in reporting on nearly causing a house fire when making kadaif.  One of the nice things about stews is that they are made for multitasking.  You can leave them simmer while you do other things, something very useful for those of us who work at home.  However, it is a mistake to try browning while multitasking.

The other day, I made this veal stew while working at home on a project that involved comparing several proposals and therefore a lot of attention to detail.  You have to brown the veal well, best done in a few batches so as not to crowd the pan and cause the meat to steam. The first batch of meat came out beautifully, and I got a bit complacent with the second batch and returned to my proposals while I left the veal to brown. I could smell the veal browning nicely from where I was sitting and then forgot about it as I was involved in work. Our friendly fire alarm screaming "Fire! Fire!" reminded me that this was not a good idea.    I removed the meat, which was slightly scorched but not burnt, though the meat glaze in the skillet was to far gone to use.  (The hard gunk that coats a pan after you brown meat is really heavily reduced and caramelized meat broth, and deglazing is the process of dissolving this with liquids to add lots of flavor to your dish.) Even though I couldn't use the meat glaze, and transferred the veal to a new pan while I soaked the skillet, the dish was still pretty good. 

What is funny is that even though I forgot  about my browning meat, this recipe is inspired by I dish that I had some time around 1975.  It was a veal with tahini served by a restaurant called Kineret that I think was located on 7th Avenue and Barrow Street in the Village.  I went with two friends who didn't really get along (I haven't seen either one in nearly 20 years) so it was not a particularly pleasant evening.  But the food was, and I remember it over three decades later.  I just couldn't remember that I had started browning meat in the other room a few minutes before.  Go figure.

Veal, cauliflower and tahini stew

  • 2 pounds stewing veal, ideally from the shoulder, cut in 1 inch cubes
  • olive oil
  • 1 medium onion, very finely chopped
  • salt and pepper
  • 1 teaspoon ground allspice
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, mashed
  • 1 head cauliflower
  • olive oil spray
  • tahini sauce:  1 tablespoon to 1/4 cup tahini, 1 clove garlic, coarse salt, the juice of one lemon, and some water
  1. Heat a large skillet (ideally not nonstick, since it produces better browning and glaze) on high and add 1 or 2 tablespoons of olive oil.
  2. Add half of the veal, drying the pieces as you put them in.  Turn with tongs to brown on all sides.  Remove the veal to a bowl and add the rest, adding a little more oil if necessary.  Don't leave the room while browning.  Bring a book if you get bored.  Remove the veal to the bowl with the rest and season it all lightly with salt and pepper.
  3. Add a bit more oil to the skillet, and add the onion and a bit of salt and saute until it is just starting to brown.
  4. Add the allspice, Aleppo pepper, and about 10 grinds of a pepper mill.  Saute a minute.
  5. Add the crushed garlic to the skillet and saute another minute.
  6. Return the meat to the skillet, cover, turn heat down to low and stew gently for about an hour. The meat should cook in its own juices, but check it occasionally to stir and if it dries out, add a few spoons of boiling water.  Check it after an hour to see if it is tender and succulent.  It should take between and hour and 90 minutes to get tender.
  7. While the veal is cooking, roast the cauliflower.  Preheat oven to 425, separate florets, put on a large baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with olive oil spray, spray again, and bake 20 minutes.  Broil until nicely browned but not burnt.  (Again, it is a good idea to stay in the kitchen while you are broiling the cauliflower.
  8. Make the tahini sauce: smash the garlic with coarse salt to make a puree, and stir in the tahini.  Stir in the lemon juice.  The tahini will become very stiff.  Dribble in the water, a few drops at the time.  The sauce will stiffen some more, and then loosen to the texture of a thick cream. It is hard to tell exactly how much water you will use, but it is usually approximately equal to the amount of tahini, or a little more.  The quantity of tahini you will use is up to you.  A sauce based on 1 tablespoon of tahini will add a certain je ne sais quoi to the stew, but it will not be a noticeable tahini sauce.  The larger quantity will.  Both are good, and it is up to you.
  9. When the veal is tender, Add the cauliflower and tahini sauce and cook for 10 minutes more.  Taste and correct for salt.
  10. Serves 4 generously.  This is very good with roasted squash, rice, and pita or Uzbek bread.
Make ahead note:  If you want to make this dish in advance, it is a good idea to prepare the components separately. All can be prepared  a day or more in advance.  Combine veal, cauliflower and tahini when you reheat.

Variation with leftovers:  If you have some leftovers, you can try this variation.  Take 1/2 pound of cremini mushrooms, wash and slice.  (To wash mushrooms forget about washing them individually with a damp paper towel.  Just dump them in a bowl of water, swish them around, and when you take them out, dry them with the paper towel.  It is both faster and more effective than the other method.)  Saute the mushrooms on high until well browned in a nonstick skillet with a little olive oil.  Add the leftover stew, cover, and heat until warm.  The dish will have an entirely different character.  

    Thursday, November 11, 2010


    Blogging is basically a form a bloviating, and when I look over my past recipes/blog entries, they sometimes read like a victorious general bragging about one triumphant battle after another.  So, a dose of humility is sometimes called for.  This comes in two forms.

    The easiest way to consume humble pie in relation to one's blog is to check on the usage statistics.  They are never going to be as good as you hope, and often are nil.  (One of my favorite T-shirts bears the message "More people have read this T-shirt than your blog."  How true.) Another way of stepping back from culinary triumphalism is to report on the all-to-frequent disasters that one doesn't easily share with others.

    A number of months ago, I posted an easy wonderful recipe for deconstructed kadaif which I actually served to guests for Shabbat dinner last week.  When you bake the shredded wheat, it should come out looking like this:

    If anything, this is slightly undercooked.  This is because the last time I tried to make this dish was over the summer when my cousins were visiting from France.  Though they are extremely laid back, being from France, it was important that we impress them with our food, and we decided to make the kadaif for dessert one night.  The shredded wheat was probably still a little frozen when I put it in the oven, so it took a long time to turn the nice golden color.  So rather than turn up the heat, I turned on the broiler, and forgot about it for a few minutes.  The fire alarm started screaming "Fire! Fire!" and I remembered that I had forgotten something. The apartment filled with smoke. I saw the shredded wheat on fire through the oven window, and locked the oven using the self-clean lock and waited for the flames to die down and the smoke to stop pouring out, which took about 10 minutes.  This is what came out of the oven:

      A little humility is a good thing.  We had sorbet for dessert.

    Wednesday, November 10, 2010

    Arugula, pepita, and Parmesan salad

    The other night for dinner, Amy said that she was tired of the same old cucumber and tomato salads and was in the mood for arugula, pumpkin seeds and cheese.  So that is what we had, and it was really good.  This is how you do it:

    Arugula, pepita, and Parmesan salad

    • 6-8 cups loosely packed arugula (ideally farm-fresh, dirty and spicy, not the prewashed stuff though this is acceptable if you are pressed for time)
    • 1/4- 1/2 cup hulled pumpkin seeds (pepitas, with the shell removed)
    • shaved Parmesan cheese to taste, about 1/2 cup (good Grana Padano does nicely as well)
    • dressing of 1 teaspoon Dijon mustard, 1 teaspoon apple cider vinegar, 2 teaspoons pumpkin seed oil, and 2 teaspoons olive oil
    • Salt and pepper to taste

    1. Wash and dry the arugula well.  This may involve soaking it in several changes of water until it runs clear, spinning it dry, and wrapping in in toweling and leaving it in the fridge for a few hours.  Or maybe not.
    2. Toast the pumpkin seeds in a heavy skillet until they swell and pop but do not burn.  Put in a dish to cool for a few minutes.
    3. Shave the Parmesan using a vegetable peeler.  This is a great way to use up the cheese next to the rind that is difficult to grate.  The rinds themselves should of course be saved and used in vegetarian soups, to which they add a deep umami flavor.
    4. Put the mustard in a small dish, whisk in the vinegar, and then whisk in the oils.  (I used a fork -- I am using whisk hear as a verb without reference to the specific implement.)   Dip in a leaf to taste, and whisk in more oil or vinegar as needed.
    5. Put the arugula in a large salad bowl, add pumpkin seeds and shaved cheese, salt and pepper to taste, and drizzle on the dressing.  Toss very well.  It may not seem like enough dressing, but it probably is if you have enough room and patience to toss it.  If not, add a bit more oil and vinegar, going light on the vinegar.
    This serves 2-4, depending on what else you are having and when you are eating it.  Amy thought it would be good with thinly sliced tart apples, and she is probably right and we will try it that way next time.  I think it would also be good with pears, but she hates pears (a hatred that I have found is shared by many people) so I am probably on my own for that one.

    Tuesday, November 9, 2010

    Khachapuri: Georgian cheese bread

    Back in June I was delegated with cooking a Father's Day dinner, and I made this cheese bread, sort of a flat Georgian (as in Tiblisi, not Atlanta) calzone.  I ran into Naomi on the street and was bragging/complaining about having to cook my own dinner that day and I told her what I was making.  She said that I had to send her the recipe for the khachapuri.  I said I would soon, five months have passed, and since today is her birthday, I thought I should finally get around to posting it.

    This is lightly adapted from the recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Cooking of the Eastern Mediterranean, which consists mostly of recipes from Greece and Macedonia, Syria, Southeastern Turkey (especially Gaziantep), and Georgia.  Many of Wolfert's later books have been justly criticized for being a pastiche of recipes from magazine articles, and Georgia doesn't really qualify as Mediterranean, but most of the recipes in this book are REALLY good, so who cares.  Believe it or not, I have tried a lot of khachapuri recipes in my day, and this one works the best.  I have modified it by making the crust a bit softer, and the filling a tangier, cheesier (American cheese consumption has tripled since 1970 so this would seem to be consonant with contemporary tastes) and more custardy.

    So happy birthday Naomi -- maybe Tabitha will like this.  Most people do:

    Kachapuri (Georgian Cheese Bread)

    • 2 cups all purpose flour
    • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 3/4 cup plain yogurt (lowfat is ok, nonfat isn't, nor is the thick Greek yogurt)
    • 2 tablespoons cornstarch
    • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
    • large pinch salt
    • 6 ounces pound Greek or Bulgarian feta, or a bit more if you want, crumbled
    • 8 ounces fresh salted mozzarella
    • Salt and pepper to season
    • 3 eggs, beaten well
    • 1 tablespoon or a bit more of butter or oil to cook

    1. Set aside 1/4 cup of flour for dusting when you roll out the dough (you may need more). Put another 1/4 cup of flour in a mixing bowl,  blend in the oil and then the yogurt, stirring in the same direction. 
    2. With a fork, mix the remainder of the flour with the cornstarch, baking soda and salt.  Add to the mixture in the other bowl a bit at a time, continuing to stir in the same direction.  When the dough being to adhere, dust with the flour that you set aside cover with a towel and set aside for 2 hours.  You can also put the dough in a plastic bag in the fridge overnight at this point.
    3. Mix the cheeses, salt and pepper (I like it peppery, about 15 turns of the grinder) and the eggs.
    4. Divide the dough in 2 even pieces, and pat one into a flat dish on a floured surface where you can roll it out.  Roll the dough to a circle about 10 inches, flouring the dough and the rolling pin and being careful not to break it.  If you can't get it quite this big, that is OK, just plan on using a bit less of the cheese filling.  
    5. Put half the cheese filling in a disk in the center, leaving a large border around, about 5 inches.  
    6. Bring the four edges of the dough together like an envelope to cover the filling and pinch with your fingers.  Pat into a 7 inch disk. Don't worry if it is not perfectly round. 
    7. Repeat with the remaining dough and cheese.
    8. Heat the butter on low in two 8 or 9 inch nonstick or cast iron skillets and transfer the pies to them, flat bottom side down. 
    9. Cover and cook the pies about 15 minutes,  flip, cover and cook 15 minutes more.  By cooking the seamless side down first the top side will cook lightly, making it less likely that the cheese will leak.  Even if it does when you flip it, don't worry, it will just turn into tasty crusty cheese.
    10. Ideally, these should be served at once, piping hot, but they can also be made in advance, wrapped in foil, and reheated in the oven.  They will even last for a few days in the fridge.  I have never tried freezing them.  
    11. They are traditionally served with tkemali, a Georgian sour plum sauce.  Since this is not readily available, I have served it with prune or rhubarb sauce or a sour Indian chutney out of a jar. It is also just fine by itself. See the recipes below.

    One large pie: You can also make a single large pie by rolling the dough into a 14 inch circle and using a large 12-inch skillet to cook it. You will have a pie about 10 inches round. It will look much more impressive, but also be more difficult to  handle, so you are better off making the two pies the first time you try it.

    Sauces:  Saute about 3 cloves of sliced garlic in oil until soft but not brown.  Add a sliced fresh red or green chili with the seeds, or 1/2 teaspoon dried red pepper flakes.  Add a cup or two of sliced rhubarb (in the spring) or pitted sliced Italian prune plums (in the fall) , 1/2 teaspoon of salt, and if you want it a bit sweet, 1 tablespoon of brown or white sugar.  Cook for about 10 minutes until it becomes a sauce.  Add a handful of chopped fresh coriander and cook a few minutes more.  This chutney also goes nicely with roast chicken. I have never tried it with cranberries in the late fall or winter, but I don't see why it wouldn't work, though I would add more sugar.

    Monday, November 8, 2010

    Tofu makhani

    I have been meditating for almost two years, generally using a mindfulness practice.  One focuses on the breath, letting sensations and thoughts arise as they come up, noticing them, and letting them pass without attachment.  The biggest challenge that I face in mindfulness is letting go of my planning thoughts, especially planning meals.  Much of my time in meditation is spent desperately trying to let go of the plans for my next dinner or Shabbat meal.  This generally takes the form of menu planning, but on occasion focuses on specific dishes. Sometimes it is even productive, if not mindful, and leads to a successful meal or a new dish.  Last Friday morning I was sitting at home, and spent much of my time worrying about what to serve with a meal of vegetarian hot borscht, basmati rice with mung beans, Kashmiri collards and Sri Lankan sweet potatoes, a very low protein meal.  My attention shifted to tofu, and then a dish that I will call tofu makhani emerged in my consciousness. (Do you think I am kidding?)  This is vegetarian version of murgh makhani, a dish of tandoori chicken or chicken tikka served in a spiced tomato sauce with butter and cream.  It was probably one of those treatments of leftovers that took the already delicious leftovers to a whole new level of deliciousness.

    Lord help me, but I never thought that I would prepare a dish like this, which is based on tofu marinated in tandoori spices with fake pareve chicken broth powder, then baked and broiled, and served in a sauce.  The components are like independent modules.  The tofu, inspired by the method of abusing tofu used at The Cheese Factory in Wisconsin Dells, can be used with other sauces or none at all.  The marinade and the sauce are inspired by various recipes of Madhur Jaffrey's.  The sauce could be used for all sorts of other things.  It is one of those sauces that would even make floor tiles edible. (Another is raw cashew chutney, about which I will post shortly.)  My current state of spiritual development precludes me from using it as originally intended, with tandoori chicken, however, it would be good with grilled or fried paneer cheese, many roasted vegetables (especially cauliflower), fish (saute it first or it will make the sauce watery), and if you want to get elaborate, vegetarian kofta (meatballs).

    This dish is much easier than it sounds.  It helps to demonstrate, if anyone needs the proof, that tofu or vegetarian food need not be health food. Here is how you make it:

    Tofu makhani


    For tofu:
    • 2 pounds extra firm tofu, each cut into 6 "cutlets"
    • 10 cloves of garlic (I use one package of the pre-peeled garlic)
    • 2 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
    • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
    • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
    • 1 teaspoon garam masala
    • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
    • 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
    • 1/4 teaspoon mace
    • 1/4 teaspoon cloves
    • 2 tablespoons Osem pareve chicken soup powder, optional (forgive me)
    • juice of 2 limes
    • 2-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
    • salt (use more if you don't use the soup powder)
    • 1/4 cup water or more to make an easily spreadable paste and help dissolve the soup powder
    • Vegetable oil spray
    For sauce and to serve:

    • 10-20 cloves garlic
    • 1 inch piece ginger, peeled and sliced
    • 1 medium onion, diced
    • 1-4  tablespoons vegetable oil
    • 2 sticks cinnamon (regular cinnamon, i.e. cassia, preferred here)
    • 2 bay leaves
    • 4 cloves
    • 12 black peppercorns
    • 8 green cardamom pods
    • 2 whole dried red chilies, or to taste
    • 3 cups tomato puree
    • salt
    • 1-2 cups heavy cream, to taste and depending on your cardiologists advice
    • 1-4 tablespoons sweet butter cut into pats and softened at room temperature
    • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander
    1. To make the marinade, chop the garlic and ginger in a food processor or blender.  Add the spices and the other ingredients through the salt, and puree until a paste.  Add water as desired to make it a loose paste.
    2. Smear the paste over the tofu and put in a container in the refrigerator.  Let marinate for at least 2 hours, or as long as 24.
    3. When ready to cook,preheat the oven to 450, and remove the tofu from the refrigerator.
    4. Line a large baking sheet with aluminum foil, and spray liberally with the oil spray.
    5. Remove the tofu from the marinade, scrape off most of the excess, and put on the baking sheet.  Spray the top liberally with the oil spray.
    6. Bake in the middle of the oven for 30 minutes.
    7. Broil on high for 5 minutes, to brown the top lightly, being careful not to burn.
    8. Meanwhile, start the sauce.  Take the butter out to soften now so you don't forget. 
    9. Puree the onions, garlic and ginger in a processor or blender.
    10. Heat the oil on high in a very large skillet, nonstick if you are using less oil.
    11. Add the whole spices and cook until they puff and begin to change color, but be careful not to burn.
    12. Add the paste from the blender (averting your face) and cook on high for about 3 minutes stirring constantly, or until it looses its raw aroma.  Be careful not to brown.
    13. Add the tomato puree, about 1 teaspoon of salt or to taste, and cook on high, stirring occasionally, or until the oil begins to separate and it turns into a sauce, about 10-15 minutes.  Be careful not to scorch, especially if you use a regular skillet. Add a bit of water if it reduces too quickly.
    14. Turn the heat down to medium-low and add the cream.  Stir well to incorporate and cook about 10 minutes or more to reduce and thicken.  Taste for salt and correct seasonings.
    15. Add tofu to the sauce and reheat on low.  Add the butter and stir in carefully so as not to break the tofu, and heat until it melts in.
    16. Remove tofu to a serving dish, pour the sauce over, garnish with chopped fresh coriander, and serve.
    17. Serves 6.
    Make ahead tips:  If you don't plan to serve this right away, prepare slightly differently.  Put the broiled tofu in a baking dish, pour the warm sauce over, and dot with the butter.  Cover and leave in a 200-225 degree oven for up to 2 or even 3 hours until ready to serve.  Garnish with coriander.

    The marinade:  There was a lot of discussion at the table when we served this as to how much difference the marinade made to the final results.  While I thought that the marinade could be simplified drastically, everyone else seemed to think it was essential and said to leave it alone.  Next time I will try it with just onions, garlic, lime juice, salt and garam masala. 

    Variations:  You could serve the tofu in many other kinds of sauces.  Any Indian style tomato sauce would work well, even without the cream.  You could also try some of those jarred Indian sauces that they have in the market now, though I never would.  You can vary the marinade to something more European (say onion, garlic, salt, soup powder, water and some herbs) and serve it in a mushroom and marsala sauce or a mushrooms and sour cream sauce.  Go wild! It's only tofu.

    Friday, November 5, 2010

    Red stuff?

    This week's Torah reading, Parshat Toledot, leaves open many questions.  Which brother is really meant to serve which (the text is oracular and ambiguous)? Why is there room for only one blessing in the house of Isaac?  Does Jacob really fool Isaac with his cheesy disguise?  But in my mind, one question surmounts all the others.  How did lentil stew become the red stuff that Esau demanded in exchange for his birthright, without red pepper or tomato, which are new world ingredients and not available at all in the Middle East until the sixteenth century?

    I have been worrying about this for over 30 years, and I am no closer to a solution.  Red, or actually salmon colored skinned lentils turn yellow with cooking.  Well-browned onions are, well, brown.  I can't imagine beets doing anything for this dish.  Part of the answer may lie in the semantic range of the word adom, which may only approximate that of the color red.  My college Latin teacher wrote her master's thesis on color terms across a number of languages, particularly the Romance languages, English,  Japanese and classical Latin and Greek, and used to talk all the time about how variable color terms are across cultures. I remember teaching English to Cambodian refugees in the Bronx in the early 1980s, and how they gave me a hard time when I said that an apple was red, and I am talking about a Red Delicious or Macintosh, not a Granny Smith.  The redness of the apple seemed axiomatic to me, but they would not be convinced, and saw more green, yellow or even brown.

    So who knows what made the red stuff red, and if it was even what we would call red.  But, if you want to make the recipe for yourself, here is a recipe for lentil stew:

    Lentil Stew (not really red)

    • 2 tablespoons or more of olive oil
    • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
    • 1 large onion, diced
      1 cup lentils, preferably French green lentils or whole masoor dal, washed well
    • Salt and pepper, butter and lemon to taste
    For serving
    • Browned onions (optional but very desirable -- you will be tempted to sell your birthright too if you smell these cooking):  Saute 1  large onion, sliced in thin  half moons and lightly salted, in plenty of olive oil in a non stick skillet until well browned.  It takes time, so be patient, and be careful so they crisp without burning.  Start on high heat and turn it down as they  color and shrivel.
    • Chopped vegetable salad:  cukes, tomatoes, radishes, scallions, green peppers diced fine and either mixed together or kept separately.
    •  Plain boiled brown or white rice and/or pita bread.
    • Cubed feta cheese
    • Tahini sauce:  smash a clove of garlic with a little salt and mash to a puree.Mix in 1/4 cup of tahini.  Mix in 1 tablespoon of lemon juice.  It will get tough.  Add water very slowly, until it gets tougher and then thins out to the texture of thick cream.  It will take most likely  between 1/2 and 3/4 cup of water.
    1. Heat olive oil on medium.  Add cumin seed and saute until they turn a few shades darker.  Be careful not to brown.
    2. Add onions and salt lightly, and saute until light brown.
    3. Add lentils, saute with onions for a minute, and add 3 cups of water.
    4. Simmer until tender, about 1/2 hour.  Boil off extra water or add more if necessary.
    5. Add salt and pepper to taste and stir in a little butter and lemon.
    6. Serves about 4 with the garnishes.

    Shabbat shalom!