Sunday, March 20, 2011

Celebrating Purim and Nowruz with Americanized Falooda

Mixed faloods with rose syrup
This year saw the fortuitous almost coincidence of Purim (Jewish Mardi Gras cum Halloween) celebrating the deliverance of Jews from their enemy du jour (so what else is new) during the ancient Persian empire and the Iranian New Year, Nowruz, which, although it has Zoroastrian roots, is, or was widely celebrated in Iran by Muslims, Christians and Jews as well as Zoroastrians.  Purim usually comes in late February or early March, while Nowruz is tied to the Vernal Equinox in later March so they rarely come out together.  However, this year is a Jewish leap year where we add not just an additional day, but an additional month, all the Jewish holidays are late (they are never on time) and Purim and Nowruz almost coincide. Interestingly, some historians argue that Purim is actually the Jewish Nowruz, and that the Book of Esther (clearly written as a diaspora novella rather than as "scripture") was written to explain why the Jews of ancient Persia were celebrating this particular holiday. 

This opens up endless gastronomic possibilities, so for Shabbat dinner last week, we marked the occasion with food that was mostly Persian, Parsi, and Irani. The Parsis are a Zoroastrian community that emigrated to India millennia ago to escape persecution, the Iranis one that left in the nineteenth century. It seemed particularly appropriate to  acknowledge the Persian roots of Purim with foods of communities that originated in Persia but fled to escape religious persecution.  (BTW, and speaking of escaping or ending religious persecution, you haven't lived until you have seen the St Petersburg Hillel Purim video.)

The main dish was a salmon baked with green coconut chutney, which we served with crusty Persian rice, Indian cauliflower and a dish of black-eyed peas with spinach, dill, curry leaves and dried lime, a very typical Persian spice that smells like an old cathedral. (This is a good thing.)  For dessert, we had falooda (also spelled faluda) using the recipe from Niloufer Ichaporia King's My Bombay Kitchen .   It is a milk shake with creamy milk, falooda sev (noodles softened and soaked in syrup), basil seeds, ice cream and rose syrup.  Amy and I had something similar once in a Pakistani sweet shop in Jackson Heights whose name we forget but which we remember as the Al-Qaeda Cafe, since it was dominated by a huge replica of some mosque or other and Amy and our friend Marilyn were the only women there who were not veiled.

Falooda is sort of a weird dessert, and I was probably the only one who liked it, at least with the original rose syrup.  But one of our guests last week was our friend Nancy, who is a maple syrup fanatic -- she and her husband Gary have even tapped maple sap from the trees near their house in the Adirondacks.  Just so you believe this, here is a picture which they sent me of how they do it:

a bucket on a tree with tap

a bucket of sap

We had some cans of maple syrup in the cabinet from our last trip to Montreal, so we tried it and it was far more popular with most of our guests than the rose syrup. And voila, American Falooda.  Try it both ways and see what you prefer.

The dish really defies recipes, and is nice made at the table with everyone mixing it to their own taste but here is how you make it.  It is sort of like making really weird sundaes.

Falooda, Irani and American style

Shake 2 tablespoons basil seed (sold in Indian groceries as takmuriya -- I have no idea if these are related to regular basil) in a sieve to remove any debris.  They are nondescript, small, hard black brown seeds. Soak them in between 1 and 2 cups of cold water for about 15 minutes.  They will swell and become gelatinous, squeaky and crunchy at the same time.   I prefer the lesser amount of water which I find preserves the crunch and squeak of the seeds and what little aroma there is. They can be a great conversation starter, as people discuss whether they look more like insect larvae, fish roe, or fish eyes.  (If you cannot find basil seeds, you can try to substitute chia seeds which are vaguely similar.) After they are soaked, this is what they look like:

Soaked basil seed.
 Soak a packages of falooda sev (falooda noodles, available in Indian and Pakistani groceries) in very hot water for about 5 minutes until soft.    I If you like them Drain, cut into shorter lengths and cover with a cooled simple syrup, equal parts sugar and water zapped in a microwave until it boils.  Both the noodles and the seeds can be made in advance and kept well covered in the fridge, but I find that the seeds absorb other odors, so make sure they are well-covered.

If you cannot find falooda sev, you can substitute cellophane noodles:  take a small package, soak in warm water about 1/2 hour. If you like them chewy, you can use them now.  If you like them slithery, boil them in water for no more than one mine, and drain and rinse immediately.  Cut into 1 or 2 inch lengths before using.  You will of course no longer be eating falooda, rather cellophanoodla, but it will still be fun.  (This of course depends on your definition of fun.)

When you are ready to serve, assemble each serving as follows:
  • Put a few noodles in a large wine glass.
  • Top with a large spoon of basil seeds, to preference. (I would say to taste but there really isn't any.  It is more about texture.)
  • Top with about 1/2 cup whole milk, half and half, or a combination of the two.
  • Pour the syrup carefully, and it will sink to the bottom as in the picture below.  It is hard to give exact quantities and depends largely on the sweetness of the syrup and your own taste.  We found that 1-2 tablespoons of the rose syrup that we had was good, but that closer to 3 tablespoons of maple was needed.  
  • Top with ice cream.  This is what they will look like if you have done it right:   

With maple syrup on left, rose syrup on right.
When you eat it you will mix it, and the rose syrup version turns an attractive or shocking pink, depending on your perspective.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Roasted Cauliflower and black vinegar, or with harissa vinaigrette

When I was growing up, the only dietary laws that we observed was "no lamb" and "no garlic."  When my parents got married, my mother asked my father's parents if she should keep a kosher kitchen for them, a very typical decision for this generation.  Although my grandmother was a confirmed atheist (of the "What has God done for me lately" variety so perhaps she just thought that he wasn't up to the job) she kept an impeccably kosher kitchen for my grandfather's sake. However, they said that it wasn't necessary, and we had pretty much everything in our house.  (My grandmother ate what my mother prepared, and my grandfather brought his own food, particularly as he got older.)  Everything, that is, except for lamb and garlic which my mother detested. Of course, both my brother and I adore lamb and especially garlic, but that is how life works.

When my parents came for dinner a few weeks ago I was going to make a roasted cauliflower salad with preserved lemon and harissa vinaigrette as one of the appetizers.  But, our harissa is full of garlic -- you can really smell it when you open the jar-- so I decided to try something else.  I had read an online review of Marcus Samuelsson's new restaurant Red Rooster, that mentioned a roasted cauliflower with black Chinese vinegar and sumac, so I tried this.  Not bad....

Roasted cauliflower with black vinegar and Mediterranean seasonings

To see how I prepare roasted cauliflower, click here.  Then, all you do is drizzle the cauliflower with about 2 tablespoons of good, strong olive oil, and season it with large pinches of za'atar, sumac, Maldon sea salt (go light, depending on how much you cooked it with) and Aleppo pepper.  Toss. Sprinkle with about 1 teaspoon of Chinese black vinegar (if you can't find this, Worcestershire sauce is a barely acceptable substitute, but don't use the salt then) and some roasted sesame seeds.  You can substitute roasted pine nuts for the sesame if you want, or use both. Toss again and serve as an appetizer or side dish.

Roasted cauliflower with harissa vinaigrette  

This is what I would have made had my mother not been coming to dinner.  It is really good and a very nice dressing for other roasted vegetables. Remove the pulp from a small preserved lemon, and remove the seeds from the pulp.  Chop the pulp into a paste, put it in a small dish, and mix in a teaspoon or more of harissa. If you want a very Tunisian flavor, mix in 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway seeds.  Drizzle in about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and 2 teaspoons of red wine vinegar.  Toss with the cauliflower.  Shred the preserved lemon skin and toss it in, along with a handful of chopped coriander leaves.  That's it.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Spanish chickpea soup, farkashert

One of the nice things about cooking dried beans is that you can freeze them in the process, after soaking or after cooking, so it is easy to have some to add to a dish.  I keep beans in process in the freezer in zip-loc bags or plastic containers along with their soaking or cooking water which actually adds flavor rather than just slime and salt to the final product. The important thing, of course, is to label them so that you know at which stage they were frozen.

I was feeling under the weather today, and noticed that we had some frozen cooked chickpeas in the freezer, as well as some semi-dried turkey kubano sausages, and I was in the mood for a soup. This kosher version of Spanish chickpea and chorizo soup was the result.  I find the turkey sausages a good substitute for the chorizo, and I accentuate the smokiness by using smoked Spanish paprika and fire-roasted tomatoes. Then again, maybe it is just too long since I have had the real thing.  The quantities are very approximate and little more of this or a little less of that according to you taste won't hurt anyone. The amounts below make for a rather soupy soup.  A diced potato or turnip added 10 minutes before the end would be a nice addition as well.  It looks a lot nicer than the picture here, which actually looks like hubagrits soup with which it has little in common, but I though I should post a picture because my blog lacks visuals.  Here is how you do it:

Spanish chickpea soup 

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 6 links semi-dried turkey kubano sausages (about 3 ounces)
  • 1/2 cup chopped onion or shallot
  • 5 cloves sliced garlic
  • 1 heaping tablespoon smoked Spanish paprika
  • 14 ounce can diced or crushed tomatoes (I use Muir Glen fire-roasted -- the smoky flavor is particularly important here)
  • 2 cups chicken broth (while homemade is nice, I used boxed Manischewitz; if you must, 2 use cups water and a bouillon cube or 2 teaspoons Osem powder)
  • 2 cups frozen cooked chickpeas with their liquid (if you must, you can substitute a 19 ounce can, drained and rinsed)
  • Pepper and salt

  1. Dice 2 of the sausages fine and saute in olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat until brown.
  2. Add the onion or shallot and saute until soft.  Add the garlic and saute a minute or to longer.
  3. Turn heat to low and stir in the paprika and a few grindings of black pepper if you want.  Saute another minute.
  4. Add the tomatoes, turn the heat to high, and cook about 10 minutes until it thickens into a sauce.
  5. Add the broth and the remain links, whole but pricked with a fork and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for 10 minutes.  
  6. Add the chickpeas and their liquid if using (they will defrost in the soup), bring back to the boil, turn heat down, cover and simmer on low for 20 minutes.  \
  7. Remove the whole sausages, slice, and return to the soup.  Correct for salt and pepper.  (I don't salt until the end since the broth and sausages generally have salt.)
  8. Serves 4 as an appetizer or two as a main course.  

Sunday, March 6, 2011


Harry finally called us, and we continue to be convinced that a Hadassah or Young Judaea publicity agent has taken over the body of our son. He was very pleased to see the recipe for Semur Daging on this blog, but wasn't sure how to make the rice that you serve with it.  Hence this entry. 

Harry is now living in Jerusalem in an apartment with 10 people (ok, 18-20 year-old boys/young men, but they are still people).    It can be challenging to fry schnitzel or even boil pasta for that many. But rice is another matter.  All you need is a pot, rice, and water. If you can cook a big pot of  rice, you can make rice and beans, a good cheap dinner.  (See the recipe for Cuban-style black beans.  One day I will post more dal recipes as well.)

I grew up eating Minute Rice, as did many white Americans of my generation.  What where they thinking?  There are few things as gross as Minute Rice, and few things easier to make than proper white rice, even without a rice cooker.  But we have still been served lots of mushy or undercooked rice in our day, and most recipes call for too much water and too much cooking time. Life is far too short to make, serve or eat bad rice.  So I consider it a social service to the public at large, and not only to my son and his roommates  to post my recipe, a simplified version of one published by Pierre Franey in the 60-Minute Gourmet years ago.  He did it European pilaf style, with butter, onions, broth and herbs.  In our house, rice is the stage on which other ingredients perform, so we keep it simple.  Here is how I do it:

White rice:

  • One part long-grain white rice, such as Carolina or Jasmine (there must be something comparable in Israel) -- converted rice (like Uncle Ben's), basmati rice or Japanese-style rice will not work here
  • One and a half parts boiling water
  • salt (optional)
  1. Put the rice in a pot, and turn on the heat.
  2. Pour boiling water over the rice, and shake or stir the pot to be sure the rice doesn't clump.
  3. Put the pot over high heat and bring the water back to the boil. Add a bit of salt if you want.  (I generally don't.)
  4. After the water comes back to the boil, cover the pot, turn the heat to low, and cook for 20 minutes.
  5. Turn off the heat and leave the rice site for at least 5 minutes.  It will stay very warm in the pot, covered, for half an hour or more.

Measuring the rice:  How much rice to make?  There was a time, before people started eating low-carb, when we would make 2 cups of raw rice for a family dinner.  That is now usually one cup.  I would figure that one cup of raw rice is good for about 3-4 adults and 1-2 teens. The nice thing about measuring by part, rather than by cup, is that you can use a coffee cup or whatever is handy.  If you use two coffee cups, clean cans, etc of rice, you use 3 of boiling water and that's that. 

Brown rice:  As with white rice, I find most recipes call for too much water and too much time.  I use a brown basmati or texmati rice here, and the same proportions of rice and water, but no salt.  I cook it for about 40 minutes and let it rest for at least 10, and it generally comes out well cooked, fluffy and not gloppy.

Variation with fat:  Saute the white rice first, using between 1 teaspoon and 1 tablespoon of butter or oil per cup of rice.  Salt this variation.  The rice will change color slightly, which is when you add the water.  Otherwise, it cooks the same way.  This style of rice is better with European and Latin dishes than with Asian ones.