Friday, April 29, 2011

Roasted garlic aioli

The third step in the order of the Passover seder is to eat karpas, which is most often parsley or celery dipped in salt water.  The reasons for this are rather obscure, but are often linked to Passover as a spring holiday.  You say the blessing over vegetables ("fruits of the earth") and then dip and eat.  In our family, we would have boiled potatoes, since that was as close as my grandfather would get to a green vegetable, and since the blessing is the same as that on parsley.  However, there is nothing to say that the karpas has to be so meager, and really any vegetables go.  Supposedly, Persian Jews serve a platter of herbs, which is the traditional opening of a Persian mean in any case.  The Cairo Geniza, one of the great documentary sources for medieval social history, contains evidence that karpas was something of a cocktail party at the beginning of the seder.  At our seder, we have gotten progressively more carried away with this over the years.  It can pacify those for whom the fifth question ("when do we eat?") is the most important one,  allowing the rest to enjoy the seder.  It fortifies everyone until dinner and keeps them happy. This year we had steamed artichokes, boiled new potatoes, radishes, carrots, fennel, and herb platters (coriander, watercress, tarragon, dill, parsley, and scallions), along with a variety of dips:  olive oil, beet caviar, guacamole, and this roasted garlic aioli.
Readers of this blog will know that my mother is seriously garlic averse, and aioli presents a real challenge when she is in the house.  However, although it is very sharp, aromatic (and delicious) made with raw garlic, it mellows out considerably ir you roast it first. The taste is still garlicy and rich enough to satisfy garlic lovers.  I actually roast it in the microwave which is fast and easy.  While I am sure that my mother would have been personally offended by the smell if we served a conventional aioli, she did not even remark on the roasted garlic version.  She may even have eaten some. Here is how I do it:

Roasted Garlic Aioli

Ingredients:
  • 2 head garlic
  • 1/4 cup flavorful liquid
  • olive oil
  • salt
  • juice of 1/2 lemon
Method
  1. The garlic is most easily roasted in a microwave.  Remove the paper outside of two heads of garlic, but leave whole.  Cut of a little of the tops to expose the insides of the cloves.  Put them in a measuring cup or microwave-safe dish, drizzle with a little olive oil, pour on 1/4 cup liquid (I used water with 1/2 teaspoon of Osem PArve Pesach vegetable broth, but you can use what you want.  Cover and zap for about 3 minutes or until garlic is tender. Squeeze the garlic out of the peels -- it will plop right out, and proceed as follows depending on whether you make it by hand or in a mini food processor. (The quantities aren't large enough to use a regular blender or food processor.)
  2. To make it in a mini-processor: Put the peeled garlic in the processor with one egg yolk and a pinch of salt, and whir until chopped and combined.  With the motor running, drizzle in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of olive oil -- as much as it will take before breaking. Remove and mix in the lemon juice.
  3. To make it by hand:  Smash the peeled garlic with some coarse salt with the side of a chef's knife or cleaver.  Using the blade and the side of the knife, work into a puree.  Transfer to a bowl and mix in an egg yolk.  Slowly drizzle in up to 3/4 cup of olive oil  It will be easier to see that the sauce is not breaking up if you are doing this by hand.  Stir in lemon juice.
  4. The quantity given here makes just under a cup, and as one of many dips it was enough for 14.  By itself, I would say it serves 4-6, depending on how you use it.  It is delicious with all kinds of veggies, especially cold or room temperature steamed ones.  It would also go well as a side sauce with boiled or roast chicken, or with fish.  You can also spread it on fish fillets before baking quickly in a hot oven. 

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Mica's chickpeas

Mica Hoodbhoy is 50% Turkish, 50% Pakistani, but 100% gastronome.  She is one of the people, and they are relatively few (no offense intended to the rest of you), whose taste in food I really respect. This is her recipe, more or less, for chickpeas cooked with tomatoes and spinach.  You can add roasted or fried eggplant if you want to, but you really don't have to.  It is a cinch.   I made it with canned chickpeas and it was just fine.  You can make it with chickpeas you cook yourself and it will be even better.  This is a very easy vegetarian main dish to whip up on short notice.


Mica's chickpeas


Ingredients
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 1 medium-large onion, chopped
  • 4-10 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper
  • a few grindings black pepper
  • 14 or 28 ounce can crushed or diced tomatoes, with liquid (depends on how tomatoe-y you want the dish)
  • 1 eggplant, cut into 1 inch pieces and broiled (optional)
  • 19 ounce can chickpeas, rinsed and drained well (or 2-3 cups cooked chickpeas)
  • salt to taste
  • 10 ounces - 1 pound fresh spinach, shredded (I find that the pre-washed large leaf spinach works well here)
  • 1 - 3 teaspoons dried spearmint (don't use peppermint here)

Method
  1. Heat the vegetable oil in large pot or skillet. 
  2. Add cumin seed and cook for a minute or so until it darkens slightly.
  3. Add onion and saute until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes.
  4. Add garlic and saute for a minute or two, but do not brown. 
  5. Add the Aleppo and black peppers and saute on low another minute.
  6. Add tomatoes and cook on high for about 10 minutes until the oil separates and it thickens into a sauce.
  7. Add chickpeas, eggplant and salt to taste and cook until eggplant is soft and chickpeas are hot.
  8. Add spinach, cover and cook until spinach is done to taste. (Some people like it barely cooked, some like it cooked much longer.  The time will depend on your taste, as well as the size and shape of the pot. Don't get me started about how long it takes things to cook......)
  9. Add the spearmint.  If it is crushed and clean, you can add it straight to the pot.  If it is in leaf form, you have to push it through a sieve to leave the debris behind.
  10. Cook another few minutes and serve with rice, bulgur, pita or couscous.  It is also nice with yoghurt, especially with a crushed clove of garlic and some salt.
  11. Serves 3-4 as a main dish depending on what else your are serving, and many more as a side.

Matzo brei with bananas, courtesy of Jeff Segall

I find that I generally make more matzo brei after Pesach that during the holiday.  During I may get around to it once or twice, but after you have to use up all that matzo.  Last year I found myself eating Sri Lankan style matzo brei several times a week until our home was matzo-free. So I was very happy when Jeff Segall, language teacher, sailor and musician, emailed around the variation that he makes which contains mashed bananas.  It makes a nice weekend breakfast, and will make it easier for me to finish the final boxes.

Matzo brei is a very personal thing, of the same order as pizza or bagels.  Just like it is hard to argue with people's taste in pizza and bagels, it is pointless to dispute their taste in matzo brei.  Some like it like a single cake, others scrambled.  Some like it soft, some crunchy.  Some salty, some sweet.  And some all of the above. For the record I am a scrambled crunchy person who likes his matzo brei with salt, pepper and something sweet.  Jeff uses a different soaking method than I do, and makes his like a large kugel.   His recipe is included at the end.  I tried to soak the matzos following his instructions, but I just couldn't do it.  I fell into default mode. So I don't expect you to follow my directions either.  But do try adding the bananas -- it is a real treat.

Banana Matzo Brei --Basic Recipe

Ingredients
  • 5 matzos
  • 4-6 eggs
  • pinch salt
  • 2 ripe bananas
  • 1-4 tablespoons of butter
  • cinnamon

Method
  1. Soak matzos according to your preferred method.  Mine is to break them into more or less equal quarters and put them in a large bowl.  Fill the bowl with cold water, and let the matzos sit about 30 seconds.  Drain them while they are still crunchy,  cover them, and let them sit aside to absorb the water and soften.  It takes about 5-10 minutes, and they will soften further when you add the eggs.  I find that this way you don't have to squeeze out the excess moisture, because there is none.  However, as I said above, matzo brei is a very personal thing, and I don't expect anyone to change their preferred method on my account.  
  2. Beat the eggs, add a pinch of salt (or a bit more if you are like me), and mix into the matzos.  If they have not softened all the way, let them sit for a few minutes more until they do.  
  3. Slice, then mash the bananas, and mix them into the matzo and eggs.
  4. To make like a single cake:  Heat a 10 inch nonstick skillet, add as much butter as your conscience, your cholesterol and your spouse allows, and pour in the mixture.  Spread it out and cook on medium heat until well browned.  Flip and cook until well browned on the other side.  Sprinkle with cinnamon and serve with honey, date honey, or maple syrup. 
  5. To cook as pancakes:  Heat a 12 inch or larger nonstick skillet or griddle and add butter.  Drop about 1/2-3/4 cup of batter to make large pancakes.  Cook until brown, turn and brown on the other side, and serve as above.
  6. Serves 3-4, depending on appetite. 


Middle eastern variation:  Omit the cinnamon. Add 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground cardamom to the batter.  This is best served with date honey.

For the kid in all of us:  Mix in up to a cup of chocolate chips. Serve this with whipped cream. 

Jeff Segall's recipe in his own words:


Fill a large bowl about 1/3 of the way with lukewarm water. Take about 4-5 sheets of matza and break them along the natural fault lines. Each piece should be about three or four fault lines wide and be about 1/3 the length of a matza. Break them into the bowl. Soak them for at least a minute. Be sure they're completely soaked and soft. Then holding the matza with one hand, pour the water out. Press the matza gently to squeeze out the excess water. Into the matza pour 4-6 eggs that you have already completely beaten so that the yolks and whites are thoroughly mixed. (For a lower cholesterol version, use 4 eggs and 2/3 cup of liquid egg whites). This serves 3-4.  With a fork, pick up the slices of matza so that both sides of every piece are infused with the eggs. 
To this mixture add two thoroughly mashed sliced bananas. Stir the mixture together. Pour this mixture into a hot pan greased with butter or margarine. Let it sit and fry for less than a minute. Then Flip. Cook 2 minutes. If using a smaller diameter pan, flip once more, let sit as it bubbles away, and flip yet one more time.  Serve with cinnamon sprinkled lovingly and sparingly from above. If you want it even sweeter, add maple syrup to your portion.  Invite your friends.  They'll love you.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Yemenite Beef and Potato Stew for Passover and Year Round

It is a little late to be posting this recipe.  Pesach is almost over, and the temperature is approaching 70 degrees, and this dish is both Passover and cold weather food.  I have never figured out why countries like Yemen and Brazil make such wonderful rib-sticking cold weather dishes.  My recipe is adapted from the one in Faye Levy's International Jewish Cookbook , which is one of those rare cookbooks where all the recipes are good.  I have yet to make anything from there that hasn't been wonderful, but of all the recipes, this may be our favorite.

Our seders tend not to be gefilte fish, soup and kneidlach and brisket affairs.  People get that elsewhere and on other nights, and have come to expect other things from us.  So this was our main dish, and we have been eating it for dinner on and off since the beginning of the holiday.  The main challenge in making this was in adapting it for my garlic-o-phobe mother, so we did a trial run a few weeks before the holiday and much to my surprise, we didn't miss the garlic.  Also, Levy used a combination of beef and chicken and I find that the chicken gets too overcooked, so I substitute short ribs, which also give the sauce a lot of richness.  I also eliminate the water to concentrate the flavors and make it easier to serve on plates. (You may have to add water depending on the moisture of the other ingredients.)  Finally, I serve it with a fresh chutney of cilantro, chili, walnuts and fruit which livens it all up.

This is a great one-dish meal any time of year.  The potatoes soak up the flavor of the sauce.  It can be reheated many times.  And though it takes a few hours to cook, it requires very little work.  The hardest thing is boiling the potatoes:

Yemenite Beef and Potato Stew

Ingredients
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 very large onion, chopped
  • 8-15 cloves garlic, sliced (optional -- one day I will do a side by side test)
  • 3 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon paprika
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • salt to taste
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 14 ounce can diced tomatoes (or half of a larger can)
  • handful chopped flat leaf parsley
  • 3 pounds beef stew (chuck or shank) cut into chunks if possible
  • 2 pounds short ribs or flanken
  • 8-10 medium red potatoes, peeled

Method
  1. Preheat oven to 300 degrees.
  2. Saute onion in oil in a very large casserole until soft but not browned.
  3. Add garlic if using and saute for a minute.
  4. Add spices and saute on low for about three minutes, stirring.
  5. Add tomato paste, stir, and then add tomatoes and parsley.
  6. Mix in stew meat, short ribs and potatoes, bring to a simmer, cover and put in the oven.
  7. Bake for 3 hours.
  8. That's it.  You can hold the dish for another hour or two in a turned off or low oven.
  9. Serve with green walnut fruit chutney (recipe below) or schug (Yemenite hot sauce).
Green Walnut Chutney:  Put a handful of walnuts, a sliced green chili (I used a serrano with the seeds still in for heat), a small peeled, cored chopped granny smith apple, a peeled clementine (check for seeds), a handful of cilantro and a large pinch of salt into a blender or small processor.  Process until smooth.  You can substitute other nuts or leave them out altogether, but I find that they both give the chutney substance and keep it from turning dark.  Use this within a few days.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Favorite Passover Recipes; Seders and Maturity

I really wanted to call this something like "Slouching toward Pesach" but I didn't think that it would be as effective a title in attracting web traffic.  As I have remarked before, it is remarkable how many people end up on my site with Google searches for "absolute best latke recipe."  For those who ended up here due to a similar search, I beg your forgiveness, and ask everyone to read on.  No original recipes here, but also I hope nothing ordinary. Just links to some recipes already on the site that are suitable for Pesach, whether for the seder or otherwise. If you want recipes for brisket or matzoh balls, there are plenty of other places to look.

Pesach is always a test of maturity for me.  It turns out that my wife will have to work on both Sunday and half a day on Monday, so I will be responsible for a lot of the final cleaning and the cooking.   I will have to scale back some of my ambitions.  None of Paula Wolfert's confit of artichokes and oranges. (Cleaning 20 artichokes at this time of year!?  I decided my family wasn't worth it.) We were planning on a carrot soup with dill and dill matzoh balls, but we will skip that one as well.  Also, I had high hopes this year of trying to replicate my grandmother's chremslach, which we used to call Martian spacecraft, except rather than flying, they sank like lead to the bottom of your stomach.  These are mashed potato and egg patties, stuffed with shredded meat and gribenes (chicken cracklings) dredged in matzoh meal and fried in chicken fat.  Maybe next year.     Amy said that I was being very grown up and taking these setbacks in stride.

We are going to start our seder with Salmon Buglama, a Georgian dish that is similar (but better, if you asked me) to many of the cold Sephardi fish dishes cooked with tomatoes and served at the beginning of a festive meal.  We were going to make a Moroccan chicken tagine with prunes as one of our main dishes, but decided that there is too much chicken in life, we should be free of it at the seder.  Instead, we will have it for Shabbat dinner the Friday night before (when we are hosting Fulbright fellows from Bolivia, India, Turkey and Uzbekistan -- who needs this right before Pesach?) and will instead have a Yemenite beef and potato stew.  A wonderful side dish that we will not be making because my mother is garlic-averse is broccoli with schmaltz and garlic .  This dish provided me with much comfort in the dark days after the Citizens United decision and the 2010 elections, and if you have chicken fat around, and who doesn't this time of year, it is a great Pesach dish, whether at the seder or during the week. There will be lots of desserts, including Tishpishti, a Turkish walnut and orange cake.  Even if you have another recipe, I urge you to try this one.  It is far easier than any other version and really delicious.  And of course, matzoh toffee which used to be a rarity but now seems to be everywhere.  It is probably the only legitimate reason to buy and use Kosher for Passover margarine. 

There are also a number of recipes on the site that are suitable for the holiday, if not for the seder.  I love matzoh brei, both the conventional version and the Galitzianer version with onions.  Best of all is a riff on Kotthu roti made with matzoh instead of leftover Sri Lankan breads.  It is stir fried with spices, vegetables and eggs, and you can adjust the spices if you are one of the deluded souls who accepts a broad definition of kitniyot  and avoids eating them on the holiday.  Even though there are only two of us at home now (and my wife is on low-carbs) I will probably go ahead and get a 5-pound box of white matzoh so that I can make kotthu roti in the weeks after the holiday.

Finally, last but not least, two nice seasonal easy egg dishes, for those who really want to push their cholesterol through the roof:  spinach with eggs and asparagus Italian-style baked with cheese served with Spanish-style eggs fried in olive oil.

Hag kasher v'sameach to all.  I will try to post again during the holiday if I make anything interesting.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

One of the world's best salmon dishes: Salmon buglama

As Passover approaches, my thoughts turn toward gefilte fish, which of course means "stuffed fish."  So why are the fish balls in the jar called gefilte fish?  They are the stuffing without the fish, cooked separately. My grandmother, who made the best gefilte fish that I have ever had, referred to the fish balls as kneidel, the same term she used for matzo balls and actually cognate with the French quenelles.  Her gefilte fish was mamish stuffed.  She would take the stuffing, and stuff pike, carp and whitefish steaks, with the skin still on to hold the stuffing in, as well as the heads and cook them in the fish broth along with some kneidel for those who didn't want to deal with the bones.  My grandfather and uncle were both fishmongers, and one of the signs of adulthood in my family was your graduation from kneidel to stuffed fish heads.   Given all of this, no one in my family is willing to eat gefilte fish out of the jar at a seder.  Likewise, no one is willing to make it how my grandmother did, and even if they were willing, no one knows how because no one took the time to learn the recipe.  

So what do we do?  We serve salmon buglama, a recipe which I adapted from Darra Goldstein's The Georgian Feast .   I switched her safflower oil , likely a holdover from Soviet era agriculture, to olive or walnut oil, and handle the onions differently.  Otherwise, the recipe is pretty much the same, with the exception that we serve it cold as well as hot.  During the year, we usually have it hot with new potatoes zapped with garlic, and then eat the leftovers cold for lunch the following days.  However, on Pesach we have served it cold for at least 10 years as our fish course, and people demand it every year.  It is very easy, and you can prepare it a day or two in advance. The quantity below will serve 4-6 as a main course, and be enough for small portions for 8-10 as an appetizer.  You can increase the quantities proportionately.  It is most attractive if you cook and serve it without disturbing the layers.

Salmon buglama

Ingredients
  • 2 pound salmon filet (wild is best, farmed is acceptable), skin removed and cut into cubes the size of stew. (they may do this for you in the fish store, save the skin if you want and see below)
  • 1 medium to large onion, halved and sliced thin
  • Cilantro, washed well and chopped, up to one cup
  • 1-3 lemons, sliced thin with seeds removed.
  • 4 to 8 bay leaves, depending how much you like them (you can find and use fresh bay leaves on Pesach if you have compunctions about dried herbs and spices)
  • 2 large tomatoes,  sliced thin, or the equivalent in smaller tomatoes.
  • Olive oil, or substitute walnut oil if you want
  • Salt and pepper.
Method
  1. In a deep skillet with tight cover , drizzle a little oil and lay half the onion.
  2. Put the salmon on top of the onion, season with salt and pepper, top with cilantro and remaining onion, and drizzle with a bit of olive oil.
  3. Layer in order the lemon, bay leaves and tomato, season with more salt and pepper and drizzle with oil.
  4. Cover tightly, bring to the boil, turn heat down and simmer gently for 15 minutes, or a bit more if necessary.  Don’t open the cover and don't test the fish by disturbing the layers, but if the cover is nice and hot and the tomatoes lightly cooked, it is done.
  5. Serve hot or cold.
What to do with the skin?   If it breaks your heart to have them throw out the skin at the fish store, have them save it.  Brush it with oil on both side or spray it with oil spray, sprinkle with coarse salt and spices to taste (cumin and not pepper is a nice combo), and broil until crisp.  This has a potent smell, so either do it the day before your guests arrive, or make sure you know them very well.