Sunday, December 30, 2012

Pulled barbecue, farkashert, simplified and just as good

A while ago I blogged about a version of pulled barbecue made with turkey thighs.   The recipe calls for marinating the thighs in a chili and vinegar paste with whole garlic under the skin, roasting the thighs, removing the skin and mashing the garlic to a paste with the drippings to make a sauce, adding some vegetables, and sauteing it all together.  Delicious, but quite a patschke (Yiddish for a big deal).

I had my family over for dinner this evening, and wanted to try this, but didn't want something quite as involved.  I love chicken thighs, which are tastier and stay moister than the breast, even when boneless and skinless.  I had been meaning to try the method published in the Kitchn for baking boneless thighs so I tried it with the pulled barbecue.  It was so easy that it could be made for a weeknight dinner, and I actually think it is just as good, or better, than the more laborious method.  This is probably going to be my last recipe for 2012 -- try it!

Pulled chicken  barbecue,  the easy way


  • 2 pounds boneless chicken thighs
  • 4 cloves peeled garlic
  • 1 teaspoon chitpotle powder
  • 2 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
  • 2 teaspoons ancho chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon  mustard
  • 1/4  cup cider vinegar
  • 1-2 tablespoons canola oil
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1/4 cup of smoky barbecue sauce, or a bit more to taste (if the sauce tastes good, it is good, just don't overdo it)
  • Whirl the garlic, chili powders and paprika, mustard, cider vinegar, oil and salt in a mini-chopper  or blender to puree garlic and combine ingredients and make a marinade paste.
  • Marinate the thighs in the paste for 1 hour to overnight (in the fridge), but if possible bring to room temperature before cooking.
  • Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  • Remove the thighs from the marinade and place them, with the marinade that still clings, in a baking dish large enough to contain them in one layer, with the smooth side where the skin was down.  Bake 10 minutes.  Turn them and bake another 10 minutes.
  • Mix the drippings with the barbecue sauce and spread it over the thighs.  Broil on High for 5 minutes.  Cut into  the thickest piece to see if they are done.  You can also check with a meat thermometer to make sure the temperature is 165 degrees.  If not, return to the oven and cook on 350 for another five minutes and check again.
  • Cover and let rest for 10 minutes.
  • Remove the thighs from the dish to a cutting board and shred with the grain.  You could pull it apart with two large forks for superior texture, but this is much easier and still real good.
  • Pour the juices in the pan over the chicken and mix well.  If not serving immediately, this can keep for a while in a very low oven, well covered.
  • This is great served on rolls or french bread with a vinegary cole slaw.  Beer goes without saying.  

Sunday, December 23, 2012

When bad things happen to good cider

Drink it anyway.  Be brave.  Just because the sides of your apple cider container are bulging doesn't mean that it isn't good to drink.  In fact, it is better.  Some of the alcohol has been converted to sugar through fermentation, so it isn't as sweet, and it probably contains some beneficial microorganisms.  You can pay significantly more for hard cider in the store, but this fresh, fermented, unfiltered hard cider is too good to throw away.  

It also goes very nicely in this cocktail, which is based on something said to be well known that I read about somewhere about a month ago.  The herbal notes in the tequila and cider reinforce each other nicely.  If you don't have Gelinotte, use a half tablespoon maple syrup and increase the tequila to an ounce and a half.   If you only have unfermented cider, use that, but increase the amounts of spirits slightly. If you prefer, you can add some seltzer and/or serve it on the rocks.  I generally prefer a stiffer drink, so this is diluted enough for me, but suit yourself. You can increase proportionately up to the capacity of your shaker.

This recipe is really a set of loose guidelines for making cocktails with hard cider.  Basically, you want it to be about for parts juicy stuff, two to three parts hard stuff, one part or less sweet stuff, and some bitters to bring it all together.  (The proportions in my recipe are slightly different since  I use Gelinotte, which is sweet and alcoholic, rather than a syrup.)

The cocktail that remains to be named:


  • 2 ounces cider, gone hard
  • 1 ounce tequila reposado
  • 1 ounce Gelinotte (a fermented maple syrup liquor from Quebec)
  • 2 dashes Angostura bitters
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • large pinch mace


  1. Mix the sugar and mace on put on a plate.
  2. Moisten the rim of a cocktail (or wine) glass with a cut lemon.  Dip in the sugar and mace mixture and set aside.
  3. Put ice in a cocktail shaker.  Add cider, tequila, Gelinotte and bitters and shake 30 seconds.
  4. Strain into glass and serve. 
Some variations:  Instead of the tequila, use bourbon, rye, applejack or Calvados.  Instead of the Gelinotte, a sweet liqueur such as cassis or creme de Yvette for fruitiness, or Benedictine for strong herbal notes, would be nice.  You can also use a simple or flavored syrup , about a teaspoon or two, and increase the amount of the base spirit a bit.  To make  a simple syrup, boil equal parts or water and sugar for about 5 minutes until combined and then cool before mixing into the drink.  For flavored syrup as some spice, such as two cinnamon sticks (I would use the soft true cinnamon rather than the hard cassia here, but that is my own preference) , a slice or two of fresh ginger,  two or three cloves, or about a quarter of a cracked nutmeg.  Strain these out.  You can save simple syrup in the fridge for a while, but label it so you know what you have.  You can also vary the bitters.  Angostura is the go to one here.  I would avoid Peychaud's which is too fennel-y, but feel free to experiment if you want to invest in bitters.  Finally, you can rim the glass with sugar and cinnamon (again, use the soft and citrusy "true" Ceylon cinnamon here rather than the cassia that we call cinnamon, which will take over the drink) or skip that step altogether.  No firm rules here, let your taste be your guide, and have fun.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Korean Carrot Salad, Bukharan style

A surprising feature of the menus at kosher Bukharan (Central Asian) restaurants is the presence of kimchi and "Korean Carrot Salad."  I thought that this might have been something that they picked up in Queens, but when I asked the owner of the late, lamented Cafe Baba of Rego Park why they served kimchi he explained that in Samarkand they liked to drink vodka, the Koreans in the markets sold kimchi, and they realized that the two went very well together.  No argument there.  He was less informative, however, on what Koreans were doing in Central Asia.

As it turns out, the former Soviet Union had nearly one million ethnic Koreans, known as the Koryo-saram.  Most were descended from impoverished farmers who settled in the Russian Far East beginning in the 19th Century, accelerating after the Russo-Japanese war. In 1937, fearing that they might be Japanese spies (talk about paranoia -- try telling a Korean that his sister is dating a Japanese, and then duck) Stalin deported them to Central Asia, where most lived at the end of the Soviet Union.  There they encountered the Bukharan Jews, leading to some fruitful cultural exchange that benefits many of us today.

While kimchi is broadly available in 21st Century America, I have never seen "Korean Carrot Salad" in any Korean restaurant or grocery store.  Occasionally, you will be served shredded carrots with the banchan that begin the meal, but they tend to be simply dressed in sesame oil and vinegar and don't resemble the Bukharan version, which is strongly flavored with garlic and coriander seed.  This dish is hard to find, and I have experimented with it over the years, and with aid of numerous web recipes, I have developed this version which suits my taste, and the dressing combines coriander-seed infused oil will raw garlic.  Since most supermarkets carry pre-shredded carrots now, it is a cinch to make.  I first made it last night for my parent's 60th anniversary dinner, but had to warn my mother not to eat it since she detests garlic.  Everyone else loved it, and she enjoyed everything else:

Korean Carrot Salad


  • 1 pound carrots, shredded 
  • 1/4 cup sunflower, safflower or other vegetable oil
  • 1/4 cup whole coriander seed
  • 5 dried red hot pepper pods, broken up
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • Salt
  • small onion, chopped, about 1/4 cup
  • Rice wine vinegar, 2-4 tablespoons
  • Pinch of red pepper flakes (optional, I like Aleppo pepper here, which is flavorful and not too hot)
  • small handful fresh coriander leaves for garnish


  1. Put carrots in a bowl and salt very lightly.  This helps the carrots to soften, and you can always add more later.
  2. Heat oil and coriander seen on medium low in a small pot, like a butter warmer, or skillet over medium-low heat.  Cook for about 5 minutes until the seeds turn several shades darker.  Don't rush it and be careful not to burn them.  
  3. Put in the pepper pods, cook for about 30 seconds more, and strain into a small skillet. 
  4. Add the onion to the skillet and cook on medium heat until soft but not brown, for about 3-5 minutes.
  5. Meanwhile, mash/crush/chop the garlic to a paste with some salt and mix with the carrots.  If you are lazy you can just chop the garlic but it won't be as good.
  6. When the onions are soft, pour it with the oil over the carrots.  Add the vinegar  starting with 2 tablespoons and adding more to taste.  
  7. Taste for balance of salt, heat and tartness.  Add more salt, vinegar and red pepper if needed.  Set aside overnight, stirring occasionally if you remember.
  8. Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.  It is particularly nice mounded in the center of a plate with the coriander leaves around the rim.  
  9. Serves 4-14 as an appetizer, depending on how many other dishes you are serving.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Baked Plums: my easiest recipe

I have come to realize over the years that I have very different standards than most people for what constitutes a "fast and easy" recipe.   Though this takes about an hour to bake, no one will dispute that it is EASY.

We first had it at Balkanika, a Macedonian restaurant on Ninth Avenue.  They served it with whipped cream, which we didn't particularly care for.  The ideal accompaniment would probably be kaymak, a Balkan clotted cream, if you can find it.  But ice cream or sorbet is easily available and quite good.  It is a great alternative to baked apples.  The flesh is always tender and the cooked plums have their own tart/sweet complexity that requires little additional seasoning.  You just have to remember that there is a small and very hard pit in the center.  This has become our Friday dinner dessert of preference when we don't have guests, because it is low in both effort and calories. 

Baked Plums


  • 2 medium-large black plums per person
  • Vegetable oil or spray
  • Honey and cinnamon (optional)
  • Vanilla ice cream or coconut sorbet (optional)


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. Oil  or spray a baking dish that will fit all of the plums snugly.
  3. If you want, drizzle lightly with honey and dust with a little cinnamon.
  4. Bake 45 minutes to one hour, depending on size of the plum.  Ideally, they should not burst.  They can stay warm in a turned off or low oven for a long time.  (If holding in a warm oven, cut down on the baking time.)
  5. Serve warm, ideally with ice cream or sorbet.

Notes:  I don't prick the plums before baking.  This will prevent them from bursting (which usually doesn't happen in any case) but it also causes the juices to run out.  There isn't much more to say, this is really simple.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Lentils with green beans (or green beans with lentils) : a fast and easy vegetarian dinner

I generally avoid partially prepared foods for reasons of cost and taste, but sometimes there is no time for anything and compromises are necessary.  You can get washed and trimmed vegetables and precooked lentils, beets and potatoes.  It beats ordering in or going out, in terms of health, taste, cost and even time.  I threw this dish together with them in less than 30 minutes, a simply spiced stew of green beans and lentils.  I seasoned it with cumin and Kirmizi pepper, and topped it with garlic flavored yogurt.  It is a very flexible dish, so I will give some variations at the end.  You could fancy up the yogurt topping with a mint and pepper butter, or skip it entirely and add some pomegranate molasses to the sauce and top the stew with feta.  And on, and on, and on.  I tend to swing Middle Eastern with ingredients like this, but they are amenable to a host of flavors.

Lentil and green bean stew:
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon whole cumin seed
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon flavorful red pepper (Aleppo, Kirmizi or Urfa)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • 1 pound green beans, washed, trimmed and halved (I used haricots verts from Trader Joe's)
  • 15 ounce can diced tomatoes (I like Muir Glen fire roasted)
  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (you can either boil a cup for 20-30 minutes, or do as I did and use the precooked kind from Trader Joe's or Fairway, which come in vacuum-sealed 500 gram packages)
  • 1/2 cup garlic flavored yogurt (directions below)
  1. Spray a nonstick skillet and heat olive oil on medium until hot.
  2. Add olive oil, let heat for about 30 seconds, and add cumin seeds.  Cook until aromatics are a few shades darker, but do not burn.
  3. Add onions, turn heat to high and cook for about 5 minutes until soft.
  4. Add red pepper, salt and black pepper and stir for about a minute until aromatic.
  5. Add the green beans and cook for 5 minutes stirring occasionally.
  6. Add the tomatoes and cook for 5-10 minutes until well cooked -- there are few adequate words in the English language to describe and undercooked canned tomato.
  7. Add the lentils and any liquid in the package and cook to heat through, about another 5 minutes. If it is dry, add a little water to keep it from scorching.
  8. Serve w on rice or bulgur (my favorite quick method is below), or with pita. Garlic-flavored yogurt goes well with this.   It is good reheated or cold the next day.
  9. Serves 4 generously as a main dish.
Quick bulgur: Coarse bulgur goes best here and nothing could be easier.  Bulgur may be a 10,000 year-old convenience food.  It is already cooked and just needs to be rehydrated and warmed.  Forget most of the fancy pilaf recipes.  Take one part of bulgur and put it in a microwave-safe serving dish.  Sprinkle salt lightly over the top, and pour on 1 part boiling water.  Stir to mix, cover and leave it sit until the water is absorbed, about 20 minutes.  Cover dish with a paper towel and zap in microwave until warm.  For 3-4 servings, I used 1 cup of bulgur and water and zap them for about two and a half minutes.

Garlic yogurt:  On a cutting  board, smash a medium clove of garlic with a broad bladed knife and remove the skin.  Sprinkle with coarse salt, about 1/4 teaspoon.  Mash the salt into the garlic with the side of the blade.  In about 30 seconds or so, it should be reduced to a puree. If not, chop is a bit with the sharp edge, and then go back to mashing.  Scrape the garlic into a small bowl, and then stir in 1/2 to 3/4 cup of yogurt of your choice and fat level.  I really like goat's milk yogurt here.  This is a wonderful topping for all kinds of Middle Eastern dishes and especially good with those in tomato sauce.

Flavored butter or oil:  Heat 1 - 2 tablespoons olive oil or butter on medium heat until melted.  Add 1/2 teaspoon each finely ground black pepper and Aleppo, Urfa or Kirmizi pepper.  Let these heat, being careful not to burn, for about a minute.  If you want, and for a rather wild flavor, add 1 teaspoon of dried spearmint or 1/2 teaspoon of dried tarragon, forced through a sieve.  Cook about 30 seconds.  You make pour this directly over the lentil and green bean stew, or pour it over the yogurt, which will then be particularly beautiful.  If you are pouring it over the yogurt, the stew is best served with the yogurt on top rather than on the side.

Other flavors:  You can add a handful of fresh coriander when you add the green beans, and top it with more fresh coriander.  Add some sliced garlic, abut 4 cloves, when the onions are done and a teaspoon of pomegranate molasses with the tomatoes, and then top the stew with about 1 cup  of crumbled feta and heat a few minutes so it starts to melt.  Don't use yogurt in this case.  Omit the cumin seeds and add 1/2 teaspoon allspice or cinnamon when you add the tomatoes.  Experiment with different kinds of pepper. Experiment in general!

Monday, August 27, 2012

Almond rum punch

This is a very easy cocktail that can be thrown together quickly with stuff that you have in the house, provided that you have a well-stocked bar (with bitters, dark rum and maraschino liqueur) , someone on a low-carb diet (unsweetened almond milk) and like to cook Indian food (cardamom) .  With these things on hand, it is a cinch.
We were approaching the end of our Cape rental and were left with half a container of diet almond milk and a bit of rum. The cocktail for that night was an Aperol spritz, and some of the people with less mature palates did not take to its slightly bitter orange flavor.  So this served as a backup and it also enabled us to follow the categorical imperative (for some -- or does this violate the meaning of the term?) of not wasting or throwing out food. Cardamom syrup is very easy to cook up if you don't have any on hand. The punch tastes extremely creamy, but has no cream, only lowfat nut milk.  It is also pareve, a nice bonus.
Almond Rum Punch

Ingredients and method
Mix the following ingredients in a pitcher that holds six cups or more:
  • 2 cups unsweetened almond milk (I used Blue Diamond Vanilla; if you use p lain, add 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1 cup dark rum, like Gosling's
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup cardamom syrup
  • 1/4 cup maraschino liqueur (optional but highly desirable)
  • 4 dashes Angostura bitters
 Add ice to fill the pitcher and stir for another minute.  Taste it, and if you would like it sweeter, add more cardamom syrup (if you want it sweeter and more fragrant) or maraschino (if tyou want it sweeter and boozier).  Pour into glasses with more ice if desired and enjoy.

Serves 4-6.

Cardamom syrup: Combine 1 cup white sugar, 1.5 cups water and 15 cardamom pods, lightly crushed. Bring to a boil, and cook or about 10 minutes on medium until you have a thick syrup. Let cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator. Makes about 1 cup. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Singapore chili chicken on toast

Exoskeletons do not fit comfortably into an observant Jewish diet.  With the exception of a few species of locusts, which some Yemenites eat, Jews who observe the dietary laws refrained from eating Arthropoda which includes crustaceans  ( shrimp, lobster, crab, prawn  etc) as well as insects and spiders.   While few miss the grasshoppers ( chapulines in Mexico, served w tortillas and guacamole as well as in many other preparations) many consider forgoing shrimp, lobster and crab and act of true self-denial.  For me, the taste of the flesh is almost beside the point.  What I miss is the joy, experienced in its purest form in an Asian, especially Malaysian restaurant, or in a Maryland crab house, of sucking spices off shells.  If you are like me, this dish is for you.  Even if you aren't, and eat lobster and crab all the time,  it is very good, and cooking chicken is a whole lot easier than cooking crab or lobster.

This dish is inspired by the Chili Crab with Toast of the Fatty Crab and Sam Sifton's Fathers' Day interpretation with lobster from the New York Times, neither of which I have had, both of which I occasionally dream about.  Chicken, especially the backs, substitute very nicely for the crustaceans and give lots of spice-sucking pleasure.  To mellow out the sauce, rather than the obscene (in a good sense) amount of butter that is called for, I use light coconut milk, which avoids the meat-dairy prohibition (not to discuss here the issue of why chicken is considered meat like a milk-producing mammal).  The total experience is different (I assume) but still more than satisfying. It is a mess in the best sense of the word.  Lobster bibs would not be amiss, and use lots of napkins.
The dish looks harder than it is and takes about an hour, beginning to end.  the chicken is browned in the broiler or on the grill after simmering (what I call Filipino Adobo-style) which makes it a lot easier, and gives you nice crisp and tasty skin at the end. We experimented with several different garnish combinations, and thought that the mint and salty roasted peanuts were the best.  We also tried a variety of breads and did not come to a consensus, so I discuss this at the end.  The recipe below serves 8.  You can halve it and just use the chicken, but you may want to throw in some wings or backs if you have any around for the chewing pleasure.

To drink, beer is the logical choice, but some reds could stand up to it, like a good Aussie Shiraz or a Monje Tinto Tradicional from Tenerife on the Canary Islands -- we are talking serous terroir here.  A truly beautiful pairing is Cassis, not the black currant liqueur but the white wine from Provence. This would go particularly well with  Vietnamese red cabbage salad, though the pecans are optional and the grilled chicken or tofu unnecessary.

Singapore Chili Chicken with Toast

  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 inch piece ginger, finely chopped
  • 2-3 stalks of lemon grass, outer leaves removed and cut into two inch pieces
  • 30-50 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly desirable)
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 15 cloves garlic, sliced
  • 1 chicken, about 3 pounds, cut into eighths
  • 3-4 pounds chicken backs and wings
  • 12 ounces tomato paste (one large or two small cans)
  • 2 cups white wine or vermouth (you can substitute water, just add more lime at the end)
  • 4 tablespoons soy sauce
  • 4 tablespoons kecap manis (Indonesian sweet soy sauce; if not available substitute 3 tablespoons brown sugar and an additional tablespoon of soy)
  • 4-6 tablespoons Sriracha sauce
  • 2 cans  light coconut milk (you can use regular)
  • juice of two limes
  • bread:   8-12 large slices peasant bread, lightly toasted and rubbed on both sides with garlic (see below)
  • 1/2-1 cup roasted, salted peanuts chopped
  • 1/2-1 cup chopped fresh mint
  1. Heat the oil is a very large pot on medium heat and add the ginger, lemon grass and curry leaves.  Saute for two minutes until fragrant.
  2. Add the onions and saute on high for 5 minutes until soft and just beginning to brown around the edges.
  3. Add the garlic, turn heat down to medium and saute another minute.
  4. Add tomato paste and saute with the aromatics until glossy.
  5. Add the vermouth or water and stir until you have a saucy consistency.
  6. Add the chicken and the parts, and stir well to combine.  Simmer for about 10 minutes on medium covered.  It is not necessary to brown the chicken.
  7. Add the soy, kecap manis, coconut milk and  4 tablespoons of Sriracha.  The chicken should be just about covered, if not add more water.
  8. Bring to a boil, then turn down heat to medium-low and simmer for 30-40 minutes, stirring every 10 minutes.  The chicken will be done when the meat and skin starts to pull away from the bones.
  9. While the chicken is cooking, prepare the toast and garnishes.
  10. Remove the chicken to a large baking or broiling pan (lined with foil if you want to make clean up easier)  with skin side down to start.  Broil about 6 inches from the heat until well browned, between 5 and 10 minutes. Turn the chicken over and broil on the skin side until well browned.  Turn off the oven if the sauce is not finished.  If you have a gas grill, through the chicken on that on high heat and grill until well browned on all sides.
  11. Meanwhile, boil until the sauce is very thick , about 10-15 minutes.
  12. Add the lime juice.  Taste the sauce and add more Sriracha if you want.  You may find that the coconut milk has blunted some of its edge.
  13. To serve, take one or two very large, deep platters and put half of the toasted bread on the bottom.  Arrange the chicken on top of the bread and pour the sauce on top.  Arrange the remaining toast around the edges so that it remains crisp.  Sprinkle with chopped mint, then the peanuts.  (I like the larger amounts of garnish, esp. the mint.)
  14. Serves 8 generously.

The bread:  My son and I thought that this was best with a plain white peasant bread.  We were fortunate to have a loaf from the Terranova Bakery, which is in the Arthur Avenue neighborhood of the Bronx.  They also make nice pepper frissell, which are hard biscuits, which is what my wife preferred.  No need to toast these. A toasted sourdough would also be good.  I would avoid any bread that is too sweet, or a whole-grain bread.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

The Short Beach Sling aka Malay Madness

We have been renting on the same house on Short Beach Road in Centerville on Cape Cod for the past five years or so.  We have been renting with the same friends and cousins albeit in different locations on the Cape for the past 20 years or so, skipping a year here and there and always being sorry when we do.

When we started, a bottle of wine might do it for much of the week.  Now we do a case or two of wine and an indeterminate quantity of beer.  This happens as one ages.  We recently added a cocktails.  We worked our way up from Palomas introduced by my brother-in-law a few years ago and now have what a restaurant might call a cocktail program -- a different cocktail each night usually paired with an appropriate snack and ideally in harmony with the main dish.

Tonight's main dish was a farkashert version of Fatty Crab's Chili Crab on Toast, made with chicken instead of crab or lobster and light coconut milk instead of butter  I will post this recipe shortly.  As a cocktail beforehand,  I thought about a Singapore Sling but I don't care much for pineapple juice, so I put this together, based on mango/peach/orange juice.  It is moderately strong, but you could always add more gin if you want it stiffer.  This is probably as close as I will get to a girlie drink, though it is not overly sweet because of the gin and lime juice.  The cardamom syrup is provides a fragrant accent.  You could cut it down or leave it out if it seems to sweet for you, or try it with cardamom bitters instead.  Quite nice, especially with chili coconut peanuts and fried tempeh with 3 sambals (sweet chili, peanut, and tamarind), but you don't have to wait for a neocolonial pseudo Southeast Asian meal to make this.  I called it Malay Madness, but the others in a house had different ideas, so the consensus was Short Beach sling:

Short Beach Sling, aka Malay Madness  (serves 4 to 6)


  • 4 cups mango/peach/orange juice
  • 1 cup gin
  • 3 ounces maraschino liqueur
  • 3 ounces Benedictine
  • 1 ounce creme de cassis,  Cherry Heering, or other dark cherry brandy
  • 3 ounces lime juice
  • 1/4 cup cardamom syrup (see below)
  • 8 shakes each Angostura and orange bitters

  1. Mix everything together in a large 3 quart pitcher.  Chill well in the refrigerator or freezer.
  2. Add enough ice to the pitcher to come almost to the top.  Stir for 1 minute.
  3. Serve in whatever kind of glass you want (we are in a rental and use whatever is available) with some of the ice from the pitcher.  If you have little umbrellas or maraschino cherries you can garnish it with that, but you really don't have to.  You can easily double or halve the recipe. 
Cardamom syrup:  Combine 1 cup white sugar, 1 cup water and 15 cardamom pods, lightly crushed. Bring to a boil, and cook or about 15 minutes on medium until you have a thick syrup.  Let cool, and then strain into a clean jar and store in the refrigerator.  Makes about 1 cup.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Educational cocktails: the Bikkur fizz and the Minim-tini

I have been going through a number of significant spiritual transformations of late.  Not least of these is my shift to cocktail consumption. For most of my life, I freely impugned the masculinity of both male and female friends who consumed mixed drinks.  My standards were very stringent. In my mind the difference between a single malt scotch straight up and a scotch on the rocks was far greater than what I saw as the minimal distance between scotch on the rocks and the girliest of girlie drinks.  Well, I have had to drink crow, and over the past year or so have come to enjoy cocktails as much as anyone.  Which brings me to Parshat Eikev.

Last week was Shabbat Eikev, and the weekly Torah reading includes the statement "God your Lord is bringing you to a good land - a land with flowing streams and underground springs gushing out in valley and mountain.  It is a land of wheat, barley, grapes, figs and pomegranates, a land of oil-olive and honey.  (Deuteronomy 8:7-8.  Because the products on the list are all from plants, the honey is traditionally interpreted as date honey rather than bee honey.)   These seven items are known as the shivat ha-minim or the seven species of plants characteristic of the land of Israel.  This was the produce deemed suitable for presentation as first fruits, or Bikkurim, in Temple times.  

To me, this sounded like the list of ingredients for some interesting cocktails.  I created two, the Bikkur fizz and the Minim-tini.   (Particular thanks to Rabbi Kara Tav for helping to come up with the names.) They are both good, if rather strong, and excellent conversation starters.  They are most suitable for serving on Tu BeShevat, the New Year of Trees when it is customary to eat produce from Israel; Yom Ha-atzma'ut, Israeli Independence Day; Shavuot, when the first fruits were customarily brought to the Temple (though the prayer for the presentation of the Bikkurim has become the core of the Passover Haggadah, though that is another story); Shabbat Eikev, when the list of shivat ha-minim  is read, or whenever you want a tasty, somewhat fruity drink with a story to go with it.  Try to make thes with at least some Israeli or Palestinian products if you can find them -- it is good for a cocktail celebrating the land to include some fruits of the land.

Bikkur Fizz  (1 serving)

  • 1 teaspoon date honey (Silan)
  • 1 chopped green olive or 1/2 teaspoon brine from the jar
  • 1 tablespoon fig jam
  • 1/2 ounce scotch (barley)
  • 1 ounce fig brandy (popular among Tunisian Jews --a good product is available from France called Boukha Bokobsa and easy to find around Pesach;  there is also a product from Yonkers call Mahia that you can use; if you cannot find either, proportionately increase the scotch and brandy)
  • 1/2 ounce grape brandy
  • dash Angostura bitters
  • 2-3 ounces pomegranate juice (well-chilled, OK to use more if you want a less alcoholic drink)
  • 2-4 ounces wheat beer (well chilled)
  • twist of orange rind
  1. Muddle together the date honey,, olive and fig jam in a cocktail shaker. 
  2. Stir in the scotch and brandies until well mixed.
  3. Add the bitters and pomegranate juice.
  4. Add ice to the shaker and shake for 15-30 seconds until the mixture is very cold.
  5. Rub the orange twist around an 8 ounce or larger  drinking or wine glass.
  6. Strain in the mixture from the shaker.
  7. Top off with beer and serve.
Making this drink for a crowd:  Depending on the size of your shaker, you can make up to 3 serings with relative ease.   A different strategy is needed for a larger crowd.  Prepare everything through the bitters in a shaker, holding back on the pomegranate juice and the beer.  After shaking, strain into a large pitcher with some ice in it, add the pomegranate juice and stir.  Put orange twists in each glass, distribute the mixture from the pitcher, and top off with beer.

Minim-tini  (1 serving)

  • 1/2 teaspoon each pomegranate molasses, date honey (silan), and brine from a green olive jar or can
  • 1/2 oz scotch
  • 1/2 oz fig brandy
  • 1/2 oz white vermouth
  • 1 oz gin (citrus-y new Amsterdam gin worked very well here;  most gins are made with wheat)
  • lemon twist

  1. Rinse a martini or similar glass with water and put in the freezer to chill while you prepare the drink.
  2. Mix pomegranate molasses, date honey and the bring in a large glass or small cocktail shaker until smooth.  
  3. Stir int he Scotch, brandy, vermouth and gin, making sure that the other ingredients are dissolved well.  Fill the glass or shaker with ice and stir for 60 seconds.
  4. Scrunch the twist, rub along the inside of the martini glass, and strain the contents of the
  5. mixing utensil into the martini glass and serve.

Why the brine?  While it adds a savory note to the cocktail that offsets the sweetness of the other ingredients, the primary reason is visual.  Due to the pomegranate and date, the drink takes on an amber color.  The sight of an olive resting in the bottom of this cocktail is not as appealing as that of a green olive in clear spirits.  If you don't believe it, try it for yourself. 

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

This incentive for this recipe was to do something with the half package of precooked lentils that we had left over from the pre-Tisha B'Av meal.  The package said they would only last for two days, so we had to act fast.  If you have the ingredients on hand, this is a cinch.  Some of the ingredients are optional, so I also suggest alternatives for a slightly less "authentic" salad, though there is nothing authentic about this in the first place.  In particular, I encourage the substitution of garlic for the hing/asafoetida, which is a sulfurous resin used by Vaishnava Hindus who, for reasons that I have never been able to understand, do not consume onions or garlic.  If you have it on hand and have the taste for it, the hing is great, but otherwise you should be proud to prepare this with garlic.

This recipe is based on poriyals, a group of Southern Indian dishes in which vegetables are stir-fried with mustard seeds and other ingredients. I made this with about 2 cups of leftover cooked lentils, which made a nice-sized side dish for 4 or a vegetarian main dish for 2.  You could easily double the recipe.  If you don't have cooked lentils on hand, boil one cup of dry French green lentils (or smaller black Beluga lentils) in a lot of unsalted water.  It should take about 20-25 minutes, but start tasting them before, since you want them cooked through but firm.  However, the precooked lentils are great and the dish requires no cooking except for the spices at the end. 

Lentil Salad, Southern-Indian style

  • 2 cups cooked French lentils (see above)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • salt
  • 1/4 cup grated coconut (ideally fresh or defrosted frozen, otherwise dry, reconstituted briefly in hot water or in the microwave)
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh coriander
  • 1-2 tablespoons oil (ideally light sesame oil, otherwise vegetable oil -- see below)
  • 1 tablespoon brown mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon urad dal (hulled, split white dal, optional but highly desirable)
  • 15-25 fresh curry leaves (optional but highly desirable)
  • 1 thin hot green chili, sliced (leave the seeds in for heat)
  • 1/8 teaspoon hing or 1 clove garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tablespoon sesame seeds (ideally raw, but roasted is ok, optional)
  1. Put the lentils in a serving bowl, mix in the lime juice (use a bit more if you want) and season with salt.  Taste, because precooked lentils are already salted.
  2. Top with the coriander, and then the coconut.
  3. Have all of your other ingredients ready, since it will go very fast.
  4. Heat the oil in a small skillet on high heat. (I actually use a jezve, a Turkish coffee pot.) Add the mustard seeds, and when they pop, add the dal and cook until they just begin to color lightly, about 30 seconds to a minute. Don't let them brown since they will cook further.
  5.  If using, add the hing and let sizzle a few seconds and then add the curry leaves, chili and garlic (if using), stirring after each addition.   Turn the heat down until the garlic looses its raw aroma, less than one minute.  Stir in the sesame seeds and cook briefly until they being to color, also less than a minute.
  6. Pour the oil and spices over the coriander and coconut, and serve.  It can wait up to an hour without going in the refrigerator.  When serving, toss the salad together at the table to mix in the spiced oil.
  7. For a slightly less attractive, but tastier dish, add the spiced oil to the lentils and mix well before topping with the coriander and coconut. 
  8. Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side or appetizer.
The oil:  The classic Southern Indian cooking oil is sesame oil.  Unlike East Asian oils, it is not roasted.  It is a yellow color with a nutty aroma and it can withstand a bit more heat,.  The best choice is a sesame oil from an Indian grocery, otherwise an unroasted sesame oil which should be available in the health food store or in the health food section of a supermarket.  An interesting choice would be coconut oil which is very typical of the cooking of Kerala, but since it congeals at room temperature, you would have to serve it on warm, freshly cooked lentils and serve it at once rather than letting it sit.  You can also use a regular vegetable oil other than olive oil.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Kale rib soup with rice

It has been a while since I paid tribute to the memory of Birdie Paris,  my wife's aunt and force of nature. Coincidentally, last time was in connection with her recipe for kale soup. She never made this kale soup, but certainly would have been proud of me for coming up with it.  Birdie was one of the most generous people in the world, but she was also one of the most frugal.  We used to say that she would give you the clothes off her back, and then tell you what she paid for them and most importantly, what it was marked down from.  While such frugality was not uncommon in people born after the First World War who came of age during the Great Depression, Birdie brought it to new levels.  She would brag about buying dented cans and expired and marked-down meat and claimed to have built their Cape house on the savings. . She would buy scraps of leftover cold cuts at the deli counter and turn them into a (mighty tasty) antipasto, of course reciting the price of  each component as she dished it out..  Her daughter Susan says that it took her years to realize that she did not need to buy tuna fish just because it was on sale, and, if she wanted to, she could but it even if it was not on sale.
We have become addicted to kale salads but are often trim off the leaves and are left with a whole lot of ribs.  Here is something tasty to do with them:

Kale rib soup with rice

  • Ribs from one very large bunch of kale, preferably Tuscan (lacinato) kale, which will yield about one quart chopped
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • medium onion, chopped
  • carrot, peeled and chopped
  • 2-3 ribs celery, trimmed stringed and chopped
  • 2 or more cloves or garlic, sliced
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste (more if you like it tomatoey, which I do not)
  • 5-6 cups liquid (I used water and a tablespoon of Osem powder;  a homemade vegetable stock would be nice if you are so inclined)
  • Parmesan cheese rind (a two inch piece is fine, but the more the merrier)
  • Bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup short grain rice, like Arborio or Spanish rice
  • grated Parmesan cheese for serving
  1. When you make the kale salad, you will strip the leaves off the stems, which will keep for a week or more in the refrigerator. 
  2. You can use all of the ribs except for the hard, woody stems which may still be attached, particularly if you got the kale from a farmers' market or CSA. Strip the ribs off the stem and discard the stem, since it is too fibrous to use.
  3. Rinse the ribs and chop them.  You should have about one quart.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a 3-4 quart soup pot and add, as you are finished preparing the, the onion, carrot, celery and garlic.  Stir occasionally until soft but not brown, about 5 minutes total.
  5. Add the chopped kale ribs, and saute for a few minutes, stirring occasionally. Add the tomato paste and stir until it is mixed in.
  6. Add the liquid, cheese rind, bay leaf and some grindings of pepper and bring to the boil. Turn heat down and simmer for  about 20 minutes, partially covered.  
  7. Taste the kale, which should be cooked but still somewhat firm before adding the rice.  Cook a few minutes more if necessary.  Add more salt if needed -- the rice will absorb some salt so it should taste every so slightly on the salty side.
  8. Add the rice and cook uncovered for 10 minutes.  Cover the pot and let stand for 5 minutes before serving.  The rice should be cooked but al dente, with a little toothiness.  If you want more tender rice, cook it a few minutes more.
  9. Serve with grated cheese.  Serves 6-8 as a first course and 3-4 as a very hearty main dish.
Variations: Rice is our favorite, but you can also prepare this with soup pasta (like ditalini) or toasted bread.  Just substitute the pasta for the rice, but cook the kale a little longer and  only cook the pasta for 5 minutes after adding.  If you use bread, the best choice is a stale, non-sweet whole grain loaf cut into 1-inch thick slices.  Toast them and rub with garlic and pour the soup (not a true zuppa/sop) over it when you serve. This can also be served with frissell, the hard biscuts available in some Italian bakeries. It is particularly good with pepper frissell. The soup itself should cook about 10 minutes more to tenderize the kale ribs.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Zucchini and caraway dip

Caraway and harissa are classic Tunisian seasonings and pair well with zucchini in an appetizer salad.  However, the classic way of preparing this dish is to boil and mash the zucchini which leads to the water problem. (See my earlier post in connection with a zucchini and tomato salad.)   While you are left with a lovely light green puree, you are also left with something of a soggy, bland mess that seems not to hold and highlight the spices.  The better alternative was to grate, salt and then saute the squash.  The water was eliminated and the flavors concentrated. (My theory is that many flavors are fat, rather than water soluble and that vegetables are almost always bettter sauteed than boiled or steamed.)
Here is a less refined, easier and spicier version of the salad.  Rather than salting the squash after grating and letting it drain, I found that you can just saute it a few minutes longer.  It eliminates a step, a lot of mess, makes the saltiness of the dish easier to control and really doesn't take much more cooking.  By sauteing the squash with garlic, harissa and ground caraway, you are left with an extremely tasty puree that is a welcome relief from the usual appetizer salads. This is a good way to use up some of those large zucchini clubs that people seem to accumulate in July and August, but it is even better made with tasty, small, tender squash. 

Zucchini and caraway dip

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 1-2 tablespoons olive oil
  • salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon harissa (preferably one with a good hit of garlic)
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon red wine vinegar
  1. Wash the zucchini well.  Zucchini often has a lot of grit embedded in its skin, and the best way to deal with this is to soak it for about 15 minutes.  Then run it under cold water, and scrape away any parts which are still gritty.  If it is a hopeless case, just peel it, it won't hurt the dish too much.
  2. Grate the zucchini on the large holes of a box grater.
  3. Heat the olive oil, reserving one teaspoon,  on medium high in a very large nonstick skillet and add the zucchini shreds.  Salt lightly.  
  4. Cook  on a high flame for about 15 minutes, until the squash is well-cooked and lightly browned.  You will be left with about 2 cups.
  5. Meanwhile, smash the garlic, peel it, and mash to a paste with some salt using the side and edge of a broad knife.
  6. Move the zucchini over to the size and add about a teaspoon more oil.  While stirring, add garlic and saute around 30 seconds, add the caraway for 30 seconds more,  then the harissa for 30 seconds more.  Then incorporate the seasonings into the cooked squash.
  7. Turn off the heat,
  8. Makes around 2 cups. Serve with crackers, bread or raw vegetables as an appetizer spread to 4-8 people, depending on what else is on the table.  It also makes a nice sandwich spread on whole grain bread and topped with pitted oil cured olives, sliced feta cheese and tomatoes.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Terong terasi, varkashert : Umamified Indonesian Eggplant

A predominant salt flavoring in Malaysia, Indonesia and the Philippines is some form of fermented shrimp paste.  In contrast to other parts of Southeast Asia, the shrimp paste in these countries, especially Malaysia and Indonesia tends to be more heavily fermented and often dried. In Malaysia it is known as belachan, in Indonesia as terasi and in the Philippines as bagoong.  To develop the flavor even further, it is often fried or toasted before being used in a dish.   The smell, to most Westerners, is nothing short of revolting, but it is an essential element of the cuisines and adds an umami richness to the dishes where it is used.  (One day I will write a more extended discussion of fermented fish and seafood products and their role in Southeast Asian cooking.)

You can think of this particular dish as a Southeast Asian version of Imam Bayildi, a Turkish dish that means "The Imam Fainted." The most common version of the Turkish story is that an imam married a woman who was renowned and a good cook, and as a wedding gift they received enough olive oil to last for years.  She made him a dish of eggplant, onions, tomatoes and garlic cooked in olive oil, and he liked it so much that he asked her to make it every night.  She did, but after a week she said she could no longer make it because she had run out of olive oil, so the imam fainted.   In the Southeast Asian variant, the wedding gift is shrimp paste, and the imam faints when this runs out.   I'll take the olive oil. 

This having been said, something good is missing when you leave the shrimp paste out of the dish. This variant is intended for vegetarian, those who want to observe kashrut, who have shellfish allergies, or who may not want to be knocked over by the smell of shrimp paste when they cook it.  I substitute a deep red barley miso for the terasi and it is not bad.  Even better than that.  It is also quite easy, so try it.

Indonesian-style Eggplant with Red Miso Sauce

  • 1 to 1 1/2 pounds fresh, firm eggplants (I use 3-4 medium sized ones;  Japanese-style are also nice but should be prepared differently, see below)
  • 6-8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 hot, fresh red chili peppers
  • 1 tablespoon dark red barley miso
  • 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 shallots, peeled, halved and sliced
  • 1/2 cup water
  1. Prepare the eggplants:  If using conventional or medium-sized eggplants, quarter them lengthwise and cut the quarters into one-inch chunks.  Place on a baking sheet lined with foil and sprayed with oil spray, and broil about 5 inches from the heat for 10 minutes.  Make sure not to burn them.  Turn off the broiler, and turn the oven to 350 and back for 10 minutes.  They should be tender, but if not, leave them in the turned off oven and they will soften considerably.  (You could also cook them on a grill.) 
  2. If using long, thin Japanese eggplants, slice them into 1/2 inch disks and saute them on medium-high heat in a large nonstick skillet, sprayed with oil spray, until tender and browned, about 10-15 minutes.
  3. While the eggplants are cooking, using a mortar and pestle pound the garlic with the chilies and a pinch of salt until you have a paste.  Add the miso and pound a bit until almost homogeneous. (If you don't have a mortar and pestle, you can use a mini-chopper or make a paste on a cutting board using the side of a broad knife or cleaver.)
  4. After the eggplants are tender, heat the oil on medium in a nonstick skillet and add the shallots.  Saute until soft and beginning to brown, about 5 minutes.
  5. Add the paste from the mortar and stir about 2 minutes until the aroma changes, indicating that the garlic is no longer raw.
  6. Add the eggplant and stir until it is well incorporated.  Add the water and cook on high until most of it evaporates and you have a thick sauce and the eggplant is tender.  If it needs more time, add a bit more water and repeat.
  7. Serves 4-6 as a side dish and goes very well with rice.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Grandma Jenny's stuffed cabbage

My father's mother was a fabulous cook of the Litvak variety.   There are many recipes for stuffed cabbage (in our family, holishkes or gewicklete kroyt) out there.  What made hers so much better than the others?  I think there are three "secrets":  she put flanken and/or stew meat and soup bones in the pot, which added a lot of flavor and richness to the sauce;  she used sour salt (citric acid) and NEVER vinegar or lemon juice to make it sour since you want the pure sweet and sour flavor and not the taste of vinegar or lemon; and   she added prunes to the pot, which made the sauce richer and tastier.

My grandmother's cabbage recipe died with her.  Barbara, my cousin Lonnie's wife, sat with her one afternoon to try to learn how to make it, but didn't get too far.  My grandmother was not a great teacher, and the concept of measuring ingredients was as foreign to her as the Queen's English.   I have tinkered with the recipe over the years, and found a lot of help in Arthur Schwartz's Jewish Home Cooking , particularly in getting the sweet/sour balance of the sauce right, but departed from it in significant ways, especially in the use of bones and prunes.  Making this is a labor of love, with the accent on both labor and love, but well worth the effort. 

Stuffed Cabbage

  • 2 to 2 1/2 pounds ground beef (not too lean -- chuck works well)
  • 1/2 cup rice, boiled for 3 minutes (I like short grain pudding or risotto rice, but Carolina will work as well;  just avoid fragrant rices like jasmine or basmati)
  • 3 eggs
  • 1 to 1 1/2 cups breadcrumbs (challah crumbs from last week's bread are best, but panko or any old breadcrumbs will suffice)
  • 2 onions, coarsely grated
  • Salt and pepper (depending on the quantity of meat and whether it is kosher, 2 teaspoons to 1 tablespoon of salt and about 40 grinds of a pepper mill;  use less if you are unsure and test as below)
  • 28 ounce can tomato puree
  • 1 teaspoon sour salt 
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1/2 cup dark brown sugar
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup water or stock
For assembling the dish
  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 2 heads of cabbage (you should be safe with one 4-5 pounder and one 3 pounder)
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 6 pieces flanken, about 2 pounds -OR- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds meaty soup bones and 1-2 pounds of stewing beef
  • 1 pound pitted prunes

  1. Soften the cabbage leaves by your favorite method (either freezing and defrosting, blanching, or microwaving -- all are described following the recipe). I prefer freezing and defrosting.  Since you never know exactly how many usable leaves a cabbage will yield, I think it is a good idea to have two on hand.  You don't want to be caught short.
  2. Set aside the larger cabbage leaves for stuffing, and the center of the cabbage and smaller leaves for the pot. You should have between 15-20 large leaves.
  3. To make the filling, put the beef in a very large bowl, and make a hollow in the middle of it.  Break the eggs into the hollow and beat.  Add the remaining ingredients.  I prefer the full amount of salt and pepper, but you might want to cut down.  Mix well with your hands and set aside.  If you do not trust your instincts on seasoning, take a small piece and fry it quickly in a nonstick skillet and taste.  Adjust salt and pepper accordingly.
  4. Combine the ingredients for the sauce and set aside.
  5. Take a large, heavy ovenproof 6 to 8 quart casserole and oil it with the vegetable oil. 
  6. Shred the reserved inner leaves of the cabbage as well as any torn leaves.
  7. Set the shredded cabbage, chopped onions, prunes and meat on a cutting board in separate piles.
  8. Preheat your oven to 275 degrees.
  9. Put about 1/3 of the shredded cabbage and chopped onions in the bottom of the casserole.  Arrange 3 pieces of flanken (or the soup bones) on the bottom.
  10. Stuff the cabbage leaves, starting with the largest leaves.  Lay a leaf on a cutting board with the top closest to you and the rib away from you.  If the rib is still very tough, cut it out.  (I find that this is less likely to happen with frozen defrosted leaves.) Take a small handful of beef and form it into a meat ingot of about 2 inches by 1 inch by 3/4 inch. Place it near the top of the cabbage leaf about 1inch from the end.  Fold the end of the cabbage over the ingot, and then fold over the two sides.  Roll the leaf up.  You should have a fairly compact roll. 
  11. As each roll is done, place it in the pot to make one layer.  You will probably have about 8 rolls.  As the leaves get smaller, you will use somewhat less meat for each.
  12. Scatter 1/2 of the prunes on top, and then top with 1/3 of the cabbage and chopped onions.  Put the remaining flanken or stew meat on top, and then arrange the remaining rolls on top.  If you have any meat filling left, you can either make them into meatballs and add them to the pot if there is room (they benefit from a quick browning first) or make them into old-fashioned hamburgers which are best pan-fried and served well-done. 
  13. Top with the remaining prunes, cabbage and onions.
  14. Pour the sauce ingredients over the stuffed cabbage.  It should come nearly to the top.  If not, add some water.
  15. Place a  lightly oiled heatproof plate slightly smaller than the diameter of the pot over the cabbage.  This will weigh down the rolls slightly and improve their texture. 
  16. Bring the pot slowly to the boil, cover, and then transfer to the oven.  If your pot is very full, put a pan that is larger than the casserole on a lower shelf in the oven.  Put some cold water in the pan.  This will catch boilovers and prevent you oven from smoking up and your fire alarm from going off. 
  17. Cook for 3 hours. 
  18. Take it out and cool off before refrigerating.
  19. Reheat in the oven for a long time before serving 8 as a main course and 12-15 as an appetizer.  My grandmother would usually serve it with mashed potatoes or rice, but I think that all it needs is some challah to soak up the juices. 
Preparing the cabbage:  Although it takes planning, I find that freezing and defrosting the cabbage works best.  Start by removing the outer leaves of the cabbage.  I have read that the heads are so tight that this will remove any dirt, and that you actually add more contaminants by rinsing it with tap water at this point.  Who knows?  Core the cabbages carefully (you don't want to mess up too many leaves) and place in the freezer.  This takes up a lot of room, so be prepared.  Freeze for about 2 days, and then defrost in your refrigerator for about two days before proceeding with the recipe.  Alternatively, place one cored cabbage in a large pot, add boiling water, and after 5 minutes remove it and peel off those leaves which you can.  Replace the cabbage in the pot and continue until the leaves are too small to stuff.  You an also microwave the cabbage in a large microwave-safe dish for about 8 minutes, remove, peel off the leaves, and then return and zap some more.  I think that you can see why I prefer the freezing method, even if it takes up a lot of valuable freezer real estate and is a bit mafia-ish, sort of like having a head in your freezer. 

The meat:  To me, this is the key to the dish.  In addition to enhancing the flavor and texture, you have a good amount of meat that you can serve to those who claim not to like cabbage.  My grandmother would always use flanken but this was before chefs had discovered short ribs and it was considered a budget cut.  I find that meaty soup bones sold but kosher butchers are often bony flanken at less than half the price, and I use that for the bone layer.  For the meat layer, I would recommend chuck or kalechal, or even brisket if you can find it at a good price.

Sauce variations: I prefer scant, thicker sauce.  If you prefer a thinner one, substitute about 1 quart tomato juice for the puree and water.  You can use raisins if you must, but you will be missing out on the true experience.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Their finest hour: Paneer in tomato sauce with red peppers

Thanks in part to the exhibit at the Morgan Library, which I have not yet seen, Winston Churchill and his soaring rhetoric are in the press again.  One of his most stirring phrases is how the British resistance to the Nazi onslaught was "their finest hour." It got me to thinking -- what am I really proud of in life.  At the top of my list is certainly helping to raise two wonderful children, Maya and Harry, who have a loving and mutually nurturing relationship.  Another is the Moroccan dinner I prepared on New Year's Eve to usher in 1990 (a selection of seven salads, b'stilla, a tagine of whole red snapper with peppers and tomatoes, chicken with preserved lemons and olives, and a sweet lamb tagine with carrots and prunes).  I might put this simple dish somewhere on that list as well.

This is only possible because of the relatively recent availability of high-quality paneer (fresh, pressed Indian cheese) in a number of Indian groceries.  (I have even classified this dish as fast an easy. To be honest, many of the dishes that  I  put in this category are not, but this really is.) I go back and forth on whether or not life is too short to make your own preserved lemons.  I currently think that it is really worth it.  But life is definitely too short to make your own paneer and it is the kind of thing that I would only take on every year or so.  The product that I used is Nanak brand which comes in a 14 ounce block and makes it possible to produce dishes like this on very short notice.  (Guru Nanak was the founder of Sikhism, a religion centered in the Punjab, and this dish has some of the artery-clogging characteristics of Punjabi food in an age of relative affluence, albeit toned down a bit for American sensibilities. There are other brands of paneer on the market, including one that is organic and kosher and available in some neighborhood stores.) The only downside to using store-bought is that you do not get the fresh whey, which is very tasty in preparing rice and other Indian vegetarian dishes. 

I put this dish together in about a half hour a few nights ago. Steve, a college friend of my son Harry was visiting, and they wanted to save money so they ate home a lot. One evening I gave them the choice between pasta, eggs cooked with potato chips, and  Indian vegetarian.  Somewhat to my surprise, they chose the last. I made basmati rice, Begali cabbage with coconut (see the post on Cabbage and marriage ), a raita and came up with this dish as well.  If you live near a source of paneer, try this.  It makes a quick supper and will leave your friends and family very satisfied.

Paneer in tomato sauce with red peppers

  • 8 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and sliced
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil (if using ghee, you can go up to 2-3 tablespoons)
  • 7 oz paneer (1/2 package of Nanak brand) cut into 1/2 inch cubes 
  • 1 red pepper, cored and cut into strips
  • 2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 15 ounce can crushed or diced tomato (the smoky flavor of fire roasted Muir Glen is great here)
  • 1/4-1/2 teaspoon cayenne powder, to taste
  • Salt to taste (about 1/2 teaspoon should do it, since paneer has little salt)
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream (for a real Punjabi delight you can go up to 1/2 cup) 
  • 1/4 - 1/2 cup water
  • 1/4 teaspoon garam masala
  1. Put the ginger, onion and garlic in a mini chopper or food processor and grind until they are pureed.  Set aside.
  2. Heat ghee on medium in a nonstick skillet until hot but not smoking.  Add the diced cheese and cook until brown on several sides.  Remove to a plate.
  3. Add more ghee to the skillet if needed, and then add the pepper strips.  Salt lightly and cook on high until soft and brown in bits, but not mushy.  Remove these to the plate with the paneer.
  4. Turn heat down to medium, add the cumin seeds, and cook until they turn a few shades darker.  Be very careful not to burn them.
  5. Add the turmeric, stir once (you want to cook it slightly but not burn it) and add the past from the processor.  Turn heat to high and cook, stirring frequently, until the aroma changes, about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the coriander and cumin and cook, stirring for another minute.
  7. Add the tomatoes, and salt and cayenne to taste.  Cook on high heat until it turns into a sauce and the fat begins to separate, about 5-7 minutes. 
  8. Turn the heat down and add the heavy cream.  Stir to incorporate and add the water.  It should be the consistency of a medium-thick bechamel sauce.  Cook on low heat to meld the flavors, and taste for salt and cayenne.
  9. Return the paneer and peppers to the skillet and warm for a few minutes.
  10. Turn into a serving dish, sprinkling with the garam masala, and serve at once.
  11. Serves 4-6 depending on the rest of the menu.  Excellent with either basmati rice and Indian breads. 
Note on keeping paneer:  Paneer is perishable, fresh cheese.  Plan to use it withing a few days of when you open the package.  So, either double the recipe, or cook something else.  If you don't feels like an elaborate dish, it is very good pan fried in a little oil and served with a spicy tamarind or cilantro chutney.  It can also be cut into larger cubes of about 1 inch and cooked on the grill.  This is especially good if you slit the cubes and push in a stuffing of chopped green chile, ginger and coriander.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Peanut butter banana quesadilla

Maya and Andrew moved to Austin in November.  The disadvantage of this is that they are really far away.  The advantage is that we get to visit them there.  They live in a great neighborhood near South Lamar, and are walking distance from a great taqueria, a Lebanese baker and grocery store, a good bookstore, a branch of the Alamo drafthouse movie theaters, and the South Lamar location of the Kerbey Lane Cafe.  Being an Austin institution, Kerbey Lane specializes in locally sourced ingredients and excellent breakfasts and the menu has vegan and gluten-free sections.  Being an Austin institution, they serve queso (cheese melted in heavy cream) and you can get it on just about anything.

The first time we went, they offered a breakfast quesadilla made with peanut butter, bananas and cheese.   I made it at 6 this morning for Harry and his Year Course friend Laina before they left to work as volunteers at the Firefly music festival in Delaware.  Harry said that it sounded disgusting until he tasted it.  I hate the term crackalicious, but I have to admit that it is a necessary one.  There are few other ways to describe dishes like this. Here is my take on this dish, which varies somewhat from that served at Kerbey Lane.  It is impossible to give exact quantities, so I haven't.  You can eat it as breakfast, lunch, or almost any time of day:

Peanut butter banana quesadilla:
  1. Put two flour tortillas on a cutting board.  It will serve two if you use eight inch tortillas.
  2. Spread each with a thin layer of creamy peanut butter.  (For a real addictive treat, you can spread one of them with Speculous Butter, a cookie butter which tastes sort of like liquefied graham crackers and is sold by Trader Joe's.)
  3. Top one side with bananas, sliced about 1/4 inch thick.  One large banana is enough for an eight inch tortilla.  You will need more for larger ones.
  4. Sprinkle the bananas with about 1/4 cup of a salty hard melting cheese, like Cotija, Asiago or Romano.
  5. Drizzle some honey on the other side, and then put the two tortillas together in a sandwich.
  6. Spray a nonstick skillet with oil spray if desired, and heat it on medium-high.   If not using spray add some oil or melt some butter in the skillet.
  7. Add the quesadilla (which is what the conjoined tortillas have become) and cook for about three minutes.  Flip carefully, fully expecting that some of the filling will ooze out, and cook for about three more minutes.  It should be nicely browned on both sides and the cheese inside should be melted.
  8. Cut into wedges and serve warm.

Monday, June 25, 2012

Eggs in coconut-cashew sauce

This dish uses a cashew chutney from Kerala that would taste good on floor tiles.   The chutney is based one in Yamuna Devi's Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking, a wonderful but rather idiosyncratic cookbook.  It is not just vegetarian, but Vaishnava (followers of the Hindu god Vishnu), and avoids onions, garlic and mushrooms for a variety of reasons that I am too lazy to get into at the moment.  I also find a number of  weird undercurrents  in terms of the guru-disciple relationship and Hindu nationalism.  But perhaps I am too sensitive.  It is a great cookbook, with hundreds of recipes and lovely line drawings,  and you can just add onions and garlic wherever they seem to fit.

Over the years I have put this cashew chutney to a number of uses including many of which Yamuma Devi would certainly not approve.  It  is an excellent condiment for an Indian meal, a great dip for raw vegetables, and a versatile sauce starter for sauteed vegetables, fish, chicken and even hard-boiled eggs.  I developed the last dish to round out a meal of leftovers from a vegetarian Indian meal that we had a few days earlier.  It is a cinch, and quite delicious an is similar to a number of Indian dishes based on hard-boiled eggs in a creamy, spicy sauce. The recipe for the chutney comes first, and then the eggs.  I will write up a few variations in the coming weeks, all of which follow the same principles.

For the cashew chutney

  • 1/2 cup raw cashews
  • 1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and diced
  • 1-2 small green hot chili peppers, sliced,  with seeds if you want a kick (I used Serranos)
  • juice of 1 lime
  • 1 cup coarsely chopped coriander leaves and some of the stems
  • 1/4 teaspoon of salt
  • 1/4-2/3 cup water
  1. Put the cashew in a mini-chopper and grind to a coarse powder.
  2. Add ginger, chili and lime juice and process until pulverized.
  3. Add salt and coriander, and process until ground.
  4. With the motor running, slowly dribble in the water.  Use as little as possible until the mixture becomes a smooth paste.
Eggs in coconut-cashew sauce

  • 1 teaspoon-2 tablespoons oil (coconut or light sesame oil for authenticity, though I use canola for health)
  • 1/2 tablespoon black mustard seeds
  • 20 fresh curry leaves rinsed and dried (optional, if available)
  • 2 shallots, peeled and chopped
  • 1/2 of the above recipe of cashew chutney
  • 14 ounce can coconut milk (I used light and it was fine)
  • 8 hard boiled eggs, peeled and halved
  • Salt to taste
  • Heat the oil in a medium skillet until hot (lower heat is needed if you are using the coconut oil. Add the mustard seeds and cook until they begin to pop.
  • Add the curry leaves if using and give them a few stirs.  Add the shallots and saute until soft, about 3 minutes.
  • Add the chutney, the the heat down to medium low and saute, stirring ocassionally, until it looses its raw aroma.  This should take 2-3 minutes.
  • Stir in the coconut milk until well incorporated, and simmer for a few minutes until you have a smooth sauce.  (I think the lite coconut milk actually works better than the full fat, since it will not break up as easily because of all the vile stabilizers that it contains.  If you use regular coconut milk, be very careful not to let it boil.) 
  • Add the eggs, cut side up, spoon the sauce over them, and simmer on low for 3-5 minutes (depending on their starting temperature) to warm them through. Add additional salt if necessary.
  • Serves 4-6.  The gravy is excellent spooned over rice.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Thai chicken tofu burgers

As I have remarked in other posts, I am not a fan of ground poultry dishes, though I make and eat them for economy and health.  But I really like these burgers.   The tofu has the effect of both lightening the ground chicken and keeping it moist, and the Thai seasoning,  a traditional combination of white pepper, garlic, and coriander roots (Thai cuisine is one of the few that use the roots of this plant) lends the dish a deep savory flavor.  I make it with a pound and a half of ground chicken because that seems to be the size of all the packages in the market.  This makes about 10 patties.  You can adjust the recipe proportionately to make more or less. This is based on a Japanese dish, and I will suggest some substitutions to make this at the end.  But if you can find coriander roots, do try it this way:

Thai chicken tofu burgers

  • 1 1/2 pounds ground chicken breast
  • 1 pound superfirm tofu (Nasoya markets this) or 1 1/2 pounds pressed extrafirm tofu (see below)
  • 1 cup panko crumbs
  • 2 large eggs, beaten
  • 1 tablespoon whole white peppercorns (you can substitute black but they will darken the dish)
  • 8-12 cloves of garlic
  • 1-2 tablespoons coriander roots (see below)
  • 1-3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 tablespoon Bragg's Aminos or light soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon - 1 tablespoon  salt
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
  • 1/4 cup chopped scallions
  1. If you do not have superfirm tofu, take extrafirm or firm tofu, wrap it in paper towels, put it in a dish with a rim. Weight it down for about a half hour.  I use a pot filled with water or a heavy Thai mortar.  Pour away the considerable water that exudes.
  2. Grate the tofu using the largest whole of a box food grater.  This will go fairly quickly and I don't think that it pays to dirty a food processor for this.
  3. Mix the chicken, tofu and panko crumbs in a large mixing bowl.  This is best done by hand (remove all rings, etc.) but us a large mixing spoon if you must.
  4. Roast the peppercorns in a hot skillet until they are aromatic and a few shades darker.  Put them in a mortar along with the smashed peeled garlic cloves.
  5. Prepare the coriander roots: cut them off the stems, and scrape off the hairlike small roots with your fingernails. You should be left with just the main white roots.  Chop these coarsely and measure them.  You should have between one and two tablespoons, which would be the yield of a large bunch of fresh coriander. (Don't get bent out of shape if you can't get enough roots, but this recipe should be incentive to start accumulating them whenever you have coriander.  Clean and freeze them until ready to use, and defrosted, they will be easier to pound in the mortar.) Add these to the mortar.
  6. Pound the peppercorns, garlic and coriander root to a paste.  Adding a teaspoon or so of coarse salt can help the process along.  You can also use a minichopper, but it has to be able to handle small amounts efficiently.
  7. Heat 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon of the oil in a small skillet. Add the paste and cook on medium heat, stirring frequently, until the aroma changes, about 3 minutes.  Set the paste aside on a plate to cool for a few minutes, then add to the beaten egg and mix into the chicken. 
  8. Mix in the Bragg's or soy, the fresh coriander, the scallion, and more salt if you wish.
  9. Form into 10 patties about 1 inch thick.
  10. Spray a nonstick skillet with oil spray and heat on high.  Add 1 teaspoon to one tablespoon of oil.  After about 30 seconds, when the oil is very hot, add 4-5 patties.
  11. Cook the patties on one side for three minutes, the turn and cook on the other side on high for three minutes.
  12. Turn the heat down to medium low, cover the pan, and cook the patties for an additional 5 minutes on each side. If you don't have a cover that fits the skillet, just drape it with aluminum foil.
  13. Repeat with the remaining patties.
  14. These can be served hot or cold, on buns or rolls or without.  I happen to like them on a toasted roll smeared on one side with a mixture of dark miso, mayo and Sriracha, and on the other side with ketchup and a few slices of avocado.
Japanese style: omit the paste of coriander root, garlic and peppercorn, as well as the coriander leaves.  Grate a 2-inch piece of ginger and squeese the juice out in your hand directly into the chicken mixture.  Add about 1/2 teaspoon of Togarishi or other Japanese hot-pepper based spice mix if you would like.\

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Cabbage salad with za'atar

This is an easier and tangier version of the Hungarian cabbage salad that I posted a while back.  I have altered the seasonings considerably.  Overall, I prefer this one, and it goes well with an Israeli omelet or simply grilled or pan-fried chicken cutlet  or tofu (with shawarma seasoning if you want) in pita of laffa bread with some hummus or tahini for a very easy meal.  It is also a good accompaniment to a Middle Eastern meal and makes a nice lunch with some feta. 

Cabbage salad with za'atar

  • 12 ounces to 1 pound of cabbage (1/2 of a smallish head)
  • Salt
  • Olive oil, about 1- 2 tablespoons, more if you aren't worried about calories
  • 1/4 cup finely sliced red onion or shallot
  • 1/2 cup shredded carrots (more or less and optional)
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley (optional)
  • 2 tablespoons rice vinegar
  • Pinch of sugar and of a a hot pepper (cayenne or Aleppo are nice, use more of the latter)
  • 1/2 tablespoon za'atar 
  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.Cut in quarters and remove the core.
  2. 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. You are almost scraping the cabbage, as if you were cutting shawarma or gyros off  the spit.  This doesn't take long and the cabbage seems to come out fine enough this way.
  3. Put the cabbage in a large bowl and salt lightly. Toss in the remaining ingredients.
  4. 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.  Chill when it softened to your taste.
  5. Toss and taste for salt before you serve. This amount should serve 4 as a side dish.. 
  6. The cabbage  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.
Za'atar: Za'atar is an herb in the same family as thyme in oregano that grows wild in the Middle East.  It is also a spice mix containing this herb, sesame, sumac and some other seasonings.  Use the spice mix in this dish.  The precise mix will vary, but I tend to use Galil brand which is available at the local supermarket. You really won't go wrong with any of them.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Shad charmoulayit

Charmoula is a North African seasoning paste used for fish.  The version that I use most often is by Paula Wolfert and contains garlic, cilantro, parsely, paprika, cumin, olive oil and salt.  Typically, the fish is coated with the charmoula and  is cooked slowly  in a tagine, a kind of casserole, for a long time with vegetables and, if you are lucky, preserved lemons.  It is one of the world's great dishes, but it does take time.

This recipe is my own quick take on fish with charmoula.  I doubt that this is an authentic recipe. I also doubt that the word charmoulayit means anything in any language though it is my attempt at creating a Hebraicized  Arabic adjective.  Rather than cooking it long and slow I have used most of the charmoula seasonings in a very fast saute.  Shad is in season, ever so briefly, so I enjoy it while I can.  It is very rich but otherwise relatively mild, and though my wife claimed not to care for shad,  the spices cut through some of the richness quite nicely and she liked this.  (It is also cheap, only $9.99 per pound at Citarella's.)  I have also used  butter rather than olive oil and added capers and preserved lemon peel.   I left out the garlic since it can burn when cooked quicky on high heat, but you could add a clove or two.  Prep takes about five minutes, cooking another five. What could be bad?

This recipe serves two and you could double or triple it, but some things like shad are too good to share.

Shad charmoulayit
  • 12 ounces to 1 pound boned filet of shad
  • 1/2 teaspoon each sea salt, ground cumin, paprika and Aleppo pepper
  • Peel of 1/2 preserved lemon, pulp removed and shredded
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed.
  • Small handful chopped fresh coriander, well rinsed and chopped
  1. Cut the filet  in half crosswise to make it easier to turn.  Pick out any bones that remain if you can.  (If you can't, don't worry about it, they will come out much more easily onces the fish is cooked.)
  2. Rub both sides of the fish with the salt and spice mixture and set aside while you do the rest of the prep. 
  3. Spray a medium nonstick skillet with vegetable oil spray if you want, and the heat it on medium.  Add the butter and let it melt.  (If you want garlic, I would add two crushed cloved here and let them cook in the butter on low heat for a minute or two to season it, then remove.)
  4. Heat the skillet on high, and add the preserved lemon peel.  Cook for about a minute and add the fish, flesh side down.  Cook for two minutes.
  5. Flip the fish and add the capers and cilantro.  Cook for three minutes skin side down.
  6. If you don't trust me that the fish is done, test it with a fork or knife.  Transfer to plates with the juices and serve.  This goes very nicely with roasted fingerling potatoes, a crusty baguette, or toasted Turkish pide bread. A New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc or a Sancerre are good wines to serve with this.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Salmon with miso and black sesame seeds

This is a riff on my salmon with wasabi peas , in which the fish is slathered with a combination of white miso, ginger juice and mayonnaise, which is in turn topped with ground wasabi peas.  This is the dish that Maya's friends always request when they come to dinner.    Here, dark barley miso gives the fish a much richer flavor, and the black sesame adds crunch, flavor and a dramatic appearance.  I would say, a bit reluctantly, that I prefer this to the old version.  It is easy to double or halve, but 2 pounds of fish will serve 4 very generously, with there likely being some left over for lunch:
Salmon with miso and black sesame seeds:

  • 2 pounds salmon fillet
  • Salt
  • 1 generous tablespoon mayonnaise
  • 1 scant tablespoon dark red barley miso
  • Togarishi (Japanese pepper and spice mixture) or cayenne pepper
  • 1/4 cup black sesame seeds (I find that they work better if they are not already roasted)
  • oil for greasing the baking pan

  1. Sprinkle the salmon with salt and set aside, ideally for an hour to come close to room temperature.
  2. Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
  3. Oil a bake and serve dish that will hold the salmon snugly, and put the salmon fillet in it.  (You may also like the dish with foil which will make it much easier to clean.
  4. Combine the barley and the mayonnaise in a small dish.  The quantities are approximately, and add more mayo if you want to make it easier to spread.  Add about 1/4 - 1/2 teaspoon togarishi if you have, otherwise a generous  pinch of cayenne.  Spread it over the fish.  If it doesn't cover it, make more of the miso mayo mixture. You can use a rubber spatula for spreading, but it works much better if you use your fingers.
  5. Sprinkle the fish generously with the sesame seeds so that they make a thick coating.
  6. Put the fish in the oven and bake 15 minutes (a bit less if it is thin, a bit more if it is thick or very cold).
  7. Remove and serve hot or room temperature.

What kind of salmon?  Farmed salmon works fine here and is a lot cheaper, but it is most wonderful with wild salmon.  Because it is leaner and thinner, I find the wild salmon tends to cook faster.  You could also make this with arctic char. 

How long do I cook it?  For me, less is more but some folks like their salmon nuked.  I tend to like it medium and 15 minutes would be more than enough especially since it will continue to cook if you let it rest and come to room temperature.  A lot about the cooking time depends on the thickness and temperature of your fish, the size of the piece, and the temperature of your oven.  If you test it in the center and there is some slight resistance, it is medium, and if it flakes easily, it is well done.

Variations:  If you are cooking more than one piece of salmon, try one this way and one topped with wasabi peas.  You can also use the white miso and mayonnaise spread with a topping of roasted white sesame seeds.  One particularly attractive way of doing it is to use a large fillet, and top half (the long way) with the black sesame seed and the other half with wasabi peas or white sesame seeds.  It is easiest to do this if you work with one half of the fillet at a time and keep the other covered with wax paper.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Turkey meatballs for salinophiles, Tunisian style

Salinophiles are bacteria that thrive in salty environments.  The term is generally not used for primates but is an apt description of my immediate family.  If she ate sauerkraut, my wife Amy would salt it, before tasting.  Maya uses incredible amounts of salt.  When she was young and on the white diet, she put so much salt on her pasta (nothing else could go on it other than air) that it was inedible to anyone else, except her mother.  Harry and I are somewhat more moderate, but can still salt with the best of them.  We take our salt really seriously.  We consider our discovery of Maldon salt a number of years ago to be a life changing event.  There was a box left in the kitchen of our Cape Cod rental by the previous occupants, and it opened our eyes and our palates.  If you have never tried Maldon, it is worth every penny -- the pyramidal structure of the salt flakes gives an incomparable texture and flavor to food, and it has become our table salt of choice. 

I really increased my salt consumption when I lost weight about eight years ago.  I found that I needed to increase the salt and spicing of my foods to compensate for the decrease in fat.  This had some unforeseen consequences. Depending on what I ate the night before, I would sometimes wake up in the morning feeling like a schmaltz herring or a piece of belly lox (not nova).  This led me to occasionally put sugar in my coffee to counter the lingering salinity.

As much as I like salt, that is how much I dislike turkey.  I of course eat it on Thanksgiving, and when I am served it on other peoples' homes, and I will even prepare a turkey dish once in a blue moon for reasons of economy and health.  As much as I dislike turkey, I dislike turkey burgers even more.  Dried ground-up bird on a bun?  What could be less appetizing?  I also prefer textured vegetable protein to turkey in chili.  However, as I increased my observance of kashrut,  I found that ground turkey was just about the most economical meat available. I started to turn around when we were once served it in fesenjean, a Persian sauce based on walnuts and pomegranate juice, and found that it was not bad at all.  I experimented a bit and found that if you seasoned the ground turkey well (do not use the ground white meat, it is far too dry), and if the occasion called for it put in some egg, parsley and bread crumb, and then browned it before stewing, the results were edible.  More than. Best of all is a newer variation (from March 2012) to which I add some grated tofu.   I have some other turkey meat ball recipes that I will share in the future, but wanted to post this one first, since it is a dish that I have been meaning to try for over 30 years and finally got around to it last night.

This recipe is adapted from a Tunisian spiced ground beef with pickled vegetables that appears in both the 1977 and 1994 editions of Paula Wolfert's Mediterranean Cooking, which otherwise differ substantially. The later edition includes more recipes, especially from Tunisia and Turkey, but the earlier one is noticeably less fussy.  I substituted ground turkey for the beef (you can use beef in my version as well as lamb), browned it before stewing and changed the sauce.  This dish is cheap, fast and easy (by my standards), and tasty, but given the pickled vegetables, olives and capers, you need to like you food salty to enjoy it:

Turkey meatballs, Tunisian style

  1. Take one pound of ground turkey (I use Empire) and put it in a bowl.  Add 3 cloves garlic smashed to a puree with about 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 15 turns of the pepper mill, and 1 teaspoon each of powdered spearmint,  ground coriander, ground caraway and Aleppo pepper. (The caraway, coriander and mint are a surprisingly winning combo.)  Mix the seasonings in by hand.  It may be gross, but it is the only way to do it.  Did I say wet your hands?  Wet your hands, otherwise most of the turkey will be between your fingers rather than in the bowl.
  2. Cleaning and wetting your hands again, form into small meatballs, about 16-20, and brown in a 1 or 2 tablespoons olive oil on high in a large nonstick skillet, turning the meatballs every few minutes to brown on several sides.  
  3. Leave the meatballs in the skillet, but push them over to the cooler side, and add 1 finely chopped medium onion, about five or six sliced scallions, the white with some green, and saute until soft on medium.  Add 3-5 cloves sliced garlic and saute for another two minutes.
  4. Add a 14 ounce can of crushed tomatoes, 1 tablespoon rinsed capers, 1/2 cup pitted olives (green, black or a mix,  just don't use canned ripe olives), and a cup of mixed pickled Mediterranean vegetables. (I used Galil, which sells enormous tubs of the stuff for $3.  It is mostly cauliflower, carrots and peppers, but has a nice kick and a coriander flavor that complements the meatball seasoning.  Other brands are also available, usually with Greek or Italian foods.) It also wouldn't hurt to throw in half a preserved lemon rind, rinsed and shredded. Add a tablespoon of sweet paprika, 15-20 more turns of the pepper mill, a small handful of chopped parsley and a cup of boiling water.
  5. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to medium, and simmer vigorously uncovered for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.   Most of the water should evaporate and the sauce will thicken.  Add some more parsley when it is done.
  6. Serves 4 for dinner with rice, couscous of pasta. For a nice couscous recipe, see end of my chicken tagine posting.
Variation with tofu: You can stretch the turkey by adding some tofu to the meat mixture.   This comes from a Japanese trick -- tofu and chicken patties.  The tofu not only counters the birdiness of the mixture, it also makes the meatballs much moister.  Take 1/2 pound extra firm tofu, wrap it in paper towl, put it on a board or dish and weight it down.  A pot filled with water works great.  Since it will give off a lot of liquid, it is a good idea to put the dish with the tofu in a larger pan.  Grate the tofu on the large holes of a box grater and mix it into the turkey.  this way the recipe will serve 4 or 6 people, or just leave you leftovers for lunch.