Sunday, April 28, 2013

Elletaria cocktail

On thing that I have noticed about natural and human disasters is that you can't get into restaurants after they pass.  Living in our Upper West Side bubble, the greatest hardship that we faced after Hurricane Sandy were the crowds in the restaurants.  I mean, expecting NewYorkers to stay at home and cook for 3 days in a row is probably unreasonable, so people flooded into the restaurants once the re-opened.  It was exacerbated by people coming from neighborhoods without power.

Something similar happened in Boston after the lockdown following the marathon bombing.  You couldn't get into a restaurant the weekend after it was lifted.  We were in the South End and waits at several places were one hour and up.  We wandered away from the hubbub and came to Masa for what turned out to be a pretty excellent nouvelle Mexican meal.  (The place has lots of vegetarian and fish options and a good brunch and it is worth checking out it you are in town.)

One of the highlights for me was their Elletaria cocktail, which combines two of my favorite flavors, pear and cardamom.  (Elletaria is the botanical name of the genus of some of the common varieties of cardamom.)  They made the cocktail with crushed cardamom seeds, which although it gave it  a strong spice flavor, also made it unpleasantly gritty.

So here is my adaptation made with a cardamom syrup.  It requires a little advance prep, but don't be put off, since it is really very easy.  It is also flexible.  The quantities of ginger, lime and cardamom are to my taste, but you can adjust them however you want.  I make it with white tequila, but you could also use white rum. I am not sure why anyone would use vodka in anything. For teetotalers, it can be made without alcohol, just mix the base with some club soda.  I like to make sure that the pear base is well chilled and the liquor is frozen.  This keeps the drink nice and cold and leads to less dilution when the ice melts. We served it before Shabbat dinner this week and it was a big hit, with teetotalers and others.  This is best made as a pitcher drink:

The Elletaria

For cardamom syrup

  • 3/4 cup water
  • 1/8 cup green cardamom pods
  • 1/4 cup white sugar

For pear base:

  • 1 quart pear nectar, well chilled
  • 6 limes
  • 2-3 inch knob of ginger
  • cardamom syrup

To complete drink

  • 2 ounces of white tequila (or rum) per serving;  or 4-6 ounces of club soda
  • 1-2 limes cut into wedges or slices
  • ice cubes


  1. The syrup is best made a few days in advance, but can be made the same day if you don't have time.  Just allow time for it too cool.
  2. Bring the water to the boil in a small pot.  Add the cardamom pods and boil vigorously 5 minutes.  The water will reduce quite a bit.
  3. Add the sugar and boil 5 minutes more.  
  4. Shut the heat, let it cool a bit, and then transfer it into a clean jar with the pods and chill until ready to use.
  5. Put the pear nectar in a large pitcher, about 2 quarts or bigger.
  6. Squeeze 6 limes and add the juice to the pear nectar.
  7. Rince the ginger (no need to peel) and grate it either on a box grater, microplane, or in a mini food processor.  It you use the processor, you will need to slice it first.  You will be left with a coarse, wet ginger pulp.
  8. If you are fussy, put the ginger in a sieve and press it over the pitcher into the pear nectar.  If you are not, take the ginger by the small handful and squeeze the juice into the nectar.  The second way is much more fun.  
  9. Strain the cardamom syrup into the pear mixture, and chill until ready to serve.
  10. Add ice to the pitcher until it is nearly full.
  11. To serve, put ice is 8-10 ounce rocks glasses.  Pour about 1/2 cup of the pear base into each, add 2 ounces of tequila (more or less to taste) or club soda to fill the glass and stir to mix.  Garnish each class with a wedge or slice of lime.  If everyone is drinking alcohol, you can also use a slightly larger pitcher and mix the tequila with all of the pear base.

Zucchini and za'atar dip

Here is a variation of shredded zucchini dip, this time with za'atar, which has proven the most popular version with my guests.  In an earlier recipe, Tunisian-style with caraway, I suggested skipping the salting.  I am back to salting.  I have found that doing it very lightly helps get rid of the moisture very effective and adds to the savor of the dish.  It is really up to weather or not you want to salt and drain.  If you are preparing several dishes, it works well to salt the zucchini and let it sit for 30 minutes to an hour while you do other things.  The cooking will go faster, and it will taste better.  

Za'atar  refers to a number of different Levantine herbs of the oregano family, as well as mixtures containing this herb along with sesame, sumac and other similar herbs.  I use Galil brand.  It will be good whatever you use.

This recipe is an adaptation of a recipe for zucchini with mint from Lebanese Mountain Cookery, by Mary Laird Hamady.  This is one of THE great cookbooks and is worth seeking out.  

Zucchini and za'atar dip

  • 2 pounds zucchini
  • 1-4 tablespoons olive oil, holding back a teaspoon or so (the more the better but it's up to you)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt, or 1/2 teaspoon regular salt
  • 4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon za'atar
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • juice of one lemon, or more to taste
  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 or in a food processor.  I generally go with the grater here,  and find that the few minutes more grating is less that the effort involved in cleaning the processor.  
  3. Put the  zucchini shreds in a bowl and stir in the salt.  Leave it for 30 minutes to an hour, weighted down lightly if you can.  (I use a small plate topped by a can or my mortar.)
  4. Take the zucchini out by the handful, squeezing out the water, and set in another bowl.  This is more fun than it sounds.  Taste it.  If it is very salty (this is highly unlikely), you will need to rinse the shreds in a colander and drain well. 
  5. Heat the olive oil on medium high in a very large nonstick skillet and add the zucchini shreds.  
  6. Cook  on a high flame for about 15 minutes, until the squash is well-cooked.  You will be left with about 2 cups.
  7. Meanwhile, smash the garlic, peel it, and mash to a paste with some salt using the side and edge of a broad knife.
  8. 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 za'atar for 30 seconds more.  Then incorporate the seasonings into the cooked squash.
  9. Cook a few minutes more, stirring occasionally.  Add the lemon juice and pepper, taste for salt and correct seasoning.  Some people may like more lemon juice.
  10. Makes around 2 cups. Serve with crackers, bread or raw vegetables as an appetizer spread to 4-8 people, depending on what else is being served.  It is also good eaten with a spoon.  

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Potato chremslach, aka Martian spacecraft

I have a very clear memory of eating these potato patties at my grandmother's seders when I was young.  I don't think she made them after 1968 when she discovered cholesterol.  My cousins and I devoured them and we used to call them Martian spacecraft, probably because we had problems with the double "ch" sound.

The most common chremslach  (the singular is chremsel, but you can't eat just one) are matzah meal or farfel fritters that are served sweet for breakfast or dessert.  These are completely different, and considerably less healthy.  They are made from mashed potatoes seasoned with schmaltz (rendered poultry fat -- do I even need to explain this?) and onions, stuffed with either chopped liver or gribenes (chicken cracklings),  dredged in matzo meal and shallow fried, preferably in schmaltz, but if you don't have enough schmaltz, a combination of schmaltz and oil will do fine.  You can consider this a healthy alternative.  They really do look beautiful sizzling away in a cast iron skillet, so I will try to remember to post a picture the next time I make these, in a couple of years.

I have though about making this for seder for several years, but reason (aka Amy) got the better of me.  This year, I found myself with a lot of chicken skin from which I made schmaltz and gribenes,  and I made these chremslach for hol ha-moed Shabbat dinner for six people, when my parents came over.  My father said they were better than what his mother used to make.  They are really not all that hard and can (and perhaps even should) be made in advance.



  • 1.5 pounds russet or other starchy potatoes, about 3 large
  • 1/2 cup to 1 cup schmaltz, plus one tablespoon  (see  this recipe to make schmaltz)
  • 1 small onion, finely chopped
  • salt and pepper,  preferably white, but black is acceptable)
  • 2 egg yolks, lightly beaten
  • 1/2 cup gribenes, chopped into small pieces if the pieces are large (these should be salted lightly if they are not already; see  this recipe to make gribenes)
  • egg wash of 1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
  • 1/2 cup matzah meal, more if necessary.
  1. Peel the potatoes, cut into 1-2 inch chunks, and boil in well salted water until tender but not mushy, about 20 minutes.
  2. Meanwhile, saute the onion in one tablespoon of the schmaltz until soft and golden but not brown.  Set aside.
  3. When the potatoes are tender, drain and return to the dry pan to steam on medium heat.  This will dry them out and make them nice and floury and easier to mash.  (The pot will look like it will never come clean, but just soak it in cold water without soap for about 30 minutes and the starchy stuff will come right off. )  Put the potatoes through a food mill or ricer and if you don't have one, mash them.
  4. Mix the sauteed onions into the potatoes and season with salt and pepper to taste.  These will be some of the best mashed potatoes you have ever had.
  5. When the potatoes have cooled a bit, mix in the yolks.
  6. Divide the potatoes into 8-10 portions, each should be about the size of a smallish egg.
  7. take one ball at a time and flatten it in our palm into a thick concave pancake.  Fill with a heaping teaspoon of gribenes, close up the ball and flatten into a patty the size of a small thick hamburger.
  8. Dip you hands in cold water, and then dip one patty at a time in the egg wash and then in the matzo meal, and set aside on a place lined with wax paper.  Refrigerate for an hour, or overnight.
  9. Heat fats in a skillet (preferably cast iron) on a medium flame until it sizzles when you dip a piece of potato in it, 
  10. Carefully lower in one patty at a time, and fry for about 6 minutes on each side until well browned.
  11. Drain on paper towel.  Since there is a good chance that these will not have heated all  the way through, heat these in an oven before serving.  They are also good made up to two or three days in advance You can heat them on 350 for 20 minutes, or leave them in a slow oven (250 egress) for an hour or more.  They will not dry out and be extremely crisp.
  12. Serves 4-8 people, depend on appetite and risk tolerance.

A simple mess of greens for dinner

One of my favorite things to eat for a quick dinner is a dish of tender greens, sauteed in olive oil with garlic,anchovies and a bit of hot pepper, and served with grated cheese over garlic toast. That is basically the recipe right there,  but some of you may want more explanation.    There seems to be a trend towards radical simplification of the names of dishes in many restaurants, and I thought I would try it out, so here goes:


  • 1 bunch greens, 3/4 pound - one pound (see below)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, more if you are not watching your weight or believe in the Mediterranean diet
  • 3-6 cloves garlic, peeled, one kept whole to rub the bread and the rest and sliced thin (think Goodfella's prison cooking here)
  • 1-6 fillets anchovy  (do not think about omitting, but use according to your taste;  4-5 seems right to me)
  • hot pepper (optional, see below)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • bread (see below)
  • grated cheese to taste, about 1/4 cup, either Parmesan, Romano or ricotta salata
  • optionally, some fresh whole milk ricotta and/or an egg fried in oil so the white is a bit crisp 
  1. Wash the greens well to remove any grit or other foreign matter.  This is best dones in a sink or large bowl in several changes of water.  Dump the greens in, fill with water, lift them out and repeat until no dirt is left behind.  It will go quicker if you cut off the base of the stems where the leaves come together and sand collects.  You don't have to dry the greens, just cut the stems from the leaves and set them aside to drain.
  2. Prepare the bread if necessary (see below).
  3. Heat the oil in a skillet on medium heat.  Add garlic cloves (and whole pepper pod if using) and saute until soft but not brown, stirring occasionally.
  4. Add the anchovies, and the crushed pepper is using.  Crush the anchovies with a spoon while they are a paste until they are mostly dissolved.  Add some freshly ground black pepper if you want.
  5. Add stems and saute about 3 minutes.
  6. Add the leaves and saute until wilted and almost tender.  This will vary with the greens used but took about 5 minutes with tender broccoli rabe.  If the dish seems dry, add a bit of water to the pan, about 1/4 cup, and heat until simmering. Taste for salt and pepper and correct seasoning, remembering that the cheese is salty too.
  7. Put the bread in a bowl, top with the greens, and top with the cheese.
  8. For a slightly more filling dish, smear the bread with some good fresh ricotta.  This is also good topped with a fried egg, wether or not you use the ricotta.
  9. Serves one for dinner, a few more as a side.  It is great with a glass of full-bodied red wine, nothing fancy.
The greens:  most recently, I used over-wintered broccoli rabe from the farmers market.  This was sweet and not at all fibrous and worth seeking out.  Other nice alternatives, when they are available would be lamb's quarters, spinach or very young mustard greens.  Older broccoli rabe would also be fine, but would need to be cooked longer, and if you don't like the bitterness, blanched first.

Hot Pepper:  This depends very much on your mood and taste.  If you want some of the pepper flavor but no heat, use a whole dried red chili pod (I use the kind you get in Indian groceries, not a chile arbol).  Saute it with the garlic and remove before serving.  For medium heat, add some Aleppo pepper with the anchovies, or for more heat, a large pinch of crushed red pepper.   

Bread: The ideal bread here is a frissell, particularly black-pepper frissell, which is a slice of a dense Italian loaf baked until hard and dry.  I get mine from Terranova Bakery on 187th St. in the Bronx.  If you don't have access to a good Italian grocery or baker, Any coarse loaf would do, though I prefer whole-grain breads here, as long as they are not sweetened.  Most recently, I used a piece of whole wheat ciabatta and it was great.  Toast a slice until it is light brown, and then dry it out in a slow 225 degree oven until it is dry, about 15-20 minutes.  If you start with old stale bread you just need to toast it.  Rub the bread with a peeled garlic clove. 

Pasta:  These greens are also good over pasta.  See a recent blog post from the NY Times for a variation with kale.