Perfect Dish for a Cold and Rainy Winter’s Night

Israel depends on a rainy winter for its water supply for the rest of the year. We have had a serious drought here that no one is taking seriously. However, the last few weekends we have had a significant amount of much needed rain.

Rain and cold always demand hot and hearty dishes to keep us warm and cozy inside and out. There is a another sale at our local supermarket on lamb; this time the sale is on lamb neck. I don’t think lamb neck is readily available at supermarkets or butchers in most parts of the US and Canada, but you may be able to find it at a Halal butcher in larger cities with a Muslim population. If not, you could always use lamb shoulder. I don’t think you will have a problem finding it in Europe.

This lamb recipe was published in Haaretz newspaper a couple of weeks ago and is from a famous restaurant in Nazareth called Diana’s. It specializes in meat, especially lamb kebab that is chopped by hand, and seafood.

The seasoning of the lamb is more subtle than usual for middle eastern food: even though one tablespoon each of allspice, nutmeg and cinnamon appears to be a lot,  this is for quite a large quantity of meat and none of the spices has a very strong taste to begin with. It is very important to let the meat cook on a very low flame for long enough to become really tender: in fact, if you can cook the meat (without adding the spinach) the day before and then cook it again for about 30 minutes (following the rest of the instructions) just before serving, it will be even better.

Lamb and Turkish Spinach Stew

Serving Size: 4

4 pieces lamb neck with the bone, weighing approximately 350g (3/4lb) each

1 tablespoon ground allspice

1 tablespoon grated nutmeg

1 tablespoon ground cinnamon

Olive oil

8 whole shallots, peeled

8 whole garlic cloves, peeled

5 garlic cloves, crushed

1 kg (2 lbs) fresh medium size spinach leaves, stems removed, rinsed well and coarsely chopped

Mix the spices together. Lightly salt the meat and rub the spices on both sides of the lamb neck.

Heat a little olive oil in a skillet and saute the pieces of meat until they start to brown. Transfer the meat to a large pot. Saute the whole shallots and the whole garlic cloves and add to the pot with the meat. Pour in enough water to cover and bring to a boil. Cook for about an hour over a high flame.

Lower the flame and skim off the foam that has formed on top. Simmer for an additional two hours over a low flame until the meat is very tender.

Add the spinach leaves and simmer for 5-10 minutes.

Meanwhile, add olive oil to a pan and saute the crushed garlic until golden. Add the garlic to the stew, mix and adjust seasoning to taste. Serve over rice.

For dessert, I used a new carrot cake recipe that I hadn’t tried before. This cake is spicy, but not sweet at all except for the natural sweetness of the carrot, in spite of the fact that it calls for 1-1/2 cups of icing sugar. So if you like very sweet cakes, this one might not be for you.

Carrot and Walnut Cake

Serving Size: 10 to 12

3 cups all-purpose flour

1 cup vegetable oil

1 1/2 cups icing sugar (confectioner's sugar)

1 cup crushed walnuts

1 cup grated carrots

1 cup milk or water

6 eggs

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

3 teaspoons baking powder

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground clove

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Preheat oven to 170C (350F). Grease and flour one large tube pan.

Sift the flour, baking soda, and baking powder together and set aside. Beat the eggs together with the spices for 5 minutes. Stir in the icing sugar and mix well. Beat in the vegetable oil and continue beating for 5 minutes.

Alternately add the flour mixture and the milk or water, 1 tablespoon at a time, to the egg mixture. With a spoon stir in the carrots and the walnuts. Pour batter into prepared pan.

Bake at 170F (350F) for 1 hour.

Tu Bishvat – The Jewish Arbor Day

Tu Bishvat is a minor Jewish holiday in the Hebrew month of Shevat, usually sometime in late January or early February, that marks the New Year of the Trees (Hebrew: ראש השנה לאילנות, Rosh HaShanah La’Ilanot‎) or the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in the Land of Israel emerge from their winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle. It is customary to plant trees and eat dried fruits and nuts, especially figs, dates, raisins, carob, and almonds. In Israel, the flowering of the almond tree, which grows wild around the country, coincides with Tu Bishvat.

The origin of Tu Bishvat lies in the ancient Jewish taxation system, which was based mainly on the tithe of every farmer: The first tax was dedicated to the Levites, the men of sanctity and education; the second tithe was a means of securing the pilgrimage and strengthening national solidarity; and the tax of the poor was meant to safeguard, together with numerous other precepts (mitzvot), the social support system for the indigent of the land.

Only in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, with the beginning of the Zionist movement that saw the Land of Israel as central to Jewish existence, did the holiday really become what we know it as today, the festival for planting trees or the Jewish version of Arbor Day.

This Tu Bishvat, I made two new dishes. For the main course, I decided to make Turkish köfte  or kebab as they are called in Hebrew.  They are basically small meat patties with grated onion, pistachios and spices. You will find a myriad of different variations of kebab. I served them with a tahina sauce and they were accompanied by a steamed artichoke and roasted potatoes with zaatar. I used Turkish red pepper flakes that have been roasted and rubbed with olive oil for this dish. They are not quite as hot as regular hot pepper flakes. This meat mixture can easily be prepared a day ahead and the dish is very quick and easy.

Köfte with Pistachios and Tahina Sauce
For the Köfte

1 ½ cups pistachios

340 g (3/4lb) lamb

340g (3/4lb) beef

2 medium onions, grated

2 tsp ground cumin

1 teaspoon black pepper

½ teaspoon crushed red pepper

½ cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley

2 tablespoons olive oil

For the tahina sauce

Make 2 cups

1 tablespoon ground cumin

¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon lemon juice

½ cup tahina

¼ cup water

Salt to taste

2 cloves garlic, crushed

1 teaspoon black pepper

1 teaspoon nigella seeds

Köfte with Pistachios

For the Köfte

Combine the meat, pistachios, onions, cumin, black pepper, red pepper and mix well. Refrigerate 2 hours or overnight.

Lightly knead parsley into the mixture. Roll into tablespoon size balls. Brown on a grill pan. Drain on paper and serve with tahina sauce.

For the tahina sauce

Whisk lemon into the tahina, gradually add water until smooth. Season with salt. Add the garlic, black pepper and nigella seeds. Keep at room temperature.

The second dish I decided to make was a traditional fruit cake called Gubana from the Friuli region of Italy and also from neighboring Slovenia. The version I made is a yeast cake, almost like brioche, that is prepared as if you are making puff pastry. The dough is very forgiving and not difficult to make. The only catch about this recipe is that it is time consuming. You must make the dough a day ahead. This cake is sublime; it almost melts in your mouth, and Mr. BT was almost fainting with pleasure.

Already known at the time of the Romans, the Gubana’s fame has increased over the centuries. Two versions exist: a “country” one (Gubana friulana) and an “urban” one (Gubana giuliana). The more refined latter type in fact has a flaky pastry shell and also contains, apart from the recipe of the former (raisins drenched in grappa, grated chocolate, almonds, walnuts, orange and citron peels, figs, plums and pine nuts), spices and candied fruits. The recipe I made is a combination of the Gubana Friulana and the Gubana Giuliana with a little touch of Baroness Tapuzina.

Every Friulian homemaker will have the “original” recipe for Gubana and they will differ from house to house and town to town. A tale is told about a poor mother living in the Natisone Valleys who had nothing to sweeten the Christmas meals with. So she prepared a cake made with what she had at home: flour, eggs, walnuts and honey. The regional tradition requires that the “Gubana” be present for every major festival, such as Christmas and Easter but also for wedding banquets; the bride and bridegroom used to present every guest with this delicious cake.  The term “Gubana” is a Slovenian word deriving from “gubat”, which means “to roll up”. In the local dialect it is called “Gubanza”, which became “Gubana” in Italian.

Gubana– Friulian Fruit Cake

Serving Size: 10-12

For the dough:

340g (3 sticks) unsalted butter, cold

3 3/4 cups all purpose flour

50g fresh yeast or 2 packages dry yeast

1/3 cup warm water

1 teaspoon salt

1/3 cup sugar

1 large egg

1 cup whole milk, room temperature

For the filling:

6 pitted prunes

6 dried figs

6 dried sour apricots

10 dried sour cherries

1/8 cup candied lemon

3 tablespoons sugar

2 teaspoons ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

1/2 teaspoon ground ginger

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

1/2 cup hazelnuts

1/2 cup walnut pieces

1/2 cup sliced almonds

1/4 cup pine nuts

3 tablespoons grappa

Grated zest of 1 small orange

2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted

1 egg, lightly beaten with 1 tablespoon of water

To make the dough:

Cut the butter into small pieces and place it in a bowl. Sprinkle over 1/4 cup of the flour, and using your fingers, works the butter and flour together to make a uniform mixture. The butter should remain malleable. Shape the butter into a 10cm (4 inch) square, wrap it in plastic and set it aside in a cool place, but not in the refrigerator. Note: If you live in a hot climate, then put the butter in the refrigerator, but let it sit for a few minutes to become malleable before placing it on the dough.

In a small bowl, whisk together the yeast and warm water to dissolve the yeast. Add a pinch of sugar and let the mixture sit until foamy, about 5 minutes. In the bowl of an electric mixer, combine 2 cups of flour with the salt. Add the yeast mixture, sugar, egg and milk. Using the paddle, beat the ingredients until smooth. Switch to the dough hook and knead in the remaining 1-1/2 cups of flour for about 3 to 5 minutes or until you have a smooth, elastic dough. Place the dough in a greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let it relax for 30 to 45 minutes.

Turn the dough onto a well-floured board and roll it into a large rectangle, about 40 x 40 cm (16 x 16 inches). Sprinkle the surface with some flour.

Gubana Dough

Place the square of butter in the middle of the rectangle of dough.

Gubana Dough

Fold the left and right sides over the middle, then the top sides over that; the goal is to make a "package" of dough.

Sprinkle the work surface and the top of the dough, as well as your rolling pin. Roll the dough in from the middle toward the top and bottom, making a long rectangle, maintaining the width, but increasing the length.

Gubana Dough

Gubana Dough

Fold the bottom upwards to the center, making a flap, and then fold the top over that, making an envelope. Turn the dough clockwise, so that the top flap faces the right; the dough should resemble a book. Once again, flour the work surface, the dough and the rolling pin, and repeat the rolling and folding process. You will end up with another book fold. Wrap the dough tightly in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for at least 4 hours or overnight.

Gubana Filling

For the filling and assembly:

To make the filling, place all of the dried fruits and nuts, sugar, cocoa and spices into the food processor.

Gubana filling

Process to chop until the fruit-nut mixture is finely chopped and the spices and cocoa are thoroughly combined. Add the grappa and orange zest, and pulse to incorporate them.

Remove the dough from the refrigerator. If it was stored overnight, you will have to allow it to come to room temperature for about an hour before attempting to roll it. On a lightly floured board, roll the dough into a large rectangle, about 38 x 55 cm (15 x 22 inches).

Spread filling on dough

Spread the filling evenly across the center of the dough, leaving a 2.5 cm (1-inch) border at the near end and each side.

Rolling the dough over the filling

Roll the dough, jellyroll style, starting from the bottom, wide side; you will wind up with a long snake.

Gubana ready for rising

Grease a 25cm (10 inch) springform pan. Roll the snake into a tight coil, and lay it into the pan, seam side down. Brush the dough with melted butter. Cover the dough with a towel and allow it to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.


Preheat the oven to 180C (350F). Brush the surface of the dough with egg glaze. Bake the Gubana on the center rack of the oven for 45 to 50 minutes or until golden brown. Rotate the pan halfway through the cooking period to ensure it browns evenly. Allow the Gubana to cool for 20 minutes in the pan, then carefully remove the sides of the pan to cool it completely. To serve, slice the cake in wedges. Gubana will keep wrapped in plastic up to 2 days.

Liddle Lamzy Divey

My father used to sing the Little Lamzy Divey song to us when we went on long driving trips to Florida. I used to love singing that song and it was always one of my requests. The lamb dish I made for Shabbat reminded me of the song.

Mr BT surprised me with dried sour apricots that he bought in a spice shop on Levinsky street in Tel Aviv. Levinsky street is filled with spice shops and delicatessens with delights from Turkey, Greece, Romania, etc. I love cooking sweet and savory dishes with sour apricots because they have a much stronger apricot flavour than Mediterranean apricots. I grew up using sour apricots and was very upset when it became more difficult to find them.

I had some lamb in the freezer begging to be cooked, so I decided to make a deliciously fragrant Moroccan tagine with dried sour apricots and olives. Even if I say so myself, the dish was a triumph.

I used Suri olives, which many people here call Syrian olives, that Mimi from the Israeli Kitchen gave me for this recipe. They are small green, bitter olives, with a large pit that are high in oil content and excellent for producing olive oil. The interesting thing about these olives is they are not Syrian at all, they are actually Lebanese and are named after the town of Tyre (Tzur in Hebrew). Over the years, the pronunciation changed, and it is now pronounced Suri, meaning Syrian in Hebrew. I love their crunchy bitter taste and they were a perfect choice for this dish.

The earliest machinery for crushing olives and the oldest surviving olive trees were discovered in Israel. The oldest olive oil jars, dating back to 6000 BCE, were found in Jericho.

Today, olive groves cover more than 200,000 acres, from the mountains of the Galilee to the Negev desert. The largest concentration of olive groves are in the north of the country. The average harvest for the production of olive oil is about 6,000 tons, but current consumption is double that amount, meaning that we also have to import olive oil, primarily from Spain, Italy and Greece.

Each of the main communities here: Jews, Arabs, Druze and Circassians, cultivate olives. Israeli olive oil is considered to be more aromatic, more strongly flavoured and full of character than the more delicate European olive oils.

Lamb Tagine with Sour Apricots and Olives

4 pounds bone-in lamb shoulder or neck, or 2-1/4 pounds boneless lamb stew meat, cut into 2-inch chunks

4 garlic cloves, minced

1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 large yellow onions, peeled and quartered

2 cinnamon sticks, each 2 inches long

Large pinch crumbled saffron

1-1/4 cups dried apricots, sliced

1 cup cracked green olives, pitted and sliced if desired

1/3 cup halved almonds, toasted

Cooked couscous, for serving

Chopped parsley or cilantro, for garnish

Trim excess fat off lamb. Put meat in a deep Dutch oven or cast-iron pot with the garlic, salt, black pepper, paprika, ginger and cumin. Rub spices and garlic evenly all over meat.

Thinly slice onions, then mince enough of them to yield 1/2 cup. Add minced onion to the pot with the lamb; reserve onion slices.

Place the pot over high heat and let cook, turning meat on all sides, until spices release their scent, about 3 minutes. You need not brown the meat. Add 3 cups of water to the pot (it should come 3/4 of the way up lamb), along with cinnamon and saffron. Bring to a simmer, then cover the pot. Braise for 45 minutes.

Turn meat, then top with onion slices. Cover pot and braise for at least another hour and a half, or until lamb is very tender. Use a slotted spoon to transfer meat to a bowl, leaving broth and onions in pot.

Place pot back on the stove over high heat and add 3/4 cup apricots and the olives. Simmer broth until it reduces by a third and thickens slightly, about 10 minutes. Return the lamb to the pot and keep warm until serving. (Tagine can be prepared 4 days ahead; chill, then remove fat and reheat before serving.)

To serve, chop remaining 1/2 cup apricot slices. Put couscous in a serving bowl and top with almonds and chopped apricots. Pile the tagine in center of couscous and garnish with herbs.


2nd Wedding Anniversary Dinner

December 30th was my 2nd wedding anniversary and we decided to wait until the weekend to celebrate. I try very hard to keep politics out of my foodblog, but I will say that even though terrible things are happening around us, we still felt we should celebrate our anniversary by making a nice meal. We have postponed birthdays and other special events over the years, but decided that we could have a comforting and quiet meal at home. We hope that the fighting will stop soon and that we can find some way to make peace with our neighbors.

The meal that we made had an unintentional color theme of brown. Brown is really not one of my favourite colors, but in this case, it was represented by one of my favourite meats that I rarely have a chance to eat, lamb. The supermarket near my home has been running a special on lamb for the past month and it is such a great deal that we decided to buy some. The butcher explained that a meat company has bought large quantities of lamb on the hoof and is marketing the meat both through selected supermarkets and directly to hotels and restaurants, making it possible for us to buy young lamb at a great price.

We more or less followed a recipe from Nigella Lawson for “Moroccan Roast Lamb”. This recipe is very simple, you make a simple marinade that you rub on the meat and let it marinate overnight. The main ingredient of the marinade is ras al hanout, a spice that I have a love affair with and have used in numerous dishes that I have posted on this blog. It is such a versatile spice that you can use in both savory and sweet dishes.

We served this with a steamed artichoke and vegetarian brown rice maklouba (rice layered with courgette and eggplant), which is a layered rice dish that I made a while ago with chicken. For dessert, I made a chocolate and chestnut torte that was light and airy. It was a perfect meal to celebrate actually eight years with my partner for life. Mr. Baroness Tapuzina has brought a great richness to my life and I love him very much. Thank you for a very interesting eight years, here is to many more to come.

Moroccan Roast Lamb

Serving Size: 6

Adapted from Forever Summer by Nigella Lawson

2kg (4.4lbs) lamb shoulder

2 tablespoons ras al hanout

Juice of two lemons

3 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

2 cups of red wine

Mix all of the above ingredients except for the red wine and make incisions all over the lamb shoulder. Using your fingers, push pinches of the mixture into the incisions and then rub the remainder of the marinade all over the meat. Place in a large freezer bag or some other covered container and marinate the meat in the refrigerator overnight.

Take the meat out the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature.

Marinated Lamb Ready for the Oven

Heat the oven to 200C (400F). Place the meat in a covered clay pot or foil covered roasting pan, add the red wine and roast for 20 minutes. Turn the oven down to 160C (325F) and roast for 2-3 hours until falling off the bone. Drain the fat from the sauce and serve over the lamb.

torta morbida di castagne e cioccolato

Rich Chocolate and Chestnut Cake
Torta Morbida di Castagne e Cioccolato
From La Cucina Italiana, December 2008
Serves 12

The Veal Shank Redemption

Okay, I know the title is a bit lame, but the photo of the food is even lamer. I forgot to check the batteries on my camera and when I tried to take the photo, the batteries were dead. I had to take a picture with my phone camera instead. Oh well.

Beef and veal have been very expensive here the last several months and we decided that it just wasn’t worth spending our hard earned money on expensive meat. However, the supermarket up the road from our house had veal shanks on sale and I couldn’t resist. They were 50NIS (14USD or 9.80Euro) per kilo. So, I bought two meaty ones.

I found an interesting North African style recipe for osso bucco.  This  recipe would normally be made with lamb. It was very easy to make and absolutely delicious. It was fall-off-the-bone tender and it has a very distinct spicy kick from the chili paste, which we both like. Next time I will add a little more of the spices because they got a bit lost. I only detected a slight taste of cinnamon and nutmeg. I served it with lemon orzo and green peas.

This is a recipe you could easily make the day before.

Moroccan-Style Veal Shanks

Serving Size: 4

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

4 meaty veal shanks (about 1/2 kilo or 1 1/4 pounds each)

Salt and freshly ground pepper (no salt if you are using kosher meat)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 carrots, finely chopped

2 large garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/4 teaspoon ground allspice

1/4 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 teaspoon harissa or other chili paste

1 cup dry red wine

1 cup chicken stock

One large can crushed tomatoes

Preheat the oven to 170F (325F). In a large enameled cast-iron casserole, heat 2 tablespoons of the oil. Season the shanks with salt and pepper. Add them to the casserole, 2 at a time, and cook over moderately high heat until browned all over, about 12 minutes. Transfer to a plate and wipe out the casserole.

Heat the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil in the casserole. Add the onion, carrots and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 5 minutes. Add the cumin, coriander, cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg and cook, stirring until lightly toasted, about 1 minute. Add the tomato paste and harissa and cook over moderately high heat, stirring, until lightly browned, about 2 minutes. Stir in the wine and boil until reduced to a thick syrup, about 4 minutes.

Add the tomatoes and the chicken stock to the casserole. Season with salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Put the veal shanks in the liquid. Cover tightly and braise in the oven for about 3 hours, basting occasionally, until the meat is almost falling off the bone.

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