I am sure everyone is wondering where I have been for the last two months. I wish I could give you some glamorous answer, but the truth is that life got in my way: work deadlines and a trip to London; and I had a cold which then turned into the flu over the holidays. Now I am back and raring to go.
Winter has finally reared its head here in Israel and all I could think of was making comfort in a bowl. First, I made us a big pot of hearty chicken soup which nurtured Mr BT and me through the cold-flu episode. It healed us, warmed us and comforted us as it always does. Good old chicken soup.
When I finally had the energy to cook again, I decided to make the second best comfort in a bowl recipe, polenta. Soft polenta, stirred clockwise with a wooden paddle over a low flame and served with sautéed White Button mushrooms, King Oyster mushrooms, homegrown Cavolo Nero from my garden and creamy Gorgonzola cheese. Life can’t get much better than that.
I am looking forward to an interesting 2012, filled with new recipes, new adventures and some lovely surprises.
I wish everyone a very happy, healthy and prosperous 2012.
Place the water and salt in a large saucepan over a low flame. Immediately add the polenta in a steady stream while stirring constantly in a clockwise motion to avoid lumps. Stir ever few minutes in a clockwise motion until all the liquid is absorbed and the polenta is thick, approximately 30-40 minutes. The polenta should be soft and creamy, not grainy.
Meanwhile, in a large frying pan, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil over medium heat and add the leeks, garlic and Cavolo Nero. Saute until the leeks are slightly soft and barely golden, about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and set aside. Add an additional tablespoon of olive oil to the pan and add the mushrooms, cooking until they are softened, about 10 minutes.
Add the leek mixture and the white wine to the pan. When the wine is cooked down slightly, add the chopped thyme, and salt and pepper to taste.
When the polenta has finished cooking, crumble in half of the Gorgonzola and mix through. Place the polenta on a large platter and form a well in the center. Place the mushroom mixture in the well and crumble the rest of the Gorgonzola on top.
Italians are passionate about just about everything, but when it comes to food, they have a passion for the ingredients that make up a dish as much as for the final result. I was recently speaking to a friend of mine from Firenze about garlic while he was making spaghetti con aglio, olio e peperoncino (spaghetti with garlic, olive oil and chili peppers). Although he was chopping up the Chinese garlic that is the most commonly available kind in Israel, he told me, “I only cook with Italian garlic or red garlic from France!” I explained to him that I only cook with local Israeli garlic that I buy fresh in season at the shuk. At that moment it hit me that I too am passionate about my ingredients.
If I am making homemade pasta, I will only make it with ’00’ flour, which is finally readily available here. And the reason for that is not because I am a flour snob, but that the all-purpose flour here in Israel behaves differently from flour in the US or the UK. I remember going to a cooking shop in Tel Aviv about 10 years ago that carries special ingredients for cooks and asking them if they had ’00’ flour. They had no idea what I was talking about, so I explained that doppio zero is a high protein flour that is the most highly refined and is talcum-powder soft. A few months later they ordered some and it has been available ever since. Even Stybel, a local flour mill, is offering it (Stybel 9 pasta flour).
My pasta maker was out of commission for several years because the handle was misplaced in one of our moves. I finally ordered the handle in the States and a friend’s parents were kind enough to bring it with them when they flew to Israel. What better way to try out the handle than whipping up a batch of pasta dough. The pasta dough recipe comes from a wonderful Italian cookbook called Two Greedy Italians: Carluccio and Contaldo’s Return to Italy by Antonio Carluccio and Gennaro Contaldo, which Mr BT brought back from London as a “just because” surprise. This is Gennaro Contaldo’s recipe with the exception of the turmeric and the lemon zest.
I changed Yotam’s recipe a little by serving the pasta with a drizzle of homemade basil oil. It was a nice addition and didn’t overpower the lemon in the ravioli.
Rapeseed, olive oil or basil oil (see recipe below)
Lemon juice (optional)
Mix the flour, semolina, tumeric and lemon zest together on a clean work surface or in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the eggs. With a fork, gradually mix the flour into the eggs until combined and then knead with your hands until the dough is smooth and pliable, but not sticky. Shape into a ball, wrap in clingfilm and let it rest for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 days.
Divide the dough into four pieces. Flatten the dough and dust each side with flour before placing it in your pasta machine. Set your machine to the widest setting and roll the pasta dough through. Turn up the setting on the machine by one and repeat the process until you get to number 10 (or follow your manufacturer's instructions) and your dough is almost wafer-thin. When the pasta sheet is rolled out, keep it under a moist towel so it does not dry out.
Use a 7cm (3 inch) round ravioli stamp or the rim of a glass to stamp out discs from the sheets of pasta. Brush a disc with a little egg white and place a heaping teaspoon of the filling in the center. Place another disc on top and gently press any air as you seal the edges of the raviolo. Place the ravioli on a tea towel or tray, sprinkled with semolina, and leave to dry for 10-15 minutes or cover with clingfilm and place in the refrigerator for one day.
When ready to cook, bring a large pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta for 2-3 minutes, or until al dente. Sprinkle with pink peppercorns, tarragon, and lemon zest. Drizzle with rapeseed, olive oil or basil oil, sprinkle with salt and a squirt of lemon juice.
Ever since Mr. BT gave me the Plenty cookbook I have been wanting to make everything in the book. Most of the recipes are perfect for the scorching summer when no one feels like cooking. The Friday before last it was blazing hot, and the thought of spending all morning in the kitchen did not appeal to me. I made two quick and easy Ottolenghi dishes: one was a baked lamb pie that I found on his Guardian weekly column and the other came from the cookbook.
Kibbeh, kibbe, kubbeh or koubeiba, which means dome or ball in Arabic, can be found in Iraq, Kurdistan, Lebanon, Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Israel. Kibbeh Nabelsieh is the better recognized torpedo-shaped kubbeh with a shell of bulgur and lamb that is ground to a paste and filled with ground lamb, spices and pine nuts. There is also Kubbat Haleb which is made with a rice crust and named after Aleppo. This version is served anytime, but especially made during Pesach in a Jewish home.
Kubbeh soup dumplings are made with a semolina shell and filled with ground lamb or preserved lamb. Kibbeh Nayyeh is finely chopped raw lamb or beef mixed with fine bulgur and spices, such as Baharat. There is also Kibbeh bel-saniyeh which is made with a decorative top or covered with a tehina sauce like I made.
The perfect match to the baked lamb pie was a refreshing and light salad with green beans, peas and mangetout, which are called snow peas in the United States.
Serving Size: 6 serving as a light main course and 8 as a first
125 grams (1/2 cup) fine bulgar wheat
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 garlic cloves, crushed
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 green chilli, finely chopped
350 grams (3/4 lb) minced lamb
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons roughly chopped coriander
60 grams (2 ounces) pine nuts
3 tablespoons roughly chopped parsley
2 tablespoons self-raising flour
Salt and black pepper
50 grams (3-1/2 tablespoons) tahini paste
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1 teaspoon sumac
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
Line a 20cm (8-inch) spring-form pan with parchment paper. Put the bulgur in a bowl, add 200 milliliters (1 cup) of tap water and set aside for 30 minutes.
Place four tablespoons of oil in a large frying pan and saute the garlic, onion and chilli on medium-high heat until soft. Place in a bowl and set aside. Cook the lamb on high heat and cook until brown. Add the onion mixture back to the pan and add the spices, coriander, salt, pepper, and most the pine nuts and parsley. Cook for a couple of minutes and remove from the heat. Taste and adjust the seasonings, if necessary. You want the spiciness to come through the lamb.
Check if the water has been absorbed by the bulgar, if not, then strain it through a fine sieve and place back in the bowl. Add the flour, a tablespoon of oil, a quarter-teaspoon of salt, and a pinch of black pepper. Work into a pliable mixture, with your hands, until it just holds together. Push the bulgar mixture firmly into the base of the spring-form pan until it is compacted and level. Spread the lamb mixture evenly on the top and press down. Bake for 20 minutes.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, 50ml (3 tablespoons) of water and a pinch of salt. The sauce should be thick, yet pourable. Spread the sauce on top of the kubbeh, sprinkle on the remaining parsley and pine nuts and bake for 10 minutes until the tahini is set and the pine nuts are golden.
Before serving, sprinkle the sumac and drizzle a little olive oil on top. Cut into wedges.
250 grams (1/2 lb) French green beans, trimmed and blanched
250 grams (1/2 lb) mangetout (snow peas), trimmed and blanched
250 grams (1/2 lb) green peas (fresh or frozen), blanched
2 teaspoons coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 mild fresh red chilli, seeded and finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
Zest of 1 lemon
2 tablespoons chopped fresh tarragon
2 handfuls baby chard leaves or other mixed baby leaf lettuce (optional)
Coarse sea salt
Combine the blanched green beans, mangetout and green peas in a large bowl.
Place the oil in a small frying pan over medium heat. Add the coriander seeds and mustard seeds. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents over the bean mixture. Toss together and add the nigella seeds, red onion, chilli, garlic, lemon zest and tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.
Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves and serve.
The second feature of our brunch on Saturday was delicious savoury pancakes made with spinach, green onions and chillies. The accompanying lime-garlic butter was a perfect addition to the pancakes, but you could also serve it with a dollop of yogurt or labane. This is perfect for an elegant brunch for family and friends or a romantic breakfast for two.
In a medium bowl, beat the butter with a wooden spoon until it is soft and creamy. Add the rest of the ingredients and mix well. Place the butter mass onto a piece of parchment paper or cling film and shape into a log. Twist the ends and refrigerate until firm.
Place the flour, baking powder, whole egg, butter, salt, cumin and milk in a large mixing bowl and mix until smooth. Add the spring onions, chillies and spinach and mix until well combined.
Whisk the egg white to soft peaks and gently fold into the batter.
Add a 1/2 tablespoon of olive oil to a heavy frying pan and place on medium-high heat. Ladle 2 tablespoons of batter for each pancake. Cook for about 2 minutes on each side, or until they are golden on each side. Keep the cooked pancakes in a warm oven until all the pancakes are cooked.
To serve, place three pancakes on a plate and place a slice of the lime butter on top.
When it is hot and steamy out, we don’t feel like having a big heavy meal. On Saturdays we usually have brunch consisting of bread, cheese, a frittata or omelet and a salad. This Saturday, I finally served two dishes I made from the Plenty cookbook, written by Israeli chef Yotam Ottolenghi, that Mr BT bought for me on our trip to the States and London last month.
One of the dishes I made was butternut squash that I roasted with freshly ground cardamom and allspice and served with wedges of fresh lemon (couldn’t find any limes in the market) and a lemon, yogurt and tehina dressing that was light and refreshing and had a completely unexpected mixture of tastes. You can serve this as a meze with other salads, a first course or a side dish.
I can’t wait to try more recipes from this cookbook.
Trim off the limes' tops and tails using a small paring knife. Section the lime using the technique shown here. Cut each section into thirds. Place them in a small bowl, sprinkle with a little salt, drizzle with 1 tablespoon of olive oil, stir and set aside.
Cut the butternut squash in half lengthways, scoop out the seeds and discard, Cut each half, top to bottom, into 1 cm thick slices and lay them out on a large baking sheet lined with parchment paper.
Place the cardamom pods in a mortar and use the pestle to get the seeds out of the pods. Discard the pods and pound the seeds into a rough powder. Transfer to a small bowl, add the allspice and the remaining 3 tablespoons of oil, mix and brush over the butternut slices. Sprinkle with sea salt and place in the oven for 15 minutes or until fork-tender. Remove from the oven and set aside to cool. Peel off the skin or leave it on if you prefer.
Whisk together the yogurt, tahini, lime juice, 2 tablespoons of water and a pinch of salt. The dressing should be thick but runny enough to pour; add more water if necessary.
To serve, arrange the cooled butternut slices on a serving platter and drizzle with the yogurt dressing. Spoon over the lime pieces and their juices and scatter the chilli slices on top. Garnish with the coriander or chives and serve.
Here is a guest post from my friend, Emily Segal, who is a certified holistic nutrition counselor and writes a blog on her website, Triumph Wellness. Be sure to sign up for one of her classes, such as Sugar Detox. You won’t be disappointed. I learned a lot and came home with recipes that helped relieve my sugar cravings.
There’s no need to stay out of the kitchen just because it’s hot! Here in Israel we have a long, hot, dry summer season. From our last rain in April to our first rain in November, we have about 6 months of tediously bright sunny skies and brain-shriveling high heat. If you’re anything like me, summer makes you feel like a dried out raisin in serious need of re-hydration.
The long days and bright sunshine of summer generally lift our spirits and moods. But we should also understand that the heat of the summer can be a negative source of stimulation as well. Due to longer, lighter days we are generally more active and all this activity produces heat within our bodies. What’s more, larger crowds of tourists, and the general race to get as much done before going away on holiday can easily result in hot tempers, impatience, anger, and road rage, all outward expressions of too much inner heat.
How can we combat the effects of our seemingly endless summer? Well, Mother Nature outfits us with the perfect harvest for each season and summer is no exception. Here are some seasonal nutritional tips to keep both body and mind refreshed and alert this summer and help you cope with the summer heat.
1. Water-filled fruits and vegetables such as cucumbers and watermelons are cooling and refreshing. The sweet stone fruits, nectarines, plums, peaches and even mangoes, all provide the high-sugar content we are going to need to meet our high-energy demands.
2. Cooling spices and plenty of fresh green herbs, for example, fennel and cilantro, mint, and basil. Here in Israel it is popular to make amazingly refreshing herbal iced teas from garden fresh herbs such as mint, fennel (shumar), lemon verbena (Louisa) and lemon balm (Melissa). No need to add sugar!
3. Green or white fresh vegetables such as cabbage, artichoke, asparagus, lettuces, celery, purslane (regilat) and fennel, lightly steamed or served raw with a simple sprinkle of lemon and olive oil.
4. Cooling cereals and grains like rice, barley or millet are preferred over potatoes and the other starchy root vegetables which should be harvested and eaten in colder seasons.
What about spicy food? Have you ever heard that people who live in hot climates traditionally eat spicy food to cause sweating and cool themselves down? While it is true that spicy food will cause sweating, and that the air moving across your sweaty brow will feel cooling, your body temperature actually rises when eating spicy foods and you are indeed hotter. The probable reason for spicy food consumption in hot climates is that the hot spices worked as anti-bacterial, anti-fungal agents and helped people survive eating food that had perhaps spoiled in the heat. So save your hot peppers for winter unless you question the freshness of what you are eating!
Here is a favorite recipe of mine, one I teach in my Detox Workshops, which is perfect for staying cool and hydrated in the summer heat:
Fresh lemon and cucumber blend into pure hydration for beautiful cells and skin. Lemon is juicy with electrolytes to re-hydrate the body. Just a pinch of sea salt lifts the flavor and actually allows your cells to drink deeply. Mint is cooling and refreshing, but any of the herbs mentioned above can be substituted. A date is used as a natural sweetener and for energy needs.
1 cucumber, peeled and roughly chopped
1 handful fresh mint leaves
½ lemon, peeled and seeded
1 date, pitted and soaked 10 minutes
Dash sea salt
1½ cups water
Process all ingredients in a blender until smooth. Pour through a strainer or sieve for extra smoothness. Serve chilled.
Here is a guest post from my friend, Emily Segal, who is a certified holistic nutrition counselor and writes a blog on her website, Triumph Wellness. Be sure to sign up for one of her classes, such as Sugar Detox. You won’t be disappointed. I learned a lot and came home with recipes that helped relieve my sugar cravings.
Barbequing or Al HaEsh, in Hebrew, is a national pastime in Israel. Wherever you go in this country, you will see groups of families and friends huddled around the grill, enjoying the outdoors and food cooked fresh over a fire.
It is then, with a heavy heart, that I am here to deliver the bad news: Grill too often and you are exposing yourself and your family to an enormous cancer risk. But before you send the lynch mob to my house, let me explain the problems and offer some solutions!
When animal meats are cooked over a grill, or any high heat source, for that matter, a very dangerous compound is formed. Heterocyclic amines, or HCAs, have been identified by the FDA as known carcinogens. Meat need not be charred or well done to contain these chemicals. Testing has found HCAs in grilled chicken patties cooked for just three minutes on each side.
Even chicken breasts grilled for just six minutes can contain dangerous levels of HCA, which puts barbecue chicken at the top of a new list of the five worst foods to grill. High HCA levels were also found in grilled steak, pork, salmon, and hamburger.
The Five Worst Foods to Grill:
Chicken breast, skinless, boneless, grilled, well done contain14,000 nanograms of HCA per 100 grams
Steak, grilled, well done contains 810 nanograms per 100 grams
Pork, barbecued 470 nanograms per 100 grams
Salmon, grilled with skin contains 166 nanograms per 100 grams
Hamburger, grilled, well done contains 130 nanograms per100 grams
There are two more issues that make barbecued meat unsafe for consumption:
1. Another cancer-causing compound – polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon (PAH) – also forms on barbecued meat when fat from the meat, drips off into the fire and causes a flare up of flames and smoke. PAHs have been classified as cancer causing agents by various organizations such as the Environmental Protection Agency and the International Agency for Research on Cancer. According to the Center for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA, we are exposed to PAHs through breathing air contaminated by wild fire or coal OR eating meat or foods that have been grilled.
2. Hot dogs. Wow, do I even need to tell you how unhealthy hot dogs are? Research has shown that processed meat, such as that found in hot dogs or other smoked meats, increases one’s risk of colorectal cancer, on average, by 21 percent for every 50 grams consumed daily! (A 50-gram serving is approximately the size of a typical hot dog.) A 2002 international study spear-headed by the American Cancer Society showed an alarming increase in colorectal cancer rates worldwide, but ESPECIALLY here in Israel! The landmark report clearly states that no amount of processed meat is considered safe to eat.
So, what can we do? Do we need to stop barbecuing entirely? Thankfully, there are ways to protect yourself and your family while you still enjoy the grill:
1. If you are going to grill meats, be sure to serve fresh, raw fruits and vegetables as side dishes. Most Israelis already seem to instinctively do this. Raw fruits and veggies are loaded with carotenoids and other phytochemicals that are noted for their anti-cancer properties. Use organic fruits and vegetables or course, as conventionally-grown are covered in the very substances we are trying to avoid!
2. Try grilling other items, not just meat. Vegetables don’t produce HCA’s or PAH’s and neither does tofu or veggie burgers. Try making veggie kabobs with your favorite veggies and tofu cubes. You can also make skewers that alternate bites of meat with vegetables or fruit. That way you’ll eat smaller portions of the meat.
Some other things that taste great on the grill are: Portabello mushroom “steaks”, potatoes or sweet potatoes, corn, pineapple, papaya and mango!
3. Cook meats at lower temperature for shorter times. One way is to pre-cook meats in the oven and then finish them quickly on the grill. Or buy smaller cuts of meat that take less time to cook through.
4. Select lean cuts of meat and trim the fat to reduce PAH’s. Or cook on top of a hot plate to reduce fat flare-ups.
5. Don’t eat blacked or burned meat or chicken. They have the highest levels of HCA.
6. Marinate meats before grilling. Some studies have show that marinades containing vinegar, red wine or lemon can reduce the formation of HCA’s.
7. Skip the hot dogs and other processed meats. They are just not worth it.
The bottom line is that from our earliest days on this planet, we humans have enjoyed gathering around a campfire, cooking food in the outdoors and sharing the experience with loved ones. There is something very profoundly healthy and probably cancer-preventing in doing that! But as our food supply becomes increasingly chemicalized and even the charcoal and lighter fluid we cook with would be unknown to our ancestors, we must practice caution and moderation. If we want a long-life of barbecuing ahead of us, we need to adapt some of the above steps to safe-guard our health.
Here is a delicious, healthy marinade and/or sauce with an Asian twist to spread on those veggie-tofu kabobs:
Just stir all of the ingredients together and brush on the kabobs before putting them on the barbeque and again before or during grilling. And unlike meat marinades, you can continue brushing this sauce on the cooked kabob without danger of food poisoning.
The tradition of an Israeli breakfast, which is similar to the Arab breakfast, began in the early days of the 20th century on the kibbutz. Kibbutzniks would go out to the fields at the crack of dawn to work before the heat of the day, and they’d return home at 9AM to eat a giant breakfast consisting of fluffy omelettes, fresh salads made with cucumbers and sweet tomatoes, hummus, eggplant salad, pita and other breads, and homemade jams. This hearty breakfast spilled over into hotels starting in the 1930s, and now you can have an Israeli breakfast at most cafes and restaurants.
This Israeli tradition has become a weekend ritual in my home, sometimes an elaborate affair for guests, but always made with local ingredients from trips to dairy farms or the shuk. The Israeli breakfast is ideally a leisurely breakfast eaten with family and friends talking about current events, recent travels, or just catching up. In our house, we play early or classical music in the background, talk a little, read the newspaper, and read that book that we have been trying to finish for weeks.
I always make either a fresh herb omelette or frittata, with a selection of cheeses such as labne, Bulgarian feta, and cottage cheese, bread, olives, and jams. This weekend I made a Persian frittata called Kuku (pronounced KooKoo), which is a herb frittata that varies from region to region: some kukus are made with a Persian spice mixture called adviehis, which is a blend of cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, and dried rose petals. It is typically served in the Spring during the Persian New Year, Nowruz.
The kuku I made only called for allspice and saffron, but it was just enough spice to go with the herbs and vegetables in this recipe. This frittata is simply delicious and will definitely be served again on our table.
A good pinch of saffron (about 40 strands), soaked in 1 tablespoon boiling water
250g (1/2lb) fresh spinach, wilted in a hot frying pan with a little olive oil and a pinch of salt, then drained and roughly chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh mint
Preheat a 25 cm (9 inch) round baking dish or ovenproof frying pan in the oven at 220C (425F).
Sprinkle the aubergine with a good pinch of salt and let stand for about 5 minutes. Pat the moisture off of the aubergine and set aside.
Heat the butter and 2 tablespoons of olive oil in a frying pan over medium heat and add the green onion and allspice. Saute for about a couple of minutes and then add the aubergine, stirring often until tender and making sure the onion does not burn. Remove from the heat and set aside.
Whisk the eggs in a medium-sized bowl and add the barberries, pine nuts, saffron (including the liquid), spinach, parsley, mint, and salt and pepper. Add the aubergine mixture. Remove the baking dish from the oven and pour in the egg mixture. Place in the oven and bake for 12-15 minutes until the egg has set and the top is slightly brown and puffy. Let the kuku rest for 5 minutes before serving.
I have been a fan of Joan Nathan’s since my mother gave me one of her cookbooks, Jewish Holiday Kitchen, almost 25 years ago. The first two recipes I made from that cookbook were for Passover: Seven-Fruit Haroset From Surinam and Larry Bain’s Bubie’s Haroset. They were a big hit at my family Passover dinner. Years later, when I moved to Israel and Mr. BT and I were hosting our first seder, I told him about a Venetian haroset recipe containing chestnuts that I had found in Joan Nathan’s cookbook and which I wanted to make. He said, let’s make it, and this was the basis for the now famous Nordell family haroset.
During the panel discussion, Ms. Nathan talked about when she visited Strasbourg, France to do research for her latest cookbook, Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France: the people she interviewed there, she recounted, begged her to find some lost Alsatian Jewish recipes. She said that she is afraid that some of the traditional Ashkenazi recipes are being lost because people are shying away from making the more fattening recipes, like those containing chicken fat, duck fat and goose fat.
Israel Aharoni told an interesting story about Jewish fusion cooking he witnessed in someone’s home in Jerusalem. During the taping of his famous television program, Derech Ha’ochel(The Way of Food), with his friend and co-host, comedian Gavri Banai, they were invited to have Shabbat dinner with a family in the Orthodox neighborhood of Mea Shearim. The woman of the house started preparing gefilte fish, which she served with hilbeh, a traditional Yemenite condiment made with fenugreek, zhug, and coriander, and tehina (sesame paste). Aharoni, whose parents were from Uzbekistan, was quite shocked that a traditional Ashkenazi family would put Yemenite and Middle Eastern condiments on their table. But then he realized that this was a common occurrence for families who lived in the melting pot of Israel where you find Yemenites and Moroccans who eat gefilte fish and Ashkenazis who eat North African shakshouka and tagine.
The discussion moved on to topic of olive oil. Most people would assume that a country where you can find ancient olive oil presses would have a long and uninterrupted history of cooking with olive oil. But as Aharoni said, “Until 20 or 25 years ago, you couldn’t even get olive oil in Israel. You had to have a friend, who had a friend, who knew someone who lived in an Arab village.” However, he said when Italian food became popular here, the local supermarkets started stocking lower quality Italian and Spanish olive oil. Things have progressed, and you can now buy high quality local olive oil.
Ezra Kedem, who is half Kurdish and half German, said that when he was a child in Jerusalem and came home hungry from school, he would be given dark bread with olive oil and za’atar. His eyes lit up when he talked about this childhood treat. He said that his parents bought their olive oil once a year from Arabs in Beit Jala, a town south of Jerusalem. The olive oil was put in two or three jerrycans that they would bring to the Arab family to fill up with the liquid gold, as Kedem described it.
After the discussion was over, I asked Ms. Nathan if she was going to be doing a book signing, to which she replied, “they didn’t arrange one, but come with me and I will be happy to sign a book for you.” She is very down-to-earth and easy to talk to. I really felt like I could have talked to her for hours, but she had a appointment to be interviewed by fellow Israeli blogger and Haaretz editor, Liz Steinberg, who wrote a lovely article about her in that newspaper.
What I love most about her cookbooks is the stories and history that she gathers for each recipe. She takes you on a wonderful trip to a country, a town, a home or a restaurant without leaving your home. She makes sure that you feel the love that goes into each family dish. I so wanted to talk to her about some of my own family treasures: the matza balls, the noodle and matza schalets, and the butter cookies. Alas, it will have to wait for another trip.
The first recipe that caught my eye in her new cookbook was a recipe called Soupe au Blé Verte, which is a spicy vegetarian version of the classic Tunisian soup called Shurbat Farik bi’l-Mukh, made with chickpeas and freekeh, and it is a perfect soup for a cold winter’s night. I made a few slight additions to the recipe: I added garlic, since as most of you know, having a half-Hungarian in the house means that you can’t make something without garlic unless you can prove that it is an absolutely forbidden ingredient in that particular dish.
And, I also added our homegrown Cavalo Nero (Tuscan Kale) at the very end of the cooking process. It gave a nice crunchy texture to the soup.
Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous is a real treasure and I will be cooking more dishes from it in the coming weeks.
1 stalk celery, finely chopped 1 carrot, peeled and diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley
1 bay leaf 1 teaspoon harissa, plus more for garnish
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
7-8 cups water
1 tablespoon tomato paste 1 cup freekeh, picked over for stones and chaff and rinsed
1 cup cavalo nero, chopped with the center rib removed
1 lemon, quartered
Place the chickpeas in a bowl, cover with water, and soak them overnight.
The next day, put the olive oil in a soup pot and saute the onion, celery, carrot, and garlic until the onion is transparent. Add the drained chickpeas to the pan with 1/4 cup of parsley, the bay leaf, harissa, cayenne pepper, salt, and black pepper. Stir in the tomato paste and a cup of water, and cook for about 5 minutes.
Add 6 cups of water and bring to the boil. Stir in the freekeh and lower the heat. Cover the soup, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours. You may have to add an additional cup of water. Add the cavalo nero and cook for an additional 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf and serve with a sprinkling of parsley and a wedge of lemon.
I used to love to go to the train station in my hometown. My father would take us there every once in a while to see the trains and we would always try to get there early so he could put a penny on the rails and have the train run over them. As soon as the train was safely out of harm’s way, he would retrieve the misshapen pennies for us to take home as souvenirs of our adventure.
So when I found out that the Tel Aviv municipality had painstakingly renovated an Ottoman-era train station, now unoriginally called HaTahana (The Station) near Neve Tzedek, I couldn’t wait to go and see it. And I must say, they did a beautiful job with the restoration.
The train station was inaugurated in 1892 and was the first railway line in the Middle East. The rail line went from Jaffa to Jerusalem and the length of the journey took 3-1/2 to 4 hours. The line was eventually extended to Lod and Haifa, and in 1921 the train travelled to Al Qantarah El Sharqiyya, Egypt, approximately 160km (100 miles) from Cairo. The station was closed in 1948 and only reopened as an entertainment complex this year.
There are several restaurants and cafes to choose from to sit and have a leisurely coffee with your favorite someone, such as Cafe Tahana in the original railway building.
Or sit on the roof of Shushkashvilli Beer Bar and Tapas, which is in a beautiful old Arab house that stood in the neighborhood called Manshiya, built by the Turks in 1892 to house Egyptian laborers working on the new railroad.
The Wieland Villa, built in 1902, was owned by a German Templar named Hugo Wieland, who built his home and a factory building and agricultural materials next to the railway station with the intention of shipping the goods throughout what was then Palestine and around the Middle East. The family remained in the house until the 1930s when they left and eventually moved to Australia.
HaTahana also has some lovely boutiques and art galleries in the surrounding stone buildings that will appeal to all sorts of shoppers.
The train tracks are quiet now, but HaTahana is abustle with people enjoying the lovely cafes, restaurants, art exhibitions every Thursday evening, and the real reason Mr BT and I got up early to go there: the Orbanic market, which is the new organic farmers market, open only on Fridays.
After visiting the old Ottoman station, I was inspired to make a Water Börek, which is a cheese or meat bureka, made with boiled warka leaves. Instead of going to all the trouble of making my own warka, I bought Moroccan cigar wrappers at the supermarket. Since most of my readers in the US and Europe will not be able to find cigar wrappers so easily, you can use egg roll wrappers. You can serve this for breakfast, afternoon tea, or a light supper with a big salad.
1 pkg (500g or 1lb) Moroccan cigar wrappers (thawed) or large egg roll wrappers
100g butter, melted or 1/4 cup olive oil
250g (1/2lb) Bulgarian or Greek Feta
1 log of plain goat's cheese
1 cup fresh parsley or 1/2 cup parsley and 1/2 cup dill, chopped
2 green onions, sliced thinly
Several grinds of black pepper
Butter a 22cm (9 inch) deep-dish pan.
Mash the feta and goat's cheese together until well combined. Add the egg, parsley, green onion and black pepper and mix well. Set aside.
Preheat the oven to 180C (350F).
In a large pot of boiling water, place one cigar sheet or egg roll wrapper in the pot and cook for 1-2 minutes. Scoop out the sheet with a wire mesh skimmer and place in the pan. Don't worry if you can't straighten the sheets out, just try to smooth a few out so they will go up the sides of the pan. Repeat until you have one layer of the sheets.
Brush butter or olive oil on the sheets and cover with half of the cheese mixture. Place another layer of boiled cigar sheets, brush them with butter, and add the rest of the cheese mixture. Place a final layer of cigar sheets, fold over any sheets that are hanging off the side of the baking dish, and brush with butter. Bake for 1 hour or until lightly brown. Serve hot or a room temperature.