An Afternoon with Joan Nathan

Ezra Kedem_Israel Aharoni_Joan Nathan_Mark Furstenberg

A couple of weeks ago, I attended a discussion at the annual Jerusalem International Book Fair entitled, The Changing Jewish Kitchen – Is Jewish food still Jewish food and what is it?. The panel consisted of cookbook author Joan Nathan, Israeli chef, TV personality and food writer Israel Aharoni, Israeli chef Ezra Kedem (Arcadia Restaurant in Jerusalem), and the moderator, baker, chef and restaurant consultant Mark Furstenberg.

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.

Cavalo Nero

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.

Soup au Ble Vert

Tunisian Vegetable Soup with Chickpeas and Freekeh

Serving Size: 6 to 8

(Soupe au Blé Verte) Slightly adapted from Quiches, Kugels, and Couscous: My Search for Jewish Cooking in France by Joan Nathan

1 cup dried small chickpeas

1/4 cup olive oil 1 small onion, diced

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.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2011/03/12/an-afternoon-with-joan-nathan/

North African Spicy Fish

Chreime is a North African dish made from a firm white fish, such as grouper, amberjack, sea bass, grey mullet, carp or even the dreaded rat of the lake, Nile perch. Here in Israel it is typically served for one of the major Jewish holidays such as Rosh Hashana or Passover, but it can really be served any time.

This is another dish that I have been wanting to make for a long time, but always thought I had to buy expensive fish to make it with. I had some Nile perch in my freezer that I had been dreading to make something with, and I say dreading because it is really not my favourite fish, but my husband seems to like it.

Nile perch is considered to be the rat of the lake because it will eat all of the other fish around it. It is one of the largest freshwater fish and reaches a maximum length of nearly two meters (more than six feet), weighing up to 200 kg (440 lb). It has a rather strong flavour, so this recipe was perfect to cover the fishiness of this fish. The other great thing about Nile perch is that it is inexpensive and easy to find at every Israeli supermarket, so it is perfect for the strange and stressful times were are all living in.

The recipe I used called for 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper. Now, I love spicy food, but I was too chicken to make it with that much cayenne, so I used 2 teaspoons. Next time, I will use 3 teaspoons. And if you are not crazy about caraway, well too bad, it is the secret weapon in this recipe, so don’t omit it.

Mr. BT and I really enjoyed this dish and I will definitely make it again. I would like to try it with grouper or sea bass sometime, but Nile perch definitely worked.

Chreime

Serving Size: 4 to 6

1kg (2lb 2oz) white firm fish (grouper, amberjack, haddock, cod, sea bass, grey mullet, carp or Nile perch), cut through the bone into thick slices or use thick fillets

1/3 cup oil (don't waste extra virgin on this)

10 cloves garlic, crushed

2 tablespoons Moroccan or good quality Hungarian sweet paprika

1 tablespoon (or less) cayenne pepper

1 teaspoon ground caraway

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2-3 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup water

Heat the oil in a large shallow pan. Add the garlic and spices and fry over high heat while stirring until the oil becomes aromatic. Add the tomato paste and stir until blended. Add the water and cook with a covered pot for about 5 minutes.

Add the fish to the sauce, bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. If the sauce does not completely cover the fish, turn them halfway through the cooking.

Cook for about 10 minutes or until the fish is flaky. Serve with couscous.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2008/10/26/north-african-spicy-fish/

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.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2008/09/06/the-veal-shank-redemption/

Couscous Lesson

Several weeks ago Raizy, the daughter of a good friend of mine taught me and her mother how to make couscous. Raizy married into a Tunisian/Moroccan family and learned how to make couscous from her mother-in-law. I have wanted to learn how to make couscous ever since I bought Paula Wolfert’s Couscous and Other Good Food from Morocco. I love North African food and have always used instant couscous and always felt like I was cheating. I thought it would be too complicated to make, but after my lesson, it really isn’t that hard. It is a bit time consuming, but you can make it in advance and keep it in the freezer. My husband made a vegetable tagine and we used one of our two packages of couscous. It was delicious. I am saving the other one for when we move to our new home next month. Unfortunately, I forgot to take pictures of the vegetable couscous, but I promise I will feature the couscous in February.

Thank you Raizy and Miriam, I really enjoyed our “Girls Night Out”.

Raizy's Couscous

Serving Size: 16 to 20

1 kg (2.2lbs) white semolina

1 tablespoon salt

1/3 cup canola or light olive oil

5-1/4 cups water

Couscousier

Fill 1/4 of the bottom of a couscousier with water and place on medium heat.

Cornmeal Texture

Place 1kg of semolina in a very large bowl.

Oil and Mix

Mix the salt into the oil and drizzle over the semolina.

Cornmeal Texture

Mix with a hand-held mixer until you get a cornmeal consistency.

Thicker Cornmeal Consistency

Slowly drizzle 1-1/4 cups of water to the semolina mixture and mix with a mixer until you get a thicker cornmeal mixer. Let the mixture rest for five minutes.

Sifting 1

Sift the semolina in a second very large bowl and set aside any lumps that you cannot breakdown.

Couscousier Inside

Steam Couscous

Place the mixture in the top of the couscousier and steam for 30 minutes over medium heat.

Steamed Couscous

Pour into a very large bowl and let cool. Then add 4 cups of water, stir in with a wooden spoon and let the mixture rest until all of the water has been absorbed. Sift again, removing any lumps and steam for an additional 30 minutes on medium heat. Pour into a large bowl and let cool.

Fine Consistency

Sift the mixture and place in plastic containers or use right away. You can keep the couscous in the freezer for a couple of months or in the refrigerator for three or four days.

http://www.baronesstapuzina.com/2008/01/26/couscous-lesson/

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