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Archive for March, 2009

with lavender plant

 

In thinking about Passover and adapting some recipes for that looming, food-centric week, and recollecting a few Passover chol hamoeds spent in Miami where some clubs serve special Passover drinks (never very tasty, though), I thought I would share a very easy method for sweetening drinks, cocktails the “old-fashoined” way. This is very much aligned with my “Passover philosophy” of going back to basics and also brings me a little bit closer to figuring out how to recreate the lovely cocktails I had last week.

Simple syrup is just a well-saturated mix of water and sugar. Nothing more to it. Pretty simple! I believe it’s called a “simple” syrup because it isn’t maple or some syrup found in nature. But, I’m not sure.

Simple Simple Syrup

simple simple syrup close-up

Purists will say that the water to sugar ratio should be 1:1. I’ve seen it diluted down to 2:1 and this is what I tried for my first experiment since I was thinking about that not-too-sweet Lavender Cosmo that I had last week. Adjust to taste — a 1:1 is probably best for cocktails when you’re concerned about not diluting the drink too much.

- Cold water (I use tap)

- Granulated sugar (plain white is just fine)

Boil cold water. Add sugar. Adjust heat to low and stir mixture until sugar is completely dissolved. That’s it. Très simple!

immediately after adding ~2T lavender

immediately after adding ~2T lavender

 

after 20 minutes of infusing, the lavender is turning the syrup slightly yellow

after 20 minutes of infusing, the lavender is turning the syrup slightly yellow

 

eventually all of the color drains from the lavender into the syrup, turning the syrup into a rosy, translucent liquid to match my mahogany table

eventually all of the color drains from the lavender into the syrup, turning the syrup into a rosy liquid to (sort of) match my mahogany table

Once the syrup has cooled, close with a stopper (or a stopper with a spout) and refrigerate. You should probably drain the herbs out too.  That’s if you didn’t infuse your herbs in the bottle you want to store the syrup in. Whoops — my bad! I’ll probably use this infused syrup for everything from tea (hot and iced) to cosmos over the next few days, so it should be fine. But in the future, fresh leaves will likely not fare well after a day.

A few tricks and ideas:

- I made my syrup in a kettle — it was easier to pour into bottles since I only have a small funnel (yes, it is from the flask that I bought and have never used … but I am tempted to bring it on a date!)

- I let my syrup cool in the bottles — probably not the best idea because your bottles can shatter. Whoops! Plus, if you want to infuse fresh basil or mint and then want to strain — best to strain into the bottle. I didn’t quite think that one through.

- Infusing infusing infusing – I just threw about 2 T of dried lavender buds into one of the bottles and kept the other one “pure” for my iced tea. But you can try a whole host of different herbs and spices for different cocktails, sorbets, etc. Vanilla, roses petals, chile peppers (I like spicy sweet), mint, basil, rosemary…the list goes on and on.

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Music seems to be inspiring a fair amount of my cooking these days. No big surprise since I like to consider myself a dancer.

One of the most amazing groups to come out of Israel over the past few years is the Idan Raichel Project.  My Frenchie friend Lau did it once again — she introduced me to this collaborative a couple years ago and I find them utterly inspiring and a taste of the beauty of Israel.

- Raichel’s start in the army rock band – such a common career starter for many Israelis where compulsory conscription is a way of life

- His rare ability to bring together the different musical styles that have coalesced upon Israel, mixing and matching instruments and languages without the cacophony that sometimes exists in real life

- The sheer variety of his work, from mystic notes that seem to emanate from Tzfat to prayer and verses that might be heard at the Kotel (Western Wall) in Jerusalem to reggae or electronica that could hold its own in a club in Tel Aviv to ballads that are universal anywhere in the world

For Israel’s 60th anniversary, Raichel was interviewed for the “My Hatikva”  project and speaks about his hope (“hatikva,” also the name of Israel’s national anthem) for Israel as a melting pot and land of immigrants while still maintaining tolerance for different cultural and religious identities.

The official video on the “My Hatikva” website is at http://www.myhatikva.com/MultiMedia.aspx?MI=68

When I learned that the Idan Raichel Project would be performing here in Boston, I booked my ticket and organized a group of friends to come with me immediately. I was just that excited (I don’t normally plan very far in advance!). And the concert last week did not disappoint.

The music performed was a mix of their prior two albums and their newest one that has a bit more of a global feel but is still distinctly Israeli. Despite the Project being named after him, Raichel seemed content to sit off to stage right, playing his keyboard most of the time and leaving most of the stage work to the three vocalists who not only sang but swayed, rocked, and even jumped to the music – not to entertain an audience, but because they really seemed to enjoy their work.

Musicians were also given a chance to shine — for example, the percussionist responsible for the water sounds in the following clip, Mei Nahar (“River Waters”), performed a several minute long solo on a few wooden bowls filled with water. The audience, judging by the silence that allowed us to hear (miked) water drops and rhythms played on the surface of water, was enraptured.

The  namesake song of Raichel’s third album, Mima’amakim – “Out of the Depths,” starts with what I have come to learn is a typical traditional Ethiopian melody (“Nah no nah no na’ay…”) that is emblematic of his earlier work and leads into a haunting song in Hebrew.

The concert last week and songs like this inspired  me to make a lentil dish that can go either Ethiopian or Yemenite depending on which spice mixture is used — berbere (which can be approximated with red chile powder and onions in a pinch) or cumin, respectively.

“Salata Idan” – East African Fusion Lentil Dip, the Yemenite Version

Salata Idan

Adapted from Gil Marks’ Olive Trees and Honey. In celebration of Idan Raichel’s artistry, bringing together the diversity of Israel’s people, and sharing our rich and varied culture with the world.

Makes about 3 cups. Best served at room temperature; flavor improves after ingredients mingle for a day or two.

- 1 C brown or green lentils, picked over and rinsed (use plain lentils; save the fancy French de Puy lentils for when you want to make a salad (like the Ethiopian version below) of soup since these keep their shape nicely and do not break down as easily)

- 4 C water

- 1 bay leaf

- ½ t dried thyme

For dressing:

- ½ C tehina – I use Joyva, which is a pure puree of sesame seeds, many others contain chickpeas and other ingredients, so they are closer to tehina spreads

- ½ C lemon juice (2 lemons) + zest of 1 lemon (why not!)

- 1 C of fresh green herbs — my preference is a mix of cilantro and mint, but you can also use parsley

- 1 t kosher salt

- Scant ½ t ground black pepper

- 1 clove garlic (can substitute 1t garlic powder or 1t garlic salt and reduce regular salt if you don’t have fresh garlic)

- 1 t ground cumin

- 1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil

In large saucepan, combine lentils, water, bay leaf and thyme. Bring to boil, cover, and reduce heat to medium low; simmer until tender but not mushy, ~ 25 minutes.

Cooked lentils

Remove bay leaf, drain (if any water remains, especially if using de Puy lentils) and put in large bowl.
Add all ingredients to lentils and use mortar and pestle, potato masher, or (my personal favorite) immersion blender to smush the combined salad into a paste.

lentils and dressing

no need to make the dressing in a separate bowl...I just did it for illustrative purposes

Serve at room temperature with pita or fresh vegetable crudité. I made some toasted lavash crisps lightly sprayed with olive oil and sprinkled with garlic salt.

"salata Idan"

funny...it looks almost exactly like the dressing alone

To make the Ethiopian version: This is more of a lentil salad, so de Puy lentils will work better. Saute one onion and 1-2 seeded and minced jalepeño or other hot peppers in vegetable oil and add to lentils. Adjust dressing as follows – omit tehina and reduce lemon juice to 2 T.

***

And I’ll just leave you with one more video — a trailer of Tomer Heymann‘s documentary, Black Over White, about the Idan Raichel project concert tour to Ethiopia with a short exerpt of the song Milim Yafot Me’eleh (Words More Beautiful than These).

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spinach-apple-feta

 

One of my favorite salad toppers is freshly toasted nuts. And if it’s an extra special occasion (or just a regular evening that you want to turn into something special), the nuts get coated in sugar and even spice. You can buy them like this already (e.g., at Trader Joe’s) and some places have even started marketing them, for example “Meshuga Nuts” (I could not find the link), but I like to buy the raw shelled nuts and make my own to add whatever spices and level of sweetness I fancy on a given day.

This recipe is pretty easy, but does make a little bit of a mess. The nuts are great to snack on and are wonderful as an appetizer, with cheese, or served in pretty little bowls alongside dessert.  They also make nice gifts

I find pecans work best because they have nice little grooves that capture all the flavors. Walnuts should work equally as well from this grooved perspective; almonds might not have great grooves, but they are another favorite of mine in salads.

Pecans

nice grooves on the pecans, ready for a coating

 

Sugared and Spiced Nuts, some guidelines

Don’t be afraid, there’s a lot of verbiage here and it looks scary, but I’m just walking you through the process and warning you about all of the mistakes that I have made along the way so you won’t make them!

Any nuts will work, but my preference from a texture perspective is pecans. I also like making plain sugared almonds. Any spice mixture will work — experiment on what you prefer. I have listed here my favorite and detailed how I make these nuts in such a way that they do not end up one huge sheet of nut brittle, rather separate nuts with a slightly crumbly spicy-sweet, slightly gritty texture. These are not sticky.

Makes ~2.5 C

1 lb pecans

1/3 C white sugar

1/3 C brown sugar – this helps with the texture, but you can use all white sugar

Basic mild spice mixture:

1/2 t hot chili powder

1 t curry powder

1/2 t cumin

2 T water to help spread spices

I like mine a bit more spicy and sweet and salty, so I added the following (after tasting the initial coating): additional 2 T sugar; 1/2-1 t cayenne pepper; additional 1/2 t curry powde; 2 large pinches kosher salt; additional 1-2 T water to help distribute spices

Prepare foil-lined baking sheet to catch nuts when the are ready to cool.

Dry toast pecans (1 lb) on large skillet set at medium heat. Constantly move skillet around to avoid burning the nuts — this takes about 5-7 minutes.

Add sugars and spices and continue to move the skillet around to help sugar melt and liquify. Adjust your flame/heat between low and medium to your own comfort.  Again – do not let the sugar or nuts burn. This can and will set off your smoke alarm (I’ve done it before!) and you might have to throw out the whole batch! You have to watch pretty carefully. One moment you have a pile of sugar and a few spices, the next, a column of smoke. But, with practice, it gets easier. If you add water early, burning is less likely, but I don’t find the texture works out as nicely. So, keep moving the pan/skillet around and eventually the sugar will melt into a nice light brown (very hot – DON’T TOUCH!) liquid.

Coat the nuts evenly with this mixture of sugars and spices in the pan with a non-stick spatula. Don’t worry if the sugar starts to re-crystallize or if the spices haven’t distributed perfectly evenly … that’s what the water is for. Add the 2 T water to essentially deglaze and get all the bits that are stuck to the pan to unstick. This also helps with give the coating the desired texture — a little gritty rather than smooth. BUT, note, when you add the water, it will splatter a bit (see the bits of my stove top that I just couldn’t crop out of the picture…), so stand back.

pecans in pan, not quite sugared and spiced enough for me

pecans in pan, not quite sugared and spiced enough for me

Allow nuts to cool a bit and taste to see if any additional spices, sugar, etc. is necessary.  After tasting, I decided to increase the sugar, spices, and add some salt (as outlined above).  Note, the salt enhances the sweetness in the mix (as in fleur de sel caramels). Again, allow the sugar to caramelize and melt as the spices get fragrant. I added 1-2 T water to help distribute the dry ingredients evenly across the nuts.

Spread nuts out evenly on the foil-lined cookie sheet and allow nuts to cool for 5-10 minutes. They should not be sticky.

Nuts can be stored in an airtight container for about a week, but they typically don’t last that long in my home. 

 

sugared and spiced pecans, ready to munch

sugared and spiced pecans, ready to munch

OTHER SPICES MIXTURES TO TRY:

- cinnamon, sugar (this is a simple one that can work for Passover)

- cumin, sugar, cayenne or other peppers

 

SALAD SUGGESTIONS:

These nuts are wonderful on a classic salad of spinach or baby greens, beets (even from a can if you’re in a rush!), pears, pickled onions or regular shallots, and chèvre. Salt, pepper, olive oil, and balsamic to dress.

I’ve also thrown them on a similar salad of whatever  I had in the fridge – spinach, apples, and feta. Since the feta is pretty salty, no need to put salt in the dressing. Not as good as the first combo, but the nuts made it taste pretty special.

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Last night I meet a new friend, Katie, for drinks at Garden at the Cellar on Mass Ave between Central and Harvard Squares. We were given a wine menu, but I immediately flipped the menu over to search for cocktails. Two immediately caught my eye, and with my penchant for fresh herbs, I’m sure you can guess which I ordered.

Garden at the Cellar - Cocktail Menu

The bartender, Heather, was nice and friendly, without being overbearing. You could tell that she really enjoyed her work and created the unique concoctions that I was so excited to imbibe. 

Heather, ready with a smile and a drink

Heather, ready with smile and drink

Heather explained that the Lavender Cosmo is a simple syrup *infused with lavender* (sound familiar?), vodka, in this case, Svedka, a dash of cranberry juice, and a sprinkling of dried lavender. Shake, drain, and pour into a chilled glass. She was kind enough to make a little extra for Katie to try.

Lavender Cosmo - Garden at the Cellar

Unlike most cosmos, this one is not too sweet. It’s like the “Sex and the City” ladies all grown up, maybe moved to Cantabrigia. A little more sophistocated, a little more intellectual. No more Peter Pan syndrome. We’re ready for real life here, but with a hint of Paris …well, maybe Provence. One can only take a SATC analogy so far.

My one critique of the Lavender Cosmo is that while absolutely beautiful, the lavender buds are difficult to drink around and I did find myself having to … how can I say this delicately?… dispose of them in my napkin. I guess, like high heels, sometime aesthetics win over practicality. Even in Boston and Cambridge with all those cobblestones, I usually just walk on the paved streets (no Manolos, but some pretty rocking heels nonetheless) and avoid the cars driving by…

Katie soon enough ordered the Basil Lemon Drop. Fresh basil leaves (when available, which they were in this  gastropub adorned by an edible potted garden) were muddled before us into a simple syrup (or otherwise would have been infused into simple syrup, as with the lavender), shaken with Stoli and lemon juice, and then poured into a glass whose rim was dipped in a mix of sugar and minced basil. The drink was then further garnished with a slice of lemon and a sprig of basil flower. And not the flower of just any basil plant. The flower of a Thai basil plant. Thai basil is purple. And so are its flowers. (By comparison, my own large leaf Italian basil plant has white flowers.)

Basil Lemon Drop - Garden at the Cellar

Stunning as my (Philadelphia) Bubbie would say.

Again, Heather poured a little extra into a small glass for me to try (probably since I was snapping so many pictures!). This green and purple beauty was a little sweeter than the Lavender Cosmo, given its sugared rim, but still not overwhelmingly sweet like you might expect from the lemon drop shot that its name suggests. I’d call this drink the ultimate in sophistication … this one is Paris, sitting outside a bistro at 10 pm in November under the heating lamps and canopy as it gently rains outside and friends, new and old, keep dropping by to say hello.

I had to run off to a fundraiser, but Katie promised to let me know what  food she ordered and whether it lived up to the high expectations set by our drinks.

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I try to listen to my body. So when I wasn’t feeling well and craving meat, knowing that I’m often anemic, I didn’t waste much time. Because when I’m hungry, I need to eat!

Without easy access to a (kosher) butcher or deli here in Cambridge, I don’t have many options. Granted, my options were probably a bit wider than most given the, er, interesting way I shop for food. In my fridge is meat that I have from France – some saucisson sec and beef chorizo - and a bag of beef jerky that I found in the Kosher Marketplace on my most recent trip to NY. The beef jerky won because … well … I felt the French meat deserved to be shared.

I ripped the bag open and took a tentative first bite. See, I’m not typically a jerky kind of gal. I have been known every once in a while to make mac and cheese from a box (much to Ellie/the Baking Architect’s shock and chagrin), but for the most part, I’m a fancy little lady.

The jerky was chewy and tough – just like a cowboy would want to snack on during the day. Not too salty, not spicy, not overpowering. Just dried meat. I reached my hand back into the bag.  Maybe I would save some  jerky to throw on top of a salad. A couple bites. Spinach with tomato and avocado. The picture would be nice – the thin brown pieces atop the green leaves. A few more pieces.  Maybe a lemon vinaigrette. Keep chewing.

Before I knew it (and you saw this coming), the bag was empty. I’ll have to buy some more — luckily the company offers free shipping in the continental US!

beef jerky

The jerky is made by RJs and supervised by the RCC (Rabbinical Council of California). Ingredients are pretty simple which is probably what makes it good quality — beef, low sodium soy sauce, brown sugar, liquid smoke. Each bag is 3 ounces (3 servings) and pretty low in fat, high in protein, and high in sodium. Nutritional information is available on the website.

If only they made South African biltong or boerewors … because Kosher Heaven is no longer anywhere to be found on the web!

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Passover-friendly recipes

Passover is in about 2 weeks 1 week 2 days tomorrow tonight, and for many people this is a time of  year that they dread. I try to think of it as a fun challenge. I mean, look, I’m not that pollyanna, but it’s only 8 days, so why not embrace it?  Use this opportunity to get back to basics, cook simply, and use fresh ingredients whenever possible.

I hosted the seders for my family for 3 (or maybe it was only 2?) years in a row and developed a few guiding principles to get me through the ordeal family gathering. We had a lot of the food catered, but I made many salads, soups, and desserts. And I vowed to never buy a boxed pesadik cake mix again!

My Passover philosophy is pretty simple:

- fresh fruits

- roasted veggies

- interesting salads

- recipes that are normally made flour-free

- forget the matzah once the seders are over

Over the next 2 weeks, I will introduce you to my favorite Passover recipes but I wanted to compile the recipes already on my site that you can use as you plan your not-so-traditional seders.

I am Ashkenazi, therefore, I have not included any recipes that include kitniot (translated as legumes and includes beans, peas, peanuts, corn, rice). As the old joke goes, if anyone knows a Sephardic Dutch man (eats kitniot + only waits 1 hour between meat and milk…) who is tall, brilliant, sensitive …you know what to do.

I have color coded the recipes the traditional colors for dairy, meat, or parve. And pink for fancy cocktails (who gets to make cocktails over Passover unless you’re in South Beach?)

Main Courses:

- Meatballs with Saffron Sunset Sauce/Chems al Aachi/Boulettes de Viande et Sauce Crépuscule – a Moroccan dish with a saffron-infusion that is in the meatballs and in the sauce; make with matzah meal instead of bread crumbs for Passover. NOTE – I have seen on one website that saffron is listed as kitniot under the category of seeds, but this does not make sense, since saffron is the dried stigma of a crocus flower. Check with your rabbi if you are unsure.

chems al aachi/boulettes de viande et sauce crepescule/meatballs with saffron sunset sauce)

Cheeses:

- Baked Brie sans Croûte with Caramelized Onions — great for a lunch with friends (just make with a smaller brie — Les Petites Fermieres – “the little farmgirls” makes an O-K hechshered brie that is specifically kosher for Pesach) — thank you to Caroline in Atlanta for pointing out that this would make a great Passover dish

baked brie sans croute, missing a slice

- Parmesan Crisps - these crisps are great to add to a soup to make it seem fancier than it is; NOTE, the Kale and White Bean Soup that I made these to accompany is NOT kosher for Passover for Askenazim and others who do not eat kitniot

Salad:

- Grapefruit Avocado Saladgrapefruit avocado salad

- Spinach Salad with Slow-Roasted Tomatoes and Mushrooms

slow roasted tomatoes

- Salade Mira-Noa - the only adaptation required to make this pesadik is to leave out the za’atar since it contains hyssop and sesame (seeds) and therefore kitniot; a reader, Ariela, shared her preference for cilantro in this type of salad and I think it sounds perfect!

salade Mira-Noa close-up

- Monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad - This is the salad that opened me up to anise flavors. From a Passover standpoint, I believe it’s OK, but there’s one little glitch that I believe is just a little nomenclature mix-up. “Fennel” is listed as kitniot, but this must be referring to fennel seeds, NOT fennel bulbs, fronds, etc. So, I’m fairly comfortable putting this salad up here. After all, the whole seeds as kitniot is largely a ma’arat eyin (inspiring a false visual impression – since seeds can look like grains; eyin means eye) issue, not “ma’arat oznayim” (my made-up terminology… inspiring a false auditory impression; oznayim means ears). But, double check with your rabbi.

Erez Komarovsky's monochromatic Fennel and Pistachio Salad

Soup:

- Carrot-Coriander-Cilantro Soup - Just leave out the coriander (a seed and therefore kitniot). Note, does require an immersion blender, but you can buy an inexpensive one for Passover only (I keep mine parve) and this will really transform your culinary experience for the whole week

carrot coriander cilantro soup

- Chocolate & Zucchini’s Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric and Hazelnuts/Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette - I made this for my “noodles and nuggets” meal and it was a big hit with some of the kids; again, requires an immersion blender

Cauliflower Soup with Turmeric and Hazelnuts/Soupe de Chou-Fleur, Curcuma, et Noisette

Cocktails: we might have 4 cups of wine at the seder, but who doesn’t need a good cocktail later in the week?

- Lavender Cosmopolitan – try it with a splash of some fresh juice (cranberry juice is usually not K for P becuase it contains corn syrup)

Lavender Cosmo - Garden at the Cellar

- Basil Lemon Drop – all fresh fruits, herbs – perfect for Passover!

Basil Lemon Drop - Garden at the Cellar

Here’s the deal – both of these drinks use vodka which can be found for Passover (made from potatoes). The following brands can be found with an OU-P for passover: Binyamina, Carmel, Yikvei Zion, and Kedem. Make a simple syrup (bring to boil water and sugar in 2:1 ratio until dissolves) and infuse with whatever herbs you desire.

simple simple syrup close-up

Miscellaneous:

- Roasted Squash Seeds - if you make something with squash, don’t throw out the seeds, but clean and roast them

roasted squash seeds

Sugared and Spiced Nutsmake these with sugar and cinnamon which is easy to find in Passover and thrown on salad, or just keep in a bowl on the table and serve with dessert

sugared and spiced pecans

sugared and spiced pecans make it special: spinach, apple, feta salad

Also, I have found that Passover is a great time to stock up on some pantry basics because many grocery stores carry more than their usual supply of kosher ingredients. For example, Passover 2008 was the first year that I ever saw Traverso white balsamic vinegar from Chile (see Resources). And many olive oils and balsamics emerge from the woodwork as well. Think of this as a time to explore (while you’re bemoaning everything else…)

Here is a picture of the K for P spices I saw on a recent trip to Kosher Marketplace in NYC:

K for P spices at Kosher Marketplace

The spices on display here are made by Pereg and are, in alphabetical order:

(ground) allspice

basil leaves

bay leaves

(whole) chile peppers

(Mexican) chili powder

cinnamon sticks and ground cinnamon

coriander leaves

(ground) cumin – ONLY FOR THOSE WHO EAT KITNIOT

(green) dill

garlic powder

(granulated) garlic

(ground) ginger

mint leaves

(ground) nutmeg

oregano

(hot red) paprika

(sweet red) paprika

parsley

(ground black) pepper

(whole black) pepper

(ground white) pepper

rosemary

thyme

(ground) turmeric

various spice mixes

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we can work it out

salad close-up

When my friend Lau (the one who gave me the piggy and likes compote aux pommes) played a few songs off of Israeli singer Noa‘s “best of” CD from France (“Le Meilleur de Noa“) a few years ago, I was hooked. Within a year, I had bought almost all of her CDs, importing many from Israel. In particular, I love her 2002 remake of the Beatles hit “We Can Work it Out” with Palestinian Mira Awad. A note on Awad’s nationality — on her website, she refers to herself as Palestinian, so I am deferring to her preference; I have elsewhere seen her called “Israeli Arab” and “Israeli Arab Christian.” I think this song is a beautiful cover with a great message.  And it appealed to my love of music and art (and dance) bringing people together.

 NOTE: This video is from a Dutch TV show that includes Noa’s and Mira’s opinions on the political situation in Israel. The  song is on Noa’s CD “Now” and on iTunes.

And then about 2 months ago, I learned that Noa and Mira Awad are again collaborating and I have been eagerly waiting to find out what they would come up with: they will represent Israel in the Eurovision song contest in May 2009. They composed 4 different duets and the winner, “Einayich” means “Your Eyes;” the English title is “There Must be Another Way” and it is sung in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.  Since I first heard it a few weeks ago, I have found myself humming its refrain, loving how Noa and Mira’s voices mix so beautifully.

Here are the words to the song, from Noa’s website:

There Must Be Another Way

Words and music: Noa, Gil Dor, Mira Awad

There must be another way
There must be another way

עינייך אחות
– your eyes, sister -
כל מה שליבי מבקש אומרות
– say everything my heart wants to say -
עברנו עד כה
– we’ve come a great distance -
דרך ארוכה
דרך כה קשה
– our road has been long and hard -
יד ביד
– hand in hand -

והדמעות זולגות זורמות לשוא
– and the tears fall, flow, in vain -
כאב ללא שם
– our pain has no name -
אנחנו מחכות
– we are both waiting -
רק ליום שיבוא אחרי …
– for the day ‘after’ -
There must be another way
There must be another way

عينيك بتقول  (עינייך אומרות)
– your eyes say -
راح ييجي يوم وكل الخوف يزول (יבוא יום וכל הפחד ייעלם)
– one day, the fear will be gone.. -
بعينيك اصرار (בעינייך נחישות)
– in your eyes there is determination -
انه عنا خيار (שיש אפשרות)
نكمل هالمسار (להמשיך את הדרך)
– that we can continue our journey -
مهما طال (כמה שתיארך)
– for as long as it takes -

لانه ما في عنوان وحيد  للاحزان (כי אין כתובת אחת לצער)
– for there is no address to sorrow -
بنادي للمدى, للسما العنيده (אני קוראת למרחבים, לשמיים העיקשים)

– I cry to the open plains, to the merciless sky -
There must be another way
There must be another way
There must be another, must be another way

דרך ארוכה נעבור,
– a long and hard journey lies before us -
דרך כה קשה,
יחד אל האור,

– together, on our way to the light… -
عينيك بتقول (עינייך אומרות),
– your eyes say -
كل الخوف يزول (כל הפחד ייעלם)
– all the fear will someday disappear -

And when I cry I cry for both of us
My pain has no name
And when I cry I cry to the merciless sky and say
There must be another way

והדמעות זולגות זורמות לשוא
– and the tears fall, flow, in vain -
כאב ללא שם
– our pain has no name -
אנחנו מחכות
– we are both waiting -
רק ליום שיבוא אחרי
– for the day ‘after’ -
There must be another way
There must be another way
There must be another, must be another way

Obviously I’m not the only one to recognize the overt symbolism here (for example, there was an article written in Time about it last week) — an Israeli and a Palestinian, their voices rising together on the same stage, representing one country.

But, perhaps I was one of the few people inspired to make a salad!

The first time I made this particular salad was for my graduate school’s multicultural food festival. I managed to step into a little controversy by being an American helping out the Israeli club and not quite following directions. We divvied up responsibilities – falafel, hummus, tabbouli, and Israeli salad — and I chose to make the salad because it was the healthiest.  Plus, I figured I knew how to make typical Israeli salad of tomatoes, cucumbers, and parsley or mint because  when I volunteered with the Israeli army through Sar El after my freshman year in college, we ate this salad with every single meal including breakfast.

of course I'm smiling, I'm 18, in a kitchen, surrounded by tall handsome Israeli soldiers!

of course I'm smiling, I'm 18, in a kitchen, surrounded by tall dark Israeli soldiers!

Never satisfied to leave simple enough alone, I had just bought a new cookbook — Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today — and browsing through it, found a recipe called “Kibbutz Vegetable Salad” that was described as follows:

Sometimes called Turkish Salad, this typical Israeli salad, served at almost every meal, has many variations. But one thing remains the same: the tomatoes, onions, peppers, and cucumbers must be cut into tiny pieces, a practice of the Ottoman Empire…

It sounded to me like a traditional “Israeli salad” with some peppers thrown in. I actually think of “Turkish” salad as a cooked salad, almost like a tomato sauce spiced with roasted peppers. In my mind, the salad described in the recipe seemed like a more colorful version of traditional “Israeli salad.”

1354

But when I brough this salad to the food festival, proud of my beautiful confetti of colors, one of my Israeli classmates looked at it, sneered, and said, “that’s not Israeli salad, that’s Arab salad.” Hers looked something like this:

tomato-cucumber

just tomatoes and cucumbers

While perhaps not perfectly authentic, my salad didn’t deserve a snub. This comment  just made me want to throw my hands up in the air and say, “Can’t we all just get along?”.

And, actually, in doing my research, my understanding is that “Arabic salad” is more similar to “Israeli salad” than it is different. Both have finely diced cucumber and tomatoes. Both usually add onion,  often spring onion. Both are dressed with olive oil and lemon. Both add a green herb, either parsley or mint or both. Neither ever includes lettuce.

So what was my classmate objecting to? The peppers? Was that supposed to be a statement? Please! The food festival was about food and sharing culture, not political statements. Granted, never having lived in Israel, I know I cannot understand the intricacies of Arab/Palestinian-Israeli relations nor can I fully appreciate the depth of the feelings and animosity between these two groups.

But I love the message that Noa and Mira Awad have shared with each other, with their communities, and, now more than ever, with the world. The current situation is unsustainable. There must be another way. And if Israelis and Palestinians come together and find common ground, slowly … eventually… we can work it out.

Yes, I am an idealist.

So, I used to call this Israeli salad. I no longer know what it actually is. But now I’m reclaiming it and renaming it.

Salade Mira-Noa vegetable still life with za'atar

Salade Mira-Noa

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today. Dedicated to Noa and Mira Awad, and wishing them luck at Eurovision 2009 in Moscow.

This does take a long time to prepare because there is a lot of fine chopping. The salad is best eaten fresh alongside hummus and pita.

Serves about 10 people.

- 1 onion (I prefer red for its beautiful color)

- 1-2 T mild vinegar, either white vinegar or cider vinegar

- 2 cucumbers

- 5-6 tomatoes

- Peppers – I like a multicolor mix – 1 each of green, red, yellow, and orange to get that colorful confetti effect

- 2-3T olive oil

- 1 or 2 lemons

- kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

- 1/2 – 1 t za’atar (a Middle Eastern spice mix that includes sesame and sumac)

Prepare onion first: chop and allow to soak in 1-2 T vinegar and a pinch or two of salt for ~30 minutes while you chop the rest of the veggies. Essentially this will  give it a quick pickling to cut the onion’s sharpness.

quick pickled chopped onions

quick pickled chopped onions

Finely chop the remaining vegetables – cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers — and mix in a large bowl with the onions.

salad ingredients, ready to mix

Dress with juice of 1-2 lemons, a few pinches of salt, a few grinds of pepper, 2-3 T olive oil, and za’atar. Mix again.

Enjoy with friends.

[A very special thank you to Veronica and Joanna for helping me edit and edit and edit this posting, and to Judy for lending me the glass bowls.]

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at long last

Most cheese should be brought to room temperature for a few hours before serving. And when I think about brie and Camembert (and clearly I think about Camembert more often than I eat it), I envision it as an off-white slice leaking out of a snow-white rind, almost melting and oozing easily onto a cracker ready to receive its runny mild flavor.
To the best of my knowledge, few people in the US store cheeses on the counter, so they rarely get to the point of stinkiness as in France, but our obsession with refrigeration prevents us from really enjoying and exploring the full palate and joy that cheese can bring.  One exception is baked brie. This is one of the easiest and fanciest-looking foods for entertaining and has become one of my signature dishes over the past few years when I made a few tweaks to tradition preparation.

When most people hear “baked brie” they think of  brie en croûte – a round of cheese slathered with preserves, typically apricot or raspberry, or maybe some dried cranberries and then wrapped in puffed pastry and baked. This is good but, in my mind, a bit too overdone. The main trick to brie en croûte is to use a good puff pastry and to cook at a pre-heated oven at a high heat, ~425°F for 15-20 minutes until the pastry is golden brown. That’s it. Super simple.

Of course, I can’t really leave simple alone. When I do make this type of baked brie, I typically caramelize slivered almonds to cover the brie with before wrapping in a puffed pastry crust. Just different enough to get a few surprised looks. I remember making this for my friends Adam and then pregnant Pamela, who was thrilled when we realized that unlike French brie made with raw milk, in the US, brie is made with pasteurized mik, so she could indulge freely.

For my birthday 2 years ago (when I served “A Taste of Europe in Manhattan” for over 50 guests…NOT TO BE REPEATED without a serving and clean-up crew!), I experimented and came up with a slightly savory baked brie dish. It obviated the need for the puff pastry shell, using the natural rind to contain the oozing cheese and baked directly in the round wooded box, creating a unique flavor and presentation that preserved the essence of the brie.

missing a slice

This is potentially also slightly lower in calories (since there is no puff pastry). But, let’s be real. Once you’re talking about double écrémé cheese (almost 50% butterfat!) the only way to pretend you’re cutting calories is by moderation. Small portions — just un petit goût as the French might say, a little taste, a few forkfuls. But this stuff is so good, you might need to hide it from yourself!

a not-so-petit gout

a not-so-petit goût

I made this dish for my parents when they came to spend Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish New Year, with me soon after I moved to Cambridge last year. My father has been requesting the recipe for months so that my mother will make it for him (most of my father’s cooking is relegated to the grill…). So, here are the long overdue, step-by-step directions.

Finally!

Baked Brie sans Croûte with Caramelized Onions

Caramelized onions adapted  from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything. I make these caramelized onions into almost a confit to spread in the middle of the brie.

I use a 2-pound Président Brie that I have only ever found in Zabar’s in New York (see Resources) because it comes in a nice wooden box.

President Brie in box, note tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

Président Brie in box; tablet K hechsher, labels for slices, "keep refrigerated"

This is definitely a party-sized recipe, but this recipe can be halved for if you want to make a 1-pound Brie (though the onions are pretty good and you should make the whole recipe, reserving the onions to serve warm on the side or for another use). Even if the cheese does not come in a wooden box, you can bake on foil and the rind should contain the cheese pretty well. In order to slice the Brie in the middle lengthwise, freeze the cheese for about 30 minutes while preparing the onions, and then score with a knife and use dental floss to evenly cut the Brie through to the center.

A 2-pound Brie serves 15-20 as an appetizer with water crackers or slices of baguette

1 2-lb wheel of Brie

2 onions

2-3 T olive oil or mix of olive oil and butter

2 T sugar

3/4 C water

1-2 T good balsamic vinegar (see Resources)

pinch Kosher salt (to taste)

dental floss (unflavored) – yes, dental floss

Preheat oven to 350ºF (You may be able to cook this at a higher temperature for a shorter amount of time, but I have always made it at 350).

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

caramelized onions, after addition of balsamic

Place wrapped Brie in freezer (~30 minutes) for easier slicing later.

Prepare caramelized onions. Slice onions into very thin half- or quarter-rounds. Saute in olive oil or oil/butter mix over medium heat for ~15 mintues until start to brown. Add sugar and water and raise heat to medium high. Cook, stirring frequently until the onions are shiny and continue to darken, and the liquid is almost evaporated, ~ 10 more minutes. Add balsamic and cook additional 5 minutes until onions are dark brown and syrupy. Taste and add salt if necessary (the salt brings out the sweetness in the onions and give an extra bit of savory to the mix).

Remove  brie from freezer and unwrap. Score cheese all the way around with a knife.
scoring the cheese with a knife

scoring the cheese with a knife

Then wrap dental floss around the cheese, cross the ends, and pull so that the floss slices through the cheese evenly, cutting it into two pretty even halves.

cross the floss...

wrap and cross the floss...

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle

... and pull, slicing cheese through the middle ...

... yielding 2 even halves

... yielding 2 even halves

Place one half in wooden box bottom, cover with onions, and top with the other half of  the cheese.

cheese halves and onions

covering filled Brie

I like to score the top of the rind so that some of the cheese will bubble through and it is easier to tell when brie is ready. I also top the cheese with a little bit of the onion to give a little hint of what is inside, but again, not necessary.

Cheese should be baked in wooden box bottom, on aluminum foil (in case of spills) and placed on baking  sheet on center rack.

Brie, ready for oven
Brie, ready for oven

Brie is ready when cheese begins to seep through scores in top of rind and the cuts begin to separate.

Brie, fresh out of the oven

Brie, fresh out of the oven

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stand proud

My first encounter with Irish culture was through dance.

I had moved to NY after college and a friend who had been in my college dance company, then working for an entertainment lawyer, was able to get us comp tickets to see “Riverdance.” Not just any comp tickets — the best in the house, which in case any of you are wondering, for a dance performance or musical theater, is generally front row center mezzanine, not orchestra. This (as opposed to “Lord of the Dance” which is all about Michael Flatley taking off his shirt and prancing around) remains one of my favorite shows because it gives a version of Irish history through music, song, and dance.

Initially I had a difficult time relating to some of the dance — the performers on stage seemed so stiff. Their ramrod torsos  with arms on hips or straight at their sides while their feet seemed to go a mile a minute in military rhythms, heel and toe clicks, high kicks, fast knee bends that made me repeatedly flinch for fear of a flying shoe. The real action starts around 2:20 in this excerpt from the finale:

The explanation for the posture came about mid-way through the first act when right before one number, a disembodied voice commands, “Irish dancers, stand proud!” A proud army they were, straight posture, heads high, shoulders down, feet-a-flutter.

I was so excited, too, when I took a few Irish step classes and the first thing we learned was to put our hands out in front of us, palms up, fold our thumbs in, curl our fingers over our thumbs, and lower our arms to our sides. A proud army ourselves even in our mishmash of leotards, jeans, tights, and tap shoes.

Wanting to make something for St. Patrick’s Day, I tried to learn a bit about the Jews of Ireland (through food of course) to find something to cook that would incorporate Jewish traditions and Irish pride. I couldn’t find  any “Jewish Irish dishes” in searching through my multi-cultural Jewish cookbooks and few of my Irish Jewish friends seem to cook.

"Irish" butter cookies made by The Baking Architect

“Irish” butter cookies made by The Baking Architect

I turned to Ellie,  The Baking Architect, who participated in a bike trip through the Emerald Isle a few years ago to raise money for Miklat, to suggest some authentic Irish recipes, maybe made  by Jews in Ireland,  but she could only send me some beautifully decorated butter cookies. I have little patience for such fussiness  and sweet icing (sorry, El).

In looking around on the web, the main thing I found about Jews in Ireland vis à vis food is that they were traditionally involved in city life, acting as merchants and business people (surprise, surprise…), and therefore bought most of their food rather than growing it. Many Jews came to Ireland from Lithuania and Russia in the late 1800s/early 1900, so much of their food is AshkenaziThe Bretzel Bakery, that makes traditional Ashekenazi baked goods (including rugelach) has been non-Jewish owned for decades and is no longer kosher (though apparently the non-Jewish owners did keep up with kosher certification, working with a mashgiach for several decades).

Back to square one.

So, forget Jewish…I might as well make something sort of Irish. And something that I’ll want to eat. Scones. Perfect. Plus, it’ll use up some flour before Passover (do the holidays ever end???).

cinnamon chocolate scones

Cinnamon Chocolate Scones

Adapted from Molly O’Neill’s New York Cookbook.

I found a Scottish scone recipe — close enough to Irish? — that didn’t call for fancy flour or buttermilk. This recipe does use a LOT of butter. 3 sticks! I’ll keep playing with some of the proportions, but this makes a really nice, moist scone that is not dry. I replaced whole milk with skim milk, increasing 3/4 C to 1 full C. Replaced raisins with cinnamon chips and chocolate chips  and added some cinnamon to the batter.

If you’re going to bake with butter, you might as well use Plugrá or another European style butter with a slightly higher (82-84% vs. 80-82%) butterfat content than American-style butter. The cinnamon chips (parve) I used are from Peppermill, a high-end cookware and bakeware with gourmet products. The Schokinag semi-sweet baking chunks (dairy) are available at Williams-Sonoma (thanks, Mom!) — and have a nice half-barrel shape. Really, any good chocolate chunk will do. My other alternative was to chop up some Callebaut (see the Resources page about this chocolate).

Makes 12-16 scones

4 C all-purpose flour

1 C sugar

2 t baking powder

1 t salt

3/4 unsalted butter, cut into small pieces (YES – THIS IS 3 STICKS OF BUTTER)

1 egg

1 C skim milk

1 C chips (I used 1/2 cinnamon chips, 1/2 semi-sweet chocolate chunks)

Cinnamon (optional)

Turbinado sugar aka”sugar in the raw” for sprinkling (or, for you, Ro – sprinking)

Preheat oven to 400ºF. Line baking sheet with parchment (or grease baking sheet).

Combine flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in large bowl.

Cut cold butter into dry mixture with pastry blender, 2 knives, or my personal favorite, your hand. Resulting mixture should resemble a course meal.

cutting butter in with your hands - it gets a bit messy!

cutting butter in with your hands – it gets a bit messy!

Add in beaten egg and milk – stir until well combined and then knead in  bowl until smooth, about 5-10 minutes. This is not a tough dough, but it is a bit sticky. Add a little extra flour as necessary.

Add chips and a few dashes of cinnamon — so there are swirls of cinnamon, but not a brown dough.

011-cropped

Refrigerate dough ~3o minutes so it is easier to handle.

Shape the scones.

Option 1: Make triangles that are just barely attached — like the proud Irish dancers standing in close formation. To shape into triangles, take out ~ 1C of dough and flatten into a 1-inch thick round patty on a floured board. A good estimate of an inch that I learned from my architect sister: distance from most adult thumbs to the first knuckle is approximately 1 inch (obviously depends on the size of your hands). Cut patty into quarters and transfer onto parchment-lined (or greased) baking sheet, separating quarters by a finger width (~1/2 inch) because scones will rise and spread a little – I think it’s nice for the quarters to meet a bit in the middle, but not so much that they need to be pulled apart. As they bake, they will make a 4-leaf clover, er, shamrock, for good luck – and who can’t use a little extra luck (random interesting  note, most shamrocks are 3-leaf clovers and are said to represent the Trinity)

Option 2: Make “drop scones” with a small ice cream scooper (should be ~1/4 C). You might need a second spoon (or your hands) to get the dough out. Flatten a bit with a floured hand to 1-inch thickness (see “Option 1″ for thumb measuring stick approximation).

Sprinkle lightly with turbinado sugar so the scones will glisten slightly after cooking, but not so much that there will be a hard sugary crust.

Repeat with rest of dough. I had to make 2 batches.

Bake for 25 minutes. I had to move my first batch from the middle rack to the top rack for the last 5 minutes because the bottoms were getting a bit too dark, so check your scones after about 15-20 minutes and adjust position as necessary.

Cool on rack.

scones cooling

ready to packed up and shared with friends

ready to be packed up and shared with friends

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friday afternoon lunch

I almost always forget to each lunch on Fridays, especially in the winter. From October to March, sunset is early, days are short, and I usually need to leave work at some embarrassingly early hour to get home in time for shabbat. But we just turned the clocks back and sunset is at a gloriously perfect 6:30 (give or take) up here in the north. I even spotted the first few flowers pushing their way through the softening ground on our one day of warmth and sunshine between the big storm and the little storm.

first flowers of spring

I picked up a grapefruit a week ago to pay homage to snowbird Bubbie whose Miami apartment my mother inherited and my parents were visiting to begin renovations. Bubbie used to begin each of our Miami meals with a half pink grapefruit. But mine has been sitting in my fruit bowl uninspired. Until today when my avocados finally ripened. So I gathered some ingredients for my much needed salad because I might not get any other veggies for the rest of the day.

arugula grapefruit avocado ingredients

See, I’m going to a Friends of the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) dinner tonight. These things can be fun, but I like good food. And on that front, catered dinners (and I use that term loosely) can be very hit or miss. This has nothing to do with the sponsoring organization — it’s just what happens when you cook for a lot of people. Here in Cambridge/Boston, unless it’s Andrew’s (no endorsement — I don’t even know the guy, but his reputation precedes him), a large shabbat dinner can usually guarantee some form of chicken, maybe some meat, and that’s about it. Fresh fruits and vegetables, highly unlikely. A salad that’s more than iceberg and a bottled dressing, unlikely too. And, I’m sorry Jewish world, but potato kugel does NOT count as a vegetable. Starch maybe, but vegetable, no.

Needless to day, I needed to get my veggies on. And I had a bit of time to wait before shabbat dinner at a winter-hopefully-almost-over  probably-only-one-more-little-storm-left flowers-soon-to-be-blooming long-awaited-spring little-birds-starting-to-chirp respectable 7:15 pm.

grapefruit avocado salad

Grapefruit Avocado Salad

Reminiscent of a salad I used to eat at Darna in NY. Also very good topped with grilled chicken. Dressing is very light as pink grapefruits are not very tart –  you can add some lemon juice for more acidity, especially if  you’re using spinach or mâche greens. Arugula has a spicy bite and normally works well with bold flavors, so its use here was a bit of an experiment but the combination with the mild dressing is quite nice.

Serves 1 person who likes grapefruit; to serve 2, just add extra greens and use the whole avocado

- 2-3 handfuls of arugula (spinach and mâche work great also, but dressing will need to be adjusted – consider adding lemon juice and regular balsamic)

- 1 pink grapefruit

- 1/2 avocado

- olive oil

- white balsamic vinegar (or cider vinegar)

- salt and pepper

Prepare grapefruit suprêmes. Cut off top and bottom of grapefruit to reveal flesh and then cut off remainder of skin so that no pith remains. Remove each grapefruit section over a bowl (to catch juices) by sliding a knife between membrane and flesh in toward the center and then up towards the outside. Repeat until you have removed all of the segments. Save the juice.

pink grapefruit supremes

pink grapefruit suprêmes

Make dressing (enough for two servings). Mix grapefruit juice (~1T) with 2-3T olive oil and 1T vinegar. Add salt and pepper to taste. Mix well. Dip a green in dressing to taste and adjust as necessary.

Tear greens and arrange on plate. Top with grapefruit suprêmes and coat with dressing. Allow to sit for ~10 minutes to soak up dressing.

Prepare avocado cubes and add last. Cut avocado in half. Score flesh through to skin in a cross-hatch pattern. Scoop flesh with a a large spoon on top of salad and serve immediately. If not using second half, refrigerate with pit to prevent browning.

avocado ready to be scooped

avocado ready to be scooped

Top salad with avocado and add additional dressing if necessary.

POST SCRIPT

The dinner was actually pretty good, as it was indeed catered by Andrew. Stuffed turkey breast I believe, asparagus and roasted potatoes. No kugel in sight. Fresh fruit and assorted mini cakes for dessert. Not bad.

And there were beautiful flowers (apparently donated by Sarah’s Garden in Newton — sarah@sarahsgarden.org, no website that I can find) on each table that were so colorful I thought they were fake (and made a comment to that effect…until I reached over to touch their soft petals and realized my mistake). I was one of the lucky ones who was able to bring a anemone bouquet home and it survived the arduous journey despite in brilliant form. I can’t resist sharing with you their splendor in one of my most favorite vibrant color combinations.

poppies 1

poppies 2

 

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