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Archive for October, 2015

to call dibs

I’m not sure how it is that we’ve already hit the end of October with sweater weather and coats upon us and I still have sundresses hanging in my closet. This happens every year. The Jewish holidays make a whirlwind out of the change of seasons, and I always feel like I wake up one morning shivering and wondering where the summer went. I rummaged through my winter clothes over sukkot, pulling out layers to pack for a short trip to Denver for a food conference. The conference was at Devil’s Thumb ranch a few hours from the airport and even though I left behind mostly green trees in New York, fall announced itself in the bright yellow Aspen leaves that punctuated the long winding drive through the verdant mountains.

And here we are, a month later, and this week I was nearly knocked over by wind and rain blowing dead leaves from the sidewalk. I guess it’s time to put those sundresses in storage and drag out a few sweaters.

Anyway, I’m one soup and a chili into the season, but don’t have much to show for it. Neither was particularly imaginative.  Instead, I have a few recipes from a recent review of the new Zahav cookbook. I’ve written about the Philadelphia restaurant Zahav here before and have made a few of Chef Mike Solomonov’s recipes as well. So, when I learned about their cookbook, I wrote to my editor at the Forward to call dibs. I received a super advanced copy – the kind that’s paperback with black and white photos and captions that all begin with lorem ipsum dolor, which was just a tease for the real thing.

I interviewed Mike (he’s a first name kind of guy) for the article and he couldn’t have been nicer. He invited me to spend some time with him at the bread station that is the hearth of the restaurant the next time I’m in Philly and encouraged me to make laffa at home right after we got off the phone. I did. Make a few loaves of laffa, that is. I’m practicing for my trip to Philly!

Zahav's laffa

Zahav laffa and pita in the home oven

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Here are a few of Solomonov’s notes from the book: “Laffa is an Iraqi-style flat bread — a little bigger than pita (and minus the pocket) and crispier too, but still with a great chew. Laffa is traditionally cooked in a taboon, a clay oven with an opening at the top and a[n 800-degree] fire in the bottom, very similar to a tandoor… I knew it would be tough to incorporate an authentic taboon into a commercial restaurant in Philadelphia, but when I discovered the hand-built brick oven in a vacant Italian restaurant, I knew I was standing in the future Zahav…Both laffa and pita are remarkably easy to make from the same dough and bake in your own oven. A pizza stone works well, but even a baking sheet turned upside down and preheated in a hot oven will produce beautiful laffa and pita that forms its own pocket.”

Makes 8 breads

– 1½ C water, divided
– 2½ t active dry yeast
– 2 t sugar
– 2 C all-purpose flour, plus more if needed
– 2 C bread flour
– 1½ t kosher salt
– 2 T olive oil

Mix together ½ cup water, the yeast and sugar in a small bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.

Combine the all-purpose flour, bread flour and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix on low speed until blended. Add the yeast mixture, another ½ cup water and the oil and mix on low until the dough forms a ball that pulls clear of the sides and bottom of the bowl. (If after a minute the mixture doesn’t form a ball, add a tablespoon of water.) At the moment the dough starts to pull clear of the bottom of the bowl, add ½ cup water and continue mixing until incorporated. The dough should feel tacky when slapped with a clean hand, but it should not stick. (If it sticks, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time.)

Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until doubled in size, about an hour. Alternatively, let it rise in the refrigerator overnight.

Preheat the oven to 500° F, with a rack in the upper third. Place a baking stone or an inverted baking sheet in the oven to preheat as well.

Roll the dough into 8 balls the size of baseballs. Cover with a cloth and let rise until they are about the size of softballs.

For laffa: Roll each dough ball as thin as possible (less than 1/8 inch is ideal — the laffa should be the size of a Frisbee) with a floured rolling pin in a floured work surface. Drape one laffa over your outstretched hand and quickly invert it onto the baking stone or baking sheet, quickly pulling any wrinkles flat. Bake the laffa until puffy and cooked through, about 1 minute. Serve immediately.

For pita: Roll each dough ball to about a ¼-inch thickness (about the size of a hockey puck) with a floured rolling pin on a floured work surface. Place one or two at a time on the baking stone of baking sheet and bake until puffed and cooked through, about 3 minutes. Serve immediately, or let cool.

Zahav simple sumac onions

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook. I like to make a big batch of these and throw them in salads or on top of soups for a piquant crunch. When we spoke over the phone, Solomonov explained the genesis of this recipe to me: “When you go to a hummusia, those little hummus places, they have little pieces of raw onion that you can dip in the hummus. But you don’t have snake breath for weeks and weeks after because the onions in Israel are so much more fresh and they’re picked pretty young. They’re not sitting on the back of a truck for days or week.” “We wanted to express that, but serving huge amounts of raw onions with sumac doesn’t necessarily translate to the America palate — we’re not used to it. So the quick-pickle treatment is really attractive. You can eat a bunch of it. It’s nice, it’s refreshing, but it’s still got crunch and a little bit of savory robustness.”

Makes about 1 cup

– 1 red onion, thinly sliced or finely diced
– 1 T red wine vinegar
– 1 t ground sumac
– ½ t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl and toss to combine. Serve immediately.

‘Zahav’ Kale, Apple, Walnut and Sumac-Onion Tabbouleh

Zahav kale, apple, walnut and sumac-onion tabbouleh

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Serves 4-6.

– 2 C (packed) shredded stemmed kale leaves
– ¾ C finely chopped walnuts
– ½ C diced apple (about ½ apple)
– ¼ C simple sumac onions (see above)
– ¼ C pomegranate seeds
– 3 T lemon juice
– 3 T olive oil
– ½ t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a large bowl. Toss to combine and serve.

Zahav Mango, Cucumber and Sumac-Onion Israeli Salad

Zahav mango, cucumber and sumac-onion Israeli salad

Recipe adapted from Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking by Michael Solomonov and Steven Cook.

Serves 4–6

– 2 mangoes, peeled and cut around the pit into small cubes (3 C)
– 1 large English cucumber or 3 smaller Persian cucumbers, diced (3 C)
– ¼ C simple sumac onions (see above), plus more for topping
– 3 T chopped fresh mint
– 3 T olive oil
– 2 t lemon juice
– 1 t kosher salt

Combine all the ingredients in a bowl, toss to combine, and serve with additional sumac onions on top.

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