Archive for the ‘meat’ Category

With the first snow comes the first soup, which this year was the leftover matzah ball variety (from here) if you count what I ate last night, but if you look at the first soup I made as summer drew to a close, on a rainy August evening with the slightest of chills in the air and a sniffle tickling my nose, it would be this one instead:

I saw avgolemono soup on the menu of a Greek restaurant at least three months ago by now, and it caused an immediate craving for a chicken soup with the brightness of lemon. I went home to poke around online, and made a chart, as one does, comparing recipes (here, here, here, here, and here) based on cups of broth to number of eggs to tablespoons of lemon juice to amount of rice/pasta cooked or uncooked to come up with what felt like the right ratio to me. A few decisions off the bat. I wasn’t going to make my broth from scratch (no surprise there). And I wanted to use up the ground chicken in my freezer rather than poach a breast or two or pick up a rotisserie bird. Finally, since I didn’t have any already-made leftover rice or pasta, I wanted to make it in the soup rather than dirtying another pot.

In my reading, I think it was actually this recipe, I came across the fact that avgolemono – derived from the Greek words egg (avgo) and lemon (lemono) – is thought to have Sephardic Jewish roots. So, now we’re going down a little etymology and history rabbit hole, as one does. As I love to do.


Hold on tight.

Let’s let the late Gil Marks and his Encyclopedia of Jewish Food be our guide (with a little citrus help from Dr. Dafna Lanngut).

It all started in Spain and the rest of the Mediterranean with immature unripe grapes, stomped into juice and used to flavor dishes without the sharp acidity of vinegar. Using these unripe grapes is a lesson in economy, turning the byproduct of necessary pre-harvest thinning of the wine vines into something of value. In Spanish, the juice was called agraz, but you may know it better by its French name, verjus (vert = green, jus = juice), or Anglicized verjuice.

It was particularly popular among Jews in Spain because they used it to make agristada, a thick, creamy – but non-dairy! – sauce to be used with meat. The creaminess comes from cooking egg yolks in liquid (broth and verjuice). The acidity helps prevent the eggs from curdling. Eventually lemons replaced the verjuice, but even without its namesake ingredient, the name agristada stuck.

As for those lemons, the local Jews had a religious attachment to citrus because they needed to cultivate etrogs (citrons, also thought to be the mother of all citrus) for Sukkot, and so they cared for the neighboring lemon trees as well. In fact, only in enclaves of Mediterranean Jews could you find any citrus during the 500 or so years when the genus otherwise left Europe with the fall of the Roman Empire. (Why did citrus leave? I’m guessing it just died out because of general chaos that came with lack of organization and infrastructure. It could also be related to the fact that it was viewed as more status symbol than food with its tough thick skin and ambrosial scent. I’m not sure, but I’ve got to stop digging up facts somewhere, so it’s going to end. right. here.)

By the teens, when the Moors came to the Iberian peninsula bearing more citrus – reintroducing lemons along with oranges, pomelos, and limes – the Jewish community was poised to expand their growing and increasingly lucrative horticulture and trading business. In the face of greater supply and nearby access, the Jewish community incorporated lemons into their diet. Using it in agristada also solved the seasonality issue of agraz whose stores were typically depleted by Spring, resulting in long months of faux verjuice made from sorrel or gooseberries or crabapples until the late summer vines were again ready for pruning.

Then along came the Spanish Inquisition and Iberian Jews spread out all around the Mediterranean, bringing their agristada with them, which is how it is believed to have arrived in Greece. The Greeks called this sauce avgolemono, translating the ingredients. Eventually it morphed into soup, as the sauce was added to broth at the last minute to thicken it, and that soup somehow became synonymous with Greek cuisine.

Among Sephardic communities, the egg-lemon combo goes by many names, not all of which I’ve been able to capture here (but you can bet I tried, drawing on the pantheon of Jewish food writers whose books line my walls, a subset of which are now piled on my coffee table, sofa, desk). The sauce is still frequently called agristada, particularly among Sephardim who ended up in the Levant or the Balkans, and who serve it with fried fish on shabbat. It’s also used where hollandaise might be, especially over asparagus. In Arabic, it’s beida b’lemouneh (“egg in lemon”) and also served on shabbat at Syrian tables. In Ladino, it’s salsa blanco; in Italian, brodo brusca or bagna brusca (brusca = tart or sour); in Turkish terbiye (“seasoning”). The soup itself? The Greek avgolemono has stuck, but in Thessaloniki/Salonika where the Jewish population spoke Ladino, sopa de huevos y limòn prevails.

The dish is also associated with Yom Kippur in the Eastern Mediterranean and within families who moved from there. Poopa Dwek writes that the velvety sauce made with chicken broth is served next to the roasted bird at the Yom Kippur pre-fast meal due to the abundance of poultry after the traditional kapparot ceremony, in which one transfers sins to a chicken before it is slaughtered. And Greek and Turkish Jews break the fast with the creamy, tart, filling soup.

Call it what you will, but if you’ve made it this far with me, then you might as well make the damn soup. And if you see a sign that says EAT ME, then so you shall.

Avgolemono soup

Adapted largely from Bon Appetit – but without the work of making broth from scratch. The soup thickens overnight in the fridge because of the starch so you may need to add water when reheating any leftovers. 

Most recipes call for shredding the chicken from the broth or a rotisserie, but I sautéed ground chicken with onions and lemon peel at the beginning to give a lot of chicken-y flavor without hours of simmering. The peel trick to up the lemon ante came from Cook’s Illustrated via Girl and the Kitchen who clearly has an account with them.

Instead of more traditional orzo or rice, I used p’titim, also known as Israeli couscous, a misnomer as it’s actually little pasta bits (the name translates roughy to “little crumbles”) just like acini de pepe (“small parts of the pepper”) or Sardinian fregola (“little fragments”). If you have leftover rice or orzo or other small pasta, reduce the amount of stock by about 2 cups and add the cooked starch after you’ve tempered in the eggs, allowing everything to gently simmer for another 10 minutes or so to heat it all up. If you want to go all low-carb, I’ll bet there’s a way to sub in riced cauliflower – you won’t get the same creaminess that the starch gives the soup, but I’m sure it’ll be good nonetheless. If you try it out, let me know. 

The only remotely tricky part of the recipe is tempering the eggs to avoid scrambling them. This means whisking a hot liquid very gradually to a cool/room temperature liquid, and then whisking the resulting warm liquid very gradually back into hot liquid. But, seriously people, worst case scenario – you mess it up a little bit and find a few scrambled egg curds floating around in your soup. No one will care. Or, at least, I won’t. So you might as well invite me to dinner.

Makes 2 1/2 quarts

– 2 T olive oil
– 1 onion, finely chopped
– 3-4 lemons for peel and to yield 6 T fresh juice
– 1 t kosher salt (or more, to taste)
– 1 lb ground chicken (or turkey)
– 1 C Israeli couscous (or other small pasta or rice)
– 2 quarts chicken stock (I used it straight from the box)
– 3 large eggs
– for serving: freshly-ground pepper, olive oil, and lemon wedges (dill is a traditional Greek garnish, so if you have some, snip and sprinkle a few fronds for authenticity and a dash of color)

Sweat. Cover bottom of a large Dutch oven (at least 4 quarts) with oil and heat over low. Add onions, large strips of peel from one lemon (use a vegetable peeler and count how many strips as you’ll remove them later), and half a teaspoon of salt. Stirring frequently, sweat onions without letting them brown for 10 minutes until they are yellow-tinged and translucent and the lemon peels are even brighter yellow than before and are nearly translucent as well. Remove the lemon peels and throw out.

Cook. Turn heat up to medium and add remaining half-teaspoon of salt and ground chicken, breaking the meat up with a spatula or wooden spoon into chunks no larger than marbles. Keep cooking until opaque, about 3-5 minutes.

Boil. Stir in Israeli couscous and broth, and increase heat to high. When the broth comes to a boil, lower heat to medium, partially cover, and cook the couscous for 12 minutes (or follow directions on whatever pasta/rice you are using).

Whisk. While the pasta is cooking, in a medium bowl whisk the eggs and lemon juice until foamy and no streaks remain. Place the bowl on a kitchen towel so that it won’t move while you’re tempering.

Temper – keep whisking. Reduce heat to low once couscous is done, and remove about a cup of broth from pot (it’s OK if some couscous or chicken comes along for the ride). Whisk the eggs vigorously and start adding hot broth one tablespoon at a time until the eggs start to warm, and then slowly drizzle it in a steady stream – don’t stop whisking – until fully incorporated.

Temper again – still more whisking. Now, gradually add the warm lemon-egg-broth mixture back into the hot soup – again starting with tablespoonfuls and then a slow, steady stream – whisking the soup continuiously the entire time.

Serve. Taste for salt, adding a few pinches if necessary. Ladle into bowls with a swirl of olive oil, a grind or two of pepper, and lemon wedges for those who like to pucker.

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Despite being the penultimate day of November, yesterday was a stunner. The shining sun against the bright blue sky, usually a harbinger of frigid temperatures, beckoned me out to the fifty degree day. I donned a mere long-sleeved tee and fleece vest, long pants and sneakers. No hat, gloves, scarf or jacket.

I started my walk. A brisk walk. A brisk day. Heading towards the river. Admiring the few remaining flowers adorning my neighbors’ yards, here a yellow rose, there a few hydrangeas holding on to the vestiges of their dusty pink and blue before browning.

Crisscrossing the river, hopping from bridge to bridge, I did everything I could to stay in sunshine. My face chasing the sun like a field of sunflowers, happy when the sun emerged from behind buildings as I walked, and only turning to make my way home when the sun was definitively behind me.

Knowing that the week would be a bit more dreary, I decided to make a hearty meat sauce, similar to a Bolognese, when I got home to fortify me for the next few days.

Bolognese-style Meat Sauce

I have no pretensions of making a true Bolognese sauce, but I got some inspiration to spice up my normal meat sauce with the addition of vegetables and wine.

– 1-2 T olive oil

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 onion, diced

– 2 carrots, diced

– 2 celery stalks, diced

– 1 lb ground beef

– 1 can (6 oz) tomato paste

– 1.5 C canned tomatoes

– 1 C red wine (I used a Bordeaux)

– salt and pepper

Prepare the vegetables: Saute garlic, onion, carrot, and celery in olive oil over low heat until soft, approximately 20-25 minutes. Remove vegetables to bowl.

Prepare the meat: In the same pan, saute ground beef over low until brown, about 7-10 minutes. Add tomato paste and stir well. Then add tomatoes, sauteed vegetables, and red wine.

Simmer and simmer and simmer: Allow the meat and vegetables to simmer over low heat for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if the sauce gets too thick. The liquid should reduce down by about 1/3, leaving you with a thick, rich hearty sauce for your favorite pasta.

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the rebbetzin’s roast

Rebbetzin's Roast with couscous

One of the qualities about which I am least proud is my tendency to leave certain things to the last minute. Humanities papers in college (but yet studying for my science or math exams well in advance…?). Switching my purse to match my outfit when I’m leaving the house and already late. Buying ingredients for a shabbat meal even though I’ve planned out a menu for days.

Well, the last one came back to bite me right before Shavout last week when the only kosher butcher in town closed 6 hours before sunset. I had heard from friends that they kept strange hours and here it was on their website in black and white for all to read:

Open: Sun. 7- 4 Mon. & Tues. 7- 6 Wed. & Thurs. 7- 8 Fri. 7- 2

But, I still didn’t believe it. So, they close on Fridays 6 hours before sunset, clearly they don’t REALLY expect people who work to actually be able to conduct all of their shopping on Wednesday or Thursday evenings before 8 or on Sundays before 4.

Clearly they do.

And when a holiday starts on a Thursday evening, they close at 2 pm as well. I found this out when I called at 3 pm on that fateful Thursday to check on their hours.

(I understand their logic, but is this customer-facing in any world that normal people live in? I resent kosher monopolies and this makes me a tiny bit nostalgic for the days when the community banded together and rioted when the local kosher establishments took advantage of their customers, e.g., during the Kosher Meat Boycott of 1902 secondary to a 50% increase in the price of meat, described at the time by the NYT and put into nice historical context in this excerpt by Monroe Friedman in Consumer Boycotts, referring to noted social historian, Cliffie, and Yale Professor Paula Hyman. Yes, I realize that this is a much more extreme example of the issue at hand, but really, 6 hours before the holiday begins?)

Well, I was walking towards my  ZipCar a few minutes past 3, deep in thought about how to adjust the meal that I had planned around having a  brisket (to be prepared as salpicon, a Mexican shredded beef dish dressed in chipotle and adobe sauce) in case I could only buy chicken breasts at the local Trader Joe’s. And then I walked past the house of a local rabbi, Rabbi Ganz, and remembered that his wife, the rebbetzin (the title for a rabbi’s wife, though she introduces herself as Rifka — she is a down-to-earth, approachable woman) has a thriving counseling practice and, more important for the matter at hand, commutes weekly to New York to see her patients and often purchases meat and some other groceries in Queens. She had once mentioned this to me, and out of a stubborn  dedication to serving meat that I was craving without compunction, and little second thought about embarrassing myself or social convention, I unabashedly emailed R’ Ganz on my BlackBerry at 3:13 pm:

I actually have a very very strange request – I seem to have missed out on going to the Butcherie today…and didn’t realize that it closes at 2 pm (! yes, at 2 pm even in the summer…I’m clearly still accustomed to NY rushing around before yom tov). Is there any chance you guys have an extra brisket in your freezer that I can buy off of you? I know it sounds very very funny, but I’m not sure who else to ask since many people here seem to be veggie, or veggie-like (alas, Cambridge!). Worse case scenario, I’ll just cook chicken, but I’ve had this yearning for brisket …

And here was his response at 3:22:

… As for the roast, what we have in the freezer is a 3 pound square chuck roast which you are welcome to take …

In under 2 hours, I had completed my fruit and veggie shopping, returned my ZipCar, and arrived at the Ganz’s door to pick up the roast to defrost for the following evening. Meat would be mine and my guests’ for Friday night.

The Rebbetzin’s Roast, aka, Moroccan Brisket with Olives, Tomatoes, Onions, and Preserved Lemons

you can see the garlic cloves sticking out of the meat

Adapted from Joan Nathan’s The Foods of Israel Today. The original recipe calls for a 5- to 6-pound brisket for 10-12 servings, so I was afraid that a 3 pound chuck roast would not be nearly enough for my 8 guests (so of course I also made chicken) and we ended up having enough leftovers to feed me for lunch for several days. I had never made a chuck roast before and was not familiar with how it might differ from a brisket (and didn’t have much time to research), so I just took a leap and hoped for the best. This roast did not seem to shrink as much as a brisket does. I made a few substitutions (Goya Manzanilla Spanish olives with pits, canned preserved lemons), braised the meat in a pan that is way too big (I need a Dutch oven for anyone who cares), and the only complaint I have is that the roast didn’t quite slice as nicely as was hoping it would. Perhaps I didn’t let it cool sufficiently?

The flavors are intense – salty and tomato-ey and quite concentrated. One of the beauties of this dish is that everything can be prepared in advance and the flavors intensify over about a day.

Serves 8-10.

3-pound chuck roast

5 garlic cloves

salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

5 T vegetable oil, divided

4 large onions, diced and divided (recipe says this will yield 8 C…I got closer to 6)

1/2 t turmeric

1/2 t ground ginger

1/2 t ground white pepper

2 bay leaves

1 celery stalk, diced

3 large tomatoes, diced and divided

1 C water (or more)

jarred preserved lemons1 1/2 C green olives (recipe calls for pitted Moroccan olives; I used Goya Manzanilla Spanish olives with pits because that’s what I had)

2-3 preserved lemons, diced (these are not difficult to make — you essentially quarter lemons and pickle them in salt water for several weeks, but I had some Roland brand jarred ones (O-U) on hand that I had bought at Christina’s – see Resources)

1/4 C coarsely chopped parsley

1/4 C coarsely chopped fresh cilantro

Preheat oven to 350ºF.

Prepare the meat. Pierce skin of the roast with knife in 5 places and insert garlic cloves. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Heat 2 T oil in heavy skillet or roasting pan. Add the meat and sear on all sides (several minutes each side), then remove.

Prepare the veggies. Add 2 more T oil to the hot pan and sauté 3 of the chopped onions until limp. Add all the spices (turmeric, ginger, white pepper, bay leaves), celery, 1 diced tomato, and water to the pan. Sauté for 1-2 more minutes and let cool.

preparing vegetables, pre-roast

Cook the meat. Place roast in the baking pan and surround with the cooked vegetables.

roast surrounded by veggies, ready to go in oven

Roast the meat, covered, in the oven for 3 hours or until a fork goes in and out of the meat easily (I guess this is what is meant by the term “fork -016 sharptender”). Periodically check the roast to make sure that there is enough liquid in the pan. If you are using a big turkey pan (like I do since I do not own a Dutch oven…) that does not have a proper cover, you will probably need to check the roast periodically to make sure there is enough liquid. Otherwise, you might (like I did) end up with some lovely caramelized onions and tomatoes (which actually are quite lovely, but might not be quite the effect you are seeking). When ready, remove, cool, and refrigerate, reserving the vegetables. You can prepare this a day ahead of time.

Prepare the tomato-onion sauce. Heat the remaining 1T of oil in a frying pan and add the remaining 1 chopped onion. Saute until onions are translucent. Add the remaining 2 diced tomatoes and simmer, covered for a few minutes. Set aside or refrigerate overnight until ready to serve meat.

Slice and reheat meat. About an hour before your plan to serve the meat (or once meat has fully cooled — I probably didn’t wait long enough and tried to slice when still warm), cut it against the grain into slices ~1/4-inch thick. Return the slices to the baking an along with the reserved vegetables in which the meat was cooked (the tomato-celery-onion mix). Reheat the meat, covered, in a 350ºF oven for ~ 30 minutes.

Complete the sauce. Add to the tomato-onion mixture the olives, preserved lemons, and half of the parsley and cilantro (2 T each). Heat in a small saucepan.

olive-tomato-onion-preserved lemon sauce

Remove the brisket and arrange on serving platter with vegetables (caramelized or otherwise), covered with sauce and garnished with remaining 2 T each of parsley and cilantro. Don’t forget to pluck out the bay leaves.

rebbetzen's roast, a few days later

A special thank you to my gracious neighbor who took many process photos during the holiday when cooking is cool, but photo-taking, while uber-tempting for me, is not.

-016 sharp

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