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On Sunday, I watched the documentary film In Search of Israeli Cuisine as part of a celebration of Yom Ha’atzmaut, Israel’s independence day. Afterwards, a friend and I followed our grumbling stomachs to a nearby Israeli restaurant for an early dinner. (And, of course, dessert.) If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you know that I have a lot of wonderful things to say about Michael Solomonov, the film’s guide through the country and its restaurant and home kitchens.

Unable to get the food porn out of my head, I made a late lunch today inspired by sabich, an Iraqi sandwich often sold in Israel alongside falafel and schwarma. It’s a pita stuffed with fried eggplant, hard boiled eggs, chopped vegetables, hummus, and tehina, all drizzled with amba, a pickled mango sauce seasoned with turmeric and fenugreek.

Before we go any further, there’s some fun etymology to discuss – and you know how I like my etymology. First off, sabich. There are a few theories about the origins of the name of this sandwich introduced to Israel by Iraqi Jews who fled anti-Semitic violence in the 1040s and 50s. It may be a variation on sabah which means morning in Arabic and refers to the fact that Iraqi Jews eat cold eggplant and eggs and the mezze on shabbat morning. Or perhaps it’s a Hebrew acronym for the main ingredients – salat (salad), beitzim (eggs), chatzilim (eggplant). Or even the first name of an enterprising gentleman who opened a sabich stand soon after immigrating. As for the word amba, it is Sanskrit for mango and the ingredient is thought to be a version of mango chutney brought back from India by Baghdadi Jewish merchants.

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For my sandwich, I used what I had in the house. A hunk of rye. A small eggplant that I sliced and broiled. A few hard-boiled eggs that I guillotined with my newest gadget. Some tehina that I picked up at Seed + Mill. (Have you been yet? No? Well, what are you waiting for? Unless you don’t like fresh tehina, funky flavors of halva, and goat milk soft serve.) And a jar of amba. I ate it open faced and call it a tartine because I’m fancy like that.

For more history on sabich, read what Saveur published a few years back. For a more authentic recipe, see what Yotam Ottolenghi has to say on the topic. And if you live in New York and just want to eat, head over to Taim (kosher).

Sabich tartine

Not really a recipe, here are some guidelines to make a simplified sabich-style open-faced sandwich.

In my experience, sabich always makes a mess – probably because it’s usually served in over-stuffed pita – but a particularly damning one since amba stains whatever it drips on. Though a bit precious, I ate one of my tartines with knife and fork. The second one I folded in half, wrapped in several paper towels, and ate on the run as I rushed to pilates class. Classy, I know. You can also roll the ingredients into a tortilla. To make this Iraqi sandwich more traditional, chop up some tomato and cucumber salad salad, slice a  few pickles, and stuff everything into a pita with hummus. 

Makes 2 open-faced sandwiches

Turn on your broiler.

Put 2 eggs in a pot of cold water, bring to a boil, and then remove from heat, cover, and let sit for 10 minutes to cook (or just hard-cook them however you’d like). Run the eggs under cold water until cool enough to touch and remove shells. Thinly slice.

While the eggs are cooking, slice a small eggplant (mine was a petite 5-inch American/Italian variety) into ~1/4-inch rounds. Arrange the eggplant on a parchment-lined baking sheet, and brush each side with 1-2 tablespoons olive oil, and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Broil for 3-8 minutes (depends how close your pan is to the broiler) until starting to brown, and then flip and broil for another 3-8 minutes.

Mix 1/4 cup tehina with about 2 tablespoons cold water. It will seize up and thicken – that’s OK for now. Squeeze in half a lemon (about 2 tablespoons juice) and keep mixing. Stir in more cold water, teaspoon by teaspoon, until you reach the consistency you want. I wanted more of a spread (as opposed to a sauce), so I used about 3 tablespoons of water total.

Spread tehina on two slices of rye bread (I like Balthazar’s rye boule). Layer the eggs and eggplant. Drizzle with amba (I found mine at Holyland Market on Saint Mark’s Place).

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I thought I’d go Russian with the head of cabbage that had been rolling around in my fridge. Tall stems of dill lounged on the door, ends wrapped in a dampened towel, spiky fronds snuggled in a plastic bag. My initial thoughts veered towards a sharp vinegary slaw, with perhaps a pile of thinly shaved cucumbers à la The Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. Basic, simple, easy. But also a little predictable.

Then I contemplated cabbage soup – maybe shchi, which might possibly be as fun to say (think of ski, but with an sh) as to eat. But it was snowing out and I was in kitchen-clean-out mode and didn’t want to have to buy additional basics, though next time I have a spare carrot or two and a handful of potatoes, I’m coming after you, shchi.

Friends suggested other, more ambitious projects: sauerkraut, kimchi, stuffed, poached and roasted. Or slaw, sans dill, to top fish tacos. These days, simple seems to be the name of the game, though I owe you a bialy recipe that makes for a fun Sunday activity, if your idea of a fun Sunday morning is waking up 5 hours before everyone else wants brunch (sneak peek over here and here).

I carefully considered all of my options, thanked my friends for their contributions and inspiration, and as is typical for me, went in a completely different direction. I turned to Ottolenghi and found a miso-braised cabbage with only a handful of ingredients that I had (or had close-enough options) within easy reach. Like most braises, this is a pretty set-it-and-forget it recipe; you may recall that the trick with braising is low and slow. So with my current work-from-home schedule, these types of dishes do the trick with a gently warming oven and snow outside.

Ottolenghi introduces the recipe talking about the magic of this type of cooking as one “of simple transformation – of an ingredient changing from one thing to another as a result of little more than the application of time and heat.” Cabbage is sliced into wedges and bathed in a miso-broth mixture.  After several hours, the cabbage is a study in contrasts – spoon-tender core with thin crispy leaves that Ottolenghi likens to delicate, flaky, paper-thin phyllo dough.

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Miso-braised cabbage

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi in the Guardian. Bear in mind that the recipe is mainly hands-off, but does take about four hours start to finish.  

The recipe calls for two tablespoons of brown miso which has a very intense umami flavor. I used the milder white miso that I had in my fridge, and increased the amount to 3 tablespoons. I also drizzled the end product with soy sauce to up the umami factor. One morning, I topped a few wedges with an egg and called it breakfast. 

Makes 4 servings as a side. 

– 1 small white cabbage, trimmed and cut into 2-inch wide wedges (approximately 8 pieces)
– 1 1/4 C unsalted vegetable broth
– 3 T white miso paste
– Salt
– 1 lemon, quartered
– optional: 3/4 C sour cream (I used Greek yogurt)
– optional: soy sauce

Heat. Heat the oven to 390F. Put the cabbage wedges in a small high-sided roasting tray or baking dish, so that they are packed closely together.

Boil. Pour the stock into a small saucepan with the miso paste and a quarter-teaspoon of salt. Bring up to a boil, stirring constantly so the miso dissolves, then pour over the cabbage: it should come halfway up the sides of the pan.

Roast. Cover the pan tightly with foil and roast for 20 minutes.

Lower heat. Turn down the heat to 300F, and cook for two hours more, turning the cabbage over halfway through. Remove the foil, baste the cabbage and cook for an hour and a half longer, until almost all of the liquid has been absorbed and the cabbage is crisp and a deep golden-brown.

Eat. Serve the braised cabbage warm, with a dollop of sour cream alongside and a wedge of lemon, to squeeze over. Drizzle with soy sauce to taste.

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Rachel has started a weekly column in The Guardian called “Kitchen Sink Tales.” Each column starts with a photo of her Roman sink, filled with the freshest of produce straight from the market. Already her stories and recipes have sent me out to the store and then to the stove to cook up warm, inviting, homey dishes. Most recently I created a mishmash of two of her recipes: broccoli ripassati and white beans with wilted greens.

I started with the broccoli. In the original recipe, you boil a couple heads until they’re almost water-logged cafeteria fare. I know that doesn’t sound appealing, but bear with me; luckily you don’t stop there. You cook the broccoli even more, this time in a pan with a nice glug of olive oil, garlic and red pepper until it forms a creamy sauce excellent for tossing with pasta or topping toast (with a fried egg for good measure). I made the broccoli and stopped just shy of sauce for a chunkier version.

I mixed the broccoli with a can of cannelini beans spiffed up, à la Rachel’s wilted greens recipe, with some celery and onion that I had chopped but didn’t need for stuffing. Sure, it might be better with dried beans, lovingly soaked overnight and simmered for an hour or two, but I had what I had and I was thrilled with the results. What ended up in the bowl wasn’t company fare, really, but perfect for a hearty stay-at-home lunch.

white beans and broccoli

White beans with broccoli

Adapted from Rachel Roddy’s recipe for broccoli ripassati and white beans with wilted greens.

– 1 lb broccoli, separated into florets

– 4 T olive oil, separated

– 1/2 C onion, chopped

– 1/2 C celery, chopped

– 2 15-oz cans cannellini beans, rinsed and drained

– 3 cloves garlic, minced

– 1 – 1 1/2 t red pepper flakes, to taste

– salt and pepper

Boil. Bring a large pot of well-salted water to a fast boil – depending on the size of your pot, this may take quite some time. Get started on the rest of the recipe while you wait (and wait and wait).

Cook. Meanwhile, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large deep frying pan over a medium flame. Cook the onions and celery until softened and fragrant and the onions turn translucent, about 7-8 minutes. Drop the flame to low and add the beans, a 1/2 teaspoon salt, a few grinds of pepper and 1/4 cup of the boiling water. Heat the beans, stirring gently, until warm, about 5 minutes. Empty into a bowl and set aside. Taste for for salt and pepper and adjust seasoning. Don’t clean the pan – you’ll be using it in just a moment.

Keep boiling. By now, your huge pot of salty water is vigorously boiling. Add the broccoli and cook until they can easily be pierced by a fork, around 5-7 minutes.

Saute. While the broccoli is boiling, in the frying pan that you just cleared the beans out of, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil over a low flame. Gently saute the garlic and 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes (you can always add more later) for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to burn the garlic.

Cook. Use a slotted spoon to lift the cooked broccoli from the water into the frying pan with the garlic. Raise the flame to medium-low and move the broccoli around the pan so each piece is well-coated with the garlic-pepper mix. Allow the broccoli to stew for a few minutes, stirring with a wooden spoon, during which time it will break up, taking on an almost creamy aspect with a few stalks still recognizable.

Stir. Add the bean mixture to the pan with the broccoli and stir to warm everything up again, another couple of minutes.

Serve. I ate this as is, but I imagine it would be great with a squeeze of lemon and a shower of parmesan.

 

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I received an email the other day. The subject: Made this soup and thought of you.

sweet potato chickpea stew

The message was from my friend Nachama who I met in Boston several years back. We lived just a few blocks from each other and used to go to the gym together. It’s hard for me to motivate to exercise, so it was great having a buddy. She’d run on the treadmill, I’d swoosh along on the elliptical, and we’d meet up at the end to stretch.

Nachama now lives in DC. In her email, she described the soup: “It was warm, simple but tasty, smooth and thick, and had just a pinch of kick – reminded me of the times we would bunker down in the Boston cold and watch movies at your place.”

This was all the impetus I needed to pull out a large pot and get cooking this chickpea soup that, according to recipe, hails from Madagascar. Its base is a sweet potato broth that you make from scratch (or buy in a box). Toast a handful of spices (including types of red chile) with garlic, then add the broth, a splash of coconut milk, and a big pile of spicy mustard greens, and chickpeas.

After an hour and a half, the greens wilt into the broth and the whole mess thickens to a stew. I invited over some friends and we crowded around my table to finish most of the pot. We ate it with spoons, but forks would have worked just as well.

Thanks, Nachama, for the recipe and inspiration!

Sweet potato chickpea stew

Adapted from this recipe. If  you don’t want to make the broth from scratch, either substitute with sweet potato broth, or make a semi-homemade broth by simmering 3 sweet potatoes in 8 cups of vegetable broth and then pureeing with an immersion blender. 

Makes 12 servings.

For the sweet potato broth:

– 3 tablespoons olive oil
– 1 medium onion, sliced
– 3 celery ribs, chopped
– 3 carrots, chopped
– 3 large sweet potato, peeled and quartered
– Kosher salt
– Freshly ground black pepper
– 8 cups water

For the stew:

– 4 garlic cloves, chopped
– 2 T olive oil
– 2 t dried crushed red pepper
– 2 t ground red pepper
– 2 t ground coriander
– 1/2 t ground turmeric
– 8 C Sweet Potato Broth (recipe above)
– 2 C unsweetened coconut milk
– 1 bunch fresh mustard greens, chopped
– 3 (15-oz.) cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
Make broth:
Cook. Heat olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Add onion, celery, and carrot. Cook, stirring often, 8 to 10 minutes or until vegetables are tender. Add sweet potato, desired amount of kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, and water. Increase heat to high, and bring to a boil.
Simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 30 to 35 minutes or until sweet potato is tender. Discard cloves. Let mixture stand 15 minutes.
Puree. Use an immersion blender to puree until smooth. Season with salt and pepper. Use immediately, or cool completely, and refrigerate in an airtight container up to 5 days.
Make stew:
Toast. Sauté garlic in hot oil in a large saucepan over medium heat 1 minute; add red peppers, coriander, and turmeric. Cook 1 to 2 more minutes or until fragrant.
Boil. Stir in sweet potato broth, coconut milk, and greens. Bring to a gentle boil; add chickpeas.
Simmer. Reduce heat to low, and simmer about 1 1/2 hours or until greens are soft. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

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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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When I came home from Sicily, zucchini (and its family) season was in full swing. Tender, thin-skinned squash was everywhere. Yellow and green, solid and striped, eight-ball and pattypan.

There were squash blossoms too, and I picked a few myself when I spent the day out in Brooklyn with Edible Schoolyard NYC (check out this photo of my colleagues here), weeding a border along the fence separating the school garden from the street. There is an art to collecting these long yellow flowers, I learned. You only take the male ones (the females, with a bulb of an ovary along the stem, when fertilized form the fruit, er, squash) and you have to give each a good shake to scare any bees out. Otherwise you’ll end up with a bag of buzzing blossoms. Now you know.

This year, I’ve gone sweet with my squash, baking up a zucchini cake with two types of chocolate – cocoa and bittersweet shards. The recipe comes from Chocolate & Zucchini, one of the first blogs I ever read and a huge inspiration for my own. The cake itself is more rich than saccharine, with a deep dark chocolate flavor and a crumb moist with flecks of zucchini. I like to bake it in a loaf pan – which is how I like to bake most of my cakes – but you can fancy it up in a round or bundt if you’d like.

Before we get to the recipe, a little reading. First off, Luisa wrote about the language of food workshop that I attended at Case Vecchie in Sicily last month. And Rachel, our other teacher, has written so convincingly about the importance of a good tomato sauce that I’m considering buying a food mill to make my own smooth silky sugo to coat a bowl of (homemade, hopefully soon) pasta. Finally, women talk about balancing motherhood with the realities of restaurant life.

chocolate and zucchini bread

Chocolate and zucchini cake

Adapted from Chocolate & Zucchini. I use olive oil to make the cake non-dairy. The batter is very thick and you may need to use some strength to smooth out the top once you’ve wrestled it into the pan. 

If you do want to go savory with your zucchini, try it raw, roasted, or tucked into a frittata

– 1/2 C olive oil or room temperature butter, plus more for greasing the pan

– 2 C flour

– 1/2 C unsweetened Dutch cocoa powder

– 1 t baking soda

– 1/2 t baking powder

– 1 t fine sea salt

– 1 C granulated sugar

– 1 t pure vanilla extract

– 2 T strong cooled coffee or 1 t instant coffee granules

– 3 large eggs

– 2 C unpeeled grated zucchini, from about 1 1/2 medium zucchini

– 6 oz good-quality bittersweet chocolate, roughly chopped (about 1 C)

olive oil

Prep. Preheat the oven to 350°F. Grease a 9-inch by 3-inch loaf pan.

Whisk. In a medium mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking soda, baking powder, and salt.

Mix. In the bowl of a mixer (or by hand in a large mixing bowl), beat the sugar and oil or butter until fluffy. Add the vanilla, coffee, and eggs, mixing well between each addition.

Combine. In a large mixing bowl, combine the zucchini, chocolate chips, and about a third of the flour mixture, making sure the zucchini strands are well coated and not clumping too much. This will help make sure that the zucchini and chocolate don’t just sink to the bottom of the cake.

Fold. Add the rest of the flour mixture into the egg batter. Mix until just combined; the batter will be thick. Fold the zucchini mixture into the batter, and blend with a spatula without overmixing. Pour into the prepared cake pan, and level the surface.

Bake. Bake for 40 to 50 minutes, until a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Transfer onto a rack to cool for 10 minutes, run a knife around the pan to loosen, and turn on to a cooking rack.

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shabbat table

Shabbat shalom from my apartment!

Well, this photo was actually last shabbat, but one week later, I get to say the same thing! If you look closely, you’ll notice that nothing really matches, but most of the stuff sort of “goes.” When I left Boston, a friend helped me pack and, more than anything else, she helped me purge. She convinced me to get rid of my service for twelve and only bring down six meat plates and four dairy plates. She said that I’d never have an apartment large enough to entertain more than six people.

Well shame on me for listening. Last Friday, I cooked for seven (and a baby). If you look closely, you’ll see there’s only enough for six on the table. One of my friends is typically late and I didn’t expect her until dessert. When she showed up pretty close to on time, I had to scramble. I managed to assemble a blue, white, and yellow mishmash of a table.

The menu took shape when I decided to make my favorite carrots. Then, still thinking of Paris and my favorite foods from the late great Les Ailes restaurant, I decided to make chreime – a spicy Tunisian fish stew – as the main event since I had a few non-meat eaters in the crowd. I rounded things out with haricots verts tossed in garlic scape dressing and roasted potatoes, straight from the farmers market.

chreime

We started out with bowls of cucumber gazpacho, a cross between this recipe and this one, essentially cucumbers, onion, avocado, sherry vinegar, yogurt and bread.

As usual, I was afraid that I wouldn’t have enough food, so I burnt a few eggplants and mixed the flesh with a dash of tahini and pomegranate molasses à la Ottolenghi.

burnt eggplant

It’s hard to make mushed eggplant look good, but a sprinkle of parsley helps.

Ottolenghi's burnt eggplant with tahina

After dinner, we retired to the couch and ate dessert clustered around my coffee table. I spread out a cloth and piled on the desserts. There was a magnificent almond cake, a chocolate zucchini loaf (I promise to share), and a massive plate of watermelon and berries.

Have a great weekend, all!

Burnt eggplant with tehina and pomegranate

Adapted from Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty. You can also add some chopped cucumber and/or halved cherry tomatoes. If you have pomegranate seeds, they would be lovely to sprinkle on top. Since this was a last minute addition to my dinner, I just used what I had. 

Makes about 2 cups

– 3 medium eggplant

– 1/2 C tehina

– 1/3 C water

– 2 T pomegranate molasses

– 2 T lemon juice

– 2 garlic cloves, crushed

– 1/4 C chopped parsley

– salt and pepper

Burn. Poke several holes in the eggplants with a fork or sharp knife. Put them on a foil- or parchment-lined tray and place directly under a hot broiler for about an hour, turning them a few times, The eggplants need to deflate completely and their skin should burn and break.

Drain. When the eggplant is cool enough to handle, scoop out the flesh into a colander, avoiding the blackened skin. Leave to train for at least 30 minutes.

Mix. Chop the eggplant flesh roughly and transfer to a medium mixing bowl. Add the tehina, water, pomegranate molasses, lemon juice, garlic, parsley, a pinch or two of salt, and a grind of pepper. Mix well. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more garlic, lemon juice, or molasses if needed. You want the salad to have a robust sour/slightly sweet flavor.

***

Chreime (Spicy Tunisian fish stew)

Just barely adapted from Lior Lev Sercarz‘s recipe in Saveur. I doubled the recipe and added some crushed tomatoes so make a soupier dish. I couldn’t find small red Thai chilis, so I substituted larger serranos and added the seeds to the mix – the result was only a little spicy, so I might add more next time. I made the sauce first in a large skillet, then divided it between two skillets so the fish would have enough room to cook.

Serves 8 – 10

– 3 lbs fish such as sea bass or grouper, cut into 4- to 5-ounce filets

– 1/4 C fresh lemon juice

– kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

– 1/2 C olive oil

– 20 cloves garlic, roughly chopped

– 5 serrano chilis, stemmed and finely chopped

– 1 6-oz can tomato paste

– 1 28-oz can crushed tomatoes

– 2 C water

– 3 C minced cilantro

Marinate. Combine fish, juice, salt, and paper in a bowl; set aside.

Cook. Heat oil in a large (at least 12-inch) skillet over medium-high heat. Add garlic and chiles (including seeds); cook, stirring until soft 1-2 minutes. Add paste; cook, stirring until slightly caramelized, about 5 minutes. Add crushed tomatoes, cilantro, and water; boil. Reduce heat to medium; cook until sauce is slightly reduced, 6-8 minutes.

Simmer. Split the sauce between two large skillets. Divide fish between the two skillets, skin side up, with its juice and cover; cook until fish is done, 18 – 20 minutes.

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Last month, en route to Sicily, I stopped in Paris for a few days. I hung out with my good friend Laurence and we visited some of my old haunts from when I spent the summer of 2007 taking dance classes. I wrote about that summer and my brief return for The Forward, and published a recipe for the spicy Tunisian carrot salad that I discovered nearly a decade ago.

It’s funny – I had an abnormally difficult time writing this article. In general, I’m a harsh self-critic and I think that when I’m close to a topic, like writing about a time that holds special meaning to me, I have a hard time creating editorial distance. That’s how I’m feeling about my most recent trip to Sicily. I’ve committed to writing a few articles for the Forward about my travel, and I’m really excited about them (fig sorbet, anyone?) but I’m having trouble writing anything here. I’m hoping with enough distance, and perhaps in dribs and drabs, I’ll be able to really capture what was so amazing about my trip – why it came at the perfect time for me, what it meant, what it means to have given myself such a luxurious gift.

In the interim, I’ve copied below my article about Paris, the month that I spent there, and the carrots that I prepare to take me back.

spicy Tunisian carrot salad

Say Paris, and most people envision the Eiffel tower, a pyramid of colorful macarons , a bicycle ride with a baguette poking out of the front basket. But Paris for me is captured in a bowl of spicy shredded carrots. A cross between traditional French carottes râpées (a grated carrot salad mixed with little more than lemon juice, olive oil, parsley, and a pinch of sugar) and Middle Eastern harissa-spiced cooked carrots, this Tunisian raw carrot slaw screams summer in Paris to me.

Picture this: It’s Saturday afternoon, July 2007, and I’m sitting in Luxembourg Garden, nestled between the student-filled Latin Quarter where I’m subletting for the month and the trendy Saint-Germain-des-Près where the great intellectuals of France once congregated in cafes. I’ve made the Kiddush blessing over wine at the flat and brought the rest of my lunch for a picnic in the park.

The lawns are lush and manicured, people mostly sitting on chairs rather than sprawled out in the grass, obeying the signs saying “ interdit .” In awe of this politesse , I grab my own brightly-painted green seat and pull up a second as a table. A portable chreime, the fiery Sephardic fish stew, concentrated into boulettes de poisson (much more appealing to say than fish balls) and a thickened sauce, smushed onto a baguette. Merguez sausage. Plastic containers of cold salads: spicy shredded carrots, roasted eggplant and peppers, potatoes. A tart of concentric berries. A wedge of chocolate cake. All for me.

Just two days earlier, I had landed at Charles de Gaulle airport with a backpack stuffed with a computer, flip flops, a pair of tap shoes, and ballet slippers. My luggage stranded in London, my summer waiting in France. First thing Friday morning, I made a beeline to the grands magasins department stores on Boulevard Haussmann for a shopping spree courtesy of the airline.

A few basic outfits in hand, I set out to find some of the kosher restaurants I had marked on my map with big red Xs. Several were on Rue Richer and I found the street by following historic landmark signs directing me to the Folies-Bergère cabaret music hall. There was a line in front of the iconic building’s art deco marquee, but rather than looking for tickets, the crowd was queuing to pick up their Shabbat feasts from Les Ailes, the Tunisian-owned restaurant and traiteur take-out counter next door.

I took my place after the last person and quickly found myself face-to-face with a (luckily very patient) waiter. We were separated by my elementary vocabulary and several meters of glass-encased salads, vegetables, meats, fish and pastries. With a lot of pointing and stammering, I managed to amass two bags full of food. In an act of generous hospitality, my new friend threw in a few extra challah rolls and a big container of unassuming-looking shredded carrots.

My luggage eventually found its way to me, and for the remainder of the month I took classes in the mirrored studios of Centre de Danse du Marais with a view of the Centre Pompidou on one side and the old Jewish neighborhood on the other. Every week, I made my Friday trek to Les Ailes, eventually narrowing down my order to my favorite choices (which I could now request with confidence) and always asking for an extra serving of the spicy carottes râpées . The piquant salad would last all week in the teeny-tiny frigo in my apartment. Some mornings, I took a few nibbles before heading out. Many nights, I ate a bowl before a late-night crêpe with lemon and sugar. The carrots quenched any type of hunger I had.

Last month, I returned to Paris and visited good friends and old haunts. We had lunch in le Marais and walked past Notre Dame to lounge on chairs in the Luxembourg Gardens. One night, we went to see a cirque de soleil-like performance at the renovated and gilded Folies-Bergère. I knew that Les Ailes next door had closed, but it was still a shock to see its rainbow of salads replaced by a whole new storefront.

In the intervening years, I sought to recreate the carrot salad that carried me through that summer. I collected recipes and compared techniques. How best to prepare the vegetables: Cooked in chunks? Sliced thin on a mandolin? Shredded in a food processor? Should the salad be sinus-clearing spicy? What about using raw garlic? In the end, I believe I have perfected my own interpretation of Les Ailes’ spicy carottes râpées , so whenever I want to remember my summer in Paris, I pull out a few ingredients and I am transported.

Spicy Tunisian Carrot Salad (Carottes Râpées à la Tunisienne)

Adapted from the late Gil Marks’ Moroccan raw carrot salad (shlata chizo) published in Olive Trees and HoneyI’m not sure of the actual provenance of this salad — Moroccan? Tunisian? — but since it uses harissa and was inspired by the Tunisian restaurant Les Ailes in Paris, I’ve decided to call it Tunisian. You can use a food processor to grate the carrots, but I prefer to use a julienned peeler, which results in long, uniform carrot strands that soften just enough when absorbing the spicy liquid to become a little floppy; when I’ve used a food processor or box grater, the carrots quickly become a droopy soupy mess.

Wrapped well, the carrot salad keeps in the refrigerator for several days.

Makes about 2 cups

– 1 pound carrots, peeled and grated
– ¼ cup fresh lemon juice (about 2 lemons)
– ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
– 2 teaspoons cumin
– 1 teaspoon sweet paprika
– ½ teaspoon hot paprika
– ½ teaspoon sumac
– 1 teaspoon salt
– 2 teaspoons silan or honey
– 1-2 teaspoons harissa, to taste
– 2 tablespoons chopped parsley and/or cilantro

Mix. In a very large bowl, mix the carrots, lemon juice, oil, spices, salt, silan/honey and 1 teaspoon of harissa. Taste and adjust heat with more harissa if you’d like.

Sprinkle. Just before serving, sprinkle with herbs.

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morning pages

I just got back from that big trip I mentioned a few weeks back. I started with two days in Paris. Then, Sicily where I spent a week at Anna Tasca Lanza cooking school for a food writing course taught by Luisa Weiss and Rachel Roddy and rounded out the rest of my trip with a few beach days in Cefalu on the northern coast of the island. There’s so much to process and write about the past two weeks – in short it was vacation far dreamier than I could have imagined – but for now, you can check out my Instagram for some photos. Here’s one of my favorites.

aprons

I came home yesterday to bagels and lox. My parents had been in town while I was gone and spent their last night at my place, so when I walked into my apartment with my suitcase on its last legs, er wheels, my mom was there with a true New York welcome. There were also some take-out leftovers, including a container of rice.

Fridays are greenmarket day in my neighborhood and I went a little overboard with all the goodies that hadn’t been in season when I left: zucchini, cherries, garlic scapes! There will probably be a raw summer squash something coming out of my kitchen in the next day or two; the Short Stack that arrived before I headed out should come in handy right about now.

Until then, there’s soup. Yes, it’s summer. But while we were in Sicily at Case Vecchie (the name of the courtyard where the school is located), we ate soup several times, including a smooth fava bean concoction called macco and a more rustic minestra di tennerumi made from the tender vines of long cucuzzo squashes. So, back in my kitchen, I got my cooking sea legs back with a simple soup of rice leftovers and canned tomatoes and not much more.

No food photo today, though. One of things we discussed during the course was morning pages, a discipline of writing every morning – before coffee, before checking any technology – on paper, and for 12 minutes. We did a lot of timed writing exercises and I found I enjoyed writing in concentrated spurts. So now, as I settle back into real life, I’m committed to doing morning pages. I’ve set a notebook and pen by my bed and started this morning. As an extension of that, I’d like to do some more spontaneous writing here. That will probably mean more posts and recipes with fewer photos, but I think that’s a fair trade.

PS – I’ll probably take some photos tomorrow and post them after the recipe. Some habits are hard to break, but this way I’ll at least get things on proverbial paper rather than waiting for the right light and perfect angle.

Tomato rice soup

Adapted from Mark Bitman’s recipe in the New York Times. The wine is optional, but this soup was good enough reason to uncork a red; a big (but not huge) California cabernet worked well here. Feel free to play around with herbs (cilantro or parsley would be nice) and spices (I’m thinking cumin, or thyme). Or keep the soup as is and top with a sprinkling of parmesan. Or not. This soup is lovely in its utter simplicity. 

UPDATE 6/27: Last night, I ate the soup with shredded parmesan, but this morning I buzzed it with an immersion blender and sprinkled some fresh cilantro. Today’s version feels a bit fancier and could be served as a non-dairy cream of tomato soup. Yes, I ate it for breakfast with my coffee. The soup does thicken overnight as the rice absorbs more liquid, so I’ve modified the below recipe to increase the amount of water. 

Makes about 1o cups

– 2 T olive oil

– 1 onion, chopped

– 2 cloves garlic, minced

– 2 T tomato paste

– 1/3 C dry red wine

– 2 C cooked rice

– 4 C water

–  1 28-oz can (about 3 C) chopped tomatoes

– sea salt, to taste

Cook. Heat olive oil over medium heat until shimmering. Add onion and cook until softened and golden, about 8-10 minutes. Add garlic and cook for another 2 minutes – lower the heat if the garlic starts to brown too much. Add the tomato paste and cook for another 5 minutes. By this point, the bottom of your pot should be nice and brown.

Pour. Deglaze the pan with the wine, scraping up all those brown bits.

Stir. Add the cooked rice and a generous pinch of salt. Stir to break up the rice. Taste, adding a bit more salt if necessary.

Simmer. Add the water and chopped tomatoes. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat. Simmer for 10 minutes until the rice is heated through. Add more water to get the soup the consistency you’d like. Optional: buzz with an immersion blender.

UPDATE 6/27: a photo!

tomato rice soup

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Ok, so this little salad may not have much going for it in the looks department, but I had to share because it’s such a simple idea that I couldn’t not let you in on it.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

I’m in kitchen scrounging mode as I try to empty my fridge before I head out on a little trip (ok, a big trip; more on that to come), and made a list on a pink sticky of things to use up before I go: 1 zucchini, 2 stalks rhubarb, 1/2 bunch kale, 1/2 cucumber, 2 avocados, 2 cheeses (Consider Bardwell Farm’s Danby goat’s milk cheese and a sheep’s feta), yogurt, and 4 lemons.

I had bookmarked Deb’s obsessively good avocado cucumber salad a while back and was excited that I had the two key ingredients in the title. I started chopping things into cubes before I bothered to read the rest of the list. Here’s how that went (I’m sure you’ve been here too):

Mayo. Nope.

Lime. Nope.

Hot sauce. Yup, several.

Cilantro or parsley. Nope, nope.

I craved the combination of creamy – spicy – fresh and I needed to do some major substitutions fast. Yogurt for mayo. Lemon for lime. I had Sriracha, which is what Deb recommends,  but I was getting caught up in wanting herbs. I almost, almost, ran out to buy some parsley. And then, I remembered I had schug.

Earlier this year, my friend Adeena had given me a jar of this Yemenite hot sauce, green with cilantro and little peppers, piquant with garlic, cumin, and a dash of cardamom.  The recipe is Gil Hovav’s – he’s an Israeli chef and writer and all-around fun character – and he made a huge batch in Adeena’s kitchen a few months ago when they had a series of Yemenite pop-up dinners. (The recipe says you can store schug refrigerated up to 3 weeks, but I’ve had mine for months with no sign of spoilage.  Use that information as you will.)

I’d eaten schug before, typically in Israel where it and Moroccan harissa are served alongside falafel. Both are referred to by the generic Hebrew word harif – spicy – and I like to dribble a little of each into a hummus- and salad-filled pita. Halfway through my sandwich, I would go back for more. It never occurred to me to use it in other ways until Adeena served it alongside an ooze-y round of brie and a scattering of super thin crackers. I repeated this cheese plate combo at my own birthday celebration.

Thinking about how well the schug went with dairy, it seemed a good option to mix with yogurt in my salad, with the added benefit of well preserved, once fresh herbs. So, I scooped out some Greek yogurt, stirred in a timid dash of schug and a pinch of salt, thinned it out with lemon juice and olive oil, and then, after tasting, added another good dollop of schug – just enough to set my tongue tingling but not so much that it would overtake the cooling cucumber and velvety avocado.

cucumber avocado salad with schug

PS – Schug is great smeared on bread and topped with a fried egg. Mmmm….

PPS – I’ve used up the rhubarb too with these little rhubarb almond cakes. I followed the recipe more or less as is, using almond flour instead of grinding my own and reducing the baking time to 45 minutes or so for a dozen 4-inch little tart pans.

rhubarb almond cakes

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