Jewish food

Best Hummus

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Despite the fact that hummus is the most popular snack and you can buy dozens of different kinds in every supermarket, I still make my own. And every time, a different recipe, always trying for perfection.

I served a version seasoned with zatar and garnished with toasted pine nuts once for an election night get-together.

I've made hummus using dried chick peas and canned.

One year the guests at my annual Break-the-Fast declared that year's hummus the best they ever tasted.

But apparently last year's Break-the-Fast version topped even that! 

So here is the recipe: easy to make, terrific for entertaining, for snacks, as a sandwich spread. Perfect all year, perfect for break-the-fast.

 

Lemony-Garlic Hummus

  • 1 can chickpeas (about one pound)

  • 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

  • 1/2 cup tahini

  • 2 large cloves garlic

  • 1 teaspoon paprika

  • 1/2 teaspoon zatar

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • cayenne pepper to taste (I use 1/8 teaspoon)

  • chopped parsley, optional, about 2-3 tablespoons

  • zatar, optional

  • pita bread or chips

Drain the chickpeas but reserve the liquid. Place the chickpeas, lemon juice, tahini, garlic, paprika, zatar, salt and cayenne pepper in a food processor. Process until you reach the texture you like, adding 3-4 tablespoons of the reserved chickpea liquid if you prefer it smoother and softer. Spoon into a serving bowl. Sprinkle with optional parsley and zatar. Serve with pita bread or chips.

Makes about 1-1/2 cups.

Baked Apples with Date Honey

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If you've never tried date honey, you've been missing something delicious in your life. I've been using it for years in all sorts of dishes from Rosh Hashanah Honey Cake to the Thanksgiving sweet potatoes.

It isn't bee honey. Date honey (known as Silan) is a syrup made from dates. It's thick and sweet like honey, but bee honey has more hints of spice, nuts or flowers, date honey is richer and more mellow.

I have tried several brands and like Date Lady* because of its smooth texture. Last summer, at the Fancy Food show I tasted the company's new California Date Syrup and absolutely loved it. The California syrup has a buttery taste, while the classic middle eastern variety is more molasses-y. Both are wonderful but I preferred the California syrup for delicate dishes such as baked apples and the bolder syrup for breads, cakes and muffins.

The California syrup works perfectly for baked apples, one of our traditional Rosh Hashanah desserts.

*I was not paid for this post. I just happen to love this product.

Baked Apples with Date Honey

  • 4 baking apples
  • 1/4 cup raisins
  • 1/4 cup diced dried figs
  • 2 teaspoons grated fresh orange peel
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/8 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 1/4 cup date honey
  • 1/2 cup orange juice
  • 1/2 cup water
  • 2 tablespoons sugar, optional

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Wash the apples and remove the core with an apple corer or small knife, leaving about 1/2" on the bottom.  Peel the apples halfway down from the top and place them in a baking dish. Mix the raisins, dates, orange peel, cinnamon, nutmeg and date honey. Stuff this mixture into the apple hollows. Mix the juice and water (plus extra sugar if desired) and pour over the apples. Bake for 45 minutes, basting occasionally with the pan juices, or until the apples are tender. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Makes 4 servings

 

 

 

 

 

Roasted Salmon with Chive Flowers

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On a recent trip to an Asian supermarket in Queens, New York, I bought a lot of interesting vegetables. Greens -- Chinese broccoli, bok choy, yau choy and cabbage -- and some herbs, including chive flowers (pictured above). 

Chive flowers are just like ordinary chives, except they've been allowed to mature and produce an actual flower. As a result, they are thicker and have a somewhat bolder flavor than regular chives.

I used them to season salmon one night. This dish couldn't be simpler. Takes about 5 minutes to prepare and 15 minutes to cook.

How easy is that!

Roasted Salmon with Chive Flowers

  • 24-32 ounces salmon
  • 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons chopped chives
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. Place the salmon in a baking dish. Mix the mustard, olive oil and garlic together in a small bowl and spread this mixture evenly on top of the fish. Sprinkle with the chives, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Roast for about 15 minutes, depending on the thickness of the fish, or until the fish is cooked to desired doneness and the top is crispy-browned. 

Makes 4 servings

Tahini Turmeric and Mjadra

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I have made mjadra (mujadara) so often I can't even count the ways. It's a family favorite that I serve on special occasions (the #1 item at my Yom Kippur Break-the-Fast), at somber times (the Nine Days), for holidays (my Thanksgiving vegetarian entree) and sometimes just for any old meatless meal. 

I've made mujadara using bulgur wheat and brown rice, barley and kaniwa

But I never made it with wild rice or with white rice. In fact, I hadn't even thought about that possibility until I got Vicky Cohen and Ruth Fox's new cookbook: tahini & turmeric; 101 Middle Eastern Classics Made Irresistibly Vegan.

This is one gorgeous book, stuffed with recipes that anyone who loves good food, or who is kosher or a vegetarian or even a hearty carnivore and even a vegan-skeptic would find -- yes -- irresistible.

There were (still are) so many recipes I want to try. I've followed Vicky and Ruth's blog for years and have cooked many of the dishes in their posts, every one of them a winner.

But when I saw the recipe for Mjadra, I knew that had to be the first from the book.

It was as delicious as any version of this dish I have ever tried. The addition of pomegranate molasses to the onions gave the dish a faint, lush tang. The authors suggest one of two sauces to accompany the grains. I prepared the (vegan) Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (which is also paired in the book with Zucchini Fritters -- a delicious-sounding recipe that I will try next to see how the taste compares with my own, non-vegan version).

Every recipe sounds and looks tempting. Over the summer I will try my hand at the Tangy Roasted Carrot Hummus -- a quick and easy hors d'oeuvre for the company I am sure to have. And because I love all versions of Shakshuka, I will definitely try the interesting Chickpea and Pepper Shashuka -- with rounds of polenta taking the place of the traditional eggs! (It's the recipe on the book cover.) Before the High Holidays I am going to try the spectacular-sounding Creamy Tahini Cheesecake with Pistachio Crust and Fresh Pomegranate. 

I could go on and on. I rarely post about cookbooks, but this one is special, and comes in handy particularly this week, when the Nine Days begin and observant Jews will be eating meatless meals. 

Good luck with the book Vicky and Ruth!

WILD RICE MJADRA

Our take on this classic Middle Eastern dish incorporates wild rice and sautéed on-ions, as opposed to fried, for a healthier version. We also cook the rice, lentils, and onions separately, and then mix them together right before serving. This is a fool-proof method to prevent the mjadra from becoming mushy.

Traditionally, this dish is served topped with a cucumber yogurt sauce, which we made using nondairy yogurt (see Zucchini Fritters with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce, page 26). While we were growing up, our dad always ate it with his favorite Spicy Israeli Salsa (page 62), made with freshly picked tomatoes and cucumbers from his garden.

Store in the refrigerator for up to four days.

Prep time: 10 minutes

Cook time: 50 minutes

Makes 6 to 8 servings

INGREDIENTS:

WILD RICE:

½ cup uncooked wild rice

½ teaspoon salt

LENTILS:

1 cup dried French green lentils,

picked over and rinsed well

½ teaspoon salt

WHITE RICE:

1 cup uncooked basmati rice

1 teaspoon salt

SAUTÉED ONIONS:

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 large onion, sliced

¼ teaspoon salt

1/8 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tablespoon pomegranate molasses

            (see page 132 for homemade)

Cucumber Yogurt Sauce (page 26) or Spicy Israeli Salsa (page 62), to serve

Prepare the wild rice: Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a medium-size saucepan over high heat. Add the wild rice and salt. Bring again to a boil, lower the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 40 to 45 minutes, or until tender. Remove from the heat, drain well, and set aside.

Prepare the lentils: Bring 4 cups of water to a boil in a large saucepan over high heat. Add the lentils and salt. Lower the heat to medium and cook, uncovered, for 18 to 20 minutes, or until the lentils are soft but not mushy. Remove from the heat, drain well, and set aside.

Prepare the basmati rice: In a medium-size saucepan, bring 1½ cups of water to a boil in a separate medium-size saucepan over high heat. Add the basmati rice and salt. Return to a boil, lower the heat to low, and simmer, covered, for 20 minutes, until the water has been absorbed and the rice is tender. Remove from the heat and set aside, covered.

Prepare the onion: Heat the olive oil in a large, nonstick skillet. Add the sliced onion, salt, and pepper, and cook over high heat for 5 minutes, stirring often. Lower the heat to medium-low and cook for 15 minutes. Add the pomegranate molasses and continue to cook for another 5 minutes, or until the onion turns dark golden brown.

Assemble the mjadra: Combine the cooked wild and basmati rice, the cooked lentils, and the onion in a large bowl, and toss well. Serve warm, topped with Cucumber Yogurt Sauce or Spicy Israeli Salsa.

Referenced recipes:

CUCUMBER YOGURT SAUCE:

½ cup plain unsweetened coconut or CASHEW YOGURT

1½ teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ teaspoon salt

1 small cucumber, peeled and cut into small dice

SPICY ISRAELI SALSA:

1 pound assorted colored tomatoes, diced small

5 to 6 Persian cucumbers, diced small

2 to 3 jalapeño peppers, diced small

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

¼ to ½ teaspoon salt

HOMEMADE POMEGRANATE MOLASSES:

6 cups pomegranate juice

1 cup sugar

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

Combine all the ingredients in a large saucepan and bring to a boil. Lower the temperature to a low boil and cook, uncovered, for 2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced to about one third. Keep an eye on it, so it doesn’t overflow.

Remove from the heat, let cool, and transfer to a glass jar with a tight lid. The molasses will thicken once cooled.

Store in the refrigerator for up to six months.


Excerpted from Tahini and Turmeric: 101 Middle Eastern Classics—Made Irresistibly Vegan by Ruth Fox and Vicky Cohen. Copyright © 2018. Available from Da Capo Lifelong Books, an imprint of Perseus Books, LLC, a subsidiary of Hachette Book Group, Inc.

Ricotta Tart with Lemon and Coconut

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Cheesecake? Wonderful! 

But how about cheese pie? Tart?

For Shavuot.

Or anytime at all!

This recipe started with a nut streusel top but I needed something nut-free, so substituted shredded coconut. You can change that to chopped almonds if you prefer.

You need to start ahead on this one so that the cheese can drain and become dry-ish. This gives the filling a tender texture and also helps assure the crust won't get too soggy too soon.

Ricotta Tart

For the filling:

  • 1 pound ricotta cheese
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tablespoon finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 cup shredded coconut

For the crust:

  • 1-1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 2 teaspoons finely grated lemon or orange peel
  • 1/4 pound butter, melted

To make the filling:

Place the ricotta cheese in a strainer set over a bowl and refrigerate for at least 8 hours, to drain as much liquid as possible from the cheese. Pace the drained cheese in a food processor bowl. Add the eggs, honey, citrus peel and cinnamon and process until the ingredients are well blended and smooth. Set aside while you make the crust.

To make the crust:

Place the flour in a bowl. Mix in the sugar, salt and citrus peel. Pour in the melted butter and mix the ingredients to form a soft dough. Press the dough onto the bottom and sides of a 9-inch tart pan. Refrigerate for at least 30 minutes. Prick the dough with the tines of a fork. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Line the dough with aluminum foil and weight it down with pie weights. Bake for 10 minutes. Remove the aluminum foil and weights, turn the oven heat down to 375 degrees and bake the crust for another 12-15 minutes or until golden brown. Spoon the filling in baked crust and sprinkle the coconut over top. Bake for about 25 minutes or until crispy looking and the center is set. Serve slightly chilled or at room temperature.

Makes 8 servings

Zucchini Pancakes

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If you're looking for a good mid-week Passover meal -- here it is! I actually make these year round, but they're ideal during the holiday.

And versatile: for a dairy meal add about 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese to the mix. For more substance -- serve with sunnyside eggs. I accompany them with mashed avocado, but sometimes with dairy sour cream or plain yogurt (any of these mixed with a squirt of lemon juice).

Zucchini Pancakes

  • 2 medium zucchini (10-12 ounces each)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 4 scallions, chopped
  • 2 large eggs
  • 2/3 cup matzo meal
  • vegetable oil for frying

* for a dairy meal you can add 1/2 cup crumbled feta cheese

Shred the zucchini in a food processor (or grate by hand). Place the shreds in a bowl, sprinkle with salt, toss the shreds and let rest for 10-12 minutes. Squeeze he shreds to extract as much liquid as possible. Return the shreds to the bowl. Add the scallions and egg and mix the ingredients. Add the matzo meal and mix thoroughly. Heat about 1/8-inch vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium-high heat. Spoon portions of the mixture into the pan to make pancakes about 2-inches in diameter. Leave some space between each pancake. Cook for about 3 minutes per side or until crispy and golden brown. Remove to paper towels to drain. Repeat with the remaining zucchini mixture. Serve with mashed avocado, dairy sour cream or plain yogurt (mixed with some lemon juice).

Makes about 12 pancakes

 

 

Nut-Free Dried Fruit and Apple Haroset

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Passover has it's culinary challenges, it's true, but if you're like me, and have a kid with food allergies you are used to reading labels and figuring out substitutions throughout the year. I actually never minded this part. The fears of what could happen to my daughter if she ate fish or certain nuts, plus the medication and trips to the ER when it did happen were enough to motivate me.

Looked at it in a positive way, the Passover prohibitions plus the allergy no-nos are actually ways that have made my cooking more creative.

I like that.

Obviously, we do not have traditional Ashkenazi haroset at our Seders. My daughter can't even be in the same room as a walnut. She can eat pistachios and almonds, so our usual family haroset with dried fruit includes these.

But -- why take any chances? Because it's possible that one nut allergy could be a warning against all others, my daughter doesn't eat any nuts, in haroset or anything else. On Passover I always serve a second version that's nut-free.

Here is this year's:

Nut-Free Dried Fruit and Apple Haroset

  • 1/2 cup chopped dried figs
  • 1/2 cup chopped dates
  • 1/2 cup chopped dried apricots
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 apple, peeled, cored and chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
  • 1/3 cup apricot preserves
  • 4-5 tablespoons sweet red Passover wine
  • pinch of cayenne pepper 

Combine the figs, dates, apricots, raisins and apple in a bowl. Add the nutmeg, preserves, wine and cayenne pepper and mix until the ingredients are evenly distributed. Let the mixture stand for at least one hour before serving. 

 Makes about 2-1/2 cups

 

 

Chicken with Figs and Grapes

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Tu B'Shevat may not be the most well-known Jewish holiday but it always conjures up good thoughts and fond memories for me.

First: it was when my parents gave money to plant trees in Israel.

Second: it was when my Mom would buy dried figs that came in a wreath of sorts, the figs tied together with string, and I ate at least half of them.

Third: it was when my Mom made her famous Date-Nut Bread.

And more: spring is coming soon!

And finally: it is one delicious holiday, featuring foods that include lots of fruits and vegetables. 

So, this year, to celebrate I am making this chicken dish, which includes figs and grapes, and served on cooked, fluffy bulgur wheat.

 

Chicken With Figs and Grapes

  • 1-3/4 cups apple cider
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 6 bone-in pieces of chicken
  • 1 shallot, chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons chopped fresh ginger
  • 1/2 cup diced dried figs
  • 2-1/2 teaspoons curry powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (or use 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper)
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1 cup halved fresh grapes
  • chopped fresh mint
  • cooked bulgur wheat, optional

Boil the cider for about 5 minutes or until it has reduced to 3/4 cup.  Heat the vegetable oil in a sauté pan over medium heat. Add the chicken and cook for 8-10 minutes, or until lightly browned, turning the pieces occasionally. Remove the chicken pieces and set them aside on a plate. Add the shallot, ginger and diced figs to the pan and cook for 1-2 minutes over low-medium heat. Return the chicken to the pan. Sprinkle the ingredients with curry powder, Aleppo pepper and salt and black pepper to taste. Pour in the reduced cider. Turn the pieces of chicken to coat all sides with the pan ingredients. Cover the pan, turn the heat to low and cook for 15 minutes. Add the grapes and cook for an additional 10 minutes or until the chicken is cooked through. Sprinkle with chopped fresh mint. Serve on a bed of cooked bulgur wheat if desired.

Makes 4-6 servings

 

 

Short Ribs with Barbecue Gravy

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Lots of people find January a big disappointment. It can be cold and dreary and sometimes seems like a letdown after months of holidays and celebrating.

But the food is good.

I like to call January cuisine. Filling, nourishing, comforting stuff.

Like short ribs.

 

Short Ribs with Barbecue Sauce

  • 5-6 pounds beef short ribs 
  • 1/4 cup all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, sliced
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon finely chopped chile pepper
  • 2 carrots, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 2 stalks celery, peeled and cut into chunks
  • 1 cup ketchup 
  • 1 cup beef stock
  • 1 cup beer or ale
  • 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar 
  • 2 teaspoons soy sauce
  • 3 tablespoons brown sugar 
  • 2-3 thyme sprigs (or 1 teaspoon dried thyme)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Dry the surface of the meat with paper towels. Heat the vegetable oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Working in batches, cook the meat, turning the pieces to brown them, for 4-5 minutes or until lightly browned. (If the oil seems too dark, discard it, wipe the pan and add 2 fresh tablespoons vegetable oil.) Remove the meat and set it aside. Add the onions, garlic, chili pepper, carrots and celery to the pan and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the ketchup. Pour in the stock, beer, cider vinegar and soy sauce and stir the ingredients. Stir in the brown sugar. Return the meat to the pan and spoon some of the sauce over them. Place the thyme sprigs and bay leaf in the liquid. Sprinkle with salt and pepper to taste. Bring the liquid to a boil. Lower the heat, cover the pan and cook at a bare simmer for about 4 hours or until the meat is fork tender (or place in the oven at 225 degrees).

Makes 6-8 servings

 

Modern Jewish Baker by Shannon Sarna

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When I got Shannon Sarna’s new book, Modern Jewish Baker, I wanted to run into the kitchen and start baking. It’s that kind of book – based on a few beloved, classic, Jewish bakery basics (challah, bagels, babka and so on) plus an amazing number of inventive variations that sound too seriously compelling to miss.

Exactly my kind of cooking.

One problem. I have to lose weight and get my glucose at normal levels before my doctor’s appointment next month.

OY! Which of these fabulous bakery items should I make and still be on the straight and narrow path until the doctor thing is over?

Challah was out because, ok, I had tasted Shannon’s pull-apart spinach-cheese version at the book launch party and had to stop myself from eating more only because it would have been rude and gluttonous not to leave some for the other guests.

Bagels? No way, because then I’d eat a couple of those fat, crispy-crusted, puffy-inside things, load them with cream cheese and lox and then have to promise to start my diet “tomorrow.”

Rugelach or babka? Tell me the truth -- could you eat just one piece?

Me either. I had several samples at that launch party and – see above for thoughts on my ability to control myself if I had this stuff in my kitchen.

So it was down to either matzo or pita.

I chose pita because matzo means butter. Lots of it, or matzo brei loaded with sour cream, so, no.

Pita it was, because then I could have it with the hummus I could make with the recipe from the book and that’s healthy, right? Also, how much pita can one person eat? It's plain old bread, no chocolate or cheese or other extras.

Believe it or not, one person can actually eat quite a bit of plain old pita when it’s this good. Plus, it is really a thrill to see those yeasty rounds come out of the oven and actually look like packaged pita! (But taste much fresher and better). I felt like a triumphant teenager who had baked her first cake. Who knew you can make pita at home?! I’ve been at this cooking thing for years and years and never did it before.

But I will again! This stuff is not only tasty, but fun to make.

And the hummus was quite good too!

I’ll start the diet tomorrow.

This book is a winner.

Bonus recipe from the book -- Classic Hummus (Modern Jewish Baker):

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, rinsed and shells removed
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/2 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 2 whole garlic cloves
  • 1/2 cup olive oil plus additional for serving
  • 2-3 tablespoons water
  • Paprika (optional), for garnish
  • Za'atar (optional), for garnish

Place chickpeas, tahini, cumin, salt and garlic cloves in a food processor fitted with a blade attachment. Puree for 30 seconds. Add olive oil and process until smooth. Add water one tablespoon at a time until desired smoothness. Spoon onto plate or into a bowl. Top with paprika or za'atar and an extra drizzle of olive oil for serving.

Can be kept in an airtight container for 5-7 days in the refrigerator.

Makes 4-6 servings