Jewish Holiday

Wine-Poached Pears

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Purim is a loud, raucous, festive, hilarious holiday. Although its origins are somber - Haman’s attempt to annihilate the Jews of ancient Persia - it didn’t end so well for him. But it did for us and, in keeping with the victory we celebrate!

It’s been one of the traditions of Purim for adults to, let’s say, make merry by imbibing in more alcohol than usual. In fact, some say, we are told to become intoxicated with wine, based on a statement in the Talmud by Rava, a fourth century rabbi, who said:

”A person is obligated to become intoxicated with wine on Purim until he is so intoxicated that he does not know how to distinguish between cursed is Haman and blessed is Mordecai.”

And so, on Purim, count on the fact that wine will be on the menu somewhere.

This year I decided that wine would appear on my dessert menu. I’ll poach some seasonal pears (I prefer comice or bartlett) in a hearty, aromatic wine-based sauce. I’ve made this dessert many times (tastes different each time of course because I use a different wine).

You can make it a day or so ahead; store everything in the fridge. Serve it with the sauce, strained and boiled down to a velvety finish, and maybe a garnish of whipped cream, ice cream or sorbet. Or just by itself.

Wine- Poached Pears

  • 2-1/2 cups red wine

  • 1-1/2 cups water

  • 1 cup sugar

  • peel from one orange

  • 2 2-inch strips of lemon peel

  • 1 cinnamon stick, about 4" long

  • 12 whole allspice

  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed (or use 2 tablespoons chopped crystallized ginger)

  • 3-4 pears, preferably comice or bartletts

  •  whipped cream, optional

  • crushed pistachio nuts for garnish (or use toasted coconut or fresh chopped mint), optional

Combine the wine, water, sugar, orange peel, lemon peel, cinnamon stick, allspice and cardamom pods in a stainless steel, pyrex, enamel or other non-reactive saucepan. Bring the mixture to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer the ingredients for 5-6 minutes. While the sauce is cooking, peel the pears and cut them in half. Remove the core and seeds. When the sauce has simmered for 5 minutes, immerse the pear halves and cook them for about 4-5 minutes or until they are barely tender. Remove the pan from the heat; let the pears cool in the liquid. Remove the pears. Strain the poaching liquid and return the plain liquid to the saucepan. Boil the liquid over high heat for several minutes until it has reduced to a syrupy consistency.  Let the liquid cool. When ready to serve, spoon some of the syrup on dessert plates and top each with a pear half. Serve with whipped cream, if desired, and garnish with a sprinkle of crushed pistachio nuts.

Makes 6-8 servings

Frozen Dough Hamantashen

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I’ve made all sorts of hamantashen over the years. Cake dough. Cookie dough. Pie dough. With all sorts of fillings from old fashioned apricot, prune and poppy seed to nouveau halvah and chocolate mousse/chocolate chip.

I’ve experimented with savory goat-cheese and chili fillings and also barbecued brisket. I even created a recipe for lamb-in-phyllo hamantashen with lemon-tahini sauce. That recipe won an award in a contest sponsored by Soom Foods.

But, to be honest, I like traditional, sweet, mostly apricot or prune hamantashen the best. And this year I read about frozen-dough hamantashen in a post by Melissa Wilkenfeld whose blog, Little Kosher Lunch features kosher lunch-box meals for school kids (I also follow her on Instagram).

So I used her recipe to bake a pile of hamantashen, which were so good it hurt to give any away. But I actually always give food away to my usual “tasters” — all of whom gave high marks to these.

I don’t have enough left for Purim so I will have to make some more. Which I will, because these are awesome.

I asked Melissa for permission to post her recipe. She agreed, also telling me she got the recipe from a friend (Patti Golden).

So, ladies, thank you both for this recipe. A keeper. I’ve changed the language to conform to the way I write recipes, but otherwise, it is yours. Mazal tov.

Happy Purim.

Frozen Dough Hamantashen

  • 8 ounces cream cheese, at room temperature

  • 1/2 pound unsalted butter, at room temperature

  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

  • 2 -1/4 cups flour, sifted

  • milk, water or egg white for sealing

  • Lekvar or jam 

Beat cream cheese, butter and salt in an electric mixer set at medium speed for 3-4 minutes or until smooth and thoroughly blended (or in the food processor with the plastic blade attachment). Gradually mix in the flour on low speed until the dough is a uniform color and pulls together into a ball. 

Form dough into 4 balls, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate until firm, about 3 or 4 hours, or overnight. 

Remove one ball of dough and roll out on a floured surface until thin, about 1/8 inch thick.

Cut out circles with a cookie cutter (or use the floured rim of a drinking glass or jam jar). 

Place about one teaspoon of lekvar or jam in the center of each round.

Moisten the edge of the circle with milk, water or egg white.

Fold up three edges of the circle to form a triangular base, pinching at the corners to secure.

Place the filled hamantashen on an ungreased cookie sheet. Reroll scraps of dough to make more hamantashen. Repeat with all balls of dough.

Refrigerate the hamentaschen until ready to bake, at least 30 minutes after shaping.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Bake for 25-30 minutes or until delicately browned.

Cool on racks.

Makes about 4 dozen 

Banana Bread with Raisins and Almonds

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Whenever I bake with raisins and almonds, I am reminded of the old Yiddish lullaby “Roshinkes mit Mandlen,” sung by so many Jewish bubbes to so many babies over so many decades. It’s a lovely song about a goat going to market while an infant sleeps in his young mother’s arms. I remember my parents playing a recording of it sung by Jan Peerce, who at one time was a famous opera tenor. The lullabye is so enchanting, I once made a challah-type yeast bread that included raisins and almonds (in Germany it is known as Hefezopf) and called it Lullabye Bread.

But the other day I had too many bananas. Again. And so I made banana bread with roshinkes und mandlen.

Perfect any time you need a lightly sweet snack. Fitting for Tu B’shevat (which begins at sunset on January 20, 2019).

If you’d like to hear the one and only Jan Peerce singing the lullaby, click here.

Banana Bread with Raisins and Almonds

 

  • 2-1/2 cups flour

  • 1 teaspoon salt

  • 2 teaspoons baking powder

  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda

  • 1 teaspoon cinnamon

  • 1 teaspoon grated fresh orange peel

  • 3 large eggs

  • 1 cup sugar

  • 1/2 cup vegetable oil

  • 1 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 4 very ripe bananas, mashed

  • 1 cup buttermilk

  • 1/2 cup raisins

  • 1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

 

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a (10-inch) 8-cup bundt pan. Mix the flour, salt, baking powder, baking soda, cinnamon and orange peel together in a bowl and set aside. In the bowl of an electric mixer beat the eggs and sugar at medium speed until thoroughly combined and thick. Add the vegetable oil and vanilla extract and beat the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Add the bananas and buttermilk and beat the ingredients until thoroughly combined. Fold in the raisins and almonds. Pour the batter into the prepared pan and bake for about one hour or until a cake tester inserted into the center comes out clean. Remove from the oven and let cool in the pan for 10 minutes. Remove to a cake rack to cool completely.

Makes one bread, serving 12-16

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

Sometimes I think life is a bunch of holidays with not much in between. Except for the entire month of January.

I suppose that's a good thing, because holidays are happy and celebratory.

Also, there's the food. Except for Yom Kippur, every holiday has food. And even when it comes to Yom Kippur, there's the break-the-fast when it's all over and the break-the-fast is all about food. 

As far as holidays go, at this point of the year, we've just finished Thanksgiving. So what’s next up?

Hanukkah!

Hanukkah is a really delicious holiday. Lots of fried stuff like latkes and doughnuts.

It's also a dairy holiday because of the story of Judith, which you can read about it here

For our family, in honor of Judith, I make lots of dairy items in addition to the usual potato latkes and doughnuts. I have served cheese latkes and potato latkes with a yogurt based sauce laced with lemongrass. And also Potato Galette with Caramelized Onions and Cheese and Almond Crusted Winter Squash and Noodle Kugel (actually that one’s a favorite). 

Desserts? Maybe Meyer Lemon Yogurt Pie (you can use regular lemons) or Baked Goat Cheese with Honey Sauce and Cranberries. Maybe even cheesecake. Or some fabulous cheesecake cookies!

And also these stuffed dates! Easy to make, not too sweet (no added sugar), these little morsels are perfect for the holiday. If you don't want to use almonds for garnish, crushed, toasted coconut will do nicely.

Btw, these make a nice tidbit for New Year’s, either as hors d’oeuvre or late night snack. 

 

Orange-Vanilla Flavored Cheese Stuffed Dates

  • 12 medjool dates

  • 1/2 cup cream cheese (4 ounces)

  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt

  • 1 teaspoon grated orange peel

  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract

  • 3 tablespoons crushed toasted almonds (or pistachios or crushed, toasted coconut)

Cut the dates through the center, but not all the way through to the bottom. Remove the pit and spread the date slightly to form a hollow for filling. Mix the cream cheese, yogurt, orange peel and vanilla extract in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth and soft. Fill the dates with the cheese mixture. Sprinkle with the nuts.

Makes 12 

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.

Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar Glaze and Chives

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Carrots are always on my menu for Rosh Hashanah dinner. 

This recipe, the one I'm serving this year, is so easy. And you can set it up ahead -- peel and cut the carrots 2-3 days before you have to cook them, and store them in a plastic bag in the fridge.

This dish will go with practically any main course you might serve for dinner. 

 

Roasted Carrots with Balsamic Vinegar and Chives

  • 1 pound carrots
  • 2 tablespoons olive oil
  • kosher salt to taste
  • pinch cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel the carrots and cut them lengthwise in half or quarters, depending on thickness. Place the carrots on the baking sheet. Pour the olive oil over the carrots and toss to coat them completely. Sprinkle with kosher salt and a pinch of cayenne. Roast the carrots, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes. Pour the Balsamic vinegar over the carrots, toss and bake for another 8-10 minutes or until they are tender. Sprinkle with chives and serve. 

Makes 4 servings

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