Archive for October, 2011
I needed a quick, but tasty vegetable dish for Simchat Torah, so I turned to an old favorite, guvetch. (Technically, it was a yahni, but most Romanians subsume all of the various vegetable stews under guvetch.) Although many versions call for eggplant, we had none in the house and actually didn’t miss it. I threw together some red peppers, carrots, green squash, kohlrabi, tomatoes, and onions, sprinkled in a little salt and dash of olive oil, simmered it atop the stove until the carrots were tender (about 30 minutes), then stuck the pot on the platta (large heating plate) until dinner. Little fuss or muss. The results were sweet and delicious. My mother kept asking me what spices I added, but besides the salt none. The cooking caramelized the sugar in the vegetables, while the juice from the vegetables melds, producing a succulent dish.
Types of earthenware pots typified Near Eastern cooking throughout much of the Biblical and Talmudic periods when these vessels were arranged over horseshoe-shaped clay stands with the kindling underneath lit through the opening. The Turks adopted various clay utensils, slow cooking pieces of meat and vegetables, either over a fire or in a pit oven, becoming a preferred approach of Ottoman cuisine. As new produce arrived in the Near East, such as eggplants, tomatoes, and peppers, Turkish cooks readily included them into these stews. During centuries of occupation of the Balkans, the Turks introduced their slow-cooked vegetable stews as well as many of the ingredients common to them to that region, including the rustic baked djuvec, named after the thick-based, thin straight-sided earthenware vessel, appearing similar to a flower pot, in which it was cooked and frequently served. In Romania and Bulgaria, the dish was pronounced guvetch, also variously spelled ghiveci, ghivetch, guvec, and yuvetch, and quickly became a staple, ranking among the most popular of foods. Similar ragouts are common throughout the former Ottoman Empire and adjacent areas, including the Sephardic khandrajo (“rags” in Ladino), the Greek briami, and the Provencal ratatouille (derived from touiller, from the Latin tudiculare, meaning “to stir” or “crush”). Nonetheless, ratatouille arrived in that region relatively late in history, first recorded in the early twentieth century, while eggplant stews were already mentioned in Turkey in the fourteenth century.
When baked uncovered in the oven, the stew is a guvetch, while a covered baked stew is technically a kapama, from the Turkish kapamak (to cover). A yahni or yachni, similarly named after a Persian earthenware vessel in which it was originally cooked, entails covering the pot and stewing over a fire. A little water is added to uncovered stews, while no water is used when cooked covered. In eastern Turkey, Armenia, and parts of Greece, a synonym for guvetch is known as a turlu, from the Turkish for “mixture,” although some cooks contend that turlu should never contain eggplant, while others insist it should have pieces of mutton. Sephardim in Turkey typically cooked turlu in an oya, the Ladino for olla, a Spanish squat, rounded, wide-mouth earthenware pot.
As with most plebeian dishes, there is no definitive recipe. However, to be authentic, guvetch must contain a selection of vegetables and be slow cooked, the contents varying based upon personal preference, habit, and availability. A guvetch can be made with a few or more than twenty vegetables. Frequently, leftover vegetables and soup went into a guvetch. Most vegetable stews are actually better when made in large quantities and frequently when reheated the next day, the flavors having an opportunity to meld and mellow. Middle Eastern vegetable stews tend to be cooked until all the ingredients are very soft; any sign of crispness is a sign of a bad cook. Stews containing summer vegetables — eggplants, green beans, okra, peppers, tomatoes, and zucchini — are a guvetch yaz (summer stew). Guvetch de riz is cooked with rice. Those predominantly made with winter squash and various root vegetables — carrots, celeriac, potatoes, and turnips — are called guvetch kis. Other commonly added items include cabbage, leeks, lima beans, mushrooms, potatoes, and even sour grapes. Jewish versions tend to be vegetarian. Although an earthenware pot enhances and contributes to the flavor of the stew, it can be cooked in any oven-proof vessel or simmered in a pot. The flavors develop and meld during the long baking period. Seasonings in these stews are generally rather mild, the essential flavor derived from the combination of vegetables and the cooking process, not any specific content. Characteristic of Romanian cookery, there must be garlic and plenty of it, sometimes both minced and whole. Turks generally add a little lemon juice. Romanians brought guvetch to Israel where it is now commonly sold in containers in most supermarkets. But it is so easy to make at home, and tasty, and a great way to use those vegetables in the refrigerator, that I don’t know why more non-Romanians don’t do it.
Romanian Vegetable Stew (Guvetch) P
(6 to 8 servings as a side dish)
2 cups (14 ounces) peeled, seeded, and coarsely chopped plum tomatoes
4 medium onions, sliced
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound green beans, trimmed, or 1 pound okra, trimmed
4 small green or yellow squash or any combination, cut into chunks
2 medium green bell peppers, seeded and sliced
2 medium red bell peppers, seeded and sliced
4 to 8 whole cloves garlic
1 to 2 large carrots, sliced (optional)
1 small head cauliflower, cut into florets (optional)
About 1 teaspoon table salt or 2 teaspoons kosher salt
Ground black pepper to taste
½ cup vegetable stock or water
¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil
In a large pot, combine all of the ingredients. Cover and simmer over a low heat until the vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes. Or bake at 350 degrees, uncovered, until the vegetables are tender and most of the liquid evaporates, about 1½ hours. Serve warm, at room temperature, or slightly chilled.
Romanian Baked Vegetable Stew (Kapama): Omit the water. Cover the casserole with aluminum foil and bake in a 350-degree oven until tender, about 1½ hours. Or use the water, and sprinkle the bottom layer of tomatoes with ¾ cup long-grain rice.
Greek Vegetable Stew (Yachni de Verduras): Reduce the garlic to 1 to 2 minced cloves and the water to ¼ cup. Add 3 tablespoons chopped fresh dill or 2 teaspoons dried oregano. In Step 5, stir together all the ingredients, cover, and simmer over very low heat until tender, about 40 minutes.
I like to plan out each holiday and Sabbath meal well in advance. Of course, nothing runs that smoothly. Many of the dishes I prepared this Sukkot at my parents’ home in Israel were standards, such as brisket, stuffed cabbage, scalloped potatoes, and yellow rice, which have staying power, but I can also make extra portions to freeze for meals further down the line on Sukkot and for when holiday guests stop by. Other dishes, however, were a matter of what produce was available in the house and what struck my fancy.
My mother had some interesting vegetables in her refrigerator, including some young Russian red kale, and I decided to fix them as a stir-fry. In the mixture I also sliced some carrots, bell peppers, a kohlrabi, a few green squash, onions, and scallions. I had a sweet-and-sour sauce with a touch of chilies, so I stirred in a little. The result was quite refreshing and tasty. And it held up well on the platta until Friday night dinner.
When my mother’s chicken soup ended up locked in a neighbor’s freezer and they forgot to share the key before leaving for the weekend, I found four leeks and 2 small fennel bulbs, which I simmered with a diced potato for extra texture, then threw in a splash of olive oil and fresh lemon juice. I served it hot with soft matza balls intended for the chicken soup. The result was delicious, if I do say so myself, sort of like a vegetarian chicken soup.
To be sure, I crumbled up tofu into my noodle kugel (one batch made three kugels covering three meals). But I frequently substitute tofu for cheese in a noodle kugel, then throw in some chopped apples and apricots. So this was no spur of the moment impulse.
Some of the world’s best foods were created by accident. Chocolate chip cookies are now big business in the United States, but its origins is rather humble, the result of a fortuitous accident. Ruth Graves Wakefield (1903-1977) spent several years as a dietitian after graduating the Framingham State Normal School in the Department of Household Arts. Then in 1930, Ruth and her husband Kenneth purchased a toll house (built in 1709) in Whitman, Massachusetts, halfway between Boston and New Bedford. The couple opened a lodge, naming it the Toll House Inn. Soon thereafter (I don’t think it’s too early to start considering a centennial memorial for this major culinary birth), Ruth was whipping up a batch of “Butter Drop Do” cookies.
Amelia Simmons in American Cookery (Hartford: 1796), the first cookbook written by an American, included the original colonial recipe for making this dish. “Butter drop do. Rub one quarter of a pound butter, one pound sugar, sprinkled with mace, into one pound and a quarter flour, add four eggs, one glass rose water, bake as No. 1 [i.e. ‘shape it to your fancy, bake 15 minutes’].”
At the last minute, after already preparing the dough, Wakefield decided to make the cookies chocolate. However, she did not have any baking chocolate on hand. In desperation, she added chopped pieces of semisweet chocolate expecting that they would melt and mix with the dough. Much to her amazement and the delight of subsequent generations, the chocolate pieces remained intact. The result was what she initially called “chocolate crispies” and what is now the most popular of all cookies. Wakefield did not even like her discovery that much, but her employees did and continued to make them. Of such lucky mishaps are great ideas often born — as was a new form of chocolate, scored bars meant to be broken for this increasingly popular cookie.
After Nestle’s began marketing her chocolate chip recipe to the public, Wakefield published her original recipe in a book Toll House Tried and True Recipes (New York: M, Barrows & Company, 1936).
Toll House Chocolate Crunch Cookies
Cream 1 cup butter, add ¾ cup brown sugar, ¾ cup granulated sugar and 2 eggs beaten whole. Dissolve 1 tsp. soda in 1 tsp. hot water, and mix alternately with 2¼ cups flour sifted with 1 tsp. salt. Lastly add 1 cup chopped nuts and 2 bars (7-oz.) Nestles yellow label chocolate, semi-sweet, which has been cut in pieces the size of a pea. Flavor with 1 tsp vanilla and drip half teaspoons on a greased cookie sheet. Bake 10 to 12 minutes in 375 degrees F. Oven. Makes 100 cookies.”
Note that the recipe is not yet called “chocolate chip” and it calls for cutting up chocolate bars, as the book was printed before the advent of chocolate chips. In 1939 Nestle purchased the Toll House name and began producing small chocolate morsels that we now call chips as well as creating its standard name. In 1985 a fire laid waste to the Toll House Inn, but its most famous product lives on.
To be sure, none of my serendipitous holiday dishes in any way approach a chocolate chip cookie in impact or durability. Still, I generally take a little more satisfaction with my accidental holiday dishes than the standard fare, as they are a matter of artistic license and most will never be seen again. Oh, and this year I did make a double batch of chocolate chip mandelbrot, for which I can thank Ruth Wakefield.
I occasionally discover new food bloggers when I get quoted and the Google alert appears. Some bloggers (obviously my favorites and I’m always appreciative) quote me on a regular basis, while others much less so. In any case, we all share a passion for food, which comes through in our work. Rarely, do I get a chance to actually meet people from the blogosphere in person and never before have I met with a large assemblage of them. But this past week, a group of twelve Israeli food bloggers and I had dinner and discussions at the Eucalyptus Restaurant in Jerusalem, all arranged by Shira Kallus Zwebner (i.e. kosherfoodie on Twitter).
More on the dinner and participants in a moment, but first let me regale you with tales of my harrowing adventures going and coming. I took a bus into the city, then hailed a cab on the street, who would not admit that he did not know where the restaurant’s new location was, but instead dropped me near the Montifiore Restaurant adjacent to the windmill. I wandered for a while and to make matters worse, I stopped to ask three different police officers for directions, and each pointed me in the wrong direction, until I ended up back at the windmill. Fortunately, I had a cell phone (thank you Israel for another great invention) and Shira’s cell number. I finally returned to the Montifiore Restaurant, where a waiter kindly called a cab, who actually did know where he was going and dropped me off in the right place. So I arrived nearly half an hour late, which was not a conspicuous way to begin an evening, as I am not the type that likes to be fashionably late.
Leaving also proved to be an adventure. I received a ride to my bus stop from Yael from Modiin, who was as unfamiliar with driving in the narrow streets of Jerusalem as I. As we tried to leave the parking lot, we discovered that the narrow dead-end street was illegally parked on both sides by drivers heading to the nearby Kotel. Yet cars were still attempting to move in both directions. Several small cars managed to squeak by in the other direction, but then facing us was a large Chrysler van and there was no way either of us could pass. Yael tried backing up a little, but behind us was a line of cars also trying to get out. Finally, the three or more cars heading in the opposite direction in front of us realized that it was they who had to move and retreated, including the massive van. We inched ahead passing the cars illegally parked on both sides and finally made it out, without giving or receiving a scratch. I got to the Tunnel Junction around midnight, well after the last bus to Alon Shvut had passed. Fortunately, the second car that drove by was a young guy heading to Alon Shvut, so I made it home by 12:30. Whew!
Anyway, back to the main event. It was a very diverse group of people from as far away as Beer Sheva and Tel Aviv: religious and non-religious, former Americans and native Israelis, those who are great cooks and others who remain less than adept in the kitchen. What we all shared was a love for food and, in particular, for Jewish food.
Here are my new friends, in no particular order other than their position around the table:
Shira Kallus Zwebner
Katherine Martinelli www.katherinemartinelli.com
Liz Steinberg cafeliz Israeli food blog food.lizsteinberg.com
Ariella Darsa Amshalem www.aricooks.wordpress.com
Michelle Kemp-Nordell and her husband David www.baronesstapuzina.com
Miriam Kresh www.israelikitchen.com
Sarah Melamed foodbridge www.sarahmelamed.com
Yael Ruder @ Hope It Will Rain www.yaelruder.blogspot.com
Hannah Katsman www.cookingmanager.com
Mirjam Weiss www.miriyummy.wordpress.com
(If I omitted anyone, please forgive me and let me know.)
For those of you unfamiliar with Eucalyptus Restaurant and its dynamic owner Moshe Basson, he is from an Iraqi family, and his parents opened a bakery in the village of Beit Safafa. Local Arab women (older housewives are always the best source to learn the foods and culinary traditions of any community) would come to use the bakery oven, as in Iraq, and he was exposed to both their dishes as well as the wild edible plants they used in them. Moshe is particularly passionate about indigenous plants and foods of the Levant. He even won the International Couscous Competition in Italy in 1999.
I have dined at Basson’s restaurants before, so I knew what to expect. He loves wild native plants and herbs, especially za’atar, sumac, Israeli sage, and hubeza, which star and sparkle in his dishes. Among his signature dishes are stuffed figs in tamarind sauce (recipe follows); a tasting of three soups, red lentil, Jerusalem artichoke, and his mother’s tomato soup (it was my favorite of the trio); charred eggplant in tahina and pomegranate sauce; kofta (veal meatballs); stuffed hubeza or grape leaves; and, of course, couscous with vegetable and chickpeas (the latter, when made with 7 symbolic elements is actually a traditional Moroccan Rosh Hashanah dish). The highlight of Basson’s meals is the makluba (a local upside down rice and chicken casserole originally derived from the Persian polo, also the source of the Western pilaf). Moshe prodded me to dress in apron and funny hat to unveil the evening’s makluba, and there are now pictures out there to prove it.
Besides those disturbing photos now out there on the internet, the evening’s only problem was that it was far too short. I do hope to be able to spend more time in the future with the group. All too frequently when I get started talking about food, people’s eyes start to glaze over, so it’s always refreshing to be around others who share my interest. And it’s always nice to hear how appreciated and used the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food and Olive Trees and Honey have become. I don’t become tired of hearing people admit how they use my books as a resource.
If I could encourage others to do anything, it would be to preserve copies of recipes of traditional family foods. All too frequently and tragically, these dishes don’t pass from one generation to the next. So get your grandmothers, aunts, and mother and wrangle these details from them while you can, even if it means catching their “pinch of this” or “handful of that” in a cup and measuring it. Then after securing these treasures, pass them around to your family and post them on the internet. These recipes are a part of Jewish history and should rightfully be preserved for all to enjoy and learn. They are a taste, literally and figuratively, of our past and hopefully future as well.
Moshe Basson’s Stuffed Figs
12 fresh or dried figs
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 chicken breast (about 1 pound), coarsely chopped
1 teaspoon ground allspice
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
½ teaspoon freshly ground cardamom seed
salt to taste
½ cup strained tamarind paste or ¼ cup pomegranate molasses
½ cup water
1 tablespoon sugar
salt to taste
1. To make the filling: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil, add the onion, and sauté until soft and light golden, about 10 minutes. Add the chicken and half the quantity of each spice. Stir until the chicken loses its raw color, about 3 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool. Do not wash the pan.
2. To make the sauce: Into the same skillet, put the tamarind paste, water, sugar, remaining spices, and salt. Stir well and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and stir until it is smooth, velvety. Set aside.
3. To prepare the figs: If using fresh figs, make an incision into the upper third of the fig, making sure you do not cut through so that the fig can be reassembled after stuffing. With a small spoon or melon baller, scoop out the fig flesh. Add half of it to the sauce and half to the chicken mixture. If using dried figs, use your fingers to create a cavity in the center of the fig.
4. To assemble: Stuff the cavity of the figs with the chicken mixture. Put the stuffed figs into the prepared sauce in the skillet, cover and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for about 15 minutes. Garnish with fresh pomegranate seeds.
For a vegetarian version, substitute a combination of button and oyster mushrooms for the chicken.
A more elaborate version is made with stuffed onions and stuffed small eggplants.
I cooked for the family for Rosh Hashanah, including my parents, a brother and one of his daughters, Tehillah, and, for one meal, a sister and one of her sons and family came. Various friends and friends of friends came to various meals as well. All the dishes were praised and heartily consumed, but one of my improvised salads was a particularly popular hit, quinoa salad with pomegranate seeds and fresh mint. These two foods, quinoa from South America and pomegranates, possibly a native of central Asia, came together in a refreshing and healthy salad.
More than 5,000 years ago, quinoa (pronounced keen-wah and meaning “mother grain” in Incan) was cultivated in the Andean highlands. This pseudo-grain (technically, quinoa is the fruit of a leafy plant, not a seed of cereal grasses, but it is treated like a grain) became of such importance to the Incas that they considered it sacred. At the beginning of the growing season, the emperor himself would dig the first shovelful of earth with a golden spade and plant the first quinoa. The Spanish leader Francisco Pizarro, however, viewed this unfamiliar grain as a component of paganism and was determined to exterminate it (and quite a few human beings as well). Even the mere possession of this pre-Columbian grain was declared a crime. In place of quinoa, the Spanish planted the more familiar barley, in order to produce beer, and wheat. Only in the remote highlands far from the reach of the conquistadors did quinoa survive. In the late 20th century, as botanists searched for specially nutritious grains to help feed the masses, quinoa was rediscovered by the world.
This pre-Columbian pseudo grain, there are actually more than 1,800 varieties, is prized as a source of nutrition. Quinoa is the only “grain” that contains complete protein as well as a highest protein content (about 17 percent) than any grain. It is also high in thiamine, iron, phosphorus, lysine, and vitamin B-6. Among quinoa’s other attributes is that it flourishes in harsh environments and requires no insecticides since the grains are coated by saponins which naturally repel birds and insects. The quinoa, however, should be well rinsed before cooking since the saponin is bitter.
The primary way to prepare quinoa is to simmer it in water. The germ, located on the outside of the grain, splits when cooked, but the grain retains a crunch. In South America, it is also ground and used to make tortillas.
I first discovered quinoa back in the late 1980s during my days at Kosher Gourmet magazine, when some friends at Eden Foods sent me some packages of this then new item in America with which to experiment. I have been a big fan ever since. But I have never paired it with pomegranate before. As I was preparing the holiday dishes and thinking of some healthy sides (to compensate for some of the carbohydrates) and I was seeding a pomegranate (it really isn’t hard if you know how) and I thought why not. Both of these ancient foods, quinoa and pomegranates, have only recently become fashionable items in America and now East meets West. My mother had just gotten some fresh mint from her CSA and it went in too and added an extra note of flavor to the dish without overpowering it.
Quinoa salad is extremely adaptable, so adjust the ingredients to your preferences and what’s in your pantry. You can substitute any fruit, including apples and pears, for the pomegranate.
1 cup (240 ml) raw quinoa = 6 ounces/170 grams
= 2.75 cups (675 ml) cooked
1 cup (240 ml) cooked quinoa = 7.1 ounces/210 grams
= 171 calories
(6 to 8 servings as a side dish)
1 cup (240 ml) quinoa
2 cups (480 ml) water or chicken broth
Pinch of salt
3 to 4 tablespoons (45 to 60 ml) fresh lemon or lime juice or balsamic vinegar
About ½ teaspoon (2.5 ml) salt
Ground black pepper to taste
2 to 3 tablespoons (30 to 45 ml) olive, nut, or vegetable oil
¼ cup (60 ml) pomegranate seeds
¼ cup (60 ml) golden raisins, chopped dried apricots, or dried cranberries
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped fresh mint or parsley
¼ cup (60 ml) sliced scallions
1. Cover the quinoa with cold water, swirl, and drain through a fine strainer. Repeat.
2. In a medium saucepan, bring the water and a pinch of salt to a boil. Add the quinoa, return to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer until the liquid is absorbed (about 18 minutes). Remove from the heat and let stand, covered, for 10 minutes. Fluff with a fork. Transfer the quinoa to a medium bowl.
3. To make the dressing: Combine the lemon juice, zest, salt, and pepper. Whisk in the oil. Drizzle over the warm quinoa and toss to coat. Stir in the pomegranate seeds, raisins, mint, and scallions. The salad may be prepared up to 2 days ahead and stored in the refrigerator. Serve at room temperature.