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• JTNews Columnist
So what does our Jewish background have to do with foie gras, the controversial culinary delicacy that has just been famously banned from sale and consumption in Chicago, and was outlawed in California last year? Production by its three U.S. producers is scheduled to be stopped altogether by 2012, and all production was barred in Israel late in 2005. So why will Israelis be likely to continue consuming the controversial delicacy in restaurants and cafés all over Israel?
First, let’s familiarize ourselves with the subject. American culinary professionals and aficionados are outraged at the domestic bans because, while very expensive, foie gras is one of the most succulent, delicious and surprisingly seductive offerings in the culinary compendium.
While its name means “fat liver” in French, it tastes more like the most sumptuous of butters, with a shimmering, melt-in-your-mouth texture that could never be assumed to be related to, say, liver and onions or even the smoothest duck or chicken liver paté. It has no taste of liver — in fact it tastes like nothing else and certainly not what could be considered a “strong” meat.
When my partner Mark and I first ate grilled Israeli “goose liver” at a wonderful restaurant near the Jerusalem central market this past December, we both put down our forks at the first bites, looked at each other, then closed our eyes to savor a food whose delights could barely allow the intrusion of any other senses. I’ve had foie gras many times but the combination of the smoke and the slight crust created by the grill made the Israeli preparation especially heavenly.
The forced overfeeding of farmed geese or ducks with a mash of grain or corn during a 15-day period just before they are to be killed stimulates a natural response in these birds. Migratory fowl regularly overfeed on the richest foods available and store excessive fat on their flesh and in their livers, providing “on-board” energy and nutrients for their extended flights.
The ancient Egyptians are recorded as the first people to discover and exploit this propensity in migrating birds, first finding the naturally swollen livers of the birds a royal delight, then force feeding palace-kept geese to purposely fatten their livers.
In a 4500-year-old bas relief found in the tomb of Mereruka, a high-level Egyptian royal official, slaves grasp the necks of geese and push pellets down their throats.
There are Greek and Spartan references to fattened geese in the fifth and fourth centuries BCE, and the Roman epicurian Apicius describes the feeding of geese with dried figs to enlarge their livers during the height of the Roman period.
With the Roman occupation of Palestine, Jewish culture assimilated Roman ways and as wealthy Jews developed a taste for foie gras, the lower classes learned to supply it. Then, with the fall of the Roman Empire, fattened geese and their livers disappeared from the developing European culinary scene until the Middle Ages.
Here’s where the Jews’ historic relationship with foie gras gets interesting: one of the difficulties in following laws of kashrut after Rome expelled them from Israel was to find acceptable sources of cooking fat. Olive oil was left on the shores of the Mediterranean, and the familiar sesame oil stayed in Babylon. Beef fat and lard were not permitted, and having butter required being on the move with a cow, so Jews turned to the methods of fattening geese they had learned from the Romans around the first century CE.
Every bit of this “portable larder” was used — the fat carefully preserved, the skin crisped into “gribenese” and the wings and bones made into soup. The legs were slowly cooked and preserved in fat, the breasts roasted and the fattened livers — considered a delicacy but thought to be composed almost wholly of blood — were painstakingly grilled over open flame until all the blood was extracted, as was required by the laws of kashrut.
In medieval times, geese were often fattened twice a year, before Hanukkah and Passover, and the livers, regarded as a special health food, were cooked and given to the children who could most benefit from the extra nutrients and calories. As Jews settled in Southern and Eastern Europe in the 15th and 16th centuries, the noble class discovered that their shtetl-bound Jewish “neighbors” had a wonderful way with goose liver, and thus began the centuries-long Jewish practice of supplying the wealthy overlords and royals with foie gras for their tables.
The crushing oppression Jews found throughout their Eastern European shtetls in the late 19th and early 20th centuries also bound them to the fattened goose. In most areas, at various times, Jews were not allowed to own land or property, or to farm. In an ingenious symbiosis that involved the elders of the family, Jews used their expertise in fattening poultry (ducks, too) to help them scrape by.
In lieu of a farm, they could own a goose or two at a time, and the grandmothers could sit hour upon hour with whatever extra grain or bread that the family could supply, slowly massaging it down the goose’s throat. As the beloved bird got bigger, it embodied the family’s hope for food, fat and a little money when the fatted liver was sold to a rich noble.
Foie gras was re-introduced to Israel in 1948 by a Holocaust survivor, Moshe Friedman, an Ashkenazi Jew from the Hungarian town of Oradea. The third-generation goose farmer saw an opportunity to establish a “new” business in Israel, eventually growing his small farm into a mini-foie gras empire in the agricultural land north of Tel Aviv.
For decades, he only exported to France. Then, in 1970, an enterprising restaurateur from Hatikva put Moshe’s foie gras on his menu, but grilled in the Sephardi way. It was an instant hit and soon became the inspiration for much-more-fragrantly grilled skewered goose liver to appear on many more Israeli menus. Today it is the most common of delicacies on Israeli restaurant tables — but not without arousing controversy among kosher adherents and animal rights activists.
“Gavage,” as the practice of force-feeding poultry is known today, bears little resemblance to the motions of the nimble grandmother gently massaging grain down a goose’s gullet. Modern gavage usually involves raising ducklings or goslings on grain and then switching to grass for several months to toughen their esophagi. They are then force-fed softened grain or corn two or three times a day, for 15 to 20 days, through a tube inserted most of the way down the throat.
Some breeders use pressurized mechanisms to force feed, while others are more humane. Since the price of foie gras is very high, gavage has become big business and the impulse of growers to put profit over humanitarian practices is great. Many rabbis, writing about whether any animal raised or slaughtered in an inhumane manner may be deemed kosher, are adamant that it is not possible that foie gras could be considered kosher.
In a massive commentary on Jewish law written in the 11th century, Rashi particularly condemns the Jewish tradition of force feeding, declaring that the Jews will have to answer to God for the beasts’ suffering.
In our time, Rabbi David Rosen, former Chief Rabbi of Ireland and dean of the Pinchas Sapir Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem is just as clear:
“Cruel treatment of animals violates the Jewish mandate not to cause tsa’ar ba’alei hayim (the suffering of animals); therefore foie gras is clearly treif. Kashrut laws prohibit eating of unhealthy animals or animals with defects.”
Yet, in researching the sale of foie gras, one readily finds sources declaring that their products are kosher and name the governing bodies. Some rabbinic councils apparently believe they have found foie gras producers who raise healthy animals without harm.
Animal rights activists, on the other hand, are absolutely adamant that it is impossible to humanely raise ducks or geese for foie gras with modern equipment and in the observed habitats. Gruesome descriptions of the living conditions and mechanical treatment of the birds on some farms support the activists’ claims. Respected veterinarians and scientists carefully debate whether the birds feel anxiety or pain, if they fear their handlers, whether their lives are shortened by their treatment.
In Israel, though the government has decided that foie gras farms must be shut down, it’s doubtful that “goose liver” as it’s simply known on Israeli menus, will disappear from the café tables any time soon. The fattened fowl have returned to the Holy Land and Israelis are unlikely to give up the ancient, exotic flavor — even if they have to buy “kosher” foie gras from France.
Posted May 12, 2006
• JTNews Columnist
“You must try my pita,” she told me. “I make 20 kilos a week, and that makes 120 pitas, about enough for my family!”
We were standing in the spacious office of Shaked Bakery in Karmiel, a medium-sized town in the north of Israel. I was there to consult with the bakery on producing American-style Passover macaroons and other Passover cookies, the macaroons for the U.S. market and the cookies to be sold in Israel.
I was speaking with a vivacious, 50-ish Arab-Israeli woman named Kalthoum Titi, who works as the housekeeper for the factory. She speaks excellent English and we chatted easily about her life in Karmiel, where she’s lived for many years with her husband and her five children, mostly teens.
“I am blessed,” she said. “All my children are very motivated and are excellent in their studies. They all want to go to the university and make a life for themselves.”
She glows with pride. I ask where her house is and again she kvells: “Oh, it’s not far. And I have a new oven! You should see it! Would you like to come see my oven?”
I was a little puzzled for a moment, thinking of my double oven at home — nice, but nothing to invite someone over to appreciate. Then I made the connection: pita breads, baked on the sides and bottom of a brick or heavy steel oven. A new oven to do the weekly baking. Wow!
“Is it outside?” I asked. “Does it use wood?”
“Of course, outside,” she gestured to an invisible space. This is Israel, after all; even in the north just about everything in life can be done outside. “And not wood, gas — much easier. And it’s very strong, round, made of steel,” again the gesture shaping a form about six or seven feet tall. “We just finished it, and the pitas are beautiful. I brought, for my lunch! You must try it! Come with me.”
This was not an invitation exactly, more like a happy command, as she took me immediately by the hand and went to find the plastic bag holding her lunch.
“Here, here! I’ll make it for you.”
She brought out a large, perfect pale wheat pita about eight inches in diameter, a tomato, a bit of feta, a small container of very dark green olive oil, and a little plastic tub of a fragrant, dry herb.
“You know this?” she asked. “I do it myself. I go and pick the leaves and then dry them and rub, rub, rub the leaves between my palms.”
I can see the green powder showering down as she crushes the za’atar leaves and prepares them for the daily seasoning of her family’s food. Za’atar, a wild thyme, is an almost ubiquitous seasoning in these lands, often used in a traditional mix, peculiar to each family, made from the sour dried and ground berries of sumac, sesame seeds, salt, and sometimes aromatics like cassia bark (a spicy cinnamon-like spice) or ground allspice.
Kalthoum’s za’atar is made only of her lovingly rubbed leaves, and she now mixes it with a tablespoon or so of the rich green olive oil that smells like green pears and earth. She cuts the pita in half and opens up one side, slices and salts the tomato and spreads the za’atar inside the pita. Talking all the time and describing what she’s doing, she slips in some tomato slices and the feta and says, “Here, this is for you. Is it enough?”
I protest that I’m already being offered half her lunch, but she insists I cannot try her pita any other way. Later, after I have said good-bye, lamenting that I am leaving for home right away and can’t come see her oven and learn how to make her pitas, I promise that I will definitely come to her house when I come back and we will cook together.
I am sure that I could learn more from her than I could ever offer to teach, although cooking has been my profession for nearly 30 years. I took the pita with me, wrapped in a plastic bag, and ate it on the plane on the way home, remembering the remarkably gnarled trunks of the centuries old olive trees in groves running along Karmiel’s hillsides, near where Kalthoum’s family lives.
Although few of us have a big, domed oven in our backyard, I believe the following recipe for pita, more than dozens of others I’ve seen, will allow you to make pita breads approximating the freshness and flavor of Kalthoum’s in Karmiel. Be sure to read the recipe through a couple of times before beginning.
The za’atar mix, made from thyme, Greek oregano and marjoram, isn’t as sweet as any of these, but they can be used as substitutes with the success of a good reminiscence of the regional Israeli staple.
2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees)
1 Tbs. sugar
1 Tbs. active dry yeast (1 pkg)
About 3 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
About 3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tsp. kosher salt
First, make a sponge with about half the flour. In a large bowl, dissolve the sugar in the warm water and sprinkle the yeast over the top. Let the yeast dissolve and begin to foam (about 15 minutes).
Stir in the all-purpose flour and beat with a wooden spoon (or with the paddle attachment of an electric mixer) about 75 times, ‘til the batter is smooth and about the thickness of thick pancake batter.
Cover the bowl with a damp towel or plastic wrap and let sit two hours to overnight in a draft-free spot.
Add the salt and enough flour to make a dough that’s a little stiff, but one you can easily knead by hand. Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only enough flour to keep it from sticking to the board or your hands.
Let rest on the board, covered, for about 15 minutes to let the gluten in the dough relax.
Preheat the oven to 500˚—it must be very hot. If you’re using a baking stone (great time to use it!) position it on the bottom of the oven or on the lowest shelf.
Cut the dough into eight equal pieces. Flatten each piece with your hand, then roll with a floured rolling pin on a lightly floured surface. (should not stick! Add flour as needed). Roll each piece into a circle about six inches in diameter and about 1/8-inch thick.
Sprinkle baking sheets with flour or fine cornmeal and place two circles on each (you may rotate sheets if you only have one or two; roll the pita as you put them on the sheet).
Let the dough circles rest about 15 minutes.
Place the baking sheet on the oven bottom, or if that isn’t possible, on the lowest rack. If you’re using a baking stone, transfer the pitas to the stone with a large spatula.
Close the oven door and keep it shut for one minute.
Don’t peek or the pocket may not form. It’s this initially fast, hot searing of the outside dough of the pita that makes it separate from the dough on the inside. The carbon dioxide gas created by the yeast expands inside and accentuates the separation until the pita blows up like a balloon and the pocket is created.
At the end of the minute, place the sheet on a rack higher in the oven and continue baking anywhere from three to seven minutes, until the pitas have blown into balloons and are lightly brown. If the pitas are baked right on the stone, after the initial minute transfer them to a baking sheet which is already in place on a higher oven rack for the second part of their baking.
When they’re done, remove the baking sheet from the oven, slide the pitas off and let them cool. They will deflate somewhat after cooling. Once they’re thoroughly cool you can press more air out of them so the take up less storage room.
Makes 8 pitas
King Arthur Flour and traditional sources.
1/4 cup dried oregano and/or thyme leaves, crumbled and rubbed till very fine
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
2 to 3 Tbs. dried ground sumac
Kosher salt to taste
Mix all together and store tightly sealed.
Try sprinkled on yogurt with salt and a
rich olive oil, or on a salad of tomatoes
Makes about 2/3 cup
Joan Nathan and traditional recipes
Posted April 28, 2006
• JTNews Columnist
I stood there, dumbfounded, staring at a little basket full of small, dull, knobby brown rocks. The sign said, in Hebrew and English, “Frankincense,” as if it were an item commonly found daily in a public market full of very busy, very 21st-century people.
Since I was a child, I have harbored the illusion that frankincense and myrrh were extremely exotic, almost mythical elements that must have held mighty powers, since one only heard their names spoken in conjunction with an ancient event. I knew nearly nothing about, but it seemed to be taken very seriously by the majority of Christians around me.
Yet here it was, raw, nubby frankincense, in an open-ended spice shop in one of the bigger shouks (markets) in Jerusalem. It sat calmly in a basket as if no time had passed since, as legend has it, three wise men carried it through the dessert to Bethlehem about 2,000 years ago. Seeing my hollow stare, the keeper of the spice stand said in Hebrew-flavored English,
“Oh, yes, frankincense, wonderful smell, very good to burn in the house to get rid of bad air and bad humor. You burn it on a special little charcoal burner, see? First you light the charcoal, then put a lump of frankincense on top and the smell is everywhere. And look, there is myrrh behind you — it’s also good for the household, cures illness in the house. You burn it the same way.”
Myrrh too? I spun around to see another basket full of dark lumps, slightly deeper in color and astringent but strangely sweet when I smelled it.
“Here, I’ll light some for you — you gonna be here for a little while?”
Well, my new spice buddy had won a customer “for a little while.” I would have stayed the whole morning to get a whiff of such exotic stuff. I thought I recalled myrrh being used in some herbal tincture perhaps a roommate or I had gotten from a naturopath long ago. But this was myrrh in the same state that people would have used it more than two millennia ago, here in Israel, to try to banish disease from their homes.
I was now both dumbfounded and thrilled. I felt I had walked through history, about to smell the spice of life the way it was for our ancestors, walking the same stones of this Jerusalem shouk, seeking a spice monger much like this one selling frankincense or myrrh, or cinnamon, rose water, coriander or clove.
I wondered if many of us in the U.S. know much about how the history of the spice trade intertwines with the history of the Jews in the land of Israel. Much before 1000 B.C.E., two north-south trade routes crossed the Canaan territories. “Via Maris,” the Mediterranean coastal route, brought a profusion of spices (for food preservation), plus textiles and gold from Egypt and northeast Africa through Canaan to the northern West Asian empires.
For centuries, it transported military campaigns launched by the Assyrians, Philistines and Babylonians in the north, the Egyptians in the south, and the Greeks and Cypriots in the west, making the Canaanite territories crucial real estate for those various civilizations trying to dominate a region ranging from southern Egypt to north of the Fertile Crescent.
The “Kings Highway” was the eastern trade route, running north from the Red Sea, connecting the Canaanite/Israeli region by ship with the Indian and Pacific Oceans and the Far East — land of spice, knowledge and mystery.
So the ancient spice and military trades made whomever controlled the region crucially powerful. Israel’s early kings levied taxes on all people traveling on the roads, as had the kingships preceding Israeli control. Many of the strikes by other monarchies against Israel before and during King David’s time were initiated in trying to achieve control of the trade roads.
Historical legend says that Solomon built his empire by using this powerful regional bargaining chip in pursuing lucrative deals with traders, nobles and regional rulers. Indeed, the Queen of Sheba is said to have journeyed from Ethiopia, bringing her entourage along the Kings Highway, to make King Solomon gifts of frankincense and myrrh.
But back to my sojourn into the scents of the ancients, now wafting through the little spice shop and down the shouk’s cobbled streets. Frankincense, a dried resin harvested from trees in the “Boswellia” genus, seemed more sweet and intensely musky, while myrrh, resin from commphora or Indian mukul myrrh trees, was sharper but floral and slightly redolent of citrus.
I was in heaven, not only from the perfumes of venerable incense, but by what I saw around me: a collection of herbs, spices, leaves and flowers that would be repeated, with varying members, in every spice shop I visited all over Israel. Here were sticks of cinnamon more than a foot long, pepper berries in colors I had never imagined, meter-tall cone-shaped towers of ground chilies in shades of fire and burnt roses. And roses! Bins and bags of dried buds and petals with half a dozen fragrances for making the rose waters that flavor myriad foods of the Middle East.
A group of spice mixes beckoned me and when my friendly spice buddy explained that they were flavorings for rice, crafted to emulate the cuisines of modern Middle Eastern cultures (whose ancestors had certainly traveled Israel’s ancient spice roads), I had to have them all. When I got them home and began to use them, I realized I could dissect their flavor elements and recreate my favorites when I began to run out. Kind of like a trip to Israel in a jar!
• • •
To use the spice mixes, cook basmati rice, using 1 cup of rinsed rice to 1-1/2 cups of water. Put the rice and water in a small saucepan with a tight fitting lid. Mix in 1/4 cup to 6 Tbs. of the spice mix (or more if you like), bring the water to a boil, put on the lid and reduce the heat to very low. Let just simmer for 20 minutes; do not peek. After 20 minutes, check the rice for doneness. If not tender, replace the lid and cook for 5 to 10 minutes longer. When the rice is cooked, fluff the rice with a fork and add salt to taste.
Mejama Iraqi Mix
3/4 c. toasted yellow lentils
(Indian toovar dal) — toast in a dry pan, stirring till deep golden brown
1/2 c. toasted sliced almonds — toast in 350? oven for 5 to 6 minutes (no longer!)
1/4 c. dried garlic slices
1/2 c. dried onion pieces
1 Tbs. ground cumin
1 Tbs. ground turmeric
1/4 c. dried parsley
1/4 c. dried mint
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 tsp. kosher salt
Yield: about 2 cups
South Indian Mix
Dried vegetables are available
at most stores that sell bulk spices
1/2 c. Indian chana dal (whole yellow peas)
1/4 c. dried diced potatoes
1/4 c. dried diced red bell pepper
1/4 c. dried diced carrots
1/2 c. dried sweet sliced onions
1/4 c. dark raisins, or diced dates or figs
1/4 c. dark, medium spicy curry powder
2 Tbs. dried diced garlic
1/2 c. dried parsley or cilantro
1 Tbs. kosher salt
Yield: about 2-3/4 cups
Dry Mix for Salads and Cheese
This one is so delicious for sprinkling
on just about anything, even inside
grilled cheese sandwiches!
1 c. dried, toasted, sliced sweet onions
1/2 c. tiny diced, dried sweet apple pieces
1 c. toasted sesame seeds
1 c. toasted sunflower seeds
2 Tbs. sea salt
1/2 c. dried parsley
1/2 c. dried mint
Yield: 4-1/2 cups
Posted March 24, 2006
• JTNews Columnist
Over December, my partner Mark and I decided to forego the whole Christmas mishugas (beginning to sprout up all around by Halloween) and head to Israel for three weeks. He had lived in Jerusalem 38 years ago for a year’s study at Hebrew University, but this was my first trip and I was beyond excited — the place, the history, the food.
Besides being a food nut, I am a Biblical history nut, so I felt I was flying British Airways to paradise. And my dreams, of course, were realized. Here were uncountable historical sites, museums devoted to every imaginable historical find, miles of ruins, whole cities still being home to thousands of people after thousands of years — I was overwhelmed.
But the food! I could not get enough of the markets, the street vendors, the meetz (juice) stands (“May I have a pomegranate and papaya meetz, please?”), the cafés with five hotplates and some of the most delicious food in the world. We have a photo, out of dozens of market photos, of me standing in one of the main Jerusalem markets, grinning ear to ear, holding the biggest eggplant we had ever seen.
Of course, the breadth of that shining, purple beauty was far exceeded in the following weeks by others in other markets that were even closer to watermelon-sized!
I was truly not prepared for the bounty of Israel, but as happy as a chef can be in a land that seems devoted to vegetables, fruits, spices and all that goes into making some of the most fragrant, flavorful and beautiful food in the world.
A wonderful dining habit in Israel and all over the Middle East is the tradition of serving a dozen or more little appetizers before the main meal. These mezze are small, just a few succulent bites served with several others, each in its own little dish, but they are far from small in flavor or variety. When we had returned to the States and were looking back on the scents and styles of our favorite mezze, trying to recreate their recipes, we were struck with the sheer numbers of different types we had consumed: nearly 40 kinds in two-and-a-half weeks of traveling!
Some mezze are well-known and beloved around the world, like hummus, baba ghanouj, tabouleh, and Israeli salads of chopped tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers dressed with lemon, olive oil and salt. Others are simple, traditional and delicious, like cauliflower crisply fried in olive oil, sprinkled with salt and lemon juice and served hot; lightly cured, cool green Israeli olives tossed with marinated, roasted red peppers; simple shredded red cabbage cole slaw with spicy mayonnaise and pomegranate seeds; or just a crisp slice of fresh fennel to eat between richer bites.
Then there are the myriad eggplant dishes, showing off the skill of the cook or the beauty of a family recipe: creamy, slow-cooked slices, simmered in garlic oil with red peppers and tomatoes until all the textures become the simple carrier of a richness that closes your eyes and lets you feel as if you’ve never eaten anything quite so good.
Something that struck us immediately about eating hummus in Israel was that, although it was always much creamier, smoother and a little thinner than we have grown accustomed to here, each family or restaurant has developed its own particular flavor, so when you sit down to eat hummus you are treated to something that is ubiquitous — we almost never had mezze without being served a dish of hummus — but always showing its own character.
This becomes even more interesting when you learn that true Middle Eastern hummus, far from being loaded with red peppers or olives or pesto, is made with only four ingredients: well-cooked chick peas, tahina (ground sesame seed paste), water and salt. Olive oil and lemon juice are sprinkled on top, and the hummus is often swirled around a central offering of whole, unseasoned garbanzos, indicating that the hummus was made in-house. It is truly so delicious that it’s nearly impossible to grow tired of it, especially when served, as it always is, with small, hot pitas from the bakery down the street.
Oh, and another thing: hummus is almost always made fresh, every day. If it’s kept too long or refrigerated overnight it becomes hard and cannot be brought back to its original smooth creaminess. Here is an age-old devotion to freshness and quality, like that found in the fresh juice stands, which shows a different focus in cooking that’s difficult for us to afford in our northern climate and fast food, grab-and-go lives.
But if you have a little time, buy a pound of dried garbanzos, a half-pint of tahina, some good olive oil, a lemon or two and the freshest pita you can find and invite some friends over for a true Israeli treat. Making the hummus is very quick, but allow two overnight soaking periods for the beans, one before they’re cooked and one after.
It’s interesting. When reading Israeli recipes for hummus, you’re told, “Absolutely never use a food processor!” “Only use a food processor or a blender!” “Use a mortar and pestle!” This recipe is taken from one of the most prolific hummus makers in the entire region and he says, “We used to use a wooded pole [like a pestle] when I started, but now it’s a mixer with six steel blades.”
1 lb. dried garbanzo beans
12 oz. (about 1-1/2 cups) tahina paste
(or more or less to taste)
Kosher or sea salt
Extra virgin olive oil to taste (about 4–6 Tbs.)
One or two lemons
1 pita per person:
warmed in a damp towel in a low oven
and cut in triangles
Wash the garbanzo beans in warm water and drain, looking carefully for any little stones.
Soak overnight on your kitchen counter in salt water in a medium-sized pot that covers the beans by about three or four inches. Add two or three tablespoons of salt to the soaking water and mix well to dissolve.
The next day, drain off the soaking water, rinse the beans well, drain and cover again with water to three or four inches above the beans.
Bring to a boil, turn down the heat and cook at a good simmer for two to three hours or until very soft, adding water to keep it consistently two to three inches above the beans. When done, the garbanzos will easily crumble between you thumb and forefinger. If they don’t, cook a little longer.
Put in the refrigerator to soak again overnight.
Now, put half the beans with a little of their water in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade (save a few garbanzos for serving with the hummus). Process until very smooth, adding a little more water as needed to aid in the blending.
When the mixture is as smooth as thick sour cream — really, no skins, no lumps, just like thick sour cream — add the tahina and blend smooth. Add a little more if it suits your taste.
Then add water if needed to bring it to a regular, stirred sour cream texture — just a little thinner than before.
Add 1 tsp. of salt (don’t use iodized), taste and add more salt to taste. If you’re cooking for low-salt diets, add lemon juice now instead of more salt; reduce the salt to 1/2 tsp. or use potassium chloride.
The hummus should taste pretty wonderful now, but lacking something.
Put the hummus on a platter or plate, shaped in a circle with a little indentation in the center.
Place the reserved garbanzos in the center.
Squeeze the juice of one half to one lemon over the whole plate, then evenly spoon on the olive oil. Sprinkle very lightly with paprika.
Serve with the pita and lemon wedges so everyone can adjust the tartness of the hummus to his or her own liking.
Makes about 5 cups.
Posted February 17, 2006
• JTNews Columnist
We all know Hanukkah: eight days of fun, lighting candles, spinning dreidels, having parties and eating oil-drenched latkes or deep-fried fritters soaked in honey. All this in celebration of the liberation of the Second Temple and the miracle of the oil wrought by Judas Maccabeus and his brothers in 165 B.C.E.
But did we know about the woman whose valor and courage inspired the Maccabees, and in whose memory we also eat cheese and dairy products at Hanukkah?
She was the beautiful widow Judith, whose story is found in the Apocrypha (a group of Jewish historic and literary works that was not destined to be part of the Bible). Her beauty had enthralled the dreaded enemy general Holofernes, who was laying siege to both her Judean city Bethulia and her own affections. One night she dined with him and fed him a salty cheese, followed by quantities of wine to quench his ensuing thirst. When he had finally drunk himself into a stupor, she cut off his head with a sword and saved her city.
Legend has it that when the Maccabees were facing impossible odds in their battle against the occupying Syrians, they reminded themselves of Judith’s amazing feat and were inspired to go on. So for the miracle of the eight days, we eat foods sizzled in oil and for the inspiration of Judith, we eat cheese!
What, then could be more appropriate for Hanukkah (which means “dedication” in Hebrew) than to dedicate one of our festive meals to both Judith and the Maccabees with an Israeli pancake made with cheese? It can be served with cinnamon sugar or applesauce and sour cream as a main course, made as an accompaniment to a main course, or served as a dessert with a warm fruit sauce and spice-sweetened whipped cream.
Israeli Cheese Pancakes
2 cups cottage cheese
or soft cheese, like ricotta
1 cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
2 tsp. sugar
1-1/2 tsp. salt (or to taste)
3 Tbs. butter or margarine
1 Tbs. oil
1/2 tsp. nutmeg, ginger or cinnamon (optional)
Put the cheese and eggs into separate bowls. Beat the eggs with a whisk till light and fluffy, then stir into the cheese.
Melt one tablespoon of the butter or margarine and stir into the cheese mixture, along with the flour and seasonings to make a thick batter.
Put the remaining butter (or margarine) and the oil into a heavy skillet over medium heat. As soon as the butter starts to foam, drop tablespoons of the batter into the pan and flatten slightly with the back of the spoon. Fry gently until risen and golden brown on one side, then turn and cook until the other side is golden. Serve immediately if possible, or hold warm in the oven. May freeze individually, package in freezer containers then thaw and heat in the oven to serve.
Serves 4 as a main course
• • •
Puddings of different sorts are also Hanukkah fare in both Ashkenazi and Sephardi households, whether sweet, fruity dessert puddings or succulent, casseroled kibbeh, or orange-water perfumed flan. This two-cheese apple pudding is my “Judith-keit” version of a dish found in Lady Judith Montefiore’s Jewish Manual of 1846, the first Jewish cookbook written in English.
Cheesy “Menorah Apple Pudding”
2 lbs. pie apples, peeled and cored
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup grated cheddar cheese
1 cup ricotta cheese
1 cup sour cream
3 eggs, beaten
2 Tbs. apricot preserves
1/4 cup flour
1 Tbs. lemon juice, 2 tsp. lemon zest
4 Tbs. orange juice, 2 Tbs. orange zest
3/4 cup plus 2 Tbs. soft butter or margarine
1 cup sugar
2 cups ground almonds, walnuts
or hazelnuts (or a combination)
Cut the apples in 1/2-inch thick slices and mix with the sugar, the cheeses, the sour cream, the eggs and the flour. Melt the preserves with the juices and zests and mix into the apples. Lightly grease a three-quart baking dish and put in the apple mixture.
Beat together all the topping ingredients until smooth , then spread evenly over the apples. Bake 40 minutes at 350ş or till golden and firm to the gentle touch. Serve plain or with yogurt, crčme fraiche, or even ice cream!
Serves 6 to 8 for dessert
• • •
The sixth night of Hanukkah is Rosh Chodesh, the monthly celebration of the new moon. Moroccan Jews often gather for a festive Hanukkah Rosh Chodesh, featuring special main dishes followed by a series of desserts. Try this Moroccan couscous with a little glass of milk or buttermilk to honor Judith — for a sixth night — or any Hanukkah night’s special celebration. I’m giving a simplified version of preparing the couscous, inspired by the wonderful Sephardi cook and writer, Claudia Roden.
Moroccan Couscous with Nuts & Fruits
1 lb. medium-ground couscous
2-1/2 cups warm water
1 tsp. salt
4 to 5 Tbs. melted butter or margarine
3/4 cup chopped pitted dates
3/4 cup golden raisins
1/4 cup sugar
3 Tbs. orange juice or sweet wine
3/4 cup finely chopped toasted almonds
3/4 cup finely chopped toasted walnuts
1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 tsp. orange zest
Extra ground cinnamon for decoration
Put the couscous into a large bowl and add the warm water and salt, stirring so the water is absorbed evenly. After 10 minutes, when the couscous has become somewhat plump and tender, add 2 to 3 Tbs. butter or margarine and rub the grain between your fingers to air it and break up lumps. Stir in the dates, raisins, sugar and juice or wine. Let rest for an hour or more to absorb the flavors.
Heat the couscous in a cheesecloth-lined strainer above boiling water or in an authentic couscousier, or in a 325? oven covered well with foil for 20–25 minutes. Turn out into a large bowl and fluff with two forks, adding the remaining butter or margarine, nuts, orange zest and 1/2 tsp. cinnamon. Pile lightly onto a platter and gently form into the traditional shape of a mountain. Decorate with stripes of ground cinnamon radiating from the center to the perimeter. Garnish with almond-stuffed dates as a special treat. Serves 6
Emily Moore is a local chef with 30 years experience in her field. Her business, Emily’s Kitchen, provides culinary services to all facets of the food industry and catering to the Jewish community. She also teaches culinary arts at Edmonds Community College.
Posted December 9, 2005
• JTNews Columnist
Jews have a past with oranges
In our very rainy autumns I tend to get wistful, thinking that the big fall Jewish “food holidays” are past and — except for latke fests at Hanukkah — there are no great Jewish food gatherings until the seudot of Purim.
Then I see the first satsuma tangerines appear in the stores, along with a very early new crop of navel oranges and I remember the glory of late autumn: it’s the beginning of the citrus season! And we’ll have the best of a huge variety of the segmented species, almost until spring turns our thoughts to other culinary cravings.
The incomparable sweetness of oranges has been part of Jewish life at least since Roman times. The Mediterranean coastal areas that are now prized citrus-growing regions are thought to have been first maintained in orchards by Jews. In fact, medieval Jews from Sicily and other Mediterranean islands were known as citrus specialists and were encouraged to settle in prime citrus areas to spread their expertise in growing the finest lemons and oranges in the world.
The “shamuti”-type Jaffa orange has probably been grown in Israel since the early 1800s and has been thought to far outstrip the fruit from Spain, Florida and California as the sweetest and most fragrant orange in the world. It has been said that the perfume of the Jaffa orchards in flower could be detected by ships sailing in the Mediterranean, miles from shore.
The oranges, tangerines and mandarins of this coming season seem to bring the sun of Spain and the Mediterranean into our chilly northern lives, a sun that once shone on our Sephardic forebears and inspired this wonderful cake made with oranges picked from ancient trees surrounding the square of the old Jewish quarter in Seville. It is one of my very favorite cakes, adapted from Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food, because it uses a puree of whole simmered oranges and seems to capture the essence of all that is orange.
Gateau a l’Orange- Orange Cake
Serves 10 to 12
2 oranges or 4 small tangerines
1-1/4 cup sugar
2 Tbs. orange blossom water
1 tsp. baking powder
1-1/2 cup toasted almond, walnuts or hazelnuts (or a combination) ground fine
Oil a 9-inch cake pan or springform pan and line the bottom with parchment or waxed paper. Oil again and dust with flour or matzoh meal.
Wash the oranges and boil them whole ‘til they are very soft, about two hours, adding more water as necessary.
Beat the eggs with the sugar till light and thickened. Add the orange-blossom water, baking powder and nuts and mix well. Cut open the oranges, remove any seeds and puree ‘til smooth in a food processor. Mix thoroughly with the egg and nut mixture and pour into the prepared pan.
Bake in a preheated 375° oven for one hour. Let cool in the pan, then turn out onto a cake platter and dust generously with powdered sugar.
This cake has a luscious pudding-like texture and is beneficially low in fat!
• • •
We often think of warming ourselves with hot bowls of soup or chowder. Here is a salad that seems warming because most of the ingredients come from sunny climates: olives, almonds, avocados and oranges — and it’s dressed with an orange-scallion vinaigrette. You can serve it to accompany some steamy bowls of soup, stew or chowder!
“Warming” Winter Salad
2 heads Bibb lettuce or baby frisée
1/2 bunch watercress, tough stems removed
2 oz. oil-cured black olives
2 oz. small green olives, like Spanish Arbequina
2 oz. small black olives, like Niçoise
4 oz. whole raw almonds, roasted at 325° for 12–15 min or until flavorful and crunchy
1 large ripe avocado
2 small sweet oranges or 3 satsuma tangerines
1 small shallot, cut in very thin rings
4 oz. creamy blue cheese, in small chunks
1 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1-1/2 tsp. ground cumin
kosher or sea salt to taste
Wash the lettuce and watercress, dry and set aside. (Don’t like watercress? Omit it and use more lettuce.)
Cut the skins and white pith off the oranges and cut them in thin slices, saving the juice from cutting for the vinaigrette. If you’re using tangerines, peel them, scrape off some of the white pith from the segments, divide into segments and cut each segment nearly in half, lengthwise. Open up the segments like little books (actually they look a bit like butterflies). Drain the olives and mix together.
Just before serving the salad, coarsely tear the lettuce, put in a bowl and toss with 1/2 cup (or less) of the vinaigrette (recipe follows).Spread decoratively
on a medium-sized serving platter.
Cut the avocado in half lengthwise and remove the pit. Take one half in your palm, cut side up, and use a paring knife to cut crosshatch squares into the flesh, cutting all the way to the skin. Use a soup or small serving spoon to scoop out the little cut squares of avocado, leaving the skin empty. Scatter the avocado on the lettuce and sprinkle lightly with salt.
Arrange the orange slices in two diagonal lines over the lettuce, having the slices overlap each other. Sprinkle with almonds, olives and shallot rings, and scatter on the blue cheese. Lightly sift the black pepper and cumin over the salad, drizzle on a bit more vinaigrette and serve.
Juice of one orange or two tangerines
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
2 tsp. Dijon mustard
1 scallion (green onion) with green, cleaned and chopped very fine
1/2 tsp. kosher salt
1 clove garlic, peeled, smashed and minced
1-1/4 cup mild extra virgin olive oil
In a medium-sized bowl, mix together the orange juice, vinegar, mustard, scallion, garlic and salt, stirring with a whisk to combine well.
Pour in the olive oil very slowly, whisking vigorously to create a good emulsion with the juice and vinegar.
Taste and adjust the flavors with a bit more salt or vinegar. This will keep for at least three weeks covered in the refrigerator.
Posted November 11, 2005
• JTNews Columnist
I must admit that Sukkot is one of my favorites out of all the year’s festivals. Sukkot is about harvest, and to any seasoned cook that means full-flavored foods in abundance — and a chance to create feasts that can only happen in this poignant season between the end of glorious summer and the beginning of long winter.
My favorite way to make sure that a meal in the sukkah is wonderfully warming, full of autumn flavor, and ready to be eaten before the evening rains start dripping through the leafy roof is to center the feast on an incomparable soup. The ingredients can reflect the season’s plethora of ripe and luscious vegetables and the meal can be completed with just some great bread and perhaps a warm cobbler for dessert.
Here are a couple of very hearty soups that can be made ahead and reheated for dinner, just before the final garnishes go on.
The first is a rich pumpkin soup served in a pumpkin shell for fun and extra flavor. The other is a thick corn chowder, made with autumn kale for extra nutrition (beta carotene and vitamin C), topped with a walnut-breadcrumb topping called “gremolata.”
Pumpkin Soup in a Pumpkin
One large pumpkin, about 8 to 10 lbs.
2 sugar (cooking) pumpkins, about 3 lbs. each
2 onions, cut in half lengthwise and sliced crosswise into thin half-rounds
3 Tbs. butter or margarine
8 cups chicken or vegetable stock or bouillion
2 cups milk (or substitute for parve)
1 Tbs. salt, divided
2 tsp. allspice
1 tsp. nutmeg (or to taste)
2 tsp. powdered ginger
1/2 tsp. white pepper
1/2 cup honey, or to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Juice of 1/2 orange
1 cup heavy cream or light sour cream (or substitute for parve)
1/2 cup pumpkin seeds, toasted (also called pepitas — available in bulk at PCC, Central Market or Whole Foods)
Select a large pumpkin that will stand up straight on its own without rolling and with a short but graspable stem. Preheat the oven to 350˚ and remove all the racks except the lowest one to fit the whole pumpkin. Place the pumpkin upright on a lightly oiled baking tray and bake for about 30–40 minutes or until the flesh of the shoulder of the pumpkin, when pressed with a finger, leaves a slight impression. It’s important not to overbake the “tureen” pumpkin; it will continue to cook after it leaves the oven. Remove and let cool on the baking sheet.
Cut the two smaller pumpkins in half and scoop out the seeds. Place them cut side down on an oiled baking tray, cover with foil and bake in the 350˚ oven for 45 minutes–1 hour; they should be very tender when pierced with a knife. Remove and let cool.
Meanwhile, sauté the onions in butter until wilted, sprinkle with salt, turn the heat to low and let cook for about 45 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they are a golden caramel color. When the pumpkins are cool, scoop out the flesh into a large soup pot and add the onions, stock or bouillon, salt and all the spices. Bring to a boil, turn the heat down and let simmer for 20 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the milk, honey and citrus juices.
Using a blender (not a food processor), puree the soup in batches and pour into another pot as each batch is finished. Add more spice, honey, milk or cream or lemon juice to suit your taste. Keep the soup at a low simmer until putting into the pumpkin tureen. You may refrigerate (or freeze) for a week if you’re not going to serve the soup immediately.
Put the pumpkin seeds on a baking tray (no oil) and toast till they begin to pop. Take out and reserve for garnish.
To make the pumpkin tureen, first you must make a “lid.” About 1/4 of the way down from the stem, cut straight around the pumpkin using a sharp serrated knife. Before removing the top, make vertical marks with a pen or pencil in one or two places on both lid and tureen to correctly line up the top after you’ve taken it off. Then remove the lid and scoop all the seeds and loose flesh out of the pumpkin, leaving the walls intact. Make sure it’s left relatively smooth and free of strings.
To serve, put the pumpkin tureen onto a platter, ladle the soup into the pumpkin and put on the lid. Bring to the table and let everyone serve themselves from the pumpkin, garnishing their bowls with cream or sour cream (or substitute) and toasted pumpkin seeds.
Yield: 6 to 8 large servings
Corn Chowder with Walnut Gremolata
4 ears fresh corn, shucked, kernels cut from cob
1 1/4-lb. new red or Yukon gold potatoes, scrubbed and cut into 1/2-inch dice
2 leeks, 3 inches of green cut off, cut in half lengthwise and rinsed very well under cold running water
1 medium onion, diced small
2 small stalks celery, cut in 1/2-inch dice
1 large red pepper, seeded and membranes removed, cut in 1/2-inch dice
4 Tbs. butter or margarine
6 Tbs. flour
4 cups vegetable stock or bouillon
4 to 5 cups milk (or part half-and-half)
1 tsp. nutmeg
1 Tbs. salt
A pinch cayenne
2 Tbs. chopped fresh sage or rosemary leaves
5 large leaves green kale, stems removed, chopped into 1 inch pieces
In a large soup pot, melt the butter over medium heat and sauté the leeks, onions and celery. When the onions are wilted, add the red pepper and sauté about 5 minutes longer. Stir in the flour with a wooden spoon and cook, stirring constantly, for about 5 more minutes or until the flour has coated all the vegetables and is bubbling on the bottom of the pot.
Mix together vegetable stock and milk, and heat gently in another pot over medium heat; do not boil. With a whisk, beat the liquids into the vegetables in the large pot, beating constantly. Stir energetically until there are no lumps and the liquid begins to simmer and thicken.
Add the potatoes to the chowder and cook, simmering, for 15 minutes or until the potatoes are tender. Add the corn kernels and cook five minutes longer. Add the seasonings and herbs and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Using a blender, puree 1/3 of the chowder till smooth and thick and pour back into the remainder of the chowder in the pot.
[NOTE: Be sure not to fill the blender jar more than half full when blending hot liquids, and leave the center opening in the lid open and covered loosely with a towel — if too full of hot liquid, the action of the blender may cause the contents to explode out of the top and all over you and the walls! Start the blender slowly, too. It helps “calm” the initial burst of blending that may send the soup flying.]
Now add the kale to the chowder, cook over medium heat for 10 minutes, taste and correct the seasonings, and voila! Creamy corn chowder with kale.
Pour into bowls and garnish
with walnut gremolata…
1-1/2 cups dry breadcrumbs
3 Tbs. olive oil
1 cup roasted, chopped walnuts
(bake at 350˚ for 7 min, then chop fine)
1 Tbs. grated lemon or orange rind
1 tsp. salt
1/4 cup chopped parsley
In a dry pan, toast the breadcrumbs over medium heat, stirring often, till golden brown. Stir in the olive oil, walnuts, citrus rind, salt and parsley. Cook, stirring, for 2 or 3 minutes more to blend the flavors. Cool and store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for 2 weeks. Re-heat to serve. May also be used on pasta, salads and vegetables.
Yield: 8 servings
Posted October 14, 2005
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Emily Moore, former executive chef at the Painted Table and now a cooking instructor and consultant to well-known kosher manufacturers, brings us recipes, stories and a dash of Jewish history to readers each month.