Perhaps if you're a gardener pulling voracious weeds, you're not so happy about the abounding green that suddenly, gloriously has invaded our winter world. But as an invitation to explore ancient and contemporary Jewish ways with edible greens, the new spring atmosphere couldn't be better.
During the first years when early Zionists arrived in the territory that was to become Israel, there were few jobs and no crops. Money was often scarce, leaving families to rely on their wits, experimentation and the natural provender of the land to sustain them. One of the foods supplied in the fields and gullies was a wild green known as khubieza, with small leaves and a taste somewhat earthier than spinach. Now it is used interchangeably with other spring greens and is paired delightfully with arugula, watercress, sorrel and purslane, our ubiquitous weed, in this herby salad inspired by early Jerusalem cuisine.
Herb Salad with Pine Nuts and Lemon
- 8 cups mixed edible spring greens: watercress, arugula, puslane, sorrel, etc., washed and dried thoroughly
- 4 Tbs. chopped fresh dill
- 4 Tbs. chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 2 Tbs. chopped fresh mint
- 1 clove garlic, crushed
- Juice and zest of 1 large lemon
- 5 Tbs. fruity extra virgin olive oil
- Kosher or sea salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
- 4 Tbs. pine nuts
Cut or tear the greens into 1" pieces. Toss well with the herbs. In a small bowl mix the garlic, lemon juice and 3 Tbs. of the olive oil with the salt and pepper. Pour over the greens and toss to coat. Gently heat the remaining oil in a small pan, add the pine nuts and toast till golden and fragrant. Sprinkle over the greens with the lemon zest and serve.
Six servings as an appetizer or accompaniment
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The Middle East offers up many versions of this famous ancient, garlicky and delicious Jewish soup, now often made with spinach or chard. In the early Diaspora, however, it was most likely made with the still hugely popular green the Egyptians call "Jew's mallow," or melokheya. It's a leafy green with a deep color and a somewhat glutinous texture that makes the soup thick and rich, a good counterpoint to the rice you add to each plate. You may find melokheya frozen or dried in Middle Eastern stores; the frozen leaves give better results in this soup. If it is unavailable, spinach or Swiss chard leaves are a lovely substitute.
- 2 lbs frozen melokheya , spinach or chard leaves, washed, dried, stemmed and sliced very thin
- 1 frying chicken, about 2-1/2 lbs.
- 2 bay leaves
- 3 or 4 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
- 1 onion, cut in half
- Salt and pepper to taste
- 10 cloves of garlic (yes, 10!), minced or finely chopped
- 2 to 3 Tbs. olive oil
- 1 Tbs. ground coriander
- 2 to 3 Tbs. lemon juice (optional)
- Cayenne pepper to taste (optional)
- Cooked rice to accompany
Put the chicken in a large pot, cover with 3 quarts water, and add the bay leaves, cardamom, onion, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, remove the scum and simmer for one hour. Strain the broth and return it to the pot. Cut the chicken into serving pieces and set aside.
Just before you are ready to serve, bring the broth to a boil. Add the greens and simmer only for 3ñ5 minutes. Do not overcook. The greens remain suspended in the broth. Fry the garlic in the olive oil until it is golden and fragrant, then stir in the coriander. Scrape this mixture (it's called taqliya) into the soup and cook 1 minute longer. Add lemon juice and/or cayenne to taste, if desired, and serve with a portion of rice in each bowl.
Serves six as a main course
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Every Middle Eastern culture -- and almost every Western culture for that matter -- has its own variety of bread salad. In North America, one popular style is known as the caesar. The Arabs had long been making a scrumptious version called fatoush when the early Israelis began to settle in the region. It uses the juices created by mixing tomatoes, cucumbers and peppers with salt and lemon juice to moisten morsels of dried or toasted pita bread -- or for Israelis at Passover, pieces of matzoh. This version adds handfuls of spring greens and a touch of early scallions to the mix, along with the exotic and stimulating taste of za'atar, the regional spice mix made from an indigenous oregano-like herb plus tart sumac and toasted sesame seeds.
- 2 whole pita breads (or 3 matzohs)
- 6 Tbs. extra virgin olive oil
- 1-1/2 tsp za'atar, or to taste (recipe follows)
- 3 roma tomatoes
- 1 green or red bell pepper
- 1 cucumber
- 1/2 medium onion
- 2 young scallions, chopped
- 1 cup cleaned watercress, or any wild greens
- 1 handful coarsely chopped fresh mint leaves
- 1 handful (about 1/3 cup) coarsely chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 3 Tbs. lemon juice
- 1-1/2 tsp kosher salt, or to taste
- 1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper, or to taste
Preheat oven to 350∞. Brush the pitas with 2 Tbs. of the olive oil and sprinkle with half of the za'atar. Bake on a cookie sheet till crisp but not browned, about 5 minutes. If you are using matzoh, follow the same procedure but bake in 200∞ oven.
Dice the tomatoes, pepper, cucumber and onion into 3/4" pieces and put them into a bowl. Add the scallions, watercress or wild greens, mint, cilantro or parsley and toss together. Sprinkle lightly with 1/2 tsp. kosher salt and toss. Put the garlic, lemon juice, remaining salt and pepper into a small bowl. Whisk in the 4 Tbs. olive oil. Just before serving, pour the dressing over the vegetables and sprinkle with the remaining za'atar. Break up the pita or matzoh and toss gently with the vegetables. Adjust the seasonings and serve immediately.
Makes 4 to 6 servings
- 1/4 cup mixed dried oregano and thyme leaves
- 2 Tbs. dried sumac (available at bulk spice counters or spice shops)
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds, toasted in the oven or in a dry pan until golden brown
- Kosher salt to taste
Crumble the oregano and thyme between your fingers into a bowl, removing any twigs.
Add the sumac, sesame seeds and salt to taste (about 1/2 to 1 tsp.). Stir well and store tightly covered.