Warm, seasonal and tasty Pumpkin Soup
The prevalence of New World fruit and vegetables Old World cuisine in is a continual source of wonder to me.
Stop and think for a moment what Italian cooking would be like without tomatoes, Szechuan, Indian or Thai cooking without the various forms of chili peppers, and of course some much of the cooking of Northern Europe would feel empty without the ubiquitous potato. We should add to that list the pumpkin. A member of the squash family, it finds many places in the cuisine of North Africa. From the many slow cooked stews served with couscous to the wonderfully sweet and satisfying pumpkin soup. [For more pumpkin ideas check our our kugel, pie and challah]
As you try to add a bit of Jewish flair to your Thanksgiving celebration, let me urge you to chuck those poor, tired (and perhaps even huddled) matzo balls and whip a bit of this seasonal soup that was a staple of the Sephardic kitchens of Morocco, Libya and Tunisia. This soups appears in several forms in both Joan Nathan and Claudia Roden’s cookbooks and even makes an apprearance in Gourmet’s last collection of recipes published just before the magazine was shuttered.
In this recipe I added butternut squash to the mix, but feel free to experiment with what is in season and tastes good. Some recipes call for chunks of meat- if you go that route, use something tough and fatty that will braise in the soup. Beef chuck, or veal shoulder are both great choices. Stay away from turkey though- except for the legs, it really doesn’t braise well and you should really save that for the entrée.
Pumpkin Kugel for Thanksgiving
With the holidays rapidly approaching and Hanukkah falling a mere week after Thanksgiving this year, the heathens are in full blown production mode, getting ready to delight our faithful readers with some new holiday fare. Thanksgiving is my favorite holiday. I love that the entire point of the holiday is to simply share a meal with your family and friends. There are no gifts to wrap and no temple to be guilted into going to. My family has a tradition of going around the table and saying what we are thankful for. As only can happen in families, about 25 years ago the youngest of us at the time, said she was thankful for Jello, and to this day we have a Jello mold on the buffet, despite the fact that it rarely gets eaten anymore. Every family has the dish that it wouldn’t be Thanksgiving without, and I love hearing from my friends of different ethnic backgrounds tell about dishes from their family’s country of origin that have a place of honor at the Thanksgiving table. So, as you are planning your menu, don’t be afraid to bring in an element of Jewish or Israeli cuisine, to this uniquely American holiday. While we are roasting our pumpkins and grating our potatoes, we invite you to peruse some of our recipes from Thanksgivings past.
Dafna’s Israeli couscous – Thanksgiving Style
Ari’s Pumpkin Kugel
Gordon’s non-Jewish Pumpkin Pie – with pumpkin roasting instructions
My Sephardic Pumpkin Challah
pastrami on rye
This past weekend I was fortunate enough to be invited over to my friends, Evan and Leo’s for a deli tasting. Moishe and Leopold as they sometimes refer to themselves are living the dream. They quit their jobs and are on the path to revitalizing Jewish deli in San Francisco, by opening a true delicatessen dedicated to high-quality meats and baked goods that are worthy of the San Francisco foodie palate . To help get their recipes down, they cooked up a storm and fed about 40 people house-made pastrami, corned beef, pickles, and coleslaw, all on fabulous rye bread. Leo made 14 loaves of rye and even threw in a chocolate chip challah toward the end of the evening. He’s turned into a master baker and showed me with great pride his rye starter that he brought with him from LA when he moved back to the bay. Evan is the meat man, and spend most of the evening slicing pastrami and corned beef, but thoughtfully smoked some shiitake mushrooms to make veggie reubens for the few vegetarians who dared to venture into the house of meat. The whole apartment has been taken over with bins of pickles fermenting, crates stacked with bags of flour and curing salts and cooling racks waiting for bread and rugelach. Evan’s roommate Robby may soon be up for an award for being the most tolerant house-mate in San Francisco, but I suppose the constant supply of food makes its easier to deal with.
Hummus is one of those things that 20 years ago most Americans would never have even heard of it but today you can find 10 different varieties of it at Trader Joe’s and at least one bowl of it at any party. Within the Jewish community there is a fascinating phenomenon that seems to become more prevalent the more common place hummus becomes: as soon as an American Jew has spent more than a day in Israel, when the come home, they develop a compulsion to pronounce hummus and pita with an Israeli accent. It comes out “hoooomus and peeeeta”. I find this infinitely annoying for some reason. Gordon is actually one of the worst offenders of this and we have gotten into stunningly long debates over it. I used to just shake my head and roll my eyes when people did it but now I find it much more amusing to pretend like I can’t understand them … “what is it you’re saying?” are you trying to say hummus and pita?”
This debate pales in comparison to the proxy that hummus has become for the entire middle east conflict, wrapped around who actually invented hummus. Additionally, the Lebanese and Israelis have been continually out doing each other to get in the Guinness Book for the biggest batch of hummus. I’m not kidding. For a great parody of this I recommend watching the short musical film “West Bank Story”, which chronicles the romance of an Israeli soldier and a Palestinian girl whose families run competing falafel stands.
One thing I think everyone can agree on is that hummus is delicious and versatile. It’s a great appetizer dip when served with raw veggies or pita and its a great condiment for falafel, grilled meat or any kind of sandwich.
I suppose this is only not safe for work if you work for a Jewish institution or have an aversion to knowing where your meat comes from (yes Krista, I am talking about you). In my grand tradition of trayfing it up after the long stretch of the High Holidays, I decided to go whole hog… literally. I couple of Tuesdays ago I got a facebook message from Ryan Farr of 4505 Meats, that he had gotten his hands on a pig and would be teaching his highly sought out Whole Hog Butcher class that Friday. Ever since Gordon and I took his lamb butcher class I had been wanting to get into the hog class but he hadn’t held one in months so I jumped at the chance and hit redial until I was enrolled.
Garlic Rosemary Mashed Potatoes, goes with everything
I really cannot type the word potato without thinking of Dan Qualye. For those of you born after the Reagan years, he was the Vice President for Bush I (aka Old 41 or George Herbert Walker Bush). He was doing a school visit and conducting a spelling bee type contest for elementary school kids when he suggested that a child needed to add an E to the end of potato. Now, in his defense the cue card in his hand apparently had a typo but let me tell you, it did nothing to improve his intellectual gravitas.
Meanwhile back here at dinner we need a starch to go along with all of the roast chicken, grilled meat and pot roast. I grew up with baked potatoes, and it wasn’t until I was older that I discovered the joys of a good mashed potato. As it climbed in popularity in my repertoire I set out to perfect this deceptively tricky dish.
There are two aspects you want to get right. One is the mouth feel of the potatoes. They should be moist, not sticky or clumped. The second is a consistent flavor profile. There is nothing worse that a dish that tastes like garlic, only when you get a chunk of garlic. Fortunately the answer to both problems lies in the use and introduction of fat. By steeping the aromatics in the fat we get an even distribution of the flavor compounds. By adding the fat to the potatoes before adding other liquids (this is important) we allow the fat to bind with the starches and prevent any clumping or lump formation in addition to spreading the flavors evenly.
Last week we were contacted by Alicia from SBS Food, the Australian public television network, to be their “Featured Foodies”. Since we will do just about anything to get readers beyond our own family, Gordon and I eagerly agreed to be interviewed for a tie-in to an episode of Food Safari focused on Jewish food. I am secretly hoping we become a phenomenon among the Aussies and I get to make regular trips down there again, but even if that doesn’t happen, we had a lot of fun doing the interview.
I’ve been planning to make teiglach for the past couple of weeks, but with the Bay Area in a heat wave I was trying to avoid turning on my stove for the required hour. With Simcha Torah coming up tomorrow night I was rapidly running out of time for the recipe to be relevant, so I cranked up the A/C to get these done in time for the culmination of the high holidays. Given that it was 95 degrees in San Francisco yesterday, I may have lost my mind a little bit, but sometimes a little sacrifice is required for my art. As you prepare to celebrate the beginning of a new cycle of reading the Torah (finish up Deuteronomy and start-up again with Genesis), teiglach make a nice sweet treat to go along with the obligatory drinking and hakafot.
While I have definitely never made teiglach I also started the project thinking I had never eaten them either and was unprepared with for what they would taste like, but upon biting into the completed cookie I remembered having them at some point as a kid.
Teiglach literally means “little dough” in Yiddish and has its history in the Lithuanian Jewish community, and is traditional for Rosh Hashana and Simcha Torah. (Apparently holishkes are also traditional for Simcha Torah, as the rolls of cabbage are symbolic for the Torah rolls) While boiling dough in honey seems a bit odd, the dough cooks up crunchy like a cookie covered in a sticky honey syrup. The ingredients are quite basic and the process is very simple but the resulting cookies are oddly addicting.
fruit for sukkot
I was going to do a “what to do with your leftover etrog” post for Sukkot but discovered from the folks over at the Jew and the Carrot, that actually eating the etrog may be a bad idea. It turns out that most of the etrogim produced for the United States are blasted with pesticides to make them look pretty but probably pretty toxic to ingest. So, at the suggestions of Jo Ellen, the editor of Zeek, I have decided to embark on a taste test of fruits I have never tried. Given Sukkot’s tradition of eating fruits, nuts and grains this sounded like a good way to start the holiday especially because it comes so early in the year and it is still a bit warm here in Cali. We do have a couple of other traditional recipes posted from last year, so I urge you to check out our Holishkes (Sweet and Sour Stuffed Cabbage and Ma’amoul date cookies if you want to follow the tradition of eating stuffed foods. I am pretty well ready for Sukkot as, luckily, or oddly, I have built-in Sukkah on my deck due to the fact that my European chain-smoking next door neighbors, have put up a bamboo mats to help protect me from the second-hand smoke. I suppose in order to be in keeping with the requirement that it be a temporary structure I could ask them to rotate the mats.
Trying new or interesting fruit actually something that Dafna, (a co-heathen) and I used to do occasionally when we worked together. I used to bring in interesting fruits and we would sit at my desk and decide whether to add them to our regular fruit repertoire. Baby kiwi and honey crisp apples were two of our favs. I headed over to 99 Ranch and Berkeley Bowl to see what I could find. Upon entering 99 Ranch the first thing I came upon was a durian. Now Dafna will get a bit of a chuckle out of that as we once won the Bay Cities trivia contest by correctly answering durian. Lucky for me I remember that the hint was that tribal people used to rub it near their sleeping places because the disgusting smell would keep away predators, so I kept on walking. What I eventually settled on were starfruit, dragon fruit, fresh dates, golden kiwi, and passion fruit. (I threw a pomegranate in there for a little holiday festiveness)