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.
Sweet Haman's Ears
There is only one mandatory action on Purim, that is to hear the story of the deliverance of the Jews from the hands of their enemy, Haman. One might debate whether this was due to Esther’s sexual manipulation of the king at her uncle Mordecai’s urging or it was in fact due to divine intervention.
What is not in debate however is the ferocity of the Jewish observance of the event. Jewish custom is to get stinking drunk and yell, scream and stomp every time Haman’s name is read aloud and generally remind everyone that we hold grudges for a very long time.[Don't believe me, the Jews are the only people to remember the tribe of Amelek- just so we can observe the commandment to blot out their memory. That's more than 2000 years of holding a grudge because they tried to jump us in the desert.]
This extends into the foods consumed on Purim. Oznai Haman (Haman’s Ears) come in several forms, ranging from stuffed cookies to this interesting fried pasta recipe I found. Of all of the Purim foods I have seen these turned out to be the most life-like and perhaps raising the greatest number of questions for a liberal western Jew to answer as he presents a plate of these fried ears to his kids.
I invite you to offer your own thoughts on consuming something that looks so much like a body part, and remind you that between Haman and his 10 sons (who were all impaled on wood spikes) there would have been 22 ears, snacks for everyone.
“I ate him with some fava beans and a nice Chianti” -Hannibal Lecter
Fava beans are one of the oldest beans eaten in the Western world. In fact it was the only bean known in Europe before the discovery of the Americas (where the common bean is from). The fava bean is eaten all along the Mediterranean basin and well into Asia where they come in a variety of sizes. I can remember eating steamed fava beans with my breakfast in Amman seasoned with salt and herbs that were more than an inch wide.
According to Claudia Roden, fava beans were used in making a traditional Egyptian Shabbat stew that her father called tfadalou. It consisted of whole eggs that were slow cooked with the beans in the still hot ashes of the communal baths or bakeries. It would form the center of a meal with a slew of salads and bread on Shabbat afternoon (a seuda shlitshit or third feast of the Sabbath).
In Israel fava beans are used in a porridge that is simply called Ful (pronounced fool). It is a simple dish that is frequently eaten as a breakfast with hard boiled eggs or as part of a lunch with grilled meat and pita. This dish is a lot like musabacha a warm mix of whole and crushed chick peas. At Humas Said in Akko (or Acre) you can get humas with ful bringing these two similar dishes together.
My personal favorite is the ful at Samir’s in Ramle (located at the top of Detroit Community St. -the things people name streets!). It is a warm mix of stewed fava beans, garlic, salt, pepper and lemon juice. This very simple dish has only one real requirement, that you make it from scratch using dried fava beans.
By the way, if beans give you gas (a byproduct of the oligosacchrides present) then one possible solution is to boil them briefly and then rinse them before continuing to cook in fresh water. A better solution is the traditional one, cook them low and slow to break down those carbohydrates into something your body can actually digest.
Recipe after the break Continue reading
Would you care for a snack?
Remember that show, the one about nothing? Well it was very flattered in Israel by a knock-off version whose name I cannot recall and is presently eluding my web searches. In it the Kramer character goes to a new bourekas bakery in his neighborhood (it all takes place in Tel Aviv) and is shocked to discover that the baker has disrupted the unwritten rule of fillings and shapes. For instance a potato boureka is always a rectangle, a triangle is always cheese, a pizza filling is a cylinder, while spinach filled resembles a pastry knot. One can picture the physical reaction of this character as he bites into a triangle shaped boureka and discovers that it is filled with spinach!
I was equally shocked to discover this past week that there are several different doughs that can be used to make this tasty little treats since all of the Israeli versions are made with the same flaky pastry dough. Much like the knish, there are regional variants in dough and filling across the Jewish communities of the near east and south eastern Europe. From Marrakesh to Salonika these small filled pies were popular additions to party menus. The word itself comes from the Turkish word for pie.
I decided to try a traditional Turkish recipe that Claudia Roden offers and filled them with a salmon, onion and cheese filling.
Recipe after the break
Stuffed Zucchini con arroz
This is a dish I love, but did not consider Jewish until some recent research. When I lived in Israel I had good friends who are members of the Greek Orthodox Arab community. They are descendants of people who had lived in Israel prior to 1948, and had not fled beyond what were then Jordanian lines. Although they have a lot of cousins in Jordan today- something I learned when they invited me to come to Jordan with them in ’96- that was an incredible experience.
But back to the zucchini, each year Samir and his family would host a huge Christmas party in January (when Orthodox Christmas falls on the Julian calendar). Among the many dishes were platters of stuffed zucchini. They were stuffed with chopped meat, onions and spices and then braised in sauce until you could cut it with a fork. I would attempt to make it myself from time to time, hunting for good looking small squash in the open air market of Ramle, but I was never able to match the flavor.
A week ago I was strolling through the new west side Berkeley Bowl and came across perfect globe shaped zucchini- I couldn’t resist them. Along with some other goodies I took them home and started looking for a recipe. I found, in Claudia Rodan’s cookbook, an entry for stuffed zucchini, which she describes as a dish common amongst the Jews of Egypt, Syria and Lebanon and its use in large festive meals. Using her recipe and making some allowances for my own tastes and some of the seasonings from friend Samir used I came up with something slightly different.
Recipe after the break Continue reading
Fresh from the smoker
Go ahead, I dare you- google the words “Jewish sausage”. At the risk of inviting bad puns, lets face it there isn’t a lot of food there. That being said I couldn’t get the idea out of my head that at one time there must have been a wide world of Jewish sausages and smoked meats given the absence of refrigeration and the need to eat every scrap of protein that came into the house. My first stop was to consult with Claudia Roden who confirmed in The Book of Jewish Food: An Odyssey from Samarkand and Vilna to the Present Day that there had been a very wide array of Jewish sausages in both Sephardi and Ashkenazi communities. Sadly what is left to us today is the kosher salami (which I love) and the poor array of supermarket sausages in Israel.
But I was compelled to make sausage for Sukkot (I’m a sucker for an alliteration) and so I pressed on. Merguez is a traditional lamb sausage first made in North Africa and then spreading with the post colonial diaspora to France and then beyond. I sought direction in my production from Charcuterie: The Craft of Salting, Smoking, and Curingby Michael Rulhman. I highly recommend the step by step directions. I found a nice shoulder lamb roast at the market, but sourcing fat (which you need) was more difficult. Most of the recipes I have call for pork fat- I non-starter for me. I looked for lamb or goat fat at the Halal markets, with no luck. I also looked for beef fat at the supermarket meat departments. With nothing in hand and unwilling to schlep all the way down to Oakland to see what Whole Foods might have I started looking at some of the meat in the case to see if there was something fatty enough to trim the 1/4lb of fat I needed. There were some nice small brisket pieces, I bought the fattiest one and took it home to trim.
The brisket, btw, makes great hamburger.
Recipe and pictures after the break