Monthly Archives: November 2009

Stuffed Zucchini (Mahshi Cousa)

Stuffed Zucchini, done

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

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Filed under Israeli, Jewish, Meat, Sephardic

So So Spicy Schug… hot sauce of the Yemenite variety.

 

Green Schug

with pita and hummus

 

I LOVE all things spicy. And schug is among my favorites of spicy condiments. Schug is a Yemenite hot sauce that can be used to add some heat and flavor to savory dishes, and is a true soul mate for a good hummus. We’ve always had a container of schug on hand in our fridge and it’s replacement waiting to be cracked open in the freezer. Seeing the deep glossy green chili peppers in the shuk this week provoked my Yemenite side and attempt to make my own version of schug.

You can make schug with either red or green peppers depending on your personal preference. So I went with green schug, and let me tell you… it was exceptionally spicy and very very delicious.  But the level of heat is completely up to you.  It’s simple enough to make, just throw all the ingredients into a food processor and voila! you’ve made a perfect spicy sauce to match your palate. The product is a beautiful bright green chili paste with a great texture. I left the seeds in the chilies because that’s where all the heat comes from, but if you’re more sensitive and don’t like things too spicy and want more of the hot sauce flavor remove the seeds. Add more coriander (cilantro to Americans) to cool the peppers.  If you want more of what I call the “kick” of a hot sauce and less of the spicy add more garlic.

Here’s what I did….

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Filed under Bread, Israeli, Other Stuff, Sephardic

Sesame Seed Candy (Sukariyot Soomsoom)

sesame 055

Sesame Seed Candy

Marc’s halvah post had me contemplating sesame seeds. I have always really enjoyed the flavor of sesame seeds and am fascinated by their versatility in both sweet and savoy dishes. My personal preferences generally categorize certain flavors and seasonings as sweet or savory and never the twain shall meet, but sesame I like in a variety of forms.  One of my favorites is in sesame candy. My first exposure to it was the packaged variety from the Brooklyn based kosher candy maker Jovya. (they also make packaged halva and an odd array of kosher marshmallow product) Later I discovered an almost identical treat in Asian grocery stores. In general, every country on the Asian continent and around the Mediterranean has a recipe for sesame seed candy, all of which call for sesame seeds and some form of sugar to be cooked, cooled,  and cut. (Indians call it Til Gajak, the Greeks, Pastelli and of course, Sukariyot Soomsoom in Hebrew)  This isn’t surprising given that sesame seeds are one of the world’s oldest know condiments and have been incorporated, in someway, into most cuisines.  Additionally, sesame seed have high nutritional content, being a good source of fiber, protein,  iron, and calcium. This way you can almost claim that this is a healthy candy…and it is incredibly easy to make and allows me to use more of my honey.  These candies are a particular favorite among the Sephardim, and Israelis, as a Hanukkah treat.

recipe after the jump

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Filed under Dessert, Hannukah, Israeli, Parve, Sephardic

Pickling

Sauerkraut

My first ferment - a nice sauerkraut with purple cabbage

A couple of weeks ago, I went to a seminar entitled, “Yes We Can (and Pickle).” In addition to the fairly funny title, the event, put on by Avodah and AJWS, was devoted to food awareness. One of the workshops I went to was, not surprisingly, about pickling. I did not realize how much I didn’t know.

So let’s start with the basis. Pickling is a process used to preserve foods, such a cucumbers, by removing “bad” bacteria that rot food. It has been used for centuries to preserve food reaped in the warm months (before the times of refrigerators). Most cultures have their own variety  using different food (kimchi, miso, and sauerkraut, for example). Many pickles are made via “quick fermenting,” during which vinegar is added. The vinegar kills all the bacteria. However, there are good bacteria, which aid in the digestion process, making them preferable to keep. The better way, in my humble opinion, is to use just water and salt, which accomplishes the same thing. Here, the yeast in the air ferments the sugars and kills off only the “bad bacteria,” leaving the good stuff

I spent last week in New York City. New York is known for many things, but pizza and delis are for sure on the top of the list. I definitely did not leave being deprived in either category. But when I was walking in the streets, I was reminded also of the pickle’s Lower East Side historical roots, as I was found stands with dozens of different types of pickles. Possibly a hallmark of Jewish delis, the kosher dill arose during the 1800s. Everyone around the U.S. knows the kosher dill, and I have even seen them in supermarkets in the deep South. Today, ironically, kosher dills are not necessarily kosher, but rather only refer to the particular recipe with the generous amount of garlic in the brine, though the historical name still remains.

So why bother pickling? Here are three reasons: (1) It is really fun – it’s sort of like a science experiment. (2) They are tasty. (3) The bacteria in fermented pickles (ie, not the ones with vinegar) have probiotics, which are good for you.

So here’s the recipe…

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Filed under Cured and Pickled, Deli, Fruit and Vegtables, Jewish, Kashrut, Parve

Onion and Cheese Pashtida

3 onion 3 cheese pashtida

Pashtida…. the Israeli Frittata. As I recently learned, pashtida is a very simple traditional Jewish dish that’s been used since the Middle Ages.  Pashtida, similar to a quiche or frittata, is a baked dish composed of eggs, cheese, veggies, or meat, or any combination of therein you think would be tasty.  You can choose to make it without the crust if you want to keep it easy and simple, or add a crust for a little something extra.  Cheese-based pashtidas like this one are a staple in most Israeli homes.

I, like Marc, usually don’t mess around with dairy too much but I know for most people it’s a tummy pleaser.  As this is so commonly found in Israel I almost felt obliged to come up with a recipe that felt traditional but with a fresh flip to it as I find them typically to be extremely heavy.  Not eating dairy somewhat of a trick in this dairy and egg based recipe, but thankfully my parents both cheese lovers were much willing recipe testers. This recipe has three types of cheeses, goat cheese, cottage cheese (to keep it creamer but on the lighter side), and “bulgarit” cheese, which is a hard salty cheese similar to feta but melts really well… I’m not sure what the American equivalent would be.

What  I love about the pashtida is that you can really stick anything you want in there, get creative with your veggies, cheeses, and spices. Throw in whatever you think will taste good together. This recipe is a good simple base, very delicious, comforting and familiar flavors, but nothing out of the ordinary.

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Filed under Fruit and Vegtables, Israeli, Jewish, Shavuot

Roast Chicken #2 (Sumac)

Sumac Chicken, cut up

Dinner Time

Well the heathen chicken wagon rolls forward with entry number two. Sumac berries are the red ripe berries of the the non-poisonous variety of the sumac tree found in the Middle East. Not to be confused with its North American relative. It is widely used in Jewish and Arab cooking and almost any Arab restaurant worth its salt (from the old Roman custom of paying soldiers in salt) will have a sumac rubbed chicken on the menu. The presence of it in a Jewish establishment marks the menu as coming from the Syrian, Lebanese or Land of Israel Jewish communities. The flavor is bright, tart and reminiscent of cranberry or currant.

I found mine in a middle eastern market here in Berkeley. I am always of two minds when shopping in these places. On one hand I lived for several years in Israel, have an array of Arab friends and even spent a week eating my way through Amman. So I am tempted to ask for things with a degree of comfort and even engage with the staff about whether the Za’atar is fresh and the pita local. On the other hand by doing so I know that sooner or later I will be asked where my knowledge comes from (I do not look in any way Middle Eastern).  That is usually a relationship killer. But not always, I recall the owner of a Kebab place in Kansas City who was from the West Bank. He told me he loved American Jews- they were his best customers. In the end I kept my mouth shut and bought some ground sumac, some za’atar and some fava beans. The za’atar and the fava beans are for another day of cooking however.

The other thing I should point out is that I roast my chicken butterflied. This is a technique that I use to allow for a more even cooking time (the breasts and thighs cook at the same speed) and you get a nice expanse of crisp skin as a bonus. Also it should go without saying that you should brine your chicken. I added a tsp of sumac and a tsp of smoked paprika to the brine.

Recipe after the jump

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Filed under Israeli, Jewish, Meat, Sephardic, Shabbat

Sephardic Pumpkin Bread (Pan de Calabaza)

pumpkin bread 049

Sephardic Pumpkin Bread

Gordon may have gone out on a bit of a limb trying to make his pumpkin pie Jewish, but it turns out he was just looking for inspiration in the wrong community. Due to our own personal backgrounds, we have been a bit heavy on the Ashkenazi and Israeli food, so I decided to start looking at recipes from the Sephardi tradition. Low and behold, it turns out that pumpkin was one of the first New World plants brought back to Europe by Spanish explorers and is quite popular in Sephardi cuisine. Marc and I got into a discussion of pumpkin use in Sephardic Rosh Hashana meals, as the roundness of the pumpkin is symbolic of wishes for a well-rounded, full year.  Marc was particularly fond of roasted pumpkin with couscous and a soup recipe he got from a good friend. In a moment of serendipity, that very evening, Meredith, the Video Producer at Chow.com, walked out of her office with half a raw pumpkin and said “Amiee will know what to do with this”.  Indeed I did. (She also sent home some delicious, left-over roast capon and stuffing from the test kitchen).  The next day I set about roasting and pureeing the pumpkin and pursuing Sephardic Holiday Cooking. There were several options, but as usual I was drawn toward the bread. While the settlers in the new world developed the moist quick-bread style pumpkin bread most of us grew up with, the Sephardim incorporated pumpkin into the traditional yeast bread and quite tastily into challah. This bread makes a beautiful  addition to any Halloween or Thanksgiving celebration.

Recipe after the jump

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Filed under Bread, Dessert, Parve, Rosh Hashana, Sephardic

Halvah

Opening.

In Jerusalem’s Mahane Yehuda shuk (outdoor market), you can finds stands full of halvah

Halvah is really the epitome of Jewish cuisine. Since about two mellenia ago, the Jews have been in exile, moving from one place to another, finding a new home whenever they were kicked out. While all this was happening, they incorporated the local food from the region into their diets. So, for example, traditional Ashkenazi food is very similar to Polish, Germany, Hungary, etc food (eg, kosher dill pickles). Halvah is no exception – the Jews borrowed it from their neighbors and changed it a bit.

Halvah probably originated in India. Traders from there brought this treat over the the middle east, and hence the name Havlah is derived from the Arabic word meaning sweet. In each country, this sweet dessert has a different base: semolina, beans, and pumpkin, for example. Though I am not sure, I would imagine that Jews in middle eastern countries (Mizrachim) have been munching on this sweet for centuries. But since the early 1900s, it has been a mainstream all-around Jewish treat. As a matter of fact, the first US halvah factory was established in… you guessed it… Brooklyn in 1907. Today, Jewish halvah, as opposed to others, is made from sugar/honey and tahini (sesame paste). Jewish/Israeli Halvah is fairly distinct in that it is dairy-free (pareve), as the Jews took a great treat and adapted it to fit their dietary needs.

When it comes to desserts, I am a schlemiel – I always seem to screw it up. I figured that this though, couldn’t be too hard. But…. well… Anyway, be sure to heat the sugar syrup to the corect temperature (click on the link to read more), and be sure to have ample time to allow for refrigeration.

Recipe after break…

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Filed under Dessert, Israeli, Jewish, Parve, Sephardic