Monday, August 31, 2009

If you are what you eat, this could be Daniel three months from now...

While I am very, very excited to be in back in my old NYC stomping grounds for the next three months, learning the tricks of the trade of food writing and working on a couple of other projects, I am feeling incredibly sad at being apart from my dear Daniel. We love the idea of being bicoastal, but in the future, hopefully, this dream bicostality will involve periods of unicostality, that is two people on one coast, not one on either.

Anyway, as he drove me to the airport this morning, we discussed his food options in my absence, since I am the primary font of the food we eat, in restaurant choices and in grocery lists and in actual preparation. When I asked about how he might feed himself, he gave me a list of possible options.

Here are some ideas he had that I agreed were acceptable:

Quorn, our longest-lasting friend from our stint in Ireland, a fungus- based meat substitute, Naturally, Daniel likes them dipped in ketchup.

Five, five, five dollar foot long. "Turkey, toasted, with avocado, please," says Daniel.

This is the staple of our diet even when I am around. Without me, Daniel's new nickname may very well be Chickpea, or perhaps if we're feeling adventurous - Garbanzo!

When combined with a variety of fruits and vegetables, some lean (non-chickpea derived) protein, some good calcium, and a nice, healthy breakfast, these choices are just fine. But I'd feel a lot better if I were with him, heating up said quorn nuggets, whipping up a little spicy ketchup to accompany them, and throwing in some baby carrots and celery just for good measure.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

It was condiment to be - Peruvian aji sauces

If one were to examine our refrigerator (and since we recently gave it a really profound cleaning, I wouldn't try to stop you), one would quickly discern that Daniel and I are condiment maniacs. We each have those condiments that first made our hearts go pitter-pat- his was ketchup, mine was mustard (in fact we love these so much that we dressed up as such last Halloween).

So there are many, many bottles of mustard lining our shelves - curry mustard, Dijon, beer honey mustard, good old fashioned yellow, I could go on. Ketchup being less of the refined condiment is only represented with the one (big) bottle, but it is Heinz, and Daniel wouldn't have it any other way.

Also lining the shelves are myriad hot sauces, jams, jellies, chutneys, relishes, pickles, and preserves. The list is long. The beauty of the condiment is of course that it can entirely change the flavor of an otherwise simple dish. I can't tell you how many variants of the turkey sandwich I make each week, each time slightly altering the make-up of the meal by changing up the condiments.

Given this love, it is with great pleasure that I introduce a new feature on this here blog, where I will semi-regularly feature one or two of these jars that adorn our shelves.

Today - two Peruvian aji sauces, both of which were introduced to me by dear friend Ariel who spent a year in Lima. She sent me a care package full of delightful Peruvian sundries, but it was these two hot sauces that have stuck with me and that I now make sure to have on hand, courtesy of the South American shops in the Mission.

Aji Amarillo Salsa

Background: From a beautiful yellow pepper, of the C. baccatum species native to South America, this salsa is particularly used in Peru in cebiche or as a dipping sauce or marinade for various meats like anticuchos. The hot (pun intended) Peruvian chef , Gaston Acurio, whose La Mar restaurant opened not too long ago in San Francisco, says that this pepper is essential to his native cuisine.

Flavor: Medium spicy, but slightly sweet, with a very creamy texture. (The pepper itself rates between 5,000 and 15,000 on the Scoville scale)

How I use it: Really the question should be how don't I use it. It makes regular appearances on turkey sandwiches, combined with hummus and often a carrot pickle. When I make a Mexican mush pots, I combine beans, rice, veggies, and a whole lot of this salsa.

Aji Rocoto Paste

Background: Also from a pepper (C. pubescens) used predominately in Peru (and Bolivia), this red sauce is often paired with fried fish, according to a really great article in the most recent Saveur, entitled "A World of Peppers." Unlike most peppers, rocoto have black seeds!

Flavor: Quite spicy, a little smoky. This sauce has a slightly grainy quality to it. (The pepper is between 30,000-100,000 on the Scoville.)

How I use it: Where a bean is involved so is this sauce. Also excellent on eggs.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009


As a child I had an imaginary friend named Pierre who strangely only appeared when we stayed at hotels. His primary function was to stand guard of our room while we explored the sights of the city we were visiting.

Perhaps it is a sign of the gradual acculturation of a family as it moves away from its immigrant roots that my imaginary friend was a foppish French boy who like me favored hotels with interior corridors and chocolates on the pillows, whereas my father, a first generation American growing up on those storied Brooklyn streets, had a friend named Kesty Kestenbaum.

Now whether Kesty was real or imagined remains a point of great contention. My father always claimed that he had in fact existed, but my mother never quite believed him. Regardless of the veracity of his actual existence, Kesty certainly played the role of a child's imaginary friend in that whatever capers my naturally mischievous father got into, Kesty inevitably shouldered the blame. It was because of Kesty claimed my dad that he never learned Hebrew properly while studying for his Bar Mitzvah. It was Kesty who taught him every dirty word he knew. Broken window? Kesty. Broken promise? Kesty. But time and time again, in spite of my father's best efforts to avoid trouble, that devilish charmer Kesty Kestenbaum convinced him to participate in one wild scheme after another.

Now all this is just to explain that when I learned that the hot new pizza place in Manhattan was called Keste, I felt an immediate sense of intrigue combined with skepticism. Sure it was pronounced with an accented E on the end. Sure the chef was famous for his extreme precision in meeting the standards of the Associazione Pizzaiuoli Napoletani. Sure it had made all sorts of top pizza lists in the height of an ever-growing pizza craze. But with that name, could it be trusted? Or was it just to a ploy to make me spend a lot of money on a mediocre pizza?

I had to find out, and so the ever-game Daniel and I set out to explore. As reservations are not accepted and as we were not a bevy of sexy Italian speaking pretty young things, we gave our names to the affable man at the door and prepared to wait. We waited. And waited. We ate the tiny sliver of free pizza offered to the hodge podge of non-Italian speaking hotties with whom we were waiting. And then we waited some more.

At last, we received the nod in (Daniel's name was not called; perhaps the host had memorized the beard.) We perused the menu and given the heavy representation of pork products, we were able to choose without too much discussion.

I insisted on the Marinara because it is with this simple, cheeseless pizza that I think you can truly judge a pizza place.

The Keste version was good, and a true model of simplicity. The tomato, olive oil blend was a sweet and tangy melange, broken up by the occasional clove of garlic or oregano leaf. Very nice flavor. Of course with pizza these days, that is not sufficient. Connoisseurs of the real Neapolitan deal obsess about the crust, and here is where the you began to feel that perhaps this Keste was using a bit of the other Kesty's wily ways to pull the wool over your eyes a bit. While the cornicione, or outer charred ring was incredibly well flavored - a wonderful combination or saltiness and that doughy floury taste - and while it looked the part with properly appointed brown bits, it lacked any of the crunch that such pies usually have. It had the chew but not the bite. Because of this perhaps, by the time you got to the center of the circle, the pizza was almost a bit soggy. It still tasted great, but something was off.

There was a similar problem with the Pomodorini e provola that we ordered for our second pizza.

It looked delicious. The same crunchy looking charred bits. Loads of bright red cherry tomatoes; the sheen of smoked mozzarella; a sprinkling of wilted fresh basil. But again, it didn't quite all add up. There were the same crust issues and in the cooking the tomatoes had lost enough of their snap and tartness that they couldn't quite counter the overpowering flavor of the cheese.

Now none of this was enough of a problem to prevent us from stuffing ourselves to the point of stomach aches for all or from bringing the rest home to have for breakfast the next day. But as with the original Kesty, we were left to wonder if all the hype was real or somehow fabricated. And as it seems was often the case with my dad and his buddy, we emerged a little poorer and with that belly ache that comes when you've overindulged (although in our case the excess came by way of smoked cheese and not too many games of craps.)

The true strength of Roquefort

Back in good old SF and had to run to Bi-Rite to stock up on some California staples - lemon cucumbers, stone fruit, some gorgeous dry-farmed tomatoes (made delicious because they don't get wet and mushy tasting from over-irrigation.)

As I was checking out, I noticed some cheese samples behind the register waiting to be placed. Never one to pass up a free soupcon of flavor, I oh so subtly hinted to the man who was helping me that I might be interested in a taste, if it was no bother.

With no hesitation, he obliged, first handing me a very creamy, very lovely piece of brie. It was nice but gave me no pause in continuing the business of unloading my basket onto the counter. Then he handed me something else. I was paralyzed.

It was salty and creamy and just a little stinky. It had tiny little bits of blue that had an ever so grainy texture, making the silky smoothness of the surrounding cheese even more luxurious. I had to know more.

The man at the register had never tried it, so he sampled a piece, and now we were both in states of rapture. We needed to know what we'd just eaten and like a junky I needed to know how I could get some more. We discussed the texture, the flavor, the complexity of this cheese as we waited for the cheese caretaker, as they are known at Bi Rite, to return and enlighten us. The line behind me grew long and impatient, but I didn't care.

Finally, he was back with some answers. It was Roquefort and it cost $27.99 a pound.

And again I was paralyzed by this dazzling cheese. Sure the fortitude of flavor of this dazzling Roquefort had stunned me, but now the veritable barrier of its price would keep me from this new found high.

Well maybe.

"Do you think I could get a tiny little piece," I murmured.

The cheeseman looked at me, at my face, wan with need, and he handed me this...

Yep. Two dollars and eighty cents of the best that sheep have to offer.

I went home and offered Daniel his own little morsel. While he is not a great lover of cheeses of the blue variety, he gave it a try. First on a knife to sample it in its purest form and then spread on a piece of the Zomicks challah that we'd brought back to California. This was all he was allowed to have in one sitting.

While the mystery persists of why this Roquefort is so dazzling that it sends grown people into utter reverie, one thing is certain. Until we truly understand it's power, we will only sample it in tiny bites. Any more than that could send the body into a shock of the senses. (And be cost-prohibitive.)

Friday, August 21, 2009

Oh what a tangled web we weave...

I've got a new website with some clips and stuff.

Yeah, yeah. Check it out.

It's Friday in New York...

Which means I have this to look forward to...

Hummus from Damascus Bakery on Atlantic Avenue, which makes the creamiest, most flavorful, most perfect hummus that I've ever had.


A beautiful Zomicks challah, which I will pick up later today from Garden of Eden. This is the challah that I have devoted myself to recreating. It is sweet and eggy and a little heavy. And dipped in that hummus. Oooh boy. Just a few more hours. I can't wait.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

The dulce life

I am currently staying in my lovely and generous brother's apartment. A lover of all things Italian, his presence pervades the space, and so I felt inspired to create a dinner involving flavors from that delectable boot of Europe.

As a little amuse bouche, some onions agrodolce , courtesy of Mario Batali.

For a main course, lamb ragu with papparadelle, served with a spoonful of ricotta and a sprinkling of mint.

For sides, two from Food and Wine. A lovely spicy rabe with anchovies and garlic. And an eggplant camponatina, served room temperature, replete with pine nuts, salt packed capers, celery, and green olives.

These were all very good. Some perhaps even delizioso. However, it was the dessert that this time sent me over the edge.

Also from Food and Wine, it was a dulce de leche torte, known as a volador. And I loved it immediately when the recipe's description mentioned its rustic informal nature (meaning it could look a little funny and crumble when you sliced it.)

And it was a funny looking fellow, surprisingly savory with no sugar involved. It's crust was a four layer number made of thin, thin disks of an incredibly yolk heavy dough, each of which puffed up considerably (hence the name's reference to "flying up" in Italian) as it did it's brief stint in the oven.

After cooling, between each delicate, bubbly, bumpy layer, I spread a coating of a mix of dulce de leche and water, before stacking another layer on top.

At the end, I sprinkled the top layer with powder sugar.

I then served slices of the room temperature torte with scoops of simple vanilla ice cream. It was stunning, if I do say so myself. The rich sweetness of the dulce de leche playing in incredible tandem with the snap and crunch of that remarkably flavorful eggy crust, with the creaminess of the vanilla ice cream coming in to add a little more moisture to the mix. Really, truly sweet.

The only thing perhaps sweeter in all of this was the view as we ate -

While I can't offer a recipe for the magic of this panorama, I can for the torte, which again comes from Food and Wine.

Dulce de Leche Torte (Volador)


For the pastry:
-12 large egg yolks
-1 teaspoon whole milk*
-1/8 teaspoon salt
-1 1/2 cups all purpose flour

For the filling:
-2 cups dulce de leche
-3 tablespoons water
-1 tablespoon confectioners sugar

*Not wanting to buy a big thing of whole milk just for this, I stealthily procured some from the bodega down the street. No, I didn't steal it; I just poured a small splash of the stuff into a coffee cup and paid the 75 cents for that. Really, it was less than the amount that someone who likes light coffee would use and I didn't even get any coffee out of the deal, so I feel no remorse.


Make pastry:
1. Preheat oven to 400°F with rack in middle. Generously brush a large baking sheet with vegetable oil.

2. Stir together yolks, milk, and salt.

3. Put flour in a large bowl and make a well in center. Add yolk mixture to well and gently stir with a fork, gradually pulling in flour closest to egg mixture to make a paste. Knead in all of remaining flour with your hands to form a dough (dough will be very firm).

4. Transfer dough to a work surface and knead, lightly dusting with additional flour as necessary, until smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.

5. Flatten dough into a disk, then quarter and form each quarter into a ball.

6. Keeping remaining dough covered with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth), firmly roll out 1 piece on a clean surface into a 12-inch round, lifting and turning dough as necessary. (Dough will be slightly sticky but will lift up easily; round will be very thin with uneven edges.)

7. Transfer to baking sheet and bake until edge is golden and curls up, about 5 minutes. Carefully turn over and bake until cooked through and both sides are golden in some spots (lift to check), 3 to 4 minutes more. Transfer to a rack to cool.

8. Repeat with remaining dough. (Pastry will overlap on racks.)

Make filling:
1. Stir together dulce de leche and water in a bowl. If mixture is not spreadable, warm in a small heavy saucepan over medium-low heat, whisking until smooth. Thin with additional water if necessary.

Assemble torte:
1. Arrange 1 pastry layer on a serving plate and spread evenly with 2/3 cup filling. Repeat with 2 more pastry layers and remaining filling, stacking layers.

2. Dust remaining pastry layer with confectioners sugar and arrange on top.

3. To serve, cut or crack torte into portions using 2 large spoons.

Dulce De Leche on Foodista

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Fast Food - Sloppy, sloppy bao

Here's an abbreviated list of foods that I have been known to enjoy on their own.

1) Sloppy Joes - in all forms, even the sloppy soy that they served in the dining halls in college.

2) Banh mi - French bread, cilantro, meats, pickles. What's not to like?

3) Green mango slaw.

And what is that sultry sandwich you see to your left, gracing your screen, making you salivate?

Why it's a Sloppy Bao from Baoguette, the New York Vietnamese mini-chain that so rudely popped up after I headed West to San Francisco. It's certainly not the kind of authentic bahn mi to which I've become accustomed in the Bay Area, but as you might have guessed, it combines everything good - spicy curried ground beef, a crusty baguette, green mango, some cilantro, and lemongrass. I got mine extra spicy, so they threw on some sriracha and jalapenos. Here take another look and imagine that you are biting into this crusty bread. The bun crackles as your tongue hits the sweet, tang of the moist tender meat before passing into the crunchy bits of sweet, fresh mango. It's hot and spicy and it tastes so good.

Oh, you sloppy, sloppy bao.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Fast Food - Jamaican Me Hungry for More (well almost)

Being back in New York, I feel compelled to stop by all of my old favorite haunts as well as to try some new places.

Given my recent piece for Black Book on food carts in San Francisco, I thought that I needed to visit at least one here in the city. So when I found myself in midtown the other day, I debated between two carts that I'd read about on Midtown Lunch for the past couple of years, both of which have been nominated for some Vendy Awards over the years.

I was closer to the Biryani Cart and thought I'd try one of their Kati rolls since I'm a sucker for a spicy chicken sandwich, but when they were out, I decided against going for one of their chicken in a pita sandwiches, and hiked uptown a few blocks to the Jamaican Dutchy cart, which sells its wares on 51st and 7th.

While the cart made its name for jerk chicken, oxtails, and patties, I wanted to try one of its new sandwiches, served on soft, pillowy Jamaican style coco bread (this bread has no coconut nor cocoa in it, but it's a cute name nonetheless.) I'd read on Midtown Lunch that the vegetarian version of this sandwich was actually more tender and moist than the jerk chicken breast offering, so I took his advice and ordered the vegetarian.

I had to wait a while for my order to come up, as I understand is often the case at Jamaican Dutchy. It was very hot and I'll admit I felt a little cranky, especially as others who had ordered after me received their heaping plates of jerk and rice. But when my five dollar sandwich arrived, I was not disappointed. It was a good-sized baked tofu steak, marinated in a spicy jerk sauce, topped with lettuce and tomato and hot sauce, and served on the aforementioned coco bread. Very simple, but really incredibly satisfying. The tofu was tender and appropriately chewy. The bread nicely soaked up the sauce, and the veggies supplied some good crunch and tang. It was a lovely lunch, indeed. If only I had more time here, I'd go and get another. But even a sandwich this good is not going to send me back to the Times Square area in this heat.

Fast Food- B&H (of the dairy persuasion)

H must be a lucky initial here in this city that I love so. After all, how else could you explain the success of B&H cameras? Or H&H bagels? Or the ubiquity of H&M? (I know it's an import, but still...)

Another H-staple of this city is B&H Dairy Restaurant on 2nd Avenue. I'd been once many years ago, but in spite of his proximity the year he lived on 12th street, Daniel had never partaken, so on the insistence of our friends Ben and Dorit, we made the trek, right before closing, to sample a little good old fashioned comfort food, Lower East Side style.

Sitting at the counter, watching all the food go by

The menu at B&H is a like a siren's song of carby Old Country temptation, with matzoh brie, challah French toast, and blintzes all competing for your attention. Because it's a meat-free zone, the savory options run the gamut from the traditional fish salads, vegetable based soups, and potato knishes to something that sounded surprisingly enticing - veggie balls and spaghetti.

Having been told it was some of the best in the city, Daniel went the white fish salad sandwich route, served with a bowl of matzoh ball soup.

The soup was very good, with big chunk of carrots and the disconcerting but very welcome presence of noodles.

New York delis are famous for their overstuffed Pastrami sandwiches, but this overstuffed white fish, put all of those to shame. It was enormous -

This picture really doesn't do it justice. It was so big that our man Daniel had to go open-face on a few bites, splitting each half of the sandwich an additional time because he couldn't manage its girth. The sandwich was served on B&H's famous, non-braided challah, which has a texture quite unlike any challah I've had. It was light and airy, reminding me almost of angel food cake in its ethereal delicacy. The white fish salad itself was also unique, less of the kind that you get at an appetizing store like Russ and Daughters, but rather more akin to something like a lunchtime tuna salad, with pieces of celery interspersed throughout. It was very good, and our white fish salad lover was pleased, but it did not sate our need for the kind of white fishy goodness to which we are more accustomed.

Whenever I see kasha varnishkas on a menu, I am hard pressed to order anything else. When said kasha varnishkas can be ordered with steamed vegetables, I am in heaven, especially when I can drench both in a side of mushroom gravy.

While the varnishkas were a bit overcooked and gummy for my taste, for me there is little more comforting than pasta with my beloved nutty, hearty buckwheat groats, and so I was perfectly pleased. Plus, Daniel had a few cast off pieces of challah from his behemoth, so I dipped those in some of my thick brown gravy. And in that moment, with the sweetness of the light bread intermingling with the viscous, savory sauce, I realized what is perhaps the meaning of the H in B&H - heaven!

Saturday, August 15, 2009

We Want Food - Oh little lamb who made thee?

I've been so busy eating my way through NY that I never got around to posting about the lamb and eggplant dish that I made while in SC to accompany the lahukh that I wrote about last week.

Before I arrived in old Cola, SC, my mother informed me that she had purchased some beautiful ground lamb from the local greenmarket (from the same guy who made the goat sausage that we so enjoyed last Christmas) and that I needed to figure out what to do with it. I contemplated a couple of Indian dishes and a lamb ragu, but when I stumbled across a recipe for Albondigas (spicy meatballs on pureed roasted eggplant), I knew I'd found a winner.

The recipe, which I adapted from The Food of Israel: Authentic Recipes from the Land of Milk and Honey, calls for ground beef. But, let's face it, anything beef can do lamb can do better, so we gave it a try.

Albondigas are small meatballs that are present in lots of Spanish-speaking cultures, but they enter Israeli cuisine through Sephardic Jews who spoke Ladino in around the 15th century. These little guys turn up in a lot of Sephardic/Ladino dishes, often in soups, because using these bits of less-expensive ground beef et. al was a good way of making precious meat last longer, while giving dishes the benefit of the flavor that just a few orbs of good fatty flesh can offer.

In this version, the ground meat is combined with onion, bread crumbs, an egg, and a bunch of salt and pepper. You simply combine said ingredients, fry 'em up, and then set them aside.

Then, using the same pan, you add three chopped up roasted eggplants, some crushed garlic, a little sugar, salt and pepper, and mush it up real good.

When you have a nice mushy puree, you throw the puree into an ovenproof dish, lay your crispy (thatsa spicy) meatballs on top and bake the whole thing at 400 degrees for about a half hour.

The results?

Truly delicious! Moistly succulent lamb, with its hint of satisfying gaminess. The slight bitterness of the eggplant, made more subtle with the sweetness of the sugar and the caramelized bits of pan juices. And of course the textures here of the smooth puree with the crispy bits of the charred meatballs.

To give it a bit more bite and character, we added some mango chutney and a little spicy Lebanese zhoug, which I had whipped up from some jalapenos...

The whole thing, when scooped up with bits of the savory flat lahukhs was a big hit, and we all scarfed in silence before sitting back in our chairs and marveling at the intense flavor that comes so easily when a little lamb is used.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Fast Food - Taim (it's for research folks)

If you see this sign, it means you're about to have something REAL good.

It means you're in the heart of the West Village (which, let's be honest, is a pretty good place to be on its own) AND you're at Taim, the Israeli falafel and smoothy bar that opened shortly before Daniel and I moved West. We had tried to go once before moving on one of our epic walk-and-eats, but by the time we got there, we were too full from other tasty treats.

But last night after visiting our friends Sam and Duncan and their adorable baby girl Izzy, we headed west and ordered a couple of these...

They're called sabich; and they entered Israeli hearts and bellies courtesy of Iraqi Jews who immigrated to Tel Aviv, bringing this heavenly sandwich with them. It is now the darling of New York sandwich lovers and the line for them (and their other Israeli standbys - falafel, hummus, etc) is long at Taim. This sandwich is well worth the wait.

It consists of fried eggplant, hummus, tahini, amba (a pickled mango spread scented with fenugreek), Israeli salad, a hard boiled egg, and marinated cabbage. I had mine on a whole wheat pita; Daniel went for white. We both opted to add pickles and hot sauce. The results? Well see for yourself...

Every bite was a mix of creamy (from the eggplant, the egg, the tahini, the hummus) and pungent acidity (the amba, the pickles, the cabbage, the hot sauce). The textures were also an incredible melange - crunchy, chewy, smooth, rough. The bread was soft and flavorful. The sandwich was sublime.

It was also an utter stomach bomb, so I made Daniel walk down to the Canal Street station as opposed to boarding to head home at West 4th. I didn't fully recover until the next day. BUT it's for research, and I am more than willing to keep have another for the sake of future generations.

Monday, August 10, 2009

The Bread Project - Lahukh (Yemenite Flatbread)

The experiments in Israeli cuisine continue.

This Yemenite flatbread is very simple and surprisingly flavorful. I would definitely eat them on their own, but when used to scoop up something delicious (like the amazing lamb Albondigas that I made to go with it - post soon to follow), they are delicious.

The recipe comes from Janna Gur's The New Book of Israeli Food. I made a few alterations and it worked just fine. My notes are in parentheses.

(Makes about 20 pancake sized flatbreads)

3 1/2 cups flour
1 oz fresh yeast (I used a packet and a pinch of regular dry active yeast)
3 cups water (plus additional for soaking)
1 T salt
1/2 T sugar
3 slices white bread (I used 2 1/2 white French rolls)
Oil for frying (I used spray olive oil because you really only want a minimal amount of oil)

1. Put the flour, yeast, salt, and sugar in a deep bowl and mix with 3 cups of water to form a batter.

2. Soak the bread in water for about 5 minutes (I did about three), remove, squeeze off the excess water and mash in a blender. Add to the batter and mix well.

3. Cover the bowl, leave at room temperature for about two hours to allow the batter to rise to twice its size.

4. Heat a non-stick pan and oil it lightly. Wipe excess oil with a paper towel- no further oiling will be required during frying. (I used an electric skillet and olive oil spray. I resprayed a few times through the process. It worked great. Gur recommends cooling down the pan with cold water between batches if you're using a traditional frying pan.)

5. Ladle a portion of batter into the pan. Fry on medium heat until the top of the lahukh fills with bubbles and the bottom turns brown (it's like making a pancake, and they took about 5 minutes to cook once I found the right temperature. However, for the record they taste pretty good with a little gooeyness in the middle too...)

They were delicious and I will make again. Also they freeze really well, so don't be thrown off by the bounteous quantity that this recipe produces. The day after we made them, I defrosted a couple in the toaster oven and used them for tuna sandwiches. Yum indeed.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

We Want Food - Fish fry Israeli style

To go with the Israeli challah Friday night, I decided to extend the theme and cook a couple of dishes from Janna Gur's beautiful cookbook The Book of New Israeli Food.

I paged through the book, ogling the amazing looking options and mentally marking the things I want to try in the future (can you say halvah babka?!?!)

Ultimately, I decided on Chreime, which is a North African fish stew that is a typical Passover or Rosh Hashanah dinner among Jews from Moroco, Libya, Algeria, and Tunisia. It is meant to use a whole white fish (like grouper, amberjack, sea bass, carp) cut into steak style slices, but I just used sea bass fillets, and it worked very nicely.

Here's the recipe:

Chreime - North African Hot Fish Stew
(adapted slightly from Janna Gur's The New Book of Israeli Food)

-1.5 lb white fish fillets
-1/4 cup oil
-5 cloves garlic (plus a few dashes of garlic powder)
-2 T paprika
-1 T cayenne pepper or other chili powder
-1 t ground caraway (I used whole seeds)
-1 t ground cumin
-3 T tomato paste
-1 C water

1. Heat oil in saucepan, add garlic and spices and fry over high heat while stirring until oil becomes aromatic. Add tomato paste and stir until the paste blends with the oil. Add one cup of water and cook covered for 5 minutes.

2. Add the fish fillets to the sauce, bring to a boil, cover and lower the heat. Turn the fish once halfway through cooking.

3. Cook for 10 minutes or until fish is done but still firm and juicy.

It was really, really nice. Quite spicy actually, and very fragrant. To go with it, I made an Israeli salad. Usually I wouldn't use a recipe for this one, but since I had the book, I decided to see what Janna Gur's version looked like. And here it is...

It was basically just lemon juice, 4 tomatoes, 4 cucumbers, 1 red onion, 1 sweet red pepper, 1 crushed clove of garlic, 1/2 jalapeno, 1 t sumac (didn't use because I didn't have it at my mom's house), salt and pepper, 3 T olive oil, 2-3 T parsley and coriander. But the extra special secret delicious ingredient made all the difference. And what was that you ask? A dash of cinnamon. Delish!

Here's the table all ready for a delightful Shabbos dinner...

Saturday, August 1, 2009

The Bread Project - Lender's Romanian Challah

As I have talked about before, I have been on a long search for a challah recipe that will create the kind of chewy, soft, non-cake-like loaves that one can purchase in certain stores in NY and that Daniel reminisces fondly over having eaten in Israel.

In digging through several Israeli cookbooks last week, I found pictures of a bakery in Jerusalem called Lenders. Now generally I have bad associations with bread products and the name Lenders (if you want a piece of bread with a whole in the middle, Lenders "bagels" are just fine. If you want a bagel, please look elsewhere.) However, I showed Daniel, the Israeli challah expert, a picture of Lenders bakery, and he thought that based on the image any recipe from them would be a-okay. So I decided to give the recipe in Joan Nathan's The Foods of Israel Today a try.

There were some interesting oddities about this recipe...

The dough, unlike every other challah recipe I've ever seen contains NO EGGS! The reason is that interestingly, most Israeli challot don't have eggs in them because as Mr. Lender explains, "In old Jerusalem people were poor and mostly dependent on outside contributions. Eggs and sugar were out of the question...It was already a luxury to have bread with white flour on the Sabbath." In spite of the lack of eggs, the dough adhered quite nicely and looked pretty darn good and smooth. (must have been the 4 T of vegetable shortening)

After two rises, it was time to braid.

The recipe makes the requisite two loaves, and Joan Nathan's instructions on how to do a four strand braid are much clearer than in her other cookbooks.

They really came out quite nicely.

I was feeling pretty good about things, until I got to the part where the braiding instructions throw a giant curveball - this challah is double decker. See my astonishment in the video below:

Woah indeed.

When fully braided, the challot were brushed with a mixture of cornstarch and water instead of the usual egg wash. Then another rise, another brush of the mix, a sprinkling of sesame seeds, 45 minutes in the oven, and voila-

The results? I definitely missed the egg wash on top, but the bread itself was really very, very good. It had that soft quality that good challah has, where you can almost see little tendrils as you pull it apart. The flavor was excellent, although the corn starch water combination gave it a slightly funny color.

If I were to do this again (which I think I will), I would break the rules slightly and add an egg wash. I really missed the sheen and the bottom egg goo that challah usually gets. Other than that, I highly recommend it. And for vegans everywhere, in its original form, this should definitely be the challah of choice. (Plus, it made a mean French toast the next day. I stuffed it with some Laughing Cow and pomegranate jelly. Delish.)

Braiding on Foodista