Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew

The Graf brothers all loved nature, the outdoors, and animals.  My father would watch shows about the animal kingdom and would tell us stories of the pets he owned growing up in Warka, Poland.  A porcupine, really?  He was already well into his seventies when he suddenly decided to stop eating chicken and beef, purely for ethical reasons.  With longing and affection, my father would talk about the orchard and vegetable garden behind his mother’s home.  At the farmer’s market he would choose his fruits and vegetables with such care and tenderness, rotating each apple or pear to make sure it was blemish free, fresh, firm, and fragrant with ripeness, intent on selecting the best he could find.

The brothers were all avid gardeners, and I was fairly certain that their green thumbs were not passed down to my city hands.  I love the idea of gardening, to be able to go into your backyard and plan your meal based on what’s ready to be picked.  After a long hiatus, I was determined to try my hand at vegetable gardening once again and so I ruthlessly pulled out a whole bed of roses.  It took months to prepare the soil and put in the first raised bed.  During a trip back East my cousin Janine laid out the plans for my garden and I use it as my roadmap.  Not only does it guide me but it provides me with inspiration,  knowing that another branch of the Graf family are successful gardeners.  My first planting included broccoli which was a complete failure, basil which was immediately consumed by insects and several plants of red leaf lettuce which grew well, but became limp immediately after being harvested, not a desirable texture for a fresh salad.  I thought I would try kale and swiss chard and finally I was able to experience the sense of pride that comes with success.  There is more chard and kale in my garden than I know what to do with.

My father would probably chuckle at my meager garden but despite its small size, the pleasure that I derive from it is immeasurable.  My father and I never gardened together, I was too young and independent to listen to his advice when he offered it, but now each time I am in the garden I think of Harry, Charlie and Jack, and the legacy they left behind.

 

 


This dish is a vegetarian stew but so hearty that you really don’t miss the meat. Serve with rice or whole wheat pasta.

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew (adapted from a recipe from Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 tsp curry powder
1 /2 tsp chili powder
42 oz. pareve chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed well
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cumin.

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add spices and sauté for several minutes, till fragrant.  Add broth and bring to a boil, then put in lentils and garbanzo beans.  Lower heat to a simmer, add salt and chard, and cover.  Cook till lentils are tender but still whole.  About 20 minutes.  Serves 6

Enjoy,

Irene

Inari (Beancurd skins stuffed with rice)

The concept of actually going someplace with the intention of picnicking was not something we did when I was growing up.  Wherever we went food was always packed and brought along.  That changed when I had children of my own and we actually began planning picnics as an activity.   July 4th at the Hollywood Bowl,  Visitor’s Day at Camp Ramah and Mother’s Day in the park all stand out in my mind.   My mother loved going to Will Rogers State Park which had an expansive lawn, a Polo field and horse filled stables.  It was a perfect way for three generations to spend time together either playing with a frisbee, flying kites, feeding the horses or hiking.  My mother was the figurehead, she would sit and watch and smile.  My parents didn’t care about cards or gifts because being with us was really all they wanted.

Of course, we all have certain ideas of what constitutes a picnic.  My mother loved deli with cole slaw and potato salad,  Norm prefers fried chicken, I love good cheese and a baguette.  The kids seemed to like it all, but one of them loved Inari, something my friend Fredda introduced to my family.  This will be my first (I think), Mother’s Day without having any children in town.  What will I do??  I guess get some cheese and wine and maybe have Norm bake a baguette and then head over to Will Rogers.  Recently my sister told me that I am turning into my mother.  I hope so.

To Lil and all the other Moms, Happy Mother’s Day!!

Inari

Prepare 1 cup Japanese sushi rice according to directions on package.  Remove cooked rice from heat and place in shallow bowl to cool.  Mix vinegar, sugar and salt and heat in small pot till sugar dissolves.  Cool and mix into rice.  Carefully open bean curd pouches.  Divide rice into 12 portions and stuff into each pouch.  Sprinkle with sesame seeds if desired.

Dressing

3 Tbsp rice vinegar

1 1/2 Tbsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

Note:  Try adding slivers of tofu, shiitake mushrooms, carrot, avocado, or sliced omelette.

Enjoy,

Irene
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Marizon’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding

My sister remembered this story from her childhood and e-mailed it to me.

“I had a job after school helping an elderly man with his errands. I would take his laundry to the cleaners on the corner.  I bought him the evening paper and sometimes I would pick up two slices of pizza for his dinner and in return he would always give me a dime or a quarter.  He once asked me what was the one thing I really wanted.  I told him I wanted a bicycle like the other kids on my block but explained that my parents said it was too expensive.  One day I came home and there in the hallway was the most beautiful blue Schwinn bicycle I ever saw.  I have never forgotten how generous and kind that wonderful old man was.”

We have a friend from synagogue, Marizon.  Over the past few years she has made us numerous Steamed Persimmon Puddings.  Sometimes she brings them to Shul, sometimes she delivers them to our house, but either way we are always surprised and delighted.  That kind of giving makes everyone happy so if  you do make this recipe just remember to double it so you can share.  It will taste even better that way.

Marizon’s Steamed Persimmon Pudding
 1  1/ 2 cups pureed persimmons ( 4 – 5  Fuyu persimmons, skins and pit removed , or you can use 2-3 ripe Hachiya persimmons)
2 Tsp. Baking soda
1 stick butter or pareve margarine at room temperature
1 1/2 Cups sugar
2 Eggs
1 Tb lemon juice
2 Tb  Rum
1 Cup all-purpose flour
1 tsp. cinnamon (Optional -  enhance with a bit of allspice and a whisper of ground clove) I only use Cinnamon
½ tsp. Salt
1 Cup broken walnuts or pecans
1 Cup raisins (may use golden or black or mix of both)

Find a pot that is large enough to hold a 2 Quart pudding mold.  Fill the pot with enough water to reach halfway up the sides of the mold as it rests on a metal rack in the bottom of the pot.  The mold must have a lid.   Let the water come to a boil while you mix the pudding batter.

(Pudding mold is available at William Sonoma or Sur La Table).

Grease the mold well.  Butter is best, though cooking spray is faster. Use pareve margarine if making a non-dairy pudding.

Put the persimmon purée in a bowl and stir in the baking soda.  Set aside (the persimmon mixture will stiffen and lighten in color – it really is a rather odd fact of chemistry)

Using a standing mixer, cream the butter and sugar.  Add the eggs, lemon juice, and rum and beat well.  Set the mixer to its slowest speed and add the flour, cinnamon, and salt.  When well blended, add the persimmon mixture and beat until well mixed.  Remove bowl from mixer and stir in raisins and nuts.

Spoon the batter into the mold, cover, and steam for at least two hours (it’s nearly impossible to over-steam!).  Remove from the pot, and let rest for 10 – 20 minutes.

Use a long, narrow skewer to help remove the pudding from the sides of the mold, and then turn out onto the serving plate.  Some parts may stick to the bottom of the mold – just remove them and patch back together (the pudding is very moist).

I usually turn the mold over and the pudding just falls onto the serving plate.

Presentation
The traditional service for this dish is with a sprig of holly stuck into the top, then flamed with more of the rum.  To flame your rum, pour a generous ounce into a sauce pot, and THEN put the pot over medium heat.  Swirl the rum to warm it for thirty seconds or so, then carefully light it and immediately pour the flaming rum over the pudding.  It may be difficult to see the flame in strong light, so dim the lights for the 20 seconds or so before the alcohol burns off.

Serve warm with unsweetened whipped cream, or a crème anglaise.

Enjoy,

Irene

Soba Salad

I look back on my childhood and wonder how I felt as a young girl walking through the front door of our home knowing that the language would shift from English to Yiddish.  My recollection is that I always liked Yiddish, having positive associations with the language and understanding that the words were so much more expressive than their English counterparts.  To this day there are certain words that I have never found an English equivalent for.  One of my favorite words is fagin, a word my mother often used.  Loosely translated it expresses the act of denying oneself the pleasure of an indulgence.  It takes several English words to capture that one word in Yiddish and the sentiment is still lacking.

This week I heard an interview with Professor Udea who published the first Japanese-Yiddish dictionary after spending twenty years of his life dedicated to producing this scholarly work.  The NPR interview made me smile, especially when hearing Professor Udea’s Japanese-accented Yiddish.  My father used to insist that Yiddish was a dying language and when I find evidence to the contrary, I am delighted.  One of my mother’s favorite expressions was that it was a lebidikeh velt,  and she was right.  Guess what we are having for Shabbat dinner tonight?  Japanese inspired Soba Salad.  Gut Shabbos.

For those of you who might be interested in learning some Yiddish, take a look at yiddishwordoftheweek.tumblr.com   

Soba Salad

12 oz. Soba noodles, cooked in boiling water for about 6-8 minutes.  Drain and rinse very well, actually washing the noodles in cold water to remove all excess starch.  Set aside.

1 red pepper

1 scallion

1 avocado, thinly sliced

1 block firm tofu, cut in cubes

6 oz. shiitake mushrooms sliced

1 bunch of greens of your choice, chard, spinach, steamed

2 Tb olive oil

1 tsp sesame oil

Thinly slice red pepper, scallion and avocado and set aside.  Slice mushrooms and sauté over high heat for about 5 minutes.  Add sesame oil and set aside.  Steam spinach.

Dressing
1/2 cup soy sauce
2 Tb rice vinegar
2 Tb maple syrup
3 Tb Agave Nectar
5 Tb peanut butter
1/4 cup water
Whisk all ingredients together till smooth.   Adjust sweetness to your taste.  Assemble salad ingredients in shallow dish and dress.  Serves 4-6
Enjoy,
Irene

My Favorite Passover Recipes

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Heading to NYC to be with our family but not before sharing a few of my favorite Passover recipes.  If you have a favorite family recipe, please send it in so we can all enjoy.  Family stories welcomed and encouraged!

Marinated Eggplant

Bubelach (Passover Pancakes)

Brownie Meringues

Coconut Macaroons

Imberlach

Matzoh Balls

Matzoh Lasagna

Mushroom Kugel

Passover Pogos

Persian Charoset

Sally’s Moussaka

Chag Sameach and Enjoy,

Irene

Passover Lemon Meringue Pie

Last week I lost two important people in my life, my cousin Robert, who was more like an older brother than a cousin, and my close friend Ruthie.  I went back East for Robert’s funeral and what I experienced over the course of five days was the workings of a family who come together like pieces of a patchwork quilt, all different in design but stronger and more effective as one unit.  Almost my entire immediate family, as well as my extended family, came to Philadelphia where we spent our days cooking, eating, crying and  laughing in the comfort of our cousin Micheline’s home.  Even after both refrigerators and freezers were filled to capacity we continued to cook.  It kept us busy and focused, taking care of each other and everyone around us.

After the funeral we prepared Shabbat dinner for about twenty.  Everyone participated in their own way, some by offering words of comfort to the mourners, some by taking charge of the kitchen, some by providing comic relief.  On Saturday night, the evening before everyone’s departure, Denise (Robert’s daughter) said that it was just the kind of evening her father loved, having the family together, sharing good food and good wine.  The night ended with my daughter Shira, myself, and Denise all sitting around the table sharing a pie which we ate straight from the tin, one spoonful at a time.

Passover is just around the corner, a time when families get together.  May it be filled with joy, and not with sorrow, and with the memories of those we lost but will never forget, and why not make some pie that can be shared straight from the tin.

Lemon Meringue Pie

Crust

1 cup Matzoh Meal

1/4 cup melted margarine

1/4 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp sugar

1/8 tsp salt

Blend ingredients together.  Press into a greased 9″ pie pan and bake at 375 for 15 minutes or till golden brown.

Lemon Meringue Filling

5 tbsp potato starch

1/4 tsp salt

1 cup sugar

2 cups water

3 eggs, separated

2 tbsp margarine

1/3 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp grated lemon rind

Combine potato starch, salt and 1/2 cup sugar in top of a double boiler and then add water.  Cook, stirring over boiling water till thickened. Cover pot, lower heat and cook for ten minutes, stirring occasionally.   In a bowl, combine egg yolks with remaining 1/2 cup sugar.  Spoon a little of the hot cooked mixture into the yolks, stirring rapidly.  Then pour yolk mixture back into the pot. Cook 2 minutes, stirring constantly.  Add a drop of water if too thick.  Remove from heat.  Add margarine, lemon juice and lemon rind to filling and allow to cool to room temperature.  Pour into pie shell.

Meringue

3 egg whites

dash salt

6 tbsp sugar

Using a beater, beat egg whites with salt till foamy, gradually adding  6 tbsp sugar till smooth and glossy.  Pour Meringue over pie filling and bake in 325 degree oven for about 15 minutes.  Chill and serve.

Enjoy,

Irene

Lil’s Hamantaschen

One of my favorite memories of growing up in The Bronx is of the leisurely strolls down the Grand Concourse which often included a stop at Krum’s, a large soda parlor at 187th Street.  At the front of the store there was a counter behind which were bins filled with assorted, and what I thought were exotic, nuts.  Among others, there were Brazil nuts, Cashews (my personal favorite), white Pistachios, and red Pistachios which were what we always bought.  The red dye would rub off on your fingers and that was part of the fun, plus we were innocent of the danger of red dye.  In the center of the store there was a large display table that changed every season.  Cellophane gift baskets that contained combinations of dried fruits, nuts and crackers towered over the smaller items.  I always liked the Spring display the best, when chocolate Easter Bunnies dominated the table and all the confections were some shade of pastel and filled with marshmallows or soft creams.  At the back of the shop was the Soda Fountain where you could have any kind of drink, ice cream or Sundae, to which my father would treat me on occasion, always on a Sunday.

Purim is just around the corner and though this holiday doesn’t resonate with me I can’t break with certain traditions.  I try to hear the Megillah reading in the morning, at work, recited with decorum and not much fanfare.  What else?  I send my children gift baskets, Mishloach Manot.  In spite of the fact that they are not all fans of Hamantashen, I always include them along with whatever other treats I either bake or buy.  Hopefully these ” baskets” (that arrive in FedEx boxes instead of cellophane and ribbons) will create happy memories for them, like the ones that I carry,  and who knows, some day they may even develop a taste for Hamantaschen.  Chag Purim Sameach.

Here is one more tradition that I can’t change, it is my mother-in-law’s recipe for Hamantaschen and I use it every year.  Some people find the dough too soft to work with, but I think it’s perfect just the way it is.

Lil’s Hamantaschen
2 eggs
3/4 cup sugar
1/2 cup canola oil
2 Tsp. baking powder
2 3/4 cups flour
1/4 cup orange juice

Mix dry ingredients in bowl.  Combine eggs and oil and mix well.  Slowly add orange juice to eggs and then mix liquid into dry ingredients.  Mix together till dough is soft and pliable.  If dough is too soft, refrigerate for about 30 minutes.

Filling
6 oz. dried apricots
6 oz. dried pitted prunes
1 1/2 cups raisins
3-4 Tb sugar
1/2 Tsp. cinnamon
1/2 cup water or orange juice

In a small heavy bottomed pot combine all ingredients over low heat and cook until fruit is soft, about 20 minutes.  Add water if needed.  Process mixture in a food processor for about one minute until it looks like jam.

Roll dough out on floured board till about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut out small circles and place a teaspoon of filling in the center.  Pinch sides together to form a triangle.  Brush with beaten egg and bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until golden.

Enjoy,
Irene

 

Eggplant Relish

I have something to share about my husband.  He has a tendency to reveal the ending of a play or movie plot before the rest of us have seen it, or share the final score of a sports event when others are watching in a different time zone.  It is something we joke about, and as a family we often censor him just when we realize from the twinkle in his eye that he is about to spill the beans. 

Here is another thing that he loves to do.  Every year at this time, Norm comes home from shul and announces that they began to read from the Book of Exodus.  Can you guess what the next line is??  He casually adds, “that means Pesach is not far off.”  Norm knows that this is not an announcement that elicits a reaction that I might have with a slightly more “fun” piece of news.  Don’t misunderstand, I love Passover but he knows that in mid-January thinking about Passover is pretty much an excercise in anxiety.

I am simply refusing to take heed and am putting Passover out of my mind, at least for now.  Tu Bishvat is around the corner, and though I don’t really do anything to celebrate this particular holiday, it is a reminder that Spring is not too far off, that in Israel the Almond trees will soon blossom, and that the days are once again getting longer.

Last night I made an eggplant relish and added toasted almonds instead of the pine nuts that were called for in the recipe.  (it is an adaptation of an Ina Garten recipe)  It would be a good dish to have for a Tu Bishvat Seudah and will be a perfect accompaniment to matzoh.  Something to think about.

Eggplant Relish

3 Globe Eggplants

8 oz. Jar of Roasted Red Peppers, diced

2 medium Onions, diced

3 cloves Garlic, minced

4 Tb Tomato Paste

1/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar

4 Tb olive oil

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

salt and pepper to taste

Chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and roast whole eggplants on a cookie sheet until tender, about one hour.  In the meantime, sauté chopped onions in olive oil till onions are translucent.  Add minced garlic and sauté an additional minute or two.  Remove to bowl and add tomato paste, red wine vinegar and a dash of olive oil.  After the eggplant has cooled, scoop out the flesh and process for a few minutes before adding to onion mixture.  Mix in finely diced red peppers and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with toasted almonds and parsley.  Serves 8

Enjoy,

Irene

Kasha with Mushrooms and Onions (Buckwheat Groats)

Cantor Harry Saiger

Last week my son and daughter-in-law traveled to Toronto to visit my in-laws, Bubbie and Zaidie.  During their visit they went to see an exhibit on the great Cantors of Toronto.  One of the Cantors featured was my husband’s grandfather Harry Saiger.  I can only imagine how touched my father-in-law was knowing that his grandson and wife were going to view the collection but unfortunately it was no longer on display.  The woman in the synagogue was kind enough to give them the photo and biography that had been part of the exhibit and so we too were able to see it.

The elegant photo of Harry Saiger shows him dressed in the dramatic black Cantor’s hat and Tallis.  I stared at it looking for a trace of his features in my children.  I thought about his journey to Canada as a young man, not knowing what his future held.  Harry settled in Toronto, met and married Manya, had five children, and became an accomplished carpenter as well as a Cantor.  I don’t know much else about them (coincidently they shared the same names as my parents, Manya and Harry) but I can imagine that as a cantor he would have been thrilled to know that three generations later his great-grandson became a Rabbi.

I look for those connections because it ties us to our past and keeps our family history alive.  I feel the same way about food.  Preserving the recipes that were handed down from generation to generation and, yes, though we may tempted to update them to our more modern tastes, there is something to be said for preserving the originals, like the photos displayed in the exhibit.

I don’t know what my husband was served on those Shabbat afternoons when he would go visit his Zaidie and Bubie Manya after shul but I imagine that lunch may have included something like Kasha because he seems to love it so much.

Kasha and Mushrooms

1 cup whole Kasha (Buckwheat Groats)

1 egg

2 cups chicken stock

2 large onions

1/2 pound brown mushrooms, sliced

6 oz. bowtie noodles (optional)

2 Tb canola oil

Heat oil in deep sided frying pan and sauté onions till caramelized.  Be patient because this imparts a lot of the flavor to the dish and can take 20-30 minutes before the onions are the right color.  Add sliced mushrooms to onions and sauté for an additional 10 minutes, stirring frequently.  Remove mixture to a bowl.  Beat the egg in a small bowl and add Kasha, stirring till grain is completely coated.  Wipe the pan clean and then add egg-coated Kasha.  Saute for several minutes over low flame till grains separate.  Add hot chicken stock, reduce flame to simmer, cover pan and cook till Kasha is tender, about 10 minutes.  Do not overcook or Kasha will turn into mush.  Add onions and mushrooms, season with salt and pepper and serve.  If you want Kasha Varnishkes, then add cooked bowtie noodles to dish.  Serves 4

Kasha coated with egg

Enjoy,

Irene

Latkes for a crowd

Sometimes it really is the little things in life that makes you happy.  Today I had a perfect afternoon.  I came home from work early, planning to make my latkes so I could freeze them, something I don’t normally do but this year I needed to make lots of them.  Unexpectedly it began to rain which only added to the coziness of the kitchen.  I turned on my favorite radio station which plays Christmas songs this time of year, (I happen to love Christmas music) and peeled ten pounds of potatoes.  I know it sounds crazy but to actually have the luxury of spending a weekday afternoon in the kitchen felt decadent.  It took about 3 1/2 hours from start to finish but during that time two friends came to visit, one carrying lattes for each of us.  Rain, that distinctive smell of latkes frying, music, friends, and good coffee.  It doesn’t get better than that.  Happy Holidays.

This recipe made exactly 150 latkes.  If you want a smaller version, here is the recipe I normally use for latkes.

 

Potato Latkes for a crowd

10 pounds Russet potatoes,  peeled and cut into eighths.

4 large onions, cut in chunks

17 eggs

4 1/2 cups matzoh meal

3 Tbs salt

Canola Oil ( Lots )

Pour oil into three large frying pans until oil comes halfway up the sides of the pan.  In the meantime, in batches, fill the bowl of a food processor with potatoes and a handful of onions, and process till mixture is fine.  Pour into large mixing bowl and add 3 beaten eggs, 1 1/2 tsp salt, and 3/4 cups matzoh meal.  Mix well.  When oil is hot, place large spoonfuls of mixture in pan but do not overcrowd.   Fry till golden on one side and flip over.  Serves 35-40 people.

Enjoy,

Irene