Succotash

Here are some of my memories of the 1960s.  Standing on a line that curved around the block as I waited to see West Side Story.  Watching American Bandstand on T.V. and then looking on as my sister practiced the dance steps using the refrigerator handle as her dance partner.  Seeing the Beatles for the first time on The Ed Sullivan Show, during which my mother remarked that they would “ruin America.”   (I think it had something to do with their long hair)  Watching the coverage of the anti-war rallies on the evening news and listening to my father as he ranted against the protesters.  It was not surprising that he thought his adopted country could no wrong.

Despite a world that was “rapidly changing,”  life in our home moved at a much slower pace.  Fads and trends were not supported in the Graf household and certainly our diets did not vary very much over the years.  (It was at least 20 years later when my Mom met her very first vegetarian, my husband)  With two children and a husband, no car, and few conveniences, my mother was too busy to spend her time worrying whether we needed more vegetables or fewer carbs.  Meals were balanced and colorful, dessert was never offered, but fruit was always available.  Basically as long as our diet included the two foods that my mother felt were critical to good health, she wasn’t overly concerned.  The items were milk and meat, but never served together of course.

Today as I walked through a local Persian market, the summer vegetables were in all their glory.  I couldn’t decide what to make so I picked a few vegetables of various colors and made a version of Succotash, a dish I never had growing up but SO American that my father would surely have approved.

Succotash (without the shell beans and adapted from Bobby Flay)

2 pounds Mexican Squash, cut in chunks

3 Tbs olive oil

1 medium onion, diced

3 cloves minced garlic

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 ears of corn

3 Tbs lime or lemon juice

1 tsp cumin

2 Tbs cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Saute onion in  olive oil till translucent.  Add minced garlic and cook for several minutes and then add diced red pepper, turning heat to high, allowing pepper to caramelize.  After about 5 minutes add the Mexican squash and cook for an additional 10 minutes on medium heat.  Cut kernels off husks and add to pan along with salt, pepper, and cumin.  Allow flavors to combine for several minutes and remove from heat.  Add lemon juice and chopped cilantro.  Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Vegetarian Chili

What can I say,  I have been missing in action for a few weeks but I do have a good excuse.  We are heading to Texas where our eldest son is getting married.  Too busy to do much cooking but not too busy to contemplate the importance of sharing food with the people you love.  Good food elevates the spirit, just think about how you feel when you bite into something special and delicious, made for you with loving care. This has been a week when many of us have been preparing food for all the wonderful celebrations that are coming up.  Two of my friends prepared 8 lbs. of sweet and sour meatballs for a Shabbat dinner that they and other close friends are hosting in honor of the newlyweds.  Norm and I did spend some time baking, and everything we baked was made with someone else in mind.  I prepared three pumpkin chocolate chip breads at the request of the bride’s sister and Norm made two Challot at the request of the bride’s brother.  The bride asked for cholent which I will make for Shabbat lunch after they all arrive in town next week.  My daughter asked for a fruit crisp and I am considering blueberries and peaches (now that summer fruit is here.)  The bottom line is, it doesn’t have to be fancy, difficult, or complicated but the simple act of feeding someone is so nurturing and loving.  For those of you with children, my advice is to get started right away because in the blink of an eye they will be standing under the Chuppah.

My daughter has become a great hostess and I love knowing that she too has a passion for good food and feeding her friends.  She made this chili at one of her parties and apparently it was a big hit.

Shira’s Vegetarian Chili

2 Tbs olive oil

1 med onion, chopped

1 red pepper chopped

1 yellow pepper, chopped

4 cloves of garlic, minced

1 cup beer

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1 15 oz. can red kidney beans

1 15 oz. can black beans

1 Tbs cumin

2 Tbs chili powder

1 tsp kosher salt

1 15 oz can vegetarian refried beans

1 pkg frozen vegetarian crumbles (meat substitute)

Saute peppers and onion in olive oil for several minutes.  Add remaining ingredients and simmer for about two hours.  Serve with tortilla chips, sharp Cheddar cheese and diced green onions.

NOTE: If you like your chili spicy I would add 1 Tbs. Tabasco and/or 1 Tbs. chili powder.

Serves 4-6

Enjoy,

Irene

Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs

I have always found graduations moving.  Just hearing that first note of Pomp and Circumstance makes my eyes well up with tears, but listening to a young group of male and female rabbinic students, including my older son, walking in to their ordination ceremony singing Ozi v’Zimrat Yah was stirring.  We were watching a new generation of rabbis marching down the aisle, stepping forward to carry on the traditions.  As wonderful as it was, having family and friends join us to witness the occasion, made it even more special.

Being in New York City was great, even during a week when the sun rarely shined.  Taking long walks each day, exploring the city and, of course, eating.  Here were some of the highlights.  An exhibit at the New York Public library celebrating the 100th anniversary,  going to the High Line in Chelsea, breakfast at Clinton Street Baking Co. , a wonderful brunch at my daughter’s new apartment in Williamsburg, and dinner at Pulino’s.  The post-graduation dinner was a success, catered by The Kosher Marketplace ,  it included Sweet and Sour Turkey Meatballs, one of David’s favorite dishes.

When it came time to return home, I found it incredibly hard to say goodbye.   The gloomy weather reflected my mood.  Just after arriving at the airport in Newark we bumped into Stephanie S. whom I had met in Houston earlier this year, close family friends of my soon to be machatunim.   Travelling with her family, she had one child asleep in the stroller, another child in tow, and was overloaded with bags, toys and drinks.  We chatted while standing in the security line, and as I watched her I was flooded with memories of travelling with my own children at that age.  I wanted to tell Stephanie to cherish the moment because I know something that she doesn’t, that in the blink of an eye she will be attending her children’s graduations.

David’s Favorite Meatballs

2 lbs. ground turkey

1/2 cup bread crumbs

3 large eggs, beaten

2 cloves minced garlic

salt and pepper to taste

Mix ingredients and make golf ball sized meatballs.

Sauce

1 can whole cranberry sauce

1 jar chili sauce (about 1 1/2 cups) or ketchup

2-3 Tbs dark brown sugar

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

Combine sauce ingredients and cook for about 10 minutes.  Add meatballs and cook over low flame for about one hour.

Serves 6-8.

Enjoy,

Irene

Fried Green Tomatoes

During the Seder I shared an article written by Rabbi Debora Gordon in which she writes about “leaving Passover behind”.   We are coming to the last days of the Chag and I too am sad to know that the end of the holiday is approaching.  It  isn’t just the departure of two of my children, and it isn’t just the daunting task of putting things back in order.  It is in part the passage of time, knowing that another holiday season is now behind us and I am faced with the uncertainty of what next year will bring.  Rabbi Gordon wrote that the end of Passover means that “Life stops being so simple”.   We have spent our holiday in simplicity, being at home, in the kitchen, eating all of our meals together, making few excursions out of the house.  With the religious limitations and restrictions comes an ease that occurs when fewer choices means fewer decisions.  That too is something that I will miss.  I will relish these last days of  Yontif and wish all of you a Chag Sameach.

When I was growing up the meals my mother prepared during Passover were really not that different from the rest of the year.  Dinner consisted of soup, chicken or beef, salad and potatoes. A box of Matzoh was placed on the table instead of the loaf of freshly baked rye bread.  The pressure to be innovative is self-imposed and I know that nobody would complain if I made garlic chicken every night.  This year  I have made a conscious effort to incorporate more vegetables into our diet.  We have had Kale chips, trays of various roasted vegetables including artichokes and asparagus,  Greek salads, pickled vegetables, and last night I served a Passover version of Fried Green Tomatoes with a side of tomato basil salad.  Very simple.

Fried Green Tomatoes

3 large green tomatoes

1 cup matzoh meal

3 eggs, beaten

salt and pepper to taste

Safflower oil

Core and slice tomatoes.  Each tomato should yield 4 slices, about 1/2 inch in thickness.  Dip in beaten egg, and then in seasoned matzoh meal.  Heat oil in frying pan till very hot and add tomatoes.  Do not crowd pan.  Fry till brown and crispy on both sides, about 3 minutes per side.  Cast iron pan is best.  Serve hot with a side of tomato basil salad.

Serves 12

Enjoy,

Irene

Vegetable Tagine

Not in my wildest imagination did I ever think I would fall in love with Williamsburg, Brooklyn.  Feeling somewhat disloyal to my Bronx roots I tried to hold back, and although it wasn’t love at first sight, there is something special going on in the “other B Borough.”  The combination of old buildings and store fronts, converted into cozy bakeries and restaurants, run and patronized by hipsters (no idea what they stand for but they do have a certain look) all converge to create a sum that is better than the parts.  Brooklynites eat local and are proud of it.  Everywhere you look, there are food products that are baked, cultured, grown and created in Brooklyn and the labels clearly state that.

We started the morning with coffee and a buttery, raspberry pistachio muffin at Bakeri, a small bakery that has paid as much attention to the decor as it has to the baked goods.  You feel as if  you have been transported to another time and place, with a staff of young women looking freshly scrubbed and who enthusiastically describe every baked good in their display case.  Off to the side one employee is kneading bread dough on a large wooden board, old style, not one piece of marble in sight.   The next day we stopped at the small local farmers market.  There was an interesting combination of older immigrants (this used to be a Polish neighborhood)  and young New Yorkers, all coming out despite the cold weather to buy milk, cheese, eggs and poultry from New York State farms.  My daughter informed me that you had to ” know” that the dairy stand sold eggs, there was no sign indicating it.

The next day we had brunch at Diner, an old dining car that has not been renovated, but has been lovingly allowed to remain in its  glorious original state.

Here is what we ate.

Lemon poppy-seed scone to start.

Market salad of mustard greens, black olives, cranberry beans, croutons, creamy garlic dressing w/shaved parmesan.

Country breakfast: two scrambled eggs, biscuit w/ honey butter and grilled escarole and dandelion greens.

Omelette w/ kale and ricotta pesto and served w/ potatoes.

We forced ourselves to stop there but it wasn’t easy.

Of course, no weekend in New York would be complete without pizza so that same night we ordered in from Best Pizza. Even 40 minutes after it came out of the oven, the crust charred and crisp, the pizza thin, and the garlic knots chewy on the outside and tender on the inside.

So the next time you take a trip to NYC, do something different and take a trip to Brooklyn.  You’ll be pleasantly surprised to see the transformation. From garden to table, this generation of “foodies” have put their stamp on fresh ingredients lovingly offered up to those who are lucky enough to visit.

After having numerous vegetable dishes in New York, I was inspired to try this Vegetable Tagine.

Vegetable Tagine

1 large brown onion, diced

3 Tbs olive oil

2 small fingerling potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut in chunks

3 oz. dried cherries

1 can garbanzo beans

2 Tbs pomegranate molasses

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup water

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add both sweet and white potatoes, stir and allow to cook for several more minutes.  Add drained garbanzo beans, and dried cherries to pot. Mix well.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Remove from heat and add water and pomegranate molasses and stir. Gently pour into Tagine and add one cinnamon stick.  Cover and place in 275 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours.

Enjoy,

Irene

Tomato Basil Salad

Despite the fact that we lived in the city, The Bronx had enough natural beauty for my father to enjoy.  There was Mosholu Parkway, Pelham Parkway, Poe Park, and Van Cortlandt Park, just to name a few of the places where one could escape to.  On Sundays my father and I would walk to St. James Park with a brown paper bag filled with leftover Challah, and feed the birds.  We could spend hours there, not saying much, just sitting and watching the pigeons that flocked around the crumbs at my father’s feet.  Some Sundays were spent at The Bronx Zoo or at Orchard Beach.  My father loved being outdoors and he loved animals.  As an extension of that connection to nature, he was conscious of the things he ate and where they came from.  He always preferred eating food in its most natural state, feeling that fruits and vegetables were created in the way they were intended to be eaten, perfect in their simplicity.  It has taken me a long time to reach the same conclusion.

Here is a very simple tomato salad.  It is really best when you use ripe, locally grown, plum tomatoes.

Tomato Basil Salad

1 dozen Roma Tomatoes,

One bunch fresh Basil

4-5 cloves garlic

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Slice Roma tomatoes in half, lengthwise, and gently squeeze out pulp.  Dice into 1/2 ” cubes and place in large bowl.  Remove basil leaves from stem, then stack and roll.  With a sharp knife cut into thin slices.  Add to tomatoes.  Mince garlic and add to bowl, along with salt and pepper to taste.  Add olive oil, cover and allow to sit for flavors to blend before serving.

Enjoy,

Irene

Note: This is great on Matzoh!


Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges with Black Sesame Seeds

When I was growing up, the sense of community among apartment dwellers was clear.  The building that I lived in on the Grand Concourse functioned as a vertical village, with neighbors pitching in and helping one another.  People watched over each other’s children, helped out with errands, and some even divided their poultry order, as my mother and her closest friend Fanny did (the Pruzans took the dark meat while the Graf family preferred the white) for many years.

Last week I took my first trip to Houston, Texas, and felt that same sense of community.  Although the trip was short, the impressions were long-lasting.

As for the food, I had dinner at a Tex-Mex restaurant where I was introduced to queso, a warm, slightly spicy, cheese dip.  I tasted a pecan pie that may have been the best I have ever eaten, and a jalapeño cheese bread that was equally good.  Other Texas treats included candied pecans tossed in a salad, roasted sweet potato wedges topped with black sesame seeds, a warm pasta dish served in a poblano sauce, a King’s Cake, and an amazing version of strawberry shortcake served on a biscuit and smothered in Creme Anglaise.

In New York the feeling of community went along with a desire to be a “good neighbor.”  In Texas, there is the tradition of Southern hospitality.  My future daughter-in-law, along with her sister and parents, as well as their family friends, made us feel at home in a BIG way, Texas style.

Roasted Sweet Potato Wedges

4 medium sweet potatoes

2 Tbs water
2 Tbs olive oil
2 Tbs brown sugar
2 Tbs rice vinegar
1 Tbs sesame oil

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  In a cup combine the olive oil, brown sugar, rice vinegar, and water.  Cover a cookie sheet with parchment paper.

Cut off ends of sweet potatoes.  Slice sweet potatoes in half lengthwise, then cut each half on the diagonal into slices about an inch thick.

Pour brown sugar mixture over sweet potatoes, stirring so that they are all coated.  Place sweet potatoes on cookie sheet and roast till tender, about one hour.

Garnish with black sesame seeds.

Enjoy,

Irene

London Broil

I did not grow up in a home where there was a weekday breakfast ritual.  In fact during the cold winter months my mother would crawl into my warm bed and gently wake me.  While I dressed, my mother stayed in bed and watched, not bothering to get up and prepare breakfast for me and my sister.  No pot of warm oatmeal was left on the stove top nor was there a saucepan of hot chocolate simmering away.  I would get ready and go off to school, no fanfare and no breakfast.  My mother, who spent her life in her kitchen, thumbed her nose at breakfast.

When I was a little older, and clearly watching television, Tony the Tiger entered my life.  Breakfast was contained in the large rectangular box that held Frosted Flakes.  Cereal and milk seemed to be the perfect combination (although the thin sugar-coated flakes quickly became soggy if you weren’t a fast eater).  A breakfast that was easy and effortless, all you needed was a spoon and a bowl.  How American!

Our children were also raised eating cold cereal (the unsweetened variety) during the week, but Sundays were special.  It was Norm’s turn to make breakfast and he seemed to enjoy the role of being the short order cook.  You could choose to have eggs, hash browns, pancakes, or French toast made with leftover challah.  Eventually our tastes changed and we preferred breakfasts that were less sweet and more savory.  Tortillas, beans, guacamole, eggs are now common breakfast ingredients in our home.  If  we happen to have any leftover steak, then that too is heated and served.

My mother cooked for us every night, made our lunches, and prepared our snacks, but I must say that this simple morning ritual of preparing breakfast for your child, even an adult child, is an experience that she missed.   The author Maya Angelou, when recently interviewed on NPR, said “I’m concerned that Americans are losing that place of meeting.”  “There are very few times we can be more intimate as to share food together.”   In my humble opinion, she is right.  Try it.

London Broil

2 lbs. London Broil

1/3 cup ketchup

1/3 cup red wine

1/3 cup soy sauce

Marinate meat for several hours and then grill for about 5 minutes per side.

NOTE: Take any leftover steak and thinly slice. Add to cast iron pan along with eggs. Top with salsa, and guacamole and some warm tortillas.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Latkes

The Chanukah of my childhood bears little resemblance to how we now celebrate the holiday.  Growing up there were three ways that a visitor to our home would recognize that it was Chanukah.  Latkes were being fried in the kitchen, a Hanukkiah was prominently placed on the dining room table, and a dreidel or two were lying around the living room.  There were no decorations strung in the apartment, and no wrapped presents to open.  Before the candles were lit, we said the brachot and sang a song or two.  We were then given gelt, money to spend as we wished, (I still remember the white go-go boots that I bought at Alexander’s on Fordham Road) and that was our gift.

Looking back, I don’t feel that the significance of the holiday was in any way diminished, despite the modest way in which it was celebrated. I loved Chanukah and anticipated its arrival each year.  I would come home from school and run to choose the candles, carefully selecting colors and creating patterns.  Alternating blue and white candles one night, assorted colors on another, and my favorite, an entire Hanukkiah filled with white candles.  Chanukah had no religious meaning or overtones in our home.  We knew about the miracle associated with the oil but my parents always emphasized the military victory.

When we were raising our children, Chanukah celebrations became much more elaborate, and the religious significance was emphasized rather than the military history.  There were always parties to host or attend, lots of gifts and decorations, lots of singing and lots of food.  I look forward to seeing the traditions that my children will embrace in their own homes, but for now I am happy to know that all of my children are either hosting Chanukah parties or participating in the celebration. That is the greatest gift.

No matter how we celebrated the holiday one thing always remained the same, the way we make latkes.  I make them exactly as my mother did during those early celebrations, sweet and simple, with a little sugar sprinkled on top.

Happy Chanukah to you and your families!


Latkes

4 large Russet potatoes, peeled, cut into chunks and placed in bowl of cold water.

1 large onion, peeled and cut into chunks

5 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup matzoh meal

salt to taste

Vegetable Oil
Pour enough oil into a large frying pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the pan.  In the meantime, place coarsely chopped potatoes and onion in food processor,  a few at a time, and process till fine.  (we do not use grated potatoes)  Pour into bowl and add beaten eggs, salt, and enough matzoh meal to bind mixture.  When oil is hot, place large spoonfuls of mixture in pan but do not crowd.  Fry about 4-5 latkes at a time.  Fry till golden and flip over. Serve straight from pan.

Enjoy,

Irene

Sweet Couscous

It was in the early 1980s when Norm and I decided to build our first Sukkah.  Neither of us had grown up with one, and so we had no family traditions to help guide us.  We had to create our own, discover our own way, and find traditions that we were comfortable with.  One year we used fresh fruit to decorate the Sukkah, fruit that began to decompose over the course of the week.  It seemed out of sync with the festive atmosphere we were trying to create, not to mention the waste, and so we switched to plastic fruits.  Over the years we experimented with the size of the Sukkah, materials, lighting, choice of plants for schach, and decorations.  It has always been a work in progress, and from year to year it changes slightly, as we do.

Each year my mother would come to our Sukkah and reminisce about her childhood in Poland, recalling how her father would insist on eating all of his meals in their Sukkah.  She said that even if it was pouring, he would sit there, the rain streaming down his face, though his beard, and into his soup.  That story was repeated to us each year and out of that shared memory a new tradition grew.  We realized that when my mother spoke of her father it was almost as if he was with us, sitting in our Sukkah.  Now, each year we go around the table and ask our guests the following question. ” If you could invite anyone to join you in the Sukkah, who would that be?”  We have had kings and politicians, musicians and celebrities, family members who have passed away and family members who are just far away.  Along with the Ushpizin, all of our guests, present and imaginary, make this holiday magical.  Chag Sameach.

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s  The Book of Jewish Food.

Sweet Couscous

Prepare 1 lb. of couscous by placing grain in a large bowl.  Using a total of about 2 1/2 cups of warm water, add a few tablespoons of water at a time and let it absorb into the couscous.  Using your fingers, plump up couscous, breaking up any lumps. Repeat till couscous is soft but not wet. Couscous will double in bulk.

To this basic recipe add:

1 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes,  and chopped up.

1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

1/2  cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/4 cup sugar combined with cinnamon to taste

Shape couscous into a cone and decorate with lines of cinnamon mixed with sugar.

Enjoy,

Irene