Nopal Salad

Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food.  One of the speakers was  Michael Stern, the author of  Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.”  He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare,  and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it.  Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth.  Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for.  Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas.  For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown,  and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)

In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations.  Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to.  Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.

Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal.  Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant.  Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source.  (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are!  Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut??  Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!

Grace’s Nopal Salad  (Cactus Paddle Salad)

1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced  (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)

1 whole fresh tomato, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis

1/4 tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus.   Serves 4-6.

Enjoy,

Irene

Corn Cakes

Summer and fresh corn on the cob are one of those perfect pairings, like peanut butter and jelly, or chocolate cake and milk.  As a child I only remember eating yellow corn which we always bought with the husk on, thinking they were fresher that way.  (I still can’t bring myself to husk the corn at the market even though it would mean less mess in the kitchen) My mother boiled that corn forever, not knowing that it only needed a few minutes to cook.  It certainly never occurred to us that we could eat it raw.  She always told my sister and I that in Poland corn and tomatoes were food for cows, not humans.

When our children were little, we often went to Toronto during the summer to visit their paternal grandparents.  One of the places we enjoyed visiting was Puck’s Farm outside of Toronto.  It was a wonderful old-fashioned farm with a barn,  a few farm animals, bales of hay to jump in, an area where you could pick your own vegetables, and incredible corn that had just been harvested.  The variety they grew was called peaches and cream, alternating white and yellow kernels, and I had never seen anything like it.  The corn was for sale but it was also available to eat right there, steaming hot ears of corn ready to dip into a huge vat of melted butter.  So simple and so good. Boiling is only one of the ways I now prepare corn, and when I do boil it, it is for no more than five minutes.  I often grill it, constantly turning the ears till they get slightly charred.  Sometimes I cut the kernels off the cob and add them to a salad, raw.  Other times, I throw the raw kernels into a hot cast iron pan with olive oil,  salt and pepper, and some shredded basil.  It’s all good but, truth be told, none of it is as sweet as it was on those summer days when we watched our children eating corn on the cob with melted butter dripping down the sides of their smiling faces.

Corn Cakes

3 ears fresh corn

3 eggs

1/2 cup matzoh meal

2 scallions

1/4 cup cilantro

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1/4 cup canola oil

Cut corn off cob and put in mixing bowl. Add eggs, slightly beaten, and matzoh meal to bowl. Mix well. Thinly slice scallions and add to mixture along with coarsely chopped cilantro. Season with salt and pepper. In a cast iron pan heat oil till hot. Drop large tablespoons of corn mixture into hot oil. Let cook till golden brown then turn over.

Warning: Corn pops in the frying pan so be careful!!!

Makes 12 corn cakes.

Enjoy,

Irene

Sally’s Cabbage Salad

I have always loved books. When I was growing up in the Bronx, buying books was a luxury we could not afford so my sister, Anita, took me to the local public library every week.  Anita is eight years older than me and as a child I loved going everywhere with her, but our visits to the library were special.  I did own a beautifully illustrated edition of Heidi but my favorite books were Eloise and Madeline. All three books were about young girls in foreign lands and while reading them I was transported to Paris, the Swiss Alps and The Plaza (The Plaza Hotel might as well have been in a foreign country).  To this day my favorite books are set in other countries where I am introduced to new cultures, customs, and food.

When I was hired by a non-profit agency in the same building that housed the Los Angeles Jewish Community Library I was thrilled.  For the past six years the library was my refuge.  It was peaceful and calming and there was a wonderful collection of cookbooks that covered Jewish cuisine in Italy, Greece, Yemen and various other countries.  All of this and Sally.  Sally sat at the front desk greeting everyone who came to the library as she had done for over twenty years.  I never knew what her exact position was but she clearly ran the library.  Originally from India, Sally is a fantastic cook. Whenever my family is invited to her home we are amazed at the range of tastes, textures and scents.  Going to Sally for dinner feels as if you are in the midst of reading a Jewish Indian cookbook. The variety of food that is served is astonishing. With an average of twenty guests each Shabbat dinner, there are at least ten appetizers and an equal number of entrees.  Each dish is infused with cilantro, ginger and garlic.

Several months ago the Jewish Community Library closed.  It was disappointing and sad.  I miss the library and I miss Sally.  I do not see her with nearly the same frequency but I think of her often.  Here is a recipe for a cabbage salad that I have eaten at Sally’s many times.  It is a perfect addition to any meal, Passover or any other time.

Sally’s Cabbage Salad

1 head cabbage, thinly sliced

3 jalapeno chilis, thinly sliced

1 bunch cilantro

2 lemons, juiced

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and allow to sit for about 20 minutes before serving.

Increase the number of chilis if you prefer spicier foods.  I add lots of cracked pepper!  NOTE: This is hot so reduce the number of jalapeno peppers if you prefer mild AND be careful how you handle the peppers.

Enjoy,

Irene