Stuffed Potatoes (Passover)

photo 1Spring is here, Purim is over, and Passover is just weeks away.  For the third year in a row, we are going back East to celebrate Passover with our children at the home of our older son and daughter-in-law, a home where we have always felt welcomed and included, to a seder that is open to so many.  As my part of the planning begins, various family members have gently reminded me that “less is more”,  have informed me that a Seder meal doesn’t need both chicken and beef, have encouraged me to cook larger quantities of fewer dishes, and have suggested to me that a good model to follow is something apparently common in restaurants in Williamsburg, where they often specialize in a dish or two that they make really well (does that sound like a hint?).  Appreciative of everyone’s wish to make the entire process less labor intensive, easier on me, healthier, less costly, etc. I understand and hear the words in my head, but they don’t resonate in my heart.  The dictionary definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously.

Last night I went to bed with a plan for a stream-lined menu that felt a little bit as if the “feasting” part of Passover, as we knew it, may be a thing of the past.  This morning I thought of my mom, a woman who knew what hunger was, what deprivation meant, and who, more, than many of us, understood the importance of Passover.  When the time came for her to serve the meal, there was no doubt that you were not sitting down to a typical dinner, but to a Passover feast.  She knew that less is not more, it is just less.  That when a family gathers together to celebrate, we should celebrate to the fullest, the wine should pour freely, and the food should be plentiful and varied.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Ode to Fried Potatoes by Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Maria Jacketti

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

Potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan –

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in a marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth

 Stuffed Potatoes 

20, thin-skinned, new white potatoes, smallish and round, about 2″ in diameter

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil  (for turkey or chicken which needs a little extra fat)

Chopped leftover potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

additional olive oil for frying

Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 medium tomatoes, diced

1 Tb Telma chicken bouillon

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups water

To make the sauce, add olive oil to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two over a low flame,  just till fragrant.  Add diced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes before adding remaining ingredients.  Cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place potatoes on a sturdy service and carefully cut off a small slice from both the bottom and top.  Stand potato on one end and using a small sharp knife, grapefruit cutter, or melon baller, hollow out almost all of the sides and the center of  the potato.

photoFinely chop leftover potato pieces in food processor, and add to a large bowl with the other ingredients for the filling. Mix well.  Using a small spoon, stuff filling into hollowed out potatoes.  Gently sauté stuffed potatoes in olive oil till golden on all sides.  Place in oven proof casserole.  Pour the sauce over the stuffed potatoes,  cover,  and bake in a preheated oven for about 2-3  hours.   Serves 15-20 as a side dish.

Note: Number of potatoes and amount of filling varies depending on size.  Any leftover meat can be made shaped into small ktzizot (burgers), sautéed in same olive oil and added to pot.  We did that and they were great!  This is a dish that is better when it has a chance to sit so make it the day before you are planning to serve it.

Enjoy,

Irene

Savory Zucchini Mushroom Muffins

photo-22They came to America on the S.S. Argentina, sailing out of Genoa, Italy, in 1952,  my parents and sister, five-year old Anie.  My sister said our mother spent the entire trip in their cabin below deck, fighting seasickness.  Anie spent the days running around having fun, following our father who apparently spent most of the trip in the company of an Italian man.  Once they docked, they went to Ellis Island for medical examinations,  after which my sister and my mother were placed in quarantine for a day or two.

Anie soon became Anita, Henri became Harry, and Marie became Miriam.

Harry found work as a tailor, Anita was enrolled in Kindergarten, and Miriam stayed home and took care of her family.  By the time I was born three years later, they had settled in, for the most part.  Harry was back to Hersch, Miriam was Manya and Anita was Anita.  They had all learned to speak English, my sister had shed her Parisian roots, my mother had a drawer filled with slim, decorated boxes, that when opened, revealed various shades of delicate silk stockings, and my father’s shirts were sent to the dry cleaners.  Just like everyone else, we watched Ed Sullivan.

They were participants in the melting pot.  Eventually, my father left the world of tailoring and became a stock broker, my mother wore pencil skirts and even tried smoking for a brief time.  Anita straightened her hair and dated boys who smoked pipes.  Despite all of their efforts, I knew that we weren’t “real” Americans.

This year, Thanksgiving and Chanukkah are coinciding and I couldn’t imagine a more suitable pairing.  One holiday celebrating freedom and the other, victory.   I am sure that when our small family of three reached the shores of New York, they felt that they had achieved both freedom and victory in a way that they had never dreamed possible just a few years earlier.  They navigated this new world, and somehow managed to find the perfect balance.  They were Americans on the outside, in ways they found palatable, like how they dressed, or attending Thanksgiving dinners, but we were Jews first and foremost.

This Thanksgiving, we will serve latkes instead of stuffing, and apple sauce alongside cranberry sauce.  Turkey will still be the main  but I am considering adding a pot roast or brisket.  Sufganiyot will be paired with mulled cider, and little kugels might be served as well, disguised as muffins.  Hopefully we will strike the right balance, and be richer for it.

Savory Zucchini-Mushroom Muffins

6 medium zucchini, shredded or coarsely chopped in food processor.

6 large mushrooms, chopped

3 large brown onions, finely chopped, in processor

5 eggs

2 cups all-purpose flour

2 tsp baking powder

3/4 cup olive oil

2 tsp salt

1 Tb finely ground black pepper  (or less depending on preference)

Canola oil

Preheat oven to 350.  In a large bowl, combine all ingredients and mix well. Make sure there are no dry spots left in the mixture.  Grease your muffin tins with canola oil and place them in the oven to heat for several minutes.  Remove from oven and  spoon mixture into tins.  Bake for about an hour or until  muffins are golden brown.  Or bake in large roasting pans for a more traditional looking kugel.  This made one large round kugel and 12 muffins.  Serves 10 -12

Note:  I think you can substitute almost any vegetable and this would work. Chopped broccoli, small diced eggplant, shredded carrots, etc. 

Enjoy,

Irene  

Persian Rice with Tadig

Rice was a staple in my mother’s kitchen. Always prepared in the most basic way, it was never the centerpiece of the meal but occupied the role of ” the starchy” side dish.  My mother bought Uncle Ben’s and cooked it in salted boiling water.  Period.  There were two ways that it was served, with hot milk and sugar for a dairy meal, and in sort of a sticky mass for meat meals.  The rice didn’t elicit any response when it came to the table, it was like eating white bread, just sort of there.  My mother was a great cook so I attribute this lack of imagination to the fact that she grew up in Poland where I am sure she was raised eating potatoes (which she always prepared well and in numerous ways) but, of course, my sister disagrees.

The first time I tasted Persian rice with Tadig was when my children began attending a Jewish Day School in Los Angeles that had a large Persian population.  The special preparation of this dish produces a tender, fluffy and fragrant rice that is covered with a thick, pale yellow crust (tadig).  The crust is both chewy and crunchy, and since there is only one layer of it, everyone wants to get an even share. 

I was determined to learn how to prepare Tadig and so over the years I have tried various recipes, this being the one that I now use.  For those of us who live in Los Angles, Persian rice is not a particularly unusual or exotic dish, but for those of you who live in other parts of the country, I encourage you to try this.  It may take a little getting use to, but I promise that it’s worth the effort.  You’ll never be satisfied with a bowl of Uncle Ben’s again.

rice after soaking in water

rice formed into a pyramid

rice with lid wrapped in tea towel

 Persian Rice with Tadig

2 cups Basmati Rice

salt

4 cups water

4 Tbs corn oil

1/4 tsp turmeric

2 Tbs water

Rinse rice and place in bowl.  Submerge rice in warm water and let stand for 30 minutes.  Drain and set aside.  Bring a wide-bottomed pot filled with 4 cups of salted water to a rapid boil.  Add the rice and cook for 8 minutes. Drain.

Wipe pot dry with a paper towel.  Place 3 Tbs of the oil in the pot, add the turmeric and stir.  Tilt pan to cover entire bottom with oil.  Pour rice into pan, making sure that the bottom of the pan is covered with rice.  Then gently pull extra rice towards the center to form a pyramid.  Sprinkle rice with remaining oil.  Cover lid with a dish towel and tie on the top.  Cover pot, and cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.  Then lower heat ( as low as possible)  and cook for at least 30- 45 more minutes.  Crust will form on bottom.  Invert and serve with crust on top.  Serves 6-8 people

Enjoy,
Irene

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

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

Growing up, all of my parents’ friends were Polish Jews.  As immigrants, they wanted to surround themselves with people who had similar experiences and backgrounds, people who shared common customs, language, and food.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I met Jews who looked different, spoke Hebrew or Ladino (as opposed to Yiddish), and ate foods that I had never heard of, prepared with spices that had exotic names like turmeric, cardamom and fennel.

My children had a completely different experience growing up in Los Angeles.  A city with a strong Persian presence, Persian food was introduced into their diet early on.  They also have Jewish friends and acquaintances whose families were originally from Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco.  Our family has eaten Aloo-m-Kalla in the Sukkah of a friend who is from India, watched an Egyptian friend prepare Bamia, and have eaten many meals in my friend Rachel’s house, whose family immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan.  I am so proud of the fact that my daughter just prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana dinner for her friends, but I love knowing that she can just as easily make Tabit or Shakshuka.

A great cook, my friend Rachel’s food is full of flavor, but her appetizers and salads are particularly outstanding.  Here is a recipe that she shared after returning from her most recent trip to Israel.

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

2 eggplants, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small green chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 small red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

Italian parsley

Take diced eggplant and toss with  3 Tbs of the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven till tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  In a large pot, combine 2 Tbs olive oil, green and red chilis, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar.  Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add prepared eggplant and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes over a low flame.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a handful of chopped parsley on top.

Enjoy,

Irene