Moroccan Carrots

 

Photo taken by Elizabeth Saiger

They are almost like characters in a book, these relatives that I have heard so much about but never had the opportunity to meet.  The baker, the grocer, and the tanner.  Yisroel (Isser) Gutman, my maternal grandfather, the one who I know the most about, owned a tannery in Mogielnica.  Is it coincidence or did I purposely seek out the stories of my namesake?  What I do know is that he was observant, davening in Shul three times a day, leaving little time to spend with his family.  My mother told us how he maimed himself to avoid conscription into the Polish army out of fear that he would be forced to eat “treif.

My favorite story was the one of his great adventure.  One night, long before the war, Isser left his home in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep,  to rendezvous with an uncle with who had concocted a plan.  They had hired a driver with a horse and wagon to meet them at a certain hour and take them to the port where they boarded a ship bound for the United States.  Apparently when my grandmother woke up that morning and heard the news, she went to the port to stop him, but it was too late.  Yes, my grandfather left his family without any discussion, but I prefer to think about the great lengths that he undertook to improve their lot.  Isser stayed in New York for about a year, but we don’t know anything about his life there.  Did he work as a tanner, did he live on the Lower East side, where I imagine him living, was he happy, lonely, prosperous?  We know that my grandmother refused to join him in this “heathen” land and eventually Isser returned to Poland and neither she nor he survived

I think of Isser more often during this time of year because of two stories that connect him to the holidays.  One was that he would insist on eating all of his meals in the sukkah no matter how bad the weather was, forcing my grandmother to carry his food out to him while the rest of the family ate inside.  The other story is that the head of the fish, which was considered not only a delicacy but also a symbol of good fortune, was always saved for my grandfather on Rosh Hashana, out of deference and respect.

We didn’t make fish for Rosh Hashana but we did serve other symbolic foods.  Dates and pomegranates, beets and kreplach, (kreplach represent our concealed fate for the coming year.)  In Yiddish the word for carrots is mehren, a word that also means multiply or increase, so they too were included.  I like to slice them and drizzle them with olive oil so that they look like a bowl of glistening golden coins, a reminder of the riches we hope for in the New Year.  Riches that come in the form of enjoying good health, from spending time with family, and from remembering and sharing the stories that have enriched my life.   These carrots, although not an Ashkenazi dish, remind me of Isser who wanted more from life and tried his best to achieve it.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Moroccan Carrots

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced into coin size thickness

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of two lemons

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Boil sliced carrots in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes.  Drain under cold water.  Place carrots in bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Hearty Vegetarian Lasagna

When the boys were little, they used to drag chairs into their bedroom, grab sheets from the linen closet, flashlights from the drawers, and spend hours building forts.  They loved creating something out of nothing and the only limitations were the size of their room and the breadth of their imagination.  Each time they did this the configuration of the fort was just a little different but the basics were the same.  Just like our Sukkah.  The size is determined by the space available and the rest is up to us.  In truth building a Sukkah is not so different than building those forts.  Shortly after Rosh Hashana, Norm orders the Schah, (in Los Angeles we use Palm fronds) and then starts pulling the lumber out of the garage.  A few days later the frame goes up but it doesn’t really look like  anything much at this point.  (If anything it looks like he is planning to build a fort)  Then the lights and a few decorations go up.  That lasts about a week, and finally when the schah is delivered and thrown over the top of the frame, the Sukkah takes on a life of its own.

This year my brother-in-law Jeff will be joining us in our Sukkah for the very first time.  Just like when the kids invited a friend to come play in the fort, a guest gives you an opportunity to show off your handiwork.  For years I have encouraged Norm to buy a Sukkah Kit, or have the patio roof re-done so that all he would have to do is add the walls, in other words to find a way of building a Sukkah that would take less effort.  That will never happen because then he wouldn’t be able to tell Jeff, or any other guest, that “he built it all by himself.”  There is something about boys and their forts.  Chag Sameach.

 

 

This is a vegetarian version of Joy Behar’s lasagna as seen on The Chew.  The soy crumbles and soy Italian sausages worked perfectly.

Hearty Vegetarian Lasagna

2 tbsp olive oil

1 small onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 lb soy Italian Sausages, cut into 1/2″ slices

8 oz. soy crumbles

1-28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

1- 6 oz. can tomato paste

1/2 cup basil leaves slicked into slivers

2 tsp kosher salt

1/2 tsp pepper

1 tsp oregano

1/2 box lasagna noodles

1 lb. whole milk ricotta

1 cup grated parmesan

1 extra-large egg

1 lb. whole milk fresh mozzarella

1/4 cup parmesan for sprinkling

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Soak noodles in a casserole dish filled with hot tap water.  Heat olive oil in large pan, add chopped onions and sauté for about 5 minutes.  Add minced garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add soy crumbles and Italian sausage and cook for about 10 minutes.  Then add tomatoes, tomato paste, oregano and basil.  Simmer on low, while preparing filling, for about 10 minutes.

In a bowl mix ricotta with beaten egg and 1 cup parmesan.  Season with salt and pepper.  Take a 9 x 12 baking dish and pour 1/3 of the sauce on the bottom.  Then cover sauce with half of the soaked noodles.  Cover noodles with 1/3 sauce, 1/2 of the sliced mozzarella and half the ricotta mixture.  Add second layer of noodles, and repeat. Sprinkle with additional 1/4 cup parmesan.  Bake uncovered for 30 minutes.  Serves 6-8

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