Vegetable Confetti

Certain rituals signaled that the holidays were approaching.  The parquet floors of our apartment were waxed, the silver Kiddush cups, candelabra, sugar bowl and prongs (used to pick up the sugar cubes) were polished , new dresses were bought, and shoes were purchased at Buster Brown.  I still remember walking up several stairs to the little platform in the middle of the store so that our feet could be x-rayed, insuring a proper fitting shoe.

On Rosh Hashana the four of us went to Shul, something we only did on the holidays.  Everyone got dressed up and when we returned home for the Yontif meal, the table was “dressed” as well.  My mother spared no expense during a holiday, it was her way of transmitting the significance of the day to her children.  As a child I loved it all, but only now do I understand that despite the hard work, my mother’s happiness stemmed from being able to take care of her family.  May your year be filled with abundance and beauty,  and the gift of having family to take care of.  Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr.

Vegetable Confetti (pretty enough for Rosh Hashana)

3 large eggplants, diced into 1” pieces

6 large peppers, two each of,  red, yellow and orange, cored and diced

1 red onion, peeled and diced

3 ears of corn, kernels removed

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 dozen cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb honey

Take two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.  Place diced eggplant on one sheet, peppers and onion on the other.  Divide remaining ingredients between the two trays of vegetables and toss to coat with seasonings and olive oil.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or till tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally.  Note: Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for the holidays.

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

 

 

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

Black Beans

One of the ways that I express my interest and desire to travel and see the world is by cooking foods from other countries.  When I think about the books I choose to read, or the movies that I am drawn to see, they are often set outside of the United States.  Each time I learn a little more about a particular culture and, of course, the food.  It is my personal way of having a mini-adventure.  I can get lost in a cookbook from Israel or a food blog from Mexico.  In the course of a weekend I can read about a family struggling in India, go see a romantic movie that takes place in France, and watch a cooking show filmed in Spain.  My older son recently returned from Guatemala, and my daughter will be going to Colombia and Argentina in the next few months.  That may be the source of my inspiration as I sat and planned what to serve for Shabbat Dinner.  I kept going back to Central and South American food, simple and satisfying, flavorful and made with ingredients that are readily available, especially here in Southern California.
A friend who I work with, Alba, is originally from Guatemala.  We are always talking about food, love, and life.  She calls me “her Jewish Mom” and that is only one of the many reasons that I am crazy about her.  Another is her Black Beans.

Alba’s Black Beans

1 lb black beans

2 large onions

4 cloves garlic

4 Tbsp. olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

Place beans in a large pot to soak overnight.  Add a large onion, cut in half, two cloves of garlic, and enough water to cover beans by at least one inch. The next day cook the beans in the same pot of water for several hours over a low flame, until the beans are tender. Beans continue to expand so add water as needed. Remove onion and garlic and discard.

Finely dice  the second large onion and two cloves of minced garlic and sauté in olive oil till golden.  Strain the beans (reserve liquid) and add to onions.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.  At this point add as much of the reserved liquid until you have the desired consistency. Cook for another twenty minutes for flavors to blend.

Serve with rice and some fresh chopped cilantro.

Enjoy,

Irene

Roasted Artichokes

What a glorious week it has been in Los Angeles!  The sun is shining, the sky is a beautiful shade of blue, the wind is blowing and you can see the Santa Monica and San Gabriel mountains in the distance.  It feels like Spring, even in Southern California.

I have been taking walks during lunch and often stop at Joan’s on Third (one of my favorite places to eat and shop)  where I pick up half a grilled artichoke, a perfect spring vegetable.  They are full, luscious, multi-layered, delicate and incredibly versatile.  Last week we had dinner with our friends and Steve made a wonderful puree of artichoke soup.  I may be able to get him to share the recipe!

Eating artichokes, unlike any other vegetable, requires patience.  Peeling one leaf at a time, dipping it into your favorite sauce and savoring each small edible part of the petal, you are then rewarded with the heart.  My sons would fight over the heart, and I always understood why.

My mother always boiled her artichokes and served them with vinaigrette.  I now prefer this two-step process.

Roasted Artichokes

4 large globe artichokes

Wash artichokes and trim each leaf, cutting off the sharp tips as well as the stem. Place in a basin of water with a sliced lemon. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add artichokes and cook for about  30- 40 minutes or until leaves can be pulled off fairly easily.  Remove and turn artichokes upside down so water drains out.  Allow to cool.

Cut the artichokes in half and using a small paring knife, remove fuzzy choke and any purple tipped petals.

Combine 1/4 cup balsamic vinegar with 4 tbsp olive oil, salt and pepper to taste and spread on rimmed cookie sheet.  Place cut side of artichokes on top of vinaigrette and press down, slightly flattening artichoke.  Roast at 475 degrees for about 30 minutes or until artichokes are slightly charred.  You can also grill them if you prefer.

My two favorite dipping sauces.

Honey Balsamic Dip

2 tbsp honey

2 tbsp balsamic vinegar

1/2 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste.

Garlic-Basil Mayonnaise

1 cup mayonnaise mixed with 2 large minced cloves of garlic and 2 large basil leaves. Salt and pepper to taste. Blend in food processor.

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

Kale Chips

Last night’s sponge cake cooled in the pan overnight and it did not fall!  What I learned is that it is better to beat the egg whites to a slightly stiffer  consistency before incorporating them into the yolks.  Also, remember to tap the cake pan on the counter before placing it in the oven to eliminate  any air  pockets.  Of course, we haven’t tasted it yet.

As I mentioned yesterday, my plan was to go to the Hollywood Farmers’  Market this morning and at 8:00 A.M. I headed over with my good friend  Fredda and my daughter Shira.  Here is what we found:  pink cherry blossoms, lilacs, rainbow radishes, purple carrots, strawberries, swiss chard, brown eggs, asparagus, basil, zucchini blossoms, mint, kale, golden nugget mandarins, turnips, sweet potatoes, baby heirloom tomatoes, parsnips and ice cream (for tonight).  I am apparently going to separate and bake the kale leaves to make kale chips, a request from my daughter.  That should be interesting.  The squash blossoms and chard are going to be sautéed with basil, garlic, and olive oil (separately).  I am putting the carrots, tomatoes and radishes on the Seder table for people to snack on before the meal is served.  The sweet potatoes are for the tzimmis and the herbs are going to be minced with olive oil and garlic for the chicken.

NOTE:  Here is the recipe that I used for Kale Chips.  Everyone seemed to enjoy having something healthy and crunchy to snack on after the blessing for Karpas.

http://www.bonappetit.com/recipes/2009/02/tuscan_kale_chips

I hope that all of you have a Chag Sameach and I look forward to writing again soon.

Enjoy,

Irene