Sharing Food and Memories with Friends and Family


April 3, 2017
Irene Saiger


Chana Chat (South Asian Garbanzo bean salad)

IMG_9366Yesterday, just about a week before Pesach (Passover), my kitchen and dining room table were covered in flour.  Mounds of dough were portioned out around the edge of the table, potatoes were boiling in the kitchen, and salad ingredients were being chopped on every available surface.

My daughter-in-law, Elizabeth, is involved in an organization called New Ground, whose mission is to encourage dialogue between Jews and Muslims. Months ago I had suggested that she organize something around food, and so here we were, sixteen people crowded around the table, eight Jews and eight Muslims, representing two generations.  I demonstrated how to make my Challah and Mahmooda taught us how to make Chana Chat, a salad that is commonly served in both Pakistan and India.  (which if you eat kitniyot during Pesach is a light and delicious salad!!)

What did we have in common? Plenty!  One woman shared how she cared for her aging in-laws because that’s the family’s responsibility, and expressed hope that her own children and grandchildren will do the same for her and her husband one day.  A young woman named Farzana told me how her family gets together every Friday night after prayers for a late dinner.  She said that everyone knows it’s family night and instead of seeing friends, they spend time together as a family, sitting and eating, talking, and as she put it, marinating.  Mahrukh, a woman from Bombay explained that she was contentedly living in Italy when she and her family decided to move to Los Angeles. Her boys only spoke Italian, very little Urdu, and no English and she worried how they would adjust to life in America. All of these stories could have been stories from my own family.  Of the sixteen participants at least 14 were immigrants, children of immigrants, or grandchildren of immigrants.  Sound familiar?

Yes it was a little crazy to do this a week before Passover but it filled me with so much hope for the future, more than I’ve had in months.  And what better way to start the Chag but to be reminded how much we gain from opening our hearts, our doors, and our kitchens to others.  Let’s tear down those walls, one dish at a time.

Chana Chat

1 cup garbanzo beans.  Prepared from dry beans is best but you may substitute canned beans.

1 tbsp sweet tamarind sauce or pomegranate molasses, thinned out slightly with some water  ( we found tamarind sauce in Persian market and it was kosher for Passover!)

1 potato, peeled, diced into 1/2 ” pieces, boiled until soft, and drained

1 small red onion, diced

1 tomato, small to medium size, diced

Juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp red chili powder

1 tsp freshly ground cumin powder

1 tsp red chili flakes (if you want extra heat)

2-3 green chilies, chopped

1⁄4 cup fresh cilantro, chopped

1/2 tsp salt

1 lemon cut in quarters

Mix together all the ingredients in a bowl. Taste and adjust flavors according to your preference. You can serve this warm or at room temperature.

Note:  One woman said she sautes her onions and tomatoes for a few minutes, she just prefers it that way.  Seasoning seemed to depend on how much heat you like.  There was lots of tasting and shaking, adding as they went.  One woman said you can add mint if you like.

Enjoy and Chag Sameach,


January 27, 2017
Irene Saiger


Potato Taquitos

img_0744My parents arrived in the United States in 1952 after having spent five years living in Paris, France.  Even at a very young age, I remember my mother’s reaction to being called “greener,” refugee, Survivor, Eastern European.  Somehow I knew that every label was painful, stripping her of her dignity.  I am sure she just wanted to be known as Manya, a woman who had parents, siblings, a husband, children, a history, stories to tell, recipes to share.

I remember her telling me that soon after she first arrived in France, when bread lines at the bakery were still common, she and a cousin by marriage, Helen Gerson, stood on line waiting their turn together.  Someone in line made an anti-semitic comment to my mother, and this cousin  (who herself was not Jewish) turned around and smacked the woman.  Years later when I met Helen I of course loved her right away, knowing that she had bravely stood up for my mother, an immigrant.

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day and how sad it is that we are once again using labels to define people.  I am preparing Shabbat Dinner and thinking about how immigrants are being talked about by our new administration. So in honor of my mother, and Helen Gerson, and every immigrant who made our country great, we are having Potato Taquitos, an appropriate choice because today I stand with Mexico.

Potato Taquitos

1 large Idaho potato

1 Poblano pepper

1 tbsp margarine (pareve)

salt and pepper

10 corn tortillas

Canola Oil


Cut potato in half lengthwise and boil in enough water to cover, till very tender. Drain and remove peel. Place potato in medium-sized bowl.  Take Poblano pepper and char on top of stove, turning till black on all sides. Place in paper bag, close and let sit for a few minutes. Remove and rub off charred skin , then slice open and remove seeds and dice pepper into small pieces. Add to potato along with margarine ,salt and pepper and using a fork mix well.

Wrap tortillas in either a slightly damp paper towel or place in a tortilla warmer and microwave for 35-40 seconds. Place about 2 tbsp filling across bottom edge of the warm tortilla and tightly fold up like a cigar.  Pierce each end with a toothpick to hold together.   Heat enough oil in large frying pan to cover the bottom  of the pan well and when oil is hot, fry the Taquitos, about three minutes per side. Using a tong makes it easier to work with.  Serves 2








November 14, 2016
Irene Saiger


American Apple Pie

img_0304-2Just a few weeks ago it was Sukkot, a festival in which we are told to rejoice, and at the time I was filled with hope and optimism, looking forward to the end of the contentious upcoming presidential elections .

Now, with Thanksgiving rapidly approaching , the joy of this great American holiday feels somewhat diminished. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I still have plenty to be thankful for.  But right now, Thanksgiving feels a little less celebratory, and I feel robbed of the excitement and anticipation that I typically feel.  I love everything about this holiday, including all that I associate with it, like two of the Rockwell paintings, Golden Rule and Freedom from Want,  of course The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, and the children’s book by Barbara Cohen, Molly’s Pilgrim, the story of a young Jewish immigrant named Molly who learns that her family’s traditions are just as much a part of the American fabric as that of the Pilgrims.

This Thanksgiving we are having a smaller group, and as always we will go around our table and ask every\one what they are thankful for.  It may be harder to formulate than in previous years, but hopefully we can find the words. 

Right now in spite of the fact that we are all troubled and worried and stressed, I am offering you  a recipe for apple pie. I made this  a few weeks ago after taking a trip to Oak Glen and picking some Winesap apples.  It is an easy, simple recipe, and of course not many things can offer such immediate comfort as can be found in a bite of warm, freshly baked pie.  A recipe that is an American tradition and that is one thing I am very thankful for. 



2 3/4 cups all-purpose flour

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 sticks plus 1 tablespoon cold unsalted butter sliced in 1″ pieces

1/2 cup ice water

7 large Winesap apples peeled, cored and cut into 1″ chunks

2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

1 cup sugar

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. In a food processor, pulse 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt. Add 2 sticks of the sliced butter and pulse till mixture resembles peas. Slowly add ice water through feeding tube, and pulse till combined but do not over mix!!   Move dough onto wax paper and form into a ball, then divide in half, flatten into two round discs, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for about 15 minutes, or longer. 

In a bowl, combine apples, lemon juice, cinnamon, sugar and the remaining 1/4 cup of flour. On a floured surface, roll each disc of dough into a round big enough to fit into a pie plate with enough of an overhang to fold up and over the top crust.  Grease a 10-inch glass pie plate, add bottom crust, and brush the overhang with water. Spoon in the apples and break up the remaining tablespoon of  butter into bits and place on top of apples. Place second crust over the filling and fold overhang up over crust.  Crimp or press together with tines of a fork. Cut a few slits in the top crust for steam to escape or add a pie bird! 

Bake the pie in the center of the oven for 1 hour and 10 minutes, until the crust is golden. Cover the edge of the pie if it begins to darken.

Enjoy and Hope you have a wonderful Thanksgiving!


P.S. This recipe is dairy but what a great dish to make for breakfast the morning after Thanksgiving.

July 22, 2016
Irene Saiger


Stewed Okra (Bamia)


It has been a long time, too long, but summer feels most like summer if you can let things go.  I have not been blogging or cooking very much, but I have been sitting in my yard, harvesting tomatoes, kale, and zucchini from the garden, plus enjoying the very first blackberries that our newly planted bushes have produced.

Early this morning I found out, via Whats App, that we have a new great-niece, born in Jerusalem.  Of course I was elated to hear the good news but sad that we aren’t there to celebrate her birth.  That was the beginning of the thread that started weaving through my head. Babies, Israel, missing everyone there, and then the food, always the food.

One of the things that I love most about Israel is that in a relatively small country, you can meet Jews from everywhere, and eat food that is equally diverse.  Ethnic dishes rub up against each other, and like the Olim themselves, the dishes are influenced by what’s local, both ingredients and people.  One of my favorite vegetables is Bamia, or okra, a dish I was first introduced to by a Libyan Jew but taught how to cook by an Egyptian Jew.  It is a dish that people really like or really dislike, mainly because of the gelatinous texture if cooked incorrectly.  Stewed slowly in a simple tomato sauce,  over a low flame and rarely stirred, the pods stay intact, avoiding that slimy texture associated with okra.

Today, I wished my sister-in-law Mazel Tov on her newest granddaughter, and received the first photo of baby girl Azran.  I made okra and schwarma for dinner, and I blogged.  Not bad for a lazy summer day. I may not be in Israel but Israel is here with me on this Shabbat.


Stewed Okra

1 pound okra

2 tbsp olive oil

1 onion, diced

2-3 cloves of garlic, thinly sliced

1 cup water

2-3 Tb tomato paste

Salt and cracked pepper to taste

1 tsp chicken bouillon (pareve)

In a medium-sized pot, sauté diced onion in olive oil over low flame till onion is soft. Add garlic and cook for a minute or two. Add okra. Mix remaining ingredients in a cup, add to pot, and taste to adjust seasoning. I like it hot so add chili flakes if you want.  Cover and simmer for about 45 minutes or till pods are very tender, stirring as little as possible.  Serves 4


Enjoy and Shabbat Shalom,

April 8, 2016
Irene Saiger


Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

IMG_1235Over the past three nights I have watched Cooked, a series based on the book of the same title by Michael Pollan and I am hooked, on Cooked.  In the first episode I learned that Americans are spending less time cooking than ever before, no surprise, but more time watching food-related cooking shows, which I did find surprising.  It’s  been a great reminder that home cooking is more than a worthwhile endeavor, it is a gift, not just the act of preparing the meal, but also by preserving traditions to pass down to the next generation who, if we believe the trend, may sadly be cooking even less. 

With Pesach approaching I’ve been spending lots of time thinking about the Seder meal. I know that the next two weeks will fly by and then it will be finally be here. The food will have been prepared, the table set, and just before I sit down, I’ll inevitably be flooded with memories of previous Seders.  Both Norm and I were raised in households where our mothers spent hours and hours preparing for the Seders.  I remember my mother standing tirelessly over her pot of simmering chicken soup, repeatedly circling the outer rim of the broth with a spoon, gently spooning off any bit of “shaum”  scum that would rise to the surface, so the soup would be as clear as possible.  My mother-in-law  would purchase small pickling cukes weeks in advance, because timing was everything if you wanted the pickles to be ready for Seder.  After Lil carefully opened the first jar, and sliced the pickles just so, she would bring them to the table and  wait to hear the verdict, were they were too spicy, not spicy enough, or just right.  

So thoughts of Manya and Lil will of course lead to thoughts of Manya Lily, our first grandchild, who will be experiencing her first real seder (she was too little last year) in Houston.  I  know how much those women would have loved to have met, and of course cooked for their great-granddaughter.  And I hope that in some small way I can pass on their knowledge to her, so that the story is not the only thing we repeat at future Seders, but our family tradition of home cooking as well. 

Enjoy and wishing you a Zisn Pesach.


Note: It is not only my own Polish traditions that inspire me but really all kinds of family recipes from around the world. This dish was suggested by my colleague who comes from a Moroccan and Algerian Jewish background.

Stuffed Artichoke Hearts

18-20  frozen artichoke hearts , 2 – 14 oz bags

1 Tb lemon

1  1/2 pounds of ground beef, chicken, or turkey

1/2 onion, finely chopped

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1/4 cup finely chopped parsley

salt, pepper, and paprika to taste

pine nuts, toasted (optional)

Broth  (adapted from a recipe by Udi Shlomi)

5 celery stalks, including leaves, coarsely chopped

5 Swiss Chard leaves, remove main stem and coarsely chop

4 small zucchini, coarsely chopped

4 cloves garlic, chopped

5 cups chicken or vegetable stock

salt, pepper to taste

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

juice of two lemons

IMG_1234Place oil in  large soup pot. Add vegetables and saute for a few minutes till they collapse. Then add  stock, lemon, salt and pepper. Bring to a boil, turn heat down to low,  and simmer for about 40 minutes.

While your broth is cooking, defrost the artichoke hearts in a bowl of warm water with juice of half a lemon. This takes some time, so do it in advance.  In the meantime mix the ground meat in a bowl along with all of the other ingredients till well combined.  Place your defrosted hearts on a tray and carefully divide the meat mixture so that they are all filled.  In the meantime, remove half the cooked broth from the pot and set aside. Gently place stuffed artichoke bottoms into the pot and slowly pour remaining broth back into pot, enough so that it reaches just about half way up. Bring to a boil, lower to a simmer, cover and cook for about an hour and a half. Alternatively, place in a 325 degree oven for about the same  amount of time.  Serve hot.

February 22, 2016
Irene Saiger


Ranchero Sauce

IMG_4089The purpose of the trip was the wedding of close family friends, the destination Mexico City.  Never having ventured farther into Mexico than Ensenada, and because of assumptions based mainly on movies and media, we were somewhat apprehensive.  To our great surprise the trip could not have been more wonderful.  The city is draped in color, not pastels but vibrant greens, blues, reds and oranges. The warm palette matched the warmth of the people, and of the food as well, and not just in heat.  Dishes were well seasoned, presentation was inviting, and everything tasted incredibly fresh.  There were salsas that were smokey, acidic, and garlicky, prepared with assorted chilies that delivered various levels of punch.  Freshly caught fish was shown to us on platters before being grilled with different toppings or rubs. Homemade corn tortillas, right off the stove top with a slight char accompanied most meals.  Margueritas made with tamarind, both sweet and tart were a highlight.  From the elegant meal at Contramar to the tacos at the family style restaurant El Califa Condesa, we looked forward to what we would discover at each meal.

The wedding took place at ex Convento de San Hipolitoa former convent that has been beautifully restored.  Under the chuppah the Rabbi spoke of faith and magic, words that described that night perfectly.

Afterwards, we spent a few luxurious days in Acapulco. The air was tropical and the rhythm was slow. Although our days were full, our meals were leisurely, lasting several hours at a time.  We arrived back home in Los Angeles well rested, happy and still feeling the magic.

Ranchero Sauce

Ranchero sauce is typically served with eggs, but I thought it would be equally good with meat or poultry.  I learned how to make it in Acapulco and  tonight I served in over shredded chicken in the blue corn tortillas I carried home with me.

2 large beefsteak tomatoes

6 Serrano chilies, tip and stem cut off.

1/4 cup water

1 clove garlic

1/8 of a medium onion

Place tomatoes and chilies in a small pot, with just enough water to cover. Simmer for about 10 minutes. Strain tomatoes and chilies and purée in blender with one clove of garlic, onion, and about 1 /4 cup fresh water. Season with salt and pepper.

I had made some chicken broth and after the chicken cooked and cooled, I shredded it and warmed it in a frying pan, adding a little broth for moisture, some cumin, and a few tablespoons of the ranchero sauce.



January 3, 2016
Irene Saiger


German Pancake

IMG_3554It was a combination of my 60th birthday celebration and a trip down memory lane.  We chose to have a family vacation in Palm Springs, the place we travelled to six weekends a year, for a period of 20 years, visiting my in-laws, snowbirds who came from Toronto to soak up the sunshine and be near their West Coast children and grandchildren.  The years were 1984-2004.  We were fortunate, my in-laws chose to rent in The Greenhouse because our friends’ parents wintered there as well, and so it ended up that three generations of Saigers and Androns spent those weekends together. Every family member had a playmate, even the Volvo wagons arrived in twos.  The other grandchildren arrived as well, from Israel and Canada, and so while the participants varied, the landscape remained the same. 

The grandmothers, Esther and Lil, would sit by the pool, and shep naches, watching their grandchildren passing the long lazy days swimming and playing endless games of Marco Polo, only to be interrupted by tennis, or food. The kids had the run of the place, going back and forth between the grandparents’ condos, and running to Izzy and Mollie, an elderly couple from Winnipeg, for their daily dose of candy.

On this trip our first stop was at Hadley’s for date shakes and, of course, to stock up on snacks, but it also set the tone. When we arrived at our hotel, we slipped into our bathings suits and into our new roles with the same ease. It was our turn to sit on the chaises and watch the “kids” in the pool as they played with Manya Lily.  I  remember wondering how my mother-in-law was able to spend so many hours watching us, but the pleasure that she derived from it is now obvious. 

There were many nostalgic moments, walking on Palm Canyon, hiking in Joshua Tree, and visiting The Living Desert.  We made sure that the trip included a meal in a Mexican restaurant and of course we went to Elmer’s, the only place my in-laws ever went to for breakfast, a yearly ritual in celebration of David’s birthday.  No surpise, my kids ordered what they had always ordered, German pancakes.

Yesterday I spoke to my sister-in law Gail and we ended up reminiscing about those years. Gail said it was the consistency that made it so special, that the kids loved going to the same place over and over, year after year.

I hope we can create a family tradition that echoes the experience of my children, but for now, making German pancakes in my kitchen allows the taste and the memories to linger on.  

German Pancake

3 large eggs 

1/2 cup all-purpose flour

1/2 cup milk

1/4 tspn  salt

1/2 tspn vanilla extract

2 tbsp unsalted butter

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

confectioners sugar

1/2 apple peeled and thinly sliced, sauteed in little bit of butter for a few minutes and sprinkled with a dash of cinnamon

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees. In a mixing bowl, beat eggs and add flour, whisking until smooth.  Add milk, salt, and vanilla and mix well.

Add 2 Tbs  butter to a  cast-iron skillet and place in hot oven until the butter melts and skillet is really hot, about 10 minutes. Remove pan from oven and quickly pour in the batter. Return to oven and bake until the pancake is puffed and golden, about 15 minutes.

 In the meantime, saute apples in a bit of butter for a few minutes and sprinkle with cinnamon to taste. 

Place sauteed apples in center of pancake, drizzle pancake with lemon juice and sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar.