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April 23, 2015
Irene Saiger

9 comments

Chicken Shawarma

FullSizeRenderMoshe Blatman was my cousin’s brother-in-law, and on my first trip to Israel I was told to make sure to visit him, that he was like family.  He and his wife Frieda lived in an apartment in Tel Aviv, and owned a small cosmetics shop on Rehov Shenken, (in the 70s  it was not as hip as it is today).  I was looking forward to spending time in Tel Aviv and wanted to go out and explore the city, but they wouldn’t hear of it.  After taking a brief walk, Moshe took me home for dinner, there was not to be any exploring or wandering, and no letting me out of their sight.

I remember that Frieda prepared a meatloaf made with veal, and I was surprised that her food was similar to my mother’s.  Their apartment was perfectly kept and neat as a pin, and the decor felt so European that it was easier to imagine that you were in Austria (where Frieda was from) than the Middle East.  Moshe who was Polish had learned to speak German, the only language that his wife knew in spite of the fact that she had lived in Israel for over 20 years.  She had not learned a word of Hebrew, English or Yiddish.  Frieda wore her white hair tightly coiled in a bun at the back of her head and her clothing was formal and conservative, with black sturdy shoes that had tie up laces.  Although we couldn’t communicate, she had kind eyes and I wondered what it was like for this woman to live in a country so different from her native Austria.  The next day I asked Moshe to take a walk with me so I could buy a falafel at the local stand but Moshe refused, saying I would get sick if I ate street food.

During each visit to Israel I think of Moshe and Frieda, and other “family members”  like Manya and Yosek and Sonja, people who were devoted Zionists, who moved to Israel living out their lives in an adopted homeland that must have felt very strange to these Eastern Europeans.  A homeland that turned 67 today.  If Moshe were alive, I wonder what he would think of  today’s Israel, would he eventually have become integrated into Israeli culture, would he have become just a little more comfortable being in the Middle East, and would he agree to celebrate this Yom HaAtzmaut by having a falafel with me, or maybe a plate of Shawarma.

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Chicken Shawarma  (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times, this is one that we keep making over and over)

2 lemons
½ cup  olive oil
6 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons freshly ground black pepper
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon turmeric
Red-pepper flakes, to taste
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 large red onion, peeled and quartered

Mix the lemon juice with the olive oil and spices in a large glass baking dish. Add the chicken thighs, and turn several times in marinade.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight or for at least a few hours.  Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Toss quartered red onion with chicken thighs.  Put silver foil on a cookie sheet, remove chicken and onion from the marinade, and spread on cookie sheet.
Roast chicken thighs for about 30 to 40 minutes. Meat should look slightly crisp at edges. Remove from the oven and after a few minutes, thinly slice.  Serve with pita, Israeli salad and chumus.  Serves 2 – 4 depending….

B’tayavon,

Irene

March 29, 2015
Irene Saiger

10 comments

Cherry Tomato Jam

IMG_2500It had been seven years since our last visit but as soon as we exited the plane everything felt familiar.  We drove straight to Jerusalem where we spent the next several days.  Staying in Rechavia, we walked everywhere, but mainly we returned to the places we had been before, including two of my favorites, Yemin Moshe and Machane Yehuda.  Walking through the shuk was a great reminder of Israel’s love affair with fresh fruits and vegetables.   The consumers were passionate, maybe more so than the vendors, both young and old, men and women, looking in stall after stall before making their final choices.  There were things I had not seen before, miniature dark green acorn squash just big enough for an individual serving,  mounds of colorful mixes of dried fruits for tea infusions, dried legumes including roasted and salted fava beans ready to eat, tiny melons the size of a grapefruit, and of course the spices….

We had one week to pack in as much as possible.  The days revolved around seeing our family and friends but always over a meal.  The food, much of it home cooked, was always delicious, but for me the highlight were the breakfasts.  From Glenda’s cheesecake on Shabbat morning (recipe coming soon) to Debbie’s pashtedot, to the numerous borekas that we sampled.  I loved the small plates served as sides to the main dish,  little bowls of leben, tuna, olives, pickled lemon, tehina, etc.  I tasted two new kinds of jam, one made with eggplant and the other with cherry tomatoes.  The small servings were just enough to tempt your palette but left you wanting more.

We didn’t get to do everything we had hoped to do, or see everyone we had wanted to see.  Like the sides served at breakfast, it was just a taste, a reminder to come back soon, and though we left happy, of course we also left wanting more.  Chag Sameach.

Note: My mom used to tell me about a tomato jam that they ate in Poland.  With Pesach around the corner, and the tastes of Israel still fresh in my mind, I tried this cherry tomato version which I’ll serve with matzoh and butter, but not for another week!!

Cherry Tomato Jam

20 oz.  cherry tomatoes, washed and cut in half

1/2 cup plus 4 Tb sugar

1 packet vanillin sugar (for Pesach use)

2 Tb freshly squeezed orange juice

1 Tb orange zest, thinly sliced

1 cinnamon stick

Bring all ingredients to a boil and then reduce to medium high heat.  Cook, stirring frequently, for about one hour or until thickened.  Strain to remove tomato skins and cinnamon stick.  Allow to cool, place in clean jar and refrigerate till ready to use.  This is perishable so it will only be good for about a week or so.

Enjoy,

Irene

January 23, 2015
Irene Saiger

8 comments

Harira (vegetarian)

IMG_1989January 11, 2015 On our trip to Toronto last month we stayed in a hotel that we had chosen based on location and convenience.  The sad occasion for the trip, (my father-in-law had passed away), seemed to be echoed by the hotel.  Built in some era long ago, the front part of the property was leased to a Honda dealership which you actually had to drive through to get access to the hotel parking lot.  The pool was in the lobby, and next to the pool was a sushi bar and a restaurant.  Nearby was a pool table, some couches and outdoor street lamps that looked as if they belonged in the center of London. Nothing about the decor inspired confidence that the restaurant would produce food that would be in any way impressive.  The place was a mish-mash, disjointed, and tired, just like we were.  But we were surprised by the eclectic menu which had more than a few vegetarian options.  We chose a soup, Harira, something I had never heard of before.  What we discovered was a thick hearty Moroccan soup filled with lentils and chickpeas, and tasting of cilantro and parsley in a broth tinged red by tomato, and it was delicious.  It was the perfect dish to restore our energy and lift our spirits.  Several nights later I took my children and nephew to dinner at a newish local Israeli restaurant and once again Harira was on the menu.  Then just a few days after we returned to Los Angeles we had Shabbat dinner at my friend Rachel’s house and she served….. you guessed it, Harira.  That’s too much of a coincidence for me, surely someone out there was trying to tell me something.  After some research, what I found was not particularly earth shattering, both the lentils and garbanzo beans represent the circle of life, and we have certainly been experiencing that in our family.  I planned to make it today but something got in the way.  To be continued……

January 23, 2015  We just came back from New York where we welcomed the birth of our first grandchild.  Manya Lily, named after my mother Manya, and Norm’s mom, Lillian.   The week was filled with emotion, seeing my son with a child of his own, watching my daughter-in-law pour all of her love into this new little baby, holding my granddaughter and whispering her name, and being flooded with memories of my mother,  thinking of the past and wondering about the future.  After a period of loss, Manya is a blessing, a new beginning that brings joy, hope, and happiness.  Today, it seemed appropriate to complete what I hadn’t been able to start just a few weeks ago.  I made Harira, with its little round lentils and garbanzo beans, I know that the circle is complete, just as it should be.  

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Harira

3 Tb olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2  celery ribs plus leafy tops, diced

3 cloves garlic cloves,minced

1 large ripe tomato, skin peeled and then diced

1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce

1 small bunch cilantro, finely chopped

1 cup Italian parsley, finely chopped

1/2 cup green lentils, rinsed and drained

1 -15 oz. can chickpeas, rinsed and drained

4 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2  teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 large lemon, cut into wedges, for serving

Heat the oil in a large pot over medium heat. Stir in the onion, celery and garlic and cook for about 10 minutes, until the vegetables have softened.  Add diced  tomato and cook for about 5 minutes.  Then add the tomato sauce, cilantro, parsley, lentils and chickpeas and stir.

Add water, salt, cumin, turmeric and pepper, stirring to mix well.  Bring soup to a gentle boil, then reduce the heat to low. If soup seems too thick, add some water. Cover and cook for about 30 minutes or until the lentils are tender, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Serve hot, with lemon wedges.  Serves 6-8    Note: Traditionally this is served with vermicelli noodles.

Enjoy,

Irene

December 20, 2014
Irene Saiger

13 comments

Lukshon mit piteh und kase. (Hot noodles with butter, cinnamon and cheese)

IMG_1820When my parents became grandparents for the first time, I was fascinated to see what this new inter-generational relationship would be like, never having had grandparents of my own.  And since my parents had not had any grandparents either, this was new for them as well.

This week I’ve been thinking about my Mom more than usual, and what kind of grandma she was.  It was always clear that her only concern was her grandchildren’s happiness.  She hated to see them cry and would do anything within her power to prevent that.  She didn’t spend her time worrying about their future, grades, or professions.  She allowed them to eat whatever they wanted, in any order they wanted.  No rules about sugar, dessert, noshing, or anything else food related.  She was not the kind of grandmother who set limits, never telling them to finish the food on their plate, or eat their vegetables, or threatening to withhold dessert.  Although she didn’t exactly force feed them, that would have been too obvious, she would just very casually follow them around the house,  staying close by, with bowl and spoon in hand (see photo below).   If they opened their mouths, she’d grab the opportunity to get them to have another bite.  She didn’t believe in schedules.  She didn’t believe in spending money on toys, pots and pans were good enough.  She knew too well that life could change on a dime, and didn’t see any point in preventing the kids from enjoying every minute of each day.  Nothing, other than safety, was worth saying no to.  Yes, she was indulgent, and loving, and giving.  Shiraleh, Dovidle, and Michalu were the light of her life.  During this Chanukah, the memories I have of my Mom, of  “grandma”, have been the light of mine.

One of the dishes my Mom loved to make for the kids was lukshon und piteh und kase.  Hot egg noodles tossed into a bowl of farmer cheese (or dry small-curd cottage cheese) with cinnamon, sugar and butter.  It is the perfect dish for the child in all of us.  Sweet, cinnamony and warm, I can remember my children opening their mouths and my Mom’s ever-ready spoon rushing in.

Shiraleh

Shirale

Michalu

Michalu

Dovidle

Dovidle

Lukshon und piteh und käse

6 oz. wide egg noodles, cooked per directions on package

1 cup small curd cottage cheese or farmer’s cheese

2 Tb butter,  cut in small pieces

2 Tb sugar

1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Toss hot noodles into bowl with remaining ingredients. Serve immediately.  Makes 2 servings for a big kid, and four for a little.

Enjoy,

Irene

December 10, 2014
Irene Saiger

18 comments

Schmaltz and Gribenes

IMG_8088Last week Norm lost his Dad, I lost my father-in-law, and my children lost their last surviving grandparent.  We were in Toronto for the funeral but after the first day of Shiva, we returned to Los Angeles for Norm to complete the week here.  We arrived to our home to find that in our absence the mirrors had been covered, the chairs for services had been set up, the furniture had been moved out of the way, the paper goods for meals had been purchased,  and there on the patio table, a pot of split pea soup was waiting for us. The meals were all planned, and just seven hours after our arrival, it began.

Shiva was in motion and while the davening was taking place in the living room and Norm was being comforted by his friends, there was a different kind of comforting in the kitchen.  Bamitbach, women were milling around, telling each other what and how to set things up, more cookies, fewer bagels, fresh coffee.  The comfort that comes from being together, working as a unit, is also the comfort that comes from doing what we do best, preparing food for people we care about.

There was a lull later in the day and my daughter sent me an article from the New York Times about the renewed popularity of schmaltz.  My mother used to make schmaltz and although I don’t remember what she used it for, I do remember the delicious by-product, gribenes, the delicious salty cracklings of fried chicken skin.  After I read the article out loud,  we talked about trying to make schmaltz and Norm said we should make it right then.  I called my friend and asked her to buy a chicken and bring it over.  Within minutes, Shira, Denise, Anna and myself, not unlike hens in a henhouse, were skinning a chicken, cutting off every piece of precious fat, chopping onions and making schmaltz.  We ate the gribenes right away but the 2 tablespoons of schmaltz are sitting in the fridge until inspiration hits us.

This morning at 6:00 a.m. Norm and I were in the living room.  I asked how he was doing and he said, “Shiva, that’s what it’s about, having  Shira here and preparing schmaltz and gribenes during her Zaidie’s Shiva is something that she will never forget.”  I am sure that Norm’s dad, Pinnie Saiger, would have felt the same way.

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Schmaltz and Gribenes

1 chicken, skinned and all fat removed.   (Or collect fat each time you make chicken, freeze, and make schmaltz once you have a larger amount)

1/2 onion, chopped

dash of salt

Dice pieces of fat and skin and place in frying pan over low heat.  Cook till fat is rendered (melted) and skin begins to turn golden brown.  Add diced onion and continue to cook until gribenes are crispy and dark brown.  Strain through sieve and store schmaltz in fridge till ready to use.  Drain gribenes on paper towel and allow to stand for several minutes to become even more crisp.  Sprinkle with salt and eat!   Note:  The article said that in Eastern Europe latkes were fried in schmaltz,  so you might want to think about that for Chanukah!

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Enjoy,

Irene

November 13, 2014
Irene Saiger

16 comments

Short Ribs (Flanken)

IMG_1753For over 25 years I  have prepared a traditional Thanksgiving feast, but truthfully the meal is not traditional in terms of my family’s recipes or origins.

This Thanksgiving I am going to acknowledge my parent’s journey which took them from Poland to Germany to France where they remained till 1952 when they, along with my sister, traveled to Genoa, Italy, and boarded a ship to the United States.  After having recently read that a well-known chef  includes potato kugel at his Thanksgiving dinner,  I’ve decided to include a dish that reflects my roots.  My mom loved Flanken, and since it fits in perfectly with this American meal, in addition to turkey, we are going to have what she called  “gedempfte fleish.”  Braised short ribs, cooked until the meat melts off the bone.  I called my sister to ask for my mother’s recipe, but she couldn’t remember anything other than it included a bay leaf, which matches my memory exactly.

It feels surprisingly liberating to take a break from “tradition” and add something new to the menu, or something old, depending on how you look at it.  My parents loved Thanksgiving, my mom always prepared turkey and sweet potatoes, and even bought canned cranberry sauce.  Although it was never verbalized, I knew how lucky they felt to have survived, and to be in this country.  That’s something that comes to my mind each Thanksgiving and makes me forever thankful.

P.S. This recipe is nothing like my mom’s ( I am guessing)  but I did include a bay leaf.

 

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Short Ribs (Flanken)

1 1/2 pounds beef short ribs

1/2  teaspoons salt

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 tbsp olive oil

1 large carrot, diced

1 stalk celery, thinly sliced

1 small onion, diced

2 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

1 tablespoon tomato paste

2 cups water

1 bay leaf

Season the ribs with salt and pepper.   Heat a heavy bottomed pot over medium-high heat and coat the bottom of the pan with olive oil.  Add the ribs and let brown, really brown, that’s where all the flavor is.  Remove ribs to a plate and add vegetables, season with salt and pepper to taste.  Saute vegetables for 4 or 5 minutes, scraping up bits of meat from the bottom of the pan.   Lower heat, and add garlic and tomato paste, again stirring for several more minutes but do not let burn.  Return ribs to pot, add enough water  just to barely cover meat, add bay leaf, and place lid on pot.  Put in  preheated 325 degree oven for about 2 1/2 hours.  Check  after about an hour to make sure there is enough liquid, and add water if necessary.  Turn ribs over half way though baking time.  When meat is very tender your flanken is ready to be served.  Take out the bay leaf,  place ribs on the serving plate, and purée vegetables and any liquid remaining in pot in food processor.  Put ribs back into thickened sauce, and  serve.  Serves 2-3

Enjoy,

Irene

October 22, 2014
Irene Saiger

6 comments

French Split Pea Soup

photo-7There aren’t many foods that are more comforting than a simple bowl of soup.  It may not elicit the same oohs and aahs that taking a bite of perfectly cooked steak can, or cause you to close your eyes as you might when eating a decadent piece of molten chocolate cake, but unlike its flashier counterparts, it rarely disappoints.  Without much effort, soup is nourishing, warming, and filling.

We just returned from New York where we spent Sukkot,  and during our visit we made soup three times.  The first night of Yontif, we had a Carrot and Pear Bisque, the pear was a great addition to offset the strong flavor of curry.  Later in the week, we made Tortilla Soup, a family and Southern California favorite.  Finally, during the last days of Yontif, a large number of unused onions called for French Onion Soup, a rich and delicious broth that included wine and sherry, topped with Gruyère and was served with a fresh baguette.

During Chol Hamoed we took a trip to Philadelphia to visit my cousin Micheline.  We spent a good part of the day at the National Museum of American Jewish History, but despite the lateness of the hour, when we returned to Micheline’s home we were served a full meal.  It included a split pea soup that was so silky and full of flavor that I was sure it had some secret ingredient.  The recipe was from an old French cookbook that she owned, and as she read it to me, I was surprised at how simple and how few ingredients there actually were.

My youngest son’s girlfriend Anna has an expression that she uses every time we share a meal together.  She exclaims that she is “soooooooo full.”   Her Mom had a lovely interpretation of the expression, saying her daughter is full in the best sense, happy and content.   That’s how I  felt after our trip, and that’s how I felt tonight, after making this soup at the end of a long day.  Happy after I finished the first bowl, and content after I finished the second.

 

Beautiful Soup, so rich and green,
Waiting in a hot tureen!
Who for such dainties would not stoop?
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Soup of the evening, beautiful Soup!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
Beautiful, beautiful Soup!

“Beautiful Soup! Who cares for fish,
Game, or any other dish?
Who would not give all else for two
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Pennyworth only of beautiful Soup?
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Beau—ootiful Soo—oop!
Soo—oop of the e—e—evening,
Beautiful, beauti—FUL SOUP!”
-from Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll

 French Split Pea Soup

1 pound bag of split peas, rinsed

10 cups water

2 Tb olive oil (or butter if you want to make a dairy version)

1 sprig parsley

2 sprigs thyme

2 bay leaves

1 medium onion

2 carrots

2 stalks celery

dash of baking soda

2 1/2 tsp salt

Place split peas in a large pot, cover with water and bring to a boil.  Allow to cook for a few minutes and then drain and wash pot.  Dice carrots, onion and celery and add mirepoix to clean pot along with olive oil or butter.  Saute for several minutes but do not brown.   Add peas, water, salt and cheesecloth containing parsley, thyme and bay leaves.  Add a pinch of baking soda.  Allow to cook, uncovered on a low heat, for about 45 minutes depending or till peas are very tender.  Remove herbs. Puree and serve warm.   If dairy, add a dollop of creme fraiche. Serves 6-8.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

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