Nopal Salad

Several months ago I had the pleasure of spending the morning at the SLS Hotel in Los Angeles listening to several innovative chefs and speakers discuss food.  One of the speakers was  Michael Stern, the author of  Roadfood, who shared humorous stories about his search for great meals while “on the road.”  He reflected on the difference between fine dining and dining on local fare,  and encouraged the audience to embrace all the small diners, stands, and dives where the ambiance may be lacking, but the food more than makes up for it.  Don’t trade taste for a tablecloth.  Michael Stern urged us to look for “regional experiences” when travelling, and to try dishes that the city or town is known for.  Lobster in Maine, Deep Dish Pizza in Chicago, Mexican Food in Los Angeles, and BBQ in Texas.  For some of us that may mean kosher Fried Chicken in Atlanta, vegetarian Dim Sum in NY’s Chinatown,  and…. BBQ in Texas…. (where I am spending this weekend.)

In order to do that, you have to be willing to expand your horizons and be open to experience food prepared by people who have been eating and serving those dishes for generations.  Food that may be unfamiliar, strange, and different from what you are used to.  Allow yourself to have a gastronomic adventure and, who knows, you may just discover that you love cilantro after all.

Here were some of Michael Stern’s tips for hunting out places on the road where you may end up having a memorable meal.  Look for police cars or truckers parked outside a restaurant.  Use your nose and follow something that smells good till you get to the source.  (A close friend of my father’s, who lived in Paris, once told me the same thing) Think about where you are!  Do you really want to eat Mexican food in Connecticut??  Be open, leave your judgement and your prejudices at the door, and enjoy!

Grace’s Nopal Salad  (Cactus Paddle Salad)

1 pound Nopales (cactus) cooked and sliced  (these can be bought pre-prepared in Los Angeles)

1 whole fresh tomato, chopped

2 green onions, thinly sliced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 lime, juiced

1 -2 finely chopped Serrano chilis

1/4 tsp dried oregano

3 Tbs olive oil

1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro

salt and pepper to taste

Put nopales in a bowl and add green onion and chopped tomato.  Whisk together remaining ingredients and pour over cactus.   Serves 4-6.

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

Stuffed Peppers

My first home was an apartment on the corner of 183 St. and The Grand Concourse.  2274 Grand Concourse was a brick pre-war building, a walk-up, with two wings and a center courtyard (perfect for playing handball.)  The apartment had wonderful architectural features that I was too young to appreciate but which clearly made a lasting impression.  There was a dumb-waiter in the kitchen, beautiful French doors that opened into my parents’ bedroom, and parquet floors throughout the house.  The street was lined with Art Deco buildings, one of which was our synagogue,  Concourse Center of Israel.  Others included The Concourse Plaza Hotel, Dollar Savings Bank , and Lowe’s Paradise Theater.   Today, Concourse Center of Israel is the First Union Baptist Church, Dollar Savings Bank is now Emigrant Savings Bank, the Concourse Plaza Hotel is a senior citizen’s residence and Lowe’s Paradise has become a venue for concerts.

The Concourse was modeled after the Champs Elysee but there were no outdoor cafes or brasseries.  It was the Mom and Pop places that dominated the street, and the pizza parlors by far outnumbered the Kosher delis.  If my mother wanted to serve something special, she had to make it herself.  We knew that certain dishes, the ones that were more labor intensive, were only prepared on special occasions or for the holidays.  Dishes like sweet breads, miniature knaidlech with sautéed mushrooms, kreplach, favorkes, gefilte fish (starting with the fish in the bathtub) and stuffed peppers.

Prepared food is readily available in our neighborhood in Los Angeles, but this past Friday, on a quiet summer afternoon, with nobody coming for dinner and no reason to spend time in the kitchen, all I wanted was to leisurely prepare my mother’s Stuffed Peppers while reminiscing about The Bronx.  I must admit that even this recipe has changed.

Stuffed Peppers 

7 assorted red, yellow and orange peppers

2 1/2 pounds ground turkey

2 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 eggs, beaten

2 Tbs olive oil

3 cloves minced garlic

1 tsp cumin

1/4 cup quinoa

1 1/2 cups Ketchup

Mix ground turkey in a large bowl with all of the other ingredients. Combine well.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add whole peppers. Boil for about 10 minutes.  Remove peppers, allow to cool, then core and seed.

Stuff peppers with ground turkey mixture.

In a pot just big enough to snugly hold peppers, drizzle some olive oil on the bottom of the pot, place peppers in pot upright.  Add water to come half way up the side of the peppers and then add ketchup.  Gently stir ketchup into water and baste peppers.  Bring to boil, lower heat and cover pot.  Simmer for about 1 1/2 hours.  Serves 7.

Enjoy,

Irene

Blueberry Peach Pie

This is a thank you note.  Last week my middle child got married and during the weekend celebration I kept looking at our guests, realizing that although it was my son standing under the chuppah, there were many people at the wedding who had left their footprints on his path.  Family and friends that nurtured him and helped him grow into the man he now is.  I had exactly the same  impression observing the family and friends of my daughter-in-law,  seeing how close they were to her, how proud they were of the woman she has become, and how much it meant to her to have them there.

After the wedding, the celebration continued with  Sheva Brachot, a Jewish tradition.  I think I can speak for both sets of parents when I say that we feel so fortunate to have friends who wanted to host these “dinner parties” in honor of the bride and groom.  Yes, it was a long week, exhausting and emotional, but this morning as I am sitting by myself, I am so grateful to everyone who participated in this wedding in every imaginable way.  From those who came to Houston from near and far, to others who could not come but who gave unending support, to the friends who cooked for us and opened their homes to us, others who whispered words of encouragement,  family and friends who spent time writing toasts and Divrei Torah,  teaching classes, those who attended Sheva Brachot,  friends who helped with shopping, packing, organizing, transporting and much, much more.  I could not have done it without you and I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  To my sister who had one request that I did not honor, I felt Mommy and Daddy everywhere.

This past Shabbat, both families would be spending our last day together.  We would share five meals over the course of the day, one of which was afternoon tea.  As cooking is one way that I express my love and appreciation, I spent most of Friday afternoon preparing the food, including baking a Blueberry Peach Pie.

Blueberry Peach Pie

Basic Pie Crust  (this is enough for one crust, I doubled recipe to made a double crusted pie)

1 1/2 sticks butter ( cold and cut into small pieces)

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

2 Tbs sugar

2 -2 Tbs ice water

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.  Place butter, flour and sugar in food processor.  Pulse and add ice water, slowly, till dough forms into ball.  Wrap dough in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30 minutes.  Roll dough out on floured board and place in greased pie pan.  Place a sheet of wax paper over dough and add dried beans to prevent pastry from puffing up.  Bake crust at 400 degrees for 1o minutes, reduce heat to 375, and bake an additional ten minutes.  Crust is now ready for filling.

Blueberry Peach Filling

2 pounds of large peaches, peeled, pitted and thickly sliced

1 pint blueberries

1 cup sugar

2 Tbs quick cooking Tapioca

2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

2 Tbs sweet butter, cut in small pieces

1 tsp cinnamon

1 tsp mace (optional)

In a large bowl, combine peaches, blueberries, sugar and tapioca. Add lemon juice, butter, cinnamon, mace,  Fill pie crust.  Place second crust on top, and brush with an egg wash (one egg and 1 tsp water combined), make slits in top crust and bake at 375 for about an hour.  Tip: Place a cookie sheet on the bottom of oven to catch any drippings.

Enjoy,

Irene