Yemenite Chicken Soup

When I was growing up virtually all my parents’ friends were Polish.  I don’t remember meeting any Czechs, Russians or Romanians, no less any Sephardic or Mizrahi Jews.  My parents were determined to hold on to their language, their food and their customs.  They belonged to a Landsmanschaft,  a kind of club whose members came from a common town or region, it was a way to help them feel comfortable in their new home.  This was not uncommon at the time, synagogues were also established around cities of origin, as were burial societies.

You might be able to imagine their reaction when I brought home Isaac. J., a young man I met when I was about 16, whose family had moved from Yemen to Israel and then eventually to the United States. The fact that Isaac came from an observant home and that his brother was the Cantor at a local Orthodox synagogue made no difference.  Fortunately for me his family did not have the same reaction.  Isaac’s mother was short in stature but she had a big heart, and in spite of the fact that we didn’t share a common language she always made me feel welcome in her home.  Her kitchen was nothing like any other kitchen I had ever been in, and her dishes included unusual ingredients like cilantro, turmeric, cumin, and Hawaij, herbs and spices I had never seen or tasted.  I remember two dishes that she seemed to prepare each Shabbat, Jachnun, a bread that baked overnight, served with grated tomatoes and Zhug (a spicy Yemenite version of salsa),  and a traditional Yemenite Soup, fragrant and green.  This was not my mother’s chicken soup and matzoh balls.

Last week I went to the home of a friend sitting Shiva and I peered into a pot sitting in the kitchen.  It smelled and looked just like the Yemenite chicken soup that Mrs. J. used to make.  (in fact it was not, but that will have to wait for another post)  Later in the week I came home and made a version of Yemenite soup.  If my parent’s had only tried it, I think they would have liked it.

Yemenite Chicken Soup
6 chicken thighs
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
2 carrots, chopped
2 stalks of celery, chopped
6 cloves of garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 tbsp hawaij
1 heaping tsp ground turmeric
8 cups water
Salt, to taste
1/2 teaspoon pepper
1 large russet potato, cut into chunks
1 14 oz. can chickpeas, drained
1 bunch fresh spinach washed and chopped OR 1 bag frozen spinach, defrosted and
excess water squeezed out
1 bunch of cilantro, stemmed and chopped
In a large pot, sauté the onions, carrots, and celery in the olive oil over medium heat for about five minutes.  Add the minced garlic, cumin, turmeric and hawaij, and sauté for a minute or two before adding water, salt, and pepper.  Bring to a boil and add chickpeas, chicken and potatoes. Reduce the heat to a simmer,  add the spinach and cover the pan.  Cook for about one hour.  Add chopped cilantro just before serving.  Serves 6
Enjoy,
Irene

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

Last night I attended the Annual Dinner for the non-profit where I work.  It was held at a restaurant in a very chic hotel in Los Angeles run by a chef who is known for his use of molecular gastronomy.  As I wandered around the room, I felt as if I were in a theatre where the food not only took center stage but the dishes were both unusual and magical.  Everything was bite size, with choices like Cotton Candy Foie Gras, (which I didn’t try) tiny cones filled with cream cheese and topped with salmon caviar, Caprese Salads no bigger than your thumb prepared with liquified mozzarella, and silver spoons that held “Spherical Olives” a process where the chef purees and strains olives to separate the essence, and somehow creates soft little green balls that, despite their olive flavor, are almost foam-like in consistency.  One of my favorite “bites” was the brown egg that looked as if it was soft-boiled but in fact was hollowed out and filled with Flan.

When all was said and done, I left feeling like I had experienced a great show.  I wasn’t disappointed, but I didn’t have that familiar sensation that you have when you eat a meal that is nourishing, earthy, and soulful, something like the dish I had prepared earlier in the week for a friend, Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce.

Tongue in Spicy Tomato Sauce

1 Beef or Calves’ Tongue

Bay Leaf

2 Large Onions

6 Cloves of Garlic

1 Green Pepper

1 tsp chili flakes

1 tsp dried oregano

1 14 oz. can tomato sauce

salt and pepper to taste

In a large pot, cover Tongue with water, bring to a boil and cook for about 15 minutes. Drain and fill pot with fresh water, again making sure tongue is submerged.  Add one large onion cut in half, 1 large bay leaf, 3 cloves of garlic, a pinch of salt and about ½ tsp freshly ground pepper.  Bring to a boil, lower heat to a simmer, cover pot and cook tongue for about 2 hours.  Make sure that tongue can be easily pierced with a fork before removing from heat. Allow to cool completely.

In the meantime chop a large onion and sauté in 2 tbsp olive oil till translucent, about five minutes. Add 3 cloves minced garlic, 1 tsp chili flakes, 1 tsp salt and 1 tsp dried oregano.  Saute for 2-3 minutes.  Add green pepper that you cut into strips. Then add 1-14 oz. can tomato sauce and about 1 cup water.  Cook for about 10 minutes covered, on low flame.

In the meantime, slice cold Tongue on the diagonal and add to tomato sauce. Cover and stew for about 30 minutes. Serve with rice, mashed potatoes or corn tortillas. Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Eggplant Relish

I have something to share about my husband.  He has a tendency to reveal the ending of a play or movie plot before the rest of us have seen it, or share the final score of a sports event when others are watching in a different time zone.  It is something we joke about, and as a family we often censor him just when we realize from the twinkle in his eye that he is about to spill the beans. 

Here is another thing that he loves to do.  Every year at this time, Norm comes home from shul and announces that they began to read from the Book of Exodus.  Can you guess what the next line is??  He casually adds, “that means Pesach is not far off.”  Norm knows that this is not an announcement that elicits a reaction that I might have with a slightly more “fun” piece of news.  Don’t misunderstand, I love Passover but he knows that in mid-January thinking about Passover is pretty much an excercise in anxiety.

I am simply refusing to take heed and am putting Passover out of my mind, at least for now.  Tu Bishvat is around the corner, and though I don’t really do anything to celebrate this particular holiday, it is a reminder that Spring is not too far off, that in Israel the Almond trees will soon blossom, and that the days are once again getting longer.

Last night I made an eggplant relish and added toasted almonds instead of the pine nuts that were called for in the recipe.  (it is an adaptation of an Ina Garten recipe)  It would be a good dish to have for a Tu Bishvat Seudah and will be a perfect accompaniment to matzoh.  Something to think about.

Eggplant Relish

3 Globe Eggplants

8 oz. Jar of Roasted Red Peppers, diced

2 medium Onions, diced

3 cloves Garlic, minced

4 Tb Tomato Paste

1/3 cup Red Wine Vinegar

4 Tb olive oil

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

salt and pepper to taste

Chopped parsley for garnish

Preheat oven to 400 degrees and roast whole eggplants on a cookie sheet until tender, about one hour.  In the meantime, sauté chopped onions in olive oil till onions are translucent.  Add minced garlic and sauté an additional minute or two.  Remove to bowl and add tomato paste, red wine vinegar and a dash of olive oil.  After the eggplant has cooled, scoop out the flesh and process for a few minutes before adding to onion mixture.  Mix in finely diced red peppers and season with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with toasted almonds and parsley.  Serves 8

Enjoy,

Irene

Lentil Soup with Matzoh Balls

On some cold winter days when there was not much to do, my sister would take me downtown to wander around a museum.  I only remember visiting the Metropolitan Museum of Art or the Museum of Natural History, not The Frick, Guggenheim, or MoMA (maybe she thought I was too young to appreciate those) but the Met was always my favorite and still is.  We would stop and look at whatever interested us, or go watch a Fred Astaire/ Ginger Rogers movie when they had free screenings.  I think my sister felt responsible for my cultural well-being.

In any case, I loved going, mainly because It felt like a very grown up thing to do.  Even the approach to the Met was exciting, with all those stairs to climb, and then, once you reached the entrance there were crowds of people milling around, taking off their overcoats and shaking off the chill.  The foyer is impressive at any age, but particularly to a young child, and of course you had to get by the solemn guard stationed at the hall leading to the galleries.

My sister was an enthusiastic teacher who at the time was taking an art history course at Hunter College and was eager to share her knowledge.  I credit her for my appreciation of museums and to this day I try to visit the Met when I am in NYC.  I never really thought much about it but earlier this week my younger son called and mentioned that it was really cold day, and to my surprise, my immediate response was to tell him to “go to a museum.”

At the end of the day we would take the train back to The Bronx and of course my mother would have dinner ready and waiting.  Hot soup and warm memories are perfect for cold days.  Thanks Anita!

Lentil Soup with Matzoh Balls

1/ 3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, chopped,

2 stalks celery, thinly sliced

2 carrots, diced

3 cloves of minced garlic

1 pound brown lentils

8 cups chicken broth

1 Tb cumin

1 Tb Paprika

1 1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper

1 bag baby spinach leaves

In a large pot, sauté  chopped onion in olive oil for a few minutes, or  till translucent.  Add celery, carrots, garlic and cumin and sauté for several more minutes.  Add lentils, chicken broth, paprika, salt and pepper.  Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for about one hour. Add spinach and serve.  Prepare Matzoh Balls and add one to each serving.  Serves 6-8

Fluffy Matzoh Balls

4 eggs

1/2 cup oil

1 cup Matzoh Meal

1/2 tsp salt

1/2 tsp baking powder

Process all the ingredients in a Cuisinart for about 10 seconds. Place mixture in fridge for about an hour.  Shape into balls and add to a large pot of salted, boiling water.  Cover and cook matzoh balls for about 45 minutes.

Makes 12 matzoh balls.

Enjoy,

Irene