Freekeh

My son Micah returned from Israel this morning after spending the past six months in Tel Aviv.  Of course I had to welcome him with a home-cooked meal.  I made turkey meatloaf (a variation of Ina Garten’s recipe), a green salad with avocado and honey vinaigrette, schnitzle (to ease the transition from Israel to L.A.) and freekeh, a grain that I had purchased at the Williamsburg farmers’  market during my trip to NYC in February.

Freekeh is green wheat, mainly eaten in the Middle East.  The wheat is harvested, sun-dried and then set on fire on top of a bed of straw. Higher in protein and fiber than many other grains, freekeh is in vogue.  I had no idea.

I decided to prepare it in the same way that mujadara is prepared, with lentils and fried onions.  The freekeh has an earthy, smoky quality and is similar in texture to bulgur, another hearty grain that I love.

Freekeh

1 cup brown lentils

1 cup freekeh

2 large brown onions

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste


Rinse and place lentils in a medium saucepan, add water to cover by an inch, and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes.  Drain the lentils and set aside.

Dice onions and saute in olive oil over low heat until they are deep golden brown, about 25-30 minutes.  Most of the flavor comes from the caramelized onions so be patient.

Bring 1 cup freekeh to a boil with 2 cups water.  Lower heat, cover, and simmer for about 45 minutes.  Remember this grain remains chewy.

Gently mix freekeh with lentils.  Add caramelized onions and season to taste. Serves 4-6

Note: Last night I baked the freekeh/lentil dish in a 300 degree oven, covered, for about 45 minutes. Not only did it give the flavors a chance to blend but the texture was perfect! I would definitely add this step to the recipe.

Enjoy,

Irene

Tabit (Iraqi Chicken and Rice)

It is Sunday morning and Norm is making bagels in the kitchen and my daughter Shira is on her way to the Bronx Zoo, both part of the Sunday rituals that I grew up with. Plus it is my sister’s birthday. Happy Birthday Anita!

Last week I went to synagogue to say Yizkor, the prayer service for the departed, and afterwards heard a sermon about a poem written by the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai.  The poem was about faith, God, and the Jewish experience, and the rabbi who delivered the sermon referred to the contents of the poem as “a stew of memories.”  I have been thinking of that sentence ever since.  Naama, my supervisor, once told me that she can remember every outfit she wore from the time she was a child. I cannot say that I remember every meal but I can say that, for me, food evokes memories.  The Bronx of the 1950s and 1960s was truly a melting pot.  You could walk down the Grand Concourse and stop and have a kosher hot dog at the deli owned by two brothers from Poland, pizza from Mario’s, Italian ices from a cart on the street, and the two foods that we considered very American, lemon meringue pie from Sutter’s Bakery and ice cream at Krum’s. The apartment building we lived in was filled with people who spoke foreign languages, had heavy accents in English, and cooked the way they had in their homeland. We lived on the 4th floor and there was no elevator. I remember walking down each flight of stairs and registering the smells that would permeate those halls. People did not have much to share, so they sat around and shared their food and their recipes. My mother learned how to make Fanny’s recipe for tzimmis, Esther’s recipe for sweet potatoes, Ruth’s recipe for pineapple kugel, and Suralayeh’s recipe for baked spaghetti.  As children, my sister and I sometimes complained because we preferred my mothers own recipes and were resistant to change.  I didn’t understand why she would try new dishes when we were perfectly happy with the dishes that we knew and loved.  As an adult and a mom I finally understand.  She had lost her entire family in the war and this was my mother’s way of building new relationships, a way to find a common bond and draw others into her life so that she could create a “stew of memories” for my sister and me.  What a wonderful legacy.

Here is a “stew” that I learned how to make from an Iraqi Jewish family that I met many years ago in Los Angeles.  Place tabit in the oven before Shabbat begins on Friday evening and serve for lunch, a Sephardic alternative to cholent.

Tabit

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 chicken cut into eighths

3 cups water

1 1/2  tsps salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tsp paprika

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups rice, rinsed several times

1 can garbanzo beans

Saute onion in oil till golden.  Add chicken and brown.  Then add freshly diced tomato and sauté for several minutes.  Place rice around chicken and add water, salt, pepper, paprika, garbanzo beans, and tomato paste.  Stir gently.  Bring to a boil, cover and lower heat and cook for abut 15 minutes.  Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Place Tabit in oven overnight.

Enjoy,

Irene

Note: If you are interested in seeing some old photos of the Bronx and the Grand Concourse go to http://www.nostalgictimewarp.com/bronx.html

Quinoa

Shabbat tea worked out perfectly.  We had fresh fruit, a Greek salad and the fallen sponge cake topped with fresh strawberries. Nobody seemed to mind that the cake had fallen, and we finished the whole thing.  Another cake is in the oven and I am planning on letting it cool in the pan for about two hours, a tip I was given by Helene last night. I will keep you posted.

I had prepared some quinoa yesterday and this afternoon I used it to create a healthy, light salad that was full of flavor and color. Quinoa is not something that I grew up eating but it is a great alternative to potatoes or matzoh laden dishes. The trick is to add enough ingredients because the Quinoa itself is very bland.

Quinoa Salad

3 cups Quinoa

1 mango, diced

2 green onions, sliced

1 cup purple cabbage, diced

6 mint leaves, finely chopped

4 basil leaves, sliced

1 small can mandarin oranges, drained

3 beets, roasted, cooled and diced

2 Tbs honey

2 Tbs orange juice

1 Tbs lemon juice

3 Tbs olive oil

1 tsp red chili flakes

1 tsp salt

1 tsp black pepper

Rinse quinoa and add to pot with 5 cups of water.  Bring to a boil, lower heat and cover. Cook for 13 minutes.  Let cool completely.

Prepare beets by cutting off both ends and wrapping in foil. Roast for one hour at 350.  Peel and dice.

Note: I used golden beets.

In a bowl combine remaining ingredients with quinoa and mix.  Serve at room temperature.

Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Kasha Stuffed Peppers

One of the things I enjoy is seeing how recipes change after arriving on foreign shores, much like the people who carry those family treasures with them.  Several weeks ago our friends Susan and Isaac stopped by on a Saturday afternoon.  Although our friends were born in Mexico, their parents were immigrants who hailed from Hungary and Poland.  Since I too am of Polish ancestry it is always amusing to see how some of the recipes that both Isaac and I grew up eating either were “Mexicanized” by his family or “Americanized” by mine.  Over the years I have learned that if Isaac comes over for cholent or jellied calves feet, no matter how well I season the dish, he is going to ask for hot sauce.  As I watch him pour this spicy red liquid over my creation I sit and wonder “what my mother would think if she saw him do that.”  I have adapted and even come to love some of the Schmidt family creations.  Gribenes (fried pieces of chicken fat) in a taco with guacamole or chicken soup that smells like mine but is REALLY spicy.

So, when Isaac and Susan came bearing gifts, leftovers from their Shabbat dinner, we knew we were in for a treat.  Susan uncovered the plate which held several chiles, cooked in the style of chile rellenos, something I truly love. Then the surprise.  We cut into the chile and instead of cheese, they were filled with kasha, the grain of my youth.  Plain, simple, hearty kasha stuffed into a pepper and fried.  How delicious.

So here is to old friends, old recipes and new twists.

Chiles stuffed with Kasha


8 fresh green chiles (Poblano or Anaheim (with stems intact, if possible).
Prepare Kasha cooked according to the directions on the box.  I add lots of fried onions.

Batter
3 eggs
3 tbs flour
1 Tsp salt
1 Tsp pepper
1/4 cup oil

Stuff each chile with prepared kasha and set aside.  Separate eggs and beat the whites until stiff.  Beat yolks and fold into whites, along with flour, salt and pepper.  Meanwhile, heat oil in a large skillet.  Dip stuffed chiles, one at a time, into egg batter to coat, then remove with a large spoon.  Carefully lower coated chiles into hot oil, 3 or 4 at a time.  Fry until golden brown on both sides.  Place in baking dish and bake for 30 minutes at 350 degrees.

Enjoy,

Irene

Here’s a link to a cookbook project that my friends are working on:
http://mexicanjewish.com