Middle Eastern Flavored Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

topI woke up this morning planning to go to The Shoe Museum, but the snow was coming down and the sidewalks were not inviting.  Instead I sat and listened to a recording of the eulogy that my son David delivered at the funeral of my mother-in-law’s  baby brother who recently passed away,  known by the family as Uncle Gibby.  In it David referred to how much Gibby loved food and music, something we can all relate to.  Instead of venturing out into the snow, we sat around the breakfast table telling stories, eating delicious pletzlach from Grodzinsksi’s Bakery and simultaneously laughing and crying.  It is not surprising that food was a recurring part of the discussion.  As I sat and listened to various ” Gibby stories,”   our conversation turned back to our plans for the day.  We are going to visit my father-in-law this afternoon, but what about lunch and dinner?

The snow is coming down even harder now, but it’s time to head out.  In my head I am humming one of my favorite songs,  Baby It’s Cold Outside and I realize it’s a perfect day for meatballs in tomato sauce.   I think both would make Gibby smile.

Middle Eastern Flavored Meatballs in Tomato Sauce

1 lb. ground turkey

2/3 cup pareve breadcrumbs

1/4 cup water

1 tsp salt

2 eggs

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp baharat

1/2 tsp ground  black pepper

1/4 tsp  chili flakes

Tomato Sauce

3 tbsp olive oil

1½ tsp ground cumin

½ tsp sharp paprika

1 medium onion, chopped

1 lb. large mushrooms, coarsely chopped

1 cup chicken broth

14 oz can chopped tomatoes

1 small red chili, left whole,

1 garlic clove, crushed

Salt and pepper to taste

 Heat the oil in a large pot and add the chopped onion, garlic and spices.  Saute over low heat till onion is translucent but not brown.  Add mushrooms and cook for several minutes before adding chicken broth, chopped tomatoes, chili,  salt and  pepper.  Simmer for about 5-10 minutes,  and adjust seasoning.

Mix turkey with the other ingredients and form into small meatballs.   Gently drop into simmering pot of tomato sauce and cook, covered, over low heat for about 1 hour.  Delicious over thick chewy noodles!  Serves 4

Enjoy,

Irene

Israeli White Bean Soup

photo-9Shabbat dinner always felt different from the rest of the week.  The differences were small, my mother bentched licht covering her head with whatever was nearby, sometimes even grabbing a dish-towel, the table was covered with an embroidered cloth, challah replaced rye bread, roast chicken was served, and my father said Kiddush.  On Saturdays life went back to normal but that feeling of Shabbat lingered in the air.

As the week winds down, after a full work-week, it’s sometimes hard to plan, shop, and prepare for Shabbat.  That’s what makes those hardy one pot meals like Cholent, Tabit, and Hamin, so attractive.  Instead of serving it for lunch, I often make one of those dishes and put it in the oven early Friday morning to serve for dinner instead.

Tonight we are having some of our children’s Ramah friends over and my plan was to make a one pot dinner.  I thought I would try something new so I chose to make Sofrito from the Jerusalem cookbook, a one-pot chicken and potato dish, cooked slowly in its own juices on top of the stove.  Then I decided to make a pot of turkey meatballs in a cumin-scented tomato sauce.  When I left for the market there was a chill in the air, and so I decided to come home and make a family favorite, a pot of Israeli bean soup.

My one pot dinner has turned into three pots, and with all of them simmering slowly on the stove top, it does feel different, and for me, that’s what Shabbat is all about.  Hope yours feels different too.  Shabbat Shalom.

Israeli Bean Soup

1 pound small white beans, rinsed well

1 large brown onion

1 – 8 oz can tomato sauce

2 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb olive oil

8 cups chicken broth or water with 1 Tb chicken bouillon

Chop onions in a small dice.  In a large soup pot, sauté onions in olive oil till translucent, but not browned, for about 5 or 6 minutes.  Mince garlic and add to onions and cook for another minute or two.  Add water/chicken broth and beans and bring to a boil.  Reduce heat to a medium simmer and cook for about one hour.  Then add salt, pepper, and tomato sauce and cook till beans are tender about another 1 1/2 hours.  Adjust seasonings and serve.  Serves 6.

Enjoy,
Irene

 

 

 

 

 

Sweet and Savory Hot Wings

photo-6Christopher Columbus High School was considered one of the top performing schools in The Bronx, but to be perfectly honest that was not why I chose to go there (although I’d like to think that I wouldn’t have considered it if it had a poor reputation.)   The real reason was that I had just spent three years in an all girls middle school, and had no desire to go on to an all girls high school. Enough was enough.

Looking back I realize that the co-ed aspect of my high school experience wasn’t significant.  The most important lessons I learned had little to do with boys or academics, and everything to do with the people I met and their approach to life.  For the first time I found myself among students and teachers who were passionate, engaged, and involved.  There was Mr. Dubow, whose love of the French language was contagious.  Miss Silberstang, the art teacher who inspired and pushed me to do better on a daily basis, Miss Pakula, an English teacher who also taught drama, and whose encouragement and good nature appeared to be endless, and Mr. Tannenbaum, who taught me Hebrew in a way that I had never experienced in all  my years of Hebrew school.

I had a friend who suddenly and secretly flew to Moscow to participate in a protest on behalf of  Soviet Jewry.  I met students who were active in Zionist organizations and were strongly committed to living in Israel, some who were Betarniks and others from Hashomer Hatzair.  For the first time in my life I met drama students, and art students ,who like myself, spent hours working on portfolios.  I met students who cared about the world, and teachers who cared about us.  Both inside and outside of the classroom, I learned that passion was a great motivator.  It’s the lesson that I still try to remember each day.

Recently I found out that Christopher Columbus is closing its doors, the result of  poor academic performance and low graduation rates.   I am sad that other students won’t experience what I experienced during my years in a great high school, in a great neighborhood, in a great borough.  Goodbye, Columbus.

Goodbye Columbus (a poem in the Anchor Yearbook of 1973 )
“…. May every season…winter, spring, summer or fall….add new phases to your life, when you will more vividly remember saying hello rather than goodbye….”
The foods I craved most during my high school years were pizza, hot dogs with sauerkraut, and black and white cookies.  I  still eat those same foods on almost every trip back East, but in recent years we have been introduced to hot wings, and they have become a family favorite.
Sweet and Savory Hot Wings
2 dozen wings cut in half or the same number of winnetz, which is just the little drumstick part of the wing.
1/2 cup dark brown sugar
5 Tb pareve margarine
Preheat oven to 475 degrees.  Season wings with salt and pepper and place on cookie sheets in a single layer. Bake at 475 till crisp on one side and then turn over and continue baking.  Total baking time is about one hour.  In the meantime, melt margarine over low flame and mix in large bowl with sriracha and brown sugar.  When wings are done toss them in the  bowl of sauce till well coated.  Reheat before serving for about 10-15 minutes.  Serve with a pareve ranch dressing.
Enjoy,
Irene

Sheila’s Brisket

photo 2I just finished reading Russ & Daughters, a memoir written by Mark Russ Federman, now retired owner of my favorite appetizing store in NYC.  It made me think about Pesach which we spent with our children and family on the East Coast.  This year felt different, with everyone helping, all in their own way of course, there was a rhythm and ease that I had not felt before.  Some shopped, some cooked, some did prep work, some set, some supervised, and some even cleaned.  In his book Mark Federman  talked about family and how important it is to rely on them when you need them to step up, and how that not only requires the patience to teach, but the ability to let go.  Getting ready for Pesach is like running a small family business and I can only say that by the time I left, I felt that while they already knew exactly how to run a Seder, this time they learned what it takes to prepare for one.

My own memories of Pesach include scenes of my mother and Tanta Marisha, cooking together in my aunt’s kitchen. I loved watching them, it made it so much nicer that they had each had a kitchen companion, not to mention  just having another person to ask if the soup is too salty or help decide if you really need another kugel.

Over the course of two days leading up to Yontif, we prepared for 28 guests.  We had more kitchen companions than I can mention, but each one made a significant contribution, and although they were not technically all family members, they acted and felt like family.  I was thrilled to be a part of it, but the best part is knowing how well-prepared the next generation is to tell the story, carry on the traditions, and even make the brisket.  Letting go?  I guess next year Kitniyot may appear on the menu.  I look forward to finding out.

Sheila’s Brisket

Note: I changed this recipe slightly by adding a rub that I massaged into the brisket the day before cooking it, two days before the Seder.

1- 10 pound brisket, both first and second cut.

Rub

10 cloves garlic

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

1 Tb paprika

2 Tb olive oil

Mix ingredients and “massage” into brisket.  Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

5 large brown onions, thinly sliced.

2 cups good quality Cabernet

2 cups Ketchup

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Place brisket in a large roasting pan and cover with sliced onions. Combine wine with ketchup and pour on top. Cover and bake at 325 till tender. About 6 hours.  Slice cold and reheat.  Served 20 when cut with an electric knife!

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Grilled Short Ribs

We shared a room until the day she moved away from home.  Meticulous by nature, my sister used to draw an imaginary line across our bedroom, a line that I was not allowed to cross.  Eight years older than I, Anita was more than just my big sister.  She was my role model.  Her shoes always matched her purses, her hair was what the 60s demanded of curly-haired girls, ironed, straightened and made to conform to the necessary flip that was all the rage.  She took me to museums, bought me dolls and books, introduced me to new foods and exposed me to the exotic East Village, home of the Beatniks.  This past weekend my sister and I once again shared a bedroom, as I kept her company while she’s recovering from a broken leg.  We watched movies, reminisced, wrote down our family history, drank wine, and laughed.  The best part was getting to be the “Big Sister” to my big sister, a role that I must admit I relish.  The one thing I couldn’t do for her was cook, and so now that I am back home, I thought about what I would have made for her had I been able to.  My mother always fed us beef when we needed to gain strength, firmly believing that red meat had restorative properties.  A plate of ribs for my sister, that would be perfect.  Speedy recovery shvester!

Grilled Short Ribs
3 to 4 lbs of bone-in Short Ribs
1/3 cup Brown Sugar
1 tsp Pepper
1 tsp Salt
1 tsp Cumin
1 tsp Garlic Powder
1 tsp Paprika
6 Tb red wine vinegar
Combine spices and rub into short ribs.  Place ribs, flat side down, in glass baking dish in one snug layer, cover with foil  and allow to marinate in fridge overnight or for at least several hours.  When ready to prepare, sprinkle ribs with red wine vinegar, and cover tightly with aluminum foil.  Bake at 300 degrees for 2 1/2 hours.
Rib Glaze (adapted from Spirit of Tennessee)
1 cup Jack Daniel’s Whiskey
1/2 cup brown sugar
1 cup ketchup
1/4 cup vinegar
3 cloves garlic
salt and pepper
Combine all ingredients in small bowl.
Make glaze and brush on ribs while grilling, basting each time you turn the ribs.  Grill on lowest heat for about an hour or till ribs are tender.
Enjoy,
Irene

Chicken Couscous

There is something about porch doors that stir up memories of summer.  They remind me of the bungalow colony in the Catskills where we stayed with the “mima” and my cousins,  of day trips to family and friends in cottage country outside of Toronto, and of the weekends we spent at my aunt’s house in New Jersey.  The center screen invites you to peek inside, like a window without a curtain, and offers you a chance to call out and see if anyone is home without having to knock.  Then there is that particular sound that a porch door makes as it slams shut, that hard clap that announces your arrival and your departure.  Best of all, you can smell what’s cooking as you pass by.

When we redid our kitchen several years ago, I went on a mission looking for a porch door in various architectural salvage yards, and when I finally found one, it needed to be restored.  We brought it home and after it was sanded down, painted, and re-screened, it was installed on the laundry closet inside my service porch, as a reminder.  When I’m home, you will find that I always keep my kitchen windows open (and curtain free) so you can still peek in, call out my name, and smell what’s cooking.  Come on in!

Chicken Couscous

3 lbs boneless chicken thighs. cut in half
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, diced
3 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into thirds
3 large carrots, peeled and cut into large chunks
any type of orange fleshed squash, peeled and thickly sliced
4  Mexican squash or zucchini, sliced in half, lengthwise
1 bunch cilantro
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 can tomato paste
1 tablespoon chili powder, or less depending on your taste
salt and pepper to taste
½ Tb paprika
½ Tb cinnamon
½ Tb cumin
1/2 cup golden raisins

Saute thighs and onions in olive oil till golden, meanwhile sprinkling with spices.  Allow to fry for several more minutes and add tomato paste, chickpeas and 1 cup of water.  Season with salt and pepper bring to a boil, then lower heat and cook for about 15 minutes.  Add about 4 cups of water to the pot along with the orange squash, sweet potatoes and carrots.  Cook for about 45 minutes.  Add zucchini, raisins and cilantro and cook on low flame til vegetables are tender.

Prepare couscous according to directions on the box. Before serving take a ladle of the broth and stir it into the couscous which will give it a beautiful color.  Mound couscous in the center of a large platter and surround with meat and vegetables.  Place broth is a small bowl to serve on the side.  Serves 6-8

Enjoy,

Irene

Marisha’s Veal Roast

It is an unfortunate truth that extended family members may only get together for life cycle events, both happy and sad.  Two weeks ago many members of the Graf family came to Philadelphia, and as a result I was able to spend time with my Tante Marisha.  Marisha is now the matriarch of the family, the only person still alive of my father’s generation, and she looks great.   She and my Uncle Charlie met in Poland during the war, moved to France after the war, and then eventually settled in Lakewood, New Jersey, where I spent much of my childhood visiting them and my cousins.  I reminded my aunt that she use to call me “princess” and she reminded me that she would take me to the “market’  to help her sell hats.

Marisha arrived in Philadelphia with her sons, daughters-in-law, her eldest grandson and his wife.  Both my cousin Michel and I named our middle children David, after our fathers’ brother who died during the war.  I watched these two Davids, second cousins, both grown men, both married, both serious and both learned, talking to each other, and I was filled with a sense of continuity.  Wherever I looked, cousins were conversing and getting to know each other.  There was talk of cars, horses, gardening, art and architecture, and I was feeling strangely content despite the overwhelming sadness of the occasion.  I realize that it may be years before all the cousins get together again, and hopefully next time it will be for a happy event, but I was sure that the three brothers, Jack, Charley and Harry knew we were there, together, under one roof, for a brief time.

At one point my daughter and I were sitting with Tante Marisha when the conversation turned to food.  My aunt told us that her grandchildrens’ favorite dish is veal roast, and related that she prepares it in the same way she and my mother prepared chicken and turkey, coated with a simple mixture of minced garlic, salt and pepper, and baked till golden and tender.  I couldn’t wait to come home and make it, knowing that I would feel as if I had a bit of Marisha with me, but also wanting to preserve another recipe, and another memory, for another generation.
Marisha’s Veal Roast
8 lb Veal Roast, bones left in
10 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tb salt
1 Tb cracked pepper
1 Tb paprika
3 Tb olive oil
Make a paste of all the ingredients and rub into veal.  Place veal in roasting pan that fits snugly, cover well and refrigerate overnight.  Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees, add enough water to just come up to the bottom of the veal, cover tightly and bake for about 3 hours, basting after each hour.  Add water if needed.  Uncover for last hour to brown.  Serves 8
Enjoy,
Irene

Moroccan Hamin

It’s been my experience that when my expectations are high, it can sometimes lead to disappointment.  How often have you been seduced by that decadent pastry in the display case only to discover that it was tasteless, or had dinner in a restaurant with a great reputation and left wondering why.  Thankfully, there is also the flip side, the delightful experience of buying food from a street vendor and biting into something truly delicious.  Some of the best dishes I have ever eaten have been from places where the atmosphere may have left something to be desired, but the food did not.  Places where my expectations were low.

Today the range of my dreams is being installed in my kitchen.  This morning Norm asked if I was excited, and although I am, I am also nervous that my expectations are too high.  All I really want is a range that will brown chicken to perfection.  Norm wants a convection oven that will take his baking to the next level.  We will let you know how it all works out but in the meantime I came home last night and thought I had better cook dinner for Shabbat on my old stove, not knowing if there would be a working stove today.  I made a Moroccan version of  Tabit, one of my favorite one-pot meals.  It was in my oven overnight, and this morning when I took it out, I knew it was the last thing that would ever be cooked in that oven.  It was like saying goodbye to a familiar friend who may be cranky, but who you know well and understand.  Shabbat Shalom and a BIG thank you to Anita and Jeff,  for everything, and then some!

Moroccan Hamin

2 tbsp olive oil

1 large onion, diced

1 chicken cut into eighths plus an extra 4 thighs

3 cups water

2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 tbsp  paprika

2 tsp cumin

1/2 tsp cinnamon

2 tbsp tomato paste

1 large tomato, diced

2 cups wheat berries, rinsed several times and drained

1 – 14 oz. can garbanzo beans, drained

4 dates, pitted and diced

Saute onion in oil till golden.  Add salt and pepper, spices, and chicken,  and brown well.  Then add freshly diced tomato and tomato paste and sauté for several minutes.  Add wheat berries and garbanzo beans to pot along with diced dates.  Add water,  bring to a boil, cover pot, lower heat and place in a preheated 250 degrees oven overnight.  Serves 4-6

NOTE: If  Hamin looks dry when you take it out, add a little more water, if it has too much liquid, leave pot in the oven without lid for another 30 minutes.

Enjoy,

Irene

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