Stuffed Potatoes (Passover)

photo 1Spring is here, Purim is over, and Passover is just weeks away.  For the third year in a row, we are going back East to celebrate Passover with our children at the home of our older son and daughter-in-law, a home where we have always felt welcomed and included, to a seder that is open to so many.  As my part of the planning begins, various family members have gently reminded me that “less is more”,  have informed me that a Seder meal doesn’t need both chicken and beef, have encouraged me to cook larger quantities of fewer dishes, and have suggested to me that a good model to follow is something apparently common in restaurants in Williamsburg, where they often specialize in a dish or two that they make really well (does that sound like a hint?).  Appreciative of everyone’s wish to make the entire process less labor intensive, easier on me, healthier, less costly, etc. I understand and hear the words in my head, but they don’t resonate in my heart.  The dictionary definition of feast is to eat and drink sumptuously.

Last night I went to bed with a plan for a stream-lined menu that felt a little bit as if the “feasting” part of Passover, as we knew it, may be a thing of the past.  This morning I thought of my mom, a woman who knew what hunger was, what deprivation meant, and who, more, than many of us, understood the importance of Passover.  When the time came for her to serve the meal, there was no doubt that you were not sitting down to a typical dinner, but to a Passover feast.  She knew that less is not more, it is just less.  That when a family gathers together to celebrate, we should celebrate to the fullest, the wine should pour freely, and the food should be plentiful and varied.  Let all who are hungry come and eat.

Ode to Fried Potatoes by Pablo Neruda

Translated from the Spanish by Maria Jacketti

The world’s joy

is spluttering,

sizzling in olive oil.

Potatoes

to be fried

enter the skillet,

snowy wings

of a morning swan –

and they leave

half-braised in gold,

gift of the crackling amber

of olives.

Garlic

embellishes the potato

with its earthy perfume,

and the pepper

is pollen that has traveled

beyond the reefs,

and so,

freshly

dressed

in a marbled suit,

plates are filled

with the echoes of potatoey abundance:

delicious simplicity of the earth

 Stuffed Potatoes 

20, thin-skinned, new white potatoes, smallish and round, about 2″ in diameter

Filling

1 tablespoon olive oil  (for turkey or chicken which needs a little extra fat)

Chopped leftover potatoes

1 small onion, finely chopped

1 pound ground chicken, beef or turkey

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin

additional olive oil for frying

Sauce

2 tablespoons olive oil

3 cloves garlic, crushed

3 medium tomatoes, diced

1 Tb Telma chicken bouillon

1/2 tsp. ground black pepper

2 cups water

To make the sauce, add olive oil to a medium-sized saucepan.  Add minced garlic and sauté for a minute or two over a low flame,  just till fragrant.  Add diced tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes before adding remaining ingredients.  Cover and simmer for an additional 10 minutes.

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.  Place potatoes on a sturdy service and carefully cut off a small slice from both the bottom and top.  Stand potato on one end and using a small sharp knife, grapefruit cutter, or melon baller, hollow out almost all of the sides and the center of  the potato.

photoFinely chop leftover potato pieces in food processor, and add to a large bowl with the other ingredients for the filling. Mix well.  Using a small spoon, stuff filling into hollowed out potatoes.  Gently sauté stuffed potatoes in olive oil till golden on all sides.  Place in oven proof casserole.  Pour the sauce over the stuffed potatoes,  cover,  and bake in a preheated oven for about 2-3  hours.   Serves 15-20 as a side dish.

Note: Number of potatoes and amount of filling varies depending on size.  Any leftover meat can be made shaped into small ktzizot (burgers), sautéed in same olive oil and added to pot.  We did that and they were great!  This is a dish that is better when it has a chance to sit so make it the day before you are planning to serve it.

Enjoy,

Irene

Effi’s Turkey or Chicken Tagine

IMG_2342Imagine sitting in a dimly lit room, when suddenly a stranger walks in, throws open the curtains and turns on the light.  Those two small gestures can alter the scene.  That’s what I experienced this week when Effi joined our staff.  A petite Israeli woman, of Moroccan descent, our conversation quickly turned to food.  I told her that I was heading East for Passover, and that we were having a traditional Ashkenazi Seder, but as I stood there speaking, I already knew that change was in the air, that things were about to shift.  Effi talked about her traditional dishes, some of which I would not be able to make, dishes with rice and corn and peas, dishes made with lamb cooked over low heat for several hours. There was more, and just a few minutes later I walked away with recipes for a Moroccan beet salad, a variation of Matbucha, and a delicious tagine made with dried fruit and a touch of cinnamon.   Effi told me that she serves sweet dishes for a sweet Passover.  That’s where the differences ended, and the essence of what we both wanted for Passover converged.  Wishing you a Zisn Pesach.

Effi’s Turkey or Chicken Tagine

2 Tb olive oil and more as needed

3 lbs. chicken or turkey thighs, cubed

3 large brown onions, cut in half and thinly sliced

1 cup dried apricots

1 cup dried prunes

1 1/2 cups warm water

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

1 Tb chicken bouillion

1 tsp cinnamon

1 1/2 tsp cumin

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.  In a  heavy bottomed pot, brown turkey thigh in 2 Tb. olive oil, sprinkling generously with salt and pepper.   Once turkey meat is golden, remove to plate along with any liquid that accumulated on the bottom of the pot.  Add another tablespoon of olive oil and all the sliced onions to pot.  Add 1/2 tsp sugar and saute onions till dark golden brown.  Remove half the sautéed onions to a plate.  Scatter half of the apricots and prunes on top of the onions.  Place turkey meat back into the pot.  Add remaining apricots and prunes and then top with remaining onions.  In a small bowl combine warm water with salt, pepper, cumin, chicken powder and cinnamon.  Stir well and pour over meat.  Cover pot and place in oven for 2-3 hours.  Serves 4-6

Note: Effi said that sometimes she adds walnut halves on top of the first layer of walnuts.

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