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

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew

The Graf brothers all loved nature, the outdoors, and animals.  My father would watch shows about the animal kingdom and would tell us stories of the pets he owned growing up in Warka, Poland.  A porcupine, really?  He was already well into his seventies when he suddenly decided to stop eating chicken and beef, purely for ethical reasons.  With longing and affection, my father would talk about the orchard and vegetable garden behind his mother’s home.  At the farmer’s market he would choose his fruits and vegetables with such care and tenderness, rotating each apple or pear to make sure it was blemish free, fresh, firm, and fragrant with ripeness, intent on selecting the best he could find.

The brothers were all avid gardeners, and I was fairly certain that their green thumbs were not passed down to my city hands.  I love the idea of gardening, to be able to go into your backyard and plan your meal based on what’s ready to be picked.  After a long hiatus, I was determined to try my hand at vegetable gardening once again and so I ruthlessly pulled out a whole bed of roses.  It took months to prepare the soil and put in the first raised bed.  During a trip back East my cousin Janine laid out the plans for my garden and I use it as my roadmap.  Not only does it guide me but it provides me with inspiration,  knowing that another branch of the Graf family are successful gardeners.  My first planting included broccoli which was a complete failure, basil which was immediately consumed by insects and several plants of red leaf lettuce which grew well, but became limp immediately after being harvested, not a desirable texture for a fresh salad.  I thought I would try kale and swiss chard and finally I was able to experience the sense of pride that comes with success.  There is more chard and kale in my garden than I know what to do with.

My father would probably chuckle at my meager garden but despite its small size, the pleasure that I derive from it is immeasurable.  My father and I never gardened together, I was too young and independent to listen to his advice when he offered it, but now each time I am in the garden I think of Harry, Charlie and Jack, and the legacy they left behind.

 

 


This dish is a vegetarian stew but so hearty that you really don’t miss the meat. Serve with rice or whole wheat pasta.

Curried Swiss Chard and Lentil Stew (adapted from a recipe from Bon Appetit)
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
5 tsp curry powder
1 /2 tsp chili powder
42 oz. pareve chicken stock or vegetable broth
1 large bunch Swiss chard, stems thinly sliced and leaves coarsely chopped (about 12 cups)
1 pound brown lentils, rinsed well
1 15-ounce can garbanzo beans
2 tsp salt
1 heaping tsp cumin.

Saute onion in olive oil till golden.  Add spices and sauté for several minutes, till fragrant.  Add broth and bring to a boil, then put in lentils and garbanzo beans.  Lower heat to a simmer, add salt and chard, and cover.  Cook till lentils are tender but still whole.  About 20 minutes.  Serves 6

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

Moroccan Salmon

My mother always hummed when she cooked.  Typically, the small radio on the kitchen counter was turned to the Yiddish radio station, but if not, there was always a station that played sentimental music, lots of Dean Martin and Frank Sinatra.  I loved knowing that when I came home, music would be in the air and dinner on the stove.  She didn’t like the sound of silence and I must admit, neither do I.  My ritual is almost identical, with a modern twist.  I walk into my kitchen and head straight for the radio, or my IPOD, and only then do I begin to cook.

I have family members in three different countries this weekend, and so here are my plans for a quiet Friday afternoon.  A glass of wine, some music, and Moroccan Salmon.  It’s raining outside and So Far Away is playing on the IPOD.  Not too bad. Shabbat Shalom.

Moroccan Salmon

1 pound of salmon fillets

salt and pepper to taste

4 thin slices of  lemon

1/2 onion, thinly sliced

1/3 cup mayonnaise

1 tsp. lemon juice

1 tsp. harissa

1/4 tsp. smoked Spanish paprika

2 tbs. orange juice

1 can garbanzo beans, drained

Preheat oven to 425 degrees.  Drizzle some olive oil in the bottom of a small baking dish, large enough to hold fillets in one layer.  Sprinkle the salmon with salt and pepper, and place into the baking dish.  In a bowl, mix together the mayonnaise, lemon juice, harissa, and smoked paprika.  Spread the mixture over the fish, then cover with the lemon and onion slices.  Add drained garbanzo beans to dish.  Pour the orange juice around the salmon.
Bake in preheated oven for about 15 minutes.  Turn on broiler and broil the fish for a few minutes to brown.
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