Roast Chicken with Figs

IMG_2161We grew up eating dried fruit and nuts for dessert.  The nuts were in their shells, and were left out on the dining room table with a nutcracker on top.  I am sure my mother bought them that way because she thought they were fresher, but the unintentional result was that you actually needed to sit around the table to shell them.  Pieces of shell would fly as I tried to crack walnuts, filberts, and almonds on my own. The walnuts were the most challenging, hard to crack because of the uneven shell, and prying out the walnut meat was a delicate and time-consuming task in itself.  I was impatient and my father would take over, proud when he was able to remove a walnut half intact.  The dried fruit was typically dates, or figs imported from Greece, pierced and on a string.
On my first trip to Israel I went to Kfar Meishar to visit family friends.  The Unterstein’s had a pecan orchard and so once again I found myself sitting around a table and shelling nuts.  Tonight is Tu Bishvat and that makes me think of Israel, and because it is also Shabbat, we planned a menu around this New Year of the Trees.  We have chicken with figs, olive oil cake, dried fruit, and  walnuts still in their shell, with my parents’ nutcracker on top.  I can’t wait to see if anyone will even be tempted to use it, other than myself.
Roast Chicken with Figs 
2 chickens cut in eighths
Marinade
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
1 /2 cup olive oil
1/2 cup brown sugar
6 cloves of garlic
1 cup dry white wine
salt and pepper
Combine in food processor and marinade chicken for several hours or overnight.
1 1/2 cups figs, sliced in half, or dried fruit of your choice.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Remove chicken from marinade and place in roasting pan.  Scatter figs and  pour 1 cup of the marinade over the top.  Bake for 1 1/2 hours, basting and adding marinade as needed.  Serves 8-10
Enjoy,
Irene

Sweet Couscous

It was in the early 1980s when Norm and I decided to build our first Sukkah.  Neither of us had grown up with one, and so we had no family traditions to help guide us.  We had to create our own, discover our own way, and find traditions that we were comfortable with.  One year we used fresh fruit to decorate the Sukkah, fruit that began to decompose over the course of the week.  It seemed out of sync with the festive atmosphere we were trying to create, not to mention the waste, and so we switched to plastic fruits.  Over the years we experimented with the size of the Sukkah, materials, lighting, choice of plants for schach, and decorations.  It has always been a work in progress, and from year to year it changes slightly, as we do.

Each year my mother would come to our Sukkah and reminisce about her childhood in Poland, recalling how her father would insist on eating all of his meals in their Sukkah.  She said that even if it was pouring, he would sit there, the rain streaming down his face, though his beard, and into his soup.  That story was repeated to us each year and out of that shared memory a new tradition grew.  We realized that when my mother spoke of her father it was almost as if he was with us, sitting in our Sukkah.  Now, each year we go around the table and ask our guests the following question. ” If you could invite anyone to join you in the Sukkah, who would that be?”  We have had kings and politicians, musicians and celebrities, family members who have passed away and family members who are just far away.  Along with the Ushpizin, all of our guests, present and imaginary, make this holiday magical.  Chag Sameach.

This recipe is adapted from Claudia Roden’s  The Book of Jewish Food.

Sweet Couscous

Prepare 1 lb. of couscous by placing grain in a large bowl.  Using a total of about 2 1/2 cups of warm water, add a few tablespoons of water at a time and let it absorb into the couscous.  Using your fingers, plump up couscous, breaking up any lumps. Repeat till couscous is soft but not wet. Couscous will double in bulk.

To this basic recipe add:

1 cup golden raisins, soaked in warm water for about 20 minutes,  and chopped up.

1 cup dried apricots, thinly sliced

1/2  cup pistachios, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup pine nuts

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds

1/4 cup sugar combined with cinnamon to taste

Shape couscous into a cone and decorate with lines of cinnamon mixed with sugar.

Enjoy,

Irene

Imberlach

This is a Saiger family recipe for a Passover confection called Imberlach.  The recipe was handed down to my mother-in-law from her mother-in-law, Manya Saiger, my children’s great-grandmother.  My mother-in-law once described Imberlach for a Passover cookbook “watch your cavities or fillings, the imberlach are jawbreakers, but oh so good.”

Imberlach
1 1/2 lbs. honey
1/2 cup sugar
2/3 lb. matzoh farfel
1 Tbs. fresh ginger, grated
1 cup chopped walnuts

Bring honey and sugar to a boil, lower heat and cook for five minutes, stirring constantly.  Add farfel slowly and cook an additional five minutes.  Make sure there is still a little liquid in the bottom of the pot.  Add ginger and walnuts and stir for ten minutes until mixture is brown.  Wet a wooden board with cold water and pour mixture on, carefully spreading with a wet knife. Allow to set for several hours and cut to form diamond shapes. Candy is sticky.

Enjoy,
Irene

Persian Charoset

For the next fourteen days I will be devoting my post to one Passover recipe a day.  Who has time for stories?  Hope you try them and enjoy them.

This recipe for Persian Charoset was given to me by a friend many years ago.  One of the wonderful culinary influences in Los Angeles is that of the large Persian community.  Compared to the benign Ashkenazi Charoset of my childhood, this is full of flavor and texture.

An interior decorator, my friend would shape the Charoset into a Pyramid. We now add a small olive wood camel to the presentation.

Persian Charoset
1/2 cup pistachios
1/2 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup walnuts
1 cup pitted dates
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/2 cup dark raisins
1/2 cup yellow raisins
1 large apple, peeled
1/4 cup apple cider vinegar
1 orange, diced
3/4 cup sweet red wine
1 tsp. cinnamon

Coarsely chop nuts, raisins and fruit in food processor. Combine all ingredients and blend well.

Enjoy,
Irene