Beet, Fennel, and Mango Salad

photo-17My sister is in town, and it isn’t surprising that the conversation often turns to our mother, hers and mine.  The discussion typically begins with Anita recalling how, “our mother used to say…” ,”used to prepare…”,  “used to pronounce…” or “used to like…”, and ends when I respond by saying, “not my mother.”   There are eight years between us and in some ways we did have different mothers.  Anita was born and spent her early years in post-war Paris, while I was a child of the 1950s, born in The Bronx.  With each of us, our mother was busy adjusting to a new country, culture, language, and cuisine.   As the younger sister I must admit that I thoroughly enjoy this verbal sparring  but I’m not sure my sister feels the same way.

Preparing for Rosh Hashana, I feel an obligation to make some of the dishes that we both remember, and agree, that our mother served every Yontif.  I will make her Chicken Soup with kreplach, garlic chicken with roast potatoes, and make sure to include carrots for a sweet year.  The gefilte fish has been eliminated from the menu, as has the honey cake.  Instead of Tzimmis, I will prepare a fresh raw salad, colorful and slightly sweet, still using some ingredients that were often found in my mother’s kitchen, but with a new twist.

I remember my mother wishing that the New Year would be at least as good as the last, and no worse.  I called my sister to confirm this, and of course, she said  that her mother never said that.  Luckily, some things never change.  Wishing you all a Zisn Yontif, on that we can all agree.

Note: This recipe was adapted from a salad prepared in my home several weeks ago by the chefs from Puzzle Israel.

Beet, Fennel and Mango Salad
1/2 head of red cabbage thinly sliced
2 large red beets, peeled and Julienned
2 firm mangoes peeled and Julienned
3 or 4 large carrots, peeled and shredded
1 fennel bulb, cored, and slivered
1/2 red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

Dressing

1/2 cup olive oil

1/ 4 cup lemon or lime  juice

1 Tb sesame oil

1 tsp salt

I would add a few drops of honey for some extra sweetness

Enjoy,

Irene

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

photo-16Nir and Guy arrived at my home early Sunday afternoon, carrying shopping bags filled with fresh groceries they had just purchased at the local Persian market.  Although we hadn’t met before, these young Israelis, full of personality and charm, quickly made themselves at home.  Promoting their company, Puzzle Israel,  (which provides a unique approach to touring) they come to the U.S several times a year offering cooking classes and demonstrations.

The class was hands-on, and with everyone participating we all had a good time. There was a station in the kitchen for the meat dishes and a station in the dining room for salads and dessert.  The menu included freshly baked Foccacia,  chicken liver stuffed mushrooms, salmon ceviche salad, cabbage salad, and eggplant rolls filled with ground beef.  Dessert was a dish of baked bananas with a biscuit Halvah topping.

When I asked Guy how he expanded from culinary arts to the touring industry, he said “cooking is the best way of making connections.”  How right he is. 

Stuffed Eggplant Rolls

2 globe eggplants

1 1/2 pounds ground beef, not too lean

1/3 pound Medjool dates, pitted and coarsely chopped

olive oil

1 purple onion, finely diced

1 tsp salt

1 tsp pepper

Preheat oven to 450 degrees.   Slice the eggplants to a 1/4 inch thickness.  Layer slices on a greased cookie sheet and drizzle olive oil over both sides.  Bake for about 20 minutes until slices are golden brown and tender but do not overbake.  In a bowl, combine ground beef with dates, onion, salt and pepper.  After eggplant has cooled, place about 1 Tb of mixture on edge of each slice of eggplant, roll up and layer in greased baking dish. Place in 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.  Serve hot.

Enjoy,

Irene

Moroccan Carrots

 

Photo taken by Elizabeth Saiger

They are almost like characters in a book, these relatives that I have heard so much about but never had the opportunity to meet.  The baker, the grocer, and the tanner.  Yisroel (Isser) Gutman, my maternal grandfather, the one who I know the most about, owned a tannery in Mogielnica.  Is it coincidence or did I purposely seek out the stories of my namesake?  What I do know is that he was observant, davening in Shul three times a day, leaving little time to spend with his family.  My mother told us how he maimed himself to avoid conscription into the Polish army out of fear that he would be forced to eat “treif.

My favorite story was the one of his great adventure.  One night, long before the war, Isser left his home in the middle of the night, while everyone else was asleep,  to rendezvous with an uncle with who had concocted a plan.  They had hired a driver with a horse and wagon to meet them at a certain hour and take them to the port where they boarded a ship bound for the United States.  Apparently when my grandmother woke up that morning and heard the news, she went to the port to stop him, but it was too late.  Yes, my grandfather left his family without any discussion, but I prefer to think about the great lengths that he undertook to improve their lot.  Isser stayed in New York for about a year, but we don’t know anything about his life there.  Did he work as a tanner, did he live on the Lower East side, where I imagine him living, was he happy, lonely, prosperous?  We know that my grandmother refused to join him in this “heathen” land and eventually Isser returned to Poland and neither she nor he survived

I think of Isser more often during this time of year because of two stories that connect him to the holidays.  One was that he would insist on eating all of his meals in the sukkah no matter how bad the weather was, forcing my grandmother to carry his food out to him while the rest of the family ate inside.  The other story is that the head of the fish, which was considered not only a delicacy but also a symbol of good fortune, was always saved for my grandfather on Rosh Hashana, out of deference and respect.

We didn’t make fish for Rosh Hashana but we did serve other symbolic foods.  Dates and pomegranates, beets and kreplach, (kreplach represent our concealed fate for the coming year.)  In Yiddish the word for carrots is mehren, a word that also means multiply or increase, so they too were included.  I like to slice them and drizzle them with olive oil so that they look like a bowl of glistening golden coins, a reminder of the riches we hope for in the New Year.  Riches that come in the form of enjoying good health, from spending time with family, and from remembering and sharing the stories that have enriched my life.   These carrots, although not an Ashkenazi dish, remind me of Isser who wanted more from life and tried his best to achieve it.  G’mar Hatimah Tovah.

Moroccan Carrots

2 pounds large carrots, peeled and sliced into coin size thickness

1/3 cup olive oil

juice of two lemons

5 garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp ground cumin

salt and pepper to taste

Boil sliced carrots in a large pot of water for about 8 minutes.  Drain under cold water.  Place carrots in bowl and toss with remaining ingredients.  Adjust seasoning.  Sprinkle with chopped cilantro if desired.  Serves 6-8 as a side dish.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Vegetable Confetti

Certain rituals signaled that the holidays were approaching.  The parquet floors of our apartment were waxed, the silver Kiddush cups, candelabra, sugar bowl and prongs (used to pick up the sugar cubes) were polished , new dresses were bought, and shoes were purchased at Buster Brown.  I still remember walking up several stairs to the little platform in the middle of the store so that our feet could be x-rayed, insuring a proper fitting shoe.

On Rosh Hashana the four of us went to Shul, something we only did on the holidays.  Everyone got dressed up and when we returned home for the Yontif meal, the table was “dressed” as well.  My mother spared no expense during a holiday, it was her way of transmitting the significance of the day to her children.  As a child I loved it all, but only now do I understand that despite the hard work, my mother’s happiness stemmed from being able to take care of her family.  May your year be filled with abundance and beauty,  and the gift of having family to take care of.  Gut Yontif, Gut Yohr.

Vegetable Confetti (pretty enough for Rosh Hashana)

3 large eggplants, diced into 1” pieces

6 large peppers, two each of,  red, yellow and orange, cored and diced

1 red onion, peeled and diced

3 ears of corn, kernels removed

2/3 cup of olive oil

1 dozen cloves of fresh garlic, peeled and left whole

2 tsp salt

2 tsp pepper

2 Tb honey

Take two cookie sheets and line them with parchment paper.  Place diced eggplant on one sheet, peppers and onion on the other.  Divide remaining ingredients between the two trays of vegetables and toss to coat with seasonings and olive oil.  Roast vegetables at 425 degrees for about 30 minutes or till tender and caramelized, stirring occasionally.  Note: Sprinkle with pomegranate seeds for the holidays.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

Baby Eggplants with Plum Tomatoes

As the summer comes to an end, my thoughts are beginning to turn to Rosh Hashana.  These long, lazy days will soon be replaced with an onslaught of holidays and the frenzy of preparation.  I wonder if my Mother compiled lists in her head as I have already begun to do.  In some ways, even without the modern conveniences of food processors and dishwashers, things were simpler.  The menus were standard,  Yontif meals were at home or with family that lived close by, and although everything  was hand-made, her days were orderly and divided into tasks.  There was shopping, baking, cooking, and dealing with that carp in the bathtub.  Baking day meant the large wooden board and rolling-pin were placed on the dining room table where she would prepare homemade noodles, challahs, and roll out the thin dough for favorkes (something like wonton skins,  fried and served in the soup.)  The next day the Gefilte Fish, Kreplach, and Chicken Soup were prepared.   Just hours before Erev Rosh Hashana, the last details were given her fullest attention.  Garlic chicken and potatoes were roasted in the oven along with a sweet bread pudding.  On top of the stove was a pot of simmering sweet carrots with a knaidle in the middle.  A green salad was easily assembled and there was always an apple cake for dessert.

My life seems far less predictable in some ways.  As each holiday approaches, I now wonder if I will be at home in Los Angeles, or on the East Coast with my children.  The menus change from year to year, incorporating whatever the new food rage is, quinoa, kale chips, freekah, etc.  The number of vegetable dishes increase, and the brisket has lost its place as the centerpiece of the holiday meal.

As I step into my yard,  I see the changes that are taking place there as well.  My summer garden is coming to an end which means we are harvesting the last of the tomatoes and eggplants.  That leads me to think about fall, wondering which vegetables to plant in spite of the nagging uncertainty of how they will grow.  As I contemplate both the past and the future,  it is 25 years ago today that my youngest son was born.  A quarter of a century has passed and our hope is that his future be filled with love, health, and happiness, on his birthday and in the New Year.  For him,  for us, and for all of you.

The last of the garden tomatoes and eggplants

Sautéed Baby Eggplants ad Plum Tomatoes

12 baby eggplants, firm and unblemished, peeled and sliced into 1″ pieces

1 large onion, diced

12 plum or Roma tomatoes, diced

1 tsp Piment d’Espellete ( or substitute red chili powder)

1/3 cup olive oil

5 cloves garlic, minced

1 1/2 tsp salt

1 tsp freshly ground pepper

cilantro

In a large sauté pan, heat the olive oil and add the diced onion.  Saute onion till golden and then add minced garlic.  Saute for a minute and add sliced eggplant.  Add salt, pepper, and Piment d’Espellete.  Lower heat to a simmer, and cover pan, allowing eggplant to cook through.  This takes about 30 minutes. Then uncover and add diced tomatoes.  Cook eggplant for another 20 minutes, again over a low flame.  Serve hot or at room temperature with chopped fresh cilantro sprinkled on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Stella’s Curry Sauce for Fish Cakes

In an earlier post I recalled that each year before Rosh Hashana my Mother would buy a carp which was kept alive in the bathtub, destined to be made into Gefilte Fish.  For several days I would come home after school anxious to check on the fish and would then spend hours watching it swim back and forth.  It was a funny sight, but not an unusual one in the building where we lived.  The day before Rosh Hashana my mother would drain the tub, carry the fish into the kitchen, and lay it down on her large wooden board.  She would stun the fish with her rolling-pin, and then chop its’ head off.  The fish was ground and mixed with eggs, matzoh meal, a little salt, and sugar, yes, lots of sugar.

The first time I went to Toronto, my mother-in-law, Lil, served Gefilte Fish for dinner.  I was shocked that the the fish was not in the least bit sweet, and in fact was quite peppery.   At Chanukah I discovered that the Saiger family put onions in their Latkes and served them with sour cream and apple sauce.  My family preferred them onion-free and generously sprinkled with sugar.

We learned to compromise.  I now make Latkes with just a small amount of onion, enough to satisfy Norm’s palate, but not clash with the sugar.  As for Gefilte Fish, I don’t think I have ever actually made it, but in recent years we found a version that we both prefer.  The recipe is not Russian or Polish, but South African.  Both sweet and savory.

To all the fathers who have adapted their tastes for the sake of compromise, Happy Father’s Day.  I hope the day turns out to be sweeter than you expect, but not without a hint of spice.

 

Fish Cakes

2  frozen Gefilte Fish loaves (sweet variety) thawed.  (Mom forgive me)

3/4  cup plain bread crumbs

1/4 – 1/2 cup olive oil, add more as needed

Combine thawed fish with bread crumbs and form into small patties.  In a  large frying pan, heat olive oil and sauté fish cakes till golden brown.  Set aside.

Stella’s Curry Sauce for Fish Cakes     (This recipe belonged to Stella’s great-aunt, and was given to her by her Mom)

2 cups white vinegar

1/2 cup ketchup

1 lemon, juiced

1  large apple, coarsely grated

2 Tb Mrs. Ball’s Peach Chutney

2 Tb apricot jelly

3/4 cup sugar

2 Bay Leaves

Dash of Worcestershire Sauce

1/2 cup raisins

1 Tsp whole peppercorns

Salt to taste

Put all ingredients in a medium size saucepan and bring to a boil.  In the meantime take a small bowl and combine:

2 Tb Curry Powder

1 Tb Corn Starch

Add 1 cup cold water (a little at a time so that it doesn’t get lumpy) to starch mixture and stir till well blended.   Slowly pour into  sauce on the stove and lower heat to a simmer.   Let cook for about 15 minutes.  When sauce is cool, pour over fish and refrigerate.

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

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

Anna’s Goulash

I wish I could capture the smell of the goulash simmering in my kitchen.  All I can say is that I wanted you to have this recipe while you still had the chance to make it.  It smells that good!  Bay leaves, a touch of sweetness from the sugar, the tartness of tomato paste, all combined with good beef chuck, cooking for hours.

The only tricky part was the thickening, so after putting a call in to Anna’s cell, she appeared at the door to rescue me.  She mixed the flour and water and just added 1 tbsp of the mixture to the pot and it thickened perfectly.  No lumps in sight.

Shana Tovah!

Anna’s Goulash

3 pounds chuck, cut into stew size pieces

salt and pepper to tastet

2  tbsp paprika

1 large onion, diced

2  6 oz. cans of tomato paste

1/2 cup sugar

3 Bay Leaves

16 peppercorns

2 tbsp flour mixed with 1/4 cup cold water

Oil as needed

Season beef with salt, pepper and paprika.  In a large pot, sauté chuck in 2 -3 Tbsp oil till browned.  Do in batches if necessary.  Meanwhile take a frying pan and sauté chopped onion in about 3 Tbsp oil till golden brown.  Add onions to browned beef.  Empty both cans of tomato paste in to the frying pan, mix in sugar, and stir for about five minutes.  Add to beef pot.  Cover beef with water by about 1/2 inch.  Add bay leaves and peppercorns, gently stir and cover pot.  Bring to a boil and then lower to a simmer for about 3 hours.  About 30 minutes before beef is ready, in a small bowl, stir flour and water till smooth and well mixed.  Take a tablespoon of mixture and add to stew.  Stir in and allow to thicken.  Use more if needed, depending on how thick you like your stew.  I only used 1 tablespoon.  Serve over noodles or Koptkas.

Enjoy,

Irene

 

 

French Roast

Growing up in the sixties, food was not analyzed in the same way as it is today.  As long as the meals were fresh and varied, it was considered healthy.  My mother didn’t serve soup or vegetables from a can, and the only food that ever came from a freezer was the result of my mother’s indulgence in response to accusations that she was unfairly depriving me of  T.V. dinners.  Supper always included cooked vegetables, potatoes or rice, some kind of protein, and a salad.  My mother insisted that we needed two things in our diet, milk and meat, not together of course.

I am on information overload and I am not sure how to reverse the trend.  I remember my friend Susan, a native Californian, turning up her nose when being served “fleish” and other heavy European dishes.  She referred to kugels as “brown food”, introduced our family to sprouts, and was my first friend who analyzed what she served in terms of nutritional value.  At the time we just chalked it up to the fact that she was born in L.A.

Today, every meal is fraught with questions and weighty considerations.  Are the carbohydrates whole grain, the vegetables organic, how many carbon footprints are used to raise cattle, is the chicken free-range, etc. .  How can one possibly enjoy a meal that has been dissected to death.  One friend is always assuring us that the recipe is low-calorie, another no longer serves beef, and this morning I was instructed to “go light” on the cheese as I was preparing a cheese omelette.  What is the point of eating a cheese omelette with barely any cheese?

What I miss is the sense of freedom that went hand in hand with being less informed.  I remember the days when we sat down to dinner, digging into a delicious, perfectly done rib steak, served with mashed potatoes and a salad (made with iceberg lettuce), all enjoyed with abandon and guilt-free.  I am not suggesting that we were healthier, or better off as a society,  it’s  just that sometimes all I want is my meat and potatoes, without a side of commentary.

I made this French Roast last week and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

French Roast

3-4 lb. French Roast

3  Tbs of a Brisket rub of your choice ( I used one I bought in Texas)

Flour

5 Tbs Olive Oil

1 large Onion

1 Parsnip

1 Sprig Thyme

1 Bay Leaf

3/4 cup Dry Red Wine

1 Tbs Tomato Paste

Rub French Roast with spice rub, cover with saran, and refrigerate over night.  The next day coat the roast with a small amount of flour.  Pour olive oil into cast iron pan and heat till VERY HOT.  Sear roast on every side till brown.

Place red wine, bay leaf,  thickly sliced onion,  parsnip cut into chunks, Thyme and tomato paste in roasting pan and mix well.  Add French Roast and place, uncovered, in 325 degree oven for about 1 1/2 hours.  Remove and thinly slice meat. Return to roasting pan, cover and cook an additional 2 hours or until meat is very tender.  Add more wine, or water if necessary.

Enjoy,

Irene