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

Salmon with Diced Tomatoes

Our family was very small.  None of my mother’s siblings had survived the war, but my father had two brothers and a sister that lived close by.  His oldest brother, Uncle Jack, was the debonair one in the family, always beautiful dressed with his Homburg perched perfectly on his head.  Jack had emigrated to France as a young man, married and had three children.  In the 1950s, the three brothers and their families immigrated to the United States where I was born.  Uncle Jack was a furrier by trade but we all thought of him as an artist.  His manners were impeccable, he was bright, engaging, and always walked into our home carrying a clear square box , filled with pastel-colored chocolate mints.  As a child, I adored my uncle and his children, my older “French” cousins.  They had striking good looks, charm, a joie de vivre that was contagious, and spoke English with beautiful French accents.

At some point I began spending a week or so of each summer with my cousin Micheline who lived outside of Philadelphia.  She and her family lived on the Main Line, a lush, green suburb full of large trees and great expanses of lawn.  It was a wonderful break from the hot city streets of New York.  I would arrive at her home and it was if I walked into a different world.  Micheline painted, developed photographs in her dark room, knit, crocheted, did needlepoint, read voraciously and cooked incredibly delicious French dishes.  Every young child has someone who they want to be like when they grow up, I always wanted to be like Micheline.

Two weeks ago when we were visiting New York, Micheline drove in from Philadelphia to join us. The next day we headed back to her home in Villanova and that evening we were joined by the rest of the family for dinner. Micheline made us a wonderful meal that included a poached salmon covered in a light sauce of sautéed tomatoes.  Simple and delicious, served with grace and charm and ease.

Micheline’s Salmon with Tomatoes

Use your favorite method for cooking a side of salmon. This topping would work well on grilled, baked or poached salmon fillets.

8 Roma Tomatoes peeled, diced and seeded

2 large chopped onions

2 cloves garlic

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil

salt and freshly ground pepper

Heat oil in frying pan, add chopped onions and sautee for about 15 minutes or till golden.  Meanwhile peel tomatoes, cut in half, squeeze out seeds and then dice.  Add garlic and diced tomatoes to onions and season well with salt and pepper. Cook for about 10-15 minutes till tomatoes collapse.  Pour mixture over salmon and serve.

NOTE: Micheline served this with salad, a crusty French baguette and a small dish of dipping sauce that she prepared with olive oil, a very good bottle of balsamic vinegar and a few cloves of coarsely chopped fresh garlic. DELICIOUS!!

Enjoy,

Irene

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

Growing up, all of my parents’ friends were Polish Jews.  As immigrants, they wanted to surround themselves with people who had similar experiences and backgrounds, people who shared common customs, language, and food.  It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I met Jews who looked different, spoke Hebrew or Ladino (as opposed to Yiddish), and ate foods that I had never heard of, prepared with spices that had exotic names like turmeric, cardamom and fennel.

My children had a completely different experience growing up in Los Angeles.  A city with a strong Persian presence, Persian food was introduced into their diet early on.  They also have Jewish friends and acquaintances whose families were originally from Egypt, Iraq, Yemen and Morocco.  Our family has eaten Aloo-m-Kalla in the Sukkah of a friend who is from India, watched an Egyptian friend prepare Bamia, and have eaten many meals in my friend Rachel’s house, whose family immigrated to Israel from Afghanistan.  I am so proud of the fact that my daughter just prepared a traditional Ashkenazi Rosh Hashana dinner for her friends, but I love knowing that she can just as easily make Tabit or Shakshuka.

A great cook, my friend Rachel’s food is full of flavor, but her appetizers and salads are particularly outstanding.  Here is a recipe that she shared after returning from her most recent trip to Israel.

Rachel’s Eggplant Salad

2 eggplants, diced into 1/2 inch cubes

5 Tbs olive oil

5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 small green chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 small red chili pepper, thinly sliced

1 32 oz. can of crushed tomatoes

2 Tbs red wine vinegar

1 Tbs sugar

Italian parsley

Take diced eggplant and toss with  3 Tbs of the olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast on a cookie sheet in a 400 degree oven till tender, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.  In a large pot, combine 2 Tbs olive oil, green and red chilis, crushed tomatoes, red wine vinegar and sugar.  Cook over low heat for about 20 minutes.  Add prepared eggplant and cook for an additional 10-15 minutes over a low flame.  Add salt and pepper to taste.  Serve cold or at room temperature, with a handful of chopped parsley on top.

Enjoy,

Irene

Spring Salads

I am not sure when salads graduated from their humble beginnings to the gourmet status they have today, but I no longer dread eating them.  Growing up in the Bronx of the 1950s, salads were tolerated and eaten because iceberg lettuce filled the need for a vegetable.  No one worried about carbon footprints because there were no tomatoes from Mexico or peppers from Israel to purchase.  The produce that was available was limited and seasonal.

Today’s salads defy their dictionary definition, ” raw greens often combined with other vegetables and served with a dressing.” The combinations of ingredients are only limited by our imagination.  For example the salad I had for lunch today used shredded iceberg lettuce but it was tossed with raw corn, garbanzo beans, chunks of avocado, thin strips of fried tortillas and a lemony cilantro dressing. Yum!

Here are three very different type of salads that I hope you will try, and enjoy.

My mother used to serve a very simple salad of crisp cucumbers, ripe beefsteak tomatoes, mild white onions and hard-boiled eggs, all thinly sliced and tossed together with lemon juice, a bit of oil, salt, and crushed black pepper. Once the salad was mixed, the egg yolks would blend with the lemon juice and oil, creating a yellow hued dressing that was tart and refreshing.  After we finished eating the salad, my sister and I would take fresh rye bread and soak up the remaining dressing from the bottom of the bowl. That’s how good it was.

Tomato Salad

3 large ripe tomatoes

5 Persian cucumbers

5 hard-boiled eggs

1 white onion

2 lemons, juiced

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Thinly slice all ingredients, toss with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper and serve cold.

Serves 4 as a side dish.

Wanda P. shared this recipe for her Thai Curry Coleslaw a while ago but I finally had the opportunity to make it.  The salad was bursting with flavor, color, and texture  (like Wanda) and would be a perfect side with grilled fish or chicken. This is an edited and slightly altered version of the recipe, so to get the original version and to read Wanda’s tips look on  The Rendezvous.

Note: Norm is allergic to carrots so I used purple cabbage as a substitute.


Thai Curry Coleslaw

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

1 bunch basil

Remove stems and place herbs in food processor, coarsely chop, and empty into large mixing bowl.

1 large green cabbage

6-7 good size fresh organic carrots

Shred carrots and cabbage in processor and add to bowl.

1 1/2 cups whole Spanish peanuts or cashews, added to bowl.

DRESSING

In processor blend:

3/4  cup olive oil

1/2 cup Raw Apple Cider Vinegar

1/2  cup fresh-squeezed organic lemon juice

4-5 cloves minced garlic

1″ minced fresh ginger

1/2  cup Nama Shoyu* (raw soy sauce)

1/2  cup  raw organic agave nectar

1 tsp chili powder

2 heaping tablespoons curry powder

Thoroughly blend above ingredients until emulsified and dress salad.

Garnish with basil or mint leaves.

A couple of weeks ago a few of us took a cooking class and the cookbook author used Pomegranate Molasses in one of her recipes.  I had bought a bottle several months ago at a Persian Market but after the class I finally used it in a vinaigrette.


Spring Salad with Pomegranate Dressing

1 lb. assorted baby lettuces

1 avocado, diced

1 can hearts of palm, sliced

1 –  11 oz. can mandarin oranges

1 tbsp black sesame seeds

1/2 cup toasted slivered almonds, lightly toasted

Wash lettuce and place in bowl with diced avocado, sliced hearts of palm, black sesame seeds, slivered almonds, mandarin oranges and dress.

Dressing

4 tbsp. Balsamic Vinegar

2 tbsp. Pomegranate Molasses

1/4 cup olive oil

salt and pepper to taste

serves 4

Enjoy,

Irene

Shakshuka


My parents, Miriam and Harry Graf, were both originally from small towns near Warsaw, Poland, from families who were religious Zionists.  In my father’s hometown of Warka, he and his brothers were active in the Revisionist movement in the 1930s. My mother’s older brother had tickets on a liner to Palestine but the war broke out and he was never able to leave.  After having survived the war, my parents created a home where Israel dominated every topic of conversation.  Their passion and devotion to Israel was contagious and they imparted their love to their daughters and grandchildren.

Last night we were going to a Yom Ha’Atzmaut celebration sponsored by the Israeli Consulate.  Not having much time to prepare dinner and wanting to serve something “Israeli” I made shakshuka.  I don’t remember where I first tasted this dish, but shakshuka is a great way to prepare eggs.

Shakshuka

2 tbsp olive oil

1 clove garlic, sliced

1 jalapeno pepper, thinly sliced

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp paprika

1 28 oz. can crushed tomatoes

6 eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Saute garlic and jalapeno in olive oil for a minute or two. Add crushed tomatoes, cumin, paprika, salt and pepper and cook for about five minutes over low heat. Gently crack eggs into simmering sauce, cover and cook for ten minutes till eggs set.

Serves 3

Enjoy,

Irene