Archive for the 'jewish' Category

What am I, chopped liver?

Wednesday, May 15th, 2013

Evan eating puréed chopped liver.

I love chopped liver. It may not be pâté, or even pâté de campagne, but it’s still delicious when done right. The trick is to cook the livers just so, such that they’re still a bit juicy, and chop them by hand to retain some rustic texture. Liver is best fried in–what else?–duck fat. I keep a jar on hand in the fridge just in case.

Chopped liver is fairly easy to turn into baby food. Just leave out the herbs (in case they aren’t sufficiently pulverized), and add a little more duck fat if necessary for ease of pulverizing. Evan seemed to like it, as you can see in the photo.

Nota bene: This recipe has more than two ingredients, such as it is best made for older babies or babies with no known allergies to any of the main ingredients.

This is the second post in a series on making your own baby food. See the first post here.

chopped liver

duck fat for frying
1 1/2 lb/680 g chicken livers (or half beef liver)
5 medium shallots or 1 onion, finely chopped
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled
salt, pepper, ground cumin, ground coriander seeds
balsamic vinegar
1 handful parsley
1 handful dill

  1. Heat the duck fat in a large, heavy skillet on a medium flame.
  2. With paper toweling, pat dry the livers and fry them until browned on both sides, but still moist. Fry in batches, being careful not to crowd the pan.
  3. Remove livers and place in a work bowl. Drain off any red liquid.
  4. Fry the shallots in the same fat until carmelized. Add more fat if necessary.
  5. Chop the livers and return them to the bowl. Toss with the onions.
  6. Use a plane cheese grater to grate the eggs into the liver mixture. Mix well, then season to taste with the spices and a dash of balsamic vinegar.
  7. Finely chop the herbs and mix into the chopped liver

Serves 4-6 as an appetizer.

chopped liver for infants

  • Follow the directions listed above, skipping the last step.
  • Scoop out 2-4 tablespoons of the chopped liver and pulverize in a coffee grinder. Correct seasoning and decant into a 4 oz/125 ml jar, pushing through a strainer, if necessary.

You can freeze the pulverized chopped liver for later use. Just make sure to leave enough room at the top for expansion during freezing. Defrost in the refrigerator, or by dunking in a shallow bowl of hot water.

perfecting the potato pancake on BlogHer

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Happy almost Chanukah! My tips on latke-making are now syndicated on BlogHer. For everything you wanted to know about potato pancakes but were afraid to ask, click here.

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

Wednesday, September 28th, 2011

Jewish new year is forever marked in my mind with the thick, heady sweetness of honey. Everything is drenched in it—-the raisin-studded challah bread, the tart apples ushering in the autumn season and a sweet new year, the overwhelmingly sweet concoction that is tzimmes: carrots, prunes, raisins and honey stewed to a soft consistency just beyond a reasonable compote. Even the sabbath and holiday tradition of sprinkling bread with salt at the beginning of the meal flies right out the window, along with anything deemed too sharp or spicy on the palate, such as hot sauce (Mizrachis) or garlic (Ashkenazis).

Most children love the idea of a holiday meal based entirely on sweetness, but I bristled at the thought. My beloved challah was defiled by raisins, which I would carefully remove before sinking my teeth into the rich, eggy bread. I would dot the chastened slice with the tiniest bit of honey, so as not to spoil the flavor of the bread (which, to my salty palate, was plenty sweet on its own). Next was the carrot, raisin and pineapple salad which my mother made every year. I would avoid the raisins and try to eat mostly carrots with the occasional bite of pineapple. Tzimmes was completely impossible to eat, full as it was of the dreaded dried fruit and honey. I would skip it completely and focus on the chicken and rice. “Macht nicht kein tzimmes!” my father would joke. “Don’t make a fuss.” But a bite or two was really all I could manage.

The end of the meal brought “lekakh” or honey cake, and with it a “glezele tey” with its contrasting bitter tannins. I loved the spicy earthiness of the cake, its moist crumb and (comparatively) subtle sweetness. Hot tea was the perfect accompaniment.

For those of you who–like me–could do with a little less sweetness in your holiday meal, here is a recipe for a meatball olive and lemon tajine type dish with tehineh sauce (inspired by siniyeh). Save the honey for the honey cake. Happy new year!

beef meatball, olive and lemon “tajine” with tehineh sauce

I used clarified butter to fry the meatballs as it is a very stable and tasty fat that does not oxidize when heated. If you keep kosher or prefer other fats, feel free to substitute schmaltz or the oil of your choice.

1 lb ground beef
1/2 TBS baharat spice mixture
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1 clove garlic, minced
salt and pepper to taste (both black and white pepper, if available)
1/2 TBS dried mint
2 TBS finely ground burghul
2 TBS clarified butter, schmaltz or oil
olive oil

1 small onion, finely chopped
1/2 cup good quality olives, pitted
1 fresh lemon, thinly sliced and seeded, the slices cut into quarters
1/2 cup chopped celery leaves
3/4 cup stock
8 stalks celery, chopped into large bite-sized pieces

2 TBSP tahini
1/2 lemon, juiced
1/4 cup water
salt and white pepper to taste

  1. Combine the beef with the spices, herbs and burghul. Mix well and form into small meatballs.
  2. Place a large, heavy skillet on medium heat. Melt the fat in the skillet and add a little olive oil.
  3. Fry the meatballs in the pan, turning to brown on all sides. When browned, remove meatballs to a plate and set aside.
  4. Pour or wipe off some of the oil in the pan and fry the onions. When the onions are translucent, place the meatballs back in the pan.
  5. Pour in the stock, then add the olives and lemons. Stir to distribute.
  6. Cover and simmer on medium-low heat for 15 minutes.
  7. Add the celery and continue cooking another 10 minutes.
  8. Meanwhile, prepare the tehineh sauce. Combine the tahini and lemon juice, then slowly add half the water. Mix, and add more water until the sauce is light beige and slightly runny. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
  9. Serve the meatballs over rice, burghul or couscous. Drizzle the tehineh sauce on top and garnish with lemon zest.
Serves 2-4.

cardamom hamantaschen cookies with kumquat walnut jam

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

No, that’s not a typo. Hamantaschen is a hybrid Hebrew-Yiddish-Persian word referring to cookies traditionally eaten by Ashkenazi Jews on the holiday of Purim. The holiday commemorates a particular, yet familiar, refrain in Jewish history: they tried to kill us, we won, let’s eat!

The longer version of the story involves the credulous yet powerful King Ahasuerus, his courageous Jewish wife Esther and the king’s evil, power-hungry prime minister Haman.

Read more at Examiner.com…

perfecting the potato pancake

Wednesday, December 30th, 2009

img_7480.JPG

Now that Chanukah is over, and those who eat them have presumably had more than their fill of latkes, I’m very late or perhaps one year early in offering up some tips for the perfect pancake. Perhaps small potato pancakes dolloped with crème fraîche and topped with salted salmon roe and chives are just the right appetizer for a New Year’s Eve party? Or not, if your body still remembers stuffing itself silly with the things just a couple of weeks ago. Either way, these notes will eventually come in handy.

My tips on latke making technique, in order to form a more perfect pancake:

  • Oil: Having experimented with different oils and fats, I’ve found that the cleanest burning oils with the highest smoking point are grape seed, sunflower and safflower oils. This year I used cold-pressed grape seed oil, a very viscous oil that smells of grapes and a little like chardonnay. Goose schmaltz might be tasty, but I haven’t used it to cook latkes. Other animal fats have proven unsatisfactory, as has clarified butter. Whatever oil you use, be sure it has a relatively high smoking point. An oil with a high smoking point can be heated to a given temperature–say, 425°F–without smoking. Here’s a useful chart that lists cooking oils in order of smoking points. [Ed. note: I now use palm oil to fry my latkes, specifically, this palm oil shortening (which is also ethically sourced). Most of the unsaturated fats are removed from ordinary palm oil, resulting in a colorless shortening without trans fats or hydrogenated oils. This palm oil has a high smoking point and cooks cleanly.]
  • Potatoes: Choose a starchy potato with a relatively low moisture content, such as the reliable Russet or Idaho potato. Soggy latke batter will yield soggy pancakes. Similarly, low moisture, high-starch batter will produce a more crispy cake.
  • Grating or processing: Does an authentic latke require bloody knuckles, or will the modern ease of a food processor suffice? Ask any latke enthusiast and you’ll likely get a thirty minute lecture on the topic. Having tried both methods, I prefer the texture of hand grated potato pancakes to that of processed. My favorite grater is the Kyocera julienne slicer, a ceramic mandolin that retails at around twenty five US dollars. The julienne mandolin produces thinly grated potato strings that cook quickly without remaining raw in the middle. They crisp up nicely as well. But I’m no pedant, nor a glutton for torture. If you’re cooking for twenty, by all means, use a food processor.
  • Getting the potatoes to stick together: I’m a purist. I like my latkes without any eggs. Why ruin the crunch of a good latke with fluffy eggs? Serve them on the side if you like, but there’s really no need to include eggs in your latkes. The trick to latkes that stick together without falling apart is, once again, low moisture and high starch content. After grating your potatoes and onion, squeeze out as much liquid as possible by placing the batter in a fine mesh sieve over a large bowl. Squeeze and knead out the liquid through the sieve, but retain the water in the bowl. By the time you’ve squeezed out all the liquid and seasoned your potato mixture, you should have a thick layer of potato starch sediment at the bottom of your bowl. Carefully pour off the water, but keep the sediment. Use a spoon to scoop up some of the potato starch and mix it back into your potato mixture. The dampened starch binds the potato and onion like glue, and the starchy coating helps the pancakes brown and crisp in the pan. As you form the pancakes, keep squeezing out liquid. Mix in more potato starch if the batter looks raggedy.
  • Preventing discoloration: Alternately grate the potato and onion. Mix the batter between gratings. The onion juices prevent the potatoes from turning odd shades of gray. You can also add a small pinch of baking soda to do the same.
  • Seasoning: I use about 1 heaping teaspoon of sea salt per 2 pounds of potatoes, and one medium or large onion. I use as much freshly ground white pepper as I feel like grinding in before my arm wants to fall off. If you’d like to put green stuff in your latkes, dill goes very nicely. But salt and pepper alone is classic and lovely.
  • Forming the pancakes: This is a bit tricky. You want to squeeze the batter before it hits the pan, as a last ditch effort to eliminate moisture and encourage potato cohesion. But you don’t want your latkes to be heavy and leaden, like your Aunt Mildred’s wayward matza balls. I like to flatten the pancake as much as possible after squeezing, then loosen it a bit so that it isn’t heavy. Don’t worry about creating a perfectly round latke. A more rustic pancake with unkempt potato hairs looks homier and boasts the coveted crisp, lacy edges.
  • Frying: A cast-iron pan is your naturally non-stick friend. It heats up slowly, but retains heat very well. Add more oil to the pan than you think you’ll need. You don’t want to deep fry your pancakes, but you don’t want the oil to be too shallow either. The pan should be at a constant medium-high heat. The oil is hot enough when it bubbles continually at the edges of your pancakes, it’s too hot when it begins to smoke. Monitor the oil and move the dial up or down to keep the pan at the right heat. Place the tip of each pancake in the pan using a spatula, then gently slide out the spatula so that the batter rests in the pan. This gradual slide into the oil does two things: the cool batter doesn’t lower the temperature of the hot oil and you’re less likely to sustain burns by inadvertently splashing yourself with very hot oil. Everybody wins.
  • Spacing the pancakes: The refrain I always heard from my dad whenever I helped him in the kitchen–don’t crowd the pan. Once more for emphasis, this time in all caps: DON’T CROWD THE PAN. Your pan should be large enough to fry as many latkes as you want to fry at once. To put it another way, only fry as many latkes as will comfortably fit in whatever size pan you use. In other words, the oil in the pan should stay hot enough to bubble and brown the edges of your pancakes. If your latkes start steaming, looking soggy or limp, or absorbing vast quantities of oil without browning, you’ve crowded the pan. Keep some space around each pancake. How much space and how many pancakes? When in doubt, just cook fewer latkes at a time. Alternatively, keep two pans going on two different burners.
  • Browning and crisping: A good, crisp latke just happens. No amount of checking, flipping, checking again will make your pancake brown faster. In fact, potchkeing with your pancakes will almost certainly guarantee a soft, wimpy latke. How will you know when it’s time to turn them over? They’ll be a medium-brown color around the edges. If a pancake is browned around the edges except for one area, you’ve got a cool spot on your burner. Gently turn the latke so that the soft edge is in the hotter area. When that part browns, carefully turn over the pancake. If the latke is merely golden and you want a little more browning, you can turn it over again after the flip side has browned.
  • Apple sauce: This traditional latke topping is very easy to prepare. Core and coarsely chop a few apples and place them in a pot. Squeeze over some lemon juice and add a little water. Heat on a low flame until it looks like apple sauce. Cool, serve. Really, that’s it. The apples reduce to about half their volume. If you’re serving a large crowd, chop as many apples as it takes to fill a medium to large pot. Conversely, for a small dinner, fill a small to medium pot with chopped apples. I don’t bother peeling the apples. You can remove the peels by pressing the resulting apple sauce through a large-holed sieve. The peel remains behind while the sauce goes right through. No need for sweetener, homemade apple sauce is quite nice on its own. Use a variety of tart and sweet apples for a more nuanced flavor. Season with a bit of ground cloves, cardamom, allspice and cinnamon, if you like.
  • Avoiding fried potato smells: Open a window and keep the fan on above your stovetop. There’s nothing worse than old fried potato smell, except perhaps old cabbage smell.

And remember, the first farkakte latke goes to the cook.

jewish ravioli: cheese kreplach

Monday, June 9th, 2008

Gevalt. My shoulders hurt, my back hurts. My triceps are no longer on speaking terms with me, and they’re whispering mutiny to the biceps. Yesterday, I made my own dumplings out of hand-rolled dough without the use of a pasta machine. Now I know what it must have felt like to be a housewife in a 19th century shtetl. All I need is a washboard for the laundry and a roof for my husband to fiddle on as he sings “TRADITION! TRADITION!

I know, I know. It sounds like hyperbole. But try it, you’ll see what I mean. Making the dough is fun at first. It involves mixing some beaten eggs into a mound of flour with a fork. At a certain point, you dispense with the fork altogether and use your hands. The joy of messiness, the kneading… it’s an adult version of play dough. After letting the dough rest, the rolling begins. If you’ve rolled your own pie crust, you may not think much of this part. Ah, but pasta dough must be thin, thin, thin—like paper, like silk. When you’ve been rolling a while and realize that your dough is still thick as pie dough, you begin to wonder how much longer. You throw yourself into it, using your weight to apply more pressure on the dough. You sweat through your t-shirt. You think “holy cannoli! What was I thinking?” Just when you decide to settle for
thick, lumpy kreplach, you roll just a little longer until the sheet of pasta is smooth and thin as it can get.

But you’re not done yet. You have to cut little circles with an upside down glass, being careful to place the circles as close together as possible so as not to waste too much dough. Then each circle must be brushed with water, filled with filling, and pressed closed. The pressing is an art in itself. The filling can’t be too much or too little, so that it fills the dough just enough without poking out the sides. The edges must be pressed together carefully around the filling without any air bubbles. Then the edges must be brought together, one side brushed with water, and pressed together firmly as though the dumpling is wringing its hands in front of its plump belly. But the dough must be soft and pliable enough that the belly doesn’t burst, spewing its cheesy contents. It’s painstaking work, alternately exasperating and meditative. But the result is that much more luxurious and tasty when you’ve worked so hard to make it yourself.

If you’re short on time and patience for hard labor, you could run your dough through a pasta machine. It’s probably best to run it through the highest to the lowest setting for a really thin, silky dough. You could use one of those plastic ravioli pressing gadgets that works like a waffle iron
, if you don’t feel like pressing the dumplings yourself. You could press the dumplings like kreplach (triangular wontons), or pelmeni (Russian tortellini). I gravitated towards tortellini style dumplings, as I thought they might better keep their shape and hold their filling (those wringing hands tend to hold the stuffing). But traditional kreplach triangles might be easier to make and certainly less time-consuming. (I’ve always felt that the triangular tips of kreplach or wontons are like delicate little pasta fins, the dumplings quietly swimming in your soup.)

I stuffed my kreplach with a cheese filling in honor of Shavuoth, the Jewish festival of the ten commandments. It is traditional to prepare all manner of dairy foods for this holiday, unlike most holidays where meat and fish are the festive foods. Jewish lore has it that the Israelites did not know how to keep kosher, as they hadn’t yet received the ten commandments. So they ate only dairy foods so as not to eat any animals that weren’t sanctioned by the law. (How did they know the law would prohibit the consumption of certain creatures? Good point. But again, this is lore…)

Back in Russia and Poland, Jews would prepare cheese kreplach served with fried onions or a dusting of sugar, sometimes sour cream or perhaps a bit of jam. The name, size and shape of the dumplings might vary depending on the region. I’ve prepared mine with a filling of goat cheese and za’atar, putting a Mediterranean twist on the Eastern European dish. As for toppings, I’ve used fried onions, leftover goat cheese instead of sour cream and plum jam. Yes, all three. The combination of flavors works surprisingly well.

Other traditional ways to serve kreplach include frying them with onions, or boiling them and then serving them in soup. Kreplach can be stuffed with potatoes, beef, chicken liver, or a combination of beef and pork if you want to make Ukrainian pelmeni (a non-Jewish cousin of the traditional kreple). You could alternatively make a sort of kreplach lasagne, layering sheets of fresh pasta with filling and toppings. How do you like your kreplach?

cheese kreplach for shavuoth

for the filling:
10 oz. soft goat cheese (chevre), or other cheese of similar consistency
5 stalks fresh za’atar, or other fresh herb such as dill, parsley, chives, oregano
salt and white pepper to taste
1 small egg

for the dough (adapted from a recipe in the NY Times):
1 3/4 cup all purpose flour
2 large eggs
lukewarm water, if necessary

for the topping:
goat cheese or sour cream or smetana
1-2 diced onions
butter
good plum jam (should be a little loose—I used June Taylor’s Elephant Heart plum conserve)

Preparing the filling:

  • In a large bowl, crumble in the cheese.
  • Hold the top of a stalk of za’atar with the thumb and forefinger of one hand. With the thumb and forefinger of the other hand, gently slide your fingers down the stalk, catching the leaves as they fall. Repeat for the remaining stalks. (This works for oregano as well, but any of the other herbs should simply be finely chopped.)
  • Rip or chop the za’atar and throw it into the bowl of cheese.
  • Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Taste and correct seasoning. Add a beaten egg and stir to combine.

Making the dough:

  • On a large, clean flat surface (a wooden table would be good), make a hill of flour. Form a well in the center of the hill.
  • Beat the eggs lightly and pour them into the well. Begin mixing the flour into the eggs with a fork.
  • At some point, you’ll want to use your hands to mix the egg and flour. If the mixture appears dry, add a little lukewarm water (say 1 or 2 tablespoons). My dough was moist with just the egg.
  • Knead the dough well, then let sit covered with a bowl or plastic wrap for 30 minutes.

Rolling the dough:

  • Separate the dough into two parts, leaving one portion under the bowl. Take the other half and begin to flatten and stretch it a bit with your hands.
  • Flour your surface and start rolling. You can use a pasta machine for this part. Roll the dough into an oblong shape rather than a circle. Be sure to move your dough frequently so that it doesn’t stick to the surface. Flour your surface just enough to keep the dough from sticking. You can patch any holes or cracks.
  • Roll until you can’t roll anymore, and then roll a bit more. You want to get your dough as thin and smooth as possible. Remember, the pasta will absorb water and expand when cooked. Feel the thickness of your dough and try to imagine what it might taste like when cooked. If it tastes like a mouthful of dough, you need to keep rolling.
  • When finished rolling, you might want to sprinkle a little water on the dough if it looks a bit dry.

Cutting the dough:

  • Use a glass with a 3 inch diameter to cut circles of dough. Use a dull knife to help cut the dough if necessary. Try to minimize the space between each circle of dough so as to avoid excess scrap dough.
  • When finished cutting the circles, collect the scraps and mush them into a ball. Place the ball under the bowl of resting dough.

Filling and shaping the dumplings:

  • With a barely damp pastry brush, brush one circle with a little water, mostly around the edges.
  • Place about a teaspoon of filling in the center of the circle.
  • Bring one end of the dough over the other in a half circle sandwich of dough and filling. Use your fingers to press the edges of the dough from one edge of the semi-circle to the other, while gently smoothing out any air bubbles along the edge of the filling. Dance your fingers along the edges again to get a good seal.
  • You can stop here, or you can continue folding the edges tortellini style. To do this:
    • Brush a little water on one tip of the semi-circle.
    • Then gently wrap the tips over your forefinger, the wet tip under the dry one.
    • Use your thumb to squeeze the tips against your forefinger, sealing them together.
    • Remove your forefinger, and gently squish the tips the other way (vertically).
  • Place the dumpling on a lightly floured plate. (I used two plates for my dumplings, simply to avoid the hassle of stacking them on top of each other, in case they stuck.)
  • Repeat for the remaining dough circles.
  • Take out the second piece of dough and follow the rolling, cutting, filling and shaping instructions. You can ball up and roll out the scraps too, or slice them into jagged, randomly shaped noodles. These can be cooked briefly before boiling the kreplach. Drain and slather with butter for snacking on while the kreplach cook.

Cooking the dumplings:

  • In a large skillet, melt some butter and fry the chopped onions on a medium to low flame until golden brown.
  • Boil heavily salted water for the dumplings. When the water is boiling gently, tip the plates of dumplings into the pot.
  • Agitate the pot lightly so that the dumplings don’t stick to the bottom of the pot. Cook until the kreplach float to the top.
  • Remove the kreplach with a slotted spoon, draining the water.
  • Top with fried onions, cheese or sour cream, and finally plum jam.

Serves 2-4

I picked up some great pasta making techniques from a class given by the inimitable Omnivorous Fish. Useful links here and here.

sixty

Thursday, May 8th, 2008

sixty

Today marks the 60th year of the existence of the State of Israel. Having lived there for twelve years, I must admit I kind of miss the place. Where else can you get freshly baked pita bread off an assembly line at the bakery section of the supermarket? Or falafel in pita with “hummusaladchips?” (always offered as a one word question), tehina, and fiery hot sauce.

To read more about the festivities, here’s a list of relevant links:

Happy Israel Independence day!

matzah brei

Friday, April 25th, 2008

matza brei frittata

I have fond memories of eating matzah brei for breakfast of a Sunday morning during Passover. I’d wake up to the smell of browned butter and cinnamon, and wander into the kitchen.

My dad preferred the scrambled style of the traditional dish. He’d break several sheets of matzah into large pieces and soak them in water or milk, then mixing them with beaten eggs and stir-frying them in a large skillet. He’d sprinkle the crisp, golden matzah pieces with a little sugar and cinnamon, and serve them up to my brother and me. We would raid the refrigerator for all manner of toppings—cottage cheese, butter, cheddar cheese, American cheese, jam, chocolate syrup—and carry them, teetering, back to the table.

The adventure began when we sat down to eat. Cottage cheese and jam? Jam and butter? Cheddar and jam? Cottage cheese and chocolate syrup? The possibilities were endless and no combination was too weird. The matzah brei itself was a delight, a more rugged version of French toast we only ate once a year. I can still taste it, eggy, warm, buttery and bread-like, the sandy sweetness of cinnamon and sugar in my mouth.

savory matzah brei

1 1/2 cups matzah farfel
4 eggs
butter
1-2 handfuls fresh parsley
1 stalk green garlic or spring onion
1 poblano pepper or other pepper
smoked paprika
salt and pepper
cheddar cheese or any other cheese

  • Pour the matzah farfel into a large bowl. Break the eggs into the bowl and mix with a fork, beating the eggs slightly and tossing to coat the matzah farfel.
  • Melt some butter in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Coarsely chop the parsley and toss into the bowl.
  • Finely chop the green garlic or spring onion and toss into the skillet.
  • Chop the pepper into 1 inch (3 cm) pieces, adding it to the skillet. Toss to coat with butter and let the mixture sweat.
  • Scoop the pepper mixture out of the skillet and into the bowl of farfel.
  • Season the farfel egg mixture with salt, pepper, and smoked paprika. Mix to incorporate the peppers and seasoning with the farfel and eggs.
  • If necessary, melt more butter in the skillet. Spoon the batter into the skillet and smooth it into a large pancake.
  • Crumble some cheese onto the matzah mixture. Turn on the broiler as the matzah brei cooks.
  • Once the matzah brei has cooked for a few minutes, turn off the flame and place under the broiler. Remove when the top is golden and the cheese has melted.

Serves 2-4

when you can’t have risotto…

Thursday, April 24th, 2008

Make matzotto. Matzotto? Let me explain.

Last Saturday evening was the first night of Passover, that eight day festival of freedom during which observant Jews abstain from eating leavened baked goods. The prohibition extends to grains of all kinds, and for many Jews, certain legumes and seeds as well. This means no bread, pasta, oatmeal, and even popcorn, hummus, tofu, mustard. Homes are cleaned from top to bottom and kitchens turned inside out so that any stray crumbs are disposed of. Pots, pans, and dishes must be kashered or replaced with kitchenware specially reserved for the holiday. Household cooks must then prepare meals based on such varied carbohydrate sources as potatoes, potatoes, potatoes, and potatoes. (World Jewry heaved a collective sigh of relief a few years ago when quinoa was designated kosher for Passover. Quinoa is a new world seed rather than a grain, so rabbis have permitted its consumption on Passover.)

Aside from potatoes, many Jews traditionally prepare a variety of starchy side dishes using matzah, such as the famous matzah balls or kneidlach. These are light and fluffy soup dumplings that melt in your mouth when you eat them, in stark contrast to the matzah from which they are made.

As matzah is scarce this year, I bought a huge container of matzah farfel. Matzah farfel is bits of crumbled matzah, which is the cracker bread we Jews eat during the 8 days of the Passover holiday. To be precise, matzah as it is known in the Western world represents the Ashkenazi (European) Jewish tradition of baking flat, hard unseasoned cracker-like breads for Passover. The traditional matzah of Mizrahi Jews (Jews of the Levant or Middle East) on the other hand, is often a soft flatbread much like naan, which is much more fun to eat. It’s hard to make a matzah sandwich that doesn’t turn into a plateful of crispy, shard-like crumbs. If you’ve ever tried spreading cold butter on a slice of matzah, you know what I’m talking about. You may as well eat it with a spoon. I guess that’s where matzah farfel comes from. Matzah factories must have giant buckets full of inadvertently broken matzah which they process and sell as farfel. And there you have it. European Jewry’s answer to pasta for Passover.

In this recipe, I cooked matzah farfel risotto style, more or less. You can also use matzah farfel to make kugel, a traditional savory or sweet pudding served on Jewish holidays.

matzotto

butter and olive oil
1 cup matzah farfel or bits of broken matzah
1-2 handfuls dried mushrooms, soaked in hot water
handful of chopped parsley or other herbs
salt and pepper

  • Melt some butter with olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat.
  • Add the matzah farfel and stir to cover in butter and lightly toast until slightly golden. Add more butter or olive oil if the pan gets dry.
  • Remove mushrooms from from water and squeeze out any remaining moisture. Reserve the soaking water.
  • Coarsely chop mushrooms and add to farfel. Stir to cover in butter.
  • Add some of the mushroom water to farfel mixture and stir. As the farfel absorbs the mushroom water, add more and stir.
  • Taste as you go to get the consistency you prefer. Then season to taste with salt, pepper, and herbs.

Serves 2

Variations: Use smoked salt and/or smoked paprika. Add bits of smoked duck or goose. Use hot chicken stock to soak the mushrooms. Use whole wheat matzah farfel or spelt matzah farfel. Grate in some parmiggiano or pecorino.

Note: To keep the matzotto kosher, use either dairy or meat ingredients, but not both.

matza tastes good

Tuesday, April 3rd, 2007

It really does, when it’s done right. There’s nothing quite like a fresh, crisp, whole grain, handmade matzah with a schmear of whipped butter and a sprinkling of sea salt. Yemenite matzah tastes a lot like naan and not much like Ashkenazi matzah at all. And there ain’t nothin’ like a good bowl of matzah ball soup (light and fluffy please, not heavy and leaden). Here’s to flourless chocolate cake and pavlova!

Happy passover y’all!

!חג אביב שמח

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