I’ve received a number of requests for recipes I’ve posted to my Instagram account with some folks even asking for video demonstrations. I took vacation time for Passover, and today I offer you Cheap Beets’ first ever video. It’s for zucchini ricotta fritters, something I make every year for Passover. Enjoy!
It was a Baker’s Dozen at our house for first night seder. I recently eliminated fish from my diet, making this year’s seder completely vegetarian. For those curious, I served quinoa stuffed mushrooms; this mushroom and spinach egg bake; beet, orange and pickled fennel salad; roasted asparagus; roasted Japanese yams with an herby yogurt sauce; and matzo pizza for the kids. My parents brought a broccoli kugel and roasted potatoes to round out the meal.
But I’m not here to talk about dinner. Nope, we’re going to focus on the gluten-free dairy dessert that was a big hit at dinner, and on the Internet, this weekend.
Sometime last month I decided on doing a pavlova: a bed of airy meringue, topped with fresh whipped cream with fresh berries piled on top. This gave me ample time to find a good recipe. I cruised the Internet to find a reliable kosher-for-Passover pavlova recipe. I settled on one from Jamie Geller’s The Joy of Kosher. I made her tahini halvah brownies back in January, and they were superb.
As a lucky bonus to my quest for the perfect pavlova, this week I caught an episode of Simply Ming on PBS Create, in which he made pavlovas with Joanne Chang of flour bakery fame. I watched it carefully, taking notes as to how, why, and when Joanne added her sugar to the egg whites a spoonful at a time, and how long she cooled her meringue after it baked in a very low oven.
The big changes for a kosher-for-Passover pavlova were using potato starch instead of cornstarch and adding a smidge of vinegar; this helps with drying the meringue out. Although this recipe isn’t such a big deal to put together, you do need time. I did this at night so I could let the meringue dry out overnight in the oven as it cooled. I’d suggest you do the same.
The hardest part of this recipe is separating five egg whites, but then your machine does the rest of the work. Although I have hand-held egg beaters for Passover, it took me until this year to realize my Kitchen-Aid Mixer’s attachments are metal and could easily be kashered with some boiling water. If you can chill your bowl and whisk ahead of time, so much the better. The eggs are supposed to be cold, as well, so they can come right out of the fridge.
I made this Thursday night and whipped up the cream Friday midday, stuck that in the fridge, and put the dessert together during the seder. The whole process was simple and fuss-free. The results were no less than spectacular.
Mixed Berry Pavlova, adapted from Jamie Geller
For the Pavlova
5 cold egg whites
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup sugar
2 teaspoons potato starch
1 teaspoon white wine vinegar
Whipped Cream (recipe follows)
Garnish: Mixed Berries (I used blueberries, raspberries and blackberries)
Preheat oven to 250°F. Using a dinner plate, trace a 9-inch circle on a piece of parchment paper. Flip the paper so ink does not get on the meringue and set aside.
Whip whites, salt, and vanilla on high in a mixer until firm. With the motor running, add sugar, a spoonful at a time, until whites are glossy and very stiff.
Gently fold potato starch and vinegar into meringue with a spatula.
Transfer meringue to prepared parchment paper. Form meringue into a rustic bowl. It’s not necessary to make it perfect. Just be sure to make the center thick enough to support the filling.
Bake pavlova at 250°F for 1 ½ hours. Turn off the oven and do not open the door for at least 6 hours or, better yet, overnight. The residual heat will crisp up the meringue and keep humidity out.
Place pavlova on a serving platter. Pile whipped cream on pavlova. Add berries.
With a mixer, or by hand, whip cream and sugar in a chilled bowl will chilled beater until soft folds form.
Whip until soft peaks form.
There’s an old cliché that comedy is tragedy, plus time. Well, I’m doing a variation on that this week. Shavuot blintzes are Passover crepes plus time. Seven weeks, to be exact. As I think I’ve mentioned, I was off the blog for a while this spring because the girls finally delivered a knockout blow to my old laptop. Somewhere between the chocolate milk spills and the pounding from frustrated little fists, the keyboard stopped talking to the rest of the machine. Using Rich’s MacBook was a non-starter, so no blogging until I got a new (used) computer.
Of course, this put a big crimp in my publishing schedule, especially since it happened over Passover. I was particularly excited this year because I received, back in March, a copy of Perfect for Pesach by Naomi Nachman. Naomi knows a thing or two about Pesach. Her parents ran the Pesach hotel program in Sydney, Australia, for 28 years, so cooking for Pesach is in her blood. I think the Fish ‘n Chips recipe, which is flounder, cleverly coated with potato sticks and baked, is probably the recipe I’m most looking forward to making. Will report back. Moroccan salmon also sounds wonderful, and even though I don’t cook meat, the Flanken Butternut Squash Soup made Sylvie go, “Wuuuut?” when I told her about it.
I wish I’d had a chance to talk about this cookbook back in April, because I really think it’s a keeper. But given that the book’s tagline is “Passover recipes you’ll want to make all year,” I’m going to press ahead. Shavuot is basically the bookend to Passover, so in a way I’m getting in under the deadline, right?
The recipe is for “No-Flip Pesach Crepes,” which means they are gluten-free (a quickly growing section on this blog) and super easy to make. Naomi uses them as a starting point for variations, like Southwestern Chicken Egg Rolls, or Vegetable Egg Rolls. Now, if Beatrix had her way, we’d only eat ‘Tella crepes, although today I will offer the recipe with a cheese blintz filling from a Joan Nathan recipe. It is a Shavuot post after all.
No-Flip Pesach Crepes from Perfect for Pesach: Passover Recipes You’ll Want to Make All Year by Naomi Nachman
6 Tablespoons potato starch
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup water
Combine all ingredients in a medium bowl. Beat well (preferably using hand mixer).
Heat a 9-inch nonstick frying pan or crepe pan over medium heat. Coat pan with nonstick cooking spray or butter.
Pour enough batter into the pan to just cover it, about 1/3-cup. Gently swirl the pan to coat the entire bottom with batter. Cook until the top is just set and the crepe is cooked through. Remove from pan to cool.
Repeat with remaining batter.
Cheese Filling from Joan Nathan’s Jewish Holiday Cookbook
2 cups farmer cheese
1 egg yolk
½ teaspoon salt
2 Tablespoons sugar (optional)
½ teaspoon vanilla extract
In a small bowl, mash the farmer cheese. Stir in the egg yolk, salt, butter, sugar, if using, lemon juice, and vanilla.
Spread 1 heaping Tablespoon of the cheese filling along one side of the pancake. Turn the opposite sides in and roll the pancake up like a jelly roll.
If you’d like, you can then fry the blintzes in butter or oil or bake them in a single layer in a 425F oven until brown. Serve dairy blintzes with sour cream.
Friends, I have a confession to make: I had some pasta in mid-February that made me so sick that I needed medical attention. The doctor instructed me to balance everything out with tons of probiotics and to avoid white flour. So I guzzled kefir like a frat boy at a kegger contemplating taking health care away from millions of Americans and ate a questionable amount of lacto-fermented sauerkraut and kimchee.
Now, I adore cabbage and anything pickled, so that part wasn’t too much of a stretch. But the no white flour thing? Le sigh. Rich teases me and says it’s my comeuppance for mocking Paleo for so many years. Still, I like to find a silver lining to every situation, and for you that means I’ve been rocking Passover recipes for the past month.
This is another cauliflower-as-baked good recipe, just like the last recipe for turmeric and cauliflower muffins. I swear I’m not trying to ride a trend, but when you can’t eat white flour – and let’s be clear, most whole-grain breads have at least some white flour in them – you don’t have many options. One inspiration for this somewhat “healthy” cauliflower flatbread was the cauliflower grilled cheese sandwich that was floating around Facebook last month. I made that, and it was terrific, if even a little too cheesy, if that’s possible.
I hadn’t worked with riced cauliflower until very recently, and because my food processor is still missing its blade (anytime now, Cuisinart) I had to improvise. For me, that meant steaming a head of cauliflower on the stove top, then mashing it up with a potato masher. (Or, you can go to Trader Joe’s and buy a bag of frozen riced cauliflower and call it a day.)
I made this flatbread on the tray of the toaster oven, using half a head of cauliflower. A friend mentioned she always has difficulty getting the center to brown, but mine seemed to all over on its own. I sautéed a mélange of vegetables while the “crust” baked, then topped it with the vegetables and a nice amount of cheese, then put it back into the oven for some hot melting action.
The result was terrific and extremely delicious. I’m reticent to seriously call it healthy given the amount of cheese I used, but it’s definitely a keeper for the Passover collection, even if my toaster oven will be unplugged for Passover.
For the flatbread
Half a cauliflower, steamed and mashed/riced or whizzed into a pulp in a food processor
¾ cup parmesan cheese
Pinch of salt
Pepper, to taste
For the topping: Up to you, although I used half an onion, sliced into moons; half a red pepper, half a yellow pepper, julienned; half a zucchini, quartered and cut into ½-inch pieces; a handful of mushrooms, chopped.
To finish: A gratuitous amount of shredded cheese. A cup, maybe more. If you can find it and like it, sprinkle goat cheese onto it as well.
Preheat oven to 425F
Prepare your cauliflower: I steamed a half a head in a covered saucepan that had about ¾ of an inch of water at the bottom. You can also steam it in a microwave-safe dish with a little water in it, covered tightly with Saran/Stretch-Tite, what-have-you. If you have a food processor, chop the cauliflower, then place half in a food processor and whirl it until it breaks down into small pieces.
Either mash or rice your steamed cauliflower or place your processed cauliflower into a dish towel and squeeze out all the excess moisture over the sink.
Once your cauliflower has been appropriately prepped, place it into a large bowl. To this, add the two eggs, cheese, salt and pepper. Mix with a spoon.
Line a small baking sheet with parchment paper. Evenly spread the cauliflower mixture onto the sheet and place in the preheated oven for at least 12 minutes. Keep an eye on it – you’re looking to see it nicely browned all over.
While your “bread” is baking, heat about a tablespoon and a half of olive oil in a medium-sized skillet. Add the onions and a pinch of salt and cook for about 10 minutes, until they have softened and started to turn golden. Add the rest of the vegetables and another pinch of salt and continue to saute. In all, the vegetable saute will probably take about 20 minutes, if you really want everything to be nicely softened and on its way to caramelized.
Once your vegetables are prepared and your flatbread is the color of butterscotch, spoon and evenly spread the vegetables onto it, then liberally sprinkle with cheese. Slide back into the oven until the cheese has melted.
Slice – I found a pizza wheel to be the best way to portion this meal – plate, and enjoy.
Has anyone else noticed that a head of cauliflower now costs $6? I’m not sure when it happened, and the truth is, that’s what it should cost. It’s winter. Wherever it was grown and picked – most likely by someone being paid a disturbingly low wage – it had to be transported here. Cheap gas or not, fresh produce is getting more expensive.
I mention this because it gets to the whole premise of my blog, which is that eating a vegetable-based diet is more affordable. I’ve been giving a lot of thought to what that exactly means, especially considering that I don’t get to come by this space very often these days. For the past few weeks, I’ve been cooking with what I’ve found to be the most affordable foods I can find at the grocery store: frozen vegetables and canned beans.
I’ve used frozen cauliflower, frozen broccoli, frozen peppers, frozen leeks and frozen spinach. I’ve found all these things at Stop & Shop, Trader Joe’s, and even Target. There are still some things that are more affordable fresh. A two-pound rutabaga is more affordable than a one-pound bag of frozen rutabaga. Ditto for butternut squash and sweet potatoes. Frozen zucchini makes for a kind of soggy dish, but so does fresh zucchini.
A few weeks ago we had a wonderful green curry made with frozen spinach and frozen fish from Costco. Sitting on rice noodles I can buy for a couple of dollars at the Asian super market, the whole meal cost less than $6 to produce.
Of course, starting with dried beans is an even more affordable way to go, but my pressure cooker is broken, and I have no idea where to get it repaired. And honestly, I can buy a can of chickpeas at Stop & Shop for 79 cents. (I think it’s 89 cents at Trader Joe’s, but I’ve had a heck of a time opening their cans. Has that happened to anyone else? Impossible to open cans from Trader Joe’s?)
A lot of this has been going into soups: butternut squash with miso and coconut milk; sweet potato with a can of black beans and a bag of frozen corn. Tonight I made a green soup with frozen broccoli and frozen spinach. For Rich’s I added a dollop of plain whole yogurt and a swirl of jarred pesto I had in the fridge. One of the main reasons I’ve been making all the soups is for Bea who loves eating but isn’t yet very good at it.
The recipe I have for you today came via a mommy blog I get updates from, even though I don’t remember signing up for them. It’s for a chocolate cake made with black beans. The original recipe called for a can of chickpeas, but Lilli always breaks out in a rash whenever she eats hummus. I guess this is another trick to hide something healthy, like the chocolate zucchini cake from this summer, although the flavor is even more subtle here. I made some guests I had over for Chanukah sample the cake, and they described it as “very creamy.”
It’s a dead simple recipe – you dump the ingredients into a blender and press the button – so it’s very kid friendly. Instead of making a loaf, I make these in mini muffin tins, perfect for lunch sacks. It’s gluten free, and since the Conservative Movement announced that kitniyot (beans, rice and corn) are now permissible to eat, it’s now kosher for Passover. But you don’t have to wait until April to give this one a try.
Flourless Black Bean Chocolate Cakes
1 14 oz. can of black beans, drained and rinsed
1/3 cup of unsweetened cocoa powder
1/2 cup of granulated sugar
1 teaspoon of vanilla extract
2 tablespoons of canola oil
Dash of cinnamon
1/4 cup of milk
1/2 cup mini chips
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Grease a mini muffin pan.
In a blender, blend all the ingredients, except for the mini chocolate chips, until smooth. If necessary add more milk one teaspoon at a time.
Pour batter into the prepared muffin pan.
Sprinkle chips evenly on top of the pan.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until toothpick comes out clean.
Make sure to let the muffins cool completely before you remove them.
In the Hebrew alphabet, each letter is assigned a numeric value. Aleph is one, bet is two, and so on. All words have values too, based on the sum of their letters. One of the big words is chai, which means life, as in “L’chaim!” My Hebrew name is Chaya, which is derived from it. The two letters that spell that spell chai add up to 18, and so it’s traditional for Jews to give charity and gifts in increments of 18: 36, 54, 72 etc.
I’m telling you all this because today I turned 36. Now, for some that might mean I’m on the back end of my 30’s, only a few years from 40. But I am viewing my birthday as double chai, and I feel pretty good about that.
It’s not that uncommon for my birthday to fall during Passover, which meant growing up I often didn’t have a proper birthday cake. I have many childhood memories of my mom sticking candles in a watermelon and telling me to make a wish. I honestly don’t know if I ever wished for real cake, because I’m actually a huge watermelon fan. But for a few years, a bakery that only opened during Passover (I guess we’d call it a “pop-up” these days) sold these incredible flourless chocolate brownies and an outstanding flourless chocolate cake. It was so extraordinary and beautiful the shop called it “the Robert Redford cake.” Oh, Hubbell.
I have no watermelon in the house right now, but I did have all the ingredients to make myself a flourless chocolate cake for my birthday. So I did.
As you know, I take Passover pretty seriously, so every year my beleaguered Catholic husband lugs an entire set of pots, pans, utensils and dishes up from the cellar. My Passover kitchen is a work in progress, and every year the same thing happens: I go to cook or bake something and realize that I’m missing a certain piece of kitchen equipment. This year I learned I need to buy a whisk and an offset spatula for next year.
It turns out, though, that I don’t need to buy a cake pan. I just used my go-to, glass-lidded non-stick Passover pan, which has been with me as long as I’ve been cooking on my own. It’s deep enough to cook 2 cups of quinoa, and has a metal handle that can go in the oven (ideal for fritatta making). It’s not quite the Jews wandering in the desert, but making do with only a few kitchen tools does evoke the spirit of the holiday for me.
So, whisk-less, I mixed this simple batter with a fork, poured it into my trusty pan and stuck that into the oven. Because the pan is a little larger than the 8-inch pan the recipe called for, I reduced the baking time from 25 minutes to 20 minutes. Instead of fancy chocolate, I used kosher-for-Passover chocolate chips. There was a half an orange in the fridge leftover from Lilli’s breakfast, so I had Rich zest it. (For some reason, I have a Passover zester but not a whisk. Go figure.) I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover sifter, so I just stirred the cocoa powder with a fork and carried on.
We ate this tonight with dollops of fresh whipped cream, or schlag as my German mother would call it. It now occurs to me that I could have used the hand mixer I used to whip the cream for the batter, but no matter. There’s always next year. L’chaim!
Flourless Chocolate Cake, adapted, ever so slightly, from Gourmet, November 1997
4 ounces bittersweet chocolate (not unsweetened)
1 stick (1/2 cup) unsalted butter
¾ cup sugar
3 large eggs
½ cup unsweetened cocoa powder plus additional for sprinkling (which I did not do)
1 teaspoon fresh orange zest
Preheat oven to 375F and butter an 8-inch round baking pan. Line the bottom with a round of buttered wax paper (I used parchment paper).
Chop chocolate into small pieces. In a double boiler or metal bowl set over a saucepan of barely simmering water, melt chocolate with butter, stirring until smooth. Remove top of double boiler or bowl from heat and whisk sugar into chocolate mixture. Add eggs and whisk well. Sift ½ cup cocoa powder over chocolate mixture and whisk until just combined. Stir in the orange zest.
Pour batter into pan and bake in middle of oven for 25 minutes, or until top has formed a thin crust. Cool cake in pan on a rack for 5 minutes and invert onto a serving plate.
Not necessary step: Dust cake with additional cocoa powder and serve with sorbet or whipped cream if desired. (Cake keeps, after being cooled completely, in an airtight container.)
For the past month, I’ve read piles of Passover recipes from all sorts of bloggers who have explained about chametz and unleavened things, and maybe some people have even talked about kitniyot. But what I haven’t read about is that, in order to make Pesach (that’s what I’m going to call Passover from now on) it’s much more than just not cooking with unleavened things. Every pot and pan and knife and cutting board and plate I use in my kitchen all year long is chametzdik – contaminated, basically. So everything I use to cook and eat all year long cannot be used during the eight days of the holiday. Think of them as chametz cooties.
In my basement — and I promise you, in Jews’ basements all over the world — lives an entire separate kitchen of pots and pans, cutting boards, tablecloths, dishes and a teapot. In my case, this includes a Pesadik pressure cooker. And remember, Jews don’t mix milk and meat, so it’s really double of everything – the meat pots, pans, knives, cutting boards and dishes, and the dairy pots, pans, knives, cutting boards and dishes. To simplify things, I keep vegetarian during Pesach, so I only have to deal with half as much stuff as other people.
So the kitchen is brought up, box by box. And then you have to “turn the kitchen over” for Pesach: scrubbing down the oven and stove, cleaning out the whole refrigerator and locking up the the cupboards. Those countertops you prepare your food on all year long are also chametzdik, so you have to cover those counters. Thankfully, I have granite countertops so I just have to pour boiling water over them to kasher them. But if you walked into my kitchen tonight you would see a stove covered in tin foil and each burner wrapped in foil as well. Like I said, chametz cooties.
And then there is the shopping. Just as the dishes and pots and pans have to be specially set aside for Pesach, everything you cook that has been processed has to also be kosher l’Pesach. Your favorite olive oil, your favorite vinegar, your favorite Aleppo powder and your favorite vanilla extract might be fine the rest of the year, but you need to make sure all those things are kosher for Pesach. For some unexplained reason Ocean State Job Lot has been selling kosher l’Pesach olive oil all year long for the past few years, so that’s one less thing to worry about.
I always grumble about having to take off vacation days to prepare for Pesach, as I spent Thursday’s “vacation” morning pushing through the crowds at Russo’s to pick up my produce for this week. My cart was piled high with zucchini, mangoes, avocadoes, mushrooms, and a jicama, to which I decided I’d make a nice citrusy salad with a little kick of hot pepper to it.
And then I had to get everything into the house. I’m much stronger than I have been in months, but I’m not allowed to wear a purse – thankfully I’ve been able to find a cute backpack – so the 17 bags of groceries I picked up at the market had to be carried in one-at-time from the car, which itself took about 20 minutes to do before I could even unpack everything into my empty refrigerator.
Friday morning Rich and I flew down to DC because Sylvie hosted seder this year. I poked around in her kitchen and discovered that she had picked up zucchini, mangoes, avocadoes, mushrooms and a jicama – pretty much everything I had, and probably with the same dishes in mind.
Jicama – which is pronounced Hee-Kah-Mah – is a Mexican yam or turnip. Its flesh is white and its taste is crisp and fresh and just screams for a contrast of heat and tart. I’ve noticed people tend to serve it sliced in matchsticks although Sylvie pointed out it’s much easier to spear a cube of it with a fork then maneuver smaller pieces of them.
She made her salad with a supremed grapefruit, but if that’s too bitter for you, try it with orange. Even still, if your reflux is acting up, skip the massive amounts of citrus and replace it with just a squeeze or two of lime juice.
Jicama Salad with Grapefruit
1 jicama, peeled and cubed
1 grapefruit, supremed – make sure to supreme the fruit directly over the bowl so all the juices are caught
1 small chili pepper, minced
1/4 of a small red onion, chopped
1 large handful of cilantro — about 2 Tablespoons — chopped
3 teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 scant teaspoon salt
Several healthy grinds of fresh black pepper
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl and stir to combine. Refrigerate the salad for at least an hour before serving, allowing the ingredients to get to know each other and marinate.
For many American Jews, the Concord grape is synonymous with our traditions and holidays; a local ice cream chain, JP Licks, even sells a Manischewitz grape sorbet during April to celebrate Passover. In fact, when Rich and I were first dating, his Nana Parr – one of the best bakers I’ve ever met; I have the sugar cookie recipe, and will post it, promise – thoughtfully gave me a bottle of the sweet wine for the holidays. Granted, my parents were never big Concord grape wine fans – they’d be much more likely to serve a newly discovered gem from the Golan or perhaps something from Napa – but the flavor reminds me of grape juice, which was always the kiddie option at our table. The irony, of course, is that this Jewish flavor is also the most American taste out there. The grape was developed only a couple of miles from where I’m writing this, about 150 years ago.
All this is to explain why I choose to forgo bringing last year’s perfect plum cake to my parents’ for Rosh Hashana this year, and why I instead brought this Concord grape pie, made with the white grapes from my CSA. Deborah Madison writes, “This pie is truly America’s own, made from our native Concords in the northeast and Midwest, or Muscadines in the south.”
Before you scroll down to the recipe and say, “No thank you, that looks like way too much effort,” hear me out. This recipe doesn’t need to be made all at once. In fact, you’re better off doing it in separate steps. I made the ridiculously simple crust, which requires refrigeration, on Monday night, and then made the pie on Tuesday. And that part about separating the grape skins? Rich came and helped me with that step, and we were done in less than 10 minutes. And the food mill, which I know I’ve made the case for in the past, once again serves its purpose in getting rid of those pesky seeds.
We ate this pie for dessert on the second night of Rosh Hashana, after enjoying a dairy meal which was washed down with our pomegranate cocktails. My mom had the great idea to serve it with a scoop of ice cream and sprinkle berries on top. I doubt our purchase of Friendly’s granola and honey frozen yogurt is going to save the company from bankruptcy, but the flavor worked perfectly for this dish. This pie, as my friend Audrey exclaimed while enjoying the final slice, tastes like the good parts of Passover. Obviously, this recipe won’t work Pesach, let alone you’d be hard pressed to find ripe Concord grapes in April, but you can certainly make this for Succot later this month.
Concord Grape Pie from Deborah Madison’s America: The Vegetarian Table
Makes one 9-inch double crust pie; serves 6 to 8
2 ½ cups all-purpose flour
½ teaspoon salt
12 Tablespoons ( ¾ cup ) unsalted chilled butter, cut into small pieces
6 to 7 Tablespoons ice water
2 ½ pounds purple or white Concord grapes
½ to ¾ cup sugar
4 to 6 Tablespoons all-purpose flour, or 1 Tablespoon quick-cooking tapioca
Grated zest of 1 lemon
1 to 2 Tablespoons fresh lemon juice, to taste
1 egg, beaten with 2 Tablespoons heavy cream or milk
To make the pie crust, stir together the flour and salt in a bowl. If you have a pastry blender, cut in the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Without a pastry blender, using two knives or your fingers, cut the butter until the mixture forms coarse crumbs. Using a fork, stir in the water one tablespoon at a time, adding only enough for the pastry to hold together when pressed. Gather the dough into a ball and divide into two pieces, one slightly larger than the other. Wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate.
To make the filling, pluck the grapes off their stems. You should have about four cups. Pinch them out of their skins, putting the insides into a saucepan and the skins into a bowl. Put the pan over medium heat, add ½ cup sugar, and cook until the grapes turn white, about three minutes. Pass them through a food mill placed over a bowl to rid them of their seeds, then add the skins to the pulp. Taste and, if it seems sour, add the remaining sugar while the pulp is still hot. Whisk in the flour or tapioca (use the larger amount of flour if the grapes were watery) and add the lemon zest and lemon juice. Let the mixture stand while you roll out the pie.
Preheat an oven to 450 degrees F. On a lightly floured board, roll the larger piece of dough into an 11-inch round. Ease it into a 9-inch pie pan and press it gently against the sides. Add the filling and brush the edges with water. Roll the second piece into a 9-inch round, set it over the filling, and crimp the edges. Make two slashes on the top for vents, and brush with the egg mixture.
Set the pie on a baking sheet in the center of the oven. After 10 minutes, lower the heat to 350 degrees F and bake until the crust is nicely browned, about 25 minutes. Remove to a rack and cool. Serve warm.
“I don’t think you realize just how hard it’s going to be for you to eat,” numerous friends had warned me when they heard about our plans to visit Spain. Several thoughtful vegetarians warned me to stay away from the croissants, anything flaky, and to be wary of fried things. After a certain point, I began to imagine the country as a Homer Simpson-meets-Salvador Dali dream sequence: window shades made of thin slices of Iberian jamon and unicyclists juggling ham hocks in town plazas.
From a food studies perspective, I was fascinated by the idea of a food culture shaped through politics and religion. As a Jew, I wasn’t exactly sure what to expect from a country that had pretty successfully removed my people from their midst.
As it turns out, I ate like a pig (tee hee) and enjoyed some tasty, tasty tapas in Spain. I’ll admit, it helps that I eat fish, but some of the veggie-friendly tapas I enjoyed included pimientos de Padrón (fried little green peppers dusted with salt flakes) patatas bravas (crispy fried potatoes served with a fiery paprika sauce), fried Camembert served with a berry sauce, and piles and piles of olives.
In Barcelona, the capital of Catalonia, I fell in love with the simple pa amb tomaquet: thick slices of rustic toast rubbed with garlic, then tomato, then drizzled with olive oil and sprinkled with salt. (If that doesn’t look like Spanish to you, it’s because it’s Catalan, which is somewhere between French and Spanish.) I’m already counting down the days until August and its lovely tomatoes to make that one. And I was tickled to find tons of “Russian Salad” a type of potato salad I ate buckets of as a kid at my best friend’s house, who is originally from Latvia.
But what really made Spain a joy for me was the fish. I couldn’t stop eating boquerones, marinated white anchovies. (Note to self: Next time I go to Spain, make sure to TRIPLE wrap the glass jars from Barcelona’s La Boqueria market, so as to avoid another oily/fishy suitcase situation. Fortunately, the fish survived the trip, and the cats have been all over the suitcases since we got back. Everyone wins!)
When I wasn’t scarfing boquerones, I was enjoying other fishy delights. Anchovies were common, either on toast, wrapped around bright Spanish olives skewered by toothpicks, or fried. In Barcelona, I enjoyed a tapa of baccaloa (salt-cured codfish) stuffed into sweet red peppers, and I had an absolutely gorgeous, perfectly fried piece at a cafe on the Plaza Mayor in Madrid.
I am very mindful of my tuna intake — that whole mercury and child-bearing age thing — but I definitely had more than one dill pickle that had been sliced open and stuffed with the pink fish and roasted red pepper, then skewered shut with toothpicks holding olives and cocktail onions.
It’s hard to say whether I preferred the Catalonian foods of Barcelona or the tapas of Madrid. Although we were armed with some top restaurant suggestions, every decent bar in Madrid will serve you a tapa with your drink order: Manchego cheese, La Tortilla Espanola and tuna shmeared on baguettes. But overall, I think my favorite small bites were from El Mercado San Miguel in Madrid. Think of a glass-enclosed, very high-end Faneuil Hall and Quincy Market, full of food vendors selling everything from thin slices of Iberian ham on crispy baguettes to spicy chorizo, fried croquettes of spinach and cheese, cups of gazpacho, and creamy salt cod on baguettes.
And the sweets in Spain! Chocolate, nuts, marzipan and ice cream.
And the churros! My goodness, how could I forget about the churros!
(And of course, Rich got his jamon jam on. Witness for example, El Museo del Jamon, a popular Madrid chain.)
So yes, I ate well in Spain. But I was still a little uneasy being a Jew in Spain. One of the big sites in Madrid, La Plaza Mayor, was the site of executions during the Inquisition. The bases of the lampposts in the square memorialize some of the victims. It’s not that the Spanish are overtly anti-semitic so much that they did such a good job of purging the Jews centuries ago that there’s barely any Jewish community there today. Currently, there are barely 50,000 Jews in all of Spain; in the 14th century, there were about 500,000.
We were in Madrid for Friday night, and part of me wanted to find a place for Shabbat services. In case that I had forgotten for one minute that I married the most amazing man I have ever met, without any prompting, Rich removed the worry for me by researching, locating and writing in Spanish a synagogue he knew I would feel comfortable praying at. The congregation Rich tracked down for me was teensy, having been founded by 80 families, mostly from Argentina. To put it in perspective, there are 5 million people living in metropolitan Madrid today.
On that very warm Friday night, we rode the subway from our hotel in the heart of Madrid to the very outskirts of the city. We walked and walked until we finally reached the right street and the right number, but had a little trouble finding the congregation. Eventually we found them, about 55 altogether, in a sweltering recessed side room of an apartment complex. They weren’t exactly hidden, but I was still reminded of the morranos during Queen Isabella’s reign.
I barely speak Spanish but had no trouble following the service. That Friday night, thousands of miles from my little home in Boston, I read and spoke the same language as everyone else in the room. I knew when to sit, when to stand, and when to bow. I recited some of the most magnificent poems the Jewish civilization has ever produced in the country where they were written. The prayer book was translated, from Hebrew to Spanish, and every so often, Rich would nudge me, excited that he was finally making use of the Spanish component of his comp lit degree. “Honey,” I whispered softly, “you don’t have to translate for me here. I can understand the Hebrew. My parents made sure I learned it when learned my ABCs.” After the service, there was a kiddush or, as Rich called it, Jewish tapas.
For me, Judaism is about being a part of a civilization. That Friday night, I was proud, and I must admit, a little weepy, to participate in its rituals in a country that did everything it could to eradicate it.
This weekend, I will be performing the same rituals that my little band of survivors will be doing all over the world. I will remove all unleavened foods, pots, pans and utensils from my kitchen, clean the condo from top to bottom, and drag up my entire Passover kitchen from the basement. For the next eight days I will not eat anything that contains chametz or has come into contact with it, as consumption of virtually all grains –including wheat, barley, spelt and rye — is prohibited in the Ashkenazi tradition.
Cooking on Passover is a challenge, but I assure you, we eat like Ferdinand and Isabella, minus the pig. To kick off Passover and commemorate the Spanish leg of our European adventure, here’s a recipe of Tortilla Espanola, a traditional and ubiquitous Spanish dish that also happens to be kosher for Passover. Eggs are a go-to Passover ingredient; I know I will have at least one asparagus frittata in the next week.
I’m using Mark Bittman’s recipe as it’s pretty much flawless. He calls for any waxy potato; I used Yukon Gold and was quite pleased with the results. If you are using a mandolin, 1/8 inch is the way to go. I don’t have a kosher-for-Passover mandolin, so don’t worry if you don’t either. If you do have a kosher for Passover mandolin, can I come over and play in your kitchen? And don’t worry about all the olive oil; a lot will be poured off. As Bittman writes, “Save it in the fridge if you like: It’s delicious and good for sauteing virtually anything.”
My one tip about the eggs: According to the laws of kashrut, Jews are forbidden to eat blood. As a result, we check eggs for blood spots in a separate dish. I also like this step as insurance against eggshells getting in places where they’re not supposed to be.
Spanish Tortilla from Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything
Makes: 4 to 6 servings
Time: About 40 minutes
1 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 1/4 pounds waxy potatoes, 3 to 4 medium, peeled and thinly sliced
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
6 to 8 eggs
1. Put the oil in a large nonstick skillet over medium heat. About 3 minutes later, add a slice of potato; if bubbles appear, the oil is ready. Add all the potatoes and onion and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Turn the potato mixture in the oil with a wooden spoon and adjust the heat so that the oil bubbles lazily.
2. Cook, turning the potato mixture gently every few minutes and adjusting the heat so the potatoes do not brown, until they are tender when pierced with the tip of a small knife. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with some salt and pepper in a large bowl.
3. Drain the potato mixture in a colander placed over a large bowl to reserve the oil. Wipe out the skillet, return it to medium heat, and add 2 tablespoons of the reserved oil. Combine the potato mixture with the eggs and add them to the skillet. As soon as the edges firm up — this will only take a minute or so — reduce the heat to medium-low and cook, undisturbed, for 5 minutes.
4. Insert a rubber spatula all around the edges of the cake to make sure it will slide from the pan. Carefully slide it out — the top will still be quite runny — onto a plate. Cover with another plate and, holding the plates tightly, invert them. Add another tablespoon of oil to the skillet and use a rubber spatula to coax the cake back in. Cook for another 5 minutes, then slide the cake from the skillet to a plate. (Or you can finish the cooking by putting the tortilla in a 350F oven for about 10 minutes.)
The tortilla can be served as a main dish, with, perhaps a side salad, or as a side to a larger dish. Serve warm (not hot) or at room temperature. Do not refrigerate.