A Holiday Meant for Guests

My parents always had a sukkah. It was large and wooden, and my sisters and I loved getting to decorate it before the holiday began. We always hung colorful paper chains and gourds, and sometimes strings of cranberries and popcorn. That was always kind of risky given the large squirrel population of Western Mass.

Be careful, Daddy. Don't fall. I gotchu.

Be careful Daddy. Don’t fall. I gotchu.

Their sukkah was always full of visitors, which is what you’re supposed to do when you have a sukkah. In fact, we are taught that each night we welcome ushpizin – characters from the Bible who each hold a mystical trait: Abraham the first night, who embodies love; Isaac the second night who offers discipline; and so on.

My parents usually had help building it from our handyman, Fitz, a retired firefighter, but one year my parents and another couple – David and John – built it on their own. Afterwards, as they toasted each other with Camparis they joked that only a hurricane could knock it down. Turns out they were right; Hurricane Gloria did, indeed, throw their sukkah across the deck and into the backyard.

crafting

Sukkot, like Passover, has two holy days at the beginning, four regular days in the middle, and two more holy days at the end. There was always a steady stream of people for the entire eight days. My mom always cooked a corned beef for the holy days and a large pot of chili with a side of corn bread for the rest. (Her special secret for moist cornbread: a can of creamed corn.)

By the time I was in college my parents realized how exhausted they were from hosting the world for more than two decades, so they downscaled the large wooden sukkah for a premade one with metal beams and canvas sides. And a few years ago they gave up on the sukkah altogether, deciding to just use the one in the synagogue every night. Sylvie and Miriam drove off with the pieces attached to the roof of their Subaru Outback, and now they put it up in their yard in DC.

This year Rich, Lilli and I were lucky enough to help decorate our friend Eric’s sukkah. You might remember him as the one from whom Lilli so brazenly stole food a few years ago. Eric’s sukkah is very large; he actually hosts a Sukkot barbeque every year for our synagogue. This year he had us over for the first night of the holiday. I brought a refreshing cucumber salad, a dish my mother always made to go with meat meals growing up. I also made a very peculiar sweet potato kugel (a recipe in progress) and for dessert, baked apples, something my mother always, always, always served for dessert at Sukkot.

I had worked out a recipe in my head but called my mom for things like oven temperature and baking time. “Oh, how funny,” she said. “I was just thinking about making baked apples for tonight.” Well, duh, it’s Sukkot. She actually had a Martha Stewart cookbook out, which has you preheat the oven to 375F. My mom and I both agreed that is a lie, kind of like when a recipe says to cook the onions until they’re translucent, “between five and seven minutes.” We both agreed the oven would have to be at least 400F to get anywhere close to a baked apple you can cut with a fork.

lulav

I poked around online and most recipes call for brown sugar which is supposed to caramelize in the oven. We’ve never used brown sugar. It is New England, so maple syrup all the way.

The apples I used are Fujis which are much sturdier in the oven than a Macintosh. Any hearty apple will do, but please, no Red Delicious. Make sure their bottoms are flat so that they stand upright in the pan and on your plate. I used a paring knife to start coring the apples and changed over to a rounded teaspoon to scrape away at the core. A melon baller or small ice cream scoop will also work.

I think walnuts work best here but check with your guests ahead of time to make sure no one is allergic to them. There was an incident at a potluck last weekend, and Sylvie had to get epi-penned and rushed to the hospital because of walnuts lurking in a veggie burger. I had currants around because I made this caponata for Rosh Hashana, but raisins will also work.

baked apple

These apples are parve and vegan, and are great for a dessert, a snack, or even a nice breakfast. I start the apple pan in a tented steam bath, kind of the way I roast my cauliflower.

I hope you get a chance to make these before Sukkot is over. It’s our harvest holiday, so extra points if you use apples you’ve personally picked from an orchard. Hopefully you’ll eat these after a meal where this butternut squash dish is served. That recipe is particularly fantastic.

Baked Apples

Ingredients

Five medium to large apples with flat bottoms

1/4 cup dried apricots, slivered

1/4 cup raisins or currants

1/4 cup chopped walnuts

1/4 cup maple syrup

1/2 teaspoon cinnamon

Directions

Preheat oven to 425F

Mix the dried fruit, nuts, cinnamon and maple syrup in a small bowl. Set aside.

Carefully core the apples, making sure to stop about an inch from the bottom.

Using a small spoon, carefully ladle the fruit and nut mixture into each hole.

Stand the apples upright in a baking dish with sides. Pour enough water to cover the bottom of the dish. Cover with foil. Slide into the oven. At around the 20-minute mark, carefully remove the foil, then bake them for another 20 minutes, checking periodically. You will know they are done when they are very wrinkled. They will be soft enough to cut with a fork.

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I’ve Had My Eye On This One

Elijah the Prophet visits us on Passover, but Yotam Ottolenghi was at our table on Rosh Hashana. I already told you about the fish we had on first night from his cookbook Jerusalem. But I cracked open both Plenty and Plenty More for our vegetarian guests the second night.

first day of daycare

I know I should be talking about the fresh corn polenta and eggplant because it’s September and both of those foods are pretty much perfect right now. But my guests and I both agree that it’s the roasted red onions with walnut salsa that needs to be talked about.

I’ve had my eye on this salad for as long as I’ve had this cookbook in my collection. Roasting the red onions until they’re golden on top and near translucent in the rings takes the bite out of them and renders them almost sweet. The arugula provides a nice contrast, and the goat cheese connects the two with its tang. And the walnut salsa. Oh, the walnut salsa.

The third thing is a slice of mushroom tart that I whipped together.

Because I know a lot of you are wondering — it’s a mushroom tart.

Ottolenghi recipes are often pretty labor- and time-intensive, but not this one. Yes, the roasting of the onions will take about 40 minutes, give or take, but everything else comes together very quickly – you put the walnut salsa together while the onions roast to give them some time to get to know each other. I set the half cup of parsley in two rounds of cold water to clean it. As per usual, I only used about half a hot pepper, but how much you use is entirely up to you. Where it says to brush the onions with olive oil and sprinkle with salt and pepper, I just tossed everything in a large bowl and then lay them out on a baking pan covered in parchment paper.

hula hoop

I have a five pound bag of red onions, a 10 lb. bag of walnuts from Costco, a second log of goat cheese, two bunches of parsley, leftover arugula and the remaining half of hot red pepper. So, basically, I’m making this again for dinner tonight. I couldn’t forgive myself if I didn’t.

Red Onions with Walnut Salsa from Plenty More by Yotam Ottolenghi

Ingredients

4 medium red onions (1 1/3 lb/600 g)

1 ½ Tablespoons olive oil

1 cup/20 g arugula

½ cup/15 g small flat-leaf parsley leaves

2 oz/60 g soft goat cheese broken into 3/4-inch/2-cm chunks

Salt and black pepper

Salsa

2/3 cup/65 g walnuts, coarsely chopped

1 red chile, seeded and finely chopped (use your discretion)

1 clove garlic, crushed

3 Tablespoons red wine vinegar

1 Tablespoon olive oil

Salt

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425F/220C

Peel the onions and remove the tops and tails. Cut each crosswise into 3 slices, about 3/4-inch/2-cm thick, and place on a baking sheet. Brush the slices with the olive oil, sprinkle with ¼ teaspoon salt and some black pepper, and roast in the oven for about 40 minutes, until the onions are cooked and golden brown on top. If they haven’t taken on much color, place under a hot broiler for a few minutes. Set aside to cool slightly.

While the onions are cooking, put all of the salsa ingredients in a small bowl, add ¼ teaspoon salt, stir and set aside.

To serve, put the arugula and parsley in a large bowl. Add the warm onions, the cheese and half the salsa and toss carefully so the onions don’t fall apart. Divide among shallow plates, spoon the remaining salsa over the top, and serve.

A Summer Salad

Last week, after years of careful deliberation, I announced to Rich that my favorite of all berries was the raspberry. The best raspberries of all were the wild ones that grew on the bushes that lined the road to our house in Western Mass. Those bushes are all gone now, replaced with houses, but when I was a little girl my sisters and I would run down the small hill to collect the berries.

For Lilli, strawberries were in the berry lead in early June, but it looks like blueberries have now surged ahead. (Earlier tonight I overheard Rich telling her that she had to eat them one at a time and to stop cramming them into her mouth all at once.) Sometimes I share my raspberries with her, and it’s clear she loves those, too.

cherry herb salad

Longtime readers of this blog would have no idea about my raspberry love, or how much I absolutely adore all summer fruits, for that matter, because I tend to do the minimal amount of preparation to them. (Plums don’t count.) Why bake something, like a peach or cherry, into a pie when it’s already a perfect dessert (or snack, or meal)?

All this changed when I saw this recipe for cherry herb salad. I read the name of the dish long before I had a chance to read the recipe, and my first guess as to what herb it would be was tarragon. It turned out to be a cup of cilantro leaves, and it works. It works well enough that I’m sharing this recipe with you and plan on making it again tomorrow night. Cherries were on crazy sale at Star Market today – I was there this morning AND this evening refilling my supply.

in the kitchen

The recipe calls for a Holland chile pepper which the regular market clearly did not have. I did a bunch of googling and, honestly, use whatever hot pepper you’d prefer. I actually didn’t use the entire pepper in this dish, as I’m a bit of a wimp about spicy things. Although the original recipe claims that the broiling of the pepper takes four minutes, I found it took closer to 10 minutes in the toaster oven, where I also toasted a half cup of walnuts. I clean my cilantro by filling a large bowl of cold water and dropping the herb into it; the sand always sinks to the bottom of the bowl. Today’s bunch of cilantro was especially gritty; I needed to change the water five times tonight. As for prepping the fruit, many years ago Rich bought me a cherry/olive pitter. Money well spent, I say. I buy my pomegranate molasses at the Armenian shops in Watertown. My bet is any Middle Eastern shop in your area would have it, too. It would be right next to the rosewater.

We ate this tonight as a side to our roasted fish and brown rice. You should, too.

Cherry & Herb Salad – This recipe was featured in a May 2013 issue of Saveur within Gabriella Gershenon’s article The Promised Land. It’s credited as a Turkish recipe, but the article is about Israel and the Galilee. I’ve been thinking a lot about Israel lately. I bet many of you reading this are thinking about it, too. 

Ingredients

Up to two red Holland chiles, or chiles of your choosing

1 lb. fresh dark pitted cherries

1 cup cilantro leaves

½ cup walnuts halves, toasted and roughly chopped

3 Tablespoons olive oil

1 ½ Tablespoons pomegranate molasses

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Kosher salt and black pepper, to taste

Instructions

Heat oven broiler (or toaster oven) to high. Place chiles on a baking sheet; broil, turning as needed, until charred and tender, 4 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of your pepper.

Transfer to a bowl and cover with plastic wrap; let sit five minutes. Discard stems, skin and seeds from chiles; finely chop and transfer to a bowl. (I did this step wearing rubber gloves.)

In a separate bowl whisk together the olive oil, molasses and lemon juice.

Add the cherries, cilantro and walnuts to the bowl of chopped pepper. Pour the dressing into the bowl and toss to combine. Serve chilled or at room temperature.

 

Ants on a Log, All Grown Up

The origin of my new favorite potluck salad is very simple: I was at Star Market the morning of the neighborhood vegetarian potluck, and celery was on sale for 99 cents a bunch. All I could think was, “Wow, that would be so Cheap Beets if I could make a vegetable side dish for a dollar.”

005

I knew I had seen a celery side dish somewhere, so I started flipping through the mental Rolodex as I picked up the things that were on my actual shopping list. When I got home I checked my Mario and Lidia cookbooks and then the rest of the Mediterranean shelf in my cookbook collection. Coming up short, I did what I always do when in doubt and I need a solid recipe: I looked to Melissa Clark. And there it was, a celery salad recipe. I actually checked online, and Clark has a similar recipe to which she adds dates. Obviously, there was no question about their inclusion.

So I made the salad for the potluck, and again this week for a potluck in my office I had organized. It’s pretty basic stuff: Celery, nuts, and dried fruit. It’s ants on a log, basically, but for grown-ups.

I’ve adapted Clark’s recipe ever so slightly, but it is indeed her recipe. Just as I’ve adapted hers, feel free to adapt as you need to. Clark notes that if you don’t have Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese, “any aged cheese, such as Cheddar, Gouda, or manchego, can stand in very nicely.” If you are leaving out the cheese altogether, skip the dates, and “throw a handful of drained capers or chop an anchovy into the vinaigrette to give the salad a saline kick.”

lilli emma

I like the crisp crunch of celery against the sweet chew of the date. This would be a great side dish for Thanksgiving. It’s a good chaser in between bites of roasted roots and heavy stuffing.

Celery Salad with Walnuts, Parmesan and Dates

Ingredients

1 cup walnuts

1 ½ Tablespoons red wine vinegar

½ teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

8 large celery stalks with leaves, thinly sliced

2 ounces good Parmesan cheese, shaved or grated – whatever is easier for you

12 dates, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F. Spread the walnuts in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet. Toast, tossing halfway through, until the nuts are golden, 7 to 10 minutes. Cool and coarsely chop.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, salt, and pepper; whisk in the oil. Combine the walnuts, celery and leaves, cheese and dates in a large salad bowl. Add the vinaigrette and toss gently to combine.

Regifting, Sort of.

Recently, someone on our floor at work went to a far off land and brought back a box of dates. (You’ll remember that the boxes of Turkish Delight are brought directly to my desk.) After watching them go untouched for a few days, I took it upon myself to bring them home for a baking project. The result was a date nut bread, which my boss told me it was “the best one she’d ever had”. The New York Times apparently agreed; the title of the recipe is “An Incredible Date Nut Bread”.

a package for marilyn

The recipe calls for pouring boiling water over baking soda, and then pouring the mixture onto the pile of chopped dates and raisins. When The Essential New York Times Cookbook editor Amanda Hesser found this recipe, she wrote food scientist Harold McGee to get his take. He replied: “My guess is that the baking soda step is a quick way of hydrating and softening the fruit, and probably turns the date bits into mush, which would help moisten the cake more than discrete pieces.” McGee also thought the baking soda would help make the cake brown, and indeed, as Hesser puts it, “the cake emerges from the oven dark and tawny.” And I can report that it smelled even better than it looked; at one point the scent of the loaf baking in the oven literally stopped me in my tracks.

steeping the dried fruit

Over Thanksgiving we had a visit with Sylvie and her wife Miriam at Mir’s parents place up in Maine. I had wanted to bring a loaf up as a thank you to our hosts but Syl is deathly allergic to walnuts. As it turns out, so are half of her in-laws, so I think I made the right move. But Mir’s mom said she loved date nut bread, so, using the rest of the purloined dates, I baked her a loaf and sent it to her for Chanukah. It was only after I took it out of the oven that I noticed the title of the December 1977 article from which the recipe came: “Food Gifts You Can Make at Home.”

Baking Notes: I’ve been experimenting with flours lately, and the loaf I sent to Mir’s parents was made with white whole wheat flour. I was a little nervous it would be too dry, but the feedback I’ve received has been very positive. The flour choice is entirely up to you.

An Incredible Date-Nut Bread

Ingredients

1 cup diced pitted dates

¾ cup raisins

¼ cup golden raisins

1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup boiling water

8 Tablespoons (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened

1 cup sugar

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 large egg

1 1/3 cup sifted all-purpose flour

¾ cup walnuts, broken into small pieces

  1. Heat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter a 9x5x3-inch loaf pan. Line the bottom with a rectangle of wax paper. Butter the rectangle and sprinkle with flour; shake out the excess flour.
  2. Put the dates and raisins in a medium bowl. Dissolve the baking soda in the boiling water and pour it over the date mixture.
  3. Cream together the butter and sugar in a large bowl. Beat in the vanilla and egg. Add the flour and mix well. Add the date mixture, including the liquid. Add the walnuts.
  4. Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 70 minutes, or until the top of the cake is dark brown and a knife inserted in the center comes out clean. Let cool for about 3 to 5 minutes, then unmold onto a rack, remove the paper, and let cool.

Mea Culpa

Forget Wes “Butterfingers” Welker, forget Gisele. It’s my fault the Patriots lost the Super Bowl. But I promise you I didn’t mean it.

Rich and I thought we were doing our fellow party-goers a favor by sharing this lemony olive oil banana bread that we’d whipped up that morning. But when we announced the addition of banana bread to the table of delights, Sarah and Mike both let out a yelp. They’d just returned from a trip to New Orleans where they been told, randomly enough, that it’s bad luck to bring banana bread on a shrimp boat – and by extension, naturally, to a Super Bowl party.

We didn’t even know we’d be bringing the banana bread to the party, because we didn’t even know we’d be baking it that morning. But when the bananas, which Rich had picked up for me in an attempt to find something sweet, nutritious and low in acid, began to look like giraffe necks, I knew it was time to try out this recipe in Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now. And you know how I am about Melissa Clark recipes.

Sure, I’ve already posted a banana bread recipe, but really, you can’t have enough banana bread recipes.  We switched things up a little bit with this one, trading out reflux-inducing chocolate chips for walnuts. I think pecans would also be nice. The result is moist, almost fruity because of the olive oil, but all that gets wiped away in the most pleasant of ways by the terrific lemony glaze.

My apologies to the fans of New England. And, to all the Giants fans out there (and I know some of you reading this are – Hi Russ!) you’re welcome. Next time you have a Super Bowl party bring some banana bread. Apparently it’s good luck, for the G-men, anyhow.

Lemony Olive Oil Banana Bread with Chocolate Chips (or nuts) from Melissa Clark’s Cook This Now

Ingredients

1 cup all-purpose flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

¾ cup dark brown sugar

¾ teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon kosher salt

1 cup coarsely chopped bittersweet chocolate (or walnuts)

1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 large eggs, lightly beaten

1 ½ cups mashed, VERY ripe bananas (3 to 4 bananas)

¼ cup sour cream or plain whole milk yogurt

1 teaspoon freshly grated lemon zest

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For The Glaze

1 cup confectioners’ sugar

4 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan

In a large bowl, whisk together the flours, brown sugar, baking soda, and salt Add the chocolate pieces (or nuts) and combine well.

In a separate bowl, whisk together the olive oil, eggs, mashed bananas, sour cream or yogurt, lemon zest, and vanilla. Pour the banana mixture into the flour mixture and fold with a spatula until just combined. Scrape the batter into the prepared pan and bake until golden brown and a tester inserted into the middle of the loaf comes out clean, 50 minutes to 1 hour.

Transfer the pan to a wire rack over a rimmed baking sheet to cool in the pan for 10 minutes, then turn the loaf out of the pan to cool completely.

While the cake is almost cool, prepare the glaze. In a large bowl, whisk together the confectioners’ sugar and lemon juice until smooth. Drizzle the glaze on top of the cake, spreading with a spatula to cover.

An Eight-Dollar Salad

“Let me tell you about this $8 salad I made,” has been sister-speak with Sylvie and me for years. I asked her this week how long we’d been using that term, and we realized that those were long-distance calls we were making to talk about our salads. (I know, I can almost taste the irony.) This was before everyone could take photos with their phones, or post it to Facebook. Heck there was no Facebook, and people rarely had cellphones. These were landline phone calls. And even the price of the salad is an indication of how long ago it was. The idea of a salad costing $8 gave us pause and sounded as absurd as a year of private college costing $55,000 a year, or paying a babysitter $20 for an hour of work.

And last week, when I made this $8 salad, I almost took a photo on my new Android phone and sent it to her, Facebook, and the Twitter universe. But I stopped myself and decided to share this salad with you for Tu B’Shvat which is on Wednesday, February 8th this year.

It is quite common for people to hold a Tu B’Shvat seder, which is kind of like the seder we have on Passover, but not exactly. Sure, there four cups of wine drunk at both, but a Tu B’Shvat seder is kabbalistic in nature, meaning it’s mystical in its origins and philosophy. (Although I honestly don’t know if Madonna goes to a Tu B’Shvat seder. She probably does, come to think of it.) At Passover we discuss God liberating us from being slaves in Egypt and the Exodus. We have a seder plate full of symbolic foods that help us tell the story of our Exodus, and eat reclining as free people would.  At Tu B’Shvat we talk about God’s metaphoric relationship to the spiritual and physical worlds. And we try to eat the seven species of foods from Israel that the Bible praises: wheat, barley, figs, dates, pomegranates, olives, and grapes. Almonds are also commonly eaten as almond tree blossoms are a harbinger of spring, and since Tu B’Shvat is the new year for the tree, it makes perfect sense. (Also, who doesn’t love marzipan or a nice piece of mandelbroit?)

Tu B’Shvat is also the new year for the trees, and the seder usually touches on the ecological aspects of Judaism. The concept of ecology, Jewish thought and food will be explored much more deeply in the first ever Boston Jewish Food Conference which is being held on  April 22 — Earth Day — at Hebrew College. I’m running the workshop on the Healthy Jewish Diet. (End of shameless plug. Let’s continue, shall we?)

This salad uses dates that have been sautéed in butter that I first read about here, although we discovered it makes much more sense to remove the pits before you sauté the dates. If you swap out the butter with a mild olive oil, you not only make this dish vegan, but you also end up using another one of the seven Tu B’Shvat foods. The grapes are roasted with rosemary and balsamic vinegar, turning their acidic bite warm and mellow. I use walnuts, but if you’re deathly allergic to them like Sylvie is, it might be better to use almonds. Although I use a brown sugar balsamic dressing for this salad, my friend Sara whipped up a tangy pomegranate molasses dressing last week which would incorporate yet another species into the salad,

A composed salad for Tu B’Shvat

Ingredients

1 head of wintry lettuce, cleaned and ripped into bite-sized pieces

1 roasted beet, the pieces should be cubed to about the size of a grape

1 cup red seedless grapes, washed and dried

1 teaspoon rosemary, chopped

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

¼ cup walnuts

6 dates

1 Tablespoon butter

Directions

Preheat toaster oven 350. Prep the toaster oven tray with foil and toast the walnuts for 7 to 8 minutes.

While the walnuts are toasting, in a small bowl toss together the grapes, rosemary, balsamic vinegar and a glug of olive oil. Once the walnuts have finished toasting, raise the toaster oven to 400 degrees and bake the grape and rosemary concoction for approximately 20 minutes.

While the grapes are roasting, melt about a tablespoon of butter in a small pan over medium heat, slit open the dates and remove their pits. Add the dates to the pan. Cook for about 1 minute, then flip and cook the other side. They should get nicely caramelized.  Remove from pan. Quarter the fruit on a cutting board. (I actually have a separate fruit cutting board so the taste of garlic or onions will never interfere with a sweet piece of fruit.)

Place the lettuce on a large platter, and assemble the beets, grapes, walnuts and dates on top.

Dressing

In a small jar, place:

1/8 or so teaspoon mustard

2 Tablespoons balsamic vinegar

Teensy pinch of salt

1 teaspoon brown sugar

1 very very very small garlic clove, minced.

Then add 4 Tablespoons olive oil

Give a shake and taste. Is it very puckery? Then add another half teaspoon of brown sugar. You want it to be a soft balsamic dressing with the acid cut by the sweet.