For Passover or Not –Take your pick: Mexican or Morrocan Gefilte Fish

If you’ve been reading my blog devotedly, you’ll know that I’m not a big fan of “potchke” cookery, that is dishes are unnecessarily complicated. In this spirit, I’d like to introduce Mexican or Morrocan Gefilte fish. The two disparate nationalities aren’t indications of identity confusion but simply variations on the same dish which is itself a variation on good old fashioned gefilte fish.
Gefilte fish is literally stuffed fish because in the old days, our potchke loving mothers and grandmothers stuffed the hand chopped fish back into the hollowed out carp. Today gefilte fish generally comes in frozen rolls. All you need to do is to boil up water, add carrots, onions and spices and voila, classic gefilte fish.
But say that stuff doesn’t do it for you– cold, spongy, and white equals ugh so here’s something else to do with gefilte fish rolls adapted from Matthew Goodman’s wonderful cookbook “Jewish Food.–A World at Table.”
This recipe is based on Mexican Gefilte Fish which Goodman learned from a lovely sounding Mexican Jewess called Raquelita. Raquelita must have had some time on her hands plus a crew of servants because Goodman reports that she made the gefilte fish herself. For harried cooks, I offer a shortcut–thaw out a frozen gefilte fish roll instead The nationalities refer to spicing options. The results? Well, see for yourself but this was my second straight Friday night of serving this dish and no left-overs. Good to the last drop
Mexican Moroccan Gefilte Fish
1 loaf of frozen gefilte fish, Ungars or A and B. Thaw in the fridge until soft.
Add enough matzo meal or bread crumbs or flour to make balls.(about 1/3 of a cup)
Heat up vegetable oil for deep frying (about one inch deep in your pan) . Wet your hands with cold water and form the fish matzo meal combination into balls. Turn and fry until golden brown all around. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels
Remove the oil from the frying pan, leaving only a thin film—then you’ll have fewer dishes to clean.
Now slice one to four garlic cloves and one red pepper . You can also add a hot pepper too. Saute until soft.
Then add one cup of tomato paste and two cups of water (add a bit more if it’s too thick). Add a handful of chopped parsley and/or cilantro. Add salt and pepper to taste.For the Morrocan version add a teaspoon each of cumin and paprika and a half teaspoon turmeric.
Let the sauce cook for 10 minutes.
Then add the fried fish balls and simmer for another 20 minutes.
Serves 8. I think you can freeze this although I havent tried.
Note:Ashkenazim don’t use turmeric and cumin on Passover.

Apricot Prune Hamentaschen

Pune Apricot Hamentaschen

Purne Apricot Hamentaschen

Full disclosure: I’m not a fan of poppy seeds. Oh, I like them as a topping, that is sprinkled over a challah or a Kaiser roll but poppy-seed fillings don’t do it for me. My favorite hamentasch filling is lekvar, either prune or apricot. Until I read Matthew Goldman’s remarkable cookbook, “Jewish Food, the World at Table,” I thought that you had to choose one or make two kinds of hamentasch fillings.
But Goodman offers another option-combine all three fillings into one and his recipe includes all three. I’ve adapted, deleting the poppy seeds to make a delicious homemade lekvar with both apricots and prunes together which I used inside of Goodman’s dough. And it’s wonderful. Light, not too sweet and amazingly–free of the two Purim scourges, sugar and margarine.
To his eternal credit, Goodman acknowledges that his recipes are culled and cribbed from others and for this one, he gives credit to Selma Cherkas of Worcester, Mass. Thank you Selma
Dough–from Matthew Goodman via Selma Cherkas
2 1/2 cups flour–I used white
2 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 eggs, beaten
1/4 cup honey
1 T lemon juice (in a pinch you can use water)
1 tsp vanilla
Mix together by hand or machine into a soft dough, adding additional flour if it’s too sticky. Cover in plastic wrap or in a plastic bag and refrigerate for at least one hour. Meanwhile make the filling
This is my original
1/2 container of sunsweet pitted prunes
6 dried apricots
Water to cover
Simmer on low flame until soft, Then blend with immersion blender
To make hamentaschen, roll out the dough as thin as you can. Then using a round cookie cutter or cup cut into circles. Put 1/2 tsp of the filling in the center and fold up on three sides to form a triangle.
Preheat oven to 350 or 180 C
Bake until brown 12-15 minutes depending on the strength of your oven.

Tu BiShvat Fruit Kebabs

Back when my kids were younger I’d buy a large haul of fruit and nuts and my husband would conduct a lavish Tu BiShvat Seder, dishing out 15 different types of fruits in ritual order . This year however, my nest has emptied . With only one child around and even that child busy with friends and thank G-d, with Talmud study, I couldnt see going through the whole ritual, in the way we had in years past, but I didn’t want to skip over this holiday when the sap begins to rise inside the trunks and the new growth that will burst forward in the spring begins.
So I bought the requisite fruits,dried and fresh in small amounts and then I was blessed with an idea– . Skewers. Why not thread the fifteen fruits on skewers? Skewers are a great Israeli favorite used for anything and everything from marshmallows to , meats and vegetable. During my kids preschool years, I saw Tu BiShvat fruit skewers but I never made them until now. Skewers allow you to get away with eating the fruit in small amounts–you can thread tiny pieces together, thereby avoiding the unfortunate digestive complications sometimes associated with an overdose of fruit. Here’s what my skewers look like Happy Tu BiShvat

Humous Hiddush

In the world of Talmudic study which my son’s blessedly inhabit a hiddush is a novelae, (how is that for a fancy word) or, very simply, a new way of blending ideas. Last night, in my own tiredness I stumbled upon a culinary hiddush–using pickle juice to flavor my humous. Yes, pickle juice, that salty, garlicky, murky greenish, gray liquid otherwise known as brine. I dribbled some into the processor and the humous turned almost velvety smooth, though never quite fully dissolve as commercial humous, but fresher tasting and very richly flavored.
I’m not the first person to use pickle juice in cooking. Though I’ve never tried it, I’ve been told that Russians commonly add it to vegetable soups, and right here in Jerusalem, falafel stores combine it with techina, with delicous results and now I’ve added it to humous and I’m so pleased with the results that I’m sharing them with you.
1 and 1/2 cups of cooked chickpeas (boil your own. It’s easy enough and you can freeze ahead. Canned just doesnt taste the same)
1/2 cup of raw techina
2 cloves of garlic
1 teaspoon salt (or more to taste)
pinch of black pepper
1/3 cup of pickle juice (or more to taste)
Combine in food processor.
Eat right away or refrigerate. Dont free.
Makes about 3 cups.

Easy and Delicious Roasted Red Peppers

If you’ve been following this blog, you might notice a subtext–it’s all about overcoming challenges which means trying recipes I never thought I could manage. This week’s is roasted peppers, a dish I had written off. How did one even make them? And peeling off the pepper skins? It just sounded fiddly, complicated time consuming and given the fact that peppers are so yummy when eaten raw, purposeless.
Hungarians have a longstanding love affair with raw red peppers sliced pepper with a sprinkling of salt and perhaps a sliced tomato. That was my mother’s favorite easy salad when I was a kid.
Then I got an advance copy of “The Covenant Kitchen.” Written by Covenant wine founders Jeff and Jodie Morgan, who have made it their life’s mission to create the best kosher wine in 2000 years, the book offers a collection of trendy recipes each of which is paired with a matching wine which freaks me out a bit.
There’s a very fine line from oenophilia, which can seem cool and sophisticated to alcoholism which is anything but. But back to peppers, the cookbook has a very simple pepper roasting strategy which I quickly adopted and adapted.
The whole thing is a snap to make. You wash the peppers, bake them on high for a half hour until they start to char, cool and peel; the skins just slip off. Then marinate them in olive oil, salt, pepper and garlic and eat.
Roasted peppers are great on their own and they are wonderful along with chicken, meat, fish and salad. They also look pretty. On Friday, I added a bunch to some leftover tabouli. Then I choppped in some feta and had a wonderful restaurant style lunch.
So here it is adapted from the Covenant Kitchen
6 red peppers–chose firm and beautiful ones. Wash them, not need to slice or remove seeds. Just lay them on a baking tray and bake on high (220C or 400 F) for about a half hour or until the peppers skins begin to pucker and form black spots–that’s when you know they are peelable.
Cool, then peel off skins. Marinate in olive oil (the Morgans use a half cup but I’d say you could get by with a third or even a quarter) Add 2 to 3 minced garlic, and salt and pepper to taste. Let the peppers marinate at room temperature for an hour or two. Then move to a closed container in the fridge. Enjoy. IMG_4416

Orange Lemonade from my tree!!!!

One of the really lovely things about having a garden is watching my fruit trees grow from bud to flower to fruit. While it sounds almost hackneyed to confess this, I get excited and even awe inspired when ripe fruit finally dangles down among the leaves. Ask anybody who has done it–there is nothing like picking fruit from your very own tree.
Here in Israel winter time means that the lemons are ready. After patiently watching my own tree go from “lemon tree very pretty and the lemon flowers so sweet,” to quote the old Harry Belafonte song,this week it was time to pick “the fruit of the poor lemon,” which sings Harry, is “impossible to eat.” But Belafonte forgot the lemon’s best friends– sugar and oranges. Orange lemonade is so easy to make that it could hardly be called a recipe but it’s wonderful, tart, sweet, mild, refreshing and oh so bright. Of course it’s full of vitamin C and kids love it It’s also the perfect pick me up for breakfast or after fasting.
Tomorrow is the 10th of Tevet, the anniversary of the day the Roman’s breached the walls of Jerusalem and Jews throughout the world remember this disaster which was a prelude to the Temple’s destruction, by abstaining from food and liquid. Fasting literally takes you out of your life–it is quite amazing to realize just how ragged one can feel after one has missed a meal, or two or three. How vulnerable we humans are, but that is the point, for us to leave our egos and realize that we live on G-ds mercy.
Starting around 5 am and ending 12 hours later, the 10th of Tevet is considered to be the “easiest” of fasts. Certainly it’s easier that Yom Kippur or Tisha B’Av which go on for 25 hours, but it isn’t easy and as if the case with all fasts, deciding what to eat once the fast is over is a challenge. A weary post fast stomach isn’t up for meat or fowl or even cheese. What fasters want is something sweet, a pick me up to replenish the stores of energy that the fast emptied dry. Orange lemonade does this amazingly well and it’s a natural constipation cure (fasting is inimical to bowel movement) , far tastier and easier on the insides than prune juice. Two or three cups will get the system into gear again.
Just one warning–citrus juices strip tooth enamel so drink sparingly or use a straw
2 lemons and 2 oranges squeezed out for juice. The best ones come from your own trees.
1 and 1/4 cups of sugar (or to taste)
8 cups water
Combine everything into large pitcher and refrigerate. Delicious IMG_4272

Easy Lo Fat Moussaka

Here in Israel, moussaka has taken a bum rap. I think it’s because wedding caterers offer a dish by this name constructed with fried and breaded eggplant and bread crumbs mixed with a microscopic amount of meat, so little in fact that can wonder if this dish is truely fleishig.
I personally never touch the stuff. I make it a point to eat as little as possible at weddings. First of all the meal is served way to late–anyone who is concerned about keeping their weight down knows that it’s a big no no to eat a heavy meal after 7 pm. Amazingly, it’s best to sup at five, like a small child in a nursery and wedding meals dont’ follow that schedule.
But homemade Moussake is another matter entirely. I wasn’t really planning it as a supper–anyone who reads my blog knows that advance meal planning is not my strong suit but I found myself alone with two eggplants, a package of ground beef and some tomato paste and crushed tomatoes plus onions and garlic and no desire to go out and replenish my rather depleted pantry. The really amazing thing about this story is that the day in question was Sunday when I’m usually overloaded with leftovers from the previous Shabbat. What happenened here is that on Saturday night my kitchen my sons came home from a spiritually uplifting but nutritionally inadequate Shabbos in the holy town of Meiron and they turned my leftovers, which I had imagined might be Sunday night’s and even Monday night’s dinner into their Melave Malka, the post Sabbath feast in memory of King David.
That meant that on Sunday I had to start again and so necessity always being the mother of invention I made a moussaka. Most moussaka recipes are rather rich and fatttening. They involve steps like sauteeing the eggplant–boy do those babies suck up oil, and dousing the whole dish with a bechamel sauce. While I don’t doubt that those steps are fine on the tastebuds, though not so fine for the digestion, I streamlined. In this recipe, the eggplants are baked and the bechamel, well lets’ just say it’s gone South for the winter.
This does mean a rather stripped down version of the ancient Turkish meat eggplant casserole but my test eaters aka my husband and sons gobbled up the results. What can I say? This recipe is hearty, and tasty and a departure from the ordinary. Enjoy
1-2 medium sized onions, diced
2 T vegetable oil
1 or more cloves or garlic,peeled and diced
1 handful of cilantro (optional) chopped fine
250 grams of tomato paste
400 grams of crushed tomatoes
About one and one half cups of water
Spices to taste. Salt, black pepper, a pinch of sugar, cumin, even a pinch of cinnamon.
1 large eggplant sliced into half inch thick rounds (they can be slightly thicker)
Olive oil
Cooking spray
2 lbs ground beef
Cut the eggplant crosswise into thin round slices (about 1/2 inch thickness,) sprinkle with kosher salt and sweat for an hour or more to remove the bitter juices.
Place eggplant on an oiled cookie sheet (sprinke 1 to 2 tablespoons of olive oil on a cookie sheet, then spread with a pastry brush and place eggplant on top in a single layer. Bake at 420 or until soft–they don’t need to be brown, just softened (about 30 minutes).
While the eggplants are baking saute the onion in the oil until translucent. Add garlic and meat. Saute until the meat is crumbly. Then add tomato paste, crushed tomatoes cilantro, water and spices. Simmer together until bubbly (about 10 minutes)
Spray a 9 by 13 or 8 by 8 cooking pan (pyrex is fine). Layer eggplant and meat tomato mixture, eggplant, meat tomato until you’ve finished . Cover with foil. Bake at 350 for a half hour.use this oneIMG_3713

You wont believe its pareve cheesecake

Maybe I’ve been living in a cave, but it wasn’t until I attended Kosherfest, the kosher food industry’s trade fair and specifically chef Avi Roths’ fab cooking demonstration that I discovered the myriad possibilities of Tofutti cream cheese. While I can’t get many hip American ingredients–I have yet to sample farro, ponzu or srichacha sauce (hope I’ve spelled them correctly) Tofutti cream cheese is sold at my local makolet. It’s kept in the the dairy case.-whoever stocks the shelves seems to think that it’s dairy–that white plastic container is deceiving. While Tofutti cream cheese is not something you’d want to spread on a bagel, when it is sweetened up and combined with pareve cream, sugar and eggs it can become the foundation for a yummy desert.

Chef Roth used it to make a heavenly tasting chocolate cookie peanut butter, cream cheese trifle. I wanted to try to recreate it but I was out of chocolate cookies and well stocked with empty Graham cracker crust shells so I took a leap of faith and tried my hand at pareve cheesecake. Most of the time I cook with recipes but for this recipe I winged it, adapting a dairy cheesecake recipe and hoping for the best. To my great surprise, my pareve cheesecake came out so delicious that even my cheesecake maven husband asked me if I was sure that it wasn’t dairy. No kiddin. He felt a bit strange eating it after a chicken meal.
Yes, for those of us who keep kosher, pareve cheesecake can seem strange.I imagine that there are old timers who may even refuse it, on principle, not wanting to pretend to be eating a forbidden combination but for most of the kosher eating public fake treyf is just fine. It’s more than fine. It’s become a mega trend.
On display at Kosherfest I saw displays of fake sea food, fake bacon, even fake bread for Passover (potato starch is a magical ingredient) and of course Tofutti fake cheese products.
Does this trend point to a hidden, or perhaps not so hidden treyf envy? Do we orthodox Jews secretly long to eat cheeseburgers or do these concoctions indicate that we kosher eaters aren’t missing anything at all thereby proving the Talmudical statement that every forbidden flavor has a kosher equivalent? I don’t know
Since the Rabbis declared these things permitted we are free to indulge in these slightly bizarre pleasures. In that spirit here’s my easy and delicious and very fake Tofutti Cream Cheese Pareve Cheesecake recipe.
1 16 oz container of Tofutti cream cheese
1 small pareve whip
2 eggs
1/2 packet of vanilla pudding mix (about 1/2 cup) powder
1-2 T lemon juice (fresh)
1 t vanilla extract
Graham cracker pie crust
Sugar to taste (about 1/3 to 1/2 of a cup)
Using the paddle attachment of a stand mixer combine everything into a thick, smooth paste and pour into a prepared Graham cracker crust. This is a very runny filling–mine spilled on the floor and inside my oven. You may want to take precautions such as covering your oven tray with silver foil or resting the pie pan in an aluminum foil case. Don’t say I didnt warn you. (for a thicker batter, you can take the slightly more time consuming step of beating the pareve whip alone until stiff before adding the other ingredients)
Bake at 180 C or 350 F until set (about one hour) Cool and then refrigerate for 12 hours before serving
Freezes very well.use this one

Yummy Winter Veggie Soup with, no kidding chestnuts and pears.

When vacuum packed chestnuts first hit Jerusalem’s supermarket shelves, I grabbed a bag. Somewhere deep in my heart, I hoped that the shiny metallic package contained the wonderful taste of the roasted chestnuts sold in brown paper bags I had eaten on the streets of midtown Manhattan as a child. They didn’t. There were cold and slightly slimy and I wasn’t sure what to do with them so I threw them into a roast but their starchy sweetness was overwhelmed by the flavor of the meat. So I forgot about vacuum packed chestnuts for a while until I met Ronnie Fein. Ronnie Fein is a food blogger and cookbook author and cooking teacher and lawyer and wife and Mom and grandma and probably a whole more, in a word, a maven and her latest cookbook, the Modern Jewish Kitchen she features Thanksgiving Stuffing Soup made with it vacuum packed chestnuts!!! A solution at last. I wrote a short piece on Fein and her cookbook for Tablet and after qvelling about her and her cooking for a mass readership, I felt like a fraud never having tasted the soup myself, so two nights ago I made a batch for myself and for a house full of company. Yes, I experiment on my guests…shameful but true. My own kids probably wouldn’t eat anything made with pureed chestnuts and pears but I figured that at least one of my guests would, and they did.

One more confession -I didn’t follow the recipe exactly, not because it wasn’t an excellent recipe but for more prosaic reasons. (1) I didn’t have all the ingredients. I only had 2 and a half bags of chestnuts (my son snacked on the other half bag. I substituted with fresh pumpkin cubes (2) I left out the fresh thyme. It’s not available here and frankly, I’m not turned onto it. and (3)I’ve got a chronic inability to follow recipes exactly. Maybe it has something to do with being an orthodox Jew whose life is governed by rules I can’t change. In cooking I can cut myself some slack.
Anyway, to my surprise and delight the soup was lovely. To my amazement the pears added a note of sweetness and complexity balancing the starchy nuttiness of the chestnuts. If you’re curious, here’s my adaptation of Thanksgiving Stuffing Soup. You can find the authentic version on Tablet
Heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil
Then add one medium onion diced and three celery ribs (2 if they are fat) plus leaves chopped fine. Saute until softened, the add four ripe pears peeled and seeded (I used tiny green D’Anjous–the only ones they have here) and 300 grams of peeled vacuum packed chestnuts (not in syrup). I added 2 cups of diced pumpkin. but you can add another 200 grams of chestnuts if you’ve got them.
Add five cups of vegetable stock (I faked it with consomme powder combined with onion soup mix. I sure real stock is better) , and salt, pepper and thyme (if you like it) to taste. Bring to a boil and then simmer until the vegetables are soft and then puree with an immersion blender. AFter that you can add a half cup of almond milk to make it creamier but it’s fine without. Ronnie Fein serves the soup with croutons.
Serves 6. Freezes well.

Hot Cocoa for Dieters: Comfort Food when we Need comforting.

I’ve got no words to say about last week’s brutal attack but like many people here I feel a great need for  comforting and my  go to comfort food is hot cocoa which presents a problem. As anyone with any sense knows hot cocoa with milk and or milk and whipped cream is fattening. Having spent the better part of last winter and spring, shedding 15 extra pounds  I didn’t want to revert to my old tubby self so I  created a more slimming alternative. Yes, I guess that qualifies me as a recipe developer–an occupational category in 2014, though I prefer to think of myself as someone who potchkes in the kitchen. My tiny stroke of genius involves the decision to combine whole milk   with  soy milk.

I’ve been drinking soy  milk for years mostly as a whitener for coffee substitute but frankly I always thought of it as a food that had certain limitations, one of which was that it couldn’t survive boiling or microwave boiling. Without testing this hypothesis, I took it as a article of faith that when set on a flame or blasted at high temperatures, soy milk would freak out and  curdle into something disgusting but it just isn’t so. Amazing right? Soy milk is microwaveable and combined with whole milk and cocoa and sweetener it makes a very good hot chocolate.Unlike hot chocolate made from skim milk this hot chocolate is  rich, smooth,  and not watery tasting and it has a a more manageable calorie count than a hot cocoa made with only whole milk. (don’t ask me to provide it. I’m not a nutritionist. All I know is that my weight stayed the same over the past two days)
1 tablespoon best quality unsweetened cocoa powder (you can use 1 and 1/2 T for a richer taste)
3 saccharines or 3 teaspoons of sugar or other sugar substitute
Combine cocoa and sugar or sugar substitute in a mug
Meanwhile in a microwave safe cup combine 3/4 of a cup of soy milk (I use Tnuva whole or lighly sweetened) and 1/2 to 3/4 cups of whole milk. Microwave together for 2 minutes. Remove from microwave. Then pour off two tablespoons of the heated milks and combine with the cocoa sugar combination to make a paste. Return the milk to the microwave until it’s almost boiled and then combine with the paste. Yumcocoal melt step 1hot choc