Category Archives: Recipes

Nargesi: A pie in love with itself.

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The name Nargesi comes from the Farsi word (Narges) for the Narcissus plant or daffodil, a sunny springtime flower (with either bright yellow petals and a deep orange center, or bright white petals with a deep yellow center) that has come to symbolize rebirth and renewal. This river bank flower is named after the Greek God Narcissus known for his extraordinary beauty, who subsequently drowned while admiring his reflection in a pool of water. Over time the term “narcissist” has come to define someone consumed with his or her own physical appearance or ego.

In my research on this dish I came across photos where instead of the eggs being scrambled with greens and herbs (as done in this recipe), the eggs were cracked open and poached directly on top of a bed of sauteed greens and onions, which visually resembles the Narges flower over leaves. I learned this unusual recipe from my friend Simona Shokrian, whose family would serve this for Passover. The resulting dish is more like a hearty frittata, mixed with herbs, spinach, and tiny meatballs, that you cut into wedges like a pie. Naima Abrishami suggests to sprinkle with lemou Omani (crushed Persian dried limes) to add a slight tangy flavor before serving.

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Nargesi (Persian Egg “Pie” with Leeks, Spinach, Turmeric, and Tiny Meatballs)

YIELD: SERVES 6 TO 8

INGREDIENTS

For Meatballs:
1 large (1/2 pound) white onion, pureed in food processor (should have about 1 cup)
1 pound ground turkey (dark meat better since it has some fat) or beef

For Nargesi:
2 tablespoons grape seed, safflower, or vegetable oil
1½ cups coarsely chopped yellow or white onions (about 1 large)
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/8 teaspoon ground white or freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon turmeric
2 teaspoons ground cumin (optional)
1 cup finely chopped flat leaf parsley leaves
1 cup finely chopped coriander leaves or 1/3 cup tarragon leaves
½ cup finely chopped dill leaves
4 ounces coarsely baby spinach leaves (about 7 loose cups)
2 cups coarsely chopped leeks (use dark green and white parts only) rinsed in cold water and drained, or 1 cup coarsely chopped chives
¾ cup hot water
6 large eggs, lightly beaten

For Serving (optional):
2 tablespoons ground or crushed lemou Omani (dried Persian limes)
or 1 to 2 whole lemou Omani, ground in food processor

STEPS:
1. Drain the excess liquid from the puréed onions and mix with the ground meat in a medium bowl.

2. Heat a large 5- or 6- quart pot with oil over high heat for 1 minute. (Note: Your pot should be about 9 or 10 inches wide, but no more or the final pie will be too thin!) Add the chopped onions and cook until soft and transparent, about 5 minutes.

3. Add the salt, pepper, turmeric, and cumin (if desired) and mix well. Cook 1 minute.

4. Reduce to a medium-low heat. Wet your hands lightly with cold water (to prevent sticking) and taking only 11/2 teaspoons of the meat mixture, form it into a small, smooth meatball the size of a large cherry. (Meat will be very soft and wet, so be gentle.) Drop the meatball into the pot and continue until all of the meat mixture has been used up. Cover pot and steam until solid and cooked through, about 20 minutes.

5. Drop in the parsley, coriander (or tarragon), dill, spinach, and leeks (or chives) and cover.
Steam until the herbs and spinach have wilted and softened, 10 minutes.

6. Pour the hot water over the top and mix gently so as not to break meatballs. Bring to a boil over high heat, then cover, reduce to a medium heat, and cook for 15 minutes. Uncover and cool to room temperature, about 20 minutes. (Eggs will cook too quickly if added to mixture when very hot.)

7. Once nargasi has cooled, re-warm over medium-low heat for 2 minutes. Gradually pour in the beaten eggs while gently mixing with a spoon to distribute evenly. Partially cover and steam over lowest setting until eggs have solidified but are still soft and slightly wet in the center, 35 to 40 minutes.

8. Score and scoop out large pieces of the nargasi and arrange in layers onto a serving platter or plate. Serve warm with lemou Omani on the side for individuals to sprinkle on top of each serving, as desired.

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Charazoti: Georgian Flavors Come Through in their Charoset.

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version of this charoset was described to me by Irina Kazhiloti. The walnuts, which are commonly found in Georgian cooking, are added in a larger quantity than the rest of the nuts, while the addition of pears and peeled chestnuts give it a thick texture similar to a pâté. Try serving this with one or two other charosets at your Seder table this year!

Charazoti 
(Georgian Style Pear and Wine-Soaked Raisin Spread
with Walnuts, Hazelnuts, and Chestnuts)

Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes About 2 1/2 Cups

For Charazoti:
1 cup walnuts
1/2 cup hazelnuts
1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/2 cup peeled and cooked chestnuts (fresh or packaged)
1 to 2 teaspoons sugar (optional)
Pinch of salt
2 ounces ripe pear, cut into cubes (about 1/2 cup)
4 ounces Red Delicious apple, cut into cubes (about 3/4 cup)
2/3 cup black raisins soaked in 2/3 cup sweet kosher for Passover red wine for 1 to 2 hours
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed orange juice

For Serving:
2 to 3 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds (or mixture of all three)

STEPS:
1. Pulse walnuts, hazelnuts, almonds, chestnuts, sugar (if desired) and salt
in a food processor for about 30 seconds or just until coarsely ground and crumbly
(do not over grind).

2. Add the pieces of pear, apple, raisins (and the wine it was soaked in),
and orange juice and pulse until mixture becomes smooth and thick, almost like a pâté.

3. Place into an air-tight container and chill for 2 hours. Serve in one or two small decorative bowls garnished with chopped nuts. Charazoti may be store in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Revisiting the Egyptian Sofrito: Test 3 is the charm.

had neither tasted nor even heard of a sofrito until one year while visiting family in France, my husband and I were invited to the home of Dinah Franco — a Sephardic Jew of Egyptian descent. Sofreír in Spanish means to sauté or “lightly fry,” and in Spanish, Portuguese, Caribbean and Latin American countries, a sofrito is a type of sauce made by cooking a lot of garlic, onions, and spices with various vegetables for a long period of time over low heat, so that it can be used as a base for cooking meat, other vegetables, beans or rice dishes.

The following recipe is one that I recreated after having tasted Dinah’s, which combines nutmeg, ginger, cloves, and turmeric, with a lot of garlic and onions. When I was first developing this dish I focused on getting the right balance of seasonings and ingredients down on paper, and when I later tested my recipe I found that the result was more like a soup than a stew. In this most recent third attempt I used a lot less liquid to braise the meat and cooked it over a lower heat for a longer period of time. The overall result was a thick, rich sauce that took on the flavor of the meat, and more of what a true sofrito should be.

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STEP 1: Gather and prep your ingredients (3 pounds beef stew pieces, 4 cups onions, parsley, 1 to 2 cups coriander leaves and/or parsley leaves, 4 to 5 tablespoons garlic, spices, 1 to 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt, black pepper).

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THE SPICES: 1/4 teaspoon cloves, 1 teaspoon ginger, 2 teaspoons turmeric, and 1/2 teaspoon nutmeg.

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STEP 2: Brown the meat in a large heavy-bottomed pot with a little oil over high heat, then pour into a separate bowl along with all of its liquid.

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STEP 3: Add a few tablespoons of oil to the same pot (no need to wash) and cook onions over medium-high heat until soft and transparent, but not browned. Add the garlic and while stirring, cook for 30 seconds.

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STEP 4: Add the spices, salt, and pepper, mix, and cook over medium heat for about 1 minute.

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STEP 5: Return browned meat and all of its liquid plus about 1 cup cold water to the pot. Add the chopped herbs and mix well. Bring to a boil over high heat, then reduce to a medium-low heat, cover, and simmer for 1 1/2 hours. Uncover and cook an additional 1/2 hour until sauce has reduced and meat is so soft it can be easily cut with a spoon. (Note: If you like, you can scatter a few cups of potato pieces over the top and cook it with the meat for the last 1/2 hour as well.)

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STEP 6: Dinner is served.

 

 

 

 

 

Libyan Butternut Squash Pudding: The trick to this treat.

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If you’ve always liked the idea of traditional American pumpkin pie, but simply never became much of a fan, this Eastern version might be for you. The trick is to use fresh butternut squash instead of pumpkin for a richer texture as well as a more natural sweetness (with a little spice from the ginger), and because it’s dairy- and gluten-free, the overall texture is lighter. It’s a nice way to end a heavy meal, and if you really miss the richness from the dairy, you can always serve it with some fresh whipped cream on top!

Helwat al Yaktin 
(Libyan Butternut Squash “Pudding” with Cinnamon,
Ginger, and Vanilla)

Yield: SERVES 8 / Makes eight 1/2-Cup servings

For Preparing Pan or Ramekins:
8-inch square or round baking or pie pan
(non-stick, glass, or ceramic preferable over metal)

2 to 3 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil

For Pudding:
2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil
2 1/2 pounds fresh butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes,
(already peeled and cut cubes okay,
but please don’t substitute with frozen or canned purée)

1/2 cup vanilla or regular almond milk
3 large egg yolks, lightly beaten
3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

For Baking and Serving:
1 to 2 tablespoons safflower or vegetable oil (for greasing the bowls or pan)
1/2 cup reserved cooked butternut squash cubes
(you will need about 8 small cooked cubes so that each serving
gets a piece on top)

Ground cinnamon

STEPS:
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.; Grease pan generously with oil and set aside.

2. Warm oil in a large non-stick skillet over high heat for 1 minute. Reduce to a medium-low heat and mix in the butternut squash cubes. Cover, and cook until very soft and slightly browned, about 20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes to prevent burning.

3. While the squash is cooking, whisk the milk, egg yolks, ginger, cinnamon, sugar, salt, and vanilla together in a medium bowl.

4. Pour squash cubes into a food processor and pulse until smooth. Scrape the puree into the bowl with the liquid mixture and gently mix to combine.

5. Scrape mixture into your prepared baking pan, spreading it out with the spatula to make it even. Place pan onto the middle rack of your oven and bake 1 hour until center is slightly firm and edges are pulling away from the pan. (Note: Mixture will still be a bit soft to the touch — but not liquidy, and overall top color will turn a deep orangey-brown.) Remove from heat and cool for 30 minutes, then cover with plastic wrap or aluminum foil and chill in refrigerator for 2 hours, or overnight.

6. Serve cold sprinkled with cinnamon.

Four Generations Come Together for Algerian Boulettes with Green Peas

David Rak's grandmother Ginette (seated left), clockwise: David' mom X, David's Dad X, David's wife Jennifer, David (center), and his youngest daughter Léa

David Rak’s grandmother Ginette (seated left), David’s parents Nicole and Robert Rak (standing in back),                 David and Jennifer Rak (center and right), and their youngest daughter Léa (on David’s lap 🙂 )

Each spring, Ginette Cohen would pack her suitcase with quatre épices and a box of Spigol spice packets, and fly from France to New York City to visit her grandson David Rak for his birthday. In his tiny Harlem kitchen, she would prepare the dish that he most longed for: Les Boulettes, and a few weeks ago I was lucky enough to catch her on a visit and learn her secrets. Ginette explained to me that for other occasions, these meat patties would be coated in semolina and served over couscous, but during Passover they were instead dusted with matzah meal and served over steamed crushed matzah. Proudly served on all occasions, Boulettes gives delicious new meaning to Algerian-Jewish comfort food.

The following is a visual recipe for Boulettes:

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Step 1: Combine ground lamb and beef, eggs, broken up matzah, almond flour, onions, garlic salt, pepper, nutmeg, allspice, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, turmeric, saffron, mint, coriander, and parsley in a large bowl.

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Step 2: Roll meat into large balls and roll lightly in the semolina or matzah meal.

Step 3: Place all coated meatballs onto a cutting board or tray and flatten slightly into patties.

Step 3: Place all coated meatballs onto a cutting board or tray and flatten slightly into patties.

Step 4: Dip patties into beaten eggs.

Step 4: Coat patties into beaten eggs.

Step 5: Gently place patties into a pan with very hot oil to fry until dark golden-brown on both sides.

Step 5: Gently place into a pan with very hot oil and fry until dark golden-brown on both sides.

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Step 6: Simmer boulettes with peas in a broth made of water, onions, salt, turmeric, and saffron for 1 hour.

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Step 7: Serve!

 

Matzah Granola. Why didn’t I think of that?

Matzah_Granola_1_blogThe kosher food industry is getting more and more creative with their Passover food products, making life during the week-long holiday almost too easy to observe. While I’m not big on promoting ready-made products, I have to say that I find the name Matzolah, a Passover-friendly snack or breakfast treat that combines broken up matzah pieces with all the best ingredients of homemade granola, very clever. Recently I was down on the Lower East Side leading a Jewish Food Tour and while at Streit’s Matzo Factory, a box of Matzah Farfel caught my eye. With plans to make my own matzah granola, I bought the box. I was a little incredulous about the taste at first, because let’s face it: matzah ALWAYS tastes like, well, matzah. But the final result was crunchy, chewy, and delicious (and I know that my kids will love it). It’s also a fun way to use up leftover matzah pieces at the end of the holiday.

Let me know what you think!

 

CHEWY MATZAH GRANOLA WITH WHOLE ALMONDS, WALNUTS,
DRIED CRANBERRIES, AND HONEY

(Yield: Serves 8 to 10 / Makes 5 Cups)

INGREDIENTS:
Dry Ingredients:
4 cups matzah farfel or finely crushed (not ground) matzah pieces (about 1/4-inch pieces)

1/3 cup whole raw almonds
1/3 cup shelled, unsalted pistachios
1/3 cup walnuts
¼ teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup dried cranberries, blueberries, or coarsely chopped cherries
1/3 cup coarsely chopped dried Turkish apricots or golden raisins

Wet Ingredients:
1/3 cup canola oil
1/3 cup pure maple syrup
1/3 cup honey
½ teaspoon pure vanilla extract

STEPS:
1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.; Line a large cookie or baking sheet with parchment paper.

2. Mix all of the dry ingredients together in a medium sized mixing bowl and set aside.

3. Combine the oil, maple syrup, and honey in a small saucepan.
Bring to a slow boil over medium heat and stir for 2 to 3 minutes.
Remove from heat and mix in vanilla extract.

4. Pour hot syrup over dry ingredients in the bowl and toss well until the
matzah pieces are evenly coated.

5. Spread the matzah mixture out on the parchment-lined cookie sheet or baking pan and place into the oven and bake 30 minutes until lightly browned, shaking or mixing every 10 minutes to make sure that all of it toasts evenly. 

6. Remove from oven and cool completely, about 30 minutes. Mix in the dried fruit, and store in an airtight container or in a Ziploc bag at room temperature up to 3 weeks. Serve with yogurt, milk, or as is like a snack.

The joys (and tribulations) of making homemade date honey.

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Silan (also known as Ha’lek) is an an ancient Babylonian date honey or syrup that many Iraqi Jews today prepare as their form of charoset for the Passover Seder. Unlike other date charosetsSilan  requires a tedious process of boiling down, squeezing, mashing, and straining until you reach the proper consistency. I knew that the Iraqi chapter of my Passover cookbook would not be complete if I hadn’t tackled this recipe myself, and after speaking to various individuals about Silan, I was intrigued (and sufficiently warned): “It’s a lot of work and you need an enormous amount of dates to give you just a few cups of the syrup,” one Iraqi man told me. “Make sure that you enlist the help of a strong man to help you squeeze out all those dates,” replied one woman. And lastly, “I made it once and it was a disaster. I had to throw my shirt out afterwords — what a mess,” said a third younger woman. But the overwhelming response from those who grew up with Silan was simple: “There’s absolutely nothing like it. It’s divine. It’s pure liquid gold.” My challenge had been set.

One quiet morning (while both kids were at school) I set out to the task of making pure date honey for the first time (at this point I was basing my recipe upon the taste of the store-bought kind from Israel, and detailed descriptions from various Iraqi Jews I had spoken to). I combined several pounds of Medjool dates with water in the largest pot I could find, and brought it all to a boil over high heat. After cooking it down for an hour, I removed it from the heat to cool just long enough for me to handle squeezing the pulp in a sack of cheesecloth to extract the juice (I could see where it required a bit of strength!). This precious liquid was then returned to the same large pot and cooked down another full hour until it reduced to about half. The result was a rich, decadent syrup like a cross between honey and black strap molasses. It was divine, and I had to admit that the Baghdadi Jews had won the battle of the date charosets with this one. (Bravo!)

Note: For more on Silan, please see my August of 2013 post.

SILAN (Baghdadi Date Honey with Chopped Almonds, Hazelnuts, and Walnuts)
Yield: Serves 15 to 20 / Makes 2 1/2 CUPS

INGREDIENTS:
For Date Honey:
3 1/4 pounds Medjool or regular dates, pitted (or 3 pounds total without the pits)
18 cups cold water
4 to 8 large pieces of cheese cloth, for squeezing out liquid
Fine mesh strainer with mixing bowl underneath

For Serving:
2 cups toasted walnuts, almonds, hazelnuts, pistachios (or blend), cooled and coarsely chopped

STEPS:
1. Place pitted dates in a very large 5- or 6-quart pot with the water and bring to a boil over very high heat. Reduce to medium-high heat and skim off and discard the foam with a large spoon.
Boil, uncovered, for 1 full hour.

2. Layer a large, fine mesh strainer with 3 large pieces of cheese cloth (it should hang over the sides by at least 6 inches so that you can gather them up and tie it into a sack). Place the strainer lined with the cheese cloth over a large bowl and pour the hot dates with all of its liquid over it. Gather the ends of the cheese cloth up and twist it into a large sack. Allow the dates to cool long enough for you to be able to squeeze the liquid out by hand, about X minutes.

3. When cool enough, squeeze the sack of date pulp as hard as you can to extract any further liquid that can come out. Discard the sack and all of the date pulp and return the pot with the date liquid to the stove. Bring to a second boil over high heat, reduce to a medium-low heat, and continue to boil, uncovered for 1 hour 15 minutes.

4. Remove from from heat and cool completely before pouring into one or two jars. Seal tightly and store in a cool, dry place or at room temperature for up to 1 month.

5. To serve, pour into small glass or decorative bowls and allow individuals to serve themselves.
You may also mix in the chopped nuts or serve them on the side. Serve as you would any type
of charoset.

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