Thursday, April 27, 2006

Double Fennel!

When I started studying at Hebrew University in Jerusalem (fourteen years ago!), I moved into a very large, railway-like building. My apartment had a spacious kitchen right out of the seventies. It had bright orange cupboards, a leaky and moist fridge, and an oven which sometimes worked and sometimes went on strike. In this land of wonders, I first taught myself how to cook.

Before leaving home, food would miraculously appear in the fridge and then on my plate; my mom, who was extremely busy working, didn't enjoy cooking, except when she had to, and I was never playing around the kitchen. But my newfound independence as a student had made shopping for food, and cooking it, a necessity. Fortunately, my new neighbor, Frida, was there to help me!

Frida was, at the time, in her early thirties, already married with three kids and one on the way. In addition, she ran a daycare center from her home, and excelled at it. At any given point you could walk into Frida's immaculately clean house and find her holding a child (hers or someone else's) in one arm, stirring something delicious on the stove with the other hand, and providing some excellent explanations to the kids' questions. She had huge amounts of patience. I admired her, and thought she should have been awarded the Nobel Prize for housekeeping (why don't they award those, actually?). Her household dwarfed my modest cleaning and cooking skills in comparison, and I felt like the rebellious, dysfunctional neighbor. Naturally, we immediately took to each other.

Frida was a fabulous cook, and I got to eat her concoctions every Wednesday at our "tea at 10am" meeting, and often on Friday nights, at their beautiful Shabbat meal, over which her husband, Moshe, presided with a fresh and shiny kippa on his head. Being of Bulgarian descent, Frida knew a lot about Balkan and Middle Eastern cooking, to which I was never exposed in my Ashkenazi family. One vegetable I had never seen before was fennel.

It looked strange, like some sort of a deformed hand with chubby, stick-like fingers, which smelled a bit like dill, only more fragrant. "What do you do with it?" I asked. amazed. Frida, not fearing the monstrous green hand, picked up her big kitchen knife and nonchalantly chopped it to pieces, reserving the feathery leaves. She then made two simple recipes which have become my favorites, and which I made again this week: Fennel salad and fennel yogurt soup. Here they are:

Frida's Fennel Salad

2 fennels

1/2 cup olive oil

juice from one lemon

3-4 garlic cloves, chopped

fresh parsley and cilantro

Chop the fennels up - fear them not! They can be chopped any direction, though preferrably against the grain. Put in a large bowl. Mix all other ingredients and pour over fennel. Mix well. Now, keep in the fridge for at least four hours, so the flavors mix.

Bulgarian Fennel Yogurt Soup

1 quart good quality goat yogurt (unflavored)

3 nice cucumbers, very finely chopped (this is important, folks. It just doesn't taste right if the bits are too large).

about a cup of chopped fennel feathery leaves

5 garlic cloves (or more, or less, to taste)

a bit of black pepper

olive oil, lemon juice

optional: a few finely-chopped radishes

Mix well and refrigerate. That's all, folks. Super wonderful on a warm day.


AlderAnat said...

oh this is very exciting - blogs, food, and hadar and chad's cooking! i can attest to the absolutely delicious vegetarian meals - breakfast at their house this winter rekindled my obsession with oatmeal, especially when you had fresh dates and various almonds and nuts. in fact, that is what i had for breakfast this very morning!


Hadar said...

I'm so glad you're enjoying the oatmeal, sweetie! The dates really sweeten it in a delicate, exotic way.

Shunra said...

Mmmm! OK, I'm adding that yogurt to the must-try list.

We usually do the same thing without fennel, but since it grows wild along the road at Point Hudson marina (as well as some other places; weeds do that, and like many delicious herbs, fennel is Da Weed), it's always available as part of my spring/summer walk fare.

Do you get to pick fresh-from-the-world stuff over there? When I lived in Tel-Aviv I could not even see it, but that could be a problem more with my eyes than the abundance of earth...

Hadar said...

Hey, dear! Great to see you around here! I sometimes pick Chubezot and eat them, and I often eat Chamtzizim right off the sidewalk. But there's not so much of that in Tel Aviv, unless one does look carefully, which is difficult to do in a big city.

Wild fennels were very common in California, and we used to pick them everywhere we went.

Shunra said...

I have childhood trauma from chubezot: my mother objected to eating things "from the dirt" and used to get very angry at me for picking and eating them.

That may be the reason I have such a penchant for eating things, as it were, straight from the dirt: I learned to gather mushrooms in the pine forests near Jerusalem, and horrified her with a soup made of אחלמיות, which are a wonderful shade of purple and totally freaked her out.

Here I enjoy the roadside herbs and blackberries right off the bush, as well as canning my own jams and condiments - the first woman in my family for at least four generations to engage in canning. It's a rebellion of sorts: my life doesn't grow in plastic bags on the supermarket...