Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Independence Day Grill: The Alternative Burger

The Israel-dwellers among my gentle readers are probably still contemplating their bellies in pain and reflecting on the gorging fest they may have taken part in lately, otherwise known as "the Yom Ha'atzmaut Mangal". We discussed this interesting anthropological phenomenon last year. And, without fail, the woods were thick with meaty smoke this year, too.

We were invited to a barbecue (=mangal) at the home of dear friends, and in lieu of vegetable skewers I decided to bring something else. A short search on google for vegan patties yielded all sorts of things, but none of the versions really captured the spirit of the holiday. Since this is Israel, I wanted the patties to have a bit of falafel aroma, which you can obtain using cumin and turmeric and paprika; also, the patties have a mix of lentils and chickpeas. I use oat bran to bond them together. They held nicely on the grill and were all eaten immediately (by us and by the meat eaters!). Not a morsel was left. Fortunately, my friend Ilan was around with his new camera and managed to take a picture before they disappeared.

Vegan Patties with a Hint of Falafel

3 cups green lentils
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/2-3/4 cup oat bran
5 garlic cloves
3 tbsps cumin
3 tbsps turmeric
1 tbsp paprika
big handful of parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Soak lentils and chickpeas in water; chickpeas take longer - a few hours - but lentils are happy after they're soaked for twenty minutes or so. Then, strain and cook in a big pot of water until tender. Strain again, saving about 1/2 cup of the liquid.
Place lentils and chickpeas in food processor bowl. Add 1/4 cup oat bran and process. Add water if the thing refuses to puree, and oat bran gradually until the lentil paste can be shaped into small burgers that hold their shape. Add spices and parsley and garlic and keep processing. Taste to correct - since ingredients are cooked, it'll give you a pretty good idea of what it'll taste like eventually.

Place gently on grill (preferably on a tray, though these things don't fall apart so easy), and eat with pita, tchina and vegetables.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Fast Red Tofu Uncheese

Another variation on the tofu "uncheese" theme, this time a soft reddish variety, that tastes somewhat like ricotta but with a bit of a punch. This is really good stuff. I made it to take over to our friends Shachar and Amit's house tonight, with some crackers; I had a small container of matbucha, which is basically a Moroccan salad/salsa/dip made of tomatoes, garlic and spices cooked together for a long time, sort of like jam. If you like, you can make your own matbucha, but if you don't have any and don't want to bother, you can try doing this with roasted peppers or with canned roasted tomatoes.

1 block of tofu
2 tbsps matbucha; or 2 roasted peppers, cut into pieces; or 2 tbsps canned roasted tomatoes (the Glen Muir variety I remember from the Bay Area is pretty good)
1 handful fresh parsley
2 small chili peppers
Optional: paprika; basil; black pepper.

Place in food processor; blend until smooth. Taste and season as desired.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

A Short Break to Honor Liviu Librescu

We take a short break from food blogging to honor the life, and sacrifice, of a wonderful man - Professor Liviu Librescu, who saved the lives of his Virginia Tech students by blocking, with his body, the entrance to the classroom, so they could escape the mass-murdering shooter by jumping out of the windows.

It was Rabbi Shlomo Yitzhaki (Rashi), I think, who said "make yourself a teacher, make yourself a friend". So close to National Holocaust Rememberance Day, my eyes well at stories like Librescu's, who, like Janusz Korczak, epitomizes this saying to its fullest possible meaning.

Our best teachers live with us, even after they die, because their memories and values live in our hearts. What is remembered, lives. May his memory be blessed.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Easiest way to Sprout Grains and Beans

Sprouts. They are good for you!

There's a variety of reasons why sprouts come so highly recommended by holistic nutritionists. Raw foodists refer to them as "living foods"; others refer to their high content of vitamins and phytogens. Surfing the web, you find a variety of devices and contraptions made for sprouting. Or, you have to get jars and gauzes.

Really, all you need is a collander and a bowl.

1. Rinse the beans or grains, place them in a bowl and soak them in water for a night.
2. The next day, place the beans in the collander and strain all the water out. Rinse them with fresh water; then place the collander on the bowl. Repeat this twice a day for about two or three days.
3. Hurrah! Sprouts!
Works like a charm.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Kidney Support Meal

How do you deal with exhaustion, nutrition-wise? We discussed this at home a few days ago, because we were both feeling tired from the holiday cooking/hosting/working/playing frenzy. We decided to resort to traditional Chinese nutrition principles, and eat a dish of azuki and mung beans with season greens.

As I explained somewhere else, Chinese medicine analyzes food according to its different properties (cold/warm, dry/moist, yin/yang, expansion/contraction). As with other conditions, exhaustion is a manifestation of an imbalance between the five elements - often, as a weakness in kidney energy. The kidneys, associated with the Chinese element of water, are not only responsible for reproductive functions and related to the bladder, but also govern our storage of life energy. When the kidneys are depleted, we have to build them.

Some types of beans are closely associated with the kidneys: remarkably, azuki or aduki beans and mung or mash beans. The fun thing about these small beans is their remarkable resemblance to each other in everything except color: mung beans are green, and azuki beans are deep rich burgundy, but both are small, egg-shaped, and have a little white spot.

There are many great ways to eat azuki and mung beans. This dish takes them down the spicy Middle Eastern route and mixes them with leafy greens. We ate this for dinner, and felt quite heavy later, so you may want to consider eating this for lunch.

Beans and Greens

1 cup azuki beans
1 cup mung beans
2 cups water or vegetable broth, or mix
1 tbsp olive oil
3 heaping tablespoons cumin
1 tbsp nutmeg
3 tablespoons good quality tomato paste
3 garlic cloves
1 large onion
2 dried small chilis
10 large leaves of red or white beet (in Israel, the easiest is manguld).

Place azukis and mungs in a bowl of water for a few hours. If you have no time, place them in boiling water for twenty minutes. Discard the water.

In a large wok, heat up some olive oil. Chop thinly garlic and onion and add to wok. As you fry up, add the cumin and nutmeg and mix. Make an incision in each of the chilis and add them, too. When everything is mixed and the room becomes fragrant, add the strained beans and fry for a few minutes. Then, add the water or broth and the tomato sauce, lower the heat and let cook for about 30 minutes.

Try eating the beans. Have they gone softer? If they are soft, chop up the greens and layer them on top of the beans; cover again. Cook until the beans are soft. You may have to add water as you go.

You'll have to take my word that this comes out very pretty because of the contrast in color between the azuki and the mung. We have just a little leftover, but the camera has disappeared. I hope to find it by the next time we cook, which will probably be in the not-so-distant-future!

Friday, April 06, 2007


I got a few email inquiries from US readers asking what ful was. After much botanical immersion (basically, googling "ful" and "fava bean") I struck gold. Ful is fava bean! And there are several varieties. Read all about it.

And, folks, if you have questions about terms, or measurements, or temperatures, please, please do not hesitate to ask in the comments to the blog. That's what it's there for. This way, others can benefit from the answer to your query, and I get to know that my writing is being read somewhere on the blog, too. :)

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Seder Accomplished!

Gentle readers, I can now report from the field. The seder was a huge success! All the meat eaters enthusiastically embraced our vegetarian offerings, and, in fact, after the holiday eve and the next day's lunch, we are officially OUT OF FOOD. Which is funny, because we thought we'd live on the leftovers for the rest of the holiday!

A couple of hours before the Seder, Chad had an inspiring (though somewhat gross) idea, and we embarked on an artistic project: we made images of the Ten Plagues out of Fimo, baked them, and placed one on each plate. We had eleven guests, so one person got a little matzo.

The salads were a big hit.

And so were the main courses.

Altogether, a good experience. The green quiche was particularly successful, and people also liked our celery-mushroom-sprouts stir-fry with an unexpected ingredient. And indeed, here's a recipe for

Celery-Mushroom-Sprouts Stir-Fry with an Unexpected Ingredient

5 celery stalks
5 shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 portobello mushrooms
5 forest mushrooms
2cm piece of ginger
1 tsp schug (Yemenite chile with cilantro and other wonderful ingredients - very hot!)
1/2 tsp honey
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sake
2 cups sprouts

Place shiitake mushrooms in water glass. Fill with water and add soy sauce. Let sit for a night.
The next day, chop up celery stalks to 1 cm slices. Also, slice portobello mushrooms, and cut up forest mushrooms by hand into bite-size pieces. Take shiitake out of cup and keep the liquid. Slice ginger thinly.

In a wok, heat up a bit of canola or olive oil with the ginger and schug. When air becomes fragrant and aromatic, add celery. After five minutes, add mushrooms and some of the mushroom liquid. Gradually, as you stir the contents of the wok, add more liquid, lemon juice, rice vinegar and sake. When things are cooked but still chewy and full of character, add sprouts. Stir-fry for another minute, then serve.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

Seder Preparation: Episode 5

More recipes? Gaaaah! These ones are just mini-recipes. I mean, we all know how to roast root vegetables. Right?

(do I hear protest from the back row? okay, I'll explain my method, and you can do it differently if you wish)

Basic idea: Heat up your oven to 200 degrees celsius. Chop up your choice of root vegetables into 1/2- or 1-inch cubes. Vegetables go into an oven bag. Then, add some olive oil, herbs and spices, and shake the bag well to mix the vegetables with the other stuff and coat them well in oil. Tie up bag. Place the bag in an oven-safe dish, preferrably with the tie facing down (there's a reason for this: smaller ovens tend to burn the top part of the bag, and you don't want a charred knot looming over your veg). Cut out a few tiny holes in the part of the bag facing the oven (otherwise, the whole thing will inflate and explode). Place in oven for 45 mins to an hour, until the vegetables are soft and juicy.

Now, usually I like to roast several things in the same bag, so they benefit from each other's flavor. However, this Passover we have a combination of low-carb folks with folks who love potatoes and hate the rest, etc, etc, so I have to roast each vegetable separately. The benefit of that is that it allows me to roast each vegetable with different herbs and spices.

Three mini-recipes (follow basic instructions above with the following spices):

4 large potatoes
5 garlic cloves
2 large onions, quartered
5 long rosemary sprigs
sea salt
black pepper

5 large carrots
1 tsp each: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg
3 garlic cloves

6 small beets
1 heaping tbsp kimmel
3 garlic cloves

Seder Preparation: Episode 4

One of our special vegetable dishes hardly needs any cooking. In fact, what's interesting about this dish, is that the green ful cooks in hot water for about ten minutes, while the peas are left uncooked, and slightly steam when they are mixed with the cooked, steaming-hot ful. Add some lemon juice and zatar, and it's finished, and very very tasty. Moroccan Jews consider green ful to be one of Passover's festive dishes, and they sometimes make it into a special soup and even garnish the table with it (here are some other Moroccan traditions). Our recipe is much simpler. Of course, it only works if the peas are super-fresh and can be eaten raw.

Ful and Peas in Lemon and Zatar

30 ful pods
20 garden pea pods
juice from 1 lemons
1 tbsp zatar

Place ful, in pods, in a pot of hot water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer a bit more - ten minutes in total. During that time, take peas out of pods and place in serving bowls.
When ful is ready, take out of pods and put hot ful right into bowl. Mix with peas. Add lemon juice and zatar to taste.

Variation: this would work like magic with some tchina.

Seder Preparation: Episode 3

This quiche is brilliant. I was looking for something that would enable me not to use flour, and in this dish, the grated potatoes do a great job. It's full of wonderful seasonal spring greens, and you're welcome to substitute them for whatever greens you like - except bok choy. I have a feeling bok choy won't work so well in this dish.

Green Quiche

3 large or 5 smallish potatoes
150 gr feta cheese
150 gr spicy yellow cheese (it's possible to substitute for feta, though two kinds of cheese make it really nice and interesting)
3 large cups of chopped greens: white beet leaves, kohlrabi leaves, broccoli leaves and stems, kale, collard, anything you have at home
2 white parts of leek, chopped in rings
2 eggs
2 garlic cloves

This recipe is much easier to do in a food processor, but is doable by hand, as well.

Heat up oven to 180 degrees celsius.

Grate the potatoes (I don't bother skinning them), and mix them with the cheeses, eggs and garlic.

Some separate the thicker stems from greens when cooking them; I think this can easily be avoided by simply chopping the stems smaller, since the quiche will be cooking for a long time anyway. Chop up greens, and add, with leeks, to the mix. Mix well. If it's still too liquid, add some more greens or another small potato. If too dry, add a little bit of cheese. You'll feel if it's the right consistency if it doesn't move too much and seems packed with solids.

Bake for about 45 minutes, or until a fork sunk in the middle comes out dry. It'll be a little airy when right out of the oven, but it becomes more solid as it rests outside after it's baked.

Seder Preparation: Episode 2

Six dishes are finished! Three recipes and three mini-recipes follow. Here's the first one.

Deviled eggs

10 hard-boiled eggs
2 large pickled cucumbers (I prefer in brine)
1 stalk green onion
2 tbsp Dijon mustard
1/2 tbsp good quality mayonnaise
2 tbsp chopped parsley
1 tsp black pepper

Carefully cut each egg in half. Try to make the cut so that each half is pretty stable with the yolk removed. This is tricky, but sometimes you can sort of see that the yolk isn't in the middle of the egg.

Carefully separate yolks from whites, place whites on a tray and yolks in a mixing bowl. Chop cucumbers, green onion and parsley into TINY pieces. This is one piece of work where using a food processor won't do - there's no substitute for careful and thorough knifework. Add chopped veggies to the yolks, add mustard, mayo and green pepper, and mix well with a fork.

Place spoonfuls of the mix back into the whites, slightly nudging them into the yellow cavity in the egg. Refrigerate well.

Seder Preparation: Episode 1

Hiya, everyone!

We're getting ready for the Passover Seder, here, and most of the heavy cookery is over. The menu includes some contributions from other members of the family (the fish and meat, obviously, weren't prepared by me, and folks are bringing them with), but the stuff I'm making here is all fresh out of the Chubeza special holiday box we requested.

I decided to go with fresh and seasonal, which meant that some dishes are improvised. We only got the fresh box this afternoon, so had to make some adjustments to the original plan. Anyway, we've finished setting the table:

This beautiful table is mostly the work of my mom, who has a real talent for designing parties and events. She brought in the beautiful table and matched it with candles and napkins in silver and gold.

These beautiful napkin holders (each of them is different!) remind us of our happy years in Ecuador.

Our menu will not, perhaps, be meticulously kosher, but it'll be springy in the sense that it'll only showcase seasonal, fresh, organic vegetables. So tomorrow my family can expect to eat the following:

On the table
seder plate

gefilte fish (grandma)
deviled eggs
cherry tomatoes stuffed with tofu "uncheese"
pickled red peppers (mom)
pickled eggplant (mom)

grandma's chicken broth

Main Courses
walnut roast (mom)
mixed grain plate (mom)
roasted potatoes with rosemary, onion and garlic
baked carrots with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
roasted beets with kimmel
quiche of greens
green ful and fresh peas in lemon and zatar
bean noodle stir-fry with celery and shiitake mushrooms
green salad with avocado and red grapefruit
cucumber, pepper and tomato salad with sprouts
carrot-radish grated salad (dad)

chocolate mousse
fruit plate (strawberries, kiwi, papaya, oranges, melons, apples)

fresh-ground coffee (from Colombia)
chamomile tea
nut cookies (mom)
egg-foam cookies (gift from our neighbor)
charoset from dates, walnuts, almonds and apples (Chad_
chocolate truffles (mom)

Thursday, March 29, 2007

What You Do When the Flour's Gone

Last night I called my pals Rosie and Noam, and invited them over to watch Green for Danger, a British thriller. As they were heading to my house, I realized I had nothing to give them, except for some dill tofu uncheese. A short glance at the kitchen reminded me that I had four ripe bananas which were still sweet and nice, but would go bad in a day or two; something had to be done. I ran to the grocery store.

"Where's the flour?" I asked myself. The flour was gone. My grocer had to get ready for Passover a bit early, this time; many of the customers are folks from my neighborhood, the Yemenite Quarter, who live close by and keep Kosher quite meticulously. But I wouldn't let that thwart my efforts! I grabbed a bag of potato flour, a bag of matzo flour, and headed upstairs.

There, I took a look at Phyllis Glazer's wonderful classic "A Vegetarian Feast", and changed her banana bread recipe a bit to resemble the following:

Passover-Safe Banana Cakes

1/2 cup canola oil
2 small eggs
1/2 cup brown sugar or honey
4 ripe, sweet bananas
1 tsp vanilla extract
1/2 tsp salt
1 bag baking soda
1 cup matzo flour
1 cup potato flour
1/2 cup hot water
dried cranberries (mine are sweetened with apple juice)
1 1/2 tsp cinnamon

Heat up the oven to about 160 degrees celsius (yes, it's pretty low). Use a large mixing bowl and mix the canola oil, the eggs and the sugar/honey. Make sure the eggs are well beaten and the whole thing is pretty smooth before mashing up the bananas and adding them in. I mashed them in my food processor, but if they're ripe enough, should be no problem to do so with a fork. Mix up the bananas and the oil/egg/sugar mix. Add vanilla extract and mix.

Add the salt and baking soda and mix.

Then, gradually start adding the flour. After every 1/3 cup of flour or so, add some of the water to assist the mixing. Mix really well, so all the flour blends into the mix. Then, add the dried cranberries and the cinnamon and give it a little mix again.

Pour mixture into an English cake mold, or (as I like to do) into muffin cups. Lately I've become addicted to baking in silicone pans, which are very easy to use and require no oiling. If using a silicone pan, be sure to place it on a solid tray before pouring the mixture, so you can put it in the oven, and retrieve it, with no difficulty. Place in oven and bake for about 40 minutes, or until a fork comes out dry when you check if it's ready.

The result? fluffy and fruity little cakes. Being on a no-wheat regime, I had to count on others to report back from the field. The cakes were a big success. Are we onto a breakthrough in Passover baking?

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Dill Tofu "Uncheese"

One of my favorite places to eat when I just moved to Tel Aviv was Taste of Life, run by the Hebrew Israelites. This is a fascinating community of folks of African ancestry who live mostly in Dimona, a town more toward the south, and who abide by vegan nutrition principles as part of their spiritual practices. It's a tiny place, but one that was offering tofu cheeses and patties long before these creative dairy and meat alternatives were popular in Tel Aviv. While the Hebrew Israelites refrain from meat and dairy for spiritual reasons, it is well known today that dairy allergies are quite common among folks of African ancestry, so there may be very good health reasons for their abstinence, too.

My favorite dish there was their tofu "uncheese" with dill, and I would buy small containers of it and snack on them on my way home... nothing would be left by the time I arrived to my fridge.

I've just managed to recreate the recipe, and here is my version, for your enjoyment.

200 gr soft tofu
4-5 tbsp fresh dill (big heaping fistful of chopped herb)
5 garlic cloves (don't be shy with the garlic on this one)
juice from 1 lemon
pinch of salt and black peppper

Place dill and garlic in food processor, pour lemon juice in, and chop up; add tofu, cut into cubes, then process again until smooth or a bit chunky. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Monday, March 12, 2007


One more entry for our quinoa festival.

I have to say, for us, all this quinoa consumption isn't merely a trend. We both grew up in South America, where quinoa, made as a side dish or a soup, is a staple.

1 cup quinoa
3 garlic cloves
3 carrots
1/2 purple cabbage
3 beets
2 tbsps fresh parsley
2 cups vegetable broth

Cut vegetables into cubes/stripes. Sautee garlic in olive oil; add cubed veg and about 1/2 cup of the broth and mix up. Cook for an additional three or four minutes, until the water sort of becomes pink. Add quinoa, parsley, and simmer, with lid closed, occasionally peeping in and mixing up. When all broth is absorbed, you get pink quinoa! And veg! And it all tastes so nice! Much better than the weird rice-with-ketchup of our childhood, and with a color that's even freakier.

Quinoa and Greens in Soy Sauce

Simple and fun, and make use of all those amazing spring greens out there. Potential filling for Passover tomatoes (we're of the grain-eating persuasion).

2 cups quinoa
2 carrots, grated
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 onion, chopped
1/2 kg leafy greens, like mustard greens, leaves from red or white beets, kale, collards, etc, chopped up into ribbons
1 tbsp canola oil
2 tbsp soy sauce
1 tbsp vegetable broth
1/2 tbsp crushed chilis
a teeny bit of squeezed lemon juice
(optional) 1/2 tbsp honey

Cook quinoa in 3 cups of water until all water is absorbed. In the meantime, in a wok, heat up garlic cloves, chili and onion in canola oil. After a minute, add grated carrots, chopped greens, veg broth, soy sauce, lemon juice and optional honey. Then, add the quinoa and stir-fry for three minutes or so. Ready.

Flan picture

It appears that a few weeks ago Chad actually managed to take a picture of the flan he made before it was consumed (an incredible feat requiring considerable dexterity and restraint). The recipe is elsewhere on the blog; the picture itself is here.

Home Hummus Production

As we get ready to leave, in a few months, and head off to the States again, we are confronted with the prospect of terrible hardships in the form of hummus deprivation.

I know Americans think that they get "hummus" when they go into one of those Middle-Eastern places and order "hummus" off the menu. The truth, my friends, is they don't. What they get is what an Israeli friend of mine once referred to as "a fun garlicky spread, but no resemblance to Hummus". Part of what comes with culinary diversity is that some of the production methods of stuff disappear as they emigrate across the seas. Also, stuff gets adjusted to foreign palates and loses its original taste.

(I suspect the same is true for ethnic cuisines I'm less familiar with, and a Japanese friend assures me that sushi served in America tastes nothing like Japanese sushi. Now I'm curious).

Anyway: one thing that holds true for many Israelis is that we sure love our hummus, and therefore have to decide what to do when away from adequate sources. One solution is to adopt the "no hummus outside Israel" rule. Another is to adjust to the local varieties and give a fair chance to the strange designer dips (roasted pepper hummus, pesto hummus, and other travesties). We, as usual, are taking the third path, and Chad is specializing in making hummus at home. Here's how he does that.

1 kg garbanzo beans
juice from one lemon
1 garlic clove
1 cup raw tchina
1/4 cup olive oil
Possible garnishes: ready tchina (with lemon juice, parsley and garlic); leftover cooked garbanzo beans; ful; hard boiled egg.

Let garbanzo beans soak in water for at least a night. Discard the water.

Cook them in a lot of new water until very, very tender. While they are cooking, periodically remove the foam from the surface of the pot. To see if they are ready, try squeezing one and see if it becomes mush. This is not a time for haste. They really have to get very soft.
Then, place them in your food processor with the tchina, some olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and - only if desired - the garlic clove. Add some of the cooking water to reach desired consistency. Process until smooth or semi-smooth (we like it a bit chunky).

Use a large spoon to "coat" a serving plate with hummus, then, in the middle, add a little mound of tchina, whole garbanzo beans, ful, or an egg cut in half.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Seder Menu Draft

So, I sat down and figured out what we're going to serve folks for the Seder. The only who non-vegetarian items on the menu are my grandma's traditional gefilte fish, whose absence would lead the masses to charge on the Bastille, and chicken broth, to which we will provide a mushroom broth alternative for non-carnivores. Apart from that, some of this stuff has already been featured here (but will be served in a more festive manner), and some of it will be posted when I do trial runs for everything. Caveat for kosher keepers - we eat grains and legumes during Passover, and, while there's a chicken broth option, the parfait is dairy.

On the table during the Readings:

seder plate
homemade olives
nuts and almonds
deviled Eggs


gefilte fish
tomatoes stuffed with quinoa salad
mushrooms stuffed with vegetables and herbs


chicken broth
Shiitake mushroom broth


eggplant-tomato bake with soy and herbs
roasted roots/root mash
greens with garlic
lentil pancakes
onions stuffed with rice and spices
green salad with avocado and grapefruit
colorful veg salad


lemon parfait
matzoh layered chocolate cake
fruit plate
coffee and teas

Friday, March 02, 2007

Kentucky Fried Tofu

And here's something else that's pretty cool; these easy strips are excellent in a sandwich with mustard.

Block of firm tofu
Soy sauce
Grated ginger
Brown rice / whole wheat flour
Olive or canola oil

Slice up a block of firm tofu into thin (2 mm) slices. Place them on a tray, pour soy sauce, add ginger slices and leave the whole thing alone for a few hours.
Then, come back; wash and dry the tray, and spread some flour on it. Heat up some oil in a pan. When the pan is hot, you have to work fast; dip each slice in the flour, coating it from all sides, and fry it in the pan. Flip after about 30 seconds, get out of pan after an additional 30 seconds. Yum!

White Beans with Carrot and Celery

A simple lunch for us today, making use of more celery stalks.

1 cup white beans
2 carrots
5-6 celery stalks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp schoog (sort of a Yemenite salsa) or other hot sauce
2 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps dill

Place beans in large bowl, fill with water, and leave overnight.
Next morning, strain, and simmer in fresh water until tender. Set aside.
Chop carrots and celery stalks, so you have small pieces.
Heat up olive oil and add schoog or salsa. When you get teary-eyed standing over the wok, add soy sauce and vegetables. Toss and cook 7-8 minutes or until barely tender.
Then, add beans and dill, toss around for a couple of minutes - and, enjoy!

Thursday, March 01, 2007

Passover/Spring Cookery

These days we're a bit excited, foodwise; we've managed to convince all our family, which lives in the North, to come have the Passover Seder with us in Tel Aviv! Usually in our family, as for many families we know, the younger folks go hang out with the older ones. The parents or grandparents put up the holiday at their house, and the thirtyish folks come as guests.

Last year, we had the Seder here in Tel Aviv, and though a good time was had by all, we were afraid it was too much to ask for folks to drive all the way here on a holiday evening. However, it seems they enjoyed it so much that they want to come back - if anything, they were concerned whether it wasn't too much for us to have them over! It certainly isn't. In holiday times, small apartments seem to expand and make more room for rowdy, happy guests.

Everybody's enthusiasm is interesting in light of the fact that, at our place, they can't really expect large trays (or small trays, for that matter), of juicy meat; we serve a vegetarian meal. Our only concessions to tradition are my grandma's fish balls and her clear chicken broth. Last year, someone brought a dish of fish, we forgot to serve it, and when we remembered, no one wanted any! They were quite happy with the lovely array of spring vegetables and fruit on the table. It's important for us to have a beautiful, colorful display of seasonal local vegetables, because we see Passover, first and foremost, as a Spring festival. We like to read the story behind the holiday, of liberation and freedom, as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, the liberation of the Earth and Her children - trees, bushes, flowers, roots - from the winter cold, and the freedom to bloom and ripen.

The reason I exhaust you, kind readers, with all this theological and familial information, is because plenty of the recipes that will show up in this blog for the next month or so are "practice sessions" for the Seder meal. Some of them are things we made last year, and some are things we'll try this year for the first time.

One humble but flavorful vegetable dish was a mix of celery and Shiitake mushrooms in a gentle, herb-flavored sauce. Here's how we made it last year.

Celery and Shiitake Mushrooms in Broth and Soy

1 tbsp canola oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tbsp of Thai Curry, or fresh ground red pepper
large head of celery, with about 10 fresh, green celery stalks
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 tbsp good quality soy sauce
A few stalks of parsley, sage and thyme

Place mushrooms in a small bowl, and pour hot water on them. Leave to soak for about twenty minutes.
In the meantime, you can prep the other ingredients: remove celery stalks from head, wash well, and cut into small, 1/3 inch pieces. Chop up the parsley, sage and thyme. Slice up the ginger and garlic cloves (bear in mind that, when feeding large crowds, some will dislike the ginger, so if you'll need to fish it out before serving, do not chop it too thinly).
Heat up the canola oil in a wok, add garlic cloves, ginger and Thai curry or red pepper. After about a minute, when kitchen becomes fragrant, add the celery stalks. Move them around the wok for a couple of minutes. Then, go back to your shiitakes, squeeze them well and keep the liquid. Slice 'em up and add to the celery stalks. After a couple of minutes, add to the wok broth, soy, herbs, and as much of the mushroom water as you like. It'll be very flavorful.
Stir and cook for another ten-fifteen minutes, or until celery is soft and nice, and most of the liquids have been absorbed.

The art above is by Arthur Szyk (see more beautiful and interesting Judaica at

Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Oh, Boy, What do I do with this?

Yesterday, I had lunch with my dear grandparents at their house.

Lunch at the grandparents' is always a source of joy. Beyond the pleasure of hanging out with them, my grandma is a fabulous cook. Her cooking influences hail from Russia and from Egypt - two places where the family had been before being in Israel. Accordingly, we get some traditional stuff like gefilte fish (carp balls, which, as opposed to the Polish version, are spicy rather than sweet) side by side with spicy exotic vegetable stuff. However, decades of cooking with the same ingredients have made my grandparents completely ignore the world of whole grains.

Ahhhh, don't I like all those "traditional foods" advocates, who say that whatever your grandma cooks is good for you! Don't these people know that white rice and flour, and refined grains, have been available for a long, long time, and enjoyed a reputation of being more palatable? While the grandparents know the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cook wonderful, creative dishes with them, they are a little bit afraid of whole grains.

So yesterday, my grandma took the plunge, and cooked quinoa from a packet that included some raisins and almonds and nuts. It came out very good, but she was very hesitant about doing other things with quinoa.

"You can buy this in bulk, like rice", I said.
"Really?" she said increduously. "But then how do I know about the fruit?"
"You don't have to have fruit", I said. "You can cook this with vegetables".
I got strange looks.
"Yeah", I said with lots of conviction. "All those amazing dishes you make with white rice? You can make all of them with quinoa".
"Wow", my grandpa joined the conversation. "This is really good."
"Like your mejeddera", I said. "You can make your mejeddera just the same, with the lentils and onion, except use quinoa instead of the rice".
"You know", said my grandma corageously, "I went to the store and almost bought brown rice. Except, with those rough peels, how can it cook at all?"
"C'mon", I argued, "if it wasn't cookable, why would people sell it an eat it? Of course you can cook it. It takes a little more time".
"But it probably has a different flavor", said my grandpa.
"Yeah, it does", I replied. "It tends to be a bit of an acquired taste for folks who are used to refined grains. But it's really good once you get used to it".

A short discussion revealed that the grandparents do eat barley and buckwheat and quite a variety of beans. "There", I said, "you do eat beans and whole grains. So you can just add a couple more to your repertoire".

My grandma promised she'd do some experimenting, and we'll see the results next week when I come back for lunch. Hurrah!

In the meantime, for your sakes and for posterity, I'll try and collect her traditional wonderful Russian and Egyptian recipes, and come up with healthier versions for them whenever needed.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

Quinoa Tabouli

Extremely easy recipe, and a good substitute for burgul, or, as Americans call it, "bulgur". True, not the traditional main ingredient, so probably not for purists; but very tasty nevertheless. Simply mix the following ingredients:

2 cups cooked quinoa
1 fresh cucumber, chopped into teeny-tiny pieces
3 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp chopped cilantro
juice from 1 lemon

1/2 chopped tomato
1 tbsp chopped onion
1 tbsp pumpkin seeds and/or pine nuts

Then, put salad in fridge and let marinate for a while.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Travelling and Eating Healthy

Hiya all,

We're en route to Berkeley, California, where we'll spend the next two weeks - mostly working, but also meeting old and new friends. We're very happy about the trip, but also somewhat concerned - my health still is far from perfect and the last thing I need is the jetlag.

And the food.

Say what you may about Israeli politics, behavior, whatever - it wins the food competition with America, hands down. When I moved to Berkeley in 2001, I could hardly bring myself to shop for anything that wasn't vegetables or fruit - everything seemed processed, fatty, and strange. Getting used to foreign food is always a challenge, but apparently American food is particularly problematic. Many Israelis who have lived abroad (my sample includes lots of grad school students, who also sit and study a lot and therefore have somewhat sedentary lives) find that they gain a lot of weight in America.

Is it possible to live and eat in America without feeling bad and gaining a lot of weight? I maintain it is - at least in California. If you stick to the following principles.

1) Go slow at first. It's hard enough to adjust to a new place, whether you're visiting or staying to live there. Get a few familiar foods, just so your stomach doesn't get as homesick as the rest of you. Being so food-obsessed, I remember how I almost cried with joy when I bought a bag of small, deep green "mediterranean" cucumbers at the overpriced yuppie store. Not all of us can afford shopping at places like that on a regular basis, but sometimes it's important.

2) At the same time, pay attention to the quality of stuff. What is generally good in one place, doesn't necessarily have a good equivalent elsewhere. For example, in my second year in America I finally realized that the low fat cheese market was a disappointment in comparison to the stuff in Israel, and shifted to tofu, which was much better. On the other hand, good luck finding a decent veggie burrito in Tel Aviv (and if you have found one, please, let us all know!).

3) Do not eat weird processed fake foods (and I don't mean these, though they certainly are entertaining). The nature of a globalized, large scale capitalist food market is that it offers a load of new, pre-packaged products for our consumption. There is no need to eat stuff that has an unappetizing, artificial list of ingredients.

4) Exit the supermarket and head to the nearest farmers' market. The markets have much better and fresher - and often cheaper - produce.

5) Do not be afraid of new vegetables. Before coming to America, I didn't know of mustard greens, bitter melon, jicama, bok choy, and other wonderful things. In my first year in California, I played a game that you may find fun: Vegetable of the Week. Each week I bought a vegetable I didn't know, and tried to cook it in various ways. My diet got richer, and my palate was certainly happier!

6) Make use of the advantages of immigration countries! In America, try Asian and Mexican restaurants - it's best to avoid the sanitized chain versions, and go for the real thing.

7) And, finally, find a way in which, when you're sad or lonely or homesick, you can have and enjoy an old favorite... a small bag of Bamba does wonders for Israeli kids and kids-at-heart, anywhere in the world...

Safe travels!

(images for this post from: and

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Squash Challenge

It's Wednesday! Hurrah!

In a house that receives its weekly quota of fresh vegetables and fruit from Chubeza on Mondays, Wednesday is an interesting day. Gone is the excitement of Monday, when the box of new edible toys made its way to our living room, and when we had the freshest salad ever and had a few ideas what to do. Gone is also the laboriousness of Tuesday, when we executed one of those ideas (soba soup with greens - this time, not too exciting. Shame, shame, shame, amazing spinach and carrots gone to waste). What now? What now?

Well, as Chad points out, we do have squash.

Squash is a strange vegetable, to me, at least. It's stringy, and it has a very tough skin, and it has a wonderful color. While Americans eat their squashes on a regular basis and make all sorts of wonderful things out of them, Israeli squash is often too watery-juicy (and not very "buttery") and therefore, isn't too good to mash. When baked, its consistency is more like zucchini. Thing is, it's tasty.

So, I have a large piece of organic squash in my fridge, and while I *could* make some soup or stir fry, I'm not inspired. So I decided to open this up for discussion: What do you suggest I do with the squash?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

The Very Best Bowl of Oatmeal

One of the reasons for the big break I took from posting was feeling exhausted after spending a month and a half flying back and forth between Israel and the US. The constant jetlag, the lack of adequate food, and the stress of travel, took their toll, and the doctor has officially pronounced me exhausted.

In Chinese medicine, exhaustion can be the manifestation of several different conditions, depending on the person involved and the symptoms he or she experiences. But in many of these variations, the issue has to do with a depletion of the body's reserve of qi, the energy of life. In my case, the exhaustion manifests itself in (of course!) various annoying digestive issues, headaches, tiredness and moodiness, muddled thinking, and a very strained set of back muscles.

One of the doctor's recommendations for this situation was a bowl of oatmeal every day. Oatmeal is a pleasantly warming and healthy grain, that provides energy, vitamins (particularly B vitamins), minerals (particularly manganese) and an abundance of fiber. Apparently, there are many people who are allergic to wheat but not to oats, despite the fact that both grains contain gluten. Oatmeal with cinnamon and dried prunes and raisins is truly excellent; cinnamon is a very warming spice in Chinese medicine, and if you add a vanilla pod of a drop of natural vanilla extract, your oatmeal will truly rise to unprecedented levels of yumminess.

Now, please give this a try: I know you're all busy in the morning, but I find that making oatmeal out of steel-cut oats (as opposed to the quick-cooking rolled oats) doesn't take up a large chunk of time, especially if you lower the heat after a while and let it happily simmer while you take your morning shower. So, here 'tis, and it's really worth it.

Oatmeal - 1 serving (more can be made by simply multiplying the amounts!).

1/2 cup steel cut oats
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 tsp vanilla
20 organic raisins
3 organic dried prunes, chopped up into raisin-size pieces
a drop of vanilla extract, or 1/2 vanilla pod

Place all ingredients in a small pot and heat up. Do not wait for it to boil - when things start getting warm, lower the heat. Go about your business, stopping by the stove to mix up your oatmeal every 5 minutes or so, so it doesn't stick. At some point, the oats will change their consistency and the whole thing will be a lot more porridge-like. Spoon into bowl and enjoy.

Tuesday, January 30, 2007

Comment on Oat Cakes

The oat cakes for, oh, four posts ago - they work even better if you substitute the cornflour with brown rice flour. They even rise, muffin style!

Friday, January 26, 2007

Unusual Root Vegetable Dish

Here's what we had last night with the mashed potatoes. It's really tasty, and what's funny - it all turns pink, because of the beets, which makes it funny, too. Also - for the Jewish mothers in the crowd - full of minerals, and warming, in Chinese Medicine terminology.

2 large beets
2 large turnips
3 carrots
1 big broccoli stem
4 onion cloves
olive oil
1 cup vegetable broth
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 large handful each: dill, parsley, cilantro

Prep: chop beets, turnips, carrots and broccoli into 1-inch cubes. Heat up a wok with some olive oil in it. Chop up garlic cloves and add to the oil. Fry up until a nice smell fills the kitchen.
Then, add the vegetable cubes, fennel seeds, and handfuls of herbs. Shift them around in the work until they all absorb the heat and spices. Then, add broth, cover the wok, and cook for about half an hour, occasionally mixing.

Serve on top of mashed potatoes, or in a bowl as a sort of stew. Makes a nice addition to veggie burgers.

Mashed Potatoes and Sweet Potatoes

Have you had any of those horrible nights, when, say, you break up with your partner, or someone does something horrible to you, or you have the flu and feel miserable? Some folks lose their appetite when confronted with such miseries; that has never been the case with me. When I'm upset, I really like to eat - and preferrably something nice and creamy and comforting. My top choice, in my twentysomethings, for situations like this - mashed potatoes.

In these days of crazy carb counting, folks tend to look down on the humble potato, and see it as a blob of carbs out there to get us and live in our thighs. Well, potatoes themselves are not extremely calorie-rich, and while they do consist of starch, there's also good quality fiber in them. However, we do need to think of the relatively recent (and sound) nutritional recommendation to eat foods whose glycemic index is low; that is, foods that become sugars in a slower process and thus do not make our blood sugar level rise and crash like crazy. Potatoes happen to have quite a high glycemic index. My solution? Mix them up with sweet potatoes, and have a beautiful and tasty light-orange colored mash.

6 large potatoes
3 large sweet potatoes
2 cups vegetable broth
3-4 spoons of olive oil, or butter
onions, fried (optional)

Wash and scrub potatoes and sweet potatoes (do not peel! mash with peels is good stuff), put in a large pot, and cover with water. Add vegetable broth. Cook for about forty minutes, or until all roots are soft and can easily be pierced with a fork. Transfer to a bowl, and then mash them with a masher, or with any other handy tool. As you mash, add in the oil or butter (if you're using butter - I prefer goat butter). Also, gradually pour in up to one cup of the cooking liquid, which tastes "brothey" and nice. The additional liquids work just as well as heavy cream or milk, and will make the mash fluffy and complex-tasting. When done, add black pepper to taste, and if you like fried onions, you can decorate the mash with some of these on top.

No pic, today, I'm afraid - that's the problem with mash: it gets eaten before anyone has a chance at whipping out a camera!

Friday, January 19, 2007

Vegetarian Franks 'n Beans

Sometimes, only comfort food will do.
Remember franks 'n beans, that old bonfire favorite? It has a nice, vegetarian, easy-to-make version - provided that you have the right ingredients in hand.

This is something you may want to serve with some whole wheat bread, for dipping, or simply as a nice stew, with a spoon. It's lots of fun to eat! True, textured "meat" stuff isn't exactly the best thing for you, but it's better than the original, and if you miss this homey favorite, this is probably the best way to go. Enriched with some vegetables, it can really be a nice family dinner.

10 tofu dogs (in the US , Smart dogs work best; in Israel, use Tivall)
1 can of white beans in tomato sauce (organic varieties contain as little additives as possible)
2 ripe tomatoes
2-3 red bell peppers
1-2 large white onions
olive oil
chili, black pepper

Chop up onions and fry them in olive oil in a large pot, until golden brown. Then, chop dogs into little rings and add them. After they get brown and a bit puffy, add chopped up tomatoes and peppers; sautee for about three minutes, then add contents of bean can, and spices. Sautee for another five minutes or so, or until it looks like what you remember from happy childhood days.

Oat Bran Cakes

Hi, all -

I know I've been very neglectful of the blog; I hope some freshly cooked/baked entries will improve the situation!
One thing we don't like talking about is constipation, and how important "being regular" is to our wellbeing throughout the day. Here's a nice treat that's excellent with your breakfast tea, and can be a daytime snack, as well.

Heat up the oven to 200 degrees celsius.

1 1/2 cups oat bran
3/4 cup corn flour
2 tsp baking powder
1 tsp cinnamon
1 apple, chopped into tiny pieces
1/2 cup dried prunes, chopped up
1/2 cup raisins, or cranberries, or both

Mix up in a bowl. (bowl #1)

2 egg whites
3 tbsp oil (I use canola)
4 tbsp honey
1/2 a cup apple juice concentrate, or apple sauce/puree
1 tsp vanilla extract

Mix up in another bowl. (bowl #2)

Gradually add contents of bowl #2 to bowl #1, while mixing.

Pour mixture into muffin pan, and bake for about 15-20 minutes, or until tops are golden and a fork stuck into the cakes comes out clean. Enjoy!