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