Lemony Barley Salad with Kale Pesto, Tomaisins and Israeli Innovation

July 30, 2014

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This recipe proves how important one ingredient can be, especially if it is a intensely flavored condiment. I spotted this recipe in the August issue of Food and Wine Magazine and it sounded so good: nubbly barley tossed in a lemony kale pesto dressing.

The recipe said that the addition of chopped preserved lemon was “optional,”  so I left that ingredient out and added in lots of fresh lemon juice. Even with using a whole lemon instead of the measly 1 Tbl. of juice the recipe called for, the salad tasted bland, very, very bland. Mostly, the salad had a strong herbal taste from the kale.

I went down to Sarah’s Tent in Deal, New Jersey to rectify the situation. I came home with a pint of preserved lemon slices, floating in spicy oil. I went straight to the kitchen and pulled out the leftover salad and tried to fix it by adding in the lemon and also some craisins.

The recipe called for currants, but I felt the recipe needed a more acidic dried fruit. Ideally, I would have added in these dried grape tomatoes that my sister-in-law brought back from Israel. They look like giant craisins, but taste like really, really sweet tomatoes. Those would have been perfect in this salad.

Not to digress too much, but these Israeli dried tomatoes are astonishing. My sister-in-law told me that they have no added sugar. They were so super candy sweet that I just didn’t believe her.

I’m still not sure that I believe it, but I looked online and found out that there is something called the Tomaccio, the “sweet raisin tomato.” Bred in Israel from wild Peruvian tomatoes, the Tomaccio is super sweet, so sweet that it turns into something like a raisin when it is dried.  It took Israeli nursery Hishtil twelve years to breed this variety of tomato. Another Israeli company, 2Macho (pronounced the same as Tomaccio?) created another kind of cherry tomato raisin.  And yet another Israeli company, Tomaisin, bred a cherry tomato that dries on the vine and has twice the sweetness of regular tomatoes (see also this).

On top of being really sweet and having a pleasant raisin texture, these tomaisins are supposed to have much more lycopene than regular tomatoes. Yummy and healthy–my favorite combination.

So, anyway, back to the barley salad. I added in the chopped preserved lemon and, WOW! The flavor of the salad went from blah to something that exploded with spicy lemony flavor. This is a salad to serve at a fancy simcha because the colors are beautiful, the texture is very appealing and the flavor is intense.

The recipe for this salad was contributed to Food and Wine by up and coming chef Jessica Koslow, of Sqirl. The key to its success is aggressive seasoning.

Bonus: Someone else found this salad a bit bland without the preserved lemon (“somehow kale plus olive oil and a bit of salt and lemon was just sort of meh.”). Here is how Lynne Ireland jazzed it up.

Another bonus: the preserved lemons I bought were in slices, seasoned with paprika, hot pepper (other spices?) and oil. Here is a similar sounding recipe from chef Shaya Klechevsky.

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Roasted Cauliflower with Lentils and Dates

July 30, 2014

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If you want a main dish for the Nine Days that is hearty and filling, but not laden with dairy products, consider this salad. It is packed with super nutritious ingredients like lentils, spinach, tahina, dates, almonds and cauliflower.  It has a small amount of olive oil and only a teaspoon of honey. It feels light because it is a salad, but the lentils, coated with a tahina dressing, give it an almost meaty heft that will leave you completely sated.

It is the kind of unusual and exciting combination of ingredients that I usually associate with an Ottolenghi recipe, but this salad comes from Food and Wine Magazine contributors David Frenkiel and Luise Vindahl. David and Luise are a Stockholm-based couple that have a beautiful vegetarian blog called Green Kitchen Stories.

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Broccoli Rabe Pesto Pasta with Heirloom Grape Tomatoes

July 8, 2014

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Pesto made with broccoli rabe is pretty popular and it is also super nutritious. You can serve the pesto as a dip or spread for bread instead of as a sauce for pasta. I followed a recipe from Mario Batali’s Molto Gusto. If you follow the link, you will not only find the recipe, but a clip of Mario demonstrating its preparation along with that of two other pasta recipes (pasta with pureed red peppers and goat cheese and pasta with Swiss chard).

The original recipe called for orecchiette pasta, but I substituted farfalle and added in some heirloom grape tomatoes. Later, I served leftovers as a salad, with the addition of more blanched broccoli rabe and some cannellini beans.

The pesto is exceptionally good. I made twice as much pesto as I needed for the pasta, and I have been enjoying leftovers spread onto challah along with lemon chummus.

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Mario Batali’s Chilled Tomato and Bread Soup

July 4, 2014

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This recipe is ideal for when it is brutally hot and you just don’t feel like cooking. It is so easy: just puree canned (or fresh) tomatoes with day-old bread, salt, pepper and fresh basil. Swirl in a little olive oil, lemon juice, red pepper flakes and scallions and you are done. The complex taste belies the simplicity of the preparation–no one will know you didn’t slave over this.

Don’t expect this to be like gazpacho, which I find to be too spicy and raw onion-ey. This is subtle and mild. The fresh basil absolutely makes this dish, so don’t leave it out.

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Parshat Balak: Ma Tovu Ohalecha, Yaakov

July 4, 2014

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“Mah tovu ohalecha, Yaakov, mishkenotecha, Yisrael!” (How goodly are your tents, Yaakov, your dwelling places, Israel!)

The bright spot these past few weeks has been the display of achdut (unity). In this week’s parsha, there appears Bilaam’s famous words about the tents of Yaacov, the dwelling places of Israel.

Why was it that Bilaam was forced to praise the Jewish people in this manner instead of cursing them as he intended? Rashi says that it was because he saw that the openings of the tents did not face each other. This indicated that Bnei Yisroel did wish to look into each others tents. This in turn reflected a sense of unity without jealousy and with respect for individuality and privacy.

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Wordless Wednesday: #BringBackOurBoys

June 25, 2014

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Leora has already written about this. This is one of numerous trees in the community that are bedecked with yellow ribbons as a show of solidarity and as an expression of support for  Eyal Yifrach, Gilad Shaar, and Naftali Frenkel. Yellow ribbons are being sold to raise money for the various funds to support the soldiers looking for the missing teens (such as this). The yellow ribbons from this campaign didn’t fit around this mighty oak, so I had to make do with a large yellow plastic tablecloth, cut into strips.

As Mrs. S says, may we soon be privileged to enjoy besurot tovot, yeshu’ot v’nechamot (good tidings, salvation and consolation).

Maple Tamari Tofu

June 9, 2014

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The problem with most tofu that I get in restaurants is that  the sauce just sits on the surface of  thick pieces that are flavorless on the inside.

Here is my tricks for getting  flavor all the way into the center of the tofu:

(1) Put salt and pepper on the tofu while it drains. The seasoning works its way into the tofu. The longer the tofu absorbs the seasonings, the more flavor on the inside of the tofu;

(2) Cook the tofu a long time before adding the sauce to drive off excess moisture and make the inside of the tofu a bit spongy; and

(2) Add water to the sauce. If you dilute the sauce, the sauce will soak into the tofu. After it soaks in, then you can boil down the remaining sauce into a thick glaze.

The following maple soy sauce has become my new go-to glaze for tempeh and tofu.

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Banana Cake with Chocolate Glaze

June 6, 2014

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My mother called to tell me she made an amazing banana cake–the best ever!–she wanted to thank me for helping her convert the recipe from a margarine/butter-based recipe to an oil-based recipe. Instead of replacing the butter with oil in a one to one ratio, I told her to add slightly less oil than butter and make up the difference in volume with a little water.

Why? Because most butter is only about 81 percent butterfat (somewhere between 80 and 86 percent). The rest is water and milkfat solids. So 3/4 cup margarine is approximately equal to 10 Tbl. oil and 2 Tbl. water.

She also made a few of her own tweaks to the recipe–a little less sugar, a pinch more flour–and the result was a moist, but not greasy or heavy cake. My mom was thrilled: “Usually my banana cakes fall in the center or are heavy, but this cake was perfect!”

I was inspired to make the cake, too. My blender was on the counter, so I used that to mix up the batter. I decided to gild the lily by making a chocolate glaze with melted chocolate chips and coconut oil. The glaze tastes a bit like Magic Shell or the coating on ice cream bars. The flavor combination of cake and glaze is reminiscent of chocolate covered frozen bananas.

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Cookbook Review: Dairy Made Easy & “180 Cal (or Less!) Cheesecake” Ramekins

May 26, 2014

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Disclosure: Artscroll provided me with a copy of this book to review. Opinions are my own.

Leah Schapira and Victoria Dwek have released another book in their “made easy” series in time for Shavuoth. Like the earlier books in this series, Dairy Made Easy is a slim book, very attractively designed. The target audience for this book seems to be cooks who already have plenty of comprehensive, basic cookbooks and are looking to freshen up their dairy menus with recipes that are creative but not too much of a patchke.

The recipes in Dairy Made Easy are clearly explained and reasonably do-able for most cooks.  While most of them look fairly easy to make, not all of them are dead simple. Recipes that sound delicious but a little involved: Arancini (deep-fried cheese-stuffed rice balls), chocolate croissants, and cheese buns/babka.

This being a dairy cookbook, the recipes feature lots of butter, cream and cheese. Most don’t have over-the-top amounts, but some do. The Three Cheese Quiche has a pint of sour cream and almost two sticks of butter in the crust and over 2 1/2 lbs. of cheese in the filling. The Cajun Creamy Pasta, the Penne a la Vodka, the Pesto Cream Sauce and the Alfredo sauce all use about a pint of heavy cream.

The authors do include a “Make it Light” page that lists the lighter recipes in the book and provides tips for lightening up some of the richer recipes. A sidebar explains how to use Greek yogurt as a substitute for higher fat ingredients like cream cheese or sour cream. (Throughout the book, the authors suggest using a particular brand of Greek yogurt and another brand of hard cheese.) There is also a “Make it Pareve” page.

Another thing to bear in mind: the book emphasizes pasta and bread, not whole grains and legumes. The main dishes in this book are primarily divided between the chapters “Pizza,” “Pasta,” and “Soups, Salads & Sandwiches.”  There are ten pasta dishes, five pizza/calzone recipes and four sandwich recipes. Besides these bread or pasta main dishes, there is one fish recipe, one quiche recipe and one frittata recipe.

All that being said, the bottom line with any cookbook is whether or not the recipes are appealing and actually work. On this count, the authors definitely deliver. I have liked everything that I have made from this book and there are a number of other recipes I want to try. Here is what I have already made from this book:

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Cold Brewed Coffee

May 23, 2014

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I don’t know why it took me so long to try cold brewed coffee. It is easy to make, convenient to have on hand in the refrigerator and the taste is superior to regular brewed (less bitter). I started with a recipe from Dairy Made Easy (review of book to follow), but I then looked online for other recipes and tips on making this.

Here is the basic idea: mix coffee grounds with water, steep for 12 hours and then strain out the coffee grounds. It is kind of like sun tea.

The one thing that annoyed me about cold brewing was the mess of straining out the coffee from the water. I was taking out my coffee pot, putting a filter in it and then straining the coffee through that filter. It took more time than I would like and was messy.

Looking online, I saw that some people deal with this by using a nut milk bag to hold the grounds (kind of like a giant tea bag). You just pull out the bag with the grounds inside and discard the grounds. No filtering! You do have to clean the nut milk bag.

Here is my solution: fill a paper coffee filter with coffee grounds, staple the filter closed so that the grounds can’t escape and then brew. When the coffee is done steeping, just pull your homemade coffee pod out of the water and toss it.

I have played around a bit with how much coffee and water I use. I find that the most that the coffee filter can hold (and still be easy to staple closed) is between 6-8 tablespoons ( 1.5 to 2 ounces). I add 3 cups of water to this, but if you like your coffee stronger, you can add less (about 2 1/4 cups).

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