Archive for July, 2013

Sourdough Success

July 31, 2013


Sourdough bread has always been my nemesis. I never could quite get it right. But, it pays to persevere. I finally succeeded in making a strong sourdough starter and have used it so far to make whole wheat bread and the above potato rosemary bread.

The impetus for my sourdough experiment was Michael Pollan’s Cooked. In this book, Pollan discusses the dietary importance of fermented foods (and you can read some of his thoughts on this in this NPR interview). Pollan makes some very compelling arguments for eating sourdough bread, and conveniently includes a recipe for sourdough starter and whole wheat sourdough bread at the back of the book.

Basically, to make the sourdough starter, you mix equal weights of flour and water (50 g. white flour, 50 g. whole wheat flour and 100 g. water) and then set the resulting batter aside to ferment. If all goes well, the batter will get foamy as wild yeast take over. You can help this process along by giving the batter a good stir a few times a day.

It can take as much as a week for the wild yeast to take over, but my batter starting foaming nicely after 24 hours. At this point, you need to replenish the food supply of the starter and build its strength. You discard 80 percent of the sourdough starter and add 100 g. flour and 100 g. water to the remaining amount (about 40 g. starter). Give the mixture a good stir a few times a day. Repeat the process of discarding 80 percent and adding in 100 g. flour and 100 g. water after 12-24 hours. The recipe stated to wait 24 hours between feedings, but my stater was foaming up so quickly, that I felt it would be better to have twice daily feedings. After about a week of this procedure, I had a very lively sourdough starter with a nice, but not overpowering sourness.

I used the sourdough starter to make the whole wheat sourdough in Pollan’s book and also to make a recipe which I found in a book by Dan Lepard for potato rosemary bread. The bread recipe in Lepard’s book originally came from Erez Komarovsky, who has a bakery chain in Israel. Instead of calling for a regular sourdough, Komarovsky’s recipe calls for Biga Acida, a three (or four) day preferment which uses orange juice and a bit of honey along with the flour and water.

A bit background on the people behind the bread recipe. Dan Lepard’s book, Baking with Passion, was about the recipes from the iconic Baker & Spice in London. Founded by Gail Stephens in 1995, it was the prototype for Ottolenghi in its modern Israeli food sensibility.  Stephens (also known now as Yael Mejia), was born in London, but raised in Israel. After returning to London and spending years in the food distribution business, Stephens decided to open a bakery. She hired Dan Lepard as baker/consultant and Sammi Tamini as chef. Yotam Ottolenghi eventually became head pastry chef at Baker& Spice. Later, of course, Ottolenghi and Tamimi partnered in creating Ottolenghi.

Now Ottolenghi and Lepard are famous with published books to their name and regular newspaper columns in the Guardian (Ottolenghi’s column; Dan’s). Gail or rather Yael Mejia now is the force behind a Baker & Spice in Dubai.

Erez Komarovsky, the baker behind the original bread recipe, is credited with revolutionizing the bakery business in Israel in the nineties with his chain of artisan bread bakeries. It is unclear how Stephens got the recipe from him, but he was very influential in the Israeli baking scene at the time Baker & Spice was created, and the Israeli baking scene is the inspiration behind both Baker & Spice and Ottolenghi (see this interesting article on the topic of Israel comes to London).

Now, you may be wondering: all very interesting, but how did the bread taste? The bread was fantastic, with a crisp/chewy crust and a just-sour enough flavor to the interior. Unfortunately, I have no photos of the crumb, but it quite nice looking: light texture, with some large holes. The potato and garlic flavor didn’t come through very strongly, although you could smell the potato and garlic when the bread came out of the oven. Definitely worth repeating.


Japanese Restaurant Salad and Chicken Sliders with Wasabi Sauce

July 18, 2013


These little chicken burgers were not supposed to be anything remotely Asian. I got the foundation of the recipe while confiding in a complete stranger at the local kosher butcher.

“My son is sick of the usual chicken,” I said, “so I am going to try giving him chicken meatballs.”

“Oh,” she offered, “I have a recipe from my grandmother that you could try. You mix ground chicken with grated carrot and grated onion, a little matzoh meal, garlic powder, onion powder, salt, pepper . . . . Then you fry them or bake them. No sauce.”

“Really? So how much matzoh meal? How much of the other ingredients?”

She turned to her elderly mother: “Ma, how much matzoh meal? Half a cup? Yes, that sounds right. To a pound of chicken, plus a whole carrot and a whole onion.”

Okay, I was game. I made the chicken burgers, but they were a little bland by themselves. Then it occurred to me that the burgers were kind of like falshe (mock gefilte fish made with chicken instead of fish). Maybe, I thought, they would be good with horseradish or wasabi.

I decided to go Asian and serve the burgers with wasabi sauce and  a salad topped with a carrot ginger dressing. The result was such a huge success that when I made the burgers again, I tweaked the  recipe with a little added soy sauce and honey.


Umami Sauce

July 18, 2013


I have made batch after batch of this creamy sauce, adapted from Dr. Andrew Weil’s cookbook True Food, and never tire of it.  I have used it as a salad dressing, but it can also be used to enhance the flavor of ground beef, roasted fish, steamed vegetables and any number of other uses (like this recipe for stir-fried Brussels sprouts,  or stuffed potatoes with broccoli.

It is super creamy and thick, pungent with garlic, with a rich savoriness. The thickness does not come from mayonnaise or oil, but mostly from nutritional yeast, a powerhouse source of vitamins, minerals and protein.


Nine Days Menu Ideas

July 5, 2013

Trying to think of what to make for the nine days? Below are links to some of the fish, salad and vegetarian main dish recipes on this site.


Weequahic Salad (Claremont Salad or Health Salad)

July 4, 2013


This was a popular salad when I was growing up. The recipe supposedly comes from the legendary Weequahic Diner in Newark, New Jersey. The owners of the Weequahic, the Baumans, later operated the Claremont Diner in Verona. At both diners, complimentary bowls of this salad were offered to customers when they were first seated.

From the late thirties through the early sixties, the Weequahic Diner was a vital part of the scene in the Jewish section of Newark known as Weequahic. The Claremont stayed in business until fairly recently. After the original Verona location burned down in a fire, the diner was relocated to Clifton were it survived long enough to  be featured in an episode of The Sopranos before being torn down to make way for an auto dealership.

Part of the appeal of the salad is this little bit of New Jersey lore. Mostly, though, my mom and her friends liked to serve this salad in the sixties and seventies because it was delicious, easy to make and kept extremely well.


Soft Baked Almond Bars

July 3, 2013


This is another version of the Kashi-style bars (see here for the chocolate version). The texture is moist and dense, with a nice honey almond flavor. There is a decent amount of protein and fiber per serving, making this a healthier snack. If you use agave syrup instead of honey, the recipe is vegan.