Helloooo March

AriCooks, Gluten Free, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free, Winter

Nothing like opening up my blog and realizing that somehow it’s been a month since I last posted. It was a long winter of shivering in our little house, and turning on space heaters, the oven, the hot plate, and boiling pots of water to set out in our freezing bedroom. There were beautiful red flowers and holidays that promised spring’s arrival was near, and then another stretch of cold rain and wind. There were crazy busy days at the cafe, as people shuffled in for soup and warm coffee drinks. We catered a lovely party for a new bride and groom, and baked sheet after sheet of hamantaschen for Purim.

Salad plates set out for catering, in the cafe's kitchen

Nidal and Ida, cleaning wine glasses for a party at Belinda

cupcake-decorating centerpieces for each table (my chocolate cupcake recipe is simply this delicious devils food cake in cupcake-form)

Even after baking hundreds of these Purim cookies at work, I still felt inspired to make our own at home. I based my recipe off of Miriam Kresh's, of Israeli Kitchen.

Then in the midst of a rare Jerusalem snowstorm, my friend Anna arrived, her hair all golden from the california sun, and bringing a fresh, warm energy to our home. Her visit coincides with a big transition in our lives, my leaving my full-time cooking job at the cafe to pursue something new and exciting that I will be posting about soon. There are few friends that I would feel comfortable sharing my space with as I navigate the stress, and feelings of uncertainty during this time, but Anna is an amazing and supportive person who is helping me laugh my way into a new reality this month. More on that to come….

In the meantime I’d like to share these gluten-free recipes with you, as I’ve been experimenting with gluten-free eating this month. The following are new favorites (they all work, I promise!), enjoy!

Gluten free chocolatey brownies from Gluten Free Goddess

Fluffy Gluten free pancakes, also from Gluten Free Goddess 

Ari’s Qunioa Salad:

Rinse two cups of quinoa and cook in 2 cups of boiling water with a pinch of salt and a drizzle of oil. Bring to a boil and then simmer until done.

Toss quinoa with 2 peeled and diced carrots, a handful of chopped parsley, a handful of chopped mint, 1/2 cup raisins and 1/3 cup chopped walnuts.

Toss with this dressing:

juice of 1/2 an orange

juice of 1 lemon

salt, pepper, pinch of cayenne, pinch of cinnamon

1/3 cup good quality olive oil, drizzled in, while whisking vigorously

Sderot Matbucha

AriCooks, Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

To most people in Israel, the small desert city of Sderot is famous for being one of the hardest hit places in the country by the ongoing rockets from Gaza. The city has been under constant fire since the beginning of the second intifada in 2000 and has sustained not only casualties and disruption of daily life, but is also struggling to keep its population and, according to Wikipedia, threatened to declare bankruptcy in 2009.

To us however, it is mainly the home of Avi and Laura who met, fell in love, fostered art and culture and brought positive attention to a place that has had more than its fair share of sad news. You can read more about their work here, here and here.

Laura, who met my mother years ago through work, was kind enough to take us under her wing when we moved to Tel Aviv (where she and Avi currently reside for professional reasons). We felt very lucky to spend time in their company, in their home, and at their shabbat table.

The dynamic in their house is familiar to me both because of their mixed Sephardi-Ashkenazi marriage, and also because of Laura’s wide-eyed California-ness, which reminds me almost exactly of my mother’s. On the Fridays that Laura and Avi do not drive to Sderot to visit his family, Laura does her best to “compete” with the feasts her mother-in-law serves.

“She makes so much food, you would not believe it,” Laura says to me, as she removes an enormous tray of lasagna from the oven.

I look around the kitchen and dining area, which looks a little like the aftermath of one of my culinary classes for tweens, and is filled with delicious smells: bean soup simmers on the stove, three or four salads and slaws are in various stages of being dressed on the counter, a lemon cake stands proudly on the side board and the roasted squash still bakes in the oven.

“I think you did good, Laura,” I say, wondering how in the world it will be possible for just four adults and two very small children to make even a dent in this meal.

I’ve encountered Laura-types in the kitchen many times. Self-deprecating home cooks who are constantly doubting their culinary prowess, yet could probably give most professionals a run for their money. The truth is, Laura is an excellent cook, and being the food-voyeur that I am, I would have been remiss not to take a recipe or two away from my short time as her neighbor.

Matbucha — a cooked dip made with sweet bell peppers, spicy peppers, tomatoes, and garlic — has a permanent place on Laura and Avi’s shabbat table because it is something he grew up with at home in Sderot. After making it myself and seeing how simple it is, Matbucha may take up permanent residence on our shabbat table as well.

Matbucha inspired by Laura Bialis, adapted from New Israeli Food by Janna Gur

4-5 tomatoes

4-5 red bell peppers (I used 3 because they were huge!)

3-4 small hot green peppers (these vary drastically in their degrees of spiciness. The only way to know is to taste them)

8-10 cloves of garlic, crushed

1/2 cup olive oil

1 Tbs paprika

1 tsp cayenne pepper (taste your peppers first, you may not need this)

1 tsp salt

1 pinch sugar (optional)

1 Tbs tomato paste

Cut an X in the bottom of each tomato and blanch briefly in boiling water. Cool and peel. Remove seeds and coarsely chop. Set aside

Place bell and hot peppers under a broiler until they are blackened and mottled, turning with tongs as they roast. Put roasted peppers in a covered bowl or bag and let them steam for 10 minutes. When they are cool enough to handle, remove their skins, seeds and ribs, then coarsely chop.

Put tomatoes in a saucepan and cook until liquid has evaporated — 5 – 10 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients except the tomato paste and  cook for two hours on low heat, stirring occasionally.

Add the tomato paste and cook for another 30 minutes. The salad is ready when it is shiny and very thick. keep in the refrigerator for up to 10 days or in the freezer for 3 months. Bring to room temp before serving.

Beets, phase 2

soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Beets were not in my lexicon growing up. A couple of encounters with cooked beets or borscht as a child at other families’ dinner tables were not enough to turn me on to the somewhat extreme and exotic qualities of beets. Once I entered my twenties and began running out of unexplored vegetable territory (and learned that Jeff is a beet-lover) I found that I had few (if any) objections to a salad of mixed greens with cooked beets and goat cheese — a simple staple that has sustained us many an evening alongside a frittata or pasta dish. I was not alone obviously, the beet and goat cheese salad has become de riguer at almost every bistro in America– ad naseum. The time to find other uses for beets has clearly arrived.

Had someone informed the 9 year-old me that I would one day be loving this borscht recipe, as I let a spoonful of red liquid slip back into my bowl at Lauren Cheatham’s friday night meal, feigning ingestion of her grandma’s recipe, I would have snorted with disbelief (and then felt guilty for insulting her grandma). If I had a comprehensive list of positively revolting foods from my youth, borscht would have certainly been in the top ten, along with chopped liver, chicken, (weird, I know), lox (still hate lox), and smelly cheeses. Time marches forward and palates change. I used to love green olives and feel so-so about avocado, now the opposite is true. Besides, life would be pretty predictable if we let our 9-year-old selves plan the week’s dinner menu all the time.

juniper berries

Dr. Zhivago Borscht, from the Naked Beet

The Naked beet is a great blog I found through food52’s site when I was looking for Hannuka recipes. I am pretty much just cutting and pasting her recipe here, with a couple additional comments of my own.

SERVES 8

10 cups water

2 tablespoons grapeseed oil (I used olive oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

1 bay leaf

3 medium sized beets

2 medium sized carrots

1 large potato (1 yukon or 2 small red)

1 celery stalk, cut into thin moons

1/4 bunch fresh dill, minced

1/2-1 whole lemon, juice of

2-3 teaspoons salt

dash freshly ground pepper

12 whole juniper berries (optional) — what I would do next time, is tie the juniper berries in a cheesecloth satchel that can be removed before serving, biting into a juniper berry is very piney (like the tree), but they do add great flavor to the soup, so I would not omit them altogether.

1-2 cloves of garlic

1 tablespoon sour cream (per bowl)- we used tofutti

Set your pot of water on low heat. Add in 1 tbsp of oil, chopped onion, bay leaf and juniper berries. Peel the beets and cut them into halves if they’re small enough or into thirds or quarters if they’re very large. You want them to be of relatively equal size. Drop them gently into the water as you continue working on the rest of the vegetables.

Peel and cut the carrots into rounds, and for the potatoes, cut them into 1/2″ size cubes or small chunks. (I prefer my vegetables small as I find they distribute a lot better into individual bowls.) Add them to the pot as they’re ready. Then add the chopped celery and the juice of 1/2 of a fresh lemon. Bring your heat up and cook the soup until a fork easily pierces through one of the larger beet pieces; this should take about 15 minutes on medium low heat.

While the beets are getting tender, you should skim the soup from some of the foam that will form. By doing this, you will inevitably be taking out some of the oil along with it. Once you’ve skimmed it, put in an additional 1/2 tablespoon of oil.

Once your beets are done, scoop them out of the soup (bringing back into the pot any vegetables that might have clung to the beet) and let the beets cool for 2 minutes so you can handle them more easily. At this point, you can turn the pot to low heat. I’d advise wearing gloves for the next part so you don’t have to take beet stains off your hands. Using the large holes on your grater, shred your beets. Once you’ve grated all the chunks, carefully put all the shredded beets back into the soup pot and let this cook for an additional 10 minutes.

The soup should have a sweet tart taste. After the 10 minutes, add in the dill and taste the soup to adjust flavors accordingly. Add salt, a tad of pepper, and if the soup is still too sweet for you, another tablespoon or 2 of fresh lemon juice. Remember that if your soup is very hot, you will not taste the actual level of salt, so err on the side of less, as each time you reheat the soup, it will get slightly saltier. This soup is the perfect example of melded flavors getting better in the following days.

Notes (Naked Beet’s): Serve hot or cold, with sour cream or not, but eat this with black bread. If you want to make the soup a bit spicier, add thin slices of garlic to the soup before serving. If you want just a hint of garlic, then rub a cut clove over the crust of your bread. In the Winter, if you want to experience an even more authentic Russian meal, serve this soup with a side of mashed potatoes topped with sardines. Let the juices of the sardines drip into the butter- or milk-mashed potatoes. If you cook this in the Summertime, omit cooking with juniper berries and use a topping of cubed persian cucumbers or a hard boiled egg split in half.

Obsession, it’s a way of life.

dessert, vegetarian, Wheat Free

A quick search on my blog reveals what I strongly suspected: Chocolate is not a hobby for me, it’s an obsession. I know I am not alone, and I don’t really feel the need to apologize — well, except for the fact that I may be neglecting you non-chocolate lovers out there when it comes to the dessert posts on Ari Cooks. These days, people tend to throw the term “obsessed” around quite freely, and I think it’s good to step back every now and then and really look at what a thing actually means. Here’s one definition from princeton.edu:

Obsessed– haunted (I love that!): having or showing excessive or compulsive concern with something

I have a few obsessions, not all of which are appropriate to share in this venue, but I would just like to say that I am at peace with them, and that they sustain me.  This was not always the case, but with age comes maturity and healthier fixations (one hopes).

Have some souffle.

Chocolate Souffle, from The Gourmet Cookbook, edited by Ruth Reichl, 2004

I made this a couple weeks ago when we had our friends Tricia and Joe over for dinner. It was the easiest souffle I have ever attempted — although, like all souffles, it cannot really be made ahead of time. I whipped it up after dinner, while Tricia and I chatted in the kitchen, and the boys played music for a twirling Auralee. An idyllic evening.


1/3 cup sugar, plus additional for coating the souffle dish

5 ounces good bittersweet chocolate (I use Sirius brand, %56… it’s awesome), chopped

3 large eggs, separated, then left at room temperature for 30 minutes (it’s easeist to separate them when they are cold)

3 large egg whites (giving you 6 whites all together), left at room temp for 30 minutes (eggs whip up better when they are not very cold)

pinch of salt

special equipment: a 5 1/2-6 quart souffle dish  (a medium le cruset, or any smooth ceramic vessel should work as well)

Put a rack in middle of oven and preheat to 375º F. Generously grease (butter or spray) souffle dish and coat with sugar, knocking out excess.

Melt chocolate like this: place chopped chocolate in a heat proof bowl that is wide enough to rest on top of a pot, without touching the bottom. Boil a few inches of water in the pot then turn off the heat and place the bowl over the boiled water (water should NOT touch the bottom of the bowl). When the chocolate is halfway melted, give it a stir and let it melt the rest of the way. If your water is hot enough, there is no reason why should ever need to set your chocolate over the burner. This method prevents you from burning your chocolate.

Place bowl of melted chocolate on the counter and stir in yolks quickly and in a steady stream, to prevent them from scrambling. Your chocolate mixture should stiffen.

Beat 6 whites with salt in a large bowl with an electric mixer on medium speed until they just hold soft peaks. Add 1/3 cup sugar a little at a time, then beat on high speed until meringue just hold stiff peaks (do not over beat). Stir about 1 cup meringue into chocolate mixture to lighten it (this helps it absorb the rest of the meringue), then gently but thoroughly fold in remaining meringue.

Spoon into souffle dish and run the tip of your thumb around the inside edge of the dish (this will help the souffle rise evenly). Bake until puffed and crusted in top, but still trembling in center, 24-26 minutes (do not open the oven during those first 22-24 minutes or so). Serve immediately, with whipped cream if so desired.

Note: the souffle can be assembled up to 30 minutes before baking. Keep covered with an inverted bowl (do not let the bowl touch the souffle), at room temp. (I did not find this all that helpful, since we like to linger over dinner, so preparing it before we sat down to eat was not an option– it is helpful though to chop your chocolate and separate your eggs ahead of time).



The Payoff

AriCooks, asian-inspired, Dairy Free, Quick Meals, Summer, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

So, the downside to being away this summer was that I did not get to do any gardening. In past years I have grown little porch gardens in summer and helped my friend Jayne, at the Dance Complex with her amazing garden oasis. The fruits of those labors have been cherry tomatoes, loads of fresh basil, blackberries and often a zucchini or two. I missed those little prizes this year and was resigning myself to expensive farmers’ market produce until Jeff walked in the door last week with an armful of peppers, tomatoes and cucumbers from the garden of a house he is doing some work on. The family Jeff does most of his carpentry for, are VERY generous, and this year their garden produced bountiful results. Jeff has been pretty busy over there from the moment we returned home, and I am excited that part of the payoff is that we can partake in this summer’s harvest!

It did not take me long to figure out what I wanted to do with a variety of spicy peppers and a few handfuls of fresh basil…

Thai curry of course!

This recipe is sort of free-form. You can really play with it and tailor the end result to your liking. The basic idea is that you have some spicy peppers, a lot of fresh basil, and as much garlic as you like, and you use those three ingredients as your base. From there you need a can of coconut milk and any veggies and or proteins that you prefer. I also like to boost the flavor with a little massaman or green thai curry paste, so if those are available where you live, try adding a teaspoon or two (taste a little first, they can be very HOT).

Ari’s Free-Form Thai Curry

you will want to have some cooked rice (I like short grain brown) on hand to serve this over

serves 4-6

2-3 Tbs spicy garden peppers (you can use thai, jalepeno, serrano, etc), finely chopped

2-3 handfuls fresh basil (thai basil is even better, but whatever you’ve got will taste great), chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, minced

neutral-tasting vegetable oil (canola)

1-2 heaping tsp thai curry paste (massaman or green are both good choices — a little goes a long way)

1 (14 oz) can coconut milk

the following are what I chose to add, you can use what you like or what you have on hand

1 thinly sliced onion

1 thinly sliced bell pepper

2 thinly sliced, peeled carrots

1 lb extra firm tofu ,drained, pressed, and cubed

salt

In a wide 12-14 inch skillet heat up some oil on medium heat. When the oil is heated add the garlic, hot peppers and basil and gently saute until the peppers have softened and the mixture is very fragrant – be careful not to burn your garlic.

Add the coconut milk (shake can before opening) and the curry paste and stir, turning the eat to medium-low.

When the coconut milk has begun to simmer  add the veggies and protein, if using. Cover and simmer over low heat (coconut milk will bubble over quickly if the heat is too high) until the veggies are tender. Season with salt and serve with more fresh basil over rice. Enjoy!

Carrot Ginger Dressing

Dairy Free, Salad, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Seeing as this is a blog about food and cooking, I make sure to keep my politics to myself. But whatever team you play for in the realm of Middle East affairs, this week’s events have been tough to swallow. In times like this, I like to retreat to my kitchen and cook up something, comforting or new or time-consuming to take my mind away from the emotional roller-coaster that comes with being the child of once-Israeli citizens. However, things at the ol’ dance studio have been a little too hectic for that, so the best escape I’m making do with is right here, right now, with this very cold Guiness and a salad dressing recipe I made a couple of weeks ago, that I think is really worth sharing.

This recipe comes from one of my old Marth Stewart Living clippings. Back in 2003 the magazine published a great bunch of dressing recipes which I am a little embarrassed to say, took me until now to try. I am one of those people who has just a few dressings in her repertoire and makes them over and over, as they go with almost any salad. I am not a great lover of discovering new vinegars or oils or salad dressing recipes to put them in. I like the salads themselves to be the stars and if I need to add more than a little olive oil or citrus, I may just decide it’s not worth making.

This Carrot Ginger dressing is so good you will be tempted to eat it by the spoonful (which I most certainly did), and it has the added benefits of not only being a stunningly appealing shade of orange, but also so chock full of carrots that it most certainly boosts your salads vegetable content, while flavoring (dressing) it at the same time…. brilliant!

Carrot Miso and Ginger Dressing, from Martha Stewart Living, February 2003

Note: In case you have ever wondered how they make that delicious carrot dressing served at most Japanese restaurants, this is it! Serve this with any simple salad of your choosing.

Ingredients

Serves 4

1 1/2 tablespoons minced fresh ginger (1 1/2-inch piece)

1 large carrot, finely grated

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon rice-wine vinegar

2 teaspoons white miso

3 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil

1 tablespoon water, if needed

Directions

In the bowl of a food processor, pulse ginger and carrot to a coarse paste. Add vinegar and miso, and pulse to combine.

With the machine running, slowly add oil in a thin, steady stream through the feed tube until mixture is emulsified. Add water if dressing is too thick. Use immediately, or store in an airtight container in the refrigerator up to 1 week.

Salad is for Lovers

Salad, Spring, vegetarian, Wheat Free

salad (saləd)

noun

  1. a dish, usually cold, of raw or sometimes cooked vegetables or fruits in various combinations, served with a dressing, or molded in gelatin, and sometimes with seafood, poultry, eggs, etc. added
    1. any green plant or herb used for such a dish or eaten raw
    2. lettuce
  2. a finely chopped or ground food mixed with mayonnaise, seasonings, etc. and served as on lettuce or in a sandwich: tuna salad, egg salad sandwich

When I was growing up salad was a pretty straightforward thing. A green salad consisting of romaine lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and green olives (which I would pick out and eat sneakily as the rest of dinner was being prepared) was on our dinner table most evenings, usually dressed with my mom’s  italian vinaigrette  (oil, vinegar, and a packet of pre-mixed spices). Sometimes we had Israeli salad instead which was also a simple and predictable mix of finely chopped tomatoes and cucumbers sometimes with a bell pepper thrown in , dressed with lemon juice, olive oil, salt and pepper. There were very clear distinctions between “salad and non-salad vegetables” and I knew what they were from a young age. Being told by my mother to “make the salad”  never required any questioning on my part, as I set about the comforting rituals of lettuce-tearing and cucumber slicing. I am not putting down these salads of my youth, I loved them, but it did take some time for me to discover that vegetables tossed in a bowl with some seasoning need never be repetitive or predictable. Once you start to play around, you realize that the possibilities for salad fixings are pretty much endless. Both fresh and dried fruit can marry wonderfully with mixed greens, while a hard boiled egg or two can turn a salad into a light meal. Vegetables that are traditionally steamed, boiled or sauteed can also be fantastic raw, when thinly sliced and lightly dressed in a pungent vinaigrette.

In the past month or so I have eaten a couple of different salads that have literally blown every other salad I have ever enjoyed way out of the water. These recipes both come from my favorite source: old issues of Gourmet Magazine, and are sure to grab the attention of anyone at your dinner table who still considers salad an afterthought.

Fennel and Radicchio Salad with Cucumber and Watercress

serves 8

This first Salad is a heavily adapted version of Gourmet’s Italian Vegetable Salad With Creamy Garlic Dressing, from their May 2009 issue. The changes I made had to do both with my own tastes, as well as what was available on the day I went to the market. If you would like to see the original recipe you can check it out here.


2 fennel bulbs

2-3 persian (mini) cucumbers

1 small head of radicchio

1-2 bunches watercress (I found something called ‘Upland Cress’ at my local market, it was incredibly fresh and spicy — if you see some, grab it)

3 large egg yolks

1 garlic clove, grated (use a Microplane)

2 flat anchovy fillets in oil, chopped

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup vegetable oil

Prepare Salad

Trim fennel (reserving fronds) and remove tough outer layer. Thinly slice fennel and cucmbers crosswise  (1/8 inch). Slice radicchio as thinly as possible. Toss with cress.

Purée yolks, garlic, anchovies, mustard, lemon juice, and 1/4 tsp each of salt and pepper in a blender. With motor running, add oil in a slow stream, blending until dressing is thick and emulsified.

Toss vegetables with enough dressing to coat. Season with salt. Sprinkle with fennel fronds.

COOKS’ NOTES:

The egg yolks in the dressing are not cooked. For a quicker, egg-safe dressing, use 2/3 cup mayonnaise in place of the yolks and oil.

Vegetables and dressing can be prepared 3 hours ahead and chilled separately (vegetables in sealable bags lined with damp paper towels).

Mixed Greens with Feta and Dates

serves 8

This came from Gourmet’s June 2007 issue and originally called for arugula and radicchio. However, the arugula bunches at my local market are hardly ever worth buying and I happen to love the organic herb salad mix, packaged by ‘Locally Known‘ that Whole Foods carries, so I used that instead.


2 Tbs fresh lemon juice

1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

1/8 tsp salt

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/2 cup pitted dates

12-14 cups mixed greens (arugula, watercress, baby spinach, baby romaine, radicchio etc)

3 oz crumbled feta (I used a mild sheep’s milk feta)

Prepare Salad

Whisk together the lemon juice, oil, salt and pepper in a bowl until well combined

Halve the dates lengthwise and then thinly slice  crosswise

Toss together greens, feta and dates and then toss with enough vinaigrette to coat


Simply Superb Spring Soup

Dairy Free, Gluten Free, Passover, soups and stews, Spring, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Oh spring, you are here.

I have been waiting for you.

Unfortunately, along with spring comes wild and frenetic recital madness at our little ballet school. Even my usually calm and collected teaching partner, Kirsta, has admitted to feeling frazzled — which scares me. Our students seem to have little interest in learning choreography or doing anything really, beyond running around the studio, shrieking, and jumping on each other (spring fever), and if you have never had to costume dozens of squirming 4 and 5 year-olds, then let me assure you, it is like trying to dress an army of epileptic octopuses.

When things get hectic at school, our house begins to resemble the inside of my locker at the Dance Complex (where we teach our classes). Bits of fabric, ribbons, CDs, ballet books, and socks are strewn about. Along with the odd half-eaten banana, empty tea mugs, paper bags, scissors, yesterday’s clothes and a leotard or two. Time to cook becomes scarce, thai take-out, a little more prevalent. Fortunately there are recipes out there such as this incredibly easy, quick and delicious spring soup. For the amount of prep time this soup required, I was expecting something edible, but hardly memorable. I was very wrong.

Make this soup when you are busy, when you aren’t, as the first course of a fancy dinner, as a simple supper with some crusty bread and a fried egg — it can really fit in just about anywhere. Enjoy!

Fresh Pea and Mint Soup, adapted from Bon Apetit, April 2010

Unlike the split pea soup that many of you may have grown up with, this soup is lighter in color and texture, with the mint and shallots giving it a wonderful delicateness. Even if you think pea soup is not your thing, this one is worth a shot.

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 2/3 cups chopped shallots (about 6 very large)

2 garlic cloves, minced

8 cups shelled fresh peas (from about 5 pounds peas in pods) or two 16-ounce bags frozen petite peas, unthawed (I used frozen, with fantastic results, just make sure they are petite)

5 1/2 cups vegetable broth (I use the Whole Foods 365 brand, it is quite tasty and often on sale) 

1/4 cup chopped fresh mint plus additional for garnish

PREPARATION

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium heat. Add shallots and garlic. Sauté until tender, about 7 minutes. Add peas and stir 1 minute. Add 5 1/2 cups broth and bring to simmer. Cook until peas are very tender, about 8 minutes.

Cool 15 minutes. Puree soup and 1/4 cup chopped mint in batches in blender until smooth or use a hand-held immersion blender. Return to same pot; thin with more broth by 1/4 cupfuls, if desired. DO AHEAD: Can be made 1 day ahead. Cool, cover, and chill.

Re-warm soup over medium-low heat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Ladle into bowls; garnish with additional mint.

Rethinking Passover, with apologies to Mom

Dairy Free, dessert, Fruit Pies, Gluten Free, Passover, soups and stews, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Look, I hate to be one to further stereotypes, but the Jews are a people completely and utterly obsessed with food. Whether this fixation stems from religious restricions on certain foods and food-combinations, from the lean, war years, or from what appears to be a genetic predisposition to weakened stomach conditions, I really have no idea. The irony of this is that a lot of the well-known (Eastern European) Jewish food in the US leaves a lot of be desired, and no holiday exemplifies this lack of gastronomical appeal quite like Passover.

It’s silly really. The restrictions on this holiday, depending on how you interpret the law, are relatively few. In fact, many folks out there who are gluten intolerant, or have a wheat or yeast allergy, eat according to Passover laws all year round. And yet for some reason many of the traditional foods for this spring-time celebration of the Jewish Exodus are heavy, egg-laden, fiber-deprived, lumpy, oily, uninspired catastrophes.

A few years ago, after one piece of gefilte fish pie too many, I decided to start collecting recipes for Passover that celebrated what we can eat on this holiday (such as fresh fruits and vegetables, as well as nuts and seeds), instead of recipes that tried to simulate the things we cannot (uh, passover popovers…). Of the recipes I have compiled thus far some are intended for the holiday — but with a fresh, new take on cooking without grains or leavening — and some are accidentally kosher-for-passover dishes that suit the festive, spring-like nature of the meal.

I would actually feel excited about eating the following two recipes any time of year. They are truly stars of my new Passover recipe collection and I can take no credit for either of them whatsoever. Perfect just as they were written, from the kitchens of Martha Stewart Living and Gourmet, respectively, they are examples of how you can reinvigorate your Passover seder, and perhaps help cut back on some of the constipation-talk during the meal. Good luck.

Curried Carrot Almond Soup, from Gourmet, February 2009

1 small onion, thinly sliced

3 tablespoons olive oil

1 3/4 teaspoons curry powder (preferably Madras)

1/4 teaspoon hot red-pepper flakes

1 tablespoon finely chopped peeled ginger

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

2 lb carrots, peeled and chopped

4 cups water

2 cups plain unsweetened almond milk

4 cilantro sprigs, leaves and stems reserved separately

1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted

Cook onion in oil with 1/2 tsp salt in a 4-qt heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 10 minutes. Add curry powder, red-pepper flakes, ginger, and garlic and cook, stirring, until garlic is golden, 1 to 2 minutes.

Add carrots, water, almond milk, cilantro stems, and 1/2 tsp salt and simmer, partially covered, stirring occasionally, until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Blend soup in batches in a blender or use an immersion blender until smooth (use caution when blending hot liquids). Season with salt.

Serve sprinkled with cilantro leaves and toasted almonds.

Coconut Fruit Tart, from Martha Stewart Living, April 2008

For the crust

Note: You can make the crust up to a day ahead, pressed into the tart pan. Store in the fridge on a flat sheet pan, to avoid having the pan bottom separate from the top when lifted.

Vegetable-oil cooking spray

2 cups unsweetened shredded coconut

1/2 cup granulated sugar

2 large egg whites

1 tablespoon vanilla extract

1/4 teaspoon salt

For the Filling

1/2 vanilla bean, halved lengthwise

1/2 cup vanilla soy milk

1/4 cup granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks

2 teaspoons arrowroot or cornstarch

2 tablespoons almond paste

1 cup almond flour

1/2 cup soy cream cheese, preferably Tofutti

5 tablespoons apricot jam

4 cups assorted berries

Directions

Make the crust: Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Coat a 9-inch fluted tart pan with cooking spray. Combine remaining ingredients. Press into bottom and up sides of pan.

Make the filling: Scrape vanilla seeds into a small saucepan, and add pod. Stir in soy milk and 2 tablespoons sugar, and bring to a boil. Whisk yolks, arrowroot or cornstarch, and remaining 2 tablespoons sugar in a bowl. Add hot soy milk in a slow, steady stream, whisking until combined. Return to pan, and whisk over medium heat until thickened, about 2 minutes. Discard vanilla pod.

Beat milk mixture and almond paste with a mixer on medium speed for 5 minutes. Beat in almond flour and cream cheese. Spread into tart crust. Bake for 15 minutes. Cover edges with parchment, then foil. Bake until set, 15 to 25 minutes more. Let cool completely in pan on a rack. Unmold. Spread jam evenly over the tart. Arrange berries on top.

Vegetable and Bean Tamales

Tips and Tricks, Vegan, vegetarian, Wheat Free

Tamales!

C’mon who doesn’t want some flavorful filling encased in a yummy cornmeal-like dough and wrapped in an adorable little husk-package? They are so cute and tasty, to not like them would just be silly.

I am going to start off by warning you that if you are already experiencing hunger pains, it is not a good idea to start making tamales. They are a little bit of a project and it would be great to make them with friends a couple hours in advance as a leisurely social activity, if you’re into that sort of thing. Unfortunately I am not a great planner, and have only been known to organize one such event- a dumpling-making party. It was fun, but only further proved my control-freakishness in the kitchen, as all my friends stuffed and folded while drinking wine and laughing in the dinning room, and I stood glued to my station in front of the frying pan and steamer turning out batch after batch as though my life depended on it.

Last night, at 7 pm (after a heated debate with myself over the idea of ordering out– which I lost), I heated up some leftovers for my hungry husband, fried an egg for the little one and began preparing tamales for myself. I ate at 9:15.

The good news is that not only do we have plenty of leftovers that can be re-steamed for tonight, they were also extremely well worth the wait. Don’t be intimidated my the dough-making process, just throw the ingredients in the bowl, mix ’em and let it sit while you make the filling. Finding dried corn husks and the Maseca (dough mix) can be tough if you don’t have a latin grocer nearby, but you can order everything you need to make Tamales at mexgrocer.com. Also, if you do not have a Tamale or seafood steamer, you can use a pasta pot or a vegetable steamer. If you do not have any of those, you will have to buy/borrow/acquire one– I suggest checking your local goodwill store!

Chipotle Vegetable Tamales, adapted from Veganomincon

serves 6-8

2 six ounce packages dried corn husks (you can use fresh husks, but try finding nice looking corn, with fully intact husks in February in Boston…)

Tamale Dough:

4 cups masa harina corn flour

1/2 tsp salt

4 cups vegetable broth

2 tsp baking powder

1/3 cup olive oil or good quality, unrefined corn oil

Chipotle bean filling

2 olive oil

1 large onion, diced small

1 clove garlic, minced

1 red bell pepper or poblano pepper seeded and diced (I liked using a poblano here, it made the filling a little more spicy and savory, just be careful not to add too much chipotle because the heat can get intense)

1 small carrot, peeled and diced

1 15-oz can pinto or black beans, drained and rinsed

1 cup frozen corn kernels

1/4 cup veg broth

1-2 chipotle peppers in adobo sauce, minced, plus a tablespoon or two of the sauce

1 plum tomato, finely chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp salt, or to taste

Place the corn husks in a large pot or bowl and cover completely with warm water, allow them to soak for 20 minutes until the husks are soft and pliable. Keep husks in water until you are ready to use them.

Prepare the tamale dough: In a large bowl, combine the masa harina (“maseca” is a brand name), broth, salt, baking powder and oil. With an electric hand mixer, beat until a dense moist, fluffy dough forms and the sides of the bowl are clean. Cover the bowl with a damp towel or some plastic wrap and set aside.

Prepare the filling: In a large, heavy bottomed skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Saute the onions and garlic for 5 minutes, until softened. Add the pepper and carrot, and saute for three minutes then add beans, corn, broth, chipotles, a little adobo sauce, the chopped tomato and the cumin. Simmer until most of the liquid evaporates ~ 5-7 minutes. Salt to taste and allow to cool before assembling tamales.

To Assemble:

Depending on the size of the husks, and the size of your steamer pot, you will need to use 1-2 husks per tamale, and you may need to trim them, height-wise to fit standing up, in the pot.

Take a corn husk and lay it flat; spread about 2 tablespoons of dough off center, leaving a 1 1/2 inch margin from the top and bottom of the husk. Spread a heaping teaspoon of filling in the center of the dough, then top with one more tablespoon of dough. Carefully roll up the tamale, making sure to completely encase the filling in the husk. Tie both ends with a strip of husk (you will need to sacrifice a couple of husks for tearing into tie-strips).

Loosely pack the tamales into a large steamer basket. Steam for 35-40 minutes. The tamales will expand and feel firm to the touch when done. Remove from the heat and allow to cool slightly before serving– they will be HOT when unwrapped. Sever with salsa and guacamole.