More for your mezze

Autumn, Dairy Free, Salad, Vegan, vegetarian

We’ve been doing some serious eating lately, it being the holiday season here in Israel. Sukkot is up next and we will be having at least two meals with friends, and others at home in our own sukkah. Although there is a lot of meat and fish on holiday tables, the emphasis on fresh vegetables here ensures that even at a barbecue, vegetarians are unlikely to walk away hungry (stuffed is more like it).

Israel and the Mediterranean region at large are quite famous for its selection of pre-meal salads, known as mezze.  Nearly every Shabbat and holiday meal begins with a wonderful selection of small, colorful salads made from legumes, grains, and fresh or roasted vegetables. The salads a host/ess puts out is a reflection of their ancestry, cooking influences, and personal taste.

Since my own palate is the result of quite a culinary jumble — mixed Ashkenazi-Sephardi heritage, American and Israeli identities, New England and Middle Eastern flavors — I don’t really have a standard when it comes to mezze, and I am always open to new and tasty salads making their way onto our table.

This one is welcome!

Roasted Red Peppers with Walnuts and Raisins, from Gourmet Today

Unlike another red-pepper favorite, muhammara, this recipe does not require a food processor and is more of a salad than a spread.

8 large bell peppers, halved lengthwise, cored and seeded

1/3 cup plus 2 tbs extra virgin olive oil

2 Tbs sherry vinegar

1 Tbs walnut oil

1/2 tsp finely chopped garlic

1/4 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp salt

1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup walnuts, toasted and coarsely chopped

3/4 cup raisins (I recommend less, too many raisins make this salad a bit sweeter than I like)

Preheat broiler. Line two large baking sheets with foil. Rub or brush skin sides of bell peppers with two Tbs. olive oil and put 8 pepper halves, skin side up, on each baking sheet. Broil (in two batches) about 2 inches from the heat until skins are blistered and charred, about 15 minutes per batch. With tongs, transfer pepper to a bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let steam until cool enough to handle.

Meanwhile, whisk together the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil, the vinegar, walnut oil, garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper in a large bowl until the salt is dissolved.

Peel peppers. Teal lengthwise into 1-inch pieces. Add peppers, walnuts, and raisins to vinaigrette and toss until well coated. Cover and marinate at room temp for at least 30 minutes.

This salad tastes best at room temperature.


Autumn, Vegan

IMG_0835 This may be the last of the pumpkin and squash recipes for a bit, because I suppose it is possible to have to much of a good thing– a lesson I learned many years ago, at Becky Kalman’s eighth birthday party when I went a little crazy after the pinata broke. I realize that I have been a little heavy on the gourds, but this one is worth it, so just bear with me.

Friday night is the beginning of Sukkot, the Jewish fall harvest festival, and I searched through my cookbooks to find recipes that would celebrate both the seasonal aspect of the holiday as well as the spirit of this whole time of year, which for us means new beginnings. The first recipe here is for a savory-sweet pastry called Rodanchas and comes from The Sephardic Kitchen by Rabbi Robert Sternberg. Rodanchas are  made up of steamed squash, mashed and cooked down to a thick paste with cloves, cinnamon and sugar, then mixed with ground walnuts and tucked into crisp filo dough, brushed with olive oil. The shape of the pastry has significance as well: a tight spiral meant to symbolize the cycle of life.

The second recipe I am including is one I am really excited to share because it comes from an unlikely source. Last winter, Gourmet did a wonderful piece about a bakery in London owned by an Israeli Arab and an Israeli Jew who brought their love of food, and their respective (though often convergent) heritages together to create a business partnership that in all likelihood would not have been possible in their homeland. Citrus is a key ingredient in Sukkot desserts and Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s Orange Polenta Cake provides us with an updated version of a classic middle eastern celebration cake.


Rodanchas, adapted from The Sephardic Kitchen by Rabbi Robert Sternberg

Preparation time: 2-2 1/2 hours (includes, baking) Note: this recipe can be done in stages. You can cook and mash the squash one day and cook out the liquid the next, etc.

1 lb pumpkin/orange squash (I used a medium-sized butternut) cut into smallish cubes

1 1/2 cups of sugar (I cut this down to 1/2 cup and it was plenty sweet)

1 tsp ground cinnamon

1/4 tsp ground cloves

1 cup ground walnuts, plus finely chopped  walnuts for sprinkling (if you do not have a food processor, you can just chop your walnuts very finely and add them in, it will give your pastries a bit more body, and will be just as delicious)

2 lbs filo dough (I used the Filo Factory brand, its  has all natural and organic ingredients)

1 cup olive oil

1 large egg beaten with 1 Tbs cold water

Put the pumpkin or squash into a pot of boiling water to cover and cook until soft and mashable ~ 20 minutes. Or, steam the pumpkin or squash in a vegetable steamer until cooked through. When it has cooked completely, drain well and mash.

Return the mashed pumpkin to the saucepan and add the sugar and spices. Cook over low heat until the mixture is thick and paste-like and most of the water has evaporated. This can take 20 minutes to one hour (my butternut squash took close to an hour and looked very dense and dark when it was done).

IMG_0811When the mixture is ready, remove from heat and stir in the ground walnuts. Set aside to cool to room temperature.

When the filling has cooled enough to handle, you can begin the pastries. Preheat the oven to 350 F and prepare two well-greased cookie sheets.

Place one sheet of filo dough on a flat surface. Make sure to cover the rest with a damp towel as it sits. If you do not do this, it will dry out and become too brittle to work with. Have olive oil and a pastry brush within reach (in a pinch, you can use a sturdy paper towel to “brush” oil onto filo). Brush oil over the sheet of filo. Place a second sheet on top of the first sheet and repeat brushing.

Spread a thin line of filling along the long edge (about an inch in) of the filo– I used a pastry bag to squeeze a line of filling out evenly, but you can do without if you don’t mind getting your fingers dirty- just be sure not to get filling on the outside as you roll up the dough.

Fold the two short ends of the filo over the filling to seal it in and roll up the sheet lengthwise like a thin tube and then coil it around itself like a spiral.


IMG_0823Using a spatula, carefully lay the rodancha on the prepared cookie sheet. Repeat steps, with remaining filling and dough.

Brush the rodanchas with the egg wash and sprinkle lightly with the finely shopped walnuts. Bake for 20-25 minutes (mine actually took closer to 35) or until they are golden brown. Check then once during baking to make sure nuts are not browning too fast. If they are, cover the pastries lightly with foil.

Cool to room temperature before serving.

Orange Polenta Cake, adapted from Gourmet Magazine, February 2009

Prep time: 2 1/2 hours (includes baking)


1/2 cup superfine granulated sugar (I used organic cane sugar, which is a little coarser than average and it still worked just fine)

2 tablespoons water

2 tablespoons unsalted butter/margarine, cut into bits (I like the Earth Balance brand)

2 navel oranges


1 3/4 sticks unsalted butter/margarine, softened

1 cup superfine granulated sugar/cane sugar

3 large eggs

2 teaspoons orange-flower water

1/2 cup all-purpose/whole wh flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups ground almonds (7 oz)

2/3 cup quick-cooking polenta


1/4 cup orange marmalade

1 tablespoon water


Preheat oven to 350°F with rack in middle. Lightly butter a 9-inch round cake pan, then line bottom with a round of parchment paper and side with a strip of parchment.

Bring sugar and water to a boil in a small heavy saucepan over medium heat, stirring until sugar has dissolved, then wash down any sugar crystals from side of pan with a pastry brush dipped in cold water. Boil, without stirring, swirling pan occasionally so caramel colors evenly, until dark amber.

Remove from heat and add butter, swirling pan until incorporated, then carefully but quickly pour caramel into cake pan, tilting it to coat evenly.

Grate zest from oranges and reserve for cake. Cut remaining peel, including white pith, from both oranges with a paring knife. Cut oranges crosswise into 1/4-inch-thick slices. Remove any seeds and arrange slices in 1 layer over caramel.



Beat butter with sugar using an electric mixer until just combined. Add eggs 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Mix in orange-flower water and reserved zest.

Whisk together flour, baking powder, and salt. With mixer at low speed, mix almonds, polenta, and flour mixture into egg mixture until just combined.

Spread batter evenly over oranges (preferably with an offset spatula). Bake until a wooden pick inserted into center comes out clean, 1 to 1 1/4 hours. Cool in pan 5 minutes. Invert cake onto a cake plate and discard parchment.


Heat marmalade with water in a small saucepan until melted. Strain through a sieve into a small bowl. Brush top of cake with some of glaze. Serve warm or at room temperature.


Note: Cake, without glaze, can be made 1 day ahead and kept, wrapped well, at room temperature. Glaze before serving.