Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji with basmati rice or flatbread makes a satisfying vegan meal – full of umami. As anyone who reads my blog knows, I am neither a vegan nor a vegetarian. However, we don’t eat a lot of meat and I cannot remember the last time I sat down and ate a steak. This doesn’t mean, though, that I don’t want visually interesting meals with a great mouthfeel and full of flavor. Perhaps this is why I am so drawn to both Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and Indian cuisines. Their use of fresh herbs, vegetables and spices make any meal a feast for the senses.

What is Sabji?

A sabji is simply a vegetable cooked in some sort of gravy with herbs. Sabji literally means green vegetable. In Persian cooking it is referred to as sabzi and can include meat as in Ghormeh Sabzi or chicken in this version. There is no surprise that there are similarities between Persian and Indian culture, which is especially evident in food and architecture. Persia invaded India twice – first in 535 BCE under Cyrus the Great and second under Emperor Nader Shah, the Shah of Persia (1736–47). In fact, many dishes that are thought of as quintessentially Indian actually were adapted from British, Portuguese, Mughal and Persia. Each conqueror brought new flavors and techniques to India. And while each nation ultimately lost India, there influences remain and enrich.

Fan Girl

Recently I have become a fan of Chetna Makan on YouTube and the author of several cookbooks, including Chai, Chaat & Chutney: a street food journey through India, where this Roasted Cauliflower Sabji appears. She is charming and enthusiastic about her dishes and just a delight to watch. It’s not difficult to follow and because I do enjoy Indian and Middle Eastern cooking, I have all of the seasonings on hand. This dish doesn’t require any chilis so it wasn’t necessary for me to tone down the heat. My husband was responsible for making the quick, and flavorful flatbread. I made up some urad dal and we enjoyed a healthy and delicious meatless Monday.

As with many Indian dishes, do not get put off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do this kind of cooking, you likely will have most of not all of the spices on hand. And the actual cooking technique is very straightforward.

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji would also make a wonderful side dish or as part of a larger Indian meal. However you decide to use it, I encourage you to make it soon.

There are so many different kinds of dal (legumes, pulses or beans) available. And even more recipes for them. Here are just a few and I will be adding more over time.

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Chana Dal Kichadi

Nutritious Comforting Khichari

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Red Lentils with Ginger

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings as a main course and more as a side

Ingredients

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

For the cauliflower

1 head cauliflower cut into small florets along with the stems

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

For the Sabji

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon black mustard seeds (I only had brown mustard seeds, so that is what I used)

2 roughly chopped small onions

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated

A 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated

2 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

Handful of chopped cilantro

Directions

For the Cauliflower

  1. Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. and have the rack on an upper shelf.
  2. Mix the seasonings together and spread over the cauliflower. Mix it around to coat. Spread on a baking pan and roast for 15 minutes. Turn over the cauliflower pieces and continue roasting for an additional 15 minutes (total 30 minutes). Remove from the oven and set aside.

For the Sabji

  1. In a pan large enough to hold all of the cauliflower and the other ingredients, heat oil. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds and cook for about 30 seconds or until fragrant and the seeds begin to pop. Add in the chopped onion and stir through. Cook until lightly golden.
  2. Add the grated garlic and ginger and cook for another minute, stirring through.
  3. Add the roughly chopped tomatoes and cook on medium heat until the tomatoes soften and give off their juices. Add the chili powder, garam masala, salt and turmeric. Mix well.
  4. Add the roasted cauliflower and stir through, mixing well but try not to break up the florets. Cook for about 2 to 3 minutes. Add the chopped cilantro and stir through.

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca)

Brazilian Fish Stew

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueco) is colorful, zippy, and just plain delicious! Full disclosure, though. I am completely unfamiliar with Brazilian cuisine, so I cannot vouch for this recipe’s authenticity. What I can say, is that this simple-to-prepare fish stew is bright, beautiful and relatively inexpensive to make. The fish (pretty much any firm fish, but whitefish, halibut, sea bass and cod are particularly good) is simmered in a fragrant sauce of coconut milk, tomatoes, onions, peppers and lime.

As with many dishes, and this one is no exception, there are many versions and variations. This recipe for Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca) originates from Salvador, a bustling coastal city in Brazil, north of Rio. The influences are African, stemming from Brazil’s long history of bringing 4 million slaves to the country over a 300-year period. You can see the African culture in everything from carnival to samba, food and religion. Fifty percent of the Brazilian population now self identifies as Black or mixed race.

Paired with rice and a simple green salad, Moqueca comes together quickly, making it a perfect weeknight meal.

Brazilian Fish Stew

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Brazilian Fish Stew

1.5 pounds of firm white fish (look for thicker cuts)

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Two limes, zest and juice

2 Tablespoons coconut or olive oil (Brazilian red palm oil, if available. I used coconut oil)

1 onion (any kind) finely diced

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste

1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 jalapeno, serrano or other chile, finely diced

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 teaspoon ground cumin (you could also use the whole seeds)

1 cup fish or chicken stock (I used chicken)

1.5 cups tomatoes, diced (fresh tomatoes are best)

14-ounce can coconut milk (liquids and solids) Do not use “lite” coconut milk.

Brazilian Fish Stew

For Serving

1/2 cup chopped cilantro, flat-leaf parsley or scallions

Additional squeeze of lime

Directions

Rinse and pat dry the fish. Cut into 2-inch chunks. Place the fish in a glass or stainless steel bowl and add the 1/2 teaspoon salt, 1/2 of the zest and 2 Tablespoons of the lime juice. Gently massage into the fish and set it aside.

Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over medium high heat. Add the onion and additional 1 teaspoon of salt. Sauté for 2 to 3 minutes. Turn the heat down to medium and add the carrot, bell pepper, garlic and jalapeno and cook for 4 to 5 more minutes.

Add the tomato paste, spices and stock. Mix well and bring to a simmer. Now add the tomatoes. Cover and simmer gently on medium low until the carrots are tender, about 8 minutes.

Add the coconut milk and taste, adding more salt if necessary. (I used unsalted stock, so ended up using a 1.5 teaspoons of salt.) Nestle the fish chunks into the sauce and simmer gently until the fish is cooked through, spooning the sauce over the fish occasionally. How long it takes to cook will depend on the thickness of the fish, how long it sat in the salt and lime juice and how well-cooked you like it. As with ceviche, the salt and lime juice begin to “cook” the fish in the brine. I like my fish to be cooked through but not dry. Check it after about 8 minutes.

Serve over rice and add the garnish and the remaining lime zest and juice. Now enjoy!

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies are a perfect Passover cookie gem. Every Passover I try to add a new cookie to my repertoire. While I make a delicious chocolate Passover cake, cookies add variety and there is always something that will please even the picky eaters. And somehow when we are all shmoozing around the table picking at fruit, cookies provide just a little decadence without too much guilt or regret.

These Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies (Hadji Bada) are quick and easy to make, which is great when you have lots to prepare. And they are so wonderfully chewy and flavorful that you will be glad that you can whip them up whenever you get a craving for them! My husband described them as both rich AND yet very light – sweet but not cloying. The center has a satisfying chew and they will remain moist throughout the holiday – if they last that long.

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

I have seen several recipes for these cookies and they are all more or less the same. I made a few tweaks of my own which may or may not be authentic. They are, however, absolutely delicious. Kind of a cross between a French macaron and an almond macaroon, but so much easier to make. Normally the almond in the center would be a raw, natural almond with the skin on. Unfortunately, I didn’t happen to have any on hand but I did have lovely whole blanched almonds. The natural almond provides a bit more visual contrast so use it if you have them; however, the taste is delicious either way.

My husband isn’t a fan of rose water and it is easy to use too much with the result tasting like pot pourri. I found that orange blossom water on your hands gave just a slight wonderful hint of the essence that paired beautifully with the cardamom. If you truly don’t like cardamom, several recipes I saw used cinnamon instead.

For Other Passover Cookies:

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Passover Florentine Cookies

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Recipe

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

2 cups finely ground almond flour (blanched or natural)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 large egg whites

A few drops of either orange blossom or rose water

24 whole raw or blanched almonds

Directions

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie pans with parchment or Silpat.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cardamom and salt.

In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites, almond extract and sugar until just combined. Stir in the almond flour until you have a smooth consistency.

Mix the rose or orange blossom drop in a shallow bowl of water. Dip your hands in the water and pinch off a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Place on the parchment or Silpat. Continue with all of the dough. You should have two pans of 12 with the cookies about 2-inches apart. Place a whole almond in the middle of each cookie and very gently press it into the dough.

Bake for 15 to 18 minutes (ovens vary) or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes on the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Et Voila! Store in an airtight container.

The Juliana

The Juliana

The Juliana is simply the best blueberry pancake bar none that you will ever eat. Not quite a Dutch baby; it doesn’t poof up and then sink. This no-fuss, no-flip skillet-to-oven pancake requires no syrup or other additions. The powdered sugar is for presentation but is not necessary for taste. It’s all there in one pan. Ultimate deliciousness! The Juliana has gone through many iterations to achieve this level of blueberry perfection.

I absolutely love breakfast food for dinner. However, unless I have a full day of hiking ahead of me, I just find most brunch foods too heavy for me to start the day with. But at dinner, I actually almost feel virtuous eating this fruit-forward pancake. And it is so satisfying at every level for me that I never crave any dessert or anything else after eating it. My husband, Andrew, developed this over many months of trial. The recipe began with an Apple Dutch Baby that morphed into this spectacular recipe. My only problem is getting him to stop tinkering with it! Although I do admit that the addition of jaggery in place of granulated sugar in the batter, did take it up a notch. But even without it, this pancake is better than any blueberry pancake or Dutch Baby you will ever eat.

The Juliana

I’m not prone to exaggeration or hyperbole in my posts. Therefore, when I gush about The Juliana (named for our first grandchild) you know it is truly something special. Andrew has successfully made this with strawberries and apples although with a few slight differences, especially since the fruit all cooks differently. The resulting “pancake” is wonderfully spongy, light and fluffy. It is perfect for absorbing all the fruity deliciousness below. And as I mentioned in another post, blueberries have been just wonderful this year. They not only are large and visually attractive but they are firm and very flavorful. They also happen to be our Juliana’s favorite fruit – at least for now. Give this a try. I promise that you won’t be disappointed.

The Juliana

Recipe

Yield: 2 to 4 servings (it should be 4 servings, but if I am honest, my husband and I eat the whole thing ourselves for dinner!)

Ingredients

The Juliana

  For the blueberry filling

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

    Zest of 1 medium lemon

    1 box (18 oz.) of blueberries, rinsed, drained and patted dry

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter

    1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp granulated sugar (or 1 tbsp jaggery)

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    4 large eggs

    1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup plain kefir)

    1 tsp vanilla extract

  For serving (optional, but recommended) Sifted confectioner’s or icing sugar

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F with the rack in the center

Blueberry filling

Place 1/3 cup granulated sugar in a medium bowl. Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon onto the sugar. Stir the zest and sugar together; or, rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until fully combined and gritty. If no one is watching, then by all means, lick your fingers. Take out 2 tablespoons of the lemon sugar to use later.

Add the blueberries to the bowl and toss to combine. Reserve ½ cup of the sugared blueberries to mix into the batter later.

Batter

1. Place 1 cup all-purpose flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp granulated sugar (or 1 tbsp jaggery), ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ tsp ground cardamom in a bowl and whisk to combine.

2. In a different bowl add 4 large eggs and whisk until frothy. Add 1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup plain kefir) and 1 tsp vanilla extract and whisk to combine.

3. Gently add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, stirring the batter just enough to get everything moist, then gently stir in the reserved ½ cup of sugared blueberries, trying not to break them up.

4. Put a 9” cast iron skillet on the stove on medium heat. Cut 3 tbsp of unsalted butter into 3 pieces and put them into the skillet. Just melt the butter, do not brown it. Immediately add the sugared blueberries, then sprinkle the reserved lemon sugar mixture on top.

5. Pour the batter all over the berries. Place the skillet in the oven, baking at 400°F until puffed and golden-brown, about 20 minutes.

The Juliana

6. Remove and let cool for 5 minutes. Serve dusted with powdered sugar.

The Juliana

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup

This Creamy Mushroom Soup is simple, satisfying and sophisticated. Delicious! I came across this recipe just in time. I made it when the temperatures were in the negative numbers (that’s below zero Fahrenheit, guys) we needed soup – hot, soothing, yummy soup.

However, now that we have had a bit of a warm-up and some hopeful signs of Spring, I still want this soup. And this Creamy Mushroom Soup will be delightful in the fall, winter and spring. I tend to move into cold soups in the summer, but this one is light enough that I might just give it a try.

Creamy Mushroom Soup came together quickly and luckily I had all of the ingredients on hand. It can be prepared ahead if you like, but is ready in less than an hour. I served it with a wonderful rustic bread that I had made, a lovely, bright salad and some ripe cheese. A glass of a delicious red wine was the perfect complement. After this, we only had room for some wonderful Clementines which seem to be at their best right now. Citrus fruits are winter’s sunshine. Juicy, bright with just the right amount of tang.

Mixed Salad

While not vegan, this recipe is vegetarian unless you choose to use chicken stock for the liquid. If you did want to make it vegan, I could see adding some cooked, pureed cauliflower, full-fat coconut milk or silken tofu to replace the cream. It wouldn’t be exactly the same but should be pretty close to the right mouthfeel, texture and taste. If you try it, let me know how it works out.

Onion Nigella Caraway Rustic Bread

Now my husband and I ate this as our main course, but it is simple enough to make and elegant enough to be served as a first course as well.

There are many different kinds of mushrooms – both fresh and dried – available these days. The dried porcini have a meaty texture when rehydrated and a robust flavor. And I used 1 pound of baby bella mushrooms, but cremini or even mixed mushrooms should all work. Each different kind will change the flavor somewhat, but they all should make for an interesting soup. The addition of a good glug of sherry at the end is a suggestion, but one that I strongly encourage. It just elevates the flavors.

I didn’t do this, but….. if you really want to tart things up, you could add a dollop of crème fraiche with a few chopped chives sprinkled on top just before serving. However you decide to serve this delicious soup, do make it soon. Any leftovers can be refrigerated and gently reheated.

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 cups boiling water

2 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves of garlic

4 Tablespoons of butter (or buttery vegan spread)

1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

3 Tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 cups low sodium or unsalted vegetable or chicken broth

2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)

1/2 cup heavy (double) cream

A good glug of dry sherry (Optional, but highly recommended)

Directions

  1. Place 1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms in a medium heatproof bowl and cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water. Soak until mostly softened, at least 15 minutes, but longer is fine. Meanwhile, finely dice the shallots or onion and mince 2 garlic cloves.
  2. Melt 4 tablespoons unsalted butter in a Dutch oven or heavy-bottomed 3 quart or larger pot over medium heat. Add the onion, garlic, and 1 pound sliced fresh mushrooms. Season with 1.5 teaspoons kosher salt and 1/4 teaspoon black pepper. Cook, stirring occasionally until the mushrooms are softened and have released their juices, 10 to 12 minutes.
  3. Line a fine-mesh strainer with 2 layers of cheesecloth. Pour the soaked mushrooms through the strainer into a measuring cup or bowl. Reserve the liquid and coarsely chop the mushrooms (leave behind any grit trapped in the cheesecloth).
  4. Sprinkle 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour into the pot and stir to coat the vegetables. Cook until lightly browned, stirring regularly, about 2 minutes. Pour in 4 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth and scrape the bottom of the pot with a wooden spoon.
  5. Stir in the reserved soaking liquid from the mushrooms, the chopped porcini mushrooms, 2 tablespoons soy sauce, 2 teaspoons dried thyme, and 2 bay leaves. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer partially covered until the flavor is developed and the soup is slightly thickened, about 30 minutes.
  6. Remove and discard the bay leaves. Transfer about 2 cups of the soup to a blender or food processor and purée until smooth. Stir the purée back into the pot. Remove from the heat and stir in 1/2 cup heavy cream.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad is sweet, smoky, savory and utterly addictive. Personally I have never understood someone who says they won’t eat eggplant (aubergine). There must be literally hundreds, if not thousands of ways to prepare it. And it comes in many shapes, colors and varieties. In my opinion, it is one of the most beautiful and sensuous of vegetables. Although technically a fruit, in everyday usage we refer to it as a vegetable. I haven’t discovered a way yet that I don’t simply love it.

However, if you are one of those people – and you know who you are – this recipe just might make a convert out of even you. This salad is beloved in Israel and is a star at the restaurant Zahav in Philadelphia. Zahav (meaning “gold” in Hebrew) is the brainchild of award-winning Chef Michael Solomonov, who has a cookbook of the same name.

As I have mentioned many times in my blog, Mediterranean food in general and Middle Eastern food specifically, is my very favorite of cuisines. I could, and often do, eat it every day. This cuisine is very veg-forward and makes liberal use of fresh herbs and spices. Whenever possible, I try to grind my spices fresh for both this cuisine and when I make Indian food. The difference is incredible. And with an inexpensive spice or coffee grinder, you can have fresh spices in seconds.

Chef Solomonov is an exciting chef and a charming raconteur. His cookbook is a great read and has some wonderful and vivid food photos, but the recipes or at least the directions are inexact. They don’t always even correspond to the accompanying photos. So it was good when I was thinking of making this recipe that I happened to watch him on YouTube first.

Below is Michael Solomonov’s recipe with my clarifications. It’s a wonderful salad that would be just one of many at any Israeli meal. Salatim is a hallmark of Israeli cuisine and are eaten at breakfast, lunch and dinner. Sometimes, I make a meal simply of salatim and a good pita or laffa.

Salatim

The eggplant salad will keep in the fridge for up to 5 days, although I think is most flavorful at room temperature. So take it out of the fridge about an hour before you plan to serve it.

You won’t need a lot of ingredients for this recipe. I would use either “Italian” Eggplant or a “Graffiti” Eggplant. Italian is the standard one that most grocery stores carry. You want to choose eggplants that are firm, weigh about 1 pound and have unblemished skins.

While the Zahav recipe calls for sherry vinegar, almost any vinegar can be used. And while I love sherry vinegar, it can be pricey. So feel free to swap it out for a white vinegar or decent red wine vinegar.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

For some other eggplant dishes (‘Cuz I know that I’m gonna make a fan out of you yet!):

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Recipe

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

2 Medium eggplants, peeled and cut into thick rounds

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

About 6 Tablespoons Canola Oil (You can use Olive Oil but it has a lower smoke-point and will burn more easily)

1 cup chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

1/4 cup vinegar (Sherry is ideal but any decent vinegar will do)

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few cracks of black pepper

Directions

Sprinkle both sides of the eggplant rounds with the kosher salt. Place them on a rack over a tray or on top of paper towels to absorb the bitter liquid as it drains. Allow to sit for at least 30 minutes but up to overnight.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Add oil to film the bottom of a large, heavy skillet. I didn’t have non-stick, which is preferable, but you can use well-seasoned cast iron. Set over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the eggplant rounds. (Blot off any liquid first!) Avoid over-crowding the pan and work in batches if necessary. Cook until almost black on the first side, about 10 minutes. Turn and repeat on the second side, adding more oil if necessary. Remove the eggplant to a plate. As you can see, mine aren’t perfect, but you are going for the round in the bottom right foreground. Yep, that one!

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Either in the same pan or in a largish saucepan, add 2 Tablespoons of oil. You could use Canola here as well, but olive oil would be the better choice. You are no longer frying anything so the high smoke point isn’t essential and the olive oil lends a better flavor.

Add the bell pepper, onion and spices and cook on medium heat, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables are soft but not brown – about 10 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Now add the eggplant back to the pan along with the vinegar. Using a wooden spoon, mash up the eggplant coarsely as it cooks until everything combines. Continue to cook until the vinegar has evaporated. This takes about 8 minutes.

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

Turn the heat off and add the lemon juice and parsley and mix through. You shouldn’t need any additional salt since we never rinsed the salt off of the eggplants in the beginning. But a few cracks of black pepper never went amiss.

Queen Esther Cookies

Queen Esther Cookies

Queen Esther Cookies are a buttery, light poppy seed cookie – perfect for Purim. This year, Purim begins at sundown on February 25. On the Hebrew calendar it is always the 13th of Adar.

Every year I look forward to making and eating these treats. And while I could easily make them anytime, I like that there are certain things I only make for certain holidays, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Purim or Pesach.

Purim, which is also called the Feast of Lots, commemorates saving the Jews of Shushan in ancient Persia, from extermination. While a tale of classic anti-Semitism, it is nevertheless a joyous festival. In non-pandemic years, both adults and children would dress up in costumes and party hard in celebration. A Purim Spiel, which is a humorous skit or play, would often be performed.

We Jews are commanded to eat, drink and be merry and to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther. Every time the evil Haman’s name is mentioned, we all boo and hiss and wave our noisemakers to show that we are not afraid.

The Book of Esther reminds us of the brave actions of Esther and Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow down to the evil Haman, advisor to King Ahashuerus. And Esther remained faithful to her religious traditions and the Jewish People while married to the King, who did not know that she was a Jew.

Chag Purim Sameach!

Queen Esther Cookies are named after the woman who spoke to the King on behalf of her People despite the real danger to herself. Esther revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews (and that she herself was a Jew). She was able to convince the King to reverse his decree, thereby saving the Jews of Shushan.

It is customary to give out baskets of food and treats to the poor, although over time, it has also become common to make them for friends and family. These cookies are always a welcome addition, along with the more well-known Hamentaschen. Both recipes come from The New Jewish Holiday Cookbook by Gloria Kaufer Greene.

Redolent with vanilla and almond extract, Queen Esther Cookies, also known as Mohn Kichelah, which simply means poppy seed cookie in Yiddish, keep well in an airtight tin or container. So enjoy them even when the holiday is over! And you don’t have to be Jewish to love these little beauties.

Recipe

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

Queen Esther Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute

1 Tablespoon water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Scant 1/3 cup poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Happy Purim!

Directions

These can be made by hand, but it is much easier to use either a standing mixer or a food processor.

Cream well the butter (margarine) and sugar until they are light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Mix in the water, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Then pulse in the poppy seeds and baking powder.

Add the flour and mix to form a very stiff dough. These cookies can be made into a dropped cookie or rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter, which is what I do. If you are planning to roll them out, then form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. It should be quite firm. If you are making drop cookies, then use the dough immediately.

Queen Esther Cookies

When you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment and coat with non-stick spray. You can also use a Silpat, which doesn’t require any spray.

Roll out the refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. You can cut out the cookies free-hand or use a cookie cutter in any shape that you like. Re-roll scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all of the dough is used up. If the dough begins to get too soft to handle, simply place it in the fridge until it firms up.

Place the cut-out dough onto the baking sheets about 1/2-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Ovens vary and it will also depend on how thinly you actually rolled out the dough etc. Mine ended up taking about 16 minutes this time…. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.

Queen Esther Cookies

I have never made these as a drop cookie, but the instructions say to drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Then flatten the mounds slightly with a fork, your fingertips or the bottom of a glass. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.

Queen Esther Cookies

Tahini Swirl Brownies

Tahini Swirl Brownies

Tahini Swirl Brownies – fudgy, rich and deeply decadent. Don’t we all need them now? The temperatures have dropped into the single digits (we’re talking Fahrenheit!) It’s been snowing. And, yes, there is still a pandemic going on. I don’t know about you, but sometimes all you can do is eat chocolate – the extra dark, rich and not overly sweet kind. You know, the one that’s good for depression. Yes, that one.

I’ve been binge watching YouTube cooking shows and I came across one called Milk Street. The host is Christopher Kimball, who I had never heard of before, although he is the co-founder, editor and publisher of America’s Test Kitchen. Not the most dynamic of hosts, if I am being honest. However, I happened to turn on the episode where they were making these brownies. Having made Ottolenghi’s Tahini and Halva Brownie before, which my husband liked more than I did, I was curious what these were like. I was immediately attracted to the simplicity of the ingredients and the process in this recipe. So I decided to try the Milk Street version. And I am very glad that I did! Can you say scrumptious?

By now, no one is surprised to see tahini in dessert recipes. Actually, I’m kind of surprised that I haven’t come across tahini ice cream in the US. It’s ubiquitous in Israel and I’m a fan. Tahini is kind of like peanut butter’s more sophisticated sister. Don’t get me wrong, like most Americans I grew up loving peanut butter. As a child it was Skippy’s or Jif. Now that I’m older, I prefer the kind without any sugar or other additives. But there is a lovely slight bitterness to tahini that cuts through the sweetness and pairs beautifully with chocolate. Tahini enhances the earthiness in the chocolate in much the same way that adding coffee does.

There is nothing terribly tricky about this recipe, but you must use quality ingredients. You want a good bittersweet chocolate, which is no less than 64% cocoa and probably no more than 70%. And a quality Dutch-processed cocoa. I happen to love Valrhona for baking, but there are many fine cocoas available. As important as the chocolate elements are, the tahini you use is equally essential. Some brands are very bitter and taste simply awful. Two brands that I like are Soom and Seed & Mill, both of which are easily available online. (And no, I do not get paid to promote products. I probably should, but I don’t.)

Once your ingredients are assembled, the rest is pretty straight-forward. I did follow the instructions about swirling the tahini on top, but I think next time I might choose to just marble the chocolate through the tahini mixture instead. You probably can’t go wrong either way. Frankly, the only difficult part of this recipe is waiting until the brownies have cooled sufficiently before cutting and eating them. They smell simply wonderful!

You don’t need an excuse to make these, but I think we all probably have several at the ready. It’s been an awful year and we’re still in for a long haul. So treat yourself and your friends and loved ones. Make these tonight. I promise that you’ll thank me.

For other delicious brownie recipes:

Fudgy Brownies with Beets and Walnuts

Tahini and Halva Brownies

Java Brownies (Still my personal favorite)

Recipe

Yield: About 15 Brownies (A little goes a long way)

When I first read that an 8-inch pan yielded 15 brownies, I thought they were crazy. But the fact is that 2-inch brownies are really the right size. These are quite rich. And if you decide to eat two – well, I won’t tell.

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons (1/2 stick) salted butter, plus more for the pan (I don’t generally use salted butter and unsalted seemed to work just fine for me.)

4 ounces bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped or shaved (I used a 70% cocoa. I would not go lower than 64% or higher than 70%.)

3 Tablespoons cocoa powder

3 large eggs

1 cup plus 2 Tablespoons (223 g) granulated white sugar

1 Tablespoon pure vanilla extract

1 teaspoon kosher salt

3/4 cup (180 g) tahini

1/3 cup (47 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

Sea salt flakes for garnish (Optional – I didn’t use them or feel the lack, but if you really like adding salt to everything, go for it.)

Directions

Heat oven to 350 degrees F. with a rack in the middle position of the oven. Line an 8-inch square baking pan with 2 pieces of foil, leaving about a 2-inch overhang on all sides. Lightly brush with additional butter.

In a medium saucepan over medium heat, just melt the butter. Remove from the heat and whisk in the chocolate and cocoa until smooth.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs, sugar, vanilla and salt until slightly thickened – about a minute. Whisk in the tahini. Fold in the flour until just incorporated.

Transfer 1/2 cup of the tahini mixture to a small bowl. Add the chocolate mixture to the remaining tahini mixture and fold in until fully combined. Alternatively, do not set aside the tahini, and simply take the chocolate mixture and marble it through the tahini mixture.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan, spreading it evenly. If you decided to set aside the 1/2 cup of tahini, dollop it over the top into 6 puddles. Using the tip of a sharp knife, drag it through the tahini dollops, first in one direction and then the other. (I admit that I am no expert in this, but it still worked out pretty well.)

Bake just until the edges are set but the center is still slightly moist. Ovens vary, so start checking at 25 minutes. I baked mine for 28 minutes, but even a couple of minutes less would have been okay. Cool on the pan on a wire rack for at least 30 minutes. The longer they cool, the easier they are to cut. Cut into about 2-inch squares. Enjoy.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas – the name says it all. If you are looking for a fresh, bright, vegan dinner option, you can’t go wrong with this dish. All it needs to dress it up is some simply steamed rice or other grain of choice. Millet anyone?

I came across this recipe and gave it to my husband to prepare. For about 34 years of our 36-year (and counting) marriage, my husband never cooked. Since retirement, though, he has begun baking bread, making pizza from scratch, preparing the absolute best fruity Dutch Babies and making the occasional stir-fry or curry. Andrew has now added Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas to his repertoire.

While we are definitely omnivores – except for things we simply don’t like – our meals tend to be very veg-forward. And often we enjoy a purely vegan meal. I wish that I could say that I do it for some well-thought-out philosophical and moral stand. But I can’t.

Yes, I have been eating organic and recycling since long before they became fashionable. And, it’s true that I have never been a huge meat eater and gave up on veal about 40 years ago when I read about the inhumane conditions that calves endured. (I have twice eaten veal from farms where calves are humanely raised in the past 5 years.) But mostly I make and serve vegan meals frequently because we like them. And as someone who cooks all of the time, they challenge – and inspire – me to explore new flavors and seasoning.

Unlike TV chefs and most food writers, I’m not going to make orgasmic “Wow, amazing!” faces and noises or say that this is the most incredible thing that I have ever eaten. It isn’t. But I will say that if you are looking for a new, somewhat flexible and relatively easy-to-prepare vegan meal, this is a good place to start. You can swap out the sugar snap peas for asparagus or green beans, if you prefer, or based on what looks best at the market. Next time we make this, mushrooms will be added.

So whether you make this dish in order to feel virtuous (or make your doctor happy) or out of conviction, or simply because you want to try something new and delicious, you can’t go wrong with Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas.

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings

Ingredients

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

1 (14 -ounce) block of firm or extra-firm tofu, drained

3 Tablespoons neutral oil (we used Canola) plus more if needed

Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper

About 12 ounces of fresh sugar snap peas (if you want more, go for it)

About 2 Tablespoons fresh ginger root, peeled and grated (I prefer grating my own, but sometimes, you go with what you have even if it means out of a jar.)

2 large garlic cloves, grated or crushed

1 can (13 ounces) unsweetened coconut milk

1 Tablespoon soy sauce (I always use low-sodium)

1 Tablespoon full-bodied molasses or dark brown sugar

1/2 cup toasted cashews

1 Tablespoon rice vinegar

4 to 6 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves, torn if large

Red pepper flakes, to taste (optional)

Directions

Slice the tofu in half horizontally and leave on paper or tea towels to dry well. (If you prefer, you can also press the tofu for 30 minutes under a weighted plate.) The tofu needs to be dry to get a good browning.

Once dry, cut the tofu into cubes about 1 to 1.5 inches in size. Season the tofu with salt and black pepper.

In a large skillet (cast iron is great here) or wok, heat 1 Tablespoon of oil over medium high heat until it begins to shimmer. Place the tofu cubes in the pan and sear the pieces on each side. Don’t move them around a lot or you won’t get good color. This can take about 12 minutes and is the fussiest part of the recipe. Once browned, remove the tofu to a plate.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Add another Tablespoon of oil to the pan and add the snap peas (or asparagus or green beans). Cook, stirring occasionally until the snap peas are blistered and tender – 3 to 4 minutes. Season with salt and black pepper to taste and set aside.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Toss the peas with the rice vinegar, scallions, mint and red pepper flakes, if using.

Ginger Coconut Tofu with Cashews and Blistered Sugar Snap Peas

Heat the remaining Tablespoon of oil and add the ginger and garlic and cook, stirring for about 30 seconds or until fragrant. Do not burn! Pour in the coconut milk, soy sauce and molasses. Simmer, stirring frequently until the sauce reduces some, and its color deepens. This takes between 6 to 8 minutes. The sauce should begin to coat a spoon. Now stir in the cashews, add back the tofu and toss until everything is well coated with the sauce. Taste and adjust seasonings to taste, if necessary. Serve over rice or other grain alongside the sugar snap peas.

NOTE: Raw cashews can be toasted in a 350 degree F. oven on an ungreased sheet pan. Toast until you just begin to smell them. This takes about 12 to 15 minutes. Check them after 10 minutes. You can also toast them in a dry skillet on top of the stove, moving them around frequently. Once nuts burn, they are pretty useless, so go by look and smell. And know that nothing happens, nothing happens – and then boom! they are brown.

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg is bursting with color and flavor. It’s a one-pan meal to feed a family and satisfy your soul. Recently I have taken to watching Jamie Oliver on YouTube. This very engaging British chef and his charming young family makes cooking accessible and fun. It’s a very welcome change from the seemingly unending bad news we have had this past year.

When I watched Oliver make this dish, which is jam-packed with vibrant fresh veg and relatively inexpensive chicken thighs, I knew that I wanted to make it. In the early days of the pandemic, coming by reliable, fresh vegetables was hit or miss. Thankfully, we seem to be past that now and most produce is fresh and available.

The beauty of Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg is that you can change up the vegetables to suit your taste, your budget and availability. No eggplant? Use cauliflower. And because you are mixing the spices and flavors, you are in control of the heat level. By using chicken thighs on the bone and with skin, you are ensured of a tender and flavorful end result. The skin will get lovely and crisp and simply cries out to be eaten.

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Because everything is cooked in one pan, all of the beautiful flavors of each element are enhanced by the other components while still retaining their own unique texture and taste. When making this wonderful dish – and you will want to make it – don’t get too bogged down in exact measurements. Use the amounts below as a guide. This isn’t baking.

I like to do a lot of Indian and Mediterranean cooking so I had all of the herbs and spices on hand. Over the past year I have become a big fan of curry leaves. These are very different from curry powder and NOT interchangeable. Since the pandemic, the places where I shop have become much more limited and therefore, I do not have access to fresh curry leaves. However, I found very good quality dried leaves online and if I place them in an airtight jar, they last quite a while. You can also purchase fresh leaves online and keep them in your freezer. Everything else in this recipe should be readily available in your local markets.

This recipe includes a minty yogurt dressing. I was able to make the dressing in minutes. Any additional dressing can be used on salads, roast meats or as a sandwich spread. Our lives may have become a bit bland and colorless this year, but we can spice things up a bit with this vibrant dish.

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

Ingredients

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

1 large onion

800 g potatoes (about 6 medium Yukon Gold or other thin-skinned potato)

2 large ripe tomatoes

1 eggplant

1 red pepper

2 cloves of garlic

Thumb-size piece of fresh ginger

½ a bunch of fresh cilantro (coriander (15g))

olive oil

2 tablespoons mustard seeds

1 handful of curry leaves

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

6 large chicken thighs, bone in and skin on

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt and freshly cracked black pepper for seasoning the chicken

2 fresh red or green chilies

YOGURT DRESSING

½ a bunch of fresh mint (15g)

Juice of ½ a lemon

1cm piece of ginger

150 g whole-milk yogurt (If you use Greek-style yogurt, the sauce will be thicker. The choice is yours.)

1 fresh green chili (Optional)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 190°C/375°F/gas 5.

Peel the onion, then cut into 3cm cubes with the potatoes, tomatoes, eggplant and pepper.

Put the potatoes in a large pan of salted water over a medium heat. Bring to the boil and cook for 8 minutes, then drain in a colander and leave to steam-dry for 3 minutes. (I did this step, but honestly I’m not sure that it really is necessary. The potato pieces are small enough that they should completely cook through in the overall cooking time.)

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Tip into a large bowl and mix with the tomato, eggplant, pepper and onion.

Peel and finely slice the garlic. Peel and finely grate the ginger. Pick the cilantro (coriander) leaves and set aside, then chop the stalks.

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Heat about 2 Tablespoons of oil in a large oven-safe pan over a medium heat. (I used my mom’s old paella pan which was perfect, but any large roasting pan would work. Since this was the pan I was going to use in the oven, it was one less pan to clean.) Add the garlic, ginger, coriander stalks, mustard seeds and curry leaves and cook for 2 minutes, or until fragrant. Add the turmeric and cook for 30 seconds more. While still hot, add the chicken, skin-side down to the spice mixture.

Then add the veg and potatoes and smush everything around. Using tongs, arrange the chicken on top (skin-side up now) and season everything with salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Drizzle a little olive oil over the vegetables. (I didn’t do this and it wasn’t called for, but I think the EVOO would help the veg roast better.)

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Roast in the bottom of the oven for about 1 hour, or until the chicken is cooked, the skin is crispy and the veggies are well-roasted.

(My oven is really garbage, so it ended up taking about an hour and 20 minutes for mine to get where I wanted it. I also didn’t trust the process and hadn’t added any EVOO over the veg. I was worried that it would be too dry so I added a cup of water to the pan at the beginning of the cooking. In the end, I didn’t need it although the resulting gravy was awfully delicious…. So if you want your vegetables more steamed with a lovely gravy, add the water. If you want the veg more roasted and “gnarly” as Jamie Oliver would say, just drizzle them with a bit of EVOO and forego the water. You really can’t go wrong either way.)

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

For the dressing, pick the mint leaves into a blender, squeeze in the lemon juice, then peel and add the ginger with the remaining dressing ingredients and a pinch of seasoning. Blitz until smooth.

Top the chicken, potatoes and veg mix with the coriander leaves. Finely slice and scatter on the chilies, if using, then serve with the dressing on the side and a little drizzled on top.