Simple Basbousa

Simple Basbousa

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Simple Basbousa is an easy version of this beloved Levantine sweet treat. This recipe requires no special equipment and because no eggs are called for, it can easily be veganized.

There are many versions of this delightful dessert, including one on my blog with pistachios and coconut. However, all of the recipes for basbousa utilize semolina and a sugar syrup. This means that the cake flavors intensify over time and remains incredibly moist even after several days. Because the Simple Basbousa is dense and sweet from the sugar syrup, a little goes a long way. But it is the perfect complement to well-spiced foods and strong coffee fragrant with cardamom.

I did make a few tweaks to the original recipe, but the changes do not make this Simple Basbousa any more complicated. Generally baked in a rectangular pan. I made mine in a 10-inch square pan because that was what I had on hand.

For Americans who are unfamiliar with basbousa, this Simple Basbousa version reminded both me and my husband of a moist cornbread with honey. Nothing fancy to see here. Just a delicious, simple cake. And in the summer, who wants to slave over dessert?

For more delicious semolina cakes:

Orange Semolina Cake

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Simple Basbousa

Recipe

Yield: 25 squares

For the cake

2 cups of coarse semolina (My so-called coarse semolina proved to be only slightly less refined than my fine semolina, so don’t fret if you can’t find both.)

1/4 cup of fine semolina

1 cup of plain whole milk natural yogurt OR plant-based such as coconut

3/4 cup granulated sugar

1/2 cup of unsalted butter or a plant-based vegan “butter,” melted

1/4 teaspoon kosher or fine sea salt

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon each of pure almond and vanilla extract

25 whole blanched almonds

For the syrup

2 cups of granulated sugar

2 cups of water

4 to 5 cardamom pods

1 teaspoon of orange blossom or rose water (I used orange blossom as my husband is not a fan of rose water)

Simple Basbousa

Directions

For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix together the sugar and melted butter. Then add the yogurt and mix until smooth and well combined.

Combine the semolina, salt and baking soda and then add to the yogurt mixture. Stir well. The mixture will be fairly thick.

Place the batter into a greased pan (9 X 12 or 10 X 10). Smooth out the mixture using the back of a spoon or an off-set spatula. Score the basbousa with a knife into the squares that you see above.

Add an almond to the center of each square, pressing down gently into the batter.

Bake 35 minutes or until golden brown. Ovens vary so it may take longer or shorter.

Meanwhile, make the syrup. Bring the water, sugar and cardamom pods to a boil over medium heat. Boil for 8 to 10 minutes. Then remove the syrup from the heat, discard the cardamom pods and mix through the orange blossom or rose water.

As soon as the basbousa comes out of the oven, pour the syrup gradually over the top. It will be absorbed almost immediately. Allow the basbousa to cool and then cut through the score lines and enjoy!

Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh)

Libyan-Style Fish

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Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) is to Libyan Jews – and many Israelis – what gefilte fish is to Eastern European Jews. And while my family origins are strictly the Pale of Settlement, I am a bigger fan of chraimeh than gefilte fish. This sweet and savory (sometimes fiery) dish is bound to become a tradition in your house too.

Normally made with a firm-fleshed non-oily white fish such as sea bass or amberjack, salmon steaks are more readily available where I live and also more affordable. You can also make this with thicker fillets of a white fish with the skin still on. I have even eaten made from catfish.

There are as many recipes for Libyan-Style Fish as there are people who originated from Libya. And each family prides itself on its version. While comparing recipes (and I must have looked at at least 6) it seems that all have in common: garlic; paprika, caraway seeds, cumin and chiles. The recipe I finally landed on comes from Jerusalem a Cookbook by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. But, of course, with a few tweaks by me.

Whether you choose to use this recipe or some other, just be sure to have plenty of good bread on hand for dipping into the sauce. The sauce is what this dish is all about! While normally served as a starter to the Shabbat or holiday meal, my husband and I ate it as our main course on Shabbat.

Serve Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) warm or at room temperature. I did tone down the heat a bit to suit our tastes. This can get pretty fiery in some versions. But the beauty of making these foods at home is that you are the boss. YOU control the heat. Because the spices make the dish, I encourage you to only use the freshest dried spices. Better yet – grind your own. And the end product should be a perfect balance of sweet and savory.

Libyan-Style Fish (Chraimeh) is a great make-ahead dish and can easily be doubled or tripled to serve a crowd. Fish cooked in a sweet or savory tomato-based sauce is ubiquitous across the Mediterranean and North Africa. The Moroccan version is a bit more subtle in its flavorings but not terribly dissimilar. While served year-round, it is a perfect summer make-ahead meal. Add some rice or couscous and you have dinner!

For another great Shabbat and holiday fish starter, try my Egyptian Ground Fish Balls in a tomato-based sauce. My family loves these for Passover. And if you truly cannot live without gefilte fish (And who says you have to choose?!) try my Gefilte Fish Loaf.

Recipe

Yield: 3 to 4 servings as dinner. About 6 servings as a starter

Ingredients

Libyan-Style Fish

About 5 Tablespoons of neutral oil (I use canola)

2 medium vine-ripened tomatoes, coarsely chopped OR 1 15 oz. can of diced tomatoes

3 to 4 salmon steaks (about 1.5 to 2 pounds), rinsed and patted dry

6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and coarsely chopped

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

1 Tablespoon of caraway seeds, dry toasted in a pan and then ground

rounded 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1.5 teaspoons of ground cumin

rounded 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (preferably Ceylon cinnamon)

1 green chile, coarsely chopped with or without seeds depending on the level of heat you are looking for

About 2/3 cup of water

3 Tablespoons of tomato paste

2 teaspoons of granulated sugar (I actually used Demerara)

1/3 cup diced roasted peppers ( I had homemade, but jarred are fine)

Juice of 1/2 of a lemon plus 1 lemon cut into 4 wedges

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro or flat-leafed parsley

kosher salt and Aleppo pepper (or freshly cracked black pepper) to taste

Directions

Place the garlic, spices, 2 Tablespoons of oil and chile in a blender or food processor (Mortar and pestle would also work) and blitz to a thick paste. I needed to add another Tablespoon of oil to get the right consistency.

Libyan-Style Fish

In a large, heavy, flat-bottomed pan with a cover, add remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil and heat to shimmering. Add in the garlic spice mixture and stir for 30 seconds until fragrant.

Garlic Spice Mixture

Immediately add the chopped tomatoes, tomato paste, roasted peppers, fresh lemon juice, water and sugar and stir well. Bring to a simmer and cook partially covered for about 10 minutes or until the tomatoes have softened and the sauce has thickened some. Taste and add more salt as needed and Aleppo or black pepper.

In the meantime, rinse and dry your fish. Liberally salt and pepper both sides of the fish and set aside.

When the sauce has melded, add the fish steaks, pushing them gently into the sauce. The sauce will not cover them. My salmon steaks were quite thick, so I simmered them for 9 minutes on the first side, spooning sauce over them occasionally and then turned them over to cook for another 8 to 9 minutes. Depending on the thickness of your fish you may not need to turn the pieces over. You want to cook the fish to the flake stage. Spoon sauce over the fish.

Allow the fish and sauce to cool down to warm before serving. Garnish with chopped fresh herbs. Libyan-Style Fish can be served warm or at room temperature. Serve over rice or with LOTS of delicious bread like fresh challah. Left-overs can be refrigerated and gently reheated.

Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

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Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

This Upside Down Nectarine Pancake makes the most of these luscious stone-fruits. The delightful, juicy nectarines are enhanced by the melding of cardamom, nutmeg and caramelly jaggery. Of course, if you don’t have jaggery available, Muscovado, light brown sugar or even plain old granulated sugar will do.

We are at the height now of stone-fruit season. It doesn’t last long enough for me. So I have a tendency to get a bit carried away when I see beautiful nectarines, peaches and plums at the store or farmer’s market. And unfortunately, they all seem to achieve their peak eating at exactly the same moment. That’s what happened with these gorgeous nectarines. Thankfully, my husband had the brilliant suggestion of taking my absolute favorite Upside Down Blueberry Pancake and tweaking it to use up the nectarines. The photos don’t quite do it justice.

You could also substitute or even mix ripe peaches or plums here. And of course, nectarines and blueberries also make for a great combination. The beauty of nectarines is that they have no fuzzy skin like peaches that needs to be peeled. In fact, the peel in the Upside Down Nectarine Pancake seems to absorb so much of the flavor and is so tender that it was an integral part of the dish. The liquid in the pan is all syrupy deliciousness which also means that there is no need for maple or any other syrup. I soak up every drop with the spongey pancake. And if there is any leftover, I eat it up with my finger.

Be sure to check out the the Upside Down Blueberry Pancake.

Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

Recipe

Yield: 2 to 4 servings

Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

Ingredients

For the nectarine filling:

    1/3 cup jaggery, Muscovado, light brown or granulated sugar

    Zest and juice of 1 medium lemon

    26 ozs. of whole nectarines or other stone-fruit (A bit more is fine), cut into slices/wedges about 1/2-inch thick

1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter:

    1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

    1 tsp double acting baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp jaggery, Muscovado, light brown or granulated sugar

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

1/8 tsp grated nutmeg

    4 large eggs at room temperature

    1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup plain, whole milk kefir)

    1 tsp pure vanilla extract

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F

Place a 9” cast iron skillet on the stove. Put 3 tbsp unsalted butter, cut up, into the skillet.

Dry ingredients:

Place 1 cup flour, 1 tsp baking powder, 1/8 tsp baking soda, 1 tbsp jaggery, Muscovado, light brown or granulated sugar, ½ tsp kosher salt, and ½ tsp ground cardamom and 1/8 teaspoon grated nutmeg in a bowl and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Filling:

Place 1/3 cup sugar in a small bowl.

Finely grate the zest of 1 medium lemon onto the sugar.

Mash the zest and sugar together with a rubber spatula, or rub the zest into the sugar with your fingertips until the zest and sugar is fully combined and gritty. (If using jaggery, the sugar will melt into almost a paste.) If no one is watching, then by all means, lick your fingers.

Start heating the skillet on medium heat to melt the butter. Reduce the heat to low.

Juice one half of the lemon onto the nectarine. Add one half of the sugar/zest mixture. Gently toss to combine.

Juice the other half of the lemon into butter in the skillet. Add the remainder of the sugar/zest mixture. Stir to combine.

Pour the nectarines into the skillet. Use a spatula or spoon to even them out in the skillet. The butter should be gently bubbling under the nectarines.

Batter:

Place 4 large eggs into a large bowl and whisk until frothy. Add 1 cup buttermilk (or kefir) and 1 tsp vanilla extract and whisk to combine.

Gradually add the dry ingredients to the eggs/milk, stirring the batter just enough to combine them.

Remove the skillet from the heat.

Pour the batter evenly all over the nectarines, by swirling from the middle of the pan outwards into a circle.

Put the skillet in the oven, baking at 400°F until puffed and golden-brown, about 20 minutes. You want this to be well browned or the batter will be under-done.

Remove and let cool for a few five minutes.

Serve and enjoy! And don’t forget to spoon all those delicious juices onto the plate. They are perfect for dipping the poufy pancake in.

Upside Down Nectarine Pancake

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

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Hummus with spiced meat (Hummus im Basar) is a meal. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant is a feast. And while this dish is clearly not one of my vegan options, it can be made with one of the many meat crumble substitutes available.

I cannot urge you strongly enough to make your own hummus. It does require an overnight soaking of chickpeas but is a simple enough process. And while I have been known to buy a good ready-made brand on occasion, the difference of home-made is substantial. I especially love hummus freshly made and still warm. Hummus with Meat and Eggplant deserves nothing less than the best.

Because this dish is all about the hummus, please only prepare it if you are willing to make your own hummus. Even using a good quality canned chickpea instead of working from dried beans, is preferable to store-bought hummus. Okay, I’ve had my rant.

All this dish needs for the perfect meal is some fresh pita (home-made if possible) and some salads. This time I charred some peppers and made a quick salad with garlic, pickled lemons and cilantro. There is the ubiquitous baba ghanoush, my version of a Jerusalem salad along with Moroccan carrots and herbed olives. I’m lucky that my husband has learned to enjoy making fresh whole wheat pita. If you have access to a good fresh store-bought pita or other flat-bread like naan, go ahead and use that. (Lucky you!)

Salatim

Once your hummus is made, the rest of the dish really is ready in under an hour. If you follow my blog, you will know by now that I adore eggplant in all of its varieties. Eggplant is so versatile. I am using it here to enhance the depth of flavor and add a velvetiness to the meat. And while it is doing this, the eggplant also allows me to use less meat, something I am always looking to do. If you are using vegan “meat” crumbles, the eggplant will add great flavor and texture as well.

This recipe for Hummus with Meat and Eggplant will easily feed 6 to 8 people with bread and salads. Leftovers are possible, but I would store the topping and hummus separately for best results.

I have chosen to not include a recipe for standard hummus here. (However, do be sure to check out my Spinach and Avocado Hummus for a great variation on a classic.) There are literally dozens of recipes available online and you very likely are already making one of them. One isn’t necessarily more “right” than the next. I like mine with garlic and lemon. Choose the one that you like. They will all work here.

My starting point for the meat topping comes from Sababa: Fresh, Sunny Flavors From My Israeli Kitchen: A Cookbook by Adeena Sussman. I then made it my own. Don’t get too bogged down in exact amounts. We each like things a particular way – sweeter, more tart, spicier etc. Also different brands of tamarind paste may be more tart than others and some of my spices may be fresher – or less fresh than yours.

It may seem as if there are a LOT of ingredients. However, if you do Middle Eastern or South Asian cooking, you should have most things on hand. And there are absolutely no fancy techniques here. It’s basically chop, mix and cook. Oh yes – and enjoy!

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Recipe

Yield: 6 to 8 servings

Ingredients

4 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound ground lamb or lean beef or meat substitute

1 medium eggplant (about 1 pound), cut into 1-inch dice

1 large onion (any variety), peeled and finely chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed or grated

2 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

2 teaspoons dried, ground cumin

rounded 3/4 teaspoon ground sumac

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

3 Tablespoons Tamarind paste or to taste

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

15 ounces of tomato sauce

Freshly squeezed juice of 1/2 of a juicy lemon

1 to 2 Tablespoons date syrup, agave or maple syrup to taste

1.5 cups of chopped fresh herbs – cilantro, flat-leafed parsley, dill or a mixture

1/4 lightly toasted pine nuts or blanched, slivered almonds

About 4 cups of fresh hummus

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

Directions

Add the oil to a large, heavy flat-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven. Heat it to shimmering and add the onion, eggplant and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cook on medium-high heat, stirring occasionally until the vegetables are softened and the onions begin to brown. This will take about 10 to 12 minutes.

Make a well in the middle of the vegetables, pushing them to the side. Add the ground meat and break it up, allowing it to brown. When it is almost finished browning, add in the chopped garlic. Give the whole pan a good stir. I like to use a flat wooden spatula to left everything up and move it around.

Add in the tomato sauce and paste and spices. Give everything a good stir. Next add the tamarind paste and lemon juice. Stir through, taste it and adjust the seasonings to taste. My tamarind was pretty tart so I added in about 1 Tablespoon of date syrup to “soften” things a bit.

Continue cooking, covered on a low heat for about 10 more minutes to allow everything to meld. This can be done ahead and then reheated when you are ready to eat.

Just before serving, add about 1 cup of the chopped herbs to the mixture and stir through.

Hummus with Meat and Eggplant

To serve if you plan on eating everything in one sitting: arrange the hummus on a platter and smooth it out, making the sides a bit higher than the center. Spoon the meat (or meat substitute) filling into the center and garnish with remaining chopped herbs and toasted nuts. Now dig in!

To serve individual portions because it will not all be eaten in one evening: arrange individual plates as if they are mini-platters.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Spinach Avocado Hummus

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These days any bean spread or dip is called “hummus.” It used to bother me because hummus is such an iconic dish in the Middle East. It just seemed disrespectful. And then I thought – “loosen up! Get a grip.” So while this Spinach Avocado “Hummus” definitely includes chickpeas and tahini, it also includes spinach and avocado to create a vibrant green deliciousness. This wonderful riff on a classic just might become a new favorite.

The seemingly long time in the food processor creates a beautifully fluffy spread with every element well blended. This almost light-as-air hummus practically melts in your mouth.

And while I had never seen nor tasted this Spinach Avocado Hummus before, when I went searching for recipes to compare, there were about a dozen. All were pretty similar and I have no idea which one came first. For me, I became aware of it here.

The measurements given should be viewed as a starting place. Obviously, you can fine tune things to suit your personal tastes. I changed up a few things to suit my tastes, adding more spice and lemon juice. So definitely don’t get bogged down in having exactly 200g of baby spinach or one cup of onions etc.

One thing I do feel pretty strongly about is that whenever possible, I like to cook my own beans. If I am making soup, the cooking liquid is a great base for the broth. (The liquid can also be used as aquafaba.) But while the beans do honestly taste better (just ask my granddaughter!) this Spinach Avocado Hummus will also be quite good if you only use canned chickpeas. However, if you must use canned beans, please use a good quality organic bean. This is especially important if you are vegan or vegetarian where beans may be a big source of daily protein.

This gorgeous dip will brighten up any table. As I have written before, we always have at least four or five salads, dips or spreads for Shabbat that we then enjoy all week. It is a habit that I picked up after living in Israel for almost a year. There and throughout the Middle East, salads are served at breakfast, lunch and dinner.

Unlike my traditional hummus, which I prefer to eat still warm, the Spinach Avocado Hummus tasted best after refrigeration. I thought that the flavors had more time to meld and enjoyed it even more the second day.

Just be sure to have plenty of fresh pita, naan or challah to scoop up the Spinach Avocado Hummus. Of course, crispy veggies or pita chips work well too.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Check out some of my other salads and spreads:

Salads for Every Meal

Garlicky Beet Spread

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Beet and Chickpea Quinoa Salad

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Beet Caviar

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Orange and Radish Salad

Farro Salad

Get your Freekeh on – with this lemony, herbed salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Recipe

Yield: About 8 servings

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Ingredients

2 cups (340g) cooked, drained chickpeas

2 T EVOO plus more for serving

1 cup (52g) thinly sliced yellow onions

¾ cup (177ml) tap water

¼ teaspoon kosher salt

53.3 oz. (200g) baby spinach

Juice of 1.5 lemon or to taste

3 Tablespoons tahini paste

Flesh of one ripe avocado (avocado weighing about 6 oz. (170g)

2 large garlic cloves, crushed

1.5 teaspoons ground cumin

¼ teaspoon cayenne pepper (Optional)

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Place 2 T EVOO in a med. large saucepan and heat on medium. Add the onion and fry until brown (about 8 to 10 minutes.)

Add the drained chickpeas and water to the pot. Bring to a rapid simmer. Then reduce the heat to medium low, cover the pot and cook for about 10 minutes or until the chickpeas begin to breakdown.

Add the baby spinach and stir through until wilted. Remove the pot from the heat and allow to cool somewhat.

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Place everything (including any liquid) in a food processor along with the flesh of the avocado, lemon juice, tahini and spices. Process for about 5 minutes, scraping down the bowl occasionally. The hummus should be creamy and fluffy. Refrigerate for at least 4 hours, but is even better the next day.

When ready to serve, spread out the hummus on a plate. Garnish with finely chopped pepper, chives, scallion or cilantro and drizzle all over with a good quality olive oil.

The hummus can be refrigerated for several days.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

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This killer Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake is decadently rich, dark and velvety. Did I mention that it has an Oreo crust?! And for those with an egg allergy – NO EGGS! I had seen a recipe for a chocolate cheesecake on the King Arthur website and it got me remembering a Mocha Cheesecake that my Mother used to make occasionally when we had guests over. It may have been based on one that was published (we’re talking almost 60 years ago, folks) in the New York Times. I’m pretty sure that the author was Maida Heatter, that doyenne of fabulous desserts.

The only problem is that it’s just me and my husband these days and that cake fed 16 people. Now I REALLY love a great New York-style cheesecake. However, even I cannot eat that much of it. And unfortunately, I never have enough room in my freezer. You know, to put some away for a pretty rainy day – or Congressional Hearings into January 6.

So, it got me thinking that I needed to come up with a version that uses my 6-inch springform pan. I found that this is the perfect size to yield 6 servings. We can definitely consume that over the course of the week.

The base of the cheesecake started with one that I published last year with a blueberry topping. Please use a really good quality dark bittersweet chocolate like Valrhona or Scharffenberger. 70% cacao is perfect. (And actually – never use poor quality chocolate. It’s just not worth it. Better to make something else entirely!) This will counter the rather sweet cookie crust and the sweetened condensed milk. The espresso powder will emphasize the deep chocolate taste.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake is for serious chocolate lovers. It has a true, clean chocolate taste and a smooth, truffle-like mouthfeel that starts melting as soon as it hits your tongue. And as rich as this cheesecake is, compared to other New York-style cheesecakes, you don’t have to feel too guilty. Go for it.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Recipe

Yield: 6 Servings

Ingredients

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

Crust (This is the amount in the original recipe which makes a delicious but fairly thick crust)

250 g of crushed chocolate cookies such as Oreos (This is about 2.5 cups)

1/2 cup (113 g) melted butter (salted or unsalted)

Filling

8 oz. (225 g) full-fat cream cheese in a block, softened

1/2 cup (120 g) heavy or double cream

1 teaspoon espresso powder

1/25 cups of dark (70%) chocolate (about 175 g)

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt

1 Tablespoon Black Natural Cocoa Powder (Dutch cocoa could be used instead)

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract or Dark Rum

1 cup (306 g) of Sweetened Condensed Milk

Directions

Lightly grease the bottom of the springform pan and line it with a round of parchment. You don’t have to do this but it will make it easy to transfer the cake off of the bottom of the tin.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

Blitz the biscuits in a food processor or with a rolling pin until you have fine crumbs. Do not wash the food processor. Just try to remove any excess crumbs. Transfer the crumbs to a bowl and add the melted butter. Mix until all of the crumbs are moist. Press the crumbs into the bottom of the prepared pan. Refrigerate for at least 15 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 160 C.

Using a hand beater or the food processor (why dirty another utensil?) beat the cream cheese until light and fluffy.

Chocolate Truffle Cheesecake

In a smallish bowl, whisk the heavy cream and corn starch until smooth. Add this to the cream cheese. Add the vanilla, sweetened condensed milk and citrus zest. Blitz until the batter is completely smooth. Pour the batter into the pan over the crumb base.

Wrap the bottom of the pan in two layers of aluminum foil to prevent any leakage. Set the pan in a baking dish large enough to hold it. I used a 9-inch square pan. Carefully add hot tap water to the pan until it comes up about half-way up the sides of the springform mold.

Place in the oven and bake for about 1 hour or until the center just slightly jiggles. Turn off the oven and leave the door ajar with the cheesecake inside. Keep the pan in there until your oven fan turns off or the cheesecake cools down. This prevents the crust from cracking.

Remove the cooled cake to a wire rack and using a sharp, flat blade, just carefully run it around the circumference of the cake. Cool the cake in the fridge for 4 to 6 hours.

When you are ready to serve, unlock the springform and carefully remove the ring. You can then either leave the cake on the bottom for serving or it should come off easily once the suction has been broken. Transfer to a serving plate and enjoy.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Savory Asparagus Tart

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This fabulous Savory Asparagus Tart is ready in under an hour, but looks like you slaved all day. I served it for our Shavuot dinner with a salad and Lemon Almond Semolina Cake for dessert. Our drink of choice was a beautiful Vermentino from Ryme Wine Cellars. But this easy-to-prepare savory tart would also make a beautiful brunch meal or a perfect Meatless Monday option.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Believe it or not but I came across this recipe in a folio sent by my grocery store a couple of months back. I made a couple of changes and my presentation was a simple change that just made this tart a visual stunner.

This Savory Asparagus Tart comes together so quickly because you use a prepared frozen puff pastry. It was even quicker because this time I bought cheese that was already grated and crumbled. Something this pretty AND delicious doesn’t have to be difficult. My husband and I were able to spend the entire day outside enjoying the gorgeous weather and we still sat down to a beautiful and delicious meal. Give it a try. And if you don’t wish to use puff pastry, a regular tart or unsweetened pie pastry or phyllo dough would also work.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Recipe

Yield: 6 generous servings

Ingredients

1 full package of frozen puff pastry, thawed according to package instructions

2 teaspoons EVOO

1 pound (1 bunch) fresh asparagus, trimmed

8 large eggs

1/2 cup whole milk ricotta cheese

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon fresh cracked black pepper or to taste

4 green onions (scallions), trimmed and thinly sliced

5 ounces shredded cheese (I used a combo of asiago, parmesan and fontina, but any one of those would also work)

4 ounces of goat cheese crumbles

2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped fresh dill

2 to 3 Tablespoons chopped (or snipped) fresh chives. (You can use other fresh herbs if these are unavailable or to suit your preferences.)

Savory Asparagus Tart

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. Line a 1/4-sheet pan (9 x 13) with parchment or lightly brush with oil

Flour a work surface and roll out the pastry to fit the pan so that it will go up the sides. Place it in the pan. You can trim any excess or fold it under. Prick the pastry all over and place it in the fridge while yo prepare the filling.

Set aside 5 asparagus spears that are about the same size and that have straight stems. Use a vegetable peeler to peel the stems and trim off the woody bottoms of the asparagus.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Trim off the woody bottoms of the remaining asparagus and cut the spears into pieces that are 2 to 3-inches long. Place the cut pieces in a large sauté pan with the EVOO and cook on medium high heat for 3 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from the heat and set aside.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Whisk the eggs, ricotta, salt and pepper in a large bowl.

Remove the sheet pan from the fridge and scatter the cut, sautéed asparagus and the sliced green onions evenly across the bottom of the pastry.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Top with the shredded cheese.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Pour the egg mixture over the top and spread it evenly. Then top with the goat cheese crumbles. Carefully lay the asparagus spears that you set aside across the top on a slight angle. Press them gently into the cheese. Sprinkle the entire top of the tart with the fresh herbs.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Bake for 10 minutes in the middle of the oven and then lower the temperature to 375 degrees F. Continue baking until the edges are puffed and golden and the eggs are set and beautifully browned – about 25 minutes.

Savory Asparagus Tart

Remove from the oven and allow everything to set for 10 minutes before cutting.

Serve with a beautiful salad, crusty bread and a crisp white wine. Leftovers can be wrapped in parchment and reheated in the oven, preferably on a pizza steel or stone.

Lemon Lime Pistachio White Chocolate Cookies

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

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Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies is a mouthful of a name. I get it. But these utterly delightful, bright cookies just scream Spring! They have the fresh, bright burst of citrus with the rich, sweetness of the white chocolate chips and added depth from the lightly toasted pistachios. Everything you could want in a cookie. Lumpy and bumpy with pistachios and chips. Crispy at the edges with a soft center! And oh, how they smell!

I saw Valerie Bertinelli make her version of these and instantly knew that I wanted to try them. Anything with citrus has my attention even though I have never been a white chocolate fan. Now I grew up in a candy family. My father was in the business and I know my chocolate. And it has always bugged me when I hear the term “white chocolate.” There is no such thing. It is made from cocoa butter without any cocoa solids. However, with age, I have come to accept that it is universally referred to as “chocolate” and has its place in the baking pantheon. But, to be clear, I am a very dark chocolate person. So while the ease of making these cookies, combined with the citrus were an invitation to me, I wanted something to be a counterpoint to the white chocolate. Toasted pistachios!

Therefore, I have tweaked the original recipe to suit my tastes and the result is a real winner. These delicious Lemon Lime Pistachio White Chocolate Cookies are now a new favorite and very easy to whip up.

While we may argue over whether white chocolate is truly chocolate, there is no arguing over using a quality brand. Same goes for the butter, vanilla and nuts that you use. You can taste the difference.

Let’s talk sugar for a moment. There are soooooooooooooooo many varieties available these days and they each have their place. The original recipe calls for granulated and light brown sugar. As it happens, I don’t buy light brown sugar – only dark, which has more molasses in it. However, I thought that might be a bit overpowering here. What I do happen to have is powdered jaggery, which I started using during the pandemic. It is a cane sugar with lovely caramelly notes – perfect for these and other cookies. My husband and I also really love jaggery when baking with apples and other fruit. If you are interested in trying it, jaggery is available online and through South Asian grocery stores.

Even before the pandemic, my actual travelling had become more limited. Rather than going overseas, we like to go hiking out west. So while I may stay in my armchair so to speak, instead, I travel through food. Every time I try a new recipe, spice or other ingredient, I delve into the culture and customs of another land and another people.

There is a lot of talk these days about cultural appropriation. But I happen to think that when it comes to food (and jewelry!) this should not be viewed as a negative. While I might not always succeed, I hope that I am honoring those cultures and peoples through the food that I cook and eat.

I always used to cook and bake by the seat of my pants, adding things in as I read off the recipe. But since I began my blog, I have found that taking a few extra minutes of preparation (and possibly bowls) at the front end saves me from mistakes and makes the whole process easier. The French call it “mise en place.” Everything is prepped and organized. So that is how I have written the recipe. However, if you aren’t into that, just add things in the order given directly into the mixer.

I guarantee that these cookies will become a new favorite of yours too.

After a day or so the cookies lose their crispiness. Still delicious, but if you are like me, I love when the edges are crispy and the center is soft. In order to achieve this, just place them in a 350 degree oven for a couple of minutes to refresh the cookies.

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Recipe

Yield: About 3 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room
temperature
3/4 cup light brown sugar or jaggery
3/4 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg, at room temperature
2 tablespoons lemon zest (About 1 large lemon)
2 tablespoons lime zest (About 1.5 limes)
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1.5 cups white chocolate chips, preferably Ghirardelli Classic
1/2 cup lightly pan-toasted and chopped raw, unsalted pistachios

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. and line 2 or 3 rimmed baking pans with parchment or Silpat

Sift together the flour, baking soda and salt and set aside.

Combine the sugars in a bowl and set aside.

Zest the lemon and lime(s) and set aside.

Add the softened butter and the sugars to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Cream them for 2 to 3 minutes or until a bit lighter in color and fluffy. Scrape down the sides of the bowl.

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Crack in your egg and beat until incorporated. Then add in the lemon and lime zest and the vanilla extract. Beat until evenly combined.

Add the dry ingredients in all at once and mix until just combined. Remove the bowl from the mixer and using a heavy rubber spatula or wooden spoon, give a good mix from the bottom of the bowl. Toss in the pistachios and white chocolate chips and mix through.

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Using a 1.5 Tablespoon cookie scoop (Yes, of course, you can do this with a spoon.) drop the dough onto the lined cookie pans about 2-inches apart. I was able to get 12 cookies per pan. If you use a smaller scoop, you will get more. There is no need to flatten the balls; it will happen naturally in the oven.

Lemon Lime White Chocolate Pistachio Cookies

Bake each tray for about 10 to 12 minutes (less if using a smaller scoop). My oven temperature is very uneven so I turn my pans once while baking. You want to bake the cookies until the edges are golden and the center has puffed up. The cookies will deflate as they cool.

Allow the cookies to cool for 5 minutes on the pan before removing them to a cooling rack. Cool completely and enjoy!

NOTE: If you don’t wish to bake all of the cookies now, the dough can be rolled into a log, wrapped well and frozen for up to a month. Defrost the dough slightly before baking.

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

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Every week I bake a wonderful sandwich bread. In fact, my husband and I eat bread of one kind or another daily and we both enjoy making different kinds. Bread isn’t the enemy, guys! The flour I use is grown and milled locally with all of the whole grain goodness intact. I use a blend of different flours, some of which are heirloom varieties. You can taste the difference. So doesn’t this deserve a great filling? Just try my Chickpea Sandwich Smush. You don’t have to be vegan to enjoy it.

Not all of the breads we make are on my blog, but many wonderful options are here and can be found using the search function. But you don’t have to bake your own bread to enjoy this wonderful sandwich filling. Pack it on your next picnic or just for a great weekday lunch. With plenty of plant protein to keep you going all afternoon and with nothing to weigh you down. No mid-afternoon slump here.

Normally, my husband uses cold cuts in his sandwiches, but he has been trying to wean himself from this. So after doing some Googling, I came across “No-Tuna” salads. Most of the recipes were pretty similar, utilizing the delicious and nutritious chickpea in place of the tuna. Personally, I am not calling my version “No-Tuna.” Tuna is tuna and this isn’t it. I think that people are often turned off by vegan recipes that purport to taste “just like meat/fish/chicken.”

Let’s just enjoy these dishes for themselves. And while it is true that there are increasingly great meat substitutes available, sometimes a veggie burger is just a great veggie burger. This recipe is a great Chickpea Sandwich Smush. It is, of course, adaptable to your personal tastes and ingredients on hand, but below is one perfect version. Works great on whole grain sandwich bread, in a wrap or just as a salad and will hold up for 4 to 5 days in the fridge.

This sandwich filling has everything going for it. Great texture, brininess, umami, satisfying and riffable. Each element that I include adds brightness, texture and flavor. Generally I like to cook up my own chickpeas, but for this to work, they need to be very smushable so may cook a bit longer than usual. Canned work well here, but find a brand that you like, preferably one without lots of the skins left on the chickpeas.

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Recipe

Servings: Enough for 4 sandwiches

Ingredients

1 15 oz. can of chickpeas (preferably organic), rinsed, drained and with the excess skin shells removed

3 Tablespoons tahini (Use a really good quality brand like Soom or Seed and Mill, both of which are readily available in the US and online)

1 rounded Tablespoon of plain yogurt – plant-based or dairy

2 teaspoons of Dijon or spicy brown mustard

1 Tablespoon of Agave nectar or maple syrup

Juice of half of a lemon (About 2 Tablespoons)

1/4 cup finely diced red onion or shallot

1/4 cup diced celery

1/4 cup garlic dilled pickle, although sweet gherkins could also be good.

1.5 teaspoons capers, drained and coarsely chopped

2 Tablespoons chopped, fresh cilantro or flat-leafed parsley

1 Tablespoon finely chopped preserved lemon rind that has been lightly rinsed of excess salt

1/4 teaspoon ground sumac

1 Tablespoon pan-roasted unsalted sunflower seeds

kosher salt and cracked black pepper to taste

Chickpea Sandwich Smush

Directions

Place the drained, rinsed chickpeas, with skins removed in a mixing bowl. Using a potato masher or fork, smush most but not all chickpeas. (You want some texture, but you also want to be able to spread this on bread.)

Add all of the remaining ingredients and mix through. Then spread it on bread and add your favorite toppings. We like it with baby spinach or other greens and some beet chips, lightly crunched on top. Let me know how you like to eat this in the comments below!

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

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Like many people these days, my husband and I are eating more plant-based meals. Maybe you are choosing to eat less meat for your health or because it is better for the planet. Perhaps you are making this choice for ethical or moral reasons. With so many wonderful options for meat substitutes now readily available, it has never been easier to try making this transition.

Not too long ago, my niece gifted me a beautiful cookbook called I Cook in Color by Asha Gomez. Based now in Atlanta, GA, Ms. Gomez originates from Kerala in Southern India. The dishes are visually striking with fresh flavors, lots of herbs and spices and fruit/vegetable forward.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan is her take on a famous Persian stew or khoresh. It is generally made with some kind of ground meat or poultry. Redolent with walnuts, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, cardamom, orange zest and pomegranate molasses, it is rich without being heavy. Following Ms. Gomez’s suggestion, I served the vegan Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan with a Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice. For a bit of extra richness and umami, the rice cooks in coconut milk.

Dilled Red Onion Basmati Rice

Since it is not really pomegranate season here, I was unable to garnish my dish with that beautiful pop of red jeweled fruit. But the resulting dinner was nevertheless amazing and I would be proud to serve it to guests. I accompanied my tangy, sweet fesenjan with some ripe cantaloupe as a starter and the Saffron Pistachio Blondies for dessert. Meat? Never missed it!

However, if you really aren’t ready to go meatless, you can try this more traditional version of fesenjan.

Recipe

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Servings: about 6

Ingredients

2 cups lightly toasted walnuts

3 Tablespoons neutral vegetable oil

1 large yellow onion, peeled and diced

4 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 teaspoons ground turmeric powder

1 teaspoon coarsely ground black pepper

1 teaspoon cumin seeds’1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg

2 cinnamon sticks

2 Tablespoons light brown sugar or jaggery

1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

3 wide strips of orange zest from a navel orange

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock

1/4 cup pomegranate molasses (readily available these days, but a recipe is linked)

4 cups of cooked chickpeas (I like to cook my own, but canned are fine too)

4 cups torn fresh spinach leaves (About 2 big handfuls)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F. (This can also be done in a dry pan on the stove if you are not using your oven for anything else.) Spread the walnuts on a sheet pan in a single layer and place them in the oven for about 5 minutes. As soon as you begin to smell the walnuts, immediately remove them from the heat and allow them to cool.

Chickpea Spinach Fesenjan

Once cooled, pulse the walnuts in a food processor until almost a fine powder. Be careful not to turn them into a paste.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy pan with a lid over medium-high heat. Add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally until they are golden (about 8 minutes). Next add the garlic and cook for about 1 minute more.

Now add in the spices and roast for about 30 seconds to help them bloom. Once they are fragrant, add the brown sugar and salt and give everything a quick stir.

Once combined, you are ready to add the orange zest, stock, pomegranate molasses and walnuts. Simmer for 2 minutes, mixing everything through. Then lower the heat to medium-low and add in the chickpeas. Cover the pan and cook for 20 minutes. The fesenjan can be prepared ahead up to this point. When you are ready to serve, add the torn spinach leaves. Give everything a good mix and remove from the heat.

While the fesenjan is cooking, you should prepare your rice, if using. Of course, this would also be delicious with naan or some other flat bread.