Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

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Kale Butternut Squash Stew over Polenta checks every box for a delicious fall dinner. This vegetable forward meal is bright with the beautiful orange of the butternut squash, the bright green of the kale and the pale yellow of the creamy polenta. The small amount of pancetta is just the right amount to add a salty, crunchy topping to this thoroughly delicious meal. If, however, you wish to keep the meal vegetarian/vegan, I would make some mushroom “bacon” or crispy shallots as a topping instead.

I served this over a creamy, slightly cheesy polenta, but it would be equally delicious over millet, rice or your grain of choice. The polenta added just the right contrast – and color – for me. And if you are going vegan, nowadays you can find vegan cheeses at many mainstream grocery stores. And an unsweetened plant-based “milk” and “butter” would substitute well for the dairy versions.

It always pleasantly surprises me when I come across a recipe that seems almost an afterthought to a magazine that I’m checking out. This one was in the November 2022 issue of Chicago. The recipe by Sarah Grueneberg from her cookbook Listen to Your Vegetables is served as a Thanksgiving side dish. However, after reading it, I thought that by playing around a bit with proportions, and serving it over polenta, Kale Butternut Squash Stew would make a satisfying main meal. And I was right!

This is such a happy dish. Just looking at the beautiful colors makes me smile. And with just a few simple ingredients – and a glass of a nice red wine – we ate well and felt great doing it. The only ingredient that proved a little tricky to find was an Italian pancetta. The grocery stores all sold “pancetta” from Wisconsin. Finally, after a visit to Eataly, I was successful in sourcing the real thing. A good thick-cut “bacon” of any variety would also produce a delicious result, but I was determined to use pancetta.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

It was amazing how a such a small amount could impart so much flavor. If you choose to leave it out, then I would definitely use EVOO with some minced garlic and sage thrown in at the beginning. In addition, I would serve the dish with a flavorful topper like a mushroom “bacon” for just the right amount of punch.

Kale, Butternut Squash Stew is an uncomplicated dish to make. But I have found that some of the best meals I have ever eaten are simple dishes made well. This dish encompasses everything I love about autumn in one dish. And my husband raved about it. The next time I make this, I think I’ll make an apple pie for dessert….

Recipe

Yield: 4 generous portions with polenta or other grain

Ingredients

1/2 cup pancetta or thick-cut bacon, diced

2 teaspoons EVOO

1 medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into large dice

1 medium red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped

kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper to taste

1.5 Tablespoons fresh thyme leaves (I used Lemon Thyme)

1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes in juice

2 large bunches of Tuscan (also called Lacinato or Dino) Kale, washed, stems removed and torn into 3-inch pieces.

2 cups of vegetable or chicken stock

Directions

In a large, heavy pot or deep, wide pan (cast iron is great here) cook the pancetta in the EVOO over medium heat until the fat is rendered and the pancetta is golden and crispy. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate and set aside. Do NOT wipe out the pan!

Return the pan to medium heat and add the squash and onion. Season well with salt. Start with 1 teaspoon. You can always add more. Mix through coating the vegetables with the oil and fat from the pancetta, if used. (If you chose not to use pancetta or bacon, then add 2 more teaspoons of EVOO to the pan before adding the squash and onion.) Cook until the vegetables are softened and beginning to caramelize. This will take about 10 minutes.

Add the thyme and stir through with a wooden spoon, scraping up any brown bits on the bottom of the pot.

Kale Butternut Squash Stew

Pour in the tomatoes and cook until thickened and the liquid has reduced – about another 10 minutes.

Stir in the kale and cook just until it begins to wilt. Add the stock, reduce the heat to medium low. You’ll want to cook the mixture for about 20 more minutes or until it has thickened and everything has had a chance to make friends and meld. Taste and adjust your seasoning and add lots of fresh, cracked black pepper.

While the stew is cooking, make your polenta, according to your preferences and the package instructions. I like to cook mine in a mix of milk and water and I add plenty of butter and black pepper. At the end of the cooking time, I stir in some freshly grated Pecorino or Parmesan. For this dish, you want the polenta to be soft and creamy.

Top the servings with the bits of polenta or mushroom “bacon.” A nice red wine and some flatbread or other crispy bread is all that is needed to have a small feast.

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup (Dal Adas)

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

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Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup bursts with warming spices and the fruity tang of tamarind. Eat it as a satisfying soup with naan or over rice as a stew. While it may not be traditional, add some torn kale, spinach or chard for extra flavor and nutrition. This hearty vegan one-pot meal is perfect as we enter into fall.

While many of us are still facing summer temperatures thanks to climate change, the shorter days and some cooler nights are harbingers of the autumn and winter that really will finally arrive. We love soup anytime of the year and when it contains beans, lentils or pulses – so much the better. These perfect little nutrition bombs that come in so many guises are a superfood that we all can enjoy. Everything from creamy cannellini beans to dal in colors of the rainbow, runner beans, pinto, black-eyed peas…. I could keep going – and likely have tried most of them.

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Some legumes, like the masoor dal (or split red lentil) used here, cook up in under 30 minutes. You may see some in your stores that are much brighter, orangey red. This is because of added food coloring. Try to always buy organic dried beans.

These days I mostly cook from dried beans. They store beautifully in an airtight container and even older beans will revive with a long soak and slow cooking. They define comfort food, are budget friendly, nutritious and appear in almost every culture in one form or another. Everything from a cassoulet to frank and beans, Hoppin’ John and chili. South Asians wouldn’t think of a meal without some form of dal. And if you are trying to eat more vegetarian or vegan meals, there is no single food that packs a more nutritious power.

Now I’ll admit, that it can sometimes be challenging to take food-porn worthy photos of cooked lentils. This is especially true if they are the main ingredient without the benefit of other colorful produce. However, once you give them a taste in one of the myriad ways that they can be prepared, I think you’ll come to agree that delicious things occasionally come in slightly less attractive packages. What the French might refer to a person as “jolie-laide” or beautiful-ugly.

Persian Red Lentil Tamarind Soup

So whether you call these Nature’s gifts lentils, dal, pulses, or legumes, be sure to incorporate them into your diet.

For two other delicious red lentil soups that will give you dinner in under an hour:

Red Lentil Soup With North African Spices

Greek Red Lentil Soup

Recipe

Yield: 6 Servings

Persian Red Lentil and Tamarind Soup

Ingredients

3 Tablespoons EVOO

1 large yellow onion, peeled and finely chopped

6 large garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

A 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped

About 12 to 15 fresh cilantro stems, finely chopped

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt (Diamond Crystal preferred)

2 rounded teaspoons ground cumin

1 rounded teaspoon turmeric

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon Aleppo Pepper

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2.5 cups split red lentils (masoor dal), rinsed well and drained

3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons tamarind paste (more or less depending on brand) or fresh lime juice

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

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Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine is aromatic, visually striking and oh so satisfying. Served with a whole wheat couscous with barberries and nuts, the dinner was ready in about an hour. While the couscous may not have been steamed over the tagine as a traditional couscous would be, it had the virtue of being ready in about 6 minutes. Here’s how this flavorful tagine came about.

So Shabbat was coming – as it does every week – and I had nothing planned. Feeling a bit lazy, I didn’t want to go to the grocery store again to pick something up. These days we pretty much only eat meat on Shabbat and later in the week if there are left-overs. It seemed like a good time to check out my freezer. It’s mostly filled with nuts, frozen fruit, ice cream and veggie sausages so I wasn’t very hopeful. However, in the very back under some bags of fruit, I found one pound of chicken tenders and some lamb merguez sausage. Hmmmmmm….

I always have plenty of grains, legumes, olives and veggies around as well as great spices, so I figured I could come up with something. After spending a bit of time Googling and deciding that I wanted to make a tagine, I found one that used both merguez sausage and chicken. I made some tweaks and the resulting Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine exceeded all of my expectations.

While the end result was absolutely delicious, when I make this again – and I will – I would choose boneless chicken thighs instead of breast meat. Not only do the thighs have more flavor, but they stay juicy and are more forgiving than breast meat. But if the pandemic taught me anything, it is that we make do with what’s on hand.

I eat with all of my senses. While I may sacrifice aesthetics on occasion for flavor, ideally a meal is attractive as well as delicious. It is an extra treat if my apartment is permeated with lovely spices. There is just something so comforting. While this dish as made is well-seasoned, it is not spicy. Frequently a tagine will be accompanied either by zhug or harissa for those who desire more heat.

Although I only used a little over a pound and a half of meat, the meal, with side salads and dips, could easily feed six people. Four people if my son is one of them! As I have mentioned in earlier posts, I always have four to six salads and dips for shabbat, which we then enjoy throughout the week.

This wonderful Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine does not require a tagine to successfully make this dish. I use my favorite Staub enameled cast iron dome-covered every-day pan – well, every day. You do want to use a heavy pan with a wide bottom.

Definitely give this a try. It makes for a delicious meal any time. But remember, it is the spices that make this dish. So be sure to use fresh ones.

For some salad and dip ideas

Salads for Every Meal

Spinach Avocado Hummus

Moroccan Beet Salad (Barba)

Moroccan Beet and Orange Salad with Pistachios

Garlicky Beet Spread

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Moroccan Carrot Salad

Recipe

Lamb Merguez and Chicken Tagine

Yield: 4 to 6 generous portions depending on sides

Ingredients

Spice mix

1 rounded teaspoon ground cumin

1 rounded teaspoon paprika (sweet or smoked)

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

3/4 teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground ginger

1/4 teaspoon cayenne or Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

For the tagine

1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 2 to 3-inch pieces

8.5 ounces of lamb merguez sausage, cut into 3-inch pieces (See photo above)

1/4 cup good olive oil

2 large carrots, peeled and cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces (See photo above)

1 large zucchini, cut on an angle into 2-inch pieces (See photo above)

1 large yellow onion, peeled, halved and cut into 1/4-inch thick slices

1 15.5 ounce can of chickpeas, drained (I cook up my own chickpeas and then used the cooking liquid in the tagine instead of broth.)

1 rounded Tablespoon garlic ginger paste OR 4 cloves of garlic minced and 1.5 teaspoons grated fresh ginger

1.5 cups of salted chicken or vegetable broth OR the cooking liquid from home cooked chickpeas

1/2 cup of pitted green olives (I like Castelvetrano olives)

1/2 of a preserved lemon, the peel only sliced into julienne (I make my own, but these are available nowadays in many stores and online)

For the couscous

2 cups whole wheat or regular couscous (Not the Israeli couscous which is bigger and takes longer to cook)

1/2 cup dried barberries, raisins or dried cranberries

3 Tablespoon EVOO

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

4 cups of chicken or vegetable broth

1/2 cup toasted coarsely chopped pistachios or sliced almonds

2 tablespoons coarsely chopped fresh parsley

Directions

For the tagine

Mix together all of the spices for the spice mix. Pour 2 Tablespoons of the olive oil into your pan over a low heat. Add the spice mix and cook for 2 to 3 minutes in order for the spices to bloom and become fragrant.

Once the spices have bloomed, add the garlic ginger paste (OR the grated ginger and garlic) carrot, zucchini and onion and bathe with the oil and spices. Cook for a few minutes or just until the vegetables begin to soften.

Now add the chicken, merguez sausage and chickpeas. Gently toss so that everything is coated with the spices and oil. Next add in the preserved lemon and the olives and then add the broth over everything. Increase the heat to bring everything to a boil.

Cover the pan and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for about 40 minutes or until the chicken and sausage are cooked through.

For the Couscous

Place the couscous, barberries, cranberries or raisins, olive oil, turmeric and salt in a glass or ceramic serving dish Stir through so that everything is evenly distributed. Bring the broth to a boil and pour over the couscous mixture. Cover tightly with a lid, foil or plastic wrap. Leave covered for 6 to 8 minutes or until all of the liquid is absorbed and the couscous is fluffy. Add the chopped nuts and parsley and stir through. Now enjoy!

Summer Garden Pasta

Summer Garden Pasta

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This simple Summer Garden Pasta makes the most out of the tomato and basil harvest. With only a few ingredients, this delicious pasta comes together in under an hour. If you have the time, pair it with one of these wonderful focaccia.

When choosing a pasta to use for this Summer Garden Pasta, I like to use a fusilli, but any pasta with ridges or twists will be great. They are both sturdy enough and have loads of nooks and crannies to hold the sauce. You want want to miss even a speck!

I made this dish one night when I had some heirloom tomatoes to use up and a flourishing basil plant. My husband LOVED this simple Summer Garden Pasta so much that he ate seconds and thirds! While I used heirloom tomatoes the first time, any good ripe tomato will work. This time I used organic Roma and grape tomatoes.

This is a sort of non-recipe recipe. Don’t get too bogged down in exact measurements. Another clove of garlic? Great. You like things really spicy. A few more red pepper flakes? Fine. More than a pound of tomatoes to use up? Go ahead. The basic recipe is below but be free to tailor it to your preferences. Just keep it simple.

Summer Garden Pasta is wonderful for those steamy summer days when turning on the oven is unthinkable. So buy your bread and feast!

Recipe

Summer Garden Pasta

Yield: 4 generous servings

Ingredients

Summer Garden Pasta

About 1.25 pounds of ripe tomatoes, coarsely diced

5 to 6 large cloves of garlic, peeled and left whole

2 to 3 anchovies in oil

1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes or to taste

3/4 teaspoon kosher salt

4 Tablespoons EVOO (I used a Mediterranean flavored oil, but any good EVOO will do )

2 Tablespoons Canola or other neutral oil

1 cup roasted bell peppers (homemade or from a jar), rinsed, patted dry and coarsely chopped

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar (it balances the acidity of the tomatoes)

1/3 cup crumbled goat cheese

1 cup of pasta water

1 pound of dry pasta like a fusilli

Lots of fresh basil leaves (a large handful), with about half kept for garnish

Directions

In a large pan with a tight fitting lid, add your oils, garlic cloves and anchovies. On a low heat, cook the garlic until it is golden, bathing it occasionally in the oil. The anchovies will have broken down and become indistinguishable from the oil. This took me about 15 minutes.

Once the garlic is golden (do NOT burn the garlic!) add the chopped tomatoes, roasted red peppers, salt, balsamic vinegar and red pepper flakes, if using. Cook on gentle heat, covered for about 12 to 15 minutes or when the tomatoes have broken down and become saucy. You don’t want mush. I like to still see some of the tomato chunks.

Up to this point, you can make the sauce ahead if you choose. The other ingredients will be added when you are ready to eat.

When you are ready to cook your pasta, bring the sauce to a simmer. Crumble in the goat cheese and mix through. Add the pasta water just before draining the pasta and half of the basil. The leaves can be torn or left whole. Your preference.

Mix everything through and simmer uncovered for about 2 minutes. Drain your pasta and add it to the sauce, mixing it well. Alternatively, add the sauce to the plated pasta. Garnish with lots of basil that has been chiffonaded and some grated parmesan or pecorino, if desired. Mangia!

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.