Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies are a perfect Passover cookie gem. Every Passover I try to add a new cookie to my repertoire. While I make a delicious chocolate Passover cake, cookies add variety and there is always something that will please even the picky eaters. And somehow when we are all shmoozing around the table picking at fruit, cookies provide just a little decadence without too much guilt or regret.
These Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies (Hadji Bada) are quick and easy to make, which is great when you have lots to prepare. And they are so wonderfully chewy and flavorful that you will be glad that you can whip them up whenever you get a craving for them! My husband described them as both rich AND yet very light – sweet but not cloying. The center has a satisfying chew and they will remain moist throughout the holiday – if they last that long.
I have seen several recipes for these cookies and they are all more or less the same. I made a few tweaks of my own which may or may not be authentic. They are, however, absolutely delicious. Kind of a cross between a French macaron and an almond macaroon, but so much easier to make. Normally the almond in the center would be a raw, natural almond with the skin on. Unfortunately, I didn’t happen to have any on hand but I did have lovely whole blanched almonds. The natural almond provides a bit more visual contrast so use it if you have them; however, the taste is delicious either way.
My husband isn’t a fan of rose water and it is easy to use too much with the result tasting like pot pourri. I found that orange blossom water on your hands gave just a slight wonderful hint of the essence that paired beautifully with the cardamom. If you truly don’t like cardamom, several recipes I saw used cinnamon instead.
2 cups finely ground almond flour (blanched or natural)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon pure almond extract
3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
2 large egg whites
A few drops of either orange blossom or rose water
24 whole raw or blanched almonds
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line 2 cookie pans with parchment or Silpat.
In a medium bowl, whisk together the almond flour, cardamom and salt.
In a large bowl, whisk the egg whites, almond extract and sugar until just combined. Stir in the almond flour until you have a smooth consistency.
Mix the rose or orange blossom drop in a shallow bowl of water. Dip your hands in the water and pinch off a tablespoon of dough and roll it into a ball. Place on the parchment or Silpat. Continue with all of the dough. You should have two pans of 12 with the cookies about 2-inches apart. Place a whole almond in the middle of each cookie and very gently press it into the dough.
Bake for 15 to 18 minutes (ovens vary) or until the cookies are just beginning to brown around the edges. Allow to cool for a couple of minutes on the pan before removing to a cooling rack. Et Voila! Store in an airtight container.
Queen Esther Cookies are a buttery, light poppy seed cookie – perfect for Purim. This year, Purim begins at sundown on February 25. On the Hebrew calendar it is always the 13th of Adar.
Every year I look forward to making and eating these treats. And while I could easily make them anytime, I like that there are certain things I only make for certain holidays, whether it’s Thanksgiving, Purim or Pesach.
Purim, which is also called the Feast of Lots, commemorates saving the Jews of Shushan in ancient Persia, from extermination. While a tale of classic anti-Semitism, it is nevertheless a joyous festival. In non-pandemic years, both adults and children would dress up in costumes and party hard in celebration. A Purim Spiel, which is a humorous skit or play, would often be performed.
We Jews are commanded to eat, drink and be merry and to listen to the reading of the Megillah Esther. Every time the evil Haman’s name is mentioned, we all boo and hiss and wave our noisemakers to show that we are not afraid.
The Book of Esther reminds us of the brave actions of Esther and Mordecai. Mordecai refused to bow down to the evil Haman, advisor to King Ahashuerus. And Esther remained faithful to her religious traditions and the Jewish People while married to the King, who did not know that she was a Jew.
Queen Esther Cookies are named after the woman who spoke to the King on behalf of her People despite the real danger to herself. Esther revealed Haman’s evil plot to destroy the Jews (and that she herself was a Jew). She was able to convince the King to reverse his decree, thereby saving the Jews of Shushan.
Redolent with vanilla and almond extract, Queen Esther Cookies, also known as MohnKichelah, which simply means poppy seed cookie in Yiddish, keep well in an airtight tin or container. So enjoy them even when the holiday is over! And you don’t have to be Jewish to love these little beauties.
Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size
1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute
1 Tablespoon water
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract
Scant 1/3 cup poppy seeds
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
These can be made by hand, but it is much easier to use either a standing mixer or a food processor.
Cream well the butter (margarine) and sugar until they are light and fluffy – about 3 minutes. Mix in the water, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Then pulse in the poppy seeds and baking powder.
Add the flour and mix to form a very stiff dough. These cookies can be made into a dropped cookie or rolled out and cut with a cookie cutter, which is what I do. If you are planning to roll them out, then form the dough into a thick disk, wrap it in plastic wrap and refrigerate it for several hours or overnight. It should be quite firm. If you are making drop cookies, then use the dough immediately.
When you are ready to bake, heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line baking sheets with parchment and coat with non-stick spray. You can also use a Silpat, which doesn’t require any spray.
Roll out the refrigerated dough on a lightly floured surface until it is about 1/8-inch thick. You can cut out the cookies free-hand or use a cookie cutter in any shape that you like. Re-roll scraps and continue cutting out cookies until all of the dough is used up. If the dough begins to get too soft to handle, simply place it in the fridge until it firms up.
Place the cut-out dough onto the baking sheets about 1/2-inch apart. Bake for about 10 to 12 minutes or until they are lightly browned at the edges. Ovens vary and it will also depend on how thinly you actually rolled out the dough etc. Mine ended up taking about 16 minutes this time…. Remove to a wire rack to cool completely.
I have never made these as a drop cookie, but the instructions say to drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Then flatten the mounds slightly with a fork, your fingertips or the bottom of a glass. Bake for about 15 minutes or until lightly browned around the edges. Cool completely on a wire rack.
Thanksgiving is long over, but it doesn’t mean that celebrations are too. I was hesitant to try making a Pumpkin Praline Pie. I don’t normally brag, but I make a killer Bourbon Pecan Pie and a really deeply spicy, amazing pumpkin pie. And I wasn’t sure that I wanted to mess with either where more might actually become less.
However, with so few of us this past thanksgiving, I would only be making one pie instead of my usual three and I simply couldn’t choose. (The third pie is usually an apple.) I am happy to report that this pie is delicious and does combine many elements of a pumpkin and a pecan pie. So for a delicious pie that stands on its own merit, you should try this Pumpkin Praline Pie. The crunchiness of the praline is the perfect counterpoint to the rich, creamy pumpkin pie.
After looking online and YouTube for a couple of weeks, I finally bit the bullet and decided to try a recipe I found on Allrecipes. A few changes were made based on some of the comments and my own preference for a well-spiced pumpkin pie. The result is a delicious, creamy, rich pumpkin pie with a praline-like topping. So if you want a gorgeous dessert that is unique on its own merit, but leaning towards a souped up pumpkin pie, try this. If you are looking to satisfy the Pecan Pie crowd, this won’t quite be the answer – in my opinion.
My version of this Pumpkin Praline Pie has plenty of pecans, but this topping, really delicious though it is, does not give you the ooey gooeyness of a true pecan pie. And I missed the Bourbon that cuts through some of the sweetness to keep it from becoming cloying. Don’t misunderstand. This is a really delicious pie and one that I enjoyed more each time I ate it. Just don’t buy into the hype on the web that it serves as the perfect combo of a pumpkin and pecan pie – it doesn’t. It is it’s own thing.
Now if you don’t enjoy as much spiciness in your pumpkin pie as I do, use a pre-mixed, store-bought pumpkin pie spice and cut back on the quantity. And if you want to make this pie but keep it vegan, use my Vegan Pumpkin Pie for the body and follow the directions for adding the topping. And instead of using butter with the pecans, use a vegan buttery spread or a solid coconut oil. Just remember to use either a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch regular pie plate!
Yield: One 10-inch OR deep-dish 9-inch pie
1 unbaked pie crust for a deep dish pie (store bought or homemade)
For Pumpkin Portion
2 large eggs
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon ground ginger
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground allspice
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
A couple of grinds of freshly cracked black pepper
15 ounce can (2 cups) pure solid-pack pumpkin puree
For Pecan Topping
4 Tablespoons of softened unsalted butter
Zest of one large navel orange
1/2 cup packed dark brown sugar
1.5 cups of pecans broken into large pieces
Homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream
Heat your oven to 450 degrees F. Line a deep-dish 9-inch pie plate or a 10-inch pie plate with the pastry and refrigerate while you make the filling. There is no need to blind-bake the pastry in this recipe.
Combine the eggs, sugars, flour, spices and salt in a large bowl. Blend in the pumpkin puree using a wire whisk. Gradually add the condensed milk and mix well.
Pour the pumpkin mixture into the prepared pie shell and place on a baking sheet in the lower third of your oven. Bake for 10 minutes at 450 degrees F. Then without opening the oven, reduce the heat to 350 degrees F. The total baking time will depend on your oven but usually takes about 50 minutes more. After the pie has baked for 30 minutes at 350 degrees F. carefully remove it from the oven. The center should still be fairly wet but the outside should be somewhat set.
At this point take the topping and sprinkle it all over the top. I also used a pie shield on my crust as it was beginning to get more brown than I liked. If you don’t have a pie shield you can use aluminum foil but honestly, that’s kind of a pain. If you intend to continue baking pies, treat yourself to a pie shield. They are inexpensive and really make a difference.
Return the pie to the oven for about 20 minutes more. Then turn off the oven and crack open the door. Leave the pie in the oven to cool down. It will continue to bake some and will prevent cracking.
Cranberry Orange Bread is sweet, tart, citrusy and nutty. Perfect for Thanksgiving! Cranberries are one of nature’s superfoods and they taste great. I love their bright tartness that is only enhanced with the addition of orange. And they are so pretty to look at – little scarlet jewels that add a dash of autumn color to any dish. When they are dried, I actually prefer them to raisins.
This recipe (with a few changes from me) comes from Beard On Bread and makes one large loaf. I have another recipe which I have been making for over 40 years and can be found hand-written in a book that I keep of favorite recipes. Unfortunately, I have no idea where it originated. It is substantially similar to the Beard recipe but fits a more conventional 9 X 5-inch pan. You can’t go wrong with either one.
A Note on Hoarding (Okay, a justification)
As it happens, I have the larger 10 X 5-inch pan called for in the James Beard version, so that is what I made this time. More Cranberry Orange Bread for me! However, I have given the proportions below for the smaller version as well since that is the size pan that most people will have on hand. Honestly, I don’t even know why I have the larger pan. It sat in the back of a cupboard rarely used and I have no recollection of ever buying it. Probably just one of those things I inherited or picked up over the years.
Matthew and Frances will probably hate me when I die because I have collected so much stuff that they will have to sort through. But I’ve been married for over 36 years. So not only did I manage to buy things during that time, but my mother and some of her friends recognized a kindred entertaining spirit in me and gifted things to me.
Don’t get me wrong. There are some real treasures – beautiful silver serving pieces, antique hors d’oevres plates, some antique table linens that I picked up on a trip to Taormina, Italy. Decorations unique to each holiday. Well, you get the idea. It all seems kind of pointless now since there are no more large family gatherings. But the optimist in me hopes that maybe there will be a few more in my lifetime. Who knows? Maybe a grandchild or niece or nephew will want some of it. It could happen.
But I digress. This Cranberry Orange Bread is lovely on the Thanksgiving table but it’s also great anytime for brunch or an afternoon snack. I have even been known to cut a thick slice, lavishly butter it and stick it under the broiler briefly just to toast the top. OMG that is sooooooooooooooo good.
Since it is almost Thanksgiving, whether you are having any friends or family over, you also might look here for some inspiration:
Yield: 10 X 5-inch Loaf (See below for 9 X 5-inch loaf)
3 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 large eggs
1 cup granulated sugar
1/4 cup melted, unsalted butter
3/4 cup orange juice plus 1/2 cup milk (non-dairy is fine) (I actually used buttermilk)
Grated orange zest of 2 large navel oranges
1.25 cups fresh or frozen raw cranberries, cut in half (I find that freezing the cranberries first makes them less likely to “bleed” when mixed with the batter.)
3/4 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
1 to 2 Tablespoons of crumbled brown sugar (Optional)
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Grease and flour (Baking spray with flour works well) a 10 X 5-inch loaf pan.
In a medium bowl, sift the flour with the baking soda, baking powder and salt. Set aside.
Using a standing mixer or hand beater, beat the eggs and sugar until well blended and fluffy. Stir in the melted butter, orange zest, milk and OJ. Add the flour mixture and mix just until blended. Do NOT over-mix.
Gently fold in the cranberries and nuts by hand. Don’t worry if the cranberries “bleed” a little into the dough. Carefully spread the thick batter into the pan so that it is even. If you are using the brown sugar, crumble some over the top and lightly press into the batter.
Bake for about 75 minutes or until the center of the bread springs back when lightly touched or a cake tester comes out clean. If it seems to be browning more than you like but isn’t finished baking, cover it lightly with foil and continue baking. Ovens vary so start checking after one hour and don’t worry if it takes longer.
Allow the bread to cool in the pan for 15 to 20 minutes or until you can just handle the pan with your bare hands before turning the bread out onto a cooling rack. This is best made a day ahead of serving for all of the flavors to fully develop. Wrap it tightly once it is completely cooled.
Because this is a “quick” bread made with baking soda and baking powder, it is normal for a crack down the top to develop during the baking. Why is it called a quick bread? Because it rises without yeast or a long fermentation process. The baking soda and baking powder make the bread rise as soon as it is mixed in and you pop it in the oven.
And because this is a particularly moist bread that will get even moister over time, it is best stored in the fridge or a very cool spot in your house. Bring it to room temperature before serving.
Measurements for 9 X 5-inch Cranberry Orange Bread or 3 Mini-Loaves
2 cups all-purpose, unbleached flour
1.5 teaspoons baking powder
1/2 teaspoon double-acting baking powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 large egg
1/4 melted, unsalted butter
3/4 cup orange juice
Grated zest of 1 large orange
1 cup raw fresh or frozen cranberries, cut in half
1/2 cup chopped walnuts or pecans
Follow Directions as above
The baking time is about an hour for the 9 X 5-inch loaf and about 45 minutes if using the mini-loaf pans. Always check when you begin to really smell the baking since all ovens are different.
Persian Herbed Stew is aromatic, hearty and satisfying. Okay, it’s not the most beautiful dish and will never win any food-porn prizes. But close your eyes and smell the parsley, cilantro, mint and leek all vying with the rich beef, black-eyed peas and Persian dried limes. Come on – what’s not to love?
Persian Herbed Stew (Ghormeh Sabzi) is a quintessential Persian dish with many variations. The version that I’m using was a typical Friday night meal for a Jewish family that made their way from Tehran to Tenafly, New Jersey. I came across it while delving into the wonderful Jewish Food Society website. It is citrusy, peppery and herbaceous and sure to wake up any jaded palate.
Black-eyed peas are used here, but dark red kidney beans are a more common ingredient. You can’t go wrong with either, however. Many recipes include potatoes, some use lamb and apparently whether you use fenugreek says where your family came from in Iran originally. What you cannot skimp on, however, is the massive amount of fresh herbs or the Persian dried limes. It simply would not be Persian Herbed Stew (Ghormeh Sabzi) without them.
I admit that I was skeptical when I first ordered the limes and opened the bag. They do not look very promising, but oh, the aroma! Some people grind the dry limes up and use the powder to sprinkle on just about anything where a pop of citrus would brighten things up. While not a big drinker, I could imagine rimming a glass for a Margarita with ground up Persian limes.
This dish does take some preparation although no single element is that difficult. It would go faster in a pressure cooker, but I will freely admit that those things scare me; I don’t own one and have no plans to change that! It can be served simply over Basmati rice and with the typical Middle Eastern salads and dips for a truly remarkable meal fit for the Sabbath Bride.
I’ve actually been wanting to make this dish for some time now, but it has been impossible during the pandemic to get all of the fresh herbs that I needed. Finally, my order arrived with everything that I needed so here we are.
Now while this dish is clearly made with meat, I could imagine it being made with tofu and more beans for a vegan version. Obviously the cooking time would be reduced and the tofu would be added after the beans had cooked and become tender. I would use firm or extra firm tofu and would press it under weights for 30 minutes before cutting it into chunks. It wouldn’t be authentic, but it would be delicious.
12 small, dried Persian limes (Some limes are bigger than others, so you may use fewer.)
9 cups water, divided 1 cup black eyed peas, soaked overnight 3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1½-inch pieces 2 medium onions, roughly chopped 3 tablespoons canola oil 3 bunches parsley (8 cups leaves and tender stems), washed, dried, and roughly chopped 3 bunches cilantro (8 cups leaves and tender stems), washed, dried, and roughly chopped 1 bunch mint (1½ cups leaves), washed, dried, and roughly chopped 1 leek, green part only, sliced into ⅛-inch strips and washed 3 tablespoons dried savory (I didn’t have savory, but I did have fenugreek, so used that instead since it was in so many other versions that I found.) 3 tablespoons dried mint 2.5 teaspoons fresh ground black pepper 2 tablespoons kosher salt, plus more to taste 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
1. Place dried Persian limes in medium heatproof bowl. Bring 1 cup of the water to a boil in a small saucepan and pour over the dried limes. Let sit until ready to use. After they soak, you should halve the limes around the middle and remove any seeds before adding to the stockpot. This prevents excessive bitterness.
2. In large stockpot, place the beef chunks and cover with the remaining 8 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim the foam off the top. Reduce the heat to simmer and cook for 1 hour, skimming the foam as needed.
3. Add the beans to the pot and increase the heat to a boil for 5 minutes, continuing to skim any foam off the top. Add the dried Persian limes with their soaking liquid and reduce the heat to a low simmer, cover and cook for another hour.
4. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium heat. Add the onion and cook without any oil until they begin to sweat, 5 minutes. Add the canola oil and continue to cook until they begin to brown, 5 to 8 minutes more. Now add the greens and dried herbs and spices. Saute until they turn dark green in color, are tender and very fragrant, another 5 to 10 minutes.
5. Once the beans are tender, add the onion and herb mixture to the pot and stir to incorporate. Cover and continue to cook until the greens have wilted and the stew is fragrant, 20 to 30 minutes. Adjust seasoning with salt as needed and serve.
I am convinced that there are two camps of kugel followers – those who favor potato and those who favor noodles. Jerusalem Kugel is for lovers of a savory sweet noodle pudding and I am firmly in this camp.
In actuality there are many different types of kugel even within these two camps. A kugel can be sweet or savory, or, as in this case – both. So what is a kugel anyway? It is a baked “pudding” originating with Jews from Eastern Europe and Germany that is traditionally served on Friday nights (Shabbat) and holidays. It can be eaten hot, cold or at room temperature and is especially wonderful as an accompaniment to brisket and roast chicken. I have been known to even eat it for breakfast on Shabbat morning….
Jerusalem or Yerushalmi Kugel is a specialty of Haredi Jews from the Mea She’arim neighborhood. Think Shtisel, that international phenomenon depicting a close knit community of ultra-Orthodox Jews. The kugel is sweet with a peppery bite that is irresistible. Most recipes don’t vary much, but there are small subtleties. The trick to a perfect Jerusalem Kugel is in caramelizing the sugar in the oil. You want to go just far enough to get a really good caramelization but no so far that you burn the sugar. It happens, though. If so, there is no saving it, so throw it out and start again. Once you have done it right once, the rest is a snap.
Some variations add caramelized onions, but I like mine without, which is the most common version. I put pudding in quotes because it isn’t a pudding in the sense that most people (Americans especially) think of. The finished result is solid and there is no dairy or dairy substitute – just eggs. And because it is meant to be eaten following the laws of kashrut, oil is used in place of butter.
Make sure that you use a big pot to caramelize your sugar and oil. When the noodles are added it can spatter and sugar burns are just the worst. I know. There is no special pan needed for the baking and you can use a square, rectangular or round pan. I have made it in a bundt (tube) pan which produces a very pretty finished product. This time I used an 8-inch spring-form pan. The smaller the pan, the higher the kugel. If you don’t have an 8-inch round pan, use a 9-inch. Your finished product will be a little thinner but just as delicious.
I used 1 teaspoon of freshly cracked black pepper, but I have seen recipes with as little as 1/2 teaspoon and as much as 2 teaspoons. It all depends on your tolerance. Same goes for the amount of sugar. The proportions below make what I believe is the perfect balance between sweet and savory.
1 pound (16 ounces) thin egg noodles (The thinner the better for the ultimate crust on the outside.)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup neutral oil such as Canola
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper or more, to taste
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (175 degrees C)
Bring a large pot of water to the boil and salt it well as you would for cooking any pasta. Cook the noodles to al dente according to the package directions. Drain well and set aside. My noodles said to cook for 4 minutes, so I did 3 minutes. Remember, they will bake in the oven.
Add the sugar and oil to a large pot on medium heat. Just stir the sugar through the oil and then don’t touch it. As the sugar melts, it will start to turn a lovely dark amber color. You need to watch this because nothing happens, nothing happens and then – boom, it’s too late. Once the sugar burns, it becomes bitter and is unusable.
As soon as the sugar gets to the right color, remove the pot from the heat and add the noodles. Don’t worry if they got a bit sticky. They will separate as you stir them through the sugar/oil mixture. I like to use either a wooden spoon or tongs for this. If the sugar hardened in a few spots, don’t worry. It will melt again in the oven.
Now mix through the salt and pepper. Allow the noodles to cool for about 5 minutes. In the meantime, lightly beat the eggs to break them up. Now add them to the noodles and stir through. If you added the eggs too soon to the hot mixture, the eggs might scramble which is not what you want.
Pour the mixture into a greased pan of your choosing and smooth out the top. Bake for one hour. The finished product should be a really rich brown and the noodles should look somewhat crisped. Allow to cool slightly and then it can be removed from the pan if using hot. The kugel will cut most easily if allowed to cool to room temperature, which is how I like my kugel.
Rosh HaShanah 5781 begins at sundown on Friday, September 18th this year. Wherever Jews live, we will be celebrating the New Year. The Jewish People – my People – have survived intact for 5,781 years. Despite wars, the Crusades, Spanish Inquisition, the Holocaust and the denial of Israel’s right to exist, we have survived. Its pretty remarkable by any measure. But this year with the Covid Pandemic, we will face another challenge.
While it is true that much of our rituals are home-based, we also require a community. We do not live in isolation from one another no matter how that community is counted by different streams of our religion or where our family originated. My husband and I had looked forward to sharing these High Holidays with our son, daughter-in-law and first grandchild. But alas that is not to be. They are in San Francisco and we are in Chicago.
The Days of Awe are a time for deep personal reflection and repentance. It is a time to review how we conducted ourselves during the past year and our goals for the coming year. This year, instead of taking part in our community services, we will be at home – just the two of us. I will miss the beloved liturgy and melodies that provide so much comfort each year. And I will miss the sense of community and the affirmation of our People.
Cooking has always been a way for me to connect with others and to express my love. I enjoy searching for recipes that reflect our People’s different traditions since we come from all across the globe. And I love to read the stories that go along with them.
So even though nothing is quite as it should be this year, I am still planning a special meal for Rosh HaShanah. Below are some recipe ideas for the holiday. And remember, it won’t just be a meal that you are sharing, but our heritage.
I wish all of you a Shana Tova U’Metuka – a sweet New Year! A year of good health and peace.
This Moroccan style savory meat pie will wake up your tastebuds. It was Thursday evening and I had nothing planned for Shabbat dinner. I could, of course, always make a chicken dish, but my husband was beginning to cluck. So I searched my freezer for some hidden gem and found a package of ground beef. But then what? In the back of my freezer was a long-forgotten package of phyllo dough and from that I created this dish.
Using my knowledge of Moroccan/Middle Eastern cooking and knowing what we like to eat, I started to put together what turned into a delicious Shabbat – or anytime – dinner. All I needed to add were some beautiful roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs from my terrace garden and a mix of Middle Eastern salads for a delicious and satisfying summer dinner.
The beauty of this kind of dish is that you can make it in virtually any pan and depending on how you cut it and your sides, it can easily feed between 8 to 10 people. The only slightly tricky part is dealing with the phyllo dough. If you have never worked with phyllo before there are a few things you need to know in order to have a successful outcome.
You need two damp towels to keep the phyllo leaves from drying out. Once they do, you might as well throw it in the garbage. You also need some kind of fat to brush on the dough as you layer it. Since this was for Shabbat, I used a vegan buttery spread. Butter and even EVOO would also work. When I make baklava I generally prefer to use butter, although will also use good buttery vegan spread.
You also cannot skimp on the melted fat or try to speed up the process by plopping on too many layers of dough at once. Not if you hope to have a finished product with those lovely flaky layers that epitomize puffed pastry. I never add more than two thin layers at a time. Once you have mastered the phyllo, making baklava or spinach pie are a breeze.
And while I made this recipe with lean ground beef, you could easily use ground lamb, which frankly I prefer, but didn’t happen to have on hand. I used the spinach because I had it, but you could leave it out or use parsley or kale instead. The point is, don’t get bogged down. If you don’t have pine nuts, but you have blanched slivered almonds, use those.
Ras el Hanout was used because I have it on hand, but you could just as easily have used hawayij to change the flavor profile. If you have never used Ras el Hanout, I definitely recommend that you try it. You can buy it at any good spice shop or online or you can make it yourself. It’s a wonderful warm spice that is perfect with pumpkin or other squashes and gets you in the mood for fall. So have fun and get cooking!
This dish can be eaten hot or at room temperature and is wonderful for a buffet. You can reheat any leftovers in a 350 degree F. oven for about 10 to 12 minutes. It will nicely crisp up the pastry and warm it through.
I hate waste. The phyllo dough came in a one pound package and I didn’t want to refreeze what was left over. So I took some apples that were beginning to wrinkle, sliced them very thinly without peeling them and layered it with a good cheese that would melt easily. It was all nestled between layers of phyllo in a shallow rectangular tart pan. I treated the phyllo with butter and baked it at 375 degrees F. for about 40 minutes. It made quite a treat for a light dinner or lunch with a bowl of lentil soup or a salad. If you wanted to add a very thin slice of a jamon, prosciutto or other smoked ham, that would work well too. And if you don’t have apples, but do have fig jam (I always keep a jar around) that would be just yummy.
Yield: 8 to 10 servings
1.5 pounds very lean ground beef or lamb
About 2 Tablespoons EVOO
1 pound blanched spinach, squeezed dry and roughly chopped
2 fat cloves of garlic, finely chopped
1 large onion (I used yellow but red or white onion would work), finely chopped
1/3 cup raisins
1/4 cup pine nuts, lightly pan toasted
2 teaspoons kosher salt
Rounded 1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper (freshly cracked black pepper is fine)
1.5 teaspoons Ras el Hanout
2 Tablespoons tomato paste
8 ounces tomato sauce
1/2 pound of phyllo dough (although you could use more if you want a LOT of pastry), defrosted in the fridge if previously frozen
6 to 8 ounces of butter or vegan buttery spread, melted
Butter (or use other fat) a 9 X 12-inch pan that is about 3-inches deep. Set aside. Almost any deepish pan or oven-proof skillet will work. This happened to fit my phyllo dough exactly.
In a large saute pan, soften the onion and garlic. Then add the ground meat, breaking it up in the pan. Cook until the meat loses its redness. Now add the tomato paste, tomato sauce, spices, raisins and spinach. Stir everything through to mix well. Add the pine nuts and mix through. Taste to adjust your seasonings.
My Ras el Hanout could have been a little fresher so I oomphed things up a bit with a little additional allspice and ground clove. There should be very little liquid. A bit of liquid is fine and will absorb into the meat as the mixture cools slightly. Too much liquid will make for a gummy end product. Set the mixture aside while you heat the oven to 375 degrees F. and prepare the phyllo dough.
Lay the phyllo dough out onto one of the damp tea towels. Then cover with the other towel. Working quickly, peel off two thin sheets of phyllo. If the sheets break, don’t worry. You can always patch. Lay the sheets in the pan that you have oiled. I chose 9 X 12 because it fit the dough perfectly but make your dough fit the pan. You can even fold it over. As soon as it is in the pan, brush the dough with the melted butter. Keep repeating this until you have laid down 8 sheets.
Now spoon in your meat mixture and spread it evenly. You can do this in one layer or you can divvy it up, which was what I did. So I placed half of the meat mixture down, then added more layers of phyllo (brushed with butter), then more meat. Frankly, it doesn’t really matter.
Once all of your meat mixture is in the pan, add the remaining phyllo dough two sheets at a time and spread with butter between layers. I used about 8 sheets but you can use more if you want more pastry. Take a very sharp knife and pre-cut your dough. I then sprinkled some additional Ras el Hanout on top, which is why my finished product looks so dark. It’s up to you. Bake for about 40 to 45 minutes. Ovens vary so check it. As long as your pastry is puffed and the desired brown, the dish is done. The filling is really cooked before it goes in the oven. Now – enjoy!
Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken blends cultural food influences deliciously. Now more than ever, I have become an armchair traveler. My world has narrowed down to our apartment and so I take every opportunity to bring the world safely to us. This fragrant dish conjures up spice markets in India and the Middle East. Perhaps a little history is called for in order to understand the origins of this curried coconut chicken dish.
While we Jews are small in number, we can be found in pockets all over the world. In part this is because we have been driven out of so many places over the millennia. But it is also because of the trades that we were limited to practice as merchants of goods ranging from spices and cloth to diamonds. And as we have traveled and changed our homes, we have adopted local cuisines.
This Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken (Spayty) originates with a small community of Baghdadi Jews living in India. “The community, according to professor Shalva Weil of Hebrew University who has written on the Baghdadi community, traces its origins to 1730 when a man named Joseph Semah moved from Baghdad to Surat, a city north of modern day Mumbai. By the mid-19th century thousands of Jews from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria migrated to India, escaping persecution under the rule of Daud Pasha and seeking business opportunities.” Most of this community left when India gained independence from the British.
I came across this recipe for Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken on a Jewish heritage food website called Naama. It documents our varied and deep food traditions from Jewish communities all over the world. And there are always fascinating family stories to go along with the recipes.
Influences from whatever country Jews lived in were absorbed and adopted while making changes that allowed them to continue to observe the laws of kashrut. For example, this delicious curry is made with coconut milk rather than yogurt in order to honor the prohibition to not mix milk and meat. But you definitely don’t have to be Jewish to enjoy this traditional Iraqi/Indian Shabbat meal.
Don’t be frightened off by the relatively long list of ingredients. If you do much South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking, you should have most of the spices on hand. Iraqi/Indian Shabbat Chicken isn’t difficult to make, but I do urge you to use fresh spices and whole spices that you grind yourself when cooking these cuisines. It is the spices that make the dish.
Since I was making this only for me and my husband, initially I did not also cook up a rice pilau to which I would have added English peas and carrots for additional color. I did serve this with a simple Moroccan beet salad and a Jerusalem salad along with a fresh mint chutney that I made. [See recipe below] Mint grows like weeds and I happen to have it in my terrace garden. You can also buy mint or coriander chutney. While normally I enjoy Indian food with naan or roti, Shabbat challah actually went beautifully with this dish and along with the potatoes served to sop up the delicious sauce. Served with some ripe cantaloupe and cherries – a perfect Friday night meal.
Since I had plenty of left-overs, the second time I served this with dal and a rice pilau. For some ideas of Indian side dishes to make, check out these suggestions.
While very well-seasoned, this dish is not at all spicy so is a perfect introduction for those who are heat averse. And the bonus in making this dish is that your house will smell absolutely amazing!
2 pounds chicken breasts, cut in half if large 2 pounds of chicken saddles (thighs with legs attached) 1½ teaspoons kosher salt ½ teaspoon ground black pepper 1 teaspoon ground turmeric, divided 4 tablespoons vegetable oil (I used Canola) 5 whole cloves 5 green cardamom pods 1 cinnamon stick 5 generous teaspoons ground coriander 3 generous teaspoons ground cumin About 2 pounds of small-medium potatoes, peeled [I used Yukon Gold and cut the potatoes in half so they would fit into my pan.] 1 large onion 1 piece of fresh ginger (2 tablespoons) 4 cloves garlic 1 teaspoon paprika 14 oz. can of unsweetened coconut cream 2 teaspoons white distilled vinegar 1/4 to 1/2 cup water 1 8-ounce can of bamboo shoots, drained and cut into thin slices lengthwise (Optional) 1 teaspoon garam masala
1. Place the chicken pieces into a large bowl or plastic freezer bag and sprinkle and rub all sides with 1½ teaspoons of kosher salt, ½ teaspoon of fresh cracked black pepper and ½ teaspoon of turmeric. Set aside for about 30 minutes. [This can be done hours ahead and refrigerated.]
2. Place the vegetable oil into a large pot over medium heat. Add the cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, and cumin. Fry for about 30 seconds or until fragrant.
3. Place all the chicken pieces into the pot with the skin side down. Sear the chicken until golden brown, about 5 minutes on each side. Transfer the chicken onto a plate.
4. Place the potatoes into the pot with the oil and spices and fry the potatoes until golden brown on all sides, flipping them occasionally.
5. Meanwhile, place the onion, ginger, and garlic into a blender or food processor. Process the mixture until a paste is formed, about 2 minutes. [This can also be done ahead and refrigerated.] Add the paste to the pot with the fried potatoes. Add the paprika and remaining ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric. Cook until golden, about 4 to 6 minutes. Place the chicken pieces back into the pot with the skin side up. Add the coconut cream, vinegar, water and bamboo shoots (if using) into the pot. Cover the pot and cook on medium-low heat for about 40 minutes until the chicken is cooked through. The dish can be made several hours ahead and gently reheated. I didn’t add the garam masala until just before serving.
6. Sprinkle garam masala over the curry and serve hot.
1/2 cup of roughly chopped scallions, including green stems
1 Tablespoon finely chopped or grated fresh ginger
2 fresh hot green chili peppers, or to taste
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
Juice of one lemon or up to 2 limes (I used limes)
Blend everything together. Unlike commercial chutney which almost certainly has food coloring added, the green of the mint will darken some if made ahead. The taste will be fine, however. If you wish to have that vibrant green, add a couple of drops of a vegetable food coloring. I store this in a glass container in my fridge and it will perk up any meat, chicken, fish or vegetarian meal.
I actually was unable to get any hot peppers in my most recent grocery order so I substituted some Gojuchang. You could use other hot sauces like Sriracha or harissa and while possibly not quite authentic, the taste will be great.
Crostata di Ricotta is a prized cheesecake from the Garfagna region of Tuscany. This post was supposed to have been ready ahead of the Festival of Shavuot, which commemorates the spring harvest and the giving of the Torah on Mount Sinai. It is customary to eat dairy meals during the holiday so I thought this wold be perfect. However, I’m afraid that I was only able to actually get it made in time for us to enjoy it for the holiday. So keep this in your pocket for next year.
But who am I kidding? This delicious cheesecake, permeated with raisins soaked in Marsala and redolent of the grated zest of an orange is perfect any time. The recipe comes from Carol Field’s book The Italian Baker. She got the recipe from Joyce Goldstein who was a chef at Cafe Chez Panisse. I know – two Jewish women and not an Italian name in sight!
But when you smell this tart with its buttery melt-in-your-mouth sweet crust and bite into the airy, custardy Marsala-scented filling, you will think you are in Tuscany. I was brought up on and love a really good New York cheesecake – so dense and rich that a fork could stand up in it. This Crostata di Ricotta isn’t that. So rid yourself of any preconceptions and enjoy this ricotta tart for what it is – amazing.
Making the Crostata di Ricotta isn’t difficult and it is one of those things where you can make the pastry the day before. I really urge you not to use bought pastry dough for this recipe. Yes, it’s a little more work but the result is so worth it. And if you have a food processor, it actually comes together in no time.
There are many different pastry doughs that would work here as long as they are a rich, sweet dough. I normally like to use a Pâte Sucrée with eggs, but since I was running low on eggs, I made a Pasta Frolla from The Italian Baker that didn’t require any. That is the recipe below. It was not a recipe like any I had made before, but it did come together easily. And while rolling it out proved to be a bit problematic, I was able to pat it into place with my hands and knuckles. The finished product is beautiful and delicious.
My husband and I LOVED this. The crust is fragrant and incredibly delicate – just melting in your mouth with every bite. It is so delicate that it seems to disappear before you even have time to swallow. Oh and let’s not forget the filling. Ahhhhhhhh, the filling. It’s like eating the most flavorful, custardy cloud you can imagine. I’m really not doing justice to how delicious this is. Many things I think are too fussy and not worth the effort. This is absolutely worth the effort.
Carol Field suggests eating the Crostata when still warm or at least the day it is baked. However, if you make it ahead and refrigerate it, she says that it can be warmed in a 350 degree F oven for 20 to 30 minutes. Truthfully, I’m not sure that I would like it warm, but it was amazing eaten a few hours after it had come out of the oven. And even eating it right from the fridge was still pretty great. But your first bites should be from the fresh tart.
3/4 cup plus 1 Tablespoon (100 grams) potato starch
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
Pinch of kosher or fine sea salt
1.75 sticks (200 grams) unsalted butter, at cool room temperature and just malleable
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 lemon
Grated zest of 1/2 navel orange (the other half will be used for the filling)
Place the flour, potato starch, sugar and salt in the bowl of a food processor fitted with the steel blade. Pulse once to mix.
Cut the butter into small chunks and scatter over the flour. Process with about 6 long pulses until the mixture resembles coarse meal. Add the vanilla and grated zest. Process until the dough just starts to come together but before it forms a ball. Knead the dough by hand very briefly until it comes together in a ball that is no longer sticky. I did not have to add any flour to my surface to do this, but if you must just add a small amount. Form a disc, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least one hour or up to overnight.
When you are ready to roll out the dough, remove it from the fridge for about 10 minutes so you can work with it.
For the Crostata di Ricotta
You will need a deep-sided tart pan with a removable bottom that measures 9.5 inches across the top. Absent that, you could use a spring-form pan but it won’t be quite as pretty as if you have the fluted sides.
1/2 cup (80 grams) golden or other raisins
4 Tablespoons Marsala (I only had a very fine dry Marsala instead of a sweet Marsala. It worked out fine.)
1 pound (450 grams) whole milk ricotta
1/2 cup (100 grams) granulated sugar
1 Tablespoon unbleached, all-purpose flour
4 large eggs, separated, at room temperature
1/4 cup heavy or whipping cream (I only had half & half so used that)
1/4 cup sour cream (I actually only had creme fraiche which has a higher fat content than sour cream. I figured it made up for not having heavy cream.)
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
Zest of 1/2 navel orange
1/4 teaspoon fine sea salt or kosher salt
Soak the raisins in the Marsala for at least 15 minutes (I did overnight). Drain and reserve the Marsala.
Roll out your dough (Mine kept breaking but it actually was quite malleable and I was able to work it with my hands into the pan with the end result being beautiful!) Refrigerate the pan with the dough until you are ready to fill it. This keeps the dough from shrinking.
Heat the oven to 350 degrees F.
Place the ricotta, heavy cream and sour cream (or creme fraiche) in the processor and pulse until smooth. Add the flour and sugar and pulse until mixed. Now add the egg yolks, reserved Marsala and vanilla. Pulse until well combined. Add the raisins and pulse once to mix through. Pour the mixture into a large bowl.
In a clean bowl, whip the egg whites with the salt until stiff peaks form. Stir 1/3 of the whites into the ricotta mixture and then gently fold through the remaining whites. Don’t overdo this. You don’t want to deflate the whites.
Remove the tart pan with the pastry from the fridge. Place the pan on a baking sheet or aluminum foil to catch any butter drips. Fill the pastry with the ricotta mixture and even out the top. Place in the oven and bake for 50 to 60 minutes or until the pastry is golden and the filling just barely wobbles. Turn off the oven and open the door part way. Leave the cake in the oven for 30 minutes to cool down slowly. This prevents too much cracking and allows the cake to fully set. After 30 minutes remove the cake to a wire rack.
Once it is cool enough to easily handle, you can remove the tart from the baking ring. The easiest way is to place the tart pan over a large can. The outer tart ring falls off and the tart remains on the bottom. Be standing by to hold onto the Crostata. Then mangia!