Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

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Every year for decades I hosted Passover, the Jewish holiday commemorating the redemption of the Jewish People from slavery. And while it was a lot of work, I loved having family and friends around to join in the seders. There have been many wonderful desserts, including a few that are vegan. (They are linked below.) But I always tried to make at least one new dessert each year. This Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover would have been this year’s entry in that category. Unfortunately, between my niece’s family having moved away and the pandemic, it has been a few years since I hosted any family holiday gathering.

Pesach this year will be spent with Matthew, Frances and Juliana in San Francisco. Perhaps I can convince Frances to make this Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover.

Light, moist and lemony, this flourless cake uses almond flour to replace all-purpose or cake flour. Between the almond flour and the ricotta, this is a cake that it is impossible to dry out. It may get slightly custardy over time, with the flavors only intensifying. Delicious on its own, adding either fresh berries and a dusting of icing sugar or a berry compote would kick it up to the next level. Michelle Polzine’s Slow-Roasted Strawberries would be a great option. However, for my money, true perfection was achieved when I served this luscious cake with a good dollop of lightly sweetened home-made creme fraiche and a few raspberries. No matter how you choose to eat this cake, you cannot go wrong.

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

But you don’t have to make this just for Passover. It’s a lovely, light dessert any time of the year. The recipe originated from the Donna Hay Magazine via the Nosher website and has been slightly tweaked by me. And while there are volume measurements included, I strongly recommend weighing your ingredients when baking.

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

For Other Great Passover Desserts:

Passover Florentine Cookies

Death by Chocolate Vegan Passover Cake

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

French Chocolate Cake with Chocolate Glaze

Chocolate Amaretti Tortemake with kosher for Passover amaretti cookies

Tarte Citron Mamajust substitute 1 Tablespoon of Matzah Cake Meal for the 1 T of flour

Recipe

Yield: One 8-inch cake

Ingredients

120 grams (1 stick) unsalted butter, softened
275 grams (1 1/3 cups) granulated or caster sugar
1 vanilla bean, split and seeds scraped or 1 generous teaspoon pure vanilla extract
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract (Optional to use only if you wish to have a more pronounced almond flavor)
1/4 cup loosely packed lemon zest (2 to 3 lemons, depending on size)
4 large eggs, separated and at room temperature
240 grams (2 1/2 cups) almond meal or almond flour
300 grams (1 1/3 cups) ricotta, at room temperature
About 2 Tablespoons flaked (sliced) natural almonds
Icing sugar, for dusting

Directions

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. Lightly butter or PAM an 8-inch (20 cm) springform pan. Line the bottom with a parchment round and lightly sugar the sides and bottom.

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

Place the butter, granulated sugar, vanilla seeds or extract, almond extract and lemon zest in a stand mixer. Beat for 8 to 10 minutes (REALLY) until, pale, creamy and very fluffy. Scrape down the sides as needed.

Gradually add the egg yolks one at a time, while continuing to beat the mixture.

Add the almond meal and beat to combine. Fold the ricotta through the mixture.

In a separate, clean bowl, beat the egg whites until you have stiff peaks.

Gently mix through about 1/3 of the egg whites in to the main batter to loosen it up. Then carefully fold in the remaining egg whites in 2 parts until most of the white bits are no longer visible. Be careful to not deflate the mixture since there is no other leavening in the cake.

Pour the mixture into the cake tin and smooth out the top with a spatula. Decorate the top with the sliced almonds.

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

Bake for 40 to 45 minutes or longer, depending on your oven. The top should be golden and there shouldn’t be any wobble. If it appears that your cake isn’t done, but you don’t want it to brown anymore, cover it lightly with aluminum foil. Allow the cake to cool completely on a wire rack. Carefully run a thin knife or spatula around the cake in the pan to be sure that it isn’t sticking anywhere. Then you can loosen the ring of the springform pan and remove the cake. Do not apply icing sugar until the cake is completely cooled.

Lemon Ricotta Almond Cake for Passover

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

These Syrian Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce are a fruity, tangy crowd pleaser. We have our son, daughter-in-law Frances and granddaughter visiting us this week. Originally scheduled to come for New Year’s and our son’s birthday, when my husband contracted Covid and the trip was postponed. Airlines were cancelling flights right and left as well. It had been so long since we had had them for a visit to Chicago that I had begun to feel that this day would never come. Thankfully, my husband recovered and because we both had been vaccinated and boostered, I managed to remain negative!

I had been dreaming of their visit forever and all of the things that we would do and meals that I would cook. Well, unfortunately the weather has been quite cold and they are used to California temperatures. So between that and Covid restrictions, a trip to the grocery store and one walk along the river is as exciting as it got. However, Nana and Grandpa made sure that we had lots of stories to read and toys to play with and Juliana helped Nana cook. Our granddaughter is only two so she has not yet been vaccinated and we wanted to be careful.

Well, I may not be able to control very much these days, but I could at least feed everyone well. As soon as I came across this recipe for Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce, I knew that I had a winner. I did make a few changes to quantities and method, but there is no one way to make these and every family has their own version.

These delicious meatballs are often served for Jewish Holidays, including Passover. Mine were made using breadcrumbs, but equal amounts of matzah meal could easily be swapped out to make them Kosher for Passover. Of course, you don’t have to Jewish to enjoy these yummy and satisfying meatballs and they likely are also made in non-Jewish Syrian communities. Traditionally served with rice, I used whole wheat couscous when I served them.

The meatballs call for a fairly large quantity of pine nuts, which are not inexpensive. A reasonable substitute would be blanched slivered almonds. However, if pine nuts are within your budget, I would encourage you to use them. Their unique flavor, especially when lightly toasted, just makes this dish truly celebratory.

The seasonings are warming baharat , Aleppo pepper and allspice with loads of chopped fresh herbs. And tamarind, which can be found in Indian and Middle Eastern stores is readily available online or in many spice stores these days.

The recipe I made called for ground beef, but ground lamb could be used instead. Meat has become quite expensive and normally my husband and I only eat it once a week, if that. However, the recipe does make 40 meatballs and will feed a crowd, especially with the usual array of salads and dips that are a part of every Middle Eastern/North African meal. Everyone, including my 2-year old granddaughter loved this dish!

Meatballs in Tamarind Sauce

Recipe

Yield: 40 golf-size meatballs

Ingredients

For the Meatballs

About 1 Tablespoon EVOO, Grapeseed or other oil

3 pounds of ground beef

5 large eggs

1.5 cups of pan-toasted pine nuts

3/4 cup fine dried bread crumbs (or matza meal)

About 2 cups of bread crumbs or matza meal for lightly coating the meatballs (I used a mix of Panko and regular fine dry bread crumbs.)

1.5 teaspoon kosher salt

1 heaping Tablespoon of baharat or allspice

1.5 teaspoons Aleppo pepper

2 large handfuls of fresh herbs, finely chopped. (Parsley, cilantro, dill and mint are wonderful)

For the sauce

2 teaspoons EVOO

1/2 teaspoon Aleppo pepper

1/2 teaspoon ground allspice

4 cups water

10 Tablespoons (1/2 cup plus 2 Tablespoons) good quality tamarind paste in concentrated form

6 ounces tomato paste

Juice of 1 lemon

1 teaspoon kosher salt or to taste

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Oil two sheet pans with about 1/2 Tablespoon on each pan.

Combine all of the meatball ingredients in a large bowl except for the oil. I like to use glass or stainless steel when working with raw meat. Wearing disposable gloves or with your hands moistened with cold water, roll the meatballs into golf-sized balls. You should get about 40 meatballs.

Place the 2 cups of bread crumbs in a shallow dish. Roll each meatball in the crumbs for a light coating. Add breadcrumbs as necessary. Place 20 meatballs on each sheet pan, with about 1 inch in between.

Place the pans in the oven and cook for 20 to 25 minutes or until well-browned.

Meanwhile in one or two large skillets, mix the ingredients for the sauce. Stir and simmer while the meatballs cook.

When the meatballs are browned and the sauce has simmered, add the meatballs to the sauce. Simmer for about 30 minutes, The sauce should have thickened enough to coat the back of a spoon. Spoon some of the sauce over the meatballs and serve over rice or couscous.

Poppy Seed Window Cookies

Poppy Seed Window Cookies

Poppy Seed Window Cookies are a buttery delight with the zing of blood orange marmalade. Some people think that Christmas marks the beginning of an end to cookie season. But Christmas has always been a non-event for me. I am happily and proudly Jewish and have never felt a longing for a Christmas tree or waited for Santa to come down the chimney. So I think any season is cookie season!

This type of cookie has many different names. Sometimes called “lunette” cookies by the French because they resemble eyeglasses or Occhio di Bue Biscotti in Italian which means bulls’ eye. Also similar to a linzer cookie. What they all have in common is a buttery, eggy rich cookie dough with some kind of filling. They are a wonderful cookie to gift because they hold up beautifully. Fillings are only limited by your imagination, but blood orange marmalade, which was used here, is a wonderful foil for the rich dough. I had never seen these made with poppy seed before reading a piece on cookies by Susan Spungen in the New York Times.

After reading comments and making a couple of batches, I have made a few small changes to the directions. Normally, I tend to like things well-done. I always buy the darkest, crustiest bread I can find! But despite the instructions, I found that I liked these best when they were fully baked but not yet golden. I think that it preserved the clean buttery taste and prevents them from drying out too quickly. The only change to the ingredients that I made was to add 3/4 teaspoon of pure almond extract to the dough in addition to the vanilla. Almonds, poppy seed and orange are simply a match made in heaven.

A nice thing about these cookies is that you can make the different parts over a couple of days. The dough, itself will last up to 5 days in the refrigerator if tightly wrapped. And straining the marmalade isn’t difficult, but it is slightly tedious. That can also be done separately.

Chilling the raw cookies before baking is really important. It helps keep the cookies from puffing up and spreading during baking. Since I certainly don’t have room in my fridge or freezer for a half-sheet cookie sheet, I improvised. While it is still unseasonably warm for a Chicago winter, it is cold enough on my terrace to place my cookie trays outside covered in the step before baking. Worked like a charm.

Ovens vary tremendously as will the size and thickness of your cookie. I am giving a suggested size for the cookies as well as a thickness, but you can make these with any set or shape of cookie cutters that you wish.

When making a recipe with multiple parts, I find it easiest to read it through first several times. Then I carefully measure and prep each section so that when I am ready to bake or assemble, I am not suddenly scrambling or forgetting something. Sometimes it means washing one or two extra bowls, but in the long-run it makes things much simpler to accomplish the desired results.

While the blood orange marmalade is a wonderful filling, I did play around with some extra dough that I had. Skipped the window and used Nutella (chocolate hazelnut spread) as the filling. Then dipped the cookies in a chocolate glaze flavored with a bit of Cointreau. AMAZING! I do need to work on my glaze a bit for it to be perfectly glossy, and my dipping technique, but it was definitely a winner. So have fun making these. And if blood orange isn’t your jam, raspberry jam would be equally delish.

Purim begins at sundown on March 16. Normally I make my delicious Queen Esther poppy seed cookies along with hamantaschen, but I think this year I might just make these instead.

Recipe

Yield: About 2 dozen sandwich cookies depending on size

Ingredients

2 ½ cups/320 grams all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting

1 ½ tablespoons poppy seeds, plus more for sprinkling

½ teaspoon kosher salt

¼ teaspoon baking soda

1 cup/225 grams unsalted butter (2 sticks), softened

⅔ cup/135 grams granulated sugar

2 large egg yolks, at room temperature (The whites can be saved and used in an omelet or another cookie.)

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

3/4 teaspoon pure almond extract

2 tablespoons buttermilk (or 1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons milk
mixed with 1 teaspoon lemon juice or 2 T kefir)

1 cup blood orange marmalade, with the solids strained out

Confectioners’ sugar, for dusting

Directions

In a medium bowl, sift your flour and baking soda. Add the poppy seeds and salt and whisk to combine. Set aside.

Using a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, cream the butter and sugar on medium speed for 3 minutes – until light and fluffy. Add the egg yolks, vanilla and almond extracts and beat well on medium speed, scraping the bowl down as needed.

With the beater on low speed, add half of the flour mixture and just mix until barely combined. Add all of the buttermilk and the remaining flour. Beat on low speed just until combined. Then turn the speed up to medium and beat until the dough begins to clump, scraping down the sides a couple of times.

Divide the dough into 2 balls that have been flattened into disks. Wrap them in plastic wrap and chill until firm, at least one hour or up until 5 days.

At any point before assembling the cookies, you can prepare the marmalade. Place spoonfuls of a good quality blood orange or other marmalade in a fine mesh strainer over a bowl. Push the clear liquid part through the strainer. The solids are still edible and can be reserved or you can discard them. Cover the strained jam and set it aside until you are ready to use it.

When you are ready to bake the cookies, remove one of the disks from the fridge. It will need to warm up for about 15 minutes before you can roll it out. Flour a sheet of parchment that fits a half-sheet baking pan or a silicone mat. Roll the slightly softened dough out, adding flour as necessary until it is between 1/8 and 1/4 inches thick. If your kitchen is very warm and the dough starts to get sticky, you can always pop it in the fridge for a few minutes. Using a cookie cutter or glass that is about 2 to 2.75 inches in diameter cut out the shapes. Take half of the cut-out dough and using a cutter that is about 1.5 to 1.75 inches, cut out the centers. The cut-outs can be re-rolled along with any excess dough to make more cookies. Keep doing this until you use up the dough. The cookies will not spread much. I was able to easily get 12 cookies on a half sheet pan. When the pan is filled, lightly cover it with a towel and chill for about 15 minutes.

While the cookies are chilling, preheat your oven to 350 degrees F. with the rack in the middle. Bake the chilled cookies for 12 to 16 minutes or until they look done but are not yet golden. If the bottom or edges just are starting to get a bit golden, they are done! Remove the pan to a wire rack and after 2 minutes, carefully take the cookies off of the pan and place them directly on the rack to cool completely.

Continue this process until all of the dough is used or do some now and some another day. When the cookie parts are baked and fully cooled, separate your top sections (the ones with the cut-out) onto a single cooling rack or piece of parchment. Generously rain powdered (confectioner’s or icing sugar) down over them through a strainer.

Spread a generous teaspoonful of jam over the bottoms. Carefully lay a top cookie over the jam. If desired, you can sprinkle some poppy seeds over part of the visible jam in the window.

Now enjoy!

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté makes a delicious addition to your holiday table. Once upon a time I used to make a vegetarian mushroom pâté. It wasn’t beautiful, but it was delicious. Frankly, it was a bit of a pain to make in the pre-food processor days. However, it went very well with roast turkey or chicken and was worth the extra effort for holidays and special occasions. And it was especially yummy in sandwiches the following day. But those of you who follow my blog know that I am trying to prepare more vegan dishes. I initially got interested in vegan cooking because my godson was deathly allergic to eggs AND his family keeps kosher, which means they won’t mix milk and meat – among other things. So finding – or developing – great vegan recipes became an imperative.

Now, though, I try to cook vegetarian and vegan meals for me and my husband several times a week. While my reasons are for better health as well as the welfare of the planet, I wouldn’t do it if I couldn’t make meals that were delicious and satisfying. It doesn’t hurt that my favorite cuisines are Mediterranean/Middle Eastern and South Asian, both of which have a rich heritage of vegetarian and vegan dishes.

You certainly don’t have to be vegan to enjoy this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté. It’s a wonderful make-ahead side or appetizer that can be enjoyed by anyone – unless allergic to mushrooms or walnuts that is. So if you are looking for something a bit different to try for the holidays, give this Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté a go. It still isn’t pretty (but what pâté is?) and it still is delicious! Spread it on crackers or some Melba toast and enjoy it with a Crackling Vermentino or other sparkling wine. Mmmmmmmmm!

For an alternative Vegan Mushroom Pâté that is not baked try:

Mushroom Walnut Pâté

You can’t go wrong with either one.

Recipe

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons EVOO

1 pound of mushrooms, white, cremini or baby bellas, quartered

1/2 cup chopped walnuts, lightly toasted in a dry pan

1 shallot, peeled and chopped

1 cup chopped fresh fennel or celery

Handful of flat-leaf parsley, chopped

1.25 cups fine, dried bread crumbs – plain or seasoned

1 pound silken tofu

1 Tablespoon nutritional yeast

1 teaspoon each: dried thyme, basil and oregano

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

generous pinch of cayenne (Optional)

Directions

Oil or use a cooking spray to coat an 8 X 4-inch loaf pan. Line the pan with cooking parchment and oil that as well. Cut a piece of parchment large enough to sit on the top of the pâté mixture in the pan. Set the pan aside.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Heat the EVOO in a large sauté pan and add the chopped shallot and fennel or celery. Sprinkle with about 1/2 teaspoon of kosher salt. Sauté until the mixture begins to soften. Then add the chopped parsley and bread crumbs. Stir through to moisten everything. Turn off the heat.

While the vegetables were sautéing, place the mushrooms and silken tofu in the bowl of a food processor. Pulse the mixture until everything begins to break down. Add in the nutritional yeast, dried herbs and the veggie/breadcrumb mixture. Pulse until smooth.

Add in the walnuts and just pulse 3 or 4 times quickly. If you prefer not to have bits of walnut in the finished product, you can pulse the mixture a few more times, until it is smooth throughout.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and smooth the top. Add the oiled parchment on top of the mixture so that it is right against it. Give the pan a tap on the counter to make sure that everything is even and there are no air bubbles. Place in the hot oven and bake for 1.5 hours. Allow to cool completely.

Vegan Mushroom Walnut Pâté

If you are not going to serve it as soon as it is cool, refrigerate it in the pan. Remove the pan from the fridge about an hour before you are ready to serve. Carefully remove the piece of parchment that is on top and invert the pan onto your serving plate or board. Peel off the remaining parchment paper. Garnish as desired.

Bourbon Pecan Bread

Bourbon Pecan Bread

This fragrant quick bread is easy to make and even easier to eat. While flipping through one of my old hand-written books of favorite recipes, I came across this Bourbon Pecan Bread. I hadn’t made it in years and the recipe said that it made three mini-loaves. Clearly this was a recipe that I used to make as gifts to friends and teachers. However, I wanted to only make a single larger loaf this time around. Like most quick breads, this one comes together quickly and bakes for about an hour. These breads are really not breads at all but are simple cakes that are perfect with tea or coffee pretty much anytime of day. They all have the traditional crack down the middle that you see in cakes made with baking soda.

Bourbon Pecan Bread doesn’t need any glaze or embellishments. With holidays and maybe even some friends or family visiting, it’s great to have this absolutely wonderful quick bread in your back pocket. The most difficult part will be not jumping in to eat it before its cool. These make wonderful “host/hostess” gifts. And wrap it in some cellophane and tie a pretty bow on for a gift that anyone would be happy to receive.

Now I’m sure that the recipe comes from somewhere. Unfortunately, several decades ago when I was writing it down, I wasn’t concerned with provenance. So, that said, my apologies to whoever conceived the original, wonderful recipe. Though uncredited, it is truly appreciated. I did make a few tweaks, but nothing substantial.

This recipe was made using a food processor. However, it could also be made by hand, or using a hand or stand mixer. There are just a few things to remember: don’t over mix the batter once you start adding the flour and make sure that all of your ingredients are at room temperature.

You could swap out walnuts for the pecans and some sort of cognac or Armagnac for the Bourbon. But there is just some wonderful alchemy that happens when pecans and Bourbon are in the same recipe. Bourbon is an American whiskey made from distilled corn mash. And pecans are the only indigenous American nut. So perhaps, that is why something so magical happens when they are paired in things like Bourbon Pecan Pie or this Bourbon Pecan Bread.

Bourbon Pecan Bread

While there is alcohol in this recipe, it cooks away in the baking process, leaving only its flavorful depth and essence behind. There is no non-alcoholic substitute that would work here.

Tightly wrapped once it has fully cooled, this Bourbon Pecan Bread will last for several days and can be frozen for later enjoyment. However, when this intoxicating smell wafts out of your oven, you will have to be of a stronger will than I have to not eat it right away.

Recipe

Yield: 3 mini-loaves or one 9 x 5-ince loaf

Bourbon Pecan Bread

Ingredients

2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking powder

3/4 teaspoon baking soda

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

2 large eggs

1/2 cup (one stick) unsalted butter at room temperature

1/2 cup real maple syrup

1/3 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar

1/2 cup buttermilk or plain kefir

1 cup coarsely chopped pecans, lightly pan toasted

3 Tablespoons Bourbon

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

About 2+ Tablespoons Demerara or other coarse sugar (optional, but a nice touch)

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously grease (I used cooking spray) a loaf pan. Line the bottom and sides with parchment with a 2-inch overhang. Grease the paper as well. Sprinkle the Demerara sugar un the bottom of the pan, if using. Then carefully turning the pan, coat the bottom and sides with the sugar. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda and then add the salt.

Using a food processor or mixer (or by hand), cream the butter, brown sugar and maple syrup until fluffy. This should take about 3 minutes if you are using a machine. Add the eggs and mix well. Then add the Bourbon and vanilla.

Starting with the flour, add one third to the butter mixture and process in pulses just until barely combined. Then add half of the buttermilk and lightly pulse or mix it through. Repeat with the next third of the flout and the remaining buttermilk. Add the toasted pecans to the final bit of flour and toss them together. This will help prevent the nuts from all sinking to the bottom. Now add this last amount of flour/pecan mixture and pulse it through the batter or mix with a spatula until just combined. Do not overmix the batter once you have begun adding the flour or the final cake will be gummy and tough.

Pour or spoon the thick batter into the prepared pan. Tap it lightly on the counter to even things out. Lightly sprinkle with the coarse sugar if using and bake for about an hour or until a toothpick inserted comes out clean. For mini-loaves, bake these beauties for about 45 minutes. If your oven bakes as unevenly as mine, turn the bread about half way through. Don’t worry about the top cracking down the middle. That is classic for this kind of bread. Allow the cake to cool for 10 minutes in the pan. Then carefully lift out the Bourbon Pecan Bread, using the parchment sling. Remove the parchment and place on a wire rack to cool completely. Now enjoy!

Parsnip, Cherry Walnut Cake with Sweet Hawaij Glaze

Parsnip Cherry Walnut Cake

Parsnip, Cherry Walnut Cake with Sweet Hawaij Glaze is a knock-out. I know, I know – parsnip?! But hear me out. We eat carrot cake and zucchini bread without giving it a second thought. So why not the under-rated cousin of carrot? Parsnips are one of those root vegetables that is a harbinger of autumn for me. This sweet, unassuming vegetable is wonderful in soups, stews and root vegetable mash. But cake?

We Jews have just begun the Festival of Booths (Sukkot) which is the middle holiday in the panoply of High Holidays celebrated by Jews all over the world. This ancient harvest festival “commemorates the wanderings of the Israelites in the desert after the revelation at Mount Sinai. The huts represent the temporary shelters that the Israelites lived in during those 40 years.”

And parsnips are the perfect early harvested vegetables to begin the autumn and the Jewish New Year. I came across this recipe through a website called Nosher on my Jewish Learning. It intrigued me enough to try it. While perhaps not the most impressive-looking of cakes, it is packed with flavor. I did change the original glaze to one of my own making, however. It seemed that the amounts and types of spices would overwhelm the cake.

Included below is a recipe for Sweet Hawaij from the cookbook Shuk by Einat Admony and Janna Gur. This Yemeni spice blend is magical. I often use it to replace anywhere you might use pumpkin or baharat spices. It will take coffee and roasted vegetables to the next level. Try it in pumpkin pie. You might just be converted. I make up my own but it is also available online and at spice stores.

Despite the leavening used in the recipe, the cake does not rise very much in. If you would prefer a higher cake, you could use a smaller bundt pan, but it would likely increase the baking time. While dense, the cake is not at all heavy. Every day the flavors melded and became even moister and richer. I would definitely suggest making this at least a day ahead of when you plan on eating it. Mine was stored in a glass-domed cake plate and has held up beautifully.

Parsnip Cherry Walnut Cake

So if you are looking to add more veggies into your diet, there is no sweeter way than this Parsnip, Cherry Walnut Cake with a Sweet Hawaij Glaze. The tart cherries perfectly complement the sweet parsnip and the walnuts add some depth and texture. But don’t wait for a holiday to make this yummy cake.

Recipe

Yield: About 10 servings

Ingredients

Parsnip Cherry Walnut Cake

For the cake

2 cups (260 g) unbleached, all-purpose flour

1.5 teaspoons (7.2 g) baking powder

1 teaspoon (5 g) baking soda

1/2 teaspoon (2.6 g) kosher salt

3 large eggs at room temperature

1 cup (206 g) packed light brown sugar or jaggery

1 cup (240 g) sour cream at room temperature

2 teaspoons (10 g) vanilla bean paste or pure vanilla extract

1/2 cup (8 Tablespoons or 113 g) unsalted butter, browned slightly cooled

About 4 parsnips (340 g after peeling and trimming ends), finely grated and packed into a 2 cup measuring cup

1/2 cup (60 g) dried pitted cherries or barberries

1/2 cup (57 g) walnuts, lightly toasted and chopped

For the glaze

1.25 cups (155 g) confectioners or icing sugar

1 generous teaspoon Sweet Hawaij (see recipe)

pinch of kosher salt

About 1/3 cup milk (79 ml)

Sweet Hawaij

Yield: About 1/2 cup

1 Tablespoon ground cloves

2 Tablespoons freshly grated nutmeg

2 Tablespoons ground cinnamon

2 Tablespoons ground ginger

1 Tablespoon ground cardamom

This will last in a cool, dark place kept in a small glass air-tight jar for up to a year. Mine gets used up waaaaaay before that!

Directions

For the cake

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F (176 C). Spray well a 12-cup Bundt pan with a non-stick vegetable spray and set aside. Place a cooling rack over parchment, newspaper or a baking pan and set aside.

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

Using a stand or hand-held mixer (or by hand), combine the eggs, sugar, sour cream, vanilla paste and browned butter. Mix well. Add the flour mixture and mix just until barely combined. A few small streaks or lumps of flour are okay. (Over-mixing leads to a gummy cake!)

Add the finely grated parsnips, cherries and walnuts and mix just until combined. pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake for about 50 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean.

Allow to cool on a rack for 10 minutes and then turn it out. Allow it to cool completely. If you are feeling lazy, you can simply dust the cooled cake with confectioners sugar and call it a day. The cake alone is delicious. But if you want AMAZING, make the glaze.

For the glaze

In a medium bowl, combine the confectioner’s sugar, salt and Sweet Hawaij or pumpkin spice blend. Slowly add in the milk until you get a consistency that is fairly thick but still pourable. If you go too far, just add a bit more sugar. When the cake has cooled completely, pour or drizzle the glaze over the top and allow it to run down the sides.

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)


Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira) is hearty and fragrant – a soul-satisfying one-dish meal. There are many versions of this soup – some with meat and others like this one, which is vegan. In some families it is traditional to serve this as the “break-the-fast” meal following Yom Kippur. But it could and should be enjoyed throughout the fall and winter. This is a make-ahead meal that only improves with a bit of age.

To show how vastly different our family traditions can be, my family’s break-the-fast meal was always bagels, lox and smoked fish. We came from New York via Russia Poland. But the truth is that I actually don’t like lox and smoked fish in the Midwest just doesn’t cut it for me. So, as I have with much of our diet during the rest of the year, I have adopted a more Middle Eastern/Mediterranean/South Asian food culture. And a heavily plant-based diet.

I came across a version of this soup on the Jewish Food Society website. It’s a wonderful site that has made it its mission to collect stories and recipes of the myriad Jewish communities across the globe. These are recipes that have been passed down through the generations, but which might have so easily been lost. Because so many of these families were forced from their homes under terrible conditions, it was easy for these unwritten treasures to have fallen by the wayside. While I have found that the recipes on the site are not always easy to follow, especially if you are a novice cook, the family histories alone make the website worth a visit.

While we Jews lived among the local communities, we also remained outside of them, keeping to our own traditions. Local cuisine was adapted to meet the laws of kashrut. Harira, Moroccan Chickpea Soup is a perfect example. Moroccan Muslims would eat harira to break the fast on Ramadan. Whereas many Jews ate it to break the fast on Yom Kippur.

The original recipe for this harira uses fine egg noodles and since I am not a vegan, I did as well. However, there is no reason why an angel hair pasta or spaghettini couldn’t be used instead. That is the only change required to make this wonderful soup vegan.

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Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

If you choose to cook your own soaked chickpeas as I have done, you need to start the process the night before. If you prefer to use canned chickpeas, you can still make a delicious and hearty soup. I happen to enjoy cooking my own beans and use the liquid from the cooking process to replace most of the water called for in the recipe. It adds an extra level of nourishment and flavor and helps to further thicken the soup. Unless you are using organic canned beans, however, I would not recommend using the liquid. You could use water, as called for, adding a vegetable bouillon cube or you could use a vegetable stock.

After I had decided to make the recipe I found from the Jewish Food Society, I came across another version from My Jewish Learning, The Nosher. So I ended up doing what I usually do and took the elements that I liked best from both and then tweaked it!

My sister-in-law is from Morocco and I asked what her family’s tradition was for breaking the fast. She told me that their tradition was to eat an egg-drop soup before the fast and cake to break the fast, followed by a full meal. So whatever tradition your family follows – or if you are starting a tradition of your own, I definitely encourage you to fit this wonderful and incredibly soul-satisfying soup in there somehow.

For a version of harira with lamb: Harira – Moroccan Chickpea and Lamb Soup

Recipe

Yield: 6 servings

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Moroccan Chickpea Soup (Harira)

Ingredients

1 cup dried chickpeas, soaked overnight and drained OR one 15 oz. can of drained chickpeas

4 Tablespoons olive or a neutral oil like Canola

3 medium carrots (or 2 large), peeled and cut into small dice or rounds

2 stalks of celery, diced

1 large onion, diced

4 large garlic cloves, minced

1 Tablespoon Harissa paste, or to taste (I used 2 Tablespoons of a milder Harissa and added a few crushed red chili flakes)

2 teaspoons ground turmeric

1 teaspoon ground ginger

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup brown lentils OR 1/2 cup red lentils and 1/2 cup brown or green lentils, rinsed

4 large or 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped (If making this in the winter, use canned tomatoes, about 28 oz. can)

3 cups fine egg noodles OR angel hair pasta broken into thirds (About 4 to 5 oz. depending on the kind of noodle that you use)

8 cups of vegetable stock, OR water with a couple of bouillon cubes OR the cooking liquid from the chickpeas plus additional water

Juice of 1/2 a lemon

A large handful of cilantro and/or parsley, stems and leaves roughly chopped

Directions

If you are cooking your own soaked chickpeas, place the drained chickpeas in a pot with 1 teaspoon of salt and 4.5 cups of water. Bring to a boil and skim off any white foam. Cover and cook for 50 minutes at a simmer.

In a large pot, add 4 Tablespoons olive or Canola oil. Add the chopped onion, carrot and celery and cook for about 6 minutes on medium high heat or until softened. I like to add 1 teaspoon of salt here. I will probably add more later since it is a big pot of soup. However, if you are using broth or bouillon and depending on your Harissa, you might not need much more salt. You can always add it but you cannot easily remove it!

Once the veggies are softened, add the garlic and cook for 1 to 2 more minutes.

Now add the Harissa, turmeric, ginger, cinnamon and black pepper and stir through to coat everything well. Cook for 1 minute and then add the tomato paste to the bottom of the pot. Stir and cook for another 2 minutes.

If you are using your own chickpeas you can add them to the pot. I find that when I cook chickpeas myself, they retain their shape and bite even when cooked longer. If you are using canned chickpeas, you will add them in later. Your lentils are also added now. Give everything a good stir to coat with the spices and tomato paste.

Next add the tomatoes, broth, water or liquid from the chickpeas, the chopped stems of the parsley and/or cilantro. Don’t worry if there are some leaves in there as well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Partially cover the pot and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. This can be done ahead.

When you are ready to eat, return the heat to a boil and add the noodles and canned chickpeas, if using. Simmer for 15 minutes. Taste and check your seasonings. The soup should be very thick, almost stew like. If you want it thinner then add more liquid. Add the juice of 1/2 of a lemon. Garnish with the chopped parsley/cilantro leaves.

Enjoy!



Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

For Other Passover Cookies:

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Passover Florentine Cookies

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Recipe

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

2 cups finely ground almond flour (blanched or natural)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 large egg whites

A few drops of either orange blossom or rose water

24 whole raw or blanched almonds

Directions

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

Queen Esther Cookies

Queen Esther Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

Chag Purim Sameach!

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

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

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

Recipe

Yield: Makes about 3 dozen cookies, depending on size

Queen Esther Cookies

Ingredients

1/2 cup butter or margarine, at room temperature

1/2 cup granulated sugar

1 large egg or 1/4 cup egg substitute

1 Tablespoon water

1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon pure almond extract

Scant 1/3 cup poppy seeds

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

2 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour

Happy Purim!

Directions

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

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

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

Queen Esther Cookies

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

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

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

Queen Esther Cookies

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

Queen Esther Cookies

Pumpkin Praline Pie

Pumpkin Praline Pie

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!

Recipe

Pumpkin Praline Pie

Yield: One 10-inch OR deep-dish 9-inch pie

Ingredients

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

Garnish (Optional)

Homemade whipped cream or vanilla ice cream

Directions

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.

Cool completely on a wire rack before serving.