Blueberry Cheesecake

Blueberry Cheesecake

Do you crave cheesecake? Growing up in New York, cheesecake was dense enough that you could stand up a fork in it. Now you can have that decadent, rich, silky, dense blueberry cheesecake without eggs. Yummmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm!

My mother used to make a marvelous marble cheesecake. And while I adored it, I hadn’t made it in about 40 years. Since most of the time it is just me and my husband – especially since the pandemic – making a cheesecake that serves 12 to 14 servings simply didn’t make sense. And even when I had guests, everyone was either watching their cholesterol, kept kosher or had a deathly egg allergy.

Then I came across this eggless cheesecake and it caught my eye. I had intended on making it for the Festival of Shavuot when it is traditional to eat dairy meals. However, didn’t quite get there. When I saw that it used a 6-inch springform pan I was really interested. Finally the perfect New York-style cheesecake that two people could reasonably consume in a few days! But did it taste good? Because at the end of the day, what’s the point in eating a rich dessert if it doesn’t taste great? It’s wonderful. Not too sweet and while dense and rich, it is surprisingly not super heavy. The cheesecake is creamy and has wonderful mouthfeel. And while it would be delicious with any or no topping, the blueberries add both visual appeal and a lovely counterpoint to the rich filling.

I made a few tweaks both to the instructions and to the ingredients. And while I did make the crust as directed, my husband and I decided that next time, I would likely halve the amount. There was nothing tricky about the process. I did have to purchase a 6-inch springform pan, which is easy to get online and was not expensive. But since I loved the resulting size which was perfect for 6 servings, I will definitely be using it over and over again.

The recipe called for frozen blueberries, but feel free to use fresh especially now that summer is here and they are so plentiful. You will note that the cheesecake itself uses no additional sugar beyond what is in the sweetened condensed milk. This is just the right amount of sweetness and you are left with a very clean taste that allows the creaminess of the cheesecake to shine.

If you are looking for a lighter cheesecake – also not overly sweet – try my Summer Ricotta Cheesecake or this Crostata di Ricotta.

Recipe

Blueberry Cheesecake

Yield: About 6 servings

Ingredients

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

250 g of crushed biscuits (Digestive or graham crackers) This is about 2.5 cups

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

Filling

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

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

2 Tablespoons cornstarch

2 teaspoon pure vanilla extract

Zest of one large lemon

Zest of 1/2 an orange

14 oz. can (396 g) of Sweetened Condensed Milk

Topping

2 cups (380 g) of fresh or frozen blueberries

1/4 cup of granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon lemon juice

Zest of half of a large lemon

2 teaspoons corn starch

3 Tablespoons (44g) cold water

Blueberry Cheesecake

Directions

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

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

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F or 160 C.

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

Blueberry Cheesecake

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

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

Blueberry Cheesecake

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

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

Meanwhile make the topping. Place the blueberries, sugar, zest and lemon juice in a heavy-bottomed pan. On medium heat, cook until the sugar dissolves. Make a slurry of the cornstarch and water (that just means that you mix the two until there is a milky, smooth liquid). Add this to the blueberry mixture and bring it to a boil. Cook until the mixture thickens up. It doesn’t have to be totally solid as it will continue thickening in the fridge, but should be the consistency of a good jam. Allow the mixture to cool.

Add the cool mixture to the top of the cheesecake. I did it in the mold, but the original had you unmold the cheesecake and then add it. Your preference.

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

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer) is super rich, satisfying and, yes, healthy. While the original recipe called for paneer, a mild Indian white cheese, I made it using firm tofu. However you make this incredibly easy and quick curry it will be delicious. If you use canned beans, the dish will be ready in under 45 minutes and any leftovers will last for several days. But if you decide to cook up your own beans (which I did) the cooking liquid can be used in this recipe or as a base for soup.

I only started seriously cooking my own beans this year, but have found it to be both easy and thrifty. And storing dried beans takes up less space in my pantry. An additional benefit is that I don’t have to worry about exploding cans that got lost in the back of my cupboard!

My husband and I were enjoying the leftovers last night while talking about how different our diet was now from what we grew up with. As children of the 1950’s and 1960’s, meat was on the menu almost every night. Since we both grew up on the Eastern seaboard, we also ate a fair amount of fish. And unlike today, our chicken and eggs were delivered to our house by Irving, the “Chicken Man”. Why Irving also delivered fresh pizzas I couldn’t say. Our milk (whole, of course) was also delivered every few days in glass bottles. The cream always rose to the top, forming a plug when you opened the cap. In the wintertime, if the temperatures went below freezing, the bottles could explode and then we were forced to drink powdered milk – super yuck!

While I was never a huge meat eater, red meat now is pretty much reserved for holidays and a bit more in the winter as stew or in soup. Increasingly, though, our dinners are vegetarian, sometimes vegan and poultry as pretty much our only animal consumed. Living in the Midwest, our access to good fresh ocean fish is less and it tends to be VERY expensive. And I do hate the way my house smells when I cook it.

But I digress. As I have mentioned many times in this blog, we love Indian and Middle Eastern cooking (acknowledging that there are many varieties of both cuisines). Both are very fruit, veg, whole grain and pulses forward and by generously utilizing herbs and spices the dishes sing.

Kidney Bean Curry is just one more example of how we can eat healthily and well without meat. Serve the curry over some rice or with a flat bread of choice. We like to add a dollop of yogurt on top, but it is also good without if you are trying to stay away from dairy. This wonderful weeknight dinner comes from Healthy Indian Vegetarian by Chetna Makan with a couple of tweaks by me.

Recipe

Kidney Bean Curry (Rajma Paneer)

Yield: 4 to 6 servings [It may not look it, but it will make this much with rice]

Ingredients

2 Tablespoons neutral oil [I like Canola]

2 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped

1 Tablespoon freshly grated peeled ginger root

14 oz. can chopped tomatoes [I always buy fire roasted if I can]

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1.5 teaspoon garam masala

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1 Tablespoon kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves) [If you don’t have this lovely herb, add 1 Tablespoon of maple syrup]

1 teaspoon sugar (light brown granulated or jaggery)

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

3 cups of cooked red kidney beans (about 400g.) [If you are cooking your own, I used 1 cup of dried beans]

18 ounces (500 ml.) of boiling cooking liquid from the kidney beans or water. [If you are using canned beans, only use the liquid if the beans are organic]

14 ounces of firm or extra firm tofu or paneer cheese, cut into 1-inch dice

Directions

Drain and rinse the kidney beans if using canned beans. If you cooked them, simply drain the beans while reserving the liquid.

Heat the oil in a large skillet and add 1 teaspoon of the cumin seeds. As soon as they start to sizzle, add the onions and cook on medium heat until golden brown.

Add the ginger and cook for 1 minute. Add the canned tomatoes, including the liquid and cover the pan. Cook for about 8 minutes or until the tomatoes are well-softened.

Remove the lid and add in the remaining cumin seeds, the other spices, sugar and salt and cook for 1 minute, stirring everything through. Add the beans and the boiling water or liquid from the beans. Cover the pan and cook on low to medium heat (just simmering) for about 30 minutes. The beans should still hold their shape but be very tender.

Stir through the tofu or paneer just enough to heat it. Serve over rice or with flat bread.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Almond Cardamom Cake

Have you ever noticed that something that you never heard of before is suddenly everywhere? This Almond Cardamom Cake is a prime example. Of course, there have been cake recipes with cardamom and almond. But this particular cake is now all over YouTube and the internet. And it has received all of the expected gushing and ooohs and aaaahs. According to The Guardian, Alice Waters says that is the one recipe that she couldn’t live without. Who am I to contradict Alice Waters, famed chef and owner of Chez Panisse? So when I was looking for something different to bake this week, I decided to try this recipe which first appeared in Niloufer Ichaporia King’s cookbook, My Bombay Kitchen. King got the recipe from a Swedish friend who got it from… well, you get the point. So here we are.

I find it fascinating that a spice so common to South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine is also prevalent in Scandinavian baking and drinks. You would be hard-pressed to find more different cuisines. While there are a few theories, including the Moors, many believe that Vikings brought cardamom back from Constantinople 1,000 years ago. However these fragrant pods arrived in the chilly north, they have come to define Swedish baking.

This is a simple cake. There is no frou frou. Not a sprinkle, dragee or frosting in sight. And frankly, that is one of the many things that it has going for it in my opinion. It’s an anytime cake. Great for an afternoon break or the perfect dessert after a well-seasoned meal. And equally delicious with your morning coffee or tea. It’s a “no excuses” kind of cake that comes together so quickly and without any fuss. In other words, it’s my kind of cake.

Almond Cardamom Cake is quite easy to make, especially if you buy cardamom already hulled. The only change I made to the recipe was to use jaggery instead of granulated sugar in the cake itself. For those of you who are unfamiliar with jaggery it is a cane sugar used often in South Asia and it lends a caramel taste to the end product. I’ve only recently begun using it and perhaps the novelty will eventually wear off, but it does seem to add a certain somethin’ somethin’ to baked goods. The original recipe calls for granulated sugar so feel free to use that instead. But if you decide to give jaggery a try, it is especially wonderful with apples, in rice pudding or with pineapple and is available through the internet or in Indian grocery stores.

So what is my verdict on this cake? It may not be a show-stopper, but it is a cake that I could gladly eat without ever tiring of it. The inside is fluffy, moist and fragrant. The outside has a lovely sugary crispness, which is enhanced by the sliced almonds. And while there is no citrus in the cake, I found that there were citrusy undertones, which likely come from the cardamom. SO unless you are craving loads of frosting or think that a cake isn’t special without sprinkles, give this delicious cake its due. You’ll be glad that you did.

Recipe

Almond Cardamom Cake

Yield: One 9-inch cake

Ingredients

1.33 cups (264 g) granulated sugar or powdered jaggery, plus more for the pan

Scant 3/4 cup (65g) sliced, unblanched almonds

4 large eggs

1.33 sticks (150 g) unsalted butter

1 Tablespoon (9 g) cardamom seeds

1.33 cups (160 g) all-purpose, unbleached flour

2 pinches of kosher salt

Directions

Heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Generously butter a 9-inch springform pan. Place a disk of parchment on the bottom of the pan and butter that as well. Then spoon about 2 Tablespoons of granulated sugar into the bottom of the pan. Carefully angle the pan, tapping as you go until the bottom and sides are well coated with the sugar. If there is any excess, just leave it on the bottom.

Cover the bottom of the pan with the sliced almonds.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Using a standing or hand-held mixer, beat the eggs and sugar until tripled in volume and they have reached ribbon stage. This takes between 3 to 5 minutes. You can do this by hand if you have a powerful arm and want a good workout!

Melt the butter in the microwave or in a saucepan. “Bruise” the cardamom seeds using a mortar and pestle or a rolling pin. You don’t want them ground up – just slightly crushed or cracked to release their essence.

Almond Cardamom Cake

Using a rubber spatula, gently fold the flour and salt into the egg mixture, trying not to deflate it too much. Then add the melted butter and cardamom.

Almond Cardamom

Give the batter a good stir through so that everything is well distributed.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan and thump the pan on the counter to get out air bubbles.

Bake in the middle of your oven until the top feels dry and springs back when lightly pressed. The original recipe said 30 to 35 minutes, but ovens can vary so much. Mine took about 45 minutes but I also had my springform pan on a baking sheet to catch any drips (there weren’t any). Remove the cake from the oven and allow to rest for 5 minutes. Then take a thin blade and gently go all around the sides of the pan to make sure that the cake doesn’t stick anywhere. Invert the cake onto a cooling rack and loosen the springform. Remove the ring and carefully take off the bottom. My parchment stuck with the pan, but if it stays with the cake, then gently remove that and allow the cake to cool completely before cutting. It lasts for several days and will become even more flavorful.

For other unfussy but absolutely delicious cakes:

Rye Chocolate Crumb Cake

Orange Semolina Cake

Summer Ricotta Cheesecake

Valentine’s Day Cake

Lemon Semolina Almond Cake

Basbousa (Semolina, Coconut and Pistachio Cake

Maialino’s Olive Oil Cake with Roasted Strawberries

Cashew Curried Chicken

Cashew Curried Chicken

While it may officially be Spring, the weather is still quite chilly, damp and a bit dreary. Normally, I would cheer myself up by heading to the Art Institute or Museum of Contemporary Art, but until very recently these have been closed. And although you now can go to the museums, you have to think ahead and make reservations. So to brighten up our lives, I have been turning to Indian and Middle Eastern foods even more than usual. This Cashew Curried Chicken with its bright spices and herbs lend color to my otherwise somewhat dull existence. As mentioned in a previous post, I have become a fan of Chetna Makan and watch her on YouTube almost daily. This recipe is hers with some tweaks from me that do away with a pan, an extra step and the order of adding a couple of ingredients.

Do not be put off by the seemingly long list of ingredients. The spices are used over and over again in both Indian and Middle Eastern cooking. So if you enjoy these foods, you will easily use them up. And everything is readily available online or in many grocery stores these days. But because the spices and herbs are so integral to the dishes, please look for the freshest ingredients and grind your own spices whenever possible. It only takes seconds in a spice or coffee grinder and you will be rewarded over and over with the most vibrant flavors. And by buying whole spices, they will remain fresh longer in your cabinet.

Chicken thighs are used here. They are more flavorful than the breast, in my opinion, and almost never get dried out or tough. However, if you really want, you can use an equivalent amount of chicken breast meat instead.

This curry comes together easily and you can have dinner on the table in about an hour. Served simply over rice or with a flatbread, it’s a complete meal. Since my husband just made some delicious pita, we went with that. But if you have the time and add on a raita and some pickle, you can have a feast. So brighten up your life and enjoy this luscious and luxurious Cashew Curried Chicken soon.

Recipe

Cashew Curried Chicken

Yield: 4 to 6 servings, depending on appetite and sides

Ingredients

1/3 cup raw cashews, soaked for 1 hour in hot water to cover

2 medium onions, peeled and chopped in a fine dice

2 Tablespoons neutral oil with a good smoke point (I use Canola)

4 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

4 large cloves of garlic, peeled and grated or crushed

3-inch piece pf fresh ginger, peeled and grated

8 boneless, skinless chicken thighs – 2.5 pounds of boneless meat, trimmed of all fat. (You can use thighs with the bone-in, but you will need to increase the cooking time by 10 minutes.)

4 Tablespoons whole milk natural yogurt

1 sweet bell pepper, cut into large cubes

1 medium onion, peeled and cut into 8 pieces

1 Tablespoon fenugreek leaves (also called methi)

Spices

Cashew Curried Chicken

4 green cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick

2 bay leaves (dried or fresh)

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

2 teaspoons ground coriander

2 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon chili powder

Directions

In a large, deep pan with a tight-fitting lid, heat the oil. Add the cardamom, cinnamon, bay leaves and cumin seeds. Allow everything to sizzle and become fragrant – about 30 seconds.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Now add the chopped onion and stir through the oil and spices. Cook until golden, stirring occasionally for 10 to 12 minutes.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Stir through the chopped tomatoes, garlic and ginger. Then cover the pan and on medium-low heat, cook for 10 to 12 minutes. The tomatoes should be softened and a sauce is beginning to form.

While the tomatoes cook, drain and crush the cashews into a paste using either mortar and pestle, food processor or spice grinder.

Turn off the heat! Now add the yogurt and crushed cashews and stir through, mixing well. By turning off the heat, you prevent the yogurt from splitting.

Cashew Curried Chicken

Stir through the coriander, garam masala, turmeric, salt and chili powder.

Nestle the chicken thighs into the sauce and coat with the sauce. Cover the pan and simmer for 20 minutes if using boneless chicken and 30 minutes if the thigh is on the bone. Add the bell pepper and onion sections and stir through. Recover the pan and continue simmering for 10 more minutes.

Take 1 tablespoon of fenugreek leaves and crumble them into the curry by rubbing the leaves between your hands. Cook for a few more minutes, stirring until they are fulIy incorporated. If you do not have fenugreek leaves, do not try to substitute them. Do NOT use fenugreek seeds, which would be very bitter. Fenugreek has a unique and wonderful flavor and I think they are worth having on hand. If you are leaving them out, you can sprinkle some fresh cilantro on top before serving. The flavor is completely different but is also delicious.

Serve the curry over basmati rice (white or brown) or eat it with flat bread.

For other delicious curry recipes:

Chicken Curry with Spices

Tofu Coconut Curry

Vegan Red Curry Coconut Soup

Bene Israel Fish Curry with Fresh Ginger, Tamarind and Cilantro

Thai Style Yellow Curry with Sweet Potato

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

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

What is Sabji?

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

Fan Girl

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

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

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

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

Punjabi Chana Dal

Moong Dal and Lemony Ground Lamb

Chana Dal Kichadi

Nutritious Comforting Khichari

Smoky Yellow Split Peas

Red Lentils with Ginger

Recipe

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

Ingredients

Roasted Cauliflower Sabji

For the cauliflower

1 head cauliflower cut into small florets along with the stems

2 Tablespoons tomato paste

½ teaspoon salt

½ teaspoon turmeric

¼ teaspoon cracked black pepper

About 2 Tablespoons EVOO

For the Sabji

2 Tablespoons vegetable oil

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

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

2 roughly chopped small onions

2 large garlic cloves, peeled and grated

A 2-inch knob of ginger, peeled and grated

2 medium tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped

1 teaspoon chili powder

1 teaspoon garam masala

¼ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon turmeric

Handful of chopped cilantro

Directions

For the Cauliflower

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

For the Sabji

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

Brazilian Fish Stew (Moqueca)

Brazilian Fish Stew

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

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

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

Brazilian Fish Stew

Recipe

Yield: 4 servings

Ingredients

Brazilian Fish Stew

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

1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt

Two limes, zest and juice

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

1 onion (any kind) finely diced

1 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or to taste

1 cup diced carrots (about 2 medium)

1 red bell pepper, diced

4 garlic cloves, peeled and roughly chopped

1 jalapeno, serrano or other chile, finely diced

1 Tablespoon tomato paste

2 teaspoons sweet paprika

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

1 cup fish or chicken stock (I used chicken)

1.5 cups tomatoes, diced (fresh tomatoes are best)

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

Brazilian Fish Stew

For Serving

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

Additional squeeze of lime

Directions

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

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

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

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

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

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

For Other Passover Cookies:

Passover Sephardic Wine Cookies

Passover Florentine Cookies

Passover Orange Ginger Spice Cookies

Chocolate Chip Vegan Meringue Buttons for Passover

Passover Almond Coconut Macaroons

Recipe

Yield: 2 dozen cookies

Ingredients

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

2 cups finely ground almond flour (blanched or natural)

1 cup granulated sugar

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pure almond extract

3/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 large egg whites

A few drops of either orange blossom or rose water

24 whole raw or blanched almonds

Directions

Iraqi Almond Cardamom Cookies

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

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

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

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

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

The Juliana

The Juliana

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

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

The Juliana

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

The Juliana

Recipe

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

Ingredients

The Juliana

  For the blueberry filling

    1/3 cup granulated sugar

    Zest of 1 medium lemon

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

    3 tbsp unsalted butter

  For the batter

    1 cup unbleached, all-purpose flour

    1 tsp baking powder

    1/8 tsp baking soda

    1 tbsp granulated sugar (or 1 tbsp jaggery)

    ½ tsp kosher salt

    ½ tsp ground cardamom

    4 large eggs

    1 cup buttermilk (or 1 cup plain kefir)

    1 tsp vanilla extract

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

Directions

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

Blueberry filling

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

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

Batter

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

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

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

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

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

The Juliana

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

The Juliana

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Creamy Mushroom Soup

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

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

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

Mixed Salad

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

Onion Nigella Caraway Rustic Bread

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

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

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

Recipe

Yield: 4 to 6 servings

Creamy Mushroom Soup

Ingredients

1 ounce dried porcini mushrooms

1.5 cups boiling water

2 shallots or 1 medium yellow onion

2 cloves of garlic

4 Tablespoons of butter (or buttery vegan spread)

1 pound cremini or baby bella mushrooms, sliced

1.5 teaspoons kosher salt

1/4 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper

3 Tablespoons unbleached, all-purpose flour

4 cups low sodium or unsalted vegetable or chicken broth

2 Tablespoons soy sauce or tamari

2 teaspoons dried thyme

2 bay leaves (fresh or dried)

1/2 cup heavy (double) cream

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

Directions

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant Salad

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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

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

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

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

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

Salatim

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

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

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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

Oven “Fried” Eggplant

Eggplant and Tomato Bake

Chicken Thighs with Mushrooms, Eggplant and Tomatoes

Baked Stuffed Eggplant with Lamb and Bulghur

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

Baked Pasta in Eggplant: Pasta Incaciata

Eggplant stuffed with Ground Lamb

Eggplant Raita Middle Eastern Style

Eggplant and Beef Albondigas

Lamb and Eggplant Casserole

Greek Eggplant Dip: Melitzanosalata

Savory Galette with Eggplant, Zucchini and Feta

Indian-Spiced Chicken with Mixed Veg

Recipe

Yield: About 5 cups

Ingredients

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

2 Medium eggplants, peeled and cut into thick rounds

2 Tablespoons kosher salt

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

1 cup chopped red, yellow or orange bell pepper

1 cup chopped onion

1 Tablespoon ground coriander

1 teaspoon sweet or smoked paprika

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

1/2 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley

1 Tablespoon fresh lemon juice

A few cracks of black pepper

Directions

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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

Twice-Cooked Eggplant

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