Meatballs with Pomegranates and Walnuts

While visiting Lisa a few months ago, I came across a cookbook where I wanted to basically cook everything since every photograph was so fantastic.  This book was Jewish Soul Food and it seemed appropriate to pull a few recipes from here for cooking for the holidays.


This one in particular caught my eye as I loved the colorful mix of the bright pomegranates and the green parsley, and also just because I love good meatballs and like the excuse to use pomegranates.


The recipe is also pretty easy to make, it just has a few steps and so requires a bit of patience.  The original recipe is called “Fesenjan” and is apparently from someone who owns a restaurant called Gohar and is favored by Persian Jews.


Usually getting the seeds out of the pomegranates make my kitchen look a bit like a red juice grenade was thrown rather rudely.  Thankfully Lysol wipes and paper towels make clean up an easy job, and there’s always the huge upside of a bowl of seeds that basically taste like candy.  When there’s only one bowl (such as below), Matt and I are often dueling spoons to shovel as many seeds into our stomachs as quickly as possible.


It takes us quite a bit of self-control to make sure to save the seeds for garnish!


For the meatballs
1 onion
2 lb ground beef
7 oz walnuts, finely chopped in a food processor
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
3 tbsp bread crumbs
2 tbsp EVOO
1 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp freshly ground black pepper

For the Sauce
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 medium onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely chopped
10 oz walnuts, finely chopped
2 cups boiling water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 cup Date honey (or 1/3 cup regular honey)
1/2 cup pomegranate molasses (or syrup)
Fresh pomegranate seeds (for garnish, optional)


  1. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment.
  2. Prepare the meatballs by grating the onion on a coarse grater, and squeezing out the extra liquid.  Transfer to a large bowl.
  3. Add the meat, walnuts, onion, parsley, bread crumbs, olive oil, cumin, pepper, and salt.  Knead thoroughly with your hands.
  4. Wet your hands or rub them with oil and form meatballs the size of golf balls.  Transfer to a baking sheet.
  5. Bake the meatballs for 12-15 minutes, until they start to turn golden.
  6. Prepare the sauce by heating the vegetable oil in a large wide saucepan (or two – I had to use two so that all the golf ball meatballs would comfortably sit, and then I split the sauce between the two pans).  Add onion and cook until golden.  Add the garlic and ginger and sauté briefly, until fragrant.  Add the ground walnuts and cook, stirring for 2 to 3 minutes, until fragrant and golden brown.
  7. Add the boiling water, salt and pepper and bring to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer, slide the meatballs into the pan and return to a boil.  Reduce the heat to a minimum, cover and simmer for an hour.  Add the date honey and the pomegranate molasses and simmer for another 30 minutes.  Taste and adjust the seasoning.  Sprinkle with fresh pomegranate seeds (if using.)

Serves 4-6

From Jewish Soul Food by Janna Gur

Tips for stress-free High Holidays – Part 1

apple and honeyWhen it comes to holidays, I’m a planner. I love everything about the holidays whether they are secular or religious. I admit it – I’m one of those people who has decorations for every holiday, which I have collected over 30 + years of marriage. For me, the planning and preparation is almost as much fun as the actual day itself. And one of the ways I make it as stress-free as possible is that I plan ahead. My husband says that I am like a general going into battle and there is no last minute craziness. With my small kitchen I HAVE to be thoughtful. I don’t usually have much help and frankly there isn’t even room for another person working in the kitchen. I do dream of a bigger kitchen some day where Frances and grandchildren/godchildren are working together alongside me, but I’m not there yet.

My husband does most of the cleaning and when Matthew and Frances are visiting they always do most of the clean-up. I don’t have outside cleaning help, but if I had to do one splurge to make things ready, that would be worth it to me.

It is just a little over two weeks out before we enter into what my brother refers to as the Super Bowl of Judaism – otherwise known as the High Holidays. For me, the new year always is September (very occasionally, it’s October because Judaism follows the lunar calendar). I collect and read cookbooks the way other people read novels and I also have about 10 years worth of Gourmet Magazines to go through that are bound and belonged to my mother. I never like to do things exactly the same because frankly its boring for me. On the other hand, everyone has their favorites and it just wouldn’t be the holidays if I didn’t include them. This isn’t just about you dazzling people – it’s about making your guests feel comfortable and happy.

The first decision you have to make is who to invite. It’s not a question of just how much food to make, but where will everyone sit and who is or isn’t speaking to whom. We are in a good place in our family where everyone currently gets along, but I still like to know who will help make conversations interesting and who won’t. With families, you kind of have to invite everyone, so is there anyone else you can add to the mix? Will there be children? Does anyone have serious food allergies or other issues? Do you have enough chairs, silverware, dishes etc. for a sit-down meal for everyone? Will it even be a sit-down meal? Preparing for a fun dinner party- no matter what the occasion – is a bit like making Chinese food. There is a great deal of preparation so that the actual presentation can appear effortless and you as the host or hostess can sit down and enjoy yourself as well.

Some people are into pot-luck for the holidays or assigning dishes for others to bring. I do let others bring wine and my nephew is a good cook so I periodically have him bring something, but he works full-time and has two young children so I like to give him a break. And this year, he and my niece are hosting one night of the holiday at their house.  Frances would make something fabulous, but when she visits she is coming from New York and the last thing I want is for her to be shlepping food – even if she could. And if I am being really honest, I like quality control and this is one of the opportunities I have to go all out. If on the other hand, you are inviting people who you know are good cooks, by all means have them bring things.

When making your menu, especially for a holiday, there are a few things to keep in mind: variety, texture, appearance, traditions, storage space for make-ahead items and quantities. At Thanksgiving, I always pray for really cold weather so I can use my terrace as an extra refrigerator! I have also been known to borrow refrigerator space from a neighbor who neither cooks nor entertains. You do what ya gotta do to make it work.

Tomorrow – choosing your menu.

Farmer’s Market Bounty

market pickles   market herbsmarket mushrooms

One of the many nice things about summer in Chicago is the Farmer’s Market. I live and work downtown and there is a market on both Tuesdays and Thursdays near my office. It’s not as spectacular as some markets, but there is always a lot of hustle and bustle. The difficult part for me is to remember that I actually have to carry home what I buy, which means walking or the “L.” I sometimes get carried away….

After purchasing gorgeous strawberries, asparagus, kohlrabi and arugula, I knew that I had to do them justice. Farmer's bounty

The lemon thyme and basil plants are from a previous farmer’s market visit. We’ll see how long it takes me to kill them!

I had bought some Copper River Sockeye Salmon the day before and decided to simply bake the fish with fresh lime juice, Kosher salt, cracked pepper, paprika a few Panko crumbs on top and a drizzle of EVOO. If the fish is good – and really, why buy it if it isn’t? – I like to keep the cooking simple to taste the fish. I prepared my asparagus by lightly peeling and trimming the stalks. I made bundles of 4 asparagus each and wrapped them in a slice of speck (prosciutto works just as well). I then sprinkled Kosher salt, a few cracks of black pepper and a good drizzle of EVOO. roasted asparagus

I roasted them at 420 degrees F for about 18 minutes.

I then prepared my kohlrabi. I had three kohlrabi in my bunch. Try to pick the bulbs so they are not too ginormous and not too tiny. Like Goldilocks – just right.

I just peel them, thinly slice them (I used a knife but you can use a mandolin. Just be careful! I bare many mandolin scars. I squeezed the juice of two limes (or lemons would work) over the slices, generously sprinkled cumin, Kosher salt and cracked pepper. I then added 1 tsp. of crushed garlic, sprinkled some Hungarian sweet paprika and a good drizzling of Meyer lemon EVOO on top. (A good quality regular EVOO is just fine. I mixed the pieces of kohlrabi with the dressing and let it sit while dinner cooked. On to the freekeh. I love that name!

Freekeh is  a cereal food made from green wheat and is big in Middle Eastern cuisine. I buy mine from, which is a fabulous source for nuts, dried fruit, spices and all kinds of treats. It’s family-owned, they couldn’t be nicer and they have the funniest shipping boxes I have ever seen.

I Googled how to cook the freekeh which is pretty easy. You lightly toast it in a dry pan to release the aroma of the wheat. Then add 2 cups of water to one cup of freekeh and 1/2 tsp. salt. Bring this to a boil, cover, reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for about 20-25 minutes or until the water is almost gone. Turn off the heat, remove the lid and cover the pot with a clean dishtowel and replace the lid for 10 minutes to steam the grain. Remove the lid and let sit for another 8-10 minutes. Then it’s up to you. You can herb it up, add garlic, fresh scallions or shallots, lemon juice and it hot or you can let it cool and throw in some chopped tomatoes, mint and parsley. Leftovers (assuming you have any) are great with diced grilled or roasted chicken or shrimp. Get creative. You can do pretty much the same things with faro – another great grain.

So my fish and asparagus were ready and I dished everything out and served it with a Truett Hurst 2013 Zinfandel Rose. Frances and Matthew introduced us to this wonderful winery on one of our trips together and everything is good, but their Zins are great!

And here’s dinner. Not bad for a Tuesday!

salmon dinner3         salmon dinner2

Getting in the mood for the 4th of July

I love holidays and the 4th of July is no exception. This holiday has special meaning for me because my father died on July 3rd and I used to think that the fireworks were for him. I have a few traditions that I started. My house goes all red, white and blue, we hang a flag from our terrace, watch the movie musical 1776 and later, after the sun goes down, we stand on our terrace and watch all of the fireworks in the Western suburbs. They cascade across the sky and it always conjures up the Star Spangled Banner for me with “bombs bursting in air.” And for some reason, that I honestly cannot remember, July 4th mostly means Southern cooking. You know – oven fried chicken, cornbread, greens and either my Bourbon Pecan Pie or Blueberry Pie. We’re most definitely NOT from the South – my father’s family was from New England via Kiev and my mother’s family came from New York via The Pale of Settlement. And I have no memories of any childhood traditions for this holiday, but oh well, there you have it.

This year, however, everyone is away. Frances and Matthew will be out of the country and on a separate trip so will my sister and niece and her family. That leaves my 92 year-old mother and my husband. So now you know why I am trying to work myself up into the mood. I hate cooking for just the two of us or even 2.35 if you count my mother and the way she eats. So tonight I am eating some wonderful Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Heirloom Beans that I slow-cooked in my crockpot and a “mess o’ greens.” I was introduced to this incredible source for great dried beans when Frances and I and our husbands took a trip to Napa Sonoma. We ate dinner one night at the Culinary Institute of America and they were serving some amazing beans. Everything in California is “sourced” and you didn’t just eat meat, but meat from such and such farm that ate only a grass-fed diet and was sung to sleep each night to the melody from Fur Elise. After that wonderful meal, it seemed that everywhere we went had some Rancho Gordo beans. I got a bit carried away this winter and ordered 20 pounds of beans which for two people is quite a lot of beans. So I’m trying to use them now in things that go beyond soup. They are great in soup, especially the Christmas Lima Beans, but that’s still a LOT of beans. I made some wonderful beans last week that I will tell you about another time, but I digress.

Soooooooooooo to get back to the 4th of July, along with this wonderful pot of beans and I have collard greens and kale (they were out of mustard greens) that I cooked slowly with sweet onions and speck, instead of smoked turkey leg or ham hocks and I’ll grill up some garlic chicken sausages for dinner. If I have time when I get home, I just might make a recipe I found for Blueberry Buckle. I’ll let you know how it turns out. And if this doesn’t get me in the mood for July 4th, well at least we ate well!