Purim is a week away but I have already rolled, stuffed and pinched too many circles of dough into cookies, called hamantaschens, that sort of resemble Haman’s three-cornered hat. I will bake many more batches to fulfill one of the four Purim mitzvot — distributing mishloach manot (gifts of food) to friends and family. I might even get to the point of “cheating” and fill my goody bags with store-bought (gasp!) hamantaschens. This year, perhaps in support of my family’s effort to decrease our sugar intake, I’d rather sidestep the dessert and celebrate Purim with a healthy, savory dish. [Read more…]
Summer is the peak season for eggplants, and the perfect time to prepare a roasted eggplant salad. This dish is perfect for a picnic basket to enjoy on a leisurely summer day.
The quality of an eggplant can be discerned by its shell. The peel should be shiny and taut — this is how you know that it is fresh. You can estimate how many seeds an eggplant has by its weight: the heavier it is, the more seeds it has.
Honi was a great teacher who lived in Ancient Israel. He was known for drawing a circle on the ground and then praying inside it. He would not leave the circle until he was done.
One day, he came upon an old man holding a shovel and a tiny sapling. Honi asked the old man, “Why are you planting this small tree? How long will it be before it can bear fruit for you to eat?”
The old man responded, “This is a carob tree. It will take seventy years for it to give fruit.”
“Then why plant it?” Honi asked. “You will not live to enjoy it!”
The rest of the story and two carob recipes after the jump.
The old man responded, “When I was a young boy, I ate the fruit from the carob tree that my grandfather had planted. Now I am planting a carob tree for my grandchildren.”
Honi smiled and continued on his way to teach at his Beit Midrash. Honi was very tired. He decided to rest for a while. Honi made himself comfortable on some grass, and watched the old man finish planting the carob tree. Honi closed his eyes and slept. He slept for seventy years! When he woke up, he saw a boy picking ripe carob pods from a large tree.
Honi asked the boy, “Who planted this tree?”
“My great-grandfather,” replied the boy.
Honi understood what the old man was doing all those years ago. Each generation needs to take care of nature and leave a legacy of trees for those to come.
Tasting treats made with carob during the Tu B’Shevat Seder is just as much fun as recounting this story. I like to use carob “honey.” This is the thick syrup that forms inside the carob pod when it is ripe. You may purchase carob syrup here.
Dibs Kharoub U Tahineh: Tahini and Carob Spread
This is a very ancient Middle Eastern recipe, the Biblical peanut butter and jelly.
- Raw Tahini (available here)
- Carob Syrup
- Mix one tablespoon of tahini with one tablespoon of carob syrup.
- Spread over fresh, hot pita bread.
Adapted from The Middle Eastern Kitchen by Ghillie Bassan
- 2 eggplants
- 2 tablespoons carob syrup
- 3 tablespoons roasted, chopped almonds
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 chili pepper, chopped
- 1/2 lemon, squeezed
- 3 tablespoons plain yogurt (labneh is best)
- 1 tablespoon of fresh, chopped mint leaves
- Roast the eggplants until they become soft.
- Allow the eggplants to cool to room temperature.
- Cut the eggplants in half, and scoop out the flesh.
- Mash the eggplant.
- Mix in all the other ingredients.
- Serve with fresh, hot pita bread.
— by Janet Amateau
Cooked sweets — purees, compotes, marmalades, pastes, hard candies and whole preserves — are an important component of the Sephardic culinary tradition and social custom. Whole fresh and dried fruits, citrus peel, flower petals, seeds, nuts and even vegetables are transformed into confections of various textures, forms and colors, to be served, with tea or coffee, when folks come a callin’.
My own grandparents and great grandparents favored sweets made from quince, almonds, apricots, citrus peel, rose petals, apples, dates, figs and sesame. Depending upon where in the Mediterranean you might be you’d also enjoy sweets made from lemons, pears, sour cherries, grapes, plums, tomatoes, pumpkin, eggplant — you name it. The Moroccan recipe in these pages for Berenjenitas en Dulce — candied baby eggplants — is a fine example. The list is endless.
The full recipe after the jump.
What makes these confections Sephardic per say is not only how they are prepared but how and when they were incorporated into Sephardic life. As with other Sephardic foods, many sweets, too, carry some specific symbolism or association with key events — holidays, weddings, circumcisions, baby namings, bar mitzvas, etc. They may represent sweetness, purity or, in the unique case of harosi (haroset), even the mortar of the Egyptian pyramids (at the religious school I attended, I was convinced those Ashkenazi ladies who made the haroset they served up really meant for us kids to eat mortar). But never mind that. When it comes from a Sephardic kitchen, harosi is rendered a luscious spoon sweet. Candied almonds may be served at weddings, masapan adds “sweetness” to all celebrations, And so forth. Others are perhaps more quotidian, though no less special, saved for social visits both planned and impromptu. Or for your own household, of course.
Everyone’s got their personal favorites and specialties, which keeps things interesting and provides ample opportunity for showing off your confectionary skills. Around our house my mother collected tangerine peels, as did her mother, to make dulse de mandarina — tangerine marmalade — studded with pine nuts. One of my great grandmother’s specialties was dulse de kondja’ — rose petal jam made only from deep red roses, picked only in the morning when the dew-covered petals are at their most fragrant. Most fitting for a woman from The Island of Roses. Grandpa was mad about bembriyo, quince paste, which he cooked up in batches each fall during that fragrant fruit’s very short season, as he’d seen his mother do before him. Old habits die hard. Lucky for me, quince paste is a household staple in Spain (where it’s called membrillo). It’s out of this world with semi-soft cheese.
Berenjenitas en Dulce – Moroccan-Sephardic Candied Baby Eggplants
- The recipe takes anywhere from 6 to 9 hours to prepare; if you’re a fan of slow foods, this one’s for you.
- This recipe is by Liticia Benatar (born in Casablanca, living today in Caracas) and comes from Dulce lo Vivas by Ana Bensadon.
- The translation is mine, as are comments in parenthesis.
Berenjenitas en Dulce
- 25 baby eggplants – as small as possible
- 1.5 kilos (7-1/2 cups) sugar
- 500 grams (1-1/2 cups) honey
- crushed fresh ginger (according to taste)
- 8 cloves
- 1 stick of cinnamon
- a few grains of allspice
- Poke the raw eggplants all over with a fork.
- Put them in a (large, heavy, enamel) casserole, cover with cold water and add the sugar.
- Boil for 10 minutes, lower the flame and simmer for 2 or 3 hours over a low flame.
- Remove from the heat.
- Make a (little sack) with a fine cloth or gauze and put in all the spices. Add the spices and half the honey to the casserole and return it to the flame.
- When the pot begins to boil, lower the flame and simmer over a low flame for 2 or 3 hours.
- Add the rest of the honey. The eggplants have to cook for another 2 or 3 hours more, until they turn very dark.
Janet Amateau is the creator of Sephardic Food, which explores Sephardic (Judeo-Spanish) food and the culture that it comes from.
— By Ben Brewer
I was trying to think of a new way to make roasted eggplant more interesting, glanced over to my spice shelf and saw some wasabi paste.
So… while roasting the eggplant I whipped together a tahina based wasabi sauce and the result was really tasty. Try it out and let know what you think about this Israeli/Japanese fusion-ish dish.
The full recipe after the jump.
Wasabi Roasted Eggplant Salad
Ingredients: (all measurements are approximate)
- Medium sized eggplants – 2, roasted
- Cilantro – 1/3 cup chopped
- Tahina paste (raw) – 1/2 cup
- Soy sauce – 1/2 tablespoon
- Canola oil – 1/2 tablespoon
- Wasabi – 1.5 tablespoons
- Pepper – to season
- Roast the eggplants on a gas burner until skin is charred and the inside is cooked and soft. 3 minutes per side should be enough. Once done, put in a bowl and cover with a towel to keep in steam. Once cook, scrape off charred skin and place the flesh in a mixing bowl.
- Mix tahina paste, soy sauce, wasabi, oil and pepper until mixed well and smooth. Add to eggplant and fold in well.
- Add chopped cilantro and serve with bread, pita or on its own. Can be served warm or cold.
Ben Brewer is the founder of Israel Food Tours, in which he brings us his unique and in-depth knowledge of the Israeli culinary scene.