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Jan 2014 19

Everyone knows about the Soup Nazi from Seinfeld. Well, here is his infamous soup (or at least, my dad’s version of it). It’s a major upgrade from the usual Friday night chicken soup. Little bits of ground beef and lentils float around and give the broth a little bit of “chew”.  The cayenne gives it plenty of kick – start with the smaller amount, then taste and add more, as much as you can handle. Sometimes I serve this with cilantro matzo balls (which are just regular matzo balls with lots of fresh chopped cilantro in them). But to tell you the truth, it doesn’t need the extras.

You will need:

1 tsp vegetable oil
3 tbsp ground beef
3 tbsp tiny red lentils
3 tbsp yellow split peas
10 cups chicken stock
¼ tsp – ½ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp curry powder
4 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
1 cinnamon stick, broken in two
4 peppercorns
1 star anise
Pinch saffron
salt to taste
½ c chopped cilantro

In a large soup pot, heat the vegetable oil over medium-high heat. Add the ground beef and sauté until browned. Add the lentils, split peas and chicken stock, then turn heat down to medium-low. Stir in the curry powder and cayenne pepper.

Using a small square of cheesecloth, make a bouquet garnis (sort of a makeshift tea bag) with the cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon stick, peppercorns and anise. Add the bouquet garnis to the soup and cover. Reduce heat to low and simmer for 1 hour, stirring occasionally as the lentils often travel to the bottom of the pot and stick there.  Use a slotted spoon or tongs to remove the bouquet garnis.

Using your fingers, crush the saffron in the palm of your hand, being careful not to lose any.  Add the saffron to the soup and season with salt if needed.  When serving, give the pot a good stir to ensure that every bowl will have a small amount of lentils and ground beef in the broth. Garnish each bowl with a generous sprinkling of cilantro.

Serves 8

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Jan 2011 17

Don’t be undone by the fancy title – a bisque is really just a pureed vegetable soup. Perfect for this time of year, which, to me, is all about comfort food. It’s when I reach for recipes that are homey and familiar. I don’t want to fiddle with complicated or fancy recipes, I simply want to take solace in the kitchen, lingering over a bubbling pot and mindlessly stirring away at something that will fill my belly with warmth. Sweet roasted garlic, butternut squash with edges tinged caramel, and the earthy fragrance of cinnamon, cumin and coriander – this soup fits the bill perfectly for winter. Serve it with crusty bread and you have a light but sustaining dinner. You can make it dairy by substituting whole milk for the soy milk and vegetable stock for the chicken stock.

You will need:

1 butternut squash (weighing about 2lbs)
1 small head garlic
vegetable oil spray

1 tsp ground coriander
1 tsp hot Hungarian paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1/2 tsp cumin
1/4 tsp curry powder
1½ c chicken stock
3/4 c plain soy milk (I like PC Organics and So Good original)
2 tsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
1/4 c chopped fresh cilantro or chives (to garnish)

Preheat your oven to 400°F.

If your squash is really tough, puncture the skin with a knife and microwave it on high for 4-8 minutes to soften.

Allow the squash to cool, then cut it in half and scoop the seeds out with a spoon. Spray or brush the cut sides with oil and place, cut side down, on a sturdy baking sheet. Peel the papery outer skin from the garlic bulb (but don’t separate the cloves), slice just the root end off, and wrap the bulb in aluminum foil. Place it on the baking sheet with the squash and bake till both are soft, about 40-50 minutes. Allow the squash and the garlic to cool.

Sqeeze the garlic pulp out of the skins and into a blender. Add the squash pulp (scoop it out with a large spoon) and the spices. Puree, drizzling in the chicken stock and soy milk until you’ve reached a consistency you like.

Transfer the soup to a pot and add the lemon juice and salt and pepper to taste. Bring to a simmer over low heat and serve hot, with a sprinkling of choppped cilantro or chives to garnish.

Serves 4, generously.

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Oct 2010 08

I have to get something off my chest. I love my Persian momma, and I love her Persian cooking, but I’ll be frank. Persian food tastes fantastic, but it’s not the most esthetically attractive cuisine in the world. Take one look at some of Iran’s signature dishes and you’ll see what I mean. Ghormeh sabzi, a light and tangy beef and herb stew, looks like this, and check out our prized tender and flavourful kabob. But by far the most un-Martha looking dish happens to also be the most delicious (I’ll spare you the image… Google it if you really want to see). It is the gem of Persian cuisine, koresh fesenjan: duck stew with pomegranate and walnuts.

I love fesenjan, but I had to find a way to make it a little prettier. So I decided to forego the traditional route of simmering the bird forever in the walnut sauce (which results in a big, brown, tasty mess). Instead, the duck is braised in the pomegranate juice alone, then removed while it’s nice and red and shiny. The sauce is then finished with the walnuts to create that famously rich and complex gravy.

Traditionally, pomegranate molasses is used to make fesenjan, but since that may be hard to find kosher, I use bottled pomegranate juice (i.e., Pom Wonderful) instead. Just be careful to get the pomegranate-only version (with the dark red cap), as there are Poms that include a blend of other fruit juices.

This duck deserves to be served with something bright yellow and slightly sweet – mashed butternut squash or a saffron polenta. Or, if you’re more of a purist, serve it alongside a huge, steaming mound of saffron basmati rice.

You will need:

2 ducks, cut up (bone-in, skin on)
1 1/2 c diced onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp pepper
salt, to taste
1/2 tsp ground cloves
5-6 c pomegranate juice (3 bottles of Pom)
1 lb walnuts, lightly toasted
1 heaping tbsp honey
3 tbsp chopped parsley (to garnish)

Heat a large electric wok or dutch oven (add a little oil if substituting chicken; duck doesn’t need the added oil as it own fat will render in the hot pan). Sprinkle the duck pieces with salt. Working in batches, brown the duck on all sides over medium-high heat and remove to a platter. You will end up with a good amount of duck fat in the pan – use a spoon to remove about a third of the fat.

Reduce the heat to medium and add the onions, stirring constantly, until they begin to brown. Stir in the pepper, cloves and garlic, then deglaze the wok with about 2 cups of the pomegranate juice, using a wooden spoon to loosen the browned bits from the bottom of the pan.

Arrange the duck pieces back in the pan, layering the legs on the bottom and the breasts on top (with the wings, if using). Add the rest of the pomegranate juice (it should almost cover the duck). Simmer, covered, about 30 minutes.

Remove the duck pieces and set them aside. Add the walnuts to the pomegranate juice and simmer, uncovered, for 30 minutes. The walnuts will soften and the sauce will reduce. Use an immersion blender to puree the walnuts in the juice, until it is as smooth as you like it. Stir in the honey and season with salt to taste. You will end up with a lot of extra sauce, but c’est la vie.

To serve, reheat the duck in the oven, covered. Spoon the hot walnut sauce into the middle of the plate (or on the bottom of a large serving platter) and arrange the duck on top. Garnish the duck with chopped parsley, and pass the remaining walnut sauce around in a gravy boat.

Serves 6-8.

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May 2010 26

This aromatic brisket may be the most tender you will ever have. Forget about leathery, tough slivers of beef – this is so soft you may not even be able to slice it properly, but at any rate, it will fall apart in your mouth, guaranteed.

It is known also as the Wednesday Brisket because, if you’re making this for Shabbos, you start it on Wednesday night. But don’t let that put you off – it is so simple to prepare that it doesn’t feel like cooking at all. And really, it’s not! You just throw everything into your chollent pot (slow-cooker) before bed and let it simmer through the night.

When you wake up the next morning, with the most mouth-watering smell permeating your home, you simply plop the brisket into a baking dish, sauce and all, and leave it in the fridge for the rest of the day. That rest time gives the meat a chance to really soak up the flavours and become even more tender.

Then, on Friday morning, it’s just a matter of slicing the brisket and simmering the sauce a little bit on the stovetop. And that’s really it!

Tender, flavourful, spicy brisket… you’re welcome. 🙂

You will need:

1 large double brisket (about 4-6 lbs)
2 small onions, sliced
1 can of diced tomatoes (28 oz)
1 c water or chicken stock

1 1/2 tsp pepper
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp ginger
2 tsp garlic powder
2 tsp onion powder
2 tsp hot paprika
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp cinnamon
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
pinch saffron threads, crushed
1/2 c. brown sugar
2 tbsp honey
2 tbsp chopped parsley or cilantro (optional)

Wednesday night:

Place the brisket in a chollent pot and cover it with all of the other ingredients (except for the parsley). Put the lid on and set it to low heat (it should cook for about 8 hours). Then go to sleep and dream about beef!

Thursday morning:

Transfer the brisket to a baking dish. If there are large deposits of fat on the meat, trim them off now while the brisket is hot. Pour all of the juices into the baking dish too, then cover with plastic wrap and put the brisket in the fridge. Then get on with your day and daydream about beef!

Thursday night:

Do nothing. Ha!

Friday, any time before Shabbos:

Use a spoon to remove the solidified fat from the surface of the sauce.

Transfer the brisket carefully onto a cutting board and slice against the grain. It may fall apart a little bit, because, like I said, it is seriously tender. (Trust me, nobody will complain.)

Transfer the juices to a saucepan or a pot, and simmer, about 20 minutes or until the sauce has thickened a little.

Carefully transfer the brisket slices back into the baking dish, then pour the sauce back over the meat. Cover and warm through in the oven just before serving. Garnish the brisket with chopped fresh parsley or cilantro.

Makes 6-8 servings.

© Shaby Heltay, 2010

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Apr 2010 18

I love light, custardy desserts. I love caramel-y desserts. I also love individually plated, pretty “presentation” desserts. Ergo, I love creme caramel – a light, smooth, egg-rich custard bathed in a pool of bittersweet caramel – and it tastes amazing even when “pareved”!

This dessert can be made a day or two in advance and stored in the fridge. I made them in those little disposable aluminum tart shells, but you could just as easily use proper ramekins. I had initially tried this with saffron, but found that the dominant flavour of the caramel cancelled out any saffron taste – a waste if you ask me, considering the fact that saffron is the most expensive spice ever!

Creme caramel ranks about a medium in terms of the level of skill required. The custard part is easy, but making caramel can be tricky. A word of caution. Do not attempt to make the caramel when there are distractions around – curious kids, other things on the stove, etc. ESPECIALLY do not make the caramel with children around! Hot sugar is a gajillion times hotter than boiling water and any contact with skin can leave you scarred for life. (Have I freaked you out yet?)

Don’t be scared, just be organized about it. Clear off your countertops, get your little ramekins lined up. Then, when you are ready to tackle the caramel, put the dog in the basement and stick the kid(s) in the playpen or somewhere else where they can’t escape for 20 minutes. Turn your phones off, pull on some long rubber gloves and make sure your arms aren’t exposed. And NEVER add ANYTHING to the sugar once it has turned into liquid caramel, or it will explode in a very bad way! Hot sugar is scary stuff, you guys! (But when it’s done safely, oh, is it ever worth it!)

While the caramel is cooling, you can get on with the custard (but don’t let the kids roam free again until the caramel is cool).

You will need:

12 ramekins or mini pie shells

1 1/2 c sugar for the caramel

8 eggs
1 c sugar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp vanilla
3 c soy milk (vanilla favoured is fine)
3/4 c coconut milk
1/4 c water
1/4 tsp ground cardamom – or 8 whole cardamom pods

To make the caramel, put the sugar into a medium stainless steel pot (preferably one with a long handle) over high heat. Using a long wooden spoon, stir the sugar continuously. After a few minutes, the sugar will start to clump together – that’s how you’ll know it’s working. Keep on stirring, and eventually the sugar will begin to liquify. When the sugar is all liquid, and starts to give off some colour, turn the heat down to meduim and keep stirring until the sugar is a rich golden/light amber colour. Then take the sugar off the heat and pour a little bit – quickly and carefully! – into the bottom of each ramekin, enough to coat the bottoms with caramel.

Then put the pot down, either on the floor or somewhere it won’t be touched or knocked over. After about 15 minutes it will have cooled and you can fill the pot halfway with water and set it on simmer – all of the hard candy will easily dissolve and cleanup will be a cinch!

Hooray, you’ve just made caramel! Give yourself a pat on the back – that was no easy feat! Now you can relax, and leave it all to cool while you get started on the custard.

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs, sugar, salt and vanilla. In a pot, whisk together the soy milk, coconut milk, water and cardamom (if you’re using whole pods, bruise them by crushing them a little with the back of a spoon), and place on meduim heat to heat up gently. Keep an eye on it, as soy milk tends to curdle with too much heat.

When the milk begins to steam, remove it from the heat and whisk it into the egg mixture. Then strain this mixture into a large measuring cup, pitcher or bowl. This will ensure that your custard has an even texture and a smooth mouthfeel.

Preheat the oven to 320F. Pour the custard into the ramekins (you can fill them almost to the rim if you have enough).

Prepare a water bath by arranging the ramekins in a large baking/roasting pan (you may need to bake them in batches if your baking pan is not big enough to hold all of them). Then carefully pour water into the pan until it reaches halfway up the sides of the ramekins.

Place the pan in the oven and bake for about 25-35 minutes. The custard will still be slightly jiggly when done, but it shouldn’t look liquidy. Allow the custards to cool and chill them in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve them.

To serve, loosen the custards by running a knife along the edges. Place a dessert plate upside-down over a ramekin and invert it, then give the ramekin a little jiggle on the plate to release the custard. All you need as garnish is a fresh berry or two – or just serve, as you may prefer, au naturel.

Makes 12.

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Apr 2010 13

Many Indian recipes call for a highly flavourful spice mixture (masala) known as garam masala. Garam masalas vary from region to region and from chef to chef. There is no single standard formula, but the general idea is that all of the spices blend together evenly and harmoniously – no single spice stands out as a prominent flavour.

The following is my father’s garam masala recipe, and can be used in any dish calling for garam masala. Ideally, you would use whole spices and grind them up together in a small coffee grinder. But, since we don’t live in an ideal world, it’s fine to use pre-ground spices and just mix them together. (Let’s not be too hard on ourselves.) And, of course, I’ll show you how you can use your masala (after the recipe).

You will need:

2 tbsp black pepper
2 tbsp cumin
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp ground cloves
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1/2 tsp anise seed (if available)

Mix and/or grind spices together and store in an airtight container or a ziplock bag.

Makes about 8 tbsp of masala

Now, what to do with your freshly prepared garam masala, you ask? Why, make a curry, of course! I suggest you try a cauliflower curry using the method and recipe in a brief introduction to curries. Just use fresh, cut-up cauliflower florets in place of the chickpeas, and cover the pot to steam the cauliflower when you add it to the spices. I like to tear up pieces of whole wheat tortillas (a fab stand-in for chapati) and use it to scoop up the curry. (In this case, I will gleefully eat with my hands.)

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