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May 2010 04

Ok, baalat tshuva true confessions time: I sometimes miss those days when I would run out to the nearest takeout joint for a veggie pad-thai or a steaming bowl of pho. Growing up traditional/Sefardi, I was always eating ”kosher-style”, so nothing crazy… there was never any lobster or bacon or grenouille on my plate. But my tastebuds have stored away in their memory all of the exotic flavours, colours, textures and smells that I had experienced at those non-kosher (!) restaurants in my previous life.

I’ll admit, Spicykosher.com is partly (mostly?) an exercise in rabbinically-approved gastronomic nostalgia – an excuse to try to recreate all of those delicious dishes in my own kitchen (converting them into kosher recipes, of course) so that I can experience all of that goyish culinary genius once again, from the safety of my segregated pots and pans.

So, about the peppers. Back when my husband and I would eat out at vegetarian restaurants, we came across a little hole-in-the-wall joint in Banff Springs called Nourish. There I had a stuffed pepper that was unlike anything I’d known stuffed peppers to be – a seemingly unlikely combination of vegetables, fruits and nuts that made for a moist, spicy, savoury, sweet and tangy experience. It was very “busy”, yet the flavours were still light, bright and fresh. It completely blew the lid off my expectations, and I have since vowed to recreate that dish at home.

The ingredients sound a little strange in combination, but it is something you must try, especially if you’re into sweet & sour flavours. Shavuos is around the corner, and come to think of it, this would make a hearty side dish in a dairy meal – filling enough, especially alongside fish, to carry the Shavuos seuda. And the brown rice: slow-burning complex carbs to keep you energized for a long night of learning! How perfect!

You will need:

4 medium red bell peppers
1 onion, diced
1 tsp vegetable oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 c brown short-grain rice
1 c water

1 egg
1 rib of celery, finely diced
3-4 sundried tomatoes, finely diced
3 pieces of dried mango (this brand is OUTSTANDING), diced
2-3 strawberries, diced
3 walnut halves, finely chopped
2 tbsp tomato paste
3 tbsp dried currants (you can substitute raisins), plumped in simmering water for 5 mins
salt and pepper, to taste
pinch of cayenne pepper (optional)

2 tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp lemon juice
pinch salt

Slice the tops off the peppers (about a 1/2 inch from the top) and scoop the seeds and ribs out with a spoon, so that you have a clean cavity. Cut the stems out from the pepper tops and dice up the leftover scraps of pepper.

Heat the oil over meduim in a nonstick pot, and saute the onions until they are golden, then add the diced peppers, season with salt and pepper, and saute until the peppers are soft. Stir in the rice and the water, and bring it to a boil. Then turn the heat down to low, cover the pot and and simmer until the water is absorbed and the rice is more or less cooked (about 40 minutes – during which time you can get busy dicing all of the other ingredients).

Preheat the oven to 350F, then get on with the stuffing. In a large bowl, beat the egg, then mix in the celery, tomatoes, mango, strawberries, walnuts, 2 tbsp tomato paste, and currants. Mix in the cooked rice and season the whole mess with salt and pepper, and if you like a little extra kick, cayenne pepper.

Stuff the peppers with the stuffing, piling it as high as you can. You may have some stuffing left over, which you can just bake in a seperate little dish (believe me, you won’t want to waste it). In a little bowl, mix the 2 tbsp of tomato paste with the lemon juice and 1/2 tsp of salt, adding a little water as needed to get a nice saucy consistency.

Arrange the peppers in a greased baking dish and pour the tomato sauce generously over the tops of the peppers. Bake uncovered for about 30-35 minutes, or until the tops begin to brown.

You can serve this as a side dish, but all you needs is a big green salad or a bowl of soup to make it a light, satisfying lunch or dinner.

Makes 4.

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Mar 2010 04

This is the chicken version of lamb tagine, a decadently rich Moroccan stew that is traditionally served on a bed of fresh couscous. I will always prefer lamb, but substituting chicken helps lighten the dish (in both calories and cost), while still retaining the slightly spicy, honeyed sweetness of the original. Don’t be put off by the idea of prunes – when simmered long enough, they practically melt in your mouth, and give the sauce body and richness. Try to use prunes with pits, if you can find them, as the pits keep the prunes moist and tender. The honey in this dish also makes it perfect for Rosh Hashana.

You will need:

2 lbs. chicken thighs (bone-in, with skin)
2 onions, sliced
1 tsp ground (powdered) ginger
1 tsp turmeric
1 tbsp olive oil
1 c chicken or vegetable stock (or, in a pinch, water)
large pinch saffron
3/4 c unsweetened prunes
1/4 c whole unsalted almonds
1/4 c sultana or golden raisins
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tbsp honey
1/4 tsp pepper
1/4 – 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
salt to taste
1 tbsp sesame seeds
1 tbsp chopped chives or cilantro (optional)

Heat the olive oil in a wok or heavy pot. (I often use a wok to prepare this dish, because it allows me to brown more meat at once. A regular heavy pot will do just fine, you just might have to brown the meat in batches.) On medium-high heat, sautee the onions until they are soft, then add the chicken. Sautee them together, sprinkling with the turmeric and ginger, until the meat is browned.

Add the broth, almonds, and prunes to the chicken. Rub the saffron strands between your fingertips to crush them, and add this to the chicken. Cover, reduce the heat to low and allow the chicken to simmer for about 30 minutes. (In the meantime, you can throw together a basic couscous.)

Stir the chicken around a bit, then add the raisins and simmer, covered, for another 20-25 minutes – the chicken should end up very tender. Transfer the meat to a casserole or serving dish and cover to keep warm. You should be left with a pool of sauce studded with fruit and nuts. To this, stir in the cinnamon, honey, salt, pepper and cayenne pepper. Simmer gently until fragrant and slightly thickened, about 2-4 minutes.

Spoon this sauce over the chicken, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Garnish with an additional sprinkling of finely chopped chives (not green onion) or cilantro, if desired.

Makes 4 servings

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Feb 2010 12

Daal is the Hindi word for lentils, used to make the thick, soupy lentil dish that is also called daal. Daal can be made with most of the lentil varieties available at the supermarket. It makes a great side dish because it is a breeze to prepare and is packed with protein and fibre. In this recipe, tiny red lentils (masoor daal) are simmered until they thicken and fall apart, creating a stew with plenty of body and texture.  A tadka (infused oil) of onion seeds and onion is then used to garnish the daal and punch up its flavour.

You will need:

1 c masoor daal (tiny red lentils)
3 tbsp canola oil
1½ large onions
1 tsp garlic paste (or 1 large clove garlic)
1 tsp ginger paste (or minced fresh ginger)
1 tsp mustard seeds
½ tsp turmeric
1 pinch chili flakes
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
2½ – 3 c water
1 tsp onion seeds (aka black caraway or nigella)

Over medium heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil in a medium-sized pot. Dice one onion and sauté it in the oil until the onion softens. Add the garlic, ginger, mustard seeds, turmeric and chilli flakes to the oil, stirring to infuse the oil with the spices.

Rinse the lentils and add them to the pot, followed by the water, salt and pepper.  When the water comes to a boil, reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer, stirring periodically, for about 20 minutes or until the lentils have absorbed the water and appear to have dissolved somewhat. Be careful not to let the daal burn at the bottom of the pot!

Meanwhile, prepare the tadka by slicing the remaining onion and browning it in a frying pan with the remaining oil. When the onions are a deep golden colour, add the onion seeds and allow them to release their flavour into the oil.

When the daal is ready, pour it into a serving dish and garnish the surface with a generous heap of the hot, savoury tadka. Serve daal over basmati rice, or use torn-off pieces of warm chapatti to scoop daal into hungry mouths.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

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Feb 2010 05

This bright yellow pilaf, embellished with a constellation of crunchy mustard seeds and toasted cashews, is a staple dish in many Indian households. Adding the lemon juice at the end gives the rice a fresh, sharp flavour. It also gives you the option of turning any plain leftover rice you have on hand into a colourful, festive side dish in minutes. If you’re feeling adventurous, you may substitute lime juice and zest for the lemon – lime rice is equally authentic in the realm of Indian nosh.

You will need:

2 c. basmati rice
2 3/4 c. water
½  tsp salt
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds
pinch turmeric
¼ c. unsalted cashews
¼ c. lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

In a medium-sized pot, bring the water and salt to boil. Meanwhile, rinse the rice well in cold water, until the water no longer appears cloudy. Add the rice to the boiling water, cover, then turn the heat down to low. When the water has been absorbed (about 20 minutes), turn off the heat and fluff the rice with a fork.

In a larger pot, heat the oil over medium-low heat. Add the cashews and mustard seeds, stirring continuously – they should shimmer enthusiastically in the oil. When the seeds begin to crackle, whisk in the turmeric, then remove the pot from the heat so as not to burn the nuts. Whisk in the lemon juice and zest, then add the cooked rice and toss to coat. If you’d like, stir the chopped cilantro into the rice just before serving.

Serves 4

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

Pakoras are those tasty little spiced fritters consisting of vegetables dipped in batter and deep-fried –sort of the Indian answer to tempura. They can be made with individual whole chunks of veggies (cauliflower, onions, eggplant) or you can concoct a “mixed” pakora by combining several different shredded vegetables.  The flour used in the batter is actually not flour at all, but dried chickpeas ground into a powder. It is called besan, and is used quite frequently in Indian cuisine.

You will need:

½  c. besan (chickpea flour)
½ tsp salt plus extra to taste
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp baking powder
1½ tsp cumin
1 tbsp cilantro, finely chopped
½  c. plus 1 tbsp water
1 Yukon gold (a.k.a. yellow-flesh) potato
1 large onion
vegetable oil for deep-frying

In a large bowl, whisk together the besan, ½ tsp salt, cayenne pepper, baking powder, and cumin. Whisk in the water, beating well to form a smooth batter – it should be roughly the consistency of pancake batter, and should coat the back of a spoon. Stir in the cilantro, and set aside.
Grate the potato (medium or large-sized grate).  Finely chop the onion, so that the pieces are roughly the same size as the bits of potato. Toss the potato and onion together, then add them to the batter.
Heat the oil in a wok or a large heavy-bottom skillet – you want it to be about 1 cm deep. To test the oil temperature, drop in a small cube of bread – if it shimmers in the oil and browns in roughly 30 seconds, the oil is hot enough. Scoop little tablespoonfuls of the veggie mixture from the batter (if you’re using larger chunks of vegetables, simply pull out individual pieces), and carefully slip them into the oil. Fry them in small batches of about 3 or 4 at once, turning, until the pakoras are a healthy golden brown. Using a slotted spoon, carefully transfer the pakoras onto a plate lined with paper towels, allowing them to drain. Immediately sprinkle the hot pakoras with a bit of salt, and serve at once.

Serves 4 as an hors d’oeuvre

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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Nov 2009 10

Fall is pumpkin season, but don’t let some false sense of recipe purism prevent you from making this curry with butternut squash, sweet potato, or even organic carrots. The point is to choose a vegetable that you love, dice it up, and stew it in a broth of spiced coconut milk until tender. Creamy coconut-based curries are aromatic and decadently rich (and thus, high in calories). The amount of coconut milk you add depends on how strong a flavour you want. So, while this recipe may seem to call for a lot of spice, bear in mind that the coconut milk will soften & dilute these spices significantly. At any rate, feel free to experiment and find the spice-to-coconut milk ratio that you like best.

You will need:

1 small pumpkin, peeled and diced (about 4 cups)
1 tbsp canola oil
2 onions, diced
2 tsp garlic
2 tsp ginger
1 tsp (or to taste) salt
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp mustard seeds
1 tsp curry powder
½ tsp chili flakes
1 c coconut milk
1.5 c water
1 tbsp shredded unsweetened coconut
1 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro

Begin by heating the oil and softening the onions in a saucepan over medium heat. When the onions are soft and translucent, add the garlic, ginger, salt, and all of the spices, stirring. Dice the pumpkin and add it to the pan, stirring to coat the pumpkin with the spice. Add the coconut milk and water to the pumpkin, along with the shredded coconut. Cover and simmer for about 15 minutes or until the pumpkin is tender.

Garnish the curry with fresh cilantro and serve at once with basmati rice.

Serves 4 (as a side dish)

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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