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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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Aug 2010 10

Warm summer evenings call for light, easy and slightly alcoholic desserts. This zesty, refreshing pie is just like a cool, creamy cocktail. As one recent taste-tester enthused, “it tastes like Saturday night”.

The recipe is adapted from the Frozen Margarita Pie in this cookbook. I use rum because I like the flavour, but vodka can be used as well. And, to suit the tastes (or average age) of your audience, the booze level can be adjusted significantly. (Hint: I often cut back the alcohol until I’ve poured out the first pie, then I mix the extra rum in for the second adults-only pie, which I mark with a slice of lime so as not to get them confused.)

Putting this together cannot be easier. Using pre-made graham cracker crusts, as I do, makes this a simple mix-and-freeze operation. Since this is a frozen dessert, the recipe here makes 2 pies. Trust me, you will want to pull that second one out not long after the first has been slurped up.

You will need:

2 pre-made graham cracker pie crusts
1 can frozen limeade concentrate (355ml)
2 quarts vanilla ice cream (my favourite pareve brand is Soy Delicious)
zest of 1 lime
juice of ½ lime
100ml rum (or more, if you like)
additional lime slices, lime zest, or whipped cream to garnish (optional)

Leave the limeade concentrate and the ice cream out to soften, about 20 minutes.

Place the ice cream and the limeade in the bowl of a large mixer and, using a paddle attachment, mix on low speed until more or less combined. Add the lime zest and juice, and mix until incorporated.

{Note: If you are making one kid-friendly pie, at this point you would pour out half of the mixture into one pie shell, cover with tin foil, and freeze. Then add the alcohol (start with half and add slowly to taste) to the rest of the ice cream mixture, pour and freeze – just don’t forget which is which!}

Otherwise, add all of the rum to all of the ice cream, mix until incorporated, and divide the mixture evenly between the pie crusts.

If you’re so inclined, decorate the tops of the pies with piped whipped cream rosettes, paper-thin lime slices, lime zest twists, icing sugar, or any combination of the above.

Cover the pies with tin foil (to protect whipped cream rosettes, flip the plastic lid from the pie crust over the pie to make a dome, and fold the foil edges over to hold it in place).

Freeze until firm (about 3 hours).

Makes 2 pies, 8-10 servings each.

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Jun 2010 17

Lime rice, fraternal twin sister to lemon rice, is a staple side dish in many south Indian households. Tangy, yellow-tinged basmati rice is dotted with crunchy mustard seeds, gently roasted almonds and cilantro like fresh, colourful confetti. For a variation, try roasted, unsalted peanuts in place of the almonds. Lime rice pairs refreshingly with spiced ground lamb, either formed into kabobs and grilled, or stir-fried loose, and piled high into lettuce cups.

You will need:

2 c. basmati rice
2 ¾ c. water
½ tsp vegetable oil
½ tsp salt

1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp mustard seeds (any type; black are stronger-flavoured, yellow more mild)
½ tsp turmeric
¼ c. whole unsalted almonds
¼ c. lime juice
2 tsp lime zest
2 tbsp chopped cilantro (optional)

In a medium-sized pot, bring the water, ½ tsp vegetable oil and salt to boil. Meanwhile, rinse the rice well in cold water, until the water no longer appears cloudy. Drain the rice and add it 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 non-stick pot, heat 1 tbsp oil over medium-low heat. Add the almonds and the mustard seeds – they should shimmer in the oil. Keep stirring to roast the almonds evenly. Just when the mustard seeds begin to snap, crackle and pop, whisk in the turmeric, remove the pot from the heat, and whisk in the lime juice and zest.
Add the cooked rice and toss to coat. Stir the chopped cilantro into the rice just before serving.

If you are making this ahead of time (e.g., for Shabbos), then stir in an extra squirt or two of lime juice immediately before serving, along with the cilantro. (Often, when the rice is reheated, the lime flavour dissipates. Adding more lime juice just before serving will revive it, and adding the cilantro at the last second will keep it from wilting.)

Serves 4-6

© Shaby Heltay, 2010

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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 09

I have to be honest about the provenance of this salad, as I cannot claim it to be authentically Tunisian; rather, it is a modified, modernized variation on a simple Tunisian salad comprising thinly sliced fennel marinated in lemon juice. If you’ve never tried fennel, the flavour is somewhat surprising: it looks like celery but tastes like anise (liquorice), and is crisp and refreshing. You can make this salad as is, or you can toss it with a mixture of salad greens (frisee, mache and arugula, for instance) if you’re into “leafy” salads – just add a little more dressing. It is important that the apple you use here is tart – so don’t settle for anything less than the green (granny smith) variety. This salad is also perfect for Rosh Hashana – pomegranate adds colour and crunch, its plentiful seeds reminding us to increase our mitzvot for the coming year.

You will need:

2 bulbs fennel
1 pomegranate
2 granny smith apples
1 lemon
2-3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Begin by trimming and discarding the tough green stalks, as well as the root ends, of the fennel. Cut the bulbs in half lengthwise and wash the sections, then slice the fennel as thinly as you possibly can. Core the apples and cut them in half, leaving the bright green skins intact. Slice the apples thinly and add them to a bowl with the fennel.

Cut open the pomegranate and separate the seeds from the membranes. You can use whatever method you like, but I find the easiest (and most fun) way is to first cut the pomegranate in half crosswise (i.e., so that you end up with the stem end on one half and the flower end on the other). Then, holding one half cut-side down over a large bowl, whack the top of the fruit repeatedly with something heavy – a soup ladle or a rolling pin should do the trick. Be patient, and you’ll find that eventually, the seeds will rain down into the bowl while the membranes will miraculously remain in the shell.

Add the pomegranate seeds to the fennel and the apple. Add the juice of a lemon, then add the olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Toss the salad to coat, then allow it to marinate in the fridge for several hours before serving.

Makes 4-6 servings

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Feb 2010 05

What I love about this salad is that it’s potato, yes, but so light and refreshing and good for you that the potatoes themselves completely lose their bad-carb stigma. Chickpeas are full of protein and fibre, and their starchy plainness so well-matched to the potatoes as a blank canvas for the dressing, but don’t let that stop you from omitting them altogether on days when all you want is a potato salad – the lack of mayonnaise alone makes this “health food” in my book, chickpeas or not. If you’re not so into cilantro, feel free to substitute any combination of herbs you fancy. I’ve enjoyed this salad tremendously with tarragon, parsley, and basil, respectively. The only absolutes here are that you use Yukon Gold potatoes, and that the lemon juice you use is freshly squeezed: the bottled version from concentrate defies the whole point of this salad, which is the bright, sour flavour of the dressing and the grassy freshness of the herbs.

You will need:
3 large Yukon Gold (yellow-fleshed) potatoes
1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), rinsed and drained
¼ c. chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
¼ c. chopped chives
Juice of ½ a lemon
¼ c. rice vinegar
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
Salt and pepper, to taste

Bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Peel and dice the potatoes into 1cm cubes, roughly (you don’t have to be perfect).  Drop them into the boiling water and cook between 5-8 minutes, or just until done. Be careful not to overcook these, or they will end up mushy! Drain the potatoes in a colander and set them aside to cool.
Meanwhile, toss the chickpeas into a large bowl with the cilantro and chives. Only when the potatoes are cool may you add them to the chickpeas (otherwise their heat will effectively “cook” the herbs), then dress the whole thing with the lemon juice, rice vinegar and olive oil. Toss to coat evenly, and taste it before adding salt and pepper, as the potatoes will likely already be somewhat salty from the cooking water. Add salt and pepper accordingly, and give it another toss. This tastes great the next day, as the flavours really marinate well together in the fridge.
Serves 6 as part of a meal

© Shaby Heltay, 2009

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