Tuesday, 30 March 2010

My grandmother's Yemenite chicken soup

As I've posted before I don't have an Nonna that could have provided me with insights into Italian home cooking. I do, however, have a Yemenite Safta (= Hebrew for grandmother). And she the originator of my earliest food memory - maraq of teimani , the Yemenite chicken soup. This is the holiday and Sabbath food of choice for countless Jewish Yemenite families.

My early childhood in Israel involved going to my grandparents house on Friday evenings for the Sabbath dinner. Before we even got to the door, we were greeted by a smell. That specific smell that instantly made our eyes tear, our mouths water and our stomachs grumble. That smell of chicken cooking to tender perfection. The smell of cumin, coriander, cardamon and garlic. The smell of freshly baked pita bread. The smell of family. The smell of home.

I always thought my Safta's chicken soup was out of reach for me. That only she possessed that magic touch that made it so special. However, when my dad came by for Passover today, the first thing he said when he walked in the door was that he could smell the chicken soup already out in the hallway... and that it reminded him of his mother and home.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Hawaij - Yemenite spice mix

This spice mixture is to Yemenite Jews what Jerk seasoning is to Jamaicans. There are two types of hawaij [pronounced hawai-yedsh]: one used for flavoring coffee and one for soups, stews and as a BBQ rub. Although both are referred to as hawaij, the ingredients vary. The coffee version includes ginger, cinnamon, cardamon and cloves, where as the more savory soup mix includes pepper, cumin, coriander and a few more ingredients.

Supermarkets in Israel have been selling ready made hawaij spice mixtures for a while now. And they have become a store cupboard staple. But I like to think that good hawaij - i.e. the real deal - you can only get at that Yemenite store in Tel Aviv's Carmel Market or you make it yourself at home. This is my home-made version of the savory hawaij for soups and stews.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Du'qe - Yemenite charoset for Passover

Passover is upon us and although I'm not religious I do enjoy the cultural aspects of holding a Seder. Some of my earliest food memories revolve around the edibles adorning a Jewish-Yemenite Seder table.

The charoset - my Yemenite family calls it du'qe [pronounced doo-keh] - is a paste to be eaten spread on matzos or as a dip for the ceremonial bitter herbs (we use parsley, dandelion and chicory/endive). Every family, every Jewish background (Ashkenazi, Sephardi, Iraqi, Italian, Egyptian, etc.) has their own recipe. The Yemenite charoset differs from most other recipes in that it doesn't feature any fresh fruits (apple is most common), just dates, raisins, nuts and spices.

Oh, and once Passover has passed, any remaining charoset can be used as a filling for cinnamon rolls/whirls/buns or Danish pastry.

Monday, 22 March 2010

Home-made granola bars

Sometime halfway between breakfast and lunch or lunch and dinner my blood sugar levels reach dramatic lows that have significant detrimental effects on my concentration, my attitude towards the people around me and god knows what else. That's when I need an energy booster. Preferably not chocolate. But something filling and sweet...but healthy.

Granola bars - also known as breakfast or muesli bars - are, in my humble opinion, the perfect mid-morning or mid-afternoon snack. Especially when consumed together with a fresh piece of fruit or yogurt. For those of you who are not devout followers of a meal-sized breakfast like myself, these bars make for a decent breakfast on the run as well. I'm no nutritionist, but reading about the nutritional values of each granola bar I come across words like omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins, high in fiber, minerals other elements that I've been told are good for you.

As for most varieties sold in Austrian supermarkets being WAY too sweet for my taste (supermarkets in the UK have a fairly decent selection though), and thus don't really pass the 'healthy' part of the snack, I've decided to just go ahead and try my own. And after a few failed attempts...which nonetheless resulted in yummy self-made granola for topping plain yogurts ...this one my winning recipe so far.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Il mio ragù

Spag Bol, meat sauce, Bolognese, sauce bolognaise...there are a few terms to describe the world famous pasta sauce that originated in Bologna, Italy, and there is simply referred to as... ragù. And there must be thousands, if not gazillions, of different recipes out there. I'm pretty sure every Italian household has got one....a ragù recipe from Nonna. And then there is always that one secret ingredient that makes your Nonna's ragù better then anybody else's.

Alas, I'm not Italian. Well, my mom's family passed through Italy from France a few generations back. But I don't have a Nonna that could teach me the secrets and workings of a proper ragù. Yet, I feel like a have a special bond with that sauce. And fond memories when, as a kid in the 80s, my culinary highlight was eating spaghetti with ready-made bolognese sauce from a jar (mmmhh.... that metallic aftertaste) and lots of Kraft's dried Parmesan powder to top it off.

However, once I started to enjoy cooking and discovering fresh ingredients and all...it was time to move on and create my own, home-cooked version of ragù. Boy, what a difference to those jars....I just hope my future grandchildren don't refer to me as their Nonna *shudder*.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

Rhubarb, apple & strawberry crumble

Rhubarb is a fairly new addition to our seasonal home cooking endeavors. Until about a year ago, whenever I heard rhubarb I mentally added compote and immediately lost interest. Something screamed 1980s and dull. So last spring, after being consciously bombarded with rhubarb recipes in cookbooks and cooking magazines - throw in few gentle nudges by my lovely wife - I finally did it. I cooked rhubarb. A rhubarb pie. And what a fine piece of delicious pie it was. I was hooked on rhubarb and immensely sad when the season was suddenly over.

It's a new year now. And according to the stock in the supermarkets, it's the beginning of rhubarb season. I wanted to do last year's pie recipe again. But as I'm trying to lose a bit of my winter insulation, I opted for the - slightly - healthier option: a rhubarb crumble. With apples and strawberries added... for good vitamin measure.

Monday, 8 March 2010

Lemon-steamed salmon with wild rice and salsa verde

It's been a while since my last blog entry. I apologize profusely. One of my New Year's resolutions was to post at least once per week. Well, the resolution still stands, but I blame this first slump on my recent excessive work-related travel AND sick children AND... whine, whine, whine. wine? wine, anybody? red? white?

AAAANYhow.... wild rice. What are YOUR thoughts on wild rice? My wife doesn't like it. At least that's what she's telling me. And the last time I had wild rice must have been so long ago that I completely forgot what it tasted like. Reasons enough to make it the side-of-choice for this weeks fish recipe.