Back to normal eating with a delicious couscous salad

It’s time to get back into a routine after the excitement of Yom Ha’atzmaut. Like most Israelis, we ate a lot of meat last week. So for my first recipe of this week, I thought I’d go meatless with a vegetarian couscous salad. As summer approaches, this is a great recipe for the seasonal repertoire. It works well as a side-dish that you can make a day before and serve on Shabbat re-heating. It’s also a really simple standby recipe that’s great to make when you have vegetarians over as it’s really filling.

Couscous vegetable salad

For this one, I use the instant couscous because it’s hardier than the home-made version, and it’s also a lot quicker to prepare. Make sure you buy the heavy couscous, which will stand up to being kept in the refrigerator and won’t get mushy.You can also improvise with the vegetables – these are my favorites for this recipe, but you can have lots of fun adding your favorite vegetables as well.

COUSCOUS VEGETABLE SALAD

Ingredients

1 350g (12 oz) bag heavy couscous

2-3 tablespoons olive oil

2 medium carrots finely diced (a fine dice means that the slice should be about 2 mm wide at most – the width about 5 mm)

2 sticks celery diced

1 large onion chopped

2 red peppers chopped

1 cup frozen or canned corn

4-5 cloves of garlic crushed

2 tablespoons fresh chopped parsley

A dash of cumin (optional)

How to do it

1. Heat the oil in a wok or large skillet.

Sauteed vegetables for the salad

2. Add the onions, carrots, celery and red peppers and saute until they are just softening (about 4-5 minutes). Add the garlic and stir.

3. Add the corn, parsley and other spices and saute until the corn is thawed.

4. Prepare the couscous according to the instructions on the bag. Make sure to toss the couscous through with a fork once it’s done.

5. Mix the couscous and the vegetables together.

Serve at room temperature or slightly chilled. Serves about 8.

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Last Minute Wings on the BBQ

If you’re anything like me, then you probably get to the day before you’re entertaining and decide that you haven’t prepared enough food. I am guilty of doing this over and over, and it’s got nothing to do with being prepared, it’s just got to do with my genetic predisposition to overcook.

If you are looking for a last minute, easy item for your Yom Ha’atzmaut BBQ, try these barbecued chicken wings. I basically make the sauce by throwing in some of my favorite sauces.

Wings on the BBQ

There are some rules of thumb, though, and this recipe highlights them. You will need a tomato base – I use tomato paste, but you can also use ketchup. I add sweetness with either chutney, brown sugar or silan date honey, so I prefer not to use ketchup. You can make the sauce as spicy as you want. Simply increase the quantities I have here for the cayenne pepper and chili or tobasco sauce. I like mine to have a spicy kick, but I don’t like to overwhelm the sauce with heat. I also recommend always adding some kind of meat sauce, like HP or Hunt’s. Play with this recipe and have fun. As long as you have enough sauce to coat all the pieces of chicken, you will be OK. Please note that my quantities are approximate. You really don’t have to be accurate with this recipe.

I also highly recommend letting the chicken sit in the sauce overnight to get the flavor deeply into the meat.

BBQ CHICKEN WINGS

Ingredients

3kg (6½ lbs) chicken wings

BBQ sauce in progress

250g (8 oz) tomato paste

¼ cup chutney or silan or brown sugar (or all three or any two!)

1/3 cup sweet chili sauce

2-3 tablespoons BBQ sauce (such as HP or Hunt’s – but do not use hickory flavored sauces.)

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper flakes

A few drops of Tobasco sauce or 1 small chili finely chopped (optional but recommended)

¼ teaspoon meat spice

Salt and pepper

How to do it

Cover the wings thoroughly with the sauce

1. In a large bowl, mix together all the sauce ingredients. Add the chicken wings, tossing them through the sauce thoroughly so that all the wings are coated with sauce.

2. Transfer to an airtight container or cover with cling film and leave the wings to marinade overnight, or for at least 4 hours if you are in a rush. You can also freeze the wings in the sauce, but make sure you then defrost the wings so they are not frozen when you cook them.

3. Barbecue the wings until they are ready – this varies depending on how plump the wings are. Make sure they are properly cooked through – if the meat just starts to come away from the bone, they are probably ready.

Yom Ha’atzmaut – Israel’s BBQ Festival

Over the years, Yom Ha’atzmaut has become known as the BBQ festival or “Chag Ha’mangal” in Israel. The large clouds that form over Sacher Park in the center of Jerusalem every Yom Ha’atzmaut, and over all other Israeli public parks, gardens, parking lots and even traffic islands, are proof. Israelis, who, on average, consume 9,500kg of beef per month, guzzle down 15,000kg in the month of Yom Ha’tzmaut. Sounds crazy, but Israelis are still nowhere close to meat eaters in other developed countries: Israel is last on the list of developed nations when it comes to meat consumption per person per year with 14kg – lagging far behind world leaders Argentina (of course) with 54kg; Australia with 46kg; and the US with 41kg.

But enough with the stats. I too am guilty of upping our meat consumption in the month of Iyar, and enjoying a good, meaty BBQ along with the rest of Am Yisrael. It makes perfect sense – the weather in this pre-summer time of year is perfect for being outdoors, so BBQs are the meals of choice.

Oh so juicy and delicious

In my family, there’s no such thing as having a BBQ without my home-made hamburgers. I started making my own burgers years ago. With a little advice from the guy at the supermarket meat counter, I set off on my odyssey to create the ultimate burger. I do make my own breadcrumbs, and I definitely believe that this makes a difference. I don’t add anything green to the patty, and my kids are grateful.The result is a burger that goes back to basics, and keeps things simple. And as opposed to those awful factory-made pieces of fake meat that go by the name “hamburgers” these shrink very little when cooked as they are not pumped full of water to increase the volume and make them look bigger in the store.

Of course, the BBQ chef is an essential part of the process, and I am always happy to hand off the cooking side to my husband, who does an amazing job every time. He can’t give a real time on how long they need to cook, rather watches them turn a nice hamburger brown before he takes them off the flame.

Before you BBQ your perfect burger, don’t forget to prepare some fun condiments to go with it. Take a little extra time, and fry 4 large onions slowly in a little oil until they are really caramelized and brown.You can also saute mushrooms, which make another delicious addition to your burger. Uou can also thinly slice eggplant and fry those for the ultimate Israeli topping that will give your burger a special Yom Ha’atzmaut flavor. These are in addition to the fresh tomato and lettuce and pickled cucumbers that you’ll serve, along with mustard and ketchup, or course.

MY “SECRET” HAMBURGER RECIPE

Ingredients 

Juicy and ready for the BBQ

1 kg (2 lbs) ground beef (make sure it’s not the lean beef – you need the fat in the meat to keep it from getting dry)

2 eggs

1 tablespoon ketchup

¼ teaspoon ground black pepper

½ teaspoon meat spice mix (any one you like). Note: If there are spices you like in your meat, go ahead and add them – you can add paprika, cumin, garlic, freshly chopped parsley, etc. Whatever suits your taste will work.

½ tablespoon chicken soup powder

About 1/3 cup breadcrumbs (or more if needed) – preferably freshly made*

How to do it

1. In a large bowl, beat the eggs, ketchup, seasoning and chicken soup powder together.

Add the breadcrumbs carefully so you don't dry out the mixture

2. Add the meat and mix together well. Then start adding the breadcrumbs, and keep adding and mixing until you get a firm consistency – the meat needs to be firm enough to easily form into a patty. Don’t add too many breadcrumbs though.

3. When you have the right consistency, start forming your patties. Line a tray or oven pan with baking paper. Take a large serving spoon and scoop up a spoon full of the meat, You can use the shape of the spoon to smooth out the one side of the patty. Create a ball and then start patting the meat down until it forms a patty that is round and about 1½cm (½ inch) thick. Place it on the paper, and keep going until all your meat is used up. 1 kg of meat should yield about 7-8 patties. You can store them in the refrigerator until you need them, or you can prepare them a couple of days ahead of time and freeze them.

4. Cook on a hot barbecue until brown on both sides.

*Fresh breadcrumbs: Slice 3-4 thick slices of day-old+ bread into cubes and put them in the food processor using the large metal blade and process for about 1-2 minutes until you get crumbs. You can store any leftovers in the freezer. (Because you aren’t using these to fry with, you don’t have to dry them out in the oven, so it really is a quick process)

Israeli Flag Cupcakes for Yom Ha’atzmaut

Sometimes it’s fun to go all the way with a theme, especially when it’s Yom Ha’atzmaut. As promised, here’s how to make your own Yom Ha’atzmaut cupcakes.

So I did get a little silly, and decided to make the batter blue! This isn’t essential, but can be fun, and a nice surprise for your guests. Basically, all you need to do is add about a half a teaspoon of blue coloring gel to your favorite cupcake batter. (If you’re not keen on the coloring, you can leave it out and keep the cupcakes white.)

Israeli Flag Cupcakes

My favorite cupcake batter is my white cake batter, which never fails and tastes great. I top the cupcakes off with cream cheese frosting. But if you’re having a Yom Ha’atzmaut BBQ, and you’re looking for a parev version, here’s a recipe. I can’t promise that they will taste better than their dairy counterparts, but as a fun centerpiece for your Yom Ha’atzmaut dessert table, these cupcakes will be a hit. You can also use this recipe for party cupcakes, using other colors as well for the cupcake batter – red, green, etc. I decorated mine with frosted Israeli flags – very easy to do for those of use without any artistic talent – but you can also decorate with blue colored sugar, blue and white sprinkles or just stick in an Israeli flag on a toothpick, which you can find at any dollar store or disposable kitchenware store around Israel.

PAREV CUPCAKES FOR YOM HA’ATZMAUT

Ingredients 

A very blue batter

1¼ cup sugar

1½ cups all purpose flour

1 teaspoon baking soda

½ teaspoon salt

⅓ cup oil

1 tablespoon vinegar

2 teaspoons vanilla

½ teaspoon blue coloring gel

1 cup cold water

How to do it

Baked and blue

1. Preheat oven to 180°c, line a muffin tin with #5 cupcake liners (about 16)

2. Mix all dry ingredients together in a bowl by hand

3. Add all liquids and mix together till combined. Make sure you mix the gel in very well so you don’t get streaks.

4. Pour into the prepared cupcakes liners (about 2 tablespoons per cupcake).

5. Bake for 20 minutes or until a toothpick comes out clean. Remove from the oven and allow to cool completely before frosting.

PAREV FROSTING

Ingredients

Decorating the frosted cupcakes

1/3 cup margarine softened

1 teaspoon vanilla

About 3 cups of powdered sugar

¼ teaspoon blue coloring gel

How to do it

1. Mix the margarine and the vanilla till combined.

2. Slowly, add the powdered sugar, mixing until the frosting reaches spreading consistency (make sure it’s not runny at all – the frosting should stick fast to a spoon)

A decorated cupcake

3. Using the back of a spoon or a small palette knife, spread the white frosting over each cupcake (I don’t make the frosting too thick.)

4. Once all the cupcakes are frosted, add the blue coloring gel to the remaining frosting and mix well till combined, making sure there are no streaks. Use immediately, otherwise the frosting separates.

5. Take a piping bag (I use the disposables, which are great) and a small round frosting tip. Snip the bottom of the bag with a scissors so that the tip fits snugly into the bottom of the bag, with the plastic of the bag ending no more than halfway up the tip. Fill the bag with your blue frosting. Holding the lower part of the bag with your left hand (if you’re left-handed) firmly squeeze with your right hand from the top part of the bag to frost two parallel lines (some of mine aren’t too parallel!). Don’t pull the tip across the cupcake too quickly to ensure that the line isn’t too thin. Then make your Magen David in the middle. If your lines are a little too thin, pipe a second line over them.

Makes about 16 cupcakes. Can be frozen.

Eggplant Made Simple

The way I see it, eggplant is to Israeli cuisine what herring is to Eastern European Jewish cooking. What am I on about? When I was growing up, my mother was the queen of herring, and prepared this salty fish in so many different ways: Pickled herring, Danish Herring (in a mustardy sauce), Russian Herring (in tomato sauce), pineapple herring (yes indeed, in a cream sauce!), chopped herring (that Jewish party favorite, served with kichel), and, horror of horrors, baked herring, or as it was known in our house “gebakte herring” – an awful herring-based meat loaf that couldn’t easy double as an instrument of torture. Baked herring was without doubt one of the main culprits in Eastern European Jewish cooking never quite making it as one the the world’s great cuisines. I can still smell the stench of the baking herring permeating through the house…

While my folk spent many an hour dreaming up new and exciting ways with herring, here in Israel, the eggplant seems to have taken on a similar role, only, in my humble opinion, the results are much tastier. Any trip to an Israeli supermarket or local eatery will present you with an array of different eggplant salads – eggplant in tehina, eggplant in mayonaise, roasted eggplant salad, spicy eggplant, and then there’s fried eggplant slices, and more. One of my favorite ways to serve eggplant is the locally popular half eggplant with tehina. This is one of the most elegant ways to serve Israeli “herring”, and is extremely easy to prepare. It’s a great side dish for a BBQ or any other meal. It’s parev and of course, vegetarian, so it ticks many boxes.

I recommend looking for smaller eggplants so that you can give a half an eggplant per serving instead of having to cut them in half at the table.

For this year’s Yom Ha’atzmaut, why don’t you give this simple dish a try, and watch your guests be very impressed.

ROASTED EGGPLANT SERVED WITH TEHINA

Ingredients 

Roasted Eggplant Served with Tehina

6 small eggplants

Olive oil

2/3 cup of raw tehina

About 2/3 cup of cold water

2 small cloves of garlic crushed

The juice of half a lemon (or more, to taste)

½ cup chopped fresh parsley (about half is for garnish)

Salt to taste

How to do it

1. Pre-heat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. Wash the eggplants, snip off the spikey part of the stem leaves and slice them length-ways down the middle. Brush the cut side of each half with some olive oil (the oil will be absorbed into the eggplant and it will not seem oily, but don’t add more.)

3. Place the eggplant halves cut side down directly onto a clean oven rack. (Tip: Place an oven tray below the rack covered with a piece of baking paper or foil to collect the drippings and keep your oven clean.) Bake for about 40 minutes or until the cut sides are brown and the flesh is soft. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.

4. Prepare the tehina: In a bowl, mix the raw tehina, lemon juice and crushed garlic. Slowly add the water, mixing until you get a thick, but slightly runny consistency (runnier than hummus). Add the chopped parsley and salt to taste.

5. Serve each eggplant half with some tehina sauce drizzled over the top. Sprinkle with some more chopped parsley to garnish.

Makes 12 servings

Pesach is over, roll on Yom Ha’atzmaut with some slow cooked Moroccan chicken

Let’s all breathe a sigh of relief as we pack away our Pesach kit and get back to “normal” cooking. But as one festival passes, another is always on the horizon. This time, we look ahead to one of the most fun holidays on our calendar – Yom Ha’atzmaut (Israeli Independence Day). In Israel, it’s the only official holiday on which no religious observance is required. This means carefree cooking, and no worries about getting it all done early and how each dish reheats. Cook it in the morning, cook it in the evening, cook it at supper time!

This time of year begs for the flavors of the region, and I plan to post recipes with an Israeli touch in the coming week. So for my first recipe of this series, I am adding one from Seattle! But what’s Seattle got to do with Israel, you must be wondering. Not a whole lot, except that I found a great recipe for slow cooked Moroccan Chicken, Apricot, and Chickpea Tagine on the wonderful Seattle Foodshed blog. I’ve been wanting to make this type of dish for a while, but most recipes require cooking the dish in a tagine, which is a traditional North African earthenware pot. I have resisted buying one as it’s big and takes up too much place. So when I saw this recipe, which not only didn’t require a tagine, but also called for the dish to be cooked in a slow cooker, I knew it was the one for me. And I wasn’t wrong! It was terrific.

Mary from the Seattle Foodshed kindly gave me permission to publish the recipe. I have made a few tweaks to her original recipe, including pan frying the chicken in flour so that it doesn’t dry out (I’ve had bad experiences with slow cooked chicken breasts), which keeps the meat moist, and adding some extra vegetables. I find it so hard to resist adding potatoes to anything that’s slow cooked – they come out so well. Just make sure to cut them up small, as this recipe calls for a 3-hour cooking time.

I love this recipe as it brings in all the wonderful spices and flavors of the Middle East (don’t be put off by the long ingredients list – most of it is spices). I doubled the recipe as I have a large slow cooker and the leftovers were delicious too.

SLOW COOKED MOROCCAN CHICKEN, APRICOT AND CHICKPEA TAGINE

Ingredients 

Moroccan Chicken Tagine (Picture from the Seattle Foodshed)

1kg (2lb) boneless skinless chicken breasts

Flour for pan frying seasoned with salt, cumin, cinnamon and pepper. (About 1 cup, or as needed)

1 tablespoon flour

2 large onions roughly chopped

4-6 garlic cloves crushed

1 knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup dried apricots

100g (3.5 oz) tomato paste

1 large can chopped tomatoes

1 can chickpeas or 2 cups cooked chickpeas

1 sweet potato cubed

3 potatoes cubed in small cubes (bite sized)

2 carrots thinly sliced

3 tablespoons honey of silan (date honey)

2 cups chicken stock

1 teaspoon turmeric or a few hairs of saffron

1 teaspoon ground coriander (flakes)

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1 teaspoon cayenne pepper (for a hint of heat)

Salt and pepper

A handful of chopped fresh coriander

How to do it

1. Cut the chicken breasts into small pieces (about 5-6 cm in length) and dip in the seasoned flour.

2. Heat the oil in a large skillet or pan and pan fry each piece for about a minute on each side (do not brown), and set aside.

3. In the pan in which you fried the chicken, saute the onions and garlic until just soft (do not brown).

4. Add they honey/silan, tomato paste and chicken stock to the pan and mix in. Then sprinkle the flour and mix till there are no lumps.

5. Add all the spices and the chopped tomatoes and mix through.

6. Place the vegetables, chick peas, chicken pieces, apricots and the sauce in the slow cooker, give it a mix to ensure that all the ingredients are coated in the sauce.

7. Cook on high for 3 hours.

Serves about 6. Serve with cous cous or rice.

Hummus Chocolate Cake? Yes it is, and good for Pesach

A few months ago, I read a recipe for a flourless chocolate cake on the wonderful Seattle Foodshed blog. I bookmarked it, and decided that Pesach was the perfect time to try it out, as for kitniot eaters, it’s completely KFP and parev to boot. And who would have thought that a cake that’s Kosher for Pesach and made from hummus would originate in the US? So with a few days left of Pesach, I have to share this with you.

I just baked it, and it’s a hit. My kids piled into it, and were shocked when I revealed to them that it’s made with hummus beans instead of flour. My husband asked where the matbucha was…I will definitely make this cake again for Pesach. It turns out like a brownie cake, so you can also make it as bars, and serving it with ice cream would not be a tragedy. As I was writing this recipe, I realized I had forgotten to add the baking powder, but it came out fine!! So if you can’t find KFP baking powder, you can leave it out. Now I will have to bake this again to see what it turns out like WITH baking powder!

I will share this recipe with you here as well, but do visit the Seattle Foodshed blog, as there are also lots of good, healthy recipes there that are worth checking out, and the pictures are great.

HUMMUS CHOCOLATE CAKE FOR PESACH (KITNIYOT) 

Hummus Cake for Pesach

Ingredients 

1½ cups chocolate chips or 200g dark chocolate pieces

4 eggs

1 can chickpeas (garbanzo beans) drained

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

¾ cup sugar

1 teaspoon baking powder

How to do it

1. Preheat the oven to 180°C (350°F)

2. In a food processor, mix the chick peas and eggs until smooth. Add the vanilla, sugar and baking powder (if you can’t find baking powder that’s KFP, leave it out) and pulse till combined

3. Melt the chocolate over boiling water (double boiler).  Add the melted chocolate to the cake mix and combine.

4. Line a 22cm (9 inch) baking tin with baking paper and grease. Pour the mixture into the tin and bake for 35-40 minutes.

Pesach Chicken that Tastes Great

I love checking out the supermarkets just before Pesach to see what new products are KFP for the year. This year, I was very excited to see that sweet chili sauce was kosher for Pesach (kitnoyot). So for those of you who do eat kitniyot on Pesach, I came up with a great recipe for crispy chicken in a sweet Asian sauce that you will want to make all year round. I made it last night for supper and my kids couldn’t stop eating it.

I based the method on Bill Granger’s sticky wings recipe I posted a while back. Back then, I promised to experiment with other pieces of the chicken, so this time, I used legs and thighs as well. The result: This wonderful method, which cuts out tons of fat, works just as well with other parts of the chicken.

Kosher for Pesach Sticky Asian Chicken

SWEET ASIAN CHICKEN PIECES

Ingredients 

6 chicken thighs

6 chicken legs

About 10 chicken wings

2-3 tablespoons oil

4 cloves of garlic roughly chopped

1 small green chili finely chopped

About 1 tablespoon freshly grated ginger

1 cup sweet chili sauce

½ cup apple juice

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar (during the year, you can use rice wine vinegar instead)

½ teaspoon salt (during the year use ¼ cup soy sauce instead of the salt)

How to do it

1. Preheat the oven to 200°C (400°F).

2. Line a large roasting pan with baking paper and place the chicken pieces evenly on the tray. Roast chicken for 40-50 minutes, until it’s golden in color. Remove the chicken and transfer the pieces onto a clean tray lined with baking paper. (You can also just pour the fat off and reuse the pan, but I found it easier to just transfer the chicken into a clean pan and let the fat cool for easier disposal – never pour hot oil down the sink as it clogs the drain.)

3. While the chicken is cooking, in a saucepan, heat the oil and cook the garlic, ginger and chili it’s all soft (about 2-3 minutes). Add the sweet chili sauce, apple juice, vinegar and salt. Stir together, bring to the boil, reduce the heat and cook over medium heat for about 2-3 minutes.

4. Pour the sauce over the chicken pieces, turning them to make sure they’re all coated, and return to the oven. Cook for another 30-40 minutes or until the chicken pieces start getting dark and sticky. Turn the chicken every 10-15 minutes for even color.

Serves about 6-8. You can serve with extra sweet chili sauce if the pieces are a little dry.