Stuffed Grape Leaves – 29/67

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My high school graduation party was catered by a little mom and pop Egyptian market in the suburb next to ours. Instead of burgers and potato salad, we had vats of falafel, tabbouleh, baba ghanoush, hummus, buttery rice pilaf, and stuffed grape leaves. My mouth waters just typing all those words in a row. I’m not sure where my Middle Eastern food obsession began (maybe the Lebanese restaurant next to my dad’s work that was a treat when we’d visit him there?), or how/where/if it collides with my Jewish roots, but I do know the love is deep. I’m not interested in debating ownership of my favorite foods — I know many countries claim creation of falafel and hummus and dolmas, but I will not engage. I will happily eat all varieties. Whichever is nearest is the best. (Except for my vast disappointment while teaching in Azerbaijan a couple years back, where I learned ALL dolmas there have meat. They called this rice-filled stye “fake dolmas” and looked down their noses at it. I had zero stuffed grape leaves in Azerbaijan 😦 .) 

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The owner of that mom and pop market loved my parents and got to know them a bit — I mean, they’d order TONS of food for big parties every so often, how could they not. At some point around high school he told us that he couldn’t wait to cater my wedding someday. I’m sure I was immediately embarrassed and rolled my eyes and said yeah sure, whatever…

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And then ten years later, lo and behold, I was engaged! And the first thing I knew I wanted at my wedding (besides the right husband 😉 ) — was the food! Stuffed grape leaves, falafel, mezze and dips galore. Homey, bright, flavorful food with history. No chicken breasts or veggie pastas. We started from food and made decisions from there. As the wedding was not close to my childhood home, alas, we could not fulfill the prophecy made by Mr. Market Owner, but I never forgot his words.  We hired a different mom and pop operation — or I guess it was more like pop and friends — and it was more Turkish than Egyptian, but oh man I feel pretty good about claiming we really had the best ever wedding food. The grape leaves were lip-pursing with pomegranate molasses, the hummus silky smooth, the fattoush crunchy and seasonal. I only wish I ate more of it. 

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I can’t believe I’ve never tried to make grape leaves, long one of my favorite foods. I will always order stuffed grape leaves if they’re on the menu (well, if they’re meat-free and nut-less, not guaranteed), and rarely have I found one I don’t like. Daniel was iffy about them until I came along and showed him the light. Calling them “grape leaves” doesn’t do justice do the tangy, spicy, citrusy, poppy dare-I-say vegetal dumpling that awaits. And so this seemed like a great project for a Sunday afternoon during quarantine. I had a jar of grape leaves around from my bridal shower and had a recipe for them in #thebinder, but I went off script and used a completely different recipe, one that had Turkish spices, as we just bought black Urfa chili flakes and dried mint from my friend’s amazing spice company and wanted to put them to use, and because it was vegetarian. Daniel added some beef to his, but admitted it wasn’t necessary. We didn’t totally nail the cooking time on these, but they’re still amazing, and still highly recommended for a weekend project. 

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five years ago: grilled pineapple and baked bean tacos

Stuffed Grape Leaves

adapted from Give Recipe

1 lb jar of grape leaves (we didn’t use all of them)

Filling
2 cups white rice, rinsed
1 big tomato, peeled and finely diced
1 small onion, finely diced
4-6 cloves garlic, finely diced
¼ – ½ cup fresh parsley, finely diced
½ teaspoon cayenne (these are on the spicy side! do less if you’d like)
½ teaspoon black urfa chili flakes (optional, but nice and smoky)
2 teaspoons dried mint
1 teaspoon sumac
2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons freshly ground pepper
1 tablespoon tomato or pepper paste (optional)
juice of 1 lemon
½ cup olive oil

Ground beef, optional

To Cook
At least 2 cups water
¼ cup olive oil

Remove grape leaves from jar and soak in hot water to remove some of the brine. 

To make filling, mix all filling ingredients in a big bowl. To make a meaty version, remove about a quarter of the mixture and place in a new bowl. Add about a quarter pound of ground beef and mix to incorporate. 

Lay out a grape leaf. Cut off the pointy stem with a paring knife. Place about a teaspoon or two of filling in a line right above the removed stem. Fold the bottom of the leaf up. Fold both sides in. Roll up to form a small log. Don’t roll too tightly, as rice will expand as it’s cooked and you don’t want them to explode. (The video from from Give Recipe shows this folding process clearly.)

Repeat until done with filling. As you’re filling, remove any misshapen or torn leaves. Use them to cover the bottom of a wide pot or braiser. Then, stack all filled and rolled grape leaves in the pot. Pour 2 cups water and ¼ cup olive oil over your nested grape leaves. Cover pot and turn heat to low. Cook for at least 45 minutes. Check for rice doneness and continue adding water and steaming as necessary. Ours took another 20ish minutes. 

Try to stop yourself from eating the whole pan warm off the stove. Store in the fridge and serve with yogurt if you’d like. 

Charoset, aka Drunken Fruit Salad

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I don’t celebrate Passover every year, but try to when I can. And, for some reason, I am most determined to celebrate it when it is least convenient to. Last year, for example, when I was in Russia, I got it in my head that I MUST attend a seder. Through a complicated series of events, I ended up getting myself invited to the Head Rabbi of St. Petersburg’s family’s seder — by far the most Orthodox and traditional Jewish thing I’ve ever done. I was incredibly out of my element but luckily everyone mostly ignored me. They couldn’t wrap their minds around that, yes, I was Jewish, I knew the prayer over the candles and had been to many seders, but why would I dream of eating my matzah with something before the 8th day? Apparently these folks wouldn’t eat a matzah pizza or the famous cream cheese jelly schmear until the last day. As someone brought up pretty Jewish, these were the staples of the holiday! My Russian hosts were shocked when I spoke about our tradition of hiding the afikomen — a looked-forward-to treasure hunt for all Jews under Bar Mitzvah age, I had supposed incorrectly. To each their own, but I was so surprised to learn my own was so different than their own. There are so many ways to be Jewish, and our ways were very, very different. It was possibly one of the more uncomfortable evenings of my life, but I’m still glad I forced myself to seek it out and attend and have some sort of ritualistic connection itch scratched – and now I have this great story. 

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And this year, I decided I wanted to try to replicate Passover from my apartment as much as possible, never mind that I’ve never hosted it or tried to locate the various seder plate elements. I usually show up to family or a friend’s with wine or a flourless dessert and then happily eat the matzah ball soup and gefilte fish and carrot pudding and roasted veggies provided by others. 

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Here was the plan: chocolate covered matzah, homemade matzah, matzah ball soup, boiled eggs, charoset. (I contemplated gefilte fish made from a can of tuna but luckily stepped away from that madness before it was too late.) Then I had one boring tragedy after another: the caramel didn’t set for the chocolate covered variety, turns out homemade matzah tastes like baked glue, I didn’t have matzah meal so made “masa” ball soup (which was actually great), and, oops used all the eggs in the soup. Sigh, thwarted at every step. But! My charoset was awesome. Charoset is supposed to represent the mortar of the bricks the Jews were forced to use in ancient Egypt. It’s usually apples, nuts, Manischewitz. Welp, I do like apples? I decided to basically make sangria, but with proportions inverted. And it was delicious. There’s a recipe-ish below. You should try it. 

Some fail pics:

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Oy, matzah isn’t supposed to be floppy. It’s funny that the moments I want to cling closest to my Jewish roots are when everything else has been turned over. Being in a new country, experiencing a pandemic unlike anything in lifetimes. I find comfort in clinging to old traditions and family and feeling grounded. In feeling like I am more than this moment — I am a continuation of what was before me and the future will continue to spiral outwards from this moment. There have been thousands of 30-year-old women fussing about boiled eggs and soup and wine glasses. I take comfort that in that when so much else is unknown. 

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So, whether you are of the tribe or not, drunken fruit salad is never a bad idea. It’s pretty great on matzah (from a box, please) or just with a spoon. 

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one year ago: nothing of note, but I made this black sesame Mochi cake recently and can’t stop thinking about it…
two years ago: nothing of note, but if you’re looking for a perfect pantry meal, may I recommend my fav red lentil dal?
three years ago: apple cheddar quinoa cakes
four years ago: baked stuffed sweet potatoes with chickpeas, kale, and tahini
five years ago: roast eggplant and pepper soup with orzo 

Drunken Fruit Salad, aka Charoset, aka Inverse Sangria

a swanky original

Chop fruit of your choice into smaller-than-bite-sized pieces. I used one red apple, a big handful of red grapes, a perfectly juicy clementine, and a couple dates. Mix in a bowl. Add a healthy pour of red wine. (I finished an old bottle — probably about ¼ cup). Add two big spoonfuls honey, about ¼ teaspoon of cinnamon, and many dashes of orange bitters. Stir everything together and refrigerate, stirring every so often, until cold and well-combined. 

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A Pile of Apple Cake – 24/67

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The problem with claiming you’re good at baking is that people expect you to be good at baking. Ugh. I’ve been setting expectations too high. Nothing good can come of that! 

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So okay, I admit, this cake did not come out of the bundt pan as I would have wished. But! It still tastes amazing. Amazing enough to publicly share on the internet and admit to my vast readership. So, as they’d say on the Great British Bake Off, flavors and texture wonderful, looks like absolute shite. (Do they say that? I haven’t watched it in a couple seasons, but it seems more or less right…)

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We brought this cake pile to a housewarming party. Daniel thought I should dump it into a bowl and call it a crumble, but I insisted on the cake carrying case, with a sad pile of cake roughly in the shape of a bundt. You could still see a couple layers of cake – apples – cake, after all. We definitely got some funny glances from passersby, who looked expectantly into our cake carrying thing (I feel like you have to be pretty proud of your cake to schlep it through the streets of New York usually), expecting to see a masterpiece. And they were instead greeted by a crumbling tower of artfully placed could-be-cake. I made Daniel carry the case. I was too embarrassed. 😦 

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However! The cake was delightfully consumed! And no needs for plates when it looks like this, everyone just dug in with forks or fingers, as if it was pull apart bread. And the hosts even wanted to keep leftovers! I had my leftovers the next day microwaved with ice cream. Could’ve been way worse. So! Make this. But grease TF outta that pan. 

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one night ago: the amazing pasta alla norma from vegetables illustrated was last night’s really really good dinner 
another thing I’ve been cooking: caramelize a shredded zucchini with garlic and olive oil, mix in parmesan, put on pumpernickel toast, top with a fried egg OMG SO GOOD
three years ago: soy-dashi simmered kabocha squash
four years ago: tomatillo peach salsa 

Apple Cake

from my lovely cousin (in-law?) Heidi. Sorry for messing up something beautiful!

6 apples, peeled, cored, and sliced ( a mix of varieties is nice)
5 tablespoons + 2 cups sugar
5 teaspoons cinnamon
3 cups flour
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 cup neutral oil
4 eggs
½ cup orange juice
1 tablespoon vanilla

Preheat oven to 350F. Grease and flour (I used spray and IT DID NOT WORK!) a bundt pan. Use a non-decorative bundt pan, for gods sake. Or a tube pan, which I’ve never used, but I think would be perfect for this. Don’t skimp!!

In a big bowl, mix together apple slices, 5 tablespoons sugar, and the cinnamon. Set aside.

In another big bowl, mix together the flour, remaining 2 cups sugar, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the middle and add the oil, eggs, OJ, and vanilla. Mix everything until well blended. A wooden spoon worked great for this task. 

Spoon ⅓ of the batter into your prepared pan. Add half the apples. Then another layer of batter, the rest of the apples, and finish with batter. (I couldn’t fit all the apples!)

Bake for an hour and a half. Cake should be brown but not dark. Let cool in pan for at least half an hour before removing from pan. Good luck. 

 
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Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Hamantashen – 8/67

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Thanks, Mom, for including a hamantashen recipe in my bridal shower recipe book. Always keeping my Jewish education thriving, thanks 🙂 Although I have not been to a Purim celebration in well over a decade, when I recently saw photos on social media of others’ celebrations, I paid a bit extra attention. If I’m going to make hamantashen this year (and I HAVE to, as they’re in the book!), this was the week to do it. So, despite some pesky other life things happening (aftermath of getting married, prepping to go to Russia for 5 weeks, first explorations of our instant pot…), I made cookies.

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These cookies are so much quicker to make that I remember. I whipped the dough together (only a fork necessary!), put it in the fridge for an hour while we ate dinner, and then baked them off before meeting friends for a drink. Boom boom done. Phew.

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Daniel almost never eats sweets lying around. For example, I have been eating leftover wedding cake from the cake stand with a fork every day for the past week, and Daniel will only take a bite if I literally stick the fork in his face. He is much more interested in the jars of pickles he’s been stockpiling. And yet! These hament-ocean (as he says, to rhyme with the scotch brand Auchentoshan) keep disappearing! I should know him well enough by now to know that fruity sweets will always win him over, but I’m still wrapping my head around this concept.

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I even made a savory variety, hoping that would save me from the duty of finishing the full batch. Alas, I do love a good savory pastry (shout out to Bakeri’s savory galettes and kale rolls that I miss dearly), so this technique supremely backfired. I think I ate all the savory ones, oops. I highly recommend you experiment with this. It was a little weird, because the dough is on the sweet side, but I’ve decided it worked. 

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one year ago: nothing of note, but did you know you can make black bean soup from UNSOAKED BEANS FROM A BAG in an instant pot in less than an hour?? this SK recipe was our magical dinner last night.
two years ago: italian egg drop soup
three years ago: roasted chickpeas and kale stuffed sweet potatoes with tahini sauce
four years ago: pasta with smoked scamorza and tomatoes

(Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese) Hamantashen

I halved my mom’s recipe and it was plenty of cookies for the two of us plus a friend or two. Probably 15-20 cookies. To make more, just double the recipe and create two ovals of dough to chill in the fridge. I did two fillings — plum jam (thanks Aunt Beth B!) and the savory one roughly outlined below.

1 ¼ cups flour
¼ cup + 2 tablespoons sugar
1 tsp baking powder
2 pinches salt
¼ cup oil
1 egg
½ teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon orange juice

FILLING: jams, caramelized onions + goat cheese, butterscotch chips if you have them leftover from your fancy challah toast, etc

In a big bowl, mix together flour, sugar, baking powder, and salt with a fork. In a liquid measuring cup, measure out the oil. Add egg, vanilla, OJ, and mix to beat up egg a bit. Make a well in the center of flour mixture and pour in liquid mixture. Mix with the fork until a soft dough comes together. You can use your hands to knead a couple times at the end. Form into a rough oval. Wrap in wax paper and refrigerate for 1-2 hours.

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Flour your countertop lightly. Unwrap dough and roll out to about ¼ inch thickness. Dip the rim of 3-inch drinking glass in flour, then use it to cut circles from the dough. Place ½-1 teaspoon of filling in each circle. Draw up three sides to make a triangle and pinch the ends firmly together. They may look wobbly or blob-like but they will still be delicious. Gather up dough, re-roll out, cut out new circles, repeat as necessary.

Place triangles on ungreased baking sheet and bake for 15 minutes or until golden brown. If they slump and lose definition and become even more blobular, don’t despair, a) they will still be delicious and b) try to knead the dough a bit before your next batch. It helped me. 

I kept the onion/goat cheese cookies in the fridge and the others in Tupperware on the counter.

Onion Goat cheese filling approximation – Melt a knob of butter in a small pan. Add a pinch each of cumin seeds and mustard seeds. After they splutter, add thinly sliced onion. (I had half a red onion in the fridge so used that). Cook down for about 30-40 minutes on very low heat. Add a small spoonful to each dough round, and top with goat cheese. I sprinkled nigella seeds on a couple before baking, which never hurt anyone. Next time, might try with less sugar in the dough, and adding some thyme. 

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Zoodle Latkes

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Look, I agree. Latkes don’t need to be anything more than shredded potatoes fried til crispy, sprinkled with flaky salt and eaten as is. Applesauce dollop highly suggested.

IMG_7846 IMG_7847So…zucchini? And… spiralized? Yeah, I know, it’s unnecessary. But look! how! fun! it is!

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This is a perfect breakfast for one, while your fiance goes to a motorcycle show with his buddies and you pray to whoever that he doesn’t buy anything. With one butt you can only be in one place at a time, according to old family saying, soooo we can extrapolate to… with one butt you can only have one motorcycle per decade? That sounds like as good an adage as any.

IMG_7852 IMG_7857Update: He didn’t buy a motorcycle. Phew. He did, at a later date, buy multiple fancy music-making synthy devises, because apparently with one butt you can indeed play more than one of those at one time. My analogy has failed me. 

Happy Hanukkah, however you decide to latke this year!

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one year ago: nothing of note, but I did revisit this kale caesar last night and am still quite in love with it
two years ago: key lime pie with saltine crust
three years ago: rellenitos de plátano (stuffed and fried mashed plantains!)
four years ago: messy and delicious buttermints 

Zoodle Latkes

a swanky original

1 zucchini, spiralized
½ onion, thinly sliced/shredded
1 egg, beaten
1 tablespoon flour
Neutral oil to fry
Salt and pepper

Fried egg to top, highly suggested

Squeeze liquid out of your zucchini over a sink. Place zucchini strands in a mixing bowl, and add onion, egg, flour, and a bit of salt and pepper.

Add ¼ inch of oil to a big skillet, and heat over medium-high heat. When it seems hot hot hot, add dollops of your zoodle batter to the pan, and slightly flatten. Cook about 3 minutes per side, until crispy. (I made this into two big latkes, but wished I had done 4 small ones instead. The edges were nice and crispy and the insides were cooked, but too thick to be the perfect texture throughout. Oh well, the more you know.)

Take latkes out of pan and place on paper towel-covered plate. Sprinkle with a bit of salt immediately. Let rest for a moment.

Top with a fried egg and hot sauce for a perfect breakfast.

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