Vegetarian Dishes from Prize-winning Cookbook are Right on the Mark!
The “mark” of a good chef is one who leaves his culinary options open and Gil Marks lives up to his name once again. His latest book, Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World (Wiley, 454 pp, $42.99 Cdn.), won the prestigious 2005 James Beard Award in the vegetarian category!
This outstanding collection of 300 vegetarian dishes has been woven together with cultural and historical details that will intrigue armchair travellers, history buffs and cooks alike. Olive Trees and Honey will take you on an exciting global journey, allowing you to experience the way Jews have been eating meatless meals for centuries. Unique seasonings and condiments add regional flavor to simple recipes, letting you experience how Jewish communities around the world prepared their food.
Gil Marks is a rabbi, historian, chef, cookbook author, teacher and expert on Jewish cooking. He has no professional training, but his mother encouraged him and his siblings to cook and experiment, even if they made a mess. He told me that his paternal grandfather once set the house on fire while trying to make coffee in an electric coffee pot – on the stove!
When I recently interviewed him by telephone, Marks declared “Cooking is an art, but baking is a science.” He loves to prepare fancy meals for friends in his small, cramped upper West Side kitchen in New York.
Olive Trees and Honey includes an exciting array of vegetarian dishes for any occasion on the Jewish calendar, from festivals to everyday meals. For Passover, dishes include Ukrainian Beet Soup (Borscht), Turkish Sweet-and-Sour Artichokes (Anjinaras), Turkish Leek Patties (Keftes de Prassa), Moroccan Mashed Potato Casserole (Batata bil Firan) and Calcutta Curried Vegetables (Subzi). These are also suitable for year-round enjoyment.
Marks writes about the versatility of matzo, which is “ground to make matzo meal or finely ground to make matzo cake meal. Crumbled and ground matzo is used to create an imaginative array of Passover dishes, including stuffings, puddings, casseroles, pancakes, fritters, dumplings, pastries and cakes. Since matzo meal has an intriguing nutty flavour, it is often used for binding and breading throughout the year as well as on Passover.
“The Bible forbids the consumption of chametz (leavened grain) during Passover. Among Ashkenazim, an interdiction emerged against eating legumes (kitniyot) on Passover as well as rice, millet and some seeds: poppy, sesame, caraway, coriander and mustard. On the other hand, Sephardim, prolific rice and legume consumers, not only rejected these prohibitions, but frequently featured these foods at the Passover Seder. The restriction of kitniyot on Passover remains one of the major differences between Ashkenazim and other Jewish communities.”
According to Marks, these simple but delicious spinach patties are irresistible, even to spinach-haters. He recommends a splash of fresh lemon juice, which makes a major difference in taste. Onions add a sweet flavor and textural complexity. He writes, “These patties are traditional on Passover and Rosh Hashanah, corresponding to the emergence of the early and late spinach crops. For Rosh Hashanah, you could substitute fine dried bread crumbs for the matzo meal.” Enjoy…
SEPHARDIC SPINACH PATTIES (KEFTES DE ESPINACA) Pareve or Dairy
3 tbsp. olive or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
2 to 4 cloves garlic, minced (optional)
2 pounds fresh spinach, stemmed, cooked, chopped, and squeezed dry (or 20 ounces thawed frozen chopped spinach, squeezed dry)
About 1 cup matza meal
About 3/4 teaspoon table salt (or 1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt)
Ground black pepper to taste
1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg or 1/2 teaspoon cayenne (optional)
3 large eggs, lightly beaten
Vegetable oil for frying
Lemon wedges for serving
1. In a large skillet, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onion and, if using, the garlic and sauté until soft and translucent, about 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and add the spinach, matza meal, salt, pepper, and, if using, the nutmeg or cayenne. Stir in the eggs. If the mixture is too loose, add a little more matza meal. The mixture can be stored in the refrigerator for a day.
2. Shape the spinach mixture into patties 3 inches long and 1½ inches wide, with tapered ends. In a large skillet, heat a thin layer of oil over medium heat. In batches, fry the patties, turning, until golden brown, about 3 minutes per side. Drain on paper towels. Serve warm, accompanied with lemon wedges.
Makes about 16 patties.
SEPHARDIC SPINACH PATTIES WITH CHEESE (Keftes de Espinaca con Queso): Add 1 cup (4 ounces) shredded Muenster, Swiss, Gouda, or Cheddar cheese, or ¼ cup grated kefalotyri or Parmesan cheese.
SEPHARDIC SPINACH PATTIES WITH WALNUTS (Keftes de Espinaca con Muez): Substitute 1/2 to 1 cup finely chopped walnuts for the matza meal.
ITALIAN SPINACH PATTIES (Polpettine di Spinaci): Add 3/4 cup raisins soaked in white wine for 30 minutes, then drained, and 3/4 cup toasted pine nuts.
MOROCCAN MASHED POTATO CASSEROLE (BATATA BIL FIRAN) Pareve
2 pounds unpeeled baking (russet) potatoes, scrubbed
2 teaspoons table salt or 4 teaspoons kosher salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 onions, chopped
1 to 2 cloves garlic, mashed (optional)
6 large eggs
About 1/2 teaspoon ground white or black pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 carrot, diced and cooked until tender
4 scallions, sliced
1/3 cup chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
1. Put the potatoes in a large pot and add cold water to cover by 1 inch and 1 teaspoon of the table salt or 2 teaspoons of the kosher salt. Bring to a low boil, reduce the heat to medium-low, and simmer, uncovered, until fork-tender, about 25 minutes. Drain. Peel the potatoes and, while still warm, run them through a food mill or ricer. Or, return the peeled potatoes to the warm cooking pot and mash with a potato masher, heavy whisk, or pastry blender over low heat, being careful not to over-mix.
2. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
3. In a large skillet, heat the oil over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté until lightly golden, about 15 minutes. If using, add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute.
4. Beat the eggs into the potatoes, one at a time. Stir in the remaining salt, the pepper, and turmeric. Add the onions, carrot, scallions, and parsley.
5. Generously oil a shallow 8-cup baking dish, such as 8-inch square and 7- by 11-inches, then heat in the oven until hot, about 3 minutes. Carefully spoon the potato mixture into the baking dish. Bake until golden and set, about 50 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Makes 6 to 8 servings.
DAIRY POTATO CASSEROLE: Reduce the eggs to 2 and add 1 cup (8 ounces) cream cheese or 1 cup sour cream, or 3/4 cup (6 ounces) cream cheese and 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmesan cheese. Bake the casserole for about 40 minutes, sprinkle with 1/2 cup grated Parmesan or shredded Cheddar cheese, and continue baking for about 10 minutes.
I asked Gil if he also would share a favourite dessert recipe with my readers. He suggested this versatile chocolate mousse with its intense flavour which comes from his book The World of Jewish Entertaining. He believes that dairy ingredients mute the flavour of chocolate. This scrumptious dessert can be used all-year round and is also excellent for Passover. His motto is “Never serve a dessert on Passover that you wouldn’t eat the rest of the year!”
He offers 3 different, delicious ways to serve this delectable mousse. The simplest method is to serve it in individual dessert dishes. A second option is to bake part of the mousse mixture in a pie plate. It will cave in after baking, forming a chocolate shell that is then filled with the reserved mousse. A third option is to bake part of the mousse mixture as a sheet cake, then fill it with the reserved mousse mixture and roll it up to make a scrumptious chocolate-filled log. The choice is yours – so why not make all 3 versions! It’s perfect to serve at your next gathering, barbecue or any special occasion…
GIL MARKS’ VERSATILE PAREVE CHOCOLATE MOUSSE
8 ounces semisweet chocolate
1/4 cup water
8 large eggs, separated
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Pinch of salt
2/3 cup granulated sugar
1. In the top of a double boiler set over barely simmering water, melt the chocolate and water, stirring occasionally (about 10 minutes). Remove from the heat and beat in egg yolks, 1 at a time. Stir in the vanilla and salt.
2. Beat the egg whites until soft peaks form. Gradually add the sugar, beating until stiff and glossy (3 to 5 minutes). Fold ¼ of the egg whites into the chocolate mixture, then gently fold in the remaining whites.
3. Pour into a bowl or individual serving dishes, cover, and chill until set (at least 4 hours).
Makes 8 to 10 servings.
CHOCOLATE MOUSSE PIE: Preheat oven to 350° F. Grease a 9-inch pie pan and dust with sugar. Pour 4 cups of mousse (above) into prepared pan, reserving remaining mousse in refrigerator. Bake until set (about 25 minutes). Cool for 30 minutes, then chill. (Center will fall, forming a shell.) Pour reserved refrigerated mousse into chocolate shell. Refrigerate until serving time.
JELLY ROLL MOUSSE CAKE: Preheat oven to 350°F. Spoon 4 cups of mousse into a 15 ½- by 10½-inch jelly roll pan lined with parchment paper. Bake until firm (about 15 minutes). Transfer to a rack and let cool. Invert onto a piece of parchment paper placed on a flat surface, peel off the paper, and spread with the remaining mousse. Roll up from a long end. Refrigerate until needed. Slice and serve.
Olive Trees and Honey: A Treasury of Vegetarian Recipes from Jewish Communities Around the World
by Gil Marks