Recipes from Marche, Italy

For this entry, I made two recipes. Neither of them were especially good, but I don't blame the people who posted the original recipes or any of the traditions they came from, I blame myself and my propensity for Googling things that might kill me.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Brodetto

A seafood stew with mussels and clams, minus the Vibrio.

Recipes from Marche, Italy: Filone Casereccio

An Italian bread that will come out much better than mine did if you use fresh brewer's yeast and steam.

Recipes from Malta

This is actually the third time I’ve cooked a meal from Malta. The first time, I cooked the meal and then just did not write the blog post. Years went by.

Recipes from Malta: Imqarrun

Imquarrum (also called Imqarrun il-forn) is descended from a dish served in Sicily, but the Maltese have adopted it as a traditional staple. The key to making this dish is to be patient.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Recipes from Jan Mayen

Ah yes, the non-countries. I suppose you're still wondering why I do them. Sometimes I wonder, myself. I don't really know how to explain it except to say that I like a challenge. I like to be creative. And what could be more challenging and potentially creative than trying to come up with recipes from places where no one actually lives?

Jan Mayen is another one of those remote islands, where there is actually a small garrison of people living for part of the year--18 people in the winter, and 36+ in the summer. Some of the people living there are Norwegian Armed Forces personnel (Jan Mayen is a Norwegian territory), and the rest of them are employees of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

The island is volcanic, about 144 square miles and partly covered by glaciers. You guessed it, it's in the Arctic Ocean. Which of course means that there's not much on Jan Mayen--it has only one exportable resource: gravel. How exciting.

Jan Mayen is that little white circle next to Greenland.

Historically, Jan Mayen was used as a Dutch whaling base and was actually the stage for some really dramatic, movie-worthy stuff during World War II, which I will not actually try to describe here because it's quite a long story (Wikipedia will tell you all about it). Recently Jan Mayen has also been a tourist destination, albeit for only a few lucky tourists, though the Norwegian Government is now limiting landings and camping on the island.

Jan Mayen. Photo by Juergen Kurlvink.

So this left me with a couple of alternatives for finding recipes. I could contact the Norwegian Armed Forces or the Norwegian Meteorological Institute and try to find someone who was stationed on Jan Mayen to see if they would be willing to send me a recipe or two. Or, I could contact Borea Adventures, the company that offered exclusive expeditions to the island before the restrictions were in place.

I decided to contact Borea Adventures first, for a couple of reasons. First, because it's difficult to get anyone from any sort of military operation to take me seriously, and second, because I figured a company that catered to tourists would have a lot better food than the rations provided by the military or by the Norwegian Meteorological Institute.

Often, when I go out in search of recipes for non-countries, I get met with a lot of silence. I guess people look at my emails and then just laugh and click "delete." But every now and then I'm very lucky to find a person or an organization who get back to me right away and seem eager to help. Borea Adventures was one of these. Within 24 hours of my original email I was contacted by NannĂ½ Arna, who sent me this recipe:

Borea Lamb Soup
  • 2 lbs lamb meat
  • 17 cups water
  • 10 1/2 oz yellow beet
  • 10 1/2 oz carrots
  • one onion
  • 7  tbsp mixed thyme, oregano and rosemary
  • 10 1/2 oz potatoes
  • 7 tbsp barley
  • 2-3 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp black pepper
  • 2 boullion
  • bay leaf
This is a recipe that Borea Adventures always serves en route to Jan Mayen, along with a bread made with yogurt instead of yeast:

No Yeast Yogurt Bread

  • 1 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
  • 1 3/4 cup rye flour
  • 3 tbsp wheat germ
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 1 tsp baking powder
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • 1 cup skim milk or water
  • 1/2 cup honey
  • 1 tsp salt
Now this particular recipe is not one of Borea Adventures'--it comes from Sujana's World. I didn't want to be too much of a pest so I decided to use this recipe instead of bugging NannĂ½ to give me one from the ship's cookbook. This recipe does have a lot of components that other Norwegian bread recipes have, so I thought it would be a good choice. Here's how to make:

Grease a loaf pan and preheat your oven to 300 degrees. Put everything into a bowl and mix until you get a really sticky dough.

Pour the dough into the pan and bake for 1 hour and 40 minutes, checking often (mine only took about an hour 20). Since this isn't a yeast bread it won't sound hollow when you knock on it, so go by how brown it gets on the outside. Cool and slice.

 Now for the soup:

Throw all the ingredients into a pot and cook for 1 1/2 hours. That's it! I let mine reduce down quite a bit by cooking it on a very high temperature in the last 20 minutes or so.

So Martin isn't a huge fan of lamb, which meant I already knew he'd be indifferent about the soup. I loved it, however. The lamb was really tender and the broth, oh my, it was super rich and flavorful. Martin thought there were too many herbs in the soup, but that's because he dislikes leafy herbs more and more the older he gets (he never used to be like that). I however thought they were really good in this soup, though I suppose it wouldn't have hurt to tone them down a little.

The bread was delicious, too, and it paired beautifully with the soup. I was really surprised by how light it was for a non-yeast bread. It had a nice, mildly sweet flavor from all that honey and was just really enjoyable, though my kids of course didn't like it because they don't like any bread that is made of actual whole grain anything. I shouldn't judge, because usually I sort of lean in that direction too, but this was definitely an exception. Best of all, the whole meal was simple, and I needed simple right now.

Anyway if cold Arctic adventures are your thing, please bookmark Borea Adventures. I'm very sure they'll give you a great experience and treat you well, too.

Next week: Japan

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Recipes from Jamaica

Years ago I found a recipe for Jamaican Jerk Chicken somewhere on the internet. I cooked it, and my husband-to-be fell in love with it. He loves that recipe so much, in fact, that almost without fail he asks me to make it every year for his birthday and for father’s day. I make Jamaican peas and rice to go with it, and I have to admit that I love both recipes almost as much as he does.

I can’t really say that makes me familiar with Jamaican food, though. It makes me darn near an expert at cooking jerk chicken and peas and rice, but that’s as far as my experience with Jamaican food goes. But I did have the very good fortune of having some help with this entry in the form of a reader who contacted me a very long time ago—years ago, actually, when I did my Bahamas entry—with a suggestion for a Jamaican cookbook. I was more than happy to make this purchase because if jerk chicken is anything to go by, I like Jamaican food. But the book has mostly been sitting untouched in my kitchen because I kind of felt like it would be cheating to try and cook something from it before I actually got to Jamaica. Anyway, this book, called The Real Taste of Jamaica by Enid Donaldson is the source for two of this week’s four recipes.

7-mile beach in Jamaica. Photo by Michael McCarthy.
So if you don’t know anything about Jamaica, then you clearly haven’t listened to enough reggae music. Ack! Sorry, stereotype. But it is true that reggae originated in Jamaica, and so did ska, rocksteady, dancehall and some lesser-known musical genres. James Bond was also born in Jamaica, sort of—author Ian Fleming lived there and used the island as a setting for several James Bond novels.

Jamaica has a rich history, some of it good, some of it not so good. It was originally a Spanish territory but was of course eventually conquered by England, because in those days England thought it ought to own everything. When this happened the Spanish settlers fled, leaving their slaves behind. Those slaves retreated to the mountains and established free communities there that flourished for many generations, even while the British brought their own slaves to the island to work on the sugar plantations. After slavery was abolished, the British plantation owners brought in Indian and Chinese indentured servants, and their descendants still live on the island today, along with the descendants of those original slaves.

Jamaica gained independence from Great Britain in 1962, though Queen Elizabeth is still pretty sure she’s their sovereign. The island is really a commonwealth realm, though, which means it is a sovereign state that is a member of the British Commonwealth of Nations.

Jamaican cuisine is, of course, famous for jerk spice, which I will not be using because as you know, I don’t like to cook things I already have in my repertoire for these Travel by Stove meals. Instead I chose the following main course:

Jamaican Curry Chicken
(from The Real Taste of Jamaica)
  • 1 whole chicken (3 to 4 lbs)
  • 2 limes
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 stalks green onion, minced
  • 1/4 inch ginger root
  • 1 1/2 tbsp curry powder
  • 1 pinch allspice
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 medium potatoes, diced
On the side (though this is often served as a meal on its own)

Jamaican Seasoned Rice
(from Jamaican Recipes)
  • 2 sprigs thyme
  • 3 stalks green onion
  • 1 small tomato, diced
  • Oil
  • 2 oz butter
  • 3 cups long grain rice
  • 1/4 salted cod filet
  • 1 habanero pepper (optional)
  • 6 cups water
  • 1 tbsp catsup
  • Salt to taste
Some bread:

Coco Bread
(from Cook Like a Jamaican)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 2 tbsp sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 1/2 tsp quick-rise yeast
  • 14 oz coconut milk
  • 4 tbsp butter, melted
And for dessert:

Rum Balls
(also from The Real Taste of Jamaica)
  • 1 1/2 cup cake crumbs (or crushed biscuits*)
  • 1/2 cup raisins
  • 1 1/4 cup grated coconut
  • 1/4 cup lemon juice
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 3 tbsp rum
  • A few tbsp condensed milk, as needed
  • grated coconut
*Only in America are biscuits those fluffy buttermilk things that come in a pop-open can. In most other nations, “biscuits” are hard, thin, slightly-sweet wafers.

First the bread:

Mix the dry ingredients together with the yeast (the recipe didn’t say to proof the yeast first, which I thought was a bit odd). Now heat the coconut milk to lukewarm and mix in 2 tbsp of the melted butter.

Add the wet ingredients to the dry and mix until you get a soft, slightly sticky dough. Turn out onto a floured surface and knead until smooth (about 10 minutes).

Or, just put it in your bread machine (which is what I did).

Now grease a bowl with some of the melted butter and put the dough inside. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled in bulk (about 1 1/2 hours).

Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Meanwhile, roll out the dough and divide into eight pieces. Cut each one into a circle (I used a small bowl), then brush with butter and fold over to make a semi-circle.

Place the dough pieces on a baking sheet lined with parchment paper. Brush the tops with butter and bake for 15 to 20 minutes or until golden.

You will need to chill the dessert, so do that next:

Mix the first six ingredients together and then add a little bit of condensed milk, just enough to hold everything together. Transfer to the fridge and let chill for about 30 minutes, then take a little bit of the mixture out and roll it into a ping-pong sized ball. Roll the ball in the shredded coconut. Keep going until you’ve used up all the mixture. Return to the fridge and chill until ready to serve.

And now for the chicken:

I was a little confused by this recipe, because it called for a whole chicken and then it said to cut up the chicken while frozen so the bones don’t splinter, that way it “will be better enjoyed at eating time.” Which I interpreted to mean I should cut it into legs, thighs, breasts etc. until I went back and noticed the part that said 1 1/2 to 2 inch pieces, so oops. I cooked mine on the bone, and I guess I was supposed to take it off the bone and serve it in bite-sized pieces instead.

Anyway, once you do this correctly you are supposed to add the lime juice to some water and use it to wash the chicken. Drain well.

Mix together the garlic, green onions and ginger and then spread over chicken. Let sit in the fridge for 30 minutes. Mix the rest of the spices together and rub over the chicken. Put back in the fridge for another hour.

Now brown the chicken in 2tbsp oil. Add 2 cups water and the potatoes. Bring to boil then reduce heat and simmer for 20 to 30 minutes or until chicken is cooked through and tender.

Serve with mango chutney.

Finally, the rice:

Boil the salted cod with one of the two sprigs of thyme. Meanwhile, saute the tomato in a little oil with the green onion and the second sprig of thyme.

When the salted cod is cooked all the way through, take it out of the pot and flake it (mine was quite tough so I just chopped it into little pieces).

Add everything but the butter, stirring well. Add salt to taste. Cook uncovered over a medium flame for 10 minutes, then add the butter. Simmer for a few more minutes, or until the water disappears beneath the surface of the rice. Now cover the pot and turn down to medium low. Simmer until the rice is tender and the water has been absorbed.

What we thought: The chicken was really good with a nice subtle flavor. I actually think it would have been better with a spicier curry sauce (can’t do that to my kids though) and I also think it would have been more flavorful if I had actually cut it up into bite-sized pieces. I liked the rice but I think I may have made a mistake with the liquid because it turned out way too sticky, and I don't think it was supposed to be that way. And although I do like recipes that include salt cod this one was a bit too salty and fishy for my tastes. I guess I prefer my salt cod in a spicy sauce rather than as the source of flavor. 

The bread was the highlight of this meal for everyone. It was really soft and had a mild coconuty flavor. My kids were so afraid they weren’t going to get seconds that they raided the bread basket before they’d even finished eating their firsts. They were really angry at me when I ate the one leftover roll the next day. Hailey actually cried because she wanted to have it with her dinner. I know, I'm such a mean mom.

The rum balls were good, but a bit strange. Martin said they had a sour aftertaste that he didn’t like, but then he kept eating them. Of course I didn’t spend a ton of money on the rum I used, so a higher quality rum probably would have improved them.

So thank you dear reader for that book suggestion, and now that I have fulfilled my obligation to Jamaica I’ll be making a few more recipes out of that book, though probably not the calves feet jelly and pickled cow tongue.

Next week: Jan Mayen

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Recipes from Basilicata, Italy

Remember a couple of weeks ago when I was moaning about how hard it is to find recipes from big nations with well-known culinary traditions? In case you don't, the crux of my position on the matter is that the bigger the nation, the more recipes there are to choose from and the less certain you can be about authenticity. And so we arrive at a very fine example of what I was talking about: Italy. How many times have you eaten a completely American-born pasta recipe and been told "it's Italian?" Loads of times I'll bet. You probably didn't even notice.

Sooo ... How to separate those American "Italian" recipes from everything else? It's back to my old stand-by: regions. If you divide these culinarily-rich nations up into regions, it's much easier to find authentic ones. After all, lots of people might call the Alfredo-garlic-broccoli-fettuccini thing they invented in their kitchen "Italian," but no one's gonna call it "Basilicata-Italian."

So that's why we appear to be going backwards this week--because as I arrived at Italy I had to question my decision not to split it up into regions. I mean, I split Canada of all places into regions, why wouldn't I do Italy? So we are temporarily all the way back at the B's with Basilicata, Italy.

Matera, Basilicata, Italy. Photo by Luca Moglia.

Basilicata is a southern region of Italy. It's the instep of the boot, which will make sense to you if you can picture a map of Italy. It has two coastlines, high, rocky mountains and lousy soil, which means that it's not good for agriculture and was mostly poor for a very large part of it history. Some inhabitants, in fact, wondered at the point of sticking around and left when things got particularly bad in the 1900s. Today Basilicata has a small population of around 600,000 people, which makes it one of the most sparsely-populated regions in Italy.

That history of poverty has helped shape Basilicata's local cuisine, much of which is based on peasant traditions. In keeping with that theme, I chose a main dish that seemed very rustic, and here it is:

Pecora alla Materana (Sheep Stew with Pecorino and Salami) 
(from The Italian Taste)
  • 1 lb sheep meat*
  • 1 2/3 cup white vinegar
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 7 oz onions, finely-sliced
  • 7 oz firm, ripe tomatoes, peeled and cubed
  • 1 3/4 oz soppressata, chopped fine
  • 1 celery stalk, sliced
  • 1 hot chili pepper
  • 1 oz pecorino cheese, grated
  • 7 oz potatoes, peeled and diced
  • 1 1/2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt to taste
*"Sheep meat" probably refers to mutton. I have never actually seen mutton at Safeway, so I used lamb.

For an appetizer, I chose a dish that's a little more elegant:

Cavatelli Rucola e Olive (Cavatelli with Arugula and Olives)
(also from The Italian Taste)
  • 1 3/4 lb fresh cavatelli pasta
  • 3 1/2 oz pitted black olives (I used kalamatas)
  • 10 1/2 oz arugula
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 3 1/2 oz pecorino cheese, grated
  • 8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • Chili pepper
  • Salt
Which meant of course that I had to also make this:

Cavatelli Pasta
(from Domestic Fits)  
  • 2 cups double-zero flour
  • 1 cup semolina flour
  • 1 cup warm water
  • 1/2 tsp salt
And some bread:

Bread of Matera
(from Pasticciando con Magica Nana)  
  • 3 1/2 cups durum wheat semolina
  • 1 2/3 cup water
  • 1 1 /4  tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 3 /4 tsp salt
First do the bread, because it’s supposed to rise for ages. Start by dissolving the yeast in a little bit of water. Let stand until frothy.
Now sift the semolina with the salt and mix with the remaining water. Add the yeast mixture and knead (or use your bread machine) until you have a nice, smooth dough. Transfer to a lightly floured bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for two hours.

Punch down and do some more kneading. Return to the bowl and repeat—cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another couple of hours. Transfer to a bread pan and bake at 425 degrees for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 and bake for another 45. Let cool slightly and then slice and serve.

Now make the fresh pasta. Here’s how:

Sift the flour with the semolina to make a little mountain, and then turn it into a volcano (which is what we do in my house because I have kids). Now pour in 1/4 cup of the water and add the salt. Starting with the inside rim of your volcano, gently knock some of the flour into the water with a fork. When the dough starts to come together, add another tablespoon of water and keep going until you have a smooth dough.

Now turn out on a lightly-floured surface knead for 10 minutes. I’ve read you can do this in a bread machine but my bread machine already had bread of Matera in it, so I had to knead it by hand like a chump. After your shoulders start to ache (mine ached at about 10 minutes--maybe you’re in better shape than me, if so you still get to stop at 10 minutes). Now cut the dough in half and wrap in plastic wrap. Let rest for an hour.

Cut each dough ball in half one more time and roll until you get a long rope about 1/2 inch thick. Cut each one of these ropes into pieces about 1/4 inch thick.

Place the dull side of a butter knife on the far edge of one of the pieces, then sort of roll it towards you, letting the dough curl around the knife. What you’re trying to do is make a shape that looks like a little hotdog bun.

Place each individually hand-crafted cavatelli on a lightly floured surface. When ready to prepare, boil in lightly salted water for three minutes or until the cavatelli floats to the surface. 

Meanwhile, start on the stew. First cut all the fat off the meat. Don’t skip this step, or your husband will moan about how he doesn’t like lamb and he thinks his food is booby-trapped. Now cut the meat into bite-sized pieces and transfer to a bowl with the white vinegar and some water. Let marinate for 30 minutes.

Saute the onions in the olive oil over low heat for about 30 minutes, adding a little bit of hot water as needed. You don’t want them to brown.

Take the meat out of the bowl and pat dry, then transfer to the pot with the onions. Brown the meat and then add the tomatoes, celery, salami and chili pepper. Cover with hot water and add a little salt. Put the lid on ajar and simmer over low heat for two hours, or until the meat is tender (you probably don’t need to cook as long for lamb as you would for mutton).

About 30 minutes before you’re ready to serve, add the potatoes. Sprinkle with grated pecorino and serve.

The appetizer is super-simple and fast once you’ve made the pasta, so do it about 30 minutes before you’re going to be ready to serve the stew.

First saute the olives, garlic and chili pepper in a little bit of olive oil. Add the arugula and let it wilt just a little bit, then toss with the cooked/drained pasta. Grate the pecorino over and serve.

I was disappointed in the pasta in the sense that I spent all that time hand-making each one of them and no one would touch them except me and Martin. I thought they were good, though I think I might have expected them to be better. I blame their imperfection on the fact that I did not use double-zero flour. I know, I know, someone’s gonna lecture me. I just didn’t want to spend the money, and I paid the price. My pasta was just too stodgy. It tasted great with the pecorino and olives though.

The stew went over about as well as I thought it was going to, which was not very well at all. The lamb was quite tender but it wasn’t enough to make my poor, long-suffering husband enjoy it. I tried to make him eat it for leftovers but instead he found a leftover piece of chicken schnitizel (from last week!) and ate that instead, so that’s about as much as he loved the lamb. I thought it was good, but it wasn’t really anything special.

The bread was very tasty. It had a nice color and it was very crusty, which is a good quality in a bread. It didn’t keep very well though and by the next day the leftovers were pretty stale. I ate them anyway.

I do feel like I’ve conquered the whole Italian food problem, starting with this entry, but I’ve got a long way to go before I cover the whole of Italy. I won’t be doing it all in consecutive weeks, of course, but stay tuned.

Next week: Jamaica!

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

The Great Jug Jug Blow-Back

Every blogger has a controversial post, the sort of thing that invites scathing criticism and hate mail. Of course if you're The Alpha Parent or Free Range Kids then pretty much everything you write ends up being controversial. For me, it was just jug jug.

If you're a longtime reader you may remember jug jug ... It's the beloved Christmas dish served in Barbados. So beloved, in fact, that woe be to any blogger who gets it wrong.

Not everyone who complained about my take on jug jug was full of such blind fury that they couldn't even see straight long enough to, you know, send me a better version of the recipe. I did have one reader who did not make me feel like an awful human being, and had a recipe from a favorite Bajan cookbook that she was kind enough to post. So I have to begin by apologizing for just how long it took for me to get around to making this new version of jug jug, and then I have to say that her recipe was indeed about a million times better than the one I originally used.

Which brings me to my next point, the recipe I originally used. Now, all the jug jug related hate mail I've received was aimed directly at me, as if I'd somehow devised an evil version of jug jug out of my cruel and sadistic imagination, just for the sole purpose of giving jug jug and Barbados a bad name. So I feel I must point out that the recipe I used came from what I believed to be an authentic Bajan source, and I followed all the directions faithfully and used all the required ingredients, right down to the cassava flour (instead of guinea flour) that that particular recipe gave me permission to use as a substitute. Here's the original recipe, and as you can see it is pretty significantly different from the version sent to me by my reader, which is as follows:

Jug Jug
  • 4 cups water
  • 8 pints green pigeon peas
  • 1/2 lb salt meat, soaked
  • 1/2 lb pork, cut into bite sized pieces
  • 1/4 lb green seasoning (see below)
  • 3 springs fresh thyme
  • 3 stems fresh marjoram
  • 1 cup guinea corn flour
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 2 tbsp butter
And here's my reader-approved green seasoning recipe:

Lady Jane's Perfect Pinch
(From Lady Jane)
  • 1 bunch green onions, chopped fine
  • 1 habanero pepper
  • 1 small bunch parsley
  • 1 small bunch dill
  • 1 sprig thyme
  • 1 sprig marjoram
  • 3 garlic cloves, grated
  • 1 small onion, grated
  • Lime juice to taste
  • Splash of vinegar
  • Pinch of salt and pepper
The seasoning is easy, so make that first. Just chop everything as instructed and then mix it all together. I put mine in a food processor to get it nicely mixed. That's all!

Now make the jug jug:

First boil your pigeon peas until soft. I had some canned peas so I got to skip that step. Now, you're meant to reserve the cooking water but I just substituted the liquid from the can.

Cut up the salt meat into bite-sized pieces and fry with the pork pieces. Add the perfect pinch seasoning, the habanero, herbs and the reserved water.

Now fish the meat out of the water, put it in a food processor with the peas and grind it all up together. Meanwhile, add the guinea flour to the water and cook until you get a nice porridge-like consistency. Add a little bit of water as needed if the mixture is too thick.

Transfer the meat and peas back to the pot and season with salt and pepper. Mix well and cook over medium heat for 30 minutes, stirring often. Top with a few pats of butter and serve.

So I hope I have vindicated myself with this dish. It was a lot more flavorful and had a nice texture compared to the first recipe I tried to make, and it looked the way I'm told it's supposed to look; the first one was quite watery and this one had more body. I served it with some fresh bread from Safeway's bakery and some ham steaks, which I actually fried instead of boiled. It was a good meal, almost like Christmas, except without the turkey and cranberry sauce. :)

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Recipes from Israel

American food is really hard to categorize. You know what I mean. A lot of the things we love to eat are borrowed from other cultures, modified to suit our uniquely-American tastes and then ingrained so deeply in our culture that they no longer belong to the cultures from whence they came. Case in point: Chinese food. Also pizza and pasta. Do we have anything uniquely American? Not apple pie, actually (see Ireland).

There may not be any other place in the world that has such a borrowed culinary tradition, though I think Israel may come close.

A friend of ours is Jewish and upon learning that I was about to cook Israel, asked me if I'd be making Matzah ball soup. I had no idea, though I do have to say that I'm fond of Matzah ball soup. But here's the thing: food in Israel isn't necessarily Jewish in origin, at least not in the Matzah ball soup and gefilte fish sense of the word. Yes they do eat traditional Jewish foods in Israel, but like America, their cuisine is as diverse as the people who live there--many of whom emigrated there from places all over the world.

Israel as a nation didn't exist until 1948, and I'm sure I don't have to tell you that its establishment wasn't met with enthusiasm by everyone. Israel has been in a pretty constant state of war with its neighbors ever since its birth. Before 1948, the whole region was called Palestine--the Israeli Declaration of Independence basically annexed a part of the former region of Palestine to become the state of Israel. The Arab population of Palestine has been mad about it ever since. Now, I won't get into details because the history of this conflict is so complex and convoluted that you just can't sum it up in a couple of paragraphs. I will say that Israel as it exists today is considered a homeland for the Jewish people, which means that anyone who has Jewish lineage has the right to obtain Israeli citizenship. So the population is extremely diverse, with about 73% of the population native-born Israeli Jews, 18% from Europe and the Americas and roughly 9% from Asia and Africa.

So you have Indian dishes, European dishes, American dishes (though I understand bagels are actually quite scarce) and dishes that are influenced by the middle-eastern countries that Israel shares borders with. Eclectic.

That makes research challenging, so I had to read up on Israeli cuisine as a whole before I could start to narrow down my selection to those dishes that are distinctly Israeli. And that didn't include Matzah ball soup, I'm afraid. Here's what it did include:

Chicken schnitzel. This is one of those dishes that was imported by Central European Jews, but adapted based on the simple fact that in those early years you just couldn't get veal in Israel. Chicken schnitzel (sometimes turkey) is still popular in Israel and seemed like a natural choice for this meal. Here's the recipe:

Chicken Schnitzel
(from The Shiksa in the Kitchen)
  • 2 lbs boneless skinless chicken breasts
  • 1 cup flour for dredging
  • 2 egg, beaten
  • 1 cup matzah meal
  • 2 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp sesame seeds (optional)
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Oil for frying
  • Fresh lemon wedges
And a simple salad to go with it:

Israeli Salad
(Also from The Shiksa in the Kitchen)
  • 1 lb English cucumbers, diced
  • 1 lb fresh ripe tomatoes, seeded and diced
  • 1/3 cup minced onion (optional)
  • 1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
  • Salt to taste
Originally I did this as an appetizer, but ended up serving everything at the same time:

Israeli Hummus
(from MyJewishLearning)
  • 3 cups garbanzo beans
  • 1/4 cup tahini
  • 1/2 cup lemon juice (or to taste)
  • 2 cloves garlics (or to taste)
  • 1 tsp salt
  • Freshly-ground pepper to taste
  • 1/2 tsp ground cumin
  • 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 tbsp pine nuts
  • 1/4 tsp sumac or paprika
  • 2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley or cilantro
And you can't have hummus without pita:

Pita Bread (Parve)
(from Kosher Food at
  • 4 1/2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4 cups all-purpose flour
Here's another dish that was supposed to be an appetizer, but just got eaten alongside everything else:

Potato cheese bourekas
(Also from The Shiksa in the Kitchen)
  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 large Russet potato, peeled, boiled and mashed
  • 1/4 cup feta cheese, crumble
  • 1/4 cup shredded kashkaval cheese (or substitute another 1/4 cup feta)
  • 1 egg
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 tsp cold water
  • 1 tbsp sesame or poppy seeds (optional)
  • Nonstick cooking spray
And finally, because I figured I might as well spend the whole day in the kitchen:

Passover Apple cake

For the batter:
  • 6 eggs
  • 1 cup oil
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 2 tsp potato starch
  • 2 cups matzah cake meal
  • pinch salt
For the filling:
  • 2 tsp cinnamon
  • 3/4 cup sugar
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 5 large Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
For the topping:
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1 to 2 tsp cinnamon
You may be wondering why I made such a giant feast. I'm still wondering that myself. I was literally in the kitchen for about seven hours, and by the end of it I was almost too tired to actually eat any of the food. Thank god it was all so good, or I might never try to make another meal on this scale.

If you must know, we had our friend come over to eat with us, so I guess I kind of wanted to impress.

Anyway before we start, I want to just mention the whole kosher thing. When it got to meal day, I started to worry that serving the bourekas with the chicken schnitzel wasn't the right thing to do, because according to kosher rules you can't mix meat with dairy. So I hemmed and hawed about whether to just not do the bourekas, but I'd had to send away to igourmet to get the kashkaval, so I kind of wanted to use it. So I did some research at Google University and learned that most Israelis don't keep kosher, in fact most restaurants in Israel aren't kosher, either. So I ended up doing my Israeli meal un-kosher, which if you want to get technical would have been the case anyway since to prepare a kosher meal you need a kosher kitchen, and my kitchen is definitely not one of those. Now if Google University told me an untruth, and you're mad at me for not at least going through the motions of making a kosher meal, let me know. I'd be happy to do this over, because Israeli food is yummy. But I'm still not going to have access to a kosher kitchen or anything.

So I started with the hummus. At 11am.

Now, this recipe's author swears by raw garbanzo beans, but I was already signing myself up for too much so I used canned. If you do use raw, you will need to soak them in cold water overnight.

In the morning, drain and rinse them, or just take them out of the can. The raw ones you will need to boil for about an hour, or until the skin starts to separate. When you drain them, reserve about 1 1/2 cups of the cooking water (I used the liquid from the cans).

Now set aside about a quarter cup of garbanzo beans and put the rest of them in a food processor with the tahini, lemon juice, garlic and spices and about 1/2 cup of the cooking water.

Your hummus should have a pasty consistency--if it doesn't, add more water. Spread the hummus out on a plate, making a slight depression in the middle.

Now toast the pine nuts on the stove in a little bit of olive oil. When they're golden, sprinkle them over the hummus. Drizzle some oil and scatter the reserved beans on top. Now dust with sumac and the parsley or cilantro.

Then I did the salad:

Toss the vegetables and parsley together in a large bowl. Whisk the lemon juice with the oil and salt and pour over. Toss to coat. Serve at room temperature or chill.

Then the pita bread:

Proof the yeast with the sugar and lukewarm water. Let stand until frothy.

Sift together the flour and salt and pour in the yeast. Mix well and knead for 10 minutes. Transfer to a lightly greased bowl and cover loosely with a damp towel. Let rise in a warm place for an hour or until doubled in bulk.

Punch down and knead some more. Or just forget everything I said and use your bread machine.

Divide into 20 small balls and transfer to a floured surface. Flatten thinly with a rolling pin.

Transfer the pitas to an ungreased cookie sheet and cover with a clean towel. Let rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes.

Meanwhile preheat your oven to 500 degrees. Place the pitas on the bottom rack and bake for five to seven minutes, or until they puff up and turn golden.

Now for the cake, which takes about an hour to bake:

OK so here's how I cleverly used my ingredients. The cake calls for matzah cake meal, which is really just matzah meal, but ground fine like a flour. So I could have ordered some on Amazon for $20 a box, but you know, $20. So instead I bought regular matzah meal and ground it (I had to sift it to get out the coarse stuff). When I had a fine meal, I mixed the coarser stuff back in with the rest of the matzah meal and used that for the chicken schnitzel.

Anyway, here's how you make the cake: preheat your oven to 350 degrees, grease a springform cake pan (9 inches) and line the bottom with waxed paper. Meanwhile, beat the eggs with the sugar, then add the oil. Sift the potato starch with the cake meal and salt, and add that, still mixing.

Mix the apples with the cinnamon, sugar and lemon juice. Toss to coat evenly.

Now pour half the batter into your prepared pan. Dump the apples in next, but leave any of the liquid that might be in the bottom of the bowl.

Now pour the rest of the batter over the apples. Mix the topping ingredients together and then sprinkle on top.

Bake for one hour. Yum!

On to the schnitzel. I'm getting tired just typing all of this.

First mix the matzah meal with the paprika, 1 tsp salt and the sesame seeds (if using, I didn't). Now place the chicken breast between plastic (I put mine in a gallon freezer bag) and pound with a meat mallet until about 1/4 inch thick. Dip each breast in the flour until completely coated, then in the egg, then in the matzah meal.

Fill a frying pan with a decent amount of oil. You don't need to submerge your chicken but there should be enough for frying (say a half inch). Heat the oil until bubbles rise around the non-stirring end of a wooden spoon, then drop in the schnitzels, two at a time. Fry on both sides until golden and the internal temperature is 165 degrees. Remove from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle with salt and serve with the lemon wedges.

And let's not forget those controversial bourekas:

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Once your mashed potato has cooled, mix it with the cheese, egg and a pinch of salt and pepper. Mix well.

Now unroll one of your puff pastry sheets and roll it out to a 12x12 square. Cut into nine smaller squares of about 4x4. 

Take a heaping tablespoon of filling and drop it into the corner of one puff pastry square. Spread it out so it covers half the square at a diagonal.

Now pull the opposite corner down and line it up to make a triangle shape.

Pinch to seal and crimp with a fork.

Repeat until all the squares have been used up, then repeat with the second piece of puff pastry. You'll end up with 18 bourekas.

Spray two baking sheets with non-stick spray and transfer the bourekas to the sheets. Make sure you give them some room to expand while baking. Whisk the egg yolk together with the water and brush over the top of each boureka. Sprinkle with sesame or poppy seeds.

Bake for 35 minutes or until golden. Serve warm.

So if you don't collapse from exhaustion, serve everything up and bask in the praise. This was a delicious meal. The schnitzel was crispy and tasty with a little lemon juice squeezed over (though I might put salt right in the matzah mix next time, rather than sprinkling over after frying). The hummus presented beautifully and was delicious with the fresh pita bread. The bourekas--yum. Simple but really delicious; I ate way too many of them. The salad was your basic, simple cucumber and tomato salad, which is not a bad thing. And I loved the apple cake. The matzah gave it a distinctly different flavor but it was very subtle. I would have really liked this cake with some caramel drizzled over that, why didn't I think of that before my family devoured it?

Our friend seemed to enjoy his meal so I felt like all that time in the kitchen was worth it, though I don't know how long it will be before I make another six-recipe feast for Travel by Stove. It was delicious, but I might have to sleep for a few days just to recover from all that work.

Next week, we're regressing: Campania, Italy. I'll explain later.

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