Tag : Susan Barocas

October 23, 2020 by

Making a Feast of Mezze

AS A WRITER, cook, filmmaker and travel enthusiast, I’ve loved eating my way through cuisines. Many of my favorite dishes have been part of mezze, an abun- dance of cold and hot plates full of flavor and a wide variety of ingredients.

The mezze of the Mediterranean and Middle East, called salatim in Israel and tapas in Spain, are traditionally a prelude to stimulate the appetite for the main meal to follow. But for me, mezze is a wonderfully social, leisurely way to eat the meal itself. Whether dishes are brought out one by one–cold first and then hot, as is traditional–or served all at once, Mezze encourages tasting, talking and slowing down.

Mezze has a long history as part ofJewish cuisine. The exact origins of mezze are not clear, but by the Middle Ages, there are records of a variety of small plates served to guests before a bigger meal throughout the Middle East, Mediterranean and among the Sephardim and Muslims of Iberia.

As with so much of the food of the original Sephardim, we know about mezze because of Inquisition testimony, including one woman whose maid reported to the authorities that her mistress served small dishes of cold foods to her women friends who came to visit on Saturday afternoons. This was damning proof that the hostess was keeping Shabbat.

Tapas grew out of the small-plate tradition of the Jews and Muslims in Spain. They were named for the lids that would cover the dishes as they were carried from the kitchen. Tapas were originally presented at pubs, especially to men gathered on Sunday afternoons after church while the women were home taking care of the children. The tradition that many tapas include pork developed as a way to ensure everyone’s Christian faith.

Turkish Tomato and Walnut Salad

Although tomatoes weren’t part of Ottoman cuisine until the mid-1800s, the fruit quickly made its way into dishes like this. It might sound like a bit of an unusual combination, but this salad brings together the gentle sweetness of ripe tomatoes with the slightly smoky, crunch of toasted walnuts and the tart, unique flavor of pomegranate molasses. If you don’t have pomegranate molasses, try using a balsamic vinegar reduction. It won’t taste the same, but it will still be good.

1/2 cup walnut pieces or halves, roughly chopped 2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
1 teaspoon sumac

1/2 teaspoon sea salt, or to taste
1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper, or to taste
2 cups chopped tomatoes (about 4 medium tomatoes), seeded and drained
1/4 cup chopped parsley, preferably flat leaf

Toast the walnuts in a dry sauté pan for 10-12 minutes, shaking the pan often, until fragrant and just starting to darken slightly. Put into a bowl or dish to cool and set aside. In a small mixing bowl, whisk together the oil, pomegranate molasses, sumac, salt and pepper. Put the walnuts, tomatoes and parsley into a mixing bowl. Pour on the dressing and toss together well. Serve immediately for the crispest nuts, although this salad is still good the next day.

Squash Ribbon Salad

This dish shines with the flavors of fresh vegetables, good olive oil, fragrant lemon and basil. I first ate it years ago in the Jewish quarter of Rome, and it wasn’t just the setting that made it taste so good. I’ve been serving it ever since for brunch, lunch, dinner, parties…and chopping up the rare leftovers into omelets and frit- tatas. There are no measurements here. This dish is best when made by instinct, taste and what you have available. Add the ingredients to your liking, which is the best way to cook anyway.

Zucchini
Yellow summer squash
Good quality extra virgin olive oil
Fresh lemon juice
Lemon zest
Basil leaves, cut into thin strips (chiffonade) Salt and pepper
Shaved parmesan

Using even pressure, run a vegetable peeler down the length of each squash, creating long ribbons. Continue all around the sides of the squash, stopping at the center seeds. (Save that for making soup stock.)

Pile the squash on a pretty serving plate, mixing colors and, if desired, curling a few ribbons more tightly for presentation. Drizzle with olive oil and some fresh lemon juice. Sprinkle with lemon zest, basil pieces, salt and pepper. Top with few pieces of shaved parmesan. Serve soon after making either cold or at room temperature.

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The Lilith Blog

July 27, 2020 by

Get Your Chill On

The first cold soup I ever tasted I hated. For years. 

How unfortunate that it was introduced to me (dare I say pushed on me?) by the two women I admired most, my mother and my small-but-mighty Russian grandmother. Imagine walking seven long blocks home from elementary school for a tasty lunch, only to be met by a bowl of beet borscht from a jar. Yes, jarred!  Two women who made from scratch the hit parade of Ashkenazic food– chicken soup, brisket, tongue, sweetbreads, both potato and noodle kugels, even gefilte fish– loved their industrial borscht, adding sour cream to complete the dish. I gagged trying to get it down, rarely succeeding.

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July 27, 2020 by

Making Flatbread to Nourish Your Body and Spirit

Since humans first tamed fire and turned grain into flour, we have been making bread. In the earliest form, breads were simple. Mix one or more flours with water. Pat out into a flat cake. Cook on a hot rock or a stone hearth around an open fire. That’s it. So simple, so basic to survival. And something shared by all peoples on Earth throughout history.

As we’ve seen during this pandemic, baking bread is about more than just survival. There’s something about the bread-making process that is compelling. It’s elemental, grounding, nourishing in the most essential ways. We are now also in a time of social and political upheaval and change, which makes the qualities of bread’s emotional sustenance even more important, especially when understood together with the centrality of bread in nearly every culture, historically and in our world today. Bread, in various forms, is something all peoples share.

This awareness led me to conceive a Lilith online class focused on basic flatbreads. Participants gathered over Zoom one recent Friday afternoon before Shabbat. As I talked and mixed, kneaded and rolled out each flatbread, I felt myself becoming calmer, more centered in the moment and even more content. I ate my Shabbat dinner that night outside on my rowhouse deck in a D.C. city neighborhood—just a salad and two flatbreads from the class, one with cumin, mint and garlic in the dough topped with labne and black sesame seeds, and the other brushed with olive oil, a generous sprinkling of my homemade za’atar and pieces of beautiful, edible red nasturtium from my deck garden.

We know that bread—lechem, in Hebrew—is central to Jewish life, as demonstrated by the blessings we say before and after eating it, as well as rituals around bread such as Shabbat and holiday challot. During the tashlich ritual at Rosh Hashanah, we use bread crumbs thrown on flowing water to carry away our sins of the old year so we enter the new year ready to do better.

Bread is mentioned hundreds of times in the Torah, the first when Adam ate from the forbidden tree. God then tells Adam that now in order to have bread–food–he will have to earn it “by the sweat of your brow.” It is the moment when humans, leaving the Garden of Eden, become responsible for feeding themselves.

Torah aside, what I realized that Shabbat evening under the slowly darkening sky was how complete I felt eating the flatbread that I had made with just flour and water, as women have made it for millennia. With that simple meal, I felt deeply, indescribably connected to Shabbat and to the long history of food entwined with my ancestral Judaism.

SUSAN BAROCAS, The Lilith Blog

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