Gondi Nochodi

This recipe may look like Matzah ball soup, but it is actually a Jewish Persian dish, very popular among Persian Jews.  It is made of ground chicken and chickpeas.

Gondi, is perhaps the single most unique food to the Jews of Iran. While Persian Jews have over the centuries adopted the Persian cuisine in their kitchen (kosher style, of course), Gondi has been one of their few culinary innovations that they can claim as their own.

It is usually served as an appetizer together with Sabzi – raw green vegetables including tarragon, basil, mint, and radishes. In our home, we used to eat it as a main dish.

Ingredients:
5-6 oz roasted chickpea (found in Middle Eastern grocery stores)
1 lb ground chicken breast
2 large onions, shredded
1 tsp ground turmeric
1 tsp ground cardamom
1 tsp salt
½ tsp ground cumin
½ tsp black pepper
¼ cup canola oil or rendered chicken fat
4 tsp rose water (found in Middle Eastern grocery stores)
Homemade chicken soup (recipe follows) or 8 cups of good chicken stock
salt and pepper to taste

Preparation:
In a food processor, grind the roasted chickpeas only until they turn into crumbs. Be careful not to over grind it. You don’t want chickpea flour. You may find chickpea already coarsely ground in Middle Eastern grocery stores. Do not buy chickpea flour. It is too powdery.

Place the chickpea crumbs in a large bowl. Add all other ingredients except for the chicken soup, and mix well by hand, until mixture is well combined.

In a large saucepan, bring the chicken soup to a boil. If needed, add salt and pepper.

Make plum size balls of the chickpea mixture, and add them gently, one by one, to the soup. If the balls stick to your hands, use a small bowl with water to wet your hands lightly.

Lower the heat to medium and cook for about 30 minutes.

Place 1-2 balls in a soup bowl, add some soup and serve.

IMG_1158

Chicken soup

2 lb chicken bones (necks, backs) or other parts
8 cups water
1 large onion, quartered
1 small bunch cilantro
4 carrots, peeled and sliced into ¼ inch rings
1 tsp salt
½ tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbs chicken soup powder

Place the chicken in a large saucepan. Cover with 8 cups of water and bring to a boil. Using a large spoon, clean all the foam formed on the water.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, carrots, cilantro, and spices and cook for about an hour, covered.

Discard of the cilantro. You may use the soup as is to cook the Gondi dumplings in, or you may strain it, and have a clear broth for the Gondi.

Gondi is served with a plate of fresh green herbs such as basil, tarragon, mint, and sliced radishes.IMG_2324

Best Dill Pickles

I grew up with these pickles. My grandma made them and so did my mother. With the years I’ve tried other versions of pickled cucumbers, but always came back to this recipe.

A crucial thing to know before attempting to pickle cucumbers is that you MUST have the right kind of cucumbers. Otherwise the cukes become soft and mushy when pickled. You want them to remain crunchy. Which are the right cucumbers? In the U.S. the most used pickling cucumbers are the Pickalot and National Pickling types. They are short and have a bumpy skin, and they can be found in many supermarkets and markets.  

I like to use the Persian/ Lebanese cucumbers. These are actually cucumbers that where developed in Kibbutz Beit Alpha in Israel in the 1950s and made a name all over the Middle East. They are small in size, with a firm texture and their skin is smooth and thin. They are sweeter in flavor. I always called them Israeli cucumbers because these are the only cucumbers I knew when living in Israel. Nowadays they are making a name in the U.S. and I see them more and more in different supermarkets. These cucumbers are great for pickling, but they are also great eaten raw. At home, we use only this kind for all our uses – salads, tzatziki, pickles, or just eating them as a snack with some salt sprinkled on them.

Once you’ve got your hands on the right cucumbers, it’s time to pickle…

Ingredients:
2 quart pickling jar
2lb thin Israeli cucumbers, rinsed
10 sprigs dill, leafy parts only
6 large garlic cloves peeled and smashed
6 bay leaves
½ tsp red pepper flakes (optional)
3 cups warm water
½ cup white vinegar
4 hipping tsp salt

Preparation:
In a small pot, combine water, vinegar and salt , and mix until salt is dissolved.

Boil water in a large pot. When water is boiling, submerge the open jar and sterilize it for one minute. Remove the jar from the water using tongs, pour all the water out and leave to cool.

Place 5 sprigs of dill, 3 bay leaves, and 3 smashed garlic cloves on the bottom of the jar.

Insert the cucumbers and stand them tightly, one next to the other. If you have room on top insert more cucumbers in any way that works. I sometimes cut the cucumbers in half to fit them in.

When the jar is almost full (leave space of about 1 inch), top it with the rest of the dill, smashed garlic, and bay leaves, and sprinkle the pepper flakes.

Pour the brine into the jar to cover all cucumbers.

Tightly close the jar and let sit in room temperature, preferably in the sun.

The pickles will be ready to eat after 3 days. You can keep the jar refrigerated or at room temperature, but not in the sun.

Only use a clean, unused utensil to remove pickles out of the jar, and avoid touching any of the contents with your hands, to avoid spoilage.

Yemenite Chicken Soup

One of the most precious memories of my childhood is Shabbat at my grandparents’ home, in Tel Aviv. After spending the afternoon together, preparing for Shabbat, grandma lit the Shabbat candles and we prepared the table for Friday night dinner. Everything was very simple and modest. The dishes were simple dishes, and the table wasn’t dressed. But it felt very much like Shabbat. The Challah was covered with a special cover, and the Kiddush wine and cup were ready for grandpa to recite the blessing. Dinner was very modest too and included Yemenite chicken or beef soup that was meant to last for both Friday night dinner and Shabbat lunch, white rice, Hilbah (fenugreek), Zhoug and Challah.

For years, my mother used to make her own version of the Yemenite chicken soup for lunch on Fridays, a reminiscent from her parents’ home. Up until today, Yemenite soup is one of my favorite Friday night dinners, though we don’t make it often enough.

This recipe, which calls for chicken, is my grandmother’s version on this yummy soup. Or more accurately, my grandpa’s. After my grandparents got married, grandpa realized that grandma, who was not Yemenite, did not know how to cook Yemenite food, so he taught her what he knew. Grandpa made the soup sometimes with beef and sometimes with chicken.

Ingredients:
4 chicken thighs skin on
6 chicken drumsticks skin on
4 medium potatoes peeled and sliced into 1” slices
2 medium tomatoes diced
1 medium onion quartered
1 tbs tomato paste
2 heaping tbs Hawaij spice for soup (found online)
1 tbs chicken soup powder
salt and pepper
small bunch cilantro, washed and cleaned

Preparation:
In a large pot, place the chicken and cover in water. Bring to a boil. Discard of the water and rinse the chicken lightly to rid of the blood and protein foam which result from the boiling.

Put the chicken back in the pot, cover with water again and bring to a boil.

Lower the heat to medium and add the onion, potatoes, tomatoes, tomato paste, and the spices. Cook covered for about an hour. Add the cilantro at the end and turn off the heat.

If you rather make the soup with beef, use 2lb of beef shank meat cut into large pieces.

If you prefer the chicken version, you can use any part of the chicken, except for the breast.

All About Hamantaschen

Haman taschen (in Yiddish and German) means Haman’s pockets. These are traditional Jewish, triangular shaped cookies, made for the holiday of Purim. In a nutshell, Purim is the Jewish equivalent to Halloween when it comes to costumes and partying. Is has been celebrated for centuries to commemorate the almost annihilation of the Jews in Persia, 2000 years ago, and their last-minute redemption thanks to Queen Esther, who happened to be Jewish, and her uncle Mordechai. The villain in the story who wanted to get rid of all the Jews and ended up being hanged, is Haman, the king’s chief advisor.

So, the cookies are named after Haman’s pockets. Why? I have no idea. In Hebrew the name is even funnier and translates as Haman’s ears. Again, I have no idea how the name came to be, but it seems like no one really wonders about it. Weird!

I don’t think I’ve ever bought Hamantaschen. We’ve always made them at home, for Purim, ever since I was a little girl. I loved making them with my mother and I love making them every year with my kids. This year even my hubby joined the fun. I know they enjoy it too, even though they are not little anymore. It is a fun tradition that we have in our home, and it makes the Purim holiday even more fun and special. One of the nice customs of this holiday is to make baskets of foods and treats and give them to friends, neighbors, and the needy. So, we always make a huge amount of Hamantaschen and add them to the baskets we make.

If you live in in the U.S, in areas where there is a large Jewish community, you may have seen these triangular cookies in delis, bakeries, and diners all year round. But I can promise you that they don’t taste anywhere near the following recipe. If you ever had Hamantaschen and thought you liked them, you must try this version. You’ll never be able to eat the other stuff again. And if you never had Hamantaschen, don’t look any further. This is the real deal. The dough in this recipe is different than the usual cookie dough you’ll find in most recipes. It is delicate and melts in your mouth and is soooo delicious!!
Enjoy!!

Ingredients:
100g powdered sugar
200g (8oz) cold butter, cut into cubes
350g (2 ½ cups) flour
¼ tsp salt
2 egg yolks
¼ cup milk
1tsp vanilla extract or lemon zest from 2 lemons (depends on the filling)

Preparation:
Place the flour, sugar, butter, and salt in a food processor equipped with the blade attachment and work it to get a crumbly mixture.

Add the egg yolks, milk, and the lemon zest, or the vanilla, and keep mixing by pulsing the mixture only to the point where the dough becomes cohesive.

If the dough is too sticky, add one tablespoon of flour. If too dry and crumbly, add 1 tbs milk. Do not overwork the dough, as you want it to be flaky.

Flatten the dough into a 2-inch-thick disk, to make it easier to open it later on. Wrap the disk in plastic wrap and keep in the fridge for a couple of hours.

In the meantime, prepare the filling of your choice. Some suggestions are given on the bottom.

Preheat the oven to 350F. Remove the dough from the fridge and bring to room temperature so you can easily roll it out, without cracking the dough. Roll out the dough to 1/8 inch in thickness. Use a 3 ½ inch wide drinking glass or a round cookie cutter to cut round disks. Try to leave as little room as possible between disks, to avoid reusing much of the dough. The less you work the dough, the flakier the cookies will be.

Spoon 1-2 teaspoons of your filling of choice into the middle of each disk. Fold up the edges of the disk to form a triangle. Pinch the corners to “glue” them together. You may leave some the cookie open so the filling is visible, or you can choice to pinch the edges completely and create a “surprise” cookie.

Place the Hamantaschen, 2 inches apart, on a baking sheet covered with parchment paper, and bake for 12 minutes. The cookies should remain light colored. They are not supposed to brown too much.

There are some traditional Hamantaschen fillings used commercially such as prune, apricot or raspberry jelly, and sometimes poppy seeds. Chocolate filling is a newer addition in commercial Hamantaschen in Israel. However, the fillings are usually of the less good quality.

Best thing would be to make your own filling. You can fill your Hamantaschen with every filling you can think of. Here are some of our favorites:

Cocoa, chocolate Chips, and Cinnamon (use vanilla in the dough and omit the lemon zest)–
1 stick very soft butter
3 hipping tbs cocoa powder
1 hipping tbs cinnamon
5 heaping tbs sugar
1 cup chocolate chips
Mix the butter, cocoa powder, cinnamon, and sugar, into a paste. Place ½ tsp of the paste in the middle of each dough disc, then top with 4-5 chocolate chips.
You may also try to just fill the dough with some chocolate chips. It is less rich and gooey, but still yummy. Another option is to fill the Hamantaschen with Nutella. It is not my cup of tea, but my kids love it.

Poppy Seed, my number 1 choice (use lemon zest and vanilla in the dough)-
¼ cup milk
2 tbs honey
¾ cup sugar
2 cups ground poppy seeds
Zest from 2 lemons
Combine sugar, honey and milk in a medium sauce pan and simmer on low heat, until sugar is completely dissolved. Add the poppy seeds and keep simmering for 3-5 minutes, occasionally stirring the mixture. Remove from the heat, stir in the lemon zest, and set aside to cool.

Dates, pretty up there with the poppy seed (use lemon zest in the dough and omit the vanilla) –
200g (8oz) soft Madjool dates, pitted
50g (2oz) soft butter
Place dates and butter in a food processor and pulse into a paste.

Apricot preserves (use lemon zest and vanilla in the dough) – The difference between preserves and jelly is the texture. Jelly only has the fruit juice in it and is very smooth. Preserves have pieces of the actual fruit and are a little chunky. For our purpose, preserves are better since they hold better and are less runny when baked. Buy the best quality preserves you can put your hands on, do not compromise. It does make a difference. If you only find jelly, do not buy the fake one used in commercial Hamantaschen. Get the good stuff, with no additives or preservatives. To make it hold better when baked, mix the jelly with some tea biscuits crumbs.

Last Minute Rosh HaShanah Menu Ideas

I love learning about different cultures and traditions, and thought that if you are like me, you might be interested in taking a glimpse into the Jewish new year.

The Hebrew or Jewish calendar is a lunisolar calendar and has 29.5 days per month, resulting in 354 days a year. In the past, before Roman times, this was the only calendar used by Jews. In modern times, the Gregorian calendar is the main calendar used by everyone, including Jews. The Hebrew calendar is only used for the Jewish Holidays and Jewish events. In order to keep the two calendars synchronized, a whole month is added to the Hebrew calendar seven times in every 19 years. Which means that my Hebrew date of birth and my Gregorian date of birth synchronize every 19 years.

Anyway, that is the reason why every year, the Jewish Holidays fall on different dates in the Gregorian calendar. They go by the Hebrew calendar to keep them in synch with the seasons. Rosh HaShanah, which literally means in Hebrew “the head of the year,” is the beginning of the Jewish year, and is one of the major Jewish Holidays.

What I love about the Jewish Holidays is that they are ceremonial. It’s not just another festive meal. There is always a short (or long) ceremony going on before the meal is served. On Rosh HaShanah, the ceremony involves reciting different blessings around the table before the meal. These blessings include wishes for a sweet new year, for living in peace with no enemies, for being prosperous, for being leaders who shine light and goodness upon the world, for being deserving for God’s approval, ect. Each blessing is symbolized by some food where the connection is usually a pun between the Hebrew/Aramaic name of the food and the meaning of the blessing.

European and American Jews (Ashkenazi) usually recite one blessing that includes apples and honey for a sweet new year.
Middle Eastern, Mediterranean, Asian and African Jews (Sephardic) include these two foods in their blessings, as well as all of the following foods: dates, pumpkin or carrot, beet, leek, head of fish of beef (the meat from the cheeks), and black-eyed peas. As you recite each blessing, you have a bite of the corresponding food. So even though it’s not the main meal yet, you do not remain hungry. On the contrary. By the time we are done with the ceremonial part of the evening, most of us are already full.

But of course, we can’t skip the meal, which usually includes some sweet dishes for a sweet new year. Most of us who celebrate already have a set menu for Rosh HaShanah, or at least we have an idea of what goes on the table. However, there are always last minute changes because our guests have special requirements, or we couldn’t find some of the ingredients we were counting on, or a guest responsible for bringing one of the dishes bailed out. Whatever the reason, here are some recipes that can save the day in short notice. I chose these recipes as they include ingredients that are showcased in the blessings recited at the Holiday table, and some dishes with sweet inclination.

Wishing all who celebrate (and those who don’t) a happy, sweet, and prosperous new year!

Chestnut Pumpkin Soup
Pomegranate Soup with Turkey Meatballs
Kubbeh in Beet Soup
Celery and Beet Salad
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Fish in Tomato Sauce
Apple Khoresh
My Grandmother’s Cheek Meat Stew
Apple Cake with Dates and Pomegranate
Apple Poppy Seed Cake

Jachnoon

Breakfast as we know it, takes a different turn on Saturday, for traditional Jews. Shabbat breakfast is almost always food that was cooked overnight in the oven or on low heat on the stove. Or it was entirely cooked before Shabbat and warmed up in the oven that is on all day. Nothing is freshly cooked. Not that it matters much. Most Shabbat breakfasts I’m familiar with are so yummy and special, that it makes me look forward to Shabbat, just to be able to enjoy these dishes.

Jachnoon is of a Jewish Yemenite origin, and was brought to Israel by Yemenite immigrants. It is a baked rolled dough with honey and butter. Being so well integrated into Israeli homes, Jachnoon is now considered an Israeli dish.

Jachnoon pot is a simple tin pot with no handles and a tight lid that wraps around the top of the pot. In the U.S you may find it in some Israeli/kosher stores. However, any ovenproof pot with a lid, about 2.5 quarts in size, is good.

1kg (2 ¼lb) all-purpose white flour
120g (5oz) honey
4 tsp salt
3 cups water
½ cup oil
200g (8oz) very soft butter

In a mixer bowl, mix flour, honey, and salt, using a spoon. Add two cups water, give another stir with the spoon, then mix for about 3 minutes, using the hook attachment, to form a smooth, soft dough. The dough should not be firm, it should sag. If the dough is dry or stiff, add another ½ – 1 cup water.

Cover a large tray with oil. Divide the dough into 12 pieces by pulling dough the size of a small apple (with oiled hands) and pinching it off the large dough mass, one piece at a time. Knead each piece in your hands into a ball, then place it on the oiled tray after rolling the ball in the oil. You may need more than one tray to accommodate all the balls. Cover the dough with plastic wrap and let them rest for 30 minutes.

Jachnoun balls resting

Generously butter a work surface. Place one of the dough balls on the buttered surface. Use a rolling pin to roll out the dough, then keep spreading it outward using your hands, and open it to form a paper-thin, round shape. Using your hand, spread about one tablespoon very soft butter on the stretched dough.

Fold the right side of the dough to the middle, then fold the left side on top of the right one (like an envelope). Do not worry if you have some holes in the dough. You will end up with a long strip of folded dough. Butter the top of the strip.

Starting at the bottom, roll the strip of dough upwards while slightly pulling the edges outwards.

Place the rolled dough on the bottom of the pot adjacent to the wall. Repeat the process with the other balls and arrange them close to one another in one layer in the pot. When the first layer is full, cover it with parchment paper and create a second layer on top.

Optional: If you have room left in the pot after placing in all the rolls, you can add eggs. Wrap about 5-6 eggs in tinfoil. Cover the Jachnoon with parchment paper, then place the wrapped eggs on top. Cover the pot with the lid. No room left in the pot for the eggs? No worries. Place the tinfoil wrapped eggs on the oven wire next to the Jachnoon pot. Just make sure the eggs are well sealed in the tinfoil, to avoid steam from escaping.

Preheat oven to 220F. Place in the Jachnoon pot and the eggs in the oven before you go to bed and bake overnight (10-12 hours).

Jachnoun ready

Serve it the following day for brunch, with a nicely browned egg, grated fresh tomato salted, and spicy z’houg.

For the Jachnoon to taste best, eat it with your hands!!!

Jachnoun served