Food Brings Comfort in Times of Loss and Uncertainty

Oct. 23, 2020

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR.

Last week, I attended an international culinary event about comfort foods in the comfort of my own kitchen. The event was hosted by American Friends of the Parents Circle – Families Forum (PCFF). Founded 25 years ago, PCFF is an Israel-based grassroots organization made up of Palestinian and Israeli families who have lost immediate members in the Middle East conflict.

PCFF Members conduct dialogue sessions, give lectures, and engage in projects and activities to support dialogue and reconciliation, which they say is a prerequisite for achieving a sustained peace.

Award-winning chefs Gil Hovav, a leading Israeli culinary personality, Israeli-born American author and restaurateur; Michael Solomonov, and Palestinian author Reem Kassis were invited to talk about their favourite comfort foods and the role of food in easing pain and stress.

Solomonov’s participation in PCFF had particular resonance because he shares a connection with many PCFF members: His younger brother, David, was killed in 2003 at the tail end of his military service in Israel.

Despite this loss, one of Solomonov’s closest friends is Kassis. The two spoke about their friendship and food. Kassis’s book, The Palestinian Table, has been a national bestseller.

Hovav joked that he has attended PCFF dinners – uplifting events where Palestinian mothers and grandmothers take over the kitchen and give the Israelis directions and tasks.

Each of the three chefs shared recipes for their favourite comfort foods. Hovav described his mother-in-law’s Egg Salad, a recipe he described as “simple, but so delicious.” Kassis also suggested an egg dish, IjjehPalestinian Herbed Frittata. 

Solomonov said borekas, his comfort food, evokes memories of his Bulgarian grandmother. She made these flaky pastries from scratch.

He provided his recipe for making the puff pastry dough, which is delicious, but very labour-intensive. He said borekas can also be made from ready-made puff pastry dough, which is what I used for my Feta and Mushroom Borekas. 

I defrosted the dough in my fridge the night before using and I also vented the borekas by making some tiny slits in the dough before baking. The recipes for the fillings come from Solomonov’s awarding winning cookbook, Zahav

EGG SALAD Gil Hovav

4 large yellow onions, diced
½ cup (125 ml) canola oil.
10 large eggs
Kosher salt to taste
Pepper to taste
optional 3 scallions, chopped

In a large sauce pan, add half the oil and half the onions and cook until the onions are browned. Repeat with the remaining oil and onions. Set aside.

While the onions are browning, boil the eggs. When the eggs are cooked, peel and grate them.

Mix with the browned onions and their oil. Add lots of kosher salt and some black pepper. You may add chopped scallions.

IJJEH – PALESTINIAN HERBED FRITTATA Reem Kassis

8 eggs
4 scallions, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) flat leaf parsley, finely chopped
½ cup (125 ml) fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
1 large garlic clove, crushed
1 green chilli, deseeded and finely chopped (optional) 
1 scant tsp (5 ml) salt
½ tsp (2 ml) cumin
¼ tsp (1 ml) black pepper
1 tbsp (15 ml) flour
Olive oil, for frying
Labaneh and pita bread, to serve

Place the eggs in a large bowl and whisk until mixture is a pale yellow and starting to froth. Add in the chopped herbs, salt and spices and mix until evenly combined. Sprinkle the flour over the eggs and whisk until incorporated. 

Heat a generous amount of olive oil in a frying pan on medium high heat. You can use one very large pan or a small one and work in batches. 

Once the oil is hot, pour the omelet mixture into the pan, tilting it around to get an even layer of eggs. Cook until the edges start to curl and the top is starting to solidify. Periodically lift the eggs with a spatula to make sure the bottom is not burning. 

When the omelet is no longer runny from the top, flip it over to brown the other side. Continue to cook for another minute or two until done. If using a small pan, repeat, adding more olive oil, until the egg batter is done.

Slide the omelet onto a plate and serve immediately with fresh pita bread and a side of labaneh. Makes 4 servings.

FETA BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

Makes 24 small or 6 large pastries Ingredients

Dough 

Option 1 defrost puff pastry dough and then follow the recipe for filling

Option 2 Puff pastry dough from scratch

2 cups (500 ml) all-purpose flour, plus more for rolling 
1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
1 tsp (5 ml) apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp (15 ml) kosher salt
1 scant cup (250 ml) seltzer, plus more as needed
8 tbsp (125 ml) unsalted butter, softened 
1 egg, for brushing the dough

Combine the flour, oil, vinegar, and salt in a food processor, then add the seltzer. Process until the mixture looks crumbly, then continue for a few minutes more, adding a drop or two more of seltzer until the dough comes together in a ball. Process for 10 seconds, then flour the largest cutting board you have and scrape all the dough onto it. (You can also make the dough by hand in a large bowl with a wooden spoon.)

Press the dough into a rectangle about 6 inches long. (The dough is easiest to work with the closer you get to a perfect rectangle.) Flour your rolling pin and roll the dough out to the size of your cutting board, starting in the centre and rolling in a fluid motion, moving your arms and applying gentle pressure instead of pressing down. When you’re about halfway there, roll up the dough on the rolling pin, set aside, and flour the board again. Unroll the dough on the board.

Place the stick of butter on one end of the dough and, using a butter knife or silicone or offset spatula, spread it evenly in long motions over half the dough, leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border on the edges.

Fold the unbuttered half of the dough over the buttered half. Fold the edges up and in to keep the butter inside. Fold the right and left edges into the centre of the dough and fold in half again to make a book fold.

Sprinkle a bit of flour on the board, then pat the dough down into a perfect rectangle. It should feel smooth. Transfer the dough to the freezer (right on the cutting board, uncovered) for 15 minutes. 

Remove the board from the freezer and gently press a finger into the dough. It should feel pliable. If you feel a shard of butter, it has hardened too much, so leave the dough out for a few minutes. You want the dough and the butter to be closer to the same temperature so the butter doesn’t crack and they roll out smoothly together.

Feta Filling

2 large eggs
2½ cups (325 ml) crumbled feta
**2 sheets of Boreka dough or store bought puff pastry
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy seeds (optional)
2 tbsp (30 ml)sesame (optional)

In a mixing bowl beat 1 of the eggs and add the feta

Filling the Pastry:

Place the cold sheet of boreka dough on a floured surface **Cut the dough into 8 4-inch squares.

spoon 2 heaping tbsp (30 ml) of feta filling onto 1 half of the square leaving a ½-inch (1 cm) border at the edge.

Fold the dough over into a rectangle and press the edges to seal. Repeat until all the borekas are filled and formed.

Arrange the borekas on a parchment lined baking sheet and refrigerate 1 hour. They should be cold and firm to touch.

Preheat the oven to 425°F (200°C) with a rack on the upper third, beat the remaining egg and brush the tops of the borekas, then sprinkle the poppy and/or sesame seeds.

Bake until the dough is golden brown, about 15 minutes. Makes 8 large borekas.

**NB: Many Canadian packages of puff pastry dough have smaller sheets. Use 2 sheets to get 8 borekas.

MUSHROOM BOREKAS Michael Solomonov

1 tbsp (15 ml) olive oil
2 cups (500 ml) mushroom
¼ cup (60 ml) chopped onion
2 garlic cloves minced
½ tsp (2 ml) kosher salt
2 large eggs
2 sheets of the Boreka dough
2 tbsp (30 ml) poppy or sesame seeds

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the mushrooms, onion, garlic and salt. Cook stirring until the mushrooms and onions are tender and beginning to brown. 

Transfer the mixture to a large bowl and cool. Add 1egg and stir into the mushrooms. Refrigerate until the mixture becomes cold.

To fill the pastry follow the directions for the feta borekas

CULINARY CALENDAR

Oct. 25, 12 –1:15 pm: Museum of Jewish Montreal and the Wandering Chew present a virtual Brazilian-Jewish cooking workshop with Mauricio Schuartz. He’ll share his Bubbe Clara’s Brazilian honey cake recipe. Pay-What-You-Can, with a suggested amount of $18. To access the Zoom link, RSVP with Eventbrite link: https://www.eventbrite.ca/o/the-wandering-chew-4691434761 

Oct. 28, 11am –12 pm: Bernard Betel Centre: Virtual Cooking Club: Persian Rice & Lentils with Maryam Roozbeh. To register: https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_

Nov. 8, 2–3:30 pm: Building the Jewish& Cookbook: Pizza Napoletana with Kat Romanow 

Hosted by the Miles Nadal JCC & The Wandering Chew

https://www.amilia.com/store/en/miles-nadal-jcc/shop/activities/2864377

Colder Weather Calls for Warming Soups

Oct. 17, 2020 

By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. The High Holidays are over, the weather is changing, and COVID case numbers in Toronto are on the rise, so I’m bracing for a long and not very social winter.

We had what was probably our last family dinner for a while on Thanksgiving. We ate lunch in the backyard, wearing our jackets to stay warm.

With the colder weather starting, I’ve also been in the mood for warming foods like hardy soups and starchy side-dishes. Comfort food may be good for the soul, but maybe not so good for the hips.

The recipes I’ve chosen this week are hardy and healthy. The three soup recipes can be easily paired with salad or some fresh bread for a complete meal.

Cookbook author and national food columnist Bonnie Stern shared some lovely fall recipes in her latest newsletter at: http://foodnews.bonniestern.com.

I tried the Lentil Squash Soup, which was delicious. As a garnish, I used parsley from my garden instead of cilantro.

The Thai Coconut Soup comes from The Living Kitchen: Healing Recipes to Support Your Body During Cancer Treatments and Recovery by Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman.

I found the Mushroom Cauliflower Soup recipe in The Silver Platter Simple Elegance: Effortless Recipes with Sophisticated Results. This cookbook was written by Daniella Silver, with tips and techniques by the late food maven Norene Gilletz.

LENTIL SQUASH SOUP Bonnie Stern

2 tbsp (30 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 onion or leek (trimmed and well-cleaned), chopped
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1 inch (3 cm) piece fresh ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
1 tsp (5 ml) curry paste
1½ lbs (650 g) winter squash (e.g. butternut, buttercup, acorn, kabocha), peeled and cut into about 1-inch (2½ cm) chunks, approximately 4–5 cups (1¼ L)
¼ cup (60 ml) red lentils
4 cups (1 L) water (or vegetable broth) + more if necessary
1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt plus more to taste
1 tbsp (15 ml) lime or lemon juice
½ cup (125 ml) coconut milk or whipping cream, divided (optional)

Gently cook the onions or leeks and garlic in olive oil until tender, about 5 minutes. Add the ginger and curry paste and cook for 1–2 minutes.

Add the squash and lentils and combine well. Add the water or broth and bring to a boil. Add salt. Cook 25–30 minutes until the squash is very tender and the soup has thickened.

Puree the soup with an immersion blender or food processor or blender. Return the soup to the heat and stir in the lime juice and half the coconut milk or cream. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

To serve, top the soup with pumpkin seeds, cilantro and a drizzle of the remaining coconut milk or cream. Makes 6 servings.

THAI COCONUT SOUP Tamara Green and Sarah Grossman

1 tbsp (15 ml) virgin coconut oil
1 small yellow onion, chopped
1½ inches (4 cm) ginger root, peeled and finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1½ cups (375 ml) de-stemmed, cleaned and chopped brown cremini mushrooms
2 carrots, peeled and chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
14 oz (398 ml) can full-fat coconut milk
3 cups (750 ml) chicken, bone or vegetable broth
1 cup (250 ml) snow peas, sliced in half lengthwise
¼ cup (60 ml) fresh cilantro, finely chopped
1 lime, juiced
2 tsp (10 ml) tamari

Optional proteins: 2 small chicken breasts, or 1 cup (250 ml) cubed organic tofu, or 2 5-oz (140 g) portions of cod.

Place a large pot over medium heat and add the coconut oil and the onions. Sauté the onions for 5 minutes, or until translucent and soft. Add the ginger, garlic, mushrooms, carrots and red peppers and sauté for 3 minutes.

Pour in the coconut milk and broth. Add the optional proteins. Cover the pot, bring to a boil and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the vegetables and protein are cooked. Add the snow peas and simmer for 2 more minutes.

If chicken or cod is included, remove from the broth, shred or flake into small pieces and put back into the soup. Garnish with fresh cilantro, lime juice and tamari. Serve hot. Makes 4–5 servings.

MUSHROOM CAULIFLOWER SOUP Daniella Silver

1–2 tbsp (15–30) oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced, about 2 tsp (10 ml)
6 cups (1½ L) button mushrooms, sliced
1 large head cauliflower, cored, cut into small florets
6 cups (1½ L) water or vegetable broth
2 tsp (10 ml) kosher salt
Freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp (5 ml) minced fresh thyme leaves, plus additional whole thyme leaves, for garnish.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add the onion and garlic; sauté for 6–8 minutes, or until softened. Add the mushrooms; sauté for 5 minutes longer, until softened. Stir in the cauliflower, water, salt, pepper, and thyme and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat, stirring occasionally and simmer partially covered for 30–40 minutes, or until the cauliflower has softened.

Cool slightly. Using an immersion blender, process the soup until smooth. If the soup is too thick, add a little water or broth.

Adjust the seasonings to taste. Garnish with additional thyme leaves. Makes 8 servings.