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

Have a Happy, Healthy and Delicious New Year

Sept. 18, 2020 – By BARBARA SILVERSTEIN

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach. Welcome to “Kitchen Talk,” the weekly food blog of the CJR. Rosh Hashanah begins this evening and I would imagine that many readers have already prepared most of the special dishes they’ll be serving this weekend.

With COVID looming large throughout the country, preparing and serving holiday meals will entail safety logistics. I’ll still be celebrating the holiday with my siblings and their children, as we do every year, but we’ll be eating outdoors.

There will be no chicken soup this year but we’ll still be eating brisket, as is customary. In this issue, I’ll be sharing American celebrity chef Michael Solomonov’s recipe for Coffee Braised Brisket, which people may want to try on Sukkot.

Chef Solomonov, author of the award-winning cookbook Zahav: A World of Israeli Cooking, did a Rosh Hashanah food demo for Israel Bonds’ Chef’s Table last week.

I attended three virtual Jewish communal events with Solomonov this summer. Despite winning seven prestigious James Beard Foundation Awards, the culinary equivalent of the Academy Awards, Solomonov is very gracious and humble about his success.

Mangoes have been very plentiful this summer so I am including, cookbook author Daniella Silver’s recipe for Fresh Mango Salad. It’s a quick and simple recipe and a perfect side dish for a holiday supper or lunch. The recipe comes from Silver’s first book, The Silver Platter: Simple to Spectacular Wholesome Family Recipes, co-written with the late, great food maven, Norene Gilletz.

It’s not too early to think about Break Fast dishes for Yom Kippur. Award-winning food author Amy Stopnicki of Kosher-Taste fame has generously shared her recipe for Spinach Feta Quiche. Follow Stopnicki @amyskoshertaste on Instagram.

MY MOM’S COFFEE BRAISED BRISKET Michael Solomonov

2 tbsp (30 ml) finely ground coffee
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground cardamom
1½ tbsp (20 ml) ground black cardamom
1 tbsp (15 ml) plus 1 tsp (5 ml) kosher salt
1 brisket (first cut, about 4 pounds (2 K)
¼ cup (60 ml) canola oil
2 large onions, sliced
4 carrots, peeled and sliced
10 garlic cloves, sliced
1/3 cup (90 ml) tomato paste 
1½ cups (375 ml) dried apricots
2 cups (500 ml) brewed coffee
8 large eggs in their shells
Grated fresh horseradish

Two days before serving: Mix the ground coffee, cardamom, black cardamom, and salt in a small bowl and rub into the brisket. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight.

One day before serving: Preheat the oven to 475°F (245°C). Set a rack inside a roasting pan. Put the brisket on the rack and roast until the exterior has browned, about 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F (150°C).

Warm the oil in a large skillet over medium heat and add the onions, carrots, and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until the vegetables have softened but not browned, about 8 minutes. Add the tomato paste and cook until it reduces slightly, about 2 more minutes. Transfer the vegetables to the roasting pan with the rack removed. Add the brisket, dried apricots, brewed coffee, and eggs in their shells. 

Add enough water to bring the liquid halfway up the side of the brisket. Cover the pan tightly with two layers of foil, return to the oven, and braise for 1 hour.

Remove the eggs, gently tap them all over to make a network of small cracks, and return them to the braise. Continue cooking until the brisket shreds easily with a fork, about 3 more hours.

Let the brisket cool in its braising liquid, then refrigerate overnight.

To serve: Preheat the oven to 350°F (189°C). Slice the cold brisket, return to the braising liquid, and bake until warmed through, about 30 minutes. Spoon the broth over the meat. 

Serve with the peeled eggs and grated fresh horseradish. Makes 8 servings

FRESH MANGO SALAD Daniella Silver

5 ripe mangoes, peeled and cut into long narrow strips
½ cup (125 ml) thinly sliced red onion
½ cup (125 ml) chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp (30 g) chopped fresh basil

Dressing

¼ cup (60 ml) extra virgin olive oil
¼ cup (60 ml) lemon juice (preferably fresh)
1 tbsp (15 ml) brown sugar or honey
½ tsp (3 ml) kosher salt, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper

In a large bowl, combine mangoes with the red onion, parsley, and basil. 

Dressing: combine dressing ingredients in a glass jar; seal tightly and shake well.

Add the dressing to the sliced mangoes and onions and mix well. Cover and refrigerate until serving time. Makes 6–8 servings

SPINACH FETA QUICHE Amy Stopnicki

6 eggs
½ cup (125 ml) milk
1 cup (250 ml) grated mozzarella cheese
3 cups (750 ml) baby spinach, cleaned and checked, chopped 
1/3 cup (90 ml) feta cheese
1/3 cup (90 ml) pine nuts
salt and pepper to taste
1 ready-to-bake frozen deep dish pie shell

Preheat oven to 350°F (150°C).

In a large mixing bowl, combine the eggs, milk, cheese, spinach, feta cheese, pine nuts, salt and pepper. Pour the mixture into the frozen pie shell.

Bake for 35– 45 minutes or until set. Makes 6–8 servings

COMMUNITY SPOTLIGHT 

An occasional series on how Jewish-owned restaurant and food operations in Canada are faring during the pandemic. 

Community Spotlight is an occasional “Kitchen Talk” feature on how Canadian Jewish food entrepreneurs and chefs are faring during COVID. The pandemic has hit many restaurants and other food businesses very hard.

This week, we shine a light on Lev Levine, 30, owner of the popular restaurant, Lox + Schmear at 1030 St. Clair Ave. W. in Toronto, which is offering its in-house smoked fish despite COVID.

You could call the St. Clair West-Oakwood Ave. area in Toronto “Bagel Central,” as there are three bagel businesses located near each other: Lox + Schmear (1030 St. Clair Ave. W.); What a Bagel! (827 St. Clair Ave. W.) and the Primrose Bagel Company (317a Oakwood Ave.)

Lev Levine, 30, owner of Lox + Schmear, set up the first of the three bagel shops in this mid-town Toronto neighbourhood, now home to a large number of young Jewish families.

Lev Levine

It was three years in June that they opened their shop, Levine said in a recent telephone interview.

Asked about the close proximity of their competitors, Levine replied with a laugh, “As long as people are eating bagels lox and cream cheese, I’m happy. Of course, I’m happiest when they choose my product.”

Lox + Schmear specializes in small batch fish smoking, they said.

“All the fish is smoked in house. It’s the freshest smoked salmon you’ll ever have. It’s really our specialty. We do the whole process. It’s all hand-sliced. There are no additives or preservatives, no artificial flavouring or colourings.”

Before the pandemic, Lox + Schmear was a popular neighbourhood hub known for its loaded cream cheese and lox sandwiches, served on Montreal-style bagels. Levine also offered soups and salad, but the smoked salmon was “king,” they said.

However, in March, Levine closed the restaurant and pivoted to online sales: https://loxandschmear.square.site

While Levine is no longer preparing their famous bagel sandwiches, they’re selling all the ingredients so their customers can make their own.

Along with bagels and cream cheeses, there’s an impressive selection of hot smoked salmon and trout options, as well as Levine’s ever popular house-smoked lox and pastrami-cured smoked lox.

Levine takes orders during the week and the clientele pick up their food on Sunday mornings.

“It’s been going quite well,” they said. “It gave people a sense of comfort when the pandemic started that we were doing all the [food] prep in a safe and thoughtful way.”

Levine grew up eating bagels, lox and cream cheese and this was their preferred dish for breaking the Yom Kippur fast.

CULINARY CALENDAR:

Sept. 22, 2 p.m.: On Lox and Life: The Forward is sponsoring a conversation about all-things-appetizing with Len Berk, the last Jewish lox slicer at Zabar’s, and Melissa Clark, the New York Times food writer and cookbook author. This talk will be moderated by Jodi Rudoren, editor-in-chief of the Forward https://forward.com/culture/452758/september-22-on-lox-and-life/

Sept. 23, 11 a.m. Bernard Betel Cooking Club: Prepare healthy make-ahead breakfasts and snacks with Maria Lindgren https://us02web.zoom.us/meeting/register/tZYocuyupjgtHdH4SkYK9XS69aolga5nsjd_