Back: Kefta. Front, L to R: Cauliflower & Zucchini Salad, Spinach Salad, Moroccan Carrot Salad. Center: Harif / Harissa.
Red Lentil Kefta is one of my favorite foods! Kefta are typically made with cracked wheat and shaped into ovals. They may contain meat and are often fried. This vegan version is not fried. It’s just a zesty, addictive little ball of great flavor and nutrition, a mixture of red lentils and cracked wheat. In addition, they are easy to make!
The kefta mix can also be left loose, as a delightful red lentil and cracked wheat salad. It can be used this way in a wrap. Leftover balls can be pressed flat as a layer in a sandwich.
In addition, I have shaped the kefta as balls, rolled them in oil and baked them until there are brown spots. Completed this way, I have used them as vegan balls for my Spaghetti and NoMeat Balls Sauce. I think this might work better with a little flaxseed and water added to the mix (as an egg substitute).
Kefta is a wonderful, versatile food item.
RED LENTIL KEFTA
Lentils, dried, 4 cups
Water, 8 cups
Fine bulgur (#1), 2 cups
Cook lentils until just done. Stir in bulgur. Set aside to cool, but crumble from time to time to avoid clumping.
Spanish onions, 2
Tomato paste, 5 heaping TB (up to 6 oz.)
Salt, 4 tsp.
Cumin, 2 TB
Harif, 2 TB or to taste
Saute the onion, and make a paste by adding remaining ingredients. Add to cooled lentils, and mix.
Parsley, 1 bunch
Green onions, 6
Chop parsley and green onions finely. Add most of the chopped greens to the mix keeping some out for garnish.
Form kefta as required.
We sometimes put the kefta into small individual paper muffin cups to make them easier to pick up when there is a crowd.
There’s a tray of those delicious, addictive red lentil kefta waiting to get set up into paper cups for a catering order or served up to customers in the cafe as part of a plate. I also crumble and use leftovers on sandwiches. omg. But then I could eat these in any form at any time and say the same thing.
Harif (Hebrew – means “sharp”) or Harissa (Arabic) is our Red Hot Sauce. Chili Arbol gives it its red color. It is fiery but flavorful.
I make my sauce in a VitaMix, which blends it a little more than the traditional methods, giving it a beautiful burnt orange color. I usually soak the peppers overnight before blending, but on a recent occasion I forgot to pre-soak them and found that I could accomplish almost the same thing by covering them with water in a pot, bringing it to a boil and letting them sit for 20-30 minutes.
HARIF (Makes 1 pint)
Chili Arbol, Dried, 1 Qt., soaked and drained
Garlic, 2 TB
Sea salt, 1 tsp
Coriander, 2 tsp
Caraway, 2 tsp
Extra virgin olive oil, 1 cup
Soak chilis overnight in a quart container filled to the top with chilis & water. Drain and squeeze. Alternatively, place dried chilis in a saucepan, cover with water, bring to a boil, turn off heat and let sit for 20-30 minutes, drain and squeeze.
Add extra virgin olive oil to VitaMix.
Put garlic into VitaMix (2 TB chopped or a small handful).
Add soaked and squeezed chilis.
Add all seasonings.
Run VitaMix until tangerine colored paste is achieved. May have to push material into blades until all is pulled into the vortex.
Scrape bowl as thoroughly as possible into a 1 pint – 1 quart container.
Wash VitaMix bowl by filling 2/3 with hot water and adding a small drop of dish soap and blending. This will remove all hot sauce from the blades.
I made and offered two hot sauces when I started in the food business: Z’hug and Harif. For those who like it hot, either of these sauces is a wonderful accompaniment to a meal.
Gutturals are difficult for Americans. Staff and customers came up with so many delightful variations on the pronunciation of z’hug, including “zee-hug”. Finally we settled on referring to the sauces as Green Sauce or Red Sauce if they preferred Harif / Harissa.
Z’hug is a Yemenite Jalapeno-based hot sauce, hence “green.” I make mine in a food processor. The following will make about one quart, so you may want to halve or quarter the recipe, depending on the amount your machine will process evenly.
Z’HUG (Makes 1 quart)
Garlic, 1/4+ cup (a big handful)
Cilantro, 1 large bunch, chopped
Jalapeño pepper, 12 lg, chunked
Sea salt, 1 tsp
Cumin, 1 tsp
Szeged hot paprika, 1 tsp
Extra virgin olive oil, 4 TB
Put garlic into food processor first, then chopped cilantro, then chunked jalapeño.
Pulse 20-25 times until all is evenly chopped.
Add all seasonings.
Pulse 2 or 3 times more and push down side of processor container until all contents are evenly chopped.
Add 3-4 TB olive oil and pulse once or twice more.
Thirty-five years ago, I made challah weekly. In recent years, my schedule has not allowed me to continue this practice. When we began to host Shabbat dinners in my Cafe, some of our regulars always brought in whole wheat challot from a bakery forty minutes from us. On a recent week when that particular group was unable to attend, I decided to try my hand again at making challah.
These days I have considerations I didn’t have thirty-five years ago. One is that I like more of a whole grain loaf than I did in years past, and grains require time and patience, as Sally Fallon points out in Nourishing Traditions.
Another consideration is that I wanted the challot to be vegan, that is, they should use only plant food ingredients, no animal products. With the traditional egg challah, that changes the program considerably. Since my favorite challah, though, is water challah, which I remember fondly from my days in West Rogers Park, that didn’t strike me as a problem. Wrong.
Try searching the internet for a water challah recipe! Many of the recipes with that name included eggs, at the very least an egg wash on the crust to hold the seeds on top. More often the eggs were in the challah itself. Puzzling.
In other search results, it was clear that the search engines simply brought up a result for water challah because the recipe was for challah, which contained water. In addition, all the recipes had quite a bit of sugar.
After much searching, I decided to try using my spelt and 7-grain cereal roll recipe. That worked – sort of. The loaves weren’t as pretty as I hoped and ended up going into my freezer for future home consumption. Back to the internet.
Finally I found an article about something called berches. With that new search term, I was able to find a host of appropriate recipes, recipes with no eggs and very little sugar. I actually did try one of those recipes, and it worked beautifully with one exception – the crust dilemma.
How could I get that beautiful, shiny crust so characteristic of challah and hold an abundance of seeds to the loaf? Flaxseed and water can work as an egg substitute in many cases, so I tried a flaxseed/water wash. It turned the crust white, and all the seeds dropped off. I tried several other techniques, but nothing worked. Finally I gave up on the seeds, but I gave a little shine to the crust by brushing it lightly with extra virgin olive oil when it came out of the oven.
In the search for a water challah recipe, here are some things I learned about challah making that will enrich my own experience:
What I was calling water challah was an egg-free type of challah made in Germany and called berches. The word berches is from the word berach or “bless”. It refers to the challah or bread that one blesses at the Sabbath meal. Many Jews, German and other, no longer know or use that word for the challah, but there are a few bakers in Germany who continue to make it. I was enjoying a commercial variety in West Rogers Park under the name water challah.
Traditionally challah has seven ingredients, corresponding to the seven days of the week or to the fact that Shabbat occurs on the seventh day: 1) flour, 2) water, 3) yeast, 4) salt, 5) sugar, 6) eggs, and 7) oil.
When the Temple was destroyed in 70 c.e., the rabbis created a system of substitutions for Temple worship and a priestly sacrificial system. The family table substituted for the altar, and the ordinary Israelite took on the role of priest. The two loaves of challah on the table represent that transition with the challah substituting for the two loaves of showbread on the ancient altar.
Women were included in that transition as well, and challah-making is a place where we can see that clearly. Part of the ritual of challah-making includes separating the challah, removing a small piece of the dough, saying a blessing and burning the piece in the oven. Since women, once upon a time, were likely to be the ones making the bread, this “sacrifice” would have been an example of their taking on the role of the priest in the absence of a Temple and priestly system.
Most importantly, what I learned from challah-making is how rituals can create a thoughtful, meditative experience and, by the way, good (and nourishing) food. At the intersection of the rituals of bread making, rituals I have developed over the years for creating healthy foods, my newly developing ritual of vegan bread making, and the rituals of challah-making, I had an opportunity to experience with full awareness my place in the cosmos, in history and in the environment. As I ate the challah I made, I experienced it as the Staff of Life it once was and can still be.
Here is my recipe for spelt berches or water challah, which I now make every week again. Be sure to WEIGH the flour. Your challah will come out perfectly every time! If you’ve never used spelt, try it. It’s a form of wheat flour, and it is absolutely beautiful to work with. I use spelt in all my breads now.
BERCHES (Makes 2 loaf pan-sized loaves or two double-braid loaves. 3 lb. 8.2 oz. of flour are required to separate and bless the challah, so if you’d like to perform this ritual, double the recipe).
Ingredients (Still seven ingredients even tho no eggs!)
1 lb. spelt flour, WEIGHED
1 lb. unbleached wheat flour, WEIGHED
1 tsp. active dry yeast
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/4 cup + 2 cups warm water
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 white potato, peeled, cooked, mashed and cooled
1 TB salt
Peel and cut up the potato and place it in a small pot with water to cover. Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer and cook until the potatoes are soft.
Drain the potato cooking water into a measuring cup. Add cold water or ice cubes until the water level reaches 2 cups.
Pour the 2 cups of water back into the potatoes and mash thoroughly with 1 TB salt.
Weigh the spelt flour into your mixing bowl until you reach 1 lb. Add unbleached wheat flour until you reach 2 lb.
Stir the flours together and make a well in the center.
Pour 1/4 cup warm water in the well. Add yeast and sugar and stir gently to dissolve. Let sit for 5-10 minutes until bubbling.
Add the mashed potato, salt and water mixture to the flours. Add the extra virgin olive oil to the mix.
Stir all together briefly.
Knead the dough for 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. I do this on my Kitchenaid Mixer with the dough hook. The spelt dough works so beautifully that I never have to clean out the bowl before the next step.
Add a little oil to the mixing bowl, and roll the dough in it it until it is completely coated.
Cover the dough in the bowl with a plastic bag (I reserve a garage bag for this purpose). Let rise until doubled in bulk, about two hours.
Punch down, knead slightly and set aside.
Get out your scale and mixing bowl again! Divide the dough into two halves, one for each loaf. Make certain the two halves weigh the same so your loaves will be the same size.
Shape the challot. Divide each half into six approximately equal pieces. Roll into strips as in the picture, with the middle of each strip larger than the ends. Roll in very light flour so strips will remain separate from each other as they rise.
Three strips will make a braid. Place one strip on your work surface, and place two strips over it in an “x” shape. Braid from the middle toward each end and tuck the ends under. Repeat with three more strips. Place one braid on top of the other, and secure the ends.
Repeat this process with the other half of the dough.
Place each loaf on a baking sheet sprinkled with semolina to prevent sticking.
Cover the loaves again with plastic, and allow to rise until doubled, 40 minutes. DO NOT overraise. The top braid will fall to one side, and/or the loaves will flatten.
During this second rise, preheat the oven to 425 degrees.
When the loaves are ready, remove the plastic and put the baking tray with the loaves into the pre-heated oven.
After 10 minutes, reduce the heat to 325 degrees and bake for an additional 30-35 minutes.
Remove from the oven and brush the crust lightly with extra virgin olive oil. Cool.
At this point, I brushed my loaves with a mixture of flaxseed and water, an egg substitute which I hoped would hold seeds in place. It didn’t, and it turned the tops of the loaves white. It did not affect the flavor. I’m going to do a little research for other solutions for a seed-sprinkled shiny vegan challah crust.
After I made my Moroccan Carrot Salad, I decided maybe I should make a meal to go with them.
On the left is a favorite Algerian and Moroccan salad combination, cauliflower and roasted zucchini. To the right of that is a lemony and garlicky cooked spinach salad . . . then, of course, Moroccan Carrot Salad. Around the back are Red Lentil Kefta, for which I will soon post a recipe. Just in case those kefta weren’t zesty enough for anyone, I included harif/harissa, a very hot sauce.
Extra virgin olive oil, 1/4 cup
Garlic, 1 TB
Green bell peppers, 2
Spanish Onion, 1
Poblano pepper, 1
Dried small red beans, 1/2 lb.
Dried dark red kidney beans, 1/2 lb.
Plum tomatoes, 8 large (or one 19 oz. can petite diced tomatoes)
Tomato paste, one 6 oz. can
Salt, 1 TB
Cumin, 1.5 TB
Hot chili powder, 1 TB
Hot paprika, 2 tsp
Cilantro, 1 bunch
2. Prepare Veggies. Cut bell peppers and onions into 1″ dice. Mince poblano and cilantro.
3. Prepare Tomato Sauce. Hand-dice tomatoes or pulse briefly in a food processor. Measure the tomatoes, which should come to about 1 pint. Fresh tomatoes can be replaced with one 19 oz. can of petite diced tomatoes. Add tomato paste to this mixture and water to reach 1-1/4 quarts (including the tomatoes and tomato paste).
4. Make Chili. Add olive oil to bottom of a 1 gallon pot. Saute garlic, peppers and onions until slightly soft. Add tomato mixture, and heat until entire mixture is simmering. Add remaining seasonings, and simmer a few minutes. Add cooked beans, reserving juices. You can add this back into the chili if it is too thick. Bring to a simmer.
5. Season and Finish. Add seasonings to chili, and simmer all together at least long enough to allow seasonings to permeate ingredients. Add cilantro toward end of cooking time, and adjust seasoning.
“The breakfast of champions is not cereal, it’s the opposition” …Nick Seitz
Finding a breakfast cereal without sugar can be challenging. Finding one that doesn’t taste like sawdust even more so. I propose a solution to this problem: an Israeli-style breakfast.
I visited Israel for the first time almost 40 years ago. Israel is one of those places that floods one’s mind and senses with thoughts and images. It resonates with the voices of its history and culture, voices which have become part of so many of us through biblical literature although we may have never been to Israel.
One of the most memorable experiences I had on that first visit was totally unanticipated: an Israeli breakfast. Originally a very simple meal, Israeli breakfasts have become famous. Many contemporary restaurants specialize in elaborate versions of it.
Israeli breakfasts originated with the halutzim (early pioneers). Quickly prepared from local ingredients, the meal featured a salad of cucumbers, tomatoes, peppers, onion and perhaps avocado, dressed with olive oil and freshly squeezed lemon juice. Other typical components of the meal were soft cheeses, hard boiled eggs, pickles, olives and bread. Beans in the form of hummus (a chickpea “dip”) or ful (fava beans) might also be part of the meal. Ful is the breakfast food of choice in Egypt and is served up with lemon, chopped garlic, onions and olive oil.
When I returned home from that first trip, I began to make a simple version of the Israeli breakfast every morning. Although my knife skills are unfortunate, I became proficient in the small dice typical of an Israeli or Jerusalem salad. We sometimes enjoyed dicing contests to see who could make the salad most quickly and with the most precision.
I love to make Israeli Salad. Because of its precision (some would call it tedious), it requires focus, especially if you don’t have great knife skills. For me, it’s “vegetative,” that is, a meditative exercise involving beautiful vegetables:
Ingredients (Serves four along with other breakfast items)
Plum tomatoes, 6 ripe but firm
Pickling cucumbers, 2-3 or Persian cucumbers,* 3-4
Green onions, 2
Red bell peppers, 1-2
Avocado (opt.), 1-2 ripe but firm
Extra virgin olive oil
Juice of one lemon
Salt and pepper
*Pickling cucumbers are preferable because of their finer grain and because they require no deseeding. Persian cucumbers are even better where available.
Although not necessary if the salad is eaten immediately, deseeding the tomatoes extends the time the salad will last without drowning in its own juices. Cut all the veggies into a uniform 1/4″ dice. Chop the onions and cilantro. Add extra virgin olive oil, the juice of a lemon and salt and pepper to taste.
VIDEO #2: Here’s one more video – a session I did at our Woodstock Farmers Market on the Israeli Breakfast. I’m a good deal slower and less expert than my son, but here’s the good news: if I can make this salad, anyone can! – https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=XNAdGkxq5vc
For more, visit my blog, vegetatingwithleslie.org, “Like” me on FaceBook/Vegetating with Leslie or follow me on Twitter, @vegwithleslie.