Sweet Pepper Salad


peppers final

I love the colors in this salad, and I love the color contrasts among my salads! I usually use red bell peppers, but orange or yellow bell peppers or any mix of the three will work equally well.

Ingredients

  • 6-8 red, yellow or orange bell peppers
  • 2 – 3 cloves garlic, hand minced
  • 1/4 cup white vinegar
  • 2 TB extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 2 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp Szeged hot paprika
  • 1/3 bunch cilantro, chopped

Procedure

  1. Wash peppers.
  2. Smoke or brown peppers under the broiler. I usually use a broiler for this and turn the peppers several times so they are evenly “burned” and the skin starts to wrinkle.
  3. Remove the skins. I also cut away a little of the white pulpy material that attaches to the core but leave most of the seeds.
  4. Slice peppers into strips. Cut across the strips into shorter pieces.
  5. Place pepper strips into a mixing bowl with their juices and some seeds.
  6. Add remaining ingredients to taste.

 peppers cut

 image

First cut the peppers lengthwise into strips, then across  into shorter pieces. Makes about 1 quart of salad.

A Shabbat Meditation

sunrise

I hosted a Shabbat dinner last evening and shared with my guests the 39 categories of work that are prohibited on the Sabbath. These categories, set out in the Mishnah, reflect the work associated with preparing the showbread for the ancient Temple (agricultural labors) and with building the tabernacle and creating the priestly vestments.

These categories of work are relevant to a time and a place, and over the centuries, ongoing interpretation has made them relevant to other times and places. The question that generates these prohibitions is the commandment that we should “rest” on the Sabbath. The question, therefore, is “What does ‘rest’ mean?” I can almost hear the rabbis discussing that concept.

The rabbis also make positive statements associated with the fourth commandment, to honor the Sabbath. These commandments and traditions include wearing festive clothing and refraining from unpleasant conversation, reciting kiddush over a cup of wine at the beginning of Shabbat meals or after morning prayers, eating three festive meals, engaging in pleasurable activities such as singing, studying, spending time with the family and marital relations, and reciting havdalah at the end of the Sabbath. It is the prohibitions, though, that have the status of commandments.

It occurs to me that with the prohibitions, the rabbis create a space for us to experience the meaning of “rest” freely instead of dictating what our experience should be. They are, in effect, modeling the freedom of Shabbat, freedom of worship.

The rabbis are confident that if we do not engage in the activities which fill our days, we will have a different kind of experience, an experience that will revolutionize our worldview. The prohibitions create a space for each of us to have that experience. We enhance the possibility of experience by engaging in the positive activities.

A tradition says that if every Jewish person observed Shabbat in all its particulars twice in a row, the Messiah would come (Shabbat 118). I believe that possibility exists because a complete Sabbath experience  has the power to revolutionize perspective and worldview and as a result, one’s way of acting in the world.

Lebanese Potato Salad

Lebanese Potato Salad - Final

This potato salad is my version of a Lebanese classic. It is the vegan version of my Dill Potato Salad, also posted in this blog. I like to use turmeric with potatoes whenever I can, leave the peels on potatoes and take advantage of the beautiful variety of colorful potato skins these days. I always start lighter with my seasonings and adjust them up to what is listed in the recipe if needed.

Ingredients

  • 6 lb. potatoes (2/3 white/yellow skins, 1/3 red and/or purple skins)
  • 1 TB salt
  • 1 TB turmeric
  • 1 tsp hot paprika
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped dill
  • 3 green onions chopped
  • 2-3 Middle Eastern dill pickles chopped
  • 4-5 TB lemon juice (juice of about 2 lemons)
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil

Procedure

  1. Using a variety of potatoes to give color to the salad and leaving the peels on, dice into 1″ pieces.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil and add 1 TB turmeric.  Add diced potatoes, bring back to a boil, reduce heat and cook until done (can be pierced through easily with a fork).
  3. When done, remove potatoes from water, drain, chill quickly in ice water bath, and drain again.
  4. Place chilled potatoes in bowl. Sprinkle olive oil over them, then lemon juice, then chopped dill, green onions and seasonings.
  5. Fold all together gently, adjust seasoning, enjoy!

Lebanese Potato Salad - Dressed

These potatoes are cut in a 1″ dice and cooked in boiling water with tumeric.

Lebanese Potato Salad Additions

These are additional chopped ingredients. Take a look at that 3d printed lemon juicer that my son printed for me! It sits on a cup and is the best juicer I’ve ever had. The shape of the “cone” makes the difference.

Lebanese Potato Salad - PreMix

Potatoes with all ingredients waiting to be folded in to complete the salad.

Feeding the Soul: Veggie Cholent

Veggie Cholent

I am interested in the spiritual value of rituals.

When my grandson was born, I said, “We need a ritual!”  Sunday breakfast became that ritual.  Over the years, details have changed, but the basic activity remains. 

Sunday breakfast has layers of meaning, different for each of us.  Some meaning can be expressed in words…some not.  Therein lies the value of ritual as non- or pre-verbal meaning. 

So it is with Cholent (Yiddish) or Hamin (Hebrew), meaning “hot.” Cholent is a stew prepared and put on to cook before the Jewish Sabbath begins on Friday and enjoyed as the midday meal on Saturday.  It is a way to enjoy warm food without violating the prohibition against cooking on the Sabbath.

Cholent has a very special meaning for me.  I am not a multi-tasker, yet I am usually doing at least three things at once.  I am distracted and hardly feeling nurtured. 

When I sit down to eat my cholent with friends and family, though, I am in a different space.  Something miraculous happens while the cholent is left untended — then this gift arrives effortlessly on my table. I am nurtured by it.  Enjoying cholent is a ritual that has layers of meaning beyond its taste and the fact that I eat it on the same day at the same time each week. 

Making cholent has itself become a meaningful ritual activity.  I gather ingredients and put them together.  I anticipate the miracle that will happen overnight in that pot and the pleasure I will experience when I am able to share the miracle with others the next day. 

This year my son gave me the gift of time by helping with some of the cooking in my Cafe.  In return, I gave him the gift of preparing cholent each week.  As I eat it, I can taste the layers of meaning it is taking on for him.  This is “cooking with love,” feeding the soul while feeding the body.  Soul food.

There are many ways to make cholent.  Here is my way:

Ingredients
(Makes 2 Gal. – halve the recipe unless you have a really big crockpot!)

  • 1 TB Garlic
  • 3 TB Ginger
  • 2 TB Cumin
  • 1 TB + 2 TSP Salt
  • 2 Tsp Hot Paprika
  • 1 Lg Spanish Onion cut in 1 in. chunks
  • 2 Lg or 3 Sm Potatoes (Idaho), peeled & cut in 1 in. chunks
  • 2 Lg or 3 Sm Sweet Potatoes
  • 1 LB Dried Beans (Kidney, Pinto, White Pea)
  • 1/2 LB Dried Chickpeas
  • 1 Bunch Cilantro, chopped
  • 1/2 Cup Barley
  • 1/2 Cup Whole Wheat Berries
  • 1/4 Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 12 Eggs in the shell

Preparation

  1. Mix all ingredients except eggs in a crockpot bowl.
  2. Add water to an inch above mixture.
  3. Tuck whole uncooked eggs in the shell into the top of the mixture, making certain they are fully submerged.
  4. Wrap foil tightly over top.  Put lid over foil.
  5. Turn pot on medium. Cook 10-12 hours or more.
  6. Remove eggs, rinse and shell.
  7. Arrange peeled eggs on top of cholent.

Here’s to joy-filled, soulful eating!

Red Cabbage Slaw

Red Cabbage Slaw
Red Cabbage Slaw

On Friday evenings, I enjoy the first meal of the Sabbath. I like to prepare a table filled with colorful and delicious salads to tantalize my guests and add to the joy of these occasions. For years I made these salads weekly in my home. Now I offer them daily in my Cafe.

cabbage_slice

cabbage_vertical

 

cabbage_dice

Ingredients

  • 1/2 lg. head red cabbage
  • 1/2 sm. red onion
  • juice of 1/2 – 1 lemon (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 tsp. salt (to taste)
  • 2 tsp. cumin
  • 1/2 – 1 tsp. Szeged (Hungarian) hot paprika (to taste)
  • 1/2 cup mayonnaise

Preparation

  1. Petite dice the cabbage. Here’s how I cut the cabbage when I do it by hand: Cut thin slices of cabbage. Stack three or four at a time. Cut through the stack in thin strips. Cut in a perpendicular direction across the stack of strips. When all the cabbage has been cut this way, it may require a little bit of additional chopping but probably not if you keep your gridwork strips thin enough. Place the cabbage in a bowl.
  2. Petite dice the onion. Here’s how I do that: Cut off the ends of the onion. Remove the outer layer. Cut the onion in half between the cut ends. Place the flat side of one half down on the cutting board. Cut across the onion in narrow strips, holding the onion together as you work. Turn the cut onion 1/4 turn and cut across the onion in narrow strips, forming a gridwork. The shape of the onion itself will leave you with a very small dice. Add the onion to the cabbage in the bowl.
  3. Chop the cilantro, and add to the cabbage and onion in the bowl.
  4. Fold in seasonings and mayonnaise to taste. It will vary with the amount of raw product and your preference. I like my salad to taste slightly tangy from the lemon but not overly tart – and to be zesty (from the hot paprika) but not “hot.” Start with the smaller amount of lemon, salt and hot paprika, and increase until it’s perfect for you. You can always add seasoning, but you can’t reduce it!

cabbage_b4_mix

For a vegan version, this salad can be made with extra virgin olive oil instead of mayonnaise.  Add 1/2 cup EVOO in place of the mayonnaise and bump up the lemon a bit.

cabbage_fin_veg

Dill Potato Salad

Dill Potato Salad
Dill Potato Salad

On Friday evenings, I enjoy the first meal of the Sabbath. I like to prepare a table filled with colorful and delicious salads to tantalize my guests and add to the joy of these occasions. For years I made these salads weekly in my home. Now I offer them daily in my Cafe.

Ingredients

  • 12 Idaho potatoes
  • 3 green onions
  • 6 coarsely chopped Middle Eastern pickles in brine
  • 1 red bell pepper, petite diced (the original recipe called for a can of peas & carrots, drained)
  • 1 TB sea salt
  • 1 tsp Szeged (Hungarian) hot paprika
  • 1 cup mayonnaise or to taste
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh dill

Preparation

1. Peel potatoes and place them in cold water while working on the rest of the salad.
2. Dice the potatoes into 1/2″-1″ pieces. In the Cafe, I can use a machine for this process. At home, I do it by hand by cutting slices across the potato, stacking the pieces and cutting through the stack in a grid-like pattern. I try to keep the cuts as even as possible. Return the diced pieces to the bowl of water.

potatosalad_dicepotatosalad_dice_water

3. When all potatoes are diced, bring 2 quarts of water to the boil in a 4 quart pot.
4. Drain and add diced potatoes to the boiling water. Lower heat to simmer until potatoes are tender.
5. When potatoes are tender, place into a colander and drain. Put colander into a larger bowl filled with ice water. When potatoes are cold, drain the water.
6. Place drained potatoes in a bowl. Add all chopped veggies (green onions, fresh dill, pickles, red bell pepper) and sprinkle seasonings across the top.

potatosalad_partspotatosalad_dice_bowl

7. Spread mayonnaise across the top.
8. Gently fold all together. Adjust seasoning.

For a vegan version, see my Lebanese Potato Salad.

“NoMeat” Loaf

 NoMeatLoaf_Sliced

I started this meal with a recipe from Chow Vegan on Pinterest (Home-style Vegan Meatloaf). I noticed there was a discussion associated with the recipe about a gluten-free version (the original was not gluten-free).  I came up with the following by substituting flaxseed and water for the breadcrumbs and using Tamari wheat free soy sauce. Although I am not personally gluten-free, many of my customers are, and when it’s possible to make something taste just as good without gluten, I try to do it.

Ingredients

  • 2 lg onions
  • 4 stalks celery
  • 8 carrots
  • 4 cups dried chickpeas
  • 1+ cups extra virgin olive oil
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 3 tsp basil
  • 2 tsp sage
  • 2 TB lemon juice
  • 2 TB salt
  • 8 TB Tamari wheat free soy sauce
  • 1 tsp hot paprika
  • 12 garlic cloves
  • 4 cups ground flaxseed
  • 1 cup reserved chickpea liquid
  • Organic catsup

Preparation

  1. Wash and dice the onions and celery and saute in extra virgin olive oil.
  2. Wash and chunk the carrots and process with the garlic until they are in small pieces (not pureed).  Add the carrots and garlic to the onions and celery and continue to saute.
  3. Add seasonings to mixture in the pan.
  4. Cook the chickpeas until al dente (fairly soft).  Drain (reserving liquid) and pulse in the processor until they are a rough chop. Place in a bowl.
  5. Stir the veggie and seasoning mix into the processed chickpeas and mix well.
  6. Add flaxseed to veggies, seasoning and chickpeas and mix well.
  7. Add reserved chickpea liquid and salt and mix well (you can start with a reduced amount of salt and bring it up to your taste).
  8. Form into loaves and coat with a good, organic catsup.
  9. Place on a baking sheet and bake at 475 degrees for 30 minutes.
  10. Remove from oven.  Place about 2 tsp catsup on top of each loaf and spread over top and sides.
  11. Remove each loaf carefully from the baking sheet with a spatula and turn to the opposite side.  Place about 2 tsp catsup on top of each loaf again and spread over top and sides.
  12. Return loaves to the oven to bake another 15 minutes or until the catsup has darkened some.
  13. Remove the loaves from the oven and, using a spatula, from the pan to a serving platter.
  14. The loaves are most attractive when they are cut.  They will cut more easily with a serrated knife when somewhat cooled – best if cold. They can be served cold or warm.

NoMeatLoaf_whole

This recipe yields 28 1/2 cup mini-loaves.  Extra loaves can be frozen for another occasion, or the recipe can be reduced to 1/4 quantities for a family meal.

The Value of Cooperation

foodshed

This post was published in The FOODshed Coop blog.

I have learned many things from the experience of owning a cafe, but my most important lesson is that putting good and wholesome food on a table is by nature a cooperative venture. Even if we imagine ourselves to be independent, we are not. I believe that recognizing our interdependence and building on it makes us better.

As my son, Jeremy, recently wrote in his 3D printing blog, amazing things happen as the result of sharing resources and cooperation. I have come to believe that the vast challenges to our food supply and consequently our health cannot be resolved by a cafe here or a business there or by government intervention. These issues can only be addressed effectively through cooperation and sharing among like-minded individuals and organizations at every level of the food supply chain.

Until the recent economic downturn, I was privileged not to have to worry about the grocery bills from week to week.  I was able to raise a family on mostly organic food, for a period of time from my own garden. I was also blessed in being a stay-at-home mom during my kids’ early years. This meant I could take the time to read about health, search for good recipes and, most importantly, make all of our meals at home from whole foods. I was able to maintain the illusion that in my efforts, I was independent.

Now I work many hours, like so many folks out there.  I have learned how difficult and exhausting it can be having to worry about pennies and dimes.  I have learned how challenging it can be to work long hours and still try to plan a healthy menu of home-cooked meals, to shop for them and to cook them. And purchasing those beautiful organic and specialty items I was no longer able to grow or gather? Forget it! Here too were lessons about the importance of cooperation and a reminder that when it comes to food, independence is indeed an illusion.

Still, I had the advantage of what I learned during those years  when I was a stay-at-home mom, planting and caring for my large organic garden and experimenting with cooking until I found things I loved to eat that were usually easy to make. To the extent those meals were vegetarian, they were usually comparatively economical even when opting for high quality ingredients over cheaper processed items.

When I ended up in the restaurant business, I thought I would like to share what I had learned with others. I wanted to make the same healthy, economical foods in my cafe that I learned to make at home. I assumed that since I am vegetarian, and my cafe would be vegetarian, it would be easy to keep food costs down, and I would be able to make a small but sufficient living. I could just cook from scratch from whole foods as I had done at home and serve it up to people, no problem.

Right.

Anyone who has ever been in or had anything to do with the food business probably knows how naive that thought was. The food business is difficult under any circumstances, more difficult for someone with no business background or background in the food industry — and in today’s world, there are special challenges to doing what I want to do.

I want to prepare and serve delicious food, wholesome food, food prepared from scratch with love and with minimal and highly selective use of those ingredients that are a product of food factories. I would like to do that in a way that will make the food affordable for my customers. Good food, whole food made from scratch that is low-cost? At some distance from major cities? An oxymoron, perhaps?

Here are the special challenges of running a cafe featuring unprocessed vegetarian foods at some distance from a major city:

  • Not as many products are available locally as are available closer to the city.
  • Vendors don’t deliver to smaller operations at a distance from urban centers.
  • Preparing all fresh food from produce is labor-intensive. I hoped to do it myself. I can’t. Imagine cooking for a party of 60 or more people every day — and doing it as the guests are arriving!

It  costs a lot to run a food business, even a vegetarian cafe featuring unprocessed foods, perhaps especially a vegetarian cafe featuring unprocessed foods. Processed items are a ubiquitous part of our nationwide food supply chain.  Being off the beaten track either geographically or conceptually costs. We struggle to make ends meet, especially during the long, cold Midwestern winters.  So I should raise my prices, right? But then I can’t fulfill my commitment to produce affordable wholesome food for my customers.

It has occurred to me recently that many food solutions currently out there are solutions only for the wealthy: organic foods, small specialty food operations like mine. Recently I saw an organic food delivery business – great idea for those who can afford it.  I saw an indoor aeroponics system, another great idea for year-round home-growing for seed-to-table foods.  Also costly.

And yet one out of every five children in this country is living in poverty.  People in the Delta region of this country have a 10 year lower life expectancy than the rest of us, and one of the biggest factors in that is lack of access to wholesome food.

A couple of months ago, I was privileged to host a movie called Food for Change, a film that explores the development of the cooperative movement in the United States with a focus on food.  It’s hard to describe the impact this film had on me the two times I viewed it. It portrays a world I want to live in, a world based on cooperation more than self-interest.

As the movie unfolded, I recognized it as a giant step toward resolving our food supply problem.  A food cooperative is a system where each participant is an important part of the whole, and each participant both benefits and contributes.  There is an understanding that each must benefit, each must have a sustainable position in the overall economy of the cooperative.  This kind of cooperation is locally based so presents an effective model for areas that are remote from large cities. The principle of local cooperation celebrates our food interdependence from seed to table.

The movie was shown as part of a membership drive for a McHenry County food cooperative.  The Food Shed (www.foodshed.coop) is scheduled to open sometime during 2015. I am very excited about this effort and see it as a way to make wholesome food available and affordable to everyone in this country.

As my son said in his 3D printing blog, amazing things happen when people cooperate!

Chermoula Eggplant ala Yotam Ottolenghi

eggplant05

In Jerusalem: A Cookbook, by Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi, this dish is called, “Chermoula Eggplant with Bulgur and Yogurt.” The book is filled with exquisite photographs, and this dish is an example of food that is not only beautiful and delicious but easy to make and healthy.  On our vegan days in the Cafe, we substitute Tahini Sauce for the yogurt.

Sauce Ingredients

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 tsp ground cumin
  • 2 tsp ground coriander
  • 1 tsp chili flakes (I used 1 tsp hot paprika)
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika
  • 2 TB finely chopped preserved lemon peel (I used the same amount of fresh lemon peel – another time a whole preserved lemon, chopped)
  • 2/3 cups extra virgin olive oil

Bulgur “Filling” Ingredients

  • 1 cup fine bulgur (#1 cracked wheat)
  • 2/3 cups boiling water
  • 1/3 cup golden raisins
  • 3.5 TB warm water
  • 1/3 oz. (2 tsp) cilantro, chopped, plus extra to finish
  • 1/3 oz. (2 tsp) mint, chopped
  • 1/3 cup sliced pitted green olives*
  • 1/3 cup sliced almonds, toasted
  • 3 green onions, chopped
  • 1.5 TB freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1/2 cup Labne (Middle Eastern yogurt) or Tahina
  • Salt

2 medium eggplants (I used 6 of the narrower Japanese eggplants)

Eggplant_lg

Preparation

  1. Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
  2. Crush the garlic and mix with the other ingredients for the Chermoula, or blend all in a Vitamix.
  3. Cut the eggplants in half lengthwise. Score the flesh of each half with deep, diagonal crisscross cuts, making sure not to pierce the skin. Spoon the Chermoula over each half, spreading it evenly, and place the eggplant halves on a baking sheet, cut side up. Put in the oven and roast for 40 minutes or until the eggplants are completely soft. Time may vary considerably depending on the size of the eggplants. Watch that sauce doesn’t burn.
  4. Meanwhile, place the bulgur in a large bowl and cover with boiling water.
  5. Soak the raisins in the warm water. After 10 minutes, drain the raisins and add them to the bulgur along with the remaining oil. Add the herbs, olives, almonds, green onions, lemon juice and a pinch of salt and stir to combine. Taste and add more salt if necessary.
  6. Serve the eggplants warm or at room temperature. Place 1/2 eggplant, cut side up, on each individual plate. Spoon the bulgur on top, allowing some to fall from both sides. Spoon over some yogurt (or Tahina), sprinkle with cilantro and finish with a drizzle of oil.

*Middle Eastern olives have a different flavor from American olives, and I prefer them.  They also tend to be made without chemicals and preservatives.  

Tea with Nana (Mint)

Tea with Nana (Mint)

The Japanese Tea Ceremony or “The Way of Tea” is a well-known ritual.  Not so well-known are the requirements for preparing tea on the Sabbath if you are an observant Jew.  Even when it is not the Sabbath, preparing Tea with Nana can be a beautiful ritual, and drinking the tea is only one part of it.

Select beautiful, fresh mint with stems that have not turned woody, preferably from an area that has not been subjected to pesticide sprays.  Immerse in cold water to remove any sand or debris.  Remove from the water and allow to drain in a sieve for a few moments.  If not using right away, wrap the mint loosely in paper towel, bag and store in the vegetable bin of the refrigerator.

When you’re ready to make the tea, choose a clean glass that is an appropriate tea size.   Some websites display beautiful Moroccan style tea glasses, lightly colored with ornamentation.   Remove a bunch of mint from what you have prepared, leaving the leaves attached to the stem but removing any unsightly stem pieces.  Fill your glass with the mint, stems down.

Tea - Nana (Mint) in Glass

Bring a pot of water to a full boil.  Pour the water into the glass over the mint leaves and allow to steep.  

Tea - Adding Water to Nana (Mint)

The water will turn light green as the mint steeps, and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful aroma of fresh mint.

Tea - Nana (Mint) Steeping

You can drink the tea just like this or drop a tea bag into the water briefly to steep until the tea is the strength you enjoy.

Tea - Nana (Mint) with Tea Bag Added

This simple tea when made correctly will be clear and beautiful with a wonderful aroma.  It is delightful to sip at any time of year, alone or with friends.