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.

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cabbage_vertical

 

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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!

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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.

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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.

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

For a vegan version, see my Lebanese Potato Salad.

The Value of Cooperation

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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)

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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)

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.

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

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

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.

Tea or Coffee?

Tea with Nana (Mint)

The Japanese Tea Ceremony or “Way of Tea” is a well-known ritual.  Not so well-known are the requirements for preparing tea and coffee on the Sabbath if you are an Orthodox Jew.

A number of years ago I lived in an Orthodox Jewish community.  I often had people to my home for Sabbath dinners on Friday evening or lunches on Saturday afternoon after synagogue.

The food for these meals all had to be prepared before the Sabbath began since cooking is prohibited on the Sabbath.  Hot drinks such as tea must be prepared according to the following:

“One may not pour the hot water from the kettle directly onto an uncooked solid or liquid since this would be considered cooking. Coffee, tea, and cocoa fall into this category. Therefore, to make tea or coffee on Shabbat, use the following method:

  • pour the hot water from the kettle into a clean, dry cup;
  • pour the water from this cup into another cup; and
  • then add teabag, tea essence, coffee, sugar or milk. If using a teabag, do not squeeze it.
  • If using a teabag, do not remove the bag from the drink.

“Some authorities recommend that instead of using teabags, a special concentrated “tea essence” be prepared before Shabbat. One cup of tea essence is prepared by allowing six teabags to steep in a cup of boiling water. Use one tablespoon of this concentrate to make a cup of tea.” – http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/95914/jewish/Food-Preparation-on-Shabbat.htm

At first glance, it appears that the simple act of brewing a cup of tea has been made complicated.  Still, hot tea is a possibility, and observant Jews regularly enjoy it on the Sabbath.  

Coffee always seemed a little different . . . until the advent of coffee bags.  Generally coffee is brewed in advance of the Sabbath and held warm in an urn.   An alternative is instant coffee with water heated in advance of the Sabbath and held warm.  Some of my friends prepared a coffee essence and diluted it with pre-heated water.  As coffee lovers can imagine, these techniques don’t result in the best coffee.

And then one day, much to my delight, I discovered coffee bags in the store, which worked just like teabags.  At one of my luncheons after synagogue when the time came for us to enjoy our tea, I brought out the coffee bags as well.  I asked if they could be used in the same way as tea bags on the Sabbath.

An hour later we were still debating the possibility of making coffee with bags on the Sabbath just the way we made our tea — and the techniques that would make it allowable!  I confess I experienced some impatience.  I now realize that my impatience closed the window on an opportunity for a profound spiritual experience.

It occurs to me that this particular way of engaging in a joyful activity, drinking tea (or coffee) with friends on the Sabbath while paying attention to the rules and regulations that shape the Sabbath, is a ritual event.  Considering in detail how to conduct the ritual, as my friends were doing that day, centered consciousness.

Ritual is a way of sanctifying the mundane, of setting a moment apart from all other moments and calling upon us to stop and be aware.  Only awareness and intentionality separate ritual from routine and habit.

The choice to enjoy tea and coffee with friends in this place, in this time and in this way was fully intentional.  The ritual of  tea and coffee drinking on the Sabbath in a particular way made a mundane act into a sacred event, offering an opportunity for full awareness in the moment.

Although I love good coffee, I still prefer Tea with Nana (mint) in these special moments.  Be sure to check out my recipe!

A Starting Thought

food chain

My Masters thesis started out as an exploration of meals in the Bible.  As often happens with beginning researchers, the topic was vast and needed a lot of refining.  Finally I settled on “Meals in Genesis” and conducted a structural analysis of that book.  I discovered that the deep structures of the Genesis narrative were chiasms with “meals” at their center.  I wondered why meals are at such pivotal points in the narrative?

At a later time in another degree program, my interests focused on ritual.  Again I wondered why meals are the center point of so much religious ritual?

And then there is my life, where being thoughtful about food and preparing and enjoying meals with family and friends and customers has had such an important role.  Why was I intuitively drawn so strongly to meals as a center point of meaning in my own life?

This thought occurs to me about meals: as we gather raw ingredients, prepare food and eat, we embrace the central moral paradox of human existence, that it requires taking life to sustain life.  How we respond to that paradox defines us as human beings.

As we journey through our lives, we both eat and nourish, destroy and enrich.  The great gift we have as human beings is that we can make conscious decisions about the balance of eating and nourishing, taking and giving, in our own lives.  The challenge is to remain fully aware, making conscious choices on each step of our journey.

My own journey has been the work of a lifetime, and it’s a journey that continues today. I’m still learning and growing and changing.

Thinking about food from different perspectives has been a central part of my journey. It has taught me so much about life, given a practical dimension to an academic pursuit, inspired me to clarify my own values and motivated me to put those values to work in the world. I’d like to share with you some ways to think about food and how that process can shape your life.

Along the way, I’ll also share recipes and information about projects and products I like and have found meaningful.