Tuesday, July 31, 2007

beat the heat drinks — no. 3

perfect for those hot days when you feel like the life is being sucked out of you, this is an instant hit of caffeine — a drink like the one that is served in greece at many a café. if you can get the greek version of nescafe, use that one as it's normally what is used to make this. the success of this frappé is with the use of instant coffee and not a brewed one. i use the israeli elite brand of instant. either way, you will not get the "head" of foam without instant coffee, the very hallmark of this particular iced drink. in north america, instant coffee is usually crystallized instead of powdered but it can also be used.

if you like, instead of regular ice cubes, prepare a batch of coffee ice cubes a few days before. this prevents the drink from becoming very diluted and insipid tasting. in terms of making them, nothing could be simpler: make a very strong batch of coffee and fill your ice cube trays and freeze, leaving a little space for expansion. once frozen, place them in a ziploc which you've double-bagged to prevent odours from infiltrating. it's also a good way to use up those extra cups of coffee you didn't drink and would have otherwise thrown down the drain. don't worry if you don't have them or want to make them, regular ice works just as well.

also, during the summer, it pays to make a simple sugar syrup instead of using regular sugar which doesn't always dissolve properly in cold water. it can be done on the stovetop by taking 1:1 proportions of sugar and water and boiling it down for a few minutes until it thickens slightly making an extremely thin syrup. you can store this in the fridge and use it when needed. it can be used for many cold or hot drinks. regular sugar, however, will work as well here.

greek-style iced frappé

makes 1 frappé


1/3 c coffee mixture = 1 - 3 tsp instant coffee + 1/3 c cold water

1/3 to 2/3 c (whole) milk or soymilk, or more water

sugar syrup or regular sugar, to taste

coffee ice cubes or regular ones


my preferred ratio is 2 tsp coffee powder and 3 tsp sugar;

make the coffee mixture [with the 1/3 c water] fairly strong or it will taste like nothing; experiment and start with 1 tsp, increasing to your preferred taste. i find 1 tsp too weak;

the instant coffee gives a huge amount of foam unlike when you make it from brewed coffee.


{the way i'm showing here is with regular sugar & ice which everyone already has readily available} so ....

in your blender, place the coffee and the 1/3 cup of water and the amount of sugar you want. process this at high speed until it is very, very foamy.

add the milk, soymilk or extra water and 4 ice cubes. blend again until the ice cubes are blended in.

place in your glass, add extra (very) cold water or milk to top up — leaving room for extra ice, stir well and taste.

adjust the sugar if you need more.

add extra ice cubes and sip away. as they melt, just stir with a straw or spoon or swish the drink around to blend all together.

you'll notice it separates into two nice layers — a pale brown foamy top and a darker brown coffee one.


Sunday, July 29, 2007

kitchen essentials — is your eggplant a boy or a girl?

okay, so you're probably wondering what in the world i'm talking about ..... and asking yourself why you would even need to know the sex of your eggplant?!

apparently, you can tell whether your aubergine is male or female from the marking on its bottom. the female will have a round brown one, and the male, a small line instead. this is relevant in terms of cooking because the male fruit, or vegetable as we generally call it, contains fewer seeds than the female, making it the better choice for many dishes. of course, the older the eggplant is (harvested), the more developed and tougher any seeds it does have will be. i'm not sure if this works with all types of eggplant, though.

example of a male eggplant:

note the straight line across the center

almost no seeds inside [this time, at least! i've been duped in the past but it often works — of course, someone may turn around and comment that this is total BS but it's still fun to believe it's true. and hey, here's the proof before your very eyes.... and this was a fairly large eggplant] :

very few seeds ....

Thursday, July 26, 2007

red and delicious

this very popular appetizer dish is found on many a sephardic table, especially those of jews having spanish descent, such as moroccans. it is a staple dish on the sabbath and at (almost) all holidays throughout the jewish calendar.

called la salade cuite (matboucha) or ensalada cocha, this dish is not a salad as we know it in north america. a "salade" {saw-lahd} in sephardic terms is more a kind of starter, of which there are several [such as this one]. a majority of them are composed of everyday vegetables, such as carrots, zucchini, beets and eggplant which are quickly cooked or slowly stewed, the latter method serving to concentrate and intensify their flavours. these salades are then served at either room temperature or slightly warm.

the way i am presenting it here is a very easy and quick way to do it and is the way many people prepare it. using fresh tomatoes, in my opinion, just doesn't pay as it takes tremendous time and effort to wash, peel, cut and cook them — using the canned variety gives just as decent results. note that for as many cooks as there are, equal numbers of versions and manners of preparing this appetizer exist.

this is la salade cuite in its most basic form. it is customarily eaten with challah or pita, like a spread. this also helps to sop up any of the wonderful juices.

ensalada cocha or la salade cuite (matboucha)

a tasty appetizer dish most commonly seen on the sephardi sabbath & holiday table, this is always served at room temperature with bread like challah or pita. because of its acidity, it can be kept for at least a week in the fridge and gets better over the course of a few days.


1 28 oz can diced tomatoes
4 - 5 cloves garlic
1 or 2 green bell peppers
4 - 6 tbsp vegetable or mild olive oil

1 - 1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 - 2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cumin (optional)
2 tsp paprika

*some people like to add a (hot) green chili, or some harissa paste, for "une salade piquante" (spicy salade)

2 - 3 tbsp chopped fresh coriander (optional)


the first step in making this is to grill your green pepper(s). i do it in a grill pan on the stove top until all sides are charred, which takes about 30 to 40 minutes. you can also do it at 450F in the oven or toaster oven turning the pepper(s) every once in a while until they are blackened.

once it has charred, place it in a bowl and cover the bowl. let the pepper cool down and then peel away all of the skin.

remove the top and cut in half. discard the seeds.

cut the pepper into 1/4" strips lengthwise and set aside. keep the juices to add later; they are not bitter. cut the strips in half. they should be about 1 1/2 to 2 inches.

the second step is to cut the garlic into 1/8" slices and sauté them in 4 tbsp oil over medium low heat. cook them until they are softened. if they blacken, throw them out and start again.

add the whole can of diced tomatoes to the pan and the salt (start with 1 tsp and adjust at the end if needed), pepper, sugar and paprika. you can also add the green peppers now. add the harissa paste, to taste, or the hot green chili, if using.

bring it to a boil. once boiling, turn the heat to medium high. cook the mixture, covered, for a good 10 minutes and then remove the lid. the mixture should have thickened up.

at this point you can also keep the lid on half way to reduce splattering. i like to cook it in a wide sauté pan but you can also use a dutch oven casserole pan.

let the mixture cook for about 40 to 45 minutes or until there is very little, or almost no liquid left and the tomatoes are starting to look shiny.

the salade is cooked. remove from the heat and let it cool a bit. taste it and adjust the seasonings. add the chopped coriander, if using. i usually add a tbsp or two of extra virgin olive oil at this point but that is optional.

let it sit for a few hours for the flavours to settle.

serve at room temperature with challah or other bread like pita.


Wednesday, July 25, 2007

cool as a cucumber .... appetizer, that is

this was always a favourite summer starter item at my house, especially on the hot evenings when no one had much an appetite due to the heat. i used to call it the "cucumber thing" but i'm sure it has a proper name. it is definitely a mediterranean appetizer and is good with all kinds of breads. it also keeps well for a few days in the fridge, if it lasts that long.

it takes very little time at all to make and most everything is already in your pantry. while you don't have to add the nuts, it does give it texture and extra flavour, especially if the walnuts are toasted. make sure to use the high fat types of sour cream and yogurt. it just doesn't taste the same using the low fat ones.

the resulting flavour should be sweet and sour. one ingredient with adds to the flavour is sumac. it is a dark reddish coarse powder that can be found at any middle eastern or mediterranean grocer. it has a pleasant mildly sour taste to it. if you can't get it, then use lemon juice as an alternative.

sometimes, as a variation, we added 1/4 to 1/2 c crumbled feta, depending on how salty it was. you could also add a bit of crumbled blue cheese or goat's (chevre).

cucumber & walnut summer appetizer

richly flavoured with sour cream and thick yogurt, this appetizer has texture from small green chunks of summer cucumber and lightly toasted walnuts. it is pleasantly sweet and sour and a good appetizer for hot summer evenings.


1 small seedless cucumber*
1 clove garlic, finely minced

1/2 tsp salt
3/4 - 1 tsp sugar
dill, fresh or dried (see recipe directions)

16 whole large shelled walnuts, toasted**
(1 is for garnishing)

1 c thick sour cream
1 c plain yogurt (thick kind is best)

1/4 - 1/2 c crumbled feta (optional)

extra virgin olive oil
sumac or lemon juice

* make sure its at least 6 -7 inches with a perfect skin (unwaxed/unsprayed)
** or use 3 or 4 tbsp coarsely chopped walnuts


wash cucumber and cut off ends. cut in half and then cut again lengthwise into 5 or 6 strips. cut each strip into 1/4 inch dice. place in a bowl.

toast and chop the walnuts. add the chopped toasted walnuts, salt and sugar and stir to combine.
mince the garlic and add to bowl. do the same with the dill. if using fresh you need 3 tbsp or if using dry 1 1/2 tsp.

next add the sour cream and stir. then add the yogurt. blend everything together. you can add a bit more of sour cream or yogurt; the mixture should be quite thick.

add crumbled feta cheese at this point, if using. taste the mixture. it should taste fairly sweet and a little salty. adjust if you need to.

refrigerate covered until serving.

once you decide to eat it, drizzle olive oil in a concentric circle . you only need about 1 to 2 tbsp of oil. then sprinkle about 1 tsp sumac or 1 tbsp lemon juice around the mixture. you can garnish it with a walnut in the center (or a few more) and some extra fresh dill.

it goes very well with pita, lavash, or any other bread you enjoy and as part of a mezze table.


Monday, July 23, 2007

an ancient bread

a bread of antiquity, lavash is common to many mediterranean and middle eastern countries, covering an area from turkey all the way to the caucasus. its origin is said to have come from persia (today iran) where it is still very popular. mostly, it seems, it is commonly associated with armenian and turkish food despite it being found far and wide.

a daily bread composed of nothing more than wheat flour, yeast, water and some salt, lavash can be either soft or dry and crisp and comes in a variety of shapes such as round, rectangular or oval. depending upon its country of origin, it can also sometimes garnished with sesame seeds and salt. this important bread is found in sizes from fairly small to extremely large.

as with many ancient breads, lavash is traditionally cooked in a clay or brick style oven which is set in the ground commonly known as a tandoor (though the name changes from country to country). halfway down page of this site, you can see how they make it in a tonir (tandoor) oven; the breads are very large. you can also see it being cooked here and here. the original "ovens" however were most likely large rocks heated in a fire.

lavash, as found here in north american supermarkets, is dry and sold as a crackerbread. it can be easily made yourself in a very hot oven with really good results as i show below. it is excellent on its own or used as a spoon or eating utensil for dips such as hoummous b'tehina or those made with sour cream or yogurt, like tzadziki.


often called, or marketed as a 'cracker bread' in north america, this stores for a very long time without any deterioration in flavour and is good for entertaining or everyday snacking. bake it on a cool day though as the oven needs to be at its highest temperature for best results. you can cut the recipe in half, too, if the full amount is too much. this version uses yogurt but it can be omitted — just increase the water content to replace it.

makes 10 lavash


1/2 oz (14 gr) fresh yeast or 2 tsp dry* (instant preferable)
1/2 c warm water
4 tbsp plain yogurt
1/2 c warm water, plus extra as needed

2 1/2 c bread flour (AP is ok)
1 1/2 c whole wheat flour
1 1/2 tsp salt


if using fresh yeast, dissolve it in the half cup of warm water and mix until completed incorporated.

if using dry instant yeast, prove the yeast in the 1/2 c warm water but add a 1/4 tsp sugar*. if using active dry type, use 2 1/4 tsp of yeast.

once proved, add the yogurt and the extra 1/2 c warm water and mix will until all is blended.

while the yeast is proving, mix the dry ingredients together in a large bowl or mixer.

in the center of the flour, add the wet mixture and mix until you get a ball of dough. you may need to add up to 1/4 c extra warm water depending on the season and day you're making it. add the extra water in tablespoons. the dough should be fairly stiff.

knead the dough for a full 10 minutes until it is smooth and elastic.

put the dough in the bowl again and add 2 tsp oil and coat the ball of dough. cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm place to rise.

the rising time will vary with the temperature and type of yeast you are using. it can take anywhere from 1 hour to 2 or 3 hours. the dough should double. i put mine in the oven with the pilot light on.

once doubled, punch the dough down and make it into a ball again. cover and put it back for 1/2 hour this time and then remove it to the counter.

preheat your oven at this point to its highest temp., minimum of 450 F. and place two baking sheets in it which can withstand the temperature. they need to be absolutely hot.

take the dough and divide it in half. keep one half of the dough covered.

with the first half, divide the dough evenly into 5 balls (make a rope 10 inch long and cut every 2 inches). cover 4 of them with a towel or plastic wrap to prevent drying out.

on a well floured surface, roll the lavash in a round shape. do this to the next one and let the first one rest while you are rolling number 2. go back to the first and stretch it with your hands trying to make it thinner. make sure to reflour your work surface, and roll it out as thinly as you can, turning the dough every so often. try not to make any rips in the dough. it will be delicate. remember, it takes some practice so if the first don't work too well, keep persevering.

continue the process with the other balls. your timing and rolling will depend on your rolling space and how quickly your oven heats to the right temperature.

carefully remove one of the pans and quickly and carefully slap down the lavash and return it right away to the oven and let cook for only 6 to 8 minutes. they will bubble up and brown a bit.

the timing will depend on your oven so i cannot give you exact times. i can tell you, however, that i turn the lavash half way through (3.5 min per side @ 500F). the lavash will be darker around the edges but that is okay. they need to be very, very crisp and not chewy. note that they will crisp further as they cool. example below is half cooked and not dark enough yet.

continue rolling and stretching the other lavash while they are baking. you can stack the uncooked ones, but make sure to use parchment between each of them to prevent sticking.

remove and place on cooking racks. store them in plastic bags. they will be good for a long time.

serve with your favourite dip and enjoy!

Friday, July 20, 2007

mediterranean shortbread you won't regret

this shortbread is something i found quite a few years ago from one of the moosewood books and is quite different from regular shortbread as it uses tehina paste which imparts a nutty flavour. it makes two rounds which yield 16 pieces but (the recipe) can be cut in half. i usually end up freezing one of the rounds to sneak out pieces for an occasional midnight snack or to serve for guests when i need something sweet to go with coffee.

the recipe can be made with or without the nuts, both ways are good. so, go ahead and try it. i'm sure you'll like it :) only caveat is not to overbake the shortbread or it will get hard and have too dark of a colour. the tahini paste can be easily purchased in major supermarkets these days, at specality stores or even made yourself at home if you cannot get it ready made.

tehina shortbread

this mediterranean or mideastern-type shortbread is a nice deviation from the norm and is perfect for that strong cup of turkish coffee or espresso. simply made from butter, tehina paste, brown sugar and some flour, it bakes into a beautiful dessert, especially when adding pecans. of course, nuts are optional but they do make a big difference.

yields 16 pieces


3/4 c butter
1/2 c tehina [sesame seed paste (aka tahini)]
1 1/4 c brown sugar, packed
1/4 tsp salt
2 c cake and pastry flour (or AP), unsifted

1/2 c chopped & toasted pecans or almonds

16 whole pecans or almonds, for garnish


preheat the oven to 375F and lightly butter two 7 inch round pans. if using 8 inch ones, you will need to bake the shortbread for less time and it will be much thinner. i suggest 7 inch pans.

if using the nuts, toast them first (not the reserved 16!) and chop them medium coarsely or smaller and set aside for later. you'll probably need about 3/4 to 1 c of whole nuts for the 1/2 c chopped amount. i've never measured beforehand.

in food processor or with mixer, blend the softened butter with the tehina paste until it is well blended.

add the sugar and salt and blend again until well mixed and smooth.

add the flour and blend again.

add the nuts, if using, and mix well. it will be a stiff mixture.

divide the mixture into two and place one half of the mixture into the greased pan.

press it down with your hands and use the other unfilled pan to compact it. the mixture should be about a 1/4 inch thick. do the same for the other pan.

lightly score the shortbread with a spatula or knife into 8 equal segments and press a nut into each piece.

bake for only 15 minutes or less. the edges should be slightly browned. keep watch or it may cook too fast.

remove from oven and after about 10 minutes, cut through the segments very carefully. it is more difficult to do if you used nuts in the mixture and as you get to the edges. you must cut it before it cools or it will crumble to pieces.

wait for it to cool completely. don't take it out before or it will fall apart; it needs time for the sugar and butter to set into a solid.

once cooled, serve and enjoy!