Tuesday, March 18, 2008

challah for purim

with purim — or the festival of lots — only a few days away now, much baking is happening in many a household. considered a very joyful holiday, it is one filled with lots of food, especially sweet things to be served at home and to be given away in mishlo'ach man'ot or celebratory {holiday} baskets spilling over with all sorts of good things.

any jewish festivity also typically has some form of bread associated with it. the following challah is the "ashkenazified" version of the sefardi one that i know as la rosca de purim. it is askkenazified with respect to the filling but retains the sefardi shape of a twisted round (i remember being told it was the noose used to hang haman! LOL). the original bread is not a filled one and contains raki, some dried fruit & a few spices — not something i particularly like/d. this version makes a great bread which is always enjoyed by everyone. i like it even better the next day; if you keep it wrapped in a plastic bag, the onion mixture softens the dough nicely and the flavours deepen.

it is an easy bread to make however it requires a more delicate hand than just making regular challah. read through all the instructions before starting it and don't go beyond the dimensions in the recipe or the dough will rip, especially while baking.

rosca de purim · challah for purim

makes one medium sized rosca (6, maybe up to 8 servings)



1 c finely chopped onion
2 tbsp margarine or butter
3 - 4 tbsp poppy seeds
1/2 tsp salt
1/8 - 1/4 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp sugar


1 tsp rapid rise yeast (or 1 1/2 tsp regular)
1/4 tsp sugar
1/4 c warm water

1 large egg*
4 tbsp margarine or butter, melted
1 tsp salt
1 tsp sugar

2 1/2 c bread flour (or ap flour)

*mix the egg in a small dish and use half for the dough and the other half to coat the loaf


make the filling:

chop the onion finely and measure it. don't skip measuring it as adding too much will cause the loaf to split.

place the onion, poppy seeds, salt, pepper, sugar and margarine or butter in a microwaveable bowl and cook it for 1 1/2 minutes — until the onion wilts. you can also do this in fry pan. place aside covered until later.

make the dough:

prove the yeast with the sugar and water for 10 to 15 minutes.

in another bowl, add 1/2 the egg, the sugar, salt and melted margarine and mix well. make sure the margarine or butter is NOT hot or it will curdle the egg. add the yeast and mix again.

add half the flour and mix until you have a cohesive dough and wet mixture. beat it by hand for about 3 or 4 minutes. this will build the gluten.

add the rest of the flour and if the dough feels "wet" add a bit more. it will feel a little sticky at first but as you knead it will loose its stickiness.

knead the dough for a minimum of 5 to 7 minutes. up to 10 minutes is ideal.

place the dough in a bowl and let rise for 1 hour in a warm spot.

take the dough out of the bowl --> DO NOT roll it back into a ball. place it on a clean surface where you can roll it out.

cut the ball of dough exactly in half. keep one part in front of you and place the other back in the bowl and cover it.

press down on the dough and then roll it out into a rectangle which measures 10" x 8". it will look small at this point however you will roll it out further after you fill the dough. make sure the longer side, and not the short, is facing you as you will roll it up this way. important is not to exceed the dimensions as the dough runs the risk of splitting if you go too thin.

leaving a 1 inch border all the way around, place half the filling in the center of the dough. with a spatula spread it out HOWEVER leave a 2 inch border near the top — you can, as i show in the picture, go all the way to the 1 inch border but you may run the risk of the dough splitting. leaving a wider border near the top ensures it won't (err, well, shouldn't.....). if you're experienced at baking then go ahead and do as i have done.

roll the dough up lengthwise starting at the edge closest to you. roll it tightly and then pinch the dough where it meets as shown in the picture below. fuse the ends closed with your fingers.

now place this aside and cover it while repeating the process again for the second rope.

take the first rope (the second needs to wait for the gluten to relax) and gently lengthen it by rolling it — the finished length should measure 20 to 21 inches. do not exceed this.

fold it in half and set it aside and repeat with the second rope.

now place the ropes together next to each other and from the center start to twist them on either side. don't twist too tightly or it may break.

prepare your baking sheet. i always use parchment paper.

now make the ring by bringing the edges together and trying to join them. don't worry if they don't look perfect. as the ring proves, they will sort of grow into each other. if you like, you can place it in a bundt type pan but make sure it's a large one!

the other way this bread was shaped was not to make a ring but to bake it just as is, like a long (twisted) rope. this is the easier method for a beginning baker.

cover and let rise for about 50 minutes but after about 30 minutes, preheat oven to 350F.

with the reserved egg yolk, brush the loaf all over. sprinkle with poppy seeds.

bake the loaf for 35 to 40 minutes only. it should be a nice golden brown. don't overbake!


Sunday, March 16, 2008

more mezze

many variations exist for this simple appetizer recipe called ma'hammara (aka muhammara). with just one bite of it, you'll be hooked! like all recipes, the differences in ingredients used, quantities or proportions and method are based upon the country of origin and the (ethnic) group who is preparing it. no doubt this was originally prepared by hand with a mortar and pestle or having all ingredients chopped finely and then mixed together. today, it can be quickly and easily made in a food processor or blender.

this unctuous red and spicy spread is said to have its origins in syria however it is made and served in many a country in the middleast and {eastern} mediterranean. the original syrian version includes aleppo pepper which can still be bought today from places like kaluystan's in new york city or establishments like dean and deluca that sell more specialized ingredients. if you can get your hands on it, use it by all means. ma'hammara was one of several mezze appetizers to show up on our table for holidays and sabbath celebrations; the following rendition is how i know it.

there are some special instructions, or tips if you want to call it that, that i've explained in the recipe so be sure to read it through before starting. they are important for the final outcome. one thing that has recently come to my attention again, and something i have noted in the past, is the use of very little oil in many a recipe. when you see something that says 2 tsps or 2 tbsp, move on ..... it's more like 1/2 c of oil! that's what gives it its final luscious texture. if you're worried about fat content, remember it's olive oil which is good for you — and unless you live alone and are voraciously hungry for ma'hammara, are you really going to eat the whole thing by yourself in one sitting? LOL.

walnut & roasted red pepper appetizer

makes ~ 2 cups (16 oz)


3 large red peppers (capsicum type) - roasted, peeled & seeded
2 - 4 cloves garlic

~1 c (100 - 120 g) walnuts*
1 small pita bread or 1 or 2 slices wholewheat bread or similar**

1/2 lemon, juiced
1 - 2 tbsp pomegranate molasses ("dibs" [ruman]) or balsamic vinegar
1/2 -1 tsp salt
1 - 2 tsp sugar
1 tsp harissa paste OR 1 red (fresh chili seeded)
OR 1/2 tsp paprika + ~ 1/2 tsp chili powder OR chili flakes
1/2 - 1 tsp paprika, optional
(you can use smoked or hot paprika but be careful not to overdo it if using hot paprika)
1/2 tsp (or more) ROASTED cumin powder

8 tbsp extra virgin olive oil, divided: 6 tbsp + 2 tbsp

*they MUST be toasted first or you will end up with a flat raw tasting appetizer dish. do not roast them for too long though as they can turn bitter.

**either leave the pita or wholewheat bread out to dry overnight OR dry it in the oven or toaster or microwave. i use an 7 or 8 inch sized pita; you may not need to use the whole thing.


there are two ways to do this — one is by processing all in successive steps in the food processor. often, people will overprocess so i am giving the directions in the other way, which is to combine and mix. some people find this easiest.

roast your red peppers either in an oven at 425F turning every so often or in a grill pan (or over the hobs of a gas oven). allow them to cool (covered in a container) and then peel the skin off. remove the veins and seeds and cut them in large pieces.

i use preroasted turkish red peppers which come in a jar and are different from the standard capsicum type. they are a bitter spicier and have a different shape (longer and thinner). either work fine for this recipe, however.

the good part is that the preroasted ones just require remove a few seeds and cutting them up.

n.b. before grinding the bread and walnuts, make SURE they are both at room temperature and are not hot or warm. this will cause them to fuse together as the oils have not resolidified in the walnuts and there is moisture in the bread.

take the bread and place it in the food processor. run the machine by pulsing to break up the bread. if you are using pita, you may not need to use the whole thing -- you'll have to experiment and see. give the bread a quick process before adding the nuts to break it up smaller.

add the walnuts and process until it is fairly smooth but remains a bit textured. place this in a bowl.

place the garlic in the same processor bowl and chop it up finely. be judicious with your garlic as adding too much will ruin it. i use two large ones. if your cloves of garlic are small, use 3 or 4 to compensate. if using a fresh red chili, add it to the garlic at the same time.

into the garlic, add the red pepper pieces and pulse the processor until it is chopped.

now run the machine and pour the 6 tbsp of oil into it and let it process until it turns orangey-red and lightens.
you will have small flecks of red. do NOT overprocess your mixture.

add the red pepper paste to the walnut-bread mixture and stir.

add the salt, sugar, ONLY 1 tbsp pomegranate syrup or balsamic vinegar, lemon juice, paprika (if using) and cumin.

mix again and taste. adjust the cumin, salt and sugar. add the second tbsp of pomegranate syrup or vinegar if needed. the colour will be less red at this point.

let the mixture sit for about 2 hours minimum.

place the mixture in a dish or spread it on a plate and drizzle the last 2 tbsp olive oil on top before serving. garnish with mint sprigs and serve with fresh pita or dried pita "chips". it is also very good with challah bread.


if looks could kill!

growing up, i never took a great deal of photos of any of my pets. it is something i now lament since many of the memories i have of them are mostly recorded in my head and vague [what did hamster #11 look like again??]. so, as an adult i decided i would take lots of pictures. thankfully, digital cameras have been created — no more dealing with film and waiting for processing {and being disappointed with overexposures or blurred images AND having to pay for it!}. instant gratification :))

amusingly, the camera can be our best friend or worst enemy. yes, i admit it, i'm vain: i rip up (delete) pictures where i've been caught with bad hair and some strange expression on my face, looking like a deer caught in a car's headlights in the middle of the night! i get annoyed by
that person who always comes out looking great in every single photo! luckily, i have more good photos than bad ones. my rule, though, is never have your picture taken when you're not feeling 100%.

such is life — sometimes you can't avoid being photographed. the camera doesn't lie (but photoshop™ does!).

as the saying goes: a picture is worth a thousand words. even cats have their bad days.

Thursday, March 13, 2008

chickpeas and purim

the jewish holiday of purim, or feast of lots, is almost here again — the last holiday before the big one of passover (which always coincides with the beginning of Spring). however as i look out the window at this past weekend's mountains of snow we received from our last major snowstorm, i wonder where Spring is hiding.

but i digress. back to my main point.....

celebrating the demise of Haman, an evil character who plotted to annihilate the jewish population in persia {now modern day iran}, jews commemorate this holiday with much merriment in a carnival-type way. children and adults dress up in costumes, attend synagogue services to hear the story retold as has been done for centuries. the synagogue service is very very loud as it is tradition to make noise, so as to obliterate the name of Haman every time he is mentioned. in israel, the whole country celebrates with parades and parties and it is probably one of the noisest holidays known to mankind! LOL.

besides a TON of symbolic foods eaten at the festive se'udath purim {feast}, traditionally a lot of sweets are enjoyed. many of them involve poppy seeds, sesame seeds, nuts & dried fruit and come in shapes that represent some upper body part of Haman or piece of his clothing. let's see..... his hair, eye(s), and ears make up several things we eat, not to mention recipes that are said to form items which represent his hat or pants.

as part of the story of purim involved one of the main characters, queen esther, eating a strict vegetarian diet during her stay in the palace so as to adhere to {kosher} dietary laws, some communities will serve dishes which involve using grains, lentils, beans and seeds to remember this fact. one such recipe comes from a friend of mine.

in the 1980s, daveed — who now lives in los angeles — daringly escaped from iran on his own while still a teenager. later, his other immediate family also made it out to start new lives in both israel and north america. daveed's mother is a great cook and baker who generously likes to give away many of the things that come out of her kitchen.

during purim she makes these, in addition to the following recipe for melt-in-your-mouth shirini-e nokhodchee which are tiny chickpea flour shortbread-ish cookies scented with rosewater and decorated with slivered pistachios. these clover-shaped cookies are typically iranian and well, not necessarily (sephardic) jewish. they are served by people of iranian descent and always baked for the Spring festival called no-rooz.

the chickpea flour used to make these is the iranian kind (nokhodchee) which ground from garbanzo beans which have been pre-roasted. as my friend's mother says, it's NOT the same thing as the indian kind called besan which is made from kala channa or small dark (black) chickpeas which is sold UNroasted. read here. i've never tried this with the indian kind so heed the caveat: "baker beware" — in other words, don't blame me if it doesn't work :o (you may just need to adjust the amounts of flour -- make sure to pan roast it briefly first). the other thing is that i haven't tried it with flour i've ground on my own so i can't vouch for that either ..... it just easiest to buy it. as for the small one inch clover shaped cookie cutter, you'll have to visit a store which sells iranian food products or order one online if you really want that shape. otherwise, just use a small cutter or cut very small one inch squares with a very sharp knife.

if it interests you, here are two videos about the remaining jewish community in iran today: part one & part two. à propos for purim - watch and you'll see why! :)

chickpea flour cookies
shirini-e nokhodchee

makes 30 small cookies


4-6 tbsp melted samneh* or margarine or oil (or more as needed)
5 tbsp finely ground regular sugar or icing sugar
1/4 tsp ground cardamom

1 - 2 capfuls rose water

1 c roasted chickpea flour (nokhodchee)
1 tsp poppyseeds, if wanted

slivered pistachios (directions here)

*samneh = clarified butter


before starting, NEVER add water to the dough if it is not cohesive enough. add more oil or butter, little by little.

measure out the chickpea flour and sift it in a bowl at least twice. do not skip this step as the flour tends to clump.

in another bowl, place the samneh or melted margarine or oil with the cardamom and the icing sugar. DO NOT add the rose water yet.

mix the sugar, oil and cardamom until it is completely smooth.
then add the rose water and mix again.

the mixture will change colour at this point. if you add the rose water before, it makes the mixture clump up.

now add the chickpea flour, and poppy seeds if using, and stir or blend until you get a smooth mixture.

it shouldn't stick to your hands at all. knead it together for about 20 seconds or so until it is cohesive. you may need to add another tablespoon or two or three of oil depending on the quality of the flour you are using.

take the dough and place it on a lightly floured surface (with the chickpea flour) — i suggest doing it on a moveable surface like a chopping board as you will need to chill the dough before cutting it.

mold the dough into a rectangle or square which is almost 1 inch thick. this is very important to this recipe as the cookies are meant to be this way.

chill the block of dough for about 45 minutes. the cookies will cut nicely at this stage.

preheat the oven to 300F and have a cookie (baking) sheet ready with parchment paper or foil paper which has been very lightly greased.

take the cutter and cut out the cookies. the best way to do it is to place the cutter almost at the exact point where you cut the previous one so as not to loose much dough between cuttings.

recover the remaining scraps of dough and press them back into a block and cut again. repeat this until there is almost nothing left.

depending on the softness of your dough, the decorating part of these cookies will be easy to difficult. much depends on the chickpea flour you are using — sometimes the dough will feel denser; if it is then be gentle with this step.

in any event, the easiest way to add the pistachio is to make a little slit in the center of each cookie and very gently push it in until it stands on its own. you will invariably break a few of the pistachio slices as they are very fragile.

slice each pistachio into 4 slivers (or thereabout). see this post on how to do it.

bake the cookies for about 23 minutes. you may need to go longer.

they should colour slightly and the bottoms will be golden brown. do not overcook them and wait until they are fully cooled before trying to move them.

they are too delicate while warm.