Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Tu B'Shevat - The New Year for Trees

Tu B'Shevat is a fun day which is so easy to forget if you are living outside of Israel. On the 15th of Shevat on the Jewish calendar (which happens to be on the 20th of January 2011) is the day that marks the beginning of a "New Year for Trees" or in other words, the first day of the spring. It must be a challenge this year to think about Tu B'Sheva as the first day of spring, while in Israel some snow is falling around Jerusalem and rain is falling everywhere else.

This time of the year is usually the season in which the earliest-blooming trees in Israel emerge from their (very short) winter sleep and begin a new fruit-bearing cycle.

We mark the day of Tu B'Shevat by eating fruit, particularly from the kinds that are singled out by the bible in its praise of the bounty of the Holy Land: grapes, figs, pomegranates, olives and dates. On this day we remember that "Man is a tree of the field" (Deuteronomy 20:19) and reflect on the lessons we can derive from our botanical analogue.
This is so important today, more than ever, when most people eat convenient food and some have no recollection of how to grow their own foods, let along having the garden space and time space to do that.

In a prefect world, we all should eat healthy foods, super foods, bake our own bread and grow our own vegetables and fruit in the backyard. This is the perfect day to remember that this is what our bodies designed to do.

What a better way to get back to the basics with a simple but yet tasty bread recipe. I've made it this week with added nuts and you can add any dry fruits of you liking too, to celebrate Tu B'Shevat with me ;)

Simple and basic Bread

Ingredients for 1 loaf of bread:
3.5 cups of Whole grain flour
1.5 ts of Salt
15g of Fresh Yeast  or 2 ts of Dry Yeast
1 dessert spoon of Sugar (can use Low GI Sugar)
1.25 cups of Water
2 dessert spoons of Oil
Nuts and Dry fruit of your choice

How to:
1) Preheat the oven to 200c on fan bake
2) Mix all the ingredients together. I like using warm water as it helps break down the Dry Yeats I'm using but if you are using Fresh yeast, you will need to use cold water.
3) The important part of making good bread is kneading the dough. Basically the more you knead and the more you are aggressive with the kneading, the better.
4) Let the dough rise for about 30-60 minutes or until the dough have doubled its size. 
5) Knead the dough and let it rise again.
6) Put the dough on a tray with baking paper. Give the bread a shape of your liking (you can make it a long loaf or round) and cut a few lines at the top, but only half way into the dough to create these cutting - see image
7) Bake for 30-40 minutes or until the bread browns
8) Slice and eat fresh

Monday, December 6, 2010

Happy Hanuka!

Its Hanuka. I love this holiday. This holiday is the only time of the year when I feel like eating doughnuts with jam. Its funny what your mind and body remembers from your childhood and for us, as every kid in Israel, Hanuka it's the jam doughnuts holiday ;)
Ok, the holiday has a lot to it besides the doughnuts, I must admit.
Hanuka is the holiday of the oil miracle.
It was the year 138BC when the people of Israel (then called Maccabees or Makabim) won the battle over the Greeks. The second temple in Jerusalem was destroyed and while cleaning out the temple after the battle, the Makabim found that there was only enough consecrated olive oil to fuel the eternal flame in the Temple for one day. It would take 8 days to get new oil to the temple and to light the eternal flame, and miraculously, the oil burned for eight days, which was the length of time it took to press, prepare and consecrate fresh olive oil.
What a miracle. So, we celebrate the miracle of the oil and for how we traditionally make doughnuts and a few other dishes which are based in oil

Hanuka Jam Doughnuts

500g of Plain or bread flour
100g Sugar
1ts Salt
25g Fresh Yeast (or 12g dry yeast)
3-4 Eggs
120ml Milk or water (can use Soy milk)
2 Dessert spoons of Brandy (optional)
90g Butter / Margarine / Olive spread

Other Ingredients
Oil for frying
Icing Sugar for decorating
Jam for filling

How to
You can make the dough by hand or you can use a mixer if you have one
1) Combine the Flour, Sugar, Salt and Yeast
2) Add in the Water, Eggs and Brandy. Mix
3) After the dough is elastic, add the Butter/Margarine and continue to kneed the dough until it is softer, more elastic and shiny
4) Put the dough to rise in the fridge over night in a bowl covered with cling film
5) The next day, make balls of the dough, about the size of a ping pong balls, then set them aside to rise on an oiled tray somewhere warm and cover them with cling firm until the doughnuts double their size.
6)  Heat the oil to 160c (or you can know that the oil is hot if you put a wooden spoon into the oil and bubbles start to form around it)
7) Fry each doughnut, about 1 minute or less on each side and put aside on kitchen towels.
8) While the doughnuts are still warm, fill them with jam with a cake pipette
9) Once the doughnuts have cooled off, sprinkle icing sugar on them

Eat lots and enjoy! we only have Hanuka once a year!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Hot and Spicy - Zhug

Zhug, is a crucial ingredient in the Yemenite cuisine. It's a hot sauce (paste) popular in Middle Eastern cuisine and is almost a "must to have" on every table in Israel. No Yemenite will sit down at the table unless a jar of Zhug is present.... and the same goes for my husband who is as far from being a Yemenite as possible (a kiwi bloke) but is highly addicted to the spicy paste. My husbands "romance" with Zhug started in Israel (of course) a few years back by mistake ;) when he put too much on his dish as though it was simply a light spicy tomato paste... quickly he found how hot the spice was when hot steams started arising from his head and mouth and his face changed colour to so many shades of red. The hot effect did not last long and the romance began ;) - now, a day will not pass without him having Zhug ;)

Zhug can be eaten with pretty much anything - with Hummus, on a bit of cheese or ham (salami), you can even use it and add hot & spiciness to much of your cooking.
There are two types of Zhug: Green Zhug which is based on green chillies and coriander and Red Zhug which is mainly based on red chillies.
The recipe below is for green Zhug which is my favourite. You can make it and add your own variations - it's up to you to add more or less of the ingredients as you like and to your taste.

Green Zhug

4-6 Hot Green Chillies
1-2 Hot Red Chili
2-4 Cloves
3-4 Cardamom pods
1-2ts Cumin powder
5-10 Garlic cloves (peeled)
1 cup of roughly chopped Coriander leaves (remove stems)
2 spoons of Olive Oil
Salt to taste

How to:
Mix all ingredients in a food processor and grind to a paste. Store in the fridge.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Pita Bread pockets

In Israel we eat on many casual occasions Pita with Hummus together (see previous recipe). We even used to eat Pita Breads as kids, as a snack at birthday parties - usually the Pita Bread will be cut to halves or even quarters, filled with Hummus and served. Yumm!

To celebrate the long weekend here in New Zealand last week, I made this amazing Pitta Bread recipe and served it fresh out of the oven with a variety of salads for everyone to pick and choose from ;)
The smell of freshly baked bread filled the house as our guests walked in and the tastes, flavours and different filling textures added a whole new layer to the aroma.

Pita Bread

Makes 5-6 Pita Bread pockets

3 Cups Bread flour or All Purpose flour
½ tsp Instant yeast
½ tsp salt
1 Cup warm water

How to:
Best to make the dough a few hours ahead of time.
Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, then add the yeast, and add the water slowly while stirring with a plastic or wooden spoon until everything is combined into a ball. You might need more or less water than the 1 cup. Once the dough comes together, transfer it to a floured surface and knead for a good ten minutes until it is soft and elastic. Roll the dough into a log and cut it into five or six equal parts (cut into fewer pieces if you want bigger loaves). Roll each piece into a ball and put them all on a floured baking sheet. Cover with a damp towel and let them rise in a warm place for about an hour or until almost double in size.

Preheat your oven to 500F / 270C. If you have a baking stone, place it in the oven to pre-heat thoroughly. Flatten each dough ball and with a rolling pin form it into 1/8 inch (3mm) thick round about 6 inches (15cm) in diameter. After rolling all the dough, cover and let them rest on a floured surface for 15-30 minutes. If you have a baking stone then bake them on the stone by sliding the dough rounds onto the stone and baking till they puff up like balloons (about 2-3 minutes). Leave them in the oven no more than one minute after they puff up even though they might not have much color on them. This will insure that the bread will be soft and pliable once cooled. If you do not have a baking stone in your oven, place the rounds on a baking sheet (making sure they are not touching) and bake in the oven until they puff up.

As soon as you remove the baked bread from the oven, place in a container, flatten gently and then cover with a damp towel. Keep stacking the flattened baked bread on top of each other and covering them. Store the baked bread in a well sealed plastic bag. Never let the baked bread cool uncovered or it will harden.

Serving suggestion:
Serve with Hummus, fine chooped vege salad, Falafel, lighly browned Chiken breast pieces or anything else you like. Eat lots until full.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

There is no Israeli without Hummus

You could have a full day long conversation with an Israeli over Hummus, how it should be made and who is making the best Hummus in town. Just by doing a bit of research today for the entry,comparing a few recipes, I found so many variations, ideas and opinions... though at the end of the day the basics of making a good Hummus stay the same.
In Israel there are places which are called "Hummusia". A Hummusia is a Hummus house where all that is served there is Hummus and lots of pita bread to eat it with. Usually they will have a certain way to make the Hummus or they will give a special touch to it, ie: served hot, cold, with egg, onions, mushrooms or fava (broad) beans that will make it taste better and the customers coming back for more.
And this is where that loyalty to your Hummusia comes into place as there is nothing like the Hummus at..... ;)


Ingredients (4-6 servings):
2 cups of Chickpeas
1/2 ts of Baking Soda
2 Garlic cloves (crushed)
1 ts Salt
1/2 cup of Lemon juice (fresh)
3/4 cup of Tahini (Tahina)

2 ts Pine nuts (optional)
1 cup of Olive Oil
1/2 ts Cumin (optional)
Parsley to taste (Chopped)

How to:
1) Soak the Chickpeas in 8 cups of water over night (in glass/plastic bowl only)
2) Drain the water, add fresh water and boil in a pot with the Baking Soda on high flame until white foam is formed. Lower the flame and cook on low heat for 2 hours.
3) Drain the water, keep aside a handful of chickpeas for garnish and the rest blend to a smooth paste in a food processor. Put aside and let the Chickpeas cool off.
4) Add to the Chickpeas the Garlic, Salt and Lemon juice and blend.
5) Fry lightly the Pine nuts in a pan for a few second until they lightly brown. Put a side to cool off.

Put the Hummus on a plate and garnish with the Pine nuts, the handful of Chickpeas we kept aside, spread the Olive Oil, Cumin (optional) and Parley on the top and serve with pita bread or other fresh bread.

Dip in and enjoy!

Saturday, October 9, 2010

Cinnamon snails (pinwheel)

The Israeli culture, as many other Mediterranean cultures is all about hospitality and feeding people. We usually feed people until they are full... though the fact that you are full, will not stop us to offer you more...

This is a great recipe for making new friendships, which last forever... as long as you continue to make these of course ;) Traditionally in Israel, people will make this beautiful recipe for the weekend or to start the weekend with.

There are two ways to make this recipe- if you know people are coming, make the dough ahead of time (even a day before) and let it rise, but if people are coming over on a short notice, you can still make it, its just that the "snails" won't come out as big and fluffy, but still going to be so very yummy ;)

Cinnamon snails

2/3 cup of Milk
1 Egg
50g soft Butter
3 cups of Plain Flour
1ts Salt
1 dessert spoon on yeast
1/3 cup of White Sugar

50g soft Butter
3/4 cup of Brown Sugar
1.5 dessert spoon of Fresh ground Cinnamon

1 Egg - beaten
1 cup of Icing Sugar
1ts Vanilla essence
2 spoons of Milk

How To:
1) Mix together the dough ingredients and make a soft and smooth dough (You can use a bread maker machine to make the dough, if you have one). Cover the dough with a towel, put the dough mix aside and let it rise until it double its size (may take 1-1.5 hours)

2) Roll the dough to a square leaf at about 5mm thick and spread the soft butter on it

3) In a small bowl, mix the Brown Sugar and the Cinnamon and spread evenly over the butter

4) Roll the dough to a long and tight roll. With a sharp knife cut the roll to 1.5cm thick slices

5) Spread the snails over a tray (covered with baking paper) at about about 2-3cm a part and leave aside for about 15 minutes

6) Make sure you open your windows wide open so your neighbours can have a smell too

7) Glaze the snail with a beaten egg and bake for 10 minutes in a preheated oven to 180c - until the snails are lightly browned

8) In a little bowl mix the Icing Sugar, Vanilla essence and Milk and pour over the hot snails as they come out of the oven

Serve hot and enjoy every bite ;)

* For variety:
1) You can use Chocolate spread for the filling
2) You can put all the snails in 1 round cake tray, so they stick together and come out as a "cake" like this one below. Then you can cut it to slices or break off one snail at a time

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Quick and Easy

In today's world when communication is done via computers, mobile phones and social media sharing, what can be a better way to bring people together than a dish that needs to be shared?

So, let me introduce you to the Shakshuka.

Shakshuka is a tomato based dish originating from North Africa and was brought to Israel by migrants. Its a custom (and much more fun) to share a Shakshuka dish with others, sitting at the dinner table or low on the ground. You can pretty much add to the Shakshuka anything you like but there is one basic rule to a good Shakshuka and it is... Do Not stir the Shakshuka once the eggs are in.


Ingredients (for 4-6 people):
3 Desert spoons of Olive Oil
2-3 Garlic gloves (sliced)
8 ripe Tomatoes cut into cubes
1 Red Capsicum (cut to strips)
1/2 ts Cumin
Salt and Pepper to taste
6 Eggs

How to:
1) Heat up a pan with Oil and brown lightly Capsicum and then add in the Garlic (make sure the garlic is not browning)
2) Add in the tomatoes, and the spices and cook for 10 minutes without a lid until a tomato saurce is formed
3) Make 6 dimples in the sauce and break and Egg into each one of them - cover the pan with a lid and cook for 2-5 minutes (depends how well you like your eggs cooked) - Do Not stir the Shakshuka once the eggs are in.
4) Take off the element and serve with fresh bread

Dip the fresh bread into the thick Shakshuka and eat with family and friends

Topping Suggestions:
You can add to the Shakshuka (before you add the eggs...) :
Spring onions
Bacon (to be browned after the capsicums are in)