Eighteen hours. That’s how long I am willing to travel to eat my mother’s food. It’s the time it takes to get from my house in Los Angeles to my mother’s house in the south of Israel. It is the food that gives me the most pleasure and comfort. It’s not just food – it’s medicine. I find it mentally and physically healing. I swear, it’s the ultimate healthy food. Always fresh and always made from scratch. Last month, after more than two years, we finally flew to Israel to visit our family and friends. We landed in Ben Gurion Airport and spent a few days in Tel Aviv before driving south to my mother’s house for the weekend. After all those years, the smell of Shabbat cookings is still the same as I remember, and the kitchen, as usual, is full of produce and pans and pots full of good things to eat. I would be lying if I said that my mother made all these beautiful dishes especially for us. Making tons of delicacies for Shabbat is a ritual, whether the kids come home or not.
Every few months I become vegan for a month or so. Currently I’m in a vegan month: no meat, no chicken, no eggs, and no dairy products (as usual, for allergy reasons). And no meat/dairy substitutes. I hate all those soy/tofu products! I can only enjoy the real thing. Instead I eat plenty of vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, grains and legumes. Yes, I do look like a bird by the end of the month.
Usually the first two weeks are easy. There are endless vegetable dishes I can make. I have this magnificent book called Plenty, Vibrant Vegetable Recipes from London’s Ottolenghi – it’s all vegetable-based recipes. Written by Yotam Ottolonghi, an Israeli chef/restaurateur/food writer who lives in London, the book is highly recommended. When I go through the pages of this book I think to myself that I could easily become a vegetarian forever if not for my terrible craving for meat. I have nothing against meat if it’s organic and grass-fed, and eaten only once in a while, not every day. My body needs meat every now and then. No matter how much broccoli I eat or how many shots of wheat grass I drink, without meat my body feels weak, as if I’m about to faint. The best grass-fed meat in my opinion is sold at Whole Foods at a reasonable price.
This week I was enjoying all the vegetable dishes I cooked for my husband and me. (Both of my opinionated sons won’t eat cooked leafy greens and vegetables, such as chard and eggplant). Here are two yummy salads/dishes that I quickly made yesterday for lunch and served with quinoa. They can also be made as a side dish.
Here is the most popular salad among the children in my family, Saba Zion’s Salad. “Saba” means grandfather in Hebrew. My father, who is a brilliant cook and a master of seasoning, managed to make his grandchildren fall in love with raw vegetables.
It’s a marvelous sight to see a bunch of kids attacking a bowl of salad full of unusual vegetables as if it were a cookie jar. Then, after they gobble it up, they fight over the juice left in the bowl. The lemon in this salad plays a major role. Not only does it add lots of zesty, yummy flavor, it also pickles the vegetables a bit, softening them and giving them extra flavor. So if you don’t have a good lemon on hand, don’t bother to make this salad.
When Leo’s friends ask him what is so good about this salad, he says, “It’s sour and crunchy and awesome, all at the same time.”
My father prepares it with many different kinds of vegetables – bell peppers, cucumbers, fennel, kohlrabi, carrots, celery, radishes, cauliflower, turnips – but it can also be made with just one or two. I usually make it with fennel, kohlrabi and radishes. I also pack a small portion in a container or a zip-lock and add it to their lunch boxes as a snack or a side to the sandwich. It makes a great snack! Continue reading
I feel the global boiling everywhere, especially in my brain. It’s brutally hot, too murderously hot to function properly. It took me three days to fold the laundry and put it back, the kitchen was a constant mess, and my desk was invisible. I’m starting to think AC is not such a bad idea, even if it’s only for three weeks. My mother is so lucky, she left a few days before the melt down began. When she was here in July, the weather was gorgeous and cool. She constantly complained that she was cold until she jinxed it and left. Continue reading
I wonder if the smell of artichokes cooking will remind my kids of home. That smell can make me cry. It brings back childhood memories, and makes me miss the most powerful women in my life, my grandmother and my mother.
As a kid, I ate a lot of artichokes. I loved the eating method, petal by petal (it’s a flower), until I got to the heart and gave it to someone else. Eating a heart seemed harsh at age seven. Or maybe I was traumatized by my uncle’s story about his aunt, my grandmother’s sister, who choked to death at age six after she ate the hairy part that is attached to the heart. For years I believed it was a true story. As I remember, artichokes have a long season in Israel (here, the season is from Spring until the beginning of Summer.)
Moroccan Jews have a big variety of cooked salads that are served like tapas, in small plates spread all over the dining table. My mother makes at least ten different cooked and raw salads for Shabat’s feast and for some jewish holidays but some of the salad she would never make during the week (Moroccans jews have strick rules about how to cook, when and how to serve, so when I tell my mother I made one of her shabat dishes on a weekday she is horrified). Continue reading