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    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

    Half-sour cucumbers, hold the salt

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More things to fry in olive oil

Thanksgiving has barely ended and Hanukkah is already upon us–which means more food! This time with olive oil to commemorate the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem after a war in which the Assyrian Greeks trashed and piggified it in hopes that we’d be so abashed we’d immediately convert and become a convenient tribute-paying way station for their marches around the edge of the Mediterranean to Carthage.

I know the official story credits Judah Maccabee, but really, it happened like this:

The Assyrian Greeks thought we’d be too frightened to complain when they marched through Israel, taking what they wanted and getting their muddy footprints everywhere. They hadn’t yet heard of chutzpah. They also hadn’t reckoned with a little-known secret force:  Jewish grandmothers. These bubbies could out-argue G-d. Weekly. And the lectures? …

“Carthage, schmarthage!” the grandma said. “Wipe your feet already, what are you, a Hannibal?”

Then she hefted a mighty frying pan at the intruders and that’s all she wrote.

So the real hero of this geschichte is clearly not Judah Maccabee, aka “The Hammer” — but Judith ha-Machvat, or “Judy with the Frying Pan Handy” — a woman who could really scare off the goniffs! And so in her memory, we fry up all kinds of goodies for Hanukkah and none of the calories stick to our hips at all. Really. It’s a miracle.

So…enough bubbe meises. Back to the present day.

Last night I made latkes without benefit of a food processor–after a slight kitchen drawer reorganization last spring, I forgot where I put the shredder disk. But for a smallish batch for the three of us–only two spuds and half an onion–it’s not so difficult to grate them by hand, as long as you use a fork to hold the stubs (of the potatoes, not your fingers, I hope) to avoid getting extra “proteins” in there…

The Obligatory Latkes (very basic, but tasty in a good way)–about 12 or so 2-3-inch latkes, enough for 3 people for supper, so scale up as needed

Carbs: 2 big potatoes weighed 480 g total on the food scale before peeling. An estimated 1/6th of the weight of nonsweet potatoes is carb–so about 80 g carb total for this recipe. A 4-latke serving would be about 20-25 g carb.

  • 2 big russet potatoes, scrubbed, peeled, shredded on large holes of grater/food processor blade
  • 1/2 medium onion, grated on fine holes into the same bowl OR chopped finely in the food processor BEFORE changing to the shredder blade and doing the potatoes on top of the onion
  • 2 eggs
  • spoonful of olive oil
  • 1-2 t. flour
  • pinch of salt
  • pinch of baking soda (which I completely forgot last night, so it’s optional)
  • olive or vegetable oil for frying

Grate the potatoes and onions by hand or food processor into a big bowl. The grated onions will help prevent discoloration in the potatoes. Take handfuls of the mixture and squeeze them nearly dry, and pour off most or all of the liquid that collected in the bottom of the bowl. Return the potatoes to the bowl, add the eggs, spoonful of olive oil, flour, salt and baking soda and stir until evenly mixed.

Heat several tablespoons of oil in a nonstick pan until shimmering and dollop soupspoonfuls of the latke mixture in, flattening them as they start to fry. Swirl the pan a little to get the oil touching each latke and maybe keep them from sticking to the pan. Wait until you see brown edges at the bottom of the latkes, then flip and fry the other side, swirling the oil a little or adding another spoonful in droplets where the pan seems to need it. You want these really brown and crisp on the outside, not pale yellow.

Drain on napkins or paper towels on a plate, and at the end, if no one’s snatched them as they cooked, you might want to reheat them all together in the pan or microwave them on the plate for half a minute on HIGH. Serve with applesauce and sour cream or labaneh or plain yogurt.

–  –  –  –  –

That’s the only recipe I’m giving here with set quantities–latkes are more like pancakes, everything below is like a stir-fry.

Non-Latke Options

Even with mechanical assistance in the form of a food processor, I’m a one-latke-night-per-year-is-enough kind of person. I want something other than potatoes if I’m going to be frying stuff in more than a spoonful or so of olive oil. Therefore I look for other maybe less starchy and more flavorful (one can always hope) things to fry:

Pre-nuked (microwaved) eggplant slices, fried in a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil after heating a little garlic and curry powder, maybe a dab of z’khug, for a few seconds first. Onion and red bell pepper are good in this mix too.

Marinated artichoke hearts, perhaps drained slightly and shaken in a plastic bag with a spoonful or so of flour or almond meal or chickpea flour and a little grated cheese and/or some oregano or thyme–no extra salt needed

Pre-nuked cauliflower, breaded as for the artichoke hearts

or–pre-nuked cauliflower, stirfried in a spoonful or so of olive oil with a dab of z’khug if you like things hot, with red bell peppers, onions, and another bunch of marinated artichoke hearts until everything’s “gilded”, then sprinkled with crumbled feta.

Cooked "Marbella" relish with prunes, olives, tomatoes and artichoke hearts

“Chicken Marbella”-style vegetable relish with prunes nuked in red wine, pitted Greek olives (Kalamata are good and not over-salty), chopped fresh tomatoes, yellow onion, some thyme leaves and either garlic and some lemon juice or some marinated artichoke hearts if you like and have them around.

You can combine these things without frying, and it’s not bad at all with a little olive oil and vinegar or lemon juice drizzled over it, but frying kind of pan-roasts the vegetables and brings out a richer, more complex and integrated set of flavors, like caponata but more subtle in the sweet-sour aspect and more savory. The pan-fried version is a great topping for whole-wheat penne or fusilli, or hot spaghetti squash, and it’s also good cold.

Pan fry until the tomatoes, the onions and the artichoke hearts are starting to color a bit and everything smells good. Use more than a spoonful of olive oil–it’s part of the flavor as well as necessary to destick the abundant tomato/onion/prune sugars from even a decent nonstick pan as they caramelize. But don’t douse it–you want it like caponata (you could use pre-nuked eggplant cubes instead of the artichoke hearts, come to think of it).

So far this list is looking suspiciously artichoke-centric. I do realize. And the point is really the olive oil–at least as far as Hanukkah is concerned.

Five more unusual but perfectly good things to fry for Hanukkah, each with some kind of Jewish roots:

Halloumi cheese–cut in largish rectangles or triangles, about 1/4  inch thick, and pan-fry on both sides in a spoonful or so of olive oil to brown–it won’t melt, exactly, just kind of toast on the outside. Can’t find halloumi? too expensive where you are? Try panela or queso fresco (might be a bit more crumbly)–both of these work too, though panela’s closer in texture–actually, very close–smooth, fresh-tasting, a bit rubbery, the curds squeak a bit when you cut or bite into them.

Pumpkin, butternut or other red winter squash–Microwave it whole or if you can manage it safely, hacked into large pieces, in a covered baking dish with a little water in the bottom for about 10-12 min on HIGH (1100+ W oven). When it’s tender enough for a knife to pass through easily, cut it in half, scoop the seeds, and cube the cooked flesh. Brown sliced yellow onions or shallots in olive oil with leaves from a few sprigs of thyme, add the butternut squash, grate in a clove of garlic, toss to brown. A little smokier and a lot lighter than tsimmes. Quicker too. And good with goat or feta cheese crumbled on top.

Spinach fritadas–I had a housemate in college whose Argentine parents made these often and so did she. And so did I–college is a good place to eat spinach and eggs, especially when you’re paying for your own groceries. Spinach, an egg, a spoonful of flour, and some grated parmesan or other cheese. Garlic and nutmeg if you want them. Mix in a bowl, fry as for latkes. Easy.

Underripe bananas (green to yellow-green): these are more savory or starchy than sweet. Slice them into inch-length chunks, heat a couple of pinches of curry powder and a dab of z’khug or a grated clove of garlic and some hot pepper flakes in a couple of spoonfuls of olive oil, and pan fry the bananas, tossing every few minutes to toast the outsides. They get tender inside and crisp outside (at least for a few minutes, so serve them right away), with an unexpected and subtle tang that plays beautifully against the spices.

How are fried bananas Jewish?! Good question. Still–the garlic has to count for something. And the bananas have potassium and no added or needed salt–or as the sages wrote, “Get yourself a new heart, why should you die?” (They didn’t have my grandma’s slotted spoon to gesture with as they were hocking whoever they were hocking about eating nice. At least I don’t think so. But otherwise they’re right on the Authentic Bubbe train with this one.)

Ful Mudamas--fried beans with lemon, garlic and sumac

One last Hanukkah fryup, though–beans. This one was my attempt to follow one of David Lebovitz’s more unusual posts–fried beans mixed in this case with sorrel (aka, schav) and sumac and the ever-requisite garlic. It’s a dish he’d eaten at Ottolenghi in London (and incidentally the chef, Yotam Ottolenghi, is Israeli-born), but in the post Lebovitz, who has Jewish, Arab and Danish roots, remembers his mother making very similar beans for him when he was a kid. There’s gotta be a crossroads in that somewhere.

The original version demands beef fat for frying the beans really crisp, and Lebovitz goes with a mixture of olive oil and butter to make the frying fat more saturated and likely to brown. I went with straight-up olive oil, since I’m not a tallow kinda gal, butter doesn’t love me that much, and neither of them really says Hanukkah to me.

I had kidney beans in the fridge (and then moved to the freezer during the trek up to the in-laws’ for Thanksgiving) and they were in need of consumption. I don’t have sorrel but I do have sumac (and know what to do with it, more or less)–so I thawed and fried up about a cup and a half of the beans in a few spoonfuls of olive oil, added a medium clove of grated garlic and pinches of sumac, cumin, and caraway (go a little easier on the caraway than the other two, and a little more generous on the sumac), plus some thyme–I was going for the za’atar effect here. I gave the mixture a squeeze of lemon and a couple of shakes of salt, maybe a pinch, maybe less.

The lemon juice was a good idea. You need a fair amount, not so much during the frying as for a dressing afterward. The beans got dry and a bit crumbly in the pan rather than really crisp outside and tender inside–maybe you need a lot more olive oil than I used, on the order of deep-frying, to make this work, or maybe the beans have to be soft-cooked but a bit damp still (I drained mine before frying). Can’t see how they’d brown if there were liquid in the pan, though. Kidney beans also have skins that can get a little tough if you’ve cooked them up from scratch or microwaved them. Still–with a significant hit of lemon juice and a bit of extra sumac tossed on at the end to moisten them, they came out tasting really good. Especially on top of a salad of tomatoes, arugula and red peppers with olive oil, red wine vinegar, and a squeeze of lemon as vinaigrette–they kind of soaked up the dressing, the way potatoes do in a salade niçoise.

Actually, I think I accidentally found the trick to homemade ful mudamas with this one–they tasted a lot like it, only with the sauce absorbed into the beans. And they didn’t need more than a scant pinch of salt during the frying, if that–fresh lemon combined with the garlic and spices seems to cover the territory best.

Not fryin’ it

But you don’t actually have to fry anything or serve up starches to be in tune with the holiday. Particularly if you’re cutting back on calories and/or any degree of serious cooking right after Thanksgiving, which were my original reasons for getting away from latkes. You could do the Marbella prune/olive/tomato/artichoke heart relish as a side salad without frying anything. Chop scallions or use thin-sliced red onion raw instead, use cherry or grape tomatoes and some fresh chopped mint or basil or thyme with the vinaigrette, and it’ll be vibrant.

Or you could just drizzle olive oil vinaigrette on a hearty green salad or one with sliced oranges and olives and red onions and maybe raw fennel. You don’t have to use a lot of dressing. After all, a little good olive oil can go a long way–and isn’t that symbolic of Hanukkah?

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