Persian Brown Rice with Spice Mixes

Today we made, for the second time, a successful and fragrant batch of Persian brown rice! We owe our success to two sources: Mira Efrati’s new book Tasty from Nature, and our inspiring visit to the fantastic spice store in Beit Lechem HaGlilit this afternoon. I urge all Israeli readers to head there when they can and buy some lovely blends; there are delectable and unique herbal tea blends and some wonderful mixtures for rice, soup, and other yummy foods.

Mira Efrati’s book, which aims at providing macrobiotic foods, actually makes great strides toward making healthy food palatable; to be honest, it does so at the expense of health, and includes sugar (albeit brown) in many of its sweet recipes. I think it would be particularly useful for people making the transition to healthy whole foods who don’t have a lot of experience cooking. It does, however, offer fabulous tips on how to make a basic sourdough and yeast whole grain bread, and on how to make various types of rice based on a basic Persian recipe.

We modified the recipe a bit, so that the rice wouldn’t burn the bottom of the pot, and used one of the delicious spice blends; this one included, in addition to a variety of “red” spices which gave the rice a wonderful reddish hue, onions, pine nuts and pecans. But I bet you could use the basic recipe with any spice mix you have. Here goes.

2 cups long grain brown rice
lots of water for stage 1
1 cup water for stage 2 (possibly a bit more)
a pinch of salt
2 tbsps olive oil
5 tbsps dry spice mix

Rinse rice in water several times, then place in pot with tons of water and salt. Cook for about 10-15 minutes, or until rice is barely chewable but not ready yet. Drain rice into a collander.

Then, coat bottom of pot with olive oil. Layer half the rice on top, then layer spice mix and other half of rice. Make a “hole” in the rice hill, so steam can escape. Drizzle about 3/4 cup water on top.

Place a towel on top of the pot, then place the lid. Cook for about 15 minutes, then check if water has evaporated; if rice is still dry, add the rest of the water. Cook until soft and fragrant. Yum!

The Perfect Mejedderah

Hi all,
I’ve finally found the secret to a great mejedderah (a traditional Middle Eastern rice and beans dish), very similar to the one my grandma makes.
My grandma used to make this very often, and we’d be thrilled when we smelled it from outside their home. Her version had white rice, whereas mine has brown long grain rice, but other than that, it’s very much like hers.
Which is wonderful; because I don’t know about you, gentle reader, but my memories from home and childhood are very much memories of scent and taste. Shabbat lunches at my grandma’s were a delight; she is a wonderful cook, and though she hosts less than she used to, she still has a touch for everything edible and an amazing combination of creativity and order.
The other place I enjoy eating mejedderah is in a small restaurant in a gas station near my parents’ home. Theirs is very brown and delicious, but not like my grandma’s. I suspect their spice palette is different.
Anyway: I’ve been making mejedderah ever since I started living on my own, and something wasn’t quite right. Ever. And I just figured out what it was.
My onions weren’t caramelized enough.
I’m so glad I realized this, because now I’m eating a nice bowl of mejedderah as I work, and thinking of grandma. The technique for browning them properly is well-explained by my dear pal Barbara, right here, and I strongly recommend you make plenty, because they are so useful for quite a variety of foods. I combined them today in my split-personality-spring-soup, made with various sweet roots and spring fresh greens.

2 large yellow onions
lots of olive oil
1 cup long grain brown rice
1 cup brown lentils

Slice onions thinly and brown them in a heavy onion skillet, according to Barbara’s instructions.
Place about half the browned onion in a pot with the rice and the lentils. Over a high heat, swish around rice, lentils and onions, until everything is glossy and shiny and happy.
Then, add 3.5 cups of hot water. Wait for a boil, then lower the heat to a medium flame, add salt and pepper to taste, and cover the pot.
When all rice and lentils are ready, mix them with the remaining caramelized onions.

Independence Day Grill: The Alternative Burger

The Israel-dwellers among my gentle readers are probably still contemplating their bellies in pain and reflecting on the gorging fest they may have taken part in lately, otherwise known as “the Yom Ha’atzmaut Mangal“. We discussed this interesting anthropological phenomenon last year. And, without fail, the woods were thick with meaty smoke this year, too.

We were invited to a barbecue (=mangal) at the home of dear friends, and in lieu of vegetable skewers I decided to bring something else. A short search on google for vegan patties yielded all sorts of things, but none of the versions really captured the spirit of the holiday. Since this is Israel, I wanted the patties to have a bit of falafel aroma, which you can obtain using cumin and turmeric and paprika; also, the patties have a mix of lentils and chickpeas. I use oat bran to bond them together. They held nicely on the grill and were all eaten immediately (by us and by the meat eaters!). Not a morsel was left. Fortunately, my friend Ilan was around with his new camera and managed to take a picture before they disappeared.

Vegan Patties with a Hint of Falafel

3 cups green lentils
1/2 cup chickpeas
1/2-3/4 cup oat bran
5 garlic cloves
3 tbsps cumin
3 tbsps turmeric
1 tbsp paprika
big handful of parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Soak lentils and chickpeas in water; chickpeas take longer – a few hours – but lentils are happy after they’re soaked for twenty minutes or so. Then, strain and cook in a big pot of water until tender. Strain again, saving about 1/2 cup of the liquid.
Place lentils and chickpeas in food processor bowl. Add 1/4 cup oat bran and process. Add water if the thing refuses to puree, and oat bran gradually until the lentil paste can be shaped into small burgers that hold their shape. Add spices and parsley and garlic and keep processing. Taste to correct – since ingredients are cooked, it’ll give you a pretty good idea of what it’ll taste like eventually.

Place gently on grill (preferably on a tray, though these things don’t fall apart so easy), and eat with pita, tchina and vegetables.

Seder Preparation: Episode 1

Hiya, everyone!

We’re getting ready for the Passover Seder, here, and most of the heavy cookery is over. The menu includes some contributions from other members of the family (the fish and meat, obviously, weren’t prepared by me, and folks are bringing them with), but the stuff I’m making here is all fresh out of the Chubeza special holiday box we requested.

I decided to go with fresh and seasonal, which meant that some dishes are improvised. We only got the fresh box this afternoon, so had to make some adjustments to the original plan. Anyway, we’ve finished setting the table:

This beautiful table is mostly the work of my mom, who has a real talent for designing parties and events. She brought in the beautiful table and matched it with candles and napkins in silver and gold.

These beautiful napkin holders (each of them is different!) remind us of our happy years in Ecuador.

Our menu will not, perhaps, be meticulously kosher, but it’ll be springy in the sense that it’ll only showcase seasonal, fresh, organic vegetables. So tomorrow my family can expect to eat the following:

On the table
seder plate

gefilte fish (grandma)
deviled eggs
cherry tomatoes stuffed with tofu “uncheese”
pickled red peppers (mom)
pickled eggplant (mom)

grandma’s chicken broth

Main Courses
walnut roast (mom)
mixed grain plate (mom)
roasted potatoes with rosemary, onion and garlic
baked carrots with cinnamon, cloves and nutmeg
roasted beets with kimmel
quiche of greens
green ful and fresh peas in lemon and zatar
bean noodle stir-fry with celery and shiitake mushrooms
green salad with avocado and red grapefruit
cucumber, pepper and tomato salad with sprouts
carrot-radish grated salad (dad)

chocolate mousse
fruit plate (strawberries, kiwi, papaya, oranges, melons, apples)

fresh-ground coffee (from Colombia)
chamomile tea
nut cookies (mom)
egg-foam cookies (gift from our neighbor)
charoset from dates, walnuts, almonds and apples (Chad_
chocolate truffles (mom)

Home Hummus Production

As we get ready to leave, in a few months, and head off to the States again, we are confronted with the prospect of terrible hardships in the form of hummus deprivation.

I know Americans think that they get “hummus” when they go into one of those Middle-Eastern places and order “hummus” off the menu. The truth, my friends, is they don’t. What they get is what an Israeli friend of mine once referred to as “a fun garlicky spread, but no resemblance to Hummus”. Part of what comes with culinary diversity is that some of the production methods of stuff disappear as they emigrate across the seas. Also, stuff gets adjusted to foreign palates and loses its original taste.

(I suspect the same is true for ethnic cuisines I’m less familiar with, and a Japanese friend assures me that sushi served in America tastes nothing like Japanese sushi. Now I’m curious).

Anyway: one thing that holds true for many Israelis is that we sure love our hummus, and therefore have to decide what to do when away from adequate sources. One solution is to adopt the “no hummus outside Israel” rule. Another is to adjust to the local varieties and give a fair chance to the strange designer dips (roasted pepper hummus, pesto hummus, and other travesties). We, as usual, are taking the third path, and Chad is specializing in making hummus at home. Here’s how he does that.

1 kg garbanzo beans
juice from one lemon
1 garlic clove
1 cup raw tchina
1/4 cup olive oil
Possible garnishes: ready tchina (with lemon juice, parsley and garlic); leftover cooked garbanzo beans; ful; hard boiled egg.

Let garbanzo beans soak in water for at least a night. Discard the water.

Cook them in a lot of new water until very, very tender. While they are cooking, periodically remove the foam from the surface of the pot. To see if they are ready, try squeezing one and see if it becomes mush. This is not a time for haste. They really have to get very soft.
Then, place them in your food processor with the tchina, some olive oil, a bit of lemon juice and – only if desired – the garlic clove. Add some of the cooking water to reach desired consistency. Process until smooth or semi-smooth (we like it a bit chunky).

Use a large spoon to “coat” a serving plate with hummus, then, in the middle, add a little mound of tchina, whole garbanzo beans, ful, or an egg cut in half.

Seder Menu Draft

So, I sat down and figured out what we’re going to serve folks for the Seder. The only who non-vegetarian items on the menu are my grandma’s traditional gefilte fish, whose absence would lead the masses to charge on the Bastille, and chicken broth, to which we will provide a mushroom broth alternative for non-carnivores. Apart from that, some of this stuff has already been featured here (but will be served in a more festive manner), and some of it will be posted when I do trial runs for everything. Caveat for kosher keepers – we eat grains and legumes during Passover, and, while there’s a chicken broth option, the parfait is dairy.

On the table during the Readings:

seder plate
homemade olives
nuts and almonds
deviled Eggs


gefilte fish
tomatoes stuffed with quinoa salad
mushrooms stuffed with vegetables and herbs


chicken broth
Shiitake mushroom broth


eggplant-tomato bake with soy and herbs
roasted roots/root mash
greens with garlic
lentil pancakes
onions stuffed with rice and spices
green salad with avocado and grapefruit
colorful veg salad


lemon parfait
matzoh layered chocolate cake
fruit plate
coffee and teas

Passover/Spring Cookery

These days we’re a bit excited, foodwise; we’ve managed to convince all our family, which lives in the North, to come have the Passover Seder with us in Tel Aviv! Usually in our family, as for many families we know, the younger folks go hang out with the older ones. The parents or grandparents put up the holiday at their house, and the thirtyish folks come as guests.

Last year, we had the Seder here in Tel Aviv, and though a good time was had by all, we were afraid it was too much to ask for folks to drive all the way here on a holiday evening. However, it seems they enjoyed it so much that they want to come back – if anything, they were concerned whether it wasn’t too much for us to have them over! It certainly isn’t. In holiday times, small apartments seem to expand and make more room for rowdy, happy guests.

Everybody’s enthusiasm is interesting in light of the fact that, at our place, they can’t really expect large trays (or small trays, for that matter), of juicy meat; we serve a vegetarian meal. Our only concessions to tradition are my grandma’s fish balls and her clear chicken broth. Last year, someone brought a dish of fish, we forgot to serve it, and when we remembered, no one wanted any! They were quite happy with the lovely array of spring vegetables and fruit on the table. It’s important for us to have a beautiful, colorful display of seasonal local vegetables, because we see Passover, first and foremost, as a Spring festival. We like to read the story behind the holiday, of liberation and freedom, as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, the liberation of the Earth and Her children – trees, bushes, flowers, roots – from the winter cold, and the freedom to bloom and ripen.

The reason I exhaust you, kind readers, with all this theological and familial information, is because plenty of the recipes that will show up in this blog for the next month or so are “practice sessions” for the Seder meal. Some of them are things we made last year, and some are things we’ll try this year for the first time.

One humble but flavorful vegetable dish was a mix of celery and Shiitake mushrooms in a gentle, herb-flavored sauce. Here’s how we made it last year.

Celery and Shiitake Mushrooms in Broth and Soy

1 tbsp canola oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tbsp of Thai Curry, or fresh ground red pepper
large head of celery, with about 10 fresh, green celery stalks
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 tbsp good quality soy sauce
A few stalks of parsley, sage and thyme

Place mushrooms in a small bowl, and pour hot water on them. Leave to soak for about twenty minutes.
In the meantime, you can prep the other ingredients: remove celery stalks from head, wash well, and cut into small, 1/3 inch pieces. Chop up the parsley, sage and thyme. Slice up the ginger and garlic cloves (bear in mind that, when feeding large crowds, some will dislike the ginger, so if you’ll need to fish it out before serving, do not chop it too thinly).
Heat up the canola oil in a wok, add garlic cloves, ginger and Thai curry or red pepper. After about a minute, when kitchen becomes fragrant, add the celery stalks. Move them around the wok for a couple of minutes. Then, go back to your shiitakes, squeeze them well and keep the liquid. Slice ’em up and add to the celery stalks. After a couple of minutes, add to the wok broth, soy, herbs, and as much of the mushroom water as you like. It’ll be very flavorful.
Stir and cook for another ten-fifteen minutes, or until celery is soft and nice, and most of the liquids have been absorbed.

The art above is by Arthur Szyk (see more beautiful and interesting Judaica at

Oh, Boy, What do I do with this?

Yesterday, I had lunch with my dear grandparents at their house.

Lunch at the grandparents’ is always a source of joy. Beyond the pleasure of hanging out with them, my grandma is a fabulous cook. Her cooking influences hail from Russia and from Egypt – two places where the family had been before being in Israel. Accordingly, we get some traditional stuff like gefilte fish (carp balls, which, as opposed to the Polish version, are spicy rather than sweet) side by side with spicy exotic vegetable stuff. However, decades of cooking with the same ingredients have made my grandparents completely ignore the world of whole grains.

Ahhhh, don’t I like all those “traditional foods” advocates, who say that whatever your grandma cooks is good for you! Don’t these people know that white rice and flour, and refined grains, have been available for a long, long time, and enjoyed a reputation of being more palatable? While the grandparents know the benefits of fresh fruit and vegetables, and cook wonderful, creative dishes with them, they are a little bit afraid of whole grains.

So yesterday, my grandma took the plunge, and cooked quinoa from a packet that included some raisins and almonds and nuts. It came out very good, but she was very hesitant about doing other things with quinoa.

“You can buy this in bulk, like rice”, I said.
“Really?” she said increduously. “But then how do I know about the fruit?”
“You don’t have to have fruit”, I said. “You can cook this with vegetables”.
I got strange looks.
“Yeah”, I said with lots of conviction. “All those amazing dishes you make with white rice? You can make all of them with quinoa”.
“Wow”, my grandpa joined the conversation. “This is really good.”
“Like your mejeddera“, I said. “You can make your mejeddera just the same, with the lentils and onion, except use quinoa instead of the rice”.
“You know”, said my grandma corageously, “I went to the store and almost bought brown rice. Except, with those rough peels, how can it cook at all?”
“C’mon”, I argued, “if it wasn’t cookable, why would people sell it an eat it? Of course you can cook it. It takes a little more time”.
“But it probably has a different flavor”, said my grandpa.
“Yeah, it does”, I replied. “It tends to be a bit of an acquired taste for folks who are used to refined grains. But it’s really good once you get used to it”.

A short discussion revealed that the grandparents do eat barley and buckwheat and quite a variety of beans. “There”, I said, “you do eat beans and whole grains. So you can just add a couple more to your repertoire”.

My grandma promised she’d do some experimenting, and we’ll see the results next week when I come back for lunch. Hurrah!

In the meantime, for your sakes and for posterity, I’ll try and collect her traditional wonderful Russian and Egyptian recipes, and come up with healthier versions for them whenever needed.

Travelling and Eating Healthy

Hiya all,

We’re en route to Berkeley, California, where we’ll spend the next two weeks – mostly working, but also meeting old and new friends. We’re very happy about the trip, but also somewhat concerned – my health still is far from perfect and the last thing I need is the jetlag.

And the food.

Say what you may about Israeli politics, behavior, whatever – it wins the food competition with America, hands down. When I moved to Berkeley in 2001, I could hardly bring myself to shop for anything that wasn’t vegetables or fruit – everything seemed processed, fatty, and strange. Getting used to foreign food is always a challenge, but apparently American food is particularly problematic. Many Israelis who have lived abroad (my sample includes lots of grad school students, who also sit and study a lot and therefore have somewhat sedentary lives) find that they gain a lot of weight in America.

Is it possible to live and eat in America without feeling bad and gaining a lot of weight? I maintain it is – at least in California. If you stick to the following principles.

1) Go slow at first. It’s hard enough to adjust to a new place, whether you’re visiting or staying to live there. Get a few familiar foods, just so your stomach doesn’t get as homesick as the rest of you. Being so food-obsessed, I remember how I almost cried with joy when I bought a bag of small, deep green “mediterranean” cucumbers at the overpriced yuppie store. Not all of us can afford shopping at places like that on a regular basis, but sometimes it’s important.

2) At the same time, pay attention to the quality of stuff. What is generally good in one place, doesn’t necessarily have a good equivalent elsewhere. For example, in my second year in America I finally realized that the low fat cheese market was a disappointment in comparison to the stuff in Israel, and shifted to tofu, which was much better. On the other hand, good luck finding a decent veggie burrito in Tel Aviv (and if you have found one, please, let us all know!).

3) Do not eat weird processed fake foods (and I don’t mean these, though they certainly are entertaining). The nature of a globalized, large scale capitalist food market is that it offers a load of new, pre-packaged products for our consumption. There is no need to eat stuff that has an unappetizing, artificial list of ingredients.

4) Exit the supermarket and head to the nearest farmers’ market. The markets have much better and fresher – and often cheaper – produce.

5) Do not be afraid of new vegetables. Before coming to America, I didn’t know of mustard greens, bitter melon, jicama, bok choy, and other wonderful things. In my first year in California, I played a game that you may find fun: Vegetable of the Week. Each week I bought a vegetable I didn’t know, and tried to cook it in various ways. My diet got richer, and my palate was certainly happier!

6) Make use of the advantages of immigration countries! In America, try Asian and Mexican restaurants – it’s best to avoid the sanitized chain versions, and go for the real thing.

7) And, finally, find a way in which, when you’re sad or lonely or homesick, you can have and enjoy an old favorite… a small bag of Bamba does wonders for Israeli kids and kids-at-heart, anywhere in the world…

Safe travels!

(images for this post from: and

Istanbul Foods

Not much cooking this week… we were not home. Locked up the door, gathered some clothes up in a suitcase and went off to beautiful Istanbul, once capital of the vast, corrupt, excessive Ottoman empire.

Istanbul is beautiful. That can be read in any tourist guide. The city showcases the magnificent architecture of Sinan, a genius employed by Suliman the Magnificent for planning gorgeous mosques with blue domes and sharp-pointed minarets. The insides of the mosques are also beautiful; in the absence of religious imagery, Muslim artists perfected calligraphy and did wonders with it.

Now, as to the food (that’s what we’re all here for, after all): we were warned that there would be no vegetarian options. And, we were warned that the food is not hygienic and we should exercise great care in eating. The first of these warnings is a myth and has been thoroughly debunked. We ate plenty of very good vegetarian food. Fresh salads are available everywhere; and so are various interesting dishes made with beans, rice, eggplant, and excellent yogurt. A good example is the wonderful kidney bean salad in the picture, which you can find in this Turkish recipe website. The second, however, should be remembered well. While travellers with iron-clad stomachs will probably feel okay even eating things in the street, folks with some sensitivity to food might experience diahorrea, nausea, or (as in my glorious case) a combination of the two.

What do you do when you get food poisoning or sensitivity on a trip?

My suggestion: eat nothing. The body needs some time to work things out and get well again. Drink plenty of clean good-quality water, supplementing it occasionally with something sweet, like some honey or a date or raisins (so you can keep your energy). The stomach needs some rest and it will eventually sort itself out. When you feel a bit better, often on the second day, the Mapa Guide for Natural Healing recommends eating some fruit, drinking some juice, and having some bio yogurt and/or mashed potatoes. Following these instructions, I recovered within two days, and though they weren’t very pleasant, they taught me something about the body’s ability to clean out agents that cause toxicity and bad sensations.