Monday, September 21, 2009

Old Old and New Old

This year I went to two Rosh Hashanah dinners, one on Friday night, and then another one on Saturday. Both dinners were completely lovely, and the conclusion that I have come to is that el mundo es un pañuelo (the world is a handkerchief-- meaning small) -- and sometimes it feels freaking tiny. The first dinner, held at the house of the mother of my cousin Leora´s friend Lorena (they met in Israel, I met them when Leora came into town for Lorena´s wedding), was pure Ashkenazi Judaica-- challah, tongue, roast chicken, kasha, apple and honey cakes, (apples and honey), fish balls and fish loaf-- it could have been a dinner of my bubby´s, Detroit circa 1960. There was another American there (North American, sorry, as I am reminded daily we are all Americans here in the Western Hemisphere, though you know what? I´m almost always introduced by others as americana, it´s just that I´m not allowed to call myself that. Kind of like Jews and Holocaust jokes), also a friend of my cousin´s who grew up in San Francisco at 2nd and Lincoln, that is to say, 8 blocks away from me. I asked her how she likes Buenos Aires, and she said she´s having a great time, but she misses burritos. Felipe turned to me and said, "talking to her is just like talking to you." Well, I didn't come into being out of thin air. Then Lorena's mother Claudia asked me if I had plans for the second night of Rosh Hashanah, and I told her I was going to the house of the director of the foundation where I intern. Guess what? They grew up together, his wife's a famous artist, and I have to make sure she shows me around their house while I'm there because her art is everywhere and it's gorgeous.

And the house was gorgeous, in that quirky way that artists´ houses always are-- salvaged doorways and unexpected colors and strange chairs-- one side of their dining room table was occupied by an old pew from a synagogue. And there was more round challah and smoked salmon and trout and pickles and I brought an apple cake and so did another girl. And it´s true this is all happening very far away from where I grew up but I have to tell you most of the time it doesn´t feel that way, and it really didn´t feel that way this weekend.

And it often doesn´t feel that way when I´m in my house, either. I have a core set of things that I have been moving around with me since high school-- the quilt my mom made for me for my eighteenth birthday, the plaid wool blanket my dad brought from Scotland, the slowly-growing collection of scarves that litter(decorate?) the walls/unadorned surfaces...and so my rooms tend to end up looking familiar to me. And my sister, who has just recently moved into college, seems to be adopting the same tactic, with the addition of taking my old stuff I left behind. We were skyping (yes, that horrible, not a verb verb again) the other day and I saw the old buddha lamp that went with me to college, and one of my silk scarves that surreptitiously ended up in LA. She claims anything left at my parent's house is automatically up for grabs because I left them and I'm in South America. And then she complains to me that she misses her beloved bakery Rustica in Minneapolis (a more devoted employee they will never find), and she especially complains if she sees I'm baking something in the background (the wonders of technology), because although Occidental apparently has amazing savory food, it's lacking in the sweet department.

I can't say I'm totally sympathetic to her food plight-- I would kill for some good Mexican food right now, see above-- but I do understand her dessert dilemma [which I'm sure could be rectified (man how we used to laugh at that word) if she ventured to leave campus, or the Eagle Rock neighborhood where Occidental resides]...but, that's okay. We're allowed to miss these things. And though there is certainly much comfort to be found in the fact that Jews actually do things quite similarly here in the Southern Hemisphere, I miss my family a lot during these holidays. I miss going to shul (synagogue) with them, and I miss all of the cooking and general noise that accompanies all of our holiday activities. Every family has it's own rhythm for these things, I think. During Passover my sister and I make chocolate meringues. When I say "during Passover," I don't exactly mean once, or twice, or even three times over the eight's really more of a daily thing, and although the sensible person would say, why not just make a triple recipe and save yourself the work, well, they would never make it to the next day...maybe there is a saturation point for these meringues during Passover, but we´ve never reached it. They are ridiculously good, and super light, more like pieces of chocolate air that just seem to disappear, until it's time to make another batch. And I'm looking forward to next Passover, all together back at my parent's house in Minnesota, when we can make (8 batches of) them again.

Chocolate Meringues

Adapted from Pure Chocolate by Fran Bigelow

4 large egg whites

1 c. sugar

1 tbsp. plus 1 1/2 tsp. cocoa (Dutch-process or Scharffen Berger-- Scharffen Berger doesn´t make a Dutch-process cocoa because they say they prefer their cocoa unalkalized; both worked well for me)

4 oz. bittersweet chocolate, finely chopped

Place the rack in the middle of the oven and set the oven to 200°. Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

In a bowl, whisk egg whites until foamy and white. Add half of the sugar and whip until stiff peaks. Sift cocoa and remaining sugar together then fold into whites. Fold in chopped chocolate.

With a pastry bag, or with a spoon and your finger, make peaks with a 1.5 in. base.

Bake 1 hour, turn off the oven, and then leave the meringues in the oven 6 hours or overnight.

Durante La Pascua Judia, nosotras hacemos estos merengues. A ver-- cuando digo durante la pascua, es decir, todos los dias, no una o dos veces durante los ocho dias...mas bien es una cosa diaria, y aunque la persona sensata diria, ¿entonces porque no triplican la receta y listo?, pues, no durarian hasta el dia pronto hay un punto de saturacion de los merengues, pero no lo hemos pasado nunca.

Merengues de Chocolate

Adaptado de Pure Chocolate por Fran Bigelow

4 claras de huevo

1 taza de azucar

1 cucharada mas 1 1/2 cucharitas de cacao alcalizado

115 g chocolate amargo (amargo pero no sin azucar, comestible) picado chiquito

Coloca la rejilla en el medio del horno y pon el horno a 100°. Cubre dos bandejas con papel de hornear.

En un bol, bate las claras hasta que esten espumosas y blancas. Añade la mitad del azucar y batelo hasta el punto de nieve. Tamiza el cacao y el resto del azucar juntos y revuelvelo muy suavemente con los huevos. Añade el chocolate picado, mezclando muy suavamente.

Con una bolsa pastelera, o simplemente aporcionandolo con una cuchara (y el dedo ayudandote sacarlo), haz bolitas sobre el papel de hornear con una base de 4 cm., terminando en picos.

Hornea una hora, apaga el horno, y deja los merengues en el horno 6 horas o por toda la noche.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Love and Pancakes

A couple of years ago, my friend Caroline and I took a trip down to Morocco while we were traveling in Spain, and I (and I think it's safe to say she as well) became completely smitten. This had nothing to do with the fact that we spent the latter part of our trip with two of the most beautiful boys either of us had either seen (this was an entirely kosher trip, I swear), though it certainly didn´t hurt. It had an awful lot to do with the fact that all we wanted to do was eat everything in sight. And that I would part with my shower in a second if there was a hammam (communal bath house, and not the San Francisco before AIDS kind, thank you very much) in my neighborhood at home.
One day, in 110 degree heat, we walked past a woman bent over a griddle making something crepe-looking. Now, the common sense thing to say in this situation would be, "That poor woman, cooking in this heat, and who on earth wants hot crepes right now?"-- as opposed to what was said, being "That poor woman, cooking in this heat, those look really good, should we get some?" Drizzled with honey and served with hot mint tea, we couldn´t help noticing through our sweaty haze how good they were-- flaky but not greasy, with a taste different than wheat flour, though we couldn´t identify what it was. Later, after seeing them all over Morocco both on the street and in little hole-in-the-wall eating places, I asked my friend Adil if he knew how they were made, and he told me "sure, of course, my mom makes them." "Oh cool, so how do you make them?" "You make a dough with flour, and then you cook them" "Just flour? What kind of flour? No oil or anything?" I started getting a blank look "Adil, have you ever made these?" "Umm no." So my beloved pancakes stayed with my memories of Morocco, until very recently when, out of the blue, I saw a recipe for them in a blog written by an Algerian woman. As it turns out, the dough is made almost entirely out of semolina flour and water, with a bit of oil and salt thrown in. They get their layered flakiness from being brushed with butter and folded, as if you were making puff pastry with crepes. And made a world away here in Argentina, they are honestly just as delicious as I remembered, eaten hot smothered with honey. Lucky for me Argentina is filled with the descendants of Italian immigrants so semolina is easy to find.
It's been cold here again lately (the weather fluctuations this year have been driving me crazy, I feel like Buenos Aires is going through slow-motion menopause or something) so the other day I made soup, carrot-tomato soup actually, a soup that somehow manages to combine the comforting parts of a warm creamy tomato soup with the refreshing and bright flavors of a carrot-ginger one. I´m not saying it´s anything close to traditional, but m´semmen also make fine accompaniments to a good warm-you-up soup. As Jorge Drexler says, yo soy un moro judio que vive con cristianos (I`m a Jewish Moor who lives with Christians)...who says an American Jew living in Buenos Aires can´t make perfectly good Moroccan pancakes, and eat them with soup?

adapted from this lovely blog

Makes 4 m´semmen
7 ounces (200g) semolina flour
1/2 cup warm water
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp vegetable oil
3-4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
Vegetable oil for work surface

Put the dry ingredients and oil in a bowl, and slowly add the water until you have a smooth dough. Once the dough is formed, knead for another 7 to 8 minutes.
Oil your hands and a big plate. Divide the dough into four balls and put them on the the oiled plate. Lightly oil the surface of the balls with a little bit of oil so they don't form a skin. Let them sit for 5-10 minutes.
Oil your work surface very well. Take your first dough ball. The dough is very soft and easy to roll out-- I use a combination of my oiled hands and a wine bottle (I don´t have a rolling pin here) to get it to a very thin, oblong disc. The original recipe says a 9 in. disc but I roll mine bigger to get them to the desired thinness (you want it very thin, but you don´t want the dough to tear) to something like 9 inch. by 15 inch.
Brush the disc of dough generously with melted butter, and fold the disc just like you would fold a letter, right and left sides first, then fold the bottom up and the top down. Brush again with melted butter and set aside on an oiled tray (it´s very important for the dough to be on an oily surface all the time so that it doesn´t dry out). Continue with the remaining balls of dough: roll out, brush with melted butter, fold and brush again with melted butter.
Heat a cast iron skillet, a griddle or just a pan with a thick bottom on medium heat. You don´t need to add any oil or butter, the dough won´t stick. Just before adding it to the pan, take your wine bottle or rolling pin and carefully roll out your whole m´semmen packet so that it thins out. Fix the shape with your fingers if you need to so you end up with more a less a square again, albeit a bigger one. You might see air pockets when you do this, which is a good thing. (I don´t know if it´s traditionally done this way but I like the thin, delicate layers you get when you do this.) Put your m´semmen, smooth side first, on the pan, and cook until lightly colored. Flip on the other side and cook again until few brown spots appear on the surface. Do not overcook as they are supposed to be tender and not crunchy. Continue with the remaining parcels of m´semmen.
Serve immediately with honey, and traditionally with mint tea as well.

Carrot-Tomato Soup
adapted from epicurious

3 Tbsp. butter (you can use a mix of butter and olive oil but the flavor of the butter gives it that comforting tomato soup taste. And I already reduced the butter, I wouldn´t reduce it much further.)
1 large onion, chopped
1 Tbsp. finely chopped peeled fresh ginger
1 big clove garlic, finely chopped
1 1/4 pounds medium carrots, peeled, chopped (about 3 cups)
2 tomatoes, seeded (do I seed my tomatoes? Let´s just say I leave the seeds that spill out while you´re cutting the tomato on the cutting board), chopped (about 1 1/3 cups)
zest of one lemon, juice from one half the lemon
salt and pepper

Melt butter in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion; sauté 4 minutes. Add ginger and garlic; sauté 2 minutes. Add chopped carrots, tomatoes and lemon peel; sauté 1 minute. Add 3 cups water and 1 Tbsp. salt (or stock if you have it) and bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover partially and simmer until carrots are very tender, about 20 minutes. Cool slightly.
Puree soup in batches in a blender. Return soup to pot. Mix in lemon juice. Season with salt and pepper and additional lemon juice until the flavors are sufficiently bright.

Yo comi m´semmen por primera vez en Marruecos, aunque se hacen en Argelia tambien. Es una especie de crepe con capitas finas y son deliciosos con miel. La masa esta echa con harina de semolina, que es muy comun en Argentina por sus origines italianos. Se vende aca mucho en las dieteticas.

adaptado de este blog

200g harina de semolina
1/2 de taza de agua tibia
1/2 de cucharita de sal
una cucharita de aceite de girasol o otro aceite neutral
3-4 cucharadas de mantequilla, derretida
aceite para la superficie donde vas a amasar

Coloca los ingredientes secos y el aceite en un bol y ve añadiendo el agua despacio hasta que tengas una masa suave. Una vez que la masa esta formada, amasala por 7-8 minutos mas.
Aceita las manos y un plato grande. Divide la masa en 4 bolas y dejalas en el plato aceitado. Echa un poquito de aceite en la superficie de las bolas para que no formen una piel. Dejalas reposar 5-10 minutos.
Aceita bien la superficie donde vas a amasar las bolas. La masa es muy suave y facil estirar-- yo uso la combinacion de las manos aceitadas y una botella de vino (no tengo un rodillo) para moldearla como un ovalo muy fino. La receta original dice un disco de 20 cm. pero yo los estiro mas grandes para alcanzarlos a la delgadez deseada (los quieres muy delgados pero no quieres que la masa se rompa) a algo como 20 cm. x 35 cm.
Unta el disco de masa generosamente con mantequilla derretida, y dobla el disco como si fuera una carta, los lados izquierda y derecha primeros, despues doblalo del abajo arriba y despues desde arriba abajo. Untalo otra vez con la mantequilla y dejalo en un plato aceitado (es muy importante que la masa este en una superficie aceitada todo el tiempo para que no se seque.) Ese paquete que hiciste es tu primer m´semmen. Sigue con las otras bolas de masa: estirala, untala con mantequilla derretida, doblala y untala otra vez con la mantequilla para tengas todos tus m´semmen listos para cocinar.
Calienta una sarten de hierro fundido, una plancha o cualquier sarten con un fondo grueso sobre fuego medio. No hace falta echar ni aceite ni mantequilla, la masa no pegara. Justo antes de meterlo en la sarten, toma la botella de vino o rodillo y con cuidado estira uno de los m´semmen para que adelgace. Arregla la forma con los dedos si necesitas para que termines con mas o menos un cuadro otra vez, aunque uno mas grande. Veras burbujas de aire, eso es bueno. (No se si tradicionalmente se hace asi pero me gusta las capas finas y delicadas que te de cuando haces esto.) Mete el m´semmen, primero por la cara sin dobleces, en la sarten, y cocinalo hasta que este dorado suavemente. Voltealo a la otra cara y cocinalo hasta que aparezcan unos puntitos cafes. No los cocines demasiado porque deben ser tiernos y no crocantes. Sigue con los otros m´semmen.
Sirvelos inmediatemente con miel, tradicionalmente se acompañan con te de menta. Rinde 4 m´semmen.

En estos dias ha estado haciendo frio de nuevo (las variaciones del clima me estan volviendo loca, siento como que Buenos Aires esta pasando por menopausia lenta o algo) asi que el otro dia hice una sopa, de zanahoria y tomate, que alcanza a combinar las partes reconfortantes de crema de tomate con los sabores refrescantes de una sopa de zanahoria y gengibre.

Sopa de Zanahora y Tomate
adaptada desde epicurious

3 cucharadas de mantequilla (puedes usar una mezcla de mantequilla y aceite de oliva pero el sabor de la mantequilla da ese sabor reconfortante de crema de tomate. Y ya reduci la mantequilla de la receta original, asi que no la reduciria mucho mas)
una cebolla grande, picada
una cucharada de gengibre, picado chiquito
un diente de ajo grande, picado chiquito
un medio kilo de zanahoria, peleada y picada (como 3 tazas)
2 tomates medianos, desemillados (en realidad no hago esto pero dejo las semillas que salgan en la tabla mientras lo pico), picados
cascara de un limon, y el jugo de la mitad del limon
sal y pimienta negra

Derrita la mantequilla en una olla grande con un fondo pesado sobre un fuego medio-alto. Añade la cebolla y salteala 4 minutos. Echa el gengibre y el ajo y saltea 2 minutos mas. Añade la zanahoria, tomate y cascara de limon; saltea un minuto. Añade 3 tazas de agua y una cucharada de sal y hiervelo. Baja el fuego, tapalo parcialmente y hiervelo suavemente hasta que la zanahoria este muy tierna, como 20 minutos. Dejalo enfriar un poco.
Con la sopa haz un pure en una liquadora en tandas. Vuelvela a la olla. Echa el jugo de limon. Pruebala, y ve echando sal y pimienta y mas jugo de limon hasta que el sabor este suficientemente fuerte.