Stewed Meatballs with Eggplant and Fruit

Stewed meatballs with eggplant and fruit, served with maftoul.
Stewed meatballs with eggplant and fruit, served with maftoul. The maftoul is covering the biggest piece of eggplant from the pot! Photo mine, May 2016.

Here is a recipe I made for my mother on Mother’s Day. It is similar to the Beef with Eggplant, Dates, and Apricots I made last month for the Pesach of Colors series, but recalls two other dishes from separate Sephardic traditions: the Balkan albondigas, or meatballs with eggplant, and lamb tagine with prunes, a traditional Moroccan-Sephardic meal for Jewish holidays. I kind of made up this recipe on the spot, but will almost certainly make it again. This dish is somewhat complex in terms of ingredients and preparation, so save it for special occasions – like Mother’s Day.

I served the stew with maftoul or moghrabiyyeh, commonly called Pearled Couscous, or ptitim in Israel. Though the preparation method common in Israel differs slightly from maftoul (it is a paste that is molded in Israel, and a coated couscous elsewhere), the product is essentially identical, despite some Israeli efforts to say otherwise. Maftoul/ptitim are delicious and will be the topic of an upcoming blog post.

Stewed Meatballs with Eggplants and Dried Fruit
Serves 6-8
 
Stew
2 medium eggplants, peeled and chopped into 1-inch chunks
salt, for preparing eggplant
Two medium onions, diced
Two cloves garlic, finely diced
1 1/2 tbsp table salt
1 tbsp sugar
1 1/2 tsps white pepper
1 tsp smoked paprika
1 tsp cinnamon
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp thyme
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg
1 1/4 cups chopped dried dates
1 1/4 cups dried prunes, pitted and chopped
2 cups sweet red wine (yes, I used Manischewitz), split into 1/2 cup and 1 1/2 cup amounts
2 bay leaves
1/4 cup honey
2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
4 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped
water
2-3 tbsp olive oil
Meatballs
2 lbs ground beef
3 eggs
3/4 cup matzah meal
1 tsp salt
1 tsp black pepper
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1. Place the eggplant pieces into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.) Afterwards, rinse the eggplant pieces and set aside.
2. Heat a wide, deep pan or Dutch oven. Add olive oil when the pan is hot – the amount should be enough to coat the bottom of the pan.
3. Add the onions and garlic and saute.
4. When the onions begin to soften, add the salt, sugar, paprika, pepper, turmeric, thyme, oregano, and nutmeg, and mix in thoroughly. Saute for another minute.
5. Add the dried dates and prunes and mix in thoroughly. Then, add 1/2 cup wine.
6. Saute until the dates have slightly softened, about three minutes.
7. Add the eggplant pieces, bay leaves, and honey, and mix in thoroughly. Add the remaining 1 1/2 cups of wine. Then, add enough water to cover the entire mixture by about 1.5cm/1/2 an inch – this should be between four and six cups of water.
8. Bring to a boil and simmer for 30-45 minutes.
9. Now is the time to make the meatballs. Mix all the ingredients for the meatballs in a large bowl, until the ingredients are thoroughly combined.
10. With your hands, use the mixture to make walnut sized balls (about 4-5cm/1 1/2 inches). You should be able to make 20-25 meatballs.
11. When the eggplant has softened somewhat, add the meatballs and submerge in the mixture. Bring back to a boil, then simmer for another 30-45 minutes.
12. The eggplant will be very soft and the fruit completely mushy when the stew is done. Serve with your favorite carbohydrate.

Pesach of Colors 3: Stuffed Cabbage (Green)

Stuffed cabbage on a plate
Stuffed cabbage, with keftes de prasa (leek fritters, upcoming), the “bed” of apples and onions, and rice. Photo mine, April 2016.

I like to mix up some parts of the traditional Ashkenazi culinary calendar. The reason for this is simple: for fifty-one weeks of the year, a.k.a. not Pesach, I see no reason not to eat poppy-seed hamantaschen, and am of the opinion that these herald the new year far better than the pastry-who-shall-not-be-named. That said, I’ve been known to serve latkes on Shavuot and cheesecake on Hanukkah – the latter of which happens to be actually somewhat traditional. And this green recipe is simply a colorful Passover rendition of another holiday’s treat.
Stuffed cabbage, also known as holishkes, is traditional to Simchat Torah. (Continue) Holishkes are one of Ashkenazi Jewry’s oldest borrowings from neighbors in Eastern Europe – it appeared in Jewish cooking from the 14th century, when a similar dish emerged in Eastern Europe. Since then, it has been a frequent feature of the Jewish Sabbath table – not just in the Ashkenazi-dominated regions of Carpathia and Galicia (now Eastern Poland and Western Ukraine), but also throughout the Sephardi communities of the Balkans, where the dish became popular later. (Nota bene: the dish is Ashkenazi in origin.) Cooking and serving methods vary. Whereas in Hungary and Romania the holishkes are slow-cooked in a fantastically flavored tomato sauce, and Bulgaria’s are stuffed to the brim, the Greek lahmanadolmathes are cooked on top of a bed of vegetables. I blended the two methods – I made the stuffed cabbage in the Greek style, but added the tomato sauce from further north.

Creating Passover-friendly stuffed cabbage proved to be an interesting challenge. The traditional carbohydrate of the filling is rice, which is eaten by some Jews, but not by most Ashkenazim. Meanwhile, flour cannot be used to thicken the filling if it is too thin, but matzah meal would make the filling too dry. I settled instead for walnuts, which add body to the filling and a characteristic nutty, but not too savory, undertone.

Stuffed Cabbage for Passover (Holishkes)
Serves 8-10

Stuffed Cabbage
1 medium head cabbage
1 lb ground beef
1/2 cup ground walnuts
2 eggs
1 tbsp white salt
1 tsp ground black pepper
1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground smoked paprika
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 large apple, cored and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
Water or stock

1. Cut the end off the cabbage. Then, place it in a pot of boiling water, and leave in until the outer leaves begin to fall off. Carefully remove about 20-30 leaves, without tearing them. Then, take the core of the cabbage out. Set the leaves and core aside, separately.

  1. In a large bowl, mix the beef, walnuts, eggs, and spices together until you have a consistent and solid mixture.
  2. Dice the core of the cabbage, and place the pieces at the bottom of a medium-sized stockpot with the apples and onions.
  3. Now it is time to make the holishkes.
  • Take a leaf and lay it out flat on a flat surface.
  • Cut off the nib of the leaf (the hard bit) at the bottom. (Throw the nib into the pot on top of the rest of the apple-onion-cabbage bed)
  • Place about a teaspoon of the beef mixture into the lower-center part of the cabbage leaf.
  • Fold the bottom bit of the leaf over the filling, and then the two bottom-side bits.
  • Now, roll the leaf up to completely conceal the filling. Congrats, you have made a holishke!
  • Place the roll on top of the bed, open side down. (This prevents the stuffed cabbage leaf from opening during the cooking process.
  • Repeat until you are out of cabbage leaves! Nota bene: if you have leftover filling, you can fry them into little keftes.
  1. Cover the contents of the pot with water and/or stock.
  2. Place on the heat, and bring to a boil. Then, simmer for one to one and a half hours, basting – pouring liquid over – the holishkes regularly.
  3. Serve with carbs and the vegetables from the “bed,” with the additional option of tomato sauce. 

    Tomato Sauce (optional)
    2 cups cooked, crushed tomatoes with their juices (or 1 can)
    1 medium onion, chopped
    Five cloves garlic, chopped
    1.5 tsp salt
    1.5 tsp black pepper
    1 tsp smoked paprika
    1 tbsp white wine vinegar
    Olive or sunflower seed oil

    1. In a medium saucepan, sauté the onions and garlic in oil until soft. Add the spices and vinegar and mix in thoroughly.
    2. Add the tomatoes and mix in thoroughly. Bring to a boil, then simmer for five minutes.

 

The author would like to thank Jeremy Swack for being an excellent sous-chef during the testing of this recipe.

Pesach of Colors: Beyond Brisket – Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates (Orange)

Today, in our series for Passover, the color is orange – from the sharp brightness of apricots in a rich and hearty stew. And though many American Jews (well, American Ashkenazim) want the sweet and dark taste of gedempte fleysh – roasted-braised brisket – this Passover, I am sure that this recipe can satisfy even the most brisket-addled tongue – and is certainly easier to make! (Worry not – I’ll make brisket at some point.)

Dried fruit and the combination of fruit and meat have a long history in various Jewish culinary traditions, especially for Passover. Ashkenazi readers may be most familiar with tzimmes – a stew, traditional to Rosh HaShanah and Passover, that is made with carrots or sweet potatoes, dried fruit such as prunes or raisins, and oftentimes beef flank or the aforementioned brisket. Moroccan Jews, meanwhile, make a series of tagines that combine dried fruits – especially prunes, apricots, lemons, and dates – with meat. A lamb tagine with prunes is, in fact, a traditional dish (link in French) for the first night of Passover in some communities. Meanwhile, the Bukharan Jews, originally from Bukhara in Uzbekistan, add raisins to the meat-and-rice plovs that are frequent on Shabbat tables in that community. The sweetness of the fruit, like the sweetness of liberation, provides a nice balance to the savory, fatty depths of good stew meat – and sometimes, depending on the fruit, provides an amazing color to plates.

Beef stew with eggplant, apricots, and dates
The final product. Photo mine, March 2016.

This recipe is a merger of two recipes from different parts of the Jewish world. A tagine with lamb, apricots, and eggplants is traditional in parts of Morocco, and Shabbat fare for many of the Jewish communities there. The addition of dates, however, comes from Vered Guttman’s recipe for an eggplant, apricot, and date pilaf that was published for Purim in the Israeli newspaper Ha’aretz. This recipe is not exactly “authentic” and I won’t try to market it as such, but is rather a festive idea based on Jewish traditions from a variety of places.

Beef with Eggplant, Apricots, and Dates

Serves 8

Based on a pilaf recipe by Vered Guttman and a tagine recipe by Laurense Regale (in French)

1 large or 2 small-medium Mediterranean eggplants

1 large onion, diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped finely

1-2 pounds chuck beef, chopped into small pieces (depends on your taste)

1 cup dried apricots, chopped

1 cup dried dates, pitted and chopped

2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1.5 tsp ground turmeric

1.5 tsp ground nutmeg

1.5 tsp dried thyme

1.5 tsp ground cumin

4 dried cloves

1/2 tsp dried nutmeg

2 cups vegetable or chicken stock* (you can also just use water)

~6-8 cups water

2 tbsp honey

 

Olive oil or sunflower seed oil

Salt for preparing eggplant

 

  1. Wash the eggplant, and chop the ends off. Cut the eggplants into four wedges, and slice these wedges into triangle-pieces about an inch at the base/peel and an inch thick. Place the eggplants into a colander and salt heavily. Set aside for 30 minutes, during which time the eggplant will “sweat.” (This is oxalic acid escaping the eggplant, which means the pieces will be less bitter in the final product.)
  2. Afterwards, rinse the pieces of eggplant and set aside.
  3. Heat a stock or stew pot, and add oil when the pot is hot. Then, add the onions and garlic and sauté until the onions soften.
  4. Add the meat and sauté, stirring constantly, until the meat is browned on all sides.
  5. Add the apricots, dates, and spices and stir into the meat-onion mixture. Sauté for one minute.
Cooking the stew
Mid-process – I’ve just added the dates and apricots to the meat. Photo mine, March 2016.

6. Add the eggplant pieces and mix into the fruit-meat-onion mixture thoroughly.

7. Add the stock to the pot, and then add water until the meat and eggplant are covered with water by at least 1/3 of an inch/1 cm. Bring to a boil.

8. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low, and stir in the honey.

9. Simmer for 1-1 1/2 hours, or until the liquid has reduced significantly and the eggplant is very soft. Serve with your carbohydrate of choice.

Chicken Soup / Mock Chicken Soup Part II

For part one, click here.

So we’re back: Chicken Soup, Part II: now that you’ve got your stock, it’s time to have some soup!

Chicken soup with kreplach
Chicken soup with kreplach (image Yoninah via Wikimedia/Creative Commons)

But first, let us note that chicken soup has a long history in the Jewish world. In the Talmudic era, it was already a festive tradition to cook a chicken in broth; the medieval scholar Maimonides touted it as a curative dish for one’s health. By the modern era, chicken-based soups were common across the Jewish world, including among Turkish Sephardim and Yemenite Jews. But they were perhaps most widespread – as yoikh or goldene yoikh – among Ashkenazi communities in Eastern Europe, where dozens of variations of chicken soup were consumed for Shabbat and festivals. These soups were brought by Ashkenazi immigrants to wherever they landed – and especially America. And, as other dishes became less popular, chicken soup had a certain staying power. It was comforting; it was easy; it didn’t have calves’ feet. By the mid-20th century, “Jewish penicillin” – coined by performers on the Borscht Belt comedy circuit – was an icon of what we can roughly call mass Ashkenazi culture. And it stuck: mass media has have also helped reify chicken soup in today’s Jewish world. From blogs to television shows to Tumblr, chicken soup is the Jewish classic.*

So, you want to make this classic. But how? There are many different ways, particularly if you have your stock. I have five recipes here, with the basic parts of liquids, soup-solids, and additions. I’ve written them in order of difficulty.

Of course the ingredients and methodology vary. For mock chicken soup, ignore all directions involving the chicken.

Easy

Don’t even take your ingredients out of the stock. Just add your additions if you have any – noodles, matzoh balls, ground hazelnuts, etc., cook them in the soup, and you’re good to go.

Friday Night

Take out the chicken and cut it up, leave the vegetables in there. If you would like, add some boiled broad beans or some carrots. Add back the chicken, with any additions. Enjoy!

Some Friday Nights

Take out the chicken and vegetables. Keep the stock vegetables for something else, but add new vegetables and boil them in the soup until they’re soft. (I recommend a few carrots, a few peeled parsnips, and some finely chopped onion. Chop up the chicken and add it back in, with separately cooked additions.

Birthday Shabbat/Holidays

See Some Friday Nights, but cook a more difficult addition – such as matzoh balls with neshommes (forthcoming), kreplach, or homemade farfel.

Rosh Hashanah and Pesach

I only do this twice a year at most. Essentially, you make a stock all over again using half first round chicken stock, half water with fresh chicken and fresh vegetables – including some cabbage and apple for Rosh Hashanah – and cook again for about an hour or so. (Keep the chicken and vegetables from the stock for later meals.) Then, you add separately cooked additions – and it’s one of the two biggest food holidays of the year, so go all out here – and freshly chopped herbs as a garnish. Chop up the chicken for the soup and add it back in. There is also a veritable tradition in my family of using the fattiest chicken you can find – or even turkey – for even more flavor. Pesach is no time for a diet, because we are being liberated.

*Albeit this entire post is a tad Ashkenormative. Apologies.

Chicken Soup / Mock Chicken Soup Part I – The Stock

A loyal reader of this blog, Marianne Kwok, has requested chicken soup – “it’s such a classic!” Indeed, “chicken soup” – be it with kneidlach or lokshen/lagman or kubbeh – is the first thing that comes to mind when many people think of “Jewish food,” nebulously defined. Most Jewish cuisines have some form of chicken soup, often served on Shabbat – from the Ashkenazi savory goldene yoikh to the coriander-spiked soups of Yemenite Jewry (link in Hebrew). In a Jewish culinary sphere of many differences, chicken soups are one commonality.

Vegetarian "chicken" soup with lokshn
Mock chicken soup with lots of veggies and noodles! And dill. Dill. I like dill. Photo mine, June 2012.

Hence this series: Chicken Soup / Mock Chicken Soup! We’ll be going through three parts here: the stock, the soup itself, and all the additions. I’m doing both the meat version and a vegan/pareve version not just for those of you not inclined to eat delicious, delicious flesh, but also for those of us who wish to serve cheesecake for dessert at all times. (Not like I’ve ever been that person…) This soup is a rather Ashkenazi one: it is what I grew up with. Not all Jews grew up with this.

I’ll go more into the history of chicken soups across the Jewish world in Part Two, but for Part One, I’m going to teach you how to make the stock. You don’t have to use stock for soups – I don’t always – nor does the stock have to be separate from the “broth” of the soup itself. For most of Jewish history, it wasn’t. But making stock is a good skill for the Jewish or non-Jewish cook to have. Stocks make so many things that much more delicious, and it is the basis, after all, for soups. Making stock can be hard work, but it is so worth it.

Here are four rules I have for stock. Stock does not have to be hard, nor does it have to be wasteful, and these three rules really help.

  1. It’s okay to use store-bought, and save the effort of your own (or this stock) for special occasions. I’m not going to lie. Making your own stock – though supremely easy – does take time, and you don’t necessarily want to use all of your equipment every time you make something just to make stock. I would say that this problem is especially acute in our small New York City kitchens. I would encourage you to make your own stocks for special occasions – Rosh Hashanah, Shavuot, your partner’s birthday, and so on – but for ordinary weekday and Shabbat meals, it’s really fine to use other stock. If you have a packaged stock, soup powder, or bouillon cube you like, use it! Parts II and III of the Soup Series will still apply to you, and lots of stock is good to have for everything. But I really do encourage you to go all out for special occasions – you get so much more control over the taste of the final product!
  1. Freeze your stock. If you don’t want to use store-bought or you make a lot of stock, freeze it for later use. You’ll be glad you did.
  1. Herbs are your friend. No, seriously. I get that people go for the protein in the stock – the chicken or turkey or fish – but the herbs actually form the foundation of the flavor. I honor my Lithuanian background with a very dill-heavy stock, but your own tastes and palate should inform it. And different Jewish cuisines have distinctive stock flavorings – for example, cumin in an Iraqi stock, or more parsley in a Moroccan one.
  1. Save your leftovers. Now, the most traditional thing to do would be to chop them up and throw them back into the soup. This was definitely the tradition for meat, which was historically rather expensive. But if you’re saving stock for later or making it for later, don’t throw away the solid materials! I know, I know, the flavor of the ingredients in the stock “gets cooked out.” But the stuff you use to make the stock can actually be used and flavored to be delicious! My mother would always give us turkey from her turkey stock to eat when she made stock for Passover and Rosh Hashanah, and the vegetables for a vegetarian stock can taste great with rice and a bit of chili sauce.
Chicken soup with kreplach
From the “Jewish Cuisine” page on Hebrew Wikipedia: chicken soup with kreplach – dumplings. (photo Zierman via CC/Wikimedia Commons)

Anyway, here’s the stock recipe. It’s a more Lithuanian-style stock, with dill and black pepper, and it’s not too sweet. I am giving both a chicken (meat/bashari/fleishig) version and a mock chicken (vegan/pareve) one. I actually make the mock chicken version far more frequently than the meat version.

The Stock (Litvak-Style)

For two to four gallons of stock, depending on your pot size and how much water you add.

Feel free to adjust all the spices to taste.

Chicken

1.5 pounds chicken necks and/or feet

2 medium-sized white onions, chopped

2 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

2 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped

3 stalks celery, chopped

3 tbsp fresh dill, chopped

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

1.5 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1.5 tsp thyme

Water

 

Mock Chicken (Vegetarian)

2 large white onions, chopped

5 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

1 large carrot, chopped

3 medium parsnips, peeled and chopped

4 stalks celery, chopped

1 leek, finely chopped

½ cup fresh dill, chopped

2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped

2 tbsp salt

1 tbsp black pepper

1.5 tsp thyme

Water

The methodology for making either of these stocks is pretty simple. Start off with a big stock-pot – mine is good for about three and a half gallons. You throw in the non-spice ingredients first – up to the dill in each recipe, and cover to the top of the pot with water. Bring the water to a boil, and then add the spices. Reduce to a simmer, and cook, stirring frequently, for two hours. You can add water if too much evaporates off. Less water means a stronger stock flavor but less stock overall. Keep the liquid; it freezes well for about four months, I usually try to use stock in the fridge within a week. You can either use the solid materials in your soup or keep them for other uses.

Author’s note: some people fry their onions for vegetable stocks in oil before making the stock. I tend not to do this, because I think that the fat should be added closer to the final dish.