Thursday, April 22, 2010

Persian Eggplant Stew (Gluten Free, Vegan)

The traditional name for this dish is Eggplant Khoresh, which is a stewed type of sauce typically prepared with lamb and yellow split peas. There are many variations of Khoresh depending on the province and what is available there. It is not uncommon for the Khoresh to be vegetarian. In some later posts, I will leave recipes for other types of Khoresh.

I learned to make this dish from my mother, who is not Persian, but grew up in Afghanistan, bordering Iran. In my mothers’ usual fashion, she has morphed this dish into a variation of the original, adding garlic and curry. Persians always eat their Khoresh over steamed basmati rice.

Serves 4


1 large eggplant, peeled, cubed and salted
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 yellow onions, diced
4 cloves garlic, crushed
2 round tomatoes, diced
1 ½  tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon cumin
½ teaspoon paprika
½ teaspoon pepper
2 tablespoons cilantro, finely chopped (for garnish)

                        1      In a colander, sprinkle 1-tablespoon salt on the eggplant to remove bitterness. Let stand for half an hour, then strain and pat dry with paper towel.
                        2      Heat oil, in a large saucepot under a medium high flame. Add onion and sauté until translucent; 7 to 8 minutes. Then mix in garlic and stir for a few more minutes until garlic become fragarant. Make sure the mixture does not burn.
                        3      Add eggplant with ½ teaspoon salt and stir until eggplant softens. This should take about 10 minutes.
                       4      Stir in the tomatoes and season with turmeric, curry powder, cumin, paprika, and pepper. Combine seasonings well with the mixture.  Lower heat, and cover simmered for 45 minutes.
                       5      Serve over basmati rice garnished with cilantro.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Sweet & Spicy “Meat Balls” (Dairy Free, Gluten Free)

The intricate flavors of this sweet and spicy dish result in a culinary delight. You can add vegetables of your choice to this dish for a larger crowd or just stick to the straight forward recipe; either way you will love it. Best if served accompanied with a wild rice dish. These meatballs are made from Portabella mushrooms by the brand Franklin Farms available at many major supermarkets in the refrigerated section. I bought these meatball at Waldbaums. You can always go online and see which stores carry it. You will find a picture of the brand below. 

Serves 6

1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 yellow onion, chopped
1 cup tomato sauce
1 teaspoon curry
1 teaspoon cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons duck sauce
¼ cup orange juice
                                         1 zucchini, sliced into ¼ inch rounds
                                         1 potato, cubed
                                         2 carrots, sliced into ¼ inch rounds

                        1      In a medium saucepan over a medium high flame, heat oil and sauté onion for 7-8 minutes or until translucent.  
                        2      Add the tomato sauce, curry, cumin, turmeric, duck sauce and orange juice to the saucepan and combine well. Cook for 5 minutes.
                        3      Add  zucchini, potato and carrots or any cut up vegetables of your choice and combine well.
                       4      Once boiling, lower heat and simmer covered for 25 minutes.
                       5      Add your meatballs and cook for an additional 12 minutes.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Subscribe to a Community Supported Agriculture Program (CSA) in your community Encouraging Healthy Eating while supporting our Local Economy

The concept of buying local is simply to buy food produced, grown, or raised as close to your home as possible. With over industrialization in the United States, our food is now grown and processed in fewer and farther locations, meaning it has to travel more to reach your refrigerator. Although this method of production is considered efficient and economically profitable for large agribusiness corporations, it is harmful to the environment, consumers and rural communities.

In the U.S. the average grocery stores produce travels nearly 1,500 miles between the farm where it was grown and your refrigerator. About 40% of our fruit is produced overseas and, even though broccoli is likely grown within 20 miles of the average American’s house, the broccoli we buy at the supermarket travels an average 1,800 miles to get there. (Pirog, Rich, and Andrew Benjamin. “Checking the Food Odometer: Comparing Food Miles for Local Versus Conventional Produce Sales in Iowa Institutions.“ Leopold Center for Sustainable Agriculture, July 2003.)

So how does our food travel from the field to your grocery store? It’s trucked across the country, hauled in freighter ships over oceans, and flown around the world on a continuous basis. In fact, kiwi season has expanded to an all year fruit, being shipped from New Zealand and Italy. The high cost for that luxury is carbon dioxide gets absorbed into the kiwis, thereby into your bodies, not just the environment. (Rosenthal, Elisabeth. “Environmental Cost of Shipping Groceries Around the World.” New York Times, April 26, 2008)
A tremendous amount of fossil fuel is used to transport foods such long distances. Combustion of these fuels releases carbon dioxide, along with other pollutants into the atmosphere, contributing to global climate change, acid rain, smog and air pollution. Even the refrigeration required keeping your fruits, vegetables, dairy products and meats from spoiling burns up energy.

If you live in New York, there are many Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) Programs-- a weekly produce pickup from a local farm, delivered to a central location. Before the growing season, CSA members purchase an entire season of produce from an organic family farm.  Each week during the growing season, the farm makes a delivery of fresh, organic vegetables and fruits.

The CSA I belong to is from Golden Earthworm located in Long Island and my garage is the neighborhood depot for Great Neck. Golden Earthworm delivers to several locations in New York so if you want to sign up, please go to Golden Earthworm for CSA locations near you.

The produce you receive every week is always fresh.  It is often picked the same morning as delivery – as opposed to conventional produce, which is usually picked unripe and spends many days or weeks in transport before it is eaten.  CSA Farmers grow many varieties of food that aren't readily available, providing exciting new food experiences.

 “Buying regionally produced food is a keystone of sustainability: not only does it save the energy costs associated with shipping bulk produce, it keeps a portion of your grocery money close to where live.” (Norberg-Hodge, Helena, Todd Merrifield, and Steven Gorelick. Bringing the Food Economy Home: Local Alternatives to Global Agribusiness. Bloomfield, CT: Kumarian Press, 2002.)

“The 100 Mile Diet” authors Alisa Smith and James MacKinnon's wrote a book describing their experience in eating food only grown within a 100-mile radius of their home. They highlighted 13 benefits to eating locally; some of which are, less travel time for food thereby reducing carbon emissions, and supporting your local economy. Food transported short distances is fresher (and, therefore, safer) than food that travels long distances.

By supporting small farms, CSAs benefit the land in important ways. Growing organic means minimizing pesticide use. The agricultural chemicals used in conventional farming pollute groundwater, deplete the soil and can poison birds, animals (and farm workers!). 

We are at a serious turning point in our lives due to our energy dependence and our economic recession. Communities must come together to reduce the use of fossil fuels, support our economy, and eat healthy.

The price of CSA membership is competitive and often cheaper than organic food prices at local grocery stores and even farmer’s markets. If you would like to enroll into the CSA in areas outside of New York, please click on the following link; Local Harvest for local CSA's near you. 

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Red Lentil Curry (Gluten Free,Vegan)

Lentils are a natural in Indian curry dishes since their origin is of South Western Asia. These little red protein powerhouses are the sweeter variety to their green and brown cousins and are most suitable for stews. One of the advantages of cooking with lentils is that they don’t have to be soaked like other legumes so this makes for a quick and easy dish. The result of this delectable curry is a filling and hearty main meal served with basmati rice. Thanks to Shirley Klein, my mother in law, for sharing this recipe with me.

Serves 6 to 8


1 cup red lentils
1 large yellow onion, diced
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoons cinnamon
1 teaspoon fennel
1 tablespoon curry powder
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger root, minced
2 large red tomatoes, chopped
¼ cup tomato puree
¼ cup shredded coconut (optional)

1   Wash the lentils in cold water until the water runs clear (this is very important or the lentils will get "scummy"), put the lentils in a medium sized pot with water to cover and simmer until lentils tender. This should take 10-15 minutes.
2   While the lentils are cooking: In a large skillet, heat oil over medium high heat. Add the onions  and coat with oil, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes or until onions are browned somewhat.
3   While the onions are cooking, combine the mustard seed, cinnamon, fennel, curry powder, turmeric, cumin, chili powder, salt, sugar, garlic, and ginger in a mixing bowl. Mix well. When the onions are cooked, add the curry mixture to the onions and cook over a high heat stirring constantly for 1 to 2 minutes.
4   Stir in the tomatoes and tomato puree and reduce heat, allow the curry base to simmer until the lentils are ready. When the lentils are tender drain them briefly (they should have absorbed most of the water but you don't want the curry to be too sloppy). Mix the curry base into the lentils and serve immediately garnished with coconut.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Family Background of the Vegetarian Hostess and Silk Road Cooking

Today's posting is about my family's ancestry in relation to the kinds of foods I was brought up with; Central Asian cuisine from the Silk Route. The dishes on this blog represent my cultural culinary history that is rich with interesting history of the Jews from the region along with the diverse yet similar dishes along the Silk Route which connects East, South and Western Asia with the Mediterranean, as well as North and East Africa with Europe. The map above represents the thousands of miles the Silk Road spanned.

The diversity in the dishes has to do with the spices that were indigenous to the country and the produce that were seasonally available. Keeping that in mind, I have aimed at eating rhythmically to the seasons to remain interconnected with the environment to appreciate the change of foods with the change of seasons. It is also noteworthy that a meat based diet along the Silk Route was a luxury, because of the expense and the scarcity of animals. Most animals, chattel to be specific were used as laborers and on special occasions for consumption.  So many of the dishes from the region are vegetarian based that is a collage of Asian, African, Russian and Mediterranean cuisine fused into a unique new cuisine that most Westerners have never tasted. 

This is my family history....

My family is of Central Asian Jewish descent where my parents were born in a Southern Republic of Russia called Bukhara (Uzbekistan), which lies along the Silk Road to Afghanistan, Iran and India. Most Jews from Bukhara have lineage to Persia (Iran) and Babylonia (Iraq) because it was part of the larger Persian Empire that split off from Babylonia after King Cyrus overtook Babylonia in 600BC. Almost 12 centuries later, the Shiites took over Persia forcing Islamic conversion upon many Jews, while some, like my family, sought refuge in Bukhara. After the Bolshevik Revolution, Russia became a Communist country so Bukhara became an oppressive place to live. Because of that, my parents were uprooted with their respective families to Kabul seeking financial freedom.

My grandparents brought to Kabul their Bukharian cuisine, which has similar imprints to Persian, Chinese, Russian and Indian dishes bearing that many of its inhabitants come from those regions. However the predominant seasonings are onion, garlic and cilantro with the main spices consisting of cumin, coriander and turmeric. All dishes in the region represented the wide variety of vegetables grown and the fundamental staple ingredient along the Silk Route; rice.

The cuisine in Kabul consisted many of the same foods as their bordering countries with the addition of dried fruits and nuts. A typical Friday night dinner at my parents included a rice dish prepared with assorted vegetables, herbs and spices, called Pilaw. At some point, I will post the recipe for that delicacy.

My mother and her seven siblings resided in Kabul until she was a teenager, and then moved to Israel in 1949 adopting yet another cuisine to add to their growing palate; Middle Eastern food.

My father with his five siblings lived in Kabul for a few years working as a tradesman. It was common for Jewish families like mine, located along the Silk Route to be traveling merchants, trading commodities.  Seeking to expand the family business, my father moved to Peshawar until 1947.  When a religious war broke out between Pakistan and India this caused for my father to travel south seeking refuge in Bombay where he remained until he was thirty years old. During that time he visited Israel where he met and married my mother in 1952 making Bombay their home base.

Bombay Jewry was a melting pot of cultures attracting Near Eastern Jews drawn by the economic potential this vibrant city boasted, and my family was another addition to the collage. It is only natural that Bombay’s cuisine was as diverse as the country itself, however there were certain characteristics they were unique to India. Being that India was a predominately Hindu country with a strong respect for life, a strong vegetarian diet was adopted.  My mother quickly assimilated into Indian gastronomy learning and cooking vegetarian dishes prepared with cardamom, cinnamon, cumin, ginger and mustard seed to name a few.

In 1956 my parents and my eldest sister emigrated to New York which would become the home base for my father’s intercontinental businesses. 

When my family moved to New York, my father with his brothers set up satellite offices in Kabul, Japan, Italy, Switzerland, India, Thailand, Hong Kong and Israel. Due to my father’s work as an International Trader and my family’s frequent moves from country to country, my parents absorbed the cultures, languages, and cuisines of each nation in which they resided and passed it down to me. Now I am passing to you the dishes I grew up with which consisted of Nuts, Spice and Everything Rice.
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