Wednesday, December 21, 2011
Potato latkes has its origin among Ashkenazi Jews in Europe, where potatoes grew in abundance. Consequently the potato latke became the quintessential Chanukah dish commemorating the little olive oil that the Jews found in the holy temple in Jerusalem after its desecration. Mizrachi (Eastern or Asian origin) Jews- of which I am, eat a variation of latkes- mainly, but not exclusively consisting of any of the following: spinach, cauliflower, leeks or zucchini. It really depends from which country you come from and what grows indigenous there. Nice to know that they were eating to the seasons and cooking with what is grown locally. Makes sense, right?
Yet, there are more traditions behind the "Festival of Lights."
The eating of dairy foods amongst some Jews is another custom and has its roots in the story of Judith- the ultimate feminist. Judith was a pious woman who had a plan to save the Jews by pretending to surrender to an Assyrian general, Holofernes, who led his army in the 2nd century BCE to conquer over the Jews so that he could be exalted. The Holy Temple in Jerusalem was sieged and the Jews could not practice their religion. Judith used her beauty and charm to ingratiate herself onto Holofernes. She brought him her home made cheese and wine (nothing like food to a mans stomach) and went back to his tent.
Judith hand fed Holofernes her cheese and wine until he fell asleep. She managed to stop him from his terrible acts so that the Jews could recapture their Holy Temple and rededicate themselves to their holy services. The first order of business was to light the menorah in the temple, but very little oil was found and would only last one day. The miracle of Chanukah was that the little vile of oil that was supposed to last for one day lasted 8 days.
It is for this reason that we eat foods fried in oil (typically olive oil) and eat dairy to pay hommage to a brave woman who wooed a dangerous general with her cheese!
These zucchini fritters inculcate the story of Chanukah with green rope like strands sizzled in olive oil commemorating the miracle of the oil and has a touch of parmesan to honor the ultimate feminist Judith for her courageous acts. For an extra punch, I suggest dipping the fritters into a salsa which adds a delicate piquancy to these light zucchini fritters.
Sunday, December 11, 2011
Baingan Bartha is a vegetarian dish from Indian and Pakistani cuisine. It is a Bhurta (minced vegetables) made from eggplant (Baigan), which is grilled on direct fire to impart a smoky flavor to the flesh of the eggplant and then cooked with spices and vegetables. The eggplant is then mashed and seasoned with fresh cilantro (coriander leaves) for a clean flavor. To bring up the heat, I tempered the mustard seeds and then fried up some fresh chile. Serve with a dollop of yoghurt, if you want to cool your palette and serve with a side of Basmati brown rice.
Jump over Pakistan into Afghanistan, and you will find a variation of this eggplant curry, called bonjan salad. It too, is grilled eggplant that is softened to a point where the pulp just melts off and is then mashed with fresh garlic. This is usually eaten at room temperature with flat Afghan bread as an appetizer, along with main dishes.
I love the way food- in particular, eggplant has traveled throughout the Indian subcontinent and slowly morphed its way into varying recipes. If you think about it, we all share a connection to one another. Sometimes, just as food appears so different, the core is the same- the foundation of Baingan Bartha is the same a the Bonjon. As we move along through life, and meet people we become the sum of all parts- forgetting that we all share a connection to one another- a foundation. Our influences, adorn us- make us special and individuate us, but foods keep us connected to the superluminal connectedness of all things that are beyond our immediate perception.
2 large eggplants
3 tablespoons oil
1/2 teaspoon black mustard seed
1 bunch scallions, finely chopped
4 ounces button mushrooms, halved
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1 fresh red Chile, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon salt
2 ripe tomatoes, chopped
1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
- Preheat the oven to 400 F. Brush the skin of both the eggplant with 1 tablespoon of the oil and prick with a fork. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until soft.
- Meanwhile, heat the remaining oil in a saucepan and saute the mustard seeds for 2 minutes, until they begin to pop. Take care not to splash the oil.
- Add the scallions, mushrooms, crushed garlic and chopped chili and cook for 5 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, coriander, turmeric and salt and cook for 3-4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Cut each eggplant in half lengthwise and scoop out the flesh into a bowl. Mash the flesh briefly with a fork.
- Add the mashed eggplant and chopped cilantro to the saucepan. Bring to boil and simmer for 5 minutes or until sauce thickens. Serve garnish with cilantro sprigs.