Coconut Cream Malabi

Malabi. I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a single trendy Tel Aviv restaurant that hasn’t got its own version of Malabi on its dessert menu at the moment. Certainly this post was inspired by all the various delicious Malabi (Malabis? Malabim?? Help, grammar gods…) I’ve daintily dipped my spoon into recently (by which I mean, attacked with an amount of energy and gusto that usually requires hydraulics).

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If you’ve never come across it before, Malabi, or Muhallebi, is a cold custard-like dessert, similar in texture to Pannacotta or Blancmange. It’s very popular in Israel, but can be found all over the Middle East and North Africa. Though the main ingredients (cream, sugar and cornflour) are fairly standard, the flavourings and toppings can vary. I’ve eaten Malabi flavoured with vanilla, rosewater, orange flower water, cardamom… I’ve devoured it topped with rose syrup, strawberry syrup, date syrup, pomegranate syrup… I’ve scoffed it sprinkled with cinnamon, powdered with peanuts, anointed with almonds, covered with coconut and pimped with pistachios. So far I’ve not had it with all of the above all at the same time. But tomorrow is another day.

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I had the perfect opportunity to crack the Malabi code when we had Mr Olive’s family over for dinner recently. Since my sister- and brother-in-law are vegan, I went ahead and replaced the cream with coconut cream. Almond or other non-dairy milks could also be used, but then the result would be less creamy. And we all like creamy.

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I adore both rosewater and orange flower water so choosing between them was pure agony (I never ever exaggerate) but in the end I went for the more classic rosewater. I figure this is only the first of many Malabis (Malabies? Ick, no, that sounds like a disease) I’m going to make so there’ll be plenty of time for all the other variations 🙂

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And then I decided to throw vanilla and cardamom in there too because I simply couldn’t bring myself to give up on either of them. Perish the thought!

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For toppings, I chose date syrup, known in Israel as Silan, since it reminds me of the marvelous Malabi Mr Olive and I used to scarf down at Hummus Bros in London’s Soho. It can usually be found in whole food shops. Then, toasted desiccated coconut (because it’s traditional and because it’s yummy), and chopped almonds (because they’re delicious and nutritious) and pistachios (because I can’t resist that pop of green).

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And I almost forgot to mention how easy Malabi is to make. It’s basically as easy as throwing a few things together in a pot, bringing them to the boil and stirring them. Then pouring the lot into jars and sticking them in the fridge for a few hours. Ta-da: a new fancy summertime dinner party dessert… that your guests will go nuts for! Pretty sweet!

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Coconut Cream Malabi

SERVES 4-6

4 HOURS, 20 MINS

PREPARATION TIME: 20 MINUTES

CHILLING TIME: 4 HOURS, OR OVERNIGHT

Ingredients

Malabi

3 cups / 710 ml coconut cream,

5 tbsp corn flour,

3 tbsp rosewater,

5 tbsp white sugar,

1 tsp vanilla extract,

1/4 tsp cardamom seeds, ground or crushed,

Toppings

Date syrup to taste (I used 2 tbsp per serving),

1-2 handfuls of almonds,

1-2 handfuls of pistachios, shelled,

Approx 4 tbsp dessicated coconut,

Method

  1. In a medium-sized bowl, whisk half a cup of the coconut cream with the corn flour, rosewater and vanilla until smooth.
  2. Put the remaining 2 1/2 cups of coconut cream in a small saucepan together with the sugar and cardamom and bring to the boil, stirring occasionally.
  3. Add the corn flour mixture, reduce the heat and simmer, whisking vigorously, for about 1 minute, until the Malabi thickens and there are no lumps.
  4. Pour into serving dishes or small glass jars and bring to room temperature. Then chill in the fridge for at least 4 hours, or overnight.
  5. While the Malabi is chilling, prepare the toppings. Toast the almonds and pistachios in a dry frying pan over a low heat. Watch them closely so they don’t burn!
  6. Place the toasted nuts in a food processor and pulse until they are finely chopped.
  7. Toast the desiccated coconut gently in a dry frying pan over a low heat, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Remove from the pan as soon as it starts to turn golden (if your kitchen didn’t already smell amazing, it will now).
  8. When you are ready to serve, top each Malabi with a couple of tablespoons of date syrup, and a teaspoonful or so each of coconut and nuts.
  9. Yum!

Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

Mr Olive and I go out on a date every couple of weeks and our favourite type of date consists of heading into Tel Aviv to eat at one of the city’s amazing restaurants. Sitting and chatting in a cool venue over a selection of delicious and surprising dishes and a yummy cocktail is basically our idea of the best quality time ever. Mr Olive’s mother often rolls her eyes at us: “There are so many things you could do on a date!” she says. “Go and see a film or a concert for a change!” She has a point but, in the end, as a couple with young kids and real face-to-face time at a premium, we’d much rather be interacting with each other than looking at something else or staring at a screen (we do quite enough screen-staring as it is!).

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A month ago we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants: Dalida, in south Tel Aviv. Named after the Egyptian-Italian singer popular throughout the 60s and 70s, the restaurant describes itself as a European khmara, where ‘khmara’ is the Arabic word for a drinking den – a cave of pleasure where people gather late into the night to eat, get drunk and talk nonsense. While a little scuzzy, the khmara is also joyful and fun. It’s a distinctly Levantine concept. A Middle Eastern stereotype. Presumably, the ‘European’ part of Dalida’s claim alludes both to the food and to the atmosphere of urbanity and self-awareness that lies alongside that down-to-earth khmara vibe. In practice, Dalida is not a dive, but a cozy bar-restaurant, very hip and vintagey, which serves an exciting fusion of European and Middle-Eastern cuisines.

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One of the dishes we ate was described on the menu thus: ‘Tortellini. Inside: Ricotta, chard, cranberries, pistachios. Outside: Fresh shiitaki, scorched cherry tomatoes, sage-lemongrass butter, vegetables, parmesan.’ Um, what? Cranberries and pistachios stuffed inside tortellini? Shiitaki with parmesan? Sage-lemongrass butter? Oh. My. God.

The dish was one of the most moreishly umami concoctions I have eaten in a long time. That hint of sweet and salty crunch inside the pasta, mixed with the powerful (and weirdly complimentary) flavours of shiitaki and parmesan. And the tomato juices mingling with the fragrant notes of lemongrass and sage. It was so good. It was so good that I had to recreate it. Even if that meant dusting off the unopened box in which my pasta machine had been sitting for the last four years. That good.

So I made tortellini from scratch for the first time in my life (that time back when I was in my 20s and didn’t have a pasta machine so I used a rolling pin and each tortellini emerged resembling a baseball mitt? We don’t mention that time). And it was soooo worth it. I may have stuck my face into the bowl and licked it clean at the end. Ok, I definitely did.

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If you are experienced at making fresh pasta, this will be easy peasy for you. I am not so I can’t deny that it took me a while. However, the only actual challenging part was getting the hang of the pasta machine so, if you’re also a newbie pasta maker (or even if you just haven’t done it in a while) I highly recommend that you check out our previous post, How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. I learned a lot while using my machine for the first time and next time it will be much quicker and easier! And I think the next time is going to be very soon…

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Chard, Pistachio and Cranberry Tortellini with Shiitake and Lemongrass-Sage Butter

MAKES APPROX 36 TORTELLINI / SERVES 4

PREPARATION AND COOKING (INCLUDING DOUGH RESTING TIME): APPROX 2 HOURS

Inspired by the Tortellini served at Dalida Bar-Restaurant, Tel Aviv.

Pasta dough recipe based on the one in Jamie Oliver’s The Naked Chef. I used a food processor to make the dough, but you could also use a stand mixer, or do it by hand in a big bowl.

Ingredients

Pasta Dough

250g / 2 cups strong pasta flour (Tipo ’00’)

2-3 large free-range eggs

1/2 tsp turmeric

Lots of semolina flour for dusting

Tortellini Filling

100g / 3.5 oz swiss chard, roughly chopped

100g / 3.5 oz roasted, salted pistachios, shelled

50g / 1.75 oz dried cranberries

200g / 7 oz ricotta

3 tbsp lemon juice

Salt and pepper to taste

To Serve

20g / 0.75 oz dried shiitake mushrooms

Cooking oil spray (I used a coconut oil based one)

400g / 14 oz cherry tomatoes

50g / 1.75 oz unsalted butter

White part of a stalk of fresh lemongrass (usually the bottom third)

20 sage leaves

Juice of half a lemon

Salt and pepper to taste

25g / 0.9 oz grated parmesan

Method

  1. First make the pasta dough. Put all the dough ingredients, except the semolina flour, in the food processor and turn it on. At first, as the dough starts to come together, it will look similar to breadcrumbs, which will then start to stick together to form a larger ball of dough. When this happens, take it out of the processor and see how it feels. Remember that eggs can differ in size and different flours can have different absorbencies, so squeeze and knead the dough a little bit and, if it feels too wet and gloopy, return it to the processor with some more flour. If it feels too dry and not stretchy enough, return it to the processor and add another egg. The final consistency should be smooth, silky and elastic, similar to bread dough.
  2. When you’re happy with the texture of the dough, remove it from the processor (it should leave the bowl clean) and knead it for 2-5 minutes until it’s soft and stretchy. I usually put on some music and knead for about the length of an average pop song. This time my musical accompaniment was this 😉 Wrap the dough in plastic and put in the fridge to rest for 1 hour.
  3. While the dough is resting, clean the bowl of your food processor and put the shiitake mushrooms to soak in a mug of lukewarm water.

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  1. Make the tortellini filling. Put the chard, pistachios and cranberries in the food processor and pulse until roughly chopped and combined.
  2. Add the ricotta, lemon juice and some salt and pepper and whiz until the mixture is a similar colour and texture to guacamole. Taste to check seasoning and add more salt and pepper if needed.

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  1. Heat a large frying pan over a high heat and spray with cooking oil. When the pan is very hot add the cherry tomatoes and leave them to sear for 5 minutes, shaking the pan occasionally to make sure they don’t stick. After 5 minutes they should have some brown sear marks on them. Remove them from the pan and set aside.
  2. Sit down, have a cuppa and, if you haven’t already, read this post: How to Use a Pasta Machine: 10 Top Tips. Clamp your pasta machine to your work surface.
  3. When the dough has rested for an hour, take it out of the fridge and divide it into 2 balls. Re-wrap one ball in plastic while you work with the other one.
  4. Dust your work surface with semolina flour and then flatten the ball of dough with your hand. Run it through the pasta machine on the lowest (widest) setting until it becomes a thick sheet. Dust both sides generously with semolina flour.

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  1. Fold the two short ends of the pasta sheet into the middle and run through the rollers at the thickest setting 2 or 3 more times, folding the ends into the middle each time – this creates a more rectangular sheet of pasta which is also the full width of your pasta machine. Dust with flour each time!
  2. Continue, running the dough through each of the width settings until the pasta sheet is 1-1.5mm thick. On my machine (the Marcato Atlas 150) this was setting 6.
  3. Repeat the process for the 2nd ball of dough.
  4. Making sure your work surface is well-dusted with flour, cut your pasta sheets into 8 x 8 cm (3 x 3 inch) squares.

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  1. Taking one square at a time, place a teaspoon of tortellini filling in the centre of each square. With a clean pastry brush and some water, brush evenly around the edges of the square. Make sure you use enough water so the tortellini will stick together properly.
  2. Fold the pasta square over the filling diagonally (see pic above) and press the edges together firmly. To get rid of any trapped air you can hold the triangle in the palm of your hand and squeeze it gently. Fold in the two flaps and press them together to join. You’ve just made tortellini! Repeat for all the remaining pasta.

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  1. Cook the tortellini for 3-4 minutes in boiling, well-salted water, then drain. While it’s cooking, drain the mushrooms and finely chop. Save a few sage leaves for a garnish, and finely chop the rest, along with the lemongrass.
  2. Using the same large frying pan you used for the tomatoes, melt the butter on a low heat, then add the mushrooms, lemongrass, sage, lemon juice, salt and pepper. Fry for a couple of minutes.
  3.  Add the drained tortellini to the pan and toss gently. Add the seared cherry tomatoes and squash them slightly with the back of a spoon so that some of the juice runs out to mingle with the butter.
  4. Sprinkle over the grated parmesan, toss again and check seasoning. Garnish with the reserved sage leaves and serve with extra parmesan. Lick the bowl clean with abandon. 🙂

Damascene lentil soup (Shourba Addas)

There is no food quite as good to me as food from the Levant. In 1999 – 2000 I spent a year living in Damascus, Syria (where I met Mr. Peach, in fact) and soon after arriving found the most amazing restaurant – Al Shamiat. My roommates and I would go to Al Shamiat at least four times a week after class for lunch. Everything they made was simple but delicious and I have spent the last decade and a half trying to recreate the flavors that I found in that little hole in the wall.

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One recipe that I was able to approximate pretty easily and early on was their yellow lentil soup or Shourba Addas. This golden, creamy soup is filling and delicious and could not be easier to make. Plus, kids (at least mine) love it which makes it a good go-to for a winter’s day, or as a quick after work supper. What’s especially nice about this soup is that it is thick, seeming like a blended soup, but there is no need for that extra step – after about 40 minutes of simmering, the lentils turn into a gorgeous emulsion all by themselves.

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I hope you enjoy it as much as we do, and keep an eye out for other Damascene recipes on Olives and Peaches – helping to keep a few of the delicious traditions of beautiful Syria alive seems the least we can do right now.

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Ingredients

3 tbsp of butter
1 tbsp of olive oil
2 small onions (or one large), diced
1/2 tbsp of turmeric
400g/2 cups of split yellow lentils, rinsed
2 bayleaves
2 ltr./8 cups chicken stock
Juice of half a lemon

To serve – lemon wedges, pita chips and chopped parsley

Method:

1. In a heavy pot, melt the butter and add the olive oil to prevent the butter from burning.

2. Add the diced onions, stirring occasionally. Cook until translucent and tender.

3. Add turmeric, stirring to coat the onions so that they are a beautiful golden color and the turmeric is fragrant (about 1 minute)

4. Add the rinsed lentils, stirring well so that they are coated in the butter, onion, turmeric concoction (about 1 minute)

5. Stir in stock – this can be done all in one go, no need to be delicate.

6. Throw in the bayleaves. Go on. Throw them.

7. Bring to the boil and then simmer on low for about 35 – 40 minutes or until the lentils are completely tender, and have lost their shape and the soup is thick. Give it a stir every 10 minutes or so – lentils can sort of sink to the bottom of the pot and if you aren’t paying attention, burn.

8. Serve piping hot with some chopped parsley as garnish and pita chips and lemon wedges on the side.

Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

Back in November I posted a recipe for Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup, the best vegetable soup out there, in my opinion! Now, as promised, I’m back with a soup recipe from a different Savta (‘savta’ means ‘granny’ in Hebrew). Savta Clara was Mr Olive’s granny on his mother’s side and her famous winter soup is a winner: a zingy combination of tomato, carrot and rice with an energizing hit of lemon, pepper and fresh herbs.

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Forget your sweet cloying Cream of Tomato (although I do have a soft spot for the Heinz tinned kind!); Savta Clara’s tomato soup is an entirely different beast. Despite the satisfying addition of rice, this soup feels light, invigorating, rejuvenating. I kind of see it as the vegetarian equivalent of the classic clear chicken noodle soup. If you’re suffering from the winter woozies and you’re not a chicken soup fan, THIS is the soup recipe you need to get you high-kicking again. I’m actually eating a bowl of it as I write this, and, wow, is it ever clearing my sinuses!

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A little background on Clara: she was born in 1917 in Bacău, a town in the east of Romania. She was a mischievous child and, by her own account, rather tested her parents’ patience. “If they threw me out the door, I’d come back in through the window,” she said. “And if they threw me out the window, I’d climb back in down the chimney.” Clara always loved to travel and she first visited Israel in her early 20s. While there she studied agriculture under the Meshek Hapoalot scheme, which prepared young immigrant women for their new non-traditional roles as farm labourers in the kibbutz and moshav communities.

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On finishing her program, she returned to Romania, where she married her hardworking and good-hearted husband, Itzchak, and gave birth to their first daughter, Nurit. But in 1950 Clara returned to Israel with her family, this time for good. They lived first in the north of the country before eventually settling in the vibrant city of Tel Aviv. They had a wide social circle, mostly composed of other immigrants from Romania, and every Friday evening they would meet with friends to listen to music, dance and play cards.

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Clara was known for her ‘golden hands’ and her ability to excel at all kinds of crafts including sewing, knitting and embroidery. My mother-in-law, Irit, describes her as a serious but sweet and loving mother with exceptional organizational and culinary skills, and she and Mr Olive often recall their regular Saturday meal at Savta Clara’s, when she would serve borsht, peppery schnitzel and kasha.

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And, of course, this Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup. Warming and comforting, with a kick of citrus, this is the soup that Mr Olive requests on dark rainy winter days, especially when he’s got a touch of the Man Flu. And now you can enjoy it too! Sniffles optional 🙂

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Savta Clara’s Tomato, Carrot and Rice Soup

MAKES 1 POT

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: 35-40 MINS

Thanks to my mother-in-law, Irit, for passing this recipe down to me and for sharing stories of her mother, Clara.

Ingredients

3 medium carrots

1 medium onion

2 tbsp olive oil

One large handful each of fresh parsley, dill and celery leaf, including stalks (do not chop the herbs)

500 ml / 2 cups tomato juice

100g / 1/2 cup white rice

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt, black pepper and sugar to taste

Method

  1. Boil the kettle.
  2. Coarsely grate one of the carrots and slice or finely chop the other two.
  3. Finely chop the onion.
  4. Heat the olive oil in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the vegetables, cover, and sweat on a low heat for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  5. Pour boiling water into the pot, to about the halfway mark.
  6. Add the bunches of parsley, dill and celery leaves and cover.
  7. Bring to the boil and cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Then, using kitchen tongs, remove the herbs and discard.
  8. Add the tomato juice and bring to the boil again.
  9. Add the rice, cover, and simmer on a low heat for 5-10 minutes, until the rice is cooked.
  10. Add the lemon juice and season to taste with salt, pepper and sugar. You can afford to be generous with the lemon and pepper, since the citrus and heat are what gives this soup so much zing and pep!
  11. Treat yourself to a big bowlful on a dark and rainy winter day.

 

 

Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

These are my go-to cookies. I can make them without even looking at the recipe. Well, almost. Actually, I always look at the recipe. I’m pretty bad at remembering quantities of things. And counting. Let’s just say that I’ll never give Fermat a run for his money. Not at maths, anyway. I don’t know how he was at baking.

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The recipe in question comes from Julia Suddaby, one of my favourite artists, who also happens to be a delightful person and my mum’s best friend. I remember first eating (far too many of) these cookies as a child while visiting with Julia and her family at their home in the Essex countryside. They were such a hit with us kids on that visit that my mum copied down the recipe and started baking them for us. Now I bake them for my kids, for any kindergarten event where refreshments are required, for leaving parties, for unexpected guests, for expected guests, and just generally all the time, for no reason. Nobody ever gets bored of them and somebody always asks for the recipe.

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Julia’s original recipe source was Joy of Cooking, which she says was her favourite escapist reading material while living on a Belgian commune in 1975. She told me that the nostalgia of reading about 1950s American cocktail parties was the perfect balance to the environment in which she was then living, which she describes as, “the bohemian world of 1970s travellers and artistic Belgian aristocracy”.

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Despite not being very aristocratic, there are so many things to love about these cookies:

  1. They are absolutely, positively, unquestionably scrummy. Chocolatey, fruity, chewy, a little bit cakey, a little bit crumbly, and extremely satisfying without being overly rich or sweet.
  2. You don’t need any special equipment. Just a mixing bowl, a wooden spoon and a baking sheet.
  3. You are quite likely to have all or most of the ingredients in your cupboard already, which means you can have a batch baked and cooling on your counter (and smelling heavenly) within about 25 minutes. This is obviously a boon when you have people coming over for coffee in half an hour and nothing to offer them but Ninja Turtle Pez sweets. (This has never happened to me. Ok, this has definitely happened to me). Which brings me to…
  4. Even if you don’t have all the ingredients, the recipe is pretty forgiving. You can use just chocolate chips or just raisins or neither. You can sub nuts, seeds, desiccated coconut or whatever you fancy. I’ve made the cookies with flax egg and non-dairy butter for a vegan version. And I’ve made them with half self-raising and half all-purpose flour and they came out totally fine. Hooray for lenient cookie recipes!
  5. While they do contain a ton of butter (not literally – that would be gross), I would say they are on the healthy cookie spectrum. Only a half cup of brown sugar AND vast quantities of oats. In fact, you can rest safe in the knowledge that, while the butter may not be doing anything great for your cholesterol levels, the oats (as well as enhancing your immune system, providing wholegrain fiber, and protecting against heart disease) definitely are. So it all evens out in the end. Right? Right!

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The recipe has gone through a couple of changes on its journey from ’50s America to ’70s Europe to my little kitchen in Tel Aviv today. My original note-book scrawled recipe (entitled simply, ‘Cookies’, as if to emphasize that you really don’t need any other cookie recipe in your life), calls for margarine. I don’t tend to buy margarine and I like the rich flavour that butter brings to baking, but feel free to sub a trans-fat free margarine if that’s what rocks your casbah. I added a pinch of salt and some vanilla extract to the recipe because, you know. I give a quantity guideline here for the chocolate chips and raisins, although my original notes are unspecific and, to be honest, I usually just eyeball it.

And that’s it! If you don’t already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these – maybe this is the ONE! And if you already have a go-to cookie recipe, then try these anyway! Because they are freaking delicious.

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Chocolate Chip Raisin Oat Cookies

MAKES APPROX. 16 COOKIES

PREPARATION AND BAKE TIME: 25-30 MINS

Ingredients

100g / 1/2 cup / 3.5 oz brown sugar

175g / 3/4 cup / 6.17 oz butter at room temperature

2 free-range eggs

128g / 1 cup / 4.5 oz self-raising flour

192g / 1.5 cups / 6.75 oz jumbo rolled oats

Pinch of salt

1 tsp vanilla extract

117g / 2/3 cup / 4.12 oz dark chocolate chips

100g / 2/3 cup / 3.5 oz raisins

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (356F / Gas Mark 4).
  2. In a large bowl, beat together the sugar and butter, using a wooden spoon, until well combined.
  3. Add the eggs, flour, oats, salt and vanilla and mix until just combined.
  4. Add the chocolate chips and raisins and mix again. (Not too much.)
  5. Put rounded tablespoons of the mix onto an ungreased cookie sheet and bake in the centre of the oven for 15 minutes.
  6. Let cool for 10 minutes before gobbling them all up. The cookies will keep in an airtight container out of the fridge. I can’t say how long for because ours always mysteriously disappear before I have a chance to carry out my research. 😉

 

 

Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup

Autumn is here and our thoughts turn to soup. (Re-reading that, it makes it sound like our thoughts sort of liquefy and become all runny and soft. This may well be the case but it’s NOT WHAT I MEANT!) In Tel Aviv today it is almost the middle of November and a not-very-chilly 28 degrees centigrade outside, so this whole autumny-soupy vibe I’ve got going may have a lot more to do with wishful thinking than an actual need to warm ourselves from the inside out. Still though, I hear we’ll have temperatures as low as 23C in a week from now, so all is not lost.

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In my husband’s family there are two soups which make a regular appearance throughout the cold (ha!) autumn and winter seasons. One of these is Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup. (The other is Savta Clara’s Tomato Rice soup, which will surely find its way onto the blog at some point in the dark freezing [ha ha!] months to come). It is, in my opinion, the definitive vegetable soup. Almost, but not quite, a clear soup, it is green with herbs, a tiny bit spicy, a lot vegetabley and extremely moreish. Eating a bowl of it offers an experience which is somehow at the same time rigorously cleansing and deeply comforting – two sensations I expect many of us are craving in the light of recent global events.

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A little about its distinguished creator: Savta Shifra (‘savta’ means ‘granny’ in Hebrew) was my husband’s father’s mother. Born in Lublin, Poland, in 1914, she came to Israel at the age of 20 with her sister to study agriculture. This decision was to save her life: all her family who stayed behind in Poland were killed in the Holocaust.

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Blonde, blue-eyed Shifra studied and worked in the fields in the centre of Israel, where her shorts-clad legs were apparently the talk of the region. She was, by all accounts, a remarkable woman: gracious and charming, hardworking, kind, the sort who made the best out of things, and who, together with her husband David, devotedly raised three sons (and a lot of chickens) on a smallholding in a neighbourhood which is now part of north Tel Aviv, but was then a small village. My hubby spent a lot of time with his grandparents as a child and gets rather uncharacteristically wistful and dreamy-eyed when he recalls the afternoons spent in their garden hunting for bugs, or walking back to his grandparents’ house through the winter rain after judo practice to be welcomed by a steaming hot bowl of soup. For Savta Shifra was also a legendary cook.

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And this is her soup. Hearty yet refreshing. Full of deep vegetable flavour with just a hint of ‘picante’ from the curry powder. Thickened with oats, freshened with parsley and dill, it is the soup I dream of on cold wet days and the one I always secretly hope my mother-in-law will be serving at our weekly family lunches.

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Savta Shifra’s Vegetable Soup

MAKES 1 LARGE POT

PREPARATION AND COOKING TIME: 45-50 MINS

Many thanks to my mother-in-law, Irit, for passing the recipe down to me. The original recipe uses butter for sauteeing the vegetables but feel free to substitute olive oil to make a vegan soup.

Ingredients

2 large onions, cut into 1cm dice

3 medium carrots, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

3 medium courgettes or zucchini, cut into 1cm dice (the pale green variety are more common in Israel so these are what I used. Feel free to substitute the dark green or yellow-skinned variety)

2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into 1cm dice

50g (1.8oz) unsalted butter (or substitute a couple of tablespoons of olive oil for a vegan version)

4 tbsp porridge oats

Salt and pepper to taste

1 tbsp sweet paprika, or to taste

1 tbsp curry powder, or to taste

1 tbsp turmeric

1 tbsp mushroom stock powder

1 tbsp chicken or vegetable stock powder

4 or 5 handfuls of mixed frozen vegetables. (Use whatever you have on hand: green beans, chickpeas, peas, sweetcorn, broccoli etc.)

3 tbsp soya sauce

Small handful of parsley, finely chopped

Small handful of dill, finely chopped

 

Method

  1. Boil the kettle. Melt the butter in a large pot over a medium heat. Add the porridge oats and stir to coat.
  2. Add all the vegetables to the pot, stir, and then pour in enough boiling water to fill the pot two thirds full.
  3. Stir in salt, pepper, paprika, curry powder, turmeric, and the stock powders.
  4. Cover the pot and simmer for 15 minutes.
  5. While the soup is simmering, boil the kettle again. Place the frozen vegetables in a colander and rinse thoroughly, first under the cold tap and then in the boiled water from the kettle. Drain well.
  6. When the 15 minutes are up, add the semi-defrosted vegetables to the pot, stir, and simmer, covered, for another 5-7 minutes.
  7. Stir in the soya sauce, parsley and dill, let simmer for another couple of minutes so the flavours combine and then taste to check seasoning. Add more salt if necessary – I usually find that none is needed, since the salt, stock powders and soya sauce added earlier result in a soup which is already just the right amount of salty! Serve very hot.

 

Decadent Fudgy Brownies

When I was in my early 20s I worked as a sous chef in the kitchen of a well-established and well-loved London deli. Most of the time it was just me and three super fun and sweet Algerian guys bumping into each other in the tiny basement kitchen and pumping out Bob Marley or Manu Chao for 10 hours a day. Oh yeah, and we also cooked a little bit.

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One of the things that we cooked or rather, baked, on an almost daily basis was the shop’s trademark brownies. These brownies were legendary. People would make pilgrimages from places as far away as Neasden to wrap their choppers around our brownies. Probably. In any case, we sold stacks of them every day to the point where pretty much everybody who worked in the deli (including the floor managers and definitely including the kitchen porter) knew the recipe and could be called on to enter the breach and whip up a double batch at any given moment if stocks got low.

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Fast forward ten years or so and I am about to set about the task of making my two year old daughter’s birthday cake for her kindergarten party. Having been rather absent in the birthday-cake-baking arena up until this moment (sorry, nearest and dearest) I rack my brains to come up with a source for a great chocolate cake recipe that will satisfy a bunch of sugar fiends, um, sorry, I mean toddlers. My extremely clever husband suggests the legendary brownies (having been rather partial to their decadent fudginess himself, back in the day). Aha! I thought. What a clever husband I have!

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So I locate the recipe (which I handily noted down all those years ago) spend a bunch of money on unreasonable amounts of chocolate and butter (I did say they were decadent) only to eventually pull out of the oven a tray of something hard, crumbly and somewhat charred smelling. I don’t know what it was but it definitely wasn’t brownies. As I stirred my disappointed tears into the batter of the rather underwhelming sheet cake which was to replace the paving stone I had just inadvertently baked, I racked my brains to answer the question: WHAT? WENT? WRONG? I scanned the recipe. I gnawed on a chunk of singed brick (chocolate flavour). I questioned my sanity. It was just as I was cracking a lovely unsuspecting organic egg into the cake batter of disillusionment that it dawned on me. Eggs. Do brownies require eggs? Yes. Were eggs listed as an ingredient in my hastily scrawled notes from 10 years previously? Nah-uh. Hence: candied concrete slab. (Well, of course we ate it).

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And so, after baking a succession of rather more successful birthday cakes over the last couple of years (thanks to birthing an additional child… and also to the fact that one birthday party per person per year never seems to be enough these days… this year Sophie turned 4 and I ended up baking her 3 birthday cakes plus a batch of cookies… do we now count out a person’s age in batches of baked goods received instead of number of candles? Is someone going to bake me 39 different varieties of confection for my next birthday? Please?  But I digress…) I have worked up the courage to give the legendary brownies another crack.

And I’ll remember to give some eggs a crack this time round too. How many, you ask innocently? Um, six. And, no, that’s not a typo. It’s the number of eggs it took to get the batter to pourable consistency. Extra vanilla and salt seemed obvious additions, plus some research into the benefits of whipping the eggs with the sugar have produced, I think, a delectably decadent and fabulously fudgy brownie.

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Decadent Fudgy Brownies

Makes 24 smallish brownies

Bake time: 30-40 mins

This article and also this one were invaluable during my eggs-perimentations with different quantities, bake times and so on, and were also sources of general brownie wisdom.

Ingredients

Oil for coating baking tray

450g (15.9oz) bitter chocolate

450g (15.9oz) unsalted butter

6 large free-range eggs

500g (17.6oz) white sugar

2 tsp vanilla extract

150g (5.3oz) all-purpose flour

150g (5.3oz) cocoa powder

¼ tsp table salt

 

Method

  1. Pre-heat oven to 180C (356F / Gas Mark 4). Lightly oil a 33cm x 23cm (13 x 9 inch) baking pan and lay two pieces of parchment paper crossways inside so that there is an overhang of paper on each side of the pan. This will help you lift the brownies out of the pan when they’re done. Lightly oil the parchment paper.
  2. Break up the chocolate into smallish pieces and melt using your preferred method. I used a bain-marie but you could also do it in the microwave.
  3. Melt the butter in a large saucepan over a low heat.
  4. Use either a stand mixer or a large bowl and an electric whisk to whisk together the eggs, sugar and vanilla. Keep at it for a good minute or so, until everything is combined and has reached a smooth creamy consistency.
  5. In a large bowl, sift together the all-purpose flour, cocoa powder and salt.
  6. Add half the flour mixture to the egg mixture and whisk until combined. Scrape down the bowl and then add the other half of the flour mixture, whisking until everything is very well mixed and you have a thick shiny batter.
  7. Add the melted butter and whisk in.
  8. Add the melted chocolate to the batter. If you used a bain-marie to melt the chocolate, be careful – the bowl will be very hot! The chocolate will set as it cools so make sure you whisk it in quickly and thoroughly, for at least a minute, so that the chocolate will be evenly distributed.
  9. Pour the batter evenly into your lined baking pan and bake in the center of the oven for 35-45 minutes. You can test doneness by sticking a toothpick into the center of the pan. What you’re looking for is for it to come out with some sticky crumbs on it. If the toothpick comes out with wet batter on it, leave the pan in the oven for a bit longer; if it comes out clean, the brownies will be dryer and won’t have the fudgy consistency you’re looking for.
  10. When done, take the brownies out of the oven and allow to cool in the pan. Only when completely cooled, lift the brownies out of the pan using the parchment paper wings, peel off the paper and cut into squares.
  11. Brownies will keep out of the fridge in a tupperware-type container for a good few days and probably up to a week. Try warming one in the microwave for 30 seconds and serving with vanilla ice-cream. Yum!