Life and Times of Afghan Jews from Babylonian Captivity to Modern Times

This video is on the Afghan – Bukharian community that has roots from the Babylonian Exile. My family is part of this traveling pack that moved from country to country along the Silk Road. They started in Babylonia and then moved to Persia, Bukhara, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India. There is so little information on Afghan Jews, although at their peak there were 40,000 Jews thriving economically in an Muslim country as Jews.  The men were all travelers, trading and expanding their cultural repertoire. So happy to see many photos of my parents that I have never seen before.  

Spaghetti Pomodoro without the Spaghetti (Spaghetti Squash with Fresh Tomato Sauce)

If you are like me, and probably like the rest of the west, you LOVE spaghetti with fresh homemade tomato sauce and fresh melted mozzarella and a drizzle of Parmesan. You would think that such a simple dish is a no brainer to find in any Italian restaurant, but actually it is. It is extremely rare to find really good pasta and homemade sauce- even in the finest Italian restaurants. I am not saying all…. but most are just not great.

The trick is you have to go to a place that makes their own pasta (impossible for your Gluten Free foodies) and fresh sauce, not some store bought commercialized can junk.

My father’s two sisters live in Italy and growing up so did my mothers’ sister, so I would visit Milano more times that you probably take the subway. Every night, we had pasta, and not too much variation from pasta pomodoro. Seems like the Italians like simple spaghetti and tomato sauce and that’s it! Every night!

I remember how much I loved it and how I did not gain weight and neither did anyone in my family who ate pasta regularly. There must be something in their wheat (not Industrialized) and the way they just whip up some sauce from fresh tomatoes, that are so fragrant, I could wear it as perfume. Or maybe, just maybe- they are happy to eat. Eating is a joyous event. I never hear anyone talk about their weight and the fear of gaining weight from pasta.

In any event, I digress… Today’s post is NOT about Spaghetti Pomodoro, as you may have been able to tell from the photos. Sorry for all the foreplay. It’s about, the next best thing…. Spaghetti Squash with Pomodoro. No fat, made at home and really good. You can cut chunks of fresh mozzarella onto the spaghetti squash and bake for 10 minutes. Then for extra richness, add some freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Spaghetti Squash with Tomato Sauce

Yields: 2 servings

Ingredients

Spaghetti Squash

Tomato Sauce
1 pound Roma tomatoes
2 tablespoon olive olive oil
Small onion
2 to 3 small cloves of garlic
1/2 medium carrot
1/2 stalk of celery
Sea salt, to taste
Slivers of fresh basil, to finish

Directions for the Spaghetti Squash

Preheat oven to 350 F. Cut the squash in half lengthwise. Place the halves cut side down, in a roasting pan. Pour a little water around them and bake for 40 minutes or until tender. Do not allow to burn- cover with foil if necessary.

Directions for the Tomato Sauce

  1. Peel your tomatoes: Bring a pot of water to boil. Cut a small X at the bottom of each tomato. Blanche the tomatoes in the boiling water for 10 to 30 seconds, then either rinse under cold water or shock in an ice water bath. Peeling the tomatoes should now be a cinch.
  2. Coarsely chop your tomatoes on a cutting board.
  3. Finely chop the onion, and mince the carrot, celery and garlic.
  4. Heat your olive oil in a medium pot over medium heat. Cook your onions, carrots, celery and garlic, if you’re using them, until they just start to take on a little color, about 10 minutes. I really like to concentrate their flavor as much as possible. Add your tomatoes and bring to a simmer, lowering the heat to medium-low to keep it at a gentle simmer. Simmer your sauce, stirring occasionally. At 30 minutes, you’ll have a fine pot of tomato sauce, but at 45 minutes, you might just find tomato sauce nirvana: more caramelized flavors, more harmonized texture.
  5. Season with salt and serve. 

Culinary Vegetarian Class with Vegetarian Hostess

sautéed vegetables and chickpea stew

I will be teaching a class this Spring at the Great Neck Adult Education Center in Long Island.
The class is called Vegetarian Entrees: Quick and Simple Dishes
All dishes are naturally Gluten Free and some are Vegan

Come and join me on a culinary caravan along the Silk Road (the famous trade route from China that goes all along the way to the Southern tip of Italy). From ancient times families along the Silk Route ate little meat, relying instead on inventively transforming their bounty of legumes, vegetables, and grains into wholesome, thrifty, and deeply satisfying meals. Add seasonal vegetables, some fast-track protein (think legumes and tofu), and, voilà, dinner is served—a balanced, inspired meal that’s outrageously good and so easy to prepare. What’s more, is that many dishes along the Silk Road were large one pot meals to feed large families. So, enjoy a couple of hours of chopping and cooking to make fulfilling meals that will last you through out the week.

Learn quick and simple entrées that carry a full charge of flavor: sweet and spicy tofu stew (vegan and gluten free), sautéed vegetables and chickpea stew (vegan and gluten free), chickpea and quinoa casserole (dairy), and vegetarian chili (vegan and gluten free).

To enroll:
Click on Registration Form
Course: CA220-1
Monday, May 7th, 7–9:30 p.m. Cumberland Adult Center
30 Cumberland Ave
Great Neck, NY 11020
Phone: 516 441-4949 Fax: 516 441-4937 

$35. No nonresident surcharge

Vegetarian Pepper Steak (Vegan, Gluten Free)


In China, during the Han Dynasty (about 600 B.C.E) mock meat was born to accommodate the foreigners that visited the Buddhist monasteries. Since respect for all life and abstaining from meat is apart of Buddhist philosophy, the Chinese developed a mock meat that approximates the aesthetic qualities, primarily texture, flavor, and appearance of meat to make their carnivorous guests feel at home.

Today, most mock meats you find in the supermarket are over processed and filled with chemicals and fillers. If you are not eating meat for health reasons, this alternative is not a very good one. That is why it’s important to read the labels of any mock meat you buy and just like meat, should be eaten in moderation.

There is a brand of mock meat that I buy that I am very pleased with. It’s from a company called May Wah found in China Town, NY. The ship all over the world if you can’t find this brand in your local store. Or, you can do what I did and ask you local supermarket to carry it. I went to the local HMART and asked them if they would carry this brand and they were more than happy to carry this mock meat since many of their customers are Asian.
For this Pepper Steak, I used the chicken strips from May Wah called Vegetarian Pepper Steak.  It’s ingredient list is:
  • Soybean Fiber
  • Soybean Protein
  • Soybean Sauce
  • Natural Seasoning

 

As you can read, it does not have anything in it I can’t pronounce and don’t recognize.

Stir Frying
This Chinese American dish is a variation of the traditional stir-fry, with slices of vegetarian beef strips marinated in soy sauce and rice vinegar. The best part of this dish is it’s cooked in onions, green scallions and ginger with a hint of salsa for a deeper intense flavor. This dish will be a great hit with your meat-eating guests, because it really tastes and feels like the “real” thing.  Serve on a large platter over plain rice or rice noodles.
Serves 4

Ingredients

 

1 (16 ounce) package of vegetarian beef strips

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

2 green onions (green parts only), chopped

4 garlic cloves, finely chopped

1 (1-inch) piece fresh ginger, finely chopped

 2 green bell peppers, thinly sliced

2 tablespoons salsa

Marinade

3 tablespoons soy sauce
1/4 cup water
1-teaspoon agave syrup
½ teaspoon red pepper flakes

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

2 tablespoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon ground ginger

Directions:

      1      Whisk soy sauce, water, oil, rice vinegar, agave and ground ginger. In a medium size bowl, pour over beef strips and marinate for 10 minutes. Set aside.

      2      Heat oil in wok over high heat; sauté onion, green onions, garlic, and ginger for 5 minutes or until onions begin to turn clear.

      3      Stir in green pepper and cook for 5 minutes or until peppers become soft.

      4      Add the vegetarian beef with marinade and stir-fry for an additional 5 minutes.

      5      Stir in the salsa and cook for another 3 minutes blending all ingredients.

Sweet and Sour Veggieballs (Gluten Free)

This past Rosh Hashana I was inspired to make sweet and sour meatballs, probably due to the fact that every where I turned to in the kosher supermarkets was advertised a catered meal with sweet and sour meatballs. I never see them advertised at other times of the year, just at holidays. Somehow Sweet and Sour meatballs has become a staple in Ashkenasi families, “Just like Bubeh made them!” Not my Bubeh, since I am a Sephardi Jew, but certainly like my husbands’ whose grandparents were from Lithuania. I suppose it draws some nostalgia to the old country for some… however for me, since my husband and I are vegetarians I decided to contemporize (not sure of that’s a real word, but you get my drift) the classic dish with veggie balls.

When I think of meatballs, I think of tomato sauce and bay leaf. Basil. Pasta. Italian. But the liking for a subtle blend of sour and sweet is an Ashkenazic taste that displays itself in other traditional recipes: beet borsht, brisket cooked with dried fruit, honey and vinegar, and of course that perennial Jewish favorite, Chinese food.


So I made them. These veggieballs are made from mushrooms, have no gluten in them and by far is one of the healthiest mock meat out there. All the ingredients are recognizable and pronounceable. You can find them in the refrigerated section on you can request for your supermarket to carry it here.

The meatbals turned out very good indeed, firm but tender, savory/sweet. A nice little mouthfull to keep everyone interested and no one could believe that it was not MEAT. I was so excited that I was able to prepare a dish for my meat eating crowd and show them that a life without meat is absolutely doable and better for us all. With the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday approaching, where cranberries are traditionally eaten, this dish fits right in once again for a festive meal. Look how quick and easy it is to prepare. Serve on a large platter with a side of sweet potatoes or noodles.

Ingredients

3 cups tomato sauce
1 (15 ounce) can of cranberry sauce
2 onion soup bouillon (vegan)
1 cup sour kraut
2 packages Veggieballs from Franklin Farms

Directions

  1. Combine tomato sauce and cranberry sauce in a large stockpot over medium high heat.
  2. Once simmering add the soup bouillon and break apart with a spoon to blend with the sauce. When bouillon has emulsified into sauce, add sour kraut and bring to simmer.
  3. Add veggie balls, lower heat and simmer covered for 15-20 minutes or until heated throughout.

Potato, Red Onion and Feta Frittata (Gluten Free)


This Italian omelet is cooked with purple potatoes and feta, but you can easily use any combination of vegetables and cheese that you fancy. It just so happens that I had a of purple potatoes to spare so used it for this dish. If you remember last week I wrote that I was receiving potatoes by the barrels from my CSA.

Frittata preparation differs from omelette preparation in that the eggs are beaten to incorporate air where the eggs for omelettes usually are stirred with less air incorporated. The additional air in the frittata mixture allows for a deeper filling and a fluffier result. Ingredients to be incorporated into a fritatta are added to the pan before the egg mixture. This is just another super easy dish to prepare with staple ingredients that you normally have in your home. What I also love about a frittata is that it’s a one pot dish, so there is not much clean up.

The frittata is baked, but started in a frying pan and then finished under the broiler. When done, cut into wedges and serve with a tomato salad for a light supper.


Ingredients
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 red onion, sliced
12 ounces cooked potatoes, halved or quartered if large
4 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 cup feta, crumbled
Salt and fresh ground pepper

Serves 2-4

  1. Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the onion and saute for 5 minutes until softened, stirring occasionally.
  2. Add the cooked potatoes and cook for 5 minutes or more until golden, stirring to prevent sticking. Spread the mixture evenly over the base of the pan.
  3. Preheat the broiler to high. Season the beaten eggs, then por thte mixture over hte onions and potatoes. Sprinkle the Feta on top and cook over medium heat for 5-6 minutes until the eggs are just set and the base of the frittata is just golden.
  4. Place the pan under the broiler and cook for 3 minutes until set and lightly golden. Serve the frittata warm or cold, cut into wedges.


With the recent outbreak of egg recalls, please refer to the bottom of this post on steps to avoid food poisoning from eggs, excerpted from the FDA.


This salmonella outbreak comes from eggs of salmonella-infected hens that carry the bacteria in their ovaries and pass it to eggs as they are being formed.
Eggs that appear to be fresh and normal may actually harbor salmonella.
If you like your eggs prepared over easy, you may want to change your egg-eating habits. 

  • Don’t eat recalled eggs or products containing recalled eggs. Recalled eggs might still be in grocery stores, restaurants, and homes. People who have recalled eggs should discard them or return them to their retailer for a refund.
  • People who think they might have become ill from eating recalled eggs should consult their health care providers.
  • Keep eggs refrigerated at least to 45 degrees F at all times.
  • Discard cracked or dirty eggs.
  • Wash hands, cooking utensils, and food preparation surfaces with soap and water after contact with raw eggs.
  • Eggs should be cooked until both the white and the yolk are firm and eaten promptly after cooking.
  • Do not keep eggs warm or at room temperature for more than two hours.
  • Refrigerate unused or leftover egg-containing foods promptly.
  • Don’t eat raw eggs.
  • Avoid restaurant dishes made with raw or undercooked, unpasteurized eggs. Restaurants should use pasteurized eggs in any recipe (such as Hollandaise sauce or Caesar salad dressing) that calls for raw eggs.
  • Consumption of raw or undercooked eggs should be avoided, especially by young children, elderly people, and people with weakened immune systems or debilitating illness.

Feta and Potato Patties (Gluten Free)



It’s Greek night at my house with this Greek inspired Patatokeftedes (potato balls).
You might be thinking…. potatoes in the middle of summer? Well… yes.


Lately for the last couple of weeks, I have been receiving a bag of varied potatoes from my CSA. The bags were just accumulating in the fridge as I just could not eat it fast enough. Not only that, but I thought that potatoes were just too heavy for a summer time meal so just wasn’t compelled to do much with them.


I was inspired by potatoes versatility when I found a recipe for feta and potato patties in an old time favorite cookbook of mine, Vegetarian: Over 300 Healthy and Wholesome Foods by Nancy Graimes. Potatoes can be a summer time meal when combined with lighter ingredients like dill and lemon. 


These patties will transport you to the sandy beach of Mykonos, as the salty wind brisks through your hair. Accompany with a garden tomato salad in a lemon and oil dressing and you have a Mediterranean delight. You might break a plate after you eat this.


Serves 4


Ingredients

1 1/4 pounds potatoes
4 ounces feta cheese
4 scallions, chopped
3 tablespoons fresh dill, chopped
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 egg, beaten
3 tablespoons olive oil
Salt and Pepper to taste

  1. Boil the potatoes in their skins in lightly salted water until soft (about 30 minutes). Drain and cool slightly, then peel while still warm. Place the cooked potatoes in a bowl and mash. 
  2. Crumble the feta into the potatoes, and add the scallions, dill, lemon juice and egg. Season the mixture with salt and pepper (the cheese is already salty, so taste before you add salt). Stir well.
  3. Cover the mixture and chill until firm. Divide the mixture into walnut sized balls, then flatten them slightly. 
  4. Heat the oil in a frying pan and fry the patties until golden brown on each side. Drain on paper towels and serve at once.

Lemony Roasted Vegetables (Vegan,Gluten Free)


Clear out all your veggies from the fridge for this roasted delight. This is the time of year where you have an abundance of colorful vegetables, like red and orange peppers, red onions, tomatoes, zucchini just to name a few. What ever you fancy, you can toss in this vegetable dish. Although there is a lot of chopping it is well worth it because there is nothing like a splash of lemon with olive oil with a sprinkling of salt on your veggies to create a Mediterranean mood in the house.


What is especially wonderful is that it yields so much veggies that you can eat this through out the week. As a lunch dish it can be eaten on it’s own or as a dinner or fuller meal, you can accompany this with a wild rice.

Serves 6-8

INGREDIENTS


1 small eggplant, peeled and cubed

4 small red potatoes, quartered

2 zucchinis, sliced into 1/4 inch rounds

2 red tomatoes, chopped

1 red pepper, sliced lengthwise

1 yellow pepper, sliced lengthwise

1 red onion, chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

2 lemons, juice squeezed

Garlic Salt to taste

Salt for eggplant

2 tablespoons olive oil

                        1      In a colander, sprinkle salt on the eggplant to remove bitterness. Let stand for half an hour, then strain and pat dry with paper towel.
                        2      In a large roasting pan, place all your vegetables, onion, garlic, 2 tablespoons lemon juice and oil. Season with garlic salt and toss. Let marinate, covered in the refrigerator for half an hour.

                        3      Preheat oven to Roast 350°F

                        4      Place your pan in the oven, uncovered and roast for 1 hour and 30 minutes. Every half hour remove the roasting pan and squeeze some lemon juice onto the vegetables and sprinkle with garlic salt. Toss and place pan back in oven. Keep on repeating until cooked.

Grilled Haloumi Salad with Citrus Dressing (Gluten Free)

Haloumi, originating from Cyprus, Greece is one of the few cheeses that can be heated over fire and not lose its shape. It is a salty cheese, which would explain why it can be kept for up to a year in the fridge, sealed and unopened. Why anyone would do that, I have no idea. This is a cheese that is too irresistible not to eat over a crunchy green salad with a citrusy dressing.

Like mozzarella, it has the same type of rubbery and layered texture that should be kept in its water  to preserve its freshness. However, haloumi can be fried or grilled, which is really the way this cheese should be eaten as it’s the tastiest that way. What makes this cheese so appealing when grilled or fried, is that it becomes crunchy on the outside, yet smooth and soft on the inside.

This is for ONE serving, so modify as you see fit.

Ingredients

Haloumi cheese, sliced into 2 inch rectangles
Large handful of fresh spinach or any other lettuce greens
1/2 cucumber, unpeeled and cubed
1 small carrot, slivered
1/2 avocado, pitted, and cubed
3 strawberries, stems removed and sliced thin
1 teaspoon sunflower seeds (for garnish)
1 teaspoon toasted sesame seeds (for garnish)

Dressing:
2 tablespoons Virgin Olive Oil
1 tablespoon lemon juice*
Salt to taste


* For this dressing, I used Trader Joe’s Orange Muscat Champagne Vinegar, which is a sweet citrusy vinegar made with muscat grapes and oranges.

  1. Layer the salad into the bowl as I have listed it in the ingredient list, starting with the spinach and topping off with the seeds. 
  2. In a medium size skillet, over high heat, spray olive oil. Place Haloumi cheese into skillet, and let brown for a few minutes on each side.
  3. Arrange the Haloumi cheese around the salad.

Healthy Afternoon Snack

A little over three years ago, I was 30 pounds heavier. I was working as a Junior High School teacher, not too happy in a homogenized and bureaucratic system… it went completely against my creative free spirited side. In any event, although I was very grateful to teach Science to 34 students with 5 teaching periods a day, nonetheless it came with stress. The stress of dealing with hundreds of kids simultaneously with their needs and learning behaviours. On top of that, there were my Supervisors… that were virtually useless, but they needed to make sure I was teaching in a prescriptive manner. No imagination, whatsoever.

To make a long story short, this all made my digestive system a little too overactive, and over the years I gained weight. Interestingly enough… many teachers that were in the “system” for years gained a lot of weight. I suppose the noshing, nervousness, time constraints of the day and rushed food intake all did not help.

I lost the weight when I left my job and pursued “green movements” which has culminated now into this recipe type blog. Taking the time to prepare my food and sit down properly and do what I love to do all helped me to get trim.

Of course, I still love to nosh, but I nosh on much more healthful things. So today’s posting is an afternoon snack that is both healthful, tasty and satisfying.

When it’s about 3pm and you are feeling that you need a “pick me up” here is a great snack.
Rice crackers…. virtually no calories with RAW Almond butter (available at Trader Joes for $4.99, as opposed to WF at $6.99) with a light coating of a fruit preserve. In this way you are getting the crunch that many of us need to feel satisfied with some sweetness. Then to top it off… I have a Chai Latte that I brew from “Celestial Seasonings” called BENGAL SPICE with frothed milk. This is by far a much better version available at Starbucks that is made with syrup, and is the closest thing to a chai latte that I have tasted.