Black bean burgers with melted tahini

April 30, 2015
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The first time I had a burger was sometime in the beginning of nineties, at age 16 or so. It was when I lived with my twin friends and their family. Their American dad, David, an excellent cook, made the best burgers. They were nothing like the hamburgers at Burger Ranch, one of the first Israeli burger chains, which I first learned about when my family moved from a small town in the Negev desert to the big city of Tel Aviv. (Back then there were only one or two burger joints in Israel.)

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Before I tried David’s burgers, I had never eaten a hamburger before, especially not at Burger Ranch. None of my new urban friends would have eaten there either, if they had heard the lecture I got from my mother when I told her that my friends were going to Burger Ranch. “Do you know how they prepare the food? With dirty hands, filthy nails and human hair! Their patties are made with parts of the animal that even dogs wouldn’t eat! They can’t keep the place clean, even if they wanted to, because no cleaning product can remove the layers and layers of grease and dust from the walls. And, last but not least, you know what happens to the oil after they use it over and over for frying? Very simple, it releases deadly chemicals.”

Since I was already skeptical about any food not made by my parents, grandmothers or aunts, I didn’t rebel. So, while my modern friends were courageously eating the alien food on their trays, I happily sipped on a vanilla milkshake. Mom never said anything about the milkshake and, of course, I never even told her that I was at a Burger Ranch. By the way, a year or two later, when a friend of mine and I went to visit my friend’s cousin, who worked at one of the first Israeli McDonald’s, he confirmed everything my mother said, and even showed me the filthy kitchen. 

Continue Reading…

Avocado sandwich – Gluten-free

April 22, 2015
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I came back from the Larchmont Farmers’ Market starving. I dug around in my Ikea shopping trolley for the avocado, watermelon radish and macro greens, and quickly made myself this beautiful sandwich.

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I love sandwiches. I would live on them if I could, but since gluten and my belly don’t get along very well, it has been awhile since I had a sandwich. I couldn’t find any gluten-free bread that I liked – most of them are too dense and have a weird aftertaste – until I discovered the bread at Baby Cakes. It’s not as good as a loaf of rustic sourdough (nothing can beat French or German breads) but the bread at Baby Cakes is not trying to be that kind of a bread, it’s more like an Irish soda bread. At $7.50, it’s not cheap, but the loaf is big. It lasted me, just me, for ten days. Gluten-free flours are very expensive, and, regardless, it’s impossible to find artisan breads in the States for less than $4.  Continue Reading…

Kale pesto

April 18, 2015
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Alex: Mommy, if Anthony Bourdain came over to dinner at our house, do you think he would like your food?

Me: I think he would, but he might need to go eat some pork belly or lobster fat afterwards.

After watching No Reservations and Parts Unknown I became a huge fan of Anthony Bourdain.  So when I discovered that Anthony Bourdain has another show on Netflix, I immediately sat down to watch it. I have to admit though, I was a bit disappointed. I was hoping that in The Layover, the rebellious and charming giant, would eat, for a change, something other than pork bellies and towers of shellfish. Sometime during one of the episodes (I think the one in Philadelphia) my gut told me that even Tony isn’t really comfortable and enthusiastic about eating these unappetizing, artery-clogging, greasy dishes, but that he ate them anyway to maintain his cool, carnivorous facade. Or perhaps it was me projecting. 

In case Mr. Bourdain ever reads my post, I have a few words I wanted to say to him:

Tony, I’m not asking you to change your eating and drinking habits. (I wish I had your immune system! If I consumed even half the amount of alcohol and animal products you do, I would be buried by now next to my sister.) But if you make a new show, it would be great to expose and introduce new dishes, not the long, shit-looking sausages or bulls’ testicles that you always show.

Come on, Tony, how could you visit the Mecca of healthy food and ignore (was it on purpose?) the excellent vegan restaurants/choices that L.A. offers?! You don’t have to be a sikh or Gwyneth Paltrow’s personal trainer to try vegetarian or vegan food. (If I didn’t already live in Los Angeles, I would love to find out about places like Crossroad Kitchen, Gracias Madre or Sage Vegan Bistro.) Don’t misunderstand me, I love Korean and Vietnamese cuisines, but you already covered those in your previous shows. 

Tony, I love your straightforwardness, sincerity, and your sense of humor, but enough with the poor pigs! Give that intelligent animal a break, and maybe your liver too!

I don’t know how you do it. How can you travel all over the world, suffer jet lag, sit for hours on a plane, eat tons of unhealthy food, drink gallons of alcohol, and still manage to stay healthy? You must have God’s own immune system. 

I challenge you to make a show without pork or lobster, or, even better, without animals. (You can use dairy and eggs.) I know you think I’m a crazy, health-obsessed bitch from California. I am probably all that, sometimes, but, just so you know, I grew up in a Moroccan home in Israel, where meat was served every day for lunch. As a child, I ate braised cow tongue and belly button, I sucked on chicken neck bone, and begged my mother to make liver for lunch. I think I ate every part of the cow except its brain. Of course, growing up in a Jewish home, we didn’t eat pork or shellfish (although my dad did introduce me to shrimp at a young age.) I was introduced to sashimi as a teenager in the early nineties. Uni was one of my favorites. I also lived a third of my life in New York City, and three years in Spain, the Land of Jamon. 

So you see, Tony, I have been places, cooked endless meals, and dined in a kazillion restaurants, but after I discovered how we treat and kill animals, I decided to stop buying meat that wasn’t raised respectfully, without exception. I am still not as strict a vegetarian as I would like to be, but I know it will happen eventually. We don’t have to eat meat every day. I’m sure you don’t. I think it would be incredible if you didn’t encourage people to eat so much meat, or at least stop being so cynical about organic, grass-fed, free-range meat. Nobody will think that you’re any less cool. Maybe even cooler, if such a thing is possible. It would be a good thing to do for our obese society and our sick environment. 

Think about it. I’m not saying kale juices and chia puddings – just no piggies, shellfish and sausages. Continue Reading…

Thai coconut soup

April 13, 2015
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Tom Kha Gai is a spicy coconut soup made with all kinds of aromatic Thai herbs and roots, and is my favorite Thai dish.
 
A few evenings ago, I visited a friend of mine and while she was complaining about her love life and I about my mediocre life, she was casually making a Tom Kha. God, as soon as she added the herbs and coconut milk into that boiling stock, the soup started to release an irresistible aromatic steam, which reminded me how much I love Thai food. Since we moved to Los Angeles five years ago and rediscovered Vietnamese, we’ve been neglecting Thai. I can’t blame it only on the  Vietnamese. The truth is that most Thai dishes are too sweet for me, unless I make them at home and cut down on the sugar.  
 
Luckily, here in Los Angeles it’s very easy to find Thai ingredients. (You can also find most of the ingredients on Amazon.) So the next day, on my way back to my house in Miracle Mile, from a hike at Griffith Park, I stopped in Thai Town at Bangkok Market. I bought herbs, roots and vegetables, but due to early onset Alzheimer’s, I forgot to buy that most basic Thai ingredient, fish sauce – a salty and stinky yet fierce and powerful liquid – over which I beat myself up for an hour, but which, in retrospect, was a good thing, because now my soup is purely vegetarian/vegan. To compensate for the fish sauce, I added extra cilantro, kaffir lime leaves, basil, scallion, and added extra galangal and tamari. It worked! The soup came out silky, rich, spicy and sour with a perfect mild sweetness. (For future reference, I found a recipe for vegan fish sauce on a site called The Kitchn.)

Continue Reading…

Radish and carrot salad

April 6, 2015
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I adapted this recipe from a cookbook, but I don’t remember which one it was. It was a while ago. I was at Barnes & Noble with my children when I took a quick a snapshot of the recipe. I don’t even have the title of the recipe, so I couldn’t google it. Oh, well, it’s a good recipe. I have a similar root salad that I often make, but this one has toasted almonds and chili flakes, which make a big difference in the flavor and texture. Continue Reading…

DIY chocolate bars

March 23, 2015
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I think I finally found my purpose in life: making real chocolate bars. Just like the craft bars they make at Dick Taylor or Dandelion. Pure, dark, rich, slightly bitter and mildly sweet chocolate that is made with only two ingredients, cocoa and sugar. No soy lecithin, artificial flavors, or any other crap that industrial chocolate makers put in almost every chocolate bar on the market today, even in the fancy ones. The kind of chocolate that makes milk-chocolate people change their minds about dark chocolate. (Before we discovered those two brands my husband would only eat milk chocolate.)

Recently, I see more and more hand-crafted chocolate bars everywhere. They are not cheap, but they are worth their price (ranging from $4 to $12.) Theo is another brand that I love. It’s not hand-crafted, but it’s organic and fair trade, and is relatively cheap ($4 for a 3 oz. bar) compared to the other bean-to-bar chocolates. Continue Reading…

Mushroom and lentil soup

March 20, 2015
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Who makes soup when it’s eighty-something degrees out? I do. For some odd reason I was craving soup. Luckily, the weather in Los Angeles gets much cooler in the evenings, so my guests didn’t think that something was wrong with me and my culinary choices when I served this soup. However, they were a bit shocked when I said it needed parmesan. Normally I’m the one who says, “It doesn’t need any cheese.” But it’s good either way.

I adapted this recipe from Green Kitchen Stories, one of my favorites food blogs. I really wanted to make this soup with Chanterelle mushrooms, just like in their recipe, but (a) I didn’t have any, and (b) I would need to take a mortgage to buy a pound of chanterelles. Okay, I’m exaggerating, they’re not that expensive, only $42 a pound. (In Los Angeles you can find them at the LA Funghi vendor in the farmers market.) I don’t mind investing in them once in a while, but I wouldn’t use them for soup. Continue Reading…

Vegetable tagine with chermoula sauce

March 4, 2015
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It’s weird, and I’m not sure why it happened, but for someone who grew up in a Moroccan home, I only discovered chermoula sauce in my early twenties, after I moved to New York City from Tel Aviv. The first time I had a dish with this sauce was at Mogador. Not the city in Morocco (where my grandmother was born and lived in until she moved to Israel.) I mean Café Mogador on St. Marks Street in the East Village. Before kids, this place was our (my husband’s and mine) second home. Our apartment was only eight blocks away from it. We ate most of our meals there and sometimes twice a day.

At Mogador I started to embrace and connect to my Moroccan roots. (When I was a teenager, we moved from a small town in the Negev of Israel, to the northern part of Tel Aviv, where the majority of the population was Ashkenazi Jews. Being the only Moroccan family in the neighborhood, as a teenager, already embarrassed by almost everything about me or my family, I tried to hide my Moroccanness.) I remember I was amazed at how the people in New York thought that north African cuisine is sophisticated, while for me it was trivial and barbaric.

The Chicken Tagine with chermoula sauce at Mogador was one of my – and millions of others’ – favorites dishes. Although my mother cooked and braised many dishes with the same ingredients, she somehow never ground them into a paste. (Maybe it wasn’t a jewish dish; I keep forgetting to ask her.) I wish she had, because grinding the herbs and spices together makes such a big difference in the flavor. The dish gets an amazing depth and aroma that happens only when you process everything together into a paste. Continue Reading…

Chocolate avocado mousse

February 6, 2015
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I knew it. I knew she wouldn’t approve this recipe. 

Really, Shelly? Avocado? Come on.

Why not? Avocado is a fruit. In South America they eat avocado with sugar, so why can’t it go with chocolate?

It doesn’t matter how many years of experience I have as a cook, my older sister continues to distrust my ability. Just once I would love to hear, “It’s probably delicious. I would love to try it. You’re crazy but you’ve travelled the world, you have eaten in countless restaurants, and you practically live in the kitchen, so you must know one or two things about food!”

I love my year-and-a-half-older sister. She is my best friend. Over the years I’ve learned to take her skepticism with a grain of salt. She is a great cook and a foodie but she has rules about food and always has. It’s weird, though, because my sister is generally open-minded. She knows so much and is always happy to learn new things, but when it comes to food, she can be so uptight. Just like my mother used to be years ago.

When my mother and sisters lived in New York we used to eat a lot together. When they came over to my house, I would hide some small details from them. I never mentioned that I used spelt instead of bread flour to make bread, or olive oil instead of canola oil or butter in the cake. And I wouldn’t dare to make Moroccan food for them. I knew that they would disapprove when they saw how I twisted the traditional recipes. I always let them eat first, then, one hour later, I would expose the truth. Why one hour? I’ll tell you. If I were to tell them right away, they would take back the “It’s delicious!” They would say, “Yes, I did taste something that didn’t belong,” or, “It’s good, but if you made it with regular flour, it would have been much better.”

In the last couple of years, my mother has become my biggest fan. She eats everything I cook and always compliments me. She doesn’t doubt me anymore. She always tells people, “En al ha ochel shel Shelly! – Nothing is better than Shelly’s food!” She claims that after a month in our house, eating my food, her bad cholesterol level dropped dramatically. 

My sister doesn’t admit it, but I know she would love to eat my food everyday. I know she can be skeptical but she loves me very much. I know she would get over the avocado. Everybody does.  Continue Reading…

Sweet potato salad with tahini

February 3, 2015
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The first time I had this salad was at a Thanksgiving dinner with our beautiful – literally beautiful – friends, Isabelle & Serge. I’ve known Isa since the time we lived in Mallorca. She was one of the editors, who worked with my husband on a film project. I met Serge in Los Angeles four years ago, while he and my husband worked together on a video project. (Serge is a talented director and photographer.) Two years ago, when Isa moved to Los Angeles, my husband and I decided that our two friends can make a great couple, so we shidduched them. So now, not only that we get points in heaven for making a match, we also get to be invited to delightful meals. They are both a great hosts. Serge’s cooking is pretty impressing, even when he makes a simple tomato pasta. 

Since Serge told me the recipe on that Thanksgiving dinner I’ve made this salad at least five times (at some point I started to get sick of sweet potatoes in general; I have been eating them every day for a month to improve some digestion problems.) Once, I served it in a big dinner with many people as a side dish, and other times I made it for my husband and I for lunch.  Continue Reading…