Sunday, July 27, 2014

Chef - The Movie

So my better half and I watched Jon Favreau's "Chef" yesterday. A lot has been written about it online already so I won't bore you with details, but it was very enjoyable - particularly, recognizing a lot of my personal mannerisms in the cooks on screen. (Is it good? Really? Are you sure..?)

Anyway, I left with a hankering for Latin American food.
Since I'm studying for a big exam, I won't burden you with words this time:

Sweet Corn


In the oven, with olive oil.

skirt steak


add the corn and chili peppers.


When charred, bring back the steak with its liquids. 
Pour hot over diced mangoes, top with avocado, coriander and pickled onions.
Add a few generous squirts of lime juice.

Monday, July 7, 2014

Faqus Salad

It's not often that I come across an ingredient that I've never heard of before, let alone one that is considered local.
Reading Alma's wonderful post on Jerusalem (Warning: Hebrew), I became intrigued with the vegetable she called "Faquz".
After some Googling, it appears that what Jerusalamites call "Faquz" or "Faqouz" and the rest of Israel calls "Faqus", "Arabic Cucumber" or "Palestinian Cucumber" is a local version of the Armenian Cucumber, and that it's in season now.

It being exam period in Tel Aviv university and my having a big exam two days from now, this was the perfect excuse to procrastinate, so I got up and went to the Carmel market to see if the produce stalls have any in stock.

When I got there I headed for the Arabian stalls next to the Carmelit and was informed by the local stall owners that they're fresh out and that I might have better luck closer to Nehalat Binyamin. The stall owners there told me they don't carry Faqus but that maybe closer to the center of the market I might find something.
As I slowly honed in on one specific stall I also bought some figs, mint and, to my surprise, lime. It's either suddenly in season, or just that I've never noticed it before, but I was really happy to find some. And if there's lime, there's calls for ceviche, so I also bought a small trout.

Anyway, after touring up and down the Carmel market, passing several Taglit groups that were simply fascinated by the plastic junk gizmos and the stupid tourist t-shirts on sale, old women arguing with fishmongers and the Davka Gourmet cheese shop (which I don't buy at after seeing they label their Gruyere cheese as French in origin)  I found these babies nestled between some cucumbers and sweet corn:

It's difficult to see in this image, but they are slightly fuzzy and have a more rotund figure than regular cucumbers, besides the obvious differences in color.

Taking my loot back home, I examined the Faqus in more detail.

Ooooh, you touch my Tralalala

Besides the obvious similarity between the Faqus' seeds and The Mouth of Sauron's teeth its was very firm, slightly sweeter than a cucumber, and its outer skin (after I've washed and toweled it off to get rid of the fuzz) reminded me of a very thin layer of melon rind - but in a good way! All in all it was very tasty.
I cut it lengthwise and then into thin slices, and mixed it with the figs, mint, some lemon juice, olive oil and sumaq. 

The resulting salad was astonishingly good.
The sweetness from the figs mixed with the coolness of the Faqus and mint, alongside the acidity and tartness from the lemon and sumaq created a super refreshing salad which was a huge pleasure to eat. 
Served alongside cubed trout fillet in a quick salt and lime pickle, this was one of the better (and easier) meals I've treated myself to lately. And so should you!

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Summer Ceviche

Hot town summer in the City
Back of my neck getting dirty and gritty
Been down, isn't it a pity
Doesn't seem to be a shadow in the City
All around people looking half dead
Walking on the sidewalk hotter than a match head 

I love this song, and this version especially. Something about it manages to convey the sweaty, humid fatigue of deep summer days and the throbbing aliveness of the nights.
At times like these I crave cool, refreshing foods. Recently I've been living off of practically nothing but prickly pears, mangoes and water, with the occasional slice of industrial pastrami snuck at night straight from the fridge, but the fact that we've finally received our city parking permit and are able to park the car close to our apartment makes it harder to find an excuse not to leave the house and get some quality ingredients.

One of the cool things about Israel is that it is both very small and very geographically and climatically diverse, which means we can get excellent fresh produce of all kinds easily.

I let my mind wander for a bit, thinking about what I'd like to eat, and kept on returning to the tastes of Vietnam. The bright, fresh, acidic and spicy flavors and textures were exactly what I needed to cut through the heat, and so I headed out to the market to buy some coriander, basil,  ginger and cucumbers, with the intent of making a simple cucumber salad with sugar, sesame oil, rice vinegar, red onions and garlic.
But when I arrived at the market the produce practically cried out to me. Mouth-watering, bright red Italian plum tomatoes, deep orange mangoes and ripe avocados all winked and beckoned. Of course I bought some. And then I bought a fish (a Meagre). And then I realized what I was going to make was no longer even remotely Vietnamese - it was South-American with East-Asian influences, at best.

No matter! It's still delicious.
You can easily switch out the raw fish in this recipe with cooked, (I'd recommend pan seared or deep-fried), with other animals such as shrimp or chicken, or even leave out the animal protein altogether. It won't be a ceviche anymore but it will still make a great, refreshing summer salad.

For the Salad

  • 1 Italian plum tomato (or any other tomato you like), diced
  • 3 medium-smallish cucumbers, cut in half lengthwise and then halved again lengthwise, then sliced as thinly as possible
  • A generous handful of coriander leaves and another of basil. Use Thai basil if you can get it.
  • 1 Mango, diced (I used the Maya variety but any will do.)
  • 1 mediumish avocado, diced.
  • One small red onion, sliced into fine slivers.
  • 1 fresh fish fillet, cut into bite sized pieces.

For the dressing:

  • Juice of 1 small lemon, or two limes if you can get them (I couldn't).
  • One large clove of garlic, minced or crushed to a pulp in mortar and pistil. 
  • About three cm of ginger root, minced finely.
  • About a spoonful of sriracha sauce
  • About 3/4ths of a spoonful of sesame oil
  • About 3 spoonfuls of canola or other neutral tasting oil
  • About a spoonful of white sugar
  • About a third of a cup of distilled vinegar
  • About a spoonful of white rice vinegar
Shake well in a sealed jar to combine and pour over the salad.
I suggest cutting and adding in the fish and avocado last, just before adding the dressing, so that they don't oxidize too much.

Serve in a tortilla, in rice paper rolls, or as a salad, and enjoy!

And just because I really like how this photo turned out..

Sunday, February 23, 2014

Tel Aviv's Chinatown, Green Thai Curry and Plantain Chips

Tel Aviv - the first Hebrew City.

At least, the first in a while.

While Tel Aviv's Hebrew character is certainly an important aspect in its description, it is also a City, with a capital C, which means a whole lot of things.
One of those things is diversity.
There is a considerable population of migrants in the country, and, happily for me, a large foreign community has formed in the southern side of town.

Like any migrant community, they've brought their food over with them, which means that although the Israeli palate can be quite conservative when it comes to spices, condiments and seafood, authentic versions of these can still be found here, catering to the foreign community.

Fresh, home-made Taiwanese pork cracklings (left) and an assortment of noodles (right)

So Noam (my photographer friend) and I decided to go on an excursion to the southern part of town, pick up some exotic ingredients and experiment with them at home.

But not before we picked up some of the best Dim Sum in the country.

Proud owner

I love this neighborhood. Yes, it is shady, and it's not exactly safe to walk its streets after dark, but where else can you find dried squid and black Chinese vinegar next door to a Sudanese restaurant?
Not to mention that this is the only place I know in the country where one can easily find cassava root and plantains.
It's small, run down, unknown, hardly visited by Israelis and, as far as Southeast Asia goes, caters mostly to Thais and Taiwanese, but in my mind it's the city's Chinatown, and I can't help but love it.

As this post is an initial probe into the culinary curiosities this part of town has to offer, I thought I'd buy some ingredients which are pretty ubiquitous and play around with them.

The day's loot:

  • Salted shrimp fry
  • Dried Galangal root
  • Dried Kaffir lime leaves
  • Dried lemongrass
  • Black Vinegar
  • Plantains
I also bought pork tenderloin and heart. The tenderloin isn't that interesting, but ever since I laid my eyes on the pork hearts at the Kingdom of Pork butchery I knew I had to buy one and play with it.

 On the bus back home I started wondering how I was going to bring all of these ingredients together into one coherent recipe. I've never cooked with Galangal or Kaffir lime before, and never even tasted salted shrimp fry, but once I actually gave it some thought it became pretty obvious that the dish was going to be a curry of some kind - and so, I proudly present my improvised green curry recipe.

I've never made green curry before, but I did know that its base contains ground dried coriander seeds, ginger and greens like parsley, coriander or basil. Incorporating the vinegar, shrimp fry, Galangal, Lemongrass and Kaffir lime leaves into that was just a matter of grinding up the dry spices together, grinding the wet ingredients together, and mixing the two.

Left to Right and Top to Bottom: Dried coriander seeds; Grinding; Ground coriander seeds, dried lemongrass, kaffir lime leaves, Galangal, white pepper and curry powder; Fresh basil, garlic, shallot, ginger, salted shrimp fry and black vinegar; GREEN CURRY PASTE!

I then flash-fried the tenderloin in a hot wok, removed it, added the green curry paste and coconut cream and then returned the tenderloin to cook with the sauce.

Lest we forget our plantains, I decided to make oven-cooked plantain chips as a side.

I cut the plantains into fairly thick strips, added olive oil and coarse salt and threw them into the oven.

And that's it!
At first I was a bit worried that chips won't serve as an appropriate side for a curry, and that maybe rice would have been a better choice, but the sauce worked beautifully with the plantains, and I will definitely repeat this combination in the future.


I feel this recipe would work great with fish.
The only thing I would change is when the protein is added. With fish, I would skip the flash-frying phase and add the meat directly to the cooking curry sauce, and let them poach in it.


  • 1 Pork Tenderloin
For the wet part of the curry:
  • 1 tin of coconut cream
  • A generous amount of fresh basil leaves, stems removed
  • Fresh ginger
  • Salted shrimp fry
  • Black vinegar
  • Shallots
  • Garlic
For the dry part of the curry:
  • Dried coriander seeds
  • White pepper
  • Curry powder
  • Dried Galangal root
  • Dried lemongrass
  • Dried Kaffir lime leaves
  • Plantains - in the "still-green-but-starting-to-show-spots" phase
  • Olive oil

For the curry:
Using either a mortar and pistil or a spice grinder combine the dry curry ingredients until they form a uniform fine powder, and put the powder aside.

Using the same mortar and pistil or a stick blender combine the wet curry ingredients until they come together as a pesto-like paste. Add the powder and combine both.

In a hot wok or deep pan flash fry the pork tenderloin after it has been cut into bite-sized portions with a bit of canola oil and kosher salt until it is cooked from all sides. Remove from the wok.

Add the green curry paste to the pan, stir and quickly add the coconut cream. When the paste has dissolved into the cream's liquids, add the pork and let all ingredients cook for a few minutes.

For the plantains:
Remove plantain's skins and cut into thick slices. Place on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Salt liberally and pour olive oil on the slices. Place in a pre-heated 230 degrees Celsius oven and bake until crisp and golden. 

Let me know if you try this recipe, or if you've made green curry before and would do anything differently!

Finally, enjoy this sunset I saw from the Yarkon bridge this Friday:


Sunday, February 16, 2014

A little somethin' somethin' to balance my previous post

As promised, a decisively non-vegan recipe to balance out my last post.
This little gem was sent to me by a very good friend, and this blog's future photographer.

We're working on an exploratory post that will be published sometime soon, but in the meantime, here's a link to a recipe that requires a dead marmot and a blowtorch.

If you're in Israel and know where I can procure food-grade marmots let me know! :D

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Vegan Pancakes

Someone very close to me has recently turned Vegan.
Imagine my dismay. IMAGINE IT.

Is it imagined? Good.

Of course, your imagined dismay is probably much worse than my real dismay, because I'm looking at this as an opportunity to flex my culinary biceps.

No eggs or dairy?

Sure, pancakes aren't a problem!

Once you get the basics of this recipe down, you'll realize that even wheat is optional.


I've made these pancakes with ground-up oatmeal instead of wheat flour on several occasions.
I have no idea if that makes them gluten-free, but if it does, then yaaaaaaay.
This is a very pliable recipe, and that's what makes it great.

(I can't believe I'm writing about gluten-free vegan pancakes. My next post is so going to be about live fish in pigsblood or something. I WILL make this up to you, I promise.)

(Calm down you vegans.)

(...Pork blood is not an easy thing to come by in Israel.*)

That's not to say you can't add eggs or dairy. This is a pretty great pancake recipe in general, and yields good results no matter what you throw into it. The basal form of these pancakes is vegan, but they can be modified in many ways. I'll go into that at the end.

And throughout the recipe.

Just read, damnit.


  • A good non-stick pan. THIS IS KEY. Since we won't be using butter, we'll have to rely on the pan's Teflon to ensure we're able to flip the pancakes.
  • Sugar - I prefer some sort of brown sugar, but the plain white stuff works too.
  • Oil - It needs to be liquid when it goes into the batter, but that's the only requirement. I use canola, but essentially you could use anything. Olive, coconut, avocado... even schmaltz (you freaks). Just keep in mind that an oil with a very low smoke point is probably not a great idea, and that the oil's flavor will be noticeable in the finished pancakes.
  • Flour - As I've said, it doesn't have to be wheat flour. This ingredient is your way of influencing the texture of the final pancake. The finer the flour, the smoother the pancakes. When I ground oatmeal in my coffee grinder the pancakes had a coarser, more rustic (I guess?) mouthfeel, which I found enjoyable. If you're really curious about this oatmeal thing - try toasting it in a dry pan before grinding it up.
  • Eggs - Hah! Just kidding.
  • Milk Substitute - Soy, almond, hazelnut, rice.. Sweetened and unsweetened - they all work. You could even use... real milk.  I use hazelnut. It has a nice Nutella-i aftertaste. Just make sure the product you're using can be heated without releasing deadly toxins or something.
  • Baking Powder 
  • Salt - I use coarse sea-salt, which doesn't dissolve completely in the batter and gives tiny bursts of saltiness when the pancake is bitten into, but you can use fine salt if you're not into that.
  • Vanilla Extract - I won't lie to you. I use the cheapest kind. This is really only here for a hint of vanilla. You can use real vanilla pods, or any other vanilla flavoring product you want, but keep in mind - these aren't Vanilla Pancakes (unless you want them to be?), so go easy.


In a mixing bowl - combine the dry ingredients. 

I know, I know, I didn't give ANY type of measurements. 

The truth is, I have no idea what the measurements are. I always cook by eye, and I'd like to teach you how to do so as well. Annoying? Maybe. But it ensures you understand what you're doing and why, and thus prevents you from seriously fucking up.

So what are we looking for when combining the dry ingredients?
We want the flour to remain the dominant thing we see when they're all combined. 
Why? Because pancakes should be mostly flour.

If you're using brown sugar, you should see some specks of brown in your combined dry ingredients, but not a whole lot. The salt should be unnoticeable by eye, which isn't saying a whole lot since flour is white, but if you're cooking for two or three people, if you've thrown in more than two hefty pinches of salt then you've gone too far.
The right amount of salt.

Don't be afraid to use a lot of baking powder. When it warms up it creates tiny gas bubbles, which make the pancake fluffy and airy. Our batter is heavy, and needs a lot of help to gain some lift. 
If you've made regular pancakes before, consider using double the amount you'd normally use, since whisked egg provides a lot of lift in the traditional recipe. 
If you're cooking for two or three people this should be around three teaspoons. 

The right amount of baking powder. More or less. This is probably a bit more. Go with less.

No matter what you've thrown in to the dry mix, it should look homogeneous before we add the wet ingredients. 

Like so.


Now that the dry ingredients are combined, we can get them wet.

Our wet ingredients have two duties.
The first is to make a batter, but the second is to substitute the eggs in traditional recipes, which add flavor and help the batter hold together.

This has far reaching implications, because you can use a lot of things to replace eggs.
We're making regular, plain old pancakes right now, but you could easily throw in pumpkin puree, mashed sweet potatoes, chocolate pudding, bananas or feces (don't throw feces in the batter).
The idea is to reach egg-like consistency without eggs.

Start by adding the oil. We want an amount that won't be able to wet the entire dry mix on the one hand, but that will be noticed once the other wet ingredients are introduced on the other.
In my mind the oil kind of replaces the yolk, but that's probably bullshit.

Then add a few drops of the vanilla extract, followed by a small amount of milk substitute.
If you want to add booze to your pancakes now would be the time. Barenjager comes to mind.
Also, corn or agava syrup works well, texture wise, but can easily be skipped, which is why I included neither in the basic ingredient list.
This combination should now be similar enough to eggs with a little liquid to fool the dry ingredients into thinking this isn't a vegan recipe.

Start mixing.

Your batter should now start looking like a dough, and bunch up at the end of your whisk. This is OK. 
We don't want our batter to be too runny, so we'll work up from being too dry to being just right, as that's easier than working down from too wet.

Slowly add more milk liquid, until the batter loosens up a bit. It should no longer bunch up at the end of your whisk, but should retain some pull and some "heaviness".

That's it! Our batter is ready.

Heat your pan over a medium flame. Once it's noticeably hot when you place your hand over it, but not unbearably so, pour your batter. It will expand a bit, so if you're going for a particular size, stop pouring a little before you've reached the desired circumference.

Now we must have patience.

There are two processes happening at once here.
The first is the cooking of the batter. As the batter heats up, it loses moisture and starts bubbling thanks to the baking powder. It eventually loses enough moisture it begins to set - hopefully around the bubbles - and thus gains the airiness we desire in our pancakes.

The second thing that's happening is browning, both of the flour and the sugar which should begin to caramelize. This makes our pancakes look like this:

and not like this:


If you don't wait long enough before flipping the pancake, the bubbles won't set and the pancake won't get a tan.
If you wait too long, however, the sugar will begin to burn and your pancakes will taste like charcoal.

So how do we know when to flip?

First, look at the batter.
It should be bubbly all over when you flip it, and almost dry around the edges.

Second, use your sense of smell.
Can you smell something burning? That's probably your pancake (although it could be a stroke). A light burning smell that's just starting to emerge from the pan doesn't mean you have to throw away what you're currently cooking, as most likely it's just the edges of the pancake and it's still edible. Hurry and flip it over. If it's started burning before the bubbles begin to set, you should lower your flame and lift your pan in the air to allow it to cool off a little bit.
Being an impatient tinkerer, when I cook pancakes I am often tweaking the gas knobs, lifting the pan, moving the pancakes around different hot and cold spots on the pan's surface and bouncing on my heels - but all of these aren't really necessary if you've got your pan at the proper temperature.

Burnt but still good.

Once your pancake is flipped it doesn't need more than a few seconds to lightly brown on its underside. lift it up a bit and check it's set, and transfer it to a serving plate.

That's it!
These pancakes will keep well for at least a day in the fridge and can be reheated in either the oven or a toaster.


You can modify this pancake in a lot of ways. I've detailed some of them in the text above, but I'd like to offer a complete non-vegan recipe here.

Instead of the milk substitute, add yogurt and milk (making sure to add the milk gradually, like we talked about), along with eggs. Keep the oil (which can be melted or clarified butter), don't butter the pan, do everything like the above recipe, and you're in for some pretty awesome traditional pancakes. 

I also like to add small cubes of briny feta cheese (called Bulgarian Cheese here in Israel) to the pancake before I flip it. 

Jesus, this turned out to be a really long post for a really simple recipe!
Let's sum up, shall we?


Mix flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in a bowl until homogeneous. 
Add oil, vanilla extract and milk substitute. Mix into a thick batter.
Dole out batter over hot nonstick pan, and flip when bubbly and starting to turn dry around the edges.


*But if you know a guy...