Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Okonomiyaki for Hanukkah

As written for THE NOSHER

The Japanese word Okonomiyaki is derived from two words: okonomi “how you like it” and yaki “grill.” Okonomiyaki is a customizable Japanese savory vegetable pancake. Like a latke, it gets cooked in oil in a fritter formation. Unlike a latke, it’s usually made into a large plate-sized pancake comprised mainly of cabbage. Food historians have linked the rise in popularity of okonomiyaki in Japan to World War II, when rice was more scarce and this recipe offered a filling meal or snack with a wheat-based starch. Throughout Japan there are regional differences and countless variations of okonomiyaki, but the most common form of the dish involves a batter made of flour, a variety of mountain yam, eggs, shredded cabbage, green onion, dashi, and often the addition of pork belly. It gets topped with its own tangy sweet sauce, Japanese mayonnaise, and bonito flakes (katsuobushi).

I first fell in love with okonomiyaki on a trip to Japan. You can find it there in restaurants that specialize in the dish, but it’s also something that is prepared in home kitchens. The cabbage gets slightly crisp, tender and sweet when seared in oil on a flattop or skillet, and then it gets generously slathered with an umami rich sauce, along with a welcome drizzle of creamy mayo. The richness, sweetness, and tanginess of these components all work perfectly together. A few months after I got back from Japan, I ended up eating at Brooklyn’s Japanese Jewish restaurant, Shalom Japan. I didn’t hesitate to order their Jewish-influenced spin on okonomiyaki. They’re known to top it with pastrami, or even corned lamb tongue and sauerkraut. It became clear there that okonomiyaki is a perfect fit on a Jewish table with its base of humble cabbage and onion. The fried pancake part of it all called out “Hanukkah.”

I am a fan of all pancakes and fritters, and I set out to modify the classic Japanese version for a recipe that didn’t require access to a specialty food store, and that could be made with kosher ingredients. Full disclosure: my version lacks authenticity. If you’re going for the real deal you’ll need a batter made with an okonomiyaki flour mix, or nagaimo yam; this special kind of yam is added in powdered form to the flour mix, or gets grated fresh into the batter. The toppings should include bonito flakes, and the batter should be made with dashi. These ingredients can be found at most Japanese markets. Instead of nagaimo yam, my version uses a batter of flour and potato starch, and instead of dashi I use water. I’ve also included a recipe for homemade traditional okonomiyaki sauce that can be made simply with easy to find ingredients, but you can also buy premade bottled sauce. You can make these pancakes large-sized and cut into wedges like the Japanese do, or slightly smaller à la a large latke. I wouldn’t go too small with this, as the vegetables tend to hold together better en masse. This recipe doesn’t need to be too exact and it works as a blank canvas for additional vegetables like kale, mushrooms, and/or daikon. In the spirit of Hanukkah, these okonomiyaki get cooked in oil, but they’re not heavily fried. The oil used to fry the Okonomiyaki gives a loving nod to the miracle of the oil glowing for eight days instead of one in the Temple, but the heap of vegetables and addictive sauce make this a nutritious and satisfying addition to any Hanukkah meal.

Okonomiyaki for Hanukkah

Serves 4
For the pancakes-
  • ¾ cup all purpose flour or gluten free all purpose mix
  • ¼ cup potato starch or cornstarch
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 large eggs
  • ½-¾ cup water
  • ½ green cabbage, about 4½ packed cups
  • 3 green onions, sliced thin plus more for garnish if desired
  • 1 carrot, peeled and shredded
  • 4-5 inches daikon, peeled and shredded (optional)
  • Oil as needed (i.e. sunflower, canola, or peanut)
  • Sesame seeds, for topping (optional)
  • Mayonnaise, for topping (optional)
For the okonomiyaki sauce-
  • ½ cup ketchup
  • ¼ cup Worcestershire sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons soy sauce
  • 2 Tablespoons honey or agave syrup, or to taste

  1. Start by making the batter. Whisk together the flour, starch, baking powder and salt in a large bowl.
  2. In a separate bowl beat the eggs. Add the eggs and ½ a cup of water to the flour mixture. Whisk until smooth. You want a fairly thin, crepe batter-like consistency. If you find it too thick, add another ¼ cup of water. Try not to overmix, you do not want to overdevelop the gluten. Allow the batter to rest in the fridge for 30 minutes to an hour.
  3. While the batter is resting, prepare the vegetables. Take out the thick core from the cabbage half, then cut the halved cabbage in two. Thinly slice or shred the cabbage. Thinly slice the green onions. Grate the carrot and daikon if using.
  4. Make the okonomiyaki sauce: combine the ketchup, Worcestershire, soy sauce, and honey/agave in a bowl. Taste and adjust to your liking. The sauce should be tangy, savory, and a little sweet.
  5. Combine the batter with the vegetable mixture.
  6. Heat a cast iron skillet or a nonstick-skillet with about 3 tablespoons of oil over high heat. Once the oil is glistening and hot lower the heat to medium low, and, add some of the cabbage mixture to the pan, gently nudge it into a circle shape. I like to make each pancake with about 2 cups of the mixture. For me, that makes an ideal sized pancake that isn’t too hard to flip, and one that will hold together. Cover the skillet with a lid for 3-4 minutes. Carefully flip over the pancake, and cover it with a lid for an additional 3-4 minutes, or until browned on both sides and cooked through. Make sure not to cook on too high of a heat or the pancake might burn while remaining raw in the center.
  7. Serve hot topped with a generous spread of the okonomiyaki sauce, mayo if desired, sliced green onions and sesame seeds.
  8. Slice and serve!

Monday, November 20, 2017

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Burekas

This is a seasonal twist on classic burekas that I wrote up for alma. (check out their site for the full article). The caramelized onions are the key ingredient in this dish; they always take longer than you think to caramelize, but the resulting flavor is worth the work. This makes a great side, appetizer, or snack during the holidays.

Butternut Squash and Caramelized Onion Burekas
Makes 24 burekas

2 sheets puff pastry (10” x 15”), defrosted in the refrigerator overnight
1½ lbs. butternut squash (1 large squash), halved lengthwise and seeds removed
1 large yellow onion, medium diced
2 tablespoons olive oil or butter
1 big fat clove of garlic or 2 medium-sized, minced fine
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2-3 sprigs thyme, leaves removed from stems
Pinch of cayenne pepper
Salt and pepper, to taste
1 large egg yolk
Black and/or white sesame seeds, to garnish

  1. Preheat the oven to 375°F.
  2. Drizzle the halved butternut squash with oil, then place it cut-side down on a sheet pan. You don’t need to peel the squash. Roast until the squash is fully cooked and tender, about 35-45 minutes.

  3. While the squash is baking, caramelize your onion by putting a few tablespoons of butter with a drizzle of olive oil in a sauté pan over medium low heat. If keeping the dish non-dairy, use just olive oil. Add the diced onion to the pan, and sauté over low or medium low heat until starting to soften, about 5 minutes. Season with a generous pinch of salt and then continue to let the onion cook and caramelize, stirring occasionally so the onion doesn’t burn; make sure to keep the heat fairly low. This is where patience comes in, beautiful caramelized onions can take 30-45 minutes to make. You want your onions golden and sweet, you don’t need to caramelize them until they’re a deep brown. This is a good tutorial if you need it.
  4. Add the minced garlic to the caramelized onions, and sauté for another 2-3 minutes or until the garlic is fragrant but not at all browned. Turn off the heat.
  5. Once the squash is cooked and slightly cooled, scoop the inside of the squash into a bowl and discard the peel. Add the caramelized onion to the squash. Mix together. The mixture should be soft and not too lumpy.
  6. Mix in the ground coriander, thyme, and cayenne. Taste, and then season with salt and pepper as desired. Allow the squash mixture to cool before assembling the burekas. You can make this filling up to two days in advance and store in the fridge.
  7. To assemble the burekas: roll out a sheet of puff pastry until rectangular and just slightly thinner than when it comes out of the package. Divide the dough into 12 squares: cut the dough in half widthwise, and then cut each half into half again. Next, cut the dough into thirds lengthwise. Put a spoonful of the filling into each square. Fold over the dough to form a triangle shape, and press the edges together. There’s no need to crimp or press too hard, the filling will stay put, and you want to ensure there are layers of flaky pastry.
  8. Transfer the formed triangular burekas onto a baking sheet, place each bureka about an inch apart, 12 will fit on each baking sheet. At this point, you can freeze the burekas and reserve them for when you’re ready to bake.
  9. Before baking, combine the large egg yolk with a small splash of water. Beat well. Brush the tops of the burekas with the egg wash. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
  10. Bake for 20-25 minutes, or until golden brown and flaky. Transfer to a wire baking rack, and allow to cool for at least 10 minutes before serving. Burekas are best served warm or at room temperature.

Monday, October 23, 2017

Matzah Ball Pho

I wrote up my matzah ball pho recipe for The Nosher. Head over there to read the full article, and check out other great recipes :)

Matzo Ball Pho
Serves 6-8

For the broth:
2 medium unpeeled yellow onions, halved
1 large 4”-5” piece of ginger, cut in half lengthwise
5 quarts cold water
1 4-5 lb. chicken, cut into parts
½ lb. chicken wings
2 teaspoons kosher salt, or to taste
1 tablespoon rock sugar or Turbinado (raw) sugar
1 cinnamon stick
2 star anise
1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
2 tablespoons fish sauce or tamari
1 small white onion, thinly sliced
4 scallions, thinly sliced

For the toppings:
1 large bunch of fresh Thai basil
2-3 limes cut into wedges
3 cups mung bean sprouts
2 Fresno chilies or jalapenos, sliced thin
Hoisin sauce, to taste
Sambal oelek (garlic chili sauce), to taste
Sriracha, to taste

For the matzo balls:
1 cup matzo meal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1 teaspoon baking powder
½ teaspoon baking soda
4 large eggs, beaten
¼ cup oil schmaltz or oil (vegetable or safflower)
¼ cup minced scallion

For the broth:
Char your onions and ginger by either placing them on a baking sheet under a broiler for 8-10 minutes, or by charring them over a gas flame on your stovetop for a few minutes on each side. The onions and ginger should be nicely charred but still firm - this essential step will deepen the broth’s flavor. Once the onions and ginger are charred, remove the skin from the onion. Rinse the onion and ginger, and use a small knife to scrape off excess charred bits to prevent your broth from getting murky.

Cut your chicken into parts: separating the breasts, legs, wings, and backbone. This will insure that your chicken cooks evenly and that the breasts will not become dry and tough when simmered.  

In a small skillet over medium heat, toast the cinnamon, anise, and coriander until lightly browned and fragrant, about 2-3 minutes. Be careful not to burn the spices.

Add the onion, ginger, and chicken to a large pot. Fill the pot with 5 quarts of water. Bring the water to a simmer; skim the impurities as they rise to the top.

After twenty minutes of simmering, or once they’re cooked through, remove the chicken breasts and allow them to cool.

Add the toasted spices, salt, and sugar to the pot. Continue to gently simmer the mixture for 1 hour.

Remove the remaining chicken parts and strain the liquid through a fine meshed sieve. Bring the liquid back to a simmer for another 20-30 minutes, or until the liquid has reduced by about a quarter. This step will further deepen the broth’s flavor. While the broth is simmering, shred the chicken meat and reserve for serving.

Once reduced, turn off the heat and add the fish sauce or tamari to the broth. Taste, and add additional seasoning if desired.

For the matzo balls:
While the soup is simmering, in a large bowl whisk together the matzo meal, salt, baking powder and baking soda. Add the beaten egg and schmaltz/oil. Add the scallions. Mix everything together until just combined. Do not over-mix. Refrigerate the mixture for at least 30 minutes, and up to a day ahead.

Form the matzo ball mixture into even-sized balls, you can determine the size based on your preference, but know that they will double in size when cooked. It makes it easier to form the matzo balls if you rub a little oil on your hands while forming them.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Lower to a simmer and gently drop the matzo balls into simmering water. Place the lid on the pot and continue to simmer for 30 minutes. Once cooked, matzo balls are best stored in their cooking liquid.

To serve the matzo ball pho:
Add the shredded chicken, raw sliced onion and scallion to a bowl. Ladle hot broth into the bowl. Add the matzo balls to the soup.

Serve along with basil, bean sprouts, lime wedges, hoisin, and hot sauces. Allow people to garnish and customize their pho to their liking.

Thursday, October 12, 2017

Vegan Maple Fig Rosemary Challah

I used to be afraid of baking, especially bread baking. I distanced myself from any recipe that required yeast or kneading. The idea that baking is a science, only accessible to those with the innate ability to understand that science and its nuances, discouraged me. I was never very good at science. But as someone that loves Jewish food, I knew I wanted to learn how to make homemade challah. The moment after I made my first challah I wondered: “What took me so long?”

Once I got into challah-baking I couldn’t stop. To my surprise, challah isn’t all that hard to make, the dough is very forgiving, and it comes together relatively quickly. There’s no three-day proofing required. I tried countless recipes, and decided I needed to develop one that would make my own ideal loaf. I like my challah with a little chew, not too yeast-flavored, not too sweet. Once I got a basic recipe down, it was easy to start playing around with flavors and ingredients.

During the High Holy days, when entertaining and round challahs abound, this recipe offers a celebratory animal-friendly offering. I love being able to make dishes that any guest at my table can eat, and it’s great to have an option for folks with plant-based diets. Vegan challah is as easy to make as egg-based challah, and tastes just as good. In these loaves, the maple replaces honey, and the fig and rosemary bring extra sweetness and fall flavor into the mix. If you’re not feeling fig and rosemary, you can easily skip out on either or both and still make a delicious vegan loaf.

If you’ve ever been curious about baking challah, Rosh Hashanah is a great time to give it a go.  I can safely predict that your friends and family will be very happy you did.

Vegan Maple Fig Rosemary Challah
Makes 2 loaves

2 cups warm water (between 105°F-110°F, warm but not too hot to the touch)
4½ teaspoons (2 packets) active dry yeast
2 teaspoons sugar
⅓ cup oil (olive, canola, sunflower)
¼ cup maple syrup (Grade B or Grade A dark amber)
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Egg replacer mixture (see below)
7½ cups (1185 g) bread flour, plus more for dusting and as needed
⅓ cup fig preserves or jam
⅓ cup roughly chopped rosemary, plus more for garnish

Egg replacer:
½ cup warm water
½ cup oil
2 tablespoons aluminum free baking powder

Vegan egg wash:
¼ cup unsweetened almond or soy milk
1 tablespoon oil
2 teaspoons maple syrup

Start by adding the yeast and sugar to warm water. Stir, and then allow the yeast to activate for 5 minutes or until it looks thick and foamy at the top. If your yeast remains in clumps then it is not properly activated.

In a small bowl combine the oil, maple syrup and salt. Reserve.

In a separate small bowl, make the egg replacer mixture by combining the water, oil, and baking powder. The baking powder will cause the mixture to fizz.

Once the yeast is activated, add the flour to a large bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour. Add the maple syrup mixture and the egg replacer mixture to the well. Add the activated yeast with warm water to the well. Begin to combine everything together, it is easiest to use your hands. Once the mixture forms a ball, begin to knead the dough.

Knead until the dough is mostly smooth and elastic, and doesn’t stick to your hands, about 5-7 minutes (and if it’s not perfectly smooth, don’t worry, it will still work out). If you find the dough is too sticky, add flour a few tablespoons at a time until the dough doesn’t excessively stick to your hands as you knead. The amount of flour that is needed can often depend on the weather, temperature, and the brand of flour. 

Lightly grease a large bowl with oil, and then place the dough in the greased bowl. Cover the bowl with a damp clean kitchen towel, and allow the dough to rise in a warm (not drafty) part of the kitchen for at least 1 hour or until the dough has about doubled in size. The rate at which the dough rises will depend on the temperature of the kitchen.

After the dough has doubled in size, punch it down. Lightly dust your work surface with flour, and transfer the dough onto it. Divide the dough into two. Transfer half the dough back to the bowl and cover while you’re braiding the first round of challah. For the High Holidays it’s traditional to make round challahs, but the shape and number of strands is up to you. I like to do a 4-strand round challah, and this demo video from Challah Hub is very helpful!

Divide the dough into 4 evenish-sized pieces, and form and roll each piece out so that it is about 12”-14” long. Take one piece and flatten it out a little so that it is a long rectangular shape. Spread 2 teaspoons of the fig preserves in an even thin layer over the dough. Sprinkle with about 2 teaspoons of chopped rosemary. Press the sides together to seal the fig and rosemary inside the dough. It can be a little messy or imperfect. Finally, roll the sealed dough into a rope shape. Repeat with the remaining 3 pieces of dough.

Braid the challah into a round. Place the challah on a parchment lined baking sheet and cover with a very lightly damp towel. Repeat the braiding process for the second half of the dough. Allow the covered braided loaves to rise for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350°F.

In a small dish, combine the almond milk, maple syrup, and oil. Brush each loaf of challah with the wash. Bake the challah loaves for 30-40 minutes, or until the challah is a deep golden brown - exact timing will depend on the size of your challah and your oven. Once baked and still hot, brush a second time with the wash mixture. Transfer to a rack and allow to cool.

Extra challah can be frozen, defrosted and reheated.