Split Personality Spring Soup

Is it a sweet root vegetable soup? Is it a green soup? None – and both!
Lots of new vegetables at the farmers market today. One vegetable whose arrival I particularly welcomed was green garlic, which has a very short season. I was excited to see it in San Francisco, because Israeli markets host green garlic this very same season; they come out right in time to smile at everyone for Passover.
Also, today was the first day I saw sweet potatoes of all colors and ilks lying around. So, I had to get some.

The soup I ended up making will accompany my mejedderah these coming weeks, because I am inundated with work and will be happy to come home to something warm and homelike to eat. So, I made a large pot. It isn’t too hot yet for eating soup, and spring nights here are still somewhat chilly, especially when one feels a bit alone and homesick, as often happens to me when I’m far away on Passover.

So, here goes:

6 carrots
2 yams
1 sweet potato
1/2 cup caramelized onions (see Barbara’s instructions and make tons – they’re very useful)
1 head of cauliflower
1 cup chopped gai-lan, or other greens
2 heads of green garlic
1 tsp olive oil
1 cup fresh parsley

Slice up all vegetables any way you like.
Place caramelized onions and chopped green garlic in bottom of pan. Sautee with a bit of olive oil. When they become fragrant, add all other vegetables. Bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and cook for about 45 minutes.
You could, I suppose, use a stick blender to puree this, but I kind of like the vegetable chunks and the aromatic broth. Enjoy!

Spring Greens Stir Fry

I know I’ve posted numerous stir-fry recipes here and quite a few recipes for greens. But this particular combination was such a success that I really wanted to share it.

One of the advantages of shopping at the farmers’ market is that there’s always kind people to tell you what to do with the wonderful vegetables you buy. In Tel Aviv, the Chubeza farm used to email us a lovely newsletter with recipes. Here in Noe, I simply start a conversation, just like I did yesterday at the market, when I saw a bundle of greens that seemed familiar. They were curly and springy and happy. “What are these?” I asked the farmer.

“Oh”, he said, “these are pea shoots“.

“And what do you do with them?” I asked, perplexed.

“Stir fry”, he said. “They’re very yummy”.

They were also a dollar a bunch. I bought the happy curly green shoots and made up the following recipe:

7-8 long pea shoots
10 leaves of rainbow chard
1 tbsp combination of soy oil and sesame oil (some stores sell them mixed in a bottle; if not, mix your own. Here‘s some info on how they interact when used for cooking)
4 garlic cloves
5-6 sundried tomatoes
1/2 tsp ground black pepper
a drizzle of soy sauce (optional)

It’s kind of self-explanatory, but nevertheless: warm the mix of soy and sesame oil, slice garlic thinly and sautee. When aroma is released, chop up rainbow chard, pea shoots and sundried tomatoes and add them to the mix. After a couple of minutes, add pepper and/or soy sauce. Simmer for about five minutes total, until the tender greens begin to wilt (the volume will decrease significantly). Eat over brown rice or any other grain, or, in my case, be so excited about the veg and eat them before your grains are done!

Juice Fast Adventures

(image from Juicey Lucy’s website)

I figured that some of you might want to hear a bit about the experience of doing a juice fast; the concept of not eating solid food for ten days may seem quite daunting for some folks. In fact, it is not a challenging or difficult thing to do if one is willing and able to pay for the logistics, and has amazing benefits.

The decision to go on the juice fast was rather spontaneous, though I’d been toying with it for a while. A dear friend had visited me from abroad, and, as a good San Francisco host, I ended up schlepping him with me to various fantastic restaurants and overindulging in food. I felt somewhat heavy and congested and had eaten a few things that didn’t exactly agree with me; and so, when I met Lisa from Juicey Lucy’s on Saturday morning at the farmers market, I told her I wanted to go on a juice fast for three days. She happily agreed, and the crew made me a set of five juices to go, packed in cute mason jars with handles.

Some experts in Traditional Chinese Medicine recommend going on a cleanse or a fast twice a year, most importantly in the spring. As Elson Haas explains in his Staying Healthy with the Seasons, the spring is associated with the liver and is a particular beneficial time for renewing the digestive system.

Five 16 oz. juices is more than enough food for one day, as I found out; I wasn’t hungry at all, and the flavors were fresh and delicious. Each of the juices was different. Some of them were more earthy than others, heavy with beets and carrots; some of them had more liver cleansing properties and contained celery and cabbage. Lisa kindly put some apple in each of them, making them more palatable. The order of drinking them was quite intuitive, except that every morning started with 2 oz. of wheat grass juice, followed by an alkaline green juice with flax seeds.

After three days of cleanse I felt that I could go on for longer, and eventually did the fast for the full ten days. On busy working days, Paul delivered the juices to me in the morning in a cute ice box and I took them with me; nothing quite like going to a luncheon at work, having everyone around me eating sandwiches and fries, and feeling quite content sipping a reddish drink from a big mason jar!

In addition to the juices, I indulged in tea made of fresh mint, and, on occasion, in a clear broth I made with the remaining organic vegetables in the fridge. I recorded some of my adventures and feelings.

For the first three days I felt absolutely normal. I didn’t feel pangs of hunger. Those days, on a weekend, helped me relax and go into myself; I was quite content sitting in the garden and knitting.

On Day Four I felt well, save for about half an hour of extreme exhaustion in the morning, that went away as suddenly as it came on. I was thinking about some vivid, colorful dreams I had, and really wanted to go back to sleep. Other than that, I could notice that my hair had gotten shinier and my skin was glowing. Swimming that day was big fun.

On Day Five I had a bit of a runny nose, but none of the splitting headaches juice fasters often report having. I was also a tad constipated; after discussing it with Lisa, she mixed up some psyllium seeds in my morning alkaline juice. That really did the trick.

On Day Six, had another half-hour exhaustion pit in the middle of the day while swimming in the pool. Fifteen minutes of rest and I was like new. I also realized I had lost some weight. And still, I wasn’t hungry at all. Some of my juices contained things like nettles and dandelion greens, but there was always one the was tasty and sweet, which Lisa lovingly called “dessert”. I noticed that my tongue had been coated in yellow, which is a typical reaction during a cleanse.

On Day Seven I noticed a few things. The exhaustion moments went away, and my swimming workouts were a joy. I even felt propelled to learn new things, and a lovely lady at the pool taught me how to do flip turns. In the evening I felt a tad hungry, but after having had some mint tea the hunger went away. I was very attentive to noise, too, and felt very calm listening to music and to the sound of the wind outside.

On Day Eight, a dear friend invited me to come to a jazz show at Yoshi’s, which has a lovely sushi restaurant. Upon consulting with my juice people, I decided to eat miso soup and, possibly, a green salad. I got the salad first, ate something like three leaves and a few sprouts, then gave the rest to my friend (who enjoyed every bite). Just didn’t feel the need to eat solid food at all. Then, the miso soup arrived – I drank the soup, which was delicious, and ignored the toppings (didn’t feel like eating them somehow).

I also noticed a few other things:
1. My sense of smell had become very sharp. I could smell a cigarette from blocks away, and could identify which restaurants are on the other side of the street without even crossing it. Body odors in Muni were separately identifiable (not always a good thing!).
2. A white spot on one of my fingernails had disappeared.
3. My skin became incredibly soft and glowing. I did have breakouts once in a while, but they were very small and went away quickly.
4. While at Yoshi’s, I realized that I didn’t really enjoy alcohol very much. Of course, I didn’t drink any (juice fast), but I probably wouldn’t want to drink any even if I were eating. I realized I much prefer tea, and became determined not to drink things that didn’t agree with me, even if social situations created a bit of a pressure to do so.
5. Bowel movements (sorry, guys, but want to be sincere and let you know everything that’s happening): none of the dramatic, bulky, strange-looking detox stuff that people report on. Apart from slight constipation in day 3, which was promptly resolved the next day with some psyllium seeds, I felt absolutely fine.

On Day Nine I realized that, when I sang, I felt the sound vibrating in my entire chest. It positively tingled with the singing. I was happy and alert, and had some conclusions to ponder on during Day Ten.

First of all, I realized that I eat way, way too much. I don’t need as much food as I eat. I should remember that, if I eat a big meal, the other meals of the day should mostly be fruit and veg.

Second, as mentioned, if I don’t feel like drinking alcohol, I shouldn’t drink it. There are tons of social situations in which I can have a cup of tea or juice while others have a beer. An occasional cocktail won’t kill me, but it isn’t much of a pleasure.

Third, I should remember to have whole grains (rice/quinoa/buckwheat) every day. It’s really important.

Fourth, I should eat both raw and cooked veg every day. Raw is important, but winter is cold and I’m not a very large person. Cooked roots will do me good.

When Day Ten was over I had to give some thought to going back to eat again… I decided to combine a few solid foods with some juices, to make the transition easier. It wasn’t easy to go back to solid food, as my stomach had shrunk, and the half-pomelo I ate in the morning was quite enough to deal with for almost the rest of the day. I did have some wheatgrass juice and an alkaline juice in the morning, and a smallish bowl of vegetable soup in the afternoon. Some carrot juice and a few spoonfuls of guacamole, with lots of herbal tea, did the trick.

A few more days of a similar diet – juice in the morning and the afternoon, a smallish soup or salad later – were quite good for me, and that’s how I made the transition to eating again.

Many of the benefits have stayed with me; I’ve been able to keep the weight off, but more importantly, my senses are still sharp and I still feel terrific. I really recommend this. When done properly, with folks who look after you, are attentive to your needs, and make you delicious concoctions with fresh, organic vegetables, it is not a cheap pleasure, but if you can afford it, it is highly recommended.

One of the challenges is continuing to consume green superfoods. Alas, there is no easy wheatgrass juice source next to my house; so, I have a green food powder mixed with some organic apple juice for breakfast. Whenever I feel like having a juice with a meal, I have to settle on carrot, usually, because fancy organic juices aren’t easily available daily near home or work. But every Saturday I bring my mason jar with me to the farmers’ market, and let Lisa and her crew treat me to some lovely juice and one of their delicious tempeh burritos.

This is probably more than you wanted to hear about the juice fast; the bottom line is that it is a wonderful experience, not as hard or dramatic as it would seem (possibly because I was eating quite healthfully to begin with), and highly recommended. Thank you, Lisa, and everyone; and best of luck to those of you who would like to give it a try!

Back! And bearing a quinoa salad offering!

Hi, everyone!

After a long LONG absence, I’m back! A few folks emailed inquiring when I’d be posting again… I was extremely busy – what with moving to a new country, starting a new job, getting a new home together – and didn’t do much cooking. Things are beginning to settle down, so I’ll do my best to start cooking delicious, healthy food again.

These days, I’m hailing from the beautiful city of San Francisco, where I shop for my vegetables in several wonderful places: the Valencia Farmers Market, a little grocery shop full of healthy wonders and devoid of pretension; the Noe Valley Farmers Market, close to my house, where every Saturday is like a block party of meeting neighbors, listening to local musicians, and seeing new and exciting vegetables; and the Civic Center Farmers Market, which happens every Wednesday close to work.

The beauty of shopping in farmers market need hardly be explained to those who have incorporated the experience into their daily routine. Somehow, the vegetables feel so much more alive when they are out in the open, sold by the people who lovingly grow them, and generate fun conversation and recipe exchanges among neighbors. There are always people selling ready-made healthy foods; in Civic Center, I can always get interesting salads and fun vegan, wheatless “lasagnas” from the young and enthusiastic crew of Alive!, and on Saturdays I enjoy fresh juices and fantastic tempeh burritos from Lisa, Paul and their crew of helpers from Juicey Lucy. Lisa is a fabulous person, and I recently got to know her and some of her family and friends while going on a ten-day juice fast.

The juice fast was a fabulous experience; I feel wonderful, and am as committed as I ever was to eating healthy and organic. It was almost difficult to go back to eating again; but, fortunately, this city really lures one into eating wonderful foods, so the difficulty was short-lived.

My schedule these days makes it difficult to cook much at home, but I do make fun stuff sometimes. Watch this space for reports about delicious wraps and date-nut rolls with raisins and coconut, and today, here’s a quick recipe for a quinoa salad, which reminds me a little of tabouleh.

1/2 cup quinoa (white or brown, or mixed)
6 fresh celery stalks
1/2 cup fresh parsley
juice from 1/2 lemon

Cook quinoa in 1.5 cups water until ready; leave in pot to cool a bit. Chop celery and parsley into tiny bits. Mix with quinoa and lemon.

Seder Accomplished!

Gentle readers, I can now report from the field. The seder was a huge success! All the meat eaters enthusiastically embraced our vegetarian offerings, and, in fact, after the holiday eve and the next day’s lunch, we are officially OUT OF FOOD. Which is funny, because we thought we’d live on the leftovers for the rest of the holiday!

A couple of hours before the Seder, Chad had an inspiring (though somewhat gross) idea, and we embarked on an artistic project: we made images of the Ten Plagues out of Fimo, baked them, and placed one on each plate. We had eleven guests, so one person got a little matzo.

The salads were a big hit.

And so were the main courses.

Altogether, a good experience. The green quiche was particularly successful, and people also liked our celery-mushroom-sprouts stir-fry with an unexpected ingredient. And indeed, here’s a recipe for

Celery-Mushroom-Sprouts Stir-Fry with an Unexpected Ingredient

5 celery stalks
5 shiitake mushrooms
1 tbsp soy sauce
3 portobello mushrooms
5 forest mushrooms
2cm piece of ginger
1 tsp schug (Yemenite chile with cilantro and other wonderful ingredients – very hot!)
1/2 tsp honey
juice from 1/2 lemon
1 tbsp rice vinegar
1 tbsp sake
2 cups sprouts

Place shiitake mushrooms in water glass. Fill with water and add soy sauce. Let sit for a night.
The next day, chop up celery stalks to 1 cm slices. Also, slice portobello mushrooms, and cut up forest mushrooms by hand into bite-size pieces. Take shiitake out of cup and keep the liquid. Slice ginger thinly.

In a wok, heat up a bit of canola or olive oil with the ginger and schug. When air becomes fragrant and aromatic, add celery. After five minutes, add mushrooms and some of the mushroom liquid. Gradually, as you stir the contents of the wok, add more liquid, lemon juice, rice vinegar and sake. When things are cooked but still chewy and full of character, add sprouts. Stir-fry for another minute, then serve.

Seder Preparation: Episode 5

More recipes? Gaaaah! These ones are just mini-recipes. I mean, we all know how to roast root vegetables. Right?

(do I hear protest from the back row? okay, I’ll explain my method, and you can do it differently if you wish)

Basic idea: Heat up your oven to 200 degrees celsius. Chop up your choice of root vegetables into 1/2- or 1-inch cubes. Vegetables go into an oven bag. Then, add some olive oil, herbs and spices, and shake the bag well to mix the vegetables with the other stuff and coat them well in oil. Tie up bag. Place the bag in an oven-safe dish, preferrably with the tie facing down (there’s a reason for this: smaller ovens tend to burn the top part of the bag, and you don’t want a charred knot looming over your veg). Cut out a few tiny holes in the part of the bag facing the oven (otherwise, the whole thing will inflate and explode). Place in oven for 45 mins to an hour, until the vegetables are soft and juicy.

Now, usually I like to roast several things in the same bag, so they benefit from each other’s flavor. However, this Passover we have a combination of low-carb folks with folks who love potatoes and hate the rest, etc, etc, so I have to roast each vegetable separately. The benefit of that is that it allows me to roast each vegetable with different herbs and spices.

Three mini-recipes (follow basic instructions above with the following spices):

4 large potatoes
5 garlic cloves
2 large onions, quartered
5 long rosemary sprigs
sea salt
black pepper

5 large carrots
1 tsp each: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, nutmeg
3 garlic cloves

6 small beets
1 heaping tbsp kimmel
3 garlic cloves

Seder Preparation: Episode 4

One of our special vegetable dishes hardly needs any cooking. In fact, what’s interesting about this dish, is that the green ful cooks in hot water for about ten minutes, while the peas are left uncooked, and slightly steam when they are mixed with the cooked, steaming-hot ful. Add some lemon juice and zatar, and it’s finished, and very very tasty. Moroccan Jews consider green ful to be one of Passover’s festive dishes, and they sometimes make it into a special soup and even garnish the table with it (here are some other Moroccan traditions). Our recipe is much simpler. Of course, it only works if the peas are super-fresh and can be eaten raw.

Ful and Peas in Lemon and Zatar

30 ful pods
20 garden pea pods
juice from 1 lemons
1 tbsp zatar

Place ful, in pods, in a pot of hot water. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer a bit more – ten minutes in total. During that time, take peas out of pods and place in serving bowls.
When ful is ready, take out of pods and put hot ful right into bowl. Mix with peas. Add lemon juice and zatar to taste.

Variation: this would work like magic with some tchina.


One more entry for our quinoa festival.

I have to say, for us, all this quinoa consumption isn’t merely a trend. We both grew up in South America, where quinoa, made as a side dish or a soup, is a staple.

1 cup quinoa
3 garlic cloves
3 carrots
1/2 purple cabbage
3 beets
2 tbsps fresh parsley
2 cups vegetable broth

Cut vegetables into cubes/stripes. Sautee garlic in olive oil; add cubed veg and about 1/2 cup of the broth and mix up. Cook for an additional three or four minutes, until the water sort of becomes pink. Add quinoa, parsley, and simmer, with lid closed, occasionally peeping in and mixing up. When all broth is absorbed, you get pink quinoa! And veg! And it all tastes so nice! Much better than the weird rice-with-ketchup of our childhood, and with a color that’s even freakier.

White Beans with Carrot and Celery

A simple lunch for us today, making use of more celery stalks.

1 cup white beans
2 carrots
5-6 celery stalks
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp schoog (sort of a Yemenite salsa) or other hot sauce
2 tbsps soy sauce
2 tbsps dill

Place beans in large bowl, fill with water, and leave overnight.
Next morning, strain, and simmer in fresh water until tender. Set aside.
Chop carrots and celery stalks, so you have small pieces.
Heat up olive oil and add schoog or salsa. When you get teary-eyed standing over the wok, add soy sauce and vegetables. Toss and cook 7-8 minutes or until barely tender.
Then, add beans and dill, toss around for a couple of minutes – and, enjoy!

Passover/Spring Cookery

These days we’re a bit excited, foodwise; we’ve managed to convince all our family, which lives in the North, to come have the Passover Seder with us in Tel Aviv! Usually in our family, as for many families we know, the younger folks go hang out with the older ones. The parents or grandparents put up the holiday at their house, and the thirtyish folks come as guests.

Last year, we had the Seder here in Tel Aviv, and though a good time was had by all, we were afraid it was too much to ask for folks to drive all the way here on a holiday evening. However, it seems they enjoyed it so much that they want to come back – if anything, they were concerned whether it wasn’t too much for us to have them over! It certainly isn’t. In holiday times, small apartments seem to expand and make more room for rowdy, happy guests.

Everybody’s enthusiasm is interesting in light of the fact that, at our place, they can’t really expect large trays (or small trays, for that matter), of juicy meat; we serve a vegetarian meal. Our only concessions to tradition are my grandma’s fish balls and her clear chicken broth. Last year, someone brought a dish of fish, we forgot to serve it, and when we remembered, no one wanted any! They were quite happy with the lovely array of spring vegetables and fruit on the table. It’s important for us to have a beautiful, colorful display of seasonal local vegetables, because we see Passover, first and foremost, as a Spring festival. We like to read the story behind the holiday, of liberation and freedom, as a metaphor for, or a parallel to, the liberation of the Earth and Her children – trees, bushes, flowers, roots – from the winter cold, and the freedom to bloom and ripen.

The reason I exhaust you, kind readers, with all this theological and familial information, is because plenty of the recipes that will show up in this blog for the next month or so are “practice sessions” for the Seder meal. Some of them are things we made last year, and some are things we’ll try this year for the first time.

One humble but flavorful vegetable dish was a mix of celery and Shiitake mushrooms in a gentle, herb-flavored sauce. Here’s how we made it last year.

Celery and Shiitake Mushrooms in Broth and Soy

1 tbsp canola oil
3 garlic cloves
1/2 inch piece of ginger
1/2 tbsp of Thai Curry, or fresh ground red pepper
large head of celery, with about 10 fresh, green celery stalks
10 dried shiitake mushrooms
1 cup hot water
1/2 cup vegetable broth
3 tbsp good quality soy sauce
A few stalks of parsley, sage and thyme

Place mushrooms in a small bowl, and pour hot water on them. Leave to soak for about twenty minutes.
In the meantime, you can prep the other ingredients: remove celery stalks from head, wash well, and cut into small, 1/3 inch pieces. Chop up the parsley, sage and thyme. Slice up the ginger and garlic cloves (bear in mind that, when feeding large crowds, some will dislike the ginger, so if you’ll need to fish it out before serving, do not chop it too thinly).
Heat up the canola oil in a wok, add garlic cloves, ginger and Thai curry or red pepper. After about a minute, when kitchen becomes fragrant, add the celery stalks. Move them around the wok for a couple of minutes. Then, go back to your shiitakes, squeeze them well and keep the liquid. Slice ’em up and add to the celery stalks. After a couple of minutes, add to the wok broth, soy, herbs, and as much of the mushroom water as you like. It’ll be very flavorful.
Stir and cook for another ten-fifteen minutes, or until celery is soft and nice, and most of the liquids have been absorbed.

The art above is by Arthur Szyk (see more beautiful and interesting Judaica at http://www.szyk.org/szykonline/index.html)