The Buffet - המזנון - שוק האוכל
It is ט׳׳ו בשבט (Tu B'Shvat, the new year for trees). I should be writing about this wonderful holiday which predates almost all other Jewish holy days and festivals. But today I read that we are planting the wrong kind of trees for the mediterranean ecosystem and that we are doing more harm than good. So until I know what to plant I will hold off. Very hard for me. I love green.
I'll just have to be content with succulents. Not a big hardship.
There are so many holidays in the Jewish calendar, it is hard to keep up. Since we are not religious we do not observe many of the fasts and feasts and that are directly connected to the rabbinical hegemony. Despite that, there is a feast that we do celebrate every week - Shabbat. Week in and week out, when Thursday rolls around we know what we will be doing Friday night. Eating alone or eating with friends or family, we will be celebrating the end of the week and looking forward gratefully to the one day that is put aside for rest.
I almost always cook for Shabbat. Truth be told, I cook every day. (come the apocalypse, I will be at the stove). But sometimes, just sometimes I am tired and I have run out of ideas or I can't face making yet another chicken. So on these days I am tempted to go on Thursday afternoon to the מזנון - שוק האוכל (Miznon - Shuk HaOchel). This is a once a week event. Food vendors, really caterers, make food offsite, often at home, and bring it to the market in large tin foil containers and set up shop in malls, in pop-up store fronts, in parking lots, really anywhere there is space. The food is kept hot on steam tables or under heat lamps. Almost everything on offer is ממולאים (stuffed). Stuffed grape leaves. Stuffed peppers. Stuffed zucchini. Stuffed pastry. Stuffed dough. On occasion the stuffing is in the meat. קציצות (meatballs), קובה (kubbeh,- Iraqi meat stuffed dumpling), ג׳חנון (jachnun -Yemenite pastry stuffed with pastry [sic]). And there is chicken. Lots of chicken in every possible configuration - fried, baked, braised in lemon and of course, stuffed.
There is a heady aroma of cinnamon and cloves and cumin and a sharp edge of harissa, when you walk by the דוכנים (stalls). Tasting is free. In Israel you can ask to for a taste everywhere, in the supermarket, in the shuk in a deli, including olives and nuts. No one is expected to buy something they haven't tried.
So on days when I am weak-willed, I succumb to the aroma and buy Shabbat dinner. It never works out. I should know better. The food is too tasty like General Tso's Chicken and Lo Mein. One bite and you want more. And there is a reason for that. The food is loaded with salt and sugar and the ubiquitous yellow chicken flavored soup powder, a stalwart of בישול ביתי (homestyle cooking). An hour after I eat, I feel the onset of food coma and by the next day a stupor has set in.
I am not particularly sensitive to processed food but clearly "prepared food" is not my thing. I will not be patronizing the Shuk HaOchel anytime soon. But Shabbat comes every week and I do like the idea of stuffed food. I want to learn how to make kubbeh, only without the yellow powder.
I have been planning to try my hand at stuffed peppers for awhile, but at the last moment decided I would use fruit instead. This is clearly not to everyone's taste but I thought I would replace the dry fruit component with a fresh fruit container. Lemons are great because they keep their shape, but they can be too sour and sometime become bitter when baked, so yesterday when I saw beautiful oversized persimmons in the shuk I bought them. They have been available for weeks. Very unusual, but I am not complaining.
The recipe below has a lot of steps. Sometimes it is worth it.
As with all the recipes it will be also be published later under a Creative Commons License. The attribution is important to me. If you enjoy the soup, let me know and don't forget the shout-out.
BT's Not So Traditional Stuffed Persimmons and Onions
2 or 3 large firm persimmons - count on half a serving per person
4-6 small, round, very firm red onions - one per serving
1 large leek
1 large bunch baby spinach
1 cup cooked rice - any type you prefer
1 cup cooked chickpeas
2 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oil
1 tablespoon harissa
1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric root - 1 tablespoon powder if fresh not available
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon cardamom powder
Wash persimmons thoroughly and slice top off. Reserve as lid for later
Peel onions. Cut root side off making flat bottom
Remove hard dry skin from leek. Split lengthwise down the middle. Soak in cold water to remove embedded dirt.
Wash and dry the spinach. Use leaves and stems
In a heavy gauge frying pan add ghee. Place pan on medium heat. When ghee is melted add harissa and turmeric
Slice leek lengthwise in ribbons. Add to pan. Sauté until leeks soften. About 5 minutes.
Add spinach to pan.
Add nutmeg, cinnamon and cardamom powder.
Continue cooking until the green are all wilted
Add three grinds of pepper and a pinch of salt
Reduce heat to low
Scoop the flesh out of the bottoms of the persimmons
Core the onions leaving enough structure so they will retain their shape - 2-3 layers deep
Add rice to vegetables in pan.
Return heat to medium and add chickpeas
Sauté the mixture until the rice and chickpeas are thoroughly heated and have taken on an orange color from the harissa
Remove pan from heat and let mixture cool
Place persimmons and onions in a baking dish. Turn oven on to 375 F. or 180 C.
Stuff hollowed out persimmons and onions with rice/vegetable mixture
Drizzle oil oil over the top
Sprinkle kosher salt on top of the oil. Add three more grinds of pepper
Place persimmon lids on top of fruit
Bake in oven for 20-25 minutes. When onions are tender, it is done.
Serve hot with labane or tahina. If you are adventuresome, serve the stuffed vegetables in a bowl in a light vegetable broth.