Please welcome reader Leah, an Israeli mom of 5 and professional translator. She blogs at ingathered.com, and her professional website is at aqtext.
- What do you remember about family meals and your mother’s cooking style when you were growing up? My mother’s cooking consisted of traditional Russian staples and family heirloom recipes. Borsch, cutlets, “Olivie salad” (potato and mayonnaise salad with meat), strudels etc. My maternal grandmother spent the WWII years in Central Asia. As a result, our family had many friends from Bukhara and Georgia (the country, not the state). My mother loves Bukharian and Georgian food and makes it quite often.
- How is your cooking style different from your mother’s? My husband is Yemenite, which means we have a real “ingathering of exiles” in the kitchen. Besides the recipes I have received from my mother and mother-in-law, I borrow heavily from other cuisines. I am an avid cookbook collector and I absolutely LOVE experimenting in the kitchen. The results range from fantastic to wacky to “I-won’t eat-that-if-you-kill-me” type comments. We are fairly health-conscious, which means we rely heavily on fruits, vegetables, and grains with some chicken and sheep dairy for protein.
- How did you learn to cook? Cookbooks plus trial and error.
- Do you entertain, and in what circumstances? What is the biggest party or meal you have hosted to date? We often have friends over for Shabbat. Whenever we entertain on a weekday, it’s either BBQ or grilled chicken. The biggest meal I have ever made was a post-wedding party for my sister-in-law with approximately 40 guests. My Yemenite in-laws were floored by the Pasta Salad and Carved Watermelon with Fruit Salad.
- Can you share a typical daily menu? Weekly menu? We eat our main meal at lunchtime. It makes more sense from the digestive point of view. Once a day, usually for supper, we have a huge salad. By huge I mean, tomatoes, cucumbers, peppers, lettuce, onions, alfalfa sprouts, and maybe even shredded carrots. If the kids are not in the mood, I allow them not to eat one vegetable of their choosing. Typically, they get used to things quickly. Kids love salad when accompanied by eggs, yogurt, and toast.
On Sundays, I am typically left with some leftovers, which depending on their quantity and my kids’ attitudes I serve as is or transformed. Once a week, I make lunch in a crockpot and once a week is cook’s day off with spaghetti and sauce. I usually make something different every time, so my kids’ first question when they show up is “what’s for lunch?” I do most of my cooking on Friday, baking challah and rolls for school lunches, making several spreads and salads to be eaten throughout the week (instead of the commercial stuff)
- How has your cooking style evolved over the years? Everyone is familiar with the joke about getting a recipe from a grandmother. How many spoons are in a fistful and how much is in a pinch? Until several year ago, I was a faithful follower of recipes. Today, it’s all fistfuls and pinches for me. Any recipe is a basis for change. “What will happen if I add . . . ” is a common thread in my kitchen.
- Can you recommend any cookbooks, TV shows or websites that have inspired you?My very first cookbook was a book published by the Ladies’ Auxiliary of Hadar Tzion (a Jerusalem school). I got it at a local Judaica store before leaving NY for Israel. I think I learned how to cook from that book. As far as websites go, I really love www.recipezaar.com, both for the variety and the convenient search engine. A few years ago, I was asked to translate a Bukharian Jewish cookbook. That was a fascinating experience. When we visited in NY, the author hosted us at a Bukharian restaurant, so that I could see the dishes first-hand. The book was just published several weeks ago. I’ve picked up a few recipes from it.
- What posts on CM have you enjoyed? Do you have suggestions for future posts? I liked the 20-minute dinner challenge. I’d love more ideas for kid-friendly vegetarian meals.
- What is the most unusual dish you’ve ever made? You mean just one? Yemenite Chicken Soup with Kneidlach, Avocado Cheesecake, Grilled Olives and Tomatoes Salad.
- What is the oldest item in your kitchen? The newest? The newest is the Braun Food Processor, which last year replaced the Braun I got from my mother for the wedding. The oldest are the knives I got from my mother-in-law 3 days after the wedding (I was so clueless, I forgot to buy dishes and silverware before we got married).
- What would you like to change about your cooking style in the coming year? I have been toying with the idea of cooking one day a month (or 2 weeks) and freezing. I bought a copy of “Frozen Assets” several years ago. While I have adopted some of her strategies, I have not been able to follow the game plan start-to-finish.
Please share a favorite recipe.
This is my grandmother’s recipe. She is 97, but she used to make this recipe as recently as 2-3 years ago. For me, it’s the taste of childhood. In the West, we think of Pierogi as dumplings while in Russian it literally means cakes.
Cabbage Egg Pierogi
- 2 tbsp dry yeast
- 1 tsp salt
- 2 tbsp sugar
- 1 cup warm water
- 100 g (3 oz) oil
- approximately 3½ cups flour
Dissolve yeast and sugar in water. Add the rest of the ingredients to form soft elastic dough (add more flour if necessary)
- 1 cabbage
- 4-6 eggs, hardboiled
Chop cabbage, add salt and sauté in oil until soft. Chop eggs and combine with cabbage.
Divide dough in half. Roll out one half and cover the bottom and sides of a baking dish. Cover with the cabbage mixture. Roll out the second half and place on top. Pinch the sides closed.
Brush with beaten egg. Bake 20-25 minutes.
The same recipe could be made with rice and browned chopped meat and hardboiled eggs filling.