The popular farm-to-table movement meets traditional Jewish cooking in author Amelia Saltsman’s new cookbook, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen (Sterling Epicure, $29.95).
Saltsman, a veteran food writer and advocate for small family farms, divides the book into six micro-seasons that feature the connection between Jewish traditions and the year’s cycles — all guided by the Jewish calendar. Recipes include Tunisian lemon rind salad (September & October chapter), One-pan striped bass with fennel, potatoes and cream (March & April chapter) and A Pashtida: Baked pasta with spinach, ricotta and brown butter (May & June chapter).
The author is the daughter of an Iraqi father and Romanian mother who met in the Israeli army and immigrated to Los Angeles, where she was born. She draws on her own heritage to offer context and history of recipes, such as these jalabi, or crisp fritters (similar to funnel cakes), which, she writes, “were adopted by Iraqi Jews centuries ago as the perfect fried food to celebrate the miracle of Hanukkah. ... My cousin Elan Garonzik has vivid memories of our grandmother turning out perfect coils, which is how they’re sold at Arab bakeries like Moutran in Nazareth and Jaffa.”
She suggests the frying of them as a Hanukkah party activity.
Zengoula with lemon syrup: Iraqi funnel cakes
Makes 8 servings
Traditionally soaked in sugar syrup, jalabi are infinitely more wonderful when infused with a tangy lemon syrup. It takes only a few minutes to whisk together the forgiving batter the night before you want to serve zengoula, and the pastries can be fried early in the day you want to serve them. Free-form Rorschach-like shapes — sea horses, dolphins, geese — that magically appear as they bubble up in the hot oil are delicious. You will need to begin this recipe at least six hours before you want to serve the zengoula.
For the dough:
- 1 1/8 teaspoons (1/2 package) active dry yeast
- 1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)
- 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
- 3/4 cup cornstarch
- Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt
For the syrup:
- 2 to 3 lemons
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 cup sugar
For the fritters:
- 2 quarts mild oil with a medium-high smoke point, such as grapeseed, sunflower, or avocado, for deep-frying
1. To make the dough: In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes.
2. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, cornstarch, and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm water and the yeast mixture. Then slowly stir in enough of the remaining 1/2 cup warm water until the dough is lump-free and the consistency of thick pancake batter. You should have 11/2 to 2 cups batter.
3. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until doubled in bulk, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. The dough will be loose and spongy and have a yeasty aroma.
4. To make the lemon syrup: Using a five-hole zester, remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in long strands. Halve and squeeze enough lemons to yield 1/3 cup juice. In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice and zest, water, and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and clear, about 1 minute. Pour into a pie pan and let cool. (The syrup can be made 1 day ahead, covered, and refrigerated.)
5. To make the fritters: Scrape the dough into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch (6-mm) plain pastry tip and set the bag in a bowl for support. Let the dough stand for about 15 minutes before frying. Line a large plate with paper towels. Place the prepared plate, tongs, a small spider or slotted spoon, the syrup, and a tray to hold the finished fritters near the stove.
6. Pour the oil to a depth of 3 1/2 inches into a 4- or 5-quart pot, wok, or electric fryer and heat to 375 degrees. If using a plastic bag for the dough, snip 1/4 inch off of one of the bottom corners, cutting on the diagonal, to create a piping tip. Roll the top of the pastry bag closed to move the batter toward the opening. Don’t worry about air pockets.
7. Pipe a bit of the batter into the hot oil. The oil should bubble around the batter immediately. If it does not, continue heating the oil and try again. Pipe the dough into the hot oil, creating 3- to 4-inch coils or squiggles, letting gravity help push the batter out. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the dough, turning once at the halfway point, until bubbled, golden, and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes total. Use a spider or slotted spoon to fish the fritters out of the oil, drain them briefly on the towel-lined plate, and then drop them into the syrup for a moment or two, turning them to coat evenly. Lift them out of the syrup and transfer them to the tray in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, skimming any loose bits of dough from the hot oil between batches to prevent burning. Scrape any batter that escaped into the bowl back into the pastry bag to make more pastries.
The cooled pastries can be piled on a platter. Pour any remaining syrup over the top. The fritters taste best served the same day they are made, although they will hold their crispness overnight. Store loosely covered at room temperature.
Kitchen note: A couple of 2-inch chunks of raw carrot added to the frying oil act as magnets, attracting all those little brown bits that might otherwise burn and impart an acrid taste to the oil. It’s an old-fashioned trick that works!
Nutritional analysis unavailable.
— The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling Epicure, $29.95)