Posts Tagged ‘pine nuts’

Another year means another Passover Seder. Well, that’s not entirely true. Since Yuki is about 2 weeks from her due date we decided that it’s not a good idea to spend the holiday with my family. Being 3 hours from our OB/GYN at this point isn’t the best thing we could do (or at least that’s what we tell my family!). What makes it easier is the fact that I’m not a religious man by any stretch of the imagination. So, if I missed another recital of the 4 questions or the 4 sons or Elijah I wouldn’t lose any sleep. I do, however, love a good matzo ball soup and brisket. I decided that I would make a few of the traditional Passover delicacies for the first night. My younger bro also lives in Chicago and did not go to the Quad Cities, so he came over for dinner last night.

To keep with tradition, I started the dinner off with some matzo ball soup. You can ask Alpana Singh my thoughts on the perfect matzo ball. I made my typical chicken soup on Sunday and then put it in the fridge overnight. In the afternoon I took it out and let it come to room temperature. About 20 minutes before my brother got here I made the matzo balls.

I used 2 eggs, about 3 tablespoons of chopped parsley, 1/2 teaspoon of salt, 1/2 teaspoon of baking powder, 1/2 cup of matzo meal, a few cracks of white pepper, and 1 tablespoon of olive oil.

In a small glass dish I mixed together all of the dry ingredients. In a seperate bowl I beat the eggs with the olive oil and parsley. Then, I poured the egg mixture into the dry mix until it was evenly mixed. I covered it in plastic wrap and let it sit in the fridge for about 15 minutes.

With the soup boiling I took the mix out of the fridge, wet my hands, and dropped walnut-sized balls into the soup. I let them boil for about 20 minutes to make sure they cooked through. That’s all there is to it, soup is ready. I will say that these were by far the best matzo balls I’ve ever made, and some of the best I’ve ever eaten as well.

While the rest of dinner was heating up I brought out some charoset and matzo. Side note, everything we ate was prepared ahead of time so that all I had to do was re-heat for dinner.

For the charoset I used 1 gala apple, 1/3 cup of walnuts, 1 tablespoon of red wine, 2 tablespoons of honey, and a few dashes of cinnamon which didn’t make it into the pic. In a bowl I crushed the walnuts into small chunks then poured the wine and honey in. Then I grated the apple into the bowl, seasoned with the cinnamon, mixed it up real well, covered with plastic, and let it sit in the fridge for at least an hour.

For the entrée I made a horseradish brisket (the recipe was adapted from a Gail Simmons recipe), wilted spinach with raisins and toasted soy nuts, olive oil mashed potatoes, and roasted radishes.

I made the brisket in the morning to make sure it got enough time in the braising liquid. I used 2 cups of beef stock, 1 cup of red wine, 1/2 cup of prepared horseradish, 3 carrots chopped, 3 celery stalks chopped, 7 garlic cloves minced, 1 small onion sliced, and a 3.5 pound brisket.

In a large heated skillet I poured in a couple of tablespoons of vegetable oil and browned the brisket. I gave each side about 7 minutes.

Then I transferred the brisket to a foil braising pan and scattered the carrots and celery around it. In the hot skillet I added half of the garlic and the onions and let them sweat down for about 6 minutes. Then I poured in the wine. I let the wine boil down for about 7 minutes and added the beef stock. When the liquid came back to a boil I poured everything around the brisket.

I mixed together the rest of the garlic with the horseradish and spread that on top of the brisket. I covered it tightly with foil and put it into a 300 degree oven for about 3 hours. The one thing I did forget was bay leaves. I would have liked 2 of them in there. Oh well, still tasted great.

After 3 hours I let it sit for the rest of the day. While we were eating the soup I removed the foil, seasoned with salt and pepper, and put it under the broiler for about 30 minutes or so to not only re-heat, but also to give the horseradish a nice crust. To serve I just lay a couple sliced on top of the onion, carrots, and celery.

For the spinach I used 1/4 cup of raisins, the zest and juice from 1 lemon, 3 garlic cloves minced, 1/2 onion diced, 1/4 cup of toasted soy nuts (this dish would typically use pine nuts, but at $24 a pound I found the soy nuts price of $3 a pound a little easier to digest), 1/4 cup of red wine, and 2 bunches of spinach chopped.

First I poured the wine into a bowl and soaked the raisins for at least 15 minutes. Then, I heated up a large pot and poured in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and sweat down the garlic and onion for about 5 minutes. Handful by handful I added the spinach until it was all wilted down. I poured in the wine and raisins. Once the wine had boiled down for a few minutes I added the lemon juice and zest. I stirred that all in and then added the soy nuts. A touch of salt and pepper and the spinach was ready to go.

I skinned 5 yukon gold potatoes for the mashed potatoes. Since the laws of the Kashrut don’t allow dairy to be eaten alongside meat I decided to use olive oil in order to try to make them creamy. I know, I don’t believe any of that crap, but since I was making a pretty traditional meal I thought I’d keep with tradition (all kosher wine as well). After boiling the potatoes I mashed them with about 1/4 cup or so of olive oil. Actually, I probably used more, I just kept adding it until the potatoes were the right consistancy. A little salt and pepper and they were all set.

For the radishes I simply halved them and roasted them with olive oil, salt, and pepper at 400 degrees for about 25 minutes.

I did not have enough time to make any dessert last night. We were pretty full anyway, but a little dessert is always a nice thing. I guess life could be worse than not having dry, matzo meal cakes sit in your stomach on top of brisket. Plus, you’re all probably tired of this post by now anyway. Happy holidays!


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Meatless Monday this week was gnocchi. I do have to say that I cheated a little. I didn’t make my own gnocchi. It’s not hard to make, but it does take time. Time is what I lacked. However, most people don’t make their own pasta, so using pre-made gnocchi isn’t really that bad I guess. What’s the difference? Just use a good quality gnocchi.

First thing I did was boil some chopped rapini in salt water for about 3 minutes. Rapini can be really bitter and strong. Boiling it for a few minutes removes a lot of the bitterness. Drain it well afterword and squeeze out all of the water.

I made some pesto. Just a classic pesto. Some basil, garlic, pine nuts, parmesan, salt, pepper, and I like to throw in a pinch of red pepper flakes all into the blender and let her rip while slowly pouring in some olive oil. I think I ended up pouring in about 1/3 cup or so. It all depends upon how much of the other ingredients you put in. Do what you dig.

In a large pan I sautéed a chopped onion and a bunch of quartered mushrooms in olive oil with garlic. I let them go until the onion got a little translucent and the mushrooms started to release some of their liquid.

Then I threw in the rapini and a bunch of cherry tomatoes that were halved. I let them go for just a couple of minutes.

Once the tomato skins started to wilt a little I tossed in the gnocchi (I had boiled it while cooking the veggies) and spooned in some of the pesto. I mixed it all around and the it cook for just a minute to bring all of the flavors together.

To serve, I tossed a little fresh parmesan on top. On the side I toasted some bread and spread some artichoke and garlic in olive oil puree on top.

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I didn’t eat too much for lunch yesterday so by the time 5:00pm rolled around my stomach was rumbling! My wife had plans for dinner with some coworkers so I was on my own for dinner. I work from home most of the time, devoid of human contact, so I felt like grabbing some dinner with a couple of friends. I called up my buddy Ed and his girlfriend Becky (I know, I wonder myself how he has been able to keep the same girl for 2 years! It truly boggles the mind.). They were down for joining me to the recently opened Chickpea at 2018 W. Chicago, a place I’ve wanted to check out since it opened.


You have to pay attention to addresses since there isn’t a noticeable sign for Chickpea. It’s located directly across the street from the Dominick’s on Chicago and Damen. When we walked in we immediately got the feel of a typical family run joint in the Middle East. I lived in Israel and Egypt for a year so I have a pretty good idea of what’s authentic and what’s not.


The décor was interesting with a large painted Coca-cola sign on part of the wall and Arabic movie posters filling the rest of the walls. Light fixtures were clearly of Arab design as were the table tops. I also love how they polished the copper ceilings, something which too many establishments choose to paint over and which I think is criminal.


Anyway, we were a little unsure of how service worked as there was a line of people at the counter to order as well as some people waiting for a table. We figured that the line was for carryout and decided to wait for a table. While we were waiting, the old guy who’s helping to run the place (Jerry’s father maybe?) took us to the pinball machine in the back and said, “Come, play while you wait, the price is right”. It’s free, so I guess the price is right. I felt a little awkward playing pinball right next to people gorging on falafel and hummus. Oh well, we played a couple of games before our table opened up.


We didn’t realize that there wasn’t full table service until after we sat down. I felt like an ass sitting down before ordering while a bunch of people who had already ordered were waiting to sit. Oh well, I am an ass, so I guess it’s ok.


I held down fort while Ed and Becky went up to order. Ed screwed up my order, no surprise, so Becky had to go back up to fix it. I tell ya, men would be lost without good women by our sides. Thanks for straightening that out Becky.


We started with the trio of dips which consists of a dish of hummus, one of baba ghanooj (I guess that how Palestinians spell it), and the koosa ma laban which is yogurt, zucchini and mint puree. I’ve never had koosa ma laban before, and to honest, it wasn’t my favorite of the three. It was good, really fresh and clean, it just wasn’t my preferred flavor. The hummus was outstanding, definitely some of the best the Chicagoland area has to offer. The baba ghanooj was really good as well. I think I prefer the baba at The Pita Inn, but this baba more closely resembles what you get in the Middle East. You can tell that it’s a family recipe and it had a really nice lemony zing to it.


For entrees Ed got the Kufta Mihshew, ground lamb and beef kebabs with peppers and rice. Becky got the Fasoolya, braised lamb with green beans and tomato with rice. I got the Laham ma Hummus, a plate with hummus smeared around the sides and minced beef sautéed with pine nuts in olive oil in the middle that you eat with pita. I have to say, WOW! Absolutely delicious food. The Kufta was grilled just right so that the meat stayed nice and juicy while the seasoning was spot on. The braised lamb just fell apart off the bone, extremely tender. My laham was awesome. Little morsels of beef I think seasoned with a little cumin, maybe a touch of sumac but I’m not completely sure.


I was so hungry that I ate way too fast and didn’t leave any room for dessert. Oh how I love a good baklava. I’ll have to try it next time.


The one thing we didn’t try that I definitely need to is the falafel. I’ve been on the eternal search for a really good falafel ever since my year in the Middle East. So far, I have yet to find one that’s even close. The Pita Inn is closest, but nothing else I’ve had is. I know a lot of you are going to say, “what about Sultans on North?” I went there once a few years ago to try their falafel. While I don’t remember exactly how good or bad it was, the fact that I haven’t been back tells me that it didn’t impress me too much. I seem to remember it being more like an American falafel sandwich as opposed to a real authentic one. It’s really tricky to get the texture just right as well as the flavors. The best ones I ate in Israel all came from outdoor stands where the guy making them probably hasn’t changed his oil in 20 years. The oil really makes a difference. I’ll definitely try Chickpea’s falafel on my next visit. I mean really, I should have tried it last night as their name implies. What kind of an idiot am I?


I was also a little disappointed that they don’t have schwarma. I’ll take a good schwarma over just about anything in the world and I would love to have a good one in my neighborhood. I guess I’ll have to keep waiting.


The Suqi’s are also some of the most genuinely nice and hospitable people running a restaurant that I’ve come across in a long time. They definitely come from the old world. Amni, the mother whose recipes we ate, is such a nice woman. She was constantly stopping over and telling us about her grandma’s recipes that she uses and how good the food is. I couldn’t argue one bit as I had a mouth full of delicious bits every time she stopped by. I think she has the hots for me too as she kept touching my shoulder and talking to me instead of Ed or Becky. Frankly, I can’t blame her….I’m a stud!


In all seriousness though, I found Chickpea to be a real asset for this neighborhood. With prices all below $12 it’s a great value for the weakening US Dollar. Portions are nice too as there was plenty of dip for us to split up and take home. It did leave me a little gassy, but hey, most things worth their while do. I have a very good feeling that I will become a regular devourer of their food.



Photo courtesy of www.stevenjohnsonphotography.com

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