Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Eggplant Parmesan Without The Guilt

As far as baking is concerned, I only follow recipes.  I might tweak them at bit, adding something exotic like a spice or an extract, but I usually stick to the rules.  Not so when it comes to cooking.  I love throwing things together and seeing what I end up with.  They say necessity is the mother of all inventions and that's certainly true when it comes to dinner time in my house.  I often survey what I have left in the fridge and invent a recipe for dinner based on those ingredients.  In an effort to keep my family eating all things healthy (besides the odd macaron, cupcake and slice of cheesecake), I've tried to reduce the amount of carbohydrates and oil I cook with.  But since my kids love things like fried schnitzel and eggplant parmesan, I've had to try and find a way around breading and frying while still keeping it yummy.

Recently, on a supermarket run, I wandered into the health food section and stumbled across a product that I'd never seen before.  Quinoa flour.  I had no idea what I was going to do with it, but I bought it anyways.  I began searching online for recipes that use quinoa flour and could hardly find any.  So it sat in my freezer, and every time I opened it to grab something else, I would stare at it, sigh and close the freezer.

Well, I figured out what to do with it and it worked like a dream.  This lighter version of eggplant paremsan has a fraction of the amount of oil than the real deal, not a trace of fatty cream, quinoa flour instead of breadcrumbs, and - last but not least - they are broiled in the oven instead of fried.  It came out MUCH better than I expected.  In fact, it was so much better that I doubt anyone would realize that they were eating anything but a sinfully rich eggplant parmesan.

Eggplant Parmesan Without The Guilt

Serves 4-6

3 large eggplants, sliced into 36 slices 
salt and pepper
1 c. quinoa flour
1-2 tsp. garlic powder
1 tsp. oregano
2 tsp. paprika
1 tsp. Italian herb spice 
2 eggs
180 g. package of mozzarella cheese, sliced into 24 thin slices
100 g. package of grated Parmesan cheese
1 large jar tomato sauce
Handful chopped fresh parsley

Set oven to broil.

On two large lined and greased cookie sheets, place the eggplant slices tightly together - you should be able to get all 36 slices onto two cookie sheets.  Spray the eggplant generously with with PAM or other cooking oil spray.  Alternatively, you can brush each eggplant with olive oil using a pastry brush, but don't use a lot of oil.  Season with salt and pepper.  Place under the broiler until browned, then flip eggplant slices over and broil once more.  Repeat with second tray of eggplant.  It should take about 5-8 minutes per tray per side.  

In the meantime, while eggplants are browning in the oven, place quinoa flour in a small bowl along with the spices and mix well with fork.  Crack the eggs into another small bowl and whisk with fork.  When eggplants is browned on both sides, remove from oven.  Dip each eggplant slice into the eggs, then dredge in the quinoa flour mixture using a fork, placing it back on the cookie sheet.  When all slices are coated, place back in the oven under the broiler for a few minutes until flour coating gets a little drier and a little crispy on top.

Preheat oven to 375.

Grease a 9x13 dish and place 12 eggplant slices (3x4) on the bottom.  Place a spoon of tomato sauce on each slice of eggplant, topping it with a slice of mozzarella cheese.  Sprinkle some Parmesan cheese on top.  Repeat with another 12 eggplant slices, tomato sauce, mozzarella cheese and Parmesan cheese.  Top with the last remaining 12 slices and sprinkle Parmesan cheese on top.  Sprinkle some oregano on top, cover tightly with foil and bake in oven for 30 minutes, uncover and broil for about 5 minutes.

Sprinkle fresh chopped parsley on top and serve!

Sunday, April 27, 2014

Yom HaShoah...random thoughts...

There's not much I can say about this day that hasn't been said before.  Being the granddaughter of Holocaust survivors, I often find myself thinking about how much the world has changed since the Holocaust and yet, how much has stayed exactly the same.  

I visited Poland last June with my family on a roots trip to find out more about my grandparents' lives before they came to Canada in 1948.  Somehow while my grandparents were still alive, visiting the place that had all but destroyed them and their families didn't seem all that important, but after they died, I felt a deep need to stand on the very ground where they endured the horrors of the Holocaust.  I also wanted to see where they lived, where their synagogues stood, where their dead were buried and where their communities thrived before the Nazis obliterated them.  I began by doing some research on my own using the online archives at Yad Vashem.  I had begun putting together a rough and incomplete time-line with a few sporadic dates of births - and deaths at Auschwitz - of my grandfather's siblings and was still coming up short when my father suprised me with the offer of a trip to Poland.  I jumped at the chance.

Excited and nervous at the same time, I had no idea what to expect.  I began to expect the unexpected.  For those of you who have visited Poland and some of the concentration camps, you know what I mean.  I think the hardest thing for me at the beginning was just being amongst all these Poles.  I couldn't stop thinking and wondering what their parents or grandparents were doing during those terrible years.  I would walk by someone and ask myself, did his grandfather turn his Jewish neighbor in to the Nazis or did he offer to help?  It got to the point that I had to stop otherwise it was all I would think about.  

But I was surprised at how beautiful Poland is.  It's endlessly green and the architecture in the older city center of Krakow is magnificent.  The larger cities we visited, like Krakow and Warsaw were surprisingly modern and urban and didn't at all jive with the horse-and-buggy, black-and-white backwater village that I had envisioned.  It was at odds with what I had expected.  

But the concentration camps cured that for me.  They were mind blowingly massive, bone-chilling, and horrific.  There were barracks that I couldn't bring myself to enter, and I lingered outside with others who couldn't bear to step in either.  What kept coming back to me was how after all the Holocaust awareness school programs, and countless museums and monuments, that there is still such a palpable hatred of Jews.  It's hard to believe that people could walk through the gates of Birkenau, see the ovens where the Jews were burned and the showers where they were gassed, read about the rise of the Third Reich and Nazi Germany and their bloodthirsty quest for ruling the world while simultaneously ridding it of an entire race and walk away still feeling hatred for our people.  

But unfortunately history has this nasty habit of repeating itself and anti-semitism is rapidly rearing it's ugly head yet again. There are more and more news stories on Neo-Nazi groups on the rise cowardly standing behind freedom of speech laws in order to march in hatred against the Jewish people. It's a hell of a wake up call if there ever was one and for those of you who wave your hands in disbelief that the Holocaust could ever happen again, you're burying your heads in the sand.  

This Yom Hashoah is a different one for me - it's the first after my unforgettable trip to Poland.  I've seen Majdanek and Auschwitz firsthand, and it's no longer some black and white picture in a dusty history book.  It's real.  And the endless rows of concrete toilets that ran the length of a long barrack in Birkenau is an image that will stay with me forever.  Participating in my community's Yom Hashoah program tonight just reiterated the decision that my husband and I made long ago to make Aliyah as one of the best decisions we have made for our family.

I've made Israel my home for the last 19 years.  I've traveled back to Canada many times to visit family and have vacationed in Europe during the summers and while I've enjoyed those visits, I'm always grateful the minute the wheels of the plane touch ground at Ben Gurion.  But I have never felt the rightness of living here and the unwavering sense of returning to my true home as I did when I returned from Poland.  Despite being a democratic oasis surrounded by radical and fundamentalist Islam, Israel is still the safest place for a Jew to be.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

The Under-Appreciated Brussels Sprouts

Just the mere mention of Brussels sprouts and I can't help but think of Calvin from the famous (and brilliant) Calvin and Hobbes cartoon strip.  For those of you who are Calvin and Hobbes experts, you know that that kid did not just detest vegetables, but he had a visceral hatred for green vegetables in particular.  There was that hilarious strip where he shouted with the utmost conviction, "Brussels sprouts aren't food, they're ammunition!"  

Truth be told, most kids make a disgusting face and contemplate their quick escape from the table when they discover that these mini cabbages are on the dinner menu.  For those kids whose escape plans went sour and were forced to sit at the table and endure, these bad-rap vegetables probably found their way into one of the dirty wadded-up napkins (when their parents were not looking), which eventually made their way into the trash.  It's unfortunate, because these mini cabbages rock.  They are adorable, fun to eat and when roasted simply until golden and slightly crispy, they are as addictive as popcorn or chips.  As addictive as vegetables can be.

I'm one of the lucky moms out there that at the mere mention of Brussels sprouts, my kids' faces light up.  My kids even suggested that I should always make a double batch so they can snack on them until dinner time.  And when I don't, less than half of what I prepared makes it to the actual dinner table since each time one of my kids (or my husband!) passes through the kitchen, they are secretly pilfering them one by one until so few are left behind.

Living in Israel, I don't often find fresh Brussels sprouts in the supermarket, but when I do, I buy boxes of them at a time.  At some point, I asked my son what vegetable I should make for my Shabbat menu.  He suggested Brussels sprouts and I told him that unfortunately they weren't in season.  He shrugged and suggested I try using the bags of frozen Brussels sprouts.  I decided to give them a try and they were amazing.  If you've got fresh ones at your market, buy those, but the frozen ones are a great alternative.

The way I see it, the trick to making perfect Brussels sprouts is to "keep it simple".  The minute you start mucking around with twenty different ingredients, the minute you mask the simplicity of its flavorful essence and it's yumminess. (Not sure if that's a word, but I'm sticking with it...)
I use five ingredients besides the sprouts themselves - that's it! - and honestly, that's all it needs.  

Garlicky Roasted Brussels Sprouts
Serves 4-6

1 bag frozen Brussels sprouts
1 head of garlic, separated into cloves, but not peeled (this is important!)
2 shallots, peeled and cut into wedges
2 Tbsp. good quality olive oil
1 Tbsp. balsamic vinegar
sea salt
freshly ground pepper (optional)

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees.  Line a 9x13 cookie sheet with parchment paper.  Place the frozen Brussels sprouts on the tray (no need to defrost them).  Scatter the garlic cloves and the shallot wedges around the sprouts, drizzle with olive oil and balsamic vinegar and grind a generous amount of sea salt over the vegetables.  Add pepper if using.  Roast for 35-45 minutes, tossing once or twice until golden.  If you like them dark and crispy, roast them an extra 10-15 minutes.
Sprinkle with some more salt if necessary and serve right away.  You'll be surprised how fast they disappear!

Note: keeping the garlic cloves in their papery cases keeps the garlic sweeter than if you peeled them and prevents them from burning.  Something about them roasting in their own skins lessens the natural sharpness of the garlic and renders them almost sweet.