Thursday, January 07, 2016

Our quotidian meal

Five hours until Mark comes home and we can continue watching Making a Murderer. I am in agony. Are you watching this incredible show? It’s a 10-part Netflix documentary about an uncanny crime saga in Manitowoc County, Wisconsin involving a wild, enraging, heartbreaking cast of characters and I would have stayed up all night to see the end if my companions had been willing. I can't recommend it more highly. 

A couple of stellar dishes from Michael Solomonov’s Zahav yesterday, although I was the only one who thought so. I'm 100% right, of course. These two dishes aren't even on the borderline. Total winners.

Dish #1: Mina with ground beef, coffee, and cardamom

Michael Solomonov: "Mina is the Ladino word for pie. This Passover dish, common throughout the Sephardic world, is almost good to be true.”

I have a serious question: Is it sacrilegious to make a Passover dish when it's not Passover and you're not Jewish? Is it cultural appropriation? Or is just eccentric, like a Jew or Muslim making buche de noel in July? Or is it none of the above? 

I did some internet research and found this in an Atlantic story about the recent cafeteria crisis at Oberlin:

People don’t usually think about food as something that deserves respect, but food is reflective of the heart of different cultures. I identify as religiously and culturally Jewish and I would be offended if someone prepared a traditional Seder plate incorrectly at some time other than Passover. This would de-sanctify the religious meal of Passover and reduce it to just another quotidian meal."

As Solomonov puts it: "Once the matzoh is soaked and baked, it magically transforms into something more like traditional pastry than unleavened bread." 
In any case, what's done, is done. 

To make this Sephardic pie, you fry up a simple hamburger filling of meat, onion, garlic, a tiny bit of coffee and cardamom. Soak some matzoh in water until pliable and line a baking dish. Spoon the filling atop the matzoh. Top with more matzoh. Bake. Unmold. Serve this lovely, spicy, satisfying pie with a charoset of carrot, apple, raisin, and walnut. It's more like a salad than the charoset I've had at seders. (I think I'm more comfortable calling it "salad.")

Owen wolfed his slab of meat pie down in under a minute. He was in a horrible mood. I said, “So you like that!”  

He replied, “I’m only eating this because I’m really hungry.” Shortly thereafter, he and Mark got into a big, dumb fight and Owen stormed off. He yelled, “Now I’m making a quesadilla, Mom. That food was bad.” 

Talk about de-sanctified. A minute later Owen was back, shoveling more pie onto his plate. He said, “I’m only having seconds because we don’t have any of the good kind of tortillas.” Then he stormed off once more.

Isabel did not try the mina. 

Mark knows his role on this blog and plays it with verve. Of the mina he said, “It’s too weird. All the parts are good, but why not serve a nice hamburger with some bread on the side?”

Recipe at the end of this post.

Lord, this was delicious. Make a sweet, rich yeast dough, roll it around a buttery chocolate crumble, freeze, slice, assemble the slices in a loaf pan, top with more crumble, bake. I believe the Zahav recipe can be found if you search Google Books, but the URLs are too long for me to link. If you do find and decide to make this splendid recipe, expect to add lots more flour than called for. Just keep adding flour until you have a soft dough and you’ll be fine. Better than fine.
Look at those pretty spirals.
Mark:  “It’s good, but it's not a cake and you wish it were a cake.”

No, you don’t.


Mina with ground beef, cardamom, and coffee, adapted from Zahav. I added kale to the meat filling, used more onion, doubled the raisins and apple in the salad and made a few other changes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F and generously oil a medium-sized baking pan of some kind (I used a deep 9-inch pie plate). Brown 1 pound ground beef (I used chuck) in a little oil in a wide skillet. When it’s brown and crumbly, add 1 chopped onion5 minced garlic cloves, and a little salt. Cook for a few minutes and add a bunch of kale, stems removed and leaves shredded. Cook until all the vegetables have softened, but not browned. Add 1 teaspoon finely ground coffee and 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom. Mix well. Taste for salt. Now, soften 5 or 6 sheets matzoh in water, just long enough that you can bend them a bit but not so long that they disintegrate. Line the oiled pan with the matzoh, overlapping slightly if necessary. (It won't be tidy looking.) Spoon the meat into the matzoh shell. Layer more damp matzoh on top, pressing the edges to seal. Brush with some beaten egg and bake until the pie is golden and crisp, about 30 minutes. Let stand for 5 minutes. Invert onto a platter and serve with the following salad.

Carrot salad 

Grate together 4 carrots (peeled), 1 apple (peeled), and a small chunk of fresh horseradish. Mix in a bowl with 1/2 cup chopped walnuts, 1 cup chopped cilantro, 1/4 cup raisins, and 1 tablespoon cider vinegar. Add salt to taste. 


  1. I suppose it just shows what a terrible person I am when I feel a certain amount of relief that my dinner table is not the only one where such scenes occur? I think I'll try the pie thing. Perhaps Owen would care to come to dinner? We also don't have the right kind of tortillas, and he and my son Nicky can gripe about how they don't like eggplant or something. Is he going to forgive you for including that photo?

  2. Since Michael Solomonov puts this in his cookbook, he obviously doesn't think it is inappropriate for you to cook it, and he is Jewish. I think anyone that is offended by the exploration and love of another culture's food needs to get a grip. Traditional food may be very important to some religions, but the food is not the religion, and it sounds as though you had more than enough reverence for this dish. OK, if I have offended anyone, sorry, but that's my view. I may have to make this, even though my husband would probably say the same thing that Mark said. The salad looks yummy as well. I am dying to try the fried cauliflower. It looks so good to me. I have also never had chocolate babka, and as soon as I saw the recipe, I could only think about that episode of Friends that included the fight over the babka. Sounds wonderful, I may have to try that as well. I am sorry that you have drama at the table, but Owen and his hormones, ya know? I would have laughed in his face if he came back for seconds and said that! Probably counterproductive, but it would have happened. I don't have much reverence for teenage boys and hyperbole. I will have to ask my stepson if it was a flaw in my parenting.

    1. Oops, meant to say the episode of Seinfeld, not Friends!

  3. I agree with Beckster! Also, I'd like to think that my Jewish identity and my sense of the sanctity of Seder could withstand something that someone else does -- why would someone else preparing the Seder plate have anything to do with my own religious practice? Geez. Anyway, I think the reference to the Seder plate meant the plate with the shank bone, roasted egg, etc. that we put in the middle of the Seder table (not traditional food). This dish sounds great -- I definitely want to try it! Probably before Seder.

    1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. I have recently been obsessed with babka and used this recipe:

    which very handily makes two loaves, with flawless results. I have also made the chocolate babka from SmittenKitchen and it is very tasty too. Really, what WOULDN'T be tasty about such things? (except, perhaps as Mark says, that they are not cake?) This led me to this marvelous "Fika" concoction, not unlike a babka, really -- and as it turns out it was originally featured in that book! I am a big fan of cardamom but I did omit it in the dough only and put a little vanilla in instead.

    Then I saw that Food&Wine features babka on their cover this month. Babkas galore!

  5. So, I am Jewish and eat Passover food out of season (especially matzo brei, which is a scrambled egg matzo dish). Passover food out of season is not verboten. Matzo is sold in stores year-round. In fact, most of the year, the matzo in the stores is specifically labelled as not kosher for Passover. Then, spring rolls around and the Passover matzo pops up and costs twice much.

  6. A seder plate is not a brisket or a mina. I, too, would give a little side-eye to a non-Jewish person or group (ahem, neighbors, ahem) putting together a traditional-ish Seder on Good Friday. (Yes, I'm aware of the connection. No, you don't want to get into it with me.) But if they want to make a nice brisket and kugel during the Passover season? Or in October? Gai gezunterhait!

    So, enjoy your mina. I think I'll try one now and again in April. ;)

  7. I can't stop thinking about Making A Murderer. I'm outraged, disgusted, mystified... Michael Solomonov's interview on the Good Food podcast was wonderful... now back to thinking about Making A Murderer...

  8. I had chocolate babka for the first time last fall and I was floored by how delicious it was. Is it achievable for a lazy baker such as I?

  9. I think imitation and reinterpretation in food is a wonderful thing, though I do see ways in which it could be side-eye worthy. but without the shifting landscape of food culture we would be missing so may delicious dishes! Think of any country with a history of immigration or invasion or changing borders. No dish is ever 100% authentic to one culture, with no outside influence. I think where it could get dicey is when the food that inspires interpretation is pushed aside as inferior, or referenced without any attempt to learn what makes the original so special. I mean, I still kind of giggle when I see something generic like "Asian pasta salad," like all Asia is reduced to some soy and sesame and ginger, but at the same time I do think it's a tasty flavor combo so I can't much fault people for liking it.

  10. I've only had TJ's chocolate babka and it's really delicious... have you tried it? I can't see myself making one because I can't imagine it getting much better.

  11. My Owen looooves babka, but I've been afraid to try making it. The thing I like about baking is how scientific it is -- if you understand the techniques and can follow instructions and measure correctly, it will come out great. So seeing things like "keep adding flour until it's a soft dough" intimidates me. I don't want to have to jduge what a soft dough is! But I'm going to try it.

  12. I made a mina for Passover years ago and loved it. Now I live in NYC where most of my friends who are observant Jews do everything in their power to prevent their matzos from getting wet during the week of Passover. At the seder we deliberately eat our matzos away from the table so that the crumbs will fall on the floor instead. This strikes me as highly unfair to the people who just spent the better part of a month scrubbing the house from top to bottom to get ready, but it's all part of the fun.

    Wouldn't you know that I gave away my loaf pans during my Japanese decluttering phase? I would love to make that babka!

    1. Witloof, are you one in the same with the witloof on the Food52 site, recommending "The Epicure's Lament" in their article about best food reading? That book is a long-time favorite of mine, and I know so few people who have read it, so it was a treat to see you there and to know you from here.

    2. Hi Maggie, yes, same witloof! Apparently we have the same fabulous taste in food writing! I should go back and check and see what other people had to say.

    3. Oh, the Epicure's Lament, such a great book! I am amazed that anyone here has read it. One of my favorite books as well.

    4. I looked at the responses and was thrilled to see another fantastic and under appreciated book mentioned: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones. {By me, too, I guess, because I had forgotten all about it.} Must read if you haven't already! Jennifer, you too. It's a great story and the explication of the thought process and technique behind preparing a traditional Chinese banquet to honor royalty is mind boggling. It left me with a huge new appreciation for pre revolutionary Chinese culture.

    5. witloof and beckster, I am happy to make your acquaintance. I always enjoy your remarks here so I am not surprised we share an interest in The Epicure's Lament, which is a standout among the other books recommended in that article (which tend toward the sentimental, it seems to me -- food lit so often does). I will definitely check out The Last Chinese Chef!

  13. Matthew, my favorite Striped Shirt (hospitality crew) at my work has been reading up on the subject of that documentary, and he says the documentarian isn't being completely honest about the case--there's more evidence to support the guy's guilt than the series makes out. But I plan to watch it ASAP.

  14. I want all of that food. Chocolate babka hits me right where I live.

  15. Eating the salad now, since I was able to find fresh horseradish. Really good and appropriate for a joyless food crank. {Salad is an hors d'oeuvre to my dinner of kale sprinkled with nutritional yeast and a plain baked sweet potato.}

  16. I've just discovered this blog--great stuff. Could I ask a favor? Could you please, please, please have your links to other webpages open in a new tab? This is standard practice. It would make it so much easier to get back to the original page. Thank you!

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