Salmon in Chraimeh Sauce

In my time as an English undergrad, when I was reading a lot of Jewish literature and referencing Tales of the Old Sarajevo with excitement and conviction (I still do this, of course), I really ought to have had a copy of Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi’s cookbook JerusalemIf only it had existed then.

But I’ve made myself very busy with making up for lost time. Every night this week we have eaten something bursting with cumin, garlic, and lemon, scattered with cilantro and dotted all over with yogurt sauce. We’ve had eggplant roasted to sweet smithereens and turkey meatballs flecked with grated zucchini. It’s all felt royal, but this! This was the queen.

picstitch (5)Chraimeh sauce is actually called the queen dish of Tripolitan Jews. It’s the sort of thing that every family has a recipe for, something they take great pride in. It’s velvety and sharp and spicy and soothing. You don’t exactly taste the cinnamon, chile, sweet paprika, sugar, lemon, and garlic… you taste their explosive harmony. It’s like having all your buttons pressed at once; you get all jazzed up and your fuses just sizzle. I dunno… does that sound pleasant? It is so, so pleasant.

This comes together with a speed disproportionate to how exciting it tastes. On our first bite we looked at each other and said one thing, in unison: “whoa,” making it the quickest recipe I know of to get someone to say “whoa.”

Cheers.

Salmon in Chraimeh Sauce

Adapted from the amazing Jerusalem cookbook (Buy it. Just do it.) Their recipe is for 4 pieces of salmon. I made 2 pieces but made the same amount of sauce, because you can’t have enough of the sauce. This can also be made with any white fish.

Scant 1/2 cup oil (Jerusalem calls for sunflower; I used olive oil. I also think you can get away with using much less than the amount called for– 2 tbsp in the sauce and a drizzle in the pan worked for me.)

3 tbsp flour

2 salmon fillets

6 garlic cloves, coarsely chopped

2 tsp sweet paprika

1 tbsp caraway seeds, toasted & ground (I did not have caraway seeds so I used coriander. Different vibe that worked very, very well.)

1 1/2 tsp ground cumin

rounded 1/4 tsp cayenne

rounded 1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

1 green chile, chopped (I used jalapeno)

2/3 cup water

3 tbsp tomato paste

2 tsp superfine sugar

2 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tbsp coarsely chopped cilantro

salt & pepper

Lemon wedges, for serving

Heat 2 tbsp oil over high heat in a large frying pan. Mix a little salt & pepper into the flour and dredge the salmon fillets in it. Shake off the excess flour and sear the fish for a minute or two on each side, until golden. Remove fish and wipe the pan clean.

Place the garlic, spices, chile, and 2 tbsp oil in a food processor and process until you have a smooth, thick paste. You can drizzle in more oil to help bring everything together, though I found I didn’t need to.

Pour the remaining oil in the frying pan, heat well, and add the spice paste. Stir fry for 30 seconds, making sure it doesn’t burn. Add the water and tomato paste (careful; it might spit.) Add the sugar, lemon juice, 3/4 tsp salt, and some pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning.

Nestle the fish into the sauce, bring to a gentle simmer, cover and let cook for 7-11 minutes, depending on the size of the fish, until cooked through.

Serve fish warm with chopped cilantro and a lemon wedge.

Honey Wheat Challah

Ask my mom on any given day what her to-do list is. She will tick off a few familiar items– grocery, laundry, bills– then she’ll add, “and I have to make four loaves of bread.”

This is why, growing up, my whole lunch table wanted a bite of my sandwich. My mom *actually* grinds grain to make flour to make every crumb of bread that passes through her house, and it is so spectacularly good.

Though I don’t manage to make all my bread homemade (when I take a sandwich to work, it’s on the chewy yoga-mat variety) I bake it whenever I can. I can’t do it like she does it, which is to say, I can’t whip out four perfect loaves while doing ten other things and talking on the phone, but I can usually hit it close enough that it tastes like home.

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This Challah manages to taste like my mom’s standard sandwich bread. Both are made with honey, wheat flour, and egg, which makes them hearty and soft (very un-yoga-mat-like.) It’s very good warm with a slick of butter and honey, but you’d probably guessed as much. It’s sturdy, too, and would stand up nicely in a sandwich of Easter ham and gherkins, which is how I’m going to try it next time.

Cheers.

Honey Wheat Challah

Adapted from Arthur Shwartz’s Jewish Home Cooking, via Leite’s Culinaria,

braiding technique from Smitten

Note: I mixed and kneaded my dough by hand. Instructions for using a mixer with a dough hook can be found in the link above for Leite’s.

2 1/4 tsp yeast

1 cup warm water

1/4 cup oil

1/4 cup honey

4 1/2 cups unbleached white wheat flour (such as King Arthur’s)

3 eggs

2 tsp salt

1 egg, beaten, for egg wash

sesame seeds or poppy seeds, optional

Whisk together water and yeast. Add oil and honey, whisking vigorously until honey dissolves. Mix in 1/2 cup flour. Add the eggs one at a time. Using a spatula, stir in 1 cup of flour and the salt.

Add 3 cups of flour and work it in with your spatula. Once you have a sticky mess of dough, turn it out onto a floured surface and knead it for fifteen minutes until it is firm, smooth, elastic, and only a little bit sticky.

Place the dough in an oiled bowl, flipping it over to coat it with oil. Cover it with a dish towel and let it rise until it has tripled in volume, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

Punch down the dough and turn it out onto your work surface. Cut it into four pieces. Stretch each piece into a long rope. Lay two ropes parallel to each other. Lay the other two ropes across the middle of these so you have a cross, lifting the bottom ropes over so you have an over, under thing happening where they intersect. So you have these rope arms everywhere, right? Twist each rope over the one next to it. Then twist those over the ropes next to them. Once you can’t twist anymore, tuck all the ends underneath so you have a round, braided ball. (The pictures here are very helpful; it was hard for me to do this with just a written description!)

Brush the dough with beaten egg, cover it with a dish towel and let it rise for 30 minutes more.

Preheat the oven to 350 and place the rack in the center.

When the dough has risen, brush it with more egg wash, transfer it to a greased baking sheet or a baking stone, and bake for 35-40 minutes. It should be nicely browned and to test if it is done, it should sound hollow when you tap the bottom.

 

Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

Since I grew up in the south, I tend to be more excited about what other people grew up eating in other parts of the world than I am about cooking southern food. The taste of biscuits and sweet tea are etched in my genome. There’s a world of cuisine out there! I need to try Za’atar!

But sometimes an atavistic impulse takes hold, one that tells me to make pimento cheese, turn it into a deviled egg while I’m at it, say “Y’all” and get it over with.

And I go with it.

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To anyone who can see hay bales between the columns on their front porch, my take on pimento cheese might seem blasphemous. I make it with the sharpest aged white cheddar I can find and use pickled cherry peppers instead of pimentos. Feel free to make your Mama’s, but sharp, rich creaminess offset with deep, sweet heat? You’re going to want to try it at least once.

Why not break it out at Easter? Pile the pimento cheese high on the perfect deviled egg, serve it on top of toast points or baguette slices for a nice crunchy contrast, drink some sweet tea and get it over with already!

Pimento Cheese Deviled Eggs

makes 2 dozen

Step 1: perfect boiled eggs

place a dozen eggs in a pot of cold water. Cover and bring to a boil. As soon as the water is rolling, remove from the heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for EXACTLY 17 minutes. Then drain and cover the eggs with ice and cold water. Let sit at least long enough for the eggs to cool off.

Peel the eggs and cut in half (I cut mine through the middle instead of lengthwise. Just remember to bevel a little sliver off the bottom so they can stand up!) Using a spoon, carefully remove the yolks and reserve in a bowl.

Step 2: Pimento Cheese

My version, adapted from David Leite’s

1 lb sharp, aged white cheddar cheese, grated

3/4 cup mayonnaise

8 pickled cherry peppers, seeds removed, finely diced (or more, or less, to your liking. I get mine in a jar from Trader Joe’s)

Mix everything together until mayo and peppers are evenly distributed. Store in refrigerator until ready to use. The flavor will improve the longer it chills, so making it in advance and storing in an airtight container is never a bad idea.

Step 3: Deviled Egg Filling

Yolks from the dozen eggs

4 tbsp pimento cheese

1 tbsp mayonnaise

Break up the egg yolks with a fork and stir in the mayo and pimento cheese until the mixture is creamy.

Step 4: Assembly

Arrange egg whites on a platter. Drop a rounded teaspoon-full of egg filling into each. Then, top it off with a rounded tablespoon-full of pimento cheese.

Store eggs in the refrigerator until you’re ready to serve.

If you end up with a little extra egg filling, spread that deliciousness on toast! If you have extra pimento cheese, serve it with baguette, pretzels, celery, wheat thins, etc. Or make a sandwich, you weary host(ess), and sit down for a sec!

Serving:

Eggs taste best served on top of a little square of toast or a thin slice of toasted baguette, so you can have a bite of something crunchy with each bite of creamy creamy pimento cheese. Other ideas: press a pretzel into the top of each, yum!