If food really is a cipher, unusual tales are spilling from menus devised for a two-part Jewish holiday cooking class this month at Laguna Culinary Arts.
Mark Cleveland, a guest instructor at the year-old Laguna Beach cooking school, specializes in creating low-fat meals with natural ingredients that often are laced with unusual additions borrowed from other cultures. "I take classic things from any genre, reworking them to keep the spirit of the original and blend it," says Cleveland, 41, of Aliso Viejo, who is a personal chef, restaurant menu consultant and self-taught nutritionist.
His menus for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur classes, to be prepared by 15 or so students Aug. 21 and 28 at 6 p.m., are in the spirit of traditional Jewish holiday entrees, but with lighter ingredients.
"I love Jewish holiday food," says Cleveland, whose introduction to Israeli cuisine came from an Israeli-born friend. "Once I get the hang of it, I sail on my own."
His Rosh Hashanah menu is Moroccan baked fish, couscous with prunes and almonds, roasted sweet beets, Moroccan carrot salad and ginger almond shortbread. To break the Yom Kippur fast, Cleveland proposes a menu that includes herbal egg lemon soup with lemongrass, lemon verbena, fenugreek and orzo; fidelos tostados; carrot and yam kugel; vegetable salad with honey lime dressing, and apricot honey cake.
Among the dishes, perhaps the most unusual substitutes are in the lemon egg drop soup, where stock is swapped for various lemon-flavored teas. "My whole goal is food should be both healthy and delicious" with each serving containing less than 20 percent fat, he says.
While Cleveland may demonstrate a few techniques in class, most students learn the menus by divvying up the menu, with small teams each preparing an entrée. Afterwards, mistakes and successes are shared and sampled.
Cleveland's culinary kindergarten began as a 5-year-old at the elbow of his Italian grandmother in Chicago. Educated as an architect at UC Berkeley, his transformation into a health-conscious chef took place serendipitously in Japan. A friend organizing a barbecue at the Canadian Embassy needed a hand creating vegetarian meals. Cleveland found his calling.
To keep up with trends in international cooking, he haunts the produce sections of the county's varied ethnic markets such as Irvine's Ranch 99, stocked with Asian delicacies, and Mission Viejo's Crown Valley Market, a Persian grocery where labels are in Hebrew and Arabic.
His most recent find was sesame leaves in a Little Saigon grocery. "I'm fearless. If it's in the produce section, it must be edible."
Lemon Egg Drop Soup
Recipe by Mark Cleveland
Preparation Time: 1 hour
1 stalk lemongrass
2 stalks lemon verbena
2 stalks lemon balm
2 whole fenugreek tea bags
10 cups water
1 cup dry vermouth
2 tablespoons white miso
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 large onion, reserve skin
1Â¼2 cup barley
1Â¼2 cup brown rice
2 large organic eggs
1 medium lemon juice and zest
1Â¼4 cup fresh herbs, optional
Combine lemon herbs, tea bags, water, dry vermouth, miso and onion skin in a stock pot. Cover and bring to a low boil over medium-high heat. Once the stock has boiled for a few minutes, turn heat to low and allow to steep for about 15 minutes.
Slice, dice or mince the onion and sauté in a skillet with black pepper. Slice, dice or mince the onion and saute in a skillet with black pepper. Once the onion is translucent add the barley and rice and saute until golden and fragrant, about 10 minutes.
Strain the broth, cover the pan again and return to the simmer. Add the onion- barley mix and stir every five minutes until the barley and rice are tender.
Beat the eggs with the lemon juice and zest, and about a cup of the hot stock wisking constantly. Return the egg mix to the soup pot, continue stirring, raise heat and bring to a boil. Remove from heat, garnish with fresh herbs, if using, and serve. Serves six.
Per serving: 250 calories; 7g fat (29 percent calories from fat); 7g protein; 32g carbohydrate; 61mg cholesterol; 254mg sodium.
Moroccan Carrot Salad
Recipe by Mark Cleveland
Preparation Time: 45 minutes
5 whole organic carrots
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon coriander seed
1 tablespoon paprika
salt and pepper
1 teaspoon ginger, optional
2Â¼3 cup green tea
1 tablespoon harissa or hot sauce
2 tablespoons rose water, optional
1Â¼3 cup Italian parsley
1Â¼4 cup cilantro, optional
Slice carrots thickly on the bias. Warm the olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Place coriander and cumin seeds in a plastic bag and crush them slightly with a rolling pin.
When oil is warmed, add garlic and toss until fragrant. Then add the spices, salt and pepper and toss again until you can smell the spices toasting. Mince or julienne ginger an add if using along with carrots. Toss until carrots are glistening and coated with the spice mix. Add tea and harissa or hot sauce, stir, cover and cook until carrots are crisp tender, about 5 minutes.
Remove from heat and stir in rose water and fresh herbs and serve. Harissa is a Tunisian hot sauce. I make my own in myriad variations. It's nice to use a more traditional red harissa in this dish. If you don't enjoy cilantro, use more parsley. Serves six.
Per serving: 87 calories; 5g fat (49 percent calories from fat); 2g protein; 10g carbohydrate; 0mg cholesterol; 42mg sodium.