Posted by Rob Eshman
I think my wife Naomi struggles to find the good in the farm I’ve crammed onto our city lot. Sometimes she reaches her limit—like when the goats escape and barge into the house—or when she’s trying to write or study and the chickens are clucking and the dogs are barking and I can practically see the thought bubble forming above her head of a regular backyard with a lawn, a couple of flower beds, and a hammock where you can lay down without fear that a pair of goat horns might reach up through the bottom. That’s happened.
But she tries. I think the times the farm brings her the most joy is when it helps her bring a Jewish text or ritual to life. And that happens, too. Because you can’t read Biblical texts read like a farmers almanac: fat years, lean years, shepherds, oxen, goats, barley, milk, honey—Jews are an urban people whose whose greatest literature revolves around the country.
We’ve had chickens for years now, and for years we’ve talked about doing a humane homemade version of kapparas. Kapparas is an atonement ritual. In traditional communities its practiced between the New Year and Yom Kippor, the Day of Atonement. Traditionally it involves swinging a white rooster (if you’re a man) or a white hen (if you’re a woman) above your head, while reciting a prayer that transfers one’s sins to the bird. The animal is the given to the poor, which completes the expiation.
Because in many Orthodox communities the chickens have been terribly mistreated, manhandled and malnourished and crippled by the handling and the swinging, animal rights groups and Jewish activists have fought to change the ritual. In many communities it has been de-chickenified—a pledge of money is given to the poor in lieu of poultry.
That’s usually what Naomi does.
But last night, after dark, when we were lying in bed, Naomi asked me if I wanted to do kapparas. Real kapparas.
“Sure,” I said.
After all, we have 6 chickens outside, and at night they are especially docile—chickens are pretty much night blind and somniferous starting at sundown.
Naomi gathered her ritual handbook and a flashlight, and a baseball cap. This would involve holding a chicken above our heads.
I entered the chicken yard and picked up one of the older ones. She melted into my arms, her eyes wide open but otherwise very still.
She read a long passage in Hebrew:
Children of Man, who sit in darkness and the shadow of death, shackled in affliction and iron. He removed them from darkness and the shadow of death, an broke open their shackles. The fools—because of their sinful path and their iniquities they were afflicted.
It goes on for a while about how awful we humans are, then comes the out:
If there will be for someone but a single defending angel out of a thousand to declare a man’s uprightness on his behalf, then He will be gracious to him and say, ‘Redeem hium from descending to the Pit; I have found atonement.
Then comes the chicken part. Naomi instructed me to pass the chicken over her head each time she recited, in Hebrew, the sentence below, for a total of three times.
‘This is my exchange, this is my substitute, this is my atonement. This hen will go to its death while I will enter and go on to a good long lif, and to peace.
Fortunately our chickens don’t understand ancient Hebrew, just modern.
The prayer book had an out, in brackets, for people who have abandoned the killing chickens part. It provided substitute, “or this money will go to charity,” that you could recite instead.
But we had a chicken, and she really didn’t seem bothered at all. At one point her heavy lids closed, and she only snapped them open when I put her back on her perch with a quiet, “Thanks.”
Naomi closed her prayer book and kissed it. She took off her baseball cap. Tomorrow we would each give the equivalent of the chicken’s value to the poor. (I rescued the chicken from a butcher shop, where I paid $7 for her). According to the rule book, it’s a perfectly legit switch.
I am all for stopping the cruel aspects of kapparas as it is still practiced in a few neighborhoods. I’ve seen it and written about it, and it’s vile and cruel. Chickens stacked in battery cages. Terrified, often sick and crippled and then hauled off to slaughter. It’s not atonement, it’s an actual sin in itself.
But as of tonight I can see why the people who do it with birds prefer it: weird, mysterious rituals have a weird, mysterious power. Our religion, like our lives, has moved further and further away from its natural anchors, and something is lost in the distance. Yes, we gave up sacrifice—not a bad thing. But we also gave up the intimate, interdependent relationship we had with the natural world—a world through which the people who forged early Judaism understood the very power of God.
A humane kapparas is not a bad thing: we walked away feeling connected to an ancient tradition, and maybe just a tad more cleansed. And the chicken, she couldn’t have cared less.
Tomorrow, some poor person will get $14. And we’ll get another egg. And Naomi may find one more reason not to be fed up with the farm.
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October 4, 2011 | 12:06 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The Washington, D.C.-based company sells beef, chicken, turkey, lamb and duck that is raised on open pasture and killed according to the highest standards of humane slaughter and kashrut supervision. The LA buying club, organized by Got Kosher co-owner Evelyn Baron, enables people to make their purchase online and save on the high shipping costs, which can be more than the food itself.
You order online, using the drop down menu to specify your buying club (They exist in Boston, New York, Chicago and other cities). You pay a flat rate of around $50 for shipping (which you can share with a friend or neighbor). The pick up location in LA is Temple Beth Am on La Cienega. Because the pick up locations have limited storage space, you must get your delivery on the appointed day, between specific hours. Hey, if you want easy, buy a Slim Jim.
Last Passover I bought a turkey and some ribeye steaks. They were excellent. This Rosh Hashana I bought beef brisket and whole ducks.
According to the warm and fuzzy web site description, my ducks were raised on a Pennsylania pasture by a sensitive Amish farmer named Aaron.
The grass-fed beef comes from George Lake’s Appalachian Trail Beef. It’s not clear from the web site where exactly on the Appalachian Trail Mr. Lake raises his cows. But judging by the photos, I do know my cow and ducks lived on much nicer spreads than mine.
Both had superb flavor. But the duck was exceptional—far better than any commercially available kosher duck I’ve had. The huge magret was deep red and mineral-rich. The meat was tender and the two or more cups of rendered fat will flavor my roast potatoes all winter. From the brisket I made my neighbor Holly Wiland’s Brisket with Fennel, Preserved Lemon and Olives. It is so flavorful and light, you’ think eating that much beef were good for you.
The duck I turned into Crispy Roast Duck with Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique. A gastrique is a sauce that balances sweet, usually in the form of sugar, with sour, usually in the form of vinegar. Duck is rich. It needs a bit of sour to counteract the fattiness. I used chopped fresh figs in the sauce for additional sweetness, and the first pomegranates off my tree for sharpness. Coastal pomegranates never get too sweet, they say. They’re right.
A 3 ½ pound kosher duck without shipping will run you close to $40. It will require a certain amount of hassle. But what you get is great tasting food from an animal that lived a pleasant animal life. It may be cheaper, but there is nothing kosher about factory farming, absolutely nothing.
Crispy Roast Duck with Pomegranate-Fig Gastrique.
Duck is not chicken. You have to work to get the fat out. This recipe is the fastest roast duck I know. There’s no overnight preparation or pre-boiling. But you do have to sear the duck, which requires good ventilation. If you have questions about this or any recipe, email-me.
2 ducks, about 3 1/2 -4 pounds each
8 ounces raw sugar
8 ounces red wine vinegar
1 quart chicken stock
½ cup Boukha (Tunisian fig brandy) (optional)
1 pint (about 30) very ripe fresh figs, chop 20 and quarter 10.
1 fresh pomegranate, or 1 cup pomegranate seeds, or ½ cup fresh, pure, real farmers market pomegranate juice (What I mean is, not POM, and not the bottled Persian stuff)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
Wash ducks well. Trim off fat (see way below) and use a paring knife to pull out errant feathers. Rinse again and dry well. Using a sharp knife, score skin in a diamond pattern all over without cutting into flesh. Using a sharp fork, prick ducks all over. Sprinkle all over with salt and pepper and set aside.
Make sauce: Place sugar in a heavy quart saucepan and heat over low to medium heat without stirring until sugar melts and caramelizes. Do not let it burn. Remove from heat and add the vinegar (keep your face away—it may splatter), then the stock, the optional liquor, and the chopped figs and the crushed seeds of a pomegranate.
Simmer until the sauce is thickened and flavorful—about 30 minutes. Strain through a chinois or sieve.
Return the strainer sauce to the pan and simmer. Add the quartered figs. Taste and adjust for tartness by adding some squeezed-in lemon juice, salt and pepper. Keep warm.
Finish the Duck: Heat a large cast iron or heavy skillet over a high flame. Film with oil. Brown each duck on all sides, draining the copious amounts of fat that drains off through the cuts you made.
Place the well-browned ducks on a roasting rack in a large pan, and roast breast side down for 45 minutes. Turn, baste with sauce, and roast 20 minutes. Turn, baste with sauce, and roast 10 minutes.
Test with a meat thermometer. The ducks should reach about 185 degrees. If not, continue roasting and basting until well browned and cooked.
Remove from oven. Let stand a bit, then carve. Spoon some sauce on the plate, top with a portion of duck, surround with a bit more sauce and fig quarters. Pass extra sauce. And Wet Naps.
Coda: The duck fat. Cook trimmed fat in a small saucepan and save. Drain off all excess fat when searing duck and save it in the fridge in a covered container. Next time you roast potatoes, use a few spoonfuls along with a bit of olive oil. You can also use it to brown chicken in. It sounds wrong, but the chickens don’t seem to mind.
October 3, 2011 | 4:32 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I wanted to title this post, “Mes Panisses,” but the rules of SEO forced me to choose a much less cutesy title.
Panisses are French fries made from chickpea flour. I first made them many years back for a Sukkot meal that included Provencal fish soup, and since then they are my go-to side dish for stewy things. (I thought I came across the recipe in Paula Wolfert’s The Cooking of Southwest France, but I just checked and it’s not there.)
Soon these things are going to get popular: chickpea flour is more nutritious than potatoes, and they are easier to make than French fries. If you can cook oatmeal, you can make panisses.
Those of you planning a week of Sukkot menus—and I assume you all are—will want to add this to your list.
The basic idea is to make a porridge, like polenta, let it cool, cut it into sticks, sauté or fry them. It is small child cooking— think of mixing sand and water in the sandbox—except for the hot oil part, of course.
After you sauté them serve them. If you want to make a batch and have them wait for you, keep them warm in a 250 degree oven for up to an hour.
For a pseudo-Middle Eastern variation, you can add chopped cilantro, chopped garlic, paprika and cumin to the batter to make falafel-like sticks, which you can serve with a tahini dipping sauce. But I like them with salt and ground pepper.
(Adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman)
Makes about 40, more or less
Whole Foods sells excellent quality chickpea flour. You can also find it at Middle Eastern stores and specialty gourmet stores, like Surfas. Don’t pay more than three bucks a pound for it—you’ll ruin it for the rest of us.
1 quart water
2 teaspoons olive oil
3/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 cups chickpea flour
salt and pepper
1. Lightly oil a 9-inch square cake pan or casserole. A round pan works, too. In France I’ve seen them cool the stuff on a slab, even.
2. Heat the water with the oil and salt in a saucepan. Once hot, but not boiling, whisk in the chickpea flour. If there are some small lumps, don’t worry. This is a very forgiving process.
3. Whisk over medium heat until the mixture thickens, about three minutes.
4. Switch to a wooden spoon, and continue to cook, stirring constantly, for 10 minutes until very thick and the batter is very thick.
5. Scrape into the oiled pan and let cool. You can let sit on a counter until stiff, or refrigerate for a couple days, covered.
6. To fry the panisses, unmold on a cutting board and slice into French fry-sized sticks. Again, this is your call. Thinner seems to be more popular.
7. In a heavy-duty skillet—I use cast iron— heat 1/4-1/2 inch of olive oil. When hot, fry the panisses in batches, not crowding them in the pan. Once the bottom is nicely browned and crisp, turn with tongs, frying the panisses until they are deep-golden brown on each side.
8. Remove from pan and drain on paper towels, sprinkling them very generously with salt and pepper.
To the above recipe, add 1 t. ground cumin, ½ t. hot paprika, ½ cup chopped cilantro, 2 cloves minced garlic when you add the flour. Proceed with the recipe, serve with tahini thinned with water and lemon juice.
October 2, 2011 | 11:23 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
My New Year was more like Thanksgiving. Rosh Hashanah turned into an orgy of cooking. My sisters- and brothers-in-law were in town, and we followed that age old Jewish axis, from shul to meal to shul to meal.
And it was good. In fact, it was one of the nicest New Years I remember. My wife led evening and morning services in a spacious new church (you can’t exactly rent a synagogue on Rosh Hashanah, they’re booked) in Santa Monica. The afternoon of the holiday’s first day she led 800 people at Venice Beach in a tashlich ceremony. You walk down to the water and cast bread into the waves, symbolizing the casting away of that year’s sins. The tide was way out, the beach a mirror in which the setting sun reflected itself. Congregants, visitors, onlookers and friends of friends of friends came dressed in white. Avi Sils led a massive drum circle. Jared Stein blew the shofar into the horizon. Naomi had us recite a prayer for redemption, then en masse we moved to the waters’ edge and heaved our crumbs of challah, pita, old sandwich bread, La Brea bakery slices, stale bagels—
—and the tide brought it up, leaving a BP-sized slick of soggy bread along the shore. If it was a spiritual experience for us, it was heaven for the seagulls.
That night was dinner one, for 12 family members:
Rosh Hashanah Dinner Day One
Provencal Fish Soup with Garlic-Harissa Sauce
Panisses (Chickpea Flour Fries)
Fennel, Fig, Walnut Mint and Arugula Salad
Apple Strudel with Pomegranate and Dates
The next day Naomi led services at Temescal Canyon. A breathtaking day, under the sycamores. I hiked in with the dogs. About two-thirds in on the waterfall trial, I heard the Nashuva band and Naomi singing, the Hebrew words floating up in the canyon. Any religion that includes dogs—in a non-sacrificial way—is good by me. About 200 people filled the meadow. We listened to the shofar blast echo off the canyon walls. I enjoyed watching the hikers stop, wipe their sweat and try to make sense of it. But to me it made perfect sense—so much of the Torah takes place in nature, why not just read it there?
That evening, another family dinner.
Rosh Hashanah Dinner Day Two
Brisket with Fennel and Preserved Lemon
Crisp Roasted Potatoes with Thyme
Mesclun Salad with Avocado Dressing
Kale with Garlic
Brownies, Mandlebrot and Fruit
Finally, the day after. I had defrosted two free-range ducks thinking I’d make them for dinner one or two, but didn’t have the need. Fortunately, there was a final family dinner, post holiday.
Post Rosh Dinner
Crisp-Roasted Duck with Fig-Pomegranate Sauce
Potato Parsnip Puree
Chard with Garlic
Arugula and Yellow Tomato Salad
I added up the time I spent in the kitchen versus the time I spent in shul. I’m a fast cook, so shul wins. But if I add in shopping, cleaning and actually sharing the meals, the food wins.
Which brings me to my point: Why are we obsessed with cooking fast? We’ve been conditioned to want to get in and out of a kitchen as fast as possible. Quick cooking dishes, 30 minutes suppers, Iron Chef and Chopped and Rachel Ray—we treat the kitchen like the floors are burning and the gas is leaking. Why? Who said we should rush through the kitchen so we can sleep in front of the TV? How did that happen?
Somewhere along the line, someone decided there was money to be made in selling speed. Hamburger Helper. Pop Tarts. Jiffy Pop (which isn’t even faster than making your own popcorn). To sell the products, you had to convince people that they were wasting their time to spend more time in a kitchen than it takes to make minute rice.
They had to persuade us that we lead such busy lives, who had time for such unimportant things like preparing the stuff you put in your body? They had to put the kitchen on the same spiritual plane as a gas station. Pull in, pump it out, fill ‘er up.
But this past weekend convinced me all over again that we should spend more time, not less, in the kitchen. You know what—spend A LOT of time in your kitchen. Take time and care there. Play with your kids there. Hang with your friends there. Watch soup simmer. Watch bread rise. Learn to braise. Learn to breathe.
If you can spend four hours in synagogue or church, you can spend four in a kitchen— you’ll get the same spiritual high there, and you get to eat while you’re there too.
Below are some of the recipes I made for the New Year’s meals. They’ll work for Sukkot, too. Some are quick, most will take some time. So what? Happy New Year.
Provencal Fish Soup
2 onions, chopped
2 leeks, cleaned and chopped
5 cloves garlic, chopped
4 carrots, chopped fine
3 stalks celery with leaves, chopped fine
3 fennel bulbs, chopped
4 fresh bay leaves
4 fresh sprigs thyme
1 bunch parsley
2 c. white wine
3 fish frames, cleaned and rinsed
6 pounds mixed fresh or high quality frozen white-fleshed fish (rock fish, sea bass, halibut, cod, flounder, bream, yellowtail. Avoid fresh water fish, tuna, salmon and very oily fish)
4 threads saffron
2 pounds potatoes, cubed
4 ripe tomatoes, diced, or 1 cup high quality whole peeled canned tomatoes
4 red peppers
1 c. olive oil
20 cloves garlic
Heat ¼ c. olive oil in a large soup pot over high heat. When hot, add onion, leeks, garlic, carrots, celery, fennel, bay, thyme, and parsley. Saute until vegetables begin to soften, about 5 minutes.
Add white wine and fish frames, salt and pepper, and enough water to cover, about 10 cups more or less. Bring to simmer. Reduce flame and let simmer 1 hour, until fragrant and fish bones are softened.
Put through food mill and return to pot. Add potatoes and tomatoes and cook for ½ hour. Add saffron.
Before serving, add fish filets. Simmer gently. Stor even more gently—they will break up as you stir.
To make sauce: roast red peppers over an open flame, peel. Roast garlic in foil pouch in oven with a little olive oil until very soft, about 30 minutes. Place garlic, red peppers, salt, harissa to taste and olive oil to moisten in a blender and puree until smooth.
Serve soup with a dollop of sauce, or let people serve themselves.
New Years Salad Salad
Fennel, Fig, Walnut Mint and Arugula Salad
3 bulbs fennel, sliced thin
1 pint figs, quartered
1/2 c. chopped fresh walnuts
1/2 c. mint, chopped
1/2 c. pmegranate seeds
A large bowl of aruula
Top the arugula with all other ingredients. Dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar, salt and peper.
Slice fennel, quarter figs, chop walnut and mint and toss with arugula. Dress with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.
Check back later for my panisses and duck recipes. It’ll be worth your time.