Posted by Rob Eshman
Last night I made dinner for my mother's 83rd birthday. I know my mother likes cooking for us at her home-- because mothers like being mothers. But I like cooking for the woman who cooked for me for so many years.
It wasn't nearly as hot in Venice, CA as it was in the rest of LA, or the rest of the States. The temperature hit 75 degrees, maybe. But that made it hot enough to come up with a menu that was fast, light and didn't heat up the kitchen. I also wanted to use up the rainbow chard, lemons and tomatoes from the garden. I made Greek Salad, Rainbow Chard with Onion and Lemon, Eggplant with Mint Yogurt and Harissa Oil and Grilled Wild Salmon.
The eggplant was my mom's favorite, so I'm passing on the recipe. A birthday present to her, back to you.
[RECIPE] Eggplant with Mint Yogurt and Harissa Oil
3 medium eggplants (I used a slender variety)
2 cups Greek yogurt
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
2 T. chopped chives or scallions
3 T. chopped fresh mint
3 T. olive oil
salt and pepper
Harissa or Chili Oil*
Heat a gas or charcoal grill. While it's heating, blend together yogurt, garlic, herbs, salt and pepper.
Place whole eggplants on grill. Cook, covered, about 7 minutes, until soft. Turn and finish cooking until eggplants are very soft and the skin is just beginning to char.
Remove to serving platter and slice eggplants lengthwise. Using a fork, mash the soft, hot bellies. Drizzle with olive oil, then spoon yogurt mix into each eggplant.
Drizzle with harissa oil, and serve hot, warm or room temperature.
*Harissa is a North African chili sauce. The oil in it separates and is very flavorful. You can also mix some store-bought harissa or other Middle Eastern chili paste (schug, harif) or sauce with a little oil and use that. If this all sounds like a big hassle, just dust the eggplants with paprika and call it a day. The brand I like is made by Pereg. Here's a picture. It is schug, a Yemenite hot sauce, but it tastes more like harissa than the schug I used to eat in Jerusalem.
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June 20, 2013 | 4:39 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Cooking with my kids makes me ridiculously happy. It’s unfair, really, the power they have over my moods simply by saying, Yeah, sure when I ask them if they want to make dinner with me.
A couple of nights ago my daughter Noa walked into the kitchen as I was throwing together a last minute, late-work night dinner and said, “I want to help.”
I played it cool— Yeah, sure—but it made my day.
We kept it simple. As the kids get older I feel the clock ticking on the time I have left to teach them how to fend for themselves in a kitchen. Oh my God, can Adi even sauté a chicken breast?! – I actually woke myself up one morning thinking that.
As if after they turn 18 and leave home, I’m no longer allowed to show them anything. As if they can only watch Bobby Flay, but not me.
Of course that’s ridiculous, but still—I want them to leave with the basics. Grill a fish. Cook an omelet. Make pasta. Poach an egg. Whatever they like to eat, they should learn to make. The Talmud says it’s incumbent upon a father to teach his children to swim. But if the mother doesn’t cook, who will teach them to cut an onion?
We decided on turkey burgers with grilled peppers and French fries. Noa mixed the ground turkey with salt, pepper, balsamic vinegar, garlic, and Dijon mustard. I showed her how to shape them into almost tennis ball-sized rounds, then slightly flatten them. No one likes a thin, dry turkey burger.
Then we sliced peppers and onions and fried them until they were soft and caramelized. She cut the tomatoes and avocado and lettuce to pile on the bun-- truly some of the best turkey burgers we've ever had.
For the French fries, I showed her all the tricks: use a gizmo to cut them evenly. Soak them in three changes of water, fry them twice, once to blanch, again to brown. Serve them in a newspaper cone— because newspaper absorbs the oil, it looks cool, and, hopefully, it will remind her of her dad.
[RECIPE]Newspaper French Fries
4 small baking potatoes
Peel potatoes. Use a Veggiematic or Frnech fry cutter to cut all at once in thin fry shapes. In heavy Dutch oven or cast iron pan, heat oil to 400 degrees. Drain potatoes and dry well in cloth kitchen towels.
Add 1/3 of the fries to the oil and cook about 2 minutes, until just soft but still white. The oil temperature will drop. Remove with slotted spoon and let cool. Do the same with the rest of the potatoes. Allow the fries to cool.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. Return the oil to 400 degrees, add 1/3 of the fries and cook 3 minutes until golden brown. Remove to a sheet pan and place in the oven while you cook the remaining fries.
Form a sheet of newspaper into a paper cone. Fill with hot fries, sprinkle with salt and serve.
Reheat oil to 400 degrees.
June 13, 2013 | 12:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I think the love of seltzer is passed down from father to son.
Seltzer, just the word "seltzer" puts a smile on my dad's face. He will never refuse a spritz. And neither will I. I have a bottle on my desk as I write this. I don't care how fancy-shmancy the dinner party, I always have bottles on the table. And not Pelligrino, not Perrier, not Crystal Geyser, not even Soda Club-- I mean, seltzer.
Seltzer is carbonated water under pressure, delivered through a siphon. It tastes fresher and keeps longer than the bottled stuff. Open a bottle of Pelligrino, and if you don't finish it all at once, after a day or two it starts to fade and flatten. But a seltzer bottle holds in the spritz for weeks if not months. It's always ready to go, a gun that's always cocked and loaded. Manly, yes.
When Naomi and I married, one of our first gifts to ourselves was seltzer home delivery. I found a man named Julian Diamond who ran a family business, A-1 Seltzer and Beverage, out of a a warehouse in North Holywood. He was 74 years-old, and delivered the stuff in the original glass bottles.
"If you drop them," Julian told me, "They'll go off like a bomb."
When we had kids, we switched to the plastic version. It was one of the hardest things about having kids.
Julian was brusque-- he still humped these heavy wood crates all over LA. I thought I was doing him a favor when I assigned a reporter at the Jewish Journal, Leilah Bernstein, to do a story on him.
"In the first half of the 20th century, Diamond remembers, there were at least 500 bottling companies in the area," Leilah wrote. "The 1920s and 1930s were the industry's heyday. By mid-century, however, just a handful of seltzer bottling companies remained here, including Arrowhead, Sparkletts and Shasta."
Julian was the last of the seltzer men. After it ran I called him expecting to collect some gratitude.
"It's awful," Julian told me. "I'm getting all these calls. Too much work. I'm tired."
When Julian died, an employee took over the business. His name is Joe.
Joe brings cases of fresh seltzer to our door whenever we need it. It’s old school. I’ll be in a meeting, my cell phone will ring, and I’ll look down and see the ID: Joe Seltzer. I call back, and Joe greets me like a grand prize winner.
“Mr Robert! How many cases you need?!”
I always feel like Joe is disappointed with my rate of consumption, as if real men drink more seltzer.
“Two," I say.
When I was growing up, we had a milk man deliver milk bottles, a fruit man who came by and honked his truck horn, and my favorite, the Helms Bakery man, who stopped, opened the panels of his truck, and reveal rows of fresh bear claws and donuts and warm bread—and always gave the kids a sparkle cookie.
These were holdovers from a different era, and their presence in the sterile surburban streets of Encino, with Gelsons and Ralphs just a few blocks away, always felt out of place, like they drove in not just from a different neighborhood, but from a different dimension. Sometimes the way food comes to us is as important as the food itself. Those old-fashioned delievery men didn't just bring food, they connected communities.
Today all we have is Joe the Seltzer Man.
Of course, a few months after Joe started delivering to us, my father called. He had been to the house the night before for dinner.
"I need the name of your Seltzer Man," my father said.
As much as I love the seltzer, which is still a hit at every dinner party, I also like the connection it represents, through my father, back to my grandfathers, and their fathers-- generation after generation of Jewish men who sought comfort in the bottle.
This Sunday I'll spritz a bit in a glass and raise a toast: "Happy Father's Day."
Limonana is the Israeli mint-lemon slush. I use lemon verbena instead of mint (you can use either), and finish it with a spritz of selzter.
Lemon Verbena Limonana
This is more delicate than the usual limonana made with mint.
½ c. freshly squeezed lemon juice
½ c. packed fresh lemon verbena leaves
½ c. superfine baking sugar or regular sugar
1 c. water
Place all ingerdients except seltzer in a blender and whir until smooth. Pour into a glass and top with a seltzer blast. Stir and serve.