Posted by Rob Eshman
The evangelical impulse in foodaism is strong. The only meat vegetarians eat is the tongue they have to bite to keep from commenting on your meal. We all want others to listen to our advice on what to eat, what’s good for you, what’s good for the planet, where the best tacos are. Foodiasm, like any religion, seeks converts. Whether by example or straight out harangueing, we want you to follow us. It’s not the best trait of any religion, but there it is.
Christians speak in terms of sowing faith to reap believers. I guess I take the metaphor literally. My particular call is to get people to rip up their lawns and plant vegetables. I’ll be more specific: artichokes. Three years ago I hired a group of day laborers (they were all legal, at least by Mitt Romney’s standards) to tear out the lawn and median strip that lay in front of our house since we bought it. Most houses on our block—most houses in America—suffer the same curse: dense lawns, underwaterered, under-oxygenated, sucking out nutrients from the soil, providing habitat for barely any insects, birds or wild creatures, and in general contributing nothing but soul-deadening neatness to our neighborhoods.
The men tore our lawn out, and in its place I planted rows of mostly globe artichokes that I bought for a dollar each from Home Depot, and from Pete the plant guy at the Venice Farmers Market on Friday (he’s also at Mar Vista on Tuesdays). In one season the artichokes rose up like spiny sage-green candelabras. I harvested 130 pounds of buds, much of which we ate and gave away, the rest I boiled, cleaned down to the hearts, then pureed with olive oil and stord all year for pasta sauce and bruschetta.
After the harvest I cut the plants down almost to the ground, and sure enough, new sprouts come up and form the next seasons plants. This has gone on for three years, automatic division and growth, helped along by plenty of goat manure, very little water, and occasional thinnings. This year I had 146 pounds. (Dividing artichokes is a skill I had to teach myself. With a sharp shovel slice down between the sprouting leaves. The root should separate easily and, when planted, grow into two new plants).
Why artichokes? They require little water (though they like more, they can make do with less), they love the foggy Venice climate, and they are utterly delicious. Convincing, right?
I gave some to Sebastien, who never complains that his neighbor created a vegetable jungle where a neat lawn once was. (If I went on match.com I couldn’t have found a more suitable neighbor—Sebastien grew up on a farm in the south of France, is also passionate about the environment and food politics, and as a very busy actor always seems to be away when the goats are loudest and the garden is at its least attractive).
I took the last of the spring artichokes, boiled them, stripped off all the leaves and the thiste, and marinated the hearts in olive oil, garlic lemon and bay—all from the yard except the olive oil and garlic.
Anybody can do this. Everyone should. But there I go, evangelizing.
Marinated Artichoke Hearts
Steam a large quantity of fresh artichokes of any size. When the bottoms can be easily pierced with a fork, they are done.
Strip away leaves, use your thumb to pr away the thistle, and place the hearts whole in a bowl. If some fall apart, that’s fine.
Drizzle with plenty of olive oil, minced fresh garlic. Bay leaves, a squeeze of lemon juice to taste, sme thinsliced lemon, salt and pepper.
Stir well. Cover and refrigerate 1-5 days before eating at room temperature.
11.7.13 at 1:34 pm | I just returned from a week-long trip to. . .
10.22.13 at 3:56 pm |
10.22.13 at 3:37 pm | Three food events in LA to put on your calendar
9.24.13 at 11:43 am | This week I columnized about Anthony Bourdain's. . .
9.24.13 at 8:19 am | How to recreate Israel in a glass
9.13.13 at 12:56 pm | DIY atonement with backyard chickens
5.16.13 at 12:18 pm | The Internet is a dangerous place, full of bad. . . (87)
11.7.13 at 1:34 pm | I just returned from a week-long trip to. . . (50)
10.10.11 at 3:19 pm | What Steve Jobs' Estranged Father Teaches Us. . . (30)
May 11, 2011 | 4:17 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
What food blogs do you read and why?
I’ve stopped reading “amateur food blogs.” I read, like, the Vanity Fair or the People Magazine of food blogs. I read Eater, I read Grub Street. I read quite a few Jewish publications: Foodaism, Jewish Food ... I find the whole Jewish food movement fascinating and their obsession with Chinese food. Some of the best food writers are Jewish.
And he’s not even related to me!
Thanks Tony. SinoSoul is opiniated, informed and not politically correct. In other words, I like it.
Tony’s take on Ktown food, for example, could have sprung directly from my id:
Korean cuisine is a 2 trick donkey. Inevitably, if you go to a Ktown restaurant (not bar/pojangmacha), if you’re lucky, you’ll be offered 2 things: big red bowls of sop looking like neon afterbirth, or plates of self grill flesh*. That’s it. If interrogated, even Koreans will admit that is all they eat, at least in America. Anecdotal evidence provides panchan as not entrees, hence do not count in this culinary math equation of “bloody bowl + raw meat plate = 2 dishes in every Korean Menu”. A side of greens by the KBBQ grill negates this law, you say? Nope, that’s just an accoutrement to the 50% of all Korean dishes. What about dduk, the smart Korean kid from UCLA asks. Not enough close. It’s a meat vehicle which a Korean deploys as to not appear a Neanderthal when grappling blackened meat.
After 17 years in Koreatown, I can relate. I like the neighborhood BBQs, and the treyfaterias, and the cold noodles, but even given the fact most national cuisines have a limited flavor palate, it gets a bit tiring.
Anyway, thanks Tony. And I promise to post more. Now that I know you’re paying attention.
April 22, 2011 | 7:11 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
The 12 days of Christmas. The 30 days of Ramadan. The 8 days of Passover. Holidays that come with built in sequels present major food challenges. All the anticipation and excitement over the special foods, the familiar smells, the favorite recipes, plummets along with your appetite after you overindulge at that first celebration. Specialness breeds contempt.
Now, just at the Passover hump, the glow is waning. The holiday of freedom is beginning to feel a bit confining.
One solution is to cook better. That is, really enjoy and explore the foods that Passover allows you to focus on, rather than bemoaning all the ones you are forbidden.
Passover it turns out is perfectly in tune with the season. Long before seasonal and local were buzzwords—about 3000 years before—Jews celebrated the Passover by making sacred what was seasonal and local—greens, eggs, lamb, wild gefilte fish….
Okay maybe not the last one.
So as Shabbat nears and the holiday crosses to halfway, I have some ideas for cooking the rest of the week. If you cook with the season, you’re doing holiday cooking.
To come up with them, I had two kinds of help. First, a visit to 51Lincoln, a restaurant in Newton Center, MA, whose wonderful chef, Jeffrey P. Fournier, does the seasonal local thing without any pretense or self-righteousness. It’s a little neighborhood place, elegant, but relaxed and easy-going (like Fournier). The vegetables are local (our waitress was moonlighting, by day she runs a farmstand just at the edge of Boston); the charcuterie made on premises, and the chef is installing a rooftop kitchen garden this spring.
Fournier, a native of Ainsbury, MA, grew up in a French-Armenian home, moved to LA, where he spent years at Café Montana and cooked with Hand Rockenwager. (He started his career as an artist—the restaurant’s walls are lined with his paintings).
Here’s what we ate there: you can make it yourself to help enjoy the end of the holiday: Steamed Asparagus with Homecured Salmon and Hollandaise, Cod with Herb Emulsion and Mashed Potatoes, Pan Roasted Atlantic Salmon with Beet Aioli.
I’ll post some recipes and photos after Shabbat.
As for the second way to keep enjoying Passover, that comes from my mother-in-law, Ruth Levy. Every Passover she made us Popovers, airy puffed-up concoctions that are as close to sandwich bread as you get this time of year. She baked, I watched. After they were puffed and light brown, I slit them open and slipped in a piece of good cheese and perfectly ripe avocado. An ideal Passover lunch.
Thank you, Bubbie.
(adapted from Ruth Levy and Joan Nathan)
1/2 cup vegetable oil, plus more for baking sheet
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup matzo meal
(or half matzo meal, half matzo cake meal)
1/2 tablespoon sugar (or, to taste)
1 Preheat oven to 375 degrees.
2 Brush a baking sheet with oil; set aside.
3 In a medium saucepan, bring oil, 1 cup water, and salt to a boil over medium-high heat.
4 Stir in matzah meal (or matzo meal/cake flour) until sticky, remove from heat and let cool completely.
5 Add sugar and eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition.
6 Fill a large bowl with water.
7 Dip your hands in the water and then form dough into a ball about the size of a tennis ball.
8 Place on prepared baking sheet.
9 Repeat process until all dough has been used.
10 Transfer to oven and bake until popovers are puffy, about 15 to 20 minutes.
11 Reduce heat to 350 degrees and continue baking until golden brown, about 40 minutes.
12 Serve immediately.
April 7, 2011 | 7:09 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
This past week in Israel I stopped in Abu Ghosh, an Arab town a few miles west of Jerusalem off Highway 1. Abu Ghosh is famous for its hummus. The Guiness World Record for the largest bowl of hummus was claimed by a chef in the town a few years back. There are several restaurants that advertise on large signs in Arabic, English and Hebrew, “The Original Abu Ghosh Hummus.” In my experience you can’t go wrong at any of them.
But I had read and heard that the best is Naji. It is a relatively small place tucked onto a square which doubles as a chaotic (this is Israel) parking lot. On the same square is Naji’s Butcher Shop, which locals say is the best source for meat in town.
Naji’s Restaurant serves that meat grilled—I watched lamb chops cut as thick as fists go onto the flames. But the specialty is hummus, which comes in delicate ceramic bowls, topped with warm soft garbanzo beans, olive oil and lemon juice. This hummus has NOTHING in common with even the best Costco or supermarket brands. It is soft, melt-in-you-mouth dip, with a texture of clotted cream.
You can also order their other appetizer salads, all of which are standard-bearers: delicate baba ganouj, cabbage salad with a strong lemon dressing, and a house specialty, roasted squash blended with tahina.
Afterwards, you can walk, full and satisfied, to Abu Ghosh’s Crusader-era monastery. The grounds are peaceful, the structure among the best preserved in the world. When we walked in the monks were singing Psalms in the original Hebrew in the cavernous, echoey space. All in all, a day of religious experiences.
Al Naji Hummus [SLIDESHOW]
April 7, 2011 | 3:46 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
I promised people who read my story on Michal Ansky that here on the blog they’d find a list of her favorite restaurants in Israel. Here’s the beginning of my piece:
Here’s the first thing you notice about Michal Ansky: She’s beautiful. Tall, with long black hair and a strong, lean Israeli build. In the lobby of the Ritz-Carlton Marina del Rey, where we meet, people do double takes. She’s not quite famous here yet, though Fox TV selected Ansky from among all the cooking experts in the world to be one of three judges on its hit program, “MasterChef.” Padma Lakshmi, watch your back.
In Israel, however, Ansky is a major food celebrity. She was a judge on the Israeli version of “MasterChef,” one of the country’s most popular shows. She hosts a popular show on Channel 10, “Fresh Cooking.” And most significantly, she, along with Shir Halpern and partner/husband Roee Hemed, founded Israel’s first true farmers markets, giving Israelis direct access to farmers’ fruits, vegetables and products of the land.
I came to talk to Ansky about Israeli food, not the TV show, and about Passover. She is not religious, but she does revel in the tradition of the holiday — it’s part of the land, and it’s part of her roots.
“We live in a cynical age,” she said. “There are no surprises. One day is like the next. But I think it’s very important to have tradition that makes certain times special, and I don’t take it for granted.”
For Ansky, Passover also means the first strawberries, the first greens and herbs, the early peas.
The truth is, I wasn’t that familiar with Ansky before meeting her—as I wrote before, when it comes to TV, I’m mostly an Anthony Bourdain guy these days.
But once I had her, Ansky proved to be passionate, learned, opinionated, and an expert on all foods Israeli. I had to ask her to reel off her favorite places to eat in Israel, especially as I was leaving for a visit there the week after speaking with her. Ansky was jet-lagged, post-partum and a bit harried when we spoke, so she admitted to not having all the names on the tip of her tongue, but here were some of her favorites, in no particular order:
Yoezer Wine Bar
“One of the best.”
Open: Sun-Thu 12:30-1:00, Fri-Sat 11:00-1:00
Address: 2 Ish-Habira St. Jaffa (near the Clock’s Square).
Tel: (03) 683-9115
Pizza Tony Vespa
“Reminds me of Italy.”
267 Dizengof St., Tel Aviv
“For molecular gastronomy.”
4 Heychal Hatalmud. 03-510-7001.
Chef Eyal Shani is one of Ansky’s co-hosts on “MasterChef.” He has a new restaurant as well, Miznon.
8 Maavar Yabuk. 052-703-5888. Open Wed and Thurs evenings.
Beit Thailandi (Thai House)
Ansky raved about the Thai food here, placing it well above most places outside Thailand. The proprietors have their own farm for hard-to-find ingredients.
8 Bograshov , corner of Ben Yehuda , Tel Aviv
Abu Hassan Hummus
1 Dolphin Street
+972 03 682 0387
Sun-Fri 7:45-14:45 (or until the hummus is finished)
Erez Kamorovsky Cooking School
It’s on the Israel-Lebanon border and the site is in Hebrew.
“He has magicians hands,” said Ansky, “and he’s one of the popel who is changing the food reality in Israel.”
Farmer’s Market Tel aviv Slide Show:
March 16, 2011 | 5:49 am
Posted by Rob Eshman
In his column in today’s New York Times, Mark Bittman contrasts the arrest of a Brooklyn woman for cruelty to a pet hamster with the quite legal state sanctioned brutality and killing inflicted on hundreds of million of meat, egg and dairy producing animals each year.
The hamster is a good hook—Jonathan Safran Foer made the same point in his book Eating Animals by reflecting on his pet dog. In fact, Bittman quotes Foer to make his point:
...we protect “companion animals” like hamsters while largely ignoring what amounts to the torture of chickens and cows and pigs. In short, if I keep a pig as a pet, I can’t kick it. If I keep a pig I intend to sell for food, I can pretty much torture it. State laws known as “Common Farming Exemptions” allow industry — rather than lawmakers — to make any practice legal as long as it’s common. “In other words,” as Jonathan Safran Foer, the author of “Eating Animals,” wrote me via e-mail, “the industry has the power to define cruelty. It’s every bit as crazy as giving burglars the power to define trespassing.”
For Bitman, what separates the protected animals like the hamster and Foer’s dog from the unprotected ones is our intention to eat them, or use their products.
But thanks to Common Farming Exemptions, as long as I “raise” animals for food and it’s done by my fellow “farmers” (in this case, manufacturers might be a better word), I can put around 200 million male chicks a year through grinders (graphic video here), castrate — mostly without anesthetic — 65 million calves and piglets a year, breed sick animals (don’t forget: more than half a billion eggs were recalled last summer, from just two Iowa farms) who in turn breed antibiotic-resistant bacteria, allow those sick animals to die without individual veterinary care, imprison animals in cages so small they cannot turn around, skin live animals, or kill animals en masse to stem disease outbreaks.
All of this is legal, because we will eat them.
But I don’t think that quite explains it. Bittman isn’t wrong, I just think his view needs to be broader. A better way of looking at the seeming hypocrisy is as a matter of property rights. As long as we define animals as property, we as their owners are pretty much free to do with them as we will. In a society that regards individual property as almost sacrosanct, the burden is on the state to prove why and when it can stop me from treating my charges any way I see fit. Slaves in this country were treated as animals. Animals are still treated as slaves. In both cases, it’s because the law saw them, human or beast, as the sole property of their masters.
There are laws that forbid certain cruelties to the animals we define as pets (no such laws really existed towards slaves), but there are, after a fashion, rules that regulate how we treat food animals too. They may not be as strong, and they may be corrupted, as Foer points out, by the industry that benefits from their breech, but the fact is they exist, and are subject to the evolving, shaping forces of public sentiment and citizen action.
I’m not arguing that we need to redefine animals legally as something other than property. I’m no lawyer (sorry, mom), but there doesn’t seem to be much gray area in the law between humans and everything else. But I do wonder how, as long as society sees animal as property, we can really effect the crucial changes in how we raise and slaughter the animals that feed us. Because Bittman’s overall point is not just right, but urgent. Perhaps there is a legal path toward redefining the use of animals as a privilege. Why not put animals in the same category as rental cars, where we have the right to derive benefit from them, though they belong to someone else, and we must pay dearly for their abuse. From Hormel to Hertz— that would be a huge step up in animal welfare. (It would also necessitate a whole new profession of animal lawyers, and thus an entire David E. Kelley franchise).
If we can change the laws, great. But I wonder if before we can change the law we have to change our faith. The role religion plays in shaping these debates is vastly underestimated, even though you could argue that our entire legal approach to animal welfare derives from the Genesis myth, in which God gives man dominion over animals. Though subsequent Jewish law and philosophy provide room for argument over our obligations to animals and nature, society as a whole doesn’t do nuance very well. Most good Christians woul tell you God tells us these creatures are ours. Period, end of story.
I wonder then, if what began with faith can’t evolve through faith. After all, it was the Christian pulpit that spearheaded the struggle against slavery. It was people of faith who rose up against what they saw as an abomination of God’s word. Maybe it will be our religious thinkers and leaders, the people whom the leaders of government and the factory farming industry turn to for prayer and moral guidance, who will be most influential in helping society redefine our relation with animals. For that to happen, they will have to see our treatment of these creatures as a spiritual crisis, a moral aberration, a sin, even. They will have to believe, and to preach, that one way to draw closer to God, is to draw closer to animals.
I, for one, believe that’s true.
March 15, 2011 | 5:00 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
To quote myself, television is littered with lousy food shows. When I was writing a column about Anthony Bourdain and No Reservations, I decided to make a list of my favorite cooking and food shows of all time. Here it is:
1. The French Chef with Julia Child
As did many food lovers in my generation, I learned a different level, a different order of cooking, from Julia Child. These shows approached food with gusto, joy and seriousness. They transmit not just the love of food and cooking, but the technique. And technique matters. I still have some episodes downloaded on my iPhone through iTunes. And she’s still the greatest. More on me and Julia here.
2. The Complete Pépin
Jacques Pepin is a professional chef with an easy, clear approach to cooking. I devoured his two books, La Methode and La Technique, and combined with his shows, it’s a very accesibe culinary education. The ones he did with his daughter, if only because they allowed me to fantasize about marrying into the family.
3. Julia and Jacques Cooking at Home
This show was the best of both worls for me: Jacques’s expertise and ease in the kitchen with Julia’s sense of what people need and want to know. You can still get the book.
4. Rick Stein’s Taste of the Sea
Stein has a simple approach to the best seafood, and whoever produced this show was a pioneer in what it takes to create a beautiful, even sensuous and fast-paced cooking show. These shows were the first I’d seen that moved beyond rather stagnant shots of people cooking. Still, you learned a lot: as pretty as it was, it was pretty educational.
5. Baking with Julia
It’s not easy to teach the more exacting craft of baking and still make lively TV. Guess who did?
6. No Reservations
Julia took food seriously and herself not so much. She appreciated the role food plays in sustaining and ennobling culture. She ate heartily, swore happily, and drank mightily. Tony Bourdain, who doesn’t bother to teach you how to even scramble an egg, much less make Filet au Poivre or Paris Brest, is her rightful heir. Plus, he’s almost as tall as she was.
7. Mario Eats Italy
Of all the Mario Batali iterations, this one finds him at his most excitable and knowledgable. He shares his joy of the food and landscape and people of Italy and he cooks some uncommon, authentic dishes.
8. Iron Chef
It opened the floodgates to competition food shows, but it was a shocking wonderful spoof-able mess when it premiered, unstoppably watchable.
9. Top Chef
Less about cooking and food than it is about stilted reality show drama, but it does offer up insights into what it takes to be chef.
10. Kill It Cook It Eat It
I recently discovered this show on Current TV and I’ll be blogging more about it. Maybe it’s more a great idea for a show than a great show, but it does break ground.
March 15, 2011 | 4:50 pm
Posted by Rob Eshman
Television is littered with lousy food shows. I know I risk sounding like some grumpy old coot wondering whatever happened to Jack Paar, but I do wonder what the spirit of the great Julia Child would make of the utter mediocrity, the sheer lack of aspiration, the game show approach and personality-driven fluff that has become the norm in food TV.
Thank God for Anthony Bourdain.
Writer/chef Anthony Bourdain is the host of “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel. It’s not a traditional cooking or food show, but rather Bourdain’s essayistic take on food and culture around the world. In each episode, Bourdain travels to a new location and finds the people, conflicts and foods that most inspire and intrigue him. He has filmed episodes in almost every important and fascinating food location in the world, with one glaring exception: Israel.
Tony, it’s time.
“No Reservations” is a critical and commercial success. The show has won Emmys, millions of people have tuned in to watch it, and it has more than 1,047,000 Facebook friends. Bourdain, already a best-selling author beginning with “Kitchen Confidential,” has become a cultural icon.
I think that’s because people have come to understand that food is not just intricately tied to eating, but also to culture, politics and spirituality; to the health of our bodies as well as to the health of our planet. You won’t learn how to make fresh pasta watching Bourdain, but you will learn what fresh pasta means in the communities that have raised it to an art form. Come for the food, stay for the revelation.
In his eighth season opener last month, Bourdain visited post-earthquake Haiti. He ate some gnarly-looking chicken stew in a makeshift restaurant, then decided to buy out the inventory and distribute it for free to the hungry people nearby. A riot ensued. It was a painful illustration of how tragedy and hardship can easily break the bonds that food ordinarily cements. Bourdain’s predilection is for stories others might leave behind, or for the unsavory, the offal of food television (not surprisingly, he prefers meals that include giblets, guts and glands).
The most dramatic Bourdain episode took place in Beirut in July, 2006. He and his four-person crew arrived to do a story on the rebirth of the Lebanese capital as a travel and food destination. They enjoyed a great traditional meal of mezze and lamb … and then all hell broke loose.
Soon after Bourdain arrived, Israel invaded Lebanon in what has become known as the Second Lebanon War, an attempt to punish and subdue Hezbollah after a series of cross-border attacks. One moment Bourdain is looking forward to lamb-innard kebabs and tabouli, the next he is bivouacked in his luxury hotel watching Israeli bombs rain down on Hezbollah positions. In an attempt to stop captured Israeli soldiers from being spirited out of the country, or arms from being smuggled in, Israel destroyed the Beirut airport. That left an increasingly edgy Bourdain waiting for an eventual evacuation via water.
If anyone could make the transition from sybaritic, world-weary chef to seasoned war correspondent, Bourdain could.
He reported on the grim toll he saw the battle take on the Lebanese he knew, as well as on the nerves of the Americans and other tourists witnessing the shock-and-awe up close. It would have been easy for him to lapse into an anti-Israel narrative — after all, Israeli rockets had destroyed his exit route. But during the show and in interviews afterwards, Bourdain kept his balance.
Here is what he told The Washington Post just after the experience: “As it happened, I was standing with a Sunni, Shiite and a Christian when Hezbollah supporters started to fire automatic weapons in the air celebrating the kidnapping of the Israeli soldiers. As a few supporters drove by, the three people I was with all instantaneously took on a look of shame and embarrassment as if a dangerous and unstable little brother had once again brought the whole family into peril.”
Bourdain returned to Beirut last year to see how the city has recovered. He found the food was as good as ever, the city had bounced back, and Hezbollah had become more powerful than in 2006.
“If anything,” he told CNN, “they seem to be the beneficiaries of the conflict.”
One place Bourdain hasn’t been in the Middle East since 2006, or ever, is Israel. He did an episode in Dubai, in which he focused on the plight of the maltreated, deracinated imported laborers, and in Saudi Arabia, where he humanized a culture that exists mostly in monochromatic stereotype, while falling short of giving it a ringing endorsement.
But why not Israel? The comments section of Bourdain-related blogs is peppered with unanswered pleas for an Israel episode.
The country has undergone a food revolution; it is, and has long been, at the crossroads of Middle Eastern cuisine. Israel is home to great chefs, innovative producers, and there’s no lack of moving stories. If you want to examine how food and culture interact, Israel is one of the world’s perfect laboratories.
I assumed Bourdain was keeping his distance out of pique. With a bit of bad luck, he could have been killed in 2006 courtesy of the Israelis. I e-mailed Diane Schutz, the show’s producer, at Zero Point Zero Productions and asked flat out, “Will Tony go to Israel?”
I expected no answer. But very quickly, by return e-mail, came a yes. Yes, she e-mailed me, it is something they are very much interested in. Not this season, which is in the can, but soon.
Now that will be a food show. Stay tuned.
Go to the Facebook page, Send Anthony Bourdain to Israel.
For a list of Foodaism’s Top Ten Food and Cooking Shows, click here.