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Celebrating the Big Cheese on July 4th

by Michael Israel

July 1, 2013 | 9:18 am

Chef Michael Israel and his wife, Emily. "We wish you all a wonderful July 4th, shared with family and friends!"

Happy Birthday USA! This week we celebrate July 4th, American Independence Day. Before we get into this week’s recipe, I would like to state how grateful I am to be living as a free Jew in the United States of America in 2013. Also, unlike the past few blogs this week’s recipe will not be featured at my popup restaurant Fress, because I will be celebrating the holiday with family and friends. This week’s dish is perfect for sharing and I highly recommend making it for your July 4th celebration.

Ajin Taimani is a flaky dough, similar to puff pastry, that comes from the Jews of Yemen (EJF pg 7). The history of Jews in Yemen is marked by oppression and scarcity. Most of the recipes from this region like Ajin are simple and utilize humble ingredients. This week’s recipe forces me to remember Jews who have lived a difficult life, while at the same time, I am determined to celebrate the bounty I available to me in modern day Los Angeles.

I am making Brie en Croute or baked brie with peach-basil compote. I have simplified the dough recipe from EJF with the help of a textbook from culinary school. Summer peaches are in their prime right now, so the fruit compote will be extra delicious. I am thinking like a Jew in Yemen, using the same recipe, but prepared in a new way. I am stuffing and baking the Ajin Taimani, instead of making it flat or rolling it into cylinders for frying. I decided to incorporate cheese in the recipe because I have always loved the combination of flaky pastry and runny, warm cheese. The addition of peaches and basil is my way of celebrating the availability of incredible stone fruits and fresh herbs in our Los Angeles farmer’s markets now. Lastly, this is a dish that is meant to be shared with special people, which is one of the best parts of July 4th.

To me, this recipe represents what it means to be a Jew in America. We always find ways to connect with the difficult times in our history, yet never let it get in the way of throwing a great party. I hope that you make this recipe and feel pride in the fact that Jews have always found ways to flourish even under the worst conditions, and then relish in the fact that we are so damn lucky to be living in the US of A.

Ajin Taimani
makes 1 pound of dough

Ingredients
8oz   All Purpose Flour
8oz   Butter, ¼ “ cubes (margarine for parve preparations)
½ t   Kosher Salt
5oz   Cold Water

Procedure
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour and butter cubes. Toss the butter until coated with flour.
2. Mix the salt and water together.
3. Add the water and salt mixture to the bowl of the mixer with the flour and butter. Mix on low speed using the hook attachment until the dough forms a shaggy mass.
4. Cover the dough and let rest under refrigeration for 20 minutes.
5. Roll out the dough to ½“  thickness into a round shape.
6. Place a wedge of your favorite brie or soft cheese (I use Pont-l’Évêque from Trader Joe’s) in the center of the dough.
7. Spread the peach-basil compote (recipe to follow) over the cheese.
8. Wrap dough around the cheese. Place on a greased baking sheet or on a piece of parchment paper. Brush dough with egg wash (1 egg beaten with a dash of water or cream).
9. Bake at 350 degrees for approximately 35-40 minutes until the dough is golden brown and flaky.


Peach-Basil Compote
makes 1 pound

Ingredients
5ea   Peaches, diced
1ea   Juice of Lemon
¼ C   Granulated Sugar
pinch   Kosher Salt
6 ea   Basil Leaves, finely chopped

Procedure:
1. In a small sauce pot over low heat, add the peaches, lemon juice, salt and sugar.
2. Let cook for 25-30 minutes until the mixture becomes thick.
3. Remove from heat and add the basil.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Michael Israel is the Chef and Owner of the M.O. Eggrolls food truck in Los Angeles, California where he lives with his wife Emily. In 2005, Michael graduated from the Culinary...

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