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Jewish Journal

Humbly Luxurious

by Michael Israel

July 3, 2012 | 12:22 pm

Adzhapsandali and Mchadi, with herb salad

Luxury apartments for rent! Luxury car sale this weekend! Luxury socks, get them while supplies last! The term Luxury is almost as overused as the word gourmet, so much that it has almost lost its meaning. Truly luxurious food typically utilizes scarce or expensive ingredients, and is usually difficult to prepare. However, with proper treatment and respect almost any ingredient or preparation, regardless of cost or skill level involved, can be luxurious. This week’s entry in Encyclopedia of Jewish Food is Adzhapsandali a humble vegetarian stew from Georgia (think Eurasia not peaches). At first glance, the recipe seems simple and plain; eggplant, potatoes, onions, tomatoes, etc. With proper treatment and respect, these simple ingredients are transformed into a luxurious stew.

There is a short “A” list of ingredients that are universally defined as luxurious. Foie gras is seen by many as the most luxurious ingredient. The truth is, foie gras is not like the other “A” list ingredients. It is simply the fattened liver of poultry (usually goose or duck). It is farm raised, not wild, not expensive to produce, and lends itself to very simple preparations. Unlike truffles or caviar, which are incredibly difficult to find in the wild and tend to be outrageously expensive, foie gras is a small production heirloom ingredient that is at its core very humble. Ultimately, the greatness of foie gras comes from the respect that craftsman dedicate to its production and preparation from farm to table.

I believe the ban on foie gras in the state of California is not only ludicrous but also troubling. In my opinion, the ancient craft of gavage, or the force feeding of poultry to create fatty livers, is one of the most brilliant agricultural techniques ever created. Farmers realized that by utilizing a bird’s natural tendency to gorge in preparation for migration, they could create an incredibly rich and versatile ingredient. The amount of care dedicated to the process of making foie gras is unparalleled. A clear example of this dedication is Eduardo Sousa, a Spanish foie gras producer who figured out how to get geese to gorge without being force fed by man. Some chefs see him as a “goose whisperer,” someone who is able to communicate with the birds. For many critics of foie gras production, they argue that all farmers should abandon traditional force feeding techniques and use the same system as Eduardo Sousa. The natural environment created by Sousa proves one thing, geese like to gorge! Why attack artisanal farmers when they are merely recreating a natural process for the birds. If you want to be alarmed by poultry related farming, head to Arkansas and see the millions of beakless and obese birds falling over each other’s feces as they wait for slaughter. In comparison to these massive farms, a foie gras farm almost seems spa like. The fight against foie gras production shows a lack of food education among lobbyists, and proves that unbridled emotions will always get in the way of good judgment.

Like foie gras, any humble ingredient can achieve luxury status with proper treatment and respect. Adzhapsandali is a dish that transforms eggplant from humble to regal. The stew includes fresh herbs and cayenne pepper. Usually, it is served with mchadi or corn cakes and yogurt. In order to make a truly fantastic dish with these ingredients, you must practice impeccable technique and proper seasoning (that means salt and pepper). I made some changes to the recipe to modernize the preparation and highlight the components. Rather than putting the herbs in the stew, and cooking out their freshness, I made an herb salad as garnish. Also, rather than finishing the stew with yogurt, I created a cayenne yogurt sauce as an acidic and spicy condiment. The finished stew is exquisite with its custardy soft eggplant, tender glazed potatoes, buttery sweet corn cakes and spicy-tangy yogurt sauce. Now that’s luxury!

Luxury in food is ultimately determined by the eater. Creating pretentious criteria to pigeon hole certain foods into different categories is not only ignorant but can also lead to destructive behavior, i.e. the fight against foie gras production. Ultimately, the best way to pursue luxurious food is by treating all ingredients with respect and practicing skillful technique.

Adzhapsandali

Serves 6
2ea yellow onion, diced
7cloves garlic, minced
4ea russet potato, peeled, diced
1ea large purple eggplant
2ea tomatoes, peeled, seeded, diced
1ea habanero pepper
as needed olive oil
to taste kosher salt

Procedure:
1. Preheat the oven to 425 degrees, dice the eggplant, generously coat with olive oil and roast in the oven for 25-30 minutes until it is very tender.
2. Bring a pot of water to boil. Remove the stem end of the tomatoes, and score the bottom side with a small “X”. Blanch the tomatoes in the boiling water for 45 seconds, and then shock in ice cold water. Once cold, the skin of the tomato should easily peel from the scored end. Cut the tomatoes in half, remove the seeds and dice.
3. In the same boiling water, cook the diced potatoes for 25-30 minutes until they are fork tender, but not mushy. Once cooked, remove and reserve for the stew.
4. In a medium sized pot over medium high heat, add enough olive oil to coat the bottom of the pot. Add the diced onions and cook for 5 minutes until translucent.
5. Add the garlic and sweat until aromatic, about 3-5 minutes.
6. Add the tomato and habanero pepper (whole), along with a generous amount of kosher salt. Cook for about 10 minutes until the tomatoes begin to break down.
7. To finish, remove the habanero pepper then add the boiled potatoes and roasted eggplant. Stir until the eggplant and potatoes are thoroughly coated.

Mchadi

Serves 6
2C corn meal
1.5C half and half
2t salt
2T sugar
1C ricotta cheese
2ea eggs
2ea lemon zest, 2 lemons
as needed butter

Procedure:
1. In a medium sized mixing bowl combine all of the dry ingredients corn meal, salt and sugar.
2. in a separate bowl combine all of the wet ingredients half and half, ricotta cheese, eggs and lemon zest. 
3. While gently whisking the wet ingredients, slowly add the dry ingredients. Continue until the mixture is slightly lumpy. Do not over whisk.
4. In a sauté pan or skillet over medium high heat. Add enough butter to lubricate the surface. Pour enough batter to make desired size corn cake.
5. When the edges of the cakes begin to bubble about 3-5minutes, gently flip and cook for an additional minute.

Herb Salad

Serves 6
.25c Italian parsley leaves, fresh
.25c chive batons (1 inch long sticks), fresh
.25c mint leaves, fresh
1ea juice of 1 lemon
1t honey
.25c olive oil
to taste kosher salt
to taste black pepper

Procedure:
1. Combine lemon juice, honey, olive oil, salt and pepper to create a vinaigrette.
2. Lightly dress the fresh herbs.

Cayenne Yogurt Sauce

Serves 6
1C yogurt
.5ea juice of half a lemon
.5t cayenne pepper
.5t sugar
pinch salt

Procedure:
1. Combine all ingredients, and whisk until smooth.

 

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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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