About once in every couple of weeks, perhaps more often than that, someone asks me for a recipe for some dish or another that I’ve served at one time or another on some Shabbos table or another at some point in my married life. I’m not really sure why. I don’t consider myself to be any kind of culinary genius, although I have always enjoyed experimenting in the kitchen. Also, for a year or two back at my real home in Jerusalem I ran a small, home-based catering business. Also, this past year, I have hosted something like 1,000 guests for Shabbos – for the second year in a row. Also, we’ve been having guests for Shabbos meals on average I would say about 45 weeks out of the year each of the almost 5 years since the week after the week after our Sheva Brachos. Not to mention the fact that I’ve run about 20 challah baking/gourmet cooking workshops out of my house over the past 2 years. Yikes. I guess that adds up to a lot of cooking!
I suppose I should throw in at this point that my last name also happens to be Cook, but more about me later. All anyone needs to know is that my food credo is simple, tasty, fresh and kosher. I believe that anything well presented can be called ‘gourmet.’ I’m also extremely serious about checking for bugs. The irony is that that so many Jews who would never in a million years consider chowing down on a slice of pig, don’t even take a second glance at a potentially bug-infested lettuce salad. Pig+Insect=Same Difference or Worse. See here for tips for how to check fruits and veg in the US: http://www.crcweb.org/fruit_vegetable_policy.php
I have to admit that I’m not very good at following recipes. 1. This explains why I don’t really enjoying baking that much. 2. My normal answer to “How much blah blah blah do I add to this salad?” is “oh, you know, a squeeze of that and just pour this other one in until it looks like a good amount… and then just taste it…” Or “just eyeball it, no need to measure it out.” However, I realize that for the higher and holy purpose of teaching over one’s knowledge, this isn’t very helpful. For the sake of producing an informative and not just hilarious blog, I will try my very best to give exact amounts.
To get this food blog rolling, I thought I would start off with a word about my spelt challah, which is probably the menu item about which I get asked most. The recipe I use is the Famous Challah recipe from the old (original edition?) Spice and Spirit Cook Book, and I just use Spelt flour instead of white, and honey instead of sugar. As soon as my challah cools down, I snap freeze it in ziplocks or grocery bags, and only defrost it within 2 hours of serving.
For the flour itself, lately I have been using a white (refined) spelt flour. Whole spelt is also excellent, and I also recently discovered an Amish-grown whole spelt flour at my local hippie co-op that is mucho-delicious and adds a grainier, heartier texture to my challahs etc. It also allows me to support the Amish people, whose lifestyle and education system is kinda awesome (they learn only about character development and farming techniques) and whose fashions I admire greatly (obviously because they take modesty to a whole new level).
The reason that I have always enjoyed using and consuming spelt is that it is much, much better on the digestion than white or even whole wheat flour. I find that I can eat copious amounts of it without getting that yucky feeling that comes with eating too much carb-heavy food. I actually use it in everything – from challah to cake, cookies, tuna patties, apply crisps, schnitzels – anything that calls for flour.
As for toppings, my tried and true old favorite is Zatar spice, and I also like to mix and match with sesame, poppy and flax seeds, plus chopped onions, salted and oats. Sometimes I mix roasted garlic or roasted tomato-infused olive oil into my dough as well, which as you can imagine – tastes phenomenal!
So here is the recipe that I adapted from the above-mentioned cook book:
- 13-14 cups Spelt flour
- 8 tablespoons dry yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1 cup oil
- 2 tablespoons salt
- 1 cup honey
- 4 cups very warm (but not hot) water
Dissolve the yeast in the water. Add the honey and salt. Add half the flour and mix well. Add the eggs and oil. Mix. Add the rest of the flour. Mix and knead. Continue kneading in small amounts of flour until you have a good dough. Cover with a towel. Rise the dough for 1.5 – 2 hours. Punch it down every 20-30 minutes.
Separate challah (a great opportunity to give tzedakah/charity to elevate this great mitzvah, and daven/pray for everything you want and need.)
Braid. Add egg wash and toppings. Bake at 375F for around 20 minutes.