Thursday, March 15, 2012

Solet: Bread and Cake

Way back in the Winter of 2003-4, I was a student at Yeshivat Har Etzion. One of my fondest memories is eating hot bowls of "diysa" - basically cream of wheat - that the kitchen made out of leftover milk. That creamy porridge, made with full-fat 3% milk, was delicious.

Flash forward to the present day. After a long time I finally figured out that this porridge is made with סולת - a coarse semolina that you buy in the flour aisle, not the breakfast cereal aisle, which is why it took me so long to find it. I bought it in the only size available - a 1 kg bag. Turns out, though, making a large portion of diysa only requires like 1/3 a cup of solet. In other words, I had to find some other uses for the stuff.

Enter solet bread and solet cake. In both cases, I made sure to google recipes in Hebrew, to avoid confusion with the fine milled semolina that people use for pasta making. Solet cake is a traditional Israeli dessert, and recipes abound. Solet bread is less common, but there were still a number of recipes I could choose from, based on which worked best with the ingredients I had around the house.

For the bread, I chose a sweet, enriched recipe. The dough included eggs and honey, and a mixture of solet and regular flour. It was a bad recipe; the final dough was excessively sticky and I had to add in a bunch more flour until it attained proper bread dough consistency. Oh, and I cut my flour with gluten, as I am wont to do when breadmaking.

Despite the bad recipe, the final product was very satisfying. The crust was toasty and crunchy, while the interior was soft, and slightly sweet. The bread lasted a while, making good sandwiches but even better toast. The sandwich pictured above is a spicy tuna sandwich - tuna salad mixed with hot sauce. Oh man. Make this sandwich...

I don't have the recipe for the cake but, again, they can easily be found online, and are all pretty much the same. The defining feature of a solet cake is the syrup that's poured over it after it comes out of the oven. Orange syrups are common, but we based ours on date syrup, giving dark, bittersweet caramel flavors to the cake. The cake itself is similar to a corn muffin - a dense, rich, crumbly texture.

Spinach pesto pasta

In our fridge, we had a relatively large quantity of spinach, and a smaller quantity of fresh basil. From these, the dish above was born. Fresh garlic, salt, pepper and olive oil were also involved.

I found this pasta a little bland. Good flavors all around, but just not enough oomph. I realize now that by not cooking the spinach, I gave up on those bitter and savory flavors one finds in sauteed spinach.

An improved version, then, would involve a) cooking the spinach first and b) more flavor - more basil, maybe some pine nuts, maybe some Parmesan

Oh, it's pretty though.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Coconut oil cookies

I'm always looking for innovative butter replacements. I'm pretty unsatisfied with margarine, or at least the hard, tasteless cheap margarine I buy at Supersol. Sure there are softer, tastier (and more expensive) margarines on the shelf, but I haven't experimented much with them because a) they are more expensive than regular margarine and b) they probably contain emulsifiers and other polymeric stabilizers which I HAVE NO PROBLEM WITH PHILOSOPHICALLY but might mess up my cookie dough.

Anyway I subscribe to a blog that's all about parve desserts, and here is a link to it: The blog reminded me about coconut oil, which I had been thinking about some time already. It is solid at room temperature and is supposed to have a buttery taste.

Here's where I'd normally go off on a tangent about solid fats for baking and shortening and trans fats and how now they make shortening with no trans fats and how you can't get shortening here except maybe in Jerusalem, Efrat or Ramat Beit Shemesh. But I won't.

I'd seen coconut oil before in the organic food store, but never bought it because it's super expensive. But I decided to take the plunge and buy a small jar after seeing a recipe on the aforementioned blog for sugar cookies using coconut oil (I'll leave you to search for the recipe if you want).

Another reason I wanted coconut oil was because I read online that if you make popcorn in coconut oil it tastes like movie theater popcorn, because that's what movie theaters pop their popcorn in.

Lastly, I had a sneaking suspicion that coconut oil was a secret ingredient that imbued certain baked goods with delicious flavor, namely Green's babka and Marzipan's rugelach.

Our verdict on the cookies - good, not great. We wanted crispy sugar cookies but we rolled the dough a little thick, so they came out soft. We tried putting them back in the oven but that just made them sort of hard/burnt.

I could taste the flavor of the coconut oil, and it was an improvement over margarine, but it wasn't as good as a butter cookie. But it was only a first experiment, and I have ideas for more. For example, I have a knockout hamantaschen dough recipe that includes orange juice and zest, the acidity of which makes the cookies irresistible. I think a coconut oil sugar cookie with orange zest may make waves...

We've made at least 3 batches of coconut oil popcorn. It's good, but there's no noticeable movie theater taste. I'd have to try it side by side with popcorn cooked in canola oil or something. Plus, I still haven't perfected my popcorn technique - the stovetop pot method still comes out a tad soggy...

Monday, March 12, 2012

Noodle Soup

Let's talk about miso for a second:

Pros: Tastes delicious, lasts forever in the fridge, good for soups

Cons: You never actually finish it, and begin to wonder if it's chametz when Pesach rolls around

We have a container of miso in our fridge from lord knows when. It gets used here and there but my favorite application is for miso/noodle soup.

Disclaimer - I don't know anything about authentic soups of this nature. I've never had a "real" bowl of ramen. The soup we ate tonight was definitely inauthentic in every way. But it was easy and delicious.

Here's how I made it: I sauteed some miso in vegetable oil and added garlic powder, red chili flakes and celery salt (I've started putting celery salt in everything these days). Stir that up a bit, add boiling water and soup mix. Try to get soup mix with MSG if you can find it. Season with a little vinegar. Taste the broth and continue to season (maybe a little more salt, maybe a little more vinegar, maybe some sweet, maybe some spicy...) until it's to your liking.

Here's where things get awesome: you can add pretty much whatever you want. Ideally, you should make this soup when you have random leftovers in your fridge. You can add meat if you want. You can add vegetables. Ramen noodles work. Egg noodles work. Leftover spaghetti would work and I bet you could even cook raw pasta in this broth although I've never tried it.

What did I do? First of all, we had a big head of lettuce whose outer leaves had wilted. Don't throw out wilted lettuce! It's no good for salad, but it's perfectly good for cooked greens. I cleaned mine and then trimmed out the tough stem and them sauteed them in olive oil and garlic. I did this last night, saved them, and added them to the soup today.

We also had some shaved carrot (that's a carrot that's been shaved into noodle-like shapes) in a bag. Into the pot it went, as did a package of egg noodles. We actually buy those specifically for soup.

Lastly, I poached two eggs in the boiling broth to add some protein and richness.

People, this soup was really good. Totally inauthentic - the broth was instant soup mix rather than long-simmered chicken or beef broth. The noodles were egg noodles, not ramen noodles. It contained no pork because swineflesh is unclean and forbidden. But seriously, who cares. It's amazing and filling. You can make yours even healthier by adding more veggies and maybe throwing in some tofu instead of the egg.

Make this soup!