One year ago Beetroot Soup
No doubt about it, summer in Israel is hot ... the dogs can only be walked early morning or late evening, and most people are listless if they're not at the beach, but at least neighbors give away their bougainvillea off cuts!
This week has been busy – and not only with work or Olympics addiction. One of my best Australian girlfriends, Cheryl Bart, has been visiting, so that’s meant spending time in Tel Aviv, walking by the sea and eating well.
Tel Aviv deserves its international reputation as a foodie capital, and perhaps our standout meal was breakfast. It’s always an Israeli strong suit, but at this casual North Tel Aviv café, called Bucke, it was a tour de force. (You can read an interview with the chef here.)
We ordered the breakfast tray for 2, which turned out to be an inviting riot of colours and flavours, seemingly large enough to feed 6… Each mouthful was a delight. Everything was great, but especially great was a smooth, garlicky tahina, a salad with quinoa, fresh vegetables and sour cherries, and fried eggplant with sheep’s milk feta.
Since the coffee was smooth and strong, we may have to go again soon … but in the meantime, it's back to cooking, a la the Jewish grandmother.
AND THE GO-TO INGREDIENT IS...
What is the Jewish grandmother’s go to ingredient, which almost every Food is Love grandmother has given us a recipe for?
And the winner is – ta da! - minced chicken, popular with grandmothers from Eastern Europe through Libya and Egypt.
GEFILTE CHICKEN ANYONE?
The Poles call them Kotleti, the Hungarians Fasirt (pronounced 'foshirt'). With a knack for re-invention, Hungarian Jews have taken the Hungarian Fasirt, traditionally made with pork, and substituted chicken.
These are rissoles which can be fried, baked or poached. But they do seem to go in for a lot of frying.
Sometimes the rissoles are dipped in bread crumbs and fried, producing something like a gefilte chicken schnitzel ball.
Sometimes they're fried like a hamburger patty, and lately healthy cooking has even penetrated the European Jewish grandmother’s consciousness and there is a new option - baking.
So a splendid array of chicken mince dishes today, based on the recipes of five of our grandmothers – Polish, Hungarian, German/Russian, Greek/Eguptian and Libyan.
What's amazing is that across these cultures, the quantities are pretty consistent – 3-4 eggs per kilo of meat, 4-6 tablespoons bread crumbs, plus a chopped onion is the basics - and a delicious weeknight dinner is yours.
Almost to a woman, the grandmothers said that you get a better rissole if you grind the meat yourself, adding the onions as you go. But I don’t have a meat grinder so I had the chicken shop do the job for me, and felt that was plenty good enough.
I'm using the recipe of Melbourne grandmother Marysia Segan because once when she had guests drop by for dinner unexpectedly, she added grated vegetables to make the mince go further, and it was such a success, that she always did it that way from then on.
I like that because it lets you bulk your mix out with veges instead of white bread, soaked in water and then drained (Hungarians) or breadcrumbs (everyone else).
You can read Marysia’s story of survival in Poland during WW2 here. It includes her return to Poland in 2014, and her emotional reunion with the family who saved her, whose name she only remembered more than sixty years after the war when she was in her 80s!
In the photo on the left, Marysia is 12 years old and Lech Rosciszewski is 17. His family hid hers in Poland during Wolrd War Two. In the photo on the right, Marysia is 85 and he is 90 and it's the first time they've met since 1942.
Here's Marysia's recipe, with added options, depending which grandmother is inviting you over.
Amounts can be halved or even quartered, although don't take it too far. These rissoles do tend to disappear quickly…
Marysia's Chicken Rissoles
Makes 60 small rissoles
- 1 kilo minced chicken, “best to use chicken thigh meat” says Marysia
- 3-4 eggs
- ½ cup bread crumbs /matza meal / almond meal
- OR - you can also use 5 slices white bread, soaked in water for half an hour and then squeezed out
- 1 large onion, finely chopped or grated
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- S and P
- 250 g grated vegetables. Carrot onion zucchini baby squash potato sweet potato ie whatever you have on hand
- Finely chopped herbs. A handful of basil, coriander, parsley or a combination of all 3 ie whatever you have on hand, but do chop really small
- 1/2 teaspoon mustard powder or 1 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom
- Breadcrumbs for frying
1. Mix ingredients thoroughly. If it’s too dry, add an egg. If it’s too wet, add some breadcrumbs. You want a consistency that you can roll in your hands.
2. Wet your hands and shape into patties or balls. Deep fry over low-medium heat, turning over once. 5 minutes per side should do it.
If you want a crunchy exterior, roll them in breadcrumbs before you fry. The Hungarian classic is round, golf-ball size, and breaded outside as well, of course.
3. Drain on paper towels.
4. Bake instead of fry:
No need to dip in breadcrumbs. Put the rissoles on baking paper, on a tray in the oven at medium heat. Cook for 20 minutes, turning them over once at the 10 minute mark.
THE GREAT JEWISH BAKE-OFF
Marysia couldn't disguise her doubts about baking.
“You can do it in the oven, but it doesn’t taste the same, not for Jewish people.”
That did make me laugh. It's hard to separate a Jewish grandmother from her oil and fry pan!
But we’ve taken the issue seriously, and it’s been all systems go here, frying, with breadcrumbs and without, baking, and poaching in sauce to see which produces the best result.
My boyfriend was roped in as a judge, when he looked up from the Olympics, to confirm results.
After rigorous testing I can report that Marysia is right. Deep fried with bread crumbs does produce the best rissole -- IF YOU EAT IT STRAIGHT AWAY.
Directly from pan to plate, fried is unbeatable. Crisp on the outside, tender on the inside, moist, delicious.
On taste alone, Gold goes to the gefilte chicken schnitzel rissole!
But luckily for our hearts and waistlines, the longer the rissole rests after being cooked, the less difference there is. Once you are eating them cold, there’s no difference at all.
So factor that in when making them.
If you don’t want to stand around frying and you are not going to eat them hot, go for the baking option; it is definitely less work as well as being healthier
JERUSALEM TEST KITCHEN
Dryness is a risk with chicken rissoles, especially if you use breast meat, but in all its combinations, this was a great rissole, moist, tasty and moreish.
I used dark meat not white, as per Marysia’s instructions, and also grated the onion, as opposed to chopping, an old Slovakian trick which helps catch the juice of the onion as well. (I think I owe that to Food is Love Sydney grandmother Eva Grinston, who is a wonderful cook, sweet or savoury and of rissoles as well of course.)hickeC
The vegetables give the rissoles flavor and lightness and the over all result was really really tasty. I can see why all the grandmothers like this for a weeknight meal. Or lunch the next day.
The simplest option is meatloaf. It has all the benefits of baking, with even less fiddling around, since you make one large loaf instead of rolling many small patties. You do the math!
This chicken loaf is one of the favourites of Melbourne grandmother Ruth Hampel.
Last week we told her amazing survival story in Stalin's Russia, where her idealistic Communist parents migrated to build the “Worker’s Paradise.” First she gave us her mother’s fruit tart recipe, today it’s her chicken loaf.
It's economical, easy, quick and delicious. The only problem is its name. This is known in Jewish households as Klops. Klops! Klops? Not such a selling point. That name needs a makeover!!!
Ruth's Chicken Loaf
Makes 2 loaves or 1 loaf and 20 rissoles
- 1 kilo minced chicken
- 3 eggs
- ½ cup bread crumbs – Ruth uses gluten free for her family these days
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- S and P
1. Mix as when making the rissoles in the first recipe, above
2. Form into a loaf and bake. Cook on a high heat – 220 degreees, 20 minutes each side. Cut into slices to serve.
3. OPTIONAL. Take 2-3 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cooled. Lay on their sides lengthways, and wrap the mixture around them. This gives you a egg in the middle of each piece when you slice it.
MELBOURNE TEST KITCHEN
In Melbourne, Amanda Hampel made the meatloaf, partly because she really fries very little these days if she can help it, for health reasons, and also because Ruth is her much loved 'Omi' -- Amanda's husband's grandmother, and great grandmother to their 4 children.
So Amanda was thrilled to be testing this familiar and beloved recipe. And although Amanda can see the image problem with 'klops', she kinda likes that too...
"Yumm yumm yumm! Note – my kitchen now smells like Omi’s ;)) "
Amanda found the recipe easy to follow, though it was good to have Ruth on hand when she wanted to check something.
"I may have had a sneaky advantage because I rang “the source” to get some additional info. She said she cooks it in a Le Creuset pot (uncovered) in the oven so the outside gets crispy but the inside stays moist. Instead of the garlic I used garlic infused olive oil on the base of the pot, probably could have used a little more because when it came to flipping it over to cook the other side it was still a little sticky on the bottom. Nevertheless, delicious!" says Amanda
VERDICT: "A quick, simple, easy, virtually foolproof recipe – and one that obviously holds a very special place in our hearts."
not frying, poacHING
When Jerusalem grandmother Rina Mevorach doesn’t want to deep fry, she makes a sauce in which to poach the rissoles instead.
Rina was born in Libya, and despite turning 90 this year, she still cooks tasty Sephardi Jewish dishes for her clan of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren - and has her care packages delivered all over the country!
You can read her World War Two story, the little known story of Libya’s Jews, here.
Rina's Poached Rissoles
Rina cooks the rissoles in tomato sauce, and also this green pea and herb sauce. Like all Rina's cooking, both contain lots of green herbs. You will need to have prepared one kilo of chicken rissole filling to Marysia's recipe above and then cook them in a sauce made of the following ingredients:
PEA AND HERBS
- 2 onions chopped, half for the pot and half for the chicken mince mixture
- 1 large bunch of parsley and another of coriander, half for the pot and half for the chicken mince
- 2 carrots
- 1 slurp olive oil
- 1 kilo green peas, fresh or frozen
- 1 tablespoon chicken soup powder,
- 1-2 cups water
- Salt and pepper
Chop together the coriander and parsley. Divide in two - half goes in the pot, and half into the chicken rissole mix.
Put the water into a cooking pot, add 1 chopped onion, 2 chopped carrots, a slurp of olive oil and half of the chopped herbs.
Add to the pot -- one kilo peas, one tablespoon chicken soup powder and let this simmer while you make the rissoles.
Make rissoles to Marysia's basic recipe above, being sure to add the extra green herbs.
When the rissoles are ready, place them in the pot and cook for 30 minutes.
In the end you can choose between a sauce, or an almost soupy consistency, depending how much of the liquid you cook off. Either way it makes a light, healthy meal, which is tasty, without any frying. (Rina is not opposed to frying, and will sometimes fry these rissoles quickly in order to seal them so they don't fall apart in the sauce.)
RISSOLES IN CHICKEN SOUP
Also definitely worth reminding you of another of our standout recipes from earlier in the year, Melbourne grandmother Viviane Levy's Chicken Soup, fragrant with turmeric, cardamom, garlic and mint, with chicken mince balls floating in it.
It is Viviane's signature dish, which everyone in her family craves, and comes originally from Viviane's Egyptian mother-in-law.
The full recipe for this soup, which Viviane describes as a meal in a bowl, is here on our blog.
Viviane is originally Greek, and her mother's family is from the island of Zakynthos. You can read the remarkable story of the Jews of that island, all of whom were saved from the Nazis by the island's Mayor and its Archbishop, while you prepare her soup.
Viviane's Garlic Lemon + Spice Soup
- 500 g / 1 lb chicken mince
- 2 eggs
- ½ cup breadcrumbs – or keep adding till it’s a rollable consistency
- Add salt 1-2 teaspoon freshly ground cardamom, 1-2 teaspoons garlic powder, or 1 scant teaspoon crushed garlic.
Putting this here so you can see you can see how similar it is to what we’ve been preparing – a riff on a theme! – and how you have the option to prepare these rissoles in soup as well.
So that's it, signing off from chicken mince across the world!