New Twists on Old Traditions

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Syrup Traditional Biscuit Recipe

Happy Purim to you! The sun has gone down and the festival can officially begin, but actually we have spent the afternoon frolicking in a celebration that my husband has declared is a Renegade Purim.

We held a “Purim Picnic Party” in a local park and took a huge basket of costumes, a suitcase full of instruments and rattles, and invited a bunch of kids to come and dress up and make noise with us. There are very few photos of the fun we had because we were having too much fun.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Holiday Kids

I gather that this is a key purpose of the festival: making merry and having a great time. The other key purpose seems to be making and eating Hamantaschen, which are fruit-filled biscuits shaped to look like the ears of the villain of the Purim story.

And just as I went a bit left-of-centre with the mode of celebration, I also struggled to stick with the traditional recipes that were given to me for the biscuits. I ended up making two batches and started them off the same way; by using equal parts room-temperature butter and cream cheese, to create a lovely texture for the biscuit base.

Purim Hamantashen Gluten Free Traditional Jewish Cookie Biscuit Recipe

To one bowl I added plain flour and to the other I added dessicated coconut and LSA mix (which is made from Linseed, Soy and Almond meal). I combined them both well until I had a firm dough, which I put into the fridge for half an hour.

While the dough became stiff, I combined dates, sultanas, prunes and dried apricots with hot water on the stovetop until it was syrupy. This became the filling for my first batch of biscuits.

Purim Hamantash Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Traditional Cookie Biscuit Recipe

I decided to fill my gluten-free batch with the sticky jam that I made a few months ago with the elderberries from the tree in our backyard. I hadn’t strained the berries so it wasn’t suitable for cordial and it didn’t seem quite right for spreading on toast (it was a very simple recipe with just the berries, sugar and lemon, a bit like this).

Purim Hamantaschen Gluten Free Elderberry Jam Syrup Traditional Cookie Recipe

It turns out that it takes practice to take the step from elegant pastry rounds to excellent Hamantaschen triangles. I never really mastered it and then I ran out of time to get to our picnic. My attempts at gluten-free biscuits looked like puddles when I pulled them out of the oven, so I abandoned them on the stove stop and rushed out the door.

How incredible and wonderful, then, that two other attendees had gone to the trouble to make and bring their own, including another gluten-free version (seen at left in the picture below; the recipe sounds a bit like this one from Friendly Little Kitchen).

Mine are the ones at bottom right that are not triangles at all.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Jewish Hamantaschen Healthy Sugar Free Celebration Children Kids

We told noisy stories, held a noisy parade and played noisy games. Then nobody wanted to come home.

Purim Cultural Jewish Celebration Costume Tradition Cookie Biscuit Recipe

When I finally arrived back in the kitchen, I looked again at those gluten-free puddles and they had come good upon cooling. They were a little bit rustic, perhaps, but recognisable triangles (see the photo at the very top of this post).

And to be fair, all my Hamantaschen — of whatever shape — were actually really delicious.

So I think we were happy to be renegades with our celebration of Purim. Our festivities were a bit “unorthodox” to say the least, and our biscuits were non-traditional.

But this was a fantastic opportunity to connect with other families in our area, in a really fun way that held meaning for us.

Purim New Traditions Cultural Experience Jewish Celebration Children Many Cha Cha

Beetroots in Ukrainian

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes Book

It’s a very welcome side-effect of writing this blog that my friends and family often suggest activities with an international flavour and on occasion proffer gifts that might inject some culture into our lives.

I was particularly delighted by this choice of birthday present from my very close friend, Karma: a book called “Mamushka; Recipes from Ukraine and Beyond” by Olia Hercules. Apart from what I might have gleaned from reading the amusing novel A Short History of Tractors in Ukrainian, I didn’t know much about Ukraine at all. Plus, Mamushka is full of fascinating recipes and ingredients that look delicious and unfamiliar (in an enticing way).

One ingredient that I am familiar with, and which I chose to use as my first attempt at some Ukrainian cuisine, is beetroot. We have grown it in the past –the beauties in the pictures are some we grew in Tasmania– but I bought some plump beets from our local farmers market for my foray into the former Soviet Union.

Ukrainian Beetroot Beet Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipes

It turns out that beetroot is a particularly nutritious vegetable, which I’m thrilled to learn because it is a very popular one in our household. I grew up on tinned stuff, which is fine but basically tastes of vinegar. Now we like it fresh, and roasted until it caramelises. We eat so much that we laugh about our pink wee. (Don’t forget I have four-year-old boys…).

Ukraine Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Book

I didn’t start with Cold Beetroot Soup, although I gather it is a classic of the region. Instead I went with a very simple salad that combined intriguing flavours with the beets; balsamic and sour cream dressing with walnuts, prunes and a scattering of coriander.

Ukrainian Beetroot Walnut Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe

I served the salad with quinoa and it was dinner– very delicious and I found it really satisfying. Next time I would reduce the amount of balsamic and add more prunes because they were unexpectedly wonderful in this mix!

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Prunes

I have since done a little research into the culture of Ukraine (this blog gives some excellent insights) and I look forward to trying more recipes from this lovely book. Now, just to decide what clever “beet” pun to use for the title of this post…

Ukrainian Beetroot Mamushka Olia Hercules Recipe Beet

Travel on the Page: “La Vie Est Belle” by Henrietta Heald

La Vie Est Belle Henrietta Heald Travel at Home

Books have the magical power to transport us almost anywhere and while it goes without saying that words are vehicles for the imagination, beautiful photographs can give our hearts a lift too. In particular, I adore cook books written about regional cuisines because they often contain more than just pictures of food on a plate.

Certainly, I should be learning a few culinary skills from these books, but I am most often guilty of just browsing and dreaming of eating in faraway places. A book that doesn’t focus entirely on the food, but explores various ways of experiencing another culture — including its cuisine — seems like a fantastic idea to me.

A lovely book by Henrietta Heald, La Vie Est Belle, does just that. Filled with photographs of light-washed farms, Parisian pied-à-terres, and country “brocante” stalls, the book reinforces a Francophile’s dreams while providing recipes, stories and travel tips. With information about traditions and insights into French culture and habits, La Vie Est Belle is a travel-at-home experience to keep on your bookshelf.

The mouth-watering photograps of ‘tarte tatin’ in the pages inspired me to make a cheat’s version of this classic French dessert. (By the way, did you know that you can still stay or eat at the Hotel Tatin where the famous upside-down cake was accidentally created in the 1880s by the Tatin sisters?)

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Cheats La Vie Est Belle Travel

I simply peeled and sliced some apples, then cooked them in a shallow pan with butter and brown sugar until the whole lot caramelised in the most delectable and fragrant way. I spooned this mixture into some pre-prepared (read: shop-bought) pastry that I had placed into small metal baking dishes then baked the tarts for about 20 minutes. Note: if you try this you should definitely learn from my mistake and line the dishes with baking paper; the whole thing becomes very sticky.

So easy and utterly delicious. Probably scandalous.

Tarte Tatin Apple Easy Recipe Many Cha Cha Travel at Home

How to Reach North Africa via the Local Farmers Market

What do you get when you cross soggy socks with worn-out sneakers? Wet feet, of course, so be sure to wear your boots to the market in winter because it can get squelchy underfoot.

Pumpkin Soup North Africa Moroccan Preserved Lemons

Now that we live in a small country town, experiencing its rhythms and quirks, local farmers markets have taken on more significance. I am beginning to appreciate fresh food in new ways, and it may sound crazy but I particularly love choosing produce based on its natural beauty. As a result our fridge often bulges with pink carrots, purple chard and curly kale. Last week, I heaved home a huge, gnarly pumpkin without a thought for how I would prepare it.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe North African Tunisia Harissa Spicy Ingredients

Sadly, I discovered another answer to the question I posed above by simply roasting pieces of it in olive oil. (If you crossed soggy socks with worn-out sneakers, you’d get a fair approximation of the flavour of the pumpkin). I needed to come up with a new plan to turn this hefty vegetable into a flavoursome meal.

So I made a North African- inspired pumpkin soup that packs a spicy punch and really gave this coarse ol’ pumpkin a new lease of life. While it was simmering, I did some reading about harissa, the spicy condiment that really makes a difference to this recipe.

Pumpkin Soup Winter Morocco Tunisia North Africa Recipe

I have used harissa before, as a chilli hit with depth; most notably as a sort of marinade for roast potatoes, a bit like this recipe by The English Kitchen. I had thought it was from Morocco, but have just discovered that it is the preferred sauce of people all across North Africa. It actually originates in Tunisia, the coastal country that is still being rocked by recent tragic acts of violence against tourists.

Tunisia is a country with a rich history and much natural beauty. It features incredible Roman ruins at Dougga and a brilliant pop-culture attraction in the form of sets from the Star Wars films, which were abandoned when filming was completed. And that’s without mentioning the extraordinary beaches and beach weather which draws so many Europeans to Tunisian shores.

Unfortunately, the fear of future assaults means that Tunisia is quickly becoming out-of-bounds for visitors, which will deprive many local people of their incomes. This article in The Guardian, about how brave young Tunisian men faced down a deadly gunman to protect tourists, is heart-breaking.

I do hope peace can be achieved for the ordinary people of Tunisia soon.

What do you get when you cross a North African condiment with a tough pumpkin from the farmer’s market? A smooth, spicy soup that will warm you from the inside during a Southern Hemisphere winter.

Pumpkin Soup Recipe North African Tunisia Morocco Harissa Recipe Spices

Many Cha Cha’s North African Pumpkin Soup

Serves 2

Ingredients:

3 cups pumpkin, peeled and diced

1 tomato, diced

1 Spanish onion, diced

1/4 cup red capsicum

1 cup chick peas (from a tin or soaked overnight)

2 cloves garlic, crushed or chopped finely

1 thumb-sized knob of ginger, grated

1/4 preserved lemon rind, rinsed and chopped

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 cup fresh coriander, chopped

1 teaspoon harissa (or more, to taste)

3 tablespoons olive oil

Salt and pepper

Fresh chilli, chopped (as a garnish, to taste)

Plain yoghurt, to serve

In a medium saucepan, sautee the onion, garlic, ginger, cumin and bay leaves in the olive oil. When the onion has softened, add the tomato, lemon, harissa and a tablespoon of coriander; continue to stir on a medium heat until the tomato has disintegrated and you are left with a sort of paste. Add the pumpkin and capsicum and stir to coat them both with the paste, continuing to stir for a few minutes. Add salt and pepper, to taste. Cover the vegetables with water and bring to the boil, then cover and simmer for 15-20 minutes until the pumpkin is soft.

Remove bay leaves, add remaining coriander. Mash or puree the vegetables, then add chick peas and heat through. Check that your seasoning and spice suits you: add more harissa or salt if needed.

Serve with a dollop of yoghurt plus a garnish of chilli if you like it hot (it’s a mild-to-medium dish as is).

Bon appétit!

Pumpkin Soup North African Moroccan Recipe Spicy

The Why of Pumpkin Pie

I’ve always liked the idea of a celebration to give thanks, but I’ve never known why America has a holiday called Thanksgiving. And then there’s the much more pressing question: what is the story with pumpkin pie?

Pumpkin Pie Baked Butternut Squash Shell Apple Sauce Recipe

Thanksgiving probably began simply as a celebration of a bountiful harvest, and the idea has been co-opted at different times by religion and politics. Eventually its various origins and purposes seem to have come together mostly as a reason for Americans to come together, firstly as a symbol of national unification (as decreed by Abraham Lincoln) and these days as a family occasion.

My extensive research of American TV situation comedies suggests that this is a holiday with generous and loving qualities.

Still, I’m more intrigued by the idea of pumpkin pie. Why pumpkin pie?

Ryan O’Hanlon of Pacific Standard has this excellent quote to add to my understanding of it: “Thanksgiving is an American holiday, and there are few things more American than dumping a can of pre-prepared mush into pie crust and calling it dessert.”

Certainly pumpkins originated in the “New World” along with corn, tomatoes and peanuts. However it seems likely the recipes that evolved into modern-day pumpkin pie were actually European. They had been stuffing and roasting cucumbers, gourds and zucchini since the Middle Ages. So the first “pumpkin pies” were probably pumpkins stuffed with apples and berries and shoved into a fire. Sounds practical but even more weird than the modern version.

Pumpkin Pie In Shell Mash Recipe Origins

All of this brings me to my own attempt at making one. The nearest I have come to tasting a genuine Thanksgiving pumpkin pie is smelling a “spiced pumpkin” scented candle, so I didn’t have any bias to begin with. But I wanted my version to hint at the history of this odd-sounding dessert. So I stuffed a pumpkin with a custardy pumpkin mash (recipe below).

Actually it was a butternut squash, so my pumpkin wasn’t really a pumpkin just as my pie wasn’t really a pie. I served it with Dutch apple sauce in homage to those medieval cooks I mentioned, but that extra flourish also added extra weirdness to the flavour, I think.

Whether or not my “pie” was a success depends upon who you ask. The kids tucked in and then tired of it very quickly; perhaps they found it too rich. The husband took two spoonfuls and declared it “not yucky… but a bit weird.”

I think it was delicious and I’d like all my vegetables served as custard from now on, please.

Pumkin Pie Stuffed Shell Custard Recipe History

Many Cha Cha’s Thanksgiving Pumpkin Pie

Half a small pumpkin (I used a butternut squash, which we call a pumpkin…)

1/2 cup Muscuvado sugar

2 free range eggs

1/2 cup cream

1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground Allspice

Whole cloves (to decorate the pumpkin shell)

Icing sugar and perhaps Dutch applesauce or extra cream, to serve

Brush the pumpkin or squash with oil and roast for 40 minutes at 180C. Scoop the flesh out of the shell, discard the seeds and puree the pumpkin. Add eggs, cream, sugar and ground spices to the pumpkin puree and continue to blend until mixture is well combined. Decorate pumpkin shell with whole cloves and then spoon the pumpkin mixture into the shell (any leftover mixture can be baked in patty pans or ramekins). Place the pumpkin into an oven-proof bowl to help it retain its shape, then return it to the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until set, at 150C. Dust with icing sugar and serve with sauce or cream.

Pumpkin Pie Butternut Squash America Thanksgiving Tradition History Recipe

Moroccan Match Making

Morocco Lemon Souk Aamor Agdoud N'Oulmghenni

During September, in the Atlas Mountains of Morocco, the Betrothal Feast of Imilchil is held with much colour and fanfare. A story of forbidden love is apparently what led to the creation of this event, officially called Souk Aamor Agdoud N’Oulmghenni.

The legend of Tislet and Isli is like a cross between Romeo/Juliet and Swan Lake (a lovely version is retold at Friends of Morocco). Refused permission to marry, the lovers threw themselves into lakes, or were perhaps dissolved by grief to become lakes, only to be forever separated by the mountains. Their families vowed to gather in remembrance and to never again meddle in the marriage choices of young people.

The festival, also known as the Berber Bride Festival, seems nowadays to largely be an annual reunion for villagers in the region, rather than a match-making exercise, but the romantic roots of the event remain. I love the idea of a festival of courting and eyelash fluttering in Morocco (imagine the spectacle!).

Moroccan Preserved Lemon Recipe Jar Berber Bride Festival

Speaking of match-making, lemon and salt are an ideal pair, aren’t they? I have managed to sneak quite a few vegetables past the lips of my fussy eaters with a squeeze of lemon and sprinkle of salt. And with Morocco in mind, I have preserved the last tiny lemons from my lichen-covered trees.

Morocco Preserved Lemons Jar Salt Pickle

I found a variety of recipes for Moroccan preserved lemons, such as this one from David Lebovitz and another from this lovely blog called MarocMama. As usual, I took hints from a few different recipes and then improvised.

And now that I’ve married my lemons with so much salt, I need to find the perfect partner for this preserve. There are lots of suggestions on both of the above blogs, and more at A Recipe for Gluttony and Globetrotter Diaries.

Once the preserve has brewed for a month or so, I look forward to making a Moroccan feast for my own “betrothed”.

Morocco Preserved Lemon Berber Wedding Festival

There’s a Pear in There: French Flaugnard

Pear Flaugnard Clafoutis Almond French Tea Poached

Our generous garden has provided gifts again. The small pair has been enjoying the small pears! I’ve used it as an excuse to learn some French.

Pear Tree Garden Autumn TasmaniaI picked most of our pears a week or two ago because they ripen best off the tree (apparently the grainy texture increases the longer they are left hanging). And inspired by the current Cannes Film Festival, I decided to bake some of them into a clafoutis, which is a French pancakey tart.Pear Pairs Pan Rustic French Flaugnard BakeHowever, it turns out that the word clafoutis refers only to this style of sweet when it’s baked with cherries. (I love how the French are so specific about these things!) When made with any other fruit, the dessert is known as a flaugnard. Pears French Earl Grey Tea Hibiscus Sunflower Rose CottleI extended the theme by first poaching the pairs in some French Earl Grey tea from Cottle on Coventry that features hibiscus, sunflower and rose petals. I used local honey in the batter for some warm sweetness and I added almond for texture. Pears Picked Paper Yellow Ripe

Tea Poached Pear Flaugnard with Almonds

4 or 5 pears, halved and cored

3 teaspoons French Earl Grey tea, brewed for 5 minutes in two cups water

2 Tbsp caster sugar

5g butter, melted

3 eggs

1Tbsp honey

1/2 cup warm milk

1/2 cup plain flour

1/2 cup almond meal

1/4 cup natural, sliced almonds

Icing sugar for dusting

Place the pear halves in a small saucepan with brewed tea and sugar (add water to ensure that the pears are fully immersed). Simmer for 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 180 degrees, brush melted butter onto baking pan or tart tray (note that batter is very runny, so if you use a pan with a removable base you should line it first).

In a mixing bowl, whisk eggs, add honey and milk, then flour and almond meal. Place pear halves into buttered pan. Pour batter over pears and sprinkle with sliced almonds. Bake on a low shelf in the oven for 20 minutes or so, or until puffy and brown. Dust with icing sugar and serve warm.

It’s an unusual texture and not too sweet (the pears do most of the work in that department).

Bon Appétit!

Pear Tree Garden Backyard Autumn Many Cha Cha Tasmania