Saturday, March 28, 2009

No recipe ever calls for anger; many require regret

Last weekend Norman launched two new books. The launch was a little party at Martha and Norman's house in Hamilton, New Zealand. I offered to help with the catering. Norman especially requested bagels with smoked salmon and cream cheese and Martha filled a huge platter of these as bite-sized morsels. I wanted to make something else that would fit in with the book's themes.

One of Norman's new books is about secret Jews living in Mexico and the Southwestern US for the past four hundred years. I decided to evoke the secret Jew in Mexico theme by making chocolate hamantaschen. Hamantaschen are little pastries associated with the Jewish holiday of Purim which actually took place a couple of weeks ago. A sweet pastry is wrapped around a filling (traditionally a poppy seed mixture) in a triangular shape. Hammentaschen represent the ears, hat or pocket of Haman, the wicked villain in the story of Esther which Purim commemorates. Esther spends much of the story keeping her Judaism secret while living in the king's harem, until finally revealing her true identity to save her people from Haman's planned genocide of the Jews.

The chocolate filling in my hamantaschen represents the Mexican component of Norman's book of secret Jews. I mixed cinnamon and ground almonds with very dark chocolate, and if not for Martha's allergies I would have spiked it with a little chilli as well. To keep the traditionalists happy I also made some hamantaschen with poppy seed filling. Both flavours were gobbled up quickly!

The pastry was very fragile and difficult to roll and wrap. I got quite stressed out trying to patch together these little beasts that kept collapsing at every step. I remembered why, much as I love baking, I tend to avoid anything that involves a rolling pin.

A much easier kind of pastry to work with is filo, which somehow manages to be quite sturdy despite cooking to a delicate buttery, paperish wrapping. I made dozens of these Moroccan meat cigars which were easy to make and eat. Both the cigars and the hamantaschen recipes came from one of my favourite cookbooks: The Book of Jewish Food by Claudia Roden.

The other book being launched didn't receive the same culinary attention, though in retrospect we should have served Eskimo pies. Penguins of Ice are Fools is a sweet funny little book of about 200 short sayings by Norman, illustrated with 4 wood prints by Martha. The sayings give more of an accessible insight into Norman's personality than is usually available in his books. They are funny, poignant, cynical and nostalgic. Anyone who has ever enjoyed a conversation with Norman, will like this book which only costs $10. Email him directly, (or contact Meliors via to buy your copy now.

"At a certain stage between stew and soup, a fork becomes anomalous.
Why not begin with a spoon."

"Old black-and-white films are like mashed potatoes on cold rainy evenings."

Cigares a la Viande (Moroccan Meat Cigars)
from Claudia Roden's The Book of Jewish Food

2 medium onions
3-4 tbsp oil (plus more to brush the filo)
500g (1lb) lean minced beef
salt and pepper
1 1/2 cinnamon
1/2 ginger
1/4 tsp nutmeg
pinch of cayenne (optional)
juice 1/2-1 lemon
4 tbsp finely chopped flat leaf parsley or coriander
250g filo pastry

Fry the onions in oil til soft, add the meat, crush and brown, then add all the seasonings except the parsley. Stir well, pour in ab.out 1 cup of water, cover and cook slowly for about half an hour until tender and most of the water has evaporated, Blend in a food processor until smooth then add the parsley.
Cut the filo sheets into quarters, pile on top of each other and cover with a damp towel while you work. Brush the top piece with oil. Take a walnut size piece of meat and roll into a sausage shape. Place along the short end of the filo piece and then roll up like a cigarette, turning in the ends about a third of the way along. Continue until all the meat has filled all the filo (I found the amounts matched almost perfectly).
Brush the tops with oil and bake at 325 degrees for about 1/2 hour until golden and crispy. Serve hot.

1 comment:

  1. Thank you for sharing. This sounds like a wonderful event that I would have loved to attend. I just spent a short time with David and Penny in New York and we enjoyed Sammy's steaks, pickels, vodka and good company.