Both Sides Now: Claire’s and Taïm

The cookbooks featured in this post are both restaurant cookbooks, but there the similarities end. In Claire Criscuolo’s Welcome to Claire’s we get hearty vegetarian fare, often with an Italian influence. The food of Balaboosta, by Einat Admony , can best be characterized as Israeli; there is a lot here that is not yet part of most Americans’ diets. However, the vegetarian, or even kosher cook must pick her way past meat recipes and recipes for trayf seafood. Both cookbooks, though, different as they are, are full of recipes that I want to cook.

welcome-to-claires-by-claire-criscuolo-9655056edb681fdfClaire’s Corner Copia in New Haven is one of the few restaurants whose cookbooks I own that I have visited, and it is a restaurant that I like very much. It is informal, and the food is filling and hot. The restaurant is vegetarian and even kosher. Welcome to Claire’s: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant, by Claire Criscuolo, is the fourth restaurant cookbook from Claire’s. There are some repeats from the previous cookbooks, but usually updated to be consistent with the version currently being served at Claire’s. The recipes that are vegan or gluten free (or easily adapted to be vegan or gluten free) are helpfully labelled as such. Some recipes bear the banner “Claire’s Classic”; these are the tried and true recipes that have been served at the restaurant year after year. None of the recipes are particularly fancy or involved; none involve exotic ingredients or flavors. I particularly like that Claire’s soups all use water as the liquid. Unlike the first three cookbooks, this book has a local publisher, Lyons Press, an imprint of Globe Pequot Press. Claire is clearly very gung ho about being local; she specifies “local if available” in her ingredient lists, a nudge that I for one could do without. That, however, is my only real complaint about this cookbook, and I look on this cookbook as a great resource for no-nonsense, good-tasting vegetarian fare.

Claire’s “Greek Salad” (page 117) is an excellent choice if you want a huge amount of a healthy, non-lettuce based salad. This is made up of broccoli and all the other traditional Greek salad ingredients: bell peppers, red onion, olives, tomatoes, and feta cheese, with an oil and vinegar dressing. The only problem with this salad is that once you add the dressing, the salad has a limited life span.

bbsoupI am not that fond of black beans or black bean soups, so I am not sure why I made Claire’s “Spanish Black Bean Soup” (page 21). Maybe it’s because I was facing a three day holiday with lots of people to feed, and with the pound of black beans in this recipe, it seemed that I could serve a lot more people than the eight given in the recipe yield. I used a generous amount of smoked salt to go with the smokiness from the Spanish smoked paprika in the recipe. The soup, when I first tasted it, was about what I expected, but after a day or two it improved immensely. It was even better when I topped it off with some of the mango mustard condiment from Balaboosta, discussed below.

Enchilada casserole

Enchilada casserole

I have found that vegetarian (but not vegan) restaurants usually do a good job on Mexican style food: it is hard to mess up beans and cheese. At Claire’s, my favorite dish is the Mexican lasagna: tortillas layered with beans, cheese, and other vegetables. This dish does not appear in the cookbook, but the recipe for “Enchiladas” (page 205) easily converts to a lasagna type recipe. Instead of rolling up the filling of spinach, mushrooms, corn, cheese, and sour cream in tortillas and spooning salsa over top, just layer everything. Done this way, this is my favorite recipe from the book. [Go to the recipe.]

caband noodlesCabbage with noodles is a basic, everyday dish, even when mushrooms are added and it’s given a fancy name: “Fettucine with Braised Cabbage and Cremini Mushrooms” (page 162). But however basic and everyday, however grandly named, this is a very satisfying. Of all the dishes from Welcome to Claire’s that I tried, this was the one with the leftovers I wanted for lunch. I used wild mushroom fettucine. We ate this both plain and topped with parmesan cheese; as can be guessed, the version with cheese was even better than the plain version.

polentaxxOne of my favorite convenience foods is ready made polenta, which, to my unsophisticated palate, is just as good as the stuff that I stand and stir for half an hour. Claire’s recipe, “Polenta Campagnola” (page 232) has us making polenta from scratch, but that did not stop me from using the grocery store tubes. On top of the polenta is a tomato sauce with mushrooms, fake Italian sausage, and olives. Claire tops her version with ricotta cheese; I used parmesan. This was good when first made, and even better as leftovers.

cabbageand sauerkrautAfter making the red cabbage slaw from The Animal Farm Buttermilk Cookbook, I still had more than half a head or red cabbage. Since I also had some sauerkraut in the refrigerator that wasn’t getting eaten up, “Red Cabbage and Onion Sauerkraut” (page 304) seemed like an appropriate recipe to try. I had much less sauerkraut than the recipe called for, but in a recipe such as this, that doesn’t make that much of a difference. You just cook onion, cabbage, and caraway in a little bit of oil, then add mustard and the sauerkraut, with its juices. This dish tastes just as one would suspect. I like sauerkraut, so I liked this cabbage dish.

People in New Haven, at least the vegetarians and kashrut observing Jews, just love Claire’s “Lithuanian Coffee Cake” (page 353). The gimmick here is that Claire has put the coffee back in coffee cake; this is a standard sour cream coffee cake with a tablespoon of ground coffee in the filling. At the restaurant, the bundt shaped cake is often topped with a frosting consisting of butter and confectioners’ sugar, which is a total overdose. However, if I were spending 25 hours a day holed up in my lab or office, I would probably appreciate more this cake with its frosting. One evening, when Claire’s was still relatively new to us, we were eying the Lithuanian coffee cake. A nervous, white rabbity sort of woman in front of us noticed this and told us how much she liked the cake. She ordered a slice (with frosting) to go, then went scurrying back to whatever dark recess in the bowels of Yale from which she had emerged. I’ve made this recipe several times, but not recently. It’s not the best coffee cake in the world, but it’s good enough.

balaboostaBalaboosta, by Einat Admony, with Joel Chasnoff and Dhale Pomes, is a great new cookbook. Einat’s food, which she serves at her three restaurants in Manhattan, is very Israeli, which should be no surprise as Einat herself is very Israeli, with a Yemenite father. Herein we find falafel and shakshuka, kubaneh and Israeli couscous, lots of eggplant recipes, and lots of condiments. There are also quite a few recipes that were probably not prepared in Bnei Brak, where Einat lived as a child: mussels drenched in ouzo, crispy calamari, or grilled octopus. Nevertheless, there is still plenty in this cookbook for the kosher, even for the vegetarian, chef. The non-recipe prose in Balaboosta is easy and amusing to read; much of this aspect of the book can no doubt be credited to one of her coauthors, Joel Chasnoff, comedian and author of The 188th Crybaby Brigade: A Skinny Jewish Kid from Chicago Fights Hezbollah.

peppersEinat’s “Roasted Rainbow Bell Pepper Salad” (page 219) is a simple and colorful addition to any salad spread. The peppers are also good on sandwiches, with falafel, or really with anything at all (except possible dessert items). Interestingly, Einat uses no oil; the roasted peppers are combined only with vinegar and honey and flavored with sweet paprika, salt, and pepper. Next time, I might be tempted to try these with hot paprika or Aleppo pepper.

Moroccan carrots

“Moroccan Carrots” (page 34), like Joyce Goldstein’s Moroccan carrots, are exactly what (at least in my mind) Moroccan carrots should be, unlike many of the recipes I find when perusing the internet. Here, we have half-cooked carrots with oil and vinegar, garlic and cumin, and a few other ingredients. What is different about Einat’s recipe is that she adds some tomato paste, cooked in olive oil. When I tried to do this, my tomato paste never broke down, but stayed in discrete blobs. I think it added a good flavor, though. All our guests really liked these carrots.

harifEinat shares her Yemenite father’s recipe for “S’chug” (page 275) (more commonly known as harif, which simply means hot, at least amongst people I know). Although she refers to this as “Dad’s hot, hot, sauce”, it is not nearly as hot as other harif recipes that I have tried, and is only a shadow of the very hard core harif from our friend Ilana H.’s mother. To make this condiment, you process together cilantro, hot green peppers, dried hot red peppers, garlic, oil, and spices: cumin and cardamom. I used olive oil instead of canola oil. I hesitate to admit this, but I actually preferred this milder harif to the much hotter versions.

ambaAmba is a mango pickle, which made its way to Israel with Iraqi Jews. Einat’s recipe (page 217) looked like nothing that I had ever tried, so I was intrigued. To make this condiment, you generously salt chopped up mango, and let it ferment in the hot sun for five days. I am not sure that my mango really fermented; I never saw little bubbles forming. After that, you add lots of mustard seed, garlic, fenugreek, and other such ingredients. Since I have never had this, I do not know if what I ended up with is at all like what amba is supposed to be, but what I had was an interesting addition to falafel.

tahinisauceThere is not much to say about “Tahini Sauce” (page 218). Einat’s recipe is somewhat thin, with an equal amount of tahini and water, and very lemony, with almost as much lemon juice. There are those who regard tahini sauce de rigueur with falafel; the last time I put falafel on my table, I did not serve tahini sauce and at least one of my guests there found my spread lacking.

falafelAfter making all these sauces, I had to make the falafel (page 223). Einat’s New York falafel restaurant Taïm offers three types of falafel: herbed, with harissa, and with roasted red peppers. The recipe in Balaboosta is for a fourth type: with olives. I don’t know why Einat claims in her recipe introduction that the recipe is complicated; I thought it was quite simple. Soak dried chickpeas overnight, then process with onion, garlic, olives, cumin, coriander, salt, and pepper. Fry in a lot of oil at 375º. These falafel were as good as any I have ever had, even those at Moshiko. Just after I cooked them, I made myself a little plate with three falafel balls, a spoonful of harif, a spoonful of amba, and with tahini sauce drizzled over all. When  I shut my eyes, I could almost convince myself that I was in Jerusalem. If anyone to whom I happened serve these falafel to is reading this and thinking that the falafel were okay, but certainly not amazing, let me remind those people that falafel are a zillion times better freshly made. [Go to the recipe.]

fakechickI doubt that Einat’s mother would recognize my version of the recipe “My Mom’s Rice Stew” (page 93). This is an olio of rice, black eyed peas, and chicken. The rice I had, but Whole Foods Market was out of black eyed peas, so I used cannellini beans (which I like better anyway), and I did not use chicken, just a fake chicken product. Since much of the flavor of this stew comes from the chicken, I was not sure how successful my version would be. Surprisingly, it turned out to be quite good, although I’m sure that the flavor was not as rich and deep as it would have been with real chicken. Danny liked this because it looked hot and filling and cholent-like; I liked it because there were other interesting flavors besides the fake chicken: prunes, pomegranate molasses, lime (which I used instead of dried Persian limes), and sugar, for which I used one of those truncated pyramids of jaggery.

challahsept4There are only so many ways to vary the ingredients that make up challah before you no longer have challah, but some other bread entirely. You can vary the type of flour, the number of eggs, the amount and type of sweetener, and the amount and type of added fat. As for the liquid, it is my opinion that if you use milk instead of water (an option in the Balaboosta recipe), then you no longer have challah, just rich egg bread. The challah recipe (page 24) in Balaboosta is close to my ideal for the proportions of the key ingredients: low in fat, slightly low in eggs, and a little sweeter than average. Since I was making these for Rosh Hashanah, I used honey; instead of the canola oil in the book’s recipe, I used walnut oil, healthier and tastier. From the large (9 cups of flour) recipe, I made six loaves: two plain, one sesame seed, one poppy seed, one raisin, and one chocolate chip. Instead of coils, I twisted two ropes of dough together, then formed a circular shape. I did find myself using quite a bit more flour than in the recipe to get a reasonably workable dough.

Fake Kit Kat bars

According to Henry, our resident expert on such matters, “My Homemade Kit Kat” (page 37) resembles a real Kit Kat bar only in being chocolate, crunchy, and cut into a rectangular shape; nevertheless, he ate most of these. Instead of layers coated in milk chocolate, these fake Kit Kat bars have one crunchy layer (chocolate, Nutella, and cereal; I used Uncle Sam) and one ganache layer; instead of a bad milk chocolate, the fake bars are made with a good dark chocolate. So, although not that good an imitation, these bars are an excellent confection, way tastier than real Kit Kat bars. I did add a small amount of organic corn syrup and a tiny bit of vanilla to the ganache topping, since merely cream and 72% dark chocolate, as called for in the recipe, seemed a bit too severe.


Enchilada Casserole

Adapted from Claire Criscuolo, Welcome to Claire’s

4 tablespoons butter
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound mushrooms, sliced
1 10-ounce package frozen corn
1 pound fresh spinach
1 teaspoon chili powder
12 ounces Monterey Jack cheese, grated
1 pound sour cream
12 6-inch corn tortillas
1 16-ounce jar salsa

Preheat the oven to 350º. Lightly oil a 9 x 13 inch pan. Melt the butter in a large skillet, and cook over medium high heat, while stirring, the onion, garlic, and mushrooms until the vegetables are limp and starting to brown. Add the corn, spinach, and chili powder, and cook, stirring, until the spinach wilts. Remove from heat and stir in half the cheese and all the sour cream. Add salt and pepper to taste. Layer four tortillas, half the vegetable mixture, another four tortillas, the rest of the vegetables, and then the remaining four tortillas. Pour the salsa over everything, and top with the remaining cheese. Bake for about 30 minutes, until hot and bubbly with melted cheese. You may also prepare this ahead of time, refrigerate, and then bake.


Olive Falafel

Adapted from Einat Admony, Balaboosta

2 cups dried chickpeas
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, crushed
1 cup pitted black olives (e.g., Kalamata)
1½ teaspoons salt
½ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon pepper
Olive oil (or other oil) for frying

Soak the chickpeas in water overnight, then drain. Put the onions and garlic in the bowl of your food processor, and pulse until finely chopped. Add the coriander and drained chickpeas and pulse until the chickpeas are in tiny pieces. Add the olives, salt, cumin, and pepper, and pulse until the mixture is almost homogeneous. Stop, though, before you get a complete purée. (You could probably just toss everything in at once and process, and no one would know the difference.)

To fry the falafel, heat several inches of oil in an appropriately sized pan. The oil should reach 375º. I never measure the temperature, just heat the oil on high heat, then turn the heat slightly down. Form balls slightly less than ping pong ball size, and carefully place in the hot oil. This I do in batches, so as not to overcrowd the pan and lower the temperature of the oil. Cook the falafel balls until golden brown, turning if necessary. This should take 3 to 5 minutes. Drain the balls on a paper towel.



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