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May 12, 2005

Avinadav's Mediterranean Feast

DSCN9874.jpgIntense day dedicated to colloquium on Mediations of Anne Frank, followed by a festive meal prepared by Avinadav. Avinadav is 15th generation Israeli on his mother's side (Sephardic Jews from the Balkans). His father's family came from Halab (Aleppo, Syria) to Palestine in the 1930s. He remembers his grandmother cooking for the Sabbath. The kitchen was filled with little primus stoves and on top of each one was a pan of a different stuffed vegetable to feed the family and friends that came to visit throughout the day. She stuffed everything, even carrots. She made her own pomegranate molasses. It was so precious that Avinadav's father saved a bottle of it for 30 years, long after she had passed away.

I stipulated the conditions: vegetarian, actually vegan (no dairy products), and, except for pita, no wheat. Avinadav emailed menu possibilities for the meal. Then we met and finalized the lineup over dinner and worked out a shopping list. Avinadav shopped along Atlantic Avenue and on the Upper West Side. I shopped in Chinatown. The fresh herbs included parsley, coriander, mint, oregano, and rosemary. Mo assisted Avinadav all day and Max and Dina pitched in too.


  • Stuffed onions: big sweet Spanish onions, sliced in half in the length but not all the way through, parboiled, taken apart and each layer stuffed with basmati rice (with bits of salted lemon and other things), and the lovely oblong shapes cooked in a tamarind sauce

  • Stuffed zucchini: hollowed out, stuffed with seasoned basmati rice, and cooked in pomegranate molasses

  • Green and yellow zucchini, sliced, broiled, and dressed with olive oil and lemon

  • Broiled and green peppers, peeled and dressed

  • Roasted beets: wrapped in tin foil and roasted in the oven for 2 hours, peeled, cubed, and dressed with lemon and olive oil

  • Fava beans: big dried ones, soaked overnight, boiled, and dressed with red radish, olive oil, lemon

  • Orange and fennel salad, with small pitted purple olives, salted lemons (the ones Joelle brought me from Bloomington)

  • Roasted roots: parsnip, parsley root, turnips, celery root, and fennel, with whole unpeeled garlic cloves

  • Tomatoes, diced and dressed

  • Roasted carrots and sweet potatoes, dressed with straight tehina

  • Tehina: absolutely luscious, with olive oil and pinenuts

  • Eggplant with tehina: Avinadav roasted the eggplant over a gass flame at his place as my stove is, alas, electric.

  • Eggplant with lemon and olive oil

  • Pickled turnips that I made

  • Pita, made from scratch. Avinadav could not find fresh hyssop (zatar), so he used fresh oregano

  • Big kalamata olives, with olive oil and fresh rosemary

  • Poached Bosch pears: peeled, cored but with stem in tact, stuffed with marzipan, and poached in red wine, sugar, and cinnamon, with poaching liquid reduced and poured over the pears, which are served warm--Avinadav wanted to serve the pears with macaroons or ice cream, but not this time.

  • Dried fruit stuffed with ground pistachio nuts and marzipan stuffed with nuts.

This is the first time that someone has cooked for me. I did so want to cook myself, but that was impossible. I ruled out a restaurant and considered ordering in, but could not bear the thought of aluminum trays and cans of sterno. Then, I had a stroke of good luck! I was talking with Dina, a visiting scholar, and casually asked how she was doing and how her husband was doing. "He now knows more about Chinatown now than anyone," she said. Inquiring further, I discovered that he is an artist and chef! With the dinner less than a week away and me still undecided, with a limited budget, but wanting the celebration to be beautiful, I asked if he might be willing to cook. Yes, indeed. The results were wonderful! Lara even blogged the meal! The only tragedy in all of this is that I did not get to cook with Avinadav and to learn from him.

Posted by BKG at May 12, 2005 02:26 AM


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