Wednesday, 16 November 2011

I love Yotam Ottolenghi

I love his two cookbooks (The Cookbook and Plenty) and his restaurant Nopi and how he tweets.  I love his way with sesame seeds, capers and Dijon mustard.
I love the recipes he publishes in the Guardian magazine.  I try them every week.

So last week while I was chopping up the ingredients for his Vietnamese Beef Salad, I thought about the difference between him and me.

His people are German and Italian.
My people are Litvak and Litvak.

He comes from a food tradition of refined abundance and I come from a food tradition of primitive austerity.

His people’s food traditions taste good, and my people’s food traditions drew the short culinary straw.
Chopped herring, helzel, ptchar and teiglach are foods that are hard to make and hard to love.

But that’s too bad.

This is what I’ve inherited.   It’s a tradition of simple food made from the cheapest cuts and two or three basic ingredients.

There were no preserved lemons in the stores of Dvinsk in the Nineteenth century.  There was no coriander or fennel seeds to be had in Pinsk. Though apparently there was flour, sugar and onions.  And whole chickens, un-plucked and unprocessed.

I don’t live in Dvinsk in the nineteenth century.  Like the great Ottolenghi himself, I live in London now in 2011, cooking with a wider range of ingredients and food experiences than my ancestors ever had.
I like how freedom tastes. But I wonder if I will be the last person on earth who knows how to make Kichel.

3 eggs
1 tablespoon oil
Half a tablespoon salt

Two secrets: the dough has to be very thin. The baking has to be watched because it burns very easily. Beat yolk whites separately, and then fold the yellow into the whites. Add salt, oil and flour to a good rolling consistency. Beat well after adding the oil, then beat in the flour.
Roll out thinly and cut into rectangles and place on an oil tray. Prick all over with a fork and sprinkle with sugar. Bake at 200 degrees until shiny and done.
Kichel are like crackers and are basically edible plates for chopped herring or chopped liver.

Wednesday, 2 November 2011


When I was ten, I read a book called My Side of the Mountain.  It was about a child who runs away from home and survives in a forest by living off the land. I was so impressed with this story that I packed a sweet-tin with essentials. There was a safety pin, a pocket knife, salt and sugar in tinfoil wraps, some plasters, matches and a magnet.

I took my survival tin to school with me every day for over a year.  I kept it with me everywhere I went, until the sugar and salt came undone and made a mess at the bottom of my school-bag. 

I still have the pocket knife. And even though I am now a grownup, I still like to make imaginary lists of things I need to survive if I was to run away to a desert island.

These are my lists:

Ten kitchen tools I use every day:

Knife, cutting board, a frying pan, a pot, wooden spoon, Microplane grater, little whisk, spatula, peeler, juice squeezer.

Things in my kitchen at all times:

Butter, onions, milk, bread, lemon, sunflower oil, tinned tomatoes, eggs, barley, flour, potatoes, soy sauce, fish sauce, sesame oil, sugar, vinegar.

The real essentials that I try to carry with me:

They are love, memory, pleasure, hope, kindness and belonging.

The essential sense of belonging

I belong to the tribe of Litvaks who immigrated to South Africa over 100 years ago from cold, impoverished European Shtetls.

In my mind, I can see my grandparents on the boat as they land in Cape Town.   They are stunned at the beauty of Table Mountain.  They are relieved their long sea journey is over.  They are clutching leather suitcases that contain all their essentials: vests, socks, passports, photographs, prayer shawls, warm clothes and recipes for the food of their mothers.

The recipes are all that are left.

My grandmother’s teiglach

6 eggs minus one egg yolk
Two tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons brandy
Add enough cake meal or flour for soft, but not sticky dough.  Add a teaspoon of ginger.
Beat. Roll into little doughnut shapes and leave for two hours. (in the sun if possible)

Boil 1kg golden syrup, mixed with 3 cups of sugar and 3 cups of water.
Boil for ten minutes.
Lower them into the boiling syrup.
Leave them in for ten minutes.
Then uncover, wipe the inside of the lid to remove condensation,
stir quickly and then replace lid.
Boil for another 15 minutes with lid on. Stir again. Wipe again.
Replace lid and cook till brown stirring occasionaly. Remove from heat.
Add two cups of hot , strong black coffee, but not boiling.
Remove teiglach from pot.
Place them on wet board to dry and drain. Sprinkle with sugar.