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Anointing Your Meal With Oil

December 3, 2009 By:
Ethel Hofman, JE Feature
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Each time I visit Israel, which is often, I discover new places and can indulge in the bountiful variety of Middle Eastern foods.

My absolute favorites? The Mezze, a dozen or more little appetizers. These little dishes of sweet and savory vegetables, salads and marinated fishes are served as soon as diners sit down and before the main course is ordered, all of them using oil. For me, this can be a complete meal, and for 35 shekels or so (about $10), you can eat heartily.

For example, eggplant fingers are tossed in crumbs and fried, and olive and sesame oils are used in the dressings.

All types of olive oil contain monounsaturated fat, but "extra virgin" or "virgin" olive oils are the least processed so are the most heart-healthy.

According to the Food and Drug Administration, consuming about two tablespoons of olive oil daily may reduce risk of heart disease. So don't feel guilty about using large amounts of the stuff during Chanukah.

And in keeping with the Israeli custom of cooking in oil, those true Chanukah delicacies, sufganiot, are also fried in oil.

So, for a Chanukah supper or for snacking, consider serving some of the following recipes. Most are quick and easy. Be sure to include plenty of toasted, herbed pita bread. Add a platter of dried fruits, jammy sufganiyot and hot sweet coffee. Then celebrate as the Israelis do.

Cabbage Salad With Scallions and Sesame


4 cups shredded cabbage from a package
3 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced

Dressing Ingredients:

3 Tbsps. extra-virgin olive oil
2 tsps. sesame oil
1/4 cup fresh orange juice
1 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
2 tsps. Dijon-style mustard
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
2 Tbsps. toasted sesame seeds (garnish)

Place the cabbage and scallions in a bowl.

In a small bowl, whisk together the dressing ingredients. Pour over the cabbage and scallions. Toss gently to mix.

Adjust seasoning. Sprinkle the sesame seeds over. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 98; protein, 1 g; carbohydrates, 2 g; fat, 10 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 43 mg.

Spicy Green and Black Olives


1 can (15 oz.) pitted green olives
1 can (15 oz.) pitted black olives
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbsp. minced garlic from a jar
1 Tbsp. tomato paste or catsup
1/2 small jalapeño pepper, thinly sliced
1/2 lemon, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 tsp. chili powder
3/4 tsp. dried red pepper flakes
salt to taste

Drain the olives, place in a bowl and set aside.

In a saucepan, mix the tomato, olive oil, garlic, tomato paste or catsup and jalapeño pepper. Bring to a simmer.

Add the olives, lemon slices, chili powder and pepper flakes.

Add 2 to 3 tablespoons of water. Stir to mix. Add salt to taste. Bring to a simmer.

Cook over low heat until the liquids are almost all absorbed, about 10 minutes. Cool and serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 85; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 1 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 15 mg.

Barley Tabouli With Mint


Barley is used here instead of the traditional bulgur.

1/2 cup barley
1 medium cucumber, unpeeled and diced
2 large tomatoes
1 bunch fresh mint, rinsed and dried
1/4 bunch parsley, rinsed and dried
1/4 bunch dill, rinsed and dried
grated rind and juice of 1 lemon
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Cook the barley according to package directions. Drain well. Place in a bowl with the cucumber. Set aside.

Cut the tomatoes in quarters. Chop coarsely in the food processor. Add to the barley mixture.

Place the mint, parsley and dill in the food processor. Chop coarsely and add to the bowl.

Make a well in center. Add the grated lemon rind and juice and olive oil. Stir gently to mix.

Season with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 173; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 14 g; fat, 13 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 7 mg.

Sweet Carrots and Dates


3 cups shredded carrots
11/2 Tbsps. honey
1/2 cup pitted dates, thinly sliced
1/3 cup goat cheese, crumbled
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
2 tsps. zatar (recipe below)
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the carrots, honey and 2 tablespoons water in a microwave safe bowl.

Cook in the microwave for 2 minutes, or until carrots begin to soften. Cool slightly.

Add the remaining ingredients. Stir gently to mix.

Season to taste with salt and fresh ground pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 195; protein, 3 g; carbohydrates, 21 g; fat, 12 g; cholesterol, 7 mg; sodium, 69 mg.



There are many variations of this Middle Eastern seasoning blend, used in hundreds of Israeli dishes -- from pizza to pasta. Here's one with easily obtainable spices.

1/4 cup dried marjoram
1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
2 tsps. dried thyme
1 tsp. hot pepper flakes

Place all ingredients in a small jar with tight-fitting lid

Cover tightly and shake well to mix. Store in a cool, dry place (not the refrigerator). Use as needed.

Makes about 3/4 cup.

Approximate nutrients per teaspoon: calories, 5; protein, 0 g; carbohydrates, 0 g; fat, 0 g; cholesterol, 0 mg; sodium, 126 mg.

Fried Eggplant Fingers


1 large eggplant
2 eggs
1 to 11/4 cups dry seasoned breadcrumbs
pinch nutmeg
oil for frying
cider vinegar

Trim the ends from the eggplant and peel. Cut into 1/2-inch slices, then into fingers about 1/2x3 inches.

Sprinkle lightly with salt and place in a colander. Let stand for 15 minutes or so. Rinse in cold water and pat dry with paper towels.

In a shallow dish, lightly beat the eggs. In a separate dish, mix the breadcrumbs with nutmeg.

Dip the eggplant first in egg, then in the breadcrumb mixture, turning to coat completely.

In a heavy saucepan, heat about 1 inch of oil over medium heat to 365°.

Add the eggplant fingers.

Cook for 5 minutes, turning so that the fingers are golden brown on all sides. Drain on paper towels. (You may need to do this in two batches.) Sprinkle lightly with vinegar. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 243; protein, 6 g; carbohydrates, 22 g; fat, 15 g; cholesterol, 71 mg; sodium, 686 mg.

Mushrooms in Tarragon Cream


1 lb. sliced mushrooms
2 Tbsps. olive oil
1/4 cup half-and-half
2 Tbsps. low-fat plain yogurt
11/2 tsps. dried tarragon
salt and pepper to taste

Rinse the mushrooms in cold water and pat dry. Heat the oil in a large, nonstick skillet over high heat. Add the mushrooms.

Sauté for 3 to 4 minutes, or until just beginning to brown. Remove from heat.

In a small bowl, whisk the half-and-half, yogurt and tarragon. Pour over the mushrooms. Stir to mix. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve at room temperature.

Serves 4 to 6.

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 74; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 3 g; fat, 6 g; cholesterol, 5 mg; sodium, 9 mg.

Sweet-and-Sour Salmon Bits


A bottled dressing makes this quick and tasty.

1/3 cup vinaigrette salad dressing
2 Tbsps. honey, warmed
1 lb. salmon filet
toasted sesame seeds for garnish (optional)

In a cup, mix the salad dressing and honey. Set aside.

Rinse the salmon in cold water and pat dry. Cut into 1-inch chunks.

Place in a microwave-safe dish. Pour the dressing mixture over. Cover loosely with wax paper.

Microwave 3 to 4 minutes on high. Fish should flake when pressed with a fork, so check after 21/2 minutes. Let stand, covered, for 2 to 3 minutes.

Scatter toasted sesame seeds over (optional).

Approximate nutrients per serving: calories, 173; protein, 15 g; carbohydrates, 7 g; fat, 9 g; cholesterol, 56 mg; sodium, 141 mg.

Simple 'Sufganiyot'


A quicker version than those made with yeast.

2 cups all-purpose flour
2 Tbsps. sugar
3 Tbsps. unsalted butter
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1 cup buttermilk or sour milk (to sour milk, add 2 tsps. vinegar to 1 cup milk. Let stand at room temperature for 10 to 15 minutes without stirring.)
1/3 cup strawberry jam or other preserves
confectioners' sugar
vegetable oil for frying

In a medium bowl, mix the flour and sugar.

Cut in the butter or rub with your fingers so that the mixture resembles coarse breadcrumbs. Stir in the baking powder.

Make a well in center. Mix in enough buttermilk to make a soft slightly sticky dough.

With floured hands, roll a heaping tablespoon of dough into a ball. With the handle end of a wooden spoon dipped in flour, make an indentation big enough to hold about 1 teaspoon of jam. Work dough around to seal completely. Repeat with remaining ingredients.

In a large, deep saucepan or deep-fryer, heat 2 inches of oil to 375°.

Gently slide dough balls into hot oil. Do not crowd. Cook over medium heat, turning often, until crisp and brown, about 4 minutes. Drain on paper towels and roll in the confectioners' sugar. Serve hot.

Makes 20.

Approximate nutrients for each: calories, 139; protein, 2 g; carbohydrates, 17 g; fat, 13 g; cholesterol, 5 mg; sodium, 89 mg.

Ethel G. Hofman is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals. E-mail her at: [email protected].

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