Cooking British in the Holy Land

As a newlywed learning how to cook in Israel in the early 1970s, I had prepared quite a few English specialties.

By BY FAYE LEVY
February 19, 2010 18:50
cheese 88

cheese 88. (photo credit: )

At a brunch party with a British-Indian menu at the home of renowned cookbook author Anne Willan in Santa Monica, California, the main course was a fish and rice medley called kedgeree, accompanied by white beans and sweet pumpkin chutney. There were cheese pastry fingers for appetizers and brandied fruit cake for dessert. The food brought me and my husband Yakir back to Bat Yam, 35 years ago.

As a newlywed learning how to cook in Israel in the early 1970s, I had prepared quite a few English specialties. At that time only a handful of cookbooks in Hebrew were available, and most of the cookbooks at Steimatzky were British.

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I became acquainted with all sorts of sweets with amusing names, like “jam roly poly,” a pie-dough strudel filled with jam and steamed; “poor knight’s fritters,” which turned out to be French toast made of bread slices sandwiched with jam; and “halfpay pudding,” a steamed pudding made of breadcrumbs, margarine, golden syrup, milk and raisins.

The fruit cake at brunch reminded us of an English holiday cake I had baked that was finished by an unusual technique – poking holes in the baked cake and spooning brandy over it every few days for a month or two. The first time I made it, I thought the alcohol flavor might be overwhelming, but it was delicious.

Our favorite among the English desserts was trifle, a lovely layered pudding of cake, fruit and rich custard. These British cookbooks were particularly useful for learning to make marmalades, jam and jellies, like the strawberry jelly I made when I overbought ripe strawberries at the Carmel outdoor market in Tel Aviv.

Aside from sweets, I most enjoyed cooking the Indian-influenced recipes. Usually they were seasoned lightly with curry powder, which was similar to my mother-in-law’s Yemenite soup spice. I liked the recipes for English curried eggs, made of hard-boiled egg halves in a curry-flavored cream sauce, and I used the sauce on all sorts of vegetables.

Dairy supper courses appealed to me, too, like a cheese, bread and butter pudding made of layers of buttered bread and grated cheese baked with beaten eggs and milk. Another tasty English egg entree was mashed potatoes and leeks topped by hard-boiled eggs and a creamy cheddar sauce.

Cheddar was the cheese called for in most of the recipes. Jane Grigson, author of English Food, wrote why: “Cheddar, hard, dry, grated, is the best general-purpose cheese for cooking.”

KEDGEREE – FISH WITH CURRY, RICE AND EGGS

Kedgeree is a popular British brunch dish. According to Anne Willan – founder of La Varenne cooking school, my former employer and author of Entertaining Menus – “It dates from the time when the day’s first meal was more than cereal and toast, and England ruled an empire. The original Indian dish, kitchri, was a robust mixture of rice and lentils laced with plenty of spice. To suit their palates, the British kept the rice base but toned down the spice to a light touch of curry. As a reminder of home, they added finnan haddie (smoked haddock) or salmon with hard-cooked eggs.” 

This version is based on Willan’s traditional kedgeree recipe, but is somewhat lighter. The original called for 110 grams of butter, 6 eggs and 3/4 cup heavy cream. As a variation, she recommends using half fresh and half smoked salmon; for this luxurious version, you mix flaked smoked salmon with the wine-poached fresh salmon in the recipe.

You can prepare the cooked rice and the fish and egg mixture one day ahead and keep them in covered dishes in the refrigerator.

900-gr. piece salmon, preferably fresh
3⁄4 cup white wine
3⁄4 cup water
6 peppercorns
few sprigs parsley
1 1⁄2 cups rice
50 to 75 gr. butter
1 Tbsp. curry powder
4 to 6 hard-boiled eggs, coarsely chopped
1⁄2 cup heavy cream
salt and pepper
1⁄2 cup chopped parsley

Preheat oven to moderate (175ºC). Put the fish in a casserole or stew pan, pour wine and water over it and add peppercorns and parsley. Cover tightly, bring to a boil and poach in the heated oven for 25 minutes or until the fish just flakes easily when tested with a fork. Let cool in the cooking liquid.

Cook the rice in a large saucepan of boiling salted water to cover generously, for 10 to 12 minutes or until just tender. Drain, rinse with hot water, and leave in a colander to drain for 10 minutes, poking drainage holes with the handle of a spoon. Spread the rice in a shallow buttered baking dish or roasting pan.

Drain salmon and flake, discarding skin and bones. In a large, heavy-based casserole or stew pan, melt the butter, add the curry powder and cook gently 2 minutes. Add the flaked fish and chopped eggs.

To serve, heat the rice, uncovered in a 175ºC oven, for 10 to 15 minutes until hot and fluffy, stirring occasionally. Gently heat the fish mixture on top of the stove, stirring occasionally. Add the rice to the fish and toss with two forks over high heat until very hot. Add cream, salt, pepper and parsley, and taste for seasoning. Heat again until very hot, and serve.

Makes 6 servings.

WELSH RAREBIT OR RABBIT – CHEESY TOAST

Author Jane Grigson, whom I met in London and in Paris, called this dish Welsh rabbit, but most now refer to it as Welsh rarebit. The origin of both names is apparently unknown, but it is a popular dish. This is Grigson’s recipe. She recommends serving it with a glass of red wine or ale.

110 gr. grated cheddar cheese
3 Tbsp. milk or ale
25 gr. butter
salt and pepper
1 tsp. mustard
2 slices toasted bread

Combine cheese and milk in a small heavy saucepan. Stir it over low-to-moderate heat until the mixture melts to a thick cream. Off the heat, add butter, salt, pepper and mustard; taste and adjust seasoning. Return to the heat and continue heating until it is very hot but not boiling. 

Put toast on small gratin dishes or other dishes that can withstand the heat of the broiler. Pour the hot cheese mixture over them and broil until the cheese bubbles and browns in spots; it will overflow the edges of the toast. Serve immediately.

Makes 2 servings.

MASHED POTATOES WITH LEEKS

These tasty potatoes are good as an accompaniment for fish, meat or eggs.  If you’d like to serve the mashed potatoes as a bed for hard-boiled eggs and cheese sauce, keep the mixture firm by omitting most of the milk or broth.

700 gr. potatoes, unpeeled
salt and freshly ground pepper
3 medium leeks, dark green tops removed
2 or 3 Tbsp. butter, olive oil or vegetable oil
1⁄2 cup hot milk or broth, or more if needed (optional)

Cut potatoes in 2 or 3 and simmer in water to cover with salt over medium-low heat about 20 minutes or until potatoes are very tender. Drain and peel.

Halve leeks lengthwise and rinse them under cold water to remove any sand. Cut the leeks in thin slices. Put the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water and separate the pieces. Let them stand about 5 minutes, then lift them out of the water and drain them in a colander. If the water is sandy, soak and drain them again.

Melt butter in a heavy stew pan or deep saute pan. Add leeks, salt and pepper. Cover and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes or until tender, adding a few tablespoons water if the pan becomes dry.

Return peeled cooked potatoes to saucepan and mash with potato masher. Add leeks and mix well.

Gradually stir hot milk into hot potato mixture, if desired, adding enough to keep the texture soft or firm, to your taste. Taste and adjust seasoning. Serve hot.

Makes about 4 servings.

Faye Levy is the author of Faye Levy’s International Vegetable Cookbook.


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