My old friend Angela Barczyk from Mnchengladbach, near Dusseldorf, came to stay with us last month, and the night before she left we decided to have dinner at a cafe'-restaurant in Jerusalem's Baka neighborhood, which is near my home.
Our surroundings fit the introspective mood that prevails when friends know they are enjoying each other's company for the last time until the next visit: tables dotted around a rustic garden shaded by old trees. In fact, it was all very soothing until we discovered that we had been charged NIS 46 apiece for an uninspiring entree that consisted - and I'm being very precise here - of two pale, microwaved potatoes propped up against a bit of rubbery mozzarella and a scattering of garden salad, billed on the menu as "baked potato with melted cheese."
Now I believe in supporting local businesses, and in all fairness my vegetarian kubbe soup starter was ample, delicious and reasonably priced. Ditto the dessert. But more than $10 for two potatoes - when potatoes, anyway cheap, are purchased in bulk by restaurants so that each one costs them next to nothing?
I was my friend's guest for that meal, and embarrassed that an eatery on my own turf seemed to be seeking not legitimate profit, but exploitation. It'll be a while before I visit there again.
CRUNCH IS good: Angela said a nutritionist back home had told her that one meal a day begun with a fresh vegetable mixture contributes a lot to good health. With this in mind she invited me to watch as she grated, for two people: 1 carrot, a couple of cauliflower florets, 1 small red pepper, 1 raw zucchini and 1 small kohlrabi, and arranged them in mounds on two small plates. Over this she drizzled a dressing made of mustard, lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and a touch of Marmite (vegetarian yeast extract). Basically, though, you can use any dressing you like.
I had never thought of grating raw cauliflower, and the whole plate looked colorful, unusual and inviting. It seems a good way to introduce raw vegetables into one's diet - elegantly. I'll try it when I have guests who don't accuse me of being "too healthy."
ANOTHER dish my friend made turned out to be surprisingly filling when served with good bread. Very untraditionally, we had it for Friday night dinner with a bottle of dry red wine, followed by Israeli Roquefort cheese and some figs. No one missed the chicken soup and chopped liver.
REALLY GOOD RATATOUILLE
1 large onion, roughly chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 medium eggplant, diced
1 medium red pepper
1 medium pale green pepper
salt and pepper to taste
2 whole, washed tomatoes
Saute' the onion and garlic in the oil until golden, then add the carrot and stir for a bit. Add the eggplant and stir for a few minutes, gently but thoroughly, on a low flame. Cover the pot while you chop the zucchini and peppers. Add these, with salt and pepper. Add the tomatoes, cover the pot for a bit, then uncover it and skin the tomatoes right there in the pot, using a fork and a spoon. This is quite easy. Add 1/4-1/2 glass of water, cover, and cook until very soft, for at least 30 minutes.
Optional, but extremely good: Top each serving with a few spoonfuls of lightly salted plain yogurt. Serves 4.
GOOD RECIPES come from the heart and the head. Sometimes they come from the feet. This one emerged while my pedicurist, Lyn - short for Lynton, which is a village in Cornwall and means "place of peace" - was painting my toenails. It's a scrumptious accompaniment to just about anything.
LYN'S POTATO SALAD
4 large potatoes (cooked in advance)
1 green apple, peeled, cored and diced small
3 cucumbers pickled in vinegar, topped and tailed and diced small (save some juice)
225-gr. can pineapple pieces, drained (save the juice)
1 medium onion, diced small
1/3 cup good mayonnaise
juice from the pineapple
juice from the pickles to thin
a little salt
Cook the potatoes in their skins until soft and cool. Refrigerate, preferably overnight, to firm them. Peel and cube them and place in a large bowl. Add the apple, the pickles, the pineapple and the onion. Combine the dressing ingredients very well and mix gently but thoroughly into the salad.