A tasty Alzheimer’s fund-raiser

Cooking for the Queen of Mediterranean Cuisine

FAVA BEAN and tomato salad (photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
FAVA BEAN and tomato salad
(photo credit: YAKIR LEVY)
Last week some of the top chefs in Los Angeles got together to cook at the Mediterranean Feast Fundraiser for Paula Wolfert and the Alzheimer’s Association.
To many food lovers in the US, Paula Wolfert is the queen of Mediterranean cuisine.
She is the one who introduced Americans to such ingredients as duck confit and preserved lemons, said Amy Scattergood, food editor of the Los Angeles Weekly, in her tribute to Wolfert. Chef and culinary radio show host Evan Kleiman said that Wolfert was the first person whose work she had read who made her feel that being obsessed with learning about cuisine is not crazy.
Since Wolfert is best known for her books on Moroccan cooking, it was natural that North African dishes were prominent at the Mediterranean Feast.
Chef Farid Zadi, who produced the event along with his wife, Chef Susan Park, orchestrated the cooking of several dishes by students from Le Cordon Bleu culinary school, including a whole spit-roasted lamb, spiced grilled cauliflower, kale with garlicky white beans, and briks (North African fried thin pastries) filled with eggs, harissa and seafood, as well as Spanish white gazpacho and spicy paella.
Michele Grant of The Kosher Palate prepared delicious grilled kefta (Moroccan spiced meat balls) with shakshuka. Grant lightened the ground-meat mixture for the kefta with red lentils and flavored it with the North African spice blend ras el hanout. The shakshuka served as the sauce, and a quail egg sitting atop each kefta complemented the spiciness of the dish.
Moroccans are fond of carrot salads, with flavors ranging from sweet to spicy. For their take on Moroccan carrot salad, chefs Nancy Silverton and Matt Molina of Osteria Mozza roasted small whole carrots, added chickpeas and dressed the savory salad with cumin vinaigrette and a dollop of aioli (garlic mayonnaise).
Fresh fava beans, another Mediterranean favorite, were prepared as a salad by the chefs of Mud Hen Tavern. They mixed the bright green beans with corn and roasted tomatoes and served them with roasted sweet peppers on a mint-flavored barley salad. In The Food of Morocco Wolfert wrote: “Moroccans steam fresh fava beans to preserve both flavor and color... This...also enables you to perform the arduous task of double- peeling in one fell swoop!”
At first glance, the delicious dish called Paula’s split peas prepared by Chef Mary Sue Milliken of Border Grill looked like a plate of humous topped with falafel. But it was actually yellow split peas pureed with “lots” of caramelized onions – “as much onion as split peas,” said Milliken, and generous amounts of garlic, fresh basil and olive oil, served topped with a spoonful of Greek sheep’s milk yogurt and with quinoa fritters flavored with green garlic. At home Milliken serves the split peas with crusty Persian rice. She told me that Wolfert gave her the idea when they were chatting at an event. When I mentioned the dish to Wolfert, she laughed and said she couldn’t take credit for it. “I never made a dish like that,” she said. “It was Mary Sue’s creation.“
A highlight of the afternoon was Zadi’s demonstration of how to prepare a fish tagine, or North African stew, in a flash. If you don’t have a tagine (traditional clay pot with a conical lid), a skillet is fine, he said. He sautéed chopped onion in olive oil, and added garlic, salt, pepper and a generous sprinkling of ras el hanout, followed by chunks of fish, more olive oil and harissa. Next he moistened the fish with tomato-flavored fish broth and covered the pan to finish the cooking. Zadi noted that the amount of broth to be added depends on how you serve the tagine; you keep the sauce fairly thin if you’re serving it with couscous, or let it reduce to thicker consistency if you’re serving it with bread.
Wolfert, who was recently diagnosed with an early stage of Alzheimer’s disease, talked about her new role as an Alzheimer’s activist and her conviction that people who suffer from it should be open about it, because that would accelerate finding better treatments and a cure.
She is taking her message to New York and other cities, where similar cooking events are being planned.
Crushed spiced carrot salad
This recipe is from Paula Wolfert’s The Food of Morocco. Wolfert steams the carrots and notes that steaming is one of the most important techniques employed by Moroccan cooks and is used for other vegetables, such as cauliflower, eggplants, leafy greens, turnips and sweet potatoes, for making salads. “This method preserves flavor and produces a meltingly soft and creamy texture; it also enables the vegetables to absorb spicing. Stainless steel, ceramic or even bamboo steamers all work well.”
Serves 4 to 6 as part of a traditional salad course
❖ 350 gr. or 12 ounces (4 to 6 medium) carrots, trimmed and peeled
❖ ¾ tsp. cumin seeds, preferably Moroccan
❖ 2 garlic cloves, halved
❖ 1 tsp. coarse sea salt, or to taste
❖ ½ tsp. ground Ceylon cinnamon
❖ ½ tsp. sweet paprika
❖ 3 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
❖ Juice of ½ lemon, or more to taste
❖ Freshly ground black pepper
❖ 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley
Steam the whole carrots over boiling water until you can easily crush them with the tines of a fork, 25 to 30 minutes. Drain, place in a deep heavy bowl, and let cool.
Crush the cumin seeds, garlic, and salt to a paste in a mortar. Scrape the paste into a skillet, add the cinnamon and paprika, and stir in the olive oil. Turn the heat on for an instant to warm the spices, then pour over the carrots. Use a fork to crush the warm carrots with the spices.
Add the lemon juice to taste and correct the seasoning with more salt if necessary and pepper. Mound into a pile on a serving plate and scatter the chopped parsley on top.
Kefta tagine with tomatoes and eggs
This recipe is from The Food of Morocco. Paula Wolfert notes that this delicious family- style dish is “one of my children’s favorites.”
When Wolfert lived in Tangier, her butcher usually added ground lamb’s-tail fat to enhance the texture of the kefta. In the US she uses lean meat and blends in a small amount of grated beef suet. Instead you can add a small amount of fattier meat. If you don’t have a tagine, you can use a shallow stew pan.
Serves 4
❖ 450 gr. (1 pound) ground lamb or beef
❖ 3 Tbsp. grated beef suet
❖ 2 Tbsp. grated onion
❖ 2 garlic cloves
❖ 1½ tsp. sweet paprika
❖ 1 tsp. ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
❖ ¼ teaspoon ground Ceylon cinnamon
❖ Pinch of ground ginger
❖ Pinch of grated nutmeg or ground mace
❖ Pinch of cayenne
❖ 1 tsp. salt
❖ 1 packed Tbsp. roughly chopped fresh coriander
Tomato sauce:
❖ 2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
❖ 1 small red onion, finely chopped
❖ 2 garlic cloves, crushed to a paste with
❖ 1 teaspoon salt
❖ 2 Tbsp. tomato paste
❖ 700 gr. (1½ pounds) plum tomatoes, halved and grated (2 cups)
❖ 1½ tsp. paprika
❖ ¾ tsp. ground cumin, preferably Moroccan
❖ ¼ tsp. sugar
❖ Salt and freshly ground pepper
❖ 4 large eggs
❖ 1 Tbsp. chopped parsley, for garnish
To make the kefta: Combine all the ingredients in a food processor, add ¼ cup cold water, and blend until pasty. Form into 24 balls and refrigerate until ready to poach.
To make the sauce: Put the oil, onion, garlic and 1/3 cup water in a 25- or 28-cm (10- or 11-inch) tagine or cazuela set on a heat diffuser over medium-low heat and cook gently until the water evaporates, about 10 minutes. Add the tomato paste to the sizzling oil and stir for an instant. Add the grated tomatoes, 1/3 cup warm water, the spices, sugar, and salt and pepper to taste. Slowly raise the heat and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer gently to blend the flavors, about 5 minutes.
Add the kefta to the sauce. Use a long-handled spoon to gently fold some of the sauce over each meatball, cover, and continue cooking for 25 minutes, turning them in the sauce midway through.
Uncover the tagine. Carefully crack the eggs and slip each one into the sauce. Cover and poach the eggs until the whites are set, 5 to 6 minutes. Remove the tagine from the heat to a wooden surface or a folded towel on a serving plate to prevent cracking. Let rest for 3 to 5 minutes, then sprinkle with salt and pepper and the parsley. Serve at once, directly from the tagine.