Lag Ba'omer treats

The tastiest treats for the upcoming holiday.

Small potatoes with thyme (photo credit: PASCALE PERETZ RUBIN AND CHAGIT GOREN)
Small potatoes with thyme
(photo credit: PASCALE PERETZ RUBIN AND CHAGIT GOREN)
 Now that Yom Ha’atzmaut is over, we will start seeing children pushing grocery carts full of pieces of wood that they’ll squirrel away so no one else can find it. Then, next week, on Lag Ba’omer, the 33rd day of the countdown from Passover to Shavuot, they will prepare huge bonfires with all the wood they’ve spent hours upon hours collecting. Potatoes cooked inside the bonfire are a favorite treat on this holiday, but there are lots of dishes we can prepare for Lag Ba’omer in the comfort of our kitchen and without having to suffer smoke in our face. In recent years, potatoes have been considered a fattening carbohydrate, but it is a shame that they’ve been given such a bad reputation. They are a basic vegetable that is tasty, filling, and extremely versatile. Depending on how they’re cooked, potatoes can have a variety of flavors, textures, and crispiness. Below, I’ve explained two potato recipes (as well as two non-potato recipes) that are perfect for eating around the campfire.
SMALL POTATOES WITH THYME
Makes four to six servings
1 bag small red potatoes
Leaves from 3 to 4 sprigs of thyme
Kosher salt
Lots of quality olive oil
Baking paper
Rinse and dry potatoes well. Cut them in half lengthwise. Place potato pieces in a bowl and add the thyme, salt and olive oil. Stir until all potatoes are covered with plenty of oil. Transfer to a baking tray. Make sure none of the potatoes are touching each other. Bake in an oven that has been preheated to 180ºor 190º for 30 minutes. Check to see if potatoes are ready – they might need another 5 to 10 minutes. Stir them and bake until golden brown on all sides.
POTATO AND MEAT BALLS

These balls are made from potatoes and beef. In Morocco they were called pastel and in Tunisia they were called banatesh. In Iraq they were called kubeh patata, and in India patis. Ashkenazi Jews make something similar called a knish. In all of the above versions, the dish calls for a treat with potato and beef filling.
Makes six to eight servings
6 large cooked potatoes, peeled and mashed
1 hardboiled egg, peeled and cut into cubes
250 gr. beef, cooked in water (ground, cut into cubes or shredded)
10 stalks of parsley, rinsed and chopped finely
2 medium onions, peeled and chopped
¼ tsp. turmeric
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. black or white pepper
½ tsp. salt
2 eggs
Oil for frying
¾ cup (100 gr.) flour, sifted
1 egg, beaten
Serving suggestion: ½ lemon
Place mashed potatoes in a bowl. Add the egg cubes, cooked meat, parsley and onion. Season with turmeric, cinnamon, pepper and salt. Add the two eggs and mix well. Heat oil in a frying pan. Prepare balls from mixture and then roll them in flour and then egg. Fry them in hot oil for a few minutes on each side until golden brown. Serve hot. Each guest can squeeze a little lemon juice on balls if desired.
RICE WITH KIDNEY BEANS AND CARROTS
Makes six to eight servings
2½ cups Persian or jasmine rice, soaked in water overnight with a little salt
2 tsp. lemon juice
150 gr. kidney beans, soaked in water overnight
3 carrots, peeled, and cut into thin strips
½ cup raisins
2 Tbsp. oil
½ cup oil
½ tsp. salt
½ tsp. turmeric
1 tsp. coriander, ground
¼ tsp. ground cardamom
¼ tsp. cinnamon
2 potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-cm. slices
Drain the rice and transfer to a pot with water and lemon juice. Cook for eight minutes and drain. In a separate pot, cook kidney beans in water for 25 minutes. Drain. In a pan, heat two Tbsp. oil and fry carrots and raisins for three to five minutes. In a large pot, heat the oil and add the salt, turmeric, coriander, ground cardamom and cinnamon, and stir well. Arrange potato slices on bottom of pot. Then add a layer of kidney beans and carrots. Add a layer of rice and then another layer of beans and carrots. Continue layering the rice, beans and carrots until you’ve filled the pot. Cover the pot with a towel and then press pot cover strongly on top. Cook over low flame for 30 to 40 minutes. Serve hot.
SWEET POPCORN AND SPICY POPCORN
Makes six servings
Spicy popcorn:
1 cup popcorn kernels
2 Tbsp. oil
2 Tbsp. zaatar
1 Tbsp. black pepper
Kosher salt
Sweet popcorn: ½ cup oil ¼ tsp. salt 1 cup popcorn kernels 1 cup sugar 1 packet vanilla sugar ½ cup water To make spicy popcorn, heat oil in a large pot and add popcorn kernels. Cover pot and wait until popcorn stops popping. Pour popcorn into a large bowl and sprinkle with za’atar, pepper and salt. Mix well. To prepare sweet popcorn, heat oil in a pot with salt. Pour in popcorn kernels and cover. When popcorn finishes popping, remove from flame. In a separate pot, add the sugar, vanilla sugar and water. Heat until turns into caramel. Pour caramel over popcorn and mix well so that all the popcorn kernels are covered.
Translated by Hannah Hochner.