Israeli salt from my sister

Israeli salt

Back in January, my younger sister Raina went off on one of those birthright trips to Israel. Before she left, she asked if there was anything she could bring back for me. Never having been to Israel and uncertain about the specialties of the country, I asked for the first thing that popped into my head. Salt. I’m not exactly sure why I thought Israel was a destination for good salt, but off she flew, determined to bring me back some salt.

Raina’s been on tour lately and pulled into Philly late Saturday night, with another musician named Rebecca, a car full of dirty laundry and a plastic take-out container filled with salt, tied up in a small plastic grocery bag. As she handed it over, she apologized, explaining that she didn’t think it was particularly good salt, but it was the best she had been able to find. On one of the last days of the trip, they had gone to an open air market. One man had a table, set with various containers of spices, herbs and finally, salt. The merchant hadn’t spoken any English, but a couple standing next to her helped with the bargaining and she ended up spending the equivalent of $3 American for the squat tub of salt.

israeli-market

Even before I opened it, I told her that more than anything, I appreciated the simple fact that she had kept me in mind while traveling and had added weight to her suitcase with my request. Then I pulled the lid off the container and encountered the most gorgeous, moist, perfect grey salt. I ran to the kitchen and pulled down the jar where I’ve kept my stash of precious grey salt, purchased in a 12 ounce bag for a ridiculous sum. Showing them to her side-by-side, I explained just how well she had done by her foodie sister. She grinned and gave me a hug. I love both my sister and my new supply of Israeli grey salt.

side-by-side-salts

I’ve done some internet searching, and haven’t been able to find out much about salt production in Israel. For all I know, this is French grey salt, imported to the Middle East and then repackaged for sale. If anyone knows more, I’d be happy to be informed!

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Beet and Onion Salad

beet-onion-salad

A two summers ago, I went through a major beet phase. I bought them constantly, and always had a jar of simply cooked beets marinating in a basic vinaigrette in the fridge. I used them to top salads and would toss them with pasta and shaved parmesan cheese for a quick dinner. Often, when there wasn’t much else around, I’d just eat them straight out of the jar.

When the season came around last summer, I wasn’t quite as hot for beets. I don’t know if I overdid it the year before or if I was just more enamored of other vegetables (I did go awfully crazy for string beans and artichokes). A number of beets did come my way through a CSA share Scott and I split with a friend and while I tried valiantly, I was never quite able to keep up with the flood. So sometime last November, I popped several beets into a gallon-sized storage bag and tucked them into the rear of the produce drawer, planning to get to them another day.

Well, that other day turned into last night. Recently, I’ve been focusing my mealtime energy into using what I have as opposed to buying ingredients on my walk home from work. Digging through the produce drawer, I came upon the beets. They were still firm, so I boiled a small pot of water and dropped them in. I know that lots of people prefer roasting beets, but when it comes to this preparation, I find that simmering them until they are fork tender is the most convenient, and I don’t notice any loss of flavor. Additionally, I like that they become so easy to peel when cooked like. All you have to do is let them cool to the point where you’re able to handle them and then briskly rub them until the skins loosen. A quick rinse and they are good to go.

While this isn’t a canning recipe exactly, beets that are prepped like this will last for about a week in the fridge (that is, if they last that long). And a nice, big canning jar is the perfect storage container.

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Loving jars

tea-in-a-ball-jar

I love jars. Now, when I say that to most people, they cock their heads and look at me as if I’ve got a couple of loose marbles upstairs, as jars aren’t something most people spend a whole lot of time thinking about. However, it’s an entirely true statement. I use canning jars to store leftovers and carry my lunchtime soup to work. I stash grains, teas, candies and condiments in them. I often turn to a wide mouth 16 ouncer when my water bottle is stinky and in the summer I carry that same size in case an iced coffee craving hits me (I hate using disposable containers, I can’t help but imagine them lasting forever in the landfill). There’s also something so satisfying and solid about drinking out of a jar as opposed to a flimsy paper cup.

My favorite jar in the world is the discontinued wide mouth 20 ounce glass freezer jar. I haven’t been able to track down when Ball stopped producing these babies, but they are a rare and precious commodity. About six months ago, I bought a dozen of them on eBay so as to bolster my stash. I gave several to my mother for Christmas. She was delighted to have them, as she was the one who originally turned me on to that particular size and understands just how hard they are to find.

I trace my minor jar obsession straight back to my mom. When I was in college, she slowly began ridding the house of the Rubbermaid and Tupperware containers that we’d used for food storage since I was born. She hated that they always became stained and liked to retain particularly stinky scents. Each time I came home for long weekends or holiday breaks, there were more food-filled jars in the fridge and fewer plastic containers. These days, save for a few ancient plastic containers that she’s had since the seventies, my parents’ house is a jar-only zone.

These days, my jar collection outstriped my ability to house it. I spend the summer making jams and pickles, and so throughout the winter, tuck the empties into closets and under beds until their time in a water bath comes again. Living in Center City Philadelphia makes finding jars a bit difficult, but I live just a short hour from Lancaster County, which is the self-proclaimed home canning capital of the world (those Amish sure to make a good homemade ketchup). And there’s always eBay.

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Homemade Sauerkraut

sauerkraut-and-kielbasa

Last October, Scott and I filmed an episode of Fork You with Scott Gryzbek of Zukay Live Foods. Zukay makes a line of probiotic condiments and Scott (Gryzbek) came on the show to teach us some basic fermentation techniques. We made pickled daikon, an apple-pear chutney and sauerkraut. The episode was really fun to film and it piqued my interest for fermentation as a means of preservation.

Unfortunately, I let the chutney ferment a little too long and the sugars turned to alcohol, so we never got to taste that one. However, both the pickled daikon and the sauerkraut were huge successes. We polished off the daikon some time ago, but the sauerkraut has been hanging out in the fridge, waiting for a good application.

Sunday night, we planned a simple dinner. We had a coil of supermarket kielbasa in the fridge and two pounds of brussels sprouts that I was going to halve and roast with onions and garlic. Scott said, “Too bad we don’t have some sauerkraut.” In a flash, I remembered the jar that was tucked in the back of the refrigerator. He sliced up the sausage and tossed it in a frying pan with about half the jar of sauerkraut. Ten minutes later, the sausage was browned and the sauerkraut was translucent and pungently aromatic.

sauerkraut-in-fridge

I am now totally sold on homemade sauerkraut, because it was dead easy to make and so much more delicious that anything than came from the store (and there’s something magical about cutting up a cabbage in October and not eating it until February). We simply thinly sliced the cabbage (a nice big one from the Headhouse Square Farmers Market), put it in the bowl with a tablespoon of salt and a teaspoon of fennel seeds (we didn’t have any carraway, which is the traditional flavoring) and banged it up with a potato masher to break down the cell structure of the cabbage a bit. Then we packed it into a jar (packed being the operative word) and topped it with a bit of distilled water (just enough to cover the cabbage). Then it just hung out in a corner of the kitchen for about a month. I put it in the fridge after that time, but I do believe that you can also let it spend a bit more time doing its thing.

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