Sun-dried tomatoes

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We got a really good deal on cherry tomatoes, and as much as we love using them in salads and eating them as a snack, we didn’t manage to use them all up before they began to lose their freshness. Driven by a stroke of inspiration, I decided to make dried tomatoes.

Drying tomatoes is easy; I like to do it in the sun, because it saves energy and is done very quickly around here, but you can use your oven or dehydrator.

To dry in the sun, simply slice the tomatoes and place them in a single layer on a cookie sheet or tray. Cover with mesh to prevent birds and insects from getting in your food. Place in the sun.

Once the tomatoes are slightly springy and mostly dehydrated, they are done. Put them in a glass jar and cover with olive oil (you can add herbs such as rosemary, basil or oregano), and place in the fridge. Or put them in a vacuum pack and freeze. They are great in all sorts of dishes, or can be made into dried tomato spread. Enjoy!

Harvesting and Using Carob

carob powder

Although it isn’t quite carob season yet, I’m already gearing up for it, especially now that I have a nice new food processor which is going to make turning the pods into powder a breeze! Those dark brown pods are just loaded with nutrients, they are naturally sweet, which means that when using them in baking you can use less added sugar, and best of all, they can be picked for free!

Read more about harvesting and using carob in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“Carob trees grow all over Israel (and in similar climates), and the dark brown pods can be picked in the summer. They keep extremely well, so you can pick a big bunch and then process it at your convenience. Make sure the pods you pick are ripe. They are supposed to look and feel dry and to come off easily from the tree. Choose the biggest, shiniest, healthiest-looking pods.”

Image above: carob powder in the process of making.

Green Tahini (Sesame Seed) Salad Dressing

greentahini

On Shabbat nights and mornings, we usually have a first course of bread and spreads/dips, and tahini salad dressing/spread/dip is always starring there. The basic recipe is just pure tahini mixed with water until desired consistency is reached, with a sprinkle of salt and a dash of lemon juice. It can be spiked up with crushed garlic and, if desired, a drop of honey.

Another favorite of ours is green tahini – whizzed up in the food processor with cilantro, parsley, dill, or a combination of any or all of the above. It has a beautiful color, an interesting flavor and tons of health benefits. See recipe in my latest Mother Earth News post:

“It’s possible to play with the sort and amount of greens and the amount of liquids, so you can get a thicker, spread-like consistency, or a thinner variation which is used as a salad dressing.

Contrary to what many health adherents advise, I recommend using tahini from hulled sesame seeds, for its sweeter taste and smoother texture. It’s true that the sesame seed hull contains large amounts of calcium, but it is bound in a way that makes it not readily absorbable.”

Fenugreek: A WonderHerb

Hilbe, a spread/dip made of Fenugreek seeds or leaves, is a staple of Yemenite Jewish cuisine, and is usually eaten at one or more of the Shabbat meals. It goes amazingly with pita bread. The recipes vary, and can include garlic, lemon juice, and various herbs and spices.

Fenugreek itself has some wonderful nutritional benefits, being rich in calcium and magnesium – and also some very special health properties. It has a beneficial effect on blood sugar regulation and is known as a milk-supply booster for nursing mothers. I had taken Fenugreek capsules in the past, when I reckoned I needed to build up my supply, and I reckon they helped a bit, but nothing very dramatic. However, after a Shabbat of enjoying homemade hilbe spread in very moderate amounts, I suddenly felt a very prominent increase in my milk supply, something I didn’t even think of or aim for (since my baby was almost one year old and I figured we have a pretty steady supply-demand thing going). I suppose this effect was due to pre-soaking the Fenugreek seeds for a couple of days, thus allowing the special plant components to activate.

I think that’s really worth noting, as capsules are so much more expensive – and, apparently, less effective – than the real thing. I’m not sure you can buy Fenugreek everywhere, though. In Israel, the seeds are available in health food stores, and the leaves can be found at certain markets in season.

Here is the recipe we used:

– about 1\3 cup dry Fenugreek seeds. Place in a bowl of water for 48 hours, changing the water every day. The seeds will swell considerably.
– a bunch of fresh coriander, about 3\4 cup shredded
– 2 big cloves of fresh garlic
– juice of one lemon

– salt and pepper to taste

Once the Fenugreek seeds are soaked and drained, place everything in your food processor. Blend thoroughly and add water as needed, to reach desired consistency (thicker/thinner, however you like it). Once finished, it should have a refreshing characteristic smell, and look bright green, sort of like this:
Image taken from here.

A word of warning: hilbe has a dominant smell; some like it, some don’t mind, some wish they could do without it. The smell can later come out in your sweat, or even in your baby’s diaper. The Fenugreek capsules don’t smell when you take them, but the smell comes out with a vengeance later through all your pores.

Recently I’ve decided to try growing some fenugreek from seed, to see if the fresh leaves are as good or better as the dried ones we use in various dishes. So far it’s proving very easy to grow – I just made a shallow trench in one of the garden beds, threw in some dry Fenugreek seeds from the store, and almost all of them sprouted. Once the leaves are big enough to use I’ll be sure to let you know how it has turned out.

Drying hyssop

hyssop

We don’t often find fresh hyssop in stores, so when we came across it we grabbed a bunch and I decided to take advantage of the dry, windy weather we’ve been having to dry it up.

Dry windy spells in winter are a pain. They make being outside unpleasant, they cause one’s hands to dry out and crack, and what’s more serious, they dramatically increase the risk of wildfires (by the way, thanks so much to those who have expressed concern for our family – we are thankful to say we are in no immediate danger of fire, but are keeping alert and hoping for rain). But these winds are perfect for drying herbs.

Drying hyssop – or any herbs, really – is very simple. All you have to do is take a good-sized bunch, tie it by the stems and hang it outside – or, if the wind is really violent like it was this time, put it in a mesh bag to prevent the leaves from scattering.

Of course, a food dehydrator or a simple oven can work just as well. Or you can hang the herbs inside. They will dry up eventually, only it will take longer. On the upside, they will make the room smell nice.

Once the hyssop is properly dry, remove and crush the leaves and discard the stems. The crushed leaves can be used as a seasoning in various dishes or, as is more common in Israel, mixed with olive oil, salt and sesame seeds to make za’atar, a popular local dip eaten with pita bread and/or cream cheese.

Easy Coconut Cream

Every time I’m whipping up a dessert, my husband hopefully asks, “is it parve“? Parve essentially means a dish that contains neither meat nor dairy. Since Orthodox Jews must wait six hours after consuming meat or chicken before they can eat dairy, it’s no wonder most people try to make their desserts parve. Unless they are vegetarians, in which case it doesn’t matter.

Unfortunately, in many cases this leads people to use unhealthy ingredients such as margarine or fake cream with partially hydrogenated vegetable oils in the desserts they make – and a whole lot of sugar to make the entire thing more palatable. For me, parve dessert has usually meant fruit salad or, in season, chilled melon or watermelon… that is, until recently I discovered the wonders of coconut cream.

Coconut cream contains natural, stable, healthy fat (in particular containing large amounts of lauric acid, which is renowned for its antibacterial, antiviral properties) and, when chilled, has the perfect consistency for whipping – in fact, it acts almost exactly like normal cream.

coconutcream

Whipped coconut cream. Doesn’t it look just like the real thing?

So here’s how you do it: pick  a can of coconut cream containing at least 17%-18% fat and chill overnight. A hard fatty layer will form on top; skim it off carefully with a spoon and add a little of the liquid at the bottom (use the rest of the liquid in baking or smoothies). The cream can be whipped and combined with all sorts of flavorings to create a variety of desserts. Yesterday I made delicious halva mousse by whipping up the coconut cream with raw tahini and some honey. I imagine it would go equally nice with chocolate… yum! I imagine it can also be frozen to make natural, dairy-free ice cream.

Personally, I love coconut, but the taste of it is very mild in the cream, so even those who aren’t coconut-crazy can enjoy this.

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I also wanted to let everybody know that the work on Your Own Hands, the new simple living book, is going well and at this point I have most of the first draft complete. I also put some improvements and formatting changes into The Practical Homemaker’s Companion, which is now 122 pages long. I left the Payhip price at 4$, less than the print and Kindle version, as I really prefer people to download from Payhip because it only takes a small commission compared to Amazon and payments are instantly transferred to our Paypal.

Preserving and processing hot peppers

Above: dried hot peppers

As we are still harvesting an abundance of hot peppers, we must think of ways to use up all this bounty before it spoils – or else preserve it for future use.

The easiest way by far to preserve hot peppers is drying them. This can be done in an oven, in a food dehydrator or outside in sunny weather. I don’t have a food dehydrator, so sun-drying and oven-drying are the two options I use.

To dry a batch of hot peppers, first cut them lengthwise and remove the seeds. Careful – wear gloves while handling, because those little capsicums can be treacherous. Place the peppers on a cookie sheet lined with baking paper.

If drying outside, cover the cookie sheet with metal wire, cloth mesh or anything else that will keep birds and insects away but still let sunlight get to the peppers. Place in direct sunlight and turn peppers over every few hours. This process may take several days, depending on the amount of light, degree of heat and humidity.

For oven-drying, place the cookie sheet with the peppers in the oven and turn it on a very low heat. Remember, you don’t want them to be roasted – you just want all the moisture to evaporate. Keep the peppers in the oven, turning from time to time, until they are quite dry and brittle.

At this point, your dry pepper slices can be stored in a tightly sealed jar, where they will keep for a long time. You can also pulverize them in a food processor and make your own hot pepper powder, which you can likewise store in a jar. This powder can be used for seasoning various dishes as is, or made into hot paste or sauce with some salt, fresh or dry herbs and olive oil.

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As this will probably be my last post before Rosh Ha-Shana, I’d like to take the opportunity to wish all my Jewish readers a very happy start of this new year.