Friday, April 22, 2011

In My Mother's Kitchen (Passover Interlude)

I grew up cooking in a kitchen the size of a shoebox. I am being only slightly hyperbolic. My mother's kitchen was a small, square room with dark laminate cabinets, a squeaky oven and two small windows. We fed a lot of people out of that kitchen. About 8 years ago my mother renovated and expanded her kitchen. It is now long and bright and a pleasure to cook in. It has dark marble counter tops and big bay window doors looking out into the yard.  She still feeds a lot of people out of her kitchen.

Every Passover, I leave Jerusalem and come back to my mother's kitchen. This year has been no exception. I expected things to feel different- for the kitchen to seem smaller and the prospect of feeding the many family members and guests that join us for the holiday less daunting. After all, I've spent the last 3 months learning how to feed 200 people on a regular basis. But the kitchen still seems long and bright and big, and  the sheer amount of food that needs cooking is still overwhelming. Somehow, though, I don't mind much. What would Passover be without the menu planning sessions, the endless runs to the grocery store and those moments when you realize that you haven't left the kitchen once all day?

This year one of our guests had a severe nut and egg allergy, leaving us in a real bind regarding dessert. The two main components of Passover baking are nuts and eggs. Thankfully though, my sister-in-law had already introduced us to the wonders of homemade sorbet last Passover. It was a no-brainer.  Chocolate sorbet, strawberry granita and almond granita- who needs sponge cake?

Contrary to popular belief, you don't need an ice-cream maker to make sorbet. You don't even need a food processor (though having one is quite helpful). All you need is some time and a method for breaking up the ice crystals that form as the sorbet starts to freeze. If you don't break up the crystals your sorbet will turn into a block of flavored ice.  My sister-in-law's method involves removing the sorbet from the freezer just as it is beginning to set and giving it a whirl in the food processor. But if you don't have a food processor, or just don't feel like getting it dirty you can also get good results by checking on  the sorbet  every half an hour or so until it freezes completely and giving it a good stir by hand.

There are endless flavors of sorbet. These are the three I made:

Chocolate Sorbet
Adapted from David Lebovitz

2 cups water
1/2 cup sugar
pinch of salt
1/2 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
4 oz. semi sweet or bittersweet chocolate, chopped
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 tsp instant coffee

1. In a saucepan, bring water, sugar, cocoa and salt to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer for about 30 seconds, whisking all the while

2. Remove from heat, stir in the chocolate, vanilla and coffee

3. Dump into the food processor and give a whirl.

4. Freeze. After about 45 minutes, when the sorbet is just starting to set, remove and give it another whirl in the food processor.

5. Freeze again

Almond Granita
From The Man Who Ate Everything  by Jeffery Steingarten

1/2 tsp almond extract
2/3 cup blanched almonds
1/2 cup sugar
1 cup + 4 tbl hot water
3 cups water

1. Combine almond extract, almonds and sugar in food processor and grind to a fine powder. Slowly add the four tablespoons hot water, one tablespoon at a time until a smooth cream is formed. Add  1 cup hot water to dilute the cream.

2. Pour into a bowl and add 3 cups water.

3. Follow freezing instructions as in the Chocolate Sorbet, above.

Strawberry Granita
The amounts in this recipe are vague. Adjust according to taste.

1 cup water
1/2 cup sugar
2 sticks cinnamon
a knob of fresh ginger, peeled
a slice or two of a jalapeno
16 oz strawberries, hulled

1. In a saucepan, bring water, sugar cinnamon ginger and pepper to boil. Reduce to simmer and whisk until syrupy. Remove from heat. Cover and allow to seep for 15- 30 minutes

2. In the meantime, blend the strawberries in the food processor and pass through a fine-mesh strainer to remove seeds and any chunks the food processor may have missed.

3. Remove ginger, cinnamon and hot pepper from the syrup and discard. Combine strawberry with the syrup and give it a whirl in the food processor

4. Follow freezing instructions as in the Chocolate Sorbet, above


  1. Hi! You have shared your theory in the past that the food centers of our brains may be connected somehow, and this post definitely strengthens that theory. I love that David Lebovitz sorbet. Love it. I make it every Passover, and a goodly number of times a year, besides. It is ridiculous.

  2. Is it not ridiculous? Also ridiculous-how in tune our food brains work. I am so glad you're here.