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Kick off the new year with healthy eating

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Venezuelan Guacamole (Barbara Silverstein photo)

Shabbat Shalom and happy New Year! Where did 2019 go? The time whizzed by so quickly last year. I confess: it was not my best year of eating healthily.

I completed all the requirements for my culinary and baking arts certificates at George Brown College last year. I took courses in such things as pizza, cakes, pies, breads and it all showed on my hips.

My New Years resolution is to cook healthier meals and so I’ve been combing through my cookbooks in search of tasty yet nutritious recipes.

Healthy eating is the theme of Norene Gilletz’s new cookbook, The Brain Boosting Diet: Feed Your Memory, and many of the recipes would also work well for weight loss. It looks like the ‘Brain Boosting Diet’ can expand the memory and shrink the waist.

Initially I tried Gilletz’s recipe for Venezuelan Guacamole. I love guacamole but it’s usually very rich.The Venezuelan version calls for hearts of palm to be incorporated into this avocado dish. I found this appetizer lighter tasting but just as flavourful as traditional guacamole recipes. It got a thumbs up from my youngest son, a part-time vegan.

I was intrigued by Green Shakshuka with Chard, Kale, Spinach and Feta Cheese. This recipe can be found in Shuk: From Market to Table, the Heart of Israel Home Cooking, the new cookbook by Einat Admony and Janna Gur.

I’ve eaten the red or tomato-based shakshuka. With green shakshuka, the eggs are cooked in cumin-seasoned greens. It’s a tasty and healthy vegetarian meal.

For carnivores looking to shed some pounds, poultry dishes are a good option. One of my favourites is Grilled Cilantro Chicken. It’s simple to make, light and nutritious, and very flavourful. The recipe comes from a Canadian classic cookbook – Simply Heart Smart Cooking by Bonnie Stern.

Stern, an author, columnist, teacher, and food maven, was one of the first Canadian cookbook authors to focus on heart-healthy recipes. A compendium of these recipes can be found in Heart Smart: The Best of HeartSmart Cooking.

Millennial Spotlight features Tomer Markovitz, the first executive chef at Parallel, the popular Middle Eastern eatery on Geary Street. Markovitz, 31, has been working independently for almost a year doing teaching and consulting work.

In fact, he’ll be teaching at the Delicious Dish Cooking School on Jan 7 and 9.

Markovitz has shared his recipe for Tahina Chocolate Chip Cookies. Cookies are not really a heath food, but sometimes a little comfort food can be the best medicine.

 

VENEZUELAN GUACAMOLE (GUASACACA) (Norene Gilletz)

1 can (14 oz/ 398 g) hearts of palm, well drained

2 tbsp (30 ml) fresh cilantro

2 Tbsp (30 ml) fresh parsley

1 small onion

1 large clove garlic, about 5 ml (1 tsp), minced

½ green or red bell pepper, cut into chunks

1 medium tomato, quartered

1 firm, ripe avocado, peeled and pitted

15 m1 (1 tbsp) extra virgin olive oil

15 m1 (1 tbsp) lemon juice (preferably fresh)

2 ml (½ tsp) salt Freshly ground black pepper

1 ml (¼ tsp) cayenne pepper or chilli powder

 

In a food processor fitted with the steel blade, process the hearts of palm, cilantro, and parsley with quick on/off pulses, until finely chopped. Transfer the mixture to a medium bowl. You should have about (1 cup) 250 ml.

Process the onion, garlic, and bell pepper with quick on/off pulses, until coarsely chopped. Add the tomato, avocado, oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, and cayenne. Process with quick on/offs pulses, until it’s finely chopped.

Add this mixture to the hearts of the palm mixture and mix well. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Cover tightly with plastic wrap, pressing it directly against the surface. Refrigerate up to 4 days. Serve chilled.

 

GREEN SHAKSHUKA WITH CHARD, KALE, SPINACH, AND FETA (Einat Admony & Janna Gur)

¼ cup (60 ml) extra-virgin olive oil

2 leeks, white parts chopped and green tops very thinly sliced

3 medium garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1 small jalapeño chile, cored, seeded, and thinly sliced

5 or 6 Swiss chard leaves, leaves coarsely chopped, stems thinly sliced

1 small bunch Tuscan kale (also called lacinato or dinosaur), stemmed, leaves coarsely chopped

750 ml (3 cups) baby spinach or trimmed and coarsely chopped regular spinach

5 ml (1 tsp) ground caraway

5 ml (1 tsp) ground cumin

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

120 ml (½ cup) homemade or low-sodium store-bought vegetable stock or water

15 ml (1 tbsp) fresh lemon juice

6 to 8 large eggs

To serve

5 ounces (140 g) feta cheese, coarsely crumbled

Extra-virgin olive oil

za’atar

 

Heat the oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add the leeks, garlic, jalapeño, and chard stems and sauté until softened and lightly caramelized, 10 to 12 minutes (take care not to brown the garlic). Add the kale, spinach, and the chard leaves and cook, stirring often, until wilted and soft, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the caraway and cumin, and season very lightly with salt (the feta is quite salty) and several twists of pepper.

Add the stock and the lemon juice and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, then reduce the heat to low and cook for another few minutes, until the greens meld into a thick, dark green, stewy sauce. Taste and adjust the seasoning.

Use a large spoon to create little wells in the greens mixture. Carefully break 1 egg into a cup or ramekin, then slip it into one of the wells; repeat with the remaining eggs. (Cracking the egg into a cup first lets you inspect it.) Cover and simmer until the egg whites are set but the yolks are still a little runny, about 7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.

Sprinkle the shakshuka with the feta, drizzle with oil, and sprinkle generously with za’atar. Serve the shakshuka directly from the skillet. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

 

GRILLED CILANTRO CHICKEN (Bonnie Stern)

4 cloves garlic

2 shallots or 1 small onion

120 ml (1 cup) fresh cilantro

30 ml (2 tbsp) soy sauce

Grilled cilantro chicken

¼ cup lime juice

pepper to taste

6 boneless, skinless single chicken breasts

Combine the garlic, shallots or onions, cilantro, soy sauce and pepper in a food processor and blend until smooth. Pour into a shallow dish. Add chicken pieces. Turn to coat evenly with the marinade. Marinate in the refrigerator for a few hours or overnight.

Preheat the broiler. Cook the chicken five to six minutes per side or until the outside is brown and the chicken is no longer pink inside. Baste with the marinade during cooking. Discard any leftover marinade. Makes 6 servings.

Tomer Markovitz

MILLENIAL SPOTLIGHT: TOMER MARKOVITZ

Many people in Toronto may wonder what has happened to Tomer Markovitz, the first executive chef at Parallel, the popular Middle Eastern eatery on Geary Street.

Since his departure from Parallel about a year ago, Markovitz has been involved in a number of projects including some private teaching.

In fact, next week he’ll be giving three classes at the Delicious Dish Cooking School – two evening classes at 7 p.m. Jan. 8 and 9, and one at 11 a.m on Jan. 9. For more information go to https://deliciousdish.ca/connect/

After completing his military service, Markovitz worked in real estate, but he knew that he wanted to be a chef, he recounted. “I could no longer sit in front of the computer.”

He said he imagined himself running a panini shop in New York City and so he decided that instead of chef school, he would get his training on the job.

Markovitz spent the next six years cooking in Tel Aviv. Some of the high-profile restaurants he worked at included Grinberg Bistro, Raphael, and Vicky Cristina.

By the time he left Israel, he was the executive chef of Vicky Cristina, a 180-seat Spanish tapas, wine bar with an Israeli twist. “We served 1000 people a day.”

So what brought Markovitz to Toronto? Love. He met a woman from Toronto. They were introduced in Israel and they continued dating after she returned to Canada. Theirs was a long-distance romance until June of 2016 when Markovitz joined her in Toronto.

He said it took him 16 months to find a position as an executive chef. “I almost gave up trying to find a job. I was already making a name for myself in the industry in Tel Aviv. I was almost ready to go home.”

Then he got a phone call from Parallel.

After cooking a meal for the owners, Markovitz was hired to set up the new restaurant. “I created everything – the menu, the procedures. I had a contract for a year and I was there for a year and four months.”

He left 10 months ago. “You grow and you move. I have been working on a couple of projects. I’ve done consulting and some private events for clientele. I’m doing some teaching for Delicious Dish Cooking School next week.”

There’s also a new restaurant in the works for Markovitz. Stay tuned!

Tahini chocolate chip cookies (Photo Credit: Tomer Markovitz)

TAHINI CHOCOLATE CHIP COOKIES (Tomer Markovitz)

220g (1 cup) soft butter

180g (1 cup plus 2 tbsp) white sugar

200g (1¼ cup) brown sugar

5g (1 tsp) baking soda

8g (1½ tsp) salt

2 eggs

20g (1½ tbsp) vanilla

50g (¼ cup) tahini

400g (3 1/3 cups) flour

450g (2 cups) chocolate chips

 

Preheat the oven to 190°C (375°F)

In a stand mixer set at a speed of 2 or 3, whip the butter, sugars, salt and baking soda until all the ingredients are incorporated. Add the eggs to the butter mixture one at a time, and then add the vanilla and tahini.

Combine the flour and chocolate chips. Add 1/3 of this mixture to the batter, before incorporating the rest of the flour mixture. Do not over mix.

Drop the cookies by the spoonful on a parchment-lined baking sheet. Before baking, refrigerate the cookies on the baking sheet for 10 minutes. This step will give the cookies a chunky texture. Place the cookies in the preheated oven for 14 minutes.

Raise the heat to 200°C (400°F) and bake another 3 minutes. When the cookies are done let them cool on a rack. Makes 2 to 3 dozen cookies.

 

CULINARY CALENDAR

Sun. Feb. 9: A Celebration of Canadian Jewish Cookery is the theme for the annual Hungry for Comfort: A Celebration of our Food History. The program takes place 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m at Fort York National Historic Site and will be part of Winterlicious 2020.

Wed. Feb. 12: Shoresh Annual Fundraiser: Taking Root. Time: 7:00 pm – 9:00 pm. Location: Eglinton West Gallery, 2301 Keele Street. https://shoresh.ca/takingroot/

Share and enjoy !

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