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Mediterranean-style Seafood and Vegetables under a Cheesy Potato Crust

Ingredients

2 pounds potatoes
1 large leek
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 can (14-1/2 ounces) chopped tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
3/4 pound frozen cooked mixed
seafood, including mussels, shrimp, and squid
2 tablespoons grated parmesan

Method

  1. Peel the potatoes and cut into 1-1/2- to 2-inch chunks. Transfer them to a large saucepan. Add boiling water, cover, and return them to a boil. Simmer for 10 minutes, or until they are tender.
  2. Meanwhile, preheat the broiler to high.
  3. Slice the leek.
  4. Heat the oil in a saucepan and cook the leek and garlic over high heat for 2-3 minutes, stirring regularly, until the leek has softened.
  5. Stir in the tomatoes, rinsing out the can with 1 tablespoon of water. Add the oregano and return to a boil. Reduce the heat, cover, and simmer for 2 minutes.
  6. Add the frozen cooked seafood to the pan with the tomatoes and return to a boil. Stir, cover, and simmer for another 2 minutes, or until the seafood is thoroughly heated through. Season to taste. Pour into a 6-cup or 10-inch ovenproof dish.
  7. Drain the potatoes and mash them. Spoon the potatoes evenly over the seafood, using a fork to spread there up to the edge of the dish. Sprinkle with parmesan and broil for 12-13 minutes, or until the topping is golden.

Makes 4 servings.

Cook’s Tips

  • Cutting root vegetables into chunks and using boiling water from a kettle reduces cooking time and saves energy. Pour in just enough water to cover the vegetables and use a large pan that covers the heating element on your stove.
  • The green parts of leeks add color, flavor, and nutritional value. Thinly Slice the leek and separate into rings so that any grit can be washed away when rinsed in a colander under cold running water.
  • Baking potatoes are ideal for this recipe as they tend to break down quickly when boiled, making them easy to mash.

Source: Super Foods Cookbook

In Pictures: Food of Monstera Bistro in Ljubljana, Slovenia

An Iraqi-Kurdish-Israeli Dumpling Soup Makes Its Way To America

Devra Ferst wrote . . . . . . .

To make the Iraqi and Kurdish dumpling soup kubeh, Melanie Shurka dedicates hours. There are the broths to make, such as the beet-based selek or the lemon-infused hamusta enhanced by rounds of zucchini and Swiss chard. But more time is dedicated to making the dumplings themselves.

She and her cooks in New York City braise beef until it has collapsed on itself. Small palmfuls are then carefully tucked into a dough of semolina and ground bulgur, shaped into a ball with the corners of the dough kissing, and finally rolled out into a disk that’s plunged into hot broth.

The process requires skills that can only be taught by someone who has entrusted their recipe and technique to another. Perhaps because this dish is so difficult to make, Shurka, who is half Israeli and half American, has become the first person to dedicate a restaurant, fittingly named “Kubeh,” to it in the U.S.

She brought it to the U.S. not from the soup’s original home, but from its adopted one, Israel, where it’s a comfort food staple made by gifted home cooks for the Sabbath and in small restaurants that dot some of the country’s outdoor markets, most notably the one in Jerusalem.

Marak kubeh, or kubeh soup, most likely arrived in Israel in the 1950s with a wave of Iraqi immigrants (though a small group of Kurdish immigrants may have brought the dish with them to Palestine in the 1930s). These Jews had been eating it “within their community for hundreds, perhaps thousands of years,” explains cookbook author Joan Nathan.

First made in their homes in the new state, it provided these immigrants with a connection to their past. Even during a time when meat was scarce and culinary indulgence was often intentionally pushed aside in the name of building the country, hours and care were dedicated to making the soup properly. If the exteriors of the dumplings are too thick, they become cannon balls; too thin and they fall apart, muddying the soup. In certain communities, striking that balance is the mark of being more than just a talented cook. The quality of a woman’s kubeh (and its cousin, kibbeh) is “a test of their refinement and elegance,” Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi explain in Jerusalem: A Cookbook.

Members of these communities opened restaurants like Rachmo, Azura and Morduch in Jerusalem, introducing the dish to a broader Jewish audience, Shurka explains.

In the U.S., “there’s no restaurant where someone from the MTA and Barack Obama would sit back to back,” says Naama Shefi, who founded the Jewish Food Society. “But in Israel, at Azura, you could definitely see someone like Bibi [Netanyahu] next to a bus driver,” eating the restaurant’s famed kubeh and hummus.

The soup has woven itself into Israeli culture. “It became the culinary term most identified with Mizrachi cookery,” or the food of Jews from the Middle East, Gil Marks noted in the Encyclopedia of Jewish Food. It’s “the equivalent of the Ashkenazi gefilte fish.”

Shurka is not the only person with ties to Israel in New York who longs for the soup. In 2012, Shefi, hungry to launch an Israeli culinary pop-up that was more of an artistic experiment than a business, came across a passage in Claudia Roden’s The Book of Jewish Food: “When the last generation who makes kobeba or kubba has disappeared …. I hope Jerusalem keeps up her reputation as the capital, and that some food producer will decide to make them commercially, so that a whole little world of our culinary culture does not disappear.”

Taking that as her cue, Shefi set out to learn to make kubeh. “We by reading recipes —tons of them,” she says. But, it was clear from the start that she and Itamar Lewensohn, who oversaw the kitchen for the three-week pop-up called The Kubbeh Project, would need to learn from cooks around Israel before bringing kubeh to New York.

Shurka had a similar realization, launching her kubeh quest with the few resources that exist in cookbooks and online — there are fewer than 10 videos on YouTube that show how to make the dumpling soup. She quickly realized she would need to travel to Israel to learn to make the soup properly. Before leaving, she made numerous phone calls, but people were puzzled by her interest and not eager to share their recipes. “But as soon as I got there — with Israelis, everything has to be done in person — all of the sudden, people were like, ‘I’ll teach you, come to my restaurant.’ ”

A post on Facebook led to meeting a distant family friend’s aunt in her 70s who shared her recipe for Syrian lamb kubeh, which replaces the bulgur and semolina exterior with a shell of ground meat and rice. This take on the dish was born because of Passover laws that forbid Jews from eating wheat. “I hadn’t had this on the agenda,” Shurka says. But, a riff on that recipe, warmed with cinnamon, is now on her menu.

At another home, Shurka became something of a fascination. A cook of Kurdish descent invited several friends over who shared their tips for making the dish. They were all curious about “the American girl who wanted to make kubeh,” Shurka says.

There were also the two days she spent at Rachmo, a restaurant known for its kubeh in Jerusalem, where the owner initially balked at her request. “How you dare you come into my restaurant and ask for [its] heart and soul?” she recalls him saying. After some cajoling, he welcomed Shurka into his kitchen and ultimately wished her well with her project in the U.S.

Drawing upon research, Shurka has twisted the tradition a bit by braising instead of sauteeing the meat filling for her classic siske kubeh, and mixing and matching broths and varieties of dumplings, some of which will change throughout the year.

Still, there’s skepticism about whether an American audience will embrace the dish. Shurka says when she pitched her restaurant to investors, “Israelis would say, ‘We’re happy you’re opening, but do you think [Americans will] like it?’ ” Shurka is banking on the comforting nature of the soup, the universal appeal of dumplings, and a growing love of Israeli flavors within the U.S.

For Shefi, introducing kubeh to new diners may also be the key to safeguarding the food from the fate Roden foreshadowed. “In order for food to be passed from generation to generation … the only way is to cook it and for other people to crave it,” she says. “If you’re not exposed to something, you won’t crave it.”

Source: npr

Yoga May Boost Aging Brains

Amy Norton wrote . . . . . .

Older women who practice yoga may have greater “thickness” in areas of the brain involved in memory and attention, a small study suggests.

Researchers found that even compared with other healthy, active women their age, yoga practitioners typically had greater cortical thickness in the brain’s left prefrontal cortex.

That could be good news because, as the researchers pointed out, cognitive impairment from aging is usually associated with less volume in cortical areas of the brain associated with attention tasks, and decreases in memory.

But experts said it’s not clear what conclusions can be drawn from the study’s findings.

The findings are based on one-time brain scans of fewer than 50 women — and they do not prove that yoga, itself, altered anyone’s brain structure, according to senior researcher Elisa Kozasa.

The brain differences might have existed before the women ever tried yoga, said Kozasa, a researcher at Hospital Israelita Albert Einstein in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

But the study does add to a bigger body of evidence on yoga and brain function, said Dr. Helen Lavretsky, a researcher who was not involved in the work.

“This contributes to the evidence that yoga practice has neuroplastic effects on the brain that may translate into other health benefits — like better mood and cognition,” said Lavretsky, a professor-in-residence of psychiatry at the UCLA Geffen School of Medicine.

“Neuroplasticity” refers to the brain’s ability to reorganize itself and form new connections among cells over the course of a lifetime.

In her own research, Lavretsky has found some evidence that yoga benefits older adults’ brain function.

In a recent pilot study, her team tested the effects of weekly yoga classes among 25 older adults who were showing early signs of memory problems. The participants were randomly assigned to 12 weeks of yoga — which included some movement, breathing practices and meditation — or 12 weeks of “brain games.”

In the end, both groups were doing a little better on standard memory tests, compared with the study’s outset. But the yoga group showed a bigger change.

According to Lavretsky, it’s possible that yoga benefits the brain over time by easing day-to-day stress. Or, she said, yoga practices might have a more direct effect on “brain fitness.”

Kozasa pointed out that yoga involves a “cognitive component,” where practitioners hone their ability to concentrate while consciously holding poses, performing breathing exercises and meditating.

Her team was interested in whether long-time practitioners actually show a difference in their brain structure.

So they performed brain scans of 42 women age 60 and older. Half of the women regularly practiced yoga — for the past 15 years, on average. The rest were healthy and physically active, but did not practice yoga.

Women in both groups also had similarly high education levels.

“Even with those similarities,” Kozasa said, “the yoga group presented a greater cortical thickness in brain regions involved in executive functions such as attention.”

However, there could be other explanations for the findings, Lavretsky said — such as differences in the two groups’ other lifestyle choices, sleep habits, or perceived stress levels.

Kozasa agreed. What’s needed, she said, is a long-term study that charts brain changes in yoga practitioners and non-practitioners over time.

And while some research suggests that yoga boosts memory and attention, it’s not clear whether the practice can curb older adults’ risk of dementia.

“It is too soon to state that yoga can protect your brain against dementia,” Kozasa stressed.

Still, she said, there’s no reason for older adults to delay trying yoga if they are interested.

“If practiced with an experienced instructor, older adults may get benefits from yoga for their mental and physical health,” Kozasa said.

The findings were published online recently in the journal Frontiers in Aging Neuroscience.

Source: HealthDay


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