Archive for December, 2010|Monthly archive page

Salad…Israeli style

In Recipies on December 30, 2010 at 1:54 pm's shouting "HEALTHY!"

One item is ubiquitous on every Israeli table: breakfast (arukhat boker), lunch (arukhat tzohorayim), and supper (arukhat erev).  It is as reliable as the sunrise to find a big bowl of it being served up in every home, regardless of income level, social status, or occupation.  It is a menu staple of the Israel Defence (not a misspelling) Forces (IDF or, simply ZAHAL).

I am paying homage to the humble “Israeli Cucumber and Tomato Salad”

When it comes to cooking, there is no simpler table-faire.  It can be whipped up in minutes and it is immensely satisfying.  On the dreariest winter days, it brings sunshine to the table.  As a breakfast food, it wakes up the palate as its fresh flavors dance a hora on your tongue.

The daily breakfast and supper on any IDF base consists of:  Israeli salad, two boiled eggs, and a small bowl of cottage cheese.  An analysis of the foods in this menu shows it to be nearly perfect in its balance of protein, fats, and (few) carbohydrates.  Such a meal is inexpensive, readily obtainable anywhere, and very satisfying.  No massive culinary skills are used in its preparation…a tribute to military cooks from every country.

Monotonous?  No!

Set out the occasional bowl of kalamata olives (in moderation because they are about four calories each), substitute another (sliced) hard cheese, set out a bowl of fruit (oranges!), or substitute fish (kippers, sardines, or even canned tuna) for the eggs and you can achieve a pleasant variety for picky eaters.  If you simply must have a carbohydrate for breakfast, try putting a bit of good feta cheese on a bagel chip or two.  [Hint:  I get my feta from Reichart’s Dairy-Aire when our local farmer’s market is in operation.  Lois coaxes some award-winning cheese-making milk from her “girls” on her little goat farm.  I buy in bulk, vacuum-seal it, and then freeze it for later use.  Stored in this manner, I have a yearlong supply of my favorite feta.  If you do not have access to an excellent goatherd (doesn’t everyone?), you can buy feta in bulk or in small quantities at most grocery stores (“okay”) or Greek/Mediterranean (“better”) markets.]

Here is the basis for the salad:  Finely chop (not mince) several cucumbers and tomatoes, along with a quarter to a half of a sweet onion (minced).  [Hint:  Use “English” or hothouse cucumbers, instead of those seedy monstrosities used by American cooks.  I frequently use “mini” cucumbers because they are much less expensive!]  I prefer Roma tomatoes because they are less “seedy” and have less juice and make for a “meatier” salad.


Now, dress the salad.  This is where the humble salad becomes Phyne Dyning.

Buy (fair), or make your own (best) “zaatar” (“zahtar” or “zatar”, depending on who is doing the spelling).

Penzey’s Spice Company, or my local friends at “allspice”, can provide pre-mixed zaatar, but taste in zaatar varies.  So, experiment a bit with your own mixture.  Some people prefer more thyme, sumac, or more toasted sesame seeds, etc.  Experiment with the basic recipe I provide as a starter, the sky is the limit.


2 TBS sesame seeds, roasted (see narrative)

1-2 tsp dried thyme

1-2 tsp dried oregano

1-2 tsp dried marjoram

1 tsp to 1 TBS dried sumac

salt to taste (I leave it out, and salt the salad modestly)

In a small, heavy skillet, toast the sesame seeds over high heat until they turn lightly golden.  Do not burn the seeds, or they become quite bitter.  Set seeds aside to cool thoroughly.  Mix in the remaining ingredients when the seeds are cooled.  Store in a tightly sealed jar in a cool place.

Dressing the salad is simple.  Squeeze the juice from ½ of a lemon and remove the seeds.  It is okay to leave the pulp!  Pour the lemon juice over the salad.  Next, pour one or two tablespoons of good quality olive oil (I get mine from “allspice”) over the salad.  Finally, generously (according to taste) sprinkle your homemade zaatar over the salad and toss gently.

The sumac has a rather sour, or sharp, flavor which compliments the lemon juice nicely.  Its purple colour lends a festive touch to the salad’s appearance as well.

The key to this salad is to finely chop (not mince) the cucumbers and tomatoes.  Finely mince only the onion.  Serve cold or (better) at room temperature.  Figure on one to three cups (it is that good) per serving.

Option One:  Sprinkle some finely chopped cilantro leaves over the salad for a wonderful variation.

Option Two:  Use a Microplane grater to sprinkle some good Romano cheese on top of the salad just before tossing.  Do not substitute the stuff from jars here.  There is no comparison to fresh Romano in those “cardboardy” ersatz “Romano” or “Romano-blends” sold in grocery stores.

Menu Option:  Remember how I suggested substituting fish (especially canned tuna) for the eggs in the basic menu?  Drain a can of tuna (one per person), pour a bit of olive oil on top, and sprinkle with zaatar.  Delicious!

Tov te-avon! (Bon apatite!)


It’s New Year…time for resolutions

In Editorial on December 30, 2010 at 1:40 pm

Let the "fun" begin!

The (civil) New Year is almost upon us and that means its time for resolutions.  High on the list for most Americans is the desire to lose weight and to live healthier.

The Phyne Dyner joins them in their desire and will make a reprise effort after a bad fall sidelined him from his own fitness program.  Although the injuries should not have affected his devotion to healthy eating, it did.  Sloth begat over-indulgence and the result was a thirty-pound weight gain.

I was hardly “svelte” at two hundred and twenty-five pounds.  But I was bench-pressing my weight and was competitive in desert biathlons.  And, my suits fit quite well.

One does not accomplish such feats by eating plates of pelmeni, although I heartily recommend them in moderation.  You do not gain fitness by tossing back glasses (albeit small ones) of vodka in imitation of Boris Yeltsin.

The fitness feat can only be accomplished by building sweat equity in your health and by exercising due diligence to the healthy lifestyle.

A frequent winner in his age class in my sport of desert biathlon is a 68 year-old former Marine (GySgt).  Despite his struggle with rheumatoid arthritis, “Gunny” runs five miles every morning, rain or (more likely) 120-degree West Texas heat.  He “beats up” his free-weights every other day.  He limits his consumption of “adult beverages” to a single beer a day, drunk in celebration of his daily fitness successes.

My dearest friend, also a Marine (and closing in on age 50), sidelined from his own fitness program after being diagnosed with severe aortic valve disease.  Two years after a successful valve replacement, he returned to his former level of fitness, pumping iron every other day and running seven miles.

If they can do it, I can do it…again.

Phyne Dyning came about through the “foodie” craze sweeping America and there is no reason “foodie” needs be a synonym for food hedonism.

Look for more recipes and tips from Phyne Dyning that concur with admonishments to “Eat like your life depends on it”.

With our best wishes for a safe, healthy, and prosperous 2011,

The Phyne Dyner

It’s winter…time for pelmeni!

In Recipies on December 29, 2010 at 6:00 pm

A meal fit for Soviet hero, Vasily Zaytsev

Pelmeni are pierogi-like Russian equivalents to Ukrainian varnyki, Polish uszka, and Chinese pot-stickers.  They are a daily staple in Siberia and throughout Russia and are the national food of Russia.  They freeze well before cooking and wives of Siberian shepherds and woodcutters make them by the thousands to freeze in the snow for daily eating.

Russians are passionate about their pelmeni and Russian opinions about what makes a good pelmeni are as strong as American opinions on pizza or hamburgers.  The Phyne Dyner sought out the consummate pelmeni recipe and the search became an effort in futility.  Everyone claims their recipe is superior and the Phyne Dyner will likewise claim his as superior to all others.

My recipe uses a “standard” recipe for the wrappers.  I say “standard” because nearly every recipe for the wrappers is based on flour, water, salt, and eggs.  The controversy arises with how much flour goes into the wrapper recipe.

Before we get down to business, a word of warning.  Pelmeni are labour-intensive.  Do not plan on “whipping up” a batch after a day of work…they are a day of work.  This is why Russian women meet up at a friend’s home to make pelmeni over glasses of…vodka.

Another warning!  Pelmeni are not health food.  They are cooked in a rich broth and are usually served with melted butter and sour cream.  Copious amounts of vodka are served with pelmeni.  When I first tried them at the home of my friend Arkadje, a Russian-born Israeli, I asked if the vodka was thought to help offset the risk that comes with the food’s richness.  “No”, Arkadje replied, “It will not help prevent a heart attack.  It will prevent you from worrying about having a heart attack.”

A traditional (meat) pelmeni recipe calls for 50% beef, 30% pork, and 20% mutton.   I make mine with chicken, since I know chickens not to lactate.  But, pelmeni can be made with mixtures of turnips, carrots, potatoes, etc.  I have had some wonderful potato pelmeni (very similar to pierogi) cooked in beet juice (Talk about Russian!).

Folding the pelmeni is a lesson in origami.  I’ve linked a cute video on “pelmeniship” that is hosted by an absolutely charming Siberian…did I mention she is knockout gorgeous?  [Forget those stereotypes from the McCarthy era…Russian women do not all look like old ‘babushkas’.  And the accent?  Mrs. Phyne Dyner is away…I would max out my credit card just to pay the hostess to talk to me about pelmeni or beet greens.]

Okay…set aside a Sunday, buy a bottle of good vodka, invite some friends, and make pelmeni!

Did I mention you need a meat grinder?  You can use pre-ground meats.  But the result is better if you grind the ingredients together.

Meat filling

1 lb chicken breasts (or other meat) cut into strips

2 medium yellow onions

1 TBS dill weed

1 tsp marjoram

½ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp cinnamon

½ tsp nutmeg or ¼ tsp allspice

½ tsp white pepper

¼ tsp black pepper

1 tsp salt


2-4 C flour (making this is a trial and error)

2 eggs

1 tsp salt

1 C water (some prefer to use milk)


2 qt chicken broth

½ tsp garlic powder

1 tsp marjoram

2 tsp dill weed

salt to taste

1 small head of cabbage cut in quarters.

The meat will grind better if it is partially frozen.  Grind half of the meat.  Now grind all of the onion with the meat seasonings.  Then grind the remaining meat.  Place in a bowl and refrigerate while making the dough.

A stand mixer with a dough hook is good to have, but not essential.  Mix all of the wrapper ingredients (using only 2 C of flour to start) and knead for ten minutes.  Keep adding flour until the dough is very elastic and not extremely sticky.  Place in the refrigerator to rest at least 30 minutes.

Mix the broth ingredients in a large saucepan or stockpot.  Bring to a rolling boil and reduce to just above a simmer.

Here’s my adorable new friend showing the process!

I use the ‘snake’ method for making wrappers.  Pull out enough dough to form into a snake, just larger around than your thumb.  Flour your hands and surfaces.  Use a sharp knife to cut the snake into walnut sized portions.  Roll these portions into very thin circles.

Immediately fill the circles with ½ to 1-½ tsp of meat mixture (depends on size of dough circle).  Fold in half and seal the edges.  Now bring the “corners” together and pinch them tight.  Make 10-15 at a time.  Drop into boiling broth and cook for 8 minutes.  When they are nearly done, they will rise to the surface.  Note:  After adding the pelmeni to the broth, gently stir them so they do not stick to the bottom of the pot.  While they are cooking, start rolling/filling another batch.  Remove to a bowl with a bit of the broth.  Keep cooking them until all of the ingredients are used up (about 20-40, depending on size).

Now, gently place the cabbage quarters in the broth and cover.  You can add 1-2 cups of water or stock if the pot has boiled down significantly during the cooking of the pelmeni.  Cook for about 15-20 minutes or until just softening.  Return the pelmeni to the broth to reheat on low heat for 5 minutes.

Serve in bowls with a bit of broth.  If non-meat or if kosher does not matter, serve with melted butter and sour cream…and LOTS of good vodka!


Break the take-away habit with this fast food

In Recipies on December 29, 2010 at 5:38 pm

Probably the only thing faster than this recipe

Looking for something for supper that is fast, easy, and healthy?  This recipe is the sure-cure for expanding waistlines that result from bringing home take-away food on evenings you “don’t feel like cooking”.

Prep time is less than ten minutes and cooking the basmati-wild rice accompaniment takes longer than the whole time from prep to service.

My version uses “Iowa Country Sweat & Tears” mustard from the Denison Mustard Co., but any Dijon-style mustard would be an excellent substitute if you do not have access to DMC’s excellent mustard.

No sense in letting the telling take longer than the making!

4-6 talapia or flounder fillets

2 TBS Panko (or fine bread crumbs)

1 TBS Dijon mustard

1 TBS honey

salt and pepper

Preheat oven to 425F.  Fish may be cooked from frozen if the fillets are thin.  Place the fillets on a lightly oiled baking sheet.  Sprinkle with salt and pepper.  Sprinkle with Panko or very fine breadcrumbs.  Whisk together the mustard, honey, and one tablespoon of water.  Drizzle the honey-mustard mixture over the fish.  Bake for 8-12 minutes or until the fish flakes easily with a fork.

Serves well with wild and Basmati rice and alongside a garden salad.  It is so good you will not realize it is a healthy meal.

A (very) little humor

In Lifestyle on December 27, 2010 at 9:48 am


There was little shock when this Wink, Texas roadhouse went out of business



[Editor’s Note: The Phyne Dyner has a history of being “a day late and a shekel short”.  This story would have been a bit better LAST week.  On the other hand, it is just too good to keep until next year.]

For many years a Jew from Eastern Europe and a Chinese immigrant passed each other on their busy NYC street.  They never spoke until one day, when both men were quite elderly, the Chinese gentleman stopped the old Jew with a tug on his sleeve.

“Excuse me”, asked the Chinese man in a halting voice, “you are Jewish?”

The old Jew nodded, “Yes, that is correct.”  His eyes twinkling in friendly recognition of his aged fellow pedestrian.

“You are from an ancient and honorable people, thought to date from 3,500 years ago”, observed the Chinese man.  “I, too, am from an ancient and honorable people.  But we are thought to date from only 3,000 years ago.  Because of this, I have long had a question I wished to ask a Jewish person.”

The old Jew rubbed his beard thoughtfully and then said with pride, “By all means, ask your question.  We Jews are encouraged to tell others about our customs and heritage.  Please ask!”

The grizzled old Chinese man nodded, leaned forward, and asked, “What did you eat for the first 500 years?”

Merry Christmas to our readers!

In Editorial on December 23, 2010 at 8:40 pm


It's really is.



The other day, “Mrs. Phyne Dyner” came home with an unusual pin.


“It’s OK. Wish Me A Merry Christmas”


“Hey, that’s cute”, was my first response.  I’ve had a few days to think about it now.


It is okay to wish me a “Merry Christmas”.  It’s not as though the greeting says, “Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior!”  I don’t smell the pitch-fires of the Inquisition when someone extends “Merry Christmas”.


I hear, “Have a safe and healthy day with your family and I wish the best for your future. Peace on Earth and goodwill towards men”.


What could possibly be wrong with wishing for peace or goodwill?


Phyne Dyner’s annual cycle can be drawn from the movies he watches.


In the spring, “Shindler’s List” gets a viewing.  In the fall, it’s “Liberty Heights.  In January, “The Pianist” gets play. ” At Hanukkah, “The Hebrew Hammer” comes alive.  And every Christmas, one disk from the “Band of Brothers” collection gets an annual reprise: “Bastogne”.


We relive, through the eyes of the storyteller, the cold, the misery, the hunger, the fear and the desperation those soldiers felt in a Christmas season of their day.  War took a holiday for a few hours.  Then, both sides resumed the carnage.


For two hours, I live vicariously through the men of Easy Company.  I feel the cold, but I can only vaguely feel the hopelessness and terror.


I have warm boots.


When someone wishes me “Merry Christmas” I believe they are conveying their sincere wishes that the hardship experienced by those men, nearly seventy years ago, would not visit upon another generation.


How could I possibly be offended?

A taste of Persia

In Recipies on December 20, 2010 at 2:33 pm

This is the ultimate 'fast' food.

Green beans are a favorite Persian food and you can give them an authentic Middle Eastern “kick” with chickpeas and this curry-like dressing.

Phyne Dyning can be fast and easy.  Use canned vegetables for this dish and you will have a side-dish fit to accompany the finest main course in a matter of minutes.

1 14oz can French-cut green beans, drained

1 14oz can chickpeas (garbanzos), drained

2 tbs tomato paste

¼ tsp garlic powder

½ tsp ground cumin

1/4 tsp turmeric

½ tsp ground ginger

pinch cayenne pepper

salt and freshly ground pepper

Place the drained vegetables in a medium-sized pot and warm over medium-low heat.  Stir in the tomato paste and spices.  Season with salt and pepper.  Continue warming until warm or hot, but this can be served at any temperature.  Be careful not to overcook the green beans though.

Phyne dyning does not come any easier!  Serves four.

Give a fig!

In Recipies on December 20, 2010 at 2:30 pm

Tangines are elegant, but unneeded to make a great tangine dinner.

A friend of Bedouin ancestry introduced me to tangine cooking twelve years ago.  These pungent-sweet stew-like dishes are ubiquitous in North Africa and they are a Moroccan staple.

“Tangine” refers to the type of cooking vessel used.  A tangine has a deep, dish bottom and a tall, conical top.  The idea behind the design is that moisture from the cooking in the deep dish rises along the sloped sides of the top, condenses, and returns to the food below to keep it wonderfully moist.

The Phyne Dyner does not own a tangine and one does not need a tangine to cook great tangine recipes.  I use a semi-ancient “Club Aluminum” Dutch oven and get splendid tangine every time.  If it burns in your belly to own a tangine, they can be found online for $100-200.  But, in my opinion, most Phyne Dyners would only want one to add authenticity in bringing the dish to table…they make an elegant and dramatic presentation.

Jews living in Arab countries often prepare tangine-like stews for Shabbat suppers and to keep piping-hot when cooking is forbidden on Shabbat.  These dishes are called “cholents” (the Eastern European name), but they bear little resemblance to the often starchy and typically bland cholents of Eastern Europe.  I have made some splendid tangine/cholent variations with their pungent spices offset by the sweet accents (How appropriate for Shabbat!) of cinnamon or cardamom.

This recipe is one I gleaned from the PBS program, “Everyday Cooking”.  It is simple and uses everyday ingredients.  I chose it because it does not rely on “exotic” spices and I have gotten spectacular results (and rave reviews from guests) every time I prepare it.

Tangines are “elegant poor people food” in their native lands and this recipe can be adapted to use whatever you have available. For example, substitute orange segments for the figs and stir in some cardamom.  Or, try apple slices with cinammon!  Make it “stick to your ribs” by adding a can of chickpeas (garbanzos) before baking.  In Africa, pumpkin or squash makes up for the lack of meat.  Splurge on some lamb or goat instead of chicken!  Sweet spices and figs are, in my opinion, far better than mint jelly as flavor-foils for lamb.

You get the idea.

So, break out that old Dutch oven and serve up some classically authentic tangine.  If yours is “stove-top safe”, this is a one-pot meal!  Fast clean-up means more time to linger with wine, and friends, after dinner.

4 large chicken thighs, skin on

8-10oz “Mission style” figs (or any dried figs) cut into large pieces

1 ½ very large onions, chopped (about 4-5 cups)

2 large cloves of garlic, minced

1 tsp ground cumin

2 tsp paprika

¼ tsp cayenne pepper (optional)

¼ C vegetable oil

salt and fresh-ground pepper

Heat the oil in the Dutch oven (or skillet) over medium-high heat.  Season the chicken thighs with salt and pepper.  Place the chicken thighs, skin-side up, into the hot oil and fry them until they are golden (5-6 minutes per side) and remove them to a plate.  You are not cooking the chicken, only making it crisp and golden on the outside.

Pre-heat the oven to 400F.

Reduce the heat to medium-low and, very carefully, spoon out excess oil and grease, leaving about 1-2 tablespoons in the Dutch oven.  Sauté the onion for about 3-4 minutes, until it is translucent, not browned or golden. Then stir in (loosening the brown bits in the bottom of the pan) the garlic, paprika, and cumin.  I like my tangine to have a traditional “bite”, so add the cayenne if you like.  Cook for an additional minute.  Add one cup of hot water and then stir in the figs.  Lay the chicken, skin-side up, on top of the mixture and then push the chicken into it, but do not completely cover the meat.  Cover tightly.  Bake for 45-50 minutes.  Check for doneness with an instant-read thermometer.  Add more water if the pot looks dry, but 1 C is almost always enough water from the beginning.  Continue baking until the temperature of the meat at its thickest part reads 170-180F.

Serve alongside basmati rice or couscous, generously spooning some of the onion-fig mixture over the chicken.  Try this with the Persian Great Beans and Chickpeas as a side!

Tired of latkes? Think Turkey!

In Recipies on December 6, 2010 at 12:31 am

I love latkes.  When Hanukkah rolls around each year, we gorge ourselves on them for the first few days.  Then, about “day five”, the “latke blues” set in and we’re as eager to see another plate of them as we would be to lift the plate cover and find an MRE under it.

Kabak mucveri make a great mid-festival substitute for latkes.  These fritter-like treats from Turkey meet the traditional requirement for Hanukkah by being fried in oil and their bright, green accents perk up the winter table with a faint echo of summertime.

In the summer months, I am a regular at the Des Moines Downtown Farmer’s Market.  A vendor was expressing some frustration that zucchini are so good, but she did not have a lot of suggestions (beyond breaded, skillet-fried, or baked into bread) for its use.  I gave her this recipe.  The next week, she had an electric skillet full of them for shoppers to sample.  They were flying out of the pan and people were grabbing copies of my recipe.  In Iowa, that is a pretty strong recommendation!

1 lb fresh zucchini, ends trimmed

1 shallot, minced

1 small onion, minced

1/2 C Italian parsley, minced

1/2 C fresh dill, minced (or 2 tbs dry)

1/2 C grated Romano or crumbled feta

4 eggs

1 C white flour

kosher salt and freshly ground pepper

olive oil for frying


Grate the zucchini and place half in a colander.  Sprinkle this amount generously with kosher salt.  Place the rest of the grated zucchini on top and sprinkle this with kosher salt.  Place a small plate and a heavy can of “something” on top of the grated zucchini and set the colander in a shallow pan.  Allow to drain about 30-45min.  In a large bowl, combine the remaining ingredients.  Using your hands, squeeze out as much remaining water as possible from the grated zucchini and add the squash to the other ingredients in the bowl.  Mix well.  Preheat about 1/2 C olive oil in a skillet over medium to medium-high heat (not smoking).  Use two spoons to drop a generous dollop of the zucchini mixture into the hot oil.  Fry each side until golden (3-4 min).  Carefully turn using two spatulas.  When finished frying, move the cooked patties onto paper towels to drain.  Serve warm with sour cream.

These are simply irresistible and if half of them make it to table uneaten, you are a model of self-restraint.

Serves about 4 (4-5 small patties each)