A COMPOTE THAT MAKES SWEET MEMORIES!

Pear Walnut Compote/Choco WafersPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Holiday meals, whether at home or at my grandmother’s, always concluded with a small bowl of stewed dried fruits cooked until soft and perfectly sweetened and pleasantly laced with cinnamon. It certainly wasn’t a fancy dessert, and it’s  probably one of the most unpretentious desserts one can offer guests at the end of a special celebration. Yet, the memories continue to bring sweet thoughts. When I close my eyes, I can almost taste those dried prunes, apricots, pears, and raisins and remember fondly the definitive spicy aroma of cinnamon that made me appreciate this simple homespun dessert.

Because the compote was sweet and generously spiced with cinnamon, I remembered this dessert fondly and as a kid, I always looked forward to it. It became one of those tiny little treasures I knew Grandma would bring to the table without fail.

I thought it might be lovely to pass on those memories to others with a compote that’s just as easy to make, but with something special in addition that would elevate it to become a truly elegant treat. So I began with fresh pears and fresh cranberries rather than dried and spiced it with just enough cinnamon to add that nostalgic holiday aroma. But it was still just a simple compote. What else could I do to make it really zing?

Vegan Holidays lowresVoila! Homemade Choco-Wafers turned this delicious, unpretentious compote into an elegant, alluring dessert with a built-in convenience factor. These delicious little wafers can be made several days ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. They actually keep well for up to three months in the fridge. I might also mention this is one of the delicious holiday desserts in my Vegan for the Holidays Cookbook!

The compote can be prepared two days ahead and tucked into the fridge until dessert time. But, to make this dessert extra special and give your guests that pampered feeling, bring it to room temperature on serving day and gently warm it at 350 degrees F. for about 10 to 15 minutes just before serving.

At serving time, spoon the compote into little dessert dishes and tuck two Homemade Choco-Wafers into the dish so they stand tall. Sometimes I place the wafers on the sides and sometimes in the center. Maybe you’ll come up with an even more dramatic way of presenting this dessert–there’s plenty of room for creativity!

Pear & Walnut Compote:Choco Wafers2 copyPEAR CRANBERRY COMPOTE WITH CHOCO-WAFERS

Yield: about 6 servings

Choco-Wafers

1 cup walnutsPear Walnut Compote/Choco Wafers

1 cup pitted dates, snipped in half

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon water

3 tablespoons golden raisins

3 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Compote

2 fresh Anjou or Bosc pears, cored, quartered, and sliced

1 cup fresh cranberries

1/2 cup plus 1 tablespoons light brown sugar, firmly packed

1/3 cup black raisins

1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/4 cup water

1 tablespoon cornstarch

3 tablespoons coarsely ground toasted, walnut, almonds, or hazelnuts, for garnish

  1. TO MAKE THE CHOCO-WAFERS, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line a 17 1/2 x 12 1/2-inch rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper.
  2. Put all the wafer ingredients in a food processor. Process until all the ingredients are well incorporated, the nuts are broken down to a fine, but slightly textured meal, and the mixture reaches a very thick, finely mashed, firm consistency, stopping occasionally to scrape down the workbowl.
  3. Spoon the wafer mixture into the prepared baking sheet and use the back of the spoon to form it into a 1/4-inch thick rectangle approximately 8 inches by 9 inches.
  4. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the wafer is set and almost dry to the touch but still soft. Remove from the oven and let cool completely. It will firm as it cools. When cool, cut into 2 or 3-inch squares and set aside until ready to serve or put the squares in a ziplock bag and refrigerate.
  5. TO MAKE THE COMPOTE, combine the pears, cranberries, brown sugar, raisins, lemon juice, cinnamon, vanilla, and water in a 3 or 4-quart saucepan. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Immediately, decrease the heat to low, and simmer 10 minutes, or until the pears are softened.
  6. To thicken the juice in the pan, combine the cornstarch and 1 tablespoon water in a small cup or bowl and stir until smooth. Stir the paste into the simmering compote a little at a time, stirring constantly for about 1 minute, or until thickened to desired consistency.
  7. To serve, spoon the compote into small dessert dishes and garnish each with the walnuts, if desired. Tuck 2 wafers into the center or sides of the compote.
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HANUKKAH GELT–DELICIOUS TO EAT

Hanukkah GeltHere’s a Hanukkah side dish that represents so much more than something tasty to serve at dinnertime. I’ve cut carrots into coins and called them Hanukkah Gelt so the story of Hanukkah can be retold each year and celebrated in joyful long-standing tradition.

These carrot coins are sautéed with a Middle Eastern herbal blend called zaatar and make a flavorful dish served during the eight days of Hanukkah. If yellow carrots are available, they would look even more like gold coins than the orange ones. Some food distributors have yellow carrots available year round. (See below).

 What is Hanukkah gelt?

Gelt is a Yiddish word meaning money. In ancient times, money was in the form of Ancient gold coinsgold coins. Today, many Jewish families give Hanukkah gelt, or Hanukkah money to their children during the eight days of Hanukkah. Some families give real coins, while Foil coinsothers present the kids with coins formed from chocolates wrapped in gold foil and stamped to look like gold coins. These little gold coins, made in different sizes, are wrapped in tiny mesh bags and sold in groceries across the country during the November/December holiday season.

It’s a fun tradition the kids look forward to each year, but how did this practice begin? Meaningful historical events contributed many reasons to give Hanukkah gelt, not only to children, but, sometimes, to others in the community.

How did Hanukkah begin?

Hanukkah, known as the Festival of Lights, celebrates the re-dedication of an ancient vialJewish Temple that was desecrated by Greek armies. The Jews fought back and won and restored their ruined temple. In the wreckage, they found a tiny bottle of sanctified oil to relight the eternal light over the altar, but there was only enough oil to last one day. The miracle was that tiny bottle of oil burned for eight days. To commemorate the miraculous event the people celebrated in a grand and very fitting way–by lighting candles and celebrating for eight nights in remembrance of the miracle. The tradition was called Hanukkah.

Classic menorahMany families created their own Hanukiah or Hanukkah Menorah, a candelabra with nine branches, eight to hold the eight candles for each of the eight nights the oil burnt, and an extra branch to hold the special candle, the shamash, that lights the other candles.

Brass menorah

Hanukkah gelt tradition

Hanukkah lights are considered sacred and are never snuffed out. Instead, the candles are allowed to burn until they go out naturally. Because the lights are considered sacred, they are not used for other purposes, such as using the light to count coins. So families gave their children coins, or Hanukkah gelt, to reinforce the rule and honor the sacred candles.

Lighted MenorahBecause the Hanukkah lights were so venerated, families made it an annual ritual to Gelt casualremember the miracle of the oil. They gave Hanukkah gelt to the poor so they, too, could afford to buy candles to commemorate the holiday.

During the Greek army invasion, the Jews were forced to give up their religious rituals and adopt only Greek practices. During that long period, many Jews forgot their traditions and Torah lessons and had to relearn them when the temple was restored. Families gave their children Hanukkah gelt during Hanukkah as a reward for Torah study.

gold coin stackJews also gave Hanukkah gelt to celebrate their freedom from the Greek armies and their return to their own traditions. Rather than placing value on material gifts to celebrate the holiday, the Hanukkah gelt represented a celebration of spiritual values.

Today’s Hanukkah rituals

Because Jews follow a lunar calendar, their holidays don’t always fall on the same date of our Gregorian, or Western calendar. Frequently, though, Hanukkah occurs in December during the festive Christmas season and has suffered the influence of commercialism to varying degrees. Many families give material gifts to their children along with the gold foil-wrapped chocolate coins. Tradition does prevail in some families where Hanukkah gelt, the real thing, offers an opportunity for parents to retell the story of Hanukkah to the children.

Hanukkah GeltHANUKKAH GELT

 Yield: about 4 to 5 servings

3 large carrots, sliced into coins

3 large shallots, thinly slicedHanukkah Gelt

3 tablespoons water

1 tablespoon zaataar

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 clove garlic, minced

3/4 teaspoon salt

Freshly ground pepper to taste

  1. In a large, deep skillet, combine the carrots, shallots, water, zaatar, canola oil, and garlic. Cook and stir over high or medium-high heat for about 3 to 4 minutes. Add 1 or more tablespoons of water as needed to cook the carrots and prevent burning.
  2. When the carrots are beginning to soften, add the salt and pepper and cook until all the liquid is absorbed. Continue to cook and stir until the carrots are slightly browned.

Note: Zaatar is a traditional Middle Eastern herb blend with a long history and is used throughout the Fertile Crescent, Iraq, Arabian peninsula, and Israel. Many food historians believe the original zaatar was made of hyssop. Today, the mixture frequently consists of ground thyme, sesame seeds, salt, and sumac and is available in Middle Eastern groceries. Some cooks may include oregano, marjoram, savory, cumin, coriander, or fennel seeds. The herb blend is used as a seasoning on meats and vegetables, but it’s zaatar manakeesh we see most often, which consists of combining the herb blend with olive oil and spreading it over pita bread.

Yellow Carrots available at:

Specialty Produce http://www.specialtyproduce.com

Melissa’s Produce http://www.melissas.com