Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Happy 25th of Elul! Celebrate the First Day of Creation with My Ground Beef, Kale, Olives, Raisins & Almonds Recipe

One of the unexpected bonuses of doing so much writing about Jewish food and the association between food and observance in the religion is that I learn so much about Judaism.

I had a fairly secular upbringing (although my grandmother kept kosher, fed a pushke and pooh-poohed the evil spirits) and I did not receive much of a formal Jewish education.  I did go to some youth services and belonged to the synagogue youth group, went to high holiday services with my father and was raised in a Jewish state of mind (well, a Brooklyn-Jewish-Flatbush-Long Island-Ashkenazi state of mind.  Oh, and did I ever mention my rabbi was comedian Jackie Mason's brother?)

But I digress, my main point here is that researching the recipes and foods associated with Jewish traditions has not just broadened my waist line (I wish that was a joke) but my knowledge about Judaism. 

The celebration of the 25th of Elul (a date in the Jewish lunar calendar) is a good example of this process.

I was looking for something to base one of my recipe columns in the j. weekly on and was searching for a topic other than the impending Jewish New Year celebration.  I looked on the the Jewish calendar and saw it was the month of Elul.  After a little sleuthing about Elul (okay I checked Wikipedia and the Chabad site), I found out that the 25th of Elul (this year that's the 12th of September) is considered the first day of Creation.

No idea.

I always figured  the first day of the New Year (Rosh Hashanah - which starts the evening of September 16th this year) had that honor.   Wrong.  Definitely didn't attend youth services during Elul.  I might have learned the first day of Rosh Hashanah is the day man was created, the sixth day of creation.  But the start, the start was the 25th of Elul.

I got a (big) bang out of that.

If you are wondering about how food fits into this all, I'm getting to that.

Turns out the religious authorities advise us to celebrate the day by having a nice meal, in fact two nice meals – one in the afternoon and one in the evening.   It is considered propitious to consume two meals that day that feature bread and meat. We are also directed to eat something sweet to celebrate the creation and as a wish for a sweet year.

Since there are so many wonderful resources for bread near my home, I rarely bake it, so I didn't have a special bread recipe for the 25th, so be sure to pick up some tender challah or crusty artisan bread to serve with the Ground Beef with Kale, Olives, Raisins and Almonds. The recipe comes together very fast and makes a good dinner for any weeknight, not just the 25th of Elul. It has flavors that remind me of many Sephardic and Cuban dishes.

For something sweet, use your favorite cereal to make my Not-Your-Kid’s Marshmallow Treat Bars. You can see the recipe here.  (Be sure to use kosher marshmallows and parve cereal if you need to make those subsitutions.)

Ground Beef with Kale, Olives, Raisins and Almonds
Serves 8

2 Tbs. canola oil
2 cups chopped onion
1 Tbs. minced garlic
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. dried oregano
1/4 tsp. ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground red pepper (cayenne)
1 tsp. ground cinnamon
2 lbs. ground beef (lean or very lean)
6 cups chopped kale, packed
2 Tbs. tomato paste
1-14.5 oz. can of diced tomatoes, with liquid
1/2 cup thinly sliced green olives stuffed with pimentos
1/2 cup blanched, silvered almonds
1/2 cup raisins

Heat oil in a very large fry or sauté pan. Sauté onions over medium high heat until beginning to soften and turn brown, add garlic and sauté until just golden. Add salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, red pepper and cinnamon. Stir for a minute and then add beef.

Brown beef, breaking up any clumps (work in batches if your pan is not large enough and combine when all the beef is browned). Add kale. Sauté until kale begins to wilt, add tomato paste and diced tomatoes with liquid, stirring often until beef and vegetables are cooked through. Lower heat to medium. Stir in olives with pimentos, almonds and raisins. Sauté for a few minutes. Taste and correct seasonings if needed. Serve with bread and over cooked rice, couscous, pasta, grains or mashed potatoes if desired.
The original version of this post appeared in the j weekly.  You can see it here.
About the lack of photo. I apparently didn't take one of the ground beef dish. That happens sometimes. Oh Well.  Photo graphic from Microsoft Office clip art collection, my favorite source of royalty free art.   

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