Grandma’s Spreads

GrandmaI had some extra time one Saturday in October and my mother and I went to the La Jolla (California) public library, a favorite haunt of mine. It is here that I’ve found many out-of-print books which have a collection of interesting artwork. As I was looking in my usual spot, in a bin by the door—my mother exclaimed with delight that she just found a book, the Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook. If you’re not from the New York area, this book and the history behind it will hold no fascination. Having been to the famous Ratner’s Restaurant in the late 1960s when they still served hot coffee in traditional glasses, I was as delighted as my mother at this discovery. To me, Ratner’s was from another era, something out of an Isaac Beshavis Singer novel, where serious philosophers spoke Yiddish and the food was earthy and filling—made from recipes passed down through generations.

There were two recipes in this book that my mother had been searching for over twenty years, since her own mother passed away with her secrets tucked into her well-worn housedress. Though she had watched her mother’s cooking and baking marathons (that took place during visits to our home a few times a year), she never bothered to ask her to write the recipes down. I doubt Grandma Molly could actually have formulated measurements on paper. Cooking from Grandma’s perspective was a combination of pure intuition and experience.

Sometimes we need a little help, an experienced hand that has traveled the path before us, made some mistakes, and discovered that the recipe is simply the reed, and we are the wind that creates the culinary music. Even if we have just the right recipe, we still need our own intuition and experience to make the dish “sing.”

Below are two family recipes that are simple to make and work well as a light lunch or appetizer. They combine the traditional recipes of Grandma Molly and the newly discovered ones from the Ratner’s Meatless Cookbook.

Eggplant Spread
2 medium eggplants
1/3 C canola oil
2 large onions, chopped small
1 red pepper, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
Juice of ½ lemon; salt and pepper to taste

1. Bake unpeeled eggplant in 350 degree oven for one hour, or until soft. Cool, peel and chop finely.
2. Saute onions and red pepper in oil until cooked, add garlic near the end of cooking and fry for a few moments.
3. Stir in cooked eggplant, lemon juice, salt and pepper.
4. Chill and serve with whole grain crackers or wedges of whole wheat bread.

Mock Chopped Liver
½ pound brown lentils (organic is best)
2 large onions, chopped small
6 hard-boiled eggs (1½ C firm tofu can be substituted)
3 T canola oil
1 T peanut butter or tahini
salt and cayenne pepper to taste

1. Cook lentils until quite soft (fill pot with just enough water or vegetable stock to cover lentils) cook about 45 minutes, it shouldn’t be a thick mixture, mash well with eggs or tofu.
2. Saute onions in oil until brown.
3. Mix lentils, onions, peanut butter or tahini, pepper and salt.
4. Chill and serve with whole grain crackers or wedges of whole wheat bread.

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