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How To Combat Christmas Envy

December 28, 2010

Typically, we Chinese Jews are faced with a dilemma: why bother to go out for Chinese food on Christmas when you can just make it at home? Luckily, Christmas Eve and Shabbat happened to coincide this year, so instead of wallowing in Asian-Jewish self-pity, I formulated this menu:

Shabbat-Christmas Eve Dinner for MOOG and FOOG (Mother and Father Of Octopus Gourmet)

Whole wheat challah, adapted from Jewish Cooking in America

Eggplant pomegranate puree

Wilted garlic spinach salad

Caramelized shallots and garlic

Moroccan Chicken Tagine with Preserved Lemons and Green Olives (tagine courtesy Claudia Roden, preserved lemons courtesy his Holiness Mark Bittman)

Saffron rice pilaf with dried apricots

Red wine

Recipes: Although I swapped white whoole wheat flour for half all-purpose and half whole wheat in the challah, that was the only change I made. The challah, which somehow only had one egg per loaf, was much more like bread than the eggy, sweet brioche traditional challah should be. Not that it wasn’t good– it was clearly much more wholesome, but proved better toasted and slathered with crunchy peanut butter.

Mark Bittman’s quick preserved lemons are genius! I only made them 5 or 6 hours in advance, and they had none of the extreme saltiness of the whole pickled lemons in oil from Middle Eastern grocery stores… not to mention that they cost practically nothing.

The chicken… well, the chicken was a feat. Despite having been cooking for 5 years or so, I had never handled raw meat, or at least never a whole chicken. But the fact of the matter is I’m no longer a vegetarian, and I should know about this side, or rather, nucleus, of the culinary sphere. Embarassingly enough, I didn’t even know how to open the chicken bag. I wore rubber gloves. I massacred the bird with a pair of scissors. It was disgusting and there were all sorts of viscous membranes that I avoided thinking about when I tried the tagine.

But you know what? Even though I couldn’t get the image of the naked pink corpse out of my head, the tagine was fantastic. The sauce was sweet with the chicken’s juice and onions, piquant and salty from the green olives (no need to remove the pits), and sour from the preserved lemons. Spooned over my pilaf and served alongside roasted shallots, we were too full to eat the salad I was originally planning on serving.

The appetizers, on the other hand, which I threw together at the last minute sans recipe, ironically turned out to be the most successful. The combination of eggplant and pomegranate never fails, especially when spread atop challah. The same goes for garlicky lemon spinach cooked with a lot of white wine.

Recipes for side dishes below:

Eggplant pomegranate puree


  • 2 large eggplants
  • Olive oil, salt, pepper
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 tsp cumin
  • 1/2 tsp sumac
  • 1 tsp smoked paprika
  • couple cloves roasted garlic
  • Seeds of ~ 1/4 of a pomegranate
  • salt, pepper, olive oil to taste
  • 1/4 cup chopped parsley


  • Preheat the oven to 375. Cut the eggplants in half and drizzle them with olive oil, then season with salt and pepper.
  • Roast, pricking and turning every once and a while, until the skins are peeling off and the flesh is meltingly tender.
  • Remove from the oven. When cool enough to handle, scoop out the innards and discard the skins.
  • Put the eggplant pulp in a blender/food processor (all hail the Vitamix) and blend until smooth but not quite baby food-like.
  • Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice and spices. Refrigerate.
  • When chilled, mash in roasted garlic (from recipe below), then add chopped parsley and squeeze in pomegranate juice and seeds.
  • Adjust seasonings to taste, drizzling a little additional olive oil on top. Serve.

Lemon garlic spinach


  • 1 bunch spinach
  • 1 TBSP olive oil
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • White wine
  • Juice of one lemon
  • Salt and pepper


  • Heat oil over medium-high heat until hot but not smoking. Add garlic and stir-fry until just slightly burnt.
  • Add spinach, wine, and a little salt. Let the alcohol boil off, then turn down the heat and let it wilt.
  • When wilted, remove from the heat, cool, and chop, but not too finely.
  • Transfer to a bowl and add lemon juice, salt and pepper. Refrigerate.

Roasted shallots and garlic

(They have these at the vegan section of my dining hall every day. If there is such a thing as shallot addiction, I have it.)


  • ~10 large shallots, peeled
  • 1 head of garlic peeled
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • 2 TBSP balsamic
  • Salt and pepper


  • Preheat the oven to 375.
  • Peel shallots and garlic. Slice the shallots in half if you wish.
  • Transfer to a pie dish lined with wax paper and drizzle on olive oil, vinegar, plus salt and pepper.
  • Roast until the outside layer of the shallots is golden brown and peeling off, even burnt if you want.
  • Turn the heat down to 300 and leave them alone until they’re sweet and practically melting.

Saffron pilaf with dried apricots (This is inspired by the very under-appreciated cuisine of Xinjiang province, whose Muslim cuisine is similar to Middle Eastern)


  • ~4 cups cooked basmati rice
  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 TBSP olive oil
  • a 1 inch knob of ginger, peeled and minced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • A lot of white wine (2 cups?)
  • a pinch of saffron
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp cumin (at least)
  • a cinnamon stick
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 1/2 tsp ground cinnamon
  • Salt and pepper
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/4 cup chopped dried apricots


  • Heat oil over high heat until sizzling, then add onions.
  • When the onions have softened, add garlic, ginger, and spices. Turn down the heat and continue cooking down.
  • Add rice and wine, then turn up to a boil.
  • When the wine has boiled off, turn the heat down again and continue adding spices to taste.
  • Add chopped apricots, cilantro and parsley and cook through. Serve.

10 Comments leave one →
  1. Ariel Zeitlin Cooke permalink
    December 28, 2010 10:33 am

    Yum. Who knew that pomegranates and eggplant were supposed to go together? Everything sounds delicious and this dinner sounds like an excellent cure for Marrakesh Envy too, which I have in spades. One of these days I’ll get there. But in the meantime, where is the Mark Bittman quick-preserved lemons recipe? I only have his How to Cook Everything, not the new one. Am I going to have to break down and buy the new one? By the way, it’s very easy to carve a chicken, even a raw one. I’ll show you this week if you like.
    AOOG (Aunt of Octopus Gourmet)

  2. Tim permalink
    December 28, 2010 8:10 pm

    The Octopus Gourmet wins at food. You just whipped up those appetizers sans recipe!? 太棒了!

  3. FIZ permalink
    December 28, 2010 8:40 pm

    I think this was your most fantastic blog ever; maybe because I liked the very idea of Chinese-Jewish shabbat; but also the food seemed so yummy; seeing the Challahs side by side with their poppy seeds was a glorious sight. So thanks for this and for so much more.

  4. Malvika permalink
    January 3, 2011 6:56 am

    I JUST tried the pomegranate eggplant love affair. It’s delicious. :).

    • octopuscarwash permalink*
      January 3, 2011 2:03 pm

      you’re the best! thanks

  5. Simone Baggetto permalink
    January 11, 2011 8:32 pm

    THE EGGPLANT THING LOOKS SO GOOD I AM SO MAKING THAT. I meant to mention that I am currently addicted to pomegranates.
    Also you probably don’t want to hear this but if you had kneaded your challah a bit longer the dough would be smoother and less prone to ripping.


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