Saturday, August 31, 2013

Te'meitov Pai (Tomato Pie)

This summer (in addition to traveling to Egypt) I had the unique opportunity of getting to go to Israel to present research at the International Society of Political Psychology Conference. That's right-- somehow academics have convinced universities that preparing and giving a 30 minute research presentation is enough work to justify the university paying hundreds of dollars for a plane ticket, hotel room, etc. After my presentation I got to lay on the beach in Tel Aviv. Suckers.

Not to say that it was all play. I certainly sat in my fair share of talks, learned a lot about Middle Eastern politics, traveled to various parts of Israel and the West Bank to learn about the politics firsthand, and I did lots of research. For this blog. Food research.

One of the places I went was called Blackout Restaurant. It's in Old Jaffa in Tel Aviv, and it is a restaurant run entirely by blind people. It is also one of those restaurants where you eat in the dark. Pitch black. It's meant to help you pay more attention to your senses of taste, texture, and smell, but if you need to go to the restroom during the meal, you're screwed.

The view of Old Jaffa from Tel Aviv

As were many restaurants in Israel, this restaurant was kosher, so a meal could either have fish in it for 2 courses (and no dairy in the dessert) or cheese in it for 3 courses (and no meat products). I opted for 3 courses of cheese (because...cheese). One thing I loved about this restaurant is that although they provided a menu, one could also request "chef's choice" and was likely to get food that was not on the menu at all. In this case, the waiters and waitresses loved making guests guess their food after eating it.

My first course consisted of a delicious savory pastry; fresh, warm tomatoes; a handful of fresh herbs; and a soft, melted cheese. It turned out to be a potato and cheese latke with quick marinara sauce. I have to admit that I had no idea the pastry was potato, and I'm not sure how I feel about that. I love potatoes and would have been happy with the potato tasting like a potato. And when I cook I want potato to taste like potato. 

So here's a recipe where I tried to recreate the flavors and textures of that first course. Instead of trying to make the original latke, I channeled my memory of that meal into baking this traditional Southern tomato pie.  Southern Israeli tomato pie.

Te'meitov Pai Instructions

Time beginning to end: 2.5-3 hours

1) Prepare an olive oil pie crust. I used a recipe from the book Gluten-Free on a Shoestring by Nicole Hunn, but the recipe is also available here. To make this pie crust, I used King Arthur gluten-free all purpose flour, but I ran out of that halfway and used the Trader Joe's gluten-free all purpose flour in addition. The King Arthur flour is preferable. If you are not gluten-free, there's a pretty decent oil pie crust recipe from allrecipes that you could use instead (but make sure the oil is extra virgin olive oil). Make sure the pie crust is super thin when you roll it out (definitely divide the recipe into two pieces and only use one piece) because otherwise instead of being flaky the crust is just hard as a rock. 

     2 cups gluten-free all purpose flour
     1 tsp. xantham gum
     1 tsp. kosher salt
     5 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil (Greek ones tend to be closer in flavor to the stuff from Israel)
     1 1/2 tsp. white wine vinegar
     1/2 to 3/4 cup cold water

Three years ago I dated a guy that was completely spoiled by his mother and grandmother. Because of their doting, he became a homemade pie fanatic and a pie crust snob. I hate using my rolling pin, but finding these pie crust rolling bags saved my life in the quest to make a pie crust he wouldn't complain about. We broke up before I did that, and I happily abandoned my quest. However, the bags are really helpful for making gluten-free crusts because they let you roll the perfect size, they let you roll a very thin circle, and they are non-stick.

One more word of caution: the pie crust will likely break. Don't be afraid to piece it back together in the pan. Squeeze the broken pieces in together and use a wet finger-tip to seal seams.

You can see here how it breaks. Use leftover bits to fill in any gaps.

2) Pre-bake the pie crust. Prick the crust all over with a fork to allow ventilation. Cut a piece of aluminum foil or parchment paper in a circle and put on the bottom with rice, beans, or pie weights to weigh down the crust. Bake in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F for 20 minutes. Set aside on a wire rack to cool.

3) Prepare your filling. I adapted one from the blog frommaggiesfarm.
     2 lbs. of ripe tomatoes (cherry and campari work well) in multiple colors
     1/3 cup chopped red onion
     1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
     1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley
     2-3 minced garlic cloves
     2 tbsp. lemon zest
     1 tsp. sumac (available at a Middle Eastern grocery store or on
     1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper

     a) Slice tomatoes to about 1/2 inch thick. Layer them in a colander. Lightly salt each layer. Allow collander to sit in the sink for about 30 minutes.
     b) Chop other ingredients while you wait.
     b) Rinse the tomatoes and dry them thoroughly with paper towels. You want to squeeze the tomatoes as you dry to get the seeds and goopey insides out. Soggy tomatoes=soggy pie.

If you look closely, you can see tomato guts all over. For the yellow cherry tomato halves, I actually had to squeeze the innards out of each one as though you're popping a pimple (gross, I know, but now you can imagine EXACTLY what it should look like) and then blot with the paper towel.

     c) Toss the tomatoes, red onion, mint, parsley, garlic cloves, lemon zest, sumac, and pepper together in a large bowl until thoroughly mixed.
     d) Arrange the tomatoes in the pie crust. You can layer them to make them look pretty, or you can dump them in, making sure to leave a crater in the middle of the pie to accommodate your cheese topping.

This was meant to illustrate the crater in the tomatoes which you will fill with cheese mixture. Not sure it really did that, but it looks pretty!

4) Prepare your topping.

     1/2 cup feta cheese (I like one available at Trader Joe's-- it is made in Israel and uses sheep's milk)
     3/4 cup plain Greek yogurt (nonfat works fine)
     1/4 olive oil mayonnaise (Here's a great recipe to make your own, but olive oil mayo is now widely available at normal grocery stores as well as health food stores)
     a) Combine all ingredients.
     b) Spread on top of the pie, leaving a 1" circle of tomato visible around the edges

5) Bake the pie at 350 degrees F for 50-60 minutes until the cheese starts to brown and bubble. You may want to cover the crust halfway with a pie shield or aluminum foil.

6) If desired, pit some Souri olives (or substitute for more commonly found Calabresi olives) and put on top of the pie. Just don't ever feed canned olives to an Israeli because Israelis take their olives seriously. Plus all Israelis serve in the army, so you don't want to tick of an Israeli with crappy olives.  Serve pie warm if possible, but this pie is still quite tasty cold.

I took this to a BBQ where one of my friends in attendance has celiacs.  She really appreciated having food she could eat, but everyone else there raved about it, too. No one could tell it was gluten-free!

Taiym!  Translation: nom nom nom.


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