Carmit Elkayam, Koranit, 24.02.2016
Carmit is a chef that specializes in healthy gourmet food. About a year ago she published her first book Roasted Figs and Red Lentils (in Hebrew) that recently won the second prize at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards 2016 in the World Cuisine category (Mediterranean Dun Gifford Award).
One morning in February I decided to leave all my chores at home and go to Carmit who warmly welcomed me into her kitchen and nourished me with stories of her studies in New York and her path to the new career. She also made me the most beautiful and yummy green soup.
I learnt a lot from Carmit and from her gorgeous book – how to blanch greens and freekeh, how one can change her career anytime and start anew, but my most important lesson was about staying true to oneself.
I came home with a green takeaway that baby Yeela wolfed down with great pleasure.
This time I did a shorter interview, most of which was inspired by Bernard Pivot questionnaire, and in addition Carmit has shared two recipes from her book.
What turns you on or inspires you?
Vegetables. Fresh ingredients at the beginning of their season make me really happy. I can almost cry from excitement when first bull mallow or wild endives pop up.
What turns you off?
Mainly supermarkets. I feel bad that people buy meat, eggs, dairy and vegetables at the supermarket because it’s convenient, although in most areas in Israel you can buy them straight from the farmers. It might seem that only people like me have time for that, but one day things will change. A lot of effort is put into making farm produce directly accessible to everyone.
It also makes me very sad that many farmers I’ve known are shutting down their businesses – dairy farms, goat farms, olive oil makers – because it’s not worth the effort. It seems like the agriculture in Israel is vanishing, and that’s a depressing notion.
Which word do you like?
Farm to table. I don’t know if it will come true, but I have a dream to open a place where I’ll only cook seasonal food that I’ve grown myself, nothing imported. It has its limitations, off course; I couldn’t cook spinach in the summer because it’s a winter vegetable.
Which word do you hate?
I can’t stand the phrase “comfort food”. This very emotional concept that alludes to our relationship with food has been highly misused. I think we should stop calling certain, usually fatty, foods comforting and deal more with the feelings food evokes.
If you weren’t a chef, which other profession would you like to attempt?
Radio announcer on GalGalatz
Which work you would not like to do?
Jobs that involve dealing with suffering, sickness and catastrophes. I feel that at this moment in my life I can’t contain it anymore.
Which food would you take with you to a deserted island?
Bulgur, because it’s so versatile.
Which food will never enter your kitchen?
Bugs. I find them a bit disgusting.
What is currently most challenging in your work?
Infecting the clients with my enthusiasm, showing and proving that my way of cooking suits them, that it will make them happy. Whether there is fear of cooking in general or fear of healthy cooking, it’s a great challenge, every group anew.
What comes easy to you?
I really like people and find them very interesting. It doesn’t take me long to find their weak spot, and then I teach them how to befriend lentils. So reading people, identifying the difficulty and working together – that comes pretty easy to me.
Why do you do what you do?
Because it makes me happy and whole. My love for people and my love for ingredients are combined – it’s great!
Cream of spinach and garlic soup
It’s a great way to eat a lot of spinach. Very easy to make, gorgeous green soup.
Ingredients (serves 6)
2 Tbs olive oil
3 leeks, white parts only, halved and thinly sliced
6 celery stalks, diced
5 cups boiling water
2 potatoes, peeled and cubed
1 head of garlic, peeled
6 sprigs of fresh thyme
1 bay leaf
1 tsp salt
700 gr fresh spinach leaves
1 cup fresh basil leaves
1 Tbsp lemon juice
How to make:
Heat oil in a large wide saucepan over medium heat. Add leeks and celery, and sauté for about 5 to 7 minutes while stirring, until the vegetables are softened. Add water, potatoes, garlic, thyme and bay leaf, cover and bring to a boil. Add salt and lower the heat to medium-low. Cook until the vegetables are tender, about 20 min. Take out thyme and bay leaf.
Remove from heat and add spinach and basil. Stir a couple of times until the leaves are wilted.
Puree soup with a hand blender. Correct seasoning and add lemon juice. Add more water if needed for the desired consistency.
How to peel garlic?
Break the head of garlic into cloves, put into a bowl and cover with boiling water. After 20 min they will be easy to peel.
Another option is crushing the cloves lightly with the flat of a knife and the heel of your hand.
Wild endive with onions
This recipe is similar to the traditional version except for the way I cook the greens. The ‘green cooking’ -blanching in boiling water and transferring to ice bath- keeps the nutrients inside and the leaves green.
Ingredients (4 servings)
500 gr wild endive
4 Tbsp olive oil
3 onions, peeled and thinly sliced
Salt, black pepper
1 tsp fresh lemon juice or seeds of one tomato
How to make:
Prepare the greens: cut the roots off, cut the rest of the plant into 3 cm segments. Put in a large bowl and cover with cold water to wash away the remaining dirt. Transfer to a large saucepan with boiling water and cook for 3 to 5 min until the leaves are wilted. Transfer to a large bowl with ice water. Squeeze the leaves lightly to remove excess water.
Heat oil in a large pan, add onions and sauté on medium heat until gold and softened. Add the leaves, season with salt and pepper, stir and add the lemon juice.
Serve warm with brown rice or as a warm salad.