Counting the Omer, One Tartine at a Time
Welcome to “A Momentary Kitchen”—a moment of something (Jewish and foody) to do with your loved ones in these uncertain times. Come in, grab a stool and some tea, kibitz and cook. Each recipe has been chosen for children 10 and over (under 10, please cook with a grownup!) and each will offer variations for dietary needs and palette. Every recipe will take less than 30 minutes to prepare and less than three hours to cook.
As many of you may already know, I experienced a major house fire a few hours before the start of the first Passover seder. I was preparing chunks of sweet potato, prunes and carrots for my mother’s shtetl-style tzimmes and had planned to mold it into small casseroles. Instead, a spark flew from the burner to a nearby basket, igniting a fast, extremely hot fire that engulfed my kitchen and main floor, and nearly destroyed the entire home.
By the time I could reenter the house, the kitchen was altered beyond recognition. But I found my soot-smeared, mid-century Israeli seder plate and slipped it into a satchel in the hope that I would be able to scrub it clean. By nightfall, I had a new residence, a new kitchen, new scrubbers, a clean white seder plate and a new store of goods, thanks to dozens of loving neighbors. And so I entered the holiday with tremendous humility, astonishment, and a feast for the soul instead of the body.
I share the story of my fire again because I no longer have that wonderful kitchen into which to invite you. All my recipes and cookbooks are gone; all my tools and kitchenware are burnt black; my pantry, stuffed with basics from across the planet, and my larder, full of local goods, all gone. Heirlooms, like the faithful old blender with the fussy spiralizer, along with brand new gadgets, all lost.
It has taken a few weeks to establish a new home, but here, finally, is another recipe from the Quarantined Cook. This week’s offering is a riff on the counting of the Omer from Passover to Shavuot, the feast of tabernacles. We are in a time of 49 days we count in order to remember the arduous journey from slave-holding Egypt to the spiritual founding of a free Jewish people at Sinai. Since my fire, I have counted every day, each morning sifting through the ashes for small precious things. Passover 2020 is now over and I am still counting—counting objects, counting my blessings.
Today’s recipe is really a list: 49 different delicious, chometzdik, sustaining, take-it-along open sandwiches. Called tartines, they are an emanation of medieval peasant food in which a meal would be served atop a slice of bread so as to be eaten while on foot. I thought about making quail, the other culinary miracle performed for those desert wanderers, but then, not many of us have quail in the freezer. If you do, please send us a photo of those little delicacies, and my chef’s hat is off to you.
What we do have plenty of these days is bread. Everyone is baking bread these days, which I think is wonderful. Sourdough starters and yeast are a new lingua culinaria to the average household, and every bread has its own character, its own taste and its own stale date. To start making tartines, we need just a slice of good bread, whatever that means to you. To me, this means a rustic, whole grain and seed loaf with a crunchy crust and enough moisture left in it to soften and sweeten as it toasts. Some toast their bread before they make tartines, some leave toasting to the oven (bake just a few minutes on high, around 475 degrees).
The charm of a tartine lies in its presentation. We are people of the shmear. When we take something for the long road, it’s usually a thick layer of something held in place by at least one hand and two bagel or bread halves. These days, we don’t run out just for a loaf of bread anymore, and we have reconstructed our lives around what is already in our kitchens. Our homes are returning to being hearths of yore, with what we eat derived from new combinations of what is left in our pantries or fridge.
Thus the “Omer of Tartines,” an homage to the shmear. I feel confident that you have at least one slice of something resembling bread and at least one of the following delicious toppings to count on.
A Tartine Omer
*indicates it can be made without the bread—-not a true tartine but still delicious
- Avocado toast, sliced cucumber, shredded iceberg lettuce, paprika, coarse salt
- Small cubes of sauteed sweet potato with shredded basil on goat cheese*
- Thin slices of brisket on a bed of frisee and mustard*
- Torta Española (potato omelet) over squeezed tomato juice and kosher salt*
- Peach chutney and cream cheese
- Herring, mustard seed and tomato*
- Mascarpone with fig paste
- Sunflower butter under slices of pear
- Medium poached egg with beef bacon*
- Baked cheddar with sliced apple
- Neufchâtel, peas and lemon zest
- Lox and capers*
- Mock chopped liver with minced green pepper
- Crushed sardine with thinly sliced purple onion
- Salted butter with shavings of dark chocolate
- Tuna fish salad with potato chips*
- Crushed blackberry mixed with softened butter
- Shaved beef, kimchi, sunny side up egg*
- (My new favorite from the yard) sauteed dead nettle with a poached egg*
- Cold ricotta with warmed fruit jam
- Thinly sliced beets with minced parsley and olive oil*
- Smoked turkey and thinly sliced yam on cranberry sauce*
- Shredded cabbage tossed in white vinegar, sriracha
- Grilled eggplant with tomato and basil*
- Garlic, chive and goat cheese
- Kosher salami and brown mustard*
- Chopped red pepper and tomato, olive oil and salt
- Vacherin (or Brie or Camembert) with sliced figs*
- Broiled grapefruit with sprinkled sugar*
- Poached salmon, dill, on sour cream*
- Hot pastrami and ground pepper*
- Sauteed wild mushrooms on cold butter
- Thinly sliced hotdog, sauerkraut, yellow mustard*
- Grilled asparagus and balsamic vinegar*
- Scrambled eggs with lox and minced onion, on tomato*
- Caviar, sour cream and shaved radish
- Cucumber, black olive, feta, olive oil and salt
- Six-minute egg marinated in soy sauce, sliced, with sliced scallion*
- Cubed roast beef with romaine and cherry tomato*
- Hummus with pickled vegetables
- Mashed carrot cooked with peanut oil and curry
- Swiss cheese melted over tuna fish salad, sliced tomato*
- Peanut butter and Nutella
- Sliced baked chicken breast, wrapped and grilled in salami, with mayonnaise*
- Dandelion heads, dipped in egg & flour, pan fried, topped with sunflower sprouts*
- Sliced ripe peaches on melted milk chocolate
- Egg salad with herbs and chopped fresh spinach*
- And, of course, for Shavuot chag sameach: milk (cream cheese) and honey
Please let us know which tartine is your manna, or if you’ve come up with something new and sustaining during these days of quarantine.