In honor of our 50th: Richard’s faves
Photo: Dave Carlin

By Tina Wasserman
This column is a personal one, but it will still have recipes that you can enjoy throughout the year. Many years ago, I met a guy the day after his 17th birthday at a USY kinus in Laurelton, New York. He said I walked into the room like I owned the place (I was the regional Social Justice chair so I knew most of the people there) and he was attending his first convention because his mother had just broken her hip and had to cancel his surprise birthday party. We dated throughout senior year, went to our proms together and attended college 50 miles apart. We got married two weeks after his graduation and June 27 will be our 50th wedding anniversary. We don’t look like our grandparents at their 50th party but the gray hair does give us away (especially now with avoidance of hair salons!) No parties can be planned, and big trips with family are out of the question. So, with your indulgence, I would like to share with you some of my husband’s favorite recipes in honor of this milestone. Enjoy as much as we do.


Caponata is actually a 500-year-old Sabbath dish probably brought by Sicilian Jews to the mainland when they were expelled in 1492 (Sicily was a Spanish territory at the time). This makes a bunch and lasts for a long time in the refrigerator if you don’t double-dip into the jar. Enjoy with crackers or bread, or stuff into mushrooms topped with some mozzarella and heat. This is Richard’s all-time favorite appetizer.

  • 2 eggplants, each 8 inches long
  • 1 ¼ cups olive oil
  • 2 large onions
  • 1 6-ounce can tomato paste
  • 1 ounce drained capers
  • 2 tablespoons sugar
  • ¼ cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 large clove garlic, minced
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  1. Wash the eggplants, cut off the ends, and cut into 1/2-inch cubes.
  2. Heat a 4-quart pot for 20 seconds. Add the oil and heat for another 15 seconds. Add the eggplant cubes and fry in the oil until the cubes are soft and particles on bottom of pan are golden. The eggplant will absorb the oil at first and then the oil will be released. Remove the eggplant with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl. Leave remaining oil in the pot.
  3. Dice the onion into 1/2-inch dice and then fry in the above oil until the onions are slightly golden and soft.
  4. Return the eggplant to the pot and add the remaining ingredients. Cook for 20 minutes over low heat until the flavors are well blended. Stir occasionally.
  5. Serve warm, at room temperature or cold.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Caponata always tastes better the longer it sits so days later it will be even better.
• Do not skimp on the oil. The eggplant will initially absorb it but during cooking it will be released. You can initially blot the top with a paper towel but let a film of oil cover the top to preserve it.


OK, this might not be your run-to recipe for the summer but it is a wow for special occasions. I actually made three of these to serve to Richard and 25 of his male friends for a Scotch-tasting 65th birthday. Believe me, I needed to feed them well so that no one got a DWI on the way home. They all made it home safely and there were no leftovers! This recipe is the best because its components can be made in advance and then put together a few hours before baking. Moroccan in origin except in Marrakesh they use pigeon instead of chicken. Enjoy!

  • 1 pound onions, grated
  • ¾ cup snipped parsley
  • 2 tablespoons pareve margarine
  • 5 tablespoons sugar
  • 7 to 12 eggs, well beaten
  • 2 tablespoons snipped coriander
  • Vegetable oil
  • 1 cinnamon stick
  • 1 cup blanched slivered almonds
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • ¼ cup granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 11/2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup margarine
  • 1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
  • 1 pound phyllo dough
  • 3 pounds chicken, cut into 8 pieces
  • Confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon
  1. Combine onions, parsley, sugar, coriander, cinnamon stick, cinnamon, black pepper and saffron threads in a large Dutch oven.
  2. Add the chicken pieces and coat with the onion mixture. Add the 2 tablespoons of margarine and heat the mixture to boiling. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1 hour, turning meat frequently.
  3. Remove the chicken, scrape off as much of the onion mixture as possible and save with the remaining mixture in the pan. Skin and bone the meat and tear into shreds. Set aside.
  4. Stirring constantly, cook the remaining onion mixture over medium-high heat until mixture is quite thick, about 20 minutes. Discard the cinnamon stick.
  5. Beat 7 eggs in a bowl. Add to the onion mixture and stir as you would when making scrambled eggs. Add more eggs, if necessary, to get a firm egg mixture. Set aside.
  6. Heat 1/2 inch oil in a skillet and cook the almonds for 3 minutes or until golden. Drain and coarsely chop. Combine the almonds with the sugar and cinnamon and set aside.
  7. Grease a pizza pan and place a sheet of dough over the pan hanging off to one side. Add 7 more layers, making sure that you brush each layer thoroughly with the margarine and that the overhang of the dough looks like a pinwheel.
  8. Spread the egg mixture over the dough. Spread the chicken mixture over this. Sprinkle with the almond mixture. Gently fold each layer of dough over the filling.
  9. Layer 4 sheets of dough with margarine brushed in between over the enclosed filling. Fold all of these layers under.
  10. Flip the pie onto another pizza tin and brush all loose leaves of dough with margarine. Repeat the procedure in step 9 to this side of the pie. Tuck the ends under. Invert the pie back into the original pan and cover with the last 2 phyllo leaves, which have been coated with margarine and placed at right angles to each other.
  11. Place in a cold oven and set the temperature at 350 degrees. Bake until top is golden. Wearing large oven mitts, place the cold second pan over the top and carefully invert the pie into the second pan. Bake for 20 more minutes.
  12. Sprinkle with confectioners’ sugar and cinnamon to make a nice design and serve immediately.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Traditionally this is made with butter but since I try to have my recipes conform to kashrut, I call for margarine. Use either coconut oil or margarine that is very firm when cold. This will mean that there is less water or air in the stick and it won’t sog up your dough when brushing.
• When laying down the dough in the pan, think of the pan as a clock. First sheet starts at the bottom rim of the pan and hangs off at 12; second sheet starts a rim on the left then hangs off at 3. Third sheet starts at top rim and hangs off at 6, and then last sheet starts at right rim and hangs off at 9. Second layer is laid down the same as the first except the layers hang off at 2, 4, 7 and 10. Don’t worry if it isn’t exact as long as there is an overlap so the fillings will be covered.
• The top layers of dough are centered rather than hanging off to one side or another.
• If you refrigerate the prepared Bestilla let it sit at room temperature for at least a half-hour before baking.
• It is easy to know when the Bestilla is done because the ingredients are already cooked, so all you need to look for is a very golden crust before you flip to puff up the other side.

Pecan-Crusted Fish Tacos with Pineapple Salsa

A lot easier than the previous recipe but one of Richard’s favorites. Perfect for summer. If you don’t feel like making your own salsa you can find prepared pineapple or mango salsa at local supermarkets and they will be great as well.

  • 1 pound fish fillets, skin removed (salmon, sea bass, halibut or tilapia)
  • ¼ cup soy sauce
  • 1 tablespoon light brown sugar
  • 6 ounces regular (not lite) beer
  • 2 large cloves garlic, finely minced
  • 1 cup pecans, coarsely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons flour
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • Freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 4 to 6 flour tortillas
  1. Cut the fish into 1-inch-thick strips.
  2. Combine the soy sauce, brown sugar, beer and minced garlic in a Pyrex loaf pan or small casserole.Add the fish and marinate for no more than 1 hour.
  3. Combine the chopped pecans, flour, salt and pepper on a plate.Firmly press all sides of the fish into the pecan mixture to coat well.
  4. Heat the oven to 400 degrees.
  5. Heat a cast iron skillet or ovenproof skillet over high heat 20 seconds. Add the olive oil and butter and heat until the butter is melted and bubbling.
  6. Reduce the heat to medium-high if the mixture begins to smoke, and add the fish fillets to the pan. Cook on one side for 1-2 minutes until nuts are golden brown.
  7. Flip fish over and then place the entire skillet in the oven and bake for 5 minutes more or until fish is firm but still springy.
  8. Cut the fish pieces in half, if desired, and then serve on a flour tortilla with some pineapple salsa and Ancho chili margarita mayonnaise.

Pineapple Mint Salsa

½ ripe pineapple, peeled, cored and cut into small dice
½ jalapeno pepper, seeds and inner ribs removed, finely diced
¹⁄3 cup finely diced red onion
1 tablespoon finely minced Mexican mint marigold (or tarragon)
1 tablespoon finely minced fresh mint
Juice of half a lime
Pinch of sugar (optional if pineapple isn’t sweet)

  1. Combine all of the ingredients in a small serving bowl and refrigerate until needed.

Ancho Chili Margarita Mayonnaise

  • ¼ cup mayonnaise
  • 1 teaspoon tequila
  • ½ teaspoon Grand Marnier or Triple Sec
  • Fresh lime juice to taste
  • ½ to ¼ teaspoon McCormick Ancho chili powder1
  1. Whisk the mayonnaise in a small bowl until smooth and then add the remaining ingredients and stir to combine.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Never fry in 100% butter because it has a tendency to burn. Use half the amount of butter called for in a recipe and substitute olive oil for the difference. This will give your food a higher smoking point so it won’t burn and you will still have the flavor of butter.
• Never use salted butter for frying under any circumstance as it will burn even faster and the salt will pull moisture out of the environment and cause more splattering.
• A cast iron skillet is perfect for cooktop to oven cooking at high temperatures because there is nothing that will melt. Check your manufacturer’s instructions before you put one of your pans in a hot oven.
• Mexican mint marigold grows in warmer climates but tastes very similar to tarragon for an easy substitution. Basil could be used as well.

Fat-Free Chocolate Cake

There are many desserts that my husband loves but this is one that is reminiscent of his grandmother’s recipe. Now, be forewarned, this is not a light, delicate cake. I said it was based on his grandmother’s! So, if you are trying to remember your grandmother’s plain chocolate cake that you ate with a big glass of milk then this is it (except I tweaked it to make it fat-free, which you will need after the recipes above!).

  • 2 cups flour
  • 1 cup unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1¾ cups sugar
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • ¼ teaspoon salt
  • ¾ teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 4-ounce jars of baby food prunes
  • 2 teaspoons vanilla
  • 2 eggs, beaten
  • ¾ cup skim milk
  • 1 tablespoon instant espresso
  • ½ cup water
  • Confectioners’ sugar
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Spray inside of two 9-inch round cake pans or one Bundt pan with vegetable spray.
  2. Combine the first 7 dry ingredients in a medium bowl and mix well to evenly distribute ingredients.
  3. Combine the prunes, vanilla, eggs, milk, espresso and water and whisk into the dry ingredients until blended.
  4. Pour the batter into the prepared pan(s) and bake for 25 to 35 minutes or until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean. Let cool in pan for 10 minutes before inverting. Dust with confectioners’ sugar and serve.
    Serves approximately 12 at 141 calories and less than 2 grams of fat per serving.

Tina’s Tidbits:
• Baby food prunes are used because they contain cellulose, which helps hold in moisture and bind the cake together. You could use applesauce as well but if it isn’t baby applesauce your cake might be a little grainy but lighter.
• I like using instant espresso because it brings out the flavor of the cocoa. GG didn’t use it. I like the Medaglia D’Oro brand and it keeps in the freezer for years.

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