Iraqi funnel cake, pimento mac and cheese are among standout recipes from new cookbooks

Iraqi funnel cake is fried then topped with a lemon syrup.
Iraqi funnel cake is fried then topped with a lemon syrup.

In new cookbooks, The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen: A Fresh Take on Tradition by Amelia Saltsman (Sterling Epicure, $30) is packed with recipes that you’ll want to try whether you are Jewish or not, for it wanders the lands of the Diaspora while emphasizing what’s in season and sustainable.

From traditions that existed long before the current farm-to-table movement, Saltsman offers dishes that are seasonal, contemporary and enticing: golden borscht with buttermilk and fresh ginger; blood orange and olive oil polenta upside-down cake; sweet potato and butternut squash latkes. The book is warm and readable, packed with Saltsman’s family memories, especially of cooking with her Iraqi grandmother.

The recipe for the crisp fritters here, which turn out much like funnel cakes, is the perfect fried food for Hanukkah and other holiday celebrations. The batter can be made the night before, and you can fry the fritters in advance or as a party activity.

Though they come in perfect coils “at Arab bakeries like Moutran in Nazareth and Jaffa,” Saltsman says it is easier to form Rorschach-like shapes — sea horses, dolphins, geese — that magically appear as they bubble up in the hot oil.

I’ve never had mac and cheese I didn’t like, even if it came out of a cardboard box. But I’m quite fond of the solidly Southern recipe here, which I found in The Hot Chicken Cookbook by Timothy Charles Davis (Spring House Press, $20). The book is an ode to that glorious but fiery Nashville treat, Hot Chicken.

To those who have never had the pleasure, hot chicken is a fried fulmination, chicken brined and rubbed and battered in loads of hot chili. It’s a preparation so fierce that even the “mild” as served at any of many Nashville emporiums will break you into a sweat, and always it is served on a slice of squishy white bread, with pickles.

There are a couple of recipes for the Hot Chicken itself, such as a paste made with bacon grease, cayenne, paprika, ground mustard, garlic, sugar and salt. But what I love most about this little book are the anecdotes and the recipes for iconic sides, from pan-fried okra to black-eyed pea salad and vinegar slaw.

The stories include the purported origin of Hot Chicken — a “rampant carouser” named Prince whose girlfriend decided to punish him for straying by dumping a whole lot of pain into his favorite fried chicken — along with some interesting notes about how whites had to come to the back door at Prince’s to get their chicken, and got a taste of segregation if they wandered mistakenly into the dining room.

Reader feedback

I recently read in your column where a mother wanted to send her son in the service a pumpkin pie (and was looking for a shippable alternative). I retired from the postal service in 1990, but I remember once we had a birthday cake a mom had mailed to a member of the armed forces. She had it wrapped with heavy cellophane so we could see the cake.

It was handled by hand through every PO station, and I later learned it was in perfect condition when the soldier got it. It has been many years now, and I don’t remember the soldier’s name or his mom’s, but I vividly remember that cake.

I don’t know what the post office would do today, but in my day we cared about our military people. I would give anything to see that boy get his mother’s pumpkin pie. I just had to share this. I am now 85 years old and have three grandchildren in the military.

Irene Caviness, Windom, Minnesota

Sleuth’s Corner

Q. I remember my grandparents serving a drink at Christmas that was a Cuban version of eggnog called Crema de Vie, or Cream of Life. The adults had rum in theirs, but ours was just as special. The toast was always, “Next year in Cuba.” This year that is finally possible.

I’d like to give gifts of the eggnog to my friends and family this year and asked my mom for the recipe, but she said the one she uses she got from you, long ago when your daughter and I went to Cushman School together, because my abuela never wrote down recipes. Now my mom can’t find the recipe, so I thought I’d ask for yours, and also an idea of how to make a non-alcoholic version.

M. L., Miami

A. The recipe is not mine, but one I got from the food writer at El Herald, Rafael Casalins, who died tragically soon after. It’s a pretty standard formula, though I know some traditionalists object to the cinnamon, and some like to use star anise, and some insist you need 3 milks, so add fresh milk or cream as well. I think to make it non-alcoholic I’d simply leave out the rum for the little ones, and add vanilla or rum extract for flavor.

Linda Cicero: @TasteMemories. Write to Cook’s Corner at Food, Miami Herald, 3511 NW 91st Ave., Doral, FL 33172.

Pimento Mac and Cheese

Adapted from “The Hot Chicken Cookbook,” recipe from Hattie B’s.

4 tablespoons butter, divided

3 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 quart whole milk

1 bay leaf

Kosher salt

1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 (8 ounce) jar diced pimentos

1 1/2 cups shredded extra sharp cheddar cheese, divided

2 cups (raw measurement) elbow or other macaroni

Melt 3 tablespoons of the butter in a medium sauce pot on medium high heat. Once butter is completely melted, whisk in all the flour at once. Turn burner to low. Simmer the roux for 4-5 minutes, stirring occasionally. In a separate pot, heat up the milk with the crushed red pepper, a big pinch of salt, and the bay leaf. Once the milk comes to a simmer, ladle it gradually into the roux, whisking to incorporate. Do this until all the milk is blended in. Add pimentos, juice and all. Simmer the béchamel sauce for about 10-15 minutes on very low heat, stirring. At the end, add 1/2 cup of the cheese and stir it in. Do not cook long after you add the cheese; you just want to melt it. Once it is melted, remove from the heat. It is easy to scorch the sauce at this point, which can ruin the whole batch.

Cook pasta in rapidly boiling salted water for 7 minutes (al dente). Strain, and place in a bowl. Toss pasta with 1 tablespoon butter. Mix the pasta and sauce together in a 1 1/2-quart baking dish (The Hattie B recipe recommends a ratio of 1 cup cooked macaroni to 1 1/4 cups of the cheese sauce). Bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes. It should be bubbling. Remove from the oven and sprinkle 1 cup of shredded extra sharp cheddar over the top. Bake for about 5 minutes longer, or just long enough to brown the cheese.

Yield: 4 servings

Zengoula with Lemon Syrup

Recipe for Iraqi funnel cake from “The Seasonal Jewish Kitchen.” A couple of 2-inch chunks of raw carrot added to the frying oil act as magnets, attracting all those little brown bits that might otherwise burn and impart an acrid taste to the oil. It’s an old-fashioned trick that works.


1 1/8 teaspoons (1/2 package) active dry yeast

1 1/4 cups warm water (100 to 110 degrees)

1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour

3/4 cup cornstarch

Scant 1/2 teaspoon salt


2 to 3 lemons

1/2 cup water

1 cup sugar

2 quarts mild oil, such as grapeseed, sunflower or avocado, for deep-frying

To make the dough: In a small bowl, stir together the yeast and 1/4 cup of the warm water and let stand in a warm place until the mixture bubbles, about 10 minutes. In a medium bowl, using a fork, stir together the flour, cornstarch and salt. Stir in 1/2 cup of the warm water and the yeast mixture. Then slowly stir in enough of the remaining warm water until the dough is lump-free and the consistency of thick pancake batter. You should have 1 1/2 to 2 cups batter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until doubled in bulk, at least 6 hours or up to 24 hours. The dough will be loose and spongy and have a yeasty aroma.

To make the syrup: Using a five-hole zester, remove the zest from 1 of the lemons in long strands. Halve and squeeze enough lemons to yield 1/3 cup juice. In a small pot, stir together the lemon juice and zest, water and sugar over medium heat. Bring to a boil and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar is completely dissolved and clear, about 1 minute. Pour into a pie pan and let cool. (The syrup can be made a day ahead, covered, and refrigerated.)

To make the fritters: Scrape the dough into a 1-gallon resealable plastic bag or large pastry bag fitted with a 1/4-inch plain pastry tip and set the bag in a bowl for support. Let the dough stand for about 15 minutes before frying. Line a large plate with paper towels. Place the prepared plate, tongs, a small slotted spoon, the syrup, and a tray to hold the finished fritters near the stove.

Pour the oil to a depth of 3 1/2 inches into a 4- or 5-quart pot, wok, or electric fryer and heat to 375 degrees. If using a plastic bag for the dough, snip 1/4 inch off one of the bottom corners, cutting on the diagonal, to create a piping tip. Roll the top of the pastry bag closed to move the batter toward the opening. Don’t worry about air pockets.

Pipe a bit of the batter into the hot oil. The oil should bubble around the batter immediately. If it does not, continue heating the oil and try again. Pipe the dough into the hot oil, creating 3- to 4-inch coils or squiggles, letting gravity help push the batter out. Be careful not to crowd the pan. Fry the dough, turning once at the halfway point, until bubbled, golden, and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes total. Use a slotted spoon to fish the fritters out of the oil, drain briefly on the towel-lined plate, and then drop into the syrup for a moment or two, turning to coat evenly. Lift out of the syrup and transfer to the tray in a in a single layer to cool. Repeat with remaining batter, skimming any loose bits of dough from the hot oil between batches to prevent burning. Scrape any batter that escaped into the bowl back into the pastry bag to make more pastries.

The cooled pastries can be piled on a platter. Pour any remaining syrup over the top. The fritters taste best served the same day, although they will hold their crispness overnight. Store loosely covered at room temperature.

Yield: 8 servings

Cuban Crema de Vie

From Cook’s Corner archives.

Peel of 2 limes

1 cinnamon stick

1 cup sugar

6 egg yolks or pasteurized egg product equivalent

1 (14-ounce) can sweetened condensed milk

1 (12-ounce) can evaporated milk

2 cups white rum, or to taste

Bring 1 1/4 cups water to a boil with the lime zest and cinnamon stick. Add the sugar and stir until dissolved. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook 15 minutes. Remove the cinnamon stick and lime peels and strain mixture through a coffee filter. Cool to room temperature.

Beat the egg yolks until frothy. Beat in the condensed and evaporated milks, sugar syrup and rum. Refrigerate at least 8 hours before serving.

Per serving: 280 calories (20 percent from fat), 6.4 g fat (3.5 g saturated, 2.1 g monounsaturated), 96.9 mg cholesterol, 5.3 g protein, 33.3 g carbohydrates, 0 fiber, 70.8 mg sodium

Yield: 16 servings