Saturday, April 4, 2009

Oven Baked Börek with Mustard Greens, Feta and Walnuts Recipe

Last summer, while vacationing with my husband at my family's house on the Aegean coast of Turkey, I went to market. It is the market I usually go to when there, the Saturday food market in Turgutreis, and I'll fill up with bags of tomatoes, eggplant, green peppers, garlic, cucumbers, parsley, apricots, peaches, grapes; the usual suspects. This time, I knew I would be forced to push my culinary boundaries when I came across a woman sitting in front of overflowing bags of mysterious green herbs.

I strained to understand her accented Turkish, and learned that one of the greens, istifno, is indigenous to the region, used for medicinal purposes, and even shipped north to Istanbul because of high demand. The other, sirken, is often used in börek, a type of savory pastry appearing in many different forms. I decided to combine the greens, add some feta cheese, and make a pan börek, or tepsi börek, similar in structure to lasagna, but made with yufka, a dough a little thicker than phyllo. Later that evening, thrilled, my husband declared the börek one of the top ten foods he'd ever consumed, but I knew it wasn't all me: I wanted to find out more about those ingredients.

Looking up the Turkish names of these wild greens, I found that istifno, or black nightshade, is known to be poisonous when consumed raw, but has been used medicinally to treat liver ailments, skin conditions, and inflammatory problems, and also to reduce fevers and the pain of menstrual cramps. Sirken is a species belonging to the genus Chenopodium, which also includes lamb's quarters and quinoa. An ancient relative of spinach, these plants contain large quantities of vitamin A, C, calcium, phosphorus, and smaller amounts of iron, niacin and thiamin. So, not only was my börek decadent, it was a doctor's visit on a plate.

I saw lamb's quarters on the online produce list of my food coop last week and started planning. I had some triangular yufka dough in the freezer which I'd fill with the lamb's quarters, walnuts, and feta. I'd roll the börek individually, and bake them, topped with sesame and nigella seeds, and I'd be right back in Turkey, cooking, and trying to beat the falling sun so we could watch it set over the water (and the minaret, and the island), the beauty enhanced by the flavors in our mouths. But, alas, at the food coop there were no lamb's quarters to be found. The greens arrive, I was told, from only one farm in Pennsylvania, on Fridays at 10 am, and sell out in an hour and a half. I chose mustard greens instead, and am happy that I will have to wait to return to Turkey in order to recreate the dish. There's no produce like it anywhere in the world. And no sunset, either.

Oven Baked Börek with Mustard Greens, Feta and Walnuts

For the filling:

olive oil
1 large bunch mustard greens, chopped, stems cut into small pieces (or lamb's quarters or spinach)
1 medium onion, chopped
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
1/2 cup walnuts, roughly chopped

For the pastry:

1 package triangular yufka, 28 sheets (This may be purchased online at, or at any Turkish grocery store. If you choose to use the more commonly found Greek phyllo, double the number of sheets.)
1/4 cup yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt)
2 eggs, beaten, plus one egg yolk for brushing the tops of the finished pastries
1/4 cup olive oil
sesame seeds and/or nigella seeds

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil (enough to coat the bottom of the pan), and add the onion. Saute over medium high heat until the onion is translucent. Add the stems of the greens, and cook them, stirring occasionally, until they soften. Add the greens, stirring to encorporate them into the onion mixture, and lower the heat. Cover the greens, and cook them until they wilt, about 3-4 minutes. Remove them from the pan, put them in a bowl and let them cool. When they are cool enough to handle, squeeze out the excess moisture, and add the crumbled feta and walnuts to the greens. Set aside.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Combine the yogurt, the two eggs, and the olive oil.

Separate one of the pastry sheets from the rest, and brush liberally on one side with the yogurt mixture. (I used 1 to 1 1/2 tablespoons.) Layer another pastry sheet directly on top of the first one, and brush it, too, with the yogurt mixture. Spoon about 2 to 2 1/2 tablespoons of the greens mixture onto the large end of the triangle, and roll up the börek, being sure to fold the sides in as you go. Place the rolled börek on a baking sheet lined with a silicone mat (or you can brush a little olive oil directly onto the baking sheet), being sure that the tail end of the pastry is underneath. Continue until all the pastry is used. You should have 14 rolled börek when you are finished.

Brush the remaining egg yolk over all of the börek, and sprinkle the tops with sesame seeds or nigella seeds, or both. Bake in a 375 degree until golden brown.

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Spring Fava Beans with Garlic Yogurt Recipe

My mother used to make this springtime Turkish dish regularly during my childhood, and recently asked me if the fava beans had appeared at my food coop yet. That week they hadn't, but by last Monday, the plump, tender beans were filling the bins. They aren't exactly local, and I'm not even sure the California favas are ripe yet for picking, but in my haste to channel spring, I set aside my feelings about my carbon footprint, and filled my bag with these beans from Mexico. They're organic, I told myself, my bag's reusable, and I don't own a car; I'll eat them guilt free. Yes, I will.

What makes this dish special is that the whole bean pod is consumed. It is popular in spring and early summer along the Aegean coast in Turkey, when the first tender pods emerge. Because the beans are so young, eating them is like eating a fresh, green, vegetable: they are light, but also satisfyingly filling. While cooking, they smell peaty and earthy, but, paired with cool garlic yogurt, dill, and a slice of lemon, and I find myself shaking off the winter chill and welcoming longer days. A very nutritious bean, only one cup contains nearly half of the recommended daily allowance of folate, something most of us could use more of. Beginning my spring replenishing, I polished these off in a day and a half, and wanted more. Look out, California favas, here I come.

Spring Fava Beans with Garlic Yogurt

1 lb fresh fava beans
the juice of one lemon, plus one lemon for garnish, sliced in wedges
1/4 cup olive oil
I medium onion, chopped
about three tablespoons chopped dill, plus more for garnish
one cup yogurt (I used goat milk yogurt) with or without 1/2-1 clove garlic, depending on your taste

Snap off the stem end of the beans and pull out the string from both sides. Cut the fava beans into three inch lengths.

Heat the olive oil in a medium pot, and cook the onion over medium heat until translucent. Add the beans, dill, and lemon juice to the pot, along with 1-1 1/2 cups water. Season with a little salt. Bring the water to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover the pot, and simmer until the beans are tender, but still have a little bite to them, about 30-40 minutes.

Transfer the beans to a platter and refrigerate until cool. Serve with the garlic yogurt, lemon slices, and dill sprigs.

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Friday, April 3, 2009

Gingered Tofu and Seaweed Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sesame Seeds Recipe

Last week's ingredients cost me only $47.39. For this week's vegetarian dishes I spent $31.60, not including some pantry ingredients and spices I already had. I added bread, some fresh and dried fruit, some nuts of various sorts, a chunk of cheese, maybe a little granola, and I had a week's worth of fresh and healthy food for under $70 dollars. That is less than ten dollars per day! I try to eat a diet of fresh, whole food, with lots of fruits and vegetables, not only because I feel good and have more energy, but because it is less expensive, and better for my health and the environment than the meat-based diet filled with processed foods that it's so easy to gravitate toward. Sometimes I find it difficult to coordinate when I will shop and cook, but after it's done, I can come home late to a ready-to-heat complete meal, and not have to worry about cooking during the week, when I am busiest.

Continuing with the Asian theme, and noticing I'd been neglecting the seaweed area of my pantry, I planned a tofu seaweed salad. Wakame, the seaweed I usually use in miso soup, is rich in vitamin A, one of the omega-3 fatty acids (EPA), and lots of minerals. Mixing it with sesame and tofu adds calcium and protein, and shiitake mushrooms contribute antioxidants and immune system boosters. I took this salad to work with me a few days during the week; it makes a great light lunch. I love the play between the pop of the sesame seeds and the slippery seaweed, and knowing how nutritious it is makes its savory umami deliciousness, well, even umamier.

Gingered Tofu and Seaweed Salad with Shiitake Mushrooms and Sesame Seeds

For the salad:

1/4 cup dried wakame seaweed, reconstituted in warm water, and drained
1 container firm tofu, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
15 shiitake mushrooms, sliced
1/4 cup sesame seeds
2 scallions, chopped, including the green tops

For the dressing:

1 tablespoon grated ginger
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
1 tablespoon mirin (or more to taste, it adds sweetness)
1 teaspoon spicy sesame oil (or plain, toasted sesame oil, if you don't want the spice)

(You may need more dressing for the salad than this, but these proportions should be correct.)

For the salad:

I pan fried the tofu in a little olive oil until golden brown, but I think the salad might be better with raw tofu. Try it either way.

Place the shiitake mushroom slices in a bamboo steamer (or metal steamer, whichever you have), and steam, covered, over a little water until soft, approximately 3 to 4 minutes.

Place the sesame seeds in a small pan and toast over medium high heat, tossing all the while, until golden brown.

In a medium bowl, combine the wakame, tofu, steamed shiitake mushrooms, chopped scallions, and the toasted sesame seeds.

For the dressing:

Grate the ginger on a microplane (or mince with a knife), and place in a small bowl. Add the liquid ingredients, and mix.

Pour the dressing over the salad and chill for a while. Serve cool.

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Asian Fusion: Hijiki and Carrot Corn Fritters with Sesame Dipping Sauce Recipe

I returned home Sunday night realizing I'd have to craft something together from my barren fridge. I had one carrot, some pantry ingredients, and an onion. Inspired by a dish once brought to me by a Japanese colleague at Juilliard, I planned to make hijiki with (one) carrot and some type of grain, but I had no grain in sight except corn meal. Seaweed-carrot polenta? Hmmm...Ok, why not?

As I cooked the polenta, I thought I would do as the Italians sometimes do: let it cool, slice it, and pan fry it until crispy. Then, I imagined dipping my crispy fritters in a sauce of tamari, rice wine vinegar and some spicy sesame oil, and suddenly my Sunday improvisation sounded more and more like a planned meal. The carrot in this recipe added some color, and pan frying the polenta gave a nice textural contrast to the soft interior, and helped it hold up well when it was dipped in the sauce.

My fusion dish was surprisingly great, and now that I write this, I am remembering the long-standing Japanese culinary tradition of reinterpreting Italian classics, ie. fried chicken cartilage (in lieu of calamari), and spaghetti a la hundreds of tiny dried fish on top, both of which I puzzled over, and ate, at Italian restaurants in Japan. My seaweed polenta would not be shy at all in that company. You go, Asian polenta; don't be intimidated by those little fishies.

Hijiki and Carrot Corn Fritters with Sesame Dipping Sauce

For the polenta:
Olive oil
One onion, chopped
One large carrot, chopped
1/4 cup dried hijiki seaweed, soaked in hot water for ten minutes, and drained
1 to 1 1/2 cup corn meal (or polenta)
Water, three to 4 cups (ratio should be 3-1, water to polenta)

For the sauce:
2 tablespoons brown rice vinegar
2 tablespoons tamari
1 teaspoon mirin
1 teaspoon spicy sesame oil

You will need a small baking dish; I used one that was 8x8.

For the polenta:

In a medium saucepan, and over medium heat, saute the onion in a little olive oil until soft but not brown.
Add the carrot, and continue to cook, until carrot softens a bit.
Add the hijiki and stir.
Add the water, and bring to a boil. Slowly add the corn meal, and using a fork, incorporate the corn meal into the water. Lower the heat to a simmer, and continue cooking, stirring continually, until the mixture is thick and the cornmeal is cooked.

Pour the mixture into a lightly oiled 8x8 baking dish and let the mixture cool until it solidifies.

For the sauce:

Combine all ingredients. Adjust to your taste; my measurements are approximate. Set aside.

To make the fritters:

Cut the polenta into 1 inch strips and carefully remove them from the baking dish, being careful not to break them. Cut these strips further, into lengths of about 3-4 inches.

Heat a large saute pan over medium high heat. Add olive oil, and when it's hot, add the strips to the pan, being careful not to crowd them. Cook them on one side until brown (about 3-4 minutes; you'll know when the strips "let go" of the pan without much prodding), and turn over and cook on the other side.

Serve warm, with the sauce on the side for dipping.

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