Saturday, April 18, 2009

Mushroom-Studded Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Chiles and Goat Cheese Recipe

This soup is fantastic; it's Rick Bayless again. I love using the chicken meat from the stock in a similarly flavored dish, like chilaquiles, or the chicken enchiladas I made this week. It is less expensive to use the whole chicken, makes good use of it, and the soup tastes phenomenally better with homemade stock. This dish works well for the whole week because the components can be stored separately in the refrigerator until you want to assemble them. The broth is delicately flavored and provides a nice vehicle for the bold chipotle and goat cheese richness. Comforting and delicious, this soup has become one of my favorites.

Mushroom-Studded Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Chiles and Goat Cheese
from Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time

Serves 6 as a first course, 4 as a casual main dish

1 1/2 tablespoons vegetable oil or rich-tasting pork lard, plus a little oil to spray or brush on the tortillas
4 garlic cloves, peeled and left whole
1 small white onion, sliced
One 15 ounce good-quality whole tomatoes in juice, drained OR 12 ounces (2 medium small round or 4 to 6 plum) ripe tomatoes, cored and roughly chopped
6 cups good chicken broth, store-bought or homemade (I used homemade, see below)
8 ounces full-flavored mushrooms (I love shiitakes here), stemmed (discard the woody stems or finely chop them) and sliced 1/4 inch thick (you'll have a generous 2 cups slices) OR 1 1/2 ounces dried shiitake, chanterelle or porcini mushrooms, soaked in hot water for 30 minutes, then drained and sliced 1/4 inch thick
6 corn tortillas
2 to 3 canned chipotle chiles en adobo, removed from the canning sauce
4 ounces goat cheese, cut or broken apart into roughly 1/2 inch cubes
1 large ripe avocade, peeled, pitted and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
1 large bunch watercress, leaves only

1. The Soup. In a medium-large (4 quart)saucepan, heat the oil or lard over medium. Add the garlic and onion and cook, stirring regularly, until golden, about 7 minutes. Use a slotted spoon to scoop up the garlic and onion, pressing them against the side of the pan to leave behind as much oil as possible transfer to a food processor or blender; set the pan aside. Add the tomatoes to the garlic and onion and process to a smooth puree.

Set the saucepan over medium-high heat. When hot, add the puree and stir nearly constantly until it has thickened to the consistency of tomato paste, about 10 minutes. Add the broth and sliced mushrooms and bring to a boil, then partially cover and gently simmer over medium to medium-low heat for 30 minutes. Tast and season with salt, usually 1/2 teaspoon, depending on the saltiness of your broth.

2. Toasting the Tortillas. Heat the oven to 375 degrees F. Cut the tortillas in half, then cut crosswise into 1/4 inch strips. Spread out the tortilla strips in a single layer on a baking sheet and spray or lightly brush with oil and toss to coat evenly. Set in the oven and bake, stirring around every couple of minutes or so, until lightly browned and crispy, about 8 minutes.

3. Serving the Soup. Cut open the chipotle chiles and scrape out their seeds. Cut the chiles into thin strips. In each soup bowl, place a portion of the cheese and cubed avocade, a generous sprinking of the watercress leaves and a few strips of chipotle. Ladle the broth into the bowls, top each with a little handful of crispy tortilla strips and you're ready to eat.

Working Ahead: Step 1 can be done several days in advance -- in fact, the soup gets better with a day or two for the flavors to mingle. Store made-ahead soup in the refrigerator, covered. Complete Steps 2 to 3 shortly before serving.

Caldo de Pollo Basico
From Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time

1 medium 3 1/2 pound chicken, preferably a good-tasting free-range one, cut into pieces (that's what I used) OR 3 pounds chicken wings or bones (such as necks or carcasses)
I medium white onion, sliced
3 to 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
3 to 4 bay leaves (use the skinny Mexican bay laurel leaves for authentic flavor)
2 to 3 sprigs EACH fresh marjoram and thyme OR a generous 1/2 teaspoon EACH dried marjoram and thyme.

In a medium (6 quart) soup pot, combine the chicken, onion, garlic, bay, marjoram and thyme. Add 4 quarts of water, set over medium-high heat and let come to a simmer. Skim off the grayish foam that rises during the first few minutes of simmering, then partially cover and reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a very gentle simmer. If using a cut-up whole chicken, cook for 45 minutes. Remove the chicken pieces, let cool until handleable and pull the meat from the bone (reserve it for enchiladas or the like); return the bones to the simmering broth for another hour. If using chicken wings or bones, let simmer for 2 hours.

Strain through a fine-mesh strainer and discard the solids. Let the broth rest long enough for the fat to rise to the top, then spoon it off. Covered and refrigerated, the broth will keep for several days in the refrigerator. It freezes beautifully.

Ancho and Guajillo Chile Chicken Enchiladas Recipe

This week was the premiere of Merce Cunningham's "Nearly Ninety", a tour de force of a dance created by the choreographer I performed with, whose dances I stage, whose technique I still teach. Ex-Cunningham dancers from all over the world descended on Brooklyn's Academy of Music to see Merce's latest creation, and to celebrate his ninetieth birthday. My dear friend and ex-colleague, Jeannie, now living in London, was one of them. She requested Mexican food (can't get it in London), and I happily obliged with ancho and guajillo chile chicken enchiladas and my version of Mexican rice and beans. What? I'm writing about Merce Cunningham and Mexican food? Merce's long-term partner, John Cage, loved a particular vegetarian tamale; is that a connection? Sure, I hear Merce say, and if not, we can just call it chance.

The choreography in "Nearly Ninety" is superb; tender, affectionate moments replace absurd ones, replace off-balance duets, replace nonchalant moments punctuated with humor, replace frenzied steps and near misses, replace sublime rhythmic changes, bizarre singular arm movements, and breathtaking subtlety. The dancers are exceptional, too, and perform leggy adagio of incredible strength and traveling jumps that change direction mid-stream. They are languid and sensual, and the next minute they dance so fast and sharp you nearly miss it. This ninety year-old man, whose physicality is now largely confined to the intellectual, created this? I was in awe. Again.

Humbled by our experience, and starving, Jeannie, my husband and I returned home to eat these cold enchiladas out of the pan, and reflect on our time with Merce. We all had important dancing to do while we were in his company, and, even though we knew it to be a significant part of Merce's philosophy that no one be seen as more special than another, now, witnessing again the grandiosity of his contribution to the world of art, we were able to recognize our truly small part in the more than 55 year history of Merce's work. It is bigger than all of us. Bigger than the many of us who share the honor of having worked with him put together. Maybe even huger than a theater built to house his collective audience over those 55 years. More collossal than that, I am sure. Happy birthday, Merce, and thank you for enriching my life in such limitless ways.

Ancho and Guajillo Chile Chicken Enchiladas

This is a very liberal adaptation from two recipes in Rick Bayless's Mexico, One Plate at a Time, but I changed things significantly, so I'm pretty sure I can call this my own.

For the sauce:

2 jalapenos
4 ancho chile peppers
4 guajillo chile peppers
1 1/2 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves of garlic, minced
2 28 ounce cans of whole tomatoes in sauce
4-6 ounces of creme fraiche
(1 teaspoon honey)

For the enchiladas:

The shredded meat from a cooked chicken (see the post Mushroom-Studded Tortilla Soup with Chipotle Chiles and Goat Cheese)
16 (or so) corn tortillas
2/3 of a cup shredded mild white cheddar and Monterey Jack cheeses, mixed
cilantro, for garnish

To make the sauce:

Toast the jalapenos, ancho and guajillo chiles in a dry pan over medium high heat until the jalapenos' skin turns black and blistery and the anchos and guajillos get toasted, but not burned. Set aside to cool.

In a large pot, heat the oil, and add the onion. Saute over medium heat until soft and translucent. Add the garlic and stir a minute or so.

When the chiles are cool, add them to a food processor with the tomatoes, and puree into a smooth paste. Add the mixture to the pot of onions and garlic, and cook for a few minutes until the sauce thickens slightly.

Add the creme fraiche to the pan, and taste the sauce. If it's a little bitter, add a touch of honey to balance the flavors. If not, forget the honey. Add salt to taste.

If the sauce looks too thick, add some water to thin it. It shouldn't be too thick, or your enchiladas will dry out in the oven.

Assembling the enchiladas:

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Combine the shredded chicken with a little of the enchilada sauce (about 1/2 cup) and add a little salt to taste.

Warm a few tortillas at a time in a pan until they soften. Fill them with a bit of chicken, and place the enchiladas, seam side down, side-by-side in a baking pan (I used two pans: one 8 x 8 inch pan and one 9 1/2 x 13 inch pan). Spoon the sauce over the rolled enchiladas (don't be stingy, I had extra sauce, even, for freezing.)

Top the enchiladas with the shredded cheese, and bake in a 350 degree oven for 15 minutes or so, or until the cheese browns. Serve with the chopped cilantro as garnish.

Banu's Rice and Beans

For the rice:

1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 1/2 cups brown rice
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
5 cups water
juice of one lime

In a medium sauce pan, heat the olive oil, and saute the onion over medium-high heat until translucent. Add the tomato paste, and stir until the color darkens. Add the paprika and salt and stir a minute or so, until fragrant. Add the rice, stirring until all the grains are coated with the onion mixture, and then add the water. Bring the water to a boil, then cover the pot, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the rice for about 30-35 minutes, or until all the water is absorbed. Take the rice off the heat, and stir in the lime juice.

For the beans:

4 bacon slices, cut into small pieces
1 onion, chopped
1 jalapeno, minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds, ground
1 tablespoon paprika
1/4 cup red wine
3 cups dried pinto beans
7 cups water
1 1/2 tablespoons fresh oregano, chopped
2 sprigs fresh epazote (you may leave this out, if you can't find it where you live)

Heat a large pot over medium high heat and cook the bacon until it is a little browned. Add the onion to the pot and cook until translucent (if there is not enough oil from the bacon in the pan, add some olive oil or vegetable oil). Add the jalapeno and cook until it softens. Add the garlic and the dried spices. Pour in the red wine, and stir everything until the wine reduces a bit. Stir in the pinto beans, and then the water, the oregano and the epazote (if using). Bring to a boil, cover, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook the beans until tender, about 2 hours, perhaps more.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Good Friday Pancakes and Homemade Sausage Patties Recipes

My great grandmother, Elsie Berlin, born in the United States to German immigrant parents, made these yeast pancakes on Good Friday for her family. Her daughter-in-law, Ethel Berlin, continued the tradition, and, like her husband's mother, served warm fruit sauces and sausage patties on the side. The fruit was from the garden: home-canned summer apples and cherries, and additional fresh strawberries, announcing spring's arrival. My mother modified some things, added lemony blueberries, and, despite our pleading, she reserved this special meal for one day of the year. When I make Good Friday pancakes, I not only connect with my immediate and extended family, remembering the boisterous family gatherings of my childhood, but I connect to relatives long gone. We all worked from the same recipe afterall: we all beat six eggs, added flour, spilled the batter into a skillet, waited as the pancakes bubbled before flipping. Food as equalizer and catalyst for reflection. For more than four generations, these Good Friday pancakes are still conjuring memories and helping us to create new ones.

German Good Friday Pancakes
From Elsa Berlin

6 eggs, beaten with a mixer
2 cups warmed milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 package yeast, softened in a 1/4 cup warm water.
3 1/4 cups flour (I used 2 1/4 cups all purpose flour with germ, and 1 cup whole wheat pastry flour.) You might need more or less flour. Add flour slowly, until you have a medium-thin batter.

Mix the beaten eggs with the milk, sugar and salt.
Add the flour, and stir until all lumps are gone. This should be a rather thin batter.
Add the yeast mixture.
Let stand, covered with a dish cloth, until it rises, usually more than an hour.
Pour approximately 1/4 cup of the batter, perhaps a little more, into a heated and oiled skillet. When the surface looks cooked on one side, flip to the other and cook briefly. These should be thicker than crepes.
Keep the stack warm in the oven while frying the others.

Blueberry Sauce

(adapted from a recipe from Christine Ogan)

1 cup frozen blueberries (I used wild blueberries.)
a little water, about 1/4 cup
juice of 1/2 lemon
1- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch (or more, just to give a little body, not to turn the blueberries into a gluey mass)
a little lemon zest
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or more, to taste)

Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the cornstarch thickens the mixture slightly, and the blueberries are warm.

Cherry Sauce

(adapted from a recipe from Christine Ogan)

1 cup frozen cherries
a little water, about 1/4 cup
1- 1 1/2 teaspoons cornstarch (follow instructions as above)
1 tablespoon maple syrup (or more, to taste)

Heat the mixture over medium heat, stirring, until the cornstarch thickens the mixture slightly, and the cherries are warm.

Fresh Strawberries with Tarragon

Slice some strawberries and mix with tarragon leaves. Add a little sugar, or agave nectar, if you like.

Homemade Sausage Patties

1 pound ground pork
2 shallots, minced
1 1/2 tablespoon fresh oregano, minced
1 tablespoon paprika
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme leaves
sprinkle of cayenne, or to taste
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
black pepper, to taste

Mix the ground pork with all the other ingredients. Form into patties, and cook in a wide skillet over medium high heat. When the patties are golden brown on one side, flip them, and cook for another 2 minutes or so on the other side.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Ethiopian Feast Recipes

This week was pancake week. I made slightly sour, spongy pancakes (flatbreads, really) known as injera, to accompany the Ethiopian feast I made for my husband's return home, and eggy, crepe-like pancakes with fruit sauces to commemorate Good Friday, a family tradition by way of Germany. Two pancakes from two parts of the world, and yes, to save our palates, the meals were separated in time by more than those commas. Injera and fruit? Not sure.

My husband and I have a favorite Ethiopian/Eritrean restaurant in Geneva, Switzerland. Well, it isn't exactly a restaurant, really. Behind the tiny convenience store selling mostly Italian products, is a small gathering place for the Eritrean and Ethiopian community to watch Ethiopian TV and eat Eritrean and Ethiopian specialties. On the front door, next to the painted-on advertisement, "PRODUITS ITALIENS", we saw an easily missable hand-written sign hinting at an Ethiopian meal. An hour or so later, and blissfully feeding each other and ourselves with our hands, I told my husband the story of how I first experienced this seductive food.

Back home in Bloomington, Indiana, after my freshman year of college, I worked as a waitress at an Ethiopian restaurant. It was my first experience as a server, and my first injera. The ex-model owner of the restaurant was Ethiopian: long, gorgeous, and a very good cook. She explained to me about kaytenya, gomen, yebeg alecha, and doro wat, and I curiously scooped it up with the injera in my hands. I loved the spongy texture of the injera, and the strongly spiced and varied stews of chicken and hard-boiled eggs, kale, lamb, lentils, split peas. This was adventurous food. I was adventuring.

On tour to Washington, D.C., home to a large Ethiopian population, I introduced my fellow dance company members to this communal way of eating, and I tried my hand at injera and some of the stews when I returned home. I made a kind of faux injera, with white flour and carbonated water, as in the early nineties in NYC it was difficult to find teff, the world's smallest (and perhaps most nutritious) grain, the grain Ethiopians use. Teff, a member of the lovegrass family, is very high in calcium, iron, and protein, and the fermentation process used to make the injera adds necessary probiotics. Now grown in the U.S., primarily in Idaho, it is easily found in health food stores.

Last week, my friend Lisa asked me what she should do with teff, and, remembering that my husband and I had missed a date at that Ethiopian in Geneva, I thought I'd bring Ethiopia to us. I made my first, authentic, fermented, 100 percent teff flour injera, a few vegetarian stews, awaze (a fiery spice paste made with red wine), and an unctuous, and vaguely waxy, flax seed and honey beverage. This is what you do with teff, Lisa: make injera! And to accompany it, yemiser wat and atar alecha and gomen and awaze and telba. Ethiopian food, I lovegrass you.


Adapted from a recipe at this source:

24 oz ground teff, about 3 1/2 to 4 cups (Make sure the teff is ground; you could use a food processor for this task. I forgot to grind my teff before adding water, so I used an immersion blender after it was already combined, and that worked fine.)
4 cups water
salt, to taste
vegetable oil, for the skillet

Mix ground teff with the water and let it stand in a bowl covered with a dish towel at room temperature until it bubbles and has turned sour. This may take as long as 3 days. You can cook it before, it just won't be as sour. The fermenting mixture should be the consistency of a very thin pancake batter. If it's not, add a little more water.

Stir in the salt, a little at a time, until you can barely detect its taste.

Lightly oil an 8 or 9 inch skillet (or a larger one if you like), and heat it over medium heat.

Pour in enough batter to cover the bottom of the skillet. About 1/4 cup will make a thin pancake covering the surface of an 8 inch skillet, if you spread the batter around immediately by turning and rotating the skillet in the air. Injera is not supposed to be paper thin, so you should use a bit more batter than you would for crepes, but less than you would for pancakes.

Cook briefly, until holes form in the injera and the edges lift from the pan. Do not let it brown, and don't flip it over, as it is only supposed to be cooked on one side.

Remove and let cool.

To serve, lay one injera on a plate and ladle your chosen dishes on top. Serve additional injera on the side. Use the injera as a scoop to eat the delicious stews with your hands.

Niter Kibbeh (Butter/Oil mixture to use as base for many Ethiopian dishes)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

This isn't necessary to make (using olive oil as a base is acceptable), but using this spiced butter (or oil) will add layers of flavor to your stews that will make the extra effort worth it.

1 lb unsalted butter (I used goat milk butter mixed with olive oil)
3/4 cup onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled and grated
1/2 teaspoon turmeric (I used fresh turmeric root)
4 cardamom seeds, crushed
1 cinnamon stick
2 cloves, whole
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek seeds

In a small saucepan, gradually melt the butter (I used 1 lb goat milk butter and about one cup olive oil) and bring it to bubbling. When the top is covered with foam, add the other ingredients, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Gently simmer, uncovered, on low heat. After about 45 to 60 minutes, when the surface becomes transparent and the milk solids are on the bottom, pour the liquid through a cheesecloth into a heat-resistant container. Squeeze the solids until you retrieve all the clarified butter (or oil), and discard them, keeping the butter. Covered tightly and stored in the refrigerator, niter kibbeh will keep for up to 2 months. Note: A good quality olive or other oil may be substituted for the butter.

Berbere and Awaze

Berbere is a dry, fragrant, and very spicy condiment that is also used to flavor the spicy wat dishes in Ethiopian cuisine. Mixed with a little red wine and olive oil, it becomes a sauce, or a paste, called awaze, and can be eaten alongside finished dishes as a hot sauce. I found this recipe years ago, when I first attempted Ethiopian food, and it has stayed a favorite. I have no idea where it came from, so I am unable to credit the source. Enjoy; this is great.

2 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 whole cloves
1/2 teaspoon cardamom pods
1/2 teaspoon peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon allspice
1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
1/2 cup dried onion flakes
4 oz (or more, or less, to taste) dried red chiles
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon garlic powder
2 teaspoons salt
x amount of cayenne pepper, 1 teaspoon to 1/2 cup (yes, that is what the recipe really says!)

Toast the cumin, cloves, cardamom, peppercorn, allspice, and fenugreek over medium heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes). Cool completely.
Combine toasted spices with other dry ingredients, and grind in a spice grinder.

To make awaze, the spicy paste, add 1/2 cup dry red wine, and 1/2 cup vegetable oil.

Yemesir Wat (Ethiopian Red Lentil Puree)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

Serves 4-6
2 onions, chopped
2 cloves garlic, crushed
2 teaspoons fresh ginger, peeled, minced
1/4 cup oil, butter or niter kibbeh
1 teaspoon turmeric (I used fresh turmeric root)
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 to 2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
1 lb red lentils
4 cups water
salt and pepper, to taste

Puree onion, garlic, and ginger (and turmeric root, if using fresh turmeric) in a food processor or blender.

Heat oil, butter, or niter kibbeh in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan.  Add turmeric, paprika and cayenne pepper, and stir rapidly to color the oil and cook the spices through, about 30 seconds.  Add the onion puree and sauté on medium heat until excess moisture evaporates, and the onion loses its raw aroma, about 5-10 minutes.  Do not burn.

Add lentils and water.  Bring to a boil and simmer until lentils are cooked through and fall apart, about 30-40 minutes.  Add water if necessary to keep from drying out.

Stir in salt and pepper to taste and serve.

Gomen (Stewed Collard Greens or Kale)

adapted from a recipe at this source:

1 large bunch collard greens, or kale, about 1 1/2 pounds
1/4 cup niter kibbeh, ghee or olive oil
1 red onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
2 fresh hot peppers, seeded and minced (or to taste)
1 cup broth, or water
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon black pepper
1/2 teaspoon cardamom

Tear stems from collard greens (or kale), and wash greens well. Bring a large pot of water to boiling. Add greens to water and boil briskly for 15 minutes. Drain, squeezing water from greens. When cool enough to handle, slice them thinly. (I skipped this step, and added the raw greens directly to the skillet after the onion mixture was cooked, covered them, and simmered until they were cooked. That way, I didn't lose any of the vitamins in the kale to the water.)

In a large skillet, melt the niter kibbeh (or oil). Add onion, garlic, ginger and hot peppers, and simmer, stirring occasionally, about 5 minutes.

Add collard greens (or kale), broth (or water), salt, pepper and cardamom. Bring to a simmer, and cook for 15 minutes, or until most of water has evaporated from pan. Serve with injera.

Yield: 4 servings

Atar Alecha (Spiced Green Split Pea Puree)

adapted from a recipe at this source:

I doubled this recipe.

1/3 cup onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, finely minced
1 tablespoon niter kibbeh (or oil)
1 cup dry split green peas, rinsed and drained
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
3 teaspoons green chile, minced (I didn't add this, as I wanted one mild dish)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 cup water

Soak the split peas for one hour in three cups of water.

In a dry pan over moderately low heat, stir-fry the onion and garlic for 2 minutes. (I skipped this step.)

Add the niter kibbeh (or oil) and sauté until the onion becomes transparent.

Add the turmeric, green chiles (if using), and salt to the onion mixture.

Add the peas, and enough water to cover them by about an inch, and bring them to a boil. Reduce the heat, and simmer about 30 minutes, stirring regularly, and adding more water if necessary, until the peas fall apart. When the peas are cooked, mash them well.

Add the water, if necessary, and cook to reduce the mixture to a thick, well-spiced pureé.

Serve warm, or at room temperature, with injera.

Telba (Ethiopian Flaxseed Beverage)

Adapted from a recipe at this source:

1 cup flaxseed
6 cups water
1 to 2 tablespoons honey

Heat a cast-iron skillet over low heat. Add flaxseed and dry roast, stirring for about 5-10 minutes. (I did this, but would skip this step in the future, to avoid heating and destroying the great properties of the delicate flax oil.) Remove from heat and cool. Place flaxseed in a spice grinder and grind to a powder.  Sieve into a bowl. (I didn't strain the seeds, but if you're not a fan of chewing a little flax, I would advise you strain.) Add water and stir. Let sit for about 10-20 minutes to allow solids to settle out.  Strain into a pitcher. Add (warmed) honey and chill.

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.

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.

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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