Saturday, November 7, 2009

Feta-Walnut Spread Recipe

I make this feta-walnut spread regularly. Inspired by a popular Turkish appetizer, I have modified my version from the recipes I have seen, and it only contains, feta, walnuts, olive oil, paprika, and cayenne pepper.

Walnuts are high in Omega-3 fatty acids, protect your heart from atherosclerosis, may help lower cholesterol, and have also been found to help prevent gall stones. I add nearly equal parts walnuts to feta in order to maximize these benefits, and usually seek out a more richly flavored sheep’s milk feta, too, which is generally easier to digest than cows’ milk.

I like this spread on toast in the mornings, or on a sandwich for lunch with some tomatoes and sprouts, or as an hors d’oeuvre at a party with some crackers. It is so simple to make, and surprisingly flavorful; guests at my house who have eaten this are usually baffled by what’s in it, and invariably ask for the recipe. Now, they have it, and you do, too.

Feta-Walnut Spread Recipe

2 cups walnuts
1 pound feta , crumbled (Bulgarian feta, or Turkish feta, either cows' milk or sheep’s milk; Greek feta is usually too mild for me, but some people might prefer it)
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup water
2 teaspoons paprika
cayenne pepper, to taste

In a food processor, grind the walnuts until they are in very small pieces. Add the crumbled feta and the olive oil to the bowl of the processor and mix until a smooth paste forms. If it is too thick, add the water now, slowly, through the feed tube, until a smooth paste forms. The spread shouldn’t be too thick, nor too thin, so add the water slowly. You may need more than 1/4 cup. Add the paprika, and the cayenne pepper. Mix well.

Spoon the spread out into a serving bowl and top with a drizzle of olive oil and some paprika. Serve with crackers or toasted pita bread wedges.

Similar recipes from A Hungry Bear Won't Dance: Hummus Recipe, Almond and Sun Dried Tomato Basil Pesto, Fresh Ricotta and Mint Recipe: a Spread with Purple Garlic and Olive Oil

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Sunday, November 1, 2009

Hoppin’ John Recipe

Last weekend, after feasting on fifteen intricate and gorgeous courses prepared by chef Curtis Duffy at Avenues Restaurant in Chicago’s Peninsula Hotel, I am having a difficult time blogging about my simple peasant food. The meal there was a work of art and an inspiration, and I will post about it as soon as I have gathered my thoughts about its fabulousness, but in the meantime, I’ll get back to the simple and practical basics. Here goes.

I make this bastardized version of Hoppin’ John frequently when the weather begins to turn cooler. It is easy to make, filling and flavorful, and goes well with the sweet potato-pecan biscuits I posted about a couple of weeks ago. I use bacon instead of ham hock (but this could be a tasty vegetarian dish without either), and I generally skip the rice, but with it, or with another carbohydrate, this makes a filling and nutritious meal. Playing off the typical Southern New Year's meal that's purported to bring luck and money, I add the collard greens directly to the Hoppin' John, instead of cooking the greens separately. I prefer it this way, stirring the greens in at the last minute, as the greens keep their integrity and don't end up mushy and over cooked. This stew is easy to pack up in a container to heat up for lunch, make as spicy as you like, and change the vegetable choices around according to what’s available.

This one-pot meal is inexpensive to make, and the counter to last Friday's decadence. Last week I was sipping champagne with good friends at the chef’s table in the lovely Peninsula Hotel, was waited on by a professional and attentive staff, and had a meal prepared for me by one of the most talented chefs in the city. Lucky girl. Now it’s back to my tiny kitchen, a few pots, and my artists’ budget. Good and simple Hoppin’ John sure makes me appreciate the very occasional truffles and Wagyu beef...

Hoppin’ John Recipe

2 cups dried black-eyed peas, soaked in water overnight
6 slices of bacon, cut into small pieces
1 large onion, chopped
2 medium carrots, chopped
2 celery stalks, chopped
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1 large clove of garlic, minced
4 large Roma tomatoes, peeled and chopped, about 2 cups (or 1 14 oz can of crushed tomatoes)
6 cups of water
2 bay leaves
1 bunch of collard greens, chopped into medium-sized pieces
cayenne pepper, to taste
salt and pepper, to taste
scallions, chopped, for garnish

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add the bacon, and cook until slightly browned.

Remove the bacon from the pot, keeping the bacon fat to cook the onion. If there is not enough fat in the pan, add a little vegetable oil. Cook the onion until translucent.

Add the carrots and the celery stalks, and cook until soft, but not mushy. Stir in the tomato paste, and cook for a minute or so. Add the garlic, the tomatoes, the water, and the bay leaves. Bring the mixture to a boil, and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until the beans are tender, and the vegetables are cooked.

Stir in the collard greens, and cook until wilted.

Add cayenne, salt and pepper to taste. (I sometimes like Tabasco sauce in this, so feel free to add it, if you like.)

Serve over rice, or with sweet potato pecan biscuits, or both.

Similar recipes from A Hungry Bear Won't Dance:
Swiss Chard, Lentils and Bulgur Wheat with Parsley, Garlic Yogurt Recipe, Quinoa Salad Recipe, Sweet Potato-Pecan Drop Biscuits Recipe

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