Spring is settling herself in right now, or at least she is trying. Perhaps its the ever controversial global warming giving our girl a rough run, but she seems to be experiencing some crisis of identity as she navigates the gap between the seasons. Like an awkward tweenager she makes her way in fits and starts. One minute she is demure and sun-beaming, makeup painted on with an expert hand – smiling pretty. Seconds later she has run her stockings, throws a fit, mascara streaking down her face as tears the size of nickels come rolling down. Flurries of laughter lightly mask deep seated angst but there is rumbling still beneath the surface. Sure, it looks pretty today, but don’t be fooled by the Polaroid image – it is only a moment in time. Storms are likely a-coming, and knowing our luck, they will arrive just in time for the weekend.
With the winds a-changing we are busily reading ourselves for the onslaught of fresh fruits and veggies that comes with the start of the CSA season. I have been scouring the corners of the deep freezer for any remnants of last season’s produce and am doing my very best to clear out any stragglers hiding out in the “root cellar.” Making room for this year’s haul also entails a desperate attempt to make use of my stockpile of “freshly milled” grains from Anson Mills that have been biding their time in the deep freezer. With only a moment or two spent scanning the contents of the waist-high freezer you will find everything from Red Fife Wheat to Perfectly Milled Grits hanging out in organic looking brown satchels. Though I am embarassed to admit it, I have barely begun to make a dent in the wide array of milled products I ordered from Anson in early February.
I am all about working with great ingredients, but there is something about working with this amazingly high caliber of goods that is simultaneously exciting and intimidating. For a bit of background on just why I have this amazing respect for what the folks over at Anson Mills have accomplished, the farmers and millers at Anson Mills have toiled for years to recreate heritage milled products grown by Small Farmers (themselves growing grain on about 150 acres) in South Carolina.
In reviving centuries old growing and milling practices for grains, Anson Mills brings us back a piece of our food culture past. Many of the products in their repertoire, like their widely renown grits, likely also exist in what I hesitate to even call a weak likeness on a shelf in your local Walmart. But Anson Mills have taken these ingredients, food stuffs which, in other hands, have become ubiquitous, commonplace, and so often thoughtlessly processed and have elevated them to their former glory as cornerstones of New American cuisine.
On their site, Anson Provides copious notes on the origins of each of their products paying tribute to the grain’s history and heritage with a detailed write up on its evolution as a foodstuff and some finer notes on what makes certain varietals of a grain uniquely disposed to a specific type of milling and/or culinary use. I found the write up on corn incredibly fascinating, in addition to delving into the division between flint and dent corn, the author works to provide some fine tuned background on what makes cornmeal, polenta, and corn flour unique; a question I, myself, had wondered for quite some time. And while all of this is immensely inspiring, the grains themselves feel almost too special to put to work.
And so, dear readers, my satchels of perfectly milled flatbread flour, rye, farro, and grits have sat gathering the freezer equivalent of dust while I have fiddled about looking for the right recipes to showcase these meticulously ground gems. Armed with what I hoped would be a great recipe to show off the proud textures of Anson Mills’ polenta I set off to the freezer to pluck out a bag of their Polenta Integrale. At the same time I “unearthed” a bag of frozen kale that I knew was hiding about the bottom of the freezer and set about making dinner.
This dish was inspired by a recipe from “Whole Grains for a New Generation” by Liana Krissoff, which has become an indespensible reference for grain cooking techniques and ideas (during a recent purge of old cookbooks for a yardsale, and subsequently, sale on Amazon, I knew this was one book that I simply cound not part with.) While Liana’s recipe is lovely I, as usual, was itching to play with the quantities of the ingredients called for, adding more kale, tossing in some frozen corn, reducing the amount of cheese etc… When making this recipe we tested two different techniques for baking the “crust.” Both methods were delicious though they turned out quite different looking end products. For the first crust we allowed the polenta to cool in the pan for only a short time (5-10 minutes) before releasing the springform. The polenta, which was not yet fully set, poured out into an organic pie shape. Though it could not be flipped to allow the underside to cook as well, we tossed on the toppings, popped it in the oven and pulled out a lovely freeform pie not long thereafter. With the second crust, we poured the crust and baked through the first baking and then allowed it to cool before popping it in the refrigerator overnight for use the next day. This crust was far easier to work with as it had fully set and the polenta was well jelled. Feel free to toy with the amount of time you rest the crust, the fact that it can be so easily poured and par-baked in advance makes it a great make ahead recipe for those with little time in the evenings to get dinner from chopping board to table.
Polenta Pizza with Sweet Corn, Kale, and Cheddar
1 Large Bunch of Kale (about 450g), Washed Well (Don’t Bother to Dry), Stems Removed and Reserved for Another Use, Leaves Left Whole
OR 1 Bag Frozen Kale, Defrosted and Drained
4 Cups Water
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
160g Polenta (All Grind Sizes are OK Though Cooking Times Will Vary)
1/2 Cup (about 56g) Cheddar Cheese, Grated*
2 Large Eggs, Lightly Beaten
1 Cup Corn Kernels (Frozen and Fresh Are Both OK – See Note Below**)
The Unexpeceted Cheddar from Trader Joes is mind-blowingly good, the flavor profile strikes a nice balance between sharp parmesean and tangy cheddar and it is on the harder side for a cheddar. If substituting another type of cheese, an aged cheddar would work well, as, I imagine, would an asiago or a mild parmesan*
*We used fresh kernels, if using frozen it may be a good idea to allow them to partially thaw and drain before use
Preheat the oven to 425 degreese.
Prepare an 8-Inch spring form pan by lightly spraying it with cooking spray. Take a piece of parchment and place it over the insert of the springform pan. Close the rim around the paper leaving long pieces sticking out of the ends. Set the pan on a silpat (or parchment) lined baking tray (preferably with a rim.)
Wash the greens REALLY well, I typically run this procedure in a salad spinner by filling the spinner with water and dunking the greens in and out of the water, if the water starts to look murky dump it and refill it. (You can “dump” the water in your garden or use it to water house plants!) Kale, especially the curly-leaf varieties has a way of clinging onto little pockets of dirt so as you go about washing the leaves, make sure to agitate the greens with your hands to loosen any dirt clumps that my be hiding in the curls. Drain the leaves but don’t dry them.
Prepare a large ice bath and set it next to the stove (if possible.) Place the greens in a large pot over high heat. Cook, covered, with just the water clinging to leaves, tossing occasionally with rubberized tongs, until wilted, about 4 to 6 minutes. When the greens are just done cooking transition them immediately to your prepared ice bath to shock them – the shocking process will not only stop the cooking process but will brighten the greens color and prevent the greens from looking stodgy and muted.
Once the greens have thoroughly cooled in the ice bath dump them into a large colander. Grab a fist sized bunch and squeeze it between your palms to extract as much water as possible. Place the well drained balls of greens on a cutting board and chop them coarsely.
In a medium saucepan, bring the 4 Cups of water to a boil over high heat. As soon as bubbles break the surface, add the salt and corn kernels. Once the water is boiling again, add the polenta in a stead stream, stirring constantly. Reduce the heat to low and allow the polenta to simmer, stirring frequently, until thickened.
Pour the polenta into the prepared baking pan and pop it into the oven to bake for about 25 minutes.
While the polenta is baking whisk the eggs together in a medium sized mixing bowl. Add the greens, a few hearty cracks of pepper, and the cheese. Mix well and then cover with plastic and pop it in the fridge until it is needed.
Once the 25 minutes have elapsed, remove the polenta and place it on a metal rack to cool for at least 30 minutes.
OK – now for the tricky part. Pop open the hinge on your springform pan. Depending on how well set the polenta is, it may ooze out a bit. This is A-OK, step back and let it do its thing, this is why we lined the spring form with a long piece of parchment. Take a second piece of parchment and place it on top of the polenta circle. On top of this place a cookie sheet clamp the sheet down tightly atop the baking tray. Now, carefully, and in one smooth motion, flip the entire unit over. Remove the baking tray, the bottom of the springform pan, and the parchment. Your polenta wheel should now be sitting pretty on a cookie sheet with what was formerly the bottom now facing up.
Place the cookie sheet in the oven for 15 mins to begin to cook the top. Remove the pan and scatter the kale topping over the base. Return the tart to the oven and bake for another 25 mins or so. I like the kale topping well crisped but take care that it doesn’t burn.
In a world of so much variety it is still somehow easy to get stuck in a rut. Whether to save time or reduce the risk that comes from experimenting many of us have a certain leaning towards the familiar. To some extent, these likes and dislikes are what form the etchings of our identity. My certain love of vegetables, a penchant for puns and wordplay, my unending quest to develop and redevelop a methodology for composing the world’s most organized grocery list, a distinct urge to fill my closet with clothing in varying shades of grey and brown – these may be some of the things that come to mind when friends and family think of me.
These interests, likes, and dislikes piece together to form about a kindergarten level understanding of who we are. And its strange to think but we still so often rely on these identifiers to build bridges with new people. We may bond over a shared love of blues music, rock climbing, wood oven pizzas, vintage clothing, or old trucks and develop relationships with newcomers that largely revolve around these shared interests and activities. All of this is good and well, and really perfectly normal, but the problem is that as we change, and our likes and dislikes shift and morph and we evolve as individuals we experience a good deal of churn. There is often a turning over of acquaintances as we give up old hobbies and shed bits and bobs of our face value identity.
About 6 months ago Dustin and I stopped climbing. It was less of a conscious decision and more of a natural shift, we moved to a new house, took on new hobbies and found new athletic pursuits. And just like that our new identities formed adding new badges to our identities sort of “Brownie” style, an iron on patch for distance running, a sticker for gardening, pins for milestone achievements in weight lifting, a new sash for woodworking. These pursuits became our new topics of discussion, our new bonding points with passersby, something to talk about while standing in the grocery line or while waiting for a bench at the gym.
On the grand cosmic scheme of things, stopping climbing really changed nothing at all about Dustin and myself. We so quickly found new activities to fill our time, new ways to self identify, the old badges were put aside – maybe to be revisited, maybe not. But for larger, shape shifting changes these voids are not so easily filled. For all of my friends and family who have struggled to overcome addiction, to put the pieces back together after an illness, or job loss, who have suffered through depression – to pull through these crises of identity takes an enormous amount of soul searching. Pulling through each dreary day, each setback requires that you get real with yourself and search for that deeper kernel of identity that many never have the will or need to reach for.
This weeks dish is made up from some truly simple ingredients. The earthy radish, the humble bean, peasant greens and a scant smattering of nuts, cheese, and lemon pull together to create a nourishing meal. Lemon, Parmesan and garlic are flavors that I love, that can elevate even the humblest ingredient, and that bring me comfort. Like us, strong, basic ingredients need little embellishment to shine, at their core, simple, “whole” ingredients have the integrity to stand alone. This simple meal is a great staple to turn to for a rainy day. If you are willing to take on the time taking project of soaking, rinsing, cooking and rerinsing your own beans, I suggest you do yourself a favor and cook a double batch, the remaining beans can be frozen for a later use. Alternatively this dish can be made with cooked beans, I suggest buying the largest ones you can find, the giant limas are nice as they are about the same size as the halved radishes and make for a really attractive plate of food, but smaller white beans like navy, cannellini or even chickpeas would work well here.
Kale, Radish, and Giant Lima Sautee with Almonds
This dish was inspired by “Pan-Fried Corona Beans & Kale” from one of my all time favorite bloggers, Heidi Swenson, you can find the original here at 101cookbooks.com.
1 1/4 Cup Large Lima Beans (Dried) Soaked Overnight in Water
2 TBSP Extra Virgin Olive Oil
3 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Bunches of Kale, Washed Well (about 400g) Stems Separated and Chopped Finely (1/2″ Segments), Leaves Chopped (1″ Pieces, Strips are OK.)
1/2 lb (226g) Radishes, Washed (May Need to Be Gently Scrubbed If Very Dirty) and Halved
1/4 Cup (about 30g) Walnuts, Chopped and Toasted
1/4 Cup (about 28g) Parmesan Cheese, Grated
Zest of One Lemon, Minced
2 TBSP Lemon Juice
Salt and Pepper to Taste
Start the recipe the night before (actually, for all of the advance planners out there – this step can be done 2 or 3 days before, in fact, you can easily double the amount of beans you prepare here and do your future-self a favor by freezing one half of the beans for later use.) Place the beans in a medium sized bowl and cover with about 6 cups of water. Cover the bowl with a towel (I typically slip a rubber band around the rim of the bowl to secure the towel lest any of our insect friends get curious about the bowls contents.) Leave the beans overnight to soak. Drain the beans and rinse well. Place in a saucepan and cover with water, the beans should be covered by about 1 – 1 1/2 inch of water. Put the pot over medium high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the water to a simmer and cook for about 40-45 minutes or until just tender. Be careful not to overcook the beans or they will disintegrate when they are pan fried later. Drain the beans, rinse again and set aside to dry.
Once the beans have dried place a large (preferably non-stick) pan over medium high heat. Add the oil and heat till shimmering. Add beans to the heated oil and sautee, tossing every 2 minutes for about 6 minutes or until lightly golden, add the radishes and sautee for another 4-5 minutes, tossing regularly. Add the garlic and sautee another minute. Add the kale and sautee until just wilted. Remove the pan from the heat and add the walnuts, parmesan, and lemon (zest and juice.) Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed and serve.
I apologize, ladies and gentlemen, for the lapse in our posting, but it has been a long week and a half. Since we last posted Dustin and I have packed virtually every item in our little home into boxes. We have meticulously planned our move, transferred utilities, found adequate transportation, and recruited assistance from very kind friends, only to find that on our planned moving day our road will be closed virtually all day for Nashville’s Music City Marathon. We will not have access to our street, or to the alley behind it, and will not be able to park within a 4 block radius of our current dwelling. So much for meticulous planning. After spending Saturday morning panic stricken, I came up with a slightly nutty plan B that will put our now free morning to use by installing the raised beds we have planned for our very first home vegetable garden.
A few weeks back I spent several hours perusing the Burpee catalog for the best possible array of organic seeds that could be direct sown into the garden. Just before ordering Dustin and I ventured out to Whole Foods, where we discovered that our local store had its own great selection of seeds, with no shipping required. Our current design is for four – four by four foot raised beds, arranged according to the length of the growing season (some we are hoping to get two seasons out of – be reaping, tilling, and resewing in late august) and the amount of water needed to grow the crops. We are also planning a salad table, a shallow, portable, and lightweight raised bed that can be used for growing delicate salad greens and have high hopes to grow “trash can” sweet potatoes.
I never used to be much of a fan of sweet potatoes. In my mind, they were part of the “potato” category, which I dismissed entirely as bland and starchy. It wasn’t until 2 years ago, on a camping trip in Kentucky, that I finally realized how wrong I had been to eschew this brilliant tuber. The powers that be that bestowed the name on this veggie got one thing right, they are indeed sweet, its hard to fathom that so many recipes for sweet potatoes call for additions of sugar, maple, or even, gasp, marshmallows. When roasted for long periods of time these bright orange gems literally ooze with sugary sweetness that is entirely their own.
In this dish, which was sparked by a sweet potato and quinoa side dish on Sprouted Kitchen, I combine sweet roasted sweet potato nuggets with smoky paprika, earthy lentils, nutty quinoa, and a zingy jalapeno dressing. The strong flavor components of the dish are inspired by the traditional smoky, hot and sweet notes of good southern barbeque. From a nutritional perspective this dish has it all covered. The sweet potatoes provide an almost unsurpassed source of Vitamin C which is best activated when combined with a small amount of fat, which can be found in the olive oil in our zingy vinaigrette. The lentils provide a great source of folate, iron, fiber, and protein. The quinoa is yet another great punch of fiber in this dish and a nice nutty and almost creamy texture to the salad. And I cannot even begin to sing the praises of Kale, it provides and excellent source of vitamins K, C, and A, as well as dietary fiber and has been hailed for its anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidant properties. So don’t hesitate to dig in and enjoy this super healthy, super delicious salad.
Super Foods Salad
For the Salad Dressing
2 Jalapenos, Cut in Half (Seeds In)
3/4 C Chopped Cilantro
3 Large Cloves Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
Zest (Minced) and Juice of 2 Limes
6 TBSP Olive Oil
For the Quinoa
1 Lg Onion, Diced
1/2 TSP Ground Corriander
1/2 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 Cup Quinoa
1 C Water
For the Sweet Potatoes
2-3 Medium Sized Sweet Potatoes (1.5-2 lbs) Cut into 1 Inch Cubes
1 TSP Smoked Hot Paprika
1/2 TSP Kosher Salt
Olive Oil to Lightly Coat
For the Lentils
3/4 C. de Puy or Beluga Lentils
2 Bay Leaves
1 TSP Kosher Salt
1 Bunch of Kale Roughly Chopped
To make the Salad Dressing – preheat the oven to 425 degrees, rub the jalapenos lightly with salt, pepper, and olive oil and roast on a foil lined sheet pan for 15 mins, or until softened and slightly browned. Once roasted, place on a cutting board and allow to cool before mincing the jalapenos. Place the minced peppers in a small bowl along with the other dressing ingredients and mix well to combine, set aside.
To make the sweet potatoes toss the potato cubes with the spices and add just enough olive oil to lightly coat. Placed on a foil lined baking sheet and roast in the preheated oven for 20-25 mins, turning the potatoes over at least once during the roasting process.
While the potatoes roast make the quinoa. Add about a tablespoon of oil to a saute pan, add onion and sautee until softened and beginning to brown, add quinoa and spices and stir, allow spices and grains to toast, stirring constantly, for 2 minutes before adding the water, bring to a boil, add a pinch of salt. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 15 mins, or until the liquid is just absorbed. Turn off the heat and set aside.
To cook the lentils, place lentils in a sauce pan and cover with 1-2 inches of water. Add bay leaves and salt and bring to a boil, reduce heat to simmer and cook for 20-25 minutes, or until just tender (be careful not to over cook them as they will turn to mush.) As soon as the lentils are cooked, place the lentils in a colander and rinse with cool water (or shock in an ice water bath) until the lentils are just cooled (this will stop the cooking) allow to drain completely.
To serve the salad combine the sweet potatoes with the lentils, quinoa, and kale in a large bowl. Toss gently to combine. Add the dressing, a bit at a time, until just dressed (the kale will wilt slightly reducing the body of the salad, so err on the side of under-dressing as more can be added later.) Allow to sit for 15-20 minutes for the flavors to meld. Taste and add additional dressing, salt, and pepper as needed. Serve and Enjoy!
It’s a bit overwhelming to think we are moving again in less than two weeks. There are some ways in which I actually like moving. As a big proponent of the “use it or lose it” mantra, moving offers an opportunity to revamp, reorganize, and sift through any accumulated clutter. Having moved to Nashville within the last year, it was easy to determine which items we had not used since moving in and make judgements as to whether to donate them, recycle them, or hold out hope that we might find just the right use for that odd utensil, or the perfect occasion for a never worn dress.
The same clean out fervor carries over to the pantry. Spices that have not been used in the months that have eclipsed since the move in date should likely be tossed, especially if ground. And while I have a soft spot for “ancient grains,” the same does not apply to old stale ones. Nuts, too, begin to decline rapidly once they pass their peak. Dustin and I had a great wealth of couscous sitting in a Ball Jar on our grains shelf, and an old bag of shelled pistachios that were about to go over the proverbial hill. When I came across a recipe in Yotam Ottolenghi’s “Plenty” for green couscous, that incorporated the tiny grains with a vivacious herb sauce and toasted pistachios, I knew I found a winner.
In the spring, more than ever, I love making bright herbaceous dishes. Perhaps it’s just that many of my favorite herbs are just starting to peek through the ground, and maybe it’s because green is the unofficial color of springtime, but bright punch flavors draw me in after the heavy stews, soups, and braises that dominate winters comfort cuisine. This salad actually pairs very well alongside a heavier dish like a Tagine, and is great a day (or even two) later over a bed of bright greens with grilled chicken, shrimp, or tofu.
From a health perspective this couscous salad covers its bases. Couscous is made from semolina flour, traditionally the semolina was rolled into tiny pellets and then tossed in flour to keep the pellets from sticking together, before left to dry. While couscous is more akin to a pasta than a whole grain, a whole wheat variety may be substituted for the traditional white variety adding additional protein and fiber to this dish. If you want to go a step further and up the ante to a full on whole grain, cracked bulgur wheat, millet, or quinoa may be swapped in for the couscous. It will alter the flavor slightly but should be a delicious and nutritious dish nonetheless.
The pistachios in this dish provide a nice textural contrast to the chewy toothsome grains, leafy greens, and soft onion. From a nutritional perspective they add a great deal as a good source of healthy fat, B Vitamins, fiber, and pop of protein. I have upped the amount of parsley in this recipe from Yotam’s original 1/2 cup because, compared with cilantro, it packs a nutritional wallop. Not only is it high in dietary fiber, but is also a rich source of Vitamins K, C, and A. So go on and dig into this bright herbaceous dish, your body and your taste buds will thank you.
Green Couscous – from Yotam Ottolenghi’s “plenty”
For the Herb Paste
1/2 C Chopped Flat-leaf Parsley
1/2 C Chopped Cilantro
2 TBSP Chopped FreshTarragon
4 TBSP Chopped Fresh Mint
6 TBSP Olive Oil
For the Couscous
1 C Couscous
3/4 C Boiling Water or Stock
1 TBSP Olive Oil
1 Lg Onion, Thinly Sliced
1/2 TSP Fine Sea Salt
1/4 TSP Ground Cumin
1/2 C Unsalted Pistachios, Toasted and Coarsely Chopped
3 Scallions, Finely Sliced
1 Fresh Chile, Such as a Jalapeño, Finely Sliced (I Like This Spicy So I Substituted a Serrano)
1 1/2 C Arugula Leaves, Chopped
To make the herb paste combine all ingredients, save the olive oil, in a food processor and pulse. Add olive oil in a steady stream until the mixture resembles a smooth paste. Taste and add a bit of salt and pepper as needed.
To make the couscous, place couscous in a large bowl and add boiling water or stock. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand for 10 minutes. Fluff gently with a fork to break up any big chunks and set aside.
In a sauté pan heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onion, cumin, and salt and sauté until the onion is golden and soft.
In a large bowl, combine couscous and half of the herb paste. taste and add more herb paste a bit at a time until you like the balance of flavor. You can serve the remaining sauce on the side so that diners can adjust for individual taste. Add pistachios, scallions, green chile, and arugula and toss gently.
At times, its hard to find inspiration for a new post. Or really to get excited about cooking anything at all. Writers block seems to strike at the oddest and most inconvenient of times and I find this only compounded during the winter. Its ironic, really, that during the season when we have the most time and desire to stay in the house, the availability of fresh crops is at its lowest point. During the summer months I tend to find my culinary muse in markets, the desire to write about a dish often stems from my interaction with its grower – from seeing tomatoes piled high in barrels, or melons, still covered in dirt, sitting in an old wheel barrel. We are so fortunate that during the spring, summer, and early fall, there is a weekly farmers market held on our block, local farmers bring their just picked crops,and locals make their way down to mingle, and seek out the week’s best wares.
Buying veggies from a supermarket, however nice that market may be, just isn’t the same. So much of the personal nature of the food buying experience, which, for me, really drives a connection to quality, sustainable wares, is lost. No wonder we Americans eat so much mass produced product, its hard to get excited about local, sustainable agriculture and humanely produced meats and dairy when shopping in a florescent lit, big-chain market. And, unfortunately, many of the smaller local stores in Nashville, can’t pull in enough volume to drive the turnover rates needed to keep local veggies at peak freshness. Alas, during the winter months, I find I need to dig for inspiration elsewhere.
A lot of times, when the season deals a blank hand, and am suffering from a lack of inspiration, I turn to my much neglected pantry for ideas. Surveying my shelves and jars for items calling out to be used, I noticed that an overwhelming wealth of grains had taken over my closet and sought out a recipe. I started searching the blog-osphere for recipes and came across a site I had never seen before called “The Yellow House.” Their stories and photos are incredible, and, for me it was an immediate source of the inspiration I so sorely craved. My eye caught on a recipe for “Greens and Grains with Browned Yogurt Topping.” The authors intro, with beautiful pictures, and a compelling story on recycling leftovers won my heat and I was sold on giving this odd sounding dish a try.
And, boy, am I sure glad I took the leap. This dish is certainly one of my new winter favorites. The combination of grains and creamy topping is at once homey and comforting – almost reminiscent of a holiday casserole – and at the same time it is a reassuringly healthy one pot meal. As I started to combine the ingredients, I noticed a lot of similarities between this dish and an old Greek Diner Staple, Moussaka. Moussaka is an eggplant and ground meat based dish, with a creamy and decadent bechamel topping and spiced tomato sauce. I have always likened it to a Greek sort of lasagna, minus, of course, the noodles. This wholesome dish embodies the same textural and flavor couplings as moussaka by contrasting the taste of a creamy topping against spiced filling and the sensation of smooth sauce and toothsome grains. Musing on Moussaka, I was inspired to put my own twist on the author’s recipe by incorporating Middle Eastern spices, such as hot smoked paprika, lemon, aleppo pepper, and sumac into the dish.
I purchased ground Sumac, which I use in this recipe, from Whole Foods, but it can likely be found at many middle eastern markets as well. The spice has a distinctive citrusy flavor and a beautiful burgundy color. While, from a flavor perspective, there is no real substitute, the sumac is not integral to the success of the dish and may be omitted if not available. The sumac used for culinary purposes comes from a variety of non-poisonous sumac that grows wild in the middle east. Aleppo pepper can be purchased at many culinary stores and gourmet food shops, I have seen it both at Williams Sonoma and Whole Foods, but if neither of these are located near to you it is also available for purchase online through Penzy’s Spices. Aleppo is a ground pepper flake made from a moderately hot Turkish pepper. It is far more flavorful than it is spicy, if none is available Ancho Chili Powder makes a fine substitute.
Greens and Grains Gratin Adapted from a recipe by The Yellow House
1 Large Bunch of Winter Greens (Swiss Chard, Kale, or Mustard Greens work best), Stems Separated from Leaves, Washed
2 Cloves of Garlic, Minced
2 Shallots, Minced
1/2 Cup Grated Parmesan Cheese
3 Cups Cooked Grains (I used a mixture of Quinoa, Wheat Berries, and Farro)
Juice of 1/2 a Lemon, Plus 1 TSP Finely Grated Lemon Zest
1/2 TSP Hot Smoked Paprika
1/2 TSP Aleppo Pepper Flakes
1 Cup Greek Style Yogurt (I used a 2% variety)
Ground Sumac for Sprinkling on Top
Preheat the oven to 350 degreese
To prep the greens, take the washed stems and chop into 1/2 inch pieces. Stack the leaves of the greens on top of one another. Orient the leaves so that the long side faces you and roll into a long, tight bundle. Cut the bundle into 1/2 inch segments. You should be left with long ribbons. Keep these separate from the stems as they will be incorporated at different times during the cooking process.
Heat a large cast iron skillet (see note above for alternatives*) over medium high heat. Once the pan is hot add about 2 TBSP of olive oil until shimmering. Add shallots and garlic and saute until fragrant, if they start to really brown turn down the heat so that they become soft and translucent. Add the grain stems, paprika, and a pinch of salt. Saute, stirring occasionally until the stems are slightly softened- 2-3 mins. Add the leaves to the pan along with the Aleppo Pepper and sautee until the greens are just tender. Remove from the heat and place in a large bowl along with the grains.
Toss the grain and greens mixture with your hands. Add lemon juice and 1/2 of the Parmesan and mix well. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Mix in one of the eggs until well incorporated and spread into the bottom of the cast iron skillet (if the skillet is not well seasoned, oil it before adding the grains.)
In a medium sized bowl mix eggs with yogurt and remaining Parmesan. Spread on top of the grain and smooth out the top. Sprinkle a light covering of sumac on top.
Bake in the oven for approximately 30 minutes, or until the topping is set and slightly browned. Serve along side a light salad and enjoy this homey and healthy winter feast. The dish keeps well wrapped in saran wrap for 3 or so days.
This year marked the first thanksgiving that went off without a hitch. It was almost surreal. I mean, granted, I flew up to Boston 5 days before the big event to begin prepping each and every one of the 11 or 12 (don’t know I lost count) dishes that graced our Holiday Table, but it was the first time in a long time that I actually had an opportunity to breathe, to really and truly spend time with family, to catch up on their latest and greatest, and it was simply awesome. And with no major disaster to right, or problem to solve, by the time I sat down at the dinner table, I was actually relaxed. Contributing to the feeling of serenity, this year’s dessert crew elected to bake up desserts that could be made ahead of time, and served at room temperature, so I did not spend the entire meal trying to guestimate the correct time to pop this or that pie or clafoutis in the oven. Sheer joy, I tell you.
To go with my last post on a healthful thanksgiving, we decided to mix some healthful dishes into the traditional holiday mix. One dish I had discovered entirely by coincidence at a Whole Foods a month or so ago. The dish was set out aside a small chalkboard which outlined some of the benefits of a raw foods diet. It was green, it smelled pungent, I was intrigued. I ate the delightful little cup of kale in one gulp, not entirely sure what I had just eaten but happy with my decision to try the unknown leafy green thing. I circled around the store trying to find someone to tell me what the dish was in hopes that I might be able to recreate it at home. I found no one.
I got another sample hoping to be able to decipher what it might be. Still no clue what ingredients where contained within, I finally spotted a helpful store clerk who explained that my new leafy friend was Kale (an old friend really but here in a new context) and that it was dressed in a vegan dressing. They sold the dish in the store. I wrote down the dish’s name, checked out, and proceeded home where I scoured the internet for the recipe. And low and behold it appears that others have also become enamored with the Whole Foods Kale Salad because home chef’s variations on the dish abounded on the internet. I found one that looked the most like the dish I had tried, cut and washed my shiny new bunch of kale, and mixed it up in a jiff. Let me tell you ladies and gentlemen, Brittany Mullins of the blog “Eating Bird Food,” hit the nail on the head when she worked out this recipe.
Not only is her recipe for Garlicky Kale salad a dead ringer for the one I had tasted at Whole Foods, but it is brilliantly easy to make! And to top it all off it is amazingly healthy. According to Web MD’s Kathleen Zelman, one cup of kale contains 36 calories, 5 grams of fiber, and 15% of the daily requirement of calcium and vitamin B6. Additionally the veggie contains 40% of our RDA of magnesium, 180% of vitamin A, 200% of vitamin C, and 1,020% of vitamin K. It is also a good source of minerals copper, potassium, iron, manganese, and phosphorus. Wow that’s one healthy mouthful. The garlicky dressing is somewhat akin to Caesar, it has the same pungent garlicky bite and creamy smoothness that comes from the combination of tahini and nutritional yeast that thicken the sauce. Nutritional yeast is a great source of proteins and vitamins, it can be a bit tough to find but most health foods stores (including whole foods) carry it. So dive in, try something new, unknown (and hopefully delicious.) Who knows, it just might surprise you.
Garlicky Kale Salad – from Eating Bird Food
2 TBSP Tahini
2 TBSP Freshly Squeezed Lemon Juice
2 TBSP Liquid Amino Soy Alternative
2 TBSP Apple Cider Vinegar
2 TBSP Minced or Crushed Garlic
4 TBSP Nutritional Yeast
1 Large Bunch of Kale
Cut the kale into 1 1/2 inch pieces by chopping perpendicular to the stem. Include the stems as they create a nice contrast to the slightly wilted leaves. Wash the kale in a salad spinner and allow to drain until mostly dry.
Mix the tahini, lemon juice, liquid amino, apple cider vinegar, garlic and nutritional yeast in a large bowl. Once the dressing is mixed, add the kale.
Now the fun begins! Knead and scrunch and squish the kale into the dressing by hand and watch it reduce in size by more than half.
The kale is ready to eat when dressed, but will soften nicely after an hour or more, which may be favorable depending on the crunchiness of your kale.