Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame

What happens when one of my most favorite cookbooks is given a part two to accompany it? I go through many, many Post-it flags marking pages. I’ve been reading and marking pages in Plenty More and looking forward to various vegetables coming into season. I can’t wait for summer to try Dakos made with ripe tomatoes, Corn Slaw, and Eggplant with Black Garlic. After my first glance at this new book, I was worried that this was just the collection of dishes that weren’t quite good enough for the original Plenty. And, I still don’t think that first book can be surpassed, but the more time I spend with Plenty More the more I find to love about it. The Urad Dal with freshly grated coconut, the Polenta Chips with Avocado and Yogurt dipping sauce, and the Taleggio and Spinach Roulade are all competing for the top spot on my list of what to make next. Every dish combines flavors, textures, and colors that are hard to resist. For spring, the Fava Bean Spread with Roasted Garlic Ricotta; the Sprout Salad Part Two with radishes, kohlrabi, carrot, and avocados; and the Rice Noodles with Green Onions and Edamame are bursting with bright, fresh tastes. I can never turn away from a noodle salad especially one that’s this easy to make. 

I learned a trick from Dorie Greenspan for cooking rice noodles in advance and letting them stand until time to serve. You just rinse and drain them after cooking and then toss them with a little oil to prevent sticking. That same technique is employed here. The cooked, rinsed, drained, and oil-tossed noodles are set aside and covered to keep them warm. Next, sliced green onions and serranos were stir fried in a wok, and blanched, frozen edamame were added. The noodles were added to the wok along with sesame oil, black and white sesame seeds, rice vinegar, and chopped cilantro. The dish was served garnished with lime zest and more sesame seeds with lime wedges on the side. 

This was intended to be served warm from the wok which I did, but the cold leftovers from the refrigerator the next day were delicious too. The lime and chiles work their way through the few other ingredients to brighten the whole dish. This book is going on the shelf next its older sibling for now, but neither of them will be left sitting for long. 

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Saturday, March 21, 2015

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano Biscotti

There’s a lot to love about biscotti. You can go a very traditional route with them or veer off into all sorts of creative directions. For Christmas this past year, I got creative by baking big, mocha latte biscotti with chocolate chips in them that got drizzled with a white chocolate-espresso glaze. I’ve also made a peanut butter version and some that were fully dipped in chocolate. But, I’m also a big fan of the more proper, Italian almond cantucci that are subtly sweet, nutty, and all about the crunch. When visiting our friends who had just returned from a trip to Florence, they served us almond cantucci with Vin Santo for an after dinner treat. That combination proves that sometimes simple is most definitely better. And, the wonderful thing about Ciao Biscotti, the new book from Domenica Marchetti, is that it covers the full spectrum of biscotti making. I received a review copy of the book. The recipes begin with more traditional, nutty versions and one that even has Vin Santo in the dough. And, then there is a series of chocolate options including one that it is half lemon and half chocolate. There are dried fruit-filled flavors and suggestions for glazing and topping the cookies. Among the Fantasy Flavors, there’s even a Green Tea with White Chocolate Glaze. Next, you’ll find the chapter for The Savory Side. I’ve baked a lot of different kinds of biscotti, but I had never tried a savory one. I couldn’t wait. Mountain Gorgonzola with Walnuts, Pepper Jack and Green Peppercorn, and Sun-Dried Tomato and Fennel all sounded delicious, but I stopped everything to bake the Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano. The first few times I ever made biscotti, I had anxiety about cutting the slender cookies and how long to bake them for the second bake. I now realize that the issue was that I was following recipes that weren’t well-conceived. The instructions in this book are clear; there are clues for what to look for at each stage; and the baking times are specific for the type of biscotti being made. 

For these crunchy, savory cookies, you begin by combining flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a mixer. I used a local, heirloom variety of cornmeal from Richardson Farms. The dry ingredients were mixed briefly to combine. Next, grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, sliced toasted almonds, and chopped rosemary were added and mixed. Small chunks of butter, beaten eggs, and milk were added last, and the dough was turned out onto a board. It was divided into two pieces that were each formed into a long loaf shape. The goal is to end up with small biscotti, so the dough loaves were stretched long and kept narrow. The dough was brushed with egg before it was baked at 350 degrees F for about 25 minutes. After the first bake, the loaves were left to cool for about 20 minutes before being cut into pieces. For this recipe, the cookies were cut to a thickness of about one-third inch. For the second bake, you can place the cookies cut-side-down and bake for 20 minutes, turn them over, and bake for another 20 minutes. Or, another tip I learned from Alice Medrich is to stand the biscotti on edge so both cut sides are exposed to the heat of the oven, and bake for the full 35 – 40 minutes rotating the baking sheet at the halfway point. If you want to check the crunchiness of the biscotti to decide if they should bake longer, you’ll need to remove one and let it cool before tasting. They get crunchier as they cool. 

The parmesan and rosemary smelled fantastic as the biscotti baked. I imagined several ways to use them like for dipping into a bowl of minestrone or topping a salad with them. But, the suggestion in the book for serving them with Chianti Classico was a perfect pre-dinner nibble with wine. I’m delighted to see the world of biscotti get a little bigger with the addition of a savory side. 

Cornmeal with Rosemary and Parmigiano 
Recipe reprinted with publisher’s permission from Ciao Biscotti

1 Tbsp vegetable oil 
1 1⁄2 cups/185 g unbleached all-purpose flour 
1⁄2 cup/70 g fine cornmeal 
1 tsp baking powder 
1⁄4 tsp fine sea salt 
1 cup/80 g grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese 
1 cup/100 g sliced almonds, toasted 
1 Tbsp finely minced fresh rosemary
6 Tbsp/85 g unsalted butter, cut into 1⁄2-in/12-mm pieces, at cool room temperature 
2 large eggs, lightly beaten 
2 to 4 Tbsp half-and-half or milk 

Makes about 50 biscotti 

Fine-ground cornmeal adds a delicate crunch and pretty golden hue to these rosemary-infused biscotti. Slice these thinly and serve them with a nice runny cheese.  

Heat the oven to 350°F/180°C. Lightly coat an 11-by-17-in/28-by-43-cm rimmed baking sheet with the oil. Combine the flour, cornmeal, baking powder, and salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix briefly on low speed. Add the cheese, almonds, and rosemary and mix to combine. Add the butter in pieces and mix on medium-low speed until the mixture looks like damp sand. Set aside 1 Tbsp of the beaten eggs. Combine the remaining eggs with 2 Tbsp half-and-half and pour into the mixing bowl. Mix on medium speed until a soft, slightly sticky dough has formed. Add the remaining half-and-half if necessary to make the dough come together. 

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it into a disk. Divide it in half. Lightly moisten your hands with water and gently roll one portion of dough into a rough oval. Place it lengthwise on one half of the baking sheet and use your hands and fingers to stretch and pat the dough into a log about 2 1/2 in/6 cm wide and 12 in/30 cm long. Shape the second piece of dough in the same way, moistening your hands as necessary. Press down on the logs to flatten them out a bit and make the tops even. Brush the reserved egg over the tops of the logs. 

Bake the logs for 25 to 30 minutes, or until they are lightly browned and just set—they should be springy to the touch and there should be cracks on the surface.
Transfer the baking sheet to a cooling rack. Gently slide an offset spatula under each log to loosen it from the baking sheet. Let the logs cool for 5 minutes, and then transfer them to the rack and let cool for 20 minutes. Lower the oven temperature to 300°F/150°C. 

Transfer the cooled logs to a cutting board and, using a Santoku knife or a serrated bread knife, cut them on the diagonal into 1/3-in-/8-mm-thick slices. Arrange the slices, cut-side up, on the baking sheet (in batches if necessary) and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the slices over and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes, until they are crisp and golden. Transfer the slices to the rack to cool completely. The biscotti will keep for up to 10 days in an airtight container stored at room temperature. 

What to drink: Chianti Classico. 

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

Southern Hummus

How do you change the direction of 100 years of family cooking while honoring the traditions? That’s what Alice Randall and her daughter Caroline Randall Williams set out to do. They chronicled their family history and their desire to change their eating habits for the better in their new book Soul Food Love, and I received a review copy. The book begins with stories about three generations and five different kitchens and the types of cooking in each. The goal for mother and daughter was to keep the flavors from the past while fine-tuning approaches to arrive at healthy dishes for celebrations and every day. They’ve written of the historical complexity of the kitchen for many African-American families. “(The kitchen) has been a place of servitude and scarcity, and sometimes violence, as well as a place of solace, shelter, creativity, commerce, and communion.” When excess appeared in the kitchen, foods began causing illness rather than nourishing families. The authors want to change that pattern by offering dishes that are easy to make part of your home-cooking routine and are free of guilt. The Soups chapter begins with a few homemade broths, and one of them is Sweet Potato Broth. It’s a puree of cooked sweet potatoes in water with onion, celery, and carrot, and it sounds like a delicious base for lots of soups. It’s used in the Sweet Potato, Kale, and Black-Eyed Pea Soup and the Peanut Chicken Stew. There are several fresh and light salads like Savory Avocado Salad with Corn, Peppers, and Cilantro and New-School “Fruit” Salad with watermelon, cherry tomatoes, avocados, and feta. There are also updates to dishes made with practical ingredients like canned fish. The story behind the Salmon Croquettes with Dill Sauce brought back memories of the mackerel cakes my Mom used to make that I loved. Likewise, there’s a story about how eating sardines used to be thought of as a hardship, but now we know that they’re a healthy and sustainable choice. The recipes nicely weave together the best of the past with a health-conscious look forward. 

I was intrigued by the Southern Hummus recipe because as many times as I’ve made hummus, I’d never thought of using peanut butter in place of the tahini. Since I usually have some natural peanut butter on hand but not always tahini, this means I can make hummus even more often. It’s an easy puree in the food processor of natural peanut butter, lemon juice, and chopped fresh garlic. Next, rinsed and drained canned chickpeas, warm water, ground cumin, salt and pepper, and olive oil were added and pureed. I suspect there’s a typo in the book. The ingredient quantities seem to be meant for two cans of chickpeas. So, if using one can, the other ingredients should be reduced by half. Later in the book, there’s a recipe for a Moorish Pizza which is pita topped with hummus, baba ghanoush, and chopped parsley. I couldn’t resist going that route with this hummus even though I didn't have any baba ghanoush on had. I warmed a fresh, whole wheat pita over the flame of a burner until toasted and crisp. Then, I spread some hummus on top and sprinkled on chopped parsley. I gave it a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil, and cut it into wedges. 

This is going to be my new way of making hummus. I liked the flavor of the peanut butter in it even more than the usual flavor of tahini. And, the pita pizza made my day. It would be perfect with cocktails too. This book got me thinking about family food traditions and how to preserve them to make sure they’re not forgotten and update them as needed. I’m sure there are lots of dishes just waiting for a fresh take. 

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Monday, March 2, 2015

Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas

Can cookbooks read minds? I’m pretty sure that’s what this new book from Molly Watson did. The book is Greens + Grains, and it is full of dishes made exactly the way I like to cook. When I started reading my review copy, I was sure this book was made just for me. There’s farro, quinoa, wild rice, spelt, barley, and polenta paired with chard, kale, arugula, beet greens, collards, and escarole. I mix and match those ingredients pretty regularly depending on which greens are in season. And, beyond those basic pairings, there are specifics about the recipes that are just what I’d want to do with the dishes too. For instance, the Corn Cilantro and Farro Salad with Chile Dressing is made spicy with jalapeno and is served on top of arugula leaves. The Wild Rice Salad with Kale, Pecans, and Blueberries nicely combines bitter, sweet, nutty, savory, and sweet. I’ve made similar salads with kale but never added blueberries. I can’t wait to try it. The Red Beans and Collard Greens with Brown Rice dish is spookily similar to something I make almost every week. Yes, I felt at home with this book. Although the style of cooking was very familiar, there were some new-to-me recipes too like the Fava Greens Quiche. I’ve never tried fava greens and now will have to find some or grow them myself. The Green Whole-Wheat Flatbread is like paratha made with pureed collard greens leaves mixed into the dough. And, I really have to make the grilled Collard Greens-Wrapped Feta. The first dish I cooked from the book was also something new to me since I’d never before used buckwheat groats. They cook surprisingly quickly, actually faster than the split peas, for Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas. 

Because the split peas take the longest to cook, they should be started first. They were simmered with sliced ginger and turmeric. I used grated, fresh turmeric for this part of the recipe. Next, the kale was cleaned and chopped into ribbons. Butter was melted in a large saute pan, and ground fenugreek was added followed by minced onion, garlic, serrano chiles, grated ginger, and salt. After a couple of minutes, the kale ribbons were added and cooked until very tender. The buckwheat groats were cooked separately, and they only require about 15 minutes. The last element of the dish was the spiced butter. Butter was melted in a saucepan, and hot paprika, red chile flakes, ground cumin, ground cardamom, ground coriander, ground fenugreek seeds, black pepper, ground ginger, ground turmeric, allspice, and cinnamon were added. To serve, the buckwheat, kale and yellow split peas were plated next to each other and drizzled with the spiced butter. 

This was one of those times when I was uncertain what Kurt’s reaction to the meal would be considering I had gone full-vegetarian with it. I needn’t have worried. The serrranos and spices in the kale, the ginger and turmeric in the split peas, and that flavor-packed butter drizzle brought so much interest to the plate. The buckwheat was a chewy, mild backdrop for everything else happening with the dish. I like being on the same wavelength with a cookbook. I bet we’re going to spend a lot of time together. 

Buttered Buckwheat with Fenugreek Kale and Spicy Yellow Split Peas 
Recipe reprinted with publishes permission from Greens + Grains

SERVES 6 

Yes, this does seem like a lot of paprika. Don’t worry about that; the heat comes from the dried chile in the spiced butter. Feel free to use less of that, if you’d like. And yes, the spiced butter uses lots of different spices. While the spices do work together in a balanced and delicious way, you can feel free to use whatever combination you can cobble together. The key is the paprika; whatever else you can or can’t add to the mix, the spiced butter will still add plenty of pizzazz. 

SPLIT PEAS 
1 cup/200 g yellow split peas or chana dal (hulled and split chickpeas) 
5 thin slices peeled fresh ginger 
1 tsp turmeric 
1 tsp fine sea salt 

KALE 
20 oz/560 g kale 
1 tbsp butter 
1/4 tsp ground fenugreek 
1 yellow onion, minced 
4 garlic cloves, minced 
2 serranos or other small hot chiles, seeded and minced 
1 tbsp grated fresh ginger 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt 
Champagne vinegar for sprinkling (optional) 

BUCKWHEAT 
2 cups/340 g toasted buckwheat groats 
1/2 tsp fine sea salt 

SPICED BUTTER 
4 tbsp butter 
1 tbsp hot paprika 
1 tsp crumbled dried red chile or red chile flakes 
1/2 tsp ground cumin 
1/4 tsp ground cardamom 
1/4 tsp ground coriander 
1/4 tsp fenugreek seeds or ground fenugreek 
1/4 tsp freshly ground pepper 
1/4 tsp ground ginger 
1/4 tsp turmeric 
1/8 tsp ground allspice or ground cloves 
1/8 tsp ground cinnamon 

TO MAKE THE SPLIT PEAS: Rinse the split peas and put them in a medium pot with 4 cups/960 ml water, the ginger, and turmeric. Bring to a boil, skim the surface of any foam, and simmer, partially covered, until the split peas are tender, about 30 minutes. Add more water, if needed, to keep from getting too thick or sticking to the bottom of the pot. Stir in the salt. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE KALE: Trim off and discard the tough ends of the kale stems, chop the remaining stems and leaves all together; bite-size pieces are good, thin ribbons are even better. Melt the butter in a large sauté pan or wide, shallow pot over high heat. Add the fenugreek and cook, stirring as it sizzles, about 30 seconds. Add the onion, garlic, chiles, ginger, and salt. Cook, stirring frequently as the aromatics soften, about 2 minutes. Stir in the kale. Add 1/2 cup/120 ml water, cover, and turn the heat to medium-low. Cook, stirring now and again, until the kale is very tender, about 40 minutes. Remove the cover and continue cooking to let any excess water evaporate, about 5 minutes. Lightly sprinkle the kale with vinegar, if you like. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE BUCKWHEAT: Bring 4 cups/960 ml water to a boil in a large saucepan. Add the buckwheat groats and salt. Cover, turn heat to low, and cook, maintaining a steady simmer, undisturbed, for 15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let sit for 5 minutes. Uncover and fluff with a fork. If the directions on the package for the buckwheat groats you have are much different from the ones here, follow the package directions; different varieties of buckwheat can cook up quite differently. Set aside. 

TO MAKE THE SPICED BUTTER: When everything else is ready to serve, melt the butter in a saucepan over medium heat. Add all the spices at once and cook, stirring until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat. Spoon the split peas, kale, and buckwheat alongside one another into six shallow pasta bowls. Drizzle the spiced butter over the split peas before serving. If some butter spills over to the kale and buckwheat, so be it. 

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Sunday, February 22, 2015

Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting

Since Kurt’s birthday is just a few days before Valentine’s Day, there have been years when there was an overload of sweet treats during that second week of February. This year, it was a little different since Kurt was traveling for work on his birthday. We waited and celebrated both occasions on the 14th. Of course, I questioned him in advance regarding what kind of cake he wanted this year. In early December, I read Alice Medrich’s latest book, Flavor Flours, in which she suggested the New Classic Boston Cream Pie made with corn flour chiffon layers with a rice flour-thickened pastry cream is better than the original wheat flour version. I was sure this was going to be Kurt’s birthday cake because he lives for Boston Cream Pie. Instead, he shocked me by requesting a carrot cake with cream cheese frosting. I was surprised but delighted to make a carrot cake. My go-to carrot cake recipe has always been the one from The New Basics Cookbook by Julee Rosso and Sheila Lukins. It includes walnuts, shredded coconut, and crushed pineapple, and the cream cheese frosting has a little lemon juice in it which I love. I’ve been making that recipe for years and never felt I needed a different approach to carrot cake. But, I decided to try something new this time. Also in Flavor Flours, there’s a Carrot Spice Cake with Cream Cheese Frosting made with rice flour and oat flour that’s touted as being a better-than-ever and gluten-free take on a classic. Now, let me explain, neither of us has any sort of gluten sensitivity, but I do love experimenting with different types of flour to discover new tastes and textures. This carrot cake is completely gluten-free, but, more importantly for me, it’s completely delicious with a delicate crumb. It seems impossible since carrot cake is usually somewhat dense, but even with the walnuts this was a light and crumbly cake. 

It’s very similar to my standard carrot cake recipe in that it’s made with vegetable oil rather than butter, and that’s mixed with sugar and eggs. Rice flour and oat flour were combined with baking soda, baking powder, cinnamon, freshly grated nutmeg, ground cloves, and salt. The dry ingredients were mixed into the wet, and then grated carrots and toasted, chopped walnuts were added. Thanks to perfect timing, I had just received a bunch of fresh carrots from our CSA that I shredded for the cake. I baked the cakes in eight-inch round pans and let them cool. For a layer cake, one and a half times the recipe for frosting is needed. The frosting recipe here includes cream cheese, butter, confectioners’ sugar, and vanilla, and I added lemon juice because I can’t give up that detail of my usual carrot cake approach. One thing to keep in mind with this cake is that because it is especially crumbly, it definitely requires a crumb coat of frosting. I scooped some of the frosting from the big bowl in which it was mixed into a smaller bowl to use for the crumb coat. That way, any crumbs from the spatula will only get mixed into the crumb coat frosting and not into the entire batch. Chilling the cake after applying the crumb coat is a good idea since the frosting will set more firmly. Then, the pretty final coat of frosting can be applied.

This version didn’t have the shredded coconut or crushed pineapple that I’ve become used to in a carrot cake, but I liked that leaving them out eliminated some sweetness. Mostly, I really liked the tender, crumbly texture and the flavor from the spices and nutty oat flour. It really was amazingly the opposite of dense given that it was a carrot cake. Kurt was very pleased with his choice as well, and I now have two favorite carrot cake recipes. 

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Sunday, February 15, 2015

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach

If I’d been asked a few weeks ago what I knew about Lebanese food, I would have said that I didn’t really know anything. It turns out, I’ve been enjoying the flavors of Lebanese cooking for years without even realizing it. I received a review copy of the new book Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard and started learning a thing or two about this wonderful food. Kitous opened the London restaurants Comptoir Libanais to share Lebanese culture through the food, the look and feel of the dining rooms, and the design of every item seen throughout. He set out to create “something that wasn’t pretentious but inviting, simple, and that had something for everyone.” I’d love to visit one or several of the locations. A mix of mezze dishes like Tabbouleh, Fattoush, Labneh with Black Olives and Mint, Sambusak turnovers, and Falafel might be found on the tables. Some of my favorite ingredients like halloumi and feta cheeses, pomegranate seeds and pomegranate molasses, and sumac and za’atar figure prominently in many of the recipes. I can’t wait for ripe, summer tomatoes to use in the Comptoir Tomato and Halloumi Salad and zucchini to turn into crispy fritters. So far, I’ve tried the Bulgur Salad with Peas and Mint which is a good choice for winter since it’s topped with pomegranate seeds and can be made with frozen peas. Like classic tabbouleh, this salad is as much or more so about the mint and parsley as it is the bulgur. Next, I tried the Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach which are filled, savory pastries. They’re made with Sambusak Pastry that’s like pizza dough minus the yeast. The dough is very easy to work with, and it’s used for a few different recipes in the book. 

To start, water, flour, olive oil, honey, and salt were stirred together in a bowl. It was set aside to rest for about 10 minutes, and then it was kneaded until smooth. The dough easily goes from ragged to smooth while kneading. At this point, the dough can be refrigerated until you’re ready to make the pastries, or it needs to be set aside for an hour to rest before using. Next, spinach was cooked in olive oil until wilted and then drained, cooled, and squeezed to remove excess moisture. The cooked spinach was chopped and then combined with toasted chopped walnuts and pomegranate molasses. The dough was divided into small pieces, and I aimed for 20 pieces which was the number this recipe was intended to make. The dough pieces were rolled into balls and left on an oiled plate. One piece of dough at a time was rolled into a circle, and a spoonful of spinach filling was placed in the center. The edges of the dough circle were rubbed with water, and the dough was pinched up around the filling forming three points with the center left open. Once all the dough circles were filled and crimped, the cheese was added on top. I used a mix of grated halloumi and crumbled feta. The cheese mixture was spooned into the opening of each pastry, and then they were topped with black onion, or nigella, seeds. The pastries baked for about 30 minutes until golden and crisp on the edges. 

As an option, mozzarella can be used in place of the halloumi. That would have made the filling more melty and gooey in a delicious way, but I can never resist the salty flavor of halloumi. These little savory pastries were crunchy with crisp edges on the outside and the nuts in the filling. The pomegranate molasses added just the right amount of tanginess and interest. Like all of the dishes in the book, this was perfect for sharing with a group or serving at a party. And, since the Breakfast chapter has caught my eye, it might be time to plan a brunch party.

Fatayer with Cheese and Spinach 
Recipes reprinted with publisher’s permission from Comptoir Libanais: A Feast of Lebanese-Style Home Cooking by Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard. Copyright © Tony Kitous and Dan Lepard, 2013. Published on November 19, 2014 by The Overlook Press, Peter Mayer Publishers, Inc. www.overlookpress.com. All rights reserved. 

Fatayer are usually triangular-shaped pastries, either sealed at the top or left open. Sealing the edges of the pastry at the top protects the filling so it’s perfect or you can leave the top open the way we do at Comptoir and pinch the edges of the filled fatayer to form a triangular shape as in the photo here. If you sprinkle a deep layer of cheese on top before baking, any filling underneath is protected from the heat of the oven, allowing the pastry to be crisp but the filling soft. 

Makes about 20 small fatayer 

1 recipe Sambusak Pastry 
flour or oil, for rolling the dough 

for the filling: 
2 tbsp olive oil 
1 pound (500g) baby spinach 
1/2 cup (50g) walnuts, chopped 
2 tbsp pomegranate molasses 
5 ounces (150g) halloumi or mozzarella, drained and grated or finely chopped 
5 ounces (150g) feta cheese, crumbled 
small bunch fresh mint, leaves only, chopped 
black onion (nigella) seeds or za’atar, to finish 

Start by preparing and resting your dough (see p. 82). Preheat the oven to 350°F (180°C/160°C fan/gas 4). Line a few baking sheets with parchment paper. 

Make the filling by heating the olive oil in a large frying pan until smoking hot, then add the spinach and fry quickly until it just begins to wilt. Tip the spinach into a colander and set aside to cool, then squeeze the cooked spinach as hard as you can to remove the liquid. Chop the spinach, then place it in a bowl with the walnuts and pomegranate molasses, and mix well. 

Chop the dough into small pieces, about the size of an unshelled walnut, then shape these into balls and set aside to rest on an oiled plate, covered, for 15 minutes (this makes rolling easier). Roll out each dough ball on a lightly floured or oiled surface to about 3 inches (8cm) wide. Place a heaping teaspoon of the spinach filling in the center of one, then with the tips of your fingers rub a little water around the bare edges of the dough. At 3 equal points, pull the dough up 1/2 to 3/4 inch (1 to 2cm) and pinch the dough together to seal — you should have created a protruding edge around the filling. 

Spread the cheese over the filling, then top with a pinch of mint, sprinkle with the black onion seeds or za’atar, and place on the lined baking sheets. Repeat with the remaining dough and filling, then bake for about 30 minutes, until crisp and golden, rotating the baking sheets if one batch looks like it is browning more quickly.

Sambusak or fatayer pastry 
Little pastries filled with a variety of ingredients, from chopped herbs and soft cheese to meat, walnuts, or chicken, can be found throughout the Arab world, under different names. These cheeky little savory parcels have a delicious filling tucked inside and can be served either hot or cold. They freeze well, and because they’re so small they can be reheated easily. You want a flour that produces a dough that stretches easily, and bread flour will do that. However, this can make the pastries a little tough and not as tender as the ones we have at Comptoir. If you want to experiment, use half bread flour and half all-purpose flour or half Italian pasta flour, as this will give a more tender result. 

Makes 12 ounces (350g) dough 

1/2 cup (125ml) warm water 
1 1/2 cups (200g) bread flour, plus extra for kneading 
1 1/2 tbsp (25ml) olive oil 
1 tbsp superfine sugar or clear honey 
1 tsp salt 

Pour the water into a bowl, then add the flour, olive oil, sugar or honey, and salt and mix everything together well. Aim for a firm-ish dough, adding more water or flour to get the texture you want. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, set aside for 10 minutes, and then lightly knead the dough. Return it to the bowl, cover again, then set aside for about 1 hour at room temperature and it’s ready to use. If you want to make the dough ahead of time, you chill it at this point, then leave it at room temperature for 1 hour before shaping. 

Some basic tips for making the best pastries: roll the dough very thin, otherwise you end up with too much pastry surrounding the filling. I use a little flour, as oil sometimes stops the edges from sealing firmly, but figure out what works best for you. The dough will keep well in the fridge for a few days, and gets easier to roll, but it will change color and go slightly gray. This is just the flour oxidizing and it won’t affect the flavor. You can also freeze the dough. Simply thaw it and return it to room temperature before using.


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Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tostadas and Cooking Beans in a Wonderbag

Have you heard about the Wonderbag? I’m fascinated with its ability to slow-cook food with no power source. It was invented by Sarah Collins to reduce the need for wood fire cooking, free up time spent tending to meals, and lessen smoke inhalation from indoor live cooking fires. There is a one-for-one program, and for every Wonderbag purchased in the US, one is donated to a family in need in Africa. I received one as a sample for review. I’d like to quote a few interesting facts: “Smoke inhalation from wood fire cooking is the leading cause of death globally. More than 50% of premature deaths in children under five are related to household air pollution. Each Wonderbag saves 1.7 trees, 1,000 liters of water, and 1,248 hours of time not spent collecting firewood.” This is a genius tool for families that use wood fire for cooking, and it’s also incredibly useful and eco-friendly for families who cook with gas or electric stoves. It operates much like any slow cooker in that you can leave a dish for hours, but the dish needs to be heated to a boil first. The bag is made of washable fabric that’s filled with repurposed foam chips, and a drawstring pulls it tightly closed. It’s perfect for cooking things that would usually spend a long time on top of the stove or in the oven. Grains, beans, stews, and soups are all great examples of things to cook in a Wonderbag. And, a small recipe book comes with it to help get you started. A couple of things to keep in mind are pot shape and pot size. First, you’ll want to use a heavy pot with short handles that also has a lid. A long-handled pot won’t fit into the bag. Also, you’ll want to choose the right size pot for the volume of what you’re cooking. If the pot is too large and there is air space above the surface of the contents, the temperature will drop too quickly. My first use of the Wonderbag was to cook black beans, and it worked perfectly. 

I soaked the beans overnight. The next day, I drained them and cooked them in fresh water in a Dutch oven. The water was brought to a boil and allowed to boil for 15 minutes. Meanwhile, I skimmed the foam from the top. After 15 minutes, the lid was placed on the pot, and the pot went into the Wonderbag. You do need to place a trivet or a folded towel in the bottom of the Wonderbag so the pot doesn’t burn the fabric. There’s an insulated lid that fits over the pot, and the drawstring pulls the edges of the bag up and around the fabric-covered lid. I left the beans to slow-cook for about four hours. When I opened the bag, the pot was still very warm and I had beans that had cooked through completely without a stove or any energy source. I love stocking my freezer with two-cup portions of cooked black beans to use for tacos or to serve with quinoa. And, I used some of the black beans to make refritos. I always follow the recipe from Hugo Ortega’s Street Food of Mexico for refried beans. The cooked beans are pureed in a food processor and then stirred into minced onion that’s been cooking in olive oil. I used some of the refritos for Super Bowl nachos, and the rest were layered onto crispy tostadas. To make tostadas, I fry corn tortillas in a little canola oil and drain them on paper towels. And, then the toppings can go in all kinds of directions. The version shown here included refried black beans, sauteed red kale, and shredded Monterrey jack cheese. After those three toppings were in place, I broiled the tostadas to melt the cheese. Then, sliced fresh jalapeno, chopped lettuce, sour cream, salsa, avocado, and pickled jalapeno were added. For a different take, a fried egg would not be out of place at all positioned somewhere between the melted cheese and the avocado. In that version, I skip the lettuce and sour cream. 

I definitely have a new way of cooking beans, and I look forward to trying other things in the Wonderbag too. Another recipe in the booklet is for homemade yogurt. I need a small enough pot with short handles to make that work, but I can’t wait to do it. I was thrilled with my experience cooking with it, and that pales in comparison to what it offers for families who cook with wood fires. 

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