Category Archives: food and cooking

Collards and sweet peas.

I always think of collard greens as the meatiest sort. (Of the leafy greens I have commonly had in the garden I would rank kale as next most hefty, then Swiss chard and finally spinach.) But they were lightweight enough that the wind was able to blow a few of the topmost chopped leaves away off the table where I was working. After removing the whole 5-foot row of collards I had such a big pile, I had decided to do the first stage of processing on the patio, where the spring breeze was aggressive.

These greens were incredibly clean; only about five aphids total had to be flicked off when I was looking over each of dozens of leaves. I chopped and blanched them and put four quarts in the freezer, keeping out another quart or so to use soon.

I still have kale and Swiss chard in my planter boxes, and am planning to use the space where the collards were for ground cherries I started in the greenhouse.

Sweet peas are coming on so I brought a bunch of them in, too.
It’s the season for Garden Love.

Lenten combo – Spinach Pkhali and Himbasha

It’s been more than ten years since I was learning to make this exotic dish, which is perfect for Lent. My late husband did not keep Lent but he liked it very much, too. He had a hard time believing that there was no sour cream in the mix. I am re-posting the recipe and my notes unchanged since then. I hope I can make at least one batch this year.

The main ingredient is spinach, but the other ingredients in this dish, which can be a vegetable side or a spread for bread or crackers, make it very unusual and in my case, addictive. I know, eating in an uncontrolled manner is the opposite of what Lent is about, but maybe overdoing it on spinach is not as bad as some things. And to reduce temptation, so far I have made sure to take this dish to potlucks where I would be embarrassed to hover over the plate and reveal my piggishness.

The origin of pkhali is the Republic of Georgia. Though I have a Georgian acquaintance at church, I found the recipe on The Traveler’s Lunchbox blog, about a year ago. I’ve made it several times since then, at least twice using frozen chopped spinach, and most recently with fresh spinach.

The recipe, pasted from the link above:

Spinach Pkhali

Pkhali (the ‘kh’ is pronounced as a deep, guttural ‘h’) is a whole class of Georgian vegetable dishes that straddle the line between salad and dip. The constant is the walnut sauce, and the fact that the vegetable is cut very, very finely – almost (but not quite) to a puree. 

Beet pkhali is also very popular, and is often served alongside the spinach; to prepare beets this way, wrap 3 large ones in foil and bake until soft, then peel and finely chop (or pulse in a food processor) before mixing with the sauce. 

If you’d like to substitute frozen spinach in this recipe, I imagine it would work, though I’m not sure about the amount; maybe start with a pound (half a kilo) of the frozen stuff and add more as needed to balance out the flavors. [I used 2 -10 oz. packages, which was a bit much. -GJ]

p.s. After making this again, I’ve decided I like a slightly smaller amount of spinach, to let the flavors of the walnut sauce really shine. Alternatively, you could use the full 2lbs and make one and a half times the sauce. 

source: adapted from Anya von Bremzen’s Please to the Table
serves: 4-6 as an hors d’oeuvre or side dish

1.5-2 pounds (.75-1 kilo) fresh spinach, stems removed and washed in several      changes of water
1 cup (100g) walnuts
4 cloves garlic
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground fenugreek
pinch cayenne
1 1/2 tablespoons white wine vinegar, or to taste
1 small onion, minced
3 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh cilantro (coriander)
1 1/2 tablespoons finely-chopped fresh tarragon
salt
pomegranate seeds, for garnish

Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil, add the spinach and cook just until tender, about one minute. Drain well and let cool. When manageable, wrap the spinach in a clean kitchen towel and squeeze until nearly dry. Chop it as finely as possible (don’t use a food processor or blender, which may puree it; it should have texture) and set aside.

In a blender [I used a food processor. -GJ], combine the walnuts, garlic, coriander, fenugreek, cayenne and vinegar. Add 3 tablespoons of warm water and blend until you have a smooth, creamy sauce about the consistency of mayonnaise, adding a little more water if needed to get things moving.

Add the walnut sauce to the spinach and stir until thoroughly blended and smooth. Stir in the minced onion, cilantro and tarragon, and season with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate for 6 to 8 hours to allow the flavors to blend. Taste again before serving and adjust the salt and vinegar if needed.

To serve, spread the pkhali on a plate and smooth the top with a spatula. With a knife, make a pattern of diamonds in the top, and sprinkle with pomegranate seeds (or, in a pinch, walnut pieces). Serve with bread.

(Me again) Using the fresh vegetable took more time, though boxes of Costco baby spinach make it easy; the result was definitely a refinement of the dish, as it did away with the many pieces of stem that you get in the frozen greens. As to quantities of all the ingredients, they are fairly flexible, and I did a lot of tasting at the end to make sure there was enough salt and spreadability.

The last time I took it to a community dinner, I also brought along a loaf of the Eritrean flatbread called himbasha, which dark-skinned parishioners in flowing white gauze bring to our church dinners every week to pass around in baskets. I always make sure to reach in and tear off a piece.

It was the first time I’d tried making it at my house. My loaf came out a little thick compared to what I think are the best versions I’ve eaten, because I didn’t notice I was supposed to make 2 loaves with the dough, and I put the whole thing into one large skillet. But it was wonderfully chewy and flavorful all the same, and my tasters loved it still warm from the pan with some of the pkhali spread on.

Here is that  recipe from a book I helped to compile, a small collection of international dishes that are cooked and served by members of each ethnic community (we are truly a pan-Orthodox group) for my church’s yearly food festival.
Himbasha
Makes two 12″ round breads
3 pounds flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
4 cups water, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup raisins (optional)
1. In a large bowl, whisk together flour, yeast and sugar. Dissolve salt in water. Add oil and water/salt mixture to flour mixture, and mix until you have a stiff dough. Add raisins and mix until incorporated.
2. Cover and let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
3. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured board. Form into one or two large circles the diameter of your frying pans and up to 1″ thick.
4. Lightly grease electric frying pan or cast iron skillet or paella pan. Heat over medium heat (about 300 degrees on an electric skillet) until a drop of water dances on it. Place dough carefully in pan, cover and cook about 15 minutes, until bottom is golden brown. Turn and cook another 15 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on wire rack.


And at right, a photo of the last plate of pkhali I accomplished. Pomegranates were not to be found in the supermarkets in March, so I used the walnut option for garnishing.

You can see the little pieces of onion that I hadn’t minced finely enough….I thought they would overwhelm the dish, but no, it was as addictive as ever. Still, I might put the onions in the food processor with the walnuts next time.

Will I have time to make this again during Lent? Probably not — but we spinach lovers don’t need to be fasting to enjoy something so yummy.

Twelve Days wrapped up.

web photo

This evening I was reminded of one snowy night last week up at my daughter’s: I walked outdoors and crunched through the snow, far enough from the house that the fairy lights were hidden behind a tall spruce tree, and I looked up – oh my! The stars were brilliant, and I immediately saw two constellations I hadn’t noticed the last time I was in the mountains, in October. It is evidently the season for Orion and the Pleiades. I always think of the Pleiades as the Seven Sisters, because when I first met that group I was in Turkey, and my friends there called them that.

Tonight I took a bowl of kitchen scraps out to the trash, and saw those same constellations shining right above my house in lowland suburbia. A cloudless sky seems strange, after days and days of clouds and rain. But there it was. I was carrying out all the rind and seeds of this giant Rouge vif D’Etampes pumpkin, which I bought in the fall and which has been sitting on my front walk until today, when a black spot revealed a bit of rot setting in.

I cut out that bit of flesh and then roasted the two halves one at a time, because they were too large to do otherwise… unless I had cut the pumpkin into smaller pieces, but I wasn’t smart enough to think of that idea until later…

(Those are Asian yams baking at the same time.)

…maybe because I brought a cold home with me from the northlands, and my brain may still be affected, though I feel very well today. Another more pleasant gift was a jar of our Glad-type of peppernuts ! that Pippin baked for Christmas. I took this picture in my car before I had eaten too many, and I’m proud to say I have continued with restraint. They are the sort of treat we can’t seem to produce every year. Maybe next year I will bake some myself; on the way home I bought one of the ingredients that is often not easily found except at truck stops.

I didn’t bake half of the cookies I’d planned this Christmas. Instead of baking, I had my little road trip, and then a couple of days of lying around under the weather. I figure if I haven’t done my baking by the Twelfth Day it will have to wait until next year.

Speaking of the Twelfth Day, here is one last image of Theophany, from my dear friend May’s parish, and her arrangement of the festal surround.

My red berries from the bike path cotoneaster bushes dried out before Theophany, and I had to wander the garden a bit to find something to extend the season for my kitchen windowsill. In January it’s succulents and olives.

I’m slowly putting away the decorations and burning down some of the candles, beginning to settle into what looks to be a quiet month of guilt-free homebodiness. I have a good stack of firewood, and enough housework and reading to keep me busy for a year of Januarys. And more than five quarts of pumpkin now in the freezer to make sustaining soups and puddings for the rest of winter and beyond.

Live your life while you have it. Life is a splendid gift.
There is nothing small in it.

-Florence Nightingale

Dorie and I calmly brainstorm.

“For years, I wanted to make a cookie that would go with beer. From the start, I knew I wanted it to have pretzels and some cheese. I worked on the cookie on and off and never really got what I wanted. Then one day, when I was making a shellfish recipe that called for Old Bay Seasoning, I had that eureka moment: Old Bay was what was missing. A couple of spoonfuls of that blend, which relies heavily on celery salt, and the cookie came together. Is it good with beer? Yes. But here’s the bonus: The Old Bay makes the cookies a winner with Bloody Marys too.” -Dorie Greenspan, in Dorie’s Cookies.

Frontispiece of Dorie’s Cookies

This fall, I am revisiting my old self of, say, twenty years ago, that woman who would start many weeks in advance to stock the freezer with cookie tins, the contents of which would be revealed in all their corporate glory beginning on Christmas Eve. The first visible sign of the revisit was me taking Dorie’s Cookies off the shelf this morning and perusing a few recipes. I think it is the only book here that is devoted solely to cookies, and when I read the stories of Dorie’s creations I feel that I have a friend in my kitchen. She’s always telling me to “play around.” Yes!

Two pots of ginger broth were simmering on the stove and the aroma lent its warmth to visions of Christmas feasting. That would be the culinary sort of feasting, but its purpose, we must remember, is to celebrate The Feast of the Incarnation; if not for the real presence of the Son of Man among us, we have slight reasons for bothering.

Neapolitans

I don’t drink beer or Bloody Marys, but I hope to make Dorie’s Old Bay Pretzel and Cheese Cookies. I do drink wine occasionally, so some of her other recipes are worth considering, if I were to start up a wine-and-cookie snack tradition. She claims her Garam Grahams are good with beer or red wine, and tells us to bake the Triscuity Bites “with a sprinkle of salt, and start mixing the cocktails or pulling the cork on some sparkling wine.”

Both of those are in the “Cocktail Cookies” section of the book, but also in chapters such as “The Beurre and Sel Collection” or cookies for “Every Day, Any Day,” drinks other than my own traditional milk or tea are suggested as an accompaniment; for example, the Italian Torta Sbrisolona, which Dorie thinks go well with strong drink and a hunk of cheese.

I noticed years ago that reading recipes is for me incredibly relaxing and calming (and it doesn’t make me sleepy the way wine does). It might be that this is partly because it is the first step in that creative process of cooking, and specifically right now, Christmas cookie-baking, that I find so satisfying. I’m brainstorming about this year’s cookie platter, and in this stage of the project there is little effort required, no timers buzzing and no mixing bowls in the sink. No real commitment, only a vast palette to dream over.

Pippin gave me the book several years ago. At least sixteen pages have post-it notes stuck on by me, suggestions to myself, and there is a note about Kit having made the apple bars when she lived here. Dorie’s Cookies has provided hours of fodder for musing and researching — but I don’t think I have used one recipe! 2021 just might be the year to begin.