Category Archives: Lent

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.

The true vocation of man.

Fasting is the only means by which man recovers his true spiritual nature. It is not a theoretical but truly a practical challenge to the great Liar who managed to convince us that we depend on bread alone and built all human knowledge, science, and existence on that lie. Fasting is a denunciation of that lie and also proof that it is a lie.
….
Let us understand …that what the Church wants us to do during Lent is to seek the enrichment of our spiritual and intellectual inner world, to read and to meditate upon those things which are most likely to help us recover that inner world and its joy. Of that joy, of the true vocation of man, the one that is fulfilled inside and not outside, the ‘modern world’ gives us no taste today; yet without it, without the understanding of Lent as a journey into the depth of our humanity, Lent loses its meaning.

-Father Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent

A brief pause for this…

You know how it is when the power goes out, and you can’t do anything that requires the computer or TV? You might read a book by candlelight, or play cards with people, or pray… and the temporary result is often more calm, and more quietness of heart. The benefits of deprivation are real.

Orthodox Lent begins Monday, and the Great Fast is a chance to acquire what our hearts need. This year, in addition to our traditional food fast, I plan to “fast” from blog writing and reading. I will still be using email, and if any of you would like to chat about anything or just say hello, I would love to hear from you. You can find my address on my About Page; it is one of the tabs above.

And I have drafted quite a few posts in advance, mostly gleanings from others, scheduled to automatically publish on certain dates. They are articles or re-posts that seem particularly Lenten; I will put them out there without a comment option. Again, comments are possible through direct email.

Until I see you again here, may God bring us all, in every way possible, deeper into His love.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters;
And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in fatness.

-Isaiah 55:1-2

Seeing below the surface.

Repentance is not self-flagellation;
it is an opening flower.

-Met. Kallistos Ware

In the last weeks I’ve been more aware than ever of the truth that What We Need is Not More Information  – all the while collecting more books and reading, reading, reading. When I read Neil Postman in Technopoly say (in 1992) that our society’s glut of the stuff makes information into so much garbage, I was primed so that the word and image brought me great clarity.

“From millions of sources all over the globe, through every possible channel and medium—light waves, airwaves, ticker tapes, computer banks, telephone wires, television cables, satellites, printing presses—information pours in…. The milieu in which Technopoly flourishes is one in which the tie between information and human purpose has been severed, i.e., information appears indiscriminately, directed at no one in particular, in enormous volume and at high speeds, and disconnected from theory, meaning, or purpose.” -Neil Postman in Technopoly

Even more recently Fr. Stephen Freeman re-posted this little meditation on simplicity, When Belief is Complicated, which, though it wasn’t particularly Lenten in focus, brought to mind Metropolitan Kallistos’s quote at top. Now I have two images in my mind, garbage overwhelming and weighing me down, and my soul as a tender flower struggling to open to God’s love and grace, but nearly crushed by the weight of a myriad of non-essentials. And Fr. Stephen introduces another metaphor:

“Kierkegaard wrote that ‘purity of heart is to will one thing.’ But we don’t will one thing. We will everything, regardless of the contradictions.

“Faith is not a matter of ‘belief,’ an act of intellectual willing. Faith is a perception of things that do not necessarily appear obvious. In the language of Scripture – ‘faith is the evidence of things not seen.’ But the perception of faith is similar to the perception of objects beneath the surface of a lake. If the surface is disturbed, the objects disappear. The objects do not go away – but we can no longer perceive them.

“In a world of manifold complication – the surface of the water is rarely still.

“The journey of faith thus becomes a movement away from complication.”

For those of us who feel that life is too complicated; that we ourselves are difficult to understand; and that trust and faith are impossible, Father Stephen has suggestions. My favorites:

  • Quit caring so much. The world does not depend on you getting the right answer to life’s questions. Answers often come when we learn to wait patiently for them.
  • Quit thinking so much. If thinking would solve the problem and make things less complicated, you’d be through by now.
  • Look for beauty. Beauty doesn’t make us think so much as it makes the heart a better listener.
  • Take some time off – from as much as you can.
  • Get some sleep.
  • Give away money. At least someone will benefit by this discipline.
  • Sing (beautiful things). The part of your brain that sings is much more closely wired to your heart than the part that thinks.

To put my hopes in terms of these evocative images: I am encouraged in the work of throwing off the garbage, opening like a flower, and peering down through the limpid water of a quiet lake, to glimpse the beautiful realities that my heart craves.