Tag Archives: bread

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.

Orange and yellow and coziness.

One reason I haven’t baked any Christmas cookies yet is, I have so much other cooking to do! I’m trying to eat vegetables, and they take time. I like to make bread, but I admit that is not a high priority. I must learn to prioritize better. I’m always telling other people that “We can’t do everything all the time,” but I guess I don’t listen to myself. Or more to the point, I’m not willing to say No to myself.

This picture is after the sponge had been sitting on the counter for several days. You can see how it rose up the sides of the bowl and then fell again, before I added the zest and the caraway and anise seeds.

I made such a big batch of dough for my Swedish Sourdough Rye, I hadn’t bought enough oranges from which to get the zest. So I put in some lemon zest as well. This dough had a total of five days to ferment, because it kept being “not a good day” for finishing it. Today when the computer guy was here setting up my new computer, I planned to bake it, but I think I was still trying to do too many things at once, and one of the loaves didn’t work out, shall we say. I don’t want to talk about it.

I got fat yellow carrots in my farm box, and leeks, both of which I cooked. There was a head of Savoy cabbage in there, which I put away for later, after taking out the last head of regular cabbage from a farm box last month and roasting it in the oven with the carrots.

The beautiful loaf of bread baked for 50 minutes in the Dutch oven at 500 degrees, so I’m confident it’s well cooked. I put it in the freezer for a time one of these winter nights when I have someone else at my table, maybe along with a pot of soup. Roasted vegetables are comfort food, but more coziness is coming!

Slicing off the crusts.

My grandfather enjoyed baking bread when he was in his 80’s and living alone in an apartment in town. His favorite recipe was full of whole grains and turned out a hearty and heavy product. He liked to give a loaf to his two lady friends, and he chuckled as he told me several times over the years about how they loved the heels best of all, and would immediately slice off both ends to eat fresh. “You know, that is the fastest way to dry out the loaf!”

This image came to mind tonight because soon after my bread came out of the oven I did that very thing, and I think it was the first time. Maybe it is a stage of my growth, or devolution, into an irresponsible old lady. I was feeling in need of some homey comfort, and saw no reason not to indulge myself. When in this state of mind that demands, “Slow down, quiet yourself,” I also think of reading poems. And I wondered, Is there a good poem around, about bread?

After looking online a bit, I find that I don’t have patience for a bread poem. Bread is so basic and fundamental, so physical and experiential, I just want to bake it, give it, eat it. I don’t want to philosophize about it, though I do thank God for it! I did locate, however, a few laudatory one-line quotes that probably qualify as short poems. I offer this one, which also seems perfect at close of day:

“If thou tastest a crust of bread, thou tastest all the stars and all the heavens.”
-Robert Browning

Tension, flatness, and bricks.

Over the weekend I got another batch of sourdough going. This particular  make-it-up-as-you-go recipe included rye, whole wheat and unbleached flours, and potato flakes. I started what I call the sourdough sponge on Friday afternoon, and took the bread out of the oven Monday afternoon.

Most of the three days the sponge sat in a bowl on my kitchen table getting more and more sour. It was essentially a big batch of starter itself by Monday. After I added the last ingredients it took a few hours for the final proofing, shaping, and baking.

I watched a couple of videos of how to shape “high hydration dough.” Before its final rising you don’t want to add flour if you can help it, because that will spoil the lovely “custard” crumb you are aiming for. It’s a challenge to keep the fairly runny dough from just flattening out on the baking sheet. I liked the YouTube videos “Bake with Jack,” because Jack’s attitude and accent are entertaining; he does talk a little too much about the Why but eventually he gets to demonstrating the How, which is, after all, what I watch a video for. As in “How to stop your dough from spreading out flat!”

Another baker man on YouTube — they seem to be 80% men — poured his white and incredibly wet, stretchy dough out on a board and used a wide putty knife to cut it and and scoop it around, tucking the sides under in a series of rotating sweeps to get the lump shaped into a beautiful ball (boule) with a tight “skin.”

I went into the garage to dig around and found an almost identical putty knife, and it was even stainless steel, so I scrubbed it up and tried it out, but it seemed that the structure of my dough was heavy with ingredients low or lacking in gluten. It would not tighten up. I put the half I had tried to shape on a pizza stone anyway, and poured the rest into a large loaf pan. It was a total of about five pounds of dough.

How pleased I was to see that the free-form loaf got some height soon after it went into the oven at 450°. It must have held more tension than was obvious. My slashes in the top were so timid and shallow as to nearly disappear in baking, but that loaf has a nice shape and didn’t crack along the sides.

The pan loaf, on the other hand, had needed me to use the razor blade with a fearless will. Next time I will try to envision one of the Three Musketeers with his sword, and be brave. Swoosh! But right now, I have a loaf with a horizontal fault line along which the slices break, not quite halfway down. This makes the bread annoyingly inconvenient for toast or sandwiches. Enter the Brick Trick.

The section on “How to Slice a Brick” in Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book is written for those times when your loaf of bread for some reason does not get height, yet you want to get more useful and normal-looking slices out of it. I thought this technique would work for at least the bottom half of my loaf, so I wrapped it in foil overnight to allow the crust to soften a bit, and in the  morning I went at it.

I didn’t know what would happen when I got to the upper part of the loaf, but I was able to slice along the “fault line” so that I ended up with 10 large square slices with only two crusty edges each, and five “heel” slices, two of which started out as the bottom of the loaf, and two of which are from the top. (Plus the heel I ate fresh from the oven.) I can see eating all those crusty edges myself, as well, so it looks like there will not be more than a few crumbs wasted.  🙂

I ate one of the thick Super Heels this morning, and I’d say I’ve never tasted better toast. Yesterday I had been feeling silly for giving “so much” effort to my Sourdough Project, even though the time commitment is not that great; bread spends a lot of time on its own in and out of the oven, giving the baker plenty of freedom to work on other tasks.  This whole episode has only made me want to keep experimenting and having fun in the kitchen. Not to mention I need more opportunity to work on my sword skills!