Category Archives: Luncheon

Pan de Mallorca…beignets Puerto Rican style

Melt.In.Your.Mouth.
Melt.In.Your.Mouth.

I just returned from an idyllic week in Puerto Rico where I met my older sister, Cynthia, for a much-needed visit with our two elderly aunts.  Our aunts, one 93 years old and the other maybe 85, welcomed us with soft and gentle open arms, sweet kisses and many, MANY blessings.  The younger of the two worked for many years in the Chemistry Department of the University of Puerto Rico, her husband was the head of the department and together had done cancer research at Fordham University back in the ’50’s.  We affectionately named her “Maita” years ago, an informal name for godmother.  An analytical academician, her intellectual brilliance is surpassed by her goodness, her tender-heartedness and charity.  I’ve always said, “Maita, when I die I’m going to grab onto your ankles and sneak into heaven right behind you!”  As she has always had this saint-like, beatific stature I, on the other hand, started to gain the reputation of a some what naughty little girl from a young age.

Cynthia and me on the front balcony with our brand new bunnies. I had not evolved into the "bad seed" yet.
Cynthia and me on the front balcony with our brand new bunnies. I had not evolved into the “bad seed” yet.

I was constantly being compared to Cynthia and one my better-behaved cousins in Puerto Rico who is close to my age.  I’ll just refer to her as “M”.  The three of us, Cynthia, “M” and I played constantly.  Fairies, dollies, coloring, tea parties or in her playhouse, the envy of my childhood.  But as we grew older our tastes changed and we moved away from dollies and tea sets and were more intrigued with tween fashion and, of course, boys…but only from afar.  Decades before even portable phones, this was a time of letter writing.  Long distance was hideously expensive so those calls were arranged for twice a month at best.  Cynthia, naturally, was an excellent, well-disciplined writer.  I was lazy, had messy, illegible  penmanship and would do anything to get out of writing…including lie.  My mother insisted that each and every letter we received be answer immediately and well-written.  None of this 3-line nonsense.  Oh, no, ma’am.  Not my mama.  She proof read every letter we wrote until we came of a certain age, maybe pre-teen.  And that’s when the trouble started.  She felt we were old enough to write informative, loving letters, all grammatically and punctually correct.  We had eight aunts and uncles, their children plus a complete set of grandparents in Puerto Rico all more than happy to write to the one family which was stateside, namely us.  Regrettably, by the time I reached 11 or 12 years old I could not sit make the effort to do homework, practice my music lessons, clean my room or return letters.  I loved receiving them, especially when a pale blue check came fluttering out, but I did not have the thoughtfulness or moral fibre to sit down and pen not even a “thank you”.  It all came to a head one summer when I had received numerous letters from cousin “M”, the final one imploring me to please, please write back.  I loved her, I did!  But did I write her back? No.  No, I did not.  I probably shoved that letter under my bed where I threw everything including dirty cups and sandwich plates, napkins and trash.  At length my grandmother called and though she only spoke with my mother I knew I was in trouble when I saw the fire coming out of Mama’s eyes.  She was incensed, “Oh, yes!”, she castigated me, “You can go swim and play at “M’s” country club, play tennis and go out to dinner but you can’t write her a simple letter?  Hmmm???”   She was boiling; I had embarrassed and shamed her, she was disappointed in me.  I remember Mama taking me by the arm, unceremoniously sitting me down at the dinner table set with paper and pen and informing me in no uncertain terms, “You are NOT to get up from this table until you write your cousin!  Is that understood?”  Well!  If she was fuming, I was enraged.  How dare my cousin rat on me?  How dare she?  You want a letter?  I’ll give you a letter!  All afternoon I wrote, every few minutes Mama would glance at me pleased that I was responding, putting out the fire of family scandal and enriching our cousinhood.  I sealed the letter, addressed it and tossed it on the dining room table to be stamped and mailed while I snapped at my mother, “There! There’s your letter.  Hope your happy!” and off I went, free as a bird, never giving it another thought.  Weeks, maybe months, went by and off we went on summer vacation.  We spent two or three weeks in Jamaica as a family then split up as Dad had to return home to work and we flew on to Puerto Rico to spend the rest of summer.  I was excited and looked forward to the time at our grandparent’s house.  We were positively smothered with love, sugary treats, outings and adventures and oodles of quarters pulled out from the bottom of our uncles pockets then singles as we grew older.  We counted our loot often.  “I have $12.00!  How much do you have?” “Aww.  I only have $9.75”.  Well, one of those hot mornings, nothing different about it, Mama came to me and said, “How would you like to walk to Maita’s house?  Just you and me.”, I was incredulous.  “Nobody else?”, I asked, “I don’t have to share you?”.  “No, cielo, change your clothes, brush your hair and we’ll go.”  And so we did.  I was too old and sophisticated to skip but my heart was bursting with happiness that I had my mother’s undivided time and attentions.  It was a short walk to my aunt’s condominium plus a great ride in the elevator as it was an incredibly tall building.  The doors to the elevator opened, we walked down the hall and knocked on her door.  I thought of the hard, spicy sausage she often served with thick, crunchy Goya crackers and hoped I would be seeing them brought out that day.  The door swung open and my aunt swept me up with hugs and kisses.  There was a flurry of greetings between her and my mother when suddenly I found myself in her living room alone.  I turned and there, legs crossed and sitting in an enormous, dark-wood monster of a club chair sat my uncle…the father of “M”.  Terror set in.  It gripped my 11-year old heart.  I knew what was coming; I knew what I had done and now so did he.  I had been summoned, tricked, fooled and now I was going to get it.  It would seem that the letter I had written my cousin, “M”, had hurt her deeply.  It had evoked a flood of tears, especially the part where I called her an “ass”, so he said.  I hastily back pedaled and reassured him, “I didn’t call her an “ass”.  I said ‘Don’t BE an ass.’ I didn’t call her an “ass”!”  Let me remind you, Gentle Reader, this was over 45 years ago.  A true lady would never, EVER use that kind of language.  And he was heartbroken, crestfallen…desolate.  This darling, generous, loving man who gave me, and my brother and sisters, everything.  Treats, adventures, nickles and quarters.  I felt horrible.  I felt cheap and horrible.  He forgave me; of course he forgave me.  I was a still child.  But it caused a huge divide between my cousin and me.  It was never the same between the two of us…even to this day.  Maybe I called her a dirty word but she did worse.  She told on me.  Tattletale.  She knew what she was doing when she ran to her father, our grandmother and our aunts.  She knew full well that the entire family on the island would learn what I had done and that I would be judged accordingly.  I had sullied our name.  At all of 11 years old.  Oh, the shame of it all!  So foolish and wasteful is the loss of a tender friendship.  We adored “M’s” father as one of our favorite uncles.

Strips of sweet dough are coiled to look like seashells and ready for their second rising.
Strips of sweet dough are coiled to look like seashells and ready for their second rising.

My uncle would, time and again, bring us sweet indulgences, one of them being Pan de Mallorca; a smooth, ambrosial yeast bread heavily dusted with an abundant and generous dusting of confectioner’s sugar.

Finished with their second rising and slathered with melted butter, the sweet rolls are ready to be baked.
Finished with their second rising and slathered with melted butter, the sweet rolls are ready to be baked.

To gild the lily, take it over the top, it can be split and stuffed with thin slices of sweet ham and extra sharp cheddar cheese.

Cut, stuffed, buttered and ready for the grill.
Cut, stuffed, buttered and ready for the grill.

The bread is then buttered on the outside and grilled with a weight on top.  When the cheese has melted and is hot and gooey the sandwich is again dusted with confectioner’s sugar, sliced and served.

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Sweet and salty has never been better!  Just like life.

This bread is truly special.  Soft and fluffy due to slow risings, Pan de Mallorca begs for time and patience.  This isn’t the recipe you want to start at 3:00 in the afternoon.  But if you wake up early one dark morning in the mood to rattle around in the kitchen all the day then this is the bread for you.  You just can’t rush the risings.  It keeps well for a little less than a week, well wrapped in the refrigerator as do the sandwiches.  It’s the best with a hot cup of cafe con leche.

Pan de Mallorca or Puerto Rican beignets

  • Servings: 12 large rolls
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

  • 1 cup water, warm, between 110° and 115°
  • 1 cup milk, warm, between 110° and 115°
  • 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast, (one standard envelope)
  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 6 large egg yolks, room temperature
  • 1 stick, (8 tablespoons) butter, melted and cooled, plus 4 tablespoons, melted and cooled
  • 5 cups all-purpose flour plus more to dust counter when rolling out dough
  • 3/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup confectioner’s sugar for powdering baked rolls, more if desired
  1. In the bowl of a stand-up mixer combine water, milk, yeast, granulated sugar and 1 cup of flour.
  2. Mix well and allow yeast to bloom 30-45 minutes.
  3. Whisk in egg yolks and 1 stick melted butter to yeast mixture.
  4. Add salt, mix well, and add remaining 4 cups of flour in one cup increments.
  5. When well combined cover with plastic wrap, cover and let rise until double in size.  This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 3 hours.  Last week it took forever!
  6. When risen, generously flour counter or work surface.  Transfer the dough to the floured counter, flour the dough and knead until no longer sticky using as little flour as you can.
  7. Roll dough out into a rectangle, flouring and turning when needed to avoid sticking to the counter.
  8. Divide into 12 equal pieces.
  9. Roll out each portion into a long strip, and roll each strip into a coil, tucking the outside end under the coil.
  10. Place each bun on a parchment paper lined baking sheet, 6 per baking sheet.
  11. Brush each roll with the remaining 4 tablespoons of melted butter and let rise another 20-30 minutes.
  12. Preheat oven to 375°.
  13. Bake, one sheet at a time, in the middle of the oven for 13-16 minutes.  Check the bottom of bread at the 13 minute mark to avoid over-baking.
  14. Remove from oven and let each roll cool directly on cooling rack for 5 minutes then generously dust with powdered sugar.

Now dust them with more powdered sugar y mete mano!
Now dust them with more powdered sugar y mete mano!

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

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The Queen of Spain’s Tapas…Tortilla Espanola

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Partially growing up in Puerto Rico, my siblings and I saw a side of entertaining that definitely gave a nod to mother Spain.  As I’ve mentioned before in earlier posts, my mother’s family has always been extremely formal as well as intellectually and culturally blessed.  Family gatherings were planned with the same attention as any other courtly affair.  Aunts, uncles and all cousins were summoned.  Men were in coat and tie or, at the very least, their dressiest linen “guayabera”, the favored lightweight shirt worn untucked by legions of Latin men.  Women were dressed in silk sheaths, dupioni and peau de soie heels, hair sprayed in place, the still air heavy with their French perfumes.  My grandparents house sang with the deep voices of my uncles weaving through the melody of my aunts’ muted murmurs of secrets and town gossip all the while their charm bracelets tinkled faintly and caught light as they raised their cocktails to their ruby-colored lips for a cool sip.

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Those evenings were always incredibly steamy making it impossible for me to stay looking fresh.  Many of those nights I remember sitting in a corner trying desperately to look sophisticated as I dabbed the perspiration running down my face and neck in rivulets.  Still too young for contact lenses, my bland and boring cat classes routinely slid down my nose.  The only other moisture seen were the water droplets trickling  down the sides of the grownups’ cocktails into damp cotton napkins held loosely in their hands. Due to the humidity, Cynthia’s hair took a decidedly unattractive turn as uninvited waves and feral curls sprang wildly to life; MY hair, on the other hand, chose the equally unfortunate opposite end of the beauty spectrum and fell limp and flat, lank and lifeless.  Oh, that damned muggy heat.  Not a pretty picture.  The grownups didn’t care…heck, they didn’t even notice!  Unsurprisingly my uncles lit up cigarettes, one off of another, leaning in and drawing in deeply to then blow it all out in a big cloud of smoke.  God bless.  You couldn’t even breathe.  I prayed for a breeze.  But did I ever get up, walk out to one of the balconies and pull up my hair?  Not a chance.  I might miss something.  The men drank their rum neat and sipped it.  If whiskey, or “whee-kee”, was their chosen nip of the night then maybe, MAYBE, one or two ice cubes would be casually tossed into the glass.  My sister and I were given exquisite flutes filled with iced water.  We held those glasses as though we were enjoying champagne.  Close friends of the family dropped by as did invited neighbors.  And our beautiful mama flit about like an exotic butterfly from conversation to conversation.  She bloomed in Puerto Rico; she always went back to her island with the faint aura of celebrity.  She didn’t just study in the States…she LIVED there.  Such an adventurous woman.  AND she played tennis!

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No one ever really ate, except maybe Cynthia and me, but there was always a beautifully laid table well stocked with hors d’oeuvre from the delicate finger sandwich or small chip of cheese topped with a rosy mound of guava paste all the way to garlicky fried cod and culantro fritters alongside platters of cold and creamy tortilla Espanola, cut into bite sized squares, the soft potatoes just melted in your mouth.  Late into the night music could be heard as one uncle, or two or three, would softly strum their guitar, their rich baritones melding together perfectly as they played and sang classic Latin songs and madrigals.  There was no dancing at these get-togethers, just close friends and family connecting and catching up.  At some point Cynthia and I would wander off to bed gradually falling asleep to the enchanting sounds of faint farewells at our grandparent’s heavy front gate.  Sheltered and loved there were only sweet dreams that night!

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This dish, Tortilla Espanola, is absolutely beautiful.  Perfect cut into squares and served with cocktails this torta will also segue easily into brunch as well as a hastily cut slice eaten on the run.  It is the traditional tapas served throughout Spain and other Latin locales.  I don’t consider the American equivalent of the tortilla as being an omelette because I find omelettes are more egg than any other ingredient.  In a torta the egg is more of a binder.  Also the tortilla is cooked slowly rendering the potatoes soft and almost gooey in texture; the onions melt into the mixture but their flavor remains smooth and sweet.  The following recipe is the classic Spanish version of just four ingredients; potatoes, onions, olive oil and eggs.  But feel free to add peppers, mushrooms, sausage or herbs.  Every recipe is different and individual so there really is no right or wrong way.  Please don’t be put off by the “flipping” or inverting procedure of the torta from pan to plate and back.  Just use a large, flat platter that feels good in your hand, take your time and invert the tortilla over your sink.  Cook the tortilla slowly and resist the temptation to jack up the heat.  Medium-low is the ideal temperature throughout the cooking process.  If time allows, prepare the dish the day before you plan to serve it to give it sufficient time for the flavors to marry and also to get good and cold.  If you decide to prepare this recipe again, strain the olive oil, pour it into a glass jar fitted with a tight lid  and store it in the refrigerator.  This oil can be used again and again for tortas and the flavor of the oil will make your tortilla taste better and better with each use.  Finally, and I can’t stress this enough, definitely use a nonstick pan otherwise your beautiful torta will stick to the pan and fall apart.  Buen Provecho!

Torta Espanola

  • Servings: 10-12
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

yield: 8-10 slices

  • 2 1/2 cups good quality olive oil
  • 1 large sweet onion, sliced thin
  • 8 medium red skinned potatoes, peeled and sliced into 1/4″ rounds
  • 6 eggs, good quality and preferably organic
  • salt to taste
  1. In a 10 inch or 11-inch pan heat the olive oil over medium-low.
  2. Add the sliced onion and slowly cook until soft and translucent, about 20 minutes, taking care not to brown them.  You don’t want any color.
  3. Wipe the potato slices dry with a paper towel and carefully add to the hot olive oil.  Cook for 20 minutes or until the potatoes are tender and cooked thoroughly.
  4. Place a colander in a large bowl and take the pan of potatoes off the heat.  Using a slotted spoon or spider transfer all the potatoes and onions to the colander.  Reserve the drained olive oil in the bottom of the bowl for later in the recipe.
  5. In a clean glass jar strain the olive oil remaining in the pan for some other time.  Refrigerate when completely cool.
  6. In a medium to large bowl lightly beat the eggs, season with salt and thoroughly mix in the drained potato-onion mixture.
  7. Using the same non-stick pan heat one tablespoon of olive oil that drained from the potatoes over medium-low heat.
  8. Pour the potato-egg mixture into the pan and allow to cook without moving the pan or mixture for 4-5 minutes.
  9. Gently shake the pan back and forth to loosen the mixture and, using a soft, rubber spatula, pull the edges of the torta away from the sides of the pan tucking the edges under.
  10. Cook another 4-5 minutes until the bottom is set.  The top of the torta will still be completely uncooked.
  11. Give the pan a quick shake, place a large plate or platter on top of the pan and, holding firmly, quickly turn the pan over and invert the torta onto the platter.  It feels better if this is done over the sink.  At least it gives ME a sense of security!
  12. Again wipe the pan clean, add another tablespoon of reserved olive oil and heat the pan over medium-low heat.
  13. Holding the plate as close to the pan as you can, gently slide the torta back into the pan.  Press the spatula on the sides of the tortilla tucking any edges in and under.  You should now have the “top” facing down and cooking and the “bottom” facing up.
  14. Cook for another 4-5 minutes, repeat the inverting process of the tortilla, clean the pan, add one tablespoon of olive oil and gently slide back into the pan.  Repeat 2 or three times until the tortilla no longer oozes and looks to be set, all pretty and golden.
  15. Serve warm in wedges or squares or allow to cool completely, cover with plastic wrap and maintain in the refrigerator until ready to serve.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

Welcome Your Guests with Pimento Cheese

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When our son, James, was doing his undergraduate at UNC Chapel Hill Jimmy and I would visit any chance we got.  That translates to any time James invited us up. Parent’s weekends, football games, basketball games and then fraternity parent’s weekends we went to all of them!  And when we did, Jimmy always did his best to secure rooms at the Carolina Inn.  No easy feat as it seems to always be entirely booked, the inn is right on campus complete with a killer porch, massive columns, first-rate restaurant and a more than welcoming bar that gives day-drinking new meaning.  The lobby and rooms all call attention to classical Southern design and appointments.  Colossal flower arrangements grace the entrances replete with all manner of lilies, roses, peonies, orchids and hydrangea; lush berries, ivy and drippy greenery tucked in here and there make the flowers spectacular.  Fat tropical palms flank doorways and stand as sentries on duty at each end of sofas.  Lavish fabrics dress the floor to ceiling windows, chairs and pillows.  Quite frankly, I want to live there.

Oh, please let me go back!
Oh, please let me go back!

On our way to our rooms our footsteps echo reassuringly against the gleaming, burnished wood floors.  All halls have original black and white photographs hung from the chair-rail up of visiting dignitaries,  alumni and sports giants so captivating that Jimmy and I would take our cocktails and wander up and down passageways reading and exploring every once in a while exclaiming, “Oh, wow!  Look at this! It’s Andy!”.  That would be extended family member, (not really but we adore him), Andy Griffith of Mayberry fame.  Literally hundreds of photos of presidents, civil rights leaders and movie stars all grace the walls and never cease to capture attention always making me late for which ever function we were expected.  The suites were unfailingly enchanting showcasing the rich traditions of the gentile South.  A tantalizing tray showcasing their sharp and spicy pimento cheese heightened by the addition of bread sticks, carrot and celery stalks, pecans and grapes.  Sometimes drink coupons peeped out from a corner of the goody platter.  The Carolina Inn pimento cheese, (known in the South as “puhmenuh cheese”), is some of the best I’ve ever had.  Jimmy and I closed in on their offering like ducks on June bugs.  Weary from travel, I closed my eyes and savored each and every bite.  It was the perfect pick me up until dinner which would be hours later.  Piquant, peppery and tangy this spread begs to be slathered on soft, fluffy bread or perched atop crunchy crudite accompanied by seasonal fruits and nuts. Hell, this stuff is fabulous alongside a bowl of crinkle cut potato chips.

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The following recipe has been refashioned slightly to accommodate today’s fascination with heat and spice.  Purists won’t be happy, but, hey, they never are.  If you’re not keen on sriracha, cayenne pepper is a fine replacement or, if you’re not a fan of heat, leave it out entirely.  Both jarred and homemade mayonnaise work well in this recipe.  I had one cup of homemade already on hand and used 1/2 cup of reduced fat Duke’s for the remainder.  It’s best when chilled for an hour or so just because not only do the flavors meld but the texture becomes creamier.  Well covered, it will keep two to three days refrigerated.  I made grilled pimento cheese sandwiches the other night and, boy, was my family happy.  Not only is pimento cheese a culinary treat for adults but kids love it, too.  So slip some into your child’s lunchbox or trot it out with cocktails at your next LNO, (Ladies’ Night Out), and watch those eyes light up.

 

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Pimento Cheese

  • Servings: 7 generous cups
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound extra sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1 7-ounce jar diced pimentos, drained
  • 1/4 small onion, finely grated
  • 1 1/4 cups mayonnaise
  • 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce, more if desired
  • 1 tablespoon Sriracha sauce, (I use 2 or it can be left out altogether if you don’t like heat)
  1. Into a large bowl grate the cheddar cheese using the large holes of a box grater.
  2. Add remaining ingredients and mix well.
  3. Cover and chill in refrigerator until ready to serve.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

5 Star Curried Chicken Salad

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I was recently invited to help with a wedding shower for a sweet, sweet girl who also happens to be of the millennial generation.  From what I’ve been told these young men and women are more than reluctant to entertain because they just don’t know how.  I was fortunate in that my mother was all about the party and although she didn’t cook she was a great hostess, always in the know about the town’s premier caterers, florists and bartenders.  Mama made certain we, my sisters and brother, all knew how to prep the house before a party, how to lay a table and how to arrange the flowers in every room.  I am eternally thankful.  Over the years I’ve built up a stable of no-fail recipes for all manner of get-togethers.  Here in the South chicken salad is the queen of ladies luncheons, wedding and baby showers and lunch out with the girls.  This curried chicken salad recipe is outstanding in flavor, ease and portability.  It actually should be prepared one day in advance of serving thus freeing up more precious  time.  I’ve taken it to the Keys for Girl’s Weekend in a gallon size freezer bags and to friend’s houses in plastic quart containers for baby showers and funerals.  I’m telling you, it travels well.  The sweetness of the curry, pineapple and banana marry well with the savory flavors of the roasted chicken, celery and Greek yoghurt.  There is a slight departure from the Southern chicken salad rule.  In the South only white meat, the breast, is used.  Thigh meat or any dark meat in this dish is considered downright trashy but I’m here to say that’s old school!  I find solely using breast meat leaves your salad flat and lacking somewhat in flavor whereas the addition of dark meat gives an added richness and succulence.  And by all means, take advantage of grocery store rotisserie chickens.  Many a time I’ve used them and do they save time.  I use my hands to pick off every bit of skin and and fat.  If the grocery store birds are small you’ll need two.  If large, one will suffice.  Lordy, but it’s good.  Whether or not you toast the pecans is strictly up to you.  Toasted or untoasted, both yield a gorgeous flavor.  A fat dollop of chutney on top is a lovely touch and won’t be unnoticed by your guests.  I typically use whatever homemade I have on hand but on those occasions I’ve been without I use Crosse & Blackwell’s Hot Mango Chutney.  It’s not really hot; in fact it’s barely spicy and the chutney needs to have a little backbone if you are going to include it in this dish.  The salad may be plated on a bed of baby greens or as a sandwich on crunchy French bread.  Along side some sliced fresh fruit and a handful of cold, lightly steamed haricot vert you will have a luncheon to be proud of!

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Curried Chicken Salad

  • Servings: 4 large salads or 6 sandwiches
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 3 1/2 cups cubed roasted chicken
  • 1 1/4 cups finely diced celery
  • 1 20-ounce can pineapple chunks, drained
  • 1/2 cup chopped pecans, toasted or untoasted, cashews may be substituted
  • 2 medium bananas, sliced just before serving
  • 1 cup homemade or good mayonnaise, (Duke’s is my preferred)
  • 1/2 cup Greek plain yoghurt
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • chutney, (optional)

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  1. In a large bowl combine roasted chicken, pineapple, celery and pecans. Set aside.
  2. In a small bowl combine mayonnaise, yoghurt, curry powder, salt and pepper. Mix well.
  3. Add curry mix to chicken and gently toss until all ingredients are completely coated.
  4. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate until serving.
  5. Right before serving slice bananas and gently fold into salad until completely coated with curry dressing.
  6. Serve chutney on the side or atop each portion of chicken salad.

http://www.theirreverentkitchen.com

 

Turkish Street Food…Borek are like spinach and feta crepes

The "Grand Bazaar" of Ayvalik, Turkey
The “Grand Bazaar” of Ayvalik, Turkey

I’m crazy about middle eastern and mediterranean flatbread.  I’m even happier when they’ve been stuffed with a surprise or two.  Eight or nine years ago, on one of our vacations in Greece, we took a quick side trip to Turkey.  From our island of Lesvos it’s only a short ferry ride away.  Not to segue from this delightful recipe but if you should ever have the opportunity to take a ferry outside of the continental US you ought to take it.  Ferry rides are a wonderful way to really see how your temporary neighbors live.  On our way to Turkey the boat was filled with people, of course, and cars.  Lots of cars.  But on the return trip the cars were gone and in their place were refrigerators, patio furniture, a rainbow of comforter sets all in their clear, plastic storage bags.  Pallets of fruits and bundled up cardboard boxes as far as the eye could see.  Truly, it’s a great way to see a little slice of local life.  Anyway, after a few hours on the water we safely arrived and disembarked.  We had been told there was a “Grand Bazaar” and we took off to find it.  Just steps before us the bazaar opened up to a beehive of activity with children running, some playing, some on urgent errands, shopkeepers hawking their wares from their stalls and a colorful topping of headscarves on the women shopping for their family’s lunch and dinner.  The cacophony of sounds was exhilarating; music blaring, people yelling at the top of their lungs, dogs barking and always the call to prayer over loudspeakers.  It was great!  We walked a while and stumbled across a table where a man and a woman were selling borek, the ubiquitous Turkish street food.

Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!
Fold, flip, wrap. She made it look so easy!

Borek is a thin, thin round sheet of dough or flatbread that is stuffed with a combination of greens and cheese or meat, any concoction you wish.  The filling is place in the middle of the dough, pinched closed and tossed onto something that looks like a convex steel drum or upside down wok  griddle.  The borek blisters to a gorgeous golden brown on the outside while the filling cooks on the inside. Different than our’s here in the States; often they are folded when finished then wrapped in wax or parchment paper.  The corners become chewy while the flat outside bubbles up to a crispy flavor-fest.

Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!
Oh, how I would love to have two of these stoves. One for the kitchen and one poolside!

The dough requires no yeast or sugar, it’s just flour, salt and water.  The resting time is blessedly short so if you feel like rattling around the kitchen on a Friday night after a couple of glasses of wine and still have dinner ready in and hour or so you can.  And think of the fillings…good gracious!  The combinations are limitless.  I’ve made the classic spinach and feta but tonight I’m also preparing potato and onion with a little Aleppo red pepper flakes added. Borek are so gorgeous and easy, not to mention forgiving.  The secret, if there is one, is to let the dough rest sufficiently and then take your time rolling it out super thin.  I mean SUPER thin.  Perfect for a picnic…a ballgame…or under a tree, downtown, with the one you love.  It’s pretty sexy food.  Yeah.  I think you’ll really like it.  Just do yourself a favor and, if you decide to throw them together, resist the temptation of leaving the dough too thick and, also, try not to overload the borek with your filling.  They’re supposed to be flat. To that, let me add, if your filling is spinach and feta, you can heap on the spinach as it will wilt to next to nothing as they cook.  But if you go with potato or ground meat scatter with a light hand. This recipe comes from the book entitled “Savory Baking from the Mediterranean” written by Anissa Helou.  Not only is this recipe brilliant but so is the book. I hope you enjoy it.  That’s what it’s all about!

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Borek, stuffed Turkish flatbread

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: moderate
  • Print

For the dough:

  • 1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading and shaping
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

For the filling:

  • 3/4 cup crumbled feta cheese, PLEASE use a good quality feta and crumble it yourself
  • 2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley, chopped
  • 2 1/2 cups fresh spinach, finely shredded (I use more…about two large handfuls before shredding)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons butter, melted
  1. Combine the flour and salt in a large bowl and make a well in the center. Gradually add just over 1/3 cup warm water to the well, bringing in the flour as you go along.  Knead to make a rough ball of dough.
  2. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface.  Knead for three minutes.  Invert the bowl over the dough and let the dough rest for 15 minutes.  Knead the dough for about 2-3 minutes more to make a smooth, firm dough.
  3. Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces. Form each piece into a ball.  Cover with a damp kitchen towel and let rest for 30 minutes.  Meanwhile, mix together the cheese and parsley.
  4. Sprinkle a work surface and rolling pin with flour.  Roll out a ball of dough to a circle about 12 inches in diameter, lightly sprinkling with flour every now and then.  (I have to tell you.  I had a hard time with that.  Mine were about 9 or 10 inches in diameter and they came out beautifully!)  Sprinkle a quarter of the spinach over half the dough.  Cover the spinach with a quarter of the cheese mixture.  Fold the dough over the fillings to make a half circle. Prepare the remaining boreks in the same way.  Heat a nonstick griddle or frying pan over medium heat.  Transfer the boreks, one or two at a time, to the hot griddle or pan and cook for 1-2 minutes on each side, until lightly crisp and golden.  Transfer to a serving plate and brush lightly with melted butter.  Serve immediately.  (I cut mine in half before serving.  The boreks are easier to handle and look prettier.)

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The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on gozleme...just let time go by.
The waters off Ayvalik, Turkey. Perfect to sit and munch on borek…just let time go by.

A bit of Istanbul

Yes, Gentle Reader, it’s that time of the year again. Grab your passport, sunscreen, cute walking shoes and sunnies because we’re off to Istanbul. It’s been wonderful here. It’s hotter than hell but dry, not that muggy, sticky humidity we have at home, so your hair looks great.  We’re going to put in 4-5 miles walking everyday. You’ll get in a decent workout and see some great things. I’ll put in the recipes when I get home and figure them out so in the meantime let’s go explore through photos.

20140801-230220-82940879.jpgHagia Sofia. Very little Christian Orthodoxy is left. Mosaics, icons, everything went when Christianity was outlawed.

20140801-231636-83796350.jpg The Grand Bazaar. I was in seventh heaven! Jewelry, scarves, shoes, books, hardware, pots and pans, leather goods, furs and for me…spices!

20140801-232237-84157551.jpg And, yes, I bought bags of sumac, za’ater, and an asssortment of herbs and spices I mixed together to use when I get home. Now I wish I had bought more.

20140801-232617-84377853.jpg Never in a million years did I imagine my beautiful, perfumed jasmine tea looked like this! Is this not gorgeous?

20140801-233107-84667184.jpg Liturgy at the Patriarchate. The seat of Christian Orthodoxy. Now I am at home.

20140801-233408-84848188.jpg Full of love, peace and joy.

20140801-233723-85043809.jpg Time to eat. I’m starving.  We started with an assortment of dips. Cucumber and cheese with a real kick. Roasted peppers and cheese. Fava. The last one was the big surprise. Ground almond with cinnamon. On crusty bread. Fabulous! See you tomorrow!

Falafel, Bible Fast Food

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I have a great recipe for those who can’t eat anymore rich, holiday food.  And I am one of those people.  I CANNOT choke down another butter cookie and, believe me, I’m your carb-girl so if anyone could it would be me.  But I can’t.  I just can’t.  Take away the beef tenderloin, the hot crab dip, the egg nog.  Away with the cheesecake bites and the whole ham stuffed with greens.  I need clean food.  I crave it.  That said, I made falafel the other night.  Crispy on the outside, green, warm and crumbly on the inside.  Falafel date back to the bible and it is pretty much agreed that it is a Middle Eastern food.  But that’s where the agreeing stops.  Arguments abound with a plethora of countries claiming the birthright of falafel.  Whether if sprang from Egypt, Syria or Israel…well, I give thanks!  I’ve long left canned beans for everything except hummus.  I’m not going to soak and cook dried chickpeas to then puree them into a spread.  But for just about all my other bean dishes I use dried beans.   Canned have way too many additives, are processed too much and end up mushy.  Canned beans, quite frankly, have very little flavor left.  I used several recipes more for guidance than anything else as you don’t have to measure if you have an eye for general amounts.  I wanted clean food with flavor.  I thought falafel served with tsatziki, freshly sliced radishes and cucumbers and warmed, whole wheat pita for those who wanted was just the ticket.  In my largest mixing bowl I put a 1 pound (16 oz.) bag of chickpeas and covered them completely with room temperature water.  There was probably 3″-4″ of water covering them.  I did this on Friday to make the falafel Saturday night.  But when Saturday night rolled around we decided to go out.  I changed the water in the bowl and aimed for Sunday night.  But lunch on Sunday was so late in the day we never wanted dinner.  Monday it is!!  I rinsed the chickpeas and changed the water again.  When I made them they were gorgeous!  I’m crazy about fresh herbs and sometimes double or triple the amount called for in recipes so feel free to hold back a bit if you’re not too crazy about a particular flavor or add more if you like.  If you’d like to cut back on some more calories feel free to place the balls or patties on parchment paper lined baking sheets, cover lightly with a canola or olive oil spray and bake in the oven at 375° for approximately 15-20 minutes depending on their size.  The end result is still crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside.  This recipe makes a ton of them but they freeze magnificently.  I always freeze half of the falafel once they cool for a quick dinner on that rainy night when I get home late.  To reheat just take them straight from the freezer and bake at 350° for 30 minutes or until hot all through.  I like mine with tsatziki but if you’d rather have a tahini sauce, (sesame sauce), I’ve posted a quick tahini at the bottom of this page.

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Falafel

Falafel

  • Servings: 6-8 or 14 to 15 patties. Or 40 small balls
  • Difficulty: easy
  • Print

  • 1 pound (16 ounces) dried chickpeas
  • 1 medium onion chopped
  • 3 large clove garlic
  • 1 bunch flat-leaf parsley leaves finely chopped
  • 1 bunch cilantro leaves finely chopped
  • 1 heaping tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 level teaspoon cayenne pepper, (optional but I love it)
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 6 tablespoons water
  • 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
  • about 3 cups canola, sunflower or vegetable oil
  • salt, a couple of good pinches
  1. Place the chickpeas in a large bowl and cover with 3-4 inches of cold water.  Soak them for 24 hours and check every now and again to add more water in the event the chickpeas have absorbed it.
  2. When ready to cook put the drained chickpeas, onion, garlic, parsley and cilantro in the food processor and process until contents are minced or grainy looking but not mushy.
  3. Add the water 1 tablespoon at a time if the mixture gets “stuck” in the processor.  Try to keep the mixture as dry as possible.  Transfer the chickpea mixture back to the large bowl.
  4. In a small bowl mix cumin, pepper, coriander, cardamom, baking powder and flour.
  5. Pour the dried herb mixture into the large bowl with the chickpeas and using your hands mix well.  Blend it well until the mixture is smooth and uniform and all ingredients are completely integrated.  Taste for salt, pepper or spice adjustments.
  6. Pour the oil into a heavy medium-sized  frying pan or saucepan until the oil comes 3 inches up the sides of the pan.  Heat to 350° or medium high.
  7. Keeping your hands wet, form the mixture into balls or patties using a tablespoon or a melon ball/ice cream scoop.
  8. Fry the balls or patties in batches for 4-5 minutes until well browned and cooked all the way through.
  9. Drain on paper towels and serve immediately.

Tahini Sauce

  • 5 tablespoons tahini paste
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 lemon juiced or 1-2 tablespoons
  • 1 garlic clove, mashed to a paste
  1. Mix all ingredients well in a small bowl adding a bit of salt to your taste.  The consistency will be slightly runny.

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