Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Spicy red kidney bean dip with za’atar

I make bread all the time lately, at least twice a week, as I am in a serious sourdough kick, and one thing I like to have around in my fridge is all sorts of spreads and dips. Especially now that summer is here (yes, it seems that we skipped spring and went straight into summer here in the Netherlands) they make the perfect snack with freshly baked bread.

Exhibit number one, this dip. A red kidney bean dip that is following along the lines of hummus in the sense that it’s made with tahini, olive oil, garlic and lemon juice but it also contains spices, because I’m a spice fiend. There’s cumin and two kinds of hot dried chilli pepper —pul biber (Aleppo pepper) and boukovo (Greek red chilli flakes)— that bring heat and a pungency that’s quite pleasant.

It’s a dip full of earthy and meaty flavors from the beans, with freshness from the dill, it is vibrant from the garlic and spices, rich from the tahini and extra virgin olive oil, and aromatic from the za’atar. Definitely worth dipping your best bread into it, or your favorite pita, rusks or crudités.

Spicy red kidney bean dip with za’atar

Za’atar is a Middle Eastern herb (with oregano, thyme, marjoram, depending on where it is made) and sumac blend with sesame seeds and it’s very aromatic and flavorful.

I always cook my own beans from dried, we Greeks do that, but you can certainly use canned and rinsed beans as well.

Yield: 4-6

250 g boiled red kidney beans (from a can or homemade)
1 garlic clove, finely grated
2½ Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
1 tsp ground cumin
¾ tsp salt
1 Tbsp tahini, stirred well before measured
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
½ tsp pul biber (Aleppo pepper)
¼ tsp boukovo (or dried red chilli flakes)

to serve
A handful fresh dill, finely chopped
Pul biber
Extra virgin olive oil

Special equipment: colander, food processor

Whenever I boil beans for dips, I make a big batch and freeze about half for later use. For this recipe, I used 500 g dried red kidney beans and used 250 g boiled ones, the rest I put in freezer bags for other dips or salads.

If you’re going to boil your own beans from dried, the night before, place them in a very large bowl and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Soak them for 14-16 hours.

The next day, rinse the beans under cold, running water, place them in a large pot and add 2 liters of cold tap water. Cover the pan and bring water to the boil over high heat. You will notice that once the water comes to a rolling boil, foam will rise up to the surface of the water. Remove the foam with a large spoon and drain the beans in a colander.
Return the beans in the pot and add 2 liters of boiling water. Bring them to the boil over high heat, then turn heat down to medium-low and cook the beans until they soften. This may take anywhere from 1½ to 2½ hours depending on the beans. Not all beans are the same so you need to keep an eye on them. You want them to be tender but not mushy. Start checking them after one hour. One way to check doneness, apart from simply tasting one of the beans, is by pressing one with your finger; if it breaks easily, it is ready, if not, you need to cook them for a while longer. The beans must not be tough otherwise your dip will be grainy.

Drain them in a colander. You should use the beans to make the dip when they are completely cool and make sure to keep some of the cooking liquid to add to the dip in case it is too thick.

If you are using canned/bottle beans, rinse them before using them in the dip, but make sure to reserve the liquid from the can/bottle in case you need to loosen the dip.

Place all the ingredients for the dip in the bowl of your food processor and pulse until they start to blend. Then process on high speed until you have a smooth puree (though it will never be completely smooth because the beans still have their skin). If the dip is too thick you may add some of the bean cooking liquid.
Give it a taste and add more salt if needed. Also, you may add more olive oil or lemon, depending on your liking.

Serve in a large bowl and top with the fresh dill, pul biber, za’atar and a drizzle of olive oil, with pita bread or any other kind of bread and vegetables to dip.

You can serve it right away or keep it in the fridge in an airtight container for 1 week. The flavor is better the next day you make it.

Friday, May 19, 2017

Puffed quinoa & rice, dried fruits & nuts granola with peanut butter & grape molasses

Granola or muesli is what I eat nine out of ten times for breakfast during the weekdays, with milk or yoghurt and some fresh, seasonal fruits. I get bored quite easily when I eat the same thing over and over again so I try to find ways to change my granola and muesli up with different flavor combinations, different grains, nuts and seeds, dried fruits etc.

Lately, I’ve been on a puffed rice/quinoa thing. About a year ago, I discovered them at my health food store and I’ve become a bit obsessed with them and add them to bars and various desserts for texture.

I have incorporated them in my granola and they have transformed it into something lighter and more filling at the same time. Apart from the puffed quinoa and puffed rice, they have walnuts and almonds, dried figs, apricots and raisins, sweetened by a syrup made with petimezi (grape molasses) and soft dark brown sugar. There’s butter in there as well as peanut butter to hold everything together and some ginger and cinnamon that gives the granola aroma and a hint of spice.

You bake it in the oven until it takes on a golden color, no more than ten minutes, and then you can either break it up into large chunks or smaller pieces. I prefer the large, crunchy chunks myself. They’re the best.

It’s a light granola that’s sweet yet not overly so and it’s full of nutty flavors. It’s crunchy with sticky textures from the dried fruits and crispy from the puffed quinoa and rice, and it’s going to make your breakfast by far brighter and tastier.

Puffed quinoa & rice, dried fruits & nuts granola with peanut butter & petimezi (grape molasses)
Adapted from Honey & Co. The baking book

You can use a mix of puffed quinoa and puffed rice, as I did, or you can use one or the other. You can use date molasses if you can’t find grape molasses.

Yield: 3 large jars

100 g puffed quinoa
75 g puffed rice
70 g walnuts, roughly chopped
70 g blanched almonds, roughly chopped
70 g golden raisins
70 g dried figs, diced
70 g dried apricots, diced
1½ tsp ground ginger
1 tsp ground cinnamon
125 g unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
100 g petimezi (grape molasses)
100 g soft light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
100 g natural peanut butter (I used homemade)

Yoghurt, fresh fruits and extra nuts (in this case I used banana and sprinkled with ground pistachios), for serving

Special equipment: 2 medium-sized rimmed baking sheets (about 30x20 cm), baking paper

Line the 2 rimmed baking sheets with baking paper.
Preheat your oven to 190°C.

In a large bowl, add the puffed quinoa and puffed rice, the nuts, the dried fruits, the ginger and the cinnamon and mix well with a large spoon.

In a small pan, add the butter, the grape molasses, the sugar and the salt and place over a high heat. Stir until the butter melts and when it comes to the boil, add the peanut butter and stir to dissolve. Take off the heat and pour it over the bowl with the quinoa and nuts. Immediately, mix well, making sure to coat all the nuts and puffed quinoa and rice with the peanut butter syrup.

Divide the mixture between the two baking sheets and spread evenly, flattening out the mixture with the back of a spoon or a spatula.

Place on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 10 minutes. If your oven is small like mine, bake first the one tray and then the other. The granola should be golden on top when done.

Remove from the oven and allow the granola to cool on the trays completely. Then break it into large or smaller clusters depending on how you prefer it. I love the large clusters.

Transfer the granola to jars or airtight containers and enjoy!
It keeps for a couple of weeks at room temperature.

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Kale pesto fusilli with Greek Kefalotyri cheese and preserved lemon

Signs of spring are evident all around me with colorful flowers and lush green trees lining the streets of my city.

Green things are also popping up at all the farmer’s markets. Vegetables, fruits, edible flowers, all overwhelmingly pretty and delicious to eat and to look at.

Kale, the deepest green of them all, is what caught my eye the other day. I grabbed it and couldn’t wait to cook with it because you know how much I love it, and as it will be soon be out of season, there’s not a moment to waste.

My mind was filled with ideas of what to make but S convinced me to pair it with pasta. At first I thought about sautéing it in olive oil with garlic and a little lemon and adding it to my pasta, but then pesto came to mind. I am not a fan of basil so I never make the classic pesto but a kale pesto? I was definitely game for that.

A simple yet deeply satisfying, hearty and lively dish was born. Apart from the usual pesto suspects of garlic, olive oil and pine nuts, I added some fresh mint together with the kale which gave it vibrancy and freshness. I used Greek Kefalotyri cheese —which fortunately I had on hand from a recent visit back home to Greece— not only for a generous grating on top of the pasta but in the pesto as well. Its creamy quality gave a rich flavor and savoriness to my pasta and made the dish even more enjoyable.

The pesto was fresh, aromatic and salty with both sweet and bitter notes from the kale, and I added a few finely chopped pieces of my homemade preserved lemon to the pasta that added acidity and balanced the earthy and herby flavors of the kale pesto.

Kale pesto fusilli with Greek Kefalotyri cheese and preserved lemon

You don’t need much preserved lemon, just enough to enliven the pasta and add another flavor dimension to it. You can add lemon zest instead if you don’t have any preserved lemon on hand.

You can use pecorino romano instead of Greek Kefalotyri in case you can’t find it.

Yield: 4 servings


for the pesto
70 g (about 2 packed cups) fresh kale without stems, chopped
13-15 fresh small mint leaves
7 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
65 g pine nuts
2 garlic cloves
45 g Greek Kefalotyri (or pecorino), grated
1 Tbsp lemon juice, freshly squeezed
Freshly ground white pepper

for the pasta
500 g dried fusilli
10 slices preserved lemon (only the rind, chopped), I used my homemade quick preserved lemons
Greek Kefalotyri (or pecorino), for sprinkling on top of the pasta

Special equipment: small food processor, rasp grater, strainer


for the pesto
In a small skillet or sauté pan add the pine nuts and place over a medium heat. Toast them, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl and allow to cool.
In the food processor, add the garlic and toasted pine nuts and process until you have a coarse paste. Add the kale, mint and 2 Tbsp olive oil to help process the kale smoothly, and process to a puree. Then add the rest of the olive oil (5 Tbsp) and the lemon juice and pulse until combined. Add the grated cheese and some pepper and pulse until just combined and you have a somewhat smooth-textured pesto. Give it a taste and add salt if needed. Pulse for a few seconds.

for the pasta
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil over high heat and add the fusilli. Cook until al dente (firm but not very hard) or cook to your liking.
Strain the pasta but make sure to keep a couple of cups of pasta water. It is valuable and will help you adjust the consistency of the sauce.
Return the strained pasta to the pot and add the pesto. Don’t add all of it at once, add ¾ at first and see if it needs more. Then add some of the pasta water to loosen the sauce, add the preserved lemon and stir through gently with a rubber spatula so you don’t break up the delicate fusilli. You can add more pesto or pasta water if you think it needs it, as well as some white pepper.

Serve immediately with a good grating of cheese on top.
Alternatively, you can skip the preserved lemon and grate some fresh lemon zest on top, or you can serve it without lemon at all, but I think the lemon brings brightness to it that is very nice.

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

Ginger and turmeric tea with spices

I would never trade my morning or afternoon coffee —which is either a cappuccino or a Greek coffee— with any other hot beverage. It’s not that I’m a coffee addict, no, I just enjoy it immensely and the whole process of preparing and drinking it is almost like a ritual for me that it would be highly unlikely any other kind of hot drink could substitute it. This chai, however, may sneak in every once in a while and steal the glory from my coffee. Once in a while…

Truth is, I only drink tea when I have a cold or when I have a sore throat, yet this is not regular tea, far from it. It’s a milky tea flavored with spices, ginger and turmeric and it is addictive.

I love turmeric and ginger in both their dried and fresh forms and I add them in many of my dishes, but they’re equally nice in drinks too (like in this smoothie). Turmeric has a slightly bitter and metallic flavor, while ginger is peppery and spicy, and they both pair wonderfully with warming spices like cinnamon and cardamom.

It’s a flavorful and deeply aromatic tea. It’s a little hot from the ginger and the black peppercorns, and you can taste each and every spice that has infused it. The milk mellows out the pungent flavor of the turmeric whereas the honey sweetens the tea and rounds off all the flavors.

It will awaken your senses, soothe you, warm you up, energize you and calm you at the same time. If you haven’t tried anything like this before, it’s worth a try. If you have, do try this version too. You won’t regret it.

Ginger and turmeric tea with spices
Adapted slightly from The New York Times

I used loose Earl Grey tea which has a bergamot aroma, and the honey I used was orange-blossom honey so my tea had a citrus undertone which I find particularly pleasant. The flavor of your tea will differ depending on the kind of tea and honey you use.

Yield: 2 teacups or 1 large cup

¼ cup (60 ml) water
1 thick coin-sized piece of fresh ginger root (about 3.5-4 cm), peeled and grated
1 small piece of fresh turmeric root (1-1.5 cm), peeled and grated (or ½ tsp dried turmeric powder)
4 black peppercorns
2 cardamom pods, crushed
1 large cinnamon stick, crushed
2 tsp (less or more according to taste) runny honey of your choice (I used orange-blossom honey)
1 cup (240 ml) whole fresh milk
1 heaped tsp loose black tea (I used Earl Grey)

Special equipment: rasp grater, fine strainer

In a small saucepan, add the water, ginger, turmeric, black peppercorns, crushed cardamom pods and cinnamon, the honey and the tea. Place over a low heat and when it starts to simmer, add the milk. When the milk starts to steam, give the mixture a taste and add more honey if needed. Pour through a fine sieve into the 2 teacups (or 1 large cup) and drink immediately while it is still hot.