Monday, 30 April 2012

HUMMUS, HUMMUS, HUMMUS!


Eating delicious, eating healthy, eating HUMMUS! Can't make hummus without tahini, though. What is tahini?  It's a paste made from ground, toasted sesame seeds and vegetable oil, and it's popular in North African, Middle Eastern and Greek cuisines. In Greece, other than in recipes, tahini is used as a breakfast spread. Slather it on a piece of bread and eat it without another topping, or drizzle some honey on it. Tahini contains relatively high levels of calcium, protein, fibre, and iron. When tahini is combined with chickpeas it turns into hummus. And chickpeas contain fibre, lots of protein, folic acid and Omega-3. Because chickpeas are high in fibre they are a healthy source of carbohydrates for diabetics.  So make that hummus!  Try it with grilled eggplant, it's great that way! Use it instead of mayonnaise. Potato salad with hummus? Great!!! 

Here is my recipe for hummus, into which I add some 2% Greek yogurt.  This recipe is a protein and calcium powerhouse!!!  


Ingredients:
1 can chickpeas (about 15 ounces)
3 tablespoons tahini 
1 garlic clove finely chopped
4 tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons lemon juice
1/4 cup Greek yogurt
salt and pepper to taste
a pinch of ground cumin
chopped parsley for garnish
a bit of olive oil to drizzle for garnish
2 tablespoons pine nuts, toasted lightly, for garnish


Directions:
  • Drain and rinse the chickpeas. Place them in the bowl of a food processor and add the tahini. Make sure the tahini is mixed well before you remove it from the jar. The oil from the sesame paste tends to float to the top of the jar, so it needs to be reblended with the paste. 
  • Add the rest of the ingredients except the ones that will be used as garnish. Mix until a desired texture is achieved. You might want the hummus to be chunky, or smooth or somewhere in between.
  • Remove to a bowl and chill for about two hours before serving. Pour the hummus into a serving bowl and sprinkle the parsley and toasted pine nuts on top to garnish. Finally, drizzle a little olive oil on the hummus and serve.
  • Accompany with pita chips and raw vegetables.
  • Hummus will keep in the refrigerator for about five days. 

Friday, 27 April 2012

NAVARIN PRINTANIER: A French Lamb Stew


A really, truly delicious lamb stew!!!  Navarin printanier is French for lamb stew. "Navarin" refers to a stew which contains lamb, and the word "Printanier" alludes to springtime and to the first tiny vegetables appearing in the garden. 

This stew is made from lamb shoulder, a tougher cut of meat which becomes truly flavourful when properly cooked. The stewing method tenderizes tough pieces of meat and allows the flavours of the ingredients to blend deliciously. The dish needs to cook for about 2 hours, partly on the stove top and partly in the oven. In the end, the lamb comes out very tender, the vegetables are sweet, and the sauce is perfect! 

Meat from the shoulder of lamb is fatty, so a good amount of fat trimming needs to take place before it's ready for cooking. This type of meat also contains some bones, which I saved for cooking but discarded before serving. Adding bones to the pot makes the dish that much more flavourful. All too often making stew means cooking with beef. This lamb version is an absolutely delicious change!   
A previous rendition


Ingredients:

olive oil for sautéing     
2 pounds lamb shoulder, excess fat removed, bones separated. I purchased two pounds and the breakdown was as follows: one pound stewing meat, half a pound of fat which was discarded, and half a pound of bones.      
3 tablespoons flour       
2 cups broth       
6 Roma tomatoes chopped well after the skin and seeds have been removed
3 garlic cloves chopped  
1 small red onion, chopped   
1 pound small onions, such as pearl onions, skins removed   
3 carrots        
3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and quartered 
1tablespoon sugar
1 cup frozen peas    
salt and pepper    
a bouquet garni (tie it up) made up of rosemary sprigs, thyme sprigs, parsley sprigs, and two bay leaves     
salt and pepper 
1/2 cup of water  
a few rosemary leaves, a few thyme leaves, and 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 


Directions:

·        After removing the fat from the lamb cut the meat into 1½ inch pieces. Keep the bones. Bones left in while cooking bring added flavour to the stew. Once the stew finishes cooking, the lamb will be very tender, and the bones will just pop away from any meat and can be discarded before serving.
·        Use paper towels and dry the meat well because it will not brown if let damp.
·        In a Dutch oven heat 2 tablespoons olive oil and brown the lamb on all sides. Brown it in batches without overcrowding the pan, and add more olive oil to the pot as needed.  
·        Remove the browned lamb to a plate and reserve. If there is a lot of fat in the pot, discard it. If the pot has just a lot of brown bits in it, by all means, leave them alone.
·        Season the meat with salt and pepper and sprinkle the flour on top. Stir the meat so that it's coated with flour.
·        Return it to the pot and cook, stirring for 2 minutes. This process of sautéing meat with flour will help to thicken the sauce.
·        Add the red onion and garlic. Mix and sauté for about two minutes.
·        Add the broth, chopped tomatoes and the bouquet garni. Bring to a boil, making sure you gently incorporate into the broth all that brown goodness stuck to the bottom of the pot.
·        Place in a 300F degree oven and cook for two hours. While the lamb is cooking prepare the vegetables. Each vegetable will have to be precooked separately. 
·        First, remove the onion skins. When dealing with small onions there is a very easy way to do this: cut off the root and stem ends. Let the onions cook in boiling water for about 2 minutes. Drain them, and when they are cool enough to handle, pick them up one by one. You'll be able to squeeze their skins right off.
·        In a skillet, heat a little of the olive oil and sauté the onions until they turn brown. Add the 1/2 cup of water, a few rosemary leaves, a few thyme leaves and two tablespoons parsley. Simmer slowly until the liquid evaporates, about half an hour.
·        Add the peas and half of the sugar. Stir for about a minute or two and then remove them to a plate and cover to keep them warm.
·        In the same skillet heat a little more olive oil and add the carrots, potatoes, a few rosemary and a few thyme leaves. Stir for about 2 minutes and then add the rest of the sugar. Cook, stirring, for another 5 minutes until the vegetables are browned.
·        When the lamb has cooked for two hours, add the potatoes and carrots but still keep the onions and peas reserved. Mix and cover the pot.
·        Raise the oven temperature to 375F and place the pot back in the oven. Cook for another 45 minutes or until the lamb is really tender. Make sure there is enough liquid in the pot. You may or may not need to add a little bit more.  
·        Discard the bouquet garni and the bones.
·        Stir in the peas and onions, and serve.

·    Like all good stews, this lamb stew will need to be ladled into soup plates. And, like all good stews (perhaps it's a cliché to mention it), it will taste better the next day. 



Friday, 20 April 2012

STUFFED GRAPE LEAVES (with ground beef)

Ouch!  I hurt my back doing yard work.  That made it hard to get ready for Easter.  By the time our guests arrived on Easter Sunday, I was thoroughly exhausted.  I had been cooking since the previous two days, plus planting some flowers, plus setting tables, plus washing pots and pans, plus praying the Tylenol I was taking for my backache would work a little faster.  Even though I was tired, all the preparations were so worth it!  Once I saw the company arrive, I felt brand new.  Well, almost brand new.  My brother and his family came over, plus a family of close friends.  Our friends brought with them their adorable 2 year old daughter Gracie. She all ready has the vocabulary of a high school graduate. Actually, Gracie is something of a scholar, because, at the tender age of two, she attends pre-school.  She saw a band-aid I had on my finger and asked me if I had a boo-boo.  "Yes, I have a bad boo boo," I replied.  "Bad boo boo?" She kissed my band-aid.  How can one not fall in love with Gracie?  

Among the dishes we served were these grape leaves stuffed with ground beef and rice. Gracie of course wanted nothing to do with them. She stuck to lamb, potatoes and salad.  Everybody else enjoyed them.  Usually, but not always, grape leaves stuffed with meat have avgolemono sauce poured over them.  Avgolemono is a Greek egg and lemon sauce.  I chose not to make it, but instead to add extra lemon juice to the cooking liquid.  Why no avgolemono?  Dietary reasons.  We are keeping away from eggs because as you know, they are high in cholesterol. The stuffed grape leaves were very good, and without the sauce they were healthier.

Ingredients:
1 jar (16 ounces)  grape vine leaves
about 8 tablespoons olive oil
 1 onion, chopped
 3 cloves garlic, chopped
 1 bunch scallions, chopped, use as much of the green part as you can
 3 tbsp fresh mint, chopped                                  
 4 tbsp fresh dill, chopped                                    
 2 tbsp fresh parsley, chopped
 2 lb. lean ground beef 
 1 leek, white part only, finely chopped
 3/4 cup raw long-grain rice
 1/2 cup crushed tomatoes                      
 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
 salt and pepper to taste
 3 or 4 cans (14 ounces each) chicken broth plus water as needed
 juice of two juicy lemons

Directions:
  • Remove the grape leaves from the jar and discard the briny liquid they were packed in.  Soak them in hot water for one or two hours, changing the water a few times in order to remove the saltiness of the brine.  When you have desalinated the grape leaves, set them aside.  
  • Save all the stems and leaves from the herbs, scallions and leeks that you would ordinarily discard.  Make sure they are rinsed well.
  • Heat 2 tablespoons of the olive oil in a large skillet.  Saute the onions and garlic until the onions are translucent.  Turn off the heat, add the herbs and scallions and mix.  Set the mixture aside.
  • In the same skillet heat 2 tablespoons of olive oil, add the ground meat and leek and cook, stirring, until the meat is browned, about 10 minutes. 
  • Add the tomatoes and 3/4 cup chicken broth.  Season with salt and pepper,  bring to a boil and add the rice.  Lower the heat, cover, and cook until the rice is partially cooked and the liquid has been absorbed.  You don't want the rice to cook all the way, because it will finish cooking later. 
  • Now add the onion and herb mixture to the meat and stir well.  Season again with salt and pepper and set aside, covered, until it's cool enough to handle. Once the filling has cooled, stir in the Parmesan cheese.
ZAP!  I love adding the Parmesan Cheese!
  • Line the bottom of a medium size heavy Dutch oven with the stems and leaves that you have saved.
  • Cut off the stems of the grape leaves.  Now comes the time to start filling them.  Place the shiny side of the leaf down, and set the filling on the duller looking side, where the veins are thicker.  Fill each grape leaf with about 1 tablespoon of the mixture.  Roll up the grape leaf, folding in the sides, so that you have a neat bundle.  
  • I had lots of grape leaves to stuff, so I moved the show to our breakfast area, were we have a television set.  I spread a few kitchen towels on the breakfast table, I placed a bowl full of filling and a plate of grape leaves on top of the towels, then I sat at the table and turned on the TV.  I watched some TV, I stuffed some grape leaves, and that was the easy way to go about it, especially since my back was aching.  Below I have some pictures that show the basic steps of rolling grape leaves.  
    • Fit the stuffed grape leaves, seam side down, on top of the stems in the Dutch oven.  Pack them in tightly.  Place a second layer on top, keeping the same pattern of layering.  This is done so that the cooking liquid can penetrate all layers.
    I placed my trusty Dutch oven on the breakfast table.  I sat down, turned on the TV and started stuffing the grape leaves.  They went into the pot one by one.  My mother was sitting next to me and was helping.  She can be pretty bossy, so the TV was set to PBS, nothing wrong with that, except that Lawrence Welk, her favorite, was on.  Mr. Welk, the heartthrob of the octogenarian female!  Anyway, on with the cooking....  
    • Sprinkle the rest of the olive oil over the grape leaves, then add the lemon juice and enough chicken broth to cover. If during cooking you run out of chicken broth just add water. 
    • Take a plate that will fit into the cooking pot and wrap it in aluminum foil, then wrap it in parchment paper.  Place it upside down on top of the grape leaves. This will weigh them down to prevent them from floating around in the pan. Place the lid on the Dutch oven.
    • Cook in a preheated 350° F oven for about 2 hours.  Once in a while during cooking, check to make sure there is enough liquid in the pot.  If it gets too low, just add some more.  The cooking time is long, but that's because the grape leaves have to soften and get as tender as the filling.

    • The grape leaves can be served warm or at room temperature.  Those stems that lined the cooking pot can be discarded, they were there just to add extra flavor.  I hope you make these and enjoy them in good health!

    Tuesday, 17 April 2012

    FRESH TOMATO BRUSCHETTA

    This is a lovely bruschetta recipe packed with flavor.  Fresh tomatoes, enough garlic to keep away the vampires, and a mixture of fresh herbs that gives a je ne sais quoi character to the dish, something that all good appetizers should have. There is lots of fresh basil, and there's parsley and oregano, too. This is the first time I've made bruschetta.  I served it as part of an array of appetizers for our Easter dinner.  I must have checked out about 50 different bruschetta recipes on the Internet before I came up with my own version.  I decided to give it a Greek twist by adding some Kalamata olives, and then, at the last minute, I decided to throw in some capers and some Locatelli brand pecorino-romano cheese.  That's probably my favorite cheese next to feta.  I could top brownies with that cheese, and they would taste better, that's how much I like it.   
    The final version of the recipe did not disappoint. I am now ashamed to admit that I have often bought jarred varieties of tomato bruschetta.  After tasting how wonderfully flavorful this fresh, homemade version was, there is no way I'll ever go back to store bought.  I am a convert.  I loved it, we all loved it!!! Plus, it's really easy to make.  Here's my recipe:
    Ingredients:

    • 6 plum tomatoes 
    • 4 cloves garlic, finely minced
    • 2 shallots, finely minced
    • 1/3 cup coarsely chopped fresh basil
    • 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
    • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
    • 1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar 
    • 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
    • 1 tablespoon capers, rinsed
    • a few Kalamata olives, and and a few sun-dried olives, pitted and chopped
    • 1 tablespoon grated Pecorino Romano cheese  
    • salt and pepper to taste
    The garlic, baked in bread, gives off a subtle flavor
    • 1 or two loaves roasted garlic bread cut into slices for serving (the bread can be stale and it can be cut into slices ahead of time.  Just store it in a plastic bag until ready to use)
    • goat cheese, enough to cover the bread slices you will be using 

    Directions:
    • Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Rinse them under cold running water so that all the seeds are gone, and then dry them with paper towels. Once the tomatoes are dry, dice them up.    
    • Make a dressing by mixing the olive oil, lemon juice, oregano, balsamic vinegar, and salt and pepper. 
    • In a medium sized bowl mix all the other ingredients except the bread and cheese.
    • Top with the dressing and stir to mix.
    • Set aside for about 3-4 hours.  Do not refrigerate.
    • Preheat the oven to 350°F.  Right before the bruschetta is to be served, place the bread slices in the oven and toast them half way through.
    • While the bread is toasting slice the goat cheese.  Take the bread out of the oven, top it with the goat cheese and then place it back in the oven so that it can finish toasting and the cheese can start to melt.
    • Take the bread slices out of the oven and top them with the bruschetta.   
    • Arrange them on a platter and serve.
    Sorry... I can't show you the bruschetta platter because I didn't take a picture of it.  By the time I remembered to grab my camera, the appetizers were gone! The next day I toasted a slice of bread, melted some goat cheese on it and topped it with a some tomato bruschetta that was left over.  It still tasted good.  I enjoyed biting into my crunchy slice of bread, and I savored the medley of fresh herbs and vegetables that made up my delicious treat. 

    Friday, 6 April 2012

    ARTICHOKES à la POLITA: a Greek Artichoke Stew (Αγκινάρες à la πολίτα)


    This hearty stew flavoured with lemon and dill is a medley of braised artichokes, potatoes, carrots, peas, and onions. Spring is a peak harvesting season for artichokes. It's a great time to buy them; they are better tasting, plentiful, and can be had for a good price. Cleaning them is a tedious job, but the effort is worth it. You can use prepared artichokes for dips and such, but for this braised artichoke dish only the fresh stuff will do. The taste of fresh artichokes is far, far superior to the frozen or jarred varieties. The part used here is just the artichoke heart, and when it finishes cooking it's soft and lusciously flavorful. I can't think of cooking fresh artichokes any other way than by turning them into artichokes à la polita.



    Artichokes are native to the Mediterranean region and were cultivated since the time of the ancient Greeks. This recipe has a very long history. Variations of it were popular as far back as Byzantine times. The name polita means that the dish originated in the city of Constantinople, which was the capital of the Byzantine empire. Greeks referred to Constantinople simply as the polis (the city), because it was the most important city in the empire, therefore, à la polita means in the style of the polis, or in the style of Constantinople. 
    Nutritionally, artichokes aid digestion and strengthen liver and gallbladder functions. They are rich in protein and vitamin C and are known to lower blood cholesterol levels. Artichokes are good to eat and are good for you!  Here's my recipe for this flavourful vegetable stew starring the artichoke:

    Ingredients:

    5 scallions, sliced
    1 medium onion, chopped
    2 stalks celery, chopped
    3 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into slices (Yukon gold potatoes taste great when they are braised).
    3 carrots, peeled and sliced into rounds or, if available, one bunch of baby carrots left whole
    1 cup of frozen peas 
    10  pearl onions 
    8 fresh artichoke hearts
    3/4 cup dill, chopped
    Salt and pepper to taste
    juice of one or two lemons (the lemon juice should measure about 1/8 to 1/4 cup, according to taste - no more than that)
    3 cups water or vegetable broth
    6 tablespoons olive oil



    Directions:


    • To clean the artichokes: peel all the hard outer leaves until you reach the softer core. Keep peeling the leaves until you reach the choke which is the uneatable fuzzy part of the artichoke that needs to be scooped out. It can be scooped with a spoon or a small knife, but my favourite way and one that works faster is to use a melon baller.
    • With the use of a paring knife, trim the stem, removing any remnants of the outer leaves. The artichoke heart will start to turn brownish. That's because the chlorophyll present in the hearts begins to oxidize or lose its green colour when exposed to oxygen.  Another thing that happens is enzymatic browning (the same thing that happens to bananas). During this process certain enzymes produce melanin when exposed to oxygen. The melanin turns fruits and vegetables brown. 
    • To prevent oxidation you must place the cleaned artichokes in a water bath with an acid pH: have a bowl of cold water standing by, 10% of which is made up of vinegar or lemon juice. As soon as the hearts are ready, drop them in this water bath and leave them there until they are ready to go into the cooking pot. When you add them to the pot, just pull them out of the water bath, but do not use any of the soaking water for cooking. 
    • Heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil in a large cooking pan. 
    • Add the chopped onions and celery and sauté until the onions are soft. 
    • Add the scallions and pearl onions and sauté for a few more minutes.
    • Add the carrots and the potatoes, and mix.  Season with salt and pepper.  
    • Add the lemon juice, vegetable or chicken broth, and the remaining 3 tablespoons of olive oil.  Bring to a boil, cover and reduce the heat.  Simmer for about 15 minutes.
    • Add the artichokes and dill. Simmer in the broth for 30 to 40 minutes or until the vegetables are soft but not mushy. 
    • During the last ten minutes of cooking add the peas.  
    • Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed. 
    • During cooking, a lot of the liquid will be absorbed or evaporate. Make sure it doesn't totally disappear. If it starts to get low, add more broth or water.  On the other hand, if there is too much liquid left over, you can thicken it with a little flour or cornstarch.
    • Arrange the vegetables on a serving platter and serve.  
    I hope you enjoy this lemony and delicious vegetable recipe with artichokes.