Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Borek with Greens and Feta

Several years ago I formed a lunch collective with a group of co-workers. We took turns bringing in food for each other, sharing the cooking load and saving each other from the truly dismal take-out options surrounding our office. In addition to saving time and money, the club exposed me to a whole library of other people's recipes. But amidst the culinary excitement, some trends started to emerge. There are some ingredients that seem ubiquitous across the continents, and seem to travel in pairs. For one: chickpeas and tomatoes. This classic combination cropped up in Indian, Italian, and general hippie recipes across the board. I think I ate 4-5 variations on the theme. And another combination, one dear to my heart: the savory greens pie.

Even on this blog which only recently passed its first birthday, I've already posted a few passes at this classic package. There's my favorite spanakopita recipe, a Greek-inspired pairing of spinach with creamy feta, cottage cheese, and fresh dill. And this Middle Eastern take, with individual spinach turnovers studded with pine nuts and lemony sumac. And evidently I can't stop, because now I'm going to tell you about the Turkish version: borek.

Borek is a catchall term that could describe a great range of savory pastries, from a phyllo-covered meat turnover to a little cigar-shaped package of cheese rolled in yufka dough. In this case, it's a light yeasted dough layered with greens, herbs and feta cheese. It's lovely, and much easier than the dramatic presentation suggests. The original recipe calls for spinach, but I cooked down some Russian kale instead, and mixed it with a bunch of flat leaf parsley (inspired by the similarly sesame-studded Izmir flatbread in my favorite Paula Wolfert cookbook). It's substantial without being heavy, and since you don't have to worry about flaky phyllo, it's a perfect travel food. There are reasons some things become classics.

Borek with Greens and Feta

adapted from Home Cooking in Montana, who translated it from the Romanian on Gabriela's Blog
yields 1 8" square borek

1/2 cup warm milk
1/4 cup plus 1 Tbsp warm water
1 3/4 tsp active yeast
2 cups flour (you can swap out half whole wheat flour--just add an additional Tbsp water)
3/4 tsp salt

1 Tbsp olive oil
1 bunch Russian or lacinato kale, washed and finely chopped
1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, washed and finely chopped
3/4 cup feta

To finish:
2-3 Tbsp melted butter or olive oil
1 egg, beaten
1 Tbsp sesame seeds

To make the dough: Pour the water and milk in a mixing bowl, sprinkle on the yeast, and allow to soften for a few minutes. Add the flour and salt, kneading with your hands or a dough hook for several minutes until you create a soft, pliable dough that just clears the sides of the bowl (if it doesn't, add a touch more flour). Cover and let sit for a few minutes while you prepare the filling.

To make the filling: Heat the oil over medium heat in a large pot. Add the kale and stir to coat with the oil, and sprinkle with a very light dusting of salt to draw water out. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the kale is softened. Add the parsley, and cook an additional minute. Remove from heat and stir in the crumbled feta.

To assemble and bake: Divide the dough into 3 equal pieces. Roll out the first piece to form a large rectangle, ~15"x17". Drizzle it with the melted butter or olive oil, and then scatter half the filling evenly over the top. Roll out the second piece of dough, lay it on top of the first, and repeat the process with melted butter and the remaining filling. Roll out the final piece of dough, lay it over the top, and drizzle with the remaining butter.

Fold the right- and left-hand sides in, so that they meet in the middle (you can consult the pictorial on this page, which gives you a better idea of the whole process). Repeat with the top and bottom, so you have a nicely folded package. Flip it upside-down, so the smooth underside is on top. Roll it gently with a rolling pin, taking care to not tear the dough while you ease it into a roughly 8" square. If you have parchment paper, place the borek on a large square of it. With a large knife, cut through all the layers halfway through each side and on the diagonal, yielding 8 little triangles. Pick up the parchment, and transfer the cut square into an 8" brownie pan (if you don't have parchment, just make sure your pan is well-greased). Cover lightly with a clean dishtowel, and let rise for about 1 hour.

When the dough is almost done rising, preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Gently brush the dough with the beaten egg, and sprinkle with sesame seeds. Place in the oven and bake until lightly browned, ~30-45 minutes. Let cool and serve.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Granola Bars

There seem to be certain truisms of parenting an infant. Baby boys will pee on you about once a week. Finding the time to shower is shockingly difficult. And new nursing mothers crave nothing more than calorie-dense, healthy snacks that can be eaten with one hand.

I spent last weekend with my dear friend in Minneapolis, checking in on her and her adorable cooing baby boy. In addition to catching up, taking walks, and general infant detail, we cooked a staggering amount of food. Potato knishes (and their exciting cousins, broccoli cheddar potato knishes), red lentil soup, borscht, kreplach, chard and carrot salad, lentil walnut burgers, enchilada sauce, sloppy sauce, oatmeal raisin cookies, and some other things I’m probably forgetting. I’m surprised we were able to close the freezer. I can report that, based upon this small nonscientific sampling, any of the above would be happily received by a new mother. But these homemade granola bars might be our most exciting creation.

The majority of commercially-made granola bars are tooth-achingly sweet, more like a oaty alternative to a doughnut than an actual health food. Luckily Smitten Kitchen took on this quest for a delicious granola bar, and adapted a recipe from the venerable King Arthur Flour blog (the folks behind my favorite peanut butter chocolate cookies). I took this adaptation and tweaked it even further, cutting the sugar down yet again, swapping out honey for the corn syrup (or, as I believe it would like to be known, corn sugar), fussing with the spices, and replacing the butter with the oh-so-delicious coconut oil. This recipe is a lovely loose template, giving you a framework into which you can sneak any nuts, seeds, dried fruit, or other nubby goodness your pantry and heart steer you towards (we went with a pantry-cleaning mix of almonds, walnuts, pecans, sesame seeds, flax meal, coconut, dried cranberries and raisins). The bars are like your favorite granola, all toasty and nutty, pressed into a convenient hand-held cube. Irresistible. I doubled the recipe and left behind a lasagna pan’s-worth of bars behind me, but I doubt they’ll last the week.

Granola Bars

adapted from King Arthur Flour, via Smitten Kitchen
yields 1 8" square tray

Make sure you let these bars fully chill in the refrigerator before cutting. If you’re impatient and jump the gun (because, say, you needed to clear out the casserole dish in order to fill it with spanikopita), your bars may crumble a bit (in a related note, the crumbles are ridiculously delicious with yogurt). Chilling the bars fully sets them firmly, allowing you to neatly chop them into single servings.

1 2/3 cups rolled oats (aka oatmeal)
1/3 cup oat flour (if your pantry doesn’t contain this, just blitz oatmeal until it’s reduced to a floury powder)
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 tsp salt
pinch cinnamon
pinch cardamom
pinch nutmeg
2-3 cups dried fruits, nuts, seeds or grains of your choosing (walnuts, almonds, cashews, pecans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, raisins, prunes, dried apricots, currants, flax seeds, ground flax meal, etc etc etc)
6 Tbsp coconut oil (substitute butter if desired)
1/3 cup almond butter (or peanut butter)
4-6 Tbsp honey (depending on your sweet tooth and honey availability)
1 Tbsp water

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.

If your nuts aren’t toasted, you can toast them in the oven while you’re assembling the other ingredients (this step may sound fussy, but the depth of flavor you get is totally worth it—just make sure you don’t forget and burn everything).

Mix together all of the dry ingredients (including sugar) in a large bowl, and set aside. Line an 8” square pan with parchment, if you have it, or just grease the pan well and hope for the best. Set aside.

Place the coconut oil in a saucepan, and warm over a low heat until it melts (this won’t take long). Add the almond butter, honey, and water, let sit for a moment to warm and loosen, and then mix until well combined. Pour this syrupy mixture over your dry ingredients, and stir until well combined. Pour the combined dough into your pan, and press it down firmly to compact it evenly. Place in the oven and bake ~30-45 minutes, until the edges and top are lightly browned (if you like your bars chewy take them out as soon as this browning happens, when the bars seem barely set; for crisper bars wait until they are well-browned). Let the pan of uncut bars cool to room temperature, then move them to the refrigerator until they are fully chilled (~45 minutes). Remove the bars from the pan, and cut them into shapes of your choosing. Store at room temperature in a covered container, or in the refrigerator if the weather’s hot and humid. They also freeze beautifully.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Kreplach Redux

It seems I've been somewhat remiss this Rosh Hashanah. Yes, I told you about a galette that played on the traditional flavors of the holiday, mixing crisp apples with rosemary-infused honey. But I somehow forgot to tell you about my kreplach. I wrote about kreplach here last year, when I first figured out how to make the lovely wonton-like packages on my own (thanks, egullet!). But last week I ran a story in our paper plumbing the history, significance and technique behind this delicious-yet-unfortunately-named dumping, and somehow I forgot to tell you all about it. Oops! I'm atoning for it now -- you can follow the link and read the details in The Oregonian.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Rosemary Honey Apple Galette

A few years ago, I read a great article attempting to parse the seemingly random trends in baby names. Sociologists weighed the evidence, and tried to figure out why there now seem to be a glut of Isabellas but nary a Lisa in sight. They pointed to numerous factors, but one that stuck out in my mind was the strong pull of the slight variation. Sometimes a name becomes so popular that it starts to feel a wee bit stale. But make the smallest of tweaks, and the name sounds fresh again. Exit Madeleine, enter Madison. My daily world is food (as opposed to baby names), but I know just what they mean. Sometimes I want the familiar flavors of tradition. But I'm also a little bit bored with that, and crave a variation that satisfies off my childhood memories while appealing to my grownup tastes. Exit the honey cake, enter the rosemary honey apple galette.

This week brings Rosh Hashanah, the Jewish new year celebration. Apples and honey are traditionally eaten on the holiday, to give a sweetly auspicious start to the coming year. Many of my sticky childhood memories involve a bowl of MacIntoshes and a bear-shaped plastic squeeze bottle. I wanted to make a dessert featuring that familiar combination, but providing a more sophisticated riff on the season.

This galette does the job beautifully. The apples are a tart, firm variety, instead of the mealy Macs of my youth, and are featured front-and-center in the open-faced tart. Honey is used to flavor a thin layer of frangipane, a base of almond custard that keeps things from drying out, and also drizzled on top after the galette comes out of the oven. But even better, the frangipane and finishing honey are both infused with the piney scent of rosemary. It's subtle, providing just a bit of sharpness to play against the sweet round notes of apples and honey. I daresay it could start a new tradition of its own.

Rosemary Honey Apple Galette

2 Tbsp butter, softened to room temperature
3 Tbsp honey
1 Tbsp finely-chopped fresh rosemary
1/3 cup ground almonds
pinch salt
1/4 tsp vanilla
1 egg

To Finish:
1 unbaked pie crust
4-5 apples (~2 lbs), a tart variety like Granny Smith, peeled, halved and cored, and thinly sliced (I like to keep the slices together in the apple-half shape, and just fan them slightly onto the crust)
1 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 sprig rosemary

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees.

Mix together the frangipane ingredients (this is a snap in a food processor, but you can easily mix it by hand if you take care to finely mince the rosemary). Set aside.

Roll out the crust to a few circle with a diameter a few inches larger than your tart pan. Ease it gently into the pan, and spread the frangipane evenly over the base (just the base, not the overhang). Lay the apples on top, fanning the slices slightly and arranging them in whatever design you like. Take the overhanging crust, and fold it gently inwards to cover the edges of the apple slices, arranging it into folds as needed. Brush the exposed apples and crust with the melted butter, and sprinkle both lightly with the sugar. Bake until the apples brown at the edges and the crust is becoming lightly burnished, ~45 minutes.

Shortly before the galette has finished baking, take the remaining scant 1/4 cup honey and place it in a saucepan with the rosemary. Heat it gently, so that the honey becomes runny and infuses with the rosemary flavor (don't let it come to too much of a boil, or it'll be reduced to an unpourable thickness). Fish the rosemary out with a fork, and drizzle the infused honey over the apples. Serve.