Along the Grapevine


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Kuku Sabzi

DSC03552.JPGThis is a dish I discovered recently in, of all places, a donut shop which I only visited because I was in need of a coffee fix. A little plastic container of something green caught my eye and I had to try it. I decided it was some kind of exotic omelette and that it contained chickpea flour. Other than that all I knew was that it was one of the best store-bought breakfasts I’d had.

When I returned a few weeks later to ask for another one, the owner explained her customers only wanted donuts, so she gave up making her ‘green patties’. She was pleased I was interested, and told me her husband is Iranian, and that this traditional sort of frittata is called kuku sabzi. So at least I had some way of finding out how it is made.

Once I read a sufficient number of recipes, I was able to come up with my own using, you guessed it, weeds from my garden.

What I learned in my research is that it is indeed a sort of omelette, heavy on the herbs and light on the eggs – just enough to hold the mixture together. It seems just about any kind of herb goes well in this dish, as do sometimes dried fruit and/or nuts. Spices also vary, but I came across one recipe that called for advieh, a Persian specialty blend which includes rose petals. The recipe I used can be found here, but do note that if you don’t have rose petals you can leave those out.

So once I mixed up some advieh, picked a lot of lambsquarters from the fields, I went about making my first sabzi.

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Kuku Sapzi

Ingredients

2 cups lambsquarters, packed

1 cup parsely, packed

3 eggs, beaten

1 Tbsp chickpea flour

2 tsp advieh

salt and pepper to taste

Method

Chop the greens. Mix them well with all the other ingredients. Heat 4 Tbsp olive oil in a heavy skillet. Add the mixture and pat it down. Cover with a lid and cook on a medium low heat for about 8 minutes. Remove the lid and broil for about two minutes, until beginning to brown on top. Serve warm or cooled. It will keep refrigerated for 3 days.

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The number of variations for this recipe could be endless, and I will definitely be making this again but with different herbs and greens, sometimes nuts or cheese and fruit. It is one of those dishes which can be adapted to any location, just about any season, and unless you have something against green, you will want to make it often.

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Linked to: Fiesta Friday #227, Lizet at Chipa by the Dozen; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook.

Related posts: Lambsquarters,  Lambsquarters Triangles, Lambsquarters Samosas, Lambsquarters and Farro Burgers.


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Spicy Maple Pinwheels

DSC02939The sap is running from our maple trees, the buckets are hung, and we are keeping one eye on the pot (and the other up the chimney) when boiling the sap. I am also busy using up last year’s stock which gives me lots of opportunity to experiment with new recipes, and I am trying to come up with new flavour combinations. Maple syrup is such an icon in Canadian cooking we sometimes prefer to stick with the tried and true, but I felt adventurous with this recipe. Since I discovered that hot spices are the best addition to chocolate, why not do the same with maple syrup? Sweet and spicy are a good bet for me, and to experiment I used two flavours, ginger for half the recipe and chili peppers for the other half. If you choose to go with one, then double the quantity of that spice in the filling.DSC02943

These “cookies” are made with a yeast dough – neither very sweet nor rich. I also deliberately made them not too pillowy or sticky. I used spelt flour which has a delicious nutty taste, although regular wheat flour would work too, and I kept them vegan by using coconut oil just because. I expect butter would be just as good.DSC02945

Spicy Maple Pinwheels


Ingredients for the dough

2 tsp instant yeast (or the equivalent of fresh yeast if you have it)

1 1/2 cup warm water

2 Tbsp maple syrup

4 1/2 cups flour (approximately)

1/2 cup coconut oil, softened

1 tsp salt

Ingredients for the filling

1 cup coconut oil

1 cup maple syrup

1 tsp chili pepper flakes

3 tbsp chopped candied ginger

1/2 cup granulated maple sugar (or other granulated sugar)

Method

Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of the water. Add to it the 2 Tbsp of maple syrup, 1 cup of warm water and 1 cup of spelt flour. Cover with a cloth and set in a warm place until it becomes spongy, about 2 hours.

Mix in the softened coconut oil, salt and the flour, a little at a time. When the dough comes together, turn it out onto a floured board and kneed for about 5 minutes. Place in a bowl and allow to rise for a second time until it has doubled in bulk. Meanwhile, make the filling by beating the coconut oil and maple syrup with a beater. Add the spices, chili to half the mixture and chopped ginger to the other half.

When the dough has risen, divide it in two and roll each piece into a rectangle of about 20 x 12 inches. The dough should be quite thin. Spread the filling evenly over the dough and sprinkle the granulated sugar on top.  Roll up from the long (20 in.) side. Slice the roll into 1 inch pieces and place them on a parchment lined tray to rise covered with a tea towel – about 1/2 hour.

Before baking, press each cookie down to flatten somewhat. Bake at 350 degrees F for 30 to 35 minutes. Makes 24 cookies.

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The pepper ones are pretty hot, but I was correct in supposing that spice and maple syrup is a winning combination for those who like a little piquant to our snacks. The ginger is also very good, and might be better for those who are not great fans of chili. DSC02947

Linked to Angie’s Fiesta Friday #110, Jhuls’ The Not so Creative Cook and Apsara’s Eating Well Diary.

 

 

 


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Seasoning with Prickly Ash

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I first took note of a prickly ash (zanthoxylum americanum) tree last spring when I noticed the cluster of green berries had a very enticing aroma. I had to find out what this bushy plant was before I tasted it, and when I identified it I learned it is not only edible, but a common ingredient in Chinese cuisine known as Szechwan pepper. Assuming the berries had to ripen before harvesting, I only recently got around to collecting a few and was keen to try cooking with them. What I didn’t realize was that the berries can be harvested any time there are leaves present, i.e. from mid-spring to late fall, so green, red, dark blue or black, they are all good.

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First, a little about this tree or shrub. It grows mostly in shaded woods throughout much of central and north-eastern North America. There are closely related species elsewhere, such as the zanthoxylum bungeanum which is the one used in China and which has a similar taste. The plant can grow anywhere from 9 to 18 feet in height, and is usually part of a larger thicket.

It is belongs to the rutaceae (rue), or citrus family, which explains the lemony scent of the leaves. To help identify it, watch for these characteristics:

  • a smooth grey to brown bark dotted with small mounds with a couple of spikes on each
  • alternate compound leaves (5-11 on each) with a lemon scent and oval in shape
  • clusters of berries growing close to the branches, green in the spring, red in the summer and blue then black in the fall. When the seeds drop out the open husks remain
  • one or two hard, smooth black seeds inside the berries

A few of the berries I picked were still red, most were black, and many husks had lost their seeds but can be collected all the same.

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I tasted some of the berries right off the tree. I was surprised by the flavour and the effect of eating them raw. A mixture of lemon and pepper was at first pleasant, followed by a numbing of lips and tongue – and I now understand why one of the many medicinal uses of this is for ‘dry mouth’. I found the experience slightly alarming, but hoped that roasting and/or cooking would eliminate the unpleasant effect but not the flavour.

For my first experiment, I decided to just grind one teaspoon of the berries coarsely and then roast them lightly in a skillet. I decided to pair them with nothing stronger than olive oil and crushed garlic, all of which I mixed together into a paste. I then applied a liberal coating to about one pound of chicken breast and roasted it. The flavour was as expected – citrussy and peppery and none of the anaesthetic or salivating effects were felt. I could have used a smaller amount and the flavour would still have been enough, but you will have to experiment a little yourself to find the right proportions for your palate. I believe with the addition of other spices, like cumin, ginger root, anise or chilis, a delicious ‘masala’ could be achieved.

I also roasted and ground some (a very small amount) and mixed it with ground dried garlic to season vegetables to be roasted. This method gave a very subtle flavour, a welcome alternative to black pepper (which does not grow in my backyard). With enough berries to keep me going for the winter, I will work on different spice mixtures using this newly discovered spice, and come spring I will be sure to start gathering them much earlier.

One word of caution though. These shrubs or trees are as the name suggests – very prickly. They are not difficult to pick and you can collect several in your hand at a time just be clutching a bunch, but dress to protect yourself from the thorns.

Seasoning with Prickly Ash on Punk Domestics