Along the Grapevine


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Canada Goose Confit Tamales

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This is a two-part recipe, one for a Canada goose confit and one for tamales, and each recipe can stand alone. The confit can be made from chicken, duck, or most meats, so if you don’t have goose, you can still use the same recipe. Likewise, just about any filling can be used for tamales – it is more for the methods than the exact ingredients that I write this post. You may have your own local ingredients that would serve well in these recipes.

I just happened to have received my annual Canada goose and wanted to prepare it in such a way that it could be preserved and used in small amounts for several recipes. So I began by making my confit.

Confit is a way of preserving poultry or meat so that it has a shelf life of several months. It can be bought ready-made in a good butcher’s shop, and although it’s expensive, it is worth it. Often used in cassoulets and other bean dishes, it can also be added to rice or vegetable dishes.

The process for making it takes some time, but it is really quite easy. First the meat is cured in salt for several hours, then cooked long and slow covered in fat – duck or goose fat is good if you have it, but lard or oil can also be used. Then it is packed and sealed, again covered in fat, in mason jars.

This was my first attempt, and while it worked, I would change my method slightly next time and make it less complicated. I did not have a second goose, so I made do with it, but for the recipe I will direct you to two recent posts I read on the subject. Forager Chef  offers a very straight forward method with a delicious berry sauce and Married with Cauldron who makes duck confit with sunflower oil. Both these recipes are very helpful to anyone trying this for the first time.

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Just for the record, I used lard that I had rendered myself. Once you remove whatever fat you have used to cook and store it, you can use that for heating up the meat, roasting vegetables, or as in my case, to make tamales.

Now for the second part of this recipe. I’d never made tamales before, but I have tasted many varieties of this ancient dish in several Latin American countries. If you are not familiar with them, they are a cornmeal mash filled with meat, vegetable and sometimes fruit, wrapped and steamed in corn husks.

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I keep corn husks on hand even though tamales have never been part of my repertoire. They are very useful for just about anything where you normally use aluminum foil. I use them on the grill, to roast and “tent”, sometimes just to line or cover dishes. They impart a delicious flavour of their own, and can be composted after use. I highly recommend them.DSC02857

I read many, many posts on making tamales, (the singular of which is tamal)  mostly from Latin America because I was looking for authentic recipes. Before this I had no idea that the cornmeal was usually mixed with beaten lard, but was relieved to find that I could use what I had from cooking the goose.DSC02853

For a vegetarian version, they are sometimes made with vegetable oil which I have yet to try. For this recipe I worked out my own proportions and flavourings, and aimed for something resembling what I knew. And I am pleased to say the recipe worked out just as I had hoped.

Canada Goose Tamales


Ingredients for the cornmeal

6 cups cornmeal

4 cups stock (approximately)

1 Tbsp salt

2 Tbsp chili powder

2 cups lard (or other fat)

Ingredients for the filling

1 lb goose confit

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, chopped

1 tsp each coriander, cumin and black pepper

2 hot chili peppers (or to taste)

2 tsp pepper jelly (or other sweet condiment)

I/2 cup stock, vegetable or meat or combination of both

To make the goose filling, fry the onion until it is soft. Add the garlic, pepper and spices and cook for a further two minutes. Add the stock and jelly, reduce the heat and continue to cook until the liquid has evaporated. Set aside to cool.

To make the cornmeal mixture, start by pouring hot water over the husks and all them to soak until soft, about ten minutes. Combine the dry ingredients and stir in the stock gradually until mixture is the consistency of peanut butter. Let it sit for 20 minutes. Meanwhile beat the lard with an electric mixer until it is very fluffy (see photo above). Stir the lard into the cornmeal mixture.

Place one corn husk on a flat surface and spread the corn mixture in a thin layer in the centre, leaving about 3/4 of an inch at either end, and about half an inch on either side. Place about 2 Tbsp of filling down the centre of the corn and roll up the husk. Tie the ends with string or with strips of corn husk. Repeat for the other tamales.

Place in a steamer and steam for 20 minutes. To serve, untie the bundles and discard the husks.

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There was enough cornmeal for 3 dozen tamales, but only enough goose filling for 16. For the rest I made a vegetable filling with caramelized onions, chopped wild mushrooms, grated scapes, seasoning and a little vegetable stock, following the same method as I used with the goose filling.DSC02862

Once steamed, tamales can be stored in the fridge for three days or frozen for longer, and reheated by steaming them again for about five minutes (depending on how thick they are). They can be eaten on their own as a hearty snack, a light meal, and combined with salad, salsa, refried beans or however you like. DSC02864

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Linked to: Fiesta Friday #102;  hosted by Angie at The Novice Gardener, co-hosted by Elaine at Foodbod and Julie at Hostess at Heart

 


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Juniper Berries and Soup

DSC02831Since I began working on this blog, I have found two things about foraging which surprise me. First, that you can forage quite happily in the winter even in this snowiest of landscapes for some really worthwhile ingredients, one of which I am writing about today. In fact, the winter has the advantage of being insect-free, and as long as there’s not a blizzard and you are dressed for it, the venture is very invigorating and a great excuse to enjoy the outdoors. Just don’t remove gloves for too long while you take photographs or snip branches, both of which are impossible with furry gloves.

The other surprise is that some of the most overlooked and miniscule pickings add so much flavour and are every bit as valuable as the bulkier crops. Good seasonings and spices are essential in cooking, and if they are local, fresh and free, all the better.

I have always used juniper berries in cooking, usually to flavour fish, game, sauerkraut and choucroute garnie, but no longer will I buy little plastic boxes from the supermarket. I found my own source, and they are so good!

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These ones grow on what is usually referred to as the Eastern Red Cedar which is misleading because it is not a cedar, but a juniper, juniperus virginiana to be exact. This same cedar we use to add a scent to our linen trunks and repel moths is not a cedar at all – another surprise for me. There are other varieties of juniper, but I will only try and describe this one as I have direct experience with it. So here are a few facts you’ll need to identify it.

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Where it grows:  Eastern North America, hardy to zone 3.

Description: A coniferous evergreen which in poor soil may just be a shrub but in the right conditions can grow as high as 40-50 feet with a spread of 8-15 feet.  It is pyramid shaped. The leaves change appearance with age. The young ones, on trees up to three years old and the new growth on older trees have sharp spreading needles about 2-4 inches long. Leaves of older trees are green and scale-like arranged in overlapping groups of four. The trees I picked from were of the younger variety. There is a good picture showing the leaves at different stages in this post. The fruit are small currant sized cones resembling berries, dark blue with a white waxy coating which makes them look sky blue.

Uses: The cones are used in cooking and making gin, the leaves are toxic. The bark is used as a moth repellant, and the wood is used in building fence posts. Oil is extracted from leaves, bark and wood.

Benefits and Cautions: The cones (which look like berries) have an antiviral compound called deoxypodophyllotoxin (DPT) which is used against some viruses. People used to add it to tea as a medicinal herb. They should not be taken in large amounts.

Juniper Berries on Punk Domestics

At this point I was just interested in using these little cones (berries), and as I am off rich and meaty dishes at this time of year, I decided to make a vegan soup – a pea soup, with some aromatic flavour. I also used some of my prickly ash, or szechwan pepper, but if you don’t have that you can just use more black pepper. And if you don’t have these plants in your area, you can buy both juniper berries or Szechwan pepper at a good spice store.

 

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I soaked, then cooked one pound of split peas. Once cooked I added 1 chopped onion, 1 carrot, 4 crushed cloves of garlic, 10 juniper berries, 1 tsp Szechwan pepper, 1 tsp black pepper and salt to taste. I simmered it until all vegetables were cooked.

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You can vary the spiciness  according to your taste of course. By using these less common flavours, you will find this familiar soup takes on a whole new character. If you have a favourite dish using juniper berries, I would love to hear about it.

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Linked to:  Angie at The Novice Gardener; Jhuls at The Not So Creative Cook and Mr. Fitz of Cooking with Mr. Fitz.

 

 

 


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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

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After having harvested and preserved a few cups of tender young spruce tips for yesterday’s post, what to do with them today? I wanted to make something special for Angies’ Fiesta Friday, but I don’t have a whole lot of experience cooking with this particular ingredient. I did make teacookies and a vodka infusion all with pine needles, so I have to take it to the next level. Also it was difficult to decide which preserve I should use – the salt, sugar or syrup. The syrup is very easy to eat, with much of the resin flavour barely perceptible, so would be good for those who are not yet ready for a large dose of the spruce’s distinctive flavour. On the other hand, the sugar and salt are such excellent vehicles for this unusual flavour, I wanted to experiment with them first.

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Finally, I decided on ice cream – an ice cream that combines sugar and salt, and of course these gorgeous little green shoots. So first I made a caramel sauce, let it cool, and stirred in just a little of the salt and spruce mix. I figured that if it was really bad, at least I wouldn’t have wasted my home-made ice cream. Well, it was not really bad. In fact, it was superb and I could have just eaten it all, but resisted and saved it to swirl into my plain ice cream. You could take this sauce and just serve it with a vanilla ice cream. You could also use it with your own favourite recipe. But I will share with you my simple ice cream made with a custard base along with the caramel sauce and, of course, the spruce-flavoured salt.

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Salted Caramel Spruce Ice Cream

The Ice Cream

1 cup milk

1 cup heavy cream (35%)

1/4 cup sugar

3 eggs, beaten

Heat the first three ingredients until they start to boil. Remove 1 cup of this mixture, and add just a little at a time to the eggs. Return the egg mixture to the pan and continue to stir on a low heat until it coats a spoon (or is about 170 F). Allow to cool. Put it into the fridge until cold. Pour it into an ice cream machine and allow to freeze.

The Caramel

1/4 cup melted butter

1/2 cup brown sugar

1/4 cup milk

1 tsp. spruce salt

Over a medium heat, add the brown sugar to the melted butter and once dissolved, add the milk. Continue to stir for about 8 minutes, until the mixture thickens. If not sure, remove a small amount on a spoon and when it is cool, it should be of caramel sauce consistency. Remove from the heat and let it cool completely. Add the spruce salt.

Spruce Salt

1 part spruce tips, 1 part coarse sea salt

Blend these in a food processor until the tips are roughly chopped. Spread on a tray to dry.

To finish, take the ice cream from the machine, stir in the caramel sauce gently using a knife to create a marble effect. Place in a covered container and freeze.

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Lambsquarters Triangles

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My first crop of lambsquarters (chenopodium album) is ripe for picking. For the backyard forager, this is a real gift. There is no crop I could plant that would give me as much mass and nutrition as this one does, and I know I am guaranteed another few batches wherever the garden has been dug. Lambs quarters not only like the recently tilled soil of vegetable and flower gardens – they grow virtually everywhere, and if you think you are not familiar with them, it may be just because you overlooked them because they are so common. However, pick only from clean, uncontaminated areas.

I wrote about lambsquarters last year at this time, when I made a Barley and Lemon dish and outlined the health benefits and tried to give enough information to identify it safely. I will share again the photo from last year which is a good close-up.

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And here is this year’s first patch.

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It  is easy enough to pick – just pluck off the tender tops and snip off leaves lower down if they are unblemished. Many people don’t like to eat them raw because of the fuzzy texture on the base of the leaves, but remember that when cooked, they will shrink just like spinach, so you will need a good amount.

They work in any recipe calling for spinach, although their flavour is a bit milder and therefore they benefit from additions of herbs and other strong flavoured ingredients. For that reason my spinach-inspired recipe, something very much like spanakopitas, contains not only lambsquarters and cheese but also a few young dandelion leaves and a generous bunch of mint. You can mix them with any seasonal greens, or use them on their own if you gather enough.

Lambsquarters

  • Servings: 36 pieces
  • Print

3/4 lb. lamsquarters + mixed greens

1 shallot, chopped fine

2 cloves of garlic, minced

juice of 1/2 lemon

200 grams feta cheese, crumbled

ground pepper, to taste

1/4 tsp. nutmeg

1 egg

1 lb phyllo pastry

olive oil for frying and brushing on pastry (about 1/2 cup all together)

Method

Fry the shallot in 3 Tbsp of olive oil. When cooked, but not browned, add the minced garlic, pepper and nutmeg.

Wash the greens. If using greens other than lambsquarters, chop the larger leaves so they may be evenly distributed among the mixture.

Add all the greens to the frying pan, lower the heat and cover. Stir once in a while so everything gets cooked evenly. This will take only about five minutes until all the greens look cooked.

Remove from the heat and add the lemon juice and the cheese. Allow to cool slightly and add one beaten egg.

To make the triangles, cut the phyllo into strips about 3 inches wide. Be sure to cover the rest of the phyllo with a damp cloth, as it really does dry out quickly. Brush the strip lightly with oil.

Place a generous teaspoon of the mixture on one of the bottom corners and fold the pastry lengthwise in half, covering the filling. If the pastry has been folded left to right, take the bottom right corner of the pastry and draw it towards the left hand edge. Then take the left hand corner and draw it to the right. See photo following the recipe for clarification.

When rolled to the end, you should have a neat triangle. If the pastry rips a little in the process, not to worry. The folding will cover it up.

Brush the top lightly with oil and place on a parchment lined cookie sheet. Bake at 325 degrees F for 25 minutes, or until crisp and golden.

 

Dandelion Gin Fizz on Punk Domestics

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I am sharing this at this week’s Fiesta Friday. I know some of the guests have been doing some foraging, but for those who haven’t tried yet, these flaky pastries filled with wild garden greens are just the encouragement you might need to get out and enjoy the weeds!

 

 


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Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup with Soba Noodles

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Freshly Picked Dandelions

This recipe has two parts to it – the dandelion part and the noodles. The dandelion ‘soup’ can be served on its own, or with anything else you like, and of course the noodles are soba noodles, so you probably know how you like them.

I’ll start with the dandelion part. I weeded two patches of garden and found some dandy looking ‘lions. This is the best time of the year to eat the greens, before the flowers appear, as this is when they are at their sweetest. The roots also looked thick, crisp and white on the inside. I have made tea and ersatz coffee with them before, but wanted to do something else, so I thought of combining them in a soup. The roots are a little bitter when raw, but lose most of that bitterness when cooked. I decided to offset the slight bitterness of the greens with something sweet, which made me think of adding something sour, which in turn suggested hot and spicy. With the saltiness of the soya sauce, I think I covered every taste we have.

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Dandelion Greens

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Dandelion Roots

For more on identifying dandelions and their spectacular nutritional value, check out this site.

To make the soup, you will have to clean the leaves several times to make sure they are really clean. I don’t bother cleaning the roots too much, as I peel and then rinse them. Of course, you can use a mixture of other greens too. Because it is a soup, quantities can vary, as can the ingredients. I used mushrooms, green onions and flavourings, such as chili, garlic and ginger. Pretty simple really.

Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup

4 cups water

a handful of chopped, cleaned dandelion roots

1 in. ginger root, sliced thinly

4 medium sized mushrooms, chopped

2 green onions, chopped

2 cloves of garlic

1 hot chili pepper, chopped (or dried flakes or hot sauce to taste)

4 Tbsp soya sauce

2 Tbsp rice wine vinegar

2 Tbsp honey

Mix all these ingredients in a saucepan, heat and simmer until the dandelion roots and ginger are well cooked. Just before serving, add a big handful of dandelion greens and cook for another couple of minutes.

Such a soup suggested to me soba noodles – but I didn’t have any – so had to make some. I started making soba noodles long ago, in a far-away country where I couldn’t buy them. I decided just to mix buckwheat flour with water, roll and cut it like any other pasta, and that was it. The best soba noodles I had ever had. Now I have the luxury of being able to consult the internet, and  it seems it is harder to do right after all. But maybe that’s not the internet’s fault. I think my buckwheat is the wrong kind. Yes, not all buckwheat is made equal, and I believe mine is of a course nature. If you have the choice and want to make your own, I would buy a very fine flour in an Asian shop. The type you want is called sobakoh. But if you are like me, have no choice, but still want to make your own, just use whatever buckwheat you have. They will still be good, they will just break more easily. Another solution is to mix 3 parts buckwheat with 1 part wheat flour. I might do that next time just to compare.

I did do two things I never tried before. One was to use a food processor to mix the dough because now I have one. The other was to add boiling water to the flour – a process I can’t justify but it seemed to work quite well.

Soba Noodles

1 cup of buckwheat flour

1/2 cup boiling water (approx.)

Add the boiling water slowly to the flour while processing until the dough forms into a ball.

You can also do this by hand, in which case you should mix it in a bowl and kneed once you are able to form a ball.

 

Divide the ball in two and roll each piece on a floury board into a rectangle. No need to make it super thin, – it will probably start breaking if you get it too thin.

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Soba Noodle Dough

In my first attempt I cut the strands by hand, which is quite easy to do, but mine did not look very neat.

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Hand-cut Noodles

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Machine-cut Noodles

For my second batch I used  my pasta maker. I got more breakage, but it looked neater.

Put the pasta into a big pan of boiling water – give it lots of room so it doesn’t stick together – and boil for 1 minute. Strain through a sieve, and run it under cold water, shaking the sieve to prevent the strands from sticking.

To serve, spoon some noodles into a dish.

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Cooked Noodles

Ladle out the soup on top and garnish with something green. I used green onions.

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Sweet and Sour Dandelion Soup with Soba Noodles

So anyone at Angie’s Fiesta Friday #13 up for trying a sweet and sour soup made with entire dandelion plants and some slightly fractured soba noodles, I hope you enjoy this thoroughly original, tried and tested only by me recipe.

 

 

 


18 Comments >

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The best part of foraging is that you can harvest without ever planting a thing, and harvest before you have even had a chance to plant. My seeds for my vegetable garden are just beginning to sprout now inside the house, and it will be some time before any of them are useable, and I face a lot of work before any reach maturity. Meanwhile, wild greens are quickly making their appearance, and I don’t have to walk more than a few feet from my back door to find something tasty, or at least nutritious and green. That’s a good thing, considering it’s snowing outside as I write this, and the ground is just plain muddy. Luckily I picked a few leaves yesterday to add to a vegetarian curry of sorts. I am not suggesting you make curry necessarily – just to be aware that these harbingers of the growing season are already there for the picking, to be used in soups, salads, stews, baking, or wherever you want them.

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L to R nettles, dandelion, creeping charlie

I picked only three varieties for this dish: nettles, creeping charlie or mallow and dandelions. The total amount was about two cups, but enough to green-up my dish.

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These are all common in this area, relatively easy to identify, and impossible to over harvest. However, it’s still worth remembering two of the basic rules of foraging: always make sure you have identified the plant correctly and be sure to pick only from clean, non-treated areas .

Dandelions.  These are the easiest to identify and are super abundant in spring. My very first post was on dandelions and the dandelion pesto in it lasted me all winter. I will no doubt be posting more dandelion recipes this spring, but so far the pickings are slim. The leaves are so young and tender that they do not yet have the strong bitter flavour that I am looking for, but they offer such a load of nutrients, I wanted include them even now.

Mallow or Malva. This is another mild flavoured green which I have only recently started to use. You can read more about its identification and uses here. Again, it is more for its nutritional value than flavour that I use it. The roots are edible too, and I hope to figure that part out soon. I have also pickled the seeds in the summer to make something resembling capers.

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Creeping charlie can be used instead of mallow. They are similar in appearance, easily confused and interchangeable as far as the leaves go. To identify this plant, this site will help.

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Stinging Nettles. I found two recipes calling for nettles this morning just going through my regular blog mail, including this one for pesto and this one for spring rolls. As long as you are careful to pick these with sturdy gloves to protect you and then immediately dry, grind or blanche them to remove all the sting, these are really very easy to pick. Dried for tea is a popular use for them, but I like them in place of spinach, cooked the same way, quickly and with little water. My nettle patch is just getting started, but it has spread considerably since last year, so I hope to be able to experiment liberally with it. I will also keep chopping at it as there seems to be one school of thought that once it flowers, the leaves become more toxic. Not sure if that is so, but better to be safe.

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My curry was made with chick peas, onion, a home-made curry mixture, carrots and freshly dug Jerusalem artichokes. I added the greens just before serving, giving them only enough time to wilt.

 


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Grape Leaves with Roasted Vegetables

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Given this seemingly endless winter, I am fortunate that I still have a few of last year’s foraged foodstuffs in my freezer while we wait for the new greens to appear. This week I am bringing to Angie’s Festive Friday a platter of a kind of pinwheel where I was able to use two of my favourite ingredients:  wild grape leaves and dandelion leaves in the form of pesto. These, some roasted vegetables, and a dough I invented on the spot which is so tasty and easy, I look forward to using it in other ways.

This recipe can be altered any way you like – you can use any bread dough, stuff them with any vegetables, or even add cheese, nuts, seeds,herbs, dried tomatoes, etc. I’m sure I will find more variations, but for my first attempt I decided on using only roasted vegetables with a little flavouring from the pesto. I made the dough gluten-free because I like the buckwheat base of this bread and wanted to share it with some who are unable to eat gluten.

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The Dough

1 tsp yeast

2 tsp honey

1 cup warm water

3 cups buckwheat flour

1 1/2 cup quinoa flakes

1 tsp salt

4 Tbsp olive oil

1 Tbsp onion flakes

Dissolve the yeast in the water mixed with honey. Add the rest of the ingredients, mix and form into a ball. Wrap it in plastic or parchment paper and leave to sit a few hours or overnight.

Fillings and Casing

2 doz. grape leaves (more or less depending on the size of the leaves)

1/2 cup dandelion or other pesto

2 cups mixed roasted vegetables (e.g. eggplant, celeriac, leek, mushrooms)

1 roasted garlic bulb

salt and pepper to taste

To Make the Rolls

Divide the dough in two, and roll each one into a 9 in. square between two layers of parchment paper.  To assemble, I used a sushi mat. If you don’t have one, use a clean towel or parchment paper to hold the leaves together and make it easy to move to the baking sheet. Lay out the grape leaves vein side up on your mat overlapping each other a bit and slightly larger that the 9 in. square. Transfer one dough square onto the leaves. Spread the dough with half the pesto. Mash the garlic bulb and distribute half of it around the square in little dabs. Lay the vegetables randomly in one layer. Season with salt and pepper. Roll up the mat firmly. Tuck leaves over the ends, and add a bit of leaf to the end if they are not covered. Repeat for the other half

Transfer to parchment covered cookie sheet seem side down and brush or spray all the surfaces with oil. Bake at 325 for about 45 min. The grape leaves will be slightly browned. Cool a little before slicing.

I apologize for not having pictures of the rolling step of this process. I took some fine pictures, but didn’t realize until it was too late the chip wasn’t in the camera. I hope my explanation is clear enough.

These can be eaten warm, or cold like a sandwich. They can be frozen before slicing, and would make a great addition to a picnic.

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Maple Sap: Our First Sign of Spring

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We have started to collect sap from our two sugar maples. This won’t give us a lot of syrup once we process it, but at least we will have the satisfaction of home-grown maple syrup – the quintessential wild food in this area. I will post more on this once we have collected enough. The varying temperatures are slowing things down considerably, but I am in no hurry. Meanwhile I have been contemplating what else I can do with all this sap.

For example, I have often wondered why we don’t save some sap for just drinking as is, as they do in Russia and neighbouring countries with birch sap. Now I find that here in Canada, B.C. and Quebec have started a maple water industry which is being touted as a health drink, and is sold in stores right next to the coconut water. I hope this trend catches on throughout the country. If you want to read more about this, check here.

For those of you who do not have either sugar maples or a place where you can boil down the many litres of sap to make syrup, you can still take advantage of the season and put your sap to good use. Besides the two sugar maples, we tapped one Norway maple, which I always considered a bit of weed in the tree world. Apparently the sap from this tree is not as sweet, but tasting it on its own, it is very much like the sap from the sugar maples.

Unfortunately, we lost our birches last year, but if anyone has experience with birch sap, I would love to hear about it.

There are lots of uses for this ‘health drink’, such as making tea, porridge, and even beer. My first experiment with it was to make white rice. Simply substitute the sap for water. It gives the rice a slightly sweet flavour, and is really delicious – even on its own. I served it with fish in a spicy curry, and the sweetness was a perfect complement to the heat of the sauce. So if you have an undistinguished maple, all you need is a clean, food-safe bucket with a lid, a spile (you can get these at most hardware stores in Canada) and a drill, or at least someone with a drill. Just be sure to keep the sap colder than 40 degrees F to prevent bacteria from growing. Then you can make your own maple sap rice, or whatever else you fancy.

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Pickerel in Grape Leaves with Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

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Pickerel, or walleye as it is often called here, is a fresh water fish common in North American lakes. It is the fish I might have caught had it been warm enough to go ice fishing, but given the small number of fishing huts in the area, I am not the only timid one. I did manage to find a good source of fresh, local fish which I’m sure is as good as any I would have caught. Besides, it came all cleaned and filleted. So this is my contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday – seasonal, easy and wild.

This fish is a close relative of the pikeperch, so that could be substituted in this recipe, as well as any white freshwater fish. The other main ingredients are grape leaves and za’atar, and those are available in most areas. If you don’t have a stock of wild grape leaves in your freezer from last year, regular leaves are sold in jars in some supermarkets. Just be sure to rinse the brine off before using. If you don’t have za’atar, or the ingredients to make it, use any recipe for za’atar and replace the sumac with grated lemon zest.

Pickerel in Grape Leaves

1 1/2 lbs fish fillets

3 Tbsp finely chopped sweet onion

2 Tbsp za’atar

juice of 1/2 lemon

1 tsp salt

2 Tbsp olive oil

30 grape leaves, approximately

Remove the skin from the fillets if there is any. I used the skin to make stock which I used later in the sauce. Just cover with some water and allow to simmer until you are ready for it.

Cut the fillets into pieces – some will already be small from the skinning process, but others can be about 2 inches long. Place them in a bowl and mix in the remaining ingredients, except for the leaves.

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Lay two or three leaves on a flat service overlapping slightly. If the leaves are very small, you might need four – two if they are very large. Place a large spoonful (1/4 cup) of the fish mixture at the base of your leaf arrangement. Fold upwards once, tuck in the sides and continue to roll up. If grilling, it might be wise to secure them with toothpicks which have been soaked in water.

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If using an oven, place them in a casserole dish, brush with a little olive oil and garnish with lemon slices. Bake in a 425 degree F oven for about 1/2 hour.

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These can be eaten hot or cold. I’m thinking of making some next time I pack a picnic. Meanwhile, I served these warm with saffron rice and a mushroom sauce. No need for a sauce really, or you can make whatever kind you like. This is how the sauce was made.

Mushroom Za’atar Sauce

Fry about a cup of sliced mushrooms in butter until lightly brown. Make a roux with 1 Tbsp butter, 1 Tbsp flour (I used chestnut flour to  make it gluten-free), and 1/2 cup of fish stock. When the sauce has thickened, add the cooked mushrooms, 1 tsp of za’atar and salt and pepper to taste. Heat through and it is ready. This is a small quantity for two people, so just multiply it to get the amount you need.

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The grape leaves keep the fish from drying out or getting scorched if being grilled. They also add flavour to the delicate fish, and provide good packaging for any leftovers to be eaten cold the next day. There doesn’t seem to be any difference in flavour that I can detect between wild and other grape leaves, so just use whichever is convenient.


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Sumac Churchkhela Pieces

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Churchkhela from Wikipedia files

I was thinking of making a sumac leather to use up my last batch of sumac juice. Then I remembered something very similar, something like a fruit leather covering walnuts linked on a string. With no idea what it was called, nor where it originated, I wasn’t sure how to find anything about it. I just knew that it is eaten in places like Greece and Russia. Actually, I needed only describe it and do a google search, and there it is. But I was reading  Anya von Bremzen’s “Mastering the Art of Soviet Cooking” and she mentioned eating this in the Republic of Georgia, where according to Wikipedia, it originated. It is also made in many other countries in that general region, such as Greece and Turkey. The Georgian and Russian name for it is churchkhela.

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Another wikipedia photo

It is not often available commercially. It is made in people’s kitchens, and sometimes sold at farmers markets, hanging in bunches much like hand dipped candles. It can be made with other fruits besides grape, so it seemed reasonable to use sumac, although you could use apple cider, berry juices, quince, and so on. I really like to recreate interesting recipes I have discovered in far-away places, and make any changes necessary to achieve a similar result in this part of the world. And churchkhela, even if I didn’t know the word before, is one of those recipes.

I had to make a few minor changes. Traditionally the nuts are dipped in a thickened juice and then hung to dry in the sun. No chance of that here right now, or maybe ever. So with nowhere to allow the strings to drip and dry, I decided to forego the string and just dip the individual walnuts. Instead of sun, I used a dehydrator, and did some partially in the oven with the electric light on. In either case, it is at a temperature of about 40-50 degrees Celsius.

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Walnuts after first dipping in sumac juice

Recipe

1 cup of walnuts

2 cups or sumac juice

4 Tbsp cornstarch (or other starch or flour)

1 cup brown sugar

Cover the walnuts and soak in water for a couple of hours. This step is really to make it easier to string the nuts and prevent them for cracking, but I recommend it even if not using string. It makes for a softer texture which goes with the coating, and I think prevents them from drying out too much during the process.

Mix a little fruit juice with the starch and then add to the rest of the juice in a saucepan. Add the sugar, and heat until it starts to bubble and loses the milky colour. Allow to cool.

Dip the drained walnuts (reserve the water for soup stock) in the syrup and place on the dehydrator tray, or on parchment if you are doing it in the oven. The first layer was dried only a couple of hours at a low temperature (about 40 degrees C). The second coating was left about 4 hours, and after that about 10 hours, until they are not sticky to the touch, similar to licorice. I did some three times, some four times, and had I had more sumac juice, could have kept going for a thicker coating, although that would have taken a lot longer. They are very tasty as they are, and remarkably like the real thing I bought from the experts.

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Walnuts dipped three times

I hope, if nothing else, this contribution to The Novice Gardener’s Fiesta Friday gives you some idea of how this traditional Georgian churchkhela can be adapted and enjoyed without the need to travel half way across the world.

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Walnuts after being dipped and dried four times