Monday, October 25, 2010

Recipes: Bev's Apple Cake & Plum Torte (Κεικ με Μήλα & Κεικ με Δαμάσκηνα)

We stepped off the plane in Anchorage a month ago. The sun was shining brightly; the air crisp and cold. Our clothing, suitable for 75°F weather we left behind in Greece, left us shivering in Alaska.

We were one of the last to pass customs; our suitcases, fully packed with delicious Greek ingredients (including 30 pounds of cheeses), attracted intense governmental scrutiny. We helplessly stood by while a neophyte customs agent mauled delicate cheeses, sticking his thumb through their centers. Puzzled, he gave the cheese to a more senior agent for scrutiny, who immediately approved its entry. At long last, all our food passed muster, albeit a little worse for wear.

Because of the customs hold up, we missed the normal 30-people-fighting-for-10-taxis that happens after every international flight lands in Anchorage. Tired and relieved, we stepped into a waiting taxi and headed home.

Anchorage was awash with color: the sky, brilliant blue; the trees, gloriously gold. The mountains surrounding the city were deep green and snowless. Since we’ve been back, supermarket produce sections have been overflowing with fall fruits.

With all the fall fruit that’s landed in my kitchen, I’ve been doing a lot of baking. So far, my favorite treats are a pair of simple to mix, one-bowl cakes that are packed with fruit and wonderful flavor.

Bev’s Apple Cake is moist, has lots of apples, and isn't overly sweet. When fresh from the oven, the top crust crackles, nicely contrasting with the moist crumb and juicy fruit.

Plum Torte is one of the New York Times most requested recipes of all times. First created by Lois Levine and popularized by Marion Burros in her New York Times column, Plum Torte is moist, buttery, and absolutely delicious. Like Bev’s Apple Cake, it takes minutes to put together, but seems as if it took a lot of effort.

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Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Triqui Family Makes Life in Alaska,Violence Grips Triqui Region in Oaxaca (with recipe for Reyna's Oaxacan Chicken Mole)

Reyna Martinez DeJesus stood before a line of smoking grills at the back of “Ricos Tostaditos,” a Mexican food stand at the Northway Mall Farmers’ Market. Tall pots, tightly covered and steaming, crowded two of the grills. On another, flank steaks cooked over flame, sending their tantalizing aromas out into the market.

The irresistible smell of grilled meat drew me over. I ate some in a tostada, dressed with fresh homemade salsa and hot sauce. I wanted more of Reyna’s food. I ordered pozole, traditional Mexican soup made with hominy corn and finished with red chile sauce, intending to take it home for lunch. I tried taking just one bite, to see how the chile sauce tasted. It was amazingly good. Before I knew it, I’d powered down every bit of the pozole.

During repeat visits to Ricos Tostaditos, I learned Reyna, 35, her husband Lorenzo DeJesus Flore, 40, and their six children are Triqui, an indigenous people from the mountains of Oaxaca, a southern Mexican state. Triqui, not Spanish, is their primary language.

So how did a family of Triqui end up in Anchorage, Alaska? It started with Lorenzo’s decision to leave his violent region for the United States.

Lorenzo and Reyna told me their story when I was at their house learning how to make Reyna’s Chicken Mole. I wanted a cooking lesson. Lorenzo wanted somebody, anybody, to know what is happening to his friends and family in San Juan Copala.

As for Reyna’s Chicken Mole, like every bite of food that Reyna makes, it’s delicious.

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Monday, October 4, 2010

Recipe: Kale Galette with Yogurt Crust (Χορτόπιτα με Φύλλο Γιαουρτιού)

A few days ago we left Athens on a sunny 80°F day, warm enough to welcome airport air-conditioning. Thirty-six hours later, back in Anchorage, the sun still shone, but the temperature was only 40°F. A chill north wind cut through the lightweight clothing I’d donned on another continent.

When we arrived home, the first order of business was inspecting the garden. We’d heard there’d been a killing frost in Anchorage, so expected the worst. Zucchini, peas, Swiss chard, and most lettuce had been taken out by the cold. Broccoli and cauliflower had gone to seed. Cabbages were perfect and ready to harvest, as were arugula, garlic, onion, herbs, and a small second planting of Lau’s pointed leaf lettuce that inexplicably was unaffected by frost.

The garden’s best producer this year was Tuscan/Lacinato/dinosaur kale. The blue-green strappy kale leaves are lush and healthy despite nighttime temperatures well below freezing. Its perfect condition is remarkable; nearly every other garden plant was plagued by a horde of slugs brought forth by this year’s record-breaking rainy summer.

Having a kale glut seemed like the perfect opportunity to try Ayse Gilbert’s sour cream crust recipe. I used Greek yogurt, an ingredient I always have on hand, rather than sour cream. The dough mixed up easily and was a pleasure to roll out. This is a good crust recipe for beginners; it’s much easier to work with than standard pie crust dough.

With the tangy crust, I wanted a little sweetness to complement kale’s earthy flavor, so included dried currants and lightly sautéed onions in the filling mix. Feta always goes well with greens and I’d just brought some back from Greece that’d been mauled by a customs agent (don’t get me started) and needed to be used right away. So feta went in the mix, along with some garlic and Aleppo pepper.

The filling was well-balanced and its flavors worked well with the deliciously crunchy, flaky crust. Best of all, my friends liked it, the true measure of a recipe’s success.

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Friday, September 24, 2010

Rabbit Recipes: Litsa's Rabbit and Onions & Froso's Wine-Marinated Rabbit with Onions and Potatoes (Κουνέλι της Λίτσας & Κουνέλι της Φρόσω)

In Greece, our village’s economy depends on wheat and barley farming. In the last 10 years, rabbit populations have spun out of control, ravaging newly sprouted fields, and destroying entire seasons worth of crops. As a result, local hunters work diligently to keep the rabbit population in check, sharing their bounty with fellow villagers.

In September, rabbit is common village fare. Last week, two of my friends, excellent village cooks, served braised rabbit for dinner, but cooked it different ways. I decided to try both their recipes. Both were delicious; I’ll make each recipe again.

Litsa’s Rabbit and Onions (Κουνέλι με Κρεμμύδια της Λίτσας)
Serves 4
The sweetness of onions and Litsa’s light spicing combine with wine and meat juices to form a wonderfully flavorful sauce for rabbit. Our guests were sucking bones, licking fingers, and cleaning plates with bread to capture every bit of the delicious sauce. Chicken may be substituted for rabbit.

Froso’s Wine-Marinated Rabbit with Onions and Potatoes (Κουνέλι Μαριναρισμένο σε Κρασί με Κρεμμύδια και Πατάτες της Φρόσω)
Serves 4
Froso’s deeper, richer spicing gives a more sophisticated, slightly Middle Eastern edge to rabbit’s simple clean taste. Taking bites of meltingly soft onions and rabbit together elicited sighs of pleasure from diners, who smashed the potatoes into sauce to maximize flavor. By using only a small piece of cinnamon, Froso prevents its flavor from dominating the rabbit. Froso says marinating rabbit for 2 days is best, however, 24 hours is sufficient. Use slightly waxy potatoes like Yukon golds or red potatoes, not Russets or baking potatoes which tend to fall apart when braised with meat. The small onions used in this recipe should be about 1 1/2” in diameter, nor pearl onions. Chicken may be substituted for the rabbit, in which case, marinate the chicken for 12-24 hours.

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Friday, September 17, 2010

Tomato Tart (Τάρτα ντομάτας)

Tomato Tart captures the essence of vine-ripened tomatoes and is a lovely way to highlight their tangy sweet flavor. Mustard goes surprisingly well with garden tomatoes and fresh herbs, and a buttery crisp crust is the perfect platform to show them off. Everyone in the family agrees on these points.

There is vigorous debate, however, on how long to cook the tomatoes for the ideal tart. I like them best when they’re just warmed through, leaving the tomatoes hot, juicy, and full of fresh tomato flavor. My husband prefers them oven-roasted to concentrate their glorious summer sweetness.

Since we both like both versions, I usually make whatever I have time for. With lots of time, I make the oven-roasted tomato version; with less time, the slice and bake version. No matter the version, since tomatoes are front and center, use the best quality tomatoes you can find. During the summer tomato harvest, when juicy red tomatoes are easy to find, my thoughts always turn to Tomato Tart.

Flavor-rich Greek tomatoes inspired Tomato Tart. I first started making it in 1987 when we lived in Greece and were blessed with a garden glut of the best tomatoes I'd ever tasted. When we returned to Alaska, and were stuck with insipid supermarket tomatoes, this dish was out of reach. In recent years, however, tomatoes bursting with summer flavor have been showing up at Alaska farmers' markets. When they're available, Tomato Tart is on the menu.

In addition to the fresh/oven-roasted tomato variations, I’ve made Tomato Tart with regular Dijon mustard and whole-grain Dijon mustard. I’ve made it with the herbs called for in this recipe, as well as with fresh sage, fresh thyme, dried thyme, and various combinations of all or some of the herbs. I’ve made it with every kind of cheese imaginable. The constants are tomatoes, mustard, cheese, and herbs; the specifics depend solely on what’s in the refrigerator.

There’s a reason I’ve been making Tomato Tart for over 20 years. It’s delicious.

Tomato Tart with Buttery Crisp Crust (Fresh Tomato Version)
Serves 4 – 6 (One 10” tart)
Like pizza, Tomato Tart is delicious served cold. Mix the dough for the crust first; while it’s resting in the refrigerator, prepare remaining ingredients. Although it isn’t absolutely necessary to peel the tomatoes, for the fresh tomato version the finished dish has better texture if peeled tomatoes are used. To peel them, cut a shallow “X” on the bottom of the tomato. Drop the tomatoes in boiling water for 20 seconds. Remove the tomatoes and drop them in cold water. Drain and slip off the peels.

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1/4 tsp. salt
9 Tbsp. butter
1 egg yolk
2 - 3 Tbsp. ice water

Herb-Mustard Paste:
2 tsp. minced fresh rosemary
1 Tbsp. minced fresh basil
1 tsp. crushed dried oregano
2 cloves chopped fresh garlic
1-2 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
2 Tbsp. Dijon mustard

Herb-Mustard Paste
1 1/2 cups coarsely grated graviera, asiago, Edam, or another good melting cheese
6-8 medium fresh ripe tomatoes (or 3 large), sliced 3/4” thick
Freshly ground black pepper
1/4 tsp. crushed dried oregano
Drizzle olive oil

Preheat oven to 425°F.

Make Crust: Whir flour and salt together in food processor. Cut butter into chunks, add to food processor, and pulse until butter is mostly combined with flour, but a few pea-sized pieces remain. (You can also cut butter into flour with two knives or a pastry blender.) Add egg yolk and 2 Tbsp. ice water and pulse to combine. If dough is too dry to hold together when pinched, add remaining 1 Tbsp. ice water and pulse. Dump dough out onto a piece of wax paper or plastic wrap and form into a solid disk. Wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes.

Make Herb-Mustard Paste: Pound all ingredients for Paste together in mortar and pestle or combine well in a blender. (Start with 1 Tbsp. olive oil; add more as needed for smooth paste.)

Bake Crust: Roll out dough into 13 - 14” diameter circle. Center in 10” tart pan, pressing dough towards center and into edges. Trim overhanging dough so that it is size of the tart pan’s sides; fold over the overhanging dough to form a double-thickness side crust. Prick bottom of dough all over with a fork. Cut a piece of aluminum foil double the size of the tart pan, fold foil in half, and press it firmly into the dough (the foil prevents the dough from bubbling up while baking). Bake in preheated oven for 20 minutes. Remove foil and bake for 5 more minutes. Remove from oven.

Assemble Tart: Turn oven down to 400°F. Spread Herb-Mustard Paste over hot, prebaked crust. Evenly distribute grated cheese over mustard paste and top with sliced fresh tomatoes. Where necessary, cut tomato slices into pieces to fill in any gaps in tomato coverage. Lightly drizzle with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt, freshly ground black pepper, and crushed dried oregano. Bake for 20 minutes, until cheese is melted and tomatoes are just warmed through. Serve immediately.

Oven-Roasted Tomato Variation: Preheat oven to 400°F. Increase quantity of tomatoes by 4 medium or 2 large. Don’t peel tomatoes. Line 2 rimmed baking sheets with foil. Put tomato slices on baking sheets in single layer. Drizzle with olive oil and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Bake until tomatoes have dried slightly and the oil is browning on the foil around the tomatoes, but are still soft in the middle, about 45-60 minutes, depending on the tomatoes’ size. Remove from oven and cool on racks. Continue with recipe, as above.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Gathering Wild Mushrooms in Alaska, Drying Wild Mushrooms, and 5 Recipes for Wild Mushrooms

Perfect 1 pound 10 ounce Boletus edulis

Steve arrived home from work last Friday, a briefcase in one hand and a massive Boletus edulis in the other. A smile of pure joy lit his face. “It’s time to go mushrooming.”

He handed me the mushroom, a king bolete, also known as porcino in Italy and cep in France. I weighed it: 1 pound 10 ounces. When I cut into it, the flesh was firm and pure white, untouched by worm, fly, slug, squirrel, or rot. I’d never seen anything like it. Normally, porcini this big have been heavily predated upon and are chock full of worms.

“Where’d you get this?” “Right in front of the house.” “Whataya mean, right in front of the house?” “Let me show you.” Steve brought me to a spot twenty feet from our front door.

“It’s definitely time to go mushrooming,” I said, thoughts of dinner already a distant memory. “Let’s get changed.”

Leccinum subglabripes

It’s been raining for weeks, so on went rain coats, rain pants, and waterproof hiking boots. Going mushrooming involves tromping through woods, pushing through understory, going up and down hillsides, seeking out terrain where desirable mushrooms thrive. Staying dry is key to maintaining proper enthusiasm.

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Rules for Gathering and Handling Wild Mushrooms
The first and most important rule for mushroom foragers is: “When in doubt, throw it out.” Do not gather mushrooms that you can’t absolutely, positively identify.
Leave all unknown or questioned mushrooms alone, even if it means walking past many mushrooms of every color and shape before finding one you recognize.

1. The best way to learn about mushrooms is to have someone show you the edible species; spending time studying field guides also helps. The perfect field guide for Alaska doesn’t exist.

The books I like best are...

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Wild Mushroom Pasta Sauce

Fresh Porcini Salad with Shaved Fennel and Parmesan Cheese

Pasta with Wild Mushroom and Clam Sauce

Wild Mushroom Ragu (Pasta Sauce)

Port Duxelles

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Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Recipes for Grilled Salmon with Ancho Honey Porter Glaze and Bear Tooth Grill's "Recado" Chile Sauce

In June, four of Alaska’s best chefs met at a salmon cook-off. The winning dish? Grilled Salmon with Ancho Honey Porter Glaze created by Clayton Jones, Executive Chef of Anchorage’s Bear Tooth Grill.

Chef Clayton paired rich sockeye salmon with a glaze made of sweet honey, spicy chiles, and bitter Porter beer. The combination is inspired. Honey balances the heat and bitterness, but is used sparingly, leaving the glaze with plenty of lip-smacking spice. During the June cook-off, I watched tasters finish their portions and immediately get back in line for seconds and thirds. It wasn’t a surprise when Chef Clayton won.

This Saturday’s tasting and the June salmon cook-off are part of Trout Unlimited Alaska’s ongoing campaign to protect Bristol Bay wild salmon from large-scale mining. Bristol Bay, home to the world’s largest sockeye salmon run, employs thousands and provides a healthy, sustainable food source. To learn more about saving Bristol Bay salmon, go here.

Chef Clayton graciously shared his winning recipe.

Grilled Salmon with Ancho Honey Porter Glaze
Serves 4-6
Adapted from recipe by Clayton Jones, Executive Chef, Bear Tooth Grill, 1230 W. 27th Avenue, Anchorage, Alaska
Cook-Off Winner, Savor Bristol Bay, Trout Unlimited,

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Sunday, August 1, 2010

Recipe for Braised Romanesco Broccoli with Onions and Olives

Vibrantly lime-green, with florets shaped like spiky Balinese temples whirling around a central core, Romanesco broccoli is an attention-grabber.

When I picked out a head at Saturday’s South Anchorage Farmer’s Market, the queries started immediately: “What’s that?” “What’ll you do with it?” “Is that any good?” Despite my enthusiastic assurances, some questioners remained dubious about Romanesco broccoli’s edibility. An engineer decided to buy one only after I told him Romanesco broccoli is used by mathematicians to illustrate
logarithmic spirals and fractals.

A relative of both broccoli and cauliflower, the flavor of Romanesco broccoli is milder than either of its better known cousins. When well-cooked, the flavor is creamy and nutty, without the bitter edge some family members have.

Braised Romanesco Broccoli with Onions and Olives
Serves 4

Cauliflower, of any color, may be substituted for Romanesco broccoli. Plain Kalamata olives are delicious, though I prefer using
Roasted Kalamata Olives in recipes like this. Dry-cured or salt-cured olives (such as those from Thassos) may also be used, but be sure to taste them and use less than 1/2 cup if they’re strong flavored. The broccoli will cook more quickly and evenly with the right sized pan; ideally, you need a covered pan 2” wider in diameter than the whole broccoli.

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Weekend Herb Blogging Roundup #244

Weekend Herb Blogging celebrates the flavors and textures of herbs, fruits, and vegetables. Each week a different blogger takes responsibility for compiling the delicious and nutritious recipes posted to Weekend Herb Blogging in the preceding week. This week it’s my turn.

Citrus Sports Drink

Janet of
The Taste Space
Toronto, Canada

Laurie of Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska/
Anchorage, Alaska

Next week
Weekend Herb Blogging will be hosted by Lynne of Cafe Lynnylu If you want to participate, please send your entries to lynnylu AT gmail DOT com by 3pm Utah time, Sunday, August 8, 2010. For more information, go here.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Bhutanese Refugees in Anchorage, Alaska with Recipe for Lamb's Quarters & Tomatoes with Eggs (Χόρτα και Ντομάτες με Αυγά)

Lush baskets of greens lined the table: crumpled dark Lacinato kale, sweet golden-stalked Swiss chard, deep maroon piles of earthy red orach. The sign read, “Fresh International Gardens.”

“Good morning! Where’s your farm?” The answer to my standard market question was a surprise: “Mountain View.”

Mountain View, a densely populated neighborhood within Anchorage’s urban core, is an unlikely spot for a market garden. “How much land do you have?” “8000 square feet.”

A commercially viable garden in Alaska on less than 1/5 of an acre? I looked again at the people staffing the booth. Of diverse ages and ethnicities, they didn’t fit the typical farm family image.

“Is Fresh International Gardens a farm? Or a group?” I hesitated. “Or what?”

The answer: “Or what.” Fresh International Gardens is part of the Refugee Farmers’ Market Program. This program helps refugees, newly arrived in Anchorage, adjust to uprooted lives in a new country. In addition to gardening, the program teaches entrepreneurial and life skills essential to succeeding in Alaska.

The thriving program grew from a seed planted by Julie Riley, longtime Anchorage Cooperative Extension Service Horticulture Agent. In 2004, Riley successfully helped Hmong refugees from Southeast Asia adapt their gardening skills to Alaska’s cold climate. This success inspired Catholic Social Services to work with Riley and others to create the Refugee Farmers’ Market Program. Using municipal land next to Mountain View’s McPhee Park, the program is now in its fourth year.

Most refugees working on the 2010 garden are originally from Bhutan. Over the last 10 months, a group of nearly 100 Bhutanese refugees began the challenging process of creating lives in Alaska after many difficult homeless, stateless years.

Bhutan is a land-locked country the size of Switzerland. It lies between China and India on the Himalayas’ eastern edge; Nepal is to the west. In the late 19th century, the Lhotsampa (meaning southerner in Bhutanese) began emigrating to Bhutan from Nepal, largely to work as laborers for the Bhutanese.

The Lhotsampa settled, built homes, and grew families in Bhutan. Life continued uneventfully until the late 1980s. At that time, the ethnic majority ruling Bhutan became worried about its ethnic group being outnumbered by Lhotsampas. To prevent this, the rulers began a program of ethnic cleansing, forcibly expelling many Lhotsampas from the country.

The forcible expulsions left over 100,000 Lhotsampas, including Anchorage’s new residents, stranded for nearly two decades in Nepalese refugee camps. It wasn’t until 2008 that various countries, including the US, began admitting Bhutanese refugees for permanent resettlement.

Last Thursday I went to the Fresh International Garden site on McPhee and talked with gardener and market entrepreneur Bishnu Subedi.

Subedi said he was forced from his home by the Bhutanese government in 1992. He lived in Nepalese refugee camps until Alaska welcomed him last year. “Seventeen years. Seventeen years, no home. Now, in Alaska, apartment. A home.” Subedi smiled, hesitantly.

While we talked, Subedi and a fellow refugee cleaned and turned a new garden bed, planting it with spinach seed. The men were neatly dressed; their shirts freshly ironed. They deftly and swiftly worked shovel and hoe with bare feet.

Subedi is just now learning English, and spoke it haltingly. He described his plans: work hard, feed his family, get a green card, become a citizen. He laughed, shrugged, and said, “For now, have apartment. But is home. Home.” He smiled again, this time broadly.

I walked further into the garden where three Bhutanese women were weeding beds of thickly planted greens. They heaped all but one kind of weed in piles for disposal. The women treated lamb’s quarters (Chenopodium album) differently. This plant was separated out and added to plastic grocery bags that were already full when I arrived.

Though weeds, lamb’s quarters are delicious edible greens. Since none of the women spoke English, I couldn’t ask if they planned on eating lamb’s quarters. Kelly Ingram, a Vista volunteer working for the Refugee Farmers’ Market Program, had an answer: the women used lamb’s quarters as an ingredient in curry.

Wild lamb’s quarters are gathered for food all around the globe. Uniquely, the Himalayan region, where Lhotsampas survived in Nepalese refugee camps, is the one area in the world where lamb’s quarters are domesticated. It is grown there for its leafy greens and as a grain crop. Lamb’s quarters is a quinoa relative; up to 70,000 poppy-sized seeds grow on every plant. The seeds are ground into flour, cooked as porridge, made into alcoholic beverages, and used as livestock feed.

Unlike countries with subsistence economies, wild foraging is a rarity in modern America. Lamb’s quarters and other wild greens are usually seen only as noxious weeds that pop up in home gardens and interfere with efficient commercial crop production. As a result, few Alaskans have tried tasty lamb’s quarters.

Lamb’s quarters are related to spinach and Swiss chard, and can be substituted for those greens in any recipe. Its flavor is milder, and its leaves slightly firmer, than spinach. Although young lamb’s quarters leaves may be eaten raw, I prefer them cooked. Then again, I also prefer spinach cooked.

Of the wild greens that grow in Alaska, lamb’s quarters is one of the easiest to harvest. (First time foragers may want to review my Rules for Gathering Wild Plants.) Cut off the top 6-8” of each plant, remove any damaged or diseased leaves (look carefully, lamb’s quarters are susceptible to leaf miner damage), and strip the leaves and soft seed heads from the stem. These are ready to use in your favorite greens recipe; the stem may be discarded.

Lamb’s quarters freeze well. Harvest the greens before seeds form, blanch in boiling salted water for 30-45 seconds, drain, cool, squeeze out excess water, package in freezer bags, and freeze.

Lamb’s quarters thrive on land that’s been previously cultivated, or any place they can get an easy foothold. In my yard, they're particularly fond of the topsoil pile, where loose dirt and ready nutrients attract a nice patch of lamb’s quarters every year.

Returning from my trip to the Fresh International Gardens, I had a powerful hankering for lamb’s quarters. Lacking a Bhutanese curry recipe, but being rich in farm fresh eggs, I lunched on a Greek village favorite: eggs cooked on a bed of wild greens and tomatoes.
Lamb's Quarters and Tomatoes with Eggs takes less than 30 minutes to make, including the time to harvest the lamb’s quarters (assuming you're behind on your weeding so have lamb's quarters readily available). Despite its simplicity and humble ingredients, the flavors are luxuriant: runny yolks combine with vegetable juices to form an enthrallingly rich sauce.

Lamb's Quarters and Tomatoes with Eggs (Χόρτα και Ντομάτες με Αυγά)
Serves 2
Any wild or domesticated greens may be used in this recipe. Milder greens, such as lamb’s quarters, nettles, spinach, and Swiss chard, taste best. Feta cheese, bread, and Kalamata olives typically are served with this dish.

6 cups greens, cleaned of stems and damaged leaves
1/2 cup diced onion, 1/4” dice
1 Tbsp. olive oil
Freshly ground black pepper
1 cup diced fresh tomato, 1/4” dice
2 Tbsp. minced fresh mint or basil
4 eggs

Blanch greens in boiling salted water for 30-45 seconds. Drain, rinse with cold water, and squeeze out as much water as you can from greens (do this in batches using your hands or all at once using a clean dish towel). Roughly chop the blanched greens.

Sauté onion, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in olive oil. When onions begin to turn golden, add chopped greens and tomato. Mix well. When greens are hot, taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper as needed. Stir in mint or basil.

Spread greens evenly over bottom of the pan and make an indentation for each egg in greens. Break one egg into each hole, lightly season with salt, turn heat down to low, and cover pan. Cook until egg whites just solidify and yolks are still liquid. Serve immediately.

Fresh International Gardens sells produce every Wednesday at the Northway Mall Farmers’ Market and alternating Saturdays at the University Center Farmers’ Market and the Spenard Farmers’ Market. Volunteers are needed to help with the Refugee Farmers’ Market Program; for more information about volunteer opportunities, contact Kelly Ingram at 786-6331.
This post is included in Weekend Herb Blogging compiled by Susan at The Well-Seasoned Cook.

Recipes for Swiss Chard Braised with Olives and Feta (Σέσκουλο με Ελιές και Φέτα) & Pancakes with Leftover Greens, Olives and Feta

Greens season is here. Gardens and farmers’ markets in Anchorage are filled with every type of cool weather green. Swiss chard, spinach, and kale are in their prime.

It’s also the season during which many Alaskans are doing hard duty out on the salmon grounds, making sure freezers are filled with fish for the upcoming winter.

The best reason to eat greens and salmon is they just plain taste good. Luckily, both are good for your health: greens because they’re high in vitamins, minerals, and fiber and salmon because it’s loaded with omega-3 fatty acids

Freshly caught salmon has so much flavor it doesn’t need anything more than salt, pepper, and a little time on the grill or cast-iron pan.  Swiss Chard Braised with Olives and Feta is a good accompaniment. The greens’ earthiness, when paired with salty olives and feta, balances fresh salmon’s richness.

Swiss Chard Braised with Olives and Feta (Σέσκουλο με Ελιές και Φέτα)
Serves 4
Any greens, wild or domesticated or, better yet, a mixture of greens, can be substituted for Swiss chard.  This is delicious made with plain Kalamata olives, but I prefer using Roasted Kalamata Olives. Dry-cured or salt-cured olives (such as those from Thassos) may be substituted, but be sure to taste them and use less than 1/2 cup if they’re strong flavored. Most Greeks squeeze a lemon wedge over braised greens; I like them better plain. Serve lemon wedges on the side so each eater can choose their own amount of lemon. Swiss Chard Braised with Olives and Feta goes well with grilled or pan-fried salmon and other simply cooked seafood.

2 large or 3 medium bunches Swiss chard (about 10-12 cups cleaned, chopped leaves)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
2 Tbsp. minced garlic
1/2 cup pitted Kalamata olives, roughly chopped
Freshly ground black pepper
1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Lemon wedges

Strip Swiss chard leaves from stems; reserve stems for another use.  Wash and roughly chop the leaves (don’t dry leaves; the clinging water helps cook them).

In a Dutch oven or deep sauté pan, sauté garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 30 seconds, being very careful not to burn the garlic. Stir in Swiss chard, olives, a liberal seasoning of black pepper, and a light seasoning of salt (olives and feta also add salt). Cover, turn heat down to low, and cook until chard is tender, but not falling apart. (The dish may be made ahead to this point and reheated just before serving.)

Remove chard and olives from pan with slotted spoon. Put in serving bowl along with the feta. Toss well.  Serve with lemon wedges on the side.

Bonus Recipe

Pancakes with Leftover Greens, Olives and Feta
Makes 4-6 pancakes
Too lazy to make crepes, I mixed leftover Swiss Chard Braised with Olives and Feta into a simple batter and cooked it into pancakes. These cakes contain the same flavors as crepes, but can be mixed and cooked in less than 1/2 hour with a lot less hassle.  I served the savory pancakes with soft goat cheese, basil shreds, and thinly sliced prosciutto; they made a lovely lunch.

3/4 - 1 cup leftover greens, olives, and feta
3/4 – 1 cup milk
3/4 cup flour
1 egg
Freshly ground black pepper
Oil for griddle

Put leftover greens in a strainer set over a bowl, press down to squeeze out as much liquid as possible. Measure the liquid and add enough milk to make one cup.  Whisk egg and half the milk mixture into flour. Whisk in remaining milk mixture. Whisk in greens and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper.

Heat small amount of oil in a griddle or cast iron frying pan over medium heat.  When pan is hot, ladle in 1/2 cup batter, spreading it out to form a 7” circle. Cook it on one side until it’s dry around the edges and the underside is nicely browned when lifted. Flip and cook on the second side.  Repeat until all the batter is used.

Serve plain, with cheese, or with thinly sliced prosciutto or salami.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Recipe for Squash Blossom Frittata (Κολοκυθοανθοί με Αυγά)

Haul from Wednesday's Farmers' Market: parsley, dill, Swiss chard, beets, spinach, broccoli, orach, zucchini, squash blossoms, cucumbers, tomatoes

Farmers’ market season is upon us. Stalls are bursting with fresh greens and herbs. Early broccoli and zucchini are spottily available. The first bunches of baby carrots appeared today. 

Making Tostadas

Surprises abound at the markets: scarlet vine-ripened tomatoes from Delta Junction, Matanuska Creamery's Caramel Cashew ice cream made using only milk from Alaska, steaming pots of homemade pozole and elote, blowsy ‘Flemish Antique’ peony poppies, freshly gathered duck and chicken eggs from Future Farmers of America.

Among the abundance, golden squash blossoms stand out as a rare treat. Never in stores, they're available only during their short season to home gardeners and farmers’ market shoppers. So far this year, only Rempel Family Farm is selling squash blossoms in Anchorage (50 cents each on Wednesday at Northway Mall Farmers’ Market and Saturday at South Anchorage Farmers’ Market).

Delicate squash blossoms don't like plastic bags. If paper bags aren't available, wrap in newspaper.

All squash blossoms are edible and may be used interchangeably. Because we grow zucchini at home, I’ve gotten used to calling them zucchini flowers. The more generic term, squash blossoms, is usually more accurate when buying from farmers who grow a wider range of squash.

I love stuffing squash blossoms with cheese and cooking them until they’re crispy and oozing with hot, melted cheese. (Tastes Like Home: Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska has recipes for 2 different cheese fillings for zucchini flowers.) Herby essence of basil brightens the flavor of Cheesy Potato-Basil Stuffing for zucchini flowers, and pairs well with a side of fresh greens. Squash blossoms are also tasty dipped in a tempura batter and simply fried.

Blue and brown eggs from Future Farmers of America; both had deep golden yolks.

On days when I want the flavor of squash blossoms, and don’t want to fiddle around or mess with hot oil, I make Squash Blossom Frittata.  Today we had farm-fresh, golden-yolked eggs, fresh herbs, and creamy fresh goat cheese to pair with the squash blossoms. Sighs of satisfaction replaced conversation as we ate; I finished by licking my fingers, wanting more.

Squash Blossom Frittata (Κολοκυθοανθοί με Αυγά)
Serves 2-4
Food writers often advise to remove pistils and stamens from inside squash blossoms, as well as the green bases (calyxes/calyces) and stems. Don’t do it. These parts are all edible and add wonderful flavor and texture. I remove the stems in this recipe purely for decorative reasons; without stems, the blossoms form a perfect pinwheel in the frittata. Use enough flowers to complete a pinwheel; about 8 large, 10 medium, or 12 small.  Accompany Squash Blossom Frittata with a crisp garden lettuce salad and dry white wine.

8-12 squash blossoms
5 eggs
2 Tbsp. minced fresh dill
1/2 cup diced shallots, 1/4” dice (may substitute green onions, see Note below)
1 Tbsp. butter, plus 1 tsp. (divided)
Freshly ground black pepper
3-4 Tbsp. fresh goat cheese
Dill sprigs for garnish (optional)

Prepare the Squash Blossoms:  If necessary, gently brush off dirt or debris from flowers; don’t wash or get them wet. Carefully open flowers and shake out any insect hitchhikers. Cut off stems, but leave green bases attached. 

Prepare Eggs:  Whisk together eggs and dill with a light seasoning of salt and freshly ground black pepper.  Using a heavy 9-10” oven-proof frying pan (cast iron works best), sauté shallots, lightly seasoned with salt and freshly ground black pepper, in 1 Tbsp. butter until they soften and start to turn golden.  Add sautéed shallots to eggs and whisk to blend (reserve excess butter in pan for cooking frittata).

Cook Frittata:  Preheat broiler to high.

Melt remaining 1 tsp. butter in pan used to cook shallots, arrange squash blossoms in pinwheel around bottom, and cook over medium heat for 30 seconds. Turn blossoms, and evenly pour whisked egg mixture over them. Break goat cheese into pieces and scatter over eggs. Turn heat down to low, cover pan, and cook until eggs are almost set, but still runny on top, about 4-5 minutes.  Put under broiler to finish cooking eggs. Flip out onto platter, garnish with dill sprigs, and serve.

Note: Green onions may, but don’t need to, be sautéed. If you use green onions and don’t sauté them, reduce butter to 2 tsp. and whisk green onions into eggs with dill.

This post is included in Weekend Herb Blogging compiled by Cinzia from Cindystar.

Peony Poppy 'Flemish Antique', Papavar somniferum paeoniflorum

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Announcement: Picturing Anchorage

Erin Pollock and Steph Kese, Artists

In addition to Mediterranean Cooking in Alaska, I'm now writing/creating Picturing Anchorage, a photographic odyssey of daily walks, on city streets and forests deep, in Alaska's largest city. Picturing Anchorage features urban art, natural wonders, and quirky visuals. Please stop by!

A 2 Part Tale of 2 Plants in 2 Countries with 2 Recipes: Purslane-Tomato Salad (Ντομάτα Σαλάτα με Γλιστρίδα) and Beach Lovage-Tomato Salad/Salsa (Ντομάτα Σαλάτα με «Άγριο Σέλινο»)


In Greece, friends and relatives are endlessly curious about Alaska. We’re quizzed about daylight, animal life, cost of living, how many thousand miles we live from family. Every exotic Alaskan detail is examined and catalogued.

Back in Alaska, a vast land peopled largely by recent transplants, we describe life on a Greek island in a small village filled with relatives (family roots on the island go beyond reach of transmitted memory). We divert Alaskans with stories of family intrigues, open-handed generosity, and island bureaucratic snafus.

Greece and Alaska could not be more different. Yet, in both places, I shop for groceries, forage for wild edibles, and cook with abandon.

A friend of mine recently asked whether a dish cooked in a Greek kitchen tastes the same when made in Alaska. The simple answer: no.  The same recipe tastes different in Greece and Alaska because the ingredients aren’t the same in the two places.

For example: Greek tomatoes have more flavor, as do Alaska spinach and lettuce. Wild greens available in Greece don’t grow in Alaska and vice versa. American and Greek flour, butter, and eggs all bake up differently. Similar differences are found with virtually every ingredient. In both countries, I use the same basic recipes, but the results always vary, sometimes slightly, sometimes significantly.

No matter where one cooks, the key to a good result is tasting what you are making as you are make it. No one should ever blindly follow a recipe (even mine), no matter how trusted the source. The flavors of vegetables, herbs, spices, meats, cheese, fruits, you name it, all change subtly from purchase to purchase and day to day. The only way to compensate for these changes, and to generally adjust a recipe to please your palate, is to taste.

Two articles with recipes follow that illustrate this point. Part One was written in Greece last summer. It’s about purslane, Portulaca oleracea, a weed growing rampant in much of the world (including North America, but not Alaska). I combined the purslane with tomato to make a cooling salad.

Part Two is about a recent gathering expedition for beach lovage, Ligusticum scoticum, in Alaska. Using the Greek Purslane-Tomato Salad as the starting point, I tweaked the flavors to accommodate my Alaskan ingredients.  I served Beach Lovage-Tomato Salad with grilled king salmon; loaves’ herby freshness and the salad’s tart dressing nicely complimented king salmon’s richness.

Part One: Purslane-Tomato Salad in Greece

For years, our yard in Greece was a wasteland of weeds.  Every year on arrival we whacked down the tangle and borrowed a truck to haul away several loads of debris.

Our messy yard contrasted sharply with the carefully tended gardens of family, friends, and neighbors. Cousin Effie has an especially green thumb.  Most of her yard is paved over, but her narrow strip garden holds an impressive collection of flowering plants.

A couple years ago, Effie was sighing over her lack of a vegetable garden.  Since she lives only a few blocks away, and we are in Alaska for most of the year, we suggested she use our yard.

Now, when we arrive in Greece, we open the gate to a healthy, green garden, both decorative and edible, instead of a jungle. We planted roses and a bottle brush tree.  Effie and cousin Tzani have surrounded them with smaller, flowering plants. Blue jasmine from Tzani and a sweet-smelling white-flowered vine climbs the neighbor’s wall. What were tiny rosemary starts are now bushes.

This year the vegetable garden includes eggplant, okra, green beans, summer squash, tomatoes, mint, and celery.  The eggplants are heavily laden with fruit.  We pick them only when it’s time to cook (or gift eggplants); their texture and flavor are dramatically better than any supermarket eggplant available in Alaska.

While in the village, we take over weeding and watering the garden.  This year, purslane and crab grass were the most dominant weeds. While crab grass is purely an annoyance, purslane makes a tasty edible green.

Purslane has been used in Greece throughout recorded history.  Hippocrates, Galenus, and Dioscurides documented its many medicinal uses.  In the kitchen, it’s used raw in salads, mixed with yogurt, added to soups, served with meat or fish, and pickled for winter salad.

In Greece, purslane is best harvested by June or July, at which time both stem and leaves can be used. In September, stems are too tough to eat, but leaves still taste great.

This year, our first day back on the island, we drove to the main town to shop for basics. The day was a scorcher; we returned home hot and tired.  I wasn’t in the mood to cook and, after a day spent under the relentless Greek sun (at least to an Alaskan), didn’t want to eat more than a salad.

While I cut vegetables, Steve collected a colander full of purslane from the garden. Its succulent, slightly sour leaves, combined with sweet tomatoes and tart lemon juice, made a refreshing salad, perfect for a hot day.

Purslane-Tomato Salad (Ντομάτα Σαλάτα με Γλιστρίδα)
Serves 2 – 4
If you don’t have fresh purslane, see the recipe below for Beach Lovage Salad and follow the recommended substitutions there for a fresh, cooling summer salad.

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes, 1/2” dice
1 1/2 cups cleaned purslane leaves
3/4 cup diced cucumbers, 1/2” dice
3/4 cup diced red onions, 1/2” dice
1/4 cup minced fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. minced fresh mint

Make the dressing: Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Make the salad: Toss all the ingredients together. Drizzle with the dressing and toss again. (You may not need all the dressing.) Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed.

Beach Lovage and Chocolate Lilies

Part Two: Beach Lovage-Tomato Salad in Alaska

Nearing the spring equinox, by June’s second week Anchorage was enjoying almost 20 hours of daylight. Winter doldrums were a distant memory; the whole town was in a good mood.

Sunday we woke early. Sun streamed in the window, warming our faces. The sky was clear bright blue. Staying in bed wasn’t possible. We headed out to find a beach where we could harvest wild plants.

After making the circuit of possible foraging sites, we finally came across a field of beach lovage (Ligusticum scoticum).  Also known as Scotch lovage, sea lovage, wild celery, and petrushki, beach lovage grows on sandy beaches along the coasts of Alaska, Canada, and the Northeastern United States.

Beach lovage is easy to identify with its three-lobed leaflets and smooth, reddish-purple stem.  It’s best harvested before flowering.

One caution: Beach lovage is in the Umbelliferae family and its flowers are similar to those of relatives like carrots, parsley, and dill. However, water hemlock, a poisonous plant is also in the Umbelliferae family, and has similar flowers but very different leaves. As with all wild foraging, be certain you know what you’re gathering and be sure to follow the forager’s primary rule: “when in doubt, throw it out.”

The flavor of fresh beach lovage is unique and wonderful. The closest approximation would be to mix celery, parsley, and a little lemon zest, but there is still a missing flavor, the hint of wild bitterness that makes beach lovage special.

Although the flavors of purslane and beach lovage are not at all the same, both have a tart freshness that can't be purchased in a supermarket. As I tossed about ideas for using the beach lovage, I kept thinking about the Purslane-Tomato Salad we'd had last summer. With that in mind, I started mixing and tasting, adding cucumbers, then more mint, then more lemon juice, a little of each at a time, until the balance of flavors was correct for beach lovage - and for our palates.

In the last two weeks, I’ve used beach lovage in a risotto that was devoured by guests, a lovely topping for pan-fried halibut, and delicious halibut cakes.  The best way I served beach lovage was in the modified version of my Greek Purslane-Tomato Salad.

Beach Lovage-Tomato Salad/Salsa (Ντομάτα Σαλάτα με «Άγριο Σέλινο»)
Serves 4 as a salad, or 8 as salsa for serving with fish
If you don’t have beach lovage, substitute 1/4 cup minced parsley, 1/4 cup minced celery leaves, and 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest (or 3 Tbsp. minced parsley, 1 Tbsp. minced lovage, and 1/2 tsp. finely grated lemon zest).

1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
3 Tbsp. fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

1 1/2 cups diced tomatoes, 1/2” dice
1 1/2 cups diced cucumbers, 1/2” dice
3/4 cup diced red onions, 1/2” dice
1/2 cup minced fresh beach lovage leaves
3 Tbsp. minced fresh mint

Make the dressing: Whisk the olive oil into the lemon juice. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste.

Make the salad: Toss all the ingredients together. Drizzle with the dressing and toss again. (You may not need all the dressing.) Taste and add salt or freshly ground black pepper, as needed. 

This post is included in Weekend Herb Blogging compiled by Chris from Mele Cotte.