Sriracha Cashews

Sriracha Cashews1The temperatures have peaked in the 90’s and even with air conditioning, I want EASY. I came across these nuts in an otherwise underwhelming recipe that used way too much soy sauce and was more effort than the result warranted. (I may make it again with some major changes, which I will post at a later date.) The nuts were to have been the garnish, but for me, they became the main attraction. And they are so ridiculously easy to make! Fair warning, though, they are addictive. Munch them with drinks – or anytime – and use them as a garnish over a simple stir-fry to take it to the next level. All you need are two ingredients, plus a sheet pan and an oven. The original recipe only made a half cup of nuts, but I have increased it to 2 cups because, let’s face it, a half cup will be gone before they are barely out of the oven. These nuts have just the right amount of spice – not so much that you will blow off the top of your head but just enough to wake up your taste buds.

Sriracha Cashews as part of a recipe for Grilled Soy-basted Chicken Thighs

Yield: 2 cups of nuts

Ingredients

2 cups of raw cashews

1/2 cup of Sriracha sauce

Directions

  1. Preheat the oven to 300 degrees F. Line a sheet pan with aluminum foil.
  2. Mix the cashews with the Sriracha sauce in a bowl until all of the nuts are well coated. Pour onto the sheet pan, separating the nuts into a single layer with a little space in between. Don’t go crazy doing this. It’s simple, right?
  3. Bake in the oven, stirring once until the nuts are roasted and dry. The time will vary according to your oven, humidity etc. The original recipe suggested 20 minutes, but mine took about 1 hour to be the way I like them. The color when finished was almost mahogany. Roast them until the nuts are no longer sticky. Allow them to cool and then start munching. Sriracha Cashews

NOTE: If you are making these ahead and they get a little sticky, just pop them onto a sheet pan and put them back in a 300 degree F. oven for about 3-5 minutes to refresh them.

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta)

I have been making the Middle Eastern roasted eggplant pâté, both with and without tahini for years and I love it. However, I saw this recipe in an Indian cookbook and decided to try it for some variety. In Hindi bharta means a mishmash of sorts. This version uses ingredients from the peasant community in the northwest region of India. It is redolent with that smoky eggplant flavor and is wonderful as a side dish or spread on toasted baguette slices to go along with cocktails. Try it over smashed avocado for an even deeper dish. Eggplant Pate8While traditionally made with ghee (clarified butter) it can also be made with a neutral vegetable oil to keep it vegan. No matter how you try it, the result is wonderful and the recipe can easily be doubled or tripled if you are making it for a crowd. My husband LOVED this.

Eggplant Pâté (Bharta) from Indian Cooking Unfolded by Raghavan Iyer

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

1.5 pound firm purple eggplant without blemishes

1/4 cup finely chopped red onion

1 rounded Tablespoon finely chopped fresh ginger (I admit that I use the stuff from a jar)

1 fresh green chili, stems discarded, finely chopped (The recipe suggests using a Serrano chili, but that is a bit too hot for my taste so I used a jalapeno. Since it was quite large, I only ended up using half of the jalapeno.)

1/2 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt

1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric

1 Tablespoon ghee or Canola oil

1/2 teaspoon whole cumin seeds

Juice from 1/2 of a small lime

1 Tablespoon, chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

  1. If you are grilling the eggplant, place it on the grill grate, cover the grill and cook, turning it periodically to ensure even grilling. Cook until the skin is evenly charred, about 25 minutes. If you are broiling the eggplant (which I did since I don’t own a grill), position the broiler rack so the eggplant will be about 6 inches from the heat. Place the eggplant on heavy duty foil directly on top of the rack and broil it, turning it midway until the skin is evenly charred. This takes about 30 minutes.
  2. Place the grilled eggplant in a bowl large enough to easily hold it and cover the bowl with plastic wrap to sweat the eggplant. This will take about 15 minutes. Once the eggplant is cool enough to handle, peel the eggplant skin away over the bowl using a soup spoon, discarding the skin and stem. Retain any of the liquid that has pooled in the bowl. Eggplant Pate6
  3. Smush the eggplant with a potato masher or your hands. Add the onion, ginger, chili, salt and turmeric and stir to mix well.
  4. Heat the oil or ghee in a medium skillet over medium heat. Once the oil or ghee begins to shimmer, sprinkle in the cumin seeds. They will instantly sizzle and perfume the air. This only takes about 5-10 seconds. Add the eggplant mixture and cook, stirring occasionally and scraping the bottom of the skillet to make sure that nothing sticks. Cook for about 15 minutes until the flavors have mingled and are irresistible. Eggplant Pate2
  5. Stir in the lime juice and serve it warm with the chopped cilantro.

Steamed Artichokes with Tahini Sauce

Steamed Artichokes2Most people think of artichokes only as the hearts that come out of a can or jar or occasionally the freezer. They casually throw them into salad or maybe cook them with chicken and rice. Very little thought is given to the rest of the vegetable. I freely admit that steamed artichokes are an acquired taste – one that I acquired as a very young child. My mother frequently served them with a lemon butter sauce or a simple vinaigrette – both wonderful and something you should consider trying. I recall the fun of peeling off the leaves one by one and dipping them in the sauce while I grabbed that teeny bit of edible green at the bottom between my teeth. I would peel and dip and discard over and over anxiously waiting to get to the prize at the bottom – the artichoke heart. But first I had to winnow the leaves down until I came to the spiny purplish leaves which covered the fibrous choke. The trick then was to dig out the choke without losing even the tiniest bit of the heart. That wonderfully green, firm/tender taste of the heart was the final destination at the end of the journey.

I haven’t made artichokes in years but I saw a recipe in the Sunday Chicago Tribune newspaper by Leah Eskin that reminded me how truly simple they are to prepare and I made up my mind to make some. You want to find nice green, fat globes. They can be eaten warm or cold with a host of sauces. My husband was not a huge fan, but for me – well, it brought back many fond memories and I enjoyed it immensely. Give it a try and make up your own mind.

Steamed Artichokes with Tahini Sauce (I always make extra sauce since left-overs never go unused)

Yield: Makes 2 but can easily be doubled or tripled

Ingredients 

Steamed Artichokes

1 lemon cut in half

1/2 cup tahini

2 cloves of garlic

3/4 teaspoon Kosher or sea salt plus 2 teaspoons

1/4 teaspoon Aleppo pepper or fresh cracked black pepper

1/8 teaspoon ground sumac

2 bay leaves

2 large, fat artichokes

Directions

  1. Trim the stems of the artichokes with a large chef’s knife. You only want about 1/2 inch of stem and the artichoke should be able to sit flat on its bottom. Using the large knife, cut through the top third of the artichoke, discarding the leaves. Pull off any nasty leaves along the bottom of the artichoke. Using a pair of kitchen shears, snip off the sharp points of the remaining visible leaves so that the top of each leaf is flat.
  2. Place the artichokes cut side up in a deep pot that is large enough to hold them in a single layer. Pour in cold water to a depth of about one (1) inch. Place one garlic clove and the bay leaves in the bottom of the pot. Place 2 teaspoons of salt in the pot. Squeeze the juice of the lemon into a dish or measuring cup and set aside. Place the lemon halves (without the juice!) into the pot. Steamed Artichokes3Bring the water to a boil,cover the pot and reduce the temperature to a simmer. Steam until tender, which took 25 minutes for me. When the artichokes are tender (test by piercing a sharp knife into the base) carefully remove them from the water. Either use tongs or a large slotted spoon. Place them cut side down onto a clean dish towel and allow them to drain for at least 10 minutes. Discard everything else. The artichokes can be made up to a day ahead and eaten cold or you can eat them immediately.
  3. While the artichokes are cooking make your sauce. Place the well-stirred tahini into a bowl or measuring cup with the lemon juice. Whisk until well blended. Then add the remaining clove of garlic that has been crushed, the 3/4 teaspoon of salt, the Aleppo pepper and enough cold water to achieve the consistency of sauce that you like. When you serve them, be sure to have a place for people to discard the leaves and individuals bowls of the sauce for dipping. Steamed Artichokes4

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney

Some weeks it is challenging to come up with something that I think is worthy of sharing. I had intended on sharing a recipe for a Neapolitan Curd Tart, (which I am still determined to do – someday…) but while certainly edible, it just wasn’t share-worthy. However, I did come across a vegan recipe for a vegetable fritter that uses red lentils as a binder and I was hooked.

I never really knew my maternal grandmother. She was already fairly old and quite ill by the time I came along. However, I was always told that she had “golden hands.” My grandmother was a wonderful cook and baker and also could sew anything. But getting recipes from her was nearly impossible. She made an ice box cookie that my mother once tried to watch her make in order to write it down. Grandma was always improving recipes and would measure with instructions like “If the flour feels a little heavy in your hand, take a little off” or If it feels a little light, add some more.” I guess even though I never really got to know my grandma, I take after her in some ways.  I’m fairly clever with my hands and I am constitutionally incapable of making a recipe exactly as written. While I am sure that the original recipe is very good (although I never made it that way) I have to say that the version I am presenting here is outstanding. But feel free to improve it yourself. Change the seasonings to suit your taste. And if you prefer sweet potato to regular potato – go for it.

Since I am not actually a vegan, I served this with a simple Greek yogurt that I flavored with Major Grey’s Chutney. If you wish to remain vegan you could stir the chutney into a good quality vegan mayonnaise or use it as is or you could make a tahini sauce instead. If you don’t like Indian flavorings (really?!!) you could season with pretty much any herbs or spices you like. These would make a wonderful appetizer or a summer dinner served over some peppery watercress or arugula with a nice glass of Chardonnay or a Rose and some fresh melon for dessert.

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney by Sina from Vegan Heaven and seriously adapted by me

Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney

Yield: About 2 dozen 3-inch fritters

Ingredients

3/4 cup red lentils, well-rinsed and cooked until very soft (I used masoor dal, which are split red lentils, but any red lentil will do. Cook according to the package since the time and amount of water will vary with the type of lentil used.)

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped (Any kind of onion will do; I used a yellow onion.)

2 large cloves of garlic, peeled and minced

2 medium raw potatoes, peeled and coarsely grated (I used golden potatoes but a Russet would also work.)

1 medium carrot, peeled and coarsely grated

1 ear of corn with kernels removed OR 1/2 cup of canned or frozen kernels

5 Tablespoons of flour (I used Besan or Gram flour made from chickpeas which adds flavor and protein, but you can use all-purpose flour if that is all you have.)

1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley

1/2 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika

1/2 teaspoon sweet Hungarian paprika

1 generous teaspoon of Garam Masala

1 scant teaspoon of Kosher salt and fresh cracked black pepper, to taste

Oil for frying (I used Grapeseed oil)

Directions

  1. Cook the red lentils according to the package or until very mushy. Drain any excess liquid and set aside to cool.
  2. Mix together all of the remaining ingredients (except for the oil!) in a large bowl. Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney3
  3. Heat a shallow layer of oil in a non-stick or cast-iron skillet until hot but not smoking. Add about 1.5 Tablespoons of the mixture into the pan. I used a cookie scoop to make it easy. Using the back of a spatula, slightly flatten the fritters. Fry until browned on one side and then turn to brown on the other side. The whole process takes about 6-8 minutes. How crispy you like them is a matter of personal preference and since there is no raw egg you don’t have to worry about under cooking the fritters.  Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney4I placed browned fritters on a Silpat covered sheet pan in a warm oven while I continued frying. Alternatively you can place them on a plate lined with paper towels and serve immediately.  Vegetable Fritters with Mango Chutney2Any left-overs can be refrigerated and reheated the next day in the oven or in a frying pan.
  4. Serve with any sauce you wish, although, honestly, these are also good just as is.

NOTE of CAUTION: Be a little careful of popping corn kernels if they are in the oil for too long!

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut Dip

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut dip

I’m always looking for something that my guests can nibble on with drinks that will stimulate their appetite but which won’t overwhelm my main meal. I came across this dip which is adapted from Feasts: Middle Eastern Food to Savor and Share by Sabrina Ghayour. While I haven’t explored the actual book or any other recipes, based on this I am anxious to see what else Ms. Ghayour has in store.

I made this dip for Passover but it would be excellent anytime. And since it is vegan, it can be used at any meal if you observe food restrictions for whatever reason. If you are unfamiliar with nigella seeds, they are definitely worth trying. They can be found at any decent spice store or online and will be used in Indian as well as Middle Eastern recipes. Nigella is also known as black caraway, black cumin or fennel or kalonji seeds. Any left-over dip will easily last a week in the refrigerator.

Carrot, Orange, Ginger and Walnut Dip 

Yield: 8-10 servings

Ingredients

1 pound carrots, peeled and very roughly chopped

5.3 ounces of walnut pieces, very lightly toasted in a dry pan on the stove (As soon as you begin to smell the nut, remove it immediately from the heat!)

1 small bunch fresh cilantro, chopped

1 well-rounded teaspoon ground cinnamon

1/2 teaspoon ground cloves

4-inch piece of fresh ginger root, peeled and finely grated

3 fat cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed

2 Tablespoons of Agave syrup or honey

Zest and juice of 2 large unwaxed oranges

About 4 Tablespoons (1/4 cup) EVOO

3 Tablespoons nigella seeds

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Garnish

Coarsely chopped cilantro

Whole walnuts

Directions

  1. Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the carrots. Reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until the carrots are just tender (about 10 minutes). When a sharp knife inserted into a carrot chunk comes out without any resistance, the carrot is done. Immediately drain under cold water to halt the cooking.
  2. In a food processor combine all of the ingredients up through the EVOO. You want a course puree. Season with salt and pepper. Drizzle in a little more EVOO if you prefer a slightly looser consistency. I did not. Pulse through the nigella seeds and serve with a whole walnut and/or some coarsely chopped cilantro on top.

 

Spanakopita

It was a rainy Sunday a few weeks ago, and Matt and I decided to try to relive our trip to Greece last year with a Greek food party.  One of our favorite things to order had been this – also one of my favorite things to whisk from breakfast trays, roll up in a napkin, and pull out right when sightseeing and the sun were getting too much and we just needed a little energy pop.

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These were surprisingly easy to make, and in the future, I could see it being even easier if I were to just use sheets of fillo in a baking dish instead of laboriously folding each into a little triangle.  But either way, it was a delicious addition to our Greek party.

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Ingredients

  • 1 stick (1/2 cup) plus 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1 lb baby spinach
  • 1/2 lb feta, crumbled (scant 2 cups)
  • 1/2 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
  • 10 (17- by 12-inch) phyllo sheets, thawed if frozen

Directions

    1. Melt 1 tablespoon butter in a 12-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat, then cook spinach, stirring, until wilted and tender, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and cool, about 10 minutes. Squeeze handfuls of spinach to remove as much liquid as possible, then coarsely chop. Transfer to a bowl and stir in feta, nutmeg, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper.
    2. Preheat oven to 375°F.
    3. Melt remaining 1 stick butter in a small saucepan, then cool.
    4. Cover phyllo stack with 2 overlapping sheets of plastic wrap and then a dampened kitchen towel.
    5. Take 1 phyllo sheet from stack and arrange on a work surface with a long side nearest you (keeping remaining sheets covered) and brush with some butter. Top with another phyllo sheet and brush with more butter. Cut buttered phyllo stack crosswise into 6 (roughly 12- by 2 3/4-inch) strips.
    6. Put a heaping teaspoon of filling near 1 corner of a strip on end nearest you, then fold corner of phyllo over to enclose filling and form a triangle. Continue folding strip (like a flag), maintaining triangle shape. Put triangle, seam side down, on a large baking sheet and brush top with butter. Make more triangles in same manner, using all of phyllo.
    7. Bake triangles in middle of oven until golden brown, 20 to 25 minutes, then transfer to a rack to cool slightly.
 From Epicurious Spanakopita

Minty Sweet Pea Spread

minty_pea_spread_3_garnishedFresh English peas are in season and available in most markets. Please feel free to go ahead and buy them and blanch them for this recipe. I however, am taking the lazy way out and using a good quality frozen pea – something which I always have on hand in my freezer. However, there is absolutely no acceptable substitute for fresh mint or lemon. I came across this simple spread on one of my new favorite food blogs, the kitchen. It’s incredibly simple to make, has a gorgeous bright green color that just sings spring and is fresh tasting. I lightened it up a bit and in addition to using as a dip with fresh veggies, it worked well as a sandwich spread and over grilled chicken. That’s an awful lot to get from something that is so simple to make.

Minty Sweet Pea Spread adapted from the kitchen

Yield: About 3 cups

Ingredients

2 cups of fresh English peas shelled and blanched or frozen peas, defrosted

1 large clove garlic, minced

1 lemon, zested and juiced

1/3 cup of fresh mint leaves

2 Tablespoons mascarpone

6 Tablespoons plain non-fat Greek yogurt

1/8 teaspoon ground sumac (optional but this makes the citrus flavor pop!)

Kosher salt and fresh cracked pepper to taste

Directions

  1. Add the peas, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice and mint to the bowl of a food processor and process until smooth.
  2. Pulse in the mascarpone and yogurt and ground sumac, if using, until smooth and the desired consistency. If you want it a little thicker, you can add a bit more yogurt.
  3. Taste and season with salt and pepper. Add more lemon juice if desired, but you don’t want to overwhelm the fresh pea taste. This is not heavy or spicy. It is fresh and vegetal.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls – Bellahat

fish balls on platter with garnish

I have never loved gefilte fish – even when it is homemade – but I wanted a fish first course and this recipe caught my eye. Egyptian Jews make it for holidays, including Shabbat meals. I made it for the first time last year and it was huge hit, so I made it again this year. The key is finding a fish monger with beautiful fresh fish, who will grind it up for you and fresh herbs and spices. You can grind the fish yourself but having someone else do it makes this dish pretty easy to make. Any leftovers make terrific lunches for the rest of the week. Frances has already placed her “order” for her flight home, which unfortunately is tomorrow. These are best made a day ahead so the Bellahat can absorb the flavors of the wonderfully savory sauce. Because I know my audience, I make these flavorful, but not too hot. I have recently discovered the joys and wonder of Aleppo pepper, which is a sweet, savory hot pepper that never overwhelms. I made lavish use of it this Passover, and will make sure that this is now a staple in my spice pantry.

Egyptian Ground Fish Balls with Tomato and Cumin (Bellahat) from Jayne Cohen’s Jewish Holiday Cooking.

Yield: About 8 servings, but can easily be doubled

Ingredients

For the Fish Balls

1.5 pounds (net) of a non-oily white-fleshed fish like flounder, cod, sea bass, snapper or grouper (I used Red Snapper) with the skin and bones removed and finely ground

1/2 cup matza meal

2 large eggs

1/4 cup finely chopped onion

1 Tablespoon minced garlic

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoon Kosher salt

Aleppo pepper (or cayenne if you want it really hot) to taste

2 Tablespoons finely chopped flat-leaf parsley

2 Tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

For the Sauce

1 Tablespoon finely chopped garlic

3 Tablespoons EVOO

One 28 ounce can of San Marzano or other high quality whole tomatoes, with their juice and broken up

NOTE: (You can make this with fresh plum tomatoes and sweet red and yellow peppers, but I try to put my efforts where it really makes a significant difference. And if the plum tomatoes are not in season from a farmer’s market, don’t even bother.)

Kosher salt and more Aleppo Pepper

Juice of one large lemon

Soft-leaf lettuce for serving

Chopped fresh cilantro or parsley or lemon wedges for garnish

Directions

  1. I make my sauce first.In a large heavy saute pan or deep skillet, warm the garlic in 2 Tablespoons of EVOO until fragrant but not brown.
  2. Add the tomatoes and their juice, salt and pepper to taste. Cook over moderately high heat for about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the tomatoes are broken up and the sauce has thickened.
  3. Stir in the remaining 1 Tablespoon of EVOO and the lemon juice. fish balls adding lemon to tomato baseTurn off the heat while you make the fish balls.
  4. In a food processor or by hand, combine the finely ground fish with all of the other ingredients and either pulse until well-combined or mix thoroughly with your hands.fish balls after mixing
  5. With hands moistened in cold water, shape the mixture into 16 slightly flattened ovoids, using about a 1/4 cup for each.
  6. Turn the heat on under the sauce and add the fish balls directly into the sauce. fish balls simmering in paella panWhen all of the fish balls are nestled in the sauce, bring the sauce to a simmer on a low heat. Cover the pan and cook the fish balls for 20-25 minutes until the fish balls are firm and cooked through, turning them once. Turn off the heat and adjust any seasonings of the sauce. Allow the fish balls to cool in the sauce and refigerate over night or up to 48 hours.
  7. Serve on a platter or individual plates with the lettuce leaves, the fish balls and sauce and sprinkled with chopped parsley or cilantro.

NOTE: I like a slightly chunky sauce, but if you prefer a smooth one, remove the fish balls from the sauce before serving and using an immersion blender, puree until smooth.

 

Sundried Tomato and Feta Soleil

Between being under the weather and a lot of travel, I managed to convince myself that cooking something interesting would somehow make me feel better.  After a sad round with gougères that just didn’t turn out right, it was comforting to have this turn out mostly delicious.  Technically, I’d made it for a party that I thought I was going to take food to and ended up with Matthew eating most of it instead (oops).

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The first go at this was a real struggle-fest, mainly because I think I hadn’t realized how touchy puff pastry was, much like Goldilocks and the bears – thaw too much and the dough is sticky, not thawed enough and too hard to roll out.  It literally had to be juuuuust right.  But who has time for that?

Anyways, this finally turned out after I gave up on the other puff pastry dough, and bought a whole new set.  But as it turned out, that other pastry dough still became a delicious butternut squash tart, so it was not all wasted.

The Smitten Kitchen version where I got this from is much more beautiful, but this turned out pretty delicious too!

Ingredients

Filling
3/4 cup sundried tomatoes in oil, drained
1/4 cup pitted kalamata olives
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 large garlic clove, peeled
1 tablespoon olive oil
Salt and freshly ground black pepper or red pepper flakes to taste

Assembly
2 packages puffed pastry (leave in fridge overnight to thaw, or follow the box directions; remember, puff pastry = Goldilocks)
1 egg yolk beaten with 1 teaspoon water (for egg wash)

Dip
6 ounces feta, crumbled
2 ounces cream cheese, cold is fine
1/3 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper

Make the filling: Blend ingredients in a food processor until finely chopped and spreadable. Mixture will be thick. You can thin it with more olive oil if needed, but no need to make this thin like a sauce. Adjust seasonings to taste. Set aside.

Heat oven to 350 degrees.

Assemble the tart: Roll first package puffed pastry flat on a large piece of parchment paper or reusable baking mat into a 12-inch circle; use a 12-inch round plate or bowl to mark the size for a clean cut. Repeat with second dough, setting one aside in the fridge until needed.  (This part is hard if the dough isn’t the right consistency.)

Place first round on a parchment- or nonstick mat-lined baking sheet. Spread with filling to all but 1-inch from edge. Dab edges with water and place second round on top. Set a small glass upside down in the middle. Being careful not to cut through parchment paper or baking mat, cut away from glass (i.e. not through center) in quarters, or at the 3-, 6-, 9- and 12 o’clock marks. Cut through each quarter again, making 8 strips, and again, making 16 strips, and one last time so that you have 32 “rays” of pastry emanating from the center. If at any point in the cutting the pastry feels annoyingly soft and hard to cut, just pop the tray in the freezer for a few minutes to firm it back up.

Remove glass. Place finger near center of each ray (where it is most likely to break off prematurely) and gently twist each strand a few times. Beat egg yolk with 1 teaspoon water; brush it over pastry and sprinkle with seeds, if desired.

Bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until golden brown all over.

Meanwhile, make whipped feta dip: Blend all filling ingredients in a blender or food processor until smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste. Place in bowl for dipping.

Remove tart from oven, let cool on baking sheet for 10 minutes then transfer to a serving platter. Tear off rays of sun, dip in whipped feta; repeat as needed.

Adapted from Smitten Kitchen Feta Tapenade Soleil.

Beet Caviar

IMG_1440Okay, so this isn’t really anything like caviar (which I also happen to love). But until I can think of a better name, we’ll just have to go with this. Caviar or not, it is a delicious beet spread (nope, too dull) that I first ate with a Russian friend and later had a version of it at the Chicago Russian Tea Time Restaurant. This along with my mushroom walnut pâté are wonderful additions to any party spread. And both are so easy, there is simply no excuse for not making them. Whip some up for this Passover or anytime you want to celebrate something. And if you use the pre-cooked beets like “Love Organic Beets” that you can find in the produce section of the grocery store, this really is a snap to make. The photo just doesn’t do justice to the taste.

Beet Caviar adapted from The Eastern and Central European Kitchen: Contemporary and Classic Recipes by Silvena Rowe

Yield: About 2 cups

Ingredients

4 medium beets, washed and trimmed

5 Medjool dates, pitted

2 Tablespoons cognac (Bourbon or Vodka)

2 garlic cloves, peeled and smashed

2 Tablespoons lemon juice or to taste

1/2 cup chopped toasted walnuts

3/4 teaspoon fine grain sea salt or Kosher salt

3 Tablespoons creme fraiche, mascarpone or sour cream (If you want to keep it vegan, you can use Tofutti, Better Than Cream Cheese)

freshly chopped chives for garnish (optional)

Directions

  1. If you are not using pre-cooked beets, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F with a rack in the center. Puncture the beets with a fork a few times and roast for 1 hour or until the beets are completely tender when you test by cutting into the center with a knife.
  2. In the meantime, gently heat the cognac in a small saucepan or in the microwave. Place the dates in a glass dish and when just hot, pour the alcohol over the dates. Allow to soak for at least 10 minutes.
  3. When the beets are cooked and cool enough to peel, remove the skins and chop into cubes. Place in a food processor or blender with the dates, cognac, walnuts, mascarpone, lemon juice, salt and garlic. Puree until the texture is to your liking.
  4. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding more salt or lemon juice. Serve with chopped chives. If you prefer, you can swirl a bit of the creme fraiche (mascarpone or sour cream) through the mixed beets instead of processing it together. It is purely an esthetic decision and will not change the taste.