Sunday, February 28, 2016

Spicy red-lentil and butternut squash dahl with basmati rice and sheep’s milk yoghurt

It was freezing cold and raining on Thursday morning when suddenly, while I was in my car, driving, the rain turned into snow. Huge snowflakes, the biggest I have ever seen, started falling from the sky, landing on the windscreen ever so gently and quietly, making me feel like I was standing in the middle of a snow globe.

The whole day, all I could think of was coming home and having a cozy and comforting dinner. I was craving something hot and spicy because there’s nothing like spicy food to warm you up on a cold winter’s day.

I had a small butternut squash that I’d bought the previous day to make into a soup, but the plans had changed. I was going to make a dahl; a red-lentil and butternut squash dahl. Indian food for the soul.

There were tomatoes involved and fiery dried red chilli flakes. Peppery fresh ginger and bitter cumin. Onions and garlic, of course. Golden turmeric and fragrant fresh coriander. The result was a thick, creamy, juicy and sumptuous dahl that was deeply aromatic and spicy without blowing your socks off, with sweetness from the tender pumpkin and mellow earthiness from the lentils.

There was nutty, fluffy basmati rice accompanying the dahl and some tangy, creamy sheep’s milk yoghurt to soothe the palate. And it was wonderful. It was all we needed on that cold Thursday.

P.S. One of my recipes was published in the March issue of Cosmopolitan magazine (Greek edition). Yay! You can check it out if you are in Greece.

Spicy red-lentil and butternut squash dahl with basmati rice and sheep’s milk yoghurt
Adapted from Diana Henry

Dahl is an Indian thick stew made with legumes (primarily lentils).

For my taste, this dish is not too spicy and I wouldn’t suggest you change the amount of chilli flakes added. If however you can’t handle spicy food, then reduce to 1 tsp chilli flakes.

Dahls are traditionally topped with a tarka before serving, which is a mixture of spices that are fried quickly over high heat, but I didn’t add any to this dahl as I wanted to keep it light.

Yield: 6 servings


for the dahl
4 Tbsp sunflower oil
1 large onion (about 160 g), grated or processed
3 garlic cloves, peeled and mashed
500 g peeled and deseeded butternut squash, cut into 2.5cm chunks
150 g fresh chopped tomatoes (or canned chopped tomatoes)
1 Tbsp tomato paste
2 tsp dried red chilli flakes
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
2 tsp ground cumin
½ tsp ground turmeric
225 g red lentils
1 liter water
1 vegetable stock cube

for the rice
2 cups basmati rice
2 Tbsp sunflower oil
2½ cup boiling water
1 tsp salt

to serve
500 g sheep’s milk yoghurt
A handful of fresh coriander leaves

Special equipment: large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid (I use a Dutch oven), sieve


for the dahl
In a large frying pan, add 2 Tbsp of the sunflower oil and place over a medium heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the butternut squash pieces and sauté until they have taken on a golden color all around. Remove pan from the heat.

Add 2 Tbsp of the sunflower oil in a heavy-bottomed pan (I use a Dutch oven) and place over medium heat. When it starts to simmer, add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until it takes on a golden brown color, stirring often so it doesn’t burn. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and tomato paste and cook for about 4 minutes, stirring frequently. Then add the ginger, chilli flakes, cumin and turmeric and cook for a couple of minutes, stirring continuously. Then add the lentils, the butternut squash, water, stock cube and salt.
Turn heat up to high and bring to the boil. Then turn heat down to low, put the lid on the pan and cook for 25 minutes, until the lentils are cooked and the butternut squash is tender. Then take the lid off the pan and cook for further 5 minutes. In the end, the dahl should be thick but juicy, not dry.
Give it a taste and add more salt if needed.

for the rice
I always make this rice following the 1:1¼ method of measuring. Which means that for every 1 cup of rice, I add 1¼ cup water. It works perfectly each time for me.

Add the rice to a sieve and place it under cool running water. Rinse the rice until the water runs clean. Leave to dry in the sieve for 5 minutes.

In a small saucepan, add the sunflower oil and heat over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add the rice and toast, stirring constantly with a spoon or spatula for 1 minute. Add the boiling water and salt, and stir well. Bring to the boil and turn heat down to low. Put on the lid and simmer for about 20 minutes. At this point, the rice should be cooked. If you see water still in the pan, boil for longer but keep an eye on it so it doesn’t dry up and catch at the bottom.

Remove from the heat and leave with the lid on for a further 5 minutes. Then, using a fork, fluff up the rice, put the lid on and let it stand for 5-7 minutes, as it will continue to steam.

Serve the dahl with the rice and yoghurt and top with the fresh coriander leaves.

The dahl is even tastier the next day and it keeps well in the fridge for 2-3 days.

Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Purple kale and kumquat bruschetta w/ tahini and date molasses dressing and Greek Kefalotyri

Winter favorites: kale, citrus, bread baking.
Winter obsessions: purple curly kale, kumquats, homemade sourdough bread.

I have a starter that I maintain and have kept alive for four years now. Four freaking years! I’m so proud of him (the starter is a he) and myself for managing to not kill him.
I’m even more proud with the sourdough loaf I made the other day.
No photos taken of the loaf because it was dark when I finished baking it and all that was left the next day were a few slices that I used to make bruschette.

I toasted the bread slices and rubbed them with garlic. I made a tahini dressing with citrus juices and date molasses, and mixed it with purple kale leaves (they are so incredibly pretty to photograph). I sliced some kumquats and piled everything on top of the bread. I scattered a few toasted, chopped walnuts on top and added some shaved Greek Kefalotyri cheese.
They were devoured in no time.

P.S. Kumquats are among my favorite fruits. For those of you who have never tasted them, you’re missing out. You need to taste these little beauties. Their skin is sweet and deeply aromatic, their flesh is sour and tart —the exact opposite of all the other citrus fruits— and they’re perfect eaten raw in fruit salads or vegetable salads.

Purple kale and kumquat bruschetta with a tahini and date molasses dressing and Greek Kefalotyri

Kefalotyri is a hard, yellow Greek cheese made from raw, goat and/or sheep’s milk that has a slightly salty, mildly acidulous flavor and a sharp aroma. It’s a very traditional Greek cheese for pasta dishes (like this braised rabbit with hilopites) and is used in all sorts of Greek dishes like cheese saganaki, melitzanes papoutsakia (stuffed eggplants with minced beef-tomato sauce), mousakas, etc. If you can’t find it, substitute with Pecorino Romano.

These bruschette can easily be turned into a big salad. Mix all the ingredients together and instead of toasting the bread, make croutons (see recipe here) and add them to the salad.

Yield: 12-14 bruschette

12-14 thick-ish slices of sourdough bread or other country bread
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled
150 g purple (or green) curly kale leaves, veins and stems removed (before trimming they were about 230 g)
5-6 kumquats, very thinly sliced
1 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
70-80 g Greek Kefalotyri cheese, shaved
A big handful of walnut halves

for the tahini dressing
75 g tahini (stirred well before measuring it out of the jar)
1½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed orange juice
1 Tbsp date molasses (or petimezi – Greek grape molasses)
Salt, to taste
Freshly ground white pepper, 3-4 turns of the pepper mill
3 Tbsp water

In a small skillet or sauté pan add the walnuts and place over a medium heat. Toast the nuts, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl and allow to cool. Then chop them roughly.

Rinse the kale leaves under cold running water and dry them very well with a clean kitchen towel or with absorbent kitchen paper.
Remove the central, thick vein of each kale leaf as well as the stems, and discard them. Cut with your hands the leaves into small, bite-sized pieces.

In a large bowl, add the kale, olive oil and lemon juice and massage gently with your fingers to tenderize the leaves.

Make the dressing by adding all the ingredients in a small bowl and whisking well to combine and create a smooth mixture. Give it a taste and correct the seasoning. The dressing can be made 1 day ahead and kept covered well with plastic wrap in the fridge. Let it come to room temperature before using it, because it firms up in the fridge. Whisk it before use.

Toast the bread and rub one side of each slice all over with garlic.

To the kale, add the sliced kumquats and ⅔ of the dressing, and toss well.

Arrange the bread slices on a tray, top each slice with the dressed kale and kumquats, sprinkle with the chopped walnuts and top with a the shaved Kefalotyri. Drizzle the rest of the dressing on top of each brsuchetta.
Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Spelt waffles w/ blood orange & orange-blossom water syrup and pistachios

I’m not a big Sunday breakfast or brunch kind of person; I’d rather have a big Sunday lunch, which is the Greek way. Sit around the table for two-three hours eating and drinking until late afternoon, then have fruits and dessert followed by a cup of coffee. But once in a while I like to break up that routine and go out for brunch or prepare a breakfast feast at home to start the day right. One thing I never leave out in cases like these is waffles.

I don’t get the fascination with intricate waffle recipes and extravagant toppings, I believe simple is best. My go-to recipe for basic, classic waffles is the one I shared here on the blog back in 2011 and it is as simple as it can get and pretty damn tasty.

The past couple of years, however, I’ve been using more and more alternative flours —purely because I enjoy the flavor and texture they provide to baked goods— so I thought I’d start experimenting with waffle recipes incorporating said flours.

I’ve tried several ones using buckwheat flour and a couple of others using barley and kamut flour, but the one I absolutely love and come back to again and again is this one with spelt flour.

It is straightforward, quick, fuss-free and delicious with the spelt flour providing a subtle nutty flavor to the crispy waffles. I drizzled them with the bittersweet and slightly sharp blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup I made last week, scattered a few chopped pistachios on top for extra texture and they were transformed into a thing of beauty both visually and in terms of flavor.

Spelt waffles with blood orange & orange-blossom water syrup and pistachios

I use a non-stick waffle iron so I never add any oil to it before adding the batter. If yours isn’t non-stick or particularly reliable, add some sunflower oil (or other vegetable oil) when you heat it up. Also, reading the manufacturer’s instructions always helps.

Yield: 12-14 standard-sized waffles

325 g white spelt flour
2 tsp baking powder
A pinch of salt
65 g caster sugar
100 g unsalted butter, melted and cooled
2 large eggs
450 ml fresh whole milk
1 tsp pure vanilla extract

to serve
Blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup (recipe here)
A handful of pistachios, chopped

Special equipment: waffle iron

In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, baking powder and salt. Create a well in the middle and add the sugar, eggs and melted butter. Mix with a whisk to break up the egss and then gradually add the milk while whisking together all the ingredients. When you have added all the milk, whisk vigorously to break up any lumps in the batter. You should have a slightly thick and smooth batter.

Preheat your waffle iron (and lightly oil it, if needed).

Whisk the batter and add a portion of it in the waffle iron. Portion depends on the size of your waffle iron. Ensure that the batter fills all the grooves and close the lid. Don’t open it for a couple of minutes because the waffles need time to set and create a skin. If you open the iron, the waffles may break up.
Cook them for 4 minutes or until they have taken on a golden color. Take them out with the help of a rubber spatula, place them on a wire rack to avoid getting soggy and continue cooking the rest.

Serve them immediately drizzled with the blood orange syrup and scatter a few chopped pistachios on top.

You can keep the batter in the refrigerator for a couple of days, covered very tightly with plastic wrap. Whisk well before using.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Raw kale, red cabbage and blood orange salad with hazelnuts and a toasted sesame oil & ginger vinaigrette

The saving grace of winter is definitely citrus fruits. They provide not only much needed vitamin C for our body, but they also give brightness, flavor, vibrancy and color —oh glorious color— to our sweet and savory dishes.

I’ve been cooking with all sorts of citrus fruits the past month or so (exhibit number one was the meringues with blood oranges I shared with you last week) and plan on keep doing so until the end of April. No one can stop me. One of the ways I’ve been using the season’s bounty of citrus is by adding them raw to salads. I know, predictable, not very original, yet wonderful in every possible way.

Sometimes, when I post salad recipes here on the blog, I wonder what you think about them. I mean, does anyone need a recipe for a salad? Isn’t it something we all make instinctively? Isn’t it all a matter of taste and preference and what-do-I-have-in-the-fridge-that-I-don’t-want-to-go-to-waste kind of thing? I guess it is.

On the other hand, however, I tend to view it differently; I enjoy seeing salads on blogs, magazines and cookbooks. I am reminded of a forgotten ingredient, of a way to pair it with something that I hadn’t had in a while. I get inspired to try something new, to combine known ingredients in a different way. That’s what cooking is all about, really. Trying new things out for size. It’s not always about reinventing the wheel, but polishing it a bit or oiling its rusty parts.

So when I say you must try this salad, it’s because I myself by eating it was reminded about what a wonderful combination blood oranges and red cabbage is; what fresh ginger and toasted sesame oil can do to an otherwise simple vinaigrette; how kale can be the perfect medium to join these ingredients together and how sweet it is this time of year, when it is at its prime. I was reminded and awakened to all this and I hope, in some way, it will inspire you to try something new.

It is full of textures, and the flavor is bright and zingy and all that it promises to be; simple and scrumptious. It wakes up your taste buds with crunchy, squeaky cabbage, crispy, toasted nuts, chewy kale that fills you up with its robust, bittersweet flavor; with the glistening blood oranges bursting with juices and flavor —acidity, bitterness and sweetness at the same time; with the vinaigrette that’s lively and bright, with toasty aroma and flavor from the sesame oil, zing from the vinegar and blood orange zest that adds texture apart from flavor, subtle sweetness from the honey that ties the whole thing together and last but not least, pepperiness and zest from the fresh ginger. Perfect winter salad, if you ask me. Try it, and I’d love to know how you liked it.

Raw kale, red cabbage and blood orange salad with hazelnuts and a toasted sesame oil and ginger vinaigrette

Asian toasted sesame oil is completely different to regular sesame oil so don’t substitute it or you’ll miss out on that incredible aroma and flavor of toasted sesame. It is ideal for dressings (but not for cooking).

I have a sneaking suspicion that Savoy cabbage would work great here instead of kale. Hint for those who can’t get a hold of curly kale.
If you can’t find blood oranges where you live, regular oranges would work just fine, especially if they’re slightly bittersweet.

Pairs nicely with chicken and red meat, and you can have it with some fresh bread for a light lunch.

Yield: 4 servings


for the salad
165 g fresh whole curly kale leaves (after removing the veins and stems they were about 100 g)
140 g red cabbage, sliced thinly
2 blood oranges
A handful of blanched hazelnuts

for the vinaigrette
2 Tbsp extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
1½ Tbsp red-wine vinegar
1 Tbsp runny honey
3cm piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely grated
Zest from 1 blood orange
Freshly ground white pepper

Special equipment: rasp grater

In a small skillet or sauté pan add the blanched hazelnuts and place over a medium heat. Toast the nuts, stirring often so they don’t get burned, until they become fragrant and brown lightly. Transfer them to a small bowl and allow to cool. Then chop them roughly.

Rinse the kale leaves under cold running water and dry them very well with a clean kitchen towel or with absorbent kitchen paper.
Remove the central, thick vein of each kale leaf as well as the stems, and discard them. Cut with your hands the leaves into bite-sized pieces.

The way to cut the 2 blood oranges is by using a sharp knife. First, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut free the flesh of the fruit from the membranes that are in between the wedges. Squeeze the juice out of the membranes and into a small bowl. You will use the juice in the vinaigrette.

In that same small bowl with the blood orange juice, add the olive oil and sesame oil, the vinegar, honey, ginger, blood orange zest, a little salt and pepper and whisk well to combine. Give it a taste and add more salt if necessary.

In a large bowl, add the kale and red cabbage and massage gently with your fingers. Add ¾ of the vinaigrette and mix gently with your hands so that everything glistens.
Arrange on a large platter or wide salad bowl and top with the blood orange segments. Scatter the chopped hazelnuts over the top and drizzle with the rest of the vinaigrette.

Serve immediately.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

Chewy meringues w/ Greek yoghurt, blood oranges & blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup

These meringues were not intended for a Valentine’s post, but since Valentine’s Day is in a couple of days and many of you will celebrate it with something sweet, I’d say these meringues are pretty perfect to share with your loved one.

There isn’t any other dessert that is more fluffy and light, billowy and cloud-like as a meringue. Especially when it is topped with a couple dollops of luscious, rich and creamy Greek yoghurt, full-fat please, a few slices of fresh blood oranges and blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup that intensifies the flavor of the fresh fruit even more.

The voluminous meringues are crunchy on the outside and chewy, soft and sticky on the inside. The tanginess of the rich yoghurt balances the sweetness of the meringues —which for me is a bit too much to be eaten on their own—, the sweet and sour syrup with a hint of bitterness adds fresh notes and counteracts that sweetness, while the thinly sliced blood orange brings the freshest notes of citrus as well as juiciness.

It’s a scrumptious dessert and perfect served not only for your beloved partner but also for a crowd or for a dinner with friends since you can prepare the meringues and syrup a couple of days in advance and assemble the dessert when you want to serve it.

Important notes on making meringues:

It’s best if you make meringues on a dry, clear day rather than a dump and wet one because the meringues despise humidity.

The weight of the egg whites should be double that of the sugar and that’s why you need to always weigh your ingredients.

Use older egg whites if you have them because they produce a fluffier meringue due to the fact that they are more runny which creates more volume.

Egg whites that are at room temperature can incorporate more air thus producing a fluffier meringue. But, it is easier to separate eggs that are cold. So, before you start making the meringue, take the eggs out of the fridge, separate them, and let them come to room temperature before using them in the recipe.
You mustn’t drop any egg yolk (fat) in with the egg whites because it will prevent them from firming.
You can use the egg yolks to make mayonnaise.

Use caster sugar (superfine sugar for my American friends). It will dissolve more easily into the egg whites and you won’t need to beat your mixture for ages.

Use a very clean (and dry) metal or glass bowl to make your meringue, not a plastic bowl, because plastic is difficult to get really clean; there’s almost always traces of fat from previous usage and any grease will stop your meringue from getting fluffy. The same applies for your beaters too.

They say that you shouldn’t open your oven while your meringues are baking because they will crack due to the temperature change. Well, I open my oven because my oven is crazy and I need to rotate. As a result my meringues always crack but I don’t care because I think they look pretty anyway. You shouldn’t care that much either because you can hide any cracks beneath Greek yoghurt, melted chocolate or whipped cream. The cracks do not affect the flavor of the meringues.

You can store these meringues for 2-3 days in an airtight container.

The recipe yields five good-sized meringues so they could easily be served to more than five people if they’re willing to share. For example, one meringue for each couple. There will be of course those who will want them all to themselves, and rightly so!

Chewy meringues with Greek yoghurt, blood oranges & blood orange and orange-blossom water syrup

There are two types of meringues in this world, chewy and crispy; this characterizes the texture of the center of the meringue. As noted above, these meringues are chewy, which means that they’re chewy in the center and crispy on the outside. This is achieved by the addition of cornflour (cornstarch for my American friends) and vinegar in the mixture.

You can use the blood orange syrup on top of pancakes, waffles and of course ice cream.

Since it's blood orange season, you may want to check out this blood orange granita with juniper berries and Jenever (Dutch Gin), and this blood orange, Campari and semolina syrup cake.

Yield: 5 portions


for the meringues
250 g caster sugar
125 g egg white (from about 4 large eggs, but I advise you to weigh the whites for proper results), at room temperature
A pinch of salt
2 tsp cornflour
1 tsp white wine vinegar
¼ tsp pure vanilla extract

for the syrup
200 ml blood-orange juice, freshly squeezed
Juice of 1 lemon (about 40 ml), freshly squeezed
120 g caster sugar
½ tsp orange-blossom water

for serving
2 blood oranges
About 350 g Greek yoghurt, full-fat

Special equipment: stand mixer with whisk attachment or hand-held mixer, baking sheet, baking paper


for the meringues
Preheat your oven to 120ºC.

In the bowl of your stand mixer or in a large stainless steel bowl, add the egg whites and salt, and using the whisk attachment or a hand-held mixer, start beating them. Start by beating on medium-low speed until the egg whites start to foam and then continue to beat at high speed until you have stiff peaks and when you hold the bowl above your head the meringues stay in the bowl. Don’t beat too much or they will become grainy.

Add ⅓ of the sugar into the meringue and beat on high speed for about 4 minutes. Then add the rest of the sugar 1 Tbsp at a time, whisking well after each addition. Once all sugar is added, continue to whisk for a further 10 minutes until you have a fluffy, thick and glossy meringue.

Sprinkle the cornflour on top of the meringue, add the white wine vinegar and pure vanilla extract, and using a spatula or metal spoon, gently fold the ingredients in the meringue.

Take a little of the mixture and smear it in the four corners of a baking sheet. Place the baking paper on top and press to stick. This way the paper won’t move around when you’re spooning on it the meringue. Spoon dollops of meringue making 5 individual round-ish and plump meringues, 9-10 cm each.

Place the baking sheet on the middle rack of the preheated oven and bake for 25 minutes. Then turn heat down to 100ºC and bake for a further 40 minutes. Then turn off the oven and leave the meringues inside the oven until they have completely cooled.
Take them out of the oven and peel them off gently. Don’t put pressure with your hands when you touch them because they might break.

The meringues can be made 2-3 days ahead and kept in an airtight container, at room temperature.

for the syrup
In a small pan, add the blood-orange juice, lemon juice, orange-blossom water and sugar, and place over a medium heat, stirring continuously until the sugar has dissolved. Bring to the boil, turn heat down to low and allow to simmer until it has reduced to about a half. It will take about 15 minutes. Leave to cool completely. The syrup will become thicker as it cools.

The syrup can be made 4-5 days ahead and kept in a bowl in the fridge, wrapped well with plastic wrap.

To cut the blood oranges, using a large, sharp knife, cut off the peel, then the white pith all around the fruit, exposing the flesh, and finally, cut into thin circles.

Place the meringues on individual plates, top them with 3-4 tsp of yoghurt to cover the top, place 3 slices of blood orange on top and drizzle with syrup.
Serve immediately. Don’t leave the meringues stand like that for more than 1 minute because the tops will soften.