Middle East Salad

I know salads are good for you.  I know I should eat them more.  I just hate the work that goes into them.  It seems you wash, and chop, and slice forever.   Especially here in Mexico, where you need to wash your vegetables and fruits very carefully.  The stores sell disinfectant drops here that most people use: dilute in water and then let your veggies soak for about a half hour then air dry.  It can be time consuming.  And patience is not one of my best qualities.

This salad doesn’t require a lot of cleaning or chopping and I love it.  I love it even more the next day.  My loves-to-cook childhood friend gave me this recipe.  At the top of it she typed “I just finished making this and remembered that I mentioned it to you before”.  I must have hounded asked her a few times for it.   I’m grateful she’s patient with me and likes to share.  Fun fact, she also still will organize my house when she visits to make it more efficient.  My clothing gets color-coordinated in my closet and my kitchen may get straightened up.  There’s no way I take offense to this, she’s good and it and loves to do it.  I won’t stop that kind of passion.

Sometimes I feel guilty when something that is so simple tastes so great.  I need to stop that.  I came home today and made this in about ten minutes.  My teenage son, who was making himself bacon and cheese quesadillas, looked over at my salad and said “well that looks good, can I have some of that?”  Score for vegetables!

What’s best is it tastes even better the next day.  Make extra for lunch and you’ll be saving money and eating right.  Maybe just keep those raw onions out, unless you enjoy working alone!

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 2 TAB olive oil
  • 2 TAB red wine vinegar
  • 2 tsp dijon
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 can chickpeas or lentils (lentils tend to go mushy overnight, I prefer the chickpeas)
  • 1/2 cucumber, chopped
  • 1/2 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced or whole
  • 1/4 cup fresh dill, chopped
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese, crumbled

DIRECTIONS:

Combine first five ingredients for salad dressing and whisk well.  In a large bowl, add chickpeas, tomatoes, and cucumbers.  Pour dressing and toss.  Add onion, dill, and feta and salt to taste if necessary.  Toss, refrigerate, and cover if not inhaling right away.

Thai Ginger Carrot soup

This soup was a recipe that I made and sold when we had our little cafe here in Playa del Carmen, Mexico.  It was very cost-efficient, I could always find the ingredients, and it froze beautifully.  While I love a brothy soup, I also love how thick this is, without being full of heavy cream.  And never mind that colour!

I find a lot of recipes online that I have to adjust because I cannot find all the ingredients for them here.  Or, if I can, I don’t feel like searching for them only to find them today and not tomorrow.  Even when ingredients seem that they’ll always be there, sometimes they’re not.  For example, this week I couldn’t find icing sugar anywhere.  Icing sugar? Really?  Argh.  It’s like there was an icing sugar convention and every bag in town was bought for desserts and displays.

That’s not what cooking is about to me.  I want it to be delicious, beautiful, different, but I just don’t have the time to spend hours going from store to store, wondering why they had an ingredient last week, but not this.  I would love to spend hours scouring farmers markets, trying all those beautiful options out there, but they don’t exist here.   So, I make the best of what I have, literally.

While I don’t need to be warmed up here very often in the Caribbean, you might need to be, and this soup with do the trick without all those extra calories.  Double it, freeze the leftovers, and warm it up again when you get home late because of a snowy day.

It will warm you and brighten your table.

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TAB sesame oil
  • 1 sweet onion, chopped (I use the Mexican white onion here, but a vidalia would be lovely)
  • 4 garlic cloves, diced
  • 3 inch ginger root, diced
  • 2 lbs carrots, peeled and sliced
  • 1 thai chili pepper, chopped (I use whatever chili pepper I can find)
  • 5 cups vegetable broth
  • 1 can coconut milk

DIRECTIONS:

Heat sesame oil in a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, carrots, and pepper.   Cook, stirring frequently until hot and fragrant, about five minutes.  Add stock.  Simmer, covered, until carrots are tender, about 20 minutes.

Let cool a little before pureeing in a blender, or use an immersion blender if you have one.  Add coconut milk, puree again.  Season to taste with salt and pepper.

pierogi

Ukrainian Pierogies

I have been watching my mother and Baba (grand-mother in Ukrainian) make pierogies for as long as I can remember.  My mother has told me she remembers watching her dad eat up to 66 at a time!  Those were different times, when people actually needed to consume more calories because their employment was usually physical labor.  I think if I consumed that many at one sitting, I would explode.  And I am definitely a glutton when it comes to pierogies.

Don’t get offended by this, but I have to say it: my Baba’s and mom’s pierogies are the best.  I think it’s one of those things that because eating this food item holds so many wonderful childhood memories, nobody else’s pierogies can beat it.  Don’t get me wrong, I will eat pierogies at any chance they are presented to me, and some other friend’s Baba’s have come close, but the clear winner usually rests in my mom’s freezer.

When we had the shop here in Mexico, I started attempting my mother’s pierogies.  One occasion when we were home for a visit, I asked if she could make the dough so that I could try and measure it out so I could make it back in Mexico.  “But I don’t measure”, was her reply.  “I know, but I’d like to try and measure what you’re doing so I can copy it”.  She looked very concerned that my measuring would get in the way of her super soft dough.

It didn’t.  I had a lot to learn.  The first year I tried on my own, I found that some batches were so tough I couldn’t roll them out.  I tried to convince myself it was okay, but when I actually ate a few perogies with said dough, I could barely get my teeth through it.  Clearly, a soft dough matters.  But I kept trying until I got the hang out it.

Growing up, we had strict rules about pierogi night.  They were cooked and served one way and one way only: boiled, tossed with onions in a ton of oil, served with salt, pepper, and sour cream.  There were no sides. There was no dessert.  They were only to be fried the next day, if you were fortunate enough to have leftovers.  Frying them the day of was unheard of and if you mentioned it, you would have gotten a dirty look and perhaps asked to exit the kitchen.   Don’t mess with family tradition.

My mother used to leave them all on the counter, dusted with flour, using about 3,000 tea-towels.  These days, we freeze them individually as we go along, which gives us more for a later time.  I still force ask my mom to make the dough, she even rolls and cuts out the shapes, but we fill and pinch.  That way we can get 300-400 or so done in a day which is GREAT for a freezer.

perogiefreezer

In the past few years, my mother started adding sour cream to her dough; she is sure that it makes it much softer and easier to work with.  And, as hard as this is for me to believe as it is NOT how it was growing up, she now fries bacon along with the onions when she serves them.  This fact actually hurt my brain when it first happened, but I never refuse bacon, so I kept my mouth shut.

Inside the potato and cheese filling, my mother also used to buy a chunk of pork fat, or what she used to call ‘shvsrke’. Since we would never be able to find that here in Mexico, she will just save the bacon fat and add that, even using diced up pieces of bacon for the filling.  The fat gives it a distinct flavor.  Try to ignore the fact that it’s not healthy and just do it.  Just this once.  And every time you make them.

These amounts won’t match perfectly, you will have leftover filling so you may want to make another batch of dough.  You can half both amounts, it’ll still turn out the same.

They take some time, but they are worth it.  And just think, you don’t have to make appetizers or dessert because nobody’s stomach will be able to handle all that food.

Oh, and do your guests a favor, tell them to wear their stretchy pants.

DOUGH INGREDIENTS:

  • 9 cups flour
  • 2 eggs
  • 1/2 cups (unflavored) cooking oil
  • 1 1/2 cups water
  • 1 cup sour cream

POTATO FILLING:

  • 2 kgs potatoes
  • 907 gram block of cheddar, grated
  • 1/4 – 1/2 cup vegetable oil
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1/2 lb bacon, diced

TO SERVE:

  • onions
  • vegetable oil
  • bacon

DIRECTIONS:

Filling: Peel potatoes and boil until soft, then mash.  Add cheddar cheese, salt and pepper to taste.  Fry onion in vegetable oil and add to mixture.  Fry bacon and add to mixture, even adding some or all of the grease from the bacon.  Set aside to cool. (This can be prepared the day before, the colder the mixture is the easier the dough is to fill).

Dough: Combine all ingredients in a large bowl.  Knead five minutes by hand until smooth.  Rest at least 30 minutes, covered.

Flour your working surface well. Roll out dough until about 1/4 inch thick.  Cut circles to size you desire.  We usually use the open end of a drinking glass that’s about 3 1/2″ wide.  Put filling in middle.  Bring one end of circle, pinching as you go.  Pinch tightly, or else they may open when boiling.  They do not need egg wash to seal if you are pinching well. Set aside, not allowing one to touch the other, on a floured baking sheet.

Fresh pierogi can sit, covered, for a few hours.  Or if you prefer, freeze on the sheet until each pierogi is hard, then transfer to a freezer bag.

Set a pot of well-salted water to boil. While waiting for water, fry bacon in a skillet and set aside.  Fry onions in oil and once slightly golden brown, return bacon to pan and stir.  Remove from heat and add to serving dish.

If boiling frozen pierogies, do NOT thaw.  Place them into pot and bring back to a hard boil.  They are ready when they rise to the top.  Drain and toss immediately with fried onions and bacon in serving dish.

Serve with salt, pepper, and lots of sour cream.

 

Mashed Potato Pancakes

One dish that I grew up eating a lot was potato pancakes.  My mom would grate the potatoes, add seasonings and flour, fry them off, and serve with sour cream.  I loved them.  I enjoyed the crunch of them.

Then I made these.  I can’t say I like them better, they’re just different.  They are so soft and billowy.  And best part is you’re using up leftover potatoes in a delicious way.  And frankly, I make my mashed potatoes like I make my pasta, always too much.  Why can’t I just go with my gut? Why do I always toss in a few more strands of pasta, or a few more potatoes?  I guess my motto is better too much than not enough.

This is another one of those ‘loose’ recipes, mostly because everybody’s mashed potatoes are different.  Mine were veeeeeeery smooth so I needed more flour than normal.  You can tell when you are mixing them in the bowl.  Once they start pulling away from the sides, they have enough.  Your best bet is to make a tester pancake and fry it up.  If it falls apart, you need more flour.  You can also adjust the seasonings at this point too.

These taste best served right away, they are a little more crispy on the outside and warm on the inside.  I usually only fry up as many as people are ready to eat so I don’t have to worry about what to do with the leftovers that I made from the leftovers that I had.

I used cheddar in this recipe, but try a stringy cheese like mozzarella and serve it to your kids as a snack.

Here’s to not wasting leftovers!

INGREDIENTS:

  • 4 cups cold mashed potatoes
  • 1 cup cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup green onions, chopped
  • 2 eggs
  • 6 strips bacon, cooked and crumbled (optional)
  • 1/4 cup flour (and more)
  • 1 teaspoon baking soda
  • Vegetable oil for frying

DIRECTIONS:

In a small bowl mix flour and baking soda.  In a large bowl with the leftover mashed potatoes, add cheese, green onions, bacon, and eggs and stir to combine.  Add flour mixture.  If potatoes are not coming together, add more flour, a little at a time, until the potatoes will form a small pancake shape.

Heat oil in a medium size skillet over medium-high heat.  Form potato pancakes and fry until golden brown on each side, about 2-3 minutes each side.  Do not over-crowd the pan or flip pancakes too soon or they will may crumble.  Remove from and drain a minute or so on paper towels.  Serve immediately with more sour cream and green onions.

Makes approximately 24 small pancakes.

 

Green Lentils

Green Lentil Soup

As you already know if you have read my other posts, I don’t always have access to the ingredients that I want here in Mexico.  While I am not a big fan of, or are familiar with Indian food, my husband is, and sometimes I want to try a different flavor palate than the normal salsa, guacamole, and hot sauce.

I really wanted to try Indian Dahl, but I couldn’t find red lentils anywhere.  Either they can’t be found around here, or I didn’t look hard enough.  Fine, I thought, I’ll try something with green lentils.  After all, I have a few friends that choose not to eat meat and are always asking for ideas.  We are huge eaters of chicken in our house, so a vegetarian meal isn’t usually on my mind.  But I’m always up for trying something new.   Even though this is not authentically Indian, it has a punch of flavors that can’t be beat.

For as much as my daughter loves soups, I’ve not made a lot of lentil soups in my life so this was fun to play around with, and amazing how fast a delicious broth can come together with just vegetables and spices.  You can add a lot more broth than I did and than what is pictured, but I wanted you to see the lentils in the bowl so there’s a little less in the picture.

Try it and have a very delicious Meatless Monday.

INGREDIENTS:

  • 2 TAB coconut oil
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 2 TAB ginger, grated
  • 2 teaspoons mustard seeds (optional, I can’t always find them here)
  • 2 teaspoons garam masala
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon chili powder
  • 1 1/2 cups green lentils
  • 4 cups vegetable stock
  • 2 tomatoes, diced

DIRECTIONS:

Place a large saucepan over medium heat.  Add coconut oil.  Add onion, garlic, ginger, and mustard seeds.  Cook for about four minutes, or until mustard seeds start to pop and onion is translucent.  Add all the spices and saute for another 4-5 minutes until fragrant.  Add the lentils and coat well.  Add the stock and tomatoes, bring to a boil, and reduce to a simmer.  Simmer for 30-40 minutes or until the lentils have softened.  Add more liquid if the lentils start to dry out before cooking through.  Remove from heat, season with salt if necessary.

Falafel

In 1994, my generous parents paid for me to go on a tour of Israel.  I was single at the time, and went with my sister, brother-in-law, and a friend who was my room-mate.  We joined a group who went on a 10 day detailed tour all over the country.  I am not really a tour bus kind of person, to be honest, but in a place like Israel, where everything seems to mean something, or where ‘this olive tree dates back 2,000 years’, a guided tour is not just appreciated, but necessary.

It was unlike any place I’ve ever been.  The varied beauty, from the Dead Sea to the Sea of Galilee, the desert of Masada, Jerusalem and it’s walls, and the markets full of the brightest colors I had ever seen.  There were also things I never had dealt with before, such as unrest between religions and cultures, which led to us being restricted from visiting certain areas and towns because it wasn’t safe.  Travel really is the best education.

I distinctly remember this tour taking us to a Falafel stand during one of our first few day trips.  I must have had Falafel before, after all, I lived in Toronto, but I knew this was going to be a different experience.

It was a modest stand, probably family run.  I had no idea how or what to order so I just followed whatever everybody else did and had the classic Falafel and asked for all the toppings I could see.  I was a little concerned, after all, how could a fried legume be any good?

It. was. perfection.  It must have been, because I still have a picture of the man who made it for me almost 25 years ago.  Not a great picture, but I obviously thought the moment was worth remembering.

israel

It was perfectly cooked, seasoned, sized.  The pita it came in was warm and obviously a family recipe that had been perfected for years.  Sigh.  Sadness ensued when I realized I would probably never eat here again.

I ate at many other Falafel stands during my stay in Israel, but seeing as that was my first authentic Falafel, it will always be the one I remember most.

A few years ago here in Mexico, someone decided to theme one of our gatherings middle-eastern.  I LOVE any food themed gathering, but something like that in this part of the world?  I was afraid would not be easy to make food for.  Non-the-less, I decided to play game and try to make Falafel.  Surprisingly, it was easy to find all the ingredients; after all, nothing in it is out of the world that we couldn’t get our hands on.

This version probably isn’t the most authentic, but I like it.  Letting the mixture rest for a few hours in the fridge helps bind everything together.  I don’t like making them too big, I found making them them size of walnut shells perfect for us.

falafel2

Leave a comment and let me know how yours turned out!

 

INGREDIENTS:

  • 1 cup dried chickpeas
  • 1/2 onion, chopped
  • 2 Tab fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 Tab fresh cilantro, chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 2 teaspoons cumin
  • 1 teaspoon baking powder
  • 4-6 Tab flour
  • vegetable oil for frying

 

DIRECTIONS:

Put the chickpeas in a large bowl and add enough cold water to cover them by at least two inches.  Let soak overnight, then drain.  Or use canned chickpeas, drained.

Place the chickpeas and onions in food processor.  Add parsley, cilantro, salt, pepper flakes, garlic, and cumin.  Process until blended but not pureed.

Sprinkle in baking powder and 4 Tab flour and pulse until the dough forms a small ball and no longer sticks to your hands.  Turn into a bowl and refrigerate, covered, for several hours.

Form the chickpea mixture into balls about the size of walnuts.   Heat oil in a deep pot or wok and fry one ball to test.  If it falls apart, add a little flour.  Fry about 6 balls at a time for a few minutes on each side or until golden brown.  Drain on paper towels.

Stuff Falafel in pita and add diced tomatoes and onions and sauce of your choice.

 

Adapted from:  Epicurious

Sweet Potato Cakes

When I was growing up, I wasn’t allowed to refuse food.  I distinctly recall a time we were eating a meal at my aunt’s house.  A platter of some vegetable I don’t recall was being passed to me and I said ‘no thank you’, to which my mother subsequently plopped a large heap of them on my plate.  She felt it was rude to not eat the food that people had lovingly prepared for you, and, that if I didn’t try everything presented to me, I wouldn’t have a varied palate.  I am grateful for this now, much different than my feelings then.

I tried to teach my children the same thing.  I wanted them to experience foods as they grew and their palates changed, and mostly, never to insult people by refusing their food simply out of preference. I recall  some parents bringing a separate meal to my home when their family came for dinner, because, ‘the kids really only like chicken nuggets and fries’. I vowed never to limit my children in the same way.   Plus, there was no way I was making two meals in my house every night.

Sweet potato is not one of my favorite vegetables,  but of course I ate it many different ways growing up when it was presented to me. Being the mom who plans the meals, it means I don’t often make foods that don’t interest me.  So when my son recently told me he loved sweet potato, I was surprised.  I’m not really sure where this love came from, probably from him eating something at Grandma’s house (she’s still a cooking machine at 82) and loving it.

My mom has made potato pancakes for long as I can remember.  It was always a quick meal to her: grated potatoes, diced onion, egg to bind and seasoning.  Fried and served with a dollop of sour cream.  Simple yet delicious.  So when my son asked for sweet potato, that’s the first thing I thought of.

sweetpotato2

These sweet potato cakes are quite delicious.  They are packed with flavor, bright and easy to whip up.  They would also make a great appetizer or hors d’oeuvre.  You can make them earlier in the day and keep them covered in the refrigerator, and then fry them up quickly later.  They’re a refreshing way to eat your veggies!

sweetpotato3

Enjoy!

 

Sweet Potato Cakes

Ingredients

  • 2 lbs sweet potatoes
  • 1.2 cup corn kernels
  • green onions
  • 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
  • 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 large egg
  • 1/4 cup yellow cornmeal
  • 1/2 cup breadcrumbs
  • vegetable oil for frying
  • 1 cup plain yogurt
  • cloves garlic

Directions:

Cook the sweet potatoes.  You can either microwave or boil them. When the potatoes are cool enough to handle, cut them open and scoop the flesh into a large bowl.

Slice the green onions and chop the cilantro. Add the green onions, cilantro, corn, salt, cumin, cayenne, breadcrumbs, cornmeal, and egg.  Stir until well combined. Cover and refrigerate for 30 minutes.

While potato mixture is resting, make garlic sauce.  Combine yogurt, garlic, and handful of cilantro. Stir until combined and refrigerate.

Remove potato mixture from refrigerator.  Shape into small patties.  Heat oil in a skillet. Cook patties until golden brown on each side, about 2/3 minutes per side. Remove from skillet, let excess oil drain on paper towel lined plate.

 

Adapted from: Budget Bytes