Italian spinach/mushroom lasagna (vegetarian)

I have been making lasagna recently quite a bit. It is not too hot outside yet so I can turn the oven on but we want something on the lighter side too … so this dish seems to fit the bill. Of course, you can make this dish any time of the year. Lasagna is an Italian specialty. Traditionally, it is made with layers of tomato sauce based ragu, cheese and béchamel sauce. In this dish, I replaced the meat with spinach, mushrooms and cheese. I served it with red wine that seemed to compliment it very nicely.

Spinach is a great vegetable for the spring, it is hardy and nourishing for the liver.

Of course, an important part of the lasagna is the pasta. The best is if it is home made but good, high quality packaged pasta will do too.

Also, the cheese is also important. Try to get the best quality you can afford. Honestly, when I was in Italy, the first thing that I noticed was how tasty the cheese was in their dishes. I like to use a mixture of cheeses, here I used fresh mozzarella cheese balls, feta cheese and Parmesan cheese.

I make my own Italian seasoning but of course any store bought mix would work too. I think this is a nicely balanced mixture of spices grown in Italy. They are carefully selected herbs so one herb will not overpower the other. Also, they all are carminative therefore will help with digestion. Historically, we can thank the ancient Greek doctors who added these herbs to dishes so people can get their benefits all year along.

The warming, aromatic oregano is the key ingredient in pasta dishes. I like to use it because it gives a nice, distinctive flavor to Italian dishes. The sweet fennel seeds are acrid and compliment the strong aromatic oregano in the dish. The delicate basil is probably the most loved and popular spice used in Italian cooking. If you can, try to use the fresh plant instead of the dried. Its aromatic flavor is a nice addition to any Italian dish. The pungent chili pepper is not a big part of the Italian cuisine but Italians enjoy adding a little to their pasta dishes. The oregano and the fennel seeds both can offset the heat of some stronger spices.

Italian seasoning

2 TBSP (6 tsp) dried oregano

1 tsp dried basil or handful of fresh basil

2 tsp ground fennel seeds

1/8 tsp black pepper

1/4-1/2 tsp hot red pepper or to taste (optional)

RECIPE

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients

  • lasagna pasta (I used 10 strips)
  • 10-16oz spinach (frozen is fine too)
  • 4-8 oz chopped up mushrooms
  • olive oil
  • 2 slices of bacon (optional)
  • 1/2 cup of tomato sauce + (more for the top and the bottom if needed)
  • 1 cup of Parmesan cheese (1/2 cup for the filling, 1/2 cup for the Béchamel sauce)
  • 8oz (100g) fresh mozzarella balls
  • 8 oz (200g) of feta cheese
  • 1 Tbsp of Italian seasoning plus more for the top
  • handfull of fresh basil leaves (if you have them)
  • 3 cloves of garlic
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • About 4 oz grated Mozzarella cheese for the top

Bachamel sauce ingredients

  • 5 Tbsp of butter
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 2 cups of milk
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1/8 tsp freshly grated nutmeg
  • 2 egg yolks (optional)

  • Rosso Piceno wine. Bottled by Saladini Pilastri 2018 (optional) It is the best and not expensive!
  • parsley leaves (chopped)

Directions

Start boiling the water for the pasta (omit if your pasta does not need to be boiled).

Preheat the oven to 400F and have the rack in the middle of the oven.

Making the filling: In a pan, sauté bacon (optional) and mushrooms in a little oil for 5-10 minutes. Transfer into a bowl. Meanwhile wash and take stems off the spinach. If using frozen spinach of course no need to do it. Sauté in a little oil and water. Remove and try to drain off water. Chop spinach well and transfer into the bowl. Add mashed feta cheese, tomato sauce, 1 egg, garlic, 1 Tbsp of the Italian seasoning (see recipe above). Mix.

Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard, just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 5 Tbsp of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grate some nutmeg. Add 1/2 cup of Gruyere cheese (optional) and 2 egg yolks. Last time I forgot the eggs and the sauce was still fine. So I will add here that it is optional especially if you are already adding cheese. Mix well. I use a double boiler but is not necessary.

Prepare the lasagna pasta according to its directions. If you need to boil the pasta, put it in the boiling water that was started in the first step. Proceed according to its instructions. When done take out of the water and try to make sure they don’t stick to each other. I like to cook the pasta more at the end to prevent sticking. So try to make sure you have everything ready before the pasta is ready so you can start assembling the lasagna.

Assembling the lasagna: Put a thin layer of the béchamel sauce or tomato sauce on the bottom of a 3 Qt size baking dish. (2Qt size will work ok too). Place 1 layer of the pasta strips on the bottom of the pan. Put the filling on top of the pasta, followed by the fresh mozzarella balls (cut up if using the larger balls), pour the béchamel sauce and top it all with another layer of the pasta. Spread some pasta sauce and the shredded mozzarella cheese on the top. Sprinkle some Italian spice on the top.

Turn the oven heat down to 375F and put the lasagna in the oven. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until the top is nice and golden brown.

Serve hot with a little grated Parmesan cheese and fresh parsley on the top. I really enjoyed a glass of red wine with the dish. I felt like I was in Italy! I would recommend this bottle of red wine if you are looking for one to try (please see details above in Ingredients).

enjoy!

Source

  • Matthew Wood: Earthwise
  • Paul Pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods

Photo, recipe, text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Chana masala (Indian chickpea dish)

Chana masala is a delicious Indian dish that would be great for the spring. I still vividly remember the first time I had chana masala at a friend’s house. He had us over for dinner when his parents came to visit like 25 years ago. I did not even recognize the chickpeas … I actually thought they were chestnuts. I never got the recipe but his mother gave me some tips. (Thanks to the internet I found this recipe on line and I think it is very close to what we had that night).

Chana means garbanzo beans and is the main ingredient in the dish. IMO it is crucial to prepare these beans properly. I remember our friend’s mother told me to cook the beans for a long time. They should be cooked for 3 hours or you can use a pressure cooker according to its instructions, of course. Cooking for this long will soften the beans and let the flavors come out. So if time is not an issue, I would recommend home cooked chickpeas instead of using the canned ones. The canned beans will not have the same results for sure.

Garam masala is the main spice in the dish. It is not just one spice but is actually a cleverly chosen mixture of a few spices: fennel seeds, star anise, mace, black cardamom. It is nicely balanced so one flavor will not overwhelm the dish. You can blend it yourself or you can just buy it. (I ended up buying it at the store).

This is a common dish that people in India make on a regular basis for lunch or dinner. It has an interesting flavor, taste and texture. It can be made less spicy, if you don’t like spicy dishes, just leave out the green chili. So chana masala is basically a chickpea curry cooked in an onion tomato sauce with the spices. I always wonder how poor people in India get by on very little money and still eat well. This dish might be one of their secrets …

RECIPE

-I doubled the recipe

serves 3-4 people

  • 1 cup of dried chickpeas or 1 (15oz) can
  • 3 cups of water

Ingredients for the tomato sauce

  • 2 Tbsp vegetable oil/ghee
  • 2 large onions, finally chopped
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 inch ginger piece, finally chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, chopped
  • 1/2-3/4 TBSP of red chili powder (adjust to taste)
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric powder
  • salt to taste

Ingredients for the chana masala gravy

  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick (If you double up the recipe, you will not need to add another cinnamon stick)
  • 2-3 clove pieces
  • 3 green cardamom pods without the shells.
  • 1 green chili pepper, chopped (optional)
  • 1-1 1/2 tsp garam masala
  • 1 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 2 pinch mango powder (amchur) (optional)
  • fenugreek leaves (optional)
  • coriander leaves

Directions

Clean and soak the chickpeas for at least 8 hours. Pour off soaking liquid. Add fresh cold water and cook for 3 hours. Less for pressure cooker. Save cooking liquid. Omit if using canned beans.

Directions for the tomato sauce

  • Sauté the onions in oil or ghee until golden. Add the chopped ginger for 1 minute, stir.
  • Add red chili powder and turmeric. Stir for 1 minute. Add garlic quickly, stir.
  • Quickly add chopped tomatoes and little salt, stir. Cook for 15-20 minutes or until there is a nice sauce. The onions should not taste raw.
  • Let this mixture cool. Add 1 tbsp liquid from the beans. Make a thick gravy with a blender. Set aside.

Directions for the Chana masala gravy

  • Dry heat the spices (cinnamon stick, bay leaf, cardamom, clove) in a pot for 1 minute until you can smell the aroma of the spices. Stir. I grind the cardamom as some people don’t like them in their foods whole.
  • Pour the blended tomato sauce mixture from the previous step back into the pot, the chopped green chili pepper, coriander and garam masala powders and the spices.
  • Mix and cook for a few minutes until ingredients are mixed nicely.
  • Add the cooked chickpeas and the cooking water. You might have to add more water.
  • Bring to a boil and simmer for 5-6 minutes.
  • Taste the mixture and see if you need more garam masala. Boil and simmer for 2 more minutes if spices were added.
  • Take out the larger spices like bay leaves, cinnamon, cloves.
  • I also added salt here.
  • Keep it covered until served.
  • Serve hot with cilantro, yoghurt, lemon, rice, vegetables and roti.

enjoy!

Source

https://www.indianhealthyrecipes.com/chana-masala/

Gourmet kitchari (moong bean stew)

I don’t know if the ground hog’s prediction is right or wrong but it is still cold here. So let’s go to a more exotic place like India and get a popular dish. No worries, no exotic foods will be used. You should be able to find all the ingredients here in the US at any grocery store. If your grocery store does not have them, you can try any Indian or Asian store but really all these ingredients are common in the US. I serve the dish with whatever vegetables I can get in the store, spinach, kale, cauliflower etc.

This dish is more of a gourmet version of the simple kitchari with the addition of mustard seed, cinnamon, cardamom and chili pepper. You can also add your favorite vegetarian dishes to make it more complete and fun. I used spinach, paneer, fried mushrooms and rice. Kitchari is such a healthy dish even if you serve it with all these other foods. If you want to experience the healthiest dish on the planet, please check out my simple kitchari recipe from last year.

RECIPE

Ingredients

  • 1 onion
  • 1 cup of mung beans
  • vegetable oil (I used home made ghee. )
  • 1 Tbsp fresh ginger, minced
  • 10-15 mustard seeds
  • 1″ stick of cinnamon
  • seeds of 3 green cardamom pods (discard green shell)
  • 1 tomato, chopped (canned is fine)
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 cup of stock (more if you want a soup)
  • 1 green chili pepper (you can remove the seeds if you don’t like your dish too hot)
  • salt and black pepper to taste
  • yoghurt
  • cilantro
  • lime or lemon

Direction

  • Clean and soak mung beans overnight but at least for 2 hours. Pour off soaking liquid and use fresh cold water to cook the beans for 1 hour.
  • Making the gravy. Saute the onion on medium high heat. You can add the cinnamon stick.
  • When you smell the nice aroma of the cinnamon, add the ginger, cardamom seeds, mustard seeds and cumin seeds, Stir and cook for about 5 minutes.
  • Add the powders (turmeric, cumin, coriander), stir. Add garlic, stir.
  • Add 1 chopped tomato and cook for about 5-10 minutes until it becomes saucy.
  • Add chopped chili pepper and cold stock, stir.
  • Bring to a boil, turn down and cook for 30 minutes.
  • Add in the cooked mung beans and cook for 15 more minutes or untl beans are done.
  • Add salt and pepper to taste.
  • Serve warm with rice, yoghurt, cilantro and lemon.
  • I also used paneer with spinach stew and fried mushrooms.

enjoy!

Recipe, photo and text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Sauerkraut dish with kielbasa

This delicious dish is very easy to make. I probably should have called it the bachelor/bachelorette sauerkraut dish … but it is not just for the bachelors/bachelorettes, it is the perfect dish whenever you want to make something quick but tasty and healthy. Of course, you can never go wrong with sauerkraut, it is so healthy.

It is a super easy recipe but I would like to note a few things. The onion has to be finally chopped and the dish needs to be cooked well otherwise it will have a raw taste.

There are two types of sauerkraut. One is preserved with vinegar and the other is processed with salt. I prefer the salted version as it is less acidic and is better for health. This version acts as a probiotic and supports gut health and digestive functions. Of course, the vinegar version would be fine to use, too.

RECIPE

Serves 6-8 people

Ingredients

  • 1 onion, finally chopped
  • oil (sunflower, lard)
  • 4 large slices of bacon, chopped into small pieces
  • 1 tsp sweet paprika powder
  • 1 cup of cold meat stock
  • 1 apple, cored, peeled and chopped
  • 1 tsp caraway seeds
  • 1/2 tsp mustard
  • 2 lbs of sauerkraut, well rinsed
  • red chili pepper (optional)
  • 1 lb of kielbasa or sausage
  • sour cream to serve
  • rice or potatoes to serve
  • bread
  • salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  • Chop the onions making sure they are finally chopped. Also chop the bacon. Sauté onions and bacon in some oil for about 10 minutes on medium high heat. Sauté the apple pieces for a few minutes.
  • Add the paprika, stir for 1 minute to activate and add the cold stock, stir.
  • Rinse sauerkraut well with water.
  • Add the sauerkraut, stir. Continue adding, the mustard, red chili pepper (optional) and caraway seeds. You can add the meat too. If the meat is already cooked, you do not have to add it at this point. Although I personally like it if any meat is cooked in the dish regardless whether it is precooked or not. If you don’t include it at this step, just add it at the end.
  • Cook for 45-60 minutes until the sauerkraut is well cooked.
  • Season with salt and pepper.
  • Serve with sour cream and your choice of bread, potatoes or rice.

enjoy!

Stuffed turnip (Фаршированная репа)

Happy New Year, Everyone!

Hope you all had a lovely Holiday and got to eat lots of delicious food. Now I feel that it would be nice to eat something refreshing, more cleansing though … and turnip is a tasty vegetable that could be used. I always think of the Russian folk tale, The Giant Turnip when I hear the name, turnip. Also, the Russians have many sayings that include the word turnip like “this turnip seems to be as sweet as an apple for us” (“Нам и репка за яблочко кажет”) means that people do not need a lot of wealth to be happy. In fact, turnip is an important staple in the Northern countries like Russia. So let’s go to Russia and get their famous recipe for stuffed turnip.

This is a very simple dish at its best. The main ingredients are the nutty buckwheat, the earthy mushrooms and the pungent turnips that mainly create this special dish. There are no exotic ingredients or spices. Honestly, I only used thyme, salt and pepper to flavor.

I got this recipe from a website called http://www.Russianrecipebook.com but I made some minor changes. I cooked the buckwheat in stock instead of just water. I also reduced the amount of the mushrooms in my recipe. In addition, when cooking, you need to be careful with the turnips as they cook fast. They need to be boiled for only about 10-12 minutes to get the right consistency. Otherwise, it is a very easy and quick recipe. This dish is more like the everyday people’s food. I also like to make the stuffing with 1 cup of buckwheat (rest of the ingredients should be adjusted) so I can have some on the side as well.

Wonder if we had cooked tasty dishes like this in my Russian classes, I would speak Russian now …

Turnips have been used in folk medicine for thousands of years. A cold climate loving vegetable, it is native to Northern Europe and is still popular today. Turnips have many beneficial properties. They are great source of vitamins, minerals, anti oxidants and fiber and may be used among others for indigestion, detoxification, diabetes, jaundice. In Chinese Medicine, they have a neutral thermal nature and have pungent, sweet and bitter flavor at the same time. They are considered to be useful for their dispersing abilities in lung ailments; however, this quality is only available in its raw form. They are also used for improving circulation and remove damp conditions in the body. The green top is also valuable.

RECIPE

Serves about 2-4 people. – I cooked 1 cup of raw buckwheat to have some on the side (adjust other ingredients accordingly).

Ingredients

  • 4 smaller-sized turnips or less if bigger
  • 4 oz fresh mushrooms (I used crimini)
  • 1/4 cup uncooked buckwheat (1/2 cup of cooked buckwheat)
  • 1/2 cup of bone or vegetable broth or water
  • 1/8 cup shallots or half of a small onion (finely chopped)
  • 2 tablespoons chopped parsley 
  • 1/4 cup grated cheese (mozzarella, provolone, cheddar, or parmesan for extra flavor)
  • 3 tablespoons bread crumbs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Vegetable oil and/or butter
  • 1 tsp fresh or 1/2 tsp dried thyme (optional)

Directions

Preparing the buckwheat

  • Clean buckwheat kernels and soak for a couple hours.
  • In a medium sized pot start boiling the stock or water. Add them to the boiling liquid and cook for about 10-15 minutes or until they are soft but not mushy. Add salt and pepper to taste.

Preparing the turnips

  • Clean well and peel the turnips. Boil them for about 10-12 minutes or until they are just soft enough to scoop out the insides. The bigger ones will take more time. This is the most difficult part of the recipe. You really need to keep an eye on those turnips, they should be somewhere slightly cooked. Try not to overcook them. When done, take out turnips and let them cool. You can put them in cold water.
  • Cut off enough of the bottoms to create a flat surface that will allow them to stand upright on a baking sheet. Save the cut portion. With a spoon and/or a small knife, scoop some of the flesh out of the top end to form a cup. Save the scooped flesh as well, they are so tasty. (You can scoop the inside of the turnip out with a watermelon scooper or a measuring spoon).

Preapring the stuffing.

  • Sautee the onions or shallots in some oil for about 5 minutes. Meanwhile thoroughly clean the mushrooms and chop them up. Add them to the onions and continue to sauté them for about 10 more minutes or longer for some wild mushrooms and then let them cool.
  • Add the cooked buckwheat, bread crumbs, grated cheese and the saved chopped turnip pieces. Mix well. I would like to invite you to take a bite of the stuffing, it is so delicious.

Stuffing the turnips

  • Preheat oven to 375°F.
  • On a well-greased baking sheet, arrange the turnips in an upright position with the scooped-out wider portions facing up (like cups). (I used tomato sauce for the bottom of the pan). Fill the turnips with stuffing. Ideally the stuffing should heap above the surface of the turnips, although this will depend on the size of the turnips, and the amount of stuffing.
  • Put a small piece of butter on top of each turnip and bake in the pre-heated oven for about 20 minutes, until the turnips are heated through and crusty on top. The turnips should not be raw but nicely baked. If it is still raw, just bake it a little longer.

Mushroom sauce recipe

Ingredients

  • 4 ounces of mushrooms
  • 1 tsp fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp dried thyme
  • 3/4 tsp dried sage or 2 fresh leaves
  • 1/4 tsp of dried rosemary crushed or 1 fresh spring
  • 1 Tbsp oil
  • 1 cup of stock
  • 1/4 cup of creme

Directions

  • While the stuffed turnip is baking, prepare the mushroom sauce. In a saucepan, warm oil over medium heat, add rosemary for 1 minute. Add mushrooms and cook until they release their liquid and mushrooms are well browned. Stir frequently. Add thyme, sage and let cook for one minute. Add stock, stir, and let simmer for 10 minutes and reduce heat to low.
  • Transfer half of gravy to a blender and puree until completely smooth. Add pureed mushrooms back into mushroom mixture and stir. See if you like the consistency. If not thick enough, puree a little more of the mixture.

Serve turnips hot, with sour cream and mushroom sauce. Decorate with parsley. I also made additional stuffing to serve on the side.

Enjoy!

Source

Photos and text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Marinated pork with prunes

It is December now and I am already missing the plums from this summer. Then I happened upon this recipe (source of the recipe) … a dish with pork baked in prune sauce! I really like to prepare meats with fruits and the prunes work nicely with the pork here. Oh and that savory aroma of the prunes cooking with the shallots!!! … I decided that I will be making this recipe for Christmas Eve. I believe it would be perfect for this busy night. It can be marinated ahead of time and then just has to be cooked on the 24th … and after eating this dish I might have visions of sugar plums dancing in my head…

I really like simple meals that have an interesting flavor and this dish does just that. The pork is first marinated in a mustardy sauce and further baked in a savory plum sauce to perfection. The moist pork works nicely with the sweet prunes along with pungent spices and results in a unique sweet and savory flavor. Of course, it needs to be served with some nice wine or grape drink.

I made a few minor changes to the original recipe. I added a little red hot pepper, of course it is optional but for me, some spiciness was missing. I felt that the sweet pork along with the sweet sauce needed a touch of spiciness to balance the dish out. Not sure if it is authentic but this was more to satisfy my personal taste.

Also, I served this dish with brussel sprouts in addition to the potatoes that the recipe already calls for. I served brussel sprouts but any other bitter green leafy vegetable like kale, lettuce would work well. Also, the recipe calls for 2 cups of chicken stock. You can do half white wine and half chicken stock if you wish.

If you can’t find tenderloin or just don’t want to spend so much money, sirloin is a nice alternative. Sirloin, a different part of the pork is not as tender, will require longer cooking time and more cooking liquid. (I cooked it for 15 minutes longer and added an extra 1/4 cup of chicken stock). Honestly, they both taste nice though. Of course, if you want to impress your guests, or just treat yourself to something special, the tenderloin is more superior in flavor so go for the tenderloin!

A few words about the pork. It is sweet and salty. According to Ancient Chinese Medicine, pork is great for the fall and the winter as it is moistening. In fact, pork is moistening for the lungs, kidneys, and the spleen-pancreas. In Europe, it is a popular meat during the cold months especially during Christmas time.

Recipe

Ingredients

1 pork tenderloin (approx. 1.25 pounds) or sirloin
2 TBSP brown sugar
1 TBSP Dijon mustard
4 tsp extra virgin olive oil, divided
2 cloves of garlic, minced + 4 whole cloves, peeled and slightly smashed
1 tsp fresh thyme, chopped (or 1/2 tsp dry)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
10 dried plums (prunes), chopped in half
2 smaller shallots or 1 bigger one, peeled and thinly chopped
2 cups chicken or pork broth or 1 cup of chicken/pork stock and 1 cup of white wine
1 TBSP red wine vinegar
fresh parsley

Dierections

Marinade: In a small bowl mix sugar, dijon mustard, 2 tsp olive oil, thyme, sale, pepper and 2 cloves of garlic. Put the mixture on the tenderloin, evenly spreading it all over the pork. You can put the pork in a zip lock bag or a marinating dish with a lid. Let it marinate in the refrigerator for 4-6 hours.

Preheat the oven to 375 F (190C). Take the pork mixture out of the fridge and let it come to room temperature.

Prune sauce: In a pan with oven proof handles, gently heat 2 tsp of olive oil, add shallots and stir. Cook until it start becoming soft and you can smell its aroma – about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, the chopped prunes and stir … Now if I may,
I would like to invite you to stop for a few seconds and smell the aroma of the shallots, the garlic and the prunes, it is amazing … after 1 minute add the chicken stock, vinegar and hot pepper (optional). Cook for 5-10 minutes.

Place the pork in the middle of the pan. Put the pan into the pre-heated oven for 15 minutes. Cook for an additional 20-25 minutes basting 2-3 times or until the meat is 160F.

When meat’s temperature reached 160F, take the pan out of the oven and cover. Let it rest here for 10 minutes before you start slicing them.

Serve sliced with potatoes, brussel sprouts and some wine. Drizzle the sauce on the top.

enjoy!

Sources

Stuffed squash with lentils, cranberries and wild rice (a Midwestern twist)

I love this savory dish … it has a lot of the quintessential foods that I enjoy eating in the fall. The tasty squash is filled with rice, lentils and fall vegetables and all mixed in the melted cheese. It is wonderfully aromatic and tasty.

Squash is one of the main foods in the fall. We are so lucky to have all these different varieties available in the US. They are sweet and have a neutral flavor that make them ideal to accompany fall dishes.

Squashes are native to the Mexico region and may have been around for 10,000 years. They tend to be high in natural sugars, carbohydrates and vitamin A. In general, they all are mildly sweet, have a luscious nutty flavor and have a creamy texture but each variety comes with a unique characteristics and with different vitamin and mineral contents.

Ancient Chinese Medicine considers them to be highly nourishing and warming for the digestive system, anti-inflammatory and help move the Qi, the life force in our body. If we talk about squash we have to mention its seeds as they are equally valuable for health. They are rich in heart friendly dietary fiber, unsaturated fatty acids, and in addition, protein, minerals, and vitamins. They contain tryptophan that is responsible for increased motor decision speed and blood sugar regulating effect. The seeds are also used for remedying intestinal worm problems. They can be roasted in the oven on low heat at 250 F.

RECIPE

Serves 4 people

Ingredients

  • 2 medium sized squash (Choose squash that has a firm outer shell with a scoop friendly inside like acorn, delicata, carneval, sweet dumpling).
  • 1 cup of uncooked wild rice (rice will work too). Wild harvested preferred.
  • 3 cups of stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • 1/3 cup of shallots, finally chopped
  • vegetable oil (sunflower)
  • handful of earthy mushrooms (crimini, shitake, portabello)
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 slice of bacon (optional)
  • couple of fresh thyme sprigs or 1 tsp dried thyme
  • 1/4 cup of uncooked lentils
  • 1/4 dried cranberries or raisins
  • 2 Tbsp of chopped pecans
  • 100g or 4 oz of feta cheese
  • 1/2 cup of hard cheese like gruyere or parmesan cheese and more for the top
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • red hot pepper (I just used a little piece)
  • little freshly ground nutmeg

Preparation

  • Turn oven on to 375 F (190 C). Bake cleaned squash on a baking sheet for 40-60 minutes or until you can easily put the blade of a knife through the flesh of the squash. When done cut in half and scoop out the seeds. The seeds can be saved and roasted.
  • Clean and soak lentils for an hour. Place lentils in a medium pot, add water, thyme spring and bay leaves. Cook for about 45-60 minutes or until they are done, soft but not mushy. When done let it sit in its steam and add more water if needed. Add salt.
  • Heat the oil on medium high heat. Sautee the shallots for 5 minutes. Then add the sliced bacon, sliced celery for 5 more minutes, stir frequently. Add 1 cup of wild rice, 3 cups of stock, sliced mushrooms, thyme and bring to a boil, stir and simmer over low heat with lid partially closed for a 35-55 minutes until the water is absorbed and the rice is fluffy and tender.
  • If using regular rice, cook rice seperate, follow the cooking directions for the rice of your choice. Prepare the vegetables as written above. When ready combine.
  • Set oven to 375F (190 C). In a bowl mix the lentils and the rice mixture. Add the feta crumbles and and the hard cheese. Add the salt, pepper, hot red pepper and freshly graded nutmeg to taste. Mix. Also you can sprinkle salt, nutmeg and pepper inside the squash. Put the stuffing in the inside of the squash. Sprinkle the top with cheese and bake them in the oven for about 20-30 minutes or until the tops are golden brown.
  • Serve with other vegetables brussel sprouts, beets, cranberry sauce etc.
  • If you have left over rice, feel free to serve with the meal.

Brussel sprout recipe

  • 1 lb of brussel sprouts
  • vegetable oil
  • 1/2 cup of stock (vegetable or chicken)
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preparation

Heat up some oil in a frying pan. Wash and clean the brussel sprouts, cutting off the ends and yellowish leaves. Cut them into halves. Brown the brussel sprouts for about 10 minutes. Add the stock and cook for about 15 minutes or until they are cooked but not mushy. Actually brussel sprouts need to be more firm so keep an eye on them. Remove and place into a bowl. Season with salt and pepper.

enjoy!

Sources

Recipe, text and photo by twincitiesherb.com.

Moroccan eggplant stew with garbanzo beans

Enjoy this delicious and easy vegetarian eggplant dish. The eggplants are browned and cooked briskly with some tomatoes, pungent spices, onions and garbanzo beans and then served with rice/couscous and yoghurt sauce. It is not exactly the perfect fall dish but I still had some eggplants and the weather is still more summery this week. I also added sweet mama squash that complemented the dish nicely and made it more suitable for this ‘going from the summer into the fall’ time period. With the warming spices and the baked squash, it will be a great meal for the entire week. Not only that it suits the weather but it is delicious … honestly my family can’t get enough of it. I might have to go back to the farmers’ market tomorrow to get more eggplants.

RECIPE

Serves 4-5 people

Ingredients

  • 2 medium eggplants
  • olive oil
  • 2 large onions, sliced
  • 1 Tbsp graded fresh ginger
  • seasoning: 2 tsp paprika, 1 cumin powder, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 cinnamon stick,
  • pinch of saffron (optional)
  • 2 garlic cloves
  • 2 large tomatoes or 2 cups canned tomatoes
  • 2 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 cup dried garbanzo beans or 1 can (14 oz)
  • 1 dried hot pepper or to taste
  • salt and pepper
  • couscous or rice to serve
  • cilantro

Browning the eggplants
Browning the onions.

Directions

  • Garbanzo beans. Soak overnight and cook them for 3 hours. You can use a pressure cooker. They need to be cooked slowly for a long time until they are nice and soft. They can take up liquid after they are cooked so add more water if needed. Add 1 tsp salt when done.
  • Preparing the eggplants. Wash and cut eggplants into cubes. Salt them and put them into a colander for 30 minutes to let the liquid drain. Pat dry.
  • Frying the eggplants. In a wide skillet, on medium low heat, slowly brown the eggplants in some olive oil for about 20- 30 minutes or until soft. They will not cook any more so make sure they are soft and well cooked before you add it to the sauce. Stir frequently. Make sure they don’t burn. Set aside.
  • Caramelize the onions. Brown the sliced onions in a separate dish in oil with care, it takes about 30 minutes. Stir frequently. Set aside.
  • Making the sauce. Crumple the saffron between your thumb and index finger and add hot liquid, stir well (optional). Otherwise you can just put whole saffron strains in the dish. Set aside. On medium high heat warm up 1 Tbsp oil and add the ginger for 5 minutes. Then add the paprika, cumin, garlic and stir for 1 minute to activate the spices. Add the chopped tomatoes and the tomato paste and stir well. You can add a little water here too. Cook the tomatoes for about 5 minutes until they have become ‘saucy’. Add the saffron, cinnamon stick, freshly graded nutmeg and hot pepper. Bring to a boil and turn down the heat. Cook for 10 minutes on low medium heat. Add a little water if needed. Add the browned onions, eggplants and garbanzo beans from eariler. Cook for 5 more minutes covered. Let the dish sit for 15 minutes so the flavors can come together. Take out the cinnamon stick and the hot pepper pieces. Add salt and pepper or anything else that needs to be adjusted.
  • Serve with cilantro, rice or couscous and yoghurt sauce. I also added some baked sweet mama squash slivers and they nicely complemented each other.

enjoy!

Recipe, photo and text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Vegetarian moussaka with polenta and lentils

I am excited to present my new recipe the Vegetarian moussaka. It is a vegetarian dish but is not only for vegetarians! I have to admit I was a bit nervous before I started experimenting but it was a fun challenge at the same time. I really like how nicely the soft polenta works with all the other ingredients.

We are going to venture into Europe again on our virtual journey. We think of Greece when we hear the word Moussaka but most likely it originated somewhere in the Middle East. It is a popular dish across all the Balkan countries and can be easily made in the Midwest of the United States. Well, I have to admit I have never been to Greece or the Middle East for that matter but have eaten traditional Moussaka before in Croatia… and it is mouth watering.

When we were in Croatia we happened upon this fabulous dish in Pula at the restaurant Konoba Bocaporta. It sounded really interesting so my husband and I both had to try it, while the kids ate something with seafood from the Mediterranean Sea. We don’t have the recipe but I tried to recreate it here at home. I still feel the flavors in my mouth, I hope you will like it as much as I did.

It is a complete vegetarian dish and all the ingredients seem to work well together. Often when meat is taken out of a dish, the substance and the flavors are removed as well, so when I created the recipe, I tried to make sure that the substance and the flavors were both kept. The meat is replaced with the lentils, mushrooms and the cheese. I replaced the potatoes with the polenta because they work well with the other ingredients. Mushrooms are traditionally used with polenta and they complement each other nicely … and everything is pulled together with the fragrant spices of the region.

This recipe can easily be made gluten free. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use the yoghurt sauce. This is a pretty authentic replacement as Croatians use a yoghurt sauce for the top. Béchamel sauce is not Greek but is in fact French. The Béchamel sauce was added to Moussaka by the Greek chef Akis Petretzikis in the 1920’s when he was trying to Europeanize Greek cuisine. I actually use this yogurt sauce quite regularly to make simple lentil dishes but the Béchamel sauce is a nice treat for sure.

FUN FACT: One thing all the countries in the Balkan region agree on is that Moussaka is a fabulous dish.

I developed this recipe so if you would like to post it you will have to contact the author at twincitiesherbs.com.

RECIPE

Author: twincitiesherbs.com

Serves 4-6 people

Ingredients

  • high quality olive oil
  • 1 medium size eggplant
  • lots of garlic
  • 1 tomato- canned is fine
  • 1/4 cup tomato sauce
  • 1 Tbsp tomato paste
  • 2 tsp oregano
  • 4-8 oz of mushrooms – Portobello mushrooms or any heavier, earthier tasting mushrooms but regular white button or crimini mushrooms would work nicely too
  • 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar
  • 2 cups of hard cheeses: I used 1 cup gruyere and 1 cup parmesan
  • 1/2 cup of polenta grits
  • 1.5 cup of stock or you can use water with bullion of your choice. ( The chicken stock will give a nice flavor but if you don’t want to use meat, add some bullion).
  • 1 Tbsp butter
  • 1/2 cup of uncooked lentils
  • red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/2 cup of flour
  • 1/4 cup of butter ( 1 stick)
  • 2 cups of milk
  • 2 egg yolk
  • 3 fresh springs of thyme
  • salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • yoghurt (important part of the dish)
  • scallions
  • parsley

Quick overview of the ingredients as a group

Lentils: 1/2 cup of uncooked lentils, oil, 1 large tomato, 1 Tbsp of tomato paste, 1.5 cups of chicken stock or water, 3 cloves of garlic, 1/2 tsp paprika, bay leaves, 2 tsp oregano, 1/4 tsp all spice, smaller stick of cinnamon (about 1 inch), 1 fresh thyme spring, 1 tsp salt and red pepper flakes (optional).

Polenta: 1/2 cup of polenta (corn grits), 1.5 cups of vegetable or chicken stock or water+bullion, 1 tsp salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1 thyme spring, 1 cup of hard cheese ( 1/2 cup of greyere, 1/2 cup of parmesan cheese), 1 Tbsp butter and 1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

Mushrooms: Portobello mushrooms or equivalent, oil, crushed garlic and 1 Tbsp balsamic vinegar.

Eggplants: 1 medium sized eggplants, 1/4 cup of tomatoes sauce, 2 cloves of garlic, 1 tsp oregano, salt and black pepper.

Béchamel sauce: 1/4 cup of butter, 1 /2 cup of flour, 2 cups of warm milk, 2 egg yolks, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1 tsp salt and ground pepper, 1 thyme spring.

Yoghurt sauce in place of Béchamel sauce: 1.5 cups of yoghurt, 1 tsp salt, 1 tbsp olive oil, 1 tsp cumin powder, 1 garlic clove, cucumber slices.

Directions

Wash the polenta removing any foreign particles. Soak in water for a few hours.

Wash 1/2 cup of lentils and soak for a few hours hours.

Cooking the lentils. Remove soaking liquid and add 1.5 cups cold water or stock. Cook for 1 hour or until lentils are soft. Take off heat and let lentils stay in covered pot for about 20-30 minutes so they can soak up more liquid. Add more liquid if needed. Drain before adding to the polenta. Set aside.

Prepare the sauce for the lentils. Chop up 1 large tomato. Warm up some oil, when warm sautee the onion for 5 minutes. Add 2 tsp oregano, fresh thyme springs, 1/2 tsp paprika, 1/4 tsp all spice and the crushed garlic. Stir well and quickly add the 1 chopped tomato and 1 Tbsp tomato paste. Cook until tomatoes become ‘saucy’. Add cinamon stick. Bring to a boil and then turn down to medium heat. Cook for 10 more mintes.

Drain the water off the lentils and add the cooked lentils to the tomato sauce. Take out all the larger spice pieces. Set aside.

Preparing the eggplant. Slice the eggplants and pan fry them. Please, check my previous recipe Eggplant Parmesan for directions. (You can also bake the eggplants in the oven if you prefer). Set aside.

Preparing the polenta. Pour water off the corn grits and strain. Bring 1.5 cups of liquid to a boil. Add the presoaked polenta slowly while stirring constantly. Add 1 thyme spring and cook for about 20 minutes or until the polenta is creamy. Stir frequently because it can burn easily. When done add 1 Tbsp butter, 1tsp salt, cheese, thyme and stir. Set aside.

Preparing the mushrooms. Slice up mushrooms. Warm up some oil and sauté the mushrooms until soft. At the end, add a little crushed garlic, freshly ground pepper and 1 Tbsp of balsamic vinegar. Stir and turn off heat. Set aside.

Preparing the béchamel sauce. It is not too hard just follow the steps. I used a whisk. Warm up 1 stick of butter on low heat, when melted increase the heat to medium high and add the flour slowly, stirring continuously. Then start adding the milk very slowly, stirring after each addition and wait for a minute to let the flour mixture soak up the milk. When you start seeing bubbles, it is done. Take off heat. Grade some nutmeg. Add 1/4 cup of Gruyere cheese, thyme, salt and 2 egg yolks. Mix well. Set aside.

Yoghurt sauce in place of the Bechamel sauce. This recipe can easily be made gluten free if you you prefer. Instead of the Béchamel sauce use 3 cups of yogurt, 3 lightly beaten eggs, garlic, salt, freshly ground black pepper, 1/4 tsp nutmeg, 1/2-1 cup cheese.

Mix the polenta and the lentils. I believe they will taste better together.

See if you need to add salt, red hot pepper and black pepper to any of the dishes.

From here, everything is easy! Preheat oven to 350 F. I used a 2QT size baking dish (8×11.5×2 in). Coat the bottom of the dish with a thin layer of tomato sauce. Start layering: polenta with the lentils, mushrooms, eggplants, the béchamel sauce or the gluten free yoghurt sauce and parmesan/Gruyere cheese on the top. Put the dish into the oven and bake for 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.

Wait for a half hour to let the flavors melt into each other if you have time.

Serve hot with yogurt sauce, scallions, parsley.

enjoy!

COOKING TIPS

  • Seasonings, seasoning and seasoning!!!! This dish needs a lot of seasoning and salt added. Don’t be alarmed when you see the amounts.
  • The smaller portobello mushrooms are nicer … they are easier to cook and will be tastier in the meal. The crimini mushrooms are very nice too.
  • Also I find the smaller/medium sized eggplants are easier to cut and are tastier in the dish as well.
  • This is not a quick dish, it takes a long time to make like any casserole dish but it is not difficult. It is usually made for occasions because of the complexity of the dish but you can treat yourself/family/friends to it anytime.

This is my version but please feel free to experiment and let me know what you did. If you post it, please reference this blog.

Recipe, photo and text by twincitiesherbs.com.

Turkish stuffed eggplants (vegetarian)

This is the vegetarian version of my previous recipe, the Turkish stuffed eggplants (karni yarik). I tried to keep the recipe’s Turkish authenticity but otherwise it is my creation. I replaced the meat with lentils, eggs and cheese and used oregano in the place of mint. I also used more tomatoes to keep the mixture moist. All these ingredients are used in Turkey and hope you will like it as much as I did.

I can’t help but notice the abundance of goods at the farmers’ market. The tables are filled with all kinds of fruits and vegetables. In fact, it is the time of the year when they have the most varieties available. For today’s post I picked eggplant.  

We associate eggplants with the Middle East but it actually originated from India and has also been popular in other Asian countries for a long time. Today, it is used all over the world.  In Europe, it was a staple until potatoes arrived from the New World. The Turkish have certainly created many recipes with it and believe that they have the best eggplant dishes. The Spanards had brought it over to the Americas in the 1600′. Eggplants have been used in the United States; however, earlier, people didn’t really know what to do with them. Many just used them for decorations only.

Eggplants come in all kinds of shapes and colors. Shapes can be round or more elongated and the colors can vary from white, green to purple.  In the United States, the rounder, purple, more oblong eggplant is usually available in stores. For this recipe, try to buy these medium sized, fat, purple eggplants that I have pictures of. Also, make sure they are about the same size because different sizes will vary their cooking times. Also they should be nice and firm.

Eggplants belong to the night shade family along with tomatoes and potatoes. It is a cooling bitter plant that is highly nutritious with vitamins A, B, C, K1, E and minerals manganese, magnesium, copper, potassium, calcium, iron, phosphorus, and zinc. An interesting fact is that we often believe that it is a vegetable but in fact it is a fruit. Also, it is thought to be aphrodisiac.

In addition to its nutritional values, people have been using eggplants for other health benefits too. Asians like to use them for their cooling property. It is good for digestion, particularly for stagnation and heat. It is beneficial in clearing heat that accumulates during the warmer months but it is still a valuable plant now, during the Indian summer as it can take out heat that may have been trapped in during the summer. In addition, its antioxidants can protect the liver from toxins.

It is also associated with fertility from its ability to unblock stagnation in the liver and the womb. In China, brides were supposed to posses 12 eggplant recipes before they got married. By the same token, pregnant women are advised to limit the consumption of eggplants because of the possibility of miscarriage. 

List of my other eggplant dishes

Recipe

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of cooked rice (about half a cup raw)
  • about 1/4 cup of olive oil
  • 4 medium, equal sized purple eggplants. Try not to get different sizes because they need different cooking times.
  • 1 cup of cooked lentils (about 1/2 cup uncooked)
  • 4 oz mushrooms, I used crimini
  • 2 lightly beaten eggs
  • 1 finally chopped yellow onion
  • 1 finally chopped peppers (green, red, yellow-your choice)
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp cumin
  • 1 Tbsp dried oregano
  • 1/2 tsp paprika powder
  • 1/4 tsp of hot red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp of salt or to taste
  • 6 fresh plum tomatoes or other tomatoes (canned is fine too)
  • 1 cup of hard cheese + more for the top
  • freshly ground black pepper to taste
  • 1/2 cup of flat leafed parsley

Direction

  • Soak the lentils for a few hours if you have time.
  • Cook lentils.
  • Prepare rice with bay leaves. Use 1/2 cup of rice with 1 cup of water.
  • Bake eggplants. Preheat oven to 350 Fahrenheit. Wash eggplants and put them on an oiled baking sheet. Prick them with a fork in 6-8 places, half inch deep to prevent them from exploding in your oven. Coat them with some olive oil with a brush. Bake them for 45-60 minutes or until they are nice and soft, so you can put the blade of a knife through easily. You don’t want them to be hard but they shouldn’t collapse either. Once they start becoming soft, keep an eye on them. If you’re using larger eggplants, you will have to cut them in half lengthwise. Oil the top and proceed like you do with the smaller ones.
  • When ready take them out and let them cool..
  • Prepare the stuffing. Sauté the onion in the oil. When onions are soft but not brown, add the green pepper pieces and continue sautéing the for about 10-15 minutes. Add spices (oregano, cumin, paprika), crushed garlic and stir. Then add tomatoes. Cook for about 10 minutes or until tomatoes are well cooked and there is a nice sauce. Take off the heat.
  • Put mixture into a bowl. Add rice, lentils, eggs, salt, ground black pepper, hot pepper flakes and graded cheese (I used 1 cup). Mix.
  • Sautee mushrooms and add to the prvious mixture. Mix.
  • Preheat oven to 400 Fahrenheit. Gently cut a slit in the middle down from the top of a whole eggplant making sure you don’t cut through the skin on the bottom. Take out the seeds. You can use the seeds to make babaganoush or just simply discard them.
  • Just like its Turkish name, karni yarik, splitting belly suggests, stuff the inside of the eggplants, their bellies with the stuffing. You can put a little graded cheese and a thin slice of tomato on the top. Put eggplants in a baking dish. Pour boiling water into dish about 1 inch deep. Place dish into the oven and bake for 30 minutes. Take them out when top is brown. Let them cool.
  • Cut off the ends before serving them.
  • Serve warm with cucumber yoghurt sauce.

Yoghurt Sauce

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 cups of yoghurt
  • 1 longer English, slicing cucumber
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 cloves of garlic
  • 1 Tbsp of vinegar
  • 2 Tbsp of olive oil
  • 1 Tbsp of dried mint
  • fresh mint

Preparations

  • Peel and slice the cucmber. Place the slices in a bowl, salt and let it sit for 15 minutes. Salting is optional. Strain, squeeze out and discard the liquid.
  • In a separate bowl mix together all the other ingredients, stir well. Put in the cucumbers and gently stir mix them in.
  • Garnish with fresh mint. Serve with the eggplants.

enjoy!

Sources

  • Paul pitchford: Healing with Whole Foods
  • Sally Fallon: Nourished Traditions
  • Nancy Harmon Jenkin’s Mediterranean Diet cook book.  

Text, recipe and photo by twincitiesherbs.com.