Winter has finally arrived in the Midwest of the United State … and it looks like it is here to stay after all the crazyness of this year. We had snow in September and in October … and had 80 degree weather inbetween. I am definitely ready!
December brings forth Winter Wonderland and the Holidays. When I think of Christmas dishes, warming and festive winter foods come to my mind. For me Christmas is a lot about cooking and baking … and of course music. I’m already looking forward to all the baking and cooking I will be doing and singing along my favorite Christmas music…
Please read my previous blogs from last year on winter eating and tasty dishes and desserts.
This is a recipe that I borrowed from my daughter. She has been making it for herself so she doesn’t have to eat my pancakes. Then I realized it is actually good. The pancakes are very simple but nutritious and delicious. Basic ingredients are oatmeal, eggs, bananas … oatmeal, eggs, bananas … oatmeal, eggs, bananas … that is it and just add a few things to make it taste better. Of course, this is a very kid friendly recipe.
Dairy free and gluten free with the substitution of gluten-free oats.
Serving: generous portion for 1 adult
1/2 cup of old fashioned oatmeal, coarsely ground (use gluten-free for gluten free version)
1 1/2 crushed ripe banana
1/2 tsp cinnamon, I used apple spice (optional)
pinch of salt
lemon zest (optional)
oil for baking
1/4 tsp baking soda
syrup of your choice
Lightly beat eggs in a medium sized bowl.
Mash the banana and add to the bowl.
Add 1/2 cup of oatmeal to a blender and blend until you get a coarse flour consistency. Add to the bowl.
Add baking soda, cinnamon, lemon zest, salt. Mix.
Just like any other grains, I like to let the mixture soak for a few hours but it can be baked right away.
Bake in a preheated oiled pan on medium low heat on both sides for 3-4 minutes. Flip over and bake for a few minutes. Both sides should be nice and golden brown in color.
You can add fruits on top of the pancakes while baking in the pan.
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.
Serves about 2-4 people. – I cooked 1 cup of raw buckwheat to have some on the side (adjust other ingredients accordingly).
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)
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
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
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.
Flódni is a unique traditional Jewish Hungarian dessert. The original recipe uses apples, poppy seed, walnuts, plum jam and all these ingredients are baked into a flour pastry. This recipe uses the three main ingredients: apples, poppy seeds and walnuts plus the plums but has no crust. It is a gluten free recipe, in fact it is a very clever gluten free twist to the original recipe as the carbohydrates come from the poppy seeds. Its sour, bitter and sweet flavors come together to give a distinct culinary experience.
Traditionally, it is made at the end of the year for Christmas and Hannukah but can be eaten any time during the year. It is filled with symbolic meanings for the end of the year. Each layer is rich and decadent and according to folk traditions can supposedly bring prosperity, health and protection for the entire family.
I was inspired by the recipe that came from a website – credited at the end. I have been making this delicious alternative at Christmas time for years. I made some changes to the original recipe. I moved some sugar from the nut filling into the poppyseed filling. I also added plums and some alcohol to the poppy seed filling as the original version calls for it and I believe they worked nicely here too. Oh and honestly adding a little ginger to the walnuts can do wonders.
200g (about 1 cup) poppyseeds
1 Tbsp melted butter (coconut oil for dairy free version)
3 eggs divided
1/4 cup of sugar
1/8 cup of thick plum jam or plum pieces
handful of raisins
peel and juice of 1 orange or lemon or both
2 Tbsp of rum (optional)
1 kg (about 7 medium) tasty cooking apples
1 Tbsp fresh ground ginger or 1.5 tsp dried ginger, cut and sifted
2 Tbsp of sugar or honey
1 tsp ground cinnamon + 1/4 ground cloves
150 grams (5oz) of ground walnuts
4 egg whites
1/4 cup of sugar
1 tsp fresh ginger or 1/2 tsp dried cut and sifted ginger
Making the apples. Wash, peel and core the apples. Grade them through the large holes of a cheese grader. Add 2 Tbsp of rum, ginger, ground cinnamon and cloves, pinch of salt and 2 Tbsp of sugar/honey. Put the mixture in a medium sized pot and cook it on high medium heat until the liquid evaporates.
Preheat oven to 300 F (150 C).
Making the poppy seed layer. Grind poppy seeds. (Coffee grinder works well). Mix with the melted butter, 1/4 cup of sugar, 3 egg yolks, plums, the raisins, rum, orange/lemon peel, pinch of salt and the juice of the orange or lemon. Beat the 3 egg whites until stiff. Gently fold it into the poppy seed mixture.
Spread the poppyseed mixture onto a lightly buttered baking pan (8×11.5×2″). Gently spread the apple mixture on top of the poppy seed mixture and place the dish in the preheated oven. Bake for 40 minutes.
Walnut/egg white toping: Have the ground walnuts ready. By the end of the 40 minutes, beat the 4 egg whites until stiff. Gently fold in the walnuts and the 1/4 cup of sugar. Spread this mixture on top of the apples and put the dish back into the oven at 250F (120C) for another 30-40 minutes.
Let it cool and settle. Serve at room temperature.
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.
Serves 4 people
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
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
1/2 cup of stock (vegetable or chicken)
salt and pepper to taste
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.
The combination of the leeks, potatoes and kale is magical. The synergy of all these vegetables creates the soup’s unique flavor. The pungent leeks pair nicely with the neutral potatoes and the bitter kale balances out the soup. It can be served with or without sausages. This simple tasty soup quickly became a family favorite and its recipe stayed in our recipe box.
Leeks (allium porrum) have been used for thousands of years but have been kind of forgotten in the United States. They belong to the family of the allium vegetables like onions and garlic and are considered to be very good for health. They are milder but have a unique flavor. Leeks have cardiovascular protecting properties, are antiviral and bacterial and help combat the dangerous free radicals. Also, they help the body against cancer and chronic diseases. Not to mention, they are a significant source of vitamins A, B and K, folic acid, niacin, riboflavin, magnesium and thiamin. In natural medicine, they are also used for lung problems. The leeks are available between the early fall and late winter.
The leeks are paired with potatoes (solarium tuberasum). The healthy potatoes are native to the Andes in South America and help the digestion, lubricate the intestines and nourish the kidneys. Furthermore, potatoes neutralize acids in the body thereby helping against so many degenerative diseases. Also, they give cardiovascular protection, improve bone health and protect against cancer. If these were not enough, they also contain potassium, iron, niacin, phosphorus, calcium, zinc and magnesium.
Out of all these vegetables, kale (Brassica oleracea) gives the most interesting flavor to the soup. It is a unique hardy cold-weather green that grows from the fall until the early spring. It gets sweeter with a touch of frost. It is an immensely valuable vegetable in the fall and the winter especially because there isn’t much else growing. It is more warming with a slight bitter pungent flavor and benefits the stomach and the lungs. It also contains calcium, iron, and vitamin A and has a very high chlorophyll content.
Serves 4 people
8 medium sized Russet or Yukon potatoes (about 1.5-2 pounds)
3 medium sized leeks, peeled and sliced
butter or home-made ghee (I prefer ghee because it doesn’t burn easily like butter).
2 large slices of bacon or to taste (optional)
stock (vegetable or chicken)
1 Italian sausage (optional)
1 tsp paprika powder
1/2 tsp of fennel seeds
1-3 thyme sprins
2 dried bay leaves
couple of stems of kale to taste (I used 5)
1/2-1 cup of cream
salt and freshly ground pepper
crushed hot red pepper flakes to taste
Wash and slice up leeks. Slice leeks thin with a sharp knife. Use more the white part (cook the greenish part in the stock or discard). Put the sliced leeks in a bowl of cold water for 1/2 hour. This will get all the dirt out of the leeks. Clean well. Strain the liquid using a colander or pat dry.
If you decide to keep the peel on the potatoes, clean and soak potatoes in some cold water for 1/2 hour. Scrub off any dirt. If you decide to peel potatoes, you can skip this step. Slice the potatoes thin.
Sauté leek slices in some butter or ghee for 5-10 minutes or until you can smell the aroma of the leeks. Add 1 tsp of paprika and fennel seeds to activate for 1 minute and stir. Add 1/4 tsp cold water, stir.
Fry up some sliced bacon if you decide to use it.
Add potatoes and bacon to the leeks. Pour in the stock enough to barely cover the vegetables. Add the thyme and bay leaves. Start heating the soup carefully until it starts gently boiling but not rapidly boiling. Quickly, turn the heat down and slowly cook for 1 hour.
Meanwhile cook the sausage for 15 minutes in a little oil. Add to the soup at the end.
Clean and take stems off the kale. Cut the leaves up into bite sizes.
When soup is done, add the kale. It doesn’t need to cook.
Add cream, salt, black pepper, hot red pepper flakes. Don’t cook anymore.
Serve with a little Parmesan cheese.
Never boil the soup. Turn soup down right when it starts bubbling but before it starts to boil and cook slowly for an hour.
Add enough liquid to barely cover the vegetables. A few vegetables can even be ‘peaking’ out. Once the soup is done, you can add more liquids.
These are my personal discoveries. I keep getting excellent results every time I cook the soup or don’t get if I don’t follow these suggestions.
I can’t decide which potato I like more. The Russet is softer and blends in more, supposedly preferred for soups vs the Yucon that holds its shape better but is equally tasty.
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.
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.
Warm up to the fall with this delicious squash soup. My recipe is made with a little Midwestern twist. I added wild rice, a Midwestern staple but it can be served with some hearty bread like rye bread instead. I enjoy squashes in all shapes and forms. Many of us think of squash when we hear the word fall cooking so I will start off my fall recipe collection with a squash dish.
As the fall season is arriving, I feel like a little squirrel trying to get ready for the colder months: eating the great variety of fruits and vegetables, storing up foods, making last minute repairs and just mentally getting ready. By now we are aware that summer is gone and a new season is coming with all its beauty and challenges. It was the Autumnal Equinox a couple of days ago, when the days and nights are equal and from now on the days are going to get shorter and colder as well.
The warming sweet butternut squash is simmered with the white onion, garlic, potatoes and is balanced with the bitter celery root and the lovely pungent spices. At the end, it is topped with cream and the sweet almond slivers for a bit of crunchiness.
1 medium sized butternut squash- about 3 lbs
1 medium sized Russet potato, peeled and cut into cubes
1 finally chopped large onion, white is the best
vegetable oil (sunflower)
2 slices of smoked bacon (optional)
1 Tbsp fresh ginger, about 1 inch long
1 tsp paprika powder
1 smaller celery root, peeled and chopped up into 4 pieces
stock (vegetable or chicken)
2 garlic cloves, crushed
1/4 tsp freshly ground nutmeg
1 thyme spring
1 tsp salt or to taste
1/4 cup of heavy cream
freshly ground black pepper
red hot pepper to taste
1 cup of almond slivers
1 cup of uncooked wild rice or rye bread to serve
Preparing the squash. Peel and cut squash lengthwise, take out the seeds. Cut them into cubes. Warm up some oil on medium high heat and brown the cubes for a good 10-15 minutes.
Make the soup base. Have 1/2 cup of cold water ready. Warm up the oil. Sauté the onion, and the bacon(optional). When translucent and you can smell the aroma of the the onions and the bacon, add the chopped ginger for a few minutes, stir. Add the crushed garlic and 1 tsp paprika, stir for 30 seconds to activate. Add the little cold water that you had set aside earlier, stir.
Put the browned squash, potatoes, thyme spring, the freshly ground nutmeg and the celery root in the pot. Add the stock, enough to cover by about 1 inch above everything and cook for 30 minutes.
Cooking the wild rice (optional). Cook 1 cup of wild rice with 3 cups of water, partially covered for about 20 minutes or until the rice is soft and crunchy.
Roast the almond slivers. Preheat the oven to 350 F. Lightly oil a baking sheet and spread the almond pieces evenly on the sheet. Bake for 5 minutes. Be careful not to burn it. Serve on top of the soup.
When ready, let the soup cool for about 10-20 minutes. Add the cream and black pepper. Stir.
If you want the soup to be a little chunky, set aside about 20% of the cooked squash pieces. Use a hand held blender and puree the rest of the soup. Make sure you blend the celery chunks. Transfer the whole pieces back to the rest of the pureed soup. (If you prefer a smooth soup, just puree everything).
Check to see if more salt, black pepper, red hot pepper are needed.
Serve with wild rice/bread and the almond slivers.
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.
Serves 4-6 people
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
freshly ground black pepper
yoghurt (important part of the dish)
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.
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.
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.
Surprise your mom for breakfast with these delicious, healthy pancakes for Mothers’ Day or just treat yourself any time.
This naturally gluten-free pancake recipe is the successful marriage of the traditional American buttermilk pancakes and the Russian buckwheat pancakes (blini). I wanted to replace the white flour with something healthy and then I remembered the Russian pancakes and started experimenting. Let’s face it, white flour is tasty but is not very nutritious or filling. Furthermore, many of the flour alternatives can be also lesser quality. So after using buckwheat over the years, I decided to experiment and see how it would do here. I have to say the result quickly became a family favorite.
Buckwheat is an ancient plant but has been forgotten. It has recently become a popular food again in the West because it lacks gluten that causes gastrointestinal problems in so many people. It is a staple in Russia, in fact, the Russians have survived on it for centuries. Eating buckwheat might have been their secret. So why should we eat buckwheat on a regular basis? Even if there is no crisis, buckwheat can be included in our diet as it is incredibly healthy and nourishing. It is not a grain but it is the seed of the buckwheat plant and does not cause digestive problems like wheat does but it actually nourishes the digestive tract.
Let’s look at its energetics. Its neutral thermal nature and sweet flavor are an indication that it is a tonic food. It is rich in protein (13g). It has also intestine cleansing and strengthening and appetite improving ability. Rutin, a bioflavonoid in the grain strengthens the capillaries and blood vessels, hinders hemorrhaging, decreases blood pressure, and promotes circulation in the hands and feet. Rutin also has the ability to protect against radiation.
To improve the texture, I added tapioca pearls. The trick is to grind both grains before you make the pancakes. It is worth it! The store-bought flours yield a lesser quality for sure. You can get the tapioca flour ready ground instead of grinding it yourself if your grinder isn’t strong enough but the store-bought buckwheat flour is too bitter. Another trick/personal preference is when you grind the grains, leave the flour a little coarse. This gives the pancakes a bit of texture. Try not to grind too long though.
In the spring, I like to serve the pancakes with rhubarb sauce. The rhubarb stems are great in the spring. It is the first fruit, oops I meant to say vegetable here. Yes people often think it is a fruit because of its fruity, sour taste but it is in fact a vegetable. I can’t believe I get excited about rhubarb but it is really the first new plant that shows up at the farmers market in the Midwest. While it is not a fruit, it can be prepared with sugar to –kind of cheat- make them be like they are fruits. Rhubarb has favorable health effects as it is cooling and detoxifying to the liver. (Just on the side, I will have a rhubarb cobbler recipe soon posted when the berries are ready. Please check back).
EDIT: I have been trying to figure out how to balance the sourness of the rhubarb. As I mentioned before I got the recipe straight out of the cookbook Joy of Cooking but there is something missing. I can’t believe I didn’t come up with this earlier. So I added a little fresh chopped ginger root, orange peel and sprinkled it with a little cinnamon powder and salt. It did the trick so I will add these ingredients to the recipe now.
The PANCAKE RECIPE
What you need
2 cups of freshly grounded buckwheat groats
1 cup of freshly ground tapioca pearls
2 cups of fresh buttermilk or powder would work too
2 cups of milk (use only 1 cup of milk if using already ground tapioca flour)