Spicy Red Deviled Eggs (low mayo)

These deviled eggs are spicy with cayenne, blushing with red bell pepper, and have only 2 Tb mayonnaise.

Perfect for Easter! or Passover!

I roast the bell pepper ahead of time (450 ‘ for 45 minutes) until it is smooth and, well, slimy.

You can also use jarred red bell peppers. Be sure to remove the skin, seeds, and membrane, or they will clog the tip of the pastry bag.

I based this recipe on 

I dedicate this recipe to Sofia, who loves my deviled eggs so much she even ate them the time I screwed up and added too much salt!

Makes 1 1/2 dozen deviled eggs

9 eggs
1 Tb baking soda
3 Tb  roasted red bell pepper (1/2  pepper), skin, seeds and membrane removed.
2 Tb mayonnaise
1 tsp yellow or Dijon mustard
about 1/8 tsp of cayenne (about 4 dashes or so) to taste
1 1/2  tsp  lemon juice
1/4 tsp salt to taste
4 fresh chives

The important and rather frustrating thing about making deviled eggs is that your eggs must peel  perfectly smooth, or they will look ugly and may fall apart completely. There are several tricks to ensuring that the shell and membrane slide off the egg smoothly:

Buy the eggs at least a week before cooking.

Add 1 Tb baking soda to the cooking water.

Immerse cooked eggs in an ice water bath

Crack the shells of the cooked eggs by tapping on them with the back of a spoon so  the water seeps inside, between the shell membrane and the egg white. 

Peel the eggs carefully under cool running water.

Cooking eggs: Place 9 eggs in a large pot and cover with one inch water and gently stir in 1 Tb baking soda. Cover pot, heat to boiling, then turn off heat. Let eggs sit in the covered pot for 15 minutes. You can test them by spinning on a hard surface. If they spin quickly with no wobbles, they are done. Drain the water, then add cold water and several glasses of ice cubes and let the eggs cool for 15 minutes. Then crack them by tapping the shells with the back of a spoon. Add more ice to keep water cold,  and wait at least 5 minutes before peeling eggs. Peel under running water, starting at the tip where there’s a little pocket, then pull off the shells and membrane together.

Pulse the red bell pepper in a food processor until it becomes a smooth paste.

Cut the eggs in half lengthwise. Gently pop out the egg yolks into the food processor.  Add the other ingredients except chives, and pulse until yolk mixture is smooth. Adjust seasonings to taste.

Place the egg halves cut end up on a paper towel to dry. Then arrange them on a platter.

Fit a pastry bag with a large star tip and fill it with the yolk mixture. Pipe the yolk mixture into the egg whites. Garnish with the fresh chives.

For this last batch, I made the filling ahead of time and refrigerated the whites and the filling in plastic containers. I filled the eggs the next day right before serving them.

Fatayer bi Sabanekh: Lebanese Spinach Pies فطاير السبانخ

baked pies

When I lived in Boston, I used to buy Fatayer bi Sabanekh, (fa-TYE-year bee sa-BEN-ikh) Lebanese* spinach pies, at Bob’s Pita Droubi Bakery in Roslindale, MA. One bite of this pastry transported me to an ancient exotic place. I could taste lemon and something else: a tart, lemony spice I later discovered was sumac. I have only found this spice, made from ground berries, in Middle Eastern markets.

You can make these with the traditional Fatayer olive oil yeast dough or use pizza dough. If you want a vegan pastry, substitute water for the milk and omit the egg glaze.

You can make the spinach filling a day ahead.

*Also claimed by Syrian, Palestinian, Turkish, Somali, and Jordanian cuisine

Traditional Fatayer Dough: (works great with cheese or meat fillings as well)

1 envelope dry yeast (1 tsp yeast)

1 tsp sugar

1/4 cup warm water

3 cups flour

1 tsp salt

1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

1 cup warm milk

proofing yeast

Dissolve the sugar in the warm water. Proof the yeast by gently stirring it in, then cover with a damp dish towel in a warm place for 15 minutes until it foams. Mix the flour and salt in a medium-large bowl. Make a hole in the middle and add the proofed yeast, olive oil, and warm milk. Mix with your hands until the dough is formed. Transfer to a floured pastry mat or board. If it is sticky, sprinkle more flour on top until you can easily knead it. Knead for several minutes until it is springy.

dough before rising dough after rising

Transfer to an oiled bowl and cover with a damp dish towel in a warm place until it doubles. Knead again to flatten out the air bubbles, pull off egg-sized chunks of dough, rolling into a ball. Roll out each ball into a circle on a floured surface, then fill with the sabanekh (spinach mixture). You can make the sabanekh while the dough is rising.

I also invented this cross-cultural recipe using the sour cream dough my mom used to make for Vatrushka, a Russian dumpling filled with farmer’s cheese. I filled it with the Sabanekh. I like how the rich dough compliments the spinach filling.

Sour Cream Dough
1/2  cube butter (1/4 cup) , softened to room temperature
1 1/2 Tb sour cream
1 large egg
1 cup flour
1/4 tsp salt

I’ve used both an electric mixer and a food processor to make the dough. Beat butter until light and fluffy.  Add sour cream and egg and beat well. Add flour and salt and mix until dough is formed. Knead about 12 times on a floured board until it is not sticky. Roll dough into a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for ½ an hour. You can begin to prepare the filling while the dough is chilling.

Sabanekh: Spinach filling

1 Tb olive oil
1 onion
1 bunch fresh spinach, or 10 oz pkg leaves, washed well and dried in a salad spinner
½ tsp salt
1 Tb lemon juice
1 tsp sumac
3 Tb pine nuts

Heat olive oil in a heavy skillet. Chop onion finely with the blade in a food processor, and then add to oil. Cook on medium low about 10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until onion is translucent.

While onion is cooking, pulse spinach in batches in food processor until finely chopped.

Transfer the cooked onion to a medium bowl. Sprinkle the spinach with salt, and cook in the same pan for 2-3 minutes. The salt will help to draw the water from the spinach. can tower Let spinach cool, then place in a sieve over a bowl for 20 minutes to drain the excess liquid from the spinach. Press the bottom of a small bowl into the spinach in the sieve, then pile as many cans in the bowl as you can safely make into a tower. You will get about 2/3 cup of spinach water. You can use this in soups. While spinach is draining, roll out the fatayer dough into a circle shape. It won’t matter if the circle’s not perfect as long as you can fold it into a tricorner shape. If you use the sour cream dough, cut it with a round biscuit cutter. You can make larger pies by cutting with a top of a soup bowl.

Stir drained spinach into the onions. Stir in pine nuts, lemon juice, and sumac.

spinach on pastryFill pies with a tablespoonful of Sabanekh for small pies, more for larger pies. Flatten the filling  a bit with the back of the spoon, then fold in a tricorner shape: Gather two sides together and pinch the sides towards the middle. Fold in the opposite side towards the middle, pinching the other two edges towards the center. Pinch all sides towards the center. I leave a little space in the center so you can see the spinach filling. Brush with beaten egg if you like. Place on a cookie sheet sprayed with olive oil spray.

For Fatayer Dough: Bake for 15 minutes at 400◦

For Sour Cream Dough: Bake for 20 minutes at 350◦ until the dough is golden.

Brush with a bit of olive oil when you remove it from the oven. Let cool on a rack until you are able to eat them.

Vatrushka

These cheese-filled, sour cream dough pastries were one of my favorite treats as a child. I can eat these for breakfast, lunch or dinner, or as an appetizer. My mom, Sarah, baked hundreds of these as hors d’œuvre for our wedding. Now my kids and husband gobble them up as fast as I can make them.

We use the same filling as for Blintzes.  I changed mom’s recipe by substituting whole wheat pastry flour for the all-purpose flour she used, and mixing nonfat ricotta cheese with the farmer’s cheese to cut down on the fat. But I still top them with a bit of sour cream. The fresh strawberries I placed on top add just the right amount of sweet juiciness to balance the filling.

I got a  kick out of the comments or rather criticisms I got on this blog entry. Russians have got to be the most opinionated people on the planet! (I should know, being half-Russian myself).

makes several dozen, depending on the size

Dough for Vatrushka
1 cube butter, softened to room temperature
5 Tb sour cream
1 large egg
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour
½ tsp salt

Beat butter until light and fluffy. Add sour cream and egg and beat well. Add flour and salt and mix until dough is formed. Knead on a floured board about 12 times, until it is no longer sticky. Roll into a ball and cover in plastic wrap. Place in refrigerator for ½ an hour. Prepare the filling while the dough is chilling.

Cheese filling
1 1/2  cups farmer’s cheese
1 cup nonfat ricotta cheese
2 eggs
¼ tsp salt
1/2  tsp sugar

Mix ingredients together in an electric mixer until smooth.

Preheat oven to 350◦

Roll out the dough on a floured board until thin, and cut with a round biscuit cutter. For larger pastries, I made little balls and roll them out into circle shapes. The circles don’t have to be perfect as long as they can fold into a half-moon shape. Place a spoonful of filling in the center of each circle, and fold it over into a half-moon shape.

Line cookie sheet with parchment paper. If you don’t have any parchment paper, spray the pan with canola oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 350◦

Serve topped with sour cream and fresh strawberries.


Caprese I said, not Caprice

Insalata Caprese

The foggy Berkeley summer is over, and fall sunshine kisses our green tomatoes, making them blush. I pick these crimson treasures, then top each slice with creamy fresh mozzarella, and crown them with a basil leaf. I anoint them with extra virgin olive oil and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. My daughter likes a sprinkle of  balsamic vinegar on them.

I first tasted Insalata Caprese (salad in the style of Capri), at the wedding reception of our friends Doug and Jason. The two grooms had just taken their vows, barefoot and in matching tuxedos, on the beach  in Provincetown, MA. At the reception there were these cherry tomatoes topped with little balls of fresh mozzarella and a fresh basil leaf, all held together with a toothpick. They were the prettiest things, and so tasty! I was trying not to be a greedy guest, but I kept sneaking back to the plate to pop one more into my mouth!

My friends Bob and Dawn served these mini caprese hors d’oeuvres at a party. They marinated the mozzarella  first, which added great flavor.

Mozzarella Marinade:
2/3 cup olive oil
1/2 tsp chili flakes
1 Tb minced garlic
3 TB fresh basil, minced
1 tsp sea salt

Buy an 8 oz container of small mozzarella balls, known as ciliegine, and replace the whey with the marinade. You can also buy a good quality mozzarella or Mozzarella di Bufala and cut it into small pieces. Marinade overnight.

I used del Cabo sweet 100s organic cherry tomatoes from Monterey Market in Berkeley. They are smaller and sweeter than supermarket cherry tomatoes. I want to grow my own next time!

The small basil leaves came from my little plants in my kitchen window. You also tear a piece of a large leaf if you don’t have any small ones.
Skewer a tomato, then a fresh basil leaf, then the ciliegine.

caprese appetixers with halved tomatoesI recently prepared them with the tomato split in half  on both ends of the hors d’oeuvre, with the cut sides facing each other. I sliced the rounded ends off the ciliegine to flatten it.

Pour some of the marinade over and garnish with fresh basil leaves. You can use the excess marinade to flavor hot pasta.

You can make a  delicious caprese  sandwich, especially made with Acme bakery’s herb slab or focaccia.

Caprese sandwich


Serves 2

2 slices good bread. I used a herb slab from Acme bakery, (which is conveniently located down the street.) You could also make this with focaccia, olive bread, French bread or baguette

2 medium-sized ripe tomatoes, sliced thick. Dry farmed tomatoes have great flavor! (available at Oakland Fruitvale Farmer’s Market and at Monterey Market in Berkeley)

4 slices fresh mozzarella cheese.

4 basil leaves

2 tsp. extra virgin olive oil

several shakes salt and pepper to taste

Slice the bread and toast it. Cut the toast to fit each of the tomato slices.

On each piece of toast, place 1 slice of tomato,  then a slice of mozzarella, covering with a basil leaf. Drizzle 1 tsp olive oil on top, and shake a bit of salt. Manga!

Caprese eggs

I invented this breakfast take-off on caprese salad. These eggs cook with fresh basil and chives, diced tomatoes and mozzarella cheese.

2 servings

4 eggs

2 medium tomatoes, diced

2 tsp chopped chives – 4 chives

4 diced basil leaves about 1 Tb, plus two leaves for garnish

2 Tb grated mozzarella cheese (or diced fresh mozzarella)

¼ tsp olive oil

¼ tsp salt to taste

grind of pepper.

Cover eggs with hot tap water in a bowl for 10 minutes to warm them. While they are warming, dice tomatoes, basil and chives. Heat olive oil in nonstick skillet, add tomatoes and chives and a sprinkle of salt and spread out on pan. Cook over medium heat about 2 minutes, until tomatoes soften.

Break eggs on top of tomatoes and sprinkle a bit more salt and a grind of pepper and  basil. Sprinkle mozzarella on top of eggs.

When egg whites turn white, but yolks are still liquid, slide onto a plate. Garnish each plate with a basil leaf. Nice served with toast to dip into the eggs.