Spanakopita and Tiropetes with phyllo or puff pastry

These Greek spinach and cheese pies have a complex taste: sharp bite of feta, green spinach, explosion of herbs: mint, dill, oregano, basil, garlic, and green onion, wrapped in a crispy filo dough or buttery puff pastry. My recipe was inspired by my Greek-American friend Margret’s delicious version.

You can make these traditionally with flaky phyllo (filo) dough. I use olive oil spray on the phyllo instead of spreading oil or butter with a pastry brush, to cut down on the fat. I also make tiropetes, which are phyllo filled with feta and ricotta cheese. They are great for breakfast.

On the other end of the calorie range, I recently tried these at a Greek restaurant made from puff pastry. They were rich and delicious! So I made them at home. It’s much less fuss than phyllo, although it has quite a few more fat and calories from the buttery pastry.

Makes 3 logs (about 18 triangles) of phyllo wrapped spanakopita or 8 triangles of puff pastry spanakopita

3/4  package defrosted phyllo dough OR 1 package (2 sheets) puff pastry (defrost for only 10 minutes at room temperature)

Olive oil spray for phyllo dough

Spinach filling: You can make this a day ahead of time.

2 heads fresh spinach, well washed, stems removed and chopped (use a food processor to chop it) OR 1 lb bag of frozen chopped spinach – about 3 cups.

1 tsp olive oil

2 scallions

2 cloves garlic

¼ cup pine nuts

1 Tb finely chopped mint leaves OR 1 tsp dried mint

½ Tb finely chopped fresh dill weed OR ½ tsp dried dill weed

1 Tb finely chopped fresh oregano leaves OR 1 tsp dried oregano

1 Tb finely chopped fresh basil OR 1 tsp dried basil OR 1 cube frozen basil

Several grinds pepper (about ¼ tsp)

1 egg for filling. Another egg if using puff pastry.

6 oz (about 1 cup) crumbled feta cheese

¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 375’ for filo, or 400’ for puff pastry

Microwave frozen or fresh spinach in a covered casserole bowl about 2 minutes (longer for frozen spinach) until soft. Drain in fine mesh sieve over a bowl.

I place a bowl with a few cans in it on top of the sieve while preparing the other ingredients. Afterward, press on the spinach with a tablespoon for several minutes to squeeze out the liquid. You should have 1 1/2  cups drained spinach.

While spinach is draining, finely mince white and green parts of scallions, garlic, and mint leaves and other fresh herbs, salt and pepper Sauté onion, garlic and pine nuts in olive oil in a heavy skillet. After a couple of minutes, stir in the herbs and heat for another minute.

Finish squeezing the last liquid from the spinach and discard the liquid. Stir the spinach into the onion and herbs.

Beat the first egg and add feta and Parmesan cheeses. Stir in the spinach mixture until well blended.

Tiropetes

1 cup feta cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1/4 cup Parmesan cheese

1 egg, beaten

2 Tb minced fresh parsley

Mix ingredients together. Spread on puff pastry or phyllo dough as below.

Assembling Puff Pastry (I used Trader Joe’s), cut both sheets in two. Beat the second egg. Using a pastry brush, paint the egg on each piece. Spoon filling o to fill exactly half the pastry, leaving about 1/2 inch border of dough on the edges. Fold the pastry over the filling, then seal the edges with the back of a teaspoon.

Place on a cookie sheet that you have sprayed with olive oil. Bake for 20 minutes at 400’ Let cool, then cut in half diagonally, to make triangles.

Phyllo Dough directions:

For phyllo dough pastries: spread one sheet of defrosted dough on a large wooden board or cutting board. Spray olive oil on top. Spread another sheet on top of it and spray and repeat for a 3rd sheet. Spread a 2 inch line of spinach or cheese filling about 3 inches from the edge of the shorter side of the rectangle. Leave a one inch space between the filling and the sides of the phyllo.

Roll the dough up over the filling, then tuck in the sides, and continue rolling until the end. Spray a little of the oil on the edge to seal it. Place the roll seam side down on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper. Spray a little oil on top of the roll.

Bake at 375’ for 40 minutes until browned.

Let cool, then slice the logs diagonally in each direction into triangle shapes.

Pozole

Oy vey! Nice Jewish girl learns to cook with pork products! My friend Jann made this hearty and delicious pozole with her Mexican husband, Luciano, for their  New Years Eve parties. She gave me her recipe using pork shoulder, but the second time I made it I used the leaner pork loin.

Cooked with chilies and hominy and topped with cabbage, oregano, radishes and cilantro, it makes a rich and satisfying stew.

This recipe made 10 servings, including leftovers.

Ingredients:

1 gallon chicken broth. For the cross-cultural experience, use Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup.
4 dried red chilies, such as ancho or pasilla chili
2 fresh poblano chili peppers
2 Tb olive oil
2 onions
2 1/2 pound pork loin.
1 Tb dried oregano
1 head garlic.
3 bay leaves
1 tsp cayenne
1 Tb paprika (Spanish smoked paprika adds a nice smoky flavor)
Several grinds black pepper
1 Tb salt to taste
2 chayotes, peeled, seed area removed, and chopped
39- oz and 15-oz cans of white or purple hominy (maíz blanco o morado)

Condiments:

1 Tb dried oregano
Black pepper
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 cup cilantro leaves
1 small green cabbage, shredded
A bunch of radishes, sliced thin
1 jalapeno, sliced thinly
4 limes, sliced into wedges
 

Bring the soup stock to boil in a large pot.

Heat a heavy frying pan and toast the dried red chilies and the poblano peppers. Place them in a covered bowl to cool, and then remove the stems and seed pods. Throw them in the stock pot

Pour a tablespoon of olive oil to the frying pan and cook the sliced onions until soft. Slice the poblano chiles and fry up with the onions, then add to the soup. Smash the garlic bulb with a molcajete or mortar and pestle, chop it finely and add it to the soup. Add bay leaves, salt, paprika, black pepper and cayenne.

Cut the pork into large (about 3 x 3) chunks and trim extra fat. Pour another tablespoon of oil to the frying pan and add the pork, sprinkling salt and dried oregano on each side. Brown pork on all sides then put in the stock. After pork is browned, add  2 ladles of hot broth to the frying pan to deglaze it. Using a metal spatula, loosen all the browned bits  into the broth and then pour it back into the pot.

Simmer the soup at low-medium heat for 1 ½ hours.

Pour the soup into a large container and refrigerate overnight.

The next day, remove the congealed fat from the top of the soup. Pour the broth through a sieve into a large pot, and heat it. Pour the solids into a bowl. Remove the red chili and strip whatever skin from it that you can. Put in a blender with 2 cups of broth and run blender on high, then add to the broth in the pot, rinsing the blender with broth several times to get all the chili out.

While broth is cooking, shred or chop the meat, discarding bones and fat, and then add the shredded meat to the broth. Add chopped chayotes and hominy. Adjust salt to taste. Simmer for 30 minutes, until chayote is tender, and then scoop into bowls.

Top with condiments, squeeze a bit of lime in, roll up a few warm corn tortillas to dip in the soup, y disfrútelo.

Roasted Chicken Breasts with Meyer Lemon and Italian Herbs

This is quick and easy. The chicken is fragrant and juicy. A good way to use those chicken breasts on sale. Use roasted bones and skin for Roz’s Jewish Chicken Soup  ; perfect to make broth for Minestrone Soup on a rainy day.

5 bone-in chicken breasts with skin attached
Olive oil, about 3 Tb
5  garlic cloves, chopped
2 sprigs fresh rosemary, chopped
2 Tb fresh thyme, minced
About 1 Tb each dried oregano and thyme
About 1 tsp chili flakes
Sea salt and pepper
Fresh basil leaves
2 lemons: ½  sliced and 1 ½  juiced and zest grated
 

Preheat oven to 450′

Oil a large roasting pan

Salt underside of breasts. Place breasts in pan, skin side up

Stuff garlic, rosemary, fresh thyme and a lemon slice under each breast skin

Sprinkle dried herbs, chili flakes, salt and pepper over breasts

Sprinkle olive oil over breasts

Roast in 450’ oven for 50 minutes

Squeeze lemon juice over cooked chicken. Garnish with fresh basil and Meyer lemon zest.

Twice Cooked Fajitas

For Cinco de Mayo I am making fajitas: spicy from two kinds of chili,  fragrant with lime, and tipsy on beer.  This recipe was inspired by my late brother-in-law and Texas barbecue master, Larry Luna. The juicy and flavorful chicken is twice cooked, first on the grill, then braised in the oven with its marinade.  I made  chicken fajitas  here, but you can also make them with skirt steak. Marinade the steak for at least 3 hours, grill it whole, then cut across the grain into strips before braising it in the marinade.


Serves 4

¼ cup boiling water

3 dried chilies such as Chile California, stems removed

2 jalapeños

1 tsp oregano

1 tsp cumin

1 tsp salt

1 cup light-colored beer such as Tecate

2 limes, juiced; zest peeled in long strips

1 whole boneless, skinless chicken breast fat trimmed and sliced,  or  2-3 lb skirt steak.

1 small onion, sliced

4 bell peppers (1 red and 3 green), seeded and cut into strips

2 Tb olive oil

If using skirt steak, slice against the grain and cut into strips. Trim off the fat. Using a tenderizing mallet, pound each strip so that the tenderizing marks show. This is a good way to work out your frustrations and aggressions.

Add chilies to boiling water and let soak for at least 15 minutes. Peel lime zest with vegetable peeler into a long strip, then juice limes. Pour beer, 1 Tb olive oil, and lime juice in blender. Add chilies, jalapeños, soaking water and other seasonings to beer mixture. Whir in blender. Trim fat off of breast, cut into strips, and marinate for an hour or more.


Place chicken on grill, reserving marinade. Put bell peppers and onion in a grill wok and toss with a tablespoon of olive oil.  Grill over medium heat until chicken and onions and bell peppers begin to char. (You can also use a wok or heavy pan over the stove).

Heat oven to 300’ Pour marinade into a casserole or clay pot. Add cooked chicken, peppers and onions and lime zest. Bake for 20 minutes. Garnish with cilantro leaves and avocado slices. Serve with tortillas, Frijoles pintos (Mexican pinto beans) and  Sonia’s guacamole.

Linguine with Prawns

My husband, Jesús, always orders this dish at Italian seafood restaurants. This is an easy Friday night dinner, especially if you use the jarred sun-dried tomatoes. Fill a couple of wine glasses and light some candles. Sip a bit of wine while you’re cooking to get in the mood.

serves 4

1/2   package linguine

1 Tb olive oil

6 garlic cloves, minced

1/2 tsp red pepper flakes

1 sprig  or about 1 tsp minced fresh rosemary

1 Tb dried oregano or 2 Tb fresh oregano

1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes reconstituted in oil or water (see below)

1 pound large raw shrimp (26-30 shrimp per pound), (deveined unless you want a lot of work for yourself.)

1/2 cup white wine (chardonnay is nice) (or liquid from reconstituting sun-dried tomatoes)

pinch of salt, to taste

6 cups spinach leaves (1 bunch spinach), stems removed

¼ cup toasted pine nuts

6 leaves fresh basil, torn, about 2 Tb

1 lemon (Meyer is nice) juice and grated peel

You can buy jarred sun-dried tomatoes in oil (I got mine at Trader Joe’s) or reconstitute them yourself: Soak 1/4 cup sun-dried tomatoes in a mixture of  ¼ cup warmed white wine and 2 Tb boiling water for 30 minutes until soft and pliable. Cut into strips, reserving soaking liquid.

Heat a large pot  of salted water to cook linguine.

Defrost shrimp in a colander under cold running water for 7 minutes.

While shrimp is defrosting, mince garlic cloves, oregano, and rosemary needles and gather ingredients.

Cook linguine according to package directions. Drain, reserving about 1/4 cup water.

While linguine is cooking, heat 1 Tb olive oil  in wok or large heavy frying pan. Sauté garlic, red pepper flakes, rosemary and oregano for a minute, then add shrimp and sauté for 3 minutes.

Add salt, stemmed spinach leaves, basil,  sun-dried tomatoes, wine or soaking liquid from sun-dried tomatoes, and reserved water from cooking pasta. Squeeze a lemon and finely grate zest over shrimp. Cover pan and cook one more minute until shrimp turn bright orange and are opaque inside, and spinach is wilted, but still bright green. Toss with pine nuts and drained linguine. Serve with freshly grated Parmesan cheese.

Mardi Gras Red Beans

I made these  beans for our Mardi Gras potluck at work using Andouille (Ahn-DUE-we)  sausages, which add a spicy Cajun flavor. It’s traditionally a smoked pork sausage, brought to Louisiana by Acadian settlers. I didn’t want to eat too much pork, so bought two kinds: Niman Ranch Pork and Smoked Chicken from Open Nature (by Lucerne foods -Safeway). I liked the chicken links the best; they were spicy and not as greasy as the pork, and they were cheaper too. Trader Joe’s chicken Andouille is even better and spicier.

Fresh produce and herbs are best, but with winter prices so high for the fresh, I substituted frozen bell peppers and basil from Trader Joe’s. If using fresh basil, add it at the end of cooking.  My thyme and oregano plants are sending out new leaves, so I used them fresh.

2 Tb olive oil

1 large onion, chopped

4 minced garlic cloves

4 medium stalks celery, chopped

1 bell pepper, chopped, seeds, stem and membrane removed (or substitute 1 cup frozen)

2 jalapeño peppers, remove seeds, stem and membrane and finely dice

1 tsp fresh thyme leaves, minced

3 T fresh Italian parsley

1 Tb fresh basil, julienned, or  1 cube frozen basil

1 Tb fresh oregano, diced

6 Andouille sausages, quartered lengthwise, then sliced crosswise

2 bay leaves

½  tsp red pepper flakes

10 cups water or chicken broth

4 cups dried red kidney beans

¼ tsp fresh ground black pepper

salt to taste after beans are cooked

Bring water or chicken broth to a boil. If using water, use a teakettle (I had to fill the teakettle twice). Heat oil in a large heavy pot. Sauté onions, jalapeño, celery and bell pepper until soft, then add sausages and seasonings and sauté on medium heat for about 15 minutes, stirring often. Add the hot water or chicken broth. Rinse beans well, removing broken beans and any stones, and add to water or chicken broth. Let boil for 15 minutes, stirring well to loosen any ingredients from the bottom. Pour into crock pot and let it cook all day or night, depending on whether you start it in the morning or in the evening.

When beans are tender, add 2 to 3 tsp salt to taste. Cook at least ½ hour more to let the beans and broth absorb the salt. Stir in fresh basil and parsley.

Serve over rice and with a piece of cornbread.

Nutritional Info
  • Servings Per Recipe: 20
  • Amount Per Serving
  • Calories: 97.6
  • Total Fat: 4.4 g
  • Cholesterol: 8.6 mg
  • Sodium: 677.1 mg
  • Total Carbs: 10.1 g
  • Dietary Fiber: 3.7 g
  • Protein: 4.8 g

Chayote Salad



This spiny chayote reminds me of an old man who needs a shave! I bought the chayotes from an elderly Chinese woman selling them in her front yard on Fruitvale Avenue in East Oakland. They were so prickly that I had to use oven mitts to handle them at home and use a fork to steady it while I peeled it with a knife.

Chayote squash was grown by the Aztecs who named it chayotli in their Nahuatl language. I combined ingredients of Mexican and Spanish origin to make this salad. I drew inspiration for this recipe from Ensalada de chayote written by my friends and gourmet role models, Victor M. Valle and Mary Lau Valle, in their fascinating book, Recipe of Memory: Five Generations of Mexican Cuisine

Chayotes come in smooth skinned varieties as well, but Victor and I agree that the spiny ones are more flavorful. I suppose I could make some sort of analogy to life or raising kids who are hard to handle but, well I’ll let you finish that sentence.

Ingredients

1 large or 2 medium chayotes

about 10 Kalamata olives

15-oz  can drained garbanzo beans

1/2 tsp minced fresh oregano or 1/4 tsp dried oregano.

1 cucumber, peeled

1 small avocado

two radishes

¼ cup cilantro leaves

handful of fresh lettuce leaves for each bowl

Dressing:

2 Tb extra virgin olive oil

2 Tb fresh lime juice,

½ tsp salt

pinch of chipotle chili powder

Boil whole chayote with 2 cloves smashed garlic and a tsp salt for 30 minutes until tender. Let cool in refrigerator, then peel, remove pit, and slice. Add  kalamata olives, garbanzo beans, and oregano.

Dressing : Whisk 2 Tb garlic olive oil, 2 Tb lime juice, ½ tsp salt, with a pinch of chipotle powder. Pour over salad. Let sit for several hours.

Cut a peeled cucumber and a small avocado into bite sized chunks. Gently toss in salad with  two sliced and quartered radishes and ¼ cup sliced cilantro leaves.