Unbeetable Borscht!

borsht

This was one of my favorite dishes that my mom made when I was a kid. We used to eat it with blintzes  on the side. This is not traditional Russian hot borscht which has meat, cabbage and potatoes, but cold simple beet borscht, served back in the day with sour cream, Meyer lemon juice and a spoonful of sugar.

I roasted the beets before boiling them, for a deeper flavor. I’ve added the beet greens for more body and nutrients, as well as a bit of salt, dill and lemon zest for flavor. Since I’m watching my waistline, I added nonfat Greek yogurt instead of sour cream. Not quite the same, but not bad either.

Ingredients:

beets with lemon

2 3/4 cups mild vegetable broth (see below)

1 bunch of 2 large beets, leaves included

1 Meyer lemon (a regular lemon will do if you can’t find a Meyer)

A few shakes, dill weed, salt, sugar, to taste

Trim “tails” and stems from beets. Scrub beets well. Line a covered container with foil (to prevent baked-on beet juice), then place beets in with ¼ cup of water, cover and roast at 400 for 40 minutes.

While beets are roasting, make vegetable broth. (You can do both a day ahead of time.)

trimmed leeks

3 1/2 cups water

1 large leek, dark green parts trimmed

2 large stalks celery. chopped

1 parsnip or 1 carrot, peeled and chopped

1 shallot, thinly sliced

1 clove garlic, thinly sliced

1 sprig parsely

1/2 tsp dried thyme, or several springs fresh thyme

1/4 tsp dried dill weed, or several springs fresh dill

Several grinds black pepper

3/4 tsp balsamic vinegar to taste

Salt to taste

Directions:

veg broth with leeks celery parsnip garlic thyme and dill

Bring water to boil in medium pot. Trim outer dark leaves from leeks. Slice lengthwise into quarters, then chop crosswise and rinse thoroughly several times in a salad spinner

Rinse and chop celery and peel and chop parsnip or carrot. Thinly slice shallot and garlic clove. Add all vegetables to boiling water with herbs. Simmer for 25 minutes. After it cools, strain through a sieve into a bowl, pushing on the vegetables with a large spoon.. You should have approximately 2 3/4 cups left.

washed beet greets

While broth is booking, rinse beet leaves thoroughly: first rinse, then soak in a salad spinner for about 10 minutes in warm water, then rinse several more times. Chop them finely.

grating beets

Remove beets from oven and let cool. Peel them under running water. The peel should come off easily, revealing the jewel-like beets. Grate them on the large part of a box grater. Unless you have a pair of thin gloves handy,  prepared for hot pink hands!

grated beets

Bring vegetable broth to a boil and add grated beets and greens. Simmer for 20 minutes.

Grate lemon zest (the yellow part) on a fine grater into the soup, and then squeeze in the lemon juice. Stir in vinegar, a few shakes of dill weed, ¼ tsp salt to taste and 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp sugar to taste. Let borscht cool, then refrigerate. You can also serve it room temperature.

Serve with more lemon juice and sour cream. (or substitute plain Greek yogurt for a low-fat alternative.)

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.


Blintzes and crepes

When I was growing up, our family always ate unsweetened blintzes with sour cream, no sugar or strawberries. To this day, I only like them this way. My mom used to make these for my birthday since they were my favorite food. Since today is my birthday, I made these for lunch. I altered the ingredients to make the blintzes lower in fat. I combined nonfat ricotta cheese with the better-tasting, rich farmer’s cheese, which has 12% fat. I’ve also made this with full-fat ricotta cheese only.

But the low-fat sour cream didn’t taste right; a small spoonful of the real deal is much better. Or you can try nonfat plain Greek yogurt.

Serves 3 (makes 8 blintzes)

Crepe batter:

1 cup 1% milk

¼ cup water

2/3 cup finely ground whole wheat flour (also sold as white whole wheat flour)

3/4 cup white unbleached flour

3 Tb melted butter

3 eggs

¼ tsp salt

2 tsp sugar for sweet crepes

Blintze Filling:

1 cup farmer’s cheese

3/4 cup ricotta cheese

1 egg

¼ tsp salt

¼ tsp sugar

Combine crêpe ingredients in a blender. Blend until smooth, scrape sides and blend again. Let sit ½ hour to let the gluten develop.

filling

Whip filling ingredients together with electric mixer.

Rub a butter cube over a nonstick skillet. Pour crêpe batter into pan until it covers it, moving the pan around so that it is evenly covered.. Let sit a few seconds until the bottom begins to cook, then pour off excess into the blender container. This way the crêpe will be thin. Place a sheet of parchment paper on a dinner plate. After a minute or too, the bottom of the crêpe will become golden brown. Loosen the crêpe, using a spatula, then slide it on the parchment paper. Cover with another sheet of parchment paper, and repeat.

When all the crepes are cooked, you are ready to fill them. (You can fill as you go if you have a partner to make the crepes.)

???????????????????????????????Place the crêpe so the cooked side is up. Place a few tablespoons of filling in the middle of the crêpe. Fold one side (such as the side furthest from you), then fold two left and  right sides. Then fold the side nearest to you, opposite the first side.

Rub the butter over the pan again. Gently place the  blintzes on the skillet, fold side down, and cook both sides over medium low heat so the filling will cook and the crêpe will be a nice brown.  Eat with a teaspoonful of sour cream spread over them.

If you have leftover crepes, you can do as my daughter does, and flip them over to cook on both sides. When they cool, spread Nutella on them, slice some strawberries and a banana over that, then roll them up and have them for dessert.