Mediterranean: Kale with Anchovies, Capers & Garlic In Labneh

Dig in!

Dig in!

If you are suffering from a kale overload  (production can get a little out of hand even in a home garden this time of year) and have run out of inspiration for ways to cook it, here is another option that you might want to try.

Curly purple kale fresh from the garden

Curly purple kale fresh from the garden

Lightly cooking the kale with wonderful savory ingredients that you most likely have in your cupboard or fridge right now is great, but adding that mixture to labneh takes these ingredients to a whole new level.

This is Turkish labneh

This is Turkish labneh

First off: Labneh is a thickened yogurt or yogurt cheese typically found throughout the Middle East.  It’s pretty readily available these days, but if you are having a hard time finding it you can make it by simply straining thick, full fat Greek cow, sheep or goat milk yogurt in cheesecloth over a bowl for a day or so until enough liquid has drained out that it has more of a cream cheese consistancy. In fact you can even buy purpose made yogurt strainers online if you think you will be doing this often. Personally I like the flavor of the sheep milk labneh, but no matter what kind, these days I often prefer it over Greek-style yogurt in cooking as it adds another dimension to dips, sauces, marinades or even baked goods.  In fact, I have been known to add it to tuna fish salad..

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You will be giving this dish and instant umami boost by sautéing anchovies, capers and garlic first along with chili flakes and then adding the chopped kale to this mixture (I took my inspiration from a Melissa Clark recipe) but that to me, though tasty, was in need of a something cooling and creamy.

One of the holy trinities of cooking: Capers, garlic & anchovies

One of the holy trinities of cooking: Capers, garlic & anchovies

That’s where the next player comes in..  enter labneh.  Once you have that delicious savory kale mixture ready, add some citrus juice, chopped nuts, chopped fresh herbs and fold into the labneh. It’s instantly transformed into a fresh yet rich dip or side dish that works well with anything grilled, or even on top of a baked potato.  

Here, with toasted, roasted garlic sourdough fingers

Here, with toasted, roasted garlic sourdough fingers

Ingredients & Recipe

Makes 3-4 cups 

5-6 cups fresh kale, chopped into strips - this can be pretty quickly chopped, not too fine.  If the stems are too tough, cut them off otherwise, slice those parts thinner

5 cloves garlic, roughly chopped 

6-8 anchovies - Use the good ones, usually Italian in a glass jar.  It makes a huge difference!

1 tablespoon capers, heaped

1 teaspoon chilli flakes, or a fresh or a small fresh chili chopped if you have handy

3 cups labneh or Greek-style yogurt

1 lemon and/or a couple of optional tangerines, juiced

1/2 cup pecans or walnuts, coarsely chopped

1/2 cup lovage and/or Italian parsely, chopped

Salt to taste

Water as needed

Olive oil for cooking

-Chop the kale, garlic and nuts as directed above

-Add a couple of tablespoons of olive oil to a preheated sauté pan. 

-Gently sauté the garlic, anchovies and capers and some until they are lightly golden brown - the anchovy will kind of disappear, which is fine.   

-Add the nuts towards the end of cooking the above step just to bring out their flavor a bit

-Add the chopped kale to the pan with a few tablespoons of water and cook until softened but still a nice green, approximately 5 minutes - you still want some texture left in the kale. Check the seasoning at this point - the anchovies and capers are pretty salty, so you may need to add only a little salt

-Squeeze in the citrus juice and toss in the chopped lovage and/or parsley, stir & then take off the heat

-Put the labneh in a mixing bowl and after the cooked mixture cools a bit, add it to the labneh and mix well.  Check for salt again and add to taste. Transfer the finished mixture to a serving dish and top with lots of chopped parsely and a drizzle of really good olive oil too, if you like.

Sauté capers, garlic & anchovies no darker than this please!

Sauté capers, garlic & anchovies no darker than this please!

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Winter Fresh: Mizuna Pecan Pesto

After all the excesses of Thanksgiving past and before the Christmas indulgences begins, you might want to give this lovely pesto a shot.  It can be tossed into a pasta, or over vegetables, used as a dip with crudités or a salad dressing base, slathered on crostinis or sandwiches...  Actually, you can do pretty much anything with it! 

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Mizuna is a great Asian winter green to grow, cold hardy down to about 15 degrees. You can sow it like lettuce and then harvest as a cut & come again crop.  If you can't grow it right now, then it's often available at Asian markets, or sometimes as a bagged salad.  If you absolutely cannot find it, then you can use watercress, but the flavor will be quite a bit stronger.

This nice thing about these greens is that they are gently spicy with a delicate flavor that tends not to overwhelm other ingredients as a more in-your-face traditional basil pesto might.

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I added some fresh grated horseradish & ground black pepper to complement the pepperiness of the greens, and pecans because they have that inherent sweetness that I think works well with the flavor profile of the Mizuna.  I also incorporated a squeeze of fresh lemon for the brightness.

Other than that, it's pretty much the standard pesto ingredients: Parmesan cheese, garlic, good olive oil and sea salt.

Yum pecans and parmesan - a nice flavor combo

Yum pecans and parmesan - a nice flavor combo

Garlic is imperative here, but if you want a little less intense of a pesto, add only two cloves

Garlic is imperative here, but if you want a little less intense of a pesto, add only two cloves

This recipe will fill a one pint jar.  It can be refrigerated for a few days, if it lasts that long!

Ingredients & Recipe

1 large bunch Mizuna leaves, about 4-6 oz, stems and all

1 cup pecans (I prefer to start with pecan halves)

1 cup finely grated parmesan cheese

3 cloves garlic

1 teaspoon freshly grated/microplaned horseradish root, or to taste

1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, or too taste

Freshly ground black pepper

Juice of half a lemon

1-2 cups extra virgin olive oil

Rinse and dry the Mizuna leaves then roughly cut into a few sections.  Leave on the stems as they are also good to eat!  

Combine about two thirds of the greens with the pecans, parmesan, garlic, black pepper and horseradish in the bowl of a food processor fitted with a blade. Then whirl everything together, pulsing as needed, until all the ingredients are fairly finely puréed. 

Next, to the food processor, add the rest of the greens and the squeeze of lemon then process the mixture as you slooowly add the olive oil through the hole in the top, creating a slight emulsion.

Add enough olive oil so your pesto is creamy and smooth, just enough to bind the sauce.  For some applications, you might want the pesto a bit thinner, so add a bit more oil.  If you want a thicker sauce, so it's more spreadable, add a bit less oil.  Either way, the oil is there to create a nice smooth integrated sauce, not a slick, so go slowly.

Taste and add salt to your preference, then one final spin in the food processor to bring everything together. And that's it!

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  Here is a pretty good all-around consistancy for the pesto

Enjoy!

Enjoy!

Sumptuous: Tangerine Coriander Braised & Crispy Pork Belly with Winter Veg

Shown here served as a starter

Shown here served as a starter

What I love about this dish is that though it’s a very slow cook, you can pretty much walk away from it for most of the time.  Better still, I made this the day before and did the final 1/2 hour crisping the next day before a dinner party, to use as a starter. And that part was truly easy.. just put the braised, tender pork belly and veggies on a baking sheet with some tinfoil, pop in the oven for 20 minutes or so til crispy and browned, cut the veg and pork into bite sized pieces put on a pretty serving dish et voila, starter is served!

Coriander seed and fennel are a match made in heaven, or wherever good food comes from..

Coriander seed and fennel are a match made in heaven, or wherever good food comes from..

Many, many tangerines!

Many, many tangerines!

The richness also led to the citrus aspect, the fresh-squeezed tangerine juice. And that in turn inspired the crushed coriander seed, which has its own lemony note.  The tangerines I have coming out of my ears this year, so I had also made some marmalade of them with Serrano peppers, & I actually added a bit of that too.  And the coriander was collected from by cilantro plants that had gone to seed - so much more aromatic.

I like to use as much as possible of the vegetable.  I chop up the stems and leaves of the fennel here and add to the braise early on as by the end, these will dissolve, flavoring and enriching the braise.

I like to use as much as possible of the vegetable.  I chop up the stems and leaves of the fennel here and add to the braise early on as by the end, these will dissolve, flavoring and enriching the braise.

Lots of s&p on that meat!

Lots of s&p on that meat!

I think you could use almost any root vegetables in this dish.  I like the sweetness of beets, the celery flavor that celeriac imparts while still holding up to a braise, and fennel root for the perfumed flavor that complements everything.  The one thing I stayed away from was potatoes, because the pork belly is so utterly decadently rich that I wanted something in the braise that lightened things up a bit.  But I could see some potatoes on the side, either as a light mash, or boiled with a little butter, salt and chives.

Here it is all nicely browned and ready to go into the braise

Here it is all nicely browned and ready to go into the braise

And into the braising liquid!

And into the braising liquid!

Serves up to four as a main course, or six as a starter

Ingredients & Recipe

2lb piece of boneless pork belly, whole

2 large golden beets, peeled & cut into about 8 wedges

1 largish celariac (celery root), peeled & cut into about 8 wedges

1 head fennel with stalks & leaves. Strip away the most exterior covering on the  fennel root & cut into about 8 wedges; stems, chop fine, along with the ferny leaves 

1 cup of red pearl onions, peeled and whole

2 cups of fresh squeezed tangerine juice with the bits or a combination of juice and tangerine marmalade, if you like 

2 bottles of beer, something rich but not too bitter - I used a decent Weiss beer, but a spicy darker beer would work well too

Water as needed

Sea salt & ground black pepper

2 tablespoons of crushed coriander seeds

1 tablespoon of oil for cooking

1/2 cup chives, chopped fairly fine for garnish

-Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees

-With a sharp knife, score the fat on top of the pork belly with diagonal cuts in two directions  about 1/2” apart to form a crosshatch or diamond pattern.  Cut all the way down through the fat, stopping at the meat.  This is easy with a sharp knife and has the added benefit of making you feel very chef-y 😉

-Liberally salt and pepper the pork, getting into those grooves as much as you can

-Heat up an braising pan with a lid big enough for the whole piece of meat ( I used a 5 qt Le Creuset braiser) & add just a splash of oil to pan. Brown the pork, fat side down, until nicely colored, then do the same with the other sides  

-While the pork is browning, prepare the vegetables as above  

 -Remove the nicely caramelized pork from the pan and drain off almost all of the  excess fat, leaving a couple of tablespoons. Um, I saved the fat to brown some rabbit in because rabbit and that bacony flavored fat = goodness!

-The coriander, the red pearl onions and the chopped fennel stems/leaves go into the pan to get sautéed for a little color  

-The pork then goes back into the pan fat side up, along with the beer, tangerine juice and enough water to bring the liquid level up to the pork fat. I also added about half  of the celeriac at this point to cook in the braise for flavor 

-Once this mixture is at a simmer, cover the pan with lid and put into the oven.  Braise for approximately 2.5 hours, then adjust as needed for salt & add the remainder of the veggies to the pan - beets, celeriac and fennel. Braise for another 1 to 1.5 hours, until the pork is tender and fork soft

At this point you can go one of two ways:

1. Remove the pork and vegetables from the pan and reduce the braising liquid on the stovetop until it creates a rich sauce, skimming the fat.  Put the pork, fat side up, and the veggies on a baking sheet lined with foil then place into a hot oven, 400-450 degrees, for 20-30 minutes until the fat is crispy and the vegetables are nicely browned and getting crispy. Then add everything back into the pan with the reduced braising liquid.  Sprinkle with lots of chopped chives and you can serve from the pan with whatever sides you like, maybe some crusty bread to soak up the braise sauce. 

OR

2. Remove the pork and about half of the veggies from the pan and reserve the liquid with remainder of the veggies for an amazing soup (recipe to follow!) and then place the pork, fat side up,the beets, fennel & celeriac on a baking sheet lined with some foil.  Place into a hot oven, 400-450 degrees for 20-30 minutes until the fat is crispy and the vegetables are nicely browned and getting crispy.  Remove from oven, cut everything into bite-sized pieces, sprinkle with lots of chopped chives & plate on a pretty serving dish.  This method works well for a starter.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Normally, with this kind of dish, you might crisp up the meat at the end separately and reduce the braise then re-combine the meat and the sauce.  Because I wanted to do this as a starter, I crisped the pork and some of the vegetables together without the braising liquid, which I reserved along with some of the veggies for a delicious soup. A good way to get two meals from basically one prep...but that’s another post!

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Acorn Squash: Go Stuff It!

ALL those squashes and pumpkins we are seeing right now are not just for decoration!  Acorn squash is such a simple, tasty vegetable, or technically, cucurbit, to cook just roasted with a little olive oil, butter, salt & pepper.  But, this recipe takes it to a whole new level!   Scroll down, complete recipe at end!

Farmers market acorn squash and zucchini
Acorn Squash and Zucchini

Acorn Squash and Zucchini

FIRST off, roast a halved acorn squash and drizzle with a little olive oil until it develops some color and is fork soft, about 20-30 minutes in a 350° oven.  I cut it in half widthwise to get that pretty scalloped shape.  You can cut the stem end off to create a flat base.

I got a little carried away with the roasting - but as Gordon says, color is flavor, right?

I got a little carried away with the roasting - but as Gordon says, color is flavor, right?

WHILE the squash is roasting, get to work on the stuffing!  Slice zucchini into 1/2" rounds, and chop the garlic, onion, fresh herbs, tomatoes & chilis if you are using.  Lightly brown the onion & garlic & optional chilis with some olive oil and a dollop of butter, then add the zucchini and get that just very lightly browned.  

The fresh herbs I used were from my garden.  I love the tarragon with the lovage & parsely.  If you don't have lovage, you can use celery leaves instead.

Dollop of butter for flavor as often as possible!

Dollop of butter for flavor as often as possible!

NOW add in chopped tomatoes, the chopped fresh herbs and a splash of maple syrup and simmer for a few minutes, to meld the flavors and reduce the liquid so it's not too liquid.  The maple syrup is just to give it a hint of sweetness and maple goodness that complements the acorn squash, so don't go overboard. 

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AND get stuffing!  Put the acorn squash halves in a pretty baking dish and fill them up with the zucchini mixture.  If you have a little too much, just put it in the bottom of the dish - don't worry, it will get eaten.

Finally, top the stuffed acorns with a generous amount of chopped pecans (to add some really nice texture plus that lovely flavor) and add pieces of cheese, then put back in the oven for about 15 minutes to allow the stuffing juices to mix with the acorn squash and the cheese and pecans to lightly toast.

Ready for a final visit to the oven to melt the cheese and toast the pecans.  

Ready for a final visit to the oven to melt the cheese and toast the pecans.  

Ingredients

1 - acorn squash, about 2lbs, cut in half widthwise

4 - medium zucchini, sliced into 1/2" rounds

2- medium tomatoes, chopped

1 - onion, chopped

2 - garlic cloves, diced

2 - hot chili peppers, small, optional

3 tablespoons of butter

Olive oil for cooking

Salt & pepper

About 1/2 cup total of equal parts chopped Italian parsley, lovage and tarragon

About 1/8th cup of maple syrup, or just a quick glug into the pan to taste

About 1 cup of pecans, coarsely chopped

About 1 cup of chopped or chunked cheese - I used Syrian cheese, which is a fresh cheese that is delicately flavored, and melted nicely without too much stringiness. I do think the simplicity &creaminess of the flavor worked well with the warm, luscious-tasting veggies, but you could substitute something similar

-Preheat your oven to 350°

-Cut the acorn squash in half width-wise.  Drizzle with a little olive oil and roast in a the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, until it is fork soft and some caramelization is happening

-Chop the zucchini, onion, garlic, tomatoes and fresh herbs

-In a frying pan, heat the olive oil & sauté the onion & garlic until lightly browned, then add the zucchini and lightly brown that - keep some texture to the zucchini as we don't want a slimy mess!  Add a knob of butter to melt into the mixture.

-Add the chopped tomatoes to the pan along with the maple syrup and fresh herbs and simmer a few more minutes to blend the flavors.

-Place the acorn squash halves in a baking dish and fill them up with the zucchini mixture.  Generously top the stuffing in each squash half with chopped pecans and dot with the cheese.

-Return to the 350° oven for about 20 minutes to brown the pecans and melt the cheese.  Cover with a bit of foil if the nuts and cheese start to get too brown as you also want to allow the flavors of the squash and stuffing to start to blend together.

ENJOY!

Zucchini Stuffed Acorn Squash
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