Go green

September 28th was Hug a Vegetarian Day. It was merely coincidental that The Fearless Cooking Club decided to go vegetarian this month.

Cindy said that she was “afraid” of meatless fare. Then her world-traveling daughter returned home with her Spanish-Vegan boyfriend. He will be our guest chef tomorrow  demonstrating vegan recipes for us.

There are seven kinds of vegetarians. Nowadays, we hear more about vegans who exclude meat, eggs, dairy products and all other animal-derived ingredients. Many vegans also do not eat foods that are processed using animal products, such as refined white sugar and some wines.

We are all bringing a vegetarian dish tomorrow to show our flair for the meatless. I could be a lacto-ova vegetarian; I don’t know about being a strict vegan.

I prepared a dish that includes Greek Yogurt: Grape leaf herb and yogurt pie from The Splendid Table episode on what to do with grape leaves.

We have a lovely grapevine my DH planted oh so many years ago. They are beautiful this time of year, still green with burgeoning grapes.  I was so happy to see a recipe using fresh grape leaves.

 Yotam Ottolenghi, Plenty: Vibrant Vegetable Dishes from London’s Ottolenghi, Chronicle Books (2011).

Grape leaf herb and yogurt pie

20 to 25 grape leaves (fresh or from a jar)

4 shallots, finely chopped

4 tbsp olive oil

1 1/2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted

1 cup Greek yogurt, plus extra to serve

2 1/2 tbsp pine nuts, lightly toasted

1/2 tbsp finely chopped tarragon

2 tbsp finely chopped parsley

3 tbsp finely chopped dill

4 tbsp finely chopped mint

grated zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

salt and black pepper

1/2 cup rice flour

3 tbsp dried breadcrumbs (preferably panko)

1. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Place the grape leaves in a shallow bowl, cover with boiling water and leave for 10 minutes. Then remove the leaves from the water and dry them well with a tea towel. Use scissors to trim off and discard the bit of hard stalk at the base of each leaf.

2. Sauté the shallots in 1 tablespoon of the oil for about 8 minutes, or until light brown. Leave to cool down.

3. Take a round and shallow ovenproof dish that is roughly 8 inches in diameter, and cover its bottom and sides with grape leaves, slightly overlapping them and allowing the leaves to hang over the rim of the dish. Mix the melted butter with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; use about two-thirds of this to generously brush the leaves lining the dish.

4. Mix together in a bowl the shallots, yogurt, pine nuts, chopped herbs and lemon zest and juice, and season with salt and pepper to taste. Then add the rice flour and mix well until you get a homogenous paste. Spread this paste evenly in the baking dish.

5. Fold the overhanging grape leaves back over the top of the filling so they cover the edges, then cover the filling completely with the remaining grape leaves. Brush with the rest of the butter and oil mix. Finally, scatter the breadcrumbs over the top and drizzle over the remaining 1 tablespoon olive oil.

6. Bake for 40 minutes, or until the leaves crisp up and the breadcrumbs turn golden brown. Remove from the oven and leave to rest for at least 10 minutes. Cut into wedges and serve at room temperature, with a dollop of fresh yogurt.

Patty’s Points

1. I can’t believe I made a recipe using the grape leaves!  Brushing the oil on the leaves softened them nicely.

2. The herbs made the dish taste so fresh. I was surprised I could make something so organic.

3. I think this was probably the most interesting dish I have ever made. Bob’s Red Mill is a great brand for the rice flour staple. I will have to check out the recipes on the website to figure out what to make with the rest of the bag.

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Baklava: No Fear

In Alton Brown’s  Good Eats: Baklava episode he shows a food gallery of most feared foods to make:  Baked Alaska, Tarte Tatin and Baklava. I laughed when I saw this episode since Baklava was the recipe to tackle this month.

When I talk about the Fearless Cooking Club and the premise of tackling our cooking fears, I will hear someone say, “Oh that’s easy to make, why would you say that is hard?” It’s all about perspective, that’s why we have our cooking club. It’s easier to accomplish difficult tasks in a group, fear loves company. We have members of our club who call me the gourmet cook and I laugh. I am just stubborn and determined. All of our members have varying skills and we get along because we are all learn from each other.

Cindy was our hostess for April’s cooking and dining meeting and the theme was Greek cuisine. Cindy has made Pastitio which is a wonderful Greek comfort dish. So when I arrived I assumed that she had experience in making baklava. She announced that she was going to learn right along with us.

Phyllo dough, butter, sugar and nuts are the basis of baklava. The phyllo is the trickiest part of baklava. It is thin and tears easily, taking patience and technique and it dries out quickly.

1) Butter a 9×13 inch pan. Pull up the phyllo sheets and place two sheets into the pan like making a bed.

2) With a pastry brush “paint” the top sheet with melted butter.

3) Sprinkle 2-3 TBSP of chopped walnuts across the sheet. Then repeat the steps: 2 sheets of phyllo, melted butter and chopped nuts.

4) As you near the end of the layers keep 6 sheets to put on the very top of the pan. Cut the sheets in the serving sizes prior to baking.

5) Bake at 350 degree F oven for 45-50 minutes until golden brown. After you pull it out of the oven have a pre-mixed combination of 1C granulated sugar, 1C water, 1 tsp vanilla extract, and 1/2 C honey that was heated over a stove-top until it becomes a golden syrup.

Patty’s Points

1) Phyllo dough is found in the freezer section of the store. Put it in the refrigerator overnight for it to thaw. Alton Brown suggests you pick the box in the back of the freezer section as it is the freshest.

2) Phyllo dough can dry out quickly so when you are ready to use it, focus on the task of completing the assembly of the baklava. A damp towel or a water spray bottle can be use to keep is moist if necessary. We tried a towel but it was too damp and the first phyllo dough adhered to the towel so we skipped that and just worked quickly.

3) Have all the ingredients ready before assembly. Have a really sharp knife for cutting the phyllo dough shapes. We actually pulled out a ruler to measure the size of our cuts and triangles.

4) The phyllo sheets sucked up every bit of that syrup mixture and made the baklava very moist. Cindy bought some baklava from a local Greek restaurant and we thought ours was better 🙂 Just think, two triangles of baklava cost $4.00 so our entire pan was worth $72.00!

The rest of our Greek menu was Pastitio, Moussaka, Spanakopita, Sliced lamb, Pita bread, Greek salad, Loukoumathes (honey puffs) and of course Baklava. We received copies of the recipes to all the dishes which were delicious and delectable.

After some ouzo and wine we learned of Cindy’s first trip to Greece and traveling adventures as a young new college graduate. She decided to go to Europe because she got several driving ticket violations and couldn’t drive for three months. She was a free spirit and much bolder than I at that age.

OPA! Greek for party down which we did!