I’m a big cheese lover and I’m a big Greek food lover. So it’s a natural fit to make this Greek delicacy, spanakopita, a Greek spinach pie.
The ingredients are few, surprisingly, but the amount of work it takes is large. Well, let me correct that a bit. The filling is a piece of pie (see what I did there?), but preparing the crust – the phyllo dough – is much harder, even if you use pre-prepared sheets.
For one, you need to brush butter on every layer of phyllo and place around twenty layers on the top and twenty layers on the bottom. It takes a while, so don’t be surprised. In fact, I recommend doing the bottom layer before any other work, just to save yourself some time later. Also be sure to have a brush handy. There isn’t really a tool you can substitute for a brush when you’re talking about a dough as light as phyllo.
Is it worth the trouble? Absolutely. This recipe came out delicious, though I’d recommend either doubling the amount of filling (4 pounds of spinach!) or a smaller dish. Using a smaller dish isn’t too hard, if you get the right kind of phyllo. The pre-packaged phyllo I used was meant for a pan slightly larger than 9×13, but not large enough to fit the pan I ended up using. It was close enough though.
Also note that, because of all the butter between layers, spanakopita microwaves really well. Every layer comes to life and sizzles. So if you end up with left overs, just refrigerate.
1 package phyllo pastry (frozen is fine, but be sure to let it thaw first)
melted butter (to brush)
2 lbs fresh spinach, washed, trimmed of stem, and roughly chopped
8 green onions (about one bunch) including green stems, finely chopped
4 tablespoons finely chopped fresh dill
12 ounces feta cheese, crumbled
2 eggs beaten
1 tablespoon olive oil
salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Blanch the spinach (see my instructions on how!) and place in large mixing bowl.
Add all other filling ingredients and combine well.
Preheat the oven to 350°.
Lightly oil a 9×13 (or whatever size fits your dough) baking dish.
Unwrap phyllo pastry and place half of the dough on the bottom of the pan, one sheet at a time, brushing each sheet with melted butter as it’s added.
Add the filling.
Place the remaining half of the dough on top of the filling, one sheet at a time, brushing each sheet with melted butter as it’s added.
Sprinkle a bit of cold water on top to prevent burning.
Bake for about 45 minutes or until the top is golden brown.
There’s nothing like a delicious, cheesy mac ‘n cheese. Something about the cheesiness is comforting and magical. Surprisingly, you can even make a mac ‘n cheese with mascarpone! I was a bit uncertain of this recipe, but after giving it a try, I have to say it’s one of the best mac ‘n cheeses I’ve had. It also includes parmesan and gorgonzola, which adds quite a bit to the flavor.
Be sure to serve something light on the side as it’s a rather rich dish.
¾ pound elbow macaroni
8 ounces mascarpone
1 cup parmesan cheese, plus ½ cup for topping
1 tsp dijon mustard
½ cup low fat (or non-fat) milk
freshly ground black pepper
½ cup gorgonzola cheese
½ cup bread crumbs
2 tbsp unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 400°F and turn it to convection, if possible.
In a large pot of boiling salt water, cook the pasta for 2 minutes less than the package says or at the “al dente” amount.
Meanwhile, in a small saucepan over medium heat, stir together mascarpone and 1 cup parmesan cheese until the cheeses melt together (about 3 minutes).
Stir in the dijon, milk, salt, and pepper to taste, then lower the heat and keep warm.
Drain the pasta and combine it with the sauce as well as the gorgonzola cheese.
In a small bowl, stir together remaining ½ cup parmesan cheese and bread crumbs.
Put the macaroni in a baking dish and scatter the parmesan and bread crumb mixture over the top.
Dot the macaroni with better, then bake for 15 minutes.
Tom Ka Gai is a coconut-based chicken soup from Thailand. Certainly, it’s hard to duplicate many Thai dishes outside of Thailand for lack of ingredients. Most of them call for things like galangal and kaffir leaves, both of which aren’t the easiest to find. But they can also be substituted with almost no negative effect in some recipes.
Such is the case with Tom Ka Gai, a wonderfully warm and inviting soup that’s a staple of Thai food. Many Thais will eat this soup with rice, either dipping the rice in the soup or pouring the soup onto rice in bowls. (This is also how they enjoy Tom Yum, another delicious Thai soup.)
1½ inch piece of galangal (substitute ginger), peeled and sliced
small bunch of cilantro with roots
4 kaffir leaves, torn (or peel from one lime)
1 stem of lemongrass, halved lengthwise
3 tbsp fish sauce
juice of 2 small limes
1¾ cup coconut milk (not paste)
1/2 pound skinless chicken breast, cut into strips
1 red chili, seeded and sliced into thin strips (I used red jalapeños)
1 tbsp brown sugar + more to taste
optionally: ¼ white or yellow onion, thinly sliced
optionally: 10-15 whole, small mushrooms (if desired)
Put the galangal (or ginger), cilantro roots, kaffir leaves (or peel from lime), lemon grass, and 4 cups of water in a saucepan and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
Add fish sauce and lime juice, then lower heat to medium-low and let simmer for 10 to 15 minutes.
Remove the cilantro roots and, if used, lime peel from the mixture. (If you used kaffir leaves, leave them in.)
Add coconut milk and bring back to a boil over medium-high heat, stirring frequently.
If using, add onion and mushrooms to the mixture and let boil for about 5 minutes.
Add the chicken pieces and cook for about two or three minutes or until the chicken is soft and milky looking.
Add the sliced red chili and the brown sugar to taste and mix well. (I recommend at least a tablespoon of brown sugar because of the bitter aftertaste this soup has without it, but your results may very depending on the ingredients you used.)
Take off heat and serve in bowls with a dash of cilantro leaves on top. You can optionally add cilantro leaves into the soup proper just before taking off heat.
Pastél de Choclo is a Chilean corn casserole. On a visit to Chile, it wasn’t nearly as easy to find as you’d imagine, mostly because it’s not a quick food like empanadas. But sure enough, visit a nice Chilean restaurant and you’ll find it ready to eat.
Let it be known that this is not a dish for someone who doesn’t enjoy corn. Indeed, this recipe calls for five pounds of corn. You’ll be enjoying it for days.
5 pounds of corn (fresh or frozen and thawed)
1 tbsp butter
1 tbsp olive oil
1 large, white onion, minced
1 large can of sliced olives (optional)
1 tsp dried basil
salt to taste
¼ cup milk
sugar for browning
Using a food processor, purée the corn in batches, until blended. Be sure not to over blend into a paste, but rather, keep the corn in a rough consistency.
In a large pot, melt the butter over medium heat, then add the onion and sauté until soft (about 10 minutes).
Add the corn and cook for 30 minutes, stirring constantly to avoid it sticking (and burning) to the bottom of the pot.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Add olives, salt, and basil and stir well, cooking for 10 more minutes to allow flavors to incorporate.
Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the eggs and milk. Transfer the mixture into the pot, remove from heat immediately, and stir well.
Empty the mixture into a 13×9 casserole dish and dust the top with sugar.
Cook in preheated oven for about 20 minutes, until the sides start to bubble.
Set the oven to broil and cook for an additional 5-10 minutes, just until the top starts to brown. Be sure not to let it burn.
Remove from oven and allow to cool slightly (no more than 10 minutes).
Pupusas are Salvadoran stuffed flatbread. The first time I had one was at a restaurant called La Bamba in Mountain View, CA. I mistakenly thought it was a Mexican dish, but a friend quickly set me straight. Certainly, there are a number of dishes that are delicious from El Salvador, but pupusas are the best in my opinion.
My first attempt at making them, however, wasn’t great. I learned a couple lessons from that attempt. First, don’t let the uncooked pupusas sit out too long. They’ll dry up and start to crack, causing your filling to spill out. And second, to maximize filling, when you push your thumb in, be sure to dig around underneath the dough a bit so you have a larger hole to fill.
If you prefer to use a different filling, feel free to substitute the cheese for anything you desire. Add some salsa roja and you’re set.
Enjoy this delicious and easy recipe!
2 cups masa harina
1 cup warm water (plus more if needed)
1-2 cups queso quesadilla
In a large bowl, mix the masa harina and water, kneading well, until you have a moist, yet firm dough. The best way to tell is pressing down on it and ensuring the edges don’t crack.
Cover the dough and set aside for 5-10 minutes.
On a flat surface, roll the down into long log, then cut into 8 equal portions.
Roll each portion into a ball.
Press each ball with your thumb, creating a large indentation in the middle of the dough. When you do so, the dough shouldn’t crack at all. If it does, roll the dough back into a full ball and dip in a bit of water, then knead the ball again. Keep doing this until the dough is flexible and doesn’t crack when pressed.
Put as much filling into the indentation as you can fit.
Bring dough up from each side to cover the indentation and filling.
Press the ball down flat in between your hands, being careful not to spill any filling or create cracks.
Continue to press the disc until it’s about 1/4 in thick.
Heat about 1 tsp of oil in a skillet over medium-high heat.
Cook each disc for around 2 minutes per side, or until lightly browned and blistered. Be sure to add more oil after each pupusa.
Pesto is one of the easiest things to make – assuming you have a food processor – and it adds a great kick to a number of different recipes. You’ll see me using pesto in a variety of places and when I do, this is the recipe I follow.
2 cups packed, fresh basil leaves (usually around 3 bunches)
¼ cup walnut pieces, toasted
¼ cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (in a pinch, use regular, grated parmesan)
3 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil
2 tbsp water
1 large clove of garlic, quartered
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon pepper
Preheat oven to 350°.
Place walnuts on baking sheet and bake for about 8 minutes, or until they’re fragrant and lightly browned, stirring occasionally.
Place all ingredients in food processor and pulse a few times before processing into a smooth paste. Be sure to scrape down sides occasionally.
I was looking for a nice salad to accompany a delicious, rich mac ‘n cheese and I just couldn’t decide what kind to make. Would a green salad be best? Or maybe a potato salad? Potato salads seem a bit too heavy given the mac ‘n cheese. How about a bean salad? It wasn’t long until I found a delicious three bean salad that worked perfectly.
What really makes this three bean salad is the addition of feta cheese. Talk about a great addition! The feta gives it a nice kick. This salad is a wonderful summer accompaniment for meat, pastas, and more.
16 oz can chickpeas, rinsed and drained
16 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
16 oz can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained
½ red pepper, quartered lengthwise and cut into smaller chunks
¼ cup grape tomatoes, quartered
2 ears of cooked corn, kernels removed from cob
½ cup white vinegar
salt and pepper, to taste
¾ cup feta, crumbled
⅓ cup fresh oregano leaves (optional)
Put all of the beans, the red pepper, the tomatoes, and the corn into a large bowl and mix well.
And the vinegar and toss all of it together.
Season with salt and pepper as desired.
Let the mixture sit in the fridge for at least 30 minutes.
Mix in the feta cheese and optionally the fresh oregano just prior to serving.
You never know when you’re going to need candied pecans. They come in handy as a topping on ice cream or on top of yams for any holiday you’d like. This recipe isn’t hard to follow and results in delicious candied pecans.
1 egg white
½ tsp vanilla extract
¼ cup brown sugar
½ tsp cinnamon
¼ tsp ground cloves
½ tsp salt
3 cups pecans
Preheat the oven to 300°F and line a baking sheet (or two) with parchment paper.
In a medium bowl, whisk the egg white until foamy.
Add vanilla, sugar, cinnamon, cloves, and salt to the egg white and whisk until well incorporated.
Add the pecans and mix well, making sure each and every pecan is well coated.
Using a fork, transfer the pecans onto the parchment-lined baking sheet, being sure not to transfer excess mixture with them. Also make sure the pecans are separated on the sheet and do not bunch together.
Bake for 25 minutes, or until golden brown.
Allow them to cool completely, and serve at room temperature. Alternatively, store in a zip lock bag for months at a time.
Borani Esfanaaj is a Persian-style yogurt and spinach dip. Like many Persian dishes, this is a very simple dip that accompanies a number of other dishes wonderfully. We recommend eating it with some lavash and fresh herbs, but you can do whatever you like. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with eating this dip with just white rice.
~12 oz baby spinach (regular spinach will do too, but it’s best to buy the pre-packaged spinach either way)
1 clove garlic, minced and divided into two parts
2 tbsp olive oil
2 small tubs (5.3 oz each) thick, drained yogurt, preferably Greek yogurt (do not use low fat yogurt if you can at all help it)
salt to taste
dried mint for garnish (don’t use fresh mint as a substitute)
Let me start by saying that lamb is an expensive, but delicious meat. Don’t expect to make this dish for cheap.
While this recipe is rather common and easy to make – found mostly in the villages of Greece – it tastes wonderful. If you ever find lamb on sale, I can’t imagine not buying it to make this delicious meal.
½ leg of lamb, bone cut out and cut in portions
2½ pounds of small- to medium-sized Yukon Gold potatoes (about eight)
4 oz of crumbled feta cheese
6 cloves of garlic, crushed
½ teaspoon of oregano
⅓ cup plus 1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups of water
Salt and pepper to taste
Pre-heat the oven to 390°.
Rinse the lamb portions and peel the potatoes.
On a hard surface, wrap a potato in a cloth and crush it with a flat stone – I used a Dutch oven – but not completely. The potatoes should still retain most of their form.
Place the lamb in the center of a Dutch oven, with the potatoes around it.
Spread the garlic, oregano, salt, and pepper evenly over the entire dish.
Add the olive oil.
Add the water. (I’ve forgotten the water and had the dish turn out just fine.)
Cover the dish with aluminum foil.
Place in pre-heated oven for 1 hour.
Remove from oven, turn both the lamb and potatoes over (plastic tongs work best for this) and remove foil.
Spread the feta cheese evenly over the potatoes (optionally, spread it over the lamb as well).
Put back into the oven for 30 minutes. It should color nicely.