Cherry Collard Dolmas (Turkish Collard Leaves Stuffed with Rice, Beans and Fresh Cherries -Visneli Yaprak Sarma)
This has been the summer of cherries.
Local cherries arrived early, so by the beginning of July I had already made Almost Raw Chocolate Banana Crepes with Almond-Coconut Cream and Cherries, then balsamic cherries migrated onto a sandwich with rosemary cashew cheese and arugula, and I pickled a bunch in a five-spice spiked vinegar. I kept on thinking cherry season was over, but they continued to be on sale late into the summer. How can you say no to cherries at 99c/lb?
So, yes, I have yet another cherry recipe.
Earlier this summer, we thought I might have been able to join Rob in New York for a mini-vacation. We researched where we wanted to stay (airBnB!), what we would do (opera!) and what we would eat (Pure Food & Wine!). My favourite raw resto to date, it would have been a nice treat. I even scoured their menu to see what I wanted to order. I found it:
Cauliflower Cous Cous with Sour Cherry Dolmas with pistachio, almond, dried fruits, mint, Moroccan tomato jus
Sounds heavenly, no?
Turns out that when we went to book my airline tickets, we were not able to get the flights we wanted. So for the long weekend, Rob went to New York for work, and I stayed at home.
With a bit of extra time on my hands, I decided to tackle my own cherry dolmas. In retrospect, a raw version would likely have been quicker, but I opted for a more traditional cooked dolma. As traditional as cherry dolmas can be. When I visited Turkey, I was not wowed by dolmas. They were not on my radar. However, traditional dolma recipes typically include savoury spices like cinnamon and allspice, so I was sold. Instead of pine nuts, I used pistachios. Instead of traditional raisins, I used a touch of currants. The majority of the sweetness comes from the cherries.
Instead of a rice-based dish, I beefed it up by including white beans. Doing so made me have a lot more filling than I had initially bargained for, so I scrapped the grape leaves and plucked collards from my garden instead. With a cooked filling, a cooked collard seemed more appropriate, instead of my typical raw collard wraps. Pre-steaming the collard leaves made them much easier to wrap the filling and keep their shape.
The dolmas are simmered in a cherry-infused broth to complete the cooking of the rice. If you cooked your rice all the way through the first time, I think you could save yourself the final cooking step. It was a pretty labour intensive recipe but at least I didn’t have to wrap 100s of dolmas in tiny grape leaves.
In any case, these were so flavourful, they were definitely worth the effort. The rice filling alone was delicious, so if you just want to make that, I understand.
I made the cranberry-lemon-tahini dip for the dolmas but I didn’t find it needed a dip. In fact, the sweet on sweet clashed. If you want something to serve it with, a plain yogurt would be nice.
With all my cherry fodder this summer, Rob came back with a surprise present for me from New York: a cherry pitter!
I know many people had their doubts, but yes, you can travel to Colombia as a vegan! Meat and fish abound on resto menus, but thankfully beans are a common vegan staple which were my savior. Fruits and fruit juices abound, and simple salads are also a common feature. Veggie sides are usually fried plantains, yuca or potatoes. Rice, although white rice, is a plenty.
Because I wanted to minimize the fried resto foods, and continue to eat vegan, Rob and I planned for a successful vegan-friendly trip to Colombia. I thought I’d share with you our strategies for vegan eating in Colombia (and no, Rob did not only eat vegan on the trip, too).
1. Plan Ahead – Book accommodations with refrigerators and kitchens
For general Colombian travel advice, definitely plan ahead. All of our accommodations had fridges available and the majority gave me access to a kitchen, as well. Staying in private rooms in hostels is a great way to get the perks of a hostel (kitchen, fridge, social events) as well as the privacy you want from a hotel room. Our hostel‘s kitchen in Salento was so well-stocked it even had a blender and sandwich press! Definitely the marker of a great hostel.
2. Bring snacks and protein powder
I brought a few meals and snacks with me to tide me over on the plane and after our arrival. See my new favourite non-traditional hummus recipe, below! I also brought some protein powder as an emergency if I needed a meal replacement, but also to add to whatever breakfast may be. Thankfully I was never without a vegan meal so I just used it with breakfast, as per usual.
3. Bring some cooking essentials
Planning on eating leftovers? Bring some containers to hold them. I was really impressed with my collapsible containers which were leak-proof, sturdy and collapsed easily when empty. I also cannot travel without a small paring knife that I protect with a knife case (obviously needs to go in checked baggage). Ziploc bags are also essential for oodles of things. Just make sure you know which bags had your sunscreen and which were holding food. Do not mix.
4. Figure out where you can eat
First, you need to know how to ask for vegan eats which you can find at most restaurants. Happy Cow was also great for locating vegan-friendlier restaurants and health food stores, even if limited in number. Sol del la India was a favourite of ours in Cartagena. I also consulted a few other blogs with vegetarian reviews from Colombian restaurants. Definitely scope out local fruit and vegetable markets as well as grocery stores for other purchases if cooking yourself. The typical Colombian breakfast is coffee/tea/juice, toast, eggs in some form (omelet or scrambled), sometimes an arepa, and fruit. Our B&B in Bogota was kind enough to make oatmeal specifically for me. We ended up cooking our own oatmeal at places that didn’t supply an adequate breakfast.
5. Do a cooking class
We started off our trip in Bogota and as you know, I was really excited about the cooking class. While we needed a Spanish translator (Juan was a vegan, to boot!), we were able to cook with a native Bogotan, in her humble abode that even had fruit trees within her courtyard. This was Dona Elsa’s first vegan cooking class and she was receptive to my requests to make a surplus of food for me to take home with me as leftovers. I was excited to try some new-to-me vegetables prepared ala Colombiano. We ended up making the traditional Colombian salad with avocado, a huge amount of vegetable soup (sancocho without chicken, filled with fava beans, green peas, green beans, squash/pumpkin (auyama), green plantains, carrot, corn, spinach and cilantro), frijoles (Colombian beans), yucca frita (fried yucca), patacones (refried plantains), papa fritas (fried criolle potatoes), fresh lulo juice along with a dessert that I forgot to write down. I was antsy about eating the fried foods but they were great. In fact, these were one of the best meals of the entire trip. The patacones and yucca fritas could not be duplicated elsewhere, in ay resto or when I made them myself in a hostel (I went for a non-stick, low-oil option). Sadly, I know the secret: frying in lots of oil. Twice. Not only was I armed with leftovers, I was now more familiar with the local ingredients and how to prepare them.
Here for the hummus recipe, instead? I don’t blame you…
I don’t know why, but I don’t make hummus on a regular basis. I break it out for parties and when I am travelling. This is currently my favourite non-traditional hummus. It takes a bit more work than your standard hummus, but the results are great. First, you need to saute some shallots (or onion) with rosemary to infuse a small amount of oil for your hummus. Ground pistachios and a touch of tahini are the base for this version that is also spiced with maple syrup and cinnamon. I didn’t think rosemary would pair so well with this, but it was a phenomenal hummus. Sweet, yet savoury. Lighter with the additional water, it isn’t as creamy as a decadent hummus, but you could add more tahini or oil to taste. In short, perfect for me. Enjoy!
Other hummus flavours:
Not only can I get in trouble at grocery stores, I can also get in trouble at garden centres.
It makes sense, because it is like a grocery store with such promise for the future.
Originally, we had planned to keep things relatively simple. We tried out a few plants last year, and knew that our best results were with our herbs in planters. We were also able to harvest beans (snow peas, snap peas and flat beans), lettuce, Swiss chard and kale, although at much lower yields. Carrots – nada! Kohlrabi – nope. Beets- only the chioggia beets grew and they were way too small.. Zucchini- to be fair, we grew it in a very shady part of the garden and it died. Our rhubarb died a horrible death, too.
Our new home has a much smaller garden, but receives a lot more light. I am hopeful we will be able to grow some tasty delights this year. To keep things simple, the herbs would be a definite go, especially since I overwintered them in my kitchen and only had a few casualties (basil, thyme and even the Vietnamese coriander, boo, the last two both perennials). I was going to try my hand at kale again, both with the transplanted kale and with seedlings. After Rob’s mom’s success with dinosaur kale (lacinato kale) from a seedling (and plenty of sun), I was adamant I wanted to try kale from seedlings. I know kale grows easily from seeds, but I figured this could help get the plant bigger and me eating it sooner!
Locating kale seedlings is easier said than done. Not only did I not want the standard kale, I wanted heirloom kale. Home Depot? No. Canadian Tire? No. A local independent grocer had the normal curly kale, though. I decided to check in with the closest garden centre: Caledonia Garden Centre. Turns out they had just picked up some kale to sell. Lacinato kale and the normal curly kale. Perfect!
With my best intentions, I swear, I headed off to buy some lacinato kale. I perused their collection… next to the lacinato kale, they had redbor kale. I picked up both. They also had a curly kale and bought it just for fun. Then I spotted the collard section. The regular collards were only a $1; in it went… and then I perused the section a bit more…. they had heirloom collards! Vates collards, which are a bit more compact with an earlier maturation date. And Portuguese collards (couve). Never even heard of it but they looked a bit more frilly and white in their mugshot on the label. I was excited just to find lacinato kale but now I was ecstatic!! New veggies to explore! I resisted the Swiss chard since I had seeds at home to plant. Then I moseyed through the rest of the veggies…. and while I had no plans to buy squash, when I saw they had KABOCHA (!) squash seedlings, I impulsively threw them in my now overflowing tray of seedlings. At only $1.25 for 4 plants, it was an experiment I was willing to try.
When I got home, I had to investigate how to grow collards and kabocha squash! Where would they fit in my garden?
Thankfully squash can be grown in containers, so that’s where I put my squash. I am not sure where the 20 foot vines will go but if they make it that far, I will deal with it then!
The collards and kale have all been interspersed in the front garden, amongst the perennial flowers. I am hoping they become balmy ornamental greens throughout the summer. Hopefully the sun cooperates and we can feed them properly. Cross your fingers for a summer of green overload!
Looking for a way to use some greens? This is a bulgur pilaf salad with some Swiss chard sneaked in.. while it may call for a bunch of Swiss chard, it wilts down and makes you wonder why you didn’t add more.
Courtesy of Melissa Clark, I tweaked her Bulgur Pilaf with Dried Apricots from Cook This Now. Like my Middle Eastern-Inspired Olive Oil Granola, this bulgur salad is flavoured with cinnamon, dried apricots and pistachios. With a nod to my favourite bulgur salad, a drizzle of pomegranate molasses and pomegranate arils make this salad more interesting with their tangy crunch. This is actually a template for a great salad: mix and match with what you have in store. Don’t have apricots and pistachios? Use dried cranberries and almonds instead… or try raisins and walnuts.. Salads need not be stressful!
Nope, this is neither vegan nor free of refined sugars and flours.
But it wasn’t for me to eat.
It was a gift Rob and I made for my Dad.
This weekend, we travelled to Ottawa to celebrate his upcoming big 6-0 birthday.
Homemade gifts always appeal to me because you can taste the love in every bite.
My Dad adores baklava, but I decided to make him a different Turkish treat for his birthday. Not that he would balk at a repeat of baklava (I just gave him a batch for Father’s Day), but I wanted to try something new. There must be something wrong with me…. I can’t make the same recipe too often! Even if I don’t eat it myself, it would be too boring to prepare it a second time! Ack!
(But for some reason, I made Roasted Cauliflower with Dukkah and 15-Minute Zippy Garlic-Basil Marinara with Zucchini Noodles for everyone this weekend without problems.. AND to positive reviews).
I consulted the same Turkish cookbook, The Sultan’s Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan, for another possible dessert. I picked out a few contenders, but was fixated on the Nightingale’s Nests which as you can see, are cute nests of phyllo dough filled with walnuts and topped with pistachios and a not-too-sweet syrup. Basically all the same ingredients in baklava, just in a different shape. After watching this video, it honestly looked less tedious than baklava. I just needed to find a thick stick first.
The Turkish rolling pin, or oklava, is a rod-shape and quite thin. Ozan suggested using a dowel from the hardware store in a pinch. Rob and I got creative, though. We found an old clothes hanger with a thick base and wrapped it in wax paper. It worked like a charm!
Once you figure out the technique and have a good oklava substitute, this is easy to make. Baklava is easy, too, just tedious, especially when you layer 2 packages of phyllo dough. But dare I suggest that this looks even more remarkable than baklava? You’d think we slaved in the kitchen, but we know better than that! It is a good thing my Dad doesn’t pay much attention to my blog.
Alphonso mango season has arrived.
Last year, Rob and I devoured the Indian Alphonsos as soon as they arrived in Little India. Succulent, sweet, smooth and sweating with juice (sap? cider? to go with my alliterations..), this is one of the best mangoes out there (although, no, I have yet to try Pakistani or Filipino mangoes). Ataulfos are my second favourite.
Rob jumped at the chance to get a crate of mangoes last weekend and shared his bounty with me. I mean, you could easily just eat the Alphonso plain, in all its glory, but I recounted all my favourite mango recipes from last year: Thai Sticky Rice with Mango, Mango Shrikhand and Coconut Rice Pudding with a Mango Puree. I was brought to the tropics just thinking about it.
Mango Shrikhand, man that was good. A mango and cardamom-infused yogurt is topped with mango and pistachios. Sounds simple, but works so well.
However, I am not eating yogurt right now, so I figured I would try to merry those similar flavours together for breakfast. With my morning oats, no less. This was how Mango Pistachio Steel Cut Oatmeal (aka Mango Shrikhand Oatmeal) was born.
Unlike my previous Mango Oatmeal, spiced with cinnamon and nutmeg, I did not cook the mangoes in the oatmeal. I consider the Alphonso mango too precious to let it disintegrate. If I had an Ataulfo, then I’d certainly throw that in the pot, though. I let the mango shine overtop the oatmeal, sprinkled with pistachios. With the creamy base with cardamom and saffron, this was a delicious breakfast.
I will not delve into the debate of where baklava originated because it is a common dessert across the Middle East. However, I will tell let you know that I play favourites: I like Turkish baklava the most.
Before I visited Turkey, I did not like the oftentimes sickeningly sweet walnut and phyllo dough pastry drenched in honey. When I went to Turkey, though, I was hooked after our first bite the night we arrived. We sampled baklava at nearly every restaurant we encountered it on the dessert menu. I wanted to try a variety of Turkish desserts, but my dad only wanted baklava (I never would have discovered kunefe if I only stuck to baklava!). It was never tooth-aching sweet. It was nice and light, usually with a pistachio filling. There was a sweet syrup but it complemented the pastry as opposed to clashing and overpowering the dish. It wasn’t like anything I have had in Canada.
One of the greatest things about baking yourself is that you can recreate these dishes at home. No longer are you a victim to honey baklava, which reigns in Greek and Persian stores. And while it may seem difficult, baklava is easy to make at home. It is time consuming, but very straightforward. The bad news is that most recipes make a lot of baklava, so you will have to share this treat with family and friends. If they weren’t your friends before, they will be now! Is that such a bad thing after all?
I made sure to get a baklava recipe from a Turkish cookbook and the recipe in The Sultan’s Kitchen by Ozcan Ozan fit the bill well. It was exactly how I remembered the best baklava in Turkey, except the filling was with walnuts. I remember pistachios being a phenomenal filling for baklava so I will try that next time (update- I have made it multiple times, and pistachios are hands-down my favourite filling!). Ozan specifically mentions to use clarified butter which is simple to make at home. It is an important step to make sure your pastry layers are nice, light and fluffy and to reduce any sogginess that can come with the milk solids. It also allows your baklava to have a longer life at room temperature. Personally, they were gobbled up so fast, I didn’t have to worry about that.
Hi. My name is Janet. And I am a hoarder.
I like to buy things on sale. I like to buy things for dishes I plan on making. As such, I have purchased seemingly obscure ingredients and spices for ethnic dishes.
I try to cook with fresh ingredients, so my fridge is usually packed with food and my freezer is filled to the brim. My excuse is that I have a condo-sized fridge, which I feel is not much bigger than a beer fridge. One year ago, this is what my fridge looked like, when I was profiled on blogto.com.
Since I have a tiny kitchen in a tiny apartment with limited storage, I have kitchen appliances and food stashed in each room.
I realize this can be a problem, but I still begged my mom to bring me more fresh rhubarb from her backyard. I used the last batch to make a sinfully delicious baked rhubarb and apples with earl grey tea, cardamom and orange zest, a savoury Indian-spiced lentil and rhubarb stew and rhubarb baked oatmeal. And I still had more recipes to try…. so it was justified to ask for more, right?
I figured I would also try to help clear some room from my freezer when I saw the blueberry rhubarb crisp with a pistachio crust from Gourmet (June 1999). I knew I had frozen blueberries, so I was off to the races. But then when I measured them out, I was a cup short. Oh no! What to do?! Luckily, fruit abounds in my freezer, so I had to decide between mango and cranberries. In the end, I used cranberries to add to the blueberry/rhubarb mixture. And you know what? It was perfect. Sometimes the wacky impromptu substitutions work well!
This seemingly odd combination of tart, soft baked rhubarb with not-so-sweet blueberries and even more tart cranberries was wonderful. The pistachio crisp topping had just the right amount of sweetness for the base and since I squished the topping together, there were nice hearty globs of topping for the fruit filling. The only thing I would do differently next time is increase the fruit filling.
This was delicious slightly cooled from the oven as is, but the leftovers were perfect with vanilla yogurt the next day. The warm crisp with lightly melted vanilla ice cream is an equally decadent treat. Dessert? Breakfast? Sometimes I can’t decide.
I had been hearing great things about the olive oil granola originally posted by the New York Times, and also spotted on many other food blogs. People rave about homemade granola, and then there’s raving about granola! Olive oil granola has a fan club!
I love eating granola with Greek yogurt and fruit for breakfast, and I am constantly trying new granola recipes. Homemade granola is great because you can modify the flavours to suit your palate. Now that I have started to dabble in Middle Eastern cuisine, do you think this could be considered a Middle Eastern-inspired granola, with its added fixins? I love dried cranberries, coconut and almonds, which is why they were included in my previous granola recipes, but I rocked the boat to include Turkish dried apricots, Iranian green raisins and pistachios instead. It was delicious!
So what is so great about this olive oil granola? It achieves the perfect balance of salty and sweet. I usually don’t add so much salt to my granola, but the salty tang complemented the sweet aspects of the granola perfectly. I also loved the flavour and textural contrasts with the plump apricots and green raisins, with the soft yet crunchy pistachios, combined with the sweet maple syrup and coconut and it was all tempered with a salty kick.
Perfect with yogurt, but also great on its own as a bit-sized snack. Your test will be when you decide to stop munching on the addictive granola!
While in Turkey, I had wonderful Turkish rice pudding (Sütlaç) that was silky smooth and sprinkled with cinnamon. I never liked rice pudding as a kid (sorry Mom!) but can I blame that on my own bland taste buds as a child or the rice pudding? My brother loved the stuff, so I don’t know.. In any case, this, my friends, is a delicious grown-up rice pudding. I approve.
After making the Mango Sticky Rice and Mango Shrikhand, I decided that mango, coconut and cardamom work really well together, so I rearranged them a bit to make this wonderfully delicious (and easy!) coconut rice pudding that was topped with a mango puree. The coconut rice pudding was delicious on its own, with flavours bursting from the coconut and cardamom with the creamy rice speckling the pudding. I mashed half a mango and added it on top of the pudding, which was great, but certainly do not hesitate to make this pudding without the mango. You can eat it plain or top with other fruit – banana, raspberries, kiwi, etc. The nuts are totally optional as well. I used chopped macadamia nuts but think toasted pistachios would have been better, or simply not use any nuts at all. It can be served cold or warm. Personally, I couldn’t wait long enough before diving in, so I had it warm… Eating it chilled would be just as delicious and perfect for a cool summer day.
Mango shrikhand is an Indian dessert, popular in Gurjarat (incidentally where mangoes are grown). Cool, strained yogurt is mixed with cardamom, saffron, sugar and (in this version) pistachios as well. It is topped with the sinfully juicy mango slices with a sprinkle of chopped pistachios. The Alphonso mangoes, utterly sweet, really shine in this dish.
This recipe is adapted from Closet Cooking, and is really, really good. I know it is important to have the proper consistency of yogurt, which is why people recommend to drain it in a cheesecloth overnight, but I used Greek-style yogurt instead. It was thinned with the additional ingredients. Definitely taste as you go, adjusting the sweetness based on your ingredients.
Alphonso mangoes are arguably the sweetest mango you can find. They are imported from India, and only recently, in 2007, did the United States lift their 18-year import ban. The recent volcanic eruption in Iceland caused a glut of Alphonso mangoes at the Gerrard India Bazaar in Toronto but I found some at the Cash and Carry over the weekend. They are definitely worth the extra price as they are just bursting with juice. Every time I cut one, I did it over my dish to catch all the runaway juices, and then proceed to lick my fingers clean as to not miss any of the sweet mango goodness.
I had wanted to make a citrus salad for a while. I only recently discovered how wonderful navel and Cara Cara oranges taste. You see, I never liked oranges. Clementines, yes. I like orange juice and the orange flavour, but some oranges are just no fun. I just guess I never met the right one. That is until a friend shared a Cara Cara orange with me. Navels and Cara Caras are sweet and light. Granted, I still have to pick a time to get my nails pulpy from peeling the orange, but at least now I enjoy what is inside. So which citrus salad to make? Spoiled by so many choices, I eventually settled on making a citrus salad with Iranian green raisins, pistachios and a cinnamon yogurt dressing adapted from Green Kitchen Stories. It had a Middle Eastern feel to it and featured a sweet yogurt dressing, which I absolutely adored in a previous chickpea and spinach salad. It was a snap to put together and tasted great.
A friend claimed this wasn’t really cooking! Well, technically, no, but it is still a dish to devour! Enjoy all the benefits of citrus with the chewy raisins, crunchy pistachios (next time I will definitely chop them, or smash them with a fry pan into chunks), refreshing mint and the sweet but spicy cinnamon yogurt dressing. I used my China Cassia cinnamon which elevated the heat for my virgin spice palate. Enjoy!