Healthy Mediterranean Cooking at Home

Category Archives: Honey

Have you ever ordered fish cooked in a banana leaf wrap in a restaurant? Delicious; and so I thought I would try making such a dish at home.

Banana leaves are very inexpensive to buy – a few dollars for a large pack. Banana leaves come in large, flat plastic bags at your local Asian market or supermarket (check the freezer if you can’t find them on the shelf or in the produce section).

Banana leaves can be used for baking anything “wrapped”, in the same way, you would use tin foil or parchment paper. However, banana leaves are porous (unlike tin foil), so some of the “sauce” or juices from your food item may seep through. It’s, therefore, a good idea to place your banana leaf “packets” in a glass casserole dish, or a tray that has sides on it, so that the juices don’t drip to the bottom of your oven.

Banana leaves serve many purposes, from adding flavor to foods cooked inside them, to simply being used as a colorful and exotic background for serving plates and party platters.

Banana leaves contain large amounts of polyphenols that are natural antioxidants. These are found in many plant-based foods and green tea. Food served on the banana leaves absorbs the polyphenols which are said to prevent many lifestyle diseases. They are also said to have anti-bacterial properties that can possibly kill the germs in food. The leaf wrapping protects delicate fillets from harsh, dry heat.

You can also use banana leaves as a kind of “mat” for barbecuing fragile fillets of fish, smaller shrimp, or vegetables that have a danger of falling through the grill. Simply lay a piece of banana leaf on your grill, then cook your food items on top of it (as you would with tin foil). The banana leaf will turn bright green at first, then brown as you cook. It will give your food a hint of flavor that is very pleasant.

To store banana leaves, simply wrap them in plastic and place them in a ziplock plastic bag and keep in the freezer. Banana leaves only require about 30 minutes to thaw, so this is a convenient way to keep them fresh.

Use scissors to cut the banana leaves into the size you need, depending on your recipe. For wrapping and baking food items, you will need a large “sheet” or leaf. Place enough for one serving in the center of the leaf, then fold like a handkerchief to make a square packet.

Banana leaves are also excellent for steaming, as it allows the steam to penetrate the food inside or on top of it. You can use banana leaves to line a steamer or to wrap your food and then steam it.

Secure banana leaf “packets” with kitchen twine. Or simply place the packet “seam-side” down to keep it from opening.

Caribbean Inspired Fish Wrapped in Banana Leaves

Serves 2. Double the ingredients for 4 servings.

Ingredients

6 navel orange slices, rind removed
2 (6-oz.) sustainable skinless white fish fillets (such as snapper, halibut, or sea bass)
1/2 tablespoon olive oil
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground red pepper
1/4 teaspoon ground ginger
1/8 teaspoon ground nutmeg
2 (12-in.-square) fresh or thawed frozen banana leaf pieces
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro

Directions

Preheat oven to 400°F. Place the thawed banana leaves in hot water to soak for 10 minutes. Drain and place on a kitchen towel.

Coat fish fillets with oil and place them in the center of each banana leaf. Stir together salt, coriander, cinnamon, red pepper, ginger, and nutmeg; sprinkle evenly over the tops of the fish fillets. Place 3 orange slices on top of each fish fillet.

Fold each banana leaf piece to enclose the fish. Place packets, folded side down, on a baking sheet or in a glass baking dish. Bake at 400°F until fish is done, about 15-20 minutes. Unwrap and transfer fillets and orange slices onto serving plates. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired.

Wild Rice, Almond and Mushroom Pilaf

Ingredients

Rice

1 tablespoon olive oil
2 cups chicken broth
1 cup Lundberg wild rice blend
Salt to taste

Pilaf

1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
Half a red onion, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
6 oz mushrooms, trimmed and chopped
1 chopped celery stalk
2 tablespoons toasted almonds, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoon dry sherry
1 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 cup chopped flat-leaf parsley
1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
Freshly ground pepper to taste

Directions

Bring the broth, rice, oil, and salt to a boil in a large saucepan. When the liquid returns to the boil, lower the heat, cover and simmer 40 -50 minutes until the rice is tender and the liquid has evaporated. Set aside.

Heat the oil over medium heat in a large nonstick skillet, and add the onion, garlic, celery, and mushrooms. Cook, stirring often, until tender, and the mushrooms have softened about 10 minutes. Stir in the cooked rice and the remaining ingredients. Cook, stirring until the sherry has evaporated. Taste and adjust seasonings. Serve with the fish.

Honey- Baked Squash

Serves 4

Ingredients

1 large acorn squash (1 1/2 pounds), seeds removed cut into 8 lengthwise wedges
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 tablespoon honey

Directions

Preheat the oven to 400°F. Arrange the squash wedges on a foil-lined baking sheet.
Drizzle the olive oil over the squash wedges.


Sprinkle the squash with the cinnamon, salt, and pepper and drizzle with the honey. Bake, uncovered, for 45-50 minutes, or until browned at the edges and very tender when pierced with a fork.


I am fortunate to live near a farm that grows these beautiful, round Italian heirloom eggplants. This variety is a plump, tear-drop- shaped eggplant with rosy lavender skin and alabaster flesh. The meaty and firm yet tender flesh has a delicate mild flavor and a creamy consistency with no bitterness. Rosa Bianca has few seeds, making it the perfect variety for grilling and baking.

Baked Eggplant Stacks

Ingredients

1 Rosa Bianca Eggplant, about 1 ½ lb.
½ cup flour
3 egg whites beaten with 1 tablespoon of water
2 cups Italian seasoned Panko crumbs
1 large beefsteak or heirloom tomato, about 1 lb
6 Fresh Mozzarella slices
6 basil leaves
1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt
¼ cup Extra-virgin olive oil

Directions

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Pour the ¼ cup olive oil into a large rimmed rectangular sheet pan.
Peel the eggplant and slice into six 1/2-inch-thick circles.
Dip the eggplant slices into the flour, then the egg white mixture and finally the crumbs, tossing around to make sure the crumbs adhere. Place the breaded eggplant on a plate and refrigerate for an hour or two.


Put the sheet pan with the oil in the oven for 5 minutes. Remove from the oven (with oven mitts) and arrange the eggplant on the hot pan. Bake for 10 minutes, then turn the pieces over and bake another 10 minutes or until they’re golden on the other side.
Reduce oven temperature to 375 degrees. Put a tomato slice on top of each eggplant slice, then a basil leaf on each and top each with a slice of mozzarella. Return the pan to the oven and bake until the cheese melts.

 

Tomatoes with Herbed Ricotta

Use beautiful heirloom tomatoes that are in season now along with lots of fresh herbs.

For two servings:

Ingredients

1 cup whole milk ricotta cheese
1 scallion, white and green parts, minced
1 tablespoon minced fresh dill
1 tablespoon minced fresh chives
1 tablespoon minced fresh parsley
Freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, minced\
1 large heirloom tomato, about 1 lb
1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves, plus extra for garnish
Fleur de sel

Directions

In a medium bowl, combine ricotta, scallions, dill, chives, parsley, garlic and 1/2 teaspoon black pepper. Set aside for up to 30 minutes.
Slice the tomato into ¼ inch thick slices. You should get 4 slices. Place on paper towels and sprinkle lightly with salt. Let drain for 30 minutes. When ready to serve, place the tomato slices on a serving plate. Drizzle with olive oil. Spread ¼ of the ricotta mixture over each tomato slice. Sprinkle with reserved basil and fleur de sel, and serve at room temperature.

Old Fashioned Vidalia Onion Pie

Vidalia onions are in season now. They are a sweet, mild onion grown in Georgia. Vidalias can be used in place of any yellow onion, but their flavor is so special that you can really let them be the star of the show, such as this Vidalia Onion tart.

One 9-inch pastry crust:
1 1/2 cups All-Purpose Flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/3 cup vegetable oil
4 tablespoons water

Directions

Whisk together flour, salt, sugar, and baking powder. This can be done right in the pie pan if you like. Whisk together the oil and water, then pour over the dry ingredients. Stir with a fork until the dough is evenly moistened. Pat the dough across the bottom of the pie pan and up the sides. A flat-bottomed measuring cup can help you make the bottom even. Press the dough up the sides of the pan with your fingers, and flute the top. Fill and bake.

Filling Ingredients:
2 large Vidalia onions, diced
1/4 cup butter
8 oz cheddar cheese, freshly grated
1 tablespoon flour
1 teaspoon salt, divided
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
3 eggs, beaten well
1 cup whole milk

Directions

Saute the onions in butter over medium-low heat, stirring constantly until golden brown. This will take 40 to 45 minutes. Add 1 tablespoon flour, ½ teaspoon salt, and cayenne pepper.

Preheat oven to 350°F Line a baking sheet and place the pastry-lined pie pan on the baking sheet to help with transferring in and out of the oven.

Spread half the cheddar cheese over the bottom crust and top the cheese with the cooked onions.
In a measuring cup, whisk the eggs together with the milk and ½ teaspoon of salt, then pour it over the onion mixture. Top with the remaining cheddar cheese.


Bake for 50 minutes, or until golden brown and set.

Plum Crostata

Plums are generally in season somewhere in the United States from the end of May all the way into October. Not only are they good for eating out of hand, but they are an excellent fruit for baking, such as this crostata recipe below. Crostata is the Italian term, and Galette is the French term for a rustic dessert that consists of a rolled out piece of pastry dough and the edges of the dough are folded in about an inch or so over the filling.

Ingredients

Pie pastry for one 9-inch pie
2 tablespoons orange marmalade
3 plums
1 tablespoon honey
3 tablespoons sliced almonds
1 tablespoon cream
2 tablespoons coarse sugar

Directions

Slice the plums into thin wedges.
Roll pie dough out to a 12-inch circle on a sheet of parchment paper. Slide the parchment onto a sheet pan. Spread marmalade on the center of the tart; then fan around the wedges of plums, leaving a 1-inch border. Fold the pie crust dough edge over onto the plums.

Drizzle honey over plums, brush pie crust dough edge with cream and sprinkle with coarse sugar. Bake at 375 degrees F until fruit is tender and crust is cooked on the underside, about 25 to 30 minutes.


Tip: The baking time will vary depending on how many cookie sheets are in the oven at the same time. I have found that if two cookie sheets are in the oven, the cookies below take 20 minutes. If one sheet is in the oven then the cookies take 15 minutes to bake.

Honey Oatmeal Raisin Cookies

Makes 2 dozen

Ingredients

3 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1/2 cup brown sugar
1/4 cup honey
1 egg
1 tablespoon water
1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
1 1⁄2 cups rolled oats, not instant
1 cup raisins

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper.
Using a mixer with the paddle attachment, mix together the butter, brown sugar, honey, egg, and water thoroughly.
Sift together the dry ingredients then stir in the oats. Add the dry ingredients to the wet mixture and combine. Stir in the raisins.


Drop by teaspoonfuls onto the cookie sheet. Bake 15-20 minutes, switching the pans on the racks after 10 minutes. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a wire rack. Keep in an airtight container or freeze.

Peanut Butter-Chocolate Chip Cookies

Makes 3 dozen

Ingredients

1/2 cup very soft room temperature unsalted butter
1/2 cup natural creamy peanut butter
1/4 cup granulated sugar
2/3 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
11/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup of chocolate chips

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Line two cookie sheets with parchment paper. The butter should sit on the counter for a few hours to get very soft.

Beat the butter with the peanut butter in an electric mixer until smooth. Add brown sugar and granulated sugar and mix until creamy.
Beat in vanilla, egg, baking soda, and salt. Mix in the flour, a ½ cup at a time, until the cookie dough comes together. Stir in chocolate chips.
Using a cookie scoop drop cookie dough balls onto prepared cookie sheets. Bake cookies for 15-20 minutes, switching pans on the oven racks after 10 minutes. Cool on the pan for 5 minutes and then move to a wire rack.
Store in an airtight container for up to 3 days or freeze.


The Mediterranean countries include France, Spain, Italy, Greece and Portugal along the north; Turkey, Syria, Lebanon and Israel on the east; and the African countries of Egypt, Libya, Algeria, Morocco and Tunisia on the south. The Mediterranean countries utilize many of the same ingredients but each country has a unique way of creating recipes with those same ingredients. So far in this series, I have written about Mediterranean cuisine in general and about the countries of Portugal, Spain, France and Italy. This series continues with the country of Greece.

Plagia, Ikaria Island, North-Eastern Aegean Islands

Before it became known as a “Blue Zone”—a region of the world where people tend to live unusually long and healthy lives—the island of Ikaria, Greece, was unknown to most Americans. Ikaria is where the majority of the people live to be well into their 90’s.

In the past few years, Ikaria has received considerable attention from scientists and journalists who want to learn the secrets of its long-living residents. Food clearly plays a large role in the Ikarians’ longevity: The Mediterranean diet they follow has been linked to lower rates of cancer, obesity, Alzheimer’s disease, and—most recently—heart disease. Although, we, Americans, can’t adopt all aspects of the Greek-island lifestyle, we can incorporate some of the eating patterns and dietary traditions practiced there. And, the best part of “eating like a Greek” is  that the food is delicious.

Ikarians regularly dine on potatoes, greens, olives and seasonal vegetables. Vegetables are a big part of every meal and they are prepared in a healthy way—served raw in a salad or roasted with olive oil, rather than fried.

The majority of people in Greece eat a salad as an appetizer before the main course. This way, their appetite is significantly reduced by healthy ingredients.

Shellfish and fish are abundant in their cuisine, all of which tastes great over pasta with lemon and olive oil or in a souvlaki-style flatbread wrap with vegetables. Ikarians also eat smarter snacks—like raw vegetables and protein-rich dips made from Greek yogurt, beans or lentils.

Ikarians typically have a late morning breakfast comprised of goat’s milk, yogurt and or cheese, fruit, herbal tea or coffee, whole grain bread and local honey. At lunch, salads made of beans, legumes and potatoes, along with cooked fresh garden vegetables are standard fare and prepared with generous amounts of olive oil. Locally-caught fish may also be served and Ikarian red wine typically accompanies the meal. Meat is eaten just a few times per month. Ikarians eat a late lunch and it is usually followed by an afternoon nap, a practice that many Ikarians still follow and which results in a restful and stress free rest of the day. Quiet leisurely late afternoons and a heart-healthy routine greatly reduces the risk for heart disease. A light dinner of bread, olives, vegetables and wine is followed by evening visits with neighbors before bedtime.

Ikaria is the Mediterranean Diet in all its aspects, including the ways in which locally produced fresh, seasonal, home-cooked food and community are all integrated in ways that support physical, emotional/ mental health, relationships and the environment.

“Eat Like a Greek”

Greek Lentil Soup

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Servings: 6-8

Ingredients

  • 2 large red onions, coarsely chopped, about 2 cups (500 mL)
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 medium garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 pound (500 g) small brown lentils
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) chopped or pureed tomatoes
  • 4 fresh sage leaves
  • 2 sprigs dried oregano
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 fresh or dried whole chile pepper or crushed red pepper flakes to taste
  • 1/2 cup (125 mL) extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 1/4 cup (60 mL) red wine vinegar
  • Raw red or white onion for serving

Directions

Coarsely chop one of the onions. Place in a large, heavy pot, sprinkle with a little salt and cook, covered, over very low heat until tender, about 6-8 minutes. Add the minced garlic and stir.

Rinse the lentils in a colander. Add the lentils, tomatoes, sage, oregano, bay leaf and chile pepper to the pot, and toss all together for a few minutes over low heat.

Pour in enough water to cover the contents of the pot by 3 inches. Raise heat to medium, bring to a boil, reduce heat to low and simmer, partially covered, for one hour, or until very tender.

Season to taste with salt. Pour in the olive oil and vinegar just before serving.

To serve: Remove the bay leaf, oregano and sage leaves and discard. Slice the remaining onion. Sprinkle a few onion slices over the top of each soup portion. Drizzle in additional olive oil and vinegar if desired.

Briam – Baked Vegetables in Olive Oil (Island of Ikaria-Greece)

FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Chef Bill Bradley, R.D.

Briam is an oven baked dish of fresh vegetables, herbs, olive oil, and an optional feta cheese. It is one of the most classic dishes of Greece.

Serves 6

Ingredients

  • 2 small or 1 large eggplant, cut into large, thick strips
  • 4 small or 2 large potatoes, peeled and cut into large pieces
  • 3-4 small zucchini, ends cut off and cut into large pieces
  • 2 onions, cut in half
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into large pieces
  • 1 orange bell pepper, cut into large pieces
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 1 bunch dill, stems removed and chopped
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup feta, crumbled

Directions

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F.

In a large Dutch oven or baking dish, mix together all the ingredients except the feta cheese. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil.

Bake for 1 hour and stir. Re-cover and bake for another hour. Remove the baking dish from the oven, stir in the feta cheese and serve immediately.

Rosemary and Olive Focaccia

FOODS OF CRETE COOKBOOK, recipe and photo by Koula Barydakis

Ingredients

  • 4 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 tablespoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon oregano
  • 1 tablespoon sugar
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 2 cups warm water
  • 2/3 cups Kalamata olives, pitted
  • 2 tablespoons dried or fresh rosemary, chopped

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Mix flour, yeast, oregano, sugar, salt, olive oil and water in a bowl. Knead until the dough is soft (at least 5 minutes).

Cover with a warm, moist towel and put in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (about an hour).

Spread dough on a baking (cookie) tray, pressing lightly so that it is flat and even.

Oil the dough. Make little cavities throughout the top of the dough by pressing down with your fingers.

Place olives and rosemary in the cavities.

Bake at 350 degrees F for 1 hour. Serve hot.

Chicken Salad Greek Style

Recipe and photo from GAEA.

Ingredients

  • 2 skinless, boneless chicken breasts
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2 cup bite-sized broccoli florets
  • 2 small fennel bulbs, thinly sliced
  • 1 orange, segmented
  • 6 cherry tomatoes, halved
  • 1 avocado, sliced
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Dressing:

  • 2 tablespoons plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons balsamic vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon chopped chives

Directions

Using a rolling pin, glass jar or mallet, pound and flatten the chicken breasts to an even thickness. Season all sides with salt and pepper.

Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat. Once heated, sauté the chicken breasts until golden brown, about 1 minute each side.

Reduce heat to low and cover for 10 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and let the chicken rest, covered, for an additional 10 minutes.

Slice thinly.

Bring a small pot of water to a boil. Add the broccoli florets and cook until slightly softened, about 1 minute.

Place the fennel, oranges, cherry tomatoes and avocado to a large salad bowl.

Mix all of the dressing ingredients together. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Add the chicken slices to the salad bowl. Drizzle dressing on top and gently toss all of the ingredients together. Serve.

Baked Seafood Orzo with Kalamata Olives

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Serves 6

Orzo is one of the most popular Greek pasta shapes. In Greek, it’s called kritharaki.

Directions

  • Salt
  • 1 pound orzo
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • 1 large red onion, finely chopped
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 3 cups chopped tomatoes (good quality canned are also fine)
  • Pinch of hot sauce or hot pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cup white wine, plus one cup if using whole, unshelled mussels
  • 2/3 cup pitted Kalamata olives
  • 2 pounds mussels in their shell, or 2 ½ cups shelled, frozen mussels, defrosted
  • 2 cups cleaned, shelled small fresh or frozen and defrosted shrimp
  • 1/2 cup chopped fresh oregano
  • 1/2 chop chopped fresh parsley

Directions

Preheat oven to 350F / 175C.

Bring a pot of water to a rolling boil and salt generously. Add the orzo and simmer until al dente. It should be a little underdone.

Drain, transfer back to the hot pot and toss with 2 tablespoons olive oil.

While the orzo is boiling start the sauce:

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large, wide pot or deep skillet and cook the onion over medium heat until wilted and translucent, about 8 minutes. Stir occasionally.

Add 3 of the 4 chopped garlic cloves and stir.

Pour in the tomatoes. Bring to a boil and add the wine. Simmer until the alcohol has cooked off.

Add 1 cup of hot water, the star anise and hot sauce or hot pepper flakes, and season with salt and pepper.

Cook the sauce over medium heat for 15 minutes, until slightly thickened. Add the olives to the sauce five minutes before removing the pan from the heat.

While the sauce is simmering, prepare the seafood:

If using mussels in the shell, make sure they are cleaned and well-washed.

Steam them in two inches of wine in a wide pot with the lid closed, over high heat, until they open.

You can add herbs or garlic if you want to the steaming liquid, before adding the mussels.

Remove and strain in a fine-mesh sieve, reserving the liquid.

Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in the same pot and add the shrimp and remaining garlic.

If you are using shelled mussels that have been defrosted, drain them and add them to the shrimp.

Stir over medium heat until the shrimp start to turn pink. Remove.

Toss the mussels and shrimp, the reserved steaming liquid, and the pan juices from lightly sautéeing the shrimp into the tomato sauce.

Stir in the oregano and parsley. Remove the star anise.

Oil a large baking dish, preferably ovenproof glass or ceramic. Place the orzo in the baking dish and mix in the sauce thoroughly.

Pour in any remaining olive oil.

Bake, covered, for about 25 to 30 minutes, or until the orzo is fully cooked. Remove, cool slightly and serve.

Tahini-Walnut Phyllo Flutes

Recipe and photo by Chef Diane Kochilas

Serves 12

Ingredients

  • 2 cups tahini
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 1 to 1 ½ cups water
  • 3 cups finely ground walnuts
  • 2 teaspoons cinnamon
  • 1 pound phyllo dough, thawed and at room temperature
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin Greek olive oil
  • Greek honey for serving

Directions

Whip together the tahini and sugar at high speed in the bowl of an electric mixer until creamy, about 5 minutes.

As you whip the mixture, drizzle in the water. It should end up being the consistency of peanut butter.

Using a wooden spoon or whisk, stir in the cinnamon and walnuts.

Preheat the oven to 350F/170C. Lightly oil two sheet pans.

Open the phyllo and place horizontally in front of you.

Cut three stacks of three-inch strips and keep them covered with a kitchen towel and a damp towel on top.

Take the first strip, oil lightly. Place a second strip on top and oil that, too.

Place a tablespoon of the filling on the bottom center of the strip, fold in the sides, and then roll up to form a tight cylinder.

Place seam-side down on the baking sheet. Repeat with the remaining ingredients until everything is used up.

Bake the flutes for 8 – 12 minutes, until golden. Remove and cool slightly.

To serve: Drizzle with honey.

You can store the cooled pastries in tins in a cool dry place for up to 5 days.


People rarely associate Judaism with Italy, however, Jewish traders built one of the first synagogues outside of the Middle East in Ostia Antica (near Rome) during the second century BC. With time the Jewish population grew and historians have calculated that by the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) there were more than 50,000 Jews living in Rome and dozens of Jewish communities scattered throughout Italy.

There are differences in what is considered Kosher in various Jewish traditions. For example, the Ashkenazim consider rice to be chametz, or leavened, and therefore forbid it, while allowing chocolate, cheese and other dairy products. The Italkim and Sephardim instead allow rice, but consider chocolate and dairy products to be chametz, and thus forbidden.

Jewish cuisine through the centuries influenced modern-day Italian cuisine. Wild radicchio flavored with garlic, herb salads, omelettes, pies made with chard, spinach, leeks, marinated cabbage, turnips, eggplant, artichokes, fava beans, polenta chestnuts and raisins are just some of the ingredients contributed by the Jewish immigrants.

Here are some recipes suitable for Passover with Italian Jewish influences.

Tomato Soup with Rice

Ingredients

1 large onion, quartered and thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped celery
1 medium carrot, slice
1 tablespoon olive oil
26 oz container Italian chopped tomatoes (such as Pomi- no salt or sugar added)
8 cups chicken broth, divided
3 tablespoons uncooked long-grain rice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
Freshly ground black pepper, to taste
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh Italian flat leaf parsley

Directions

In a Dutch oven or stock pot, sauté onion, celery and carrots in oil until softened but not browned.

Add the chopped tomatoes and 1 cup of the chicken broth. Simmer for 15 minutes.

Add the remaining chicken broth and rice. Season with salt, thyme and pepper.

Simmer 20 to 30 minutes. Serve garnished with parsley.

Honey Lemon Artichokes

Ingredients

1 large lemon, cut in quarters, plus the freshly squeezed juice from 2 or 3 lemons to equal 1/2 cup
4 large globe artichokes (12 to 14 ounces each)
2 tablespoons olive oil
Salt
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup water
2 tablespoons chopped flat-leaf parsley
1/4 medium roasted red bell pepper, cut into small dice

Directions

Fill a very large bowl with cold water; squeeze a few of the lemon quarters into the water, then place them in the bowl.

Rinse the artichokes. Snap off or use kitchen shears to trim all the pointed outer leaves and then slice off the center leaves at the top.

Leave 1 to 2 inches of stem attached to each artichoke; cut off the rest and discard.

Use a vegetable peeler to remove a thin layer from the remaining stems.

Working quickly so the artichokes don’t discolor, use a grapefruit spoon or a melon-ball scoop to remove the choke, or thistle part, in the center of each artichoke, making sure to remove all fibers.

Quickly transfer each trimmed artichoke to the bowl of lemon water.

Once all the artichokes are trimmed, work with them one at a time, cutting them in half and then again, so each artichoke is quartered.

Preheat a large saute pan over medium heat. Add the oil and swirl to coat.

Add the artichokes cut side down, fitting them snugly into the pan.

Cook for 8 to 12 minutes, re-positioning the artichokes in the pan as needed so each one picks up golden color.

Season lightly with salt.

Stir in the lemon juice, honey and water; cover partially, reduce the heat to low and cook for 15 to 20 minutes.

The liquid should thicken slightly and the artichokes will be tender.

Transfer to a platter. Spoon some of the sauce over the artichokes.

Garnish with the parsley and red bell pepper. Serve warm or at room temperature.

Braised Chicken and Eggplant

Ingredients

3 lbs chicken pieces; skinned/fat removed
Salt and pepper; to taste
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large Vidalia or sweet onion; halved, sliced
1 tablespoon garlic, minced
1½ lbs eggplant; unpeeled, cubed
½ lb. fresh Roma tomatoes; cored, cubed
¼ cup red wine vinegar
1 cup chicken broth
1 bay leaf
¼ teaspoon red pepper flakes
2 tablespoons chopped fresh basil

Directions

Season the chicken with salt and pepper.

In a large deep skillet, heat the oil and brown the chicken on each side.

Remove the chicken from the skillet to a bowl or platter. Don’t clean the skillet.

Add the onion, garlic and eggplant. Cook the vegetables and stir for 1 minute. Stir in the tomatoes, vinegar and chicken broth. Bring to a boil.

Add bay leaf and hot pepper flakes. Return the chicken pieces to the skillet. Baste with the sauce.

Cover and simmer for 20 minutes until cooked. Discard the bay leaf before serving and sprinkle with basil.

Roasted Potatoes with Rosemary and Garlic

Ingredients

2 pounds fingerling or small potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic minced
1 1/2 teaspoons fresh chopped rosemary
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon cracked black pepper

Directions

Heat the oven to 400 degrees F.

Wash and pat dry the potatoes and place them in a large bowl.

Add the olive oil, minced garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper.

Toss the potatoes making sure to coat them well with the herbs and oil.

Put them onto a baking sheet and bake in the oven for 30-35 minutes, gently moving them around on the pan halfway through cooking.

Serve at once garnished with more fresh rosemary and a drizzle of olive oil.

Almond Cake with Lemon Syrup

Lemon Syrup

1/3 cup sugar
1/4 cup fresh lemon juice
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon

Cake

1 tablespoon oil
2 tablespoons matzo meal
1 cup granulated sugar
1 cup ground almonds (4 ounces)
1/2 cup blanched almonds, finely chopped (2 3/4 ounces)
Finely grated zest of 1 large lemon
8 large eggs, separated
Confectioners’ sugar

Directions

In a small nonreactive saucepan, combine the sugar, lemon juice and lemon zest with 1/2 cup of water.

Bring to a boil over moderate heat, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Simmer over moderately low heat for 2 minutes.

Remove the pan from the heat; let steep.

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Oil the bottom and sides of a 9-by-3-inch springform pan and line the bottom with parchment paper; oil the paper.

Evenly coat the bottom and sides with the matzo meal, tapping out any excess. Refrigerate the pan.

In a large bowl, use a wooden spoon to mix together the granulated sugar, almonds, lemon zest and egg yolks.

Beat the egg whites until they form stiff peaks. Stir one-quarter of the egg whites into the almond mixture to lighten it.

Using a large rubber spatula, gently fold in the remaining egg whites in 3 additions.

Pour the mixture into the prepared pan and bake on the lowest shelf of the oven for about 1 hour, or until golden and a cake tester inserted in the center comes out dry.

Let cool for 10 minutes. Run a knife around the edge of the cake.

Remove the pan sides and invert the cake onto a wire rack.

Peel off the parchment and let the cake cool to room temperature.

Reheat and strain the syrup. Transfer the cake to a plate and prick all over with a fork.

Pour the syrup evenly over the cake and set aside at room temperature for at least 3 hours or overnight.

Sift confectioners’ sugar over the cake and serve.


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February is not quite spring and the market selections still look like winter in most areas of the US, unless you like to buy produce from South America. However, that is not eating what is is season. So still plentiful are winter squashes, celery, leeks, fennel, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, citrus fruit and apples. Since I live in the south, spring vegetables are starting to appear but I try to keep in mind what most readers can find seasonally at this time of the year. Here are some recipes for what you can cook with these seasonal ingredients.

Stuffed Acorn Squash

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To make this dish into a main entrée add a 1/2 cup cooked rice or quinoa to the filling ingredients before the second baking. This makes a great side dish for pork chops.

2 servings

Ingredients

1 large acorn squash, halved and seeds removed
2 tablespoons maple syrup
1/4 cup fresh or frozen and thawed cranberries
1/4 cup pecans
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.

Coat a shallow baking dish with olive oil and place the squash halves in the baking dish, cut side down. Place the squash in the oven and bake for 15 minutes.

Remove the baking dish from the oven and turn the squash halves upright and sprinkle with the salt and pepper.

Drizzle the maple syrup over the squash and divide the cranberries and pecans equally and fill the squash. Add 1/2 an inch of water to the baking dish and cover tightly with foil

Return the squash to the oven and bake for 50 minutes more or until tender.

Easy Skillet Potatoes

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This side dish goes well with just about everything. I like to make extra because I can use the leftover potatoes in an omelet.

Ingredients

1 tablespoon butter
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 lb small new potatoes, unpeeled and thinly sliced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 teaspoon fried Italian seasoning
Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

Heat the butter and olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Arrange the potato slices across the bottom of the skillet.

Cook without stirring for 5 minutes, or until the potatoes begin to brown on the bottom. Turn the potatoes over with a wide spatula and spread them out in the skillet.

Sprinkle potato slices with the garlic, dried Italian seasoning, salt and pepper to taste. Continue cooking about 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender and lightly brown on the bottom.

Serve immediately.

Marinated Greek Vegetable Salad

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This salad is very refreshing, especially in the winter. It has great flavor and we like it served with fish.

4 servings

Ingredients

2 celery stalks, cut on the bias
Half a cucumber, peeled, sliced into quarters and cut on the bias
Quarter of a red onion, diced
Half a green bell pepper, sliced and cut on the bias
2 plum (Roma) tomatoes, cut on the bias
8-10 Kalamata olives
¼ cup crumbled Feta cheese
2-3 tablespoons of your favorite Greek or Italian salad dressing
¼ teaspoon dried oregano

Directions

Combine all the vegetables in a serving bowl and mix. Add the olives, feta cheese and salad dressing; mix well.

Sprinkle the top of the salad with the oregano and refrigerate for several hours or until serving time.

Carrots Agrodolce

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Agrodolce is a traditional sweet and sour sauce in Italian cuisine. Its name comes from “agro” (sour) and “dolce” (sweet) and the recipe comes from the Venetian-Jewish culinary tradition. Agrodolce is made by using sour and sweet elements, traditionally vinegar and sugar. Sometimes, additional flavorings are added, such as wine, fruit (raisins) or even chocolate.

This dish goes well with grilled meats.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients

10-12 oz carrots, peeled
1 1/2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 teaspoon coarse salt
2 tablespoons minced onion
1 teaspoon honey
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons fresh herbs (optional)

Directions

Cut the carrots in half crosswise, then slice into lengthwise sticks, stack the carrots on top of each other and finely slice into matchsticks or shred on the large holes of a grater.

Place the carrots, olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of the salt and 1/3 cup water in a large saucepan over high heat. Bring to a boil and cook until the water has evaporated, about 7 minutes.

Stir in the onion and cook for 1 minute. Add the honey and mix. Add the vinegar, pepper and remaining 1/4 teaspoon of salt and stir until there is a glaze coating the carrots, about 30 seconds.

Remove from the heat and stir in the herbs, if desired. Place in a serving dish and serve at room temperature.

Sautéed Fennel and Leek

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This side dish goes well with oven roasted chicken, grilled fish or sausage.

If you want a heartier side dish, add one peeled baking potato, sliced thin, to the fennel in the skillet and cook along with the fennel before adding the remaining ingredients.

4 servings

Ingredients

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 fennel bulb, top removed cored and sliced thinly
1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
1 large leek, tough greens removed cleaned and sliced into 1/2-inch pieces
Salt & freshly ground black pepper
1 teaspoon lemon zest
1 tablespoon butter

Directions

Heat the oil in a medium-sized skillet over medium heat; add the fennel (and potato slices if using), cook, stirring occasionally until translucent, about 10 minutes.

Add leeks and Italian seasoning. Season with salt and pepper to taste; cook 10 minutes more.

Stir in lemon zest and butter; adjust seasonings and serve.

february-seasonal-produce-list-uprootkitchen-com_


run-on-six

Snacks for game watching or parties are fun to have on hand. They do not have to be unhealthy to taste really good. My kind of snacks have always been a big hit with family and guests – so give them a try. I have never heard that they didn’t go over well. In fact, I get many requests for the recipes. The sports season begins this week, so get ready.

Sweet and Spicy Pumpkin Seeds

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Pumpkin seeds can be seasoned, roasted in the oven and eaten as a healthy snack. They’re a very good source of phosphorus, magnesium, manganese and antioxidants; and they’re also a good source of protein, zinc, copper and iron. Besides – they taste good.

Make a double batch – they go fast.

Ingredients

  • 2 cups raw, dry pumpkin seeds (be sure they are not salted)
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1/4 teaspoon Kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1/4 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Directions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.

Toss the seeds with the olive oil, salt, pepper, cinnamon, cumin, cayenne and honey in a mixing bowl.

Spread the seeds on a baking pan.

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Roast the coated seeds until golden, about 15 – 20 minutes. Scrape the pan and stir the seeds as they cool to prevent sticking. After about 10 minutes cooling on the pan, the seeds will stick together.

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They are easy to separate and will finish cooling without sticking after they are separated.

Remove to a serving bowl or store in an airtight container.

Sun-Dried Tomato Hummus

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Pimentón is the Spanish version of paprika that adds a little smokiness to a recipe. It comes in three types with varying levels of heat. Dulce is slightly sweet with very little heat, agridulce has only a trace of sweetness but a lot of heat and picante is quite hot with just a trace of bitterness.

This is not the typical hummus made with tahini (sesame paste). This hummus uses sun-dried tomatoes and has delicious flavor from the Pimentón. The dip go very well with the homemade pita chips.

IMG_0019

Ingredients

  • 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained but reserve the bean liquid
  • 1 cup sun-dried tomatoes packed in olive oil
  • Salt and pepper
  • 2 cloves garlic, more to taste
  • 1 tablespoon pimentón agridulce
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • Pita chips (recipe below) and  raw vegetables, for serving.

Directions

Drain the chickpeas, reserving the bean liquid separately.

Put the chickpeas and lemon juice into a blender or food processor and process until chunky.

Add salt, pepper, the garlic and pimentón and process; then add the sun-dried tomatoes and sun dried tomato oil. Process until very smooth.

Add some of the reserved bean liquid to thin the sauce to dipping consistency.

Serve with homemade pita chips and cut up vegetables.

Homemade Pita Chips

IMG_0009

Za’atar seasoning is a Middle Eastern spice mixture that contains ground dried thyme, oregano, marjoram, toasted sesame seeds, salt and sumac.

Ingredients

  • 1 package of pita pocket breads (6 pitas in a package)
  • Olive oil
  • Za’atar seasoning

Directions

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees F. Oil two large rimmed baking pans.

Separate each pita into two rounds. Brush each with olive oil and sprinkle with the Za’atar seasoning mix. Cut each pita circle into 6 triangles.

Arrange the triangles on the baking sheets and bake until crispy and brown, about 20 minutes. Rotate the pans after ten minutes, Cool and store in a large ziplock bag until needed.

Small Wraps

IMG_0021

Small hand foods are popular and easy to eat while you are watching a game. These can be filled with anything you like and cut as small as you like. Here are some suggestions.

Ingredients

  • Whole-grain tortillas, lavash bread or lettuce leaves
  • Drizzle of oil and vinegar

Protein Filling Ingredients

  • Thinly sliced roast turkey, chicken, ham or roast beef
  • Tuna
  • Hummus
  • Cheese
  • Eggs
  • Nut Butters
  • Edamame

Vegetable Filling Ingredients

  • Greens: lettuce, baby spinach, kale, Swiss chard
  • Tomatoes
  • Cucumbers
  • Peppers
  • Carrots
  • Mushrooms
  • Avocado
  • Zucchini Slices
  • Onion
  • Celery
  • Pickled Cucumbers, Peppers or other Pickled Vegetables

Spreads

  • Light Mayonnaise
  • Greek Yogurt
  • Mustard
  • Hummus
  • Mashed Avocado
  • Relish

Directions

Choose a type of wrap or use a variety. Choose a spread and cover the wrap on one side.

Layer the wrap with a protein and veggies of choice. Drizzle with a little oil and vinegar. Roll-up tightly and place on a serving dish. Cover the dish with plastic wrap and refrigerate until game time.

Pepper and Corn Salsa

IMG_0018

The fresh flavors of this seasonal salsa is what makes it taste so good. Homemade chips make it taste even better.

Ingredients

  • 3 bell peppers, seeded and diced (use a variety of colors)
  • 1 jalapeno, seeded and finely diced
  • 1 cup fresh corn kernels, cooked
  • 1 tomato, seeded and diced
  • 1/2 red onion, finely diced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh chopped parsley
  • Juice of half a lime
  • Pinch of cayenne pepper or crushed red pepper Flakes
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • Homemade tortilla chips

Directions

Place the diced vegetables and corn to a medium serving bowl.

Add the lime juice, salt, pepper and cayenne to the bowl. Mix well. Let the flavors combine for at least twenty minutes before serving.

Serve either at room temperature or slightly chilled with tortilla chips.

Homemade Tortilla Chips

IMG_0011

Ingredients

  • Olive oil
  • One package (8-10) large (12 inch) flour tortillas
  • Taco seasoning mix, recipe below

Directions

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Oil two rimmed baking sheets.

Brush the tortillas with olive oil and sprinkle each with taco seasoning. Cut the tortillas into 8 triangles and arrange them on the prepared baking sheets.

Bake until golden brown and crisp, rotating the baking sheets once, about 12 to 15 minutes.

Taco Seasoning Mix

Ingredients

  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon onion powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
  • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
  • 1/2 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon sea salt
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper

In a small bowl, mix all together. Store in an airtight container.

 

 



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