Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Fenugreek greens

As an early adopter of any and all curries, I fell in love with the sweet fragrant, almost licorice (some describe it as maple), taste of fenugreek the first time I made an eggplant tomato curry recipe from an old Deborah Madison cookbook. While I've used the powdered seeds in the past, I didn't come across fenugreek greens until last week at the farmers market.

I asked the farmer how she uses fenurgreek greens and she told me just to use them as vegetables and add them to stir-fry. "Only use the leaves," she told me, and then mimicked the act of stripping leaves from the stems. Anju Kataria, who spoke about Indian and Scandinavian spices at ASI last week, recommended tossing cooked potatoes with the greens. Since we are in the middle of grilling season I took her advice and added the greens to boiled new potatoes to serve as a side with grilled chicken.

For a fenugreek lover like me, the potatoes were amazing. For T, on the other hand, not so much. The pungent greens are an acquired taste.

Fenugreek Greens and New Potatoes
2 pounds of new potatoes, cooked
1 cup fenugreek leaves, discard stems
1/4 cup green onions, diced
2 tablespoons garlic scapes, diced
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon turmeric

Toss all ingredients together in saucepan and heat over medium-low until butter melts and greens wilt. Flavor with salt and pepper and serve warm.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Random acts of indulgent eating

This past month I've made an effort to eat well; healthier and lighter. But a girl's gotta treat herself once in a while and three indulgent dishes stand above the salads and grilled fish I've encountered over these four weeks of lean greens.

First, Julia's Meringue Tarts that I mentioned in my Midsommar post: these little pastries are crisp and airy, and the perfect extravagance for welcoming summer. Find the recipe at Called to the Table today.

Earlier this month I experimented with a lot of radish dishes, including a grilled pizza that pairs radishes with rhubarb. Possibly my most favorite pizza combination ever (at least until I discover the next variant). Rhubarb season is coming to an end, so make this pizza ASAP. This recipe is also at Called to the Table.

Finally, last night the American Swedish Institute hosted a fun lecture with Anju Kataria and Kelly Moe from Khazana in Minneapolis. Their presentation reminded us of the connections between cultures, and how spices from India became the flavors of Scandinavia. Before the lecture we dined at Fika and I tried the shrimp smörgås which was lovely. The big crunch of fried shrimp was mellowed by the sour of a beet-pickled egg and dill remoulade, all served on a slice of earthy caraway rye. (As the Swedes might say), this dish was lagom.

I now return to my regularly scheduled sugar-free, pizza-free, fried-free programming. 

Monday, June 22, 2015

Thwarted then saved: Midsommar comes to Minnesota

For the first time in years we didn't get to the Midsommar festivities at the American Swedish Institute. Our elderly cat Olive had some health issues Saturday morning and our plans were, as daughter S. said, thwarted. Rather than dancing around the maypole and singing about small frogs, we spent our Midsommar in and out of the vet clinic and resting with Olive when she returned home to convalesce.

We were grateful for friends who hosted a lovely Midsommar repast later that evening. We dined on meatballs, creamed herring with chives and garlic, lingonberries and quick-pickled cucumbers, the first strawberries of the season, and grilled vegetable-steak kebabs and dilled new potatoes.

When dessert was served and I nearly fell out of my chair. My friend's son and his wife made showstopping meringue pastries filled with lemon curd and whipped cream and topped with strawberries. The pastries were sumptuous with their delicate crumble and tart and sweet fillings. Midsommar was saved.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Book review: The Brides of Midsummer

              image: from MNHS.org

At the risk of losing my Swedish cred, I present this obligatory confession: I hated nearly every page of Vilhelm Moberg’s Emigrants series. The four volumes chronicle Karl Oskar Nilsson and his insufferably whiny wife Kirstina as they travel with their children and folk community from a small family farm in Småland to settle in rural Minnesota. “The Emigrants” put Lindström, Minnesota on the map. In fact, the novels were so tragically convincing that many Swedes and Americans alike believe the characters truly existed.  

Sure, I named my cat Karl Oskar. Sure, I read all four books in about two weeks. But oh that Kristina. She made everyone miserable, including me. Happily, Kristina does not make an appearance in Moberg’s “The Brides of Midsummer.”

Translated to English by Gudrun Brunot and published by the Minnesota Historical Society last year, “The Brides of Midsummer” is Scandinavian folklore at its best. The novel progresses backward, with each progression voiced by a Midsummer’s Eve spelman (musician), ultimately telling the story of the Bridal Spring; water that gives life, takes life, and demands homage from those who need her.

Each Midsummer’s Eve the community gathers near the spring. They feast and drink, dancing and singing as an honored spelman plays them into the solstice. Couples form along the outskirts of the fest, as on this one night of the year a virgin who surrenders her maidenhood can retrieve it at dawn in the Bridal Spring.

Moberg’s four musicians describe the events proceeding their final midsummers. We learn the history of the spring who weaves the stories and the men together. They are bound by music, Midsummer’s Eve, and the urgent desire for a woman’s warmth.

In the 1930s, a drunken and bitter fiddler approaches his position as Midsummer’s Eve spelman with the knowledge that his old-fashioned music is no longer relevant to the celebrators. He is frantic in his fiddling and drinking and regresses into self-delusions and demise. His predecessor, a key harper, begins his story with love and beauty, only to endure the loss of everything during the plagues of the 1700s. On the key harpist’s final Midsummer’s Eve, death permits him to reclaim all he has lost. The third spelman is a sinful and mostly unrepentant flutist who carouses before 1545’s midsummer. His good intentions become greed, which is his undoing. Finally, a prehistoric goat-horn blower is strong and honorable until his love for a woman is more powerful than the traditions he is forced to abide. As his story, and that of his would-be bride, unfolds we come to understand the mysteries of the Bridal Spring.

My first time through “The Brides of Midsummer,” I was struck by the poetry of Moberg’s beautiful verses:

I am the water. I am the beginning. I was before the oaks, the grass, and the flowers. I was before the beasts that graze the grass. I was before hovering wing and currying foot. I was before the birds, the bees, and the bumblebees.

I was before sorry and gladness. I was before the tears and the laughter. I was before the song, the music, and the dancing. I was before the torment, the suffering, and the anguish here on earth. I was before mankind.

From the earth’s darkest, innermost recesses flow my veins, known to no one. Yet, here, I surface at the foot of the hill. Here, I reflect the crowns of the oak trees and follow the generations of man throughout the world.

I am the spring. I am the beginning.

Midsummer approaches. There is no better time to pick up a copy of “The Brides of Midsummer.” Soak in Moberg’s poetry as you lounge near a pool, in a hammock, or under an oak tree (or maypole).

"The Brides of Midsummer,” 169 pages, is a available for $18.95 at the Minnesota Historical Society online, at Minnesota Historical Society Sites gift shops, Ingebretsen's Nordic Marketplace, and various other bookstores.

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Start seeing aebleskiver!

I've got a piece on aebleskiver over at the StarTribune today. As always I'm excited to be one of the head cheerleaders for my favorite topic: Nordic food. Below is my absolute favorite recipe (which does not appear in the article). The BBQ Chicken Aebleskiver remind me of a cross between bao (Chinese steamed buns) and banh mi. Substitute leftover pork or ground turkey for the chicken.

BBQ Chicken-filled Æbleskiver 
Makes about 26 balls

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon. salt
1 cup buttermilk
2 eggs, beaten
1 cup plain Greek-style yogurt, whole-fat
Zest from 1 lime
¼ cup cilantro, minced
2 teaspoons jalapeno, minced
Butter for frying

In large bowl whisk together flour, baking soda, baking powder, and salt. In separate bowl stir together buttermilk, eggs, yogurt, and zest. Add wet ingredient to dry and whisk until combined. Add cilantro and jalapeno and set aside for 10 minutes.

For the filling:
2/3 cup cooked chicken, shredded
2 tablespoons each lingonberry preserves and sambel oelek (Thai chili paste)
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 tablespoon butter

In small saucepan combine chicken, preserves, sambel, syrup, and butter. Bring to simmer over medium heat and stir to combine. Remove from heat and cool to room temperature.

Heat aebleskiver pan over medium-high heat.

Add ¼ to ½ tsp. butter to each pancake well. Fill wells 2/3 full with batter. When cakes are golden brown on the bottom and centers begin to bubble, loosen top edges using fork, skewer, or chopstick. Use tool to gently pull each cake so that the outer shell is perpendicular to well and uncooked batter spreads into bottom of the well. Add 1 tsp. shredded chicken mixture to center of each cake. As bottom becomes golden, use tool to pull orb closed. Rotate cake to seal all edges, turning several times or until golden orb forms and inside of pancake is cooked thoroughly. Use tool to lift balls from pan. Serve with Quick-Pickled Slaw and any remaining chicken.

Quick-pickled Slaw 
1 cup distilled white vinegar
1 cup water
½ cup sugar
1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, roughly chopped
Grated zest from 1 lime
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 cups assorted vegetables, cut into matchstick-sized pieces or sliced very thin (cabbage, daikon, carrot, cucumber, red pepper, onion)
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
1 to 2 jalapenos, sliced thin

Add vinegar, water, sugar, and ginger to a saucepan over high heat and bring to boil. Remove
from heat, add zest, and steep for about 30 minutes. Strain solids from liquid and pour over
vegetables. Chill. Add cilantro and jalapeno before serving.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Bok Choy Salad with PB2 powder

Hot summer days, hot summer nights, and chilled summer salads. What more do we need?

A bumper crop of Minnesota-grown baby bok choy reached our farmers market last month. I've been finding new uses for this tasty green especially while the prices are so ridiculously low at $1 a bundle.

Bok Choy Salad is a play on Thai noodle salad, sans the noodles, and using PB2 powder dramatically reduces the calories in the dressing. (Have you tried PB2 Powdered Peanut Butter yet? I highly recommend it.) Use 2 tablespoons regular peanut butter if you don't have PB2. As for serving sizes, this would feed 2 to 4 people as a side. However... do I have to admit I ate the whole thing myself for dinner last night?

Bok Choy Salad with Peanut Dressing

For the salad:
2 to 3 cups bok choy, chopped
1 large green onion, chopped
1 small cucumber, diced
1 small carrot, cut into matchsticks
1/2 cup radishes, chopped
1/4 cup Thai basil, minced
2 tablespoons each jalapeno or hot chili pepper, fresh mint, cilantro, and chives; minced
1/4 cup peanuts

For the dressing:
Juice of one lime
2 tablespoons PB2 powder
1 tablespoon each soy sauce, maple syrup (or honey), and sambel oelek (Thai chili paste)
2 teaspoons sesame oil
1 thumbs-sized ginger, grated
1/2 teaspoon each fish sauce and black pepper

In small mixing bowl whisk together dressing ingredients; toss vegetables with dressing. Eat immediately.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Asparagus and burrata

What to do with leftover grilled asparagus? Grill some bread, top bread slices with burrata, olives, pickled peppers, and asparagus, and go about your business.

Grilled Burrata Crostini with Asparagus and Olives
6 to 8 slices good bread
Olive oil
8 ounces burrata, sliced into pieces
12 grilled asparagus spears, chopped
18 olives, chopped
2 tablespoons pickled peppers, diced
A handful of fresh basil, diced
Salt and pepper

Brush bread slices with olive oil; grill over direct heat until grill marks form.

Drizzle olive oil over burrata and season with salt and pepper. Top each bread slice with burrata, asparagus, olives, and peppers; garnish with basil.