Saturday, 27 April 2013

Day 41: "Mayerima": Vegan Baked Vegetables (Potatoes, Zucchini, Onions) - April 27, 2013

There is always one cookbook that you put at the end of the shelf and rarely use because you don't know how well you will like using it.  But, you keep that book because someone from Church gave it to you, or a relative gave it to you.  We have a couple of those books, and today, one of them came in handy with this dish!

We flipped through the pages of a Greek Orthodox Church Philoptochos cookbook (Women's "Friends of the Poor" Organization) from a small American city, and we looked at the titles, the names of those who submitted the recipe, and we found a few names that we know from our childhood, and we remember those women being very good cooks.  So, why not use their recipes and find out if our memories are correct or if we thought they were good cooks because of our age.  That's what we did -- we found a lovely recipe with the title "Mayerima".  We don't know exactly where the name originates for this food (as it simply means "That which is cooked", nor do we know which part of Greece would have a dish like this, so we are going to put it in our general category of vegetable dishes.

As we read the short list of ingredients, we noticed that these are all very common ingredients in our kitchen, and there should be no problem to put this together, get it in the oven and continue with other chores.  And, when we read the directions, we thought it was so straight forward that we had to try it.  So, we scurried to gather our vegetables and, sure enough, 15 minutes of preparation and this dish went in the oven.  We could call it quick, simple, or even easy, but we would prefer to call it classic and delicious!  Thank you to Elaine A. for sharing this recipe with her Church Philoptochos.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1/4 cup olive oil
1 large onion, sliced
3 large potatoes, sliced
1 large eggplant or zucchini, sliced (we used zucchini)
salt and pepper to taste
3 TBSP parsley (fresh or dried)
16 ounces (about 500 mL or 2 cups) tomato sauce
1/4 cup water

Slice all the vegetables in even-width slices.  If you are going to cut the zucchini 1/2 inch thick slices, then the potato and the onion must be the same thickness.  It is suggested, in the cookbook, that 1/2 inch thick (about 1.25 cm) is a guideline so the vegetables to not become too soft when baking.  Slice all the vegetables and set them aside.

In a baking dish (11 x 13) add olive oil to coat the bottom and sides of the dish.  Lay down half of the sliced onions to make a row around the bottom of the baking dish.  It is your choice to separate the rings of onions or leave them whole.  Obviously, we separated the rings and overlapped them a bit for presentation purposes.  We also thought this would help make it easier to lift the pieces out of the pan when serving.  Top the layer of onions with a layer of potatoes.  Use only half the potatoes, because you will build and repeat the pattern once.  Now, on the potatoes, layer half the zucchini (or eggplant).  

Repeat the layering process with the remaining onions, potatoes, and zucchini (or eggplant).  Sprinkle the salt, pepper, and parsley all over the top of the dish.  Try to distribute this evenly.  Then, add the tomato sauce and water, pouring both over all of the ingredients.

Bake at 350° F for  one hour until the vegetables are tender.

When we first took this out of the oven, both of us thought it looked a bit dry.  But when serving it, we poured some of the sauce that was in the bottom of the baking dish on top of each piece, and that really made the food look appealing.  We also noticed that we did not do a good job evenly distributing the seasonings!  And, what we may try next time is to put a little salt, pepper, and parsley in between each group (lay onion, potato, zucchini, then season, and repeat).  That may distribute the flavours a little better.  We also wondered if next time we make this if we should cover the baking dish before putting it in the oven.  That would really keep the top layer more moist.  But, the directions did not call for covering the dish.  This was the first time we ever made this, so we did not want to change anything about the recipe.  Now that we know we will make this again, we can look at it a little differently and "tweak" the directions to our liking.  If you have not had Mayerima before and you try it, let us know what you think.  We would love to hear if you would change anything about the recipe or if you tried something different in it the first time you made it!

"The bee is small among winged creatures,
But her fruit is first among sweet things."

Wisdom of Sirach, 11:3

Friday, 26 April 2013

Day 40: "Clean Out The Fridge Day" - Shrimp Stir Fry With Vermicelli and Vegetables: April 26, 2013

Stir fries are a great way to use little bits of leftover vegetables and leftover noodles.  The vegetable bits that are left from when you need 1/2 an onion, or you need 2 TBSP bell pepper are perfect for a simple, quick meal, since you never need a lot of anything for a good stir fry.  You need a little of this and or a little  of that.  So, on "Clean out the Fridge Day" in our house, we found a little of this and a little of that calling out to be turned into something fantastic.

We are not going to give you exact amounts of anything in this recipe for several reasons.  First, this is what we had on hand that evening and we did not measure any of it.  Secondly, you may have other ingredients that sound good to you that you want to add or some that you want to omit.  Third, this is meant as a guideline and idea-building post that will allow you to try something new and feel confident in the ease and success of it.  Lastly, this is from our weekly "clean out the fridge" activity, and each time we make a stir fry, we change ingredients.  This is a guideline, so please feel free to use your own ideas and then share with us so we can try something else, too.

For this recipe, all the ingredients are optional and interchangeable.  If we were cooking a more authentic vegetable stir fry, we would have steamed all the ingredients separately, then, made the sauce and then combined everything.  This dish took about 15 minutes to  make, including cutting up the vegetables.

Red Bell Pepper
Soy Sauce
Noodles (Vermicelli)
Hot Pepper Flakes

We had the shrimp leftover from serving shrimp with cocktail sauce.  So, all we had to do was remove the tails and the shrimp were ready.

Next, we cut the mushrooms into quarters.  This gave us a nice, hardy bite of mushroom that seemed like a good size match for the shrimp.  We could have sliced them or left them whole.

Then, we cut the onion and pepper into large pieces.  We wanted to keep everything a little bigger instead of smaller, so they would all cook at the same rate and would make it nice and easy to pick up using chopsticks.

Lastly, we cut the scallions (green onions) into pieces so they could be distributed around the entire pan.  The oil we used was enough for our pan, but the amount will vary depending on the pan you have, the shape, size, and type.  We did not use a non-stick pan, so we used a little more oil.

And, the vermicelli noodles that we used were the last bit of a package -- our last package until we shop again, but, it was enough to add to this dish!  If we did not have leftover noodles, we would have used a package of ramen noodles, or made a quick boiled rice to serve with the stir fry.  For us, this worked out well.  All we had to do was boil some water and cook the noodles for a couple of minutes before adding them to the stir fry.  We cooked them directly in the sieve so they would be drained as soon  as they cooked, and then added to the frying pan.  This way, there was no time for the noodles to cool, nor to stick!

So, what did we do that may give you some ideas about what you, too, can do?

First, after cutting all of the vegetables, we started by heating the pan.  We used some prepared minced garlic and then added our onions.  We cooked those over medium-high heat, then added the scallions, peppers, some soy sauce, and some hot pepper flakes.  If you prefer the taste of ginger, this would be the time to add the ginger.  We let everything cook together for about 3 or 4 minutes, then, we continued to add ingredients.

We added the noodles and the mushrooms.  We mixed well to make sure the noodles would get coated with the oil in the pan, so they would not stick.  Then, as soon as the mushrooms started to get dark and show they were half cooked, we added the shrimp.  After mixing everything together very well, we cooked the dish long enough to make sure the shrimp were warmed all the way through the centre.  Had we used raw shrimp, we would have cooked them in a separate pan and then added them to the vegetables.

We adjusted the seasoning with a little soy sauce and hot pepper, and served immediately.  This stir fry included all the food categories that we could -- vegetables, pasta, seafood, and spice.  Sounds like a well-rounded meal to us!  So, if you have some ideas about what to toss together for a super fast, super tasty stir fry, we would love to hear!  Until then, καλή όρεξη!

"Do not forsake an old friend,
for a new friend is not equal to him.
A new friend is like new wine;
Drink it with pleasure only after it ages."

Wisdom of  Sirach, 9:10 

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Day 39: Vegan Rice with Lentils and Caramelized Onions - April 25th, 2013

Great Lent means that we eat great lent-ils, right?  We know.  Not exactly.  So, what about lentils?  Well, today, we opted to put them with the rice and some aromatic seasonings to fill the house with wafting spice and to fill the table with something nice.  We eat lentils in many foods.  And, we eat rice with many meals.  So, putting them together in one dish seemed like a natural pairing.  But, once we added the cumin and the cinnamon, this blend of bland was transformed into a lovely medley for the taste buds!

This recipe comes from The Complete Book of Greek Cooking, by Rena Salaman and Jan Cutler.  We have found many recipes from this book, most of which are rather straight forward and easy to understand.

We started this recipe with fresh lentils.  The directions in the cookbook emphasise the importance of soaking the lentils (or any dry bean) overnight to get the proper texture.  And, then, we decided that we would just use canned lentils.  So, we measured 1 1/2 cups from the can, drained the lentils, and then washed them very well to remove any and all of the brining liquid.  You can decide what type you want to use; however, this was a very fast meal with the canned lentils because we did not have to wait for the cooking time and simmering time for the beans.

For this recipe, you will need the following:

1 1/2 cups lentils
2 onions
4 TBSP oil
1 TBSP cumin
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1 cup rice
2 cups water
salt and pepper to taste

Chop 1/2 the onion and slice the other half. The chopped onion goes in the recipe and the sliced onion is used for the garnish.

Fry the chopped onion in half of the oil.  You will need the other half of the oil for the garnish.  Also, keep the sliced half set aside for now, and work only with the chopped onions.  Fry the onions long enough that they are soft, but try to avoid adding too much colour to the onions.

Add the lentils, cinnamon, and cumin.  Mix these in with the onions and the oil to make sure they are all coated well.  You should still have a layer of oil at the bottom of the pot.  If not, add a little bit of oil and mix again.  Let this cook for about three (3) minutes.  You will be lost in the aroma!

Now, add the rice.  We want to mix the rice into the oil and seasonings, and get all the grains coated.  Rice expands when it is cooked; that means that it is absorbing the cooking liquid (water in this dish), but it will also absorb some of the spices that are in the water, so we want to make sure that the rice is coated with spices.  Rice will not absorb the oil, but will get coated with the oil so it does not stick when it is cooked.  For loose and flowing rice, you cook the rice in oil before adding the water.

And then, it is time to add the water to the pot.  Typically, the water to rice ratio is 2 : 1.  In this recipe, the ratio is 1 1/2 : 1, which makes for a more firm rice.  That is what you want so that it will stand up next to the creamy lentils.  If you are doubling the recipe (or more) or even cutting the recipe in half, as long as you have the water to rice ratio the same, all the other ingredients are adjustable.

Mix this very well at first.  You want to evenly distribute everything in the pot.  Bring this to a boil and then turn down the heat to a simmer.  Put a lid on the pot and let it simmer until the rice is cooked--about 20 to 25 minutes.  Of course, the amount of time will vary slightly from the amount of heat you have, the amount of rice you are cooking, and all the typical variances that come with someone else's cooking.  We found that 25 minutes on the low heat setting made a beautifully cooked rice.  When we made this dish before, we can do it in about 17 minutes on a medium to medium-low heat setting.  While this is on the stove simmering, it is time to make the garnish!

The sliced onions that you have been waiting to use are for the garnish.  So is the remaining 2 Tablespoons of oil.  Fry the onions in oil over a medium heat until they are dark brown.  They will look burnt, but they are actually very dark brown.  And, cooking over medium heat gives you more control over the colour.  You want them a little bit crunchy, but still edible.  So, this may be the tricky part of the recipe.  We believe that if you have browned the onions well, then they will be fine for a garnish.  Once they are browned very well, set the onions aside until you are ready to serve the rice.  Garnish on top of the rice with lentils with the sliced, browned onions.

Making this dish was not difficult, but there were some tricky points -- especially with the garnishing onion slices.  We enjoyed the combination of lentils and rice.  We believe that it is a good idea to know different ways of making rice; that way you won't become bored with eating the same food over and over.  For some things, repetition is good.  For us, variety is the spice of life!

"... to fight the good fight, to walk the way of fasting, to crush the heads of the invisible dragons, to prove ourselves victorious over sin, and without condemnation to reach our goal of worshiping the Holy Resurrection" 
(Prayer of the Presanctified Liturgy)

An Exerpt from "On Fasting" written by
His Eminence Metropolitan Maximos of Pittsburgh