The Epicurean Muse

Recipes inspired by a trip to Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise)

After many years of good intentions, I finally made my way to Slovensky Raj (Slovak Paradise). It is only fitting to feature a few traditional Slovak dishes, even though it was challenging to find health-conscious, vegetarian versions.

However, I was excited to find this vegetarian version of halušky, a traditional dish of "gnocchi" with bryndza (a special sheep cheese) and bacon. Poor souls outside of Slovakia will have to succumb to feta instead of bryndza. Brave locals can serve with zincica or a chilled Slovak beer.  

 Vegetarian Bryndzové Halušky

 

Ingredients:

1/2 kg potatoes

300 g medium-ground flour

1 egg (free-range)

salt

olive oil

400 g sheep cheese (or feta cheese)  

250 ml  sour cream or yogurt

smoked tofu (optional)

 

Directions:

Peel raw potatoes and grate finely. Add flour, egg, an pinch of salt. Gradually add water to the dough to attain the right consistency to make dumplings. Prepare the dumpings by hand with a cutting knife or through a sieve and add to boiling, salted water. After dumlings begin to float, transfer to a bowl and mix in oil to prevent sticking. 

Add the bryndza to the bowl and mix in the sour cream or yogurt. If desired, cook the smoked tofu In a little oil. Mix the dumplings with the sheep cheese and sprinkle with smoked tofu. Dobrú chuť!

Ayurveda: Recipes from the Ashram

Hidden amidst the small Czech village of Střílky is a harmonious ashram situated in an old castle and blessed with beautiful parks and gardens. But what attracted me the most was the ashram kitchen – bubbling pots of kitcheri, the popping of freshly ground spices awaiting a vegetable sub-jee, or the sweet smell of cardamom rice pudding, all to a symphony of Indian bajans and mantras. Aromas of cumin, turmeric, ginger, cardamom, cinnamon, and black mustard seed would envelope me and lead me wandering in to see what the chefs were up to. So it is here, in this ashram kitchen, in this little village that I can still hardly pronounce, that I experienced the most exceptional Ayurvedic vegetarian cuisine. Here are a few original recipes from the ashram kitchen as well as a few that I was inspired to cook during my stay.

Indian Cabbage Salad (Hara Salaad)

        

Serves 8

Ingredients:

 6 cups cabbage, shredded

1 cup shredded coconut 

1/2 cup peanuts (or other nuts)

2 dates, soaked

4 tablespoons lemon juice

 4 tablespoons peanut (or sesame) oil

1 teaspoon ground mustard seed

1 teaspoon cumin

1/2 teaspoon tumeric

pinch asafoetidia *

sea salt or shoyu soy sauce

* Asafoetida is a spice from a plant native to Persia. It has a taste and aroma reminiscent of sautéed onion and garlic, which are omitted in some systems of Indian cooking as they are thought to stimulate the central nervous system, act as a natural aphrodisiac, and disturb vows of celibacy. Asafoetida has potent medicinal uses: it aids digestion and reduces indigenous microflora in the gut, thus reducing flatulence. In Ayurveda, it is considered to be one of the best spices for balancing the vata dosha, one of the three basic constitutions or forces.

Directions:

1. Mix the first 3 ingredients together in a bowl and set aside. 

2. In a small bowl, mash the soaked date, add the remaining ingredients, and blend to a smooth dressing. Pour the dressing into the cabbage mixture and mix well.

3. Decorate with pansy flowers and serve. 

 Inspired by Raw Foods Recipes (www.rawfoodhomerecipes.com)

 

Kitcheri with Spinach

By Dzjoti, Head Chef 

Serves 2

Ingredients:

 4 cups basmati rice

2 cups yellow mung dhal 

16 cups water

whole cumin seed

ground tumeric

ground coriander 

12 cups of fresh spinach 

sprinkle of sea salt 

2-3 teaspoons ghee * (or substitute sesame or sunflower oil) 

Ghee is widely used in Indian cuisine. Also known as clarified butter, ghee is made by simmering unsalted butter until the milk solids have settled to the bottom and a scum has floated to the top. After removing the scum, the clarified butter is then spooned off. Ghee made from cow's milk has a sacred role in Vedic and modern Hindu libation and anointment rituals. Ghee nourishes the digestive system, improves absorption and assimilation, improves memory, lubricates, and increases flexibility (perfect for improving your downward dog). Apparently, there is also a hymn to ghee, which I would love to chant as I hover over my milk scum…

Directions:

1. Wash rice and dhal thoroughly.

2. In a large pot, add all ingredients except ghee. 

2. Bring to boil. Cover and simmer on low heat without mixing.

3. Once homogenized, add the ghee and spinach. Cook until spinach is wilted but still green.  
 
Tip: The Dzjoti Pinch Test:  
 
To determine whether your mung dhal is cooked, pinch one bean between  your fingers. If thoroughly squished, your dhal is ready.  
 
 
Chapatis 
 
This is the most traditional bread of India. It was not uncommon at the ashram to be served fresh chapati steaming hot for dinner several nights a week. The key to a successful chapati is to get it to fill with air briefly without burning it to a crisp. It takes a bit of practice, but before long, you will be pumping out fresh, beautiful home-made chapatis before you know it. It is one of the most fulfilling achievements. Making chapati fresh moments before serving preserves the prana, or life force, in the food. If desired, spread with ghee before serving. 
 
Serves 16

Ingredients:

 1/2 teaspoon salt

2 cups (260g) ata (chapati flour), or a mixture of equal parts whole wheat pastry and unbleached white flours

2 teaspoons melted ghee or oil

Approximately 1/2 cup (120 ml) water  

Directions:

1.  Mix the salt into the flour. Add the ghee or oil and enough water to make a soft, non-sticky dough.

2. Turn out on a floured board and knead with all your strength for 5 to 10 minutes (you can skip the gym today). Alternatively, let a food processor do the work for 1 minute.

3. Cover with a damp cloth and allow to rest peacefully for 10 to 30 minutes.  

4.  Cut off pieces of the dough and roll into 1 1/2-inch (3.5cm) balls. 

5. Roll out each ball on a floured board into 4– o 5– inch (10–13 cm) rounds. (Admittedly, they might not be "perfect rounds" on first attempt, but deranged looking

6. The best method for cooking chapati is to partially cook them over a griddle and then finish them on a heat source to puff up. Traditionally, they are thrown over hot coals, which you can certainly do if you happen to be camping or have a fire pit in your backyard. Otherwise, heat an ungreased skillet or girdle over high heat. Gently slap (notice the oxymoron) a chapati onto it and cook about 20 seconds or just until it looks dry. Flip and cook for another 20 seconds

7. Griddle or Flame Method:

Griddle method: Place chapati in an ungreased skillet or griddle over medium heat. Using a cloth, cook on each side for about a minute, rotating constantly with your hand in a cloth to avoid burning the chapati. Flip and cook the other side. Use the cloth to press on the chapati and encourage air to enter the other half of the chapati. Once inflated, press down on the bubble to allow the other half to fill with air. Once fully puffed and adorned with a few burn marks, remove the chapati and cover with a cloth to keep warm.  

Flame Method: Remove from the skillet or girdle and place directly on a heat source (either glowing charcoals, a gas burner on medium heat, or a rack over an electric burner. If you are using an electric burner, use some sort of apparatus, such as a coat hanger or forceps). After a few seconds, flip over and cook the other side.If you succeeded in making the chapati fairly round and flat, it sound puff up nicely. A finished chapati should look perfectly dry, with a few dark spots from the heat source. Remove the chapati and cover with a cloth to keep warm. 

 

Carrot Khir (Milk Pudding)
 

What's life without a little sweetness? Sweets have always been an integral part of Indian cuisine, particularly milk-based sweets. Khir is commonly prepared during Diwali, the The Hindu Festival of Lights. Vashishth Guru gave khir to King Dashrath; as a result, a child know as an incarnation of 'Ram' was born. Lord Ram or Lord Krishna are thought to be incarnations of God in the Hindu religion.

Serves 4–6

Ingredients:

 6–8 large carrots, peeled and shredded

1 teaspoon ghee or oil

1 litre milk 

2 cups mixed almonds, cashews, and pistachios (soaked over night and chopped)

1 cup raisins  

 1/2 cup brown sugar

4–6 cardamon seeds, ground

Directions: 

1. Cook the grated carrot until soft.

2. In a saucepan, heat the ghee on medium heat. Add the cooked carrot and sauté for approximately 5 minutes.

3. Add the milk and gently cook for another 5 minutes. Be careful that the milk does not overflow or burn.

4. Mix remaining ingredients and cook on low heat for approximately another 5 minutes.

5. Serve warm or cold.

Source:  Johari, Harish (2008). Ayurvedic Healing Cuisine. Pragma.





Broccoli and Red Wheat Berries with Green Goddess Dressing

 
 
Ingredients:

1 cup red wheat berries

3 cups broccoli, roughly chopped

1 tablespoon oil

2 cloves garlic

1 cup finely chopped green beans, zucchini, or snap peas (or other green vegetable)

1 cup yogurt

2 tablespoons fresh parsley (or 1 teaspoon dried)

2 tablespoons fresh tarragon (or 1 teaspoon dried)

3 tablespoons finely chopped pistachios, lightly toasted

Sea salt or seasoned salt

Black pepper


 Directions:
 
1.  Soak red wheat berries (2 ½: 1) (water; grain) overnight. Cook for approximately 2 hours or until soft. *, **
2.  Blanch or steam broccoli until tender but still bright green. 
3.  To make the dressing: Heat oil in skillet. Add the garlic and sauté for 30 seconds over low heat. Add green beans, sprinkle with salt, and sauté until tender, stirring frequently. Place in a food processor or blender with just enough yogurt to blend to a smooth purée.  Mix the purée into the remaining yogurt and stir in the parsley, tarragon, and pistachios. Season to taste with salt and black pepper. 
4.  Pile broccoli over a bed or wheat berries and top generously with Goddess Dressing.

Notes: 

* There are no exact measurements for cooking grains. Different batches of grains will contain different amounts of moisture, and you may have to add or subtract as much as 1/3 cup water to cook 1 cup of grain.
** You can substitute another type of whole grain according to your preference and time allowance (e.g. brown, basmati, or wild rice; amaranth; barley; bulgar; quinoa; rye; semolina).      

                                  Israeli Mezze

Inspired by a recent trip to Israel, I’ve chosen to share some recipes for Middle Eastern delights. A typical Israeli meal starts with a number of hors d'oeuvres called “Mezze”. But if you are imaging a few tidbits of olives and pita, let me more fully explain the Mezze experience: it can be an elaborate spread of forty or fifty starters, or at least five tasty dishes and a basket of fresh pita. Mezze represents “the pleasure of savoring little pieces of food”. 
 
 A typical mezze starts with a basket of warm pita, hummus, tahini, fattoush (a salad of green vegetables mixed with pieces of pita bread), fresh herbs, feta cheese or yogurt cheese, olives, and plenty of dips such as ground chickpeas, grilled eggplant, and zucchini. Here are a few basics to get you prepared for your first Middle Eastern dinner party:
 
Hummus:
 
Sumac is spice made from berries of a Mediterranean wild bush that are dried and reduced to purple powder. It can be found in Middle Eastern stores.
 
 
Serves 15
 
Ingredients
 
1 pound  (453 g) dried chickpeas, soaked in water for at least 4 hours
1 teaspoon baking soda

1 cup water

1/2 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 1/2 teaspoons fine sea salt

1/3 cup (80ml) tahini
Olive oil to drizzle
Sumac 
 
Directions
 
In a large pot, add water to cover the chickpeas. Bring to a boil over medium heat. Add the baking soda and reduce the heat. Simmer, skimming any foam from the surface, until the chickpeas are soft but still firm, roughly an hour. 

Place 4 cups (650 g) of the cooked chickpeas in a food processor. Add the water, lemon juice, and salt. Process until completely smooth. You may need to scrape down the sides of the bowl once or twice along the way. If you like your hummus thinner, add more water a small splash at a time. Add the tahini. Taste and add more salt or lemon juice if needed. Transfer the hummus to a serving bowl. With the back of a spoon, make a slight depression in the centre. Drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with sumac.

Variation: if you do not have Sumac and are fond of spicy sauces, mix1/4 cup Italian parsley,
1 jalapeño (deseeded and deveined),
1 clove garlic, 1/2 teaspoon fine grain sea salt, and
2/3 cup (160 ml) extra virgin olive oil. Dollop lavishly on hummus. 

Labani

Labani is fresh cheese made from yogurt. It's worth making the effort to get sheep's milk for preparing labani, even if you may have to milk a sheep in your neighbors yard. Zatar is a mixture of dried powdered hyssop, sumac, sesame seeds, oil, salt.

Ingredients

2 liters sheep's milk or cow's milk


3 tbsp yogurt or leben (sour milk)


1 tablespoon salt


Olive oil
 

Directions

Prepare a cotton cloth or cheese cloth. Heat the milk in a large pot over a low heat until boiling. Remove immediately from the heat and set to cool. Place 4 tablespoons of the milk in a bowl, add the yogurt, give it a nice stir, and then add the milk. Transfer to an earthenware or glass bowl, cover well, and wrap in a cloth or blanket. Let rest for 6­­–8 hours in a warm place. Place the cloth in a large strainer. Mix the yoghurt with the salt and pour over the cloth. Tie and hang above the sink or a bowl. The labani will be ready in 10–12 hours.

Transfer the labani into a container, press with a plate to flatten, and cover with olive oil. Sprinkle with Zaatar if available. If you end up with something displeasing, check out online stores that can express post you some fresh labani from the Middle East (or settle for some full-fat yogurt or cream cheese at your local supermarket).

Israeli Salad

This kosher salad is a traditional recipe. Interestingly, there is no lettuce in this “salad”.  Israelis have been known to mock the way Americans prepare salad: "They just take a bag of lettuce out of the fridge, put it in a bowl, squirt dressing on top, and they think they have made salad!". If you are feeling creative, add eggplant, chopped peppers, sautéed mushrooms, sprigs of cilantro, or chunks of goat cheese. I love the flavors of this simple salad with fresh herbs. This salad is often eaten for breakfast, along with pita, hummus, and hard-boiled eggs. Try it one day!  

 

Ingredients

4 plum tomatoes

2 cucumbers

3 scallions

1/2 cup parsley 

1/4 cup fresh mint leaves (or any other herbs lurking in your refrigerator)

1/4 cup chopped fresh dill

3-4 tablespoons olive oil

1 lemon, juice of

salt and pepper to taste 

Directions

1.Finely chop the vegetables and herbs

2.Lightly mix with the remaining ingredients and serve!

 

Typical Israeli Breakfast:

                Cranberry Eggnog Muffins

A tasty way to use up that leftover eggnog in the refrigerator from Christmas!

Serves 15

Ingredients:                                                                                                

 1 cup chopped cranberries                                                                                    2 tablespoons sugar                                                                                              2 1/4 cups flour                                                                                                      1 cup sugar                                                                                                              1 tablespoon baking powder                                                                                1/2 teaspoon salt                                                                                                  1/2 teaspoon nutmeg                                                                                            2 eggs                                                                                                                      1 cup eggnog                                                                                                            1/3 cup butter                                                                                                        1 teaspoon almond extract                                                                                  1/2 cup roughly chopped pecans or walnuts

  For streusel topping:

1/4 cup sugar                                                                                                          1/4 cup flour                                                                                                          1/8 cup butter                                                                                                        1/2 cup chopped toasted almonds

Directions:

1. Preheat oven to 400 C.

2. Mix cranberries and 2 tablespoons sugar together and set aside.

3. Mix the dry ingredients together. In a separate bowl, mix eggnog, butter, eggs, and extract together and add to flour mixture.

4. Fold in the cranberries and pecans or walnuts. Spoon into greased muffin cups.

5. For the strussel, mix dry ingredients together and then cut in the butter to make a crumble. Mix in the almonds. Sprinkle over tops of muffins. 

6. Bake approximately 15-20 minutes, just until tops are slightly golden.

                                 Millet and Plum Bake 

A delicious breakfast or dessert using fresh-picked wild plums or other seasonal fruit that has been lurking in the back of your fridge. Best served piping hot from the oven with oat or soy milk. Boost the protein by adding a sprinkling of toasted sliced almonds or walnuts. 
 
Serves 2 
 
Ingredients:
 
2 tablespoons raisins or currants 
1 cup millet  
1 1/2 cups plums (or other seasonal fruit) 
2 teaspoons honey, rice syrup, or blackstrap molasses (I use a combination of rice syrup and molasses to give it a distinctive flavour) 
2 tablespoons raisins or currants
2 egg whites
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1 teaspoon cardamom 
pinch of cloves 
   
Directions:
 
Preheat over to 185 C.
 
Soak raisins in a bowl with warm water.
 
Combine millet with water (2:1) and cook 10-15 minutes. (The millet will continue to cook in the oven.)
 
Whip egg whites until foamy. Roughly chop plums and combine with half of the egg whites, raisins, and spices. In greased baking pan, spread half of the of millet, then the fruit mixture, and finally the remaining millet. Top with the remaining egg whites. Bake for 25 minutes or until the top is golden.