Monday, May 21, 2018

Loquat cake flavored with orange and rosewater

Loquat trees can be found in many areas in Greece, even in Athens where I’m from, and you can simply reach up, pick the fruit from the tree and eat it right then and there. It’s unfortunate that not many people eat loquats or that they only use them to make jam, because loquats have so much potential and can be used not only in sweet but savory dishes as well.

I think many people simply don’t know what to do with them or they don’t realize how flavorful they are. Loquats have a very unique flavor. They are tart at the beginning but that tartness is never lingering as it is succeeded by a gentle sweetness and an aromatic, fresh and fruity flavor that I can’t really describe. It is reminiscent of stone fruits like apricot or plum but also nutty, almondy somehow.

Loquats should be eaten when fully ripe and indications of that is an orange-y color instead of a pale yellow one and lots of bruises and blemishes. Perhaps that’s why people avoid them, because they think they’ve gone bad when they’re actually at their best.

I love eating loquats straight up, —I frequently combine them with cheeses, especially Greek kefalotyri which is a hard and creamy cheese made with sheep and goat’s milk, and some crusty bread— and I have used them in the past to make jam and preserve. I have been meaning to incorporate them in a cake for ages but never really got around to it until a couple of weeks ago when I finally decided to experiment. I’m happy to report that I had great results that exceeded my expectations.

I made a cake with halved loquats, semolina and almonds, flavored with orange zest and rosewater and it was incredibly flavorful with a wonderful texture. I have since then made this cake twice more to ensure it is right, and everyone who tasted it has fell in love with it.

The loquats and almonds are placed on top of the cake batter and during baking they immerse into it, hiding eventually inside the cake, only to be rediscovered with each slice or bite.

It’s a buttery and not too sweet cake, perfectly balanced, and has the distinctive flavor of the sweet and tart loquats, the citrusy aroma of the orange and the floral quality of the rosewater. It has a moist and fluffy crumb with a crispness from the added semolina and halved almonds, juiciness from the fruit and a slightly crunchy top.

The addition of salted butter was a good reminder that I need to use it more often in baked goods as it always adds a certain je ne sais quoi to cakes and biscuits (like in these pistachio and cocoa nib cookies) that makes them exceptional.

Loquat cake flavored with orange and rosewater

Loquats are extremely easy to peel as their skin comes off very easily. Start by pulling the stem upwards, which will also tear the skin all around and from then on it’s easy to peel them, like you would the skin of a tomato.
Then, cut them in half lengthwise, remove the stones (I have found loquats with only one stone and up to six!) and then you will see that there is a thin membrane in the center. You can remove it, especially any part that is too dark, but peel it off, don’t cut it off or you may remove valuable fruit flesh. If it’s too hard to peel, then leave it alone; it’s edible and it doesn’t really affect the flavor.

I love eating it plain but it would pair beautifully with a scoop of vanilla or this honey and milk ice cream.

Yield: 8 pieces

180 g good quality salted butter, softened, plus extra for greasing the pan
180 g caster sugar
3 large eggs
140 g all-purpose flour
5 g (1 tsp) baking powder
60 g coarse semolina
Grated zest of 1 large orange
30 g fresh milk, full-fat
1¼ tsp rosewater
6 loquats (300-350 g), stoned, peeled and halved (see instructions above)
25 g (2 Tbsp) blanched halved almonds

Icing sugar, for dusting (optional)

Special equipment: fine sieve, 20 cm round spring-form pan, baking paper, stand mixer or electric hand-held mixer

Preheat your oven to 170°C.
Butter the sides and bottom of a 20 cm round, spring-form pan and line the bottom with a round piece of baking paper. (See here how to cut a round piece of baking paper).

In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a large bowl), add the butter and sugar and beat with the paddle attachment (or with a hand-held mixer) on medium-high speed until creamy, pale and fluffy, for 10-12 minutes. Add the eggs one at a time beating well on medium-high speed after each addition, fully incorporating each egg in the mixture before adding the next.

In a separate bowl, sift together the flour, baking powder and semolina, add the grated orange zest and mix. Add half of this mixture to the butter mixture and beat on low, briefly, to incorporate. Then add the milk and rosewater and beat on low until fully incorporated. Add the remaining flour mixture and mix on low just until combined. Don’t overmix. You should have a creamy, fluffy mixture/batter at this point.

Empty the batter in the prepared pan, smooth the top and arrange the loquats on top in one layer as in the photo, pushing them gently into the batter. Sprinkle all over with the halved almonds. The loquats and almonds will sink into the cake during baking.

Bake on the low rack of the preheated oven for 40 minutes, then transfer to the middle rack and bake for a further 10-13 minutes or until the top of the cake is firm to the touch and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. If towards the last 10 minutes of baking, the top of the cake looks too dark to you, cover loosely with a piece of aluminium foil.

Remove the pan from the oven and place on a wire rack to cool for about 25 minutes. Then, remove the sides of the pan and let cake cool for another 25 minutes before removing the bottom of the pan and the baking paper. Let the cake cool completely on the wire rack before serving.

Serve dusted with icing sugar if you want.

It keeps well for 3-4 days, at room temperature.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Seskoulorizo - Greek rainbow chard with rice

I came back from the market the other day with a bagful of rainbow chard and when I was done staring at it, admiring its gorgeous colors and photographing it, I started contemplating what to do with it and couldn’t wait to taste it in a dish. I’m sure you know that these greens are not all show; they are delicious too.

I didn’t want to make a Greek pie, which is a common way to use chard in my country, but wanted something a bit different. And then it hit me; I would make a riff on the classic, traditional spanakorizo (Greek spinach rice) using my beautiful, multicolored chard instead of spinach.

That’s what I did, and the result was amazing. There’s so much creaminess, flavor and warmth in this dish. Tasty, smooth and comforting, with fresh flavors from the chard and the herbs, richness from the olive oil and rice, and of course plenty of lemon squeezed over the whole dish to bring it to life and add a much welcomed acidity.

With some good, tangy Greek feta on the side and a few slices of dark, crusty bread, it’s one of the simplest, healthiest and quickest dishes to make.

Hope you enjoy, and don’t forget to tag me on instagram if you make any of the recipes from my blog so I can see them!

Seskoulorizo - Greek rainbow chard with rice

The rice used in this dish is Karolina rice, a very typical kind of white, starchy, medium-grain rice used a lot in Greek cooking, but the Italian Arborio would work perfectly as well.

Yield: 2 main course servings

500 g fresh rainbow chard (or regular swiss chard)
6 Tbsp (90 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1 red onion, finely chopped
4-5 spring onions, white and pale green parts only, sliced thinly
A big handful of fresh dill, divided into stems and leaves, finely chopped
A big handful of fresh flat-leaf parsley, divided into stems and leaves, finely chopped
⅓ heaped cup Greek Karolina rice or Arborio rice
Freshly ground black pepper
Lemon juice, freshly squeezed

Special equipment: large, heavy-bottomed pan with lid, colander

Using a large knife, slice the leaves and stalks of the chard as shown in the photo below. Rinse well under cold running water and drain in a colander.

Heat the oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat and when it starts to shimmer, add the red onion, green onions, dill and parsley stems and sauté, stirring constantly, until they soften but don’t color.

Add the chopped chard, the rice, salt and pepper and stir until the chard settles. It will take 4-5 minutes as there’s a lot of it. Add 1 cup of hot water to the pan together with the chopped dill and parsley leaves, put the lid on the pan and simmer for 15-20 minutes, making sure to check after 10 minutes to see if it needs more water.

Note: If you are used to making spanakorizo (Greek spinach rice), then you’d think that the greens will release a lot of water but chard isn’t the same as spinach. Chard releases less water, that’s why you need to keep checking while cooking so the dish doesn’t dry out, and add more water if it does.

Keep simmering until the chard stalks are tender and the rice is cooked. It will need about 25 minutes in total. Cooking time is dependent on the kind of rice you use and the thickness and toughness of the chard.
In the end, the rice must be a little al dente and not mushy or broken, and the chard must be soft but not mushy. Also, the dish should be wet but not soupy, and, again, it shouldn’t be dry.

When ready, check the seasoning, adding more if needed, and give 4-5 squeezes of a lemon to start. Stir and take the pan off the heat. Allow to stand for 10 minutes with the lid on.

Serve warm or at room temperature with extra lemon juice.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

Broccolini with wild garlic and miso dressing

I’ve been obsessed with wild garlic this spring and I’ve been cooking with it every chance I get. This time, I made a wild garlic and miso dressing that was so addictive I couldn’t stop eating it by the spoonful; I was getting dangerously close to finishing the whole lot before my boyfriend caught a glimpse of me and reminded me that we needed it for our dinner. Yes, it is that addictive.

It is bright, zingy, pungent and salty, acidic and lemony, garlicky but not overpoweringly so, with a fresh, herby quality from the wild garlic leaves and full of umami flavor from the white miso paste. It wakes up your taste buds and brings to life whatever you choose to pair it with. This time, it was broccolini and it complemented their bittersweet flavor perfectly.

This dressing is an emulsion that resembles freshly made mayonnaise in texture and thickness, but is even more luscious and light, and has a vivid green color to boot. The garlic is in the background, giving a soft garlic flavor and the umaminess of the miso which to me is pure kryptonite, transforms it.

It’s a strong, sharp and lively dressing with a creamy, fluffy and light texture, perfectly smooth and plump, and apart from broccolini, it would also go great with fresh green asparagus or plain broccoli. It would also be the ideal sauce to dollop over a piece of pan-fried salmon as the sharpness of the sauce offsets the sweetness and fattiness of the fish.

It would also be wonderful in a fish sandwich, with fried fish or seafood, or with bakaliaro (the Greek salt cod fritters) as a skordalia substitute.


P.S. If you too are wild garlic fiends, try these wild garlic flaky flatbreads and of course this tzatziki.

Broccolini with wild garlic and miso dressing

Serve this dish as a light lunch with some good bread, or serve it alongside a grilled piece of fish or chicken for your main meal of the day.

Broccolini are a hybrid of broccoli and Chinese broccoli. They are among my favorite vegetables because they are versatile and can be used in many dishes like this ultra Spring-y dish of tortiglioni pasta with ricotta and lemon zest, and in these bruschette. Their flavor is similar to that of broccoli but sweeter, milder and more tender, and they remind me a bit of green asparagus as well in flavor.

And if you like miso, here is another dressing I have used it in.

Yield: 2 servings as salad / 1 cup dressing

200 g broccolini

for the dressing
30 g (1½ Tbsp) white miso paste (shiro miso)
10 g wild garlic, leaves picked and rinsed well (about 15 small leaves)
4 tsp (20 ml) water
5 Tbsp (75 ml) extra virgin olive oil
1½ Tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice
Freshly ground black pepper, 5-6 turns of the pepper mill

Special equipment: colander, small food processor

Rinse the broccolini under cold running water and trim the ends if needed.
Add them to a pot of boiling water and boil with the lid off so they retain the bright green color, and boil them until soft but not mushy or disintegrating as you want them to have some texture. How long this will take depends on the thickness of the broccolini. It may take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
Drain them in a colander and leave them to cool.

make the dressing
In the bowl of your food processor, add the miso, water and wild garlic leaves and process until smooth. Add 1 Tbsp of the olive oil and process to emulsify. Then add another tablespoon of the oil and process again to emulsify. Add a third tablespoon of oil and 1 Tbsp of the lemon juice and process again. Add the rest 2 Tbsp of the olive oil, the rest ½ Tbsp of lemon and the black pepper, and process again. This is done, gradually, in order for the dressing to emulsify properly and have a smooth and fluffy mayonnaise-like sauce. Give it a taste and add more lemon if you wish.

Arrange the broccolini in a platter. Don’t season them as the saltiness of the dressing is adequate. Add 1 Τbsp of dressing and toss gently. Add more sauce depending on your personal taste.

The remaining dressing can be stored in an airtight container for a few days in the fridge. The second day it still has a fluffy texture, but not as much as the first day, yet the flavor is even better!