Kalo mina! That's Greek for "Have a good month," a wish customarily shared amongst Greeks on the first of every month. Speaking of which, today (the first of December) is the deadline for this month's Royal Foodie Joust, a friendly blogger competition hosted by Jenn of The Leftover Queen, and I am running short on time considering I have until noon (it's 10:33 a.m. as I write this) to post this on the RFJ forum.
So, the ingredients for this month's joust were fennel, pear and ginger. Three lovely ingredients indeed and so many dishes they can star in ... but I've got to keep this short. I got some inspiration for this dish from a snippet in the December 2009 issue of Food & Wine highlighting a fennel mustard by Thomas Keller (this master chef's version is just fennel cooked in white vinegar then pureed with mustard powder). I, on the other hand, cooked down some roughly chopped fennel and pear with a pinch of ground ginger in some white vinegar, then pureed it with dry mustard powder and thyme honey. Can you say Mmmmmmmm?
Now, one of my favorite things to eat with mustard is a good potato knish. A knish, if I am not mistaken, is Yiddish for a fried turnover/dumpling filled with potato more often than not although there are a number of varieties that also include ground meat, spinach and other fillings. My favorite is the potato, slathered with lots of whole grain mustard. So after making this homemade mustard of sorts, I had to try it with something potato-y ... hence these Ginger Leek Potato Croquettes that fit beautifully in with the Royal Foodie Joust, paired amazingly well with the Fennel Pear Honey Mustard and, even more importantly, took care of my sudden craving for a knish ... which come to think about it I haven't had in years.
And just so you can understand how delicious these are: my son upon popping two in his mouth jumped up and exclaimed, "Mmmm, Mama! These are yummy in my tummy!" What can I say? The kid's got a distinguished palate ... and he's only three!
Ginger Leek Potato Croquettes with a Fennel Pear Honey Mustard
For 1 1/2 cups of mustard:
1 tablespoon olive oil 2 fennel bulbs, cleaned, trimmed and roughly chopped 2 pears, peeled and diced 1/2 cup white wine vinegar Pinch of ground ginger 1 teaspoon dry mustard powder 1 teaspoon thyme honey Salt, to taste
In a skillet, heat the olive oil and cook the fennel and pear over low heat until tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add the vinegar and ground ginger and cook for 10 to 15 minutes more. Once done, place the contents of the skillet into the bowl of a food processor, add the mustard powder and honey and blend until pureed. Spoon the mustard into a bowl, let cool, then season with salt and store tightly covered in the refrigerator. The mustard is best made at least one day ahead, if not more.
For the Ginger Leek Potato Croquettes:
2 large potatoes, scrubbed, peeled and quartered 1 large leek, washed, trimmed and roughly chopped Pinch of grated ginger 1/3 cup panko breadcrumbs 2 eggs (one for mixture, one for coating before frying) Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste Olive oil for frying
In a medium saucepan, place leeks and potatoes in enough water to cover and boil until the potatoes are fork tender. Drain the cooking water then place saucepan with the leeks and potatoes briefly back over the heat to evaporate any excess water.
Transfer the potatoes and leeks to the bowl of a food processor along with the ginger, salt and pepper. Pulse until pureed then spoon the potato mixture into a large bowl. Stir in the breadcrumbs and one egg, adding more breadcrumbs as necessary to more easily form the mixture into croquettes. If you have the time, place the mixture in the refrigerator for at least 30 minutes for better handling. Beat the remaining egg in a small bowl and set aside. Heat about an inch of olive oil in a large skillet or dutch oven. Wet your hands slightly and begin forming the potato mixture into croquettes, about one inch in diameter. Coat the croquettes in the egg and fry until golden on each side. Drain briefly on a plate lined with paper towel.
Serve hot or warm alongside the Fennel Pear Honey Mustard.
I'm a sucker for a good chili ... spicy, warm, comforting. And for some very strange reason, I never make the same chili twice. I'm always tweaking: always adding a little extra this or subtracting a little of that. Sausage, ground meat, bell peppers, beans; regardless the ingredients, there is always a soul-satisfying, heartwarming bowl of chili to enjoy.
This time around, chunks of butternut squash replaced meat and provided for the perfect counterpart to cannelini and black beans. Chipotle chilies added a smoky, spicy dimension of flavor every bowl of chili should boast.
Once done, just add a dollop of Greek yogurt and some fresh cilantro over top for the perfect chili everyone will enjoy.
Two Bean Butternut Squash Chili
1/4 cup olive oil 2 medium onions, chopped 4 garlic cloves, minced 1 small to medium butternut squash, peeled and cut into 1-inch cubes 2 chipotle chilies, seeds removed and chilies finely chopped 2 teaspoons ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon dried Greek oregano
2 medium tomatoes, diced
2 tablespoons tomato paste 2 cups black beans, either canned or dried beans boiled until just tender
2 cups cannelini beans, either canned or dried beans boiled until just tender 2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 1/2 cups water (use more as needed)
Salt and pepper, to taste
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat and saute onions and garlic about 10 minutes until quite soft. Add the butternut squash and cook for a couple of minutes. Stir in tomatoes, paste, broth, chipotle chilies, cumin and oregano. Add the broth and water and bring to a boil. If using dried beans that have been boiled until just tender, add now and simmer chili for about 25 minutes; if using canned, let mixture simmer for about 15 minutes before adding rinsed beans to pot and then simmering for 10 minutes more.
Season to taste with salt and pepper and serve chili in bowls topped with Greek yogurt and chopped cilantro.
Food is more than a physical necessity; how we acquire it, how we prepare it, how we consume it and who we consume it with is so rich with meaning.
As in so many countries around the world, food and cooking play an enormous role in Greek culture. Growing up as a first generation Greek American has afforded me the opportunity to experience firsthand the importance of food in not only Greek holidays and traditions, but in daily life. I keep the recipes of my mother, grandmothers and aunts close at hand and although I've embraced a multitude of foreign cuisines over the years, the traditional Greek dishes I’ve grown to cherish remain dearest to my heart.
Kali Orexi (literally translated to Good Appetite) is the term echoed on the tables of families sitting down to a meal all across Greece, or in any corner of the world where Greeks can be found. I believe the dishes made by one who is passionate about cooking offer a glimpse into the soul. I'm happy to share this glimpse into mine ... Kali Orexi!