Leeks

Herby, scallion & leek pancakes made with chickpea flour


Story 4 in Food & Fiction


My sketchers were mostly white, a little dusty from the walk. I was now standing with the trees to my back. I peered into the field in front of me. There a large rock had anchored itself into the earth, breaking the horizon. I adjusted the stick resting on my shoulder, the contents in the bandana at the end bounced slightly. So far, this was the farthest I had traveled alone from home before. I watched for ticks on my socks as I moved through the tall grass, just how my Dad showed me. The amber bristles tried to paint my legs as I walked. They tickled past me in waves. I floated across the sea. Drifting steadily towards the island.

The rock was part concrete. It was a ruin? A shipwreck? I inspected the base and found old bits of newspaper stuck to the hardened mixture. I was curious at my discovery. I dropped my bundle, crushing the saltine crackers which were so preciously tucked into my knapsack. It was one of the few items I selected for my journey. I tried to read the bits of newspaper, trying to find clues or a date. It was unreadable and I moved on. There were little imprints of leaves hardened into the concrete. I spent what felt like hours tracing fossilized leaf veins with my finger tips. I loved my rock, it was my secret of unknown histories. I climbed on top of my ship and looked out at my grass ocean. It swayed gently, the waters were calm. I sat down and hugged my legs to my chest and sipped on a mini plastic bottled water I brought. I marooned myself.

After awhile I poked through my supplies and I sprinkled the crushed saltines in the grass for the birds. The last thing I packed was my journal. I stared at the cover. It was denim with a rhinestone butterfly. I opened the inside cover and read my own hand, it said "Do not read. Please." I obeyed my own rule and closed the journal. I tried to remember why I came out here by myself, why I wanted to run away. I had been angry, that is all. I could not remember anymore, all that mattered was my oasis. A silent place with something no one else found interesting. From my lookout I saw a car coming down the road that cut through the field. The car kicked up a cloud behind it. I jumped down and hid behind my rock... I did not want to expose my location. The car passed and my hideout was safe. I folded the journal back up into the bandana and tied it in a knot at the end of my stick, like I had seen in cartoons. I began to worry that sharing my saltine crackers with the birds was a mistake... a grave error in my operation. I knew there was more food back at the house... but should I return?

I looked back from where I had come, I could see my house from behind the trees. It's red brick peaking through the planted evergreens.  I wasn't far away from my home after all. I could come back to my oasis whenever in need. I headed back towards the tree harbor... to shallower grass waters of the back yard. I had not even been gone an hour.

Years later, long after the rock was hauled away, the field was leveled, homes were built, and I had moved away; I would think about that oasis. Some things, like that rock, just exist somewhere out-of-place. But really, they are exactly where they need to be.

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Recipe (Servers 2)

Chickpea Flour - 3/4 Cup

Baking powder - 1TB

Egg - 1

Butter - 4TB, melted

Milk - 2/3 Cup

Ground coriander - 1 tsp

Fresh Herbs - 1/3 cup - 1/2 cup, chopped. (I used dill, cilantro, and parsley)

Olive oil - 1TB

Leek - 1 - sliced into thin half rounds

Scallions - 3, sliced thin (using both the white & the green part)

Garlic - 2 cloves, minced

Salt/pepper - to taste

Chard - 1/2 a bundle (enough for a handful or two), chopped

Lemon juice - 1/2 a fresh lemon (scant 1TB)

Butter or coconut oil (of other fat/oil) to coat pan for cooking pancakes

Chop up  leeks, scallions, herbs, and garlic, then set aside. Trim and chop up the chard into slivers. Place in a bowl with the lemon juice and a tiny pinch of salt & drizzle of olive oil. Toss the chard and then place in the fridge to marinate while you make the rest.

Add the 1TB olive oil to a medium skillet on medium low heat. Let it get warm and them add the garlic, toss for a minute, then add the scallions & leeks. Cook, tossing occasionally, for several minutes to soften. Turn off the heat and then dump the mixture into a bowl. Set these cooked onions aside for now.

In a large bowl mix together the chickpea flour, baking powder, coriander, 1/2tsp of salt, and a 1/2tsp of pepper. Stir this together and then make a well in the center. Add the egg, milk, and melted butter. Combine well with a fork until the batter is smooth and there are no lumps. Add in the cooked scallion mixture and fresh chopped herbs. Combine well.

Heat a small amount of butter or other oil in the same medium skillet - just enough to coat the surface - over medium heat. Once warm, place a heaped 1/4 cup serving of batter into the skillet. Let it cook several minutes, until bubbles are coming up in the center of the pancake. Flip and then cook a few more minutes on the other side. Repeat this with the rest of the batter.

Serve the pancakes warm with a generous handful of lemony chard piled on top. You can also serve with a dollop of high-quality sour cream or creme fraiche. This is completely optional. Next time I'd go without - but it makes the photos look nice! Makes two large servings.


Aushak, for the vegetarian

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I've explained my love for Afghan food in an earlier post here. One of the most interesting things about Afghan food is the significance it has with family. Most families have versions of dishes such as Aushak (or ashak) and curries that are unique to that family. Traditions past on through the act of doing, sharing, eating rather than through recipe notecards and magazines. One beautiful aspect of Afghan meal time is the dastarkhan. The "space" for eating a meal. Sometimes (I believe usually with larger family gatherings and special guests) a dastarkhan is used to set the space for eating. It is a piece of fabric or tablecloth spread across the floor and then arranged with the various dishes, bread, curries, rice, meats, and beverage, usually tea. The dastarkhan is a sacred space, not to be walked across or sat upon, just a place that holds the sacredness of enjoying and sharing a meal with family. Often, there is a designated tea poured and food server because these jobs have meaning, even the arrangement of food is taken into consideration; it all has significance.

In our home, our table is typically strewn across with bits and pieces of whatever project I've been working on lately or whatever was in my hands when I walked in the door. Books, bags, laptops, keys, papers, glues, labels, mail, boxes... these all frequent my table more than actual food. I can spend so much time enjoying the preparation of the meal and, in the end, eating it can feel more of an afterthought because I don't bring the sacredness of enjoying a meal. Sometimes I have to clear a little placemat sized space open on the table just to eat... or we forgo it all and eat bowls of soup cuddled on the couch under a blanket. Don't get me wrong, couch eating has its place, but I should put as much intention into eating the food and enjoying the time to quite the mind, as I do while preparing the food. I feel as eating in a space with intention helps us to remain present. 

This aushak is delicious and, I promise, simple. It varies from the traditional a bit, but like I said, each family has their own version. It is typically a leek filled dumpling served with a yogurt sauce, spiced ground meat topping, and dried mint. This version combines leeks and scallions, steamed in peppery broth, and topped with a garlic-mint yogurt. Its wonderful and best enjoyed in a sacred space. If you do not want to make all the dumplings at once. Reserve the left over fillings and wonton wrappers separate. Already steamed dumplings do not keep well, so steam to order :). You can, of course, make your own pasta dough here, but this time I choose the quicker version of using pre-made wonton wrappers.

 

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Aushak (Makes about 35-40 dumplings)

Wonton wrappers - 1 package (at least 40 inside)

Leeks - 3 large, trimmed and chopping into thin half-moons

Scallions - 1 bunch, trimmed and sliced into thin rounds

Cayenne pepper - scant 1tsp, ground

Garlic - 3 cloves, minced very fine or grated in a microplane

Yogurt - 1/2 cup plain whole-milk yogurt or greek yogurt

Mint - 2-3TB fresh, plus extra to garnish

Coconut oil - 3TB (Or evoo)

Whole pepper kernels - 1tsp

Mushroom (or veggie) broth - 2Cups (plus a little extra, if needed)

Salt/pepper - to taste

 

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Stir together the yogurt, 2 cloves worth of the garlic, and the fresh mint in a small bowl. Sprinkle in a pinch of salt and pepper and stir again, sit it aside for later. 

In a large skillet heat up the coconut oil on medium high heat. Add in the other clove of minced or grate garlic and the leeks/onions. Cook stirring frequently until softened. At least 5 minuets. You want them to be soft and buttery tasting but not mushy. Season with the cayenne and some salt and then turn off the heat. 

Heat up a medium skillet with a lid with 2 cups of the broth sprinkled with the whole peppercorns on medium low. You want to bring this mixture to a simmer and keep it there, keep it covered. Get out the wonton wrappers and a little bowl or cup of water. Lay out your wonton wrappers individually onto a clean surface. Spoon a small spoonful of the leek mixture into the center of each of the wontons. Then dip your finger into the water and spread two connecting edges of the wonton wrapper (one wonton at a time) with a strip of water. Fold the dry edges of the wonton wrapper over onto the wet edges, making a triangle and pinch together to seal. Make sure you only spread the water on one wonton at a time because the water will soak up/dry out so you need to fold it over right after you wet it. Repeat the process with all of your wontons. (If you aren't making all of them make sure you wrap the wonton wrappers up well so they don't dry out and keep the leek mixture separate). 

Once the broth is simmering, lay in the wonton wrappers in one flat layer, try not to let them touch or they will cook together. You will need to do this in batches. Return the cover to the skillet and let them simmer/steam in the broth for 3 minuets. You might, occasionally need to add in a little more broth as you cook the dumplings in batches, in case too much steams out. Removed from the broth with a spatula and lay on a plate, drizzle with the yogurt sauce and sprinkle with extra chopped mint, if desired, and serve warm. 

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Leek, squash blossom, & corn chowder for the harvest moon.

Silver lady. 

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The moon is mysterious, wise, and beautiful as women themselves. I think all women have a little bit of the moon inside us. Illuminating the world at night, watching the earth at sleep. At some point all of us have been stopped dead in our tracks because of a gorgeous moon. We should do that every time. Early this morning was a most beautiful harvest moon or the corn moon. Where I am located, the moon wrapped herself up in an orb of soft, warm orange. I stood outside with Ty, my bare-feet in the cool dirt and hands cupped around a small bowl of corn chowder.

This moon was particularly important to Native Americans and its light told them that crops such as corn, squash, beans, and wild rice were ready for harvest. The moon was so bright that it invited them to work late into the night harvesting plants in lady moon's bright glow. They worshiped their light-bringers, and we should be thankful for them as well. Almost all cultures/religions (Ancient Egyptians, to Chinese, to Druids, to Ancient Greeks, Early European, to North and South Americans, to Christianity) were heavily drenched in moon lore. All religions are still colored with the moon today, even if we do not realize it. One of the most carving experiences of my life was exploring the Mayan culture on a four day hike to Machu Picchu, where, among other things, I saw the Inca temple of the moon. During the hike, our guide taught us to pour out a little food from everything we ate to give it to Mama Pacha (mother world). It only makes sense to give a little back the the earth that gives us so much. I left my little bowl of chowder out on a stump under the glow of the harvest moon and mama pacha. 

This corn chowder is perfect as we approach the end of summer and welcome fall.

"On a gold throne, whose radiating brightness
  Dazzles the eyes--enhaloing the scene,
Sits a fair form, arrayed in snowy whiteness.
  She is Chang-o, the beauteous Fairy Queen.
Rainbow-winged angels softly hover o'er her,
  Forming a canopy above the throne;
A host of fairy beings stand before her,
  Each robed in light, and girt with meteor zone.'"

                                                  -Mr. G. C. Stent idea of the Chinese versifier translated

 

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Recipe (Serves about 8 bowls, freezes well too)

 

Corn- 6 ears, shucked and kernels cut off cobb (keep cobbs)  

Leeks - 3, washed and sliced into thin slivers

Red onion - 1/4 an onion, diced

Sweet peppers - 3 small, or 1 small bell pepper, chopped

Squash blossoms - 3-4 (chopped + extra for garnish) (optional) Make sure to remove the stamen (central stalk of the bloom)

Red skinned potato - 1 medium, diced

Spinach - 2 large handfuls, fresh, finely chopped

Garlic - 3 cloves, minced

Mushroom broth - 6.5 cups (or veggie broth but I think mushroom is better) 

Olive oil - 2TB

Butter - 2TB

Flour - 1.5TB

Light cream - 1 cup

Mild cheddar - scant 1/2 cup, grated.

Salt/ pepper - to taste, about a teaspoon but I was generous with the pepper

Bay leaves - 3

Dry sage - 1TB

Thyme - 2tsp

Chives - a few TB for garnish (optional) 

Chop all veggies and have them ready. Place the 2TB of olive oil in a large stock pot on medium heat, add garlic, leeks and onions. Let them sweat and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally. Add in the sweet peppers, squash blossoms, sage, and thyme. Cook for another 2 minutes. Add in the broth, the potato, bay leaves, and corn cobs (with the kernels cut off). Let it simmer for 20 minutes. Add in 1/4 of the corn kernels. Let it simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove and discard the bay leaves and corn cobs.

Pour the mixture into a blender and blend until smooth. Have a ladle, a whisk, and the blender full of soup handy. Return the empty pot to medium heat on the stove and add in the 2TB of butter, you are going to make a roux. Once the butter melts whisk in the flour and then, while whisking, ladle in the soup slowly. Continue doing this, whisking in-between ladle fulls until it is all incorporated. The soup will be a little thicker now. You are almost there! Keep the soup on medium heat and add then place another 1/4 of the corn kernels into the blender with the cream. Blend until smooth. Add the cream mixture into the soup and then all the rest of the reserved corn kernels and fresh spinach. Let it heat up at least another 10 minutes (not boil). Add your cheese and let it melt. Season it with salt and pepper, and serve warm topped with chives and squash blossoms. 

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