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Thursday, February 16, 2012

Squash and Spinach (and feta optional) Homemade WholeWheat Ravioli

I forgot that I made this until I was going through photos on my camera. At the time of making this (3 weeks ago), I forgot that I even had a blog.  Work has been busy. Life has been busy.  Cooking is wonderful, but then I forget about taking photos and putting on here. Until yesterday, when I was gchatting with Roddy, in Berlin, and he told me what he was having for dinner tonight. It was horrid (1/2 can of leftover beans on bread).  He said it was cheap and easy. I was making spinach and yogurt daal, also cheap and easy. He said, well, if you put recipes on your blog again, I would make them. I said fine, I will.  How ridiculous is it that after over 4 years together, we are communicating on gchat and through a blog. and skype. But tonight we're going to Thailand, for 2 WEEKS!!! and I'm just bursting with excitement.

So, anyway, flash back to 3 weeks ago, when I thought about making homemade whole wheat ravioli. It was squash season. Or some kind of mutantly large squash/pumpkin hybrid season.  I had made my way around Soliman Gohar Street, my favorite produce market, and been seeing a tonne of these things. Large, squash shaped, light orange, the size of the watermelons that Baby carried in Dirty Dancing. I came into work and asked Maha, how do I say squash in Arabic, or pumpkin. She was a little unclear, so  I described what I was talking about, and she said "OHHHHH, the big juicy fruit, kind of like a watermelon or canteloupe", Me, "Nooo, it's a vegetable, like a pumpkin". Her, "No, I know what you are talking about. It's a fruit, we bake it with cinnamon and brown sugar", Me, "ummm, okay. no, it's a vegetable, but thanks". I walked away feeling confused and unsure of what I was buying. And okay, I get it. First, I could have just bought it, brought it home and opened it up. But they are HUGE and it's a 20 min walk from my house.  Second, I really should have just trusted Maha. I mean, she's Egyptian. We work for an agricultural organization. Come on Lori.  

So,  I found a guy who sold them AND chopped those big honkin things into cubes. Amazing.

I took them home, and roasted them. After a few minutes, I checked on them... "Heather, these smell like canteloupe...". Okay, so in the end Maha was right. They were a fruit. I'm not vegetabley knowledgable. I get it, how am I working at an agricultural organization??? I WORK IN FISHERIES!!!! give me a break already.

Anyway. Here is the only photo of the process of making these bad boys.  When we were on the homestretch:

Can you get the idea of how beautiful these would become? Particularly beautiful on the tastebuds??? Maybe not. BUT THEY WERE. If I ever told Heather the webaddress of this blog, I would get her to vouch for me. Instead, you'll just have to take my word for it.

Overall this was relatively easy. Considering my mood. In my opinion, there are two types of times when one eats pasta. 1) When you are CRAVING warm, lovely, comforting pasta. 2) When you are starving and tired and don't give a crap what you put in your mouth.  

Homemade pasta should only be attempted in scenario 1. Trying it in scenario 2 could result in shoving raw pasta dough in your mouth and chasing it with sauce and a glass of wine. Or consuming an entire bag of chocolate chips.  

My Tuscan boss would not likely approve of this recipe. He says ravioli should have meat or potatoes in it. In my head, that's a pierogi. Or with some different spices, a samosa. But hey, I wanted wholewheat pasta (available in grocery stores here in Cairo at an exorbitant price), and I wanted to try those Giant squash things. The result was tastebud bliss.

Pasta Recipe

2 cups wholewheat flour (plus more for rolling)
2 eggs
1 tbsp olive oil
Few tbsp water

Mix these together. Let sit for 15 min.

Break dough into two, form into rectangles and get rolling. Have plenty of flour on hand for rolling pin and counter. Roll out one rectangle until very thin. The recommendation is 1/8 inch. But I don't know what that is so I guessed at what pasta should be. Set one rolled out sheet aside and roll the other.  Cut into squares, I made them about 5cm by 5cm. But the size is up to you.

Filling Recipe
2 cups roasted squash/pumpkin
2 handfuls of spinach
Pinches of nutmeg and cinnamon
1 clove garlic

Put all ingredients in blender and blend. 

Spoon on filling onto each square. Then: take and egg and mix it into a cup. Spread it on the edges of the squares and put the squares from one rolled out sheet onto the other. Use a fork to seal the sides.  

Throw in some boiling water for about 3 minutes and you're done!!

For the sauce, I cooked up some butter and thyme. Also, I sprinkled feta on top. Heather did not. It's just a matter of how much of a feta cheese addict you are.  I love feta and could not imagine not having it on this meal, but Heather really liked hers without feta. I don't believe her.

Health in a Glass: Beet, Spinach and Fruit Smoothie

I have become a fan of the green smoothie.  The smoothie with some kind of green in it. I think I made my first one about one year ago. It was magical. I drank them in the pretty standard way (1 green, plus 2 fruits) blended together, for a good amount of time. I used whatever fruits I could find in the food markets here in Cairo, so whatever was in season (Guava season was a delicious painstaking nightmare), the only small challenge was the lack of variety of greens. I would bring my smoothie into work, sit it at my desk and sip on it for the morning. It made me feel very good.

Then. I moved in with Heather, just after Christmas. Heather was a fan of the green smoothie that I made, but was like "Why do you have so much fruit, and so little vegetables?" to which I put on a thoughtful, look, like I was taking her suggestion into consideration, but thinking "because putting spinach in my smoothie was a challenge, and more vegetables in it will be gross". So, I went to work and then I thought about it. Okay, maybe I could throw some carrots in. Or beets? (I've NEVER been a fan of beets. Which I get is difficult because it seems like people who like beets, LIKE BEETS.) Anyway, I thought about it and googled. But it seemed you needed a juicer to put carrots and beets in it.  And we don't have a juicer. So I put it on the back burner, as they say. Then I thought, okay, if we grate them first, we could put them in the blender.

We have to be gentle with the blender because past experience with blenders purchased in Cairo shows that they will smoke and catch on fire the second you turn your back.  So. we grated and blended. And for some safety, I added a bit of yogurt.  and strawberries, 1 banana, and one orange. We blended them all. And let me tell you, the result was HEAVEN.

We don't have the exact same thing every day. We have about 1/2 of one beet grated into it every day. (I've never eaten beets before coming to Cairo and the vegetable sizes can sometimes be different. One beet is about the size of 3/4 of a tennis ball.) We have been having strawberries and orange because they are in season.  One day instead of green leaves we put in broccoli. Sometimes radish leaves. Sometimes greens I find on the street that I can't find the translation for. Sometimes a bit of ginger. Once, Heather bought a bunch of lemons instead of grapefruits by accident, so we used those. That was a sour week.

Also, I'm aware that putting too many fruits and vegetables in one smoothie can be hard on your digestion. But, if you want to get into it, my digestion have improved so much. In retrospect, I would have eased into increasing my fiber like that. But now I feel really great. And regular, IF you know what I'm saying.

Here is the one we had this morning.  It is not green. And as long as you put beets in it, it never will be. :)

Do you want the recipe?

Chop up whatever fruit you desire that you have in your fridge. Add a handful of roughly chopped spinach, grated 1/2 beet, grated 1/2 carrot. Maybe even some grated ginger if you're feeling particularly sassy that day.

I put in yogurt.  The equivalent of one of those individual sized ones. Add a bit of water, and then hit blend. Blend it well. We can't all afford an awesome blender, and for those of us that can't...blend it well and long.

Spinach and Yogurt Daal...so warm and yummy

Now it's February 2012. And I'm still in Cairo, although I've moved neighborhoods. The end of February to March is my favorite time of year in Cairo. The weather is beautiful, meaning you can really explore the city.  I recently moved from Garden City to Mohandiseen, because my dear friend Maya moved back to London. So now it's me, Heather and Biniam in our little flat, which is so cozy and warm, it got us through the hard January winter.... jajajajaaa, just kidding. Obviously I can't complain because the weather never dropped to below 12 degrees celsius... but I pretended I understood the pain when Biniam (from Eritrea) and Heather (from L.A.), complained about the cold.

So, I have some new markets to explore, but I pretty much go to the same ones, my favorite is the vegetable market on Soliman Gohar Street. It's really full of life and the produce has such amazing colour!! I think I'm at the point where I don't get ripped off?? I don't know, but these days with the economy taking a pretty hard hit here in Egypt, it's definitely not a big deal to pay a little more for my fruits and vegetables, considering even if I pay double the price, it's nothing compared to what I'd pay in Nova Scotia.

Anyway. Daal. Lentils are prolific here. I never make lentil soup here because Egyptian lentil soup is undoubtedly the best in the world, in my humble opinion (IMHO in cool kids speak these days), so I only eat it in restaurants or in somebody else's house.  Lentils are cheap and have sooooooo many good things about them!!! I've been making a pretty strong effort to take my health into account lately, for a number of reasons. Number 1, a few of my friends' moms (I don't know where the apostrophes go there, help me out) have been diagnosed with some serious illness, and despite the fact that they are EXTREMELY health conscious, it makes you think right? Second, I'm going to Thailand (TONIGHT!!!) and I'm already tall, but I don't want people poking at my belly like the Pillsbury dough boy. Because they might. Finally, Heather loves vegetables and whole grains, so it's actually pretty easy!

Last night I decided to make lentils with spinach and yogurt, and I think I just ended up making a daal. We served it over a little bit of Egyptian rice (short grain) and some aish baladi (Egyptian pita bread. awesome.)

This is what it looked like. My camera is not for food photography. Let's be honest. But the question is, is it better to post a poor quality photo of food, or no photo at all? I'm struggling with this question.
I put yogurt in it, which is actually optional, but also awesome. So it's your choice. Otherwise this is vegan. And lactose intolerant friendly. And it's always nice to be both of those things, if you can. It's just that I love yogurt so much.  SO MUCH.

Here is when I realized it might be nice to put a photo in for the step-by-step.  Alot of steps had been completed at this point. But this was the point Heather came home and made the suggestion.

Do you like our rustic pots? Our kitchen is pretty rustic on the whole. This photo pretty much captures 1/5 of it.

Next, when we add the beautiful green spinach.


Spinach and Yogurt Daal

1 tbsp oil. Plus that spray oil. I'm trying to calorie reduce here.
1.5 cups red lentils (I'm sure you can use different lentils as well, I just like how fast these cook and how mushy they get)
3.5 cups vegetable broth (plus some water to add if this is not enough)
1 red onion (I actually used 1.5 onions because I needed to use a sad little half sitting in our fridge)
2 cloves garlic
1 small green chilli pepper
3 tomatoes
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp ground coriander
1/2 tbsp ground turmeric
pinch cinnamon and nutmeg if you have either or both
1.5 cups fresh spinach, drained and roughly chopped
2 tbsp plain yogurt, plus extra for dollops on the plate when serving


1) Chop up the onions, garlic, chili, tomatoes and add, in that order, giving about 2 mins time to get to know the pot.
2) Add spices. I think if you have whole cumin seeds, it would be good to put these in. At the beginning. But I didn't have those on hand. Simmer for a few mins.
3) Add lentils, which have been rinsed well. Give it all a good stir, and then go ahead and add the stock.  Cover and cook, about 15 min. But check on it occasionally, they might need more water.
4) Add yogurt and spinach and cook for about 5 mins. Until you can't wait anymore and you need to throw it over some rice, with some broccoli steamed by Heather.

I ate this with baladi bread instead of a fork or spoon. This makes it more delicious, but I can understand that some people (Roddy and Heather) prefer utensils, so really, it's just your personal preference. 


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